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Out of the mouths of babes…

I was privileged today to have the most stimulating conversation about education that I’ve had in a while. It wasn’t with my principal or one of my colleagues. It wasn’t with one of the inspirational educators I interact with online. It was on the playground, with two former students from last year. Isabella and her friend Liat are 12 years old and two extremely intelligent young women.

Issy talked about how important it is for every child to have time to think in the classroom and to have their thinking accepted and validated. She talked about how frustrating it is to sit with your hand up and wait for a teacher to ask your opinion. She said it makes much more sense to jot down your thoughts first, to discuss your thinking in small groups and to have enough opportunities to express your opinions and ideas.

She wondered (with no prompting from me) what the purpose of schooling might be. She and her friend tossed some ideas back and forth. Was it to prepare you for life? Or was it to prepare you for a profession? If it was the latter, why do people have to learn maths if they don’t plan on being mathematicians? If it was to prepare you for life, why does school look so different from life?

Liat’s brother is doing his VCE (school leaving). She expressed her disdain for the fact that subjects like maths and physics attract bonus scores, while art and music are scaled down. She’s a musician, of course that’s how she feels. They both felt that creativity is under valued in the school sytem.

Issy raised the point that the student population of our school is homogeneous and talked about the importance of being able to learn from, about and with people who are different from you. She feels inter-cultural understanding is vital today. She would like to see school incorporate more opportunities for contact with different sorts of people. We talked about the importance of understanding your own culture and establishing your own identity. We talked about common universal values. Honestly. In these words. It was like talking to my peers.

Since I was having a discussion with passionate learners and critical thinkers, I tested out the idea of cross-age classes. Issy is a very talented writer and artist. I asked what it might be like to work on her art or writing in a class with older and younger students who share her passions and talents. I asked Liat if she’ d like to have opportunities to play guitar and sing with high school students. They thought this was cool. Liat talked about the fact that she likes learning Hebrew in a class with kids who are strong at it, but Maths in a smaller group, with other kids who need more time and attention. She thought extending this to cut across age and grade level made sense. For all their thinking and wondering they had never considered why kids learn in age cohorts till I raised it.

I told them about Sir Ken Robinson’s ideas and explained how schools were designed for the industrial age. They were fascinated. I promised to share his TED talks with them. I’ve suggested to Isabella that she start a blog of her own to share her wonderful writing and art. So far she hasn’t taken up the challenge, but I’m hoping she’ll start with a guest post for What Ed Said! Maybe reading this will give her the push she needs…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Why don’t we listen more to what kids have to say about education?


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About whatedsaid

Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I'm a teacher, a learner, an inquirer...


9 thoughts on “Out of the mouths of babes…

  1. I have often found that kids have some great ideas about education. They aren’t always able to see the big picture but what do get to do is observe many different teachers over the course of their career, something that most teachers haven’t done for years. I wonder if anyone has started a project on interviewing students and finding out from them what they consider to be excellent teaching and best practices in education.

    Posted by dwees | October 24, 2010, 5:58 pm
  2. Hello I am in John Stranges EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. I read through your post and I found that you had a very mature and intellectual conversation with them. As a future educator I hope to encourage this type of thinking for my students as well as help them learn not only just math and science, but to be able to teach them vital life skills in the process.

    Posted by Edward Hughes | October 24, 2010, 10:09 pm
  3. Edna,

    This is great. I would love to do a series of these posts. I did a post earlier this year about listening to children, would love to hear your feedback. Also I think in a true democratic learning community, it is not enough to just listen to students, but to have them be active co-creators of the whole institution of school. If you look to the models of education that have tried this, Sudbury Valley Schools in the USA, Summerhill in Britain, and many number of free school around the world, we see that it is not only possible but powerful. I think we are only tapping into the smallest percentage of the talent, greatness and wisdom, that children have to offer. If you look at the Reggio curriculum or the work of Vivian Gussin Paley, you see how powerful children can be in re-imagining our world. In my vision of school, children are encourage to move past the expectation of our current ideas of life and learning, by actively questioning and critiquing not only what has come before, but better yet what can be.

    on a side note, I think it is sort of telling that we never teach children about theories of learning, teaching, curriculum, philosophies of life and learning. What if we taught education in 4th grade instead of math. What if we asked children everyday….why do we learn this way? Why are we learning this? What are better ways to go about it? Not with a outcome in mind, but with pure curiosity of what might become, if we let the newness of their eyes see our world.

    Thanks Edna for sharing. Please invite your students to guest post for us. We are missing a vital voice at the table here!


    Posted by dloitz | October 25, 2010, 2:05 am
    • I’ll respond to the side note.. it’s interesting. Even in the current incarnation of education (ie where ‘education’ isn’t a subject instead of math… much as that could be fun, since I like education way more than I like math) we should still be talking with our students about why we are learning things and what might be a better way. Why shouldn’t they be active players since it’s all about their learning!

      Posted by whatedsaid | October 25, 2010, 4:03 am
  4. I often find that some of the best ideas have come from students. I am constantly surprised by their depth of thought and their insights into life.

    Posted by johntspencer | October 25, 2010, 11:19 pm
  5. This is a great illustration of trusting kids enough to really listen to them, Edna. Kids give us feedback all the time. We need to listen for it first and find ways to use it second.

    I’ve routinely and systematically adjust pacing in-class between stations based on students’ self-reporting about what they want to do. While our negotiations are somewhat limited in that I try to push students towards completing their work on time, when a student says, “Can I keep working on this? It’s fun.” (as one did this week about prewriting an essay FTW), I can’t find a compelling reason to tell her, “No.”

    If we can hear students well enough to design work and schools that are fun, then all the stuff we often depend on – authority, grades, punishments, rewards, master schedules, lesson plans – could be replaced by authenticity, collaboration, and inquiry at school. It’s easy to self-manage back to a task that is fun. It’s easy to want to go to school when it’s fun.

    What messages do our schools send now? Non-rhetorically: how will our lives change if schooling doesn’t?

    Having fun,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | October 29, 2010, 6:15 am
  6. huge guys.
    why do we not tap into who we’re doing all this for – more?

    i believe ed is the vehicle to social change… and it will be led by student voices.

    …trusting kids enough to really listen to them.
    …trusting our minds enough to really learn.

    thank you guys.. Edna – bravo.

    Posted by monika hardy | October 29, 2010, 12:32 pm


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