'Don't teach, let me learn'

17th December 2004 at 00:00
1,400 people of different educational disciplines gather in Dumfries and Galloway to learn the best ways to teach pupils

An ambitious attempt to lift teachers to "a new height" is under way in Dumfries and Galloway.

It has now entered its second stage, with all pre-school and primary teachers from the entire area brought together over three days to hear the latest thinking on new forms of learning.

One of the features that makes the event unique, the council believes, is that the teachers were joined by nursery nurses, classroom assistants, learning support staff, development officers and education officials - 1,400 people in all.

This year was the second such event and the difference this time, according to Keith Best, who heads the pre-school and primary service in Dumfries and Galloway, was that "teachers were telling other teachers how they had changed practice, how they were making brain-friendly classrooms and brain-friendly experiences - and involving classroom assistants and nursery nurses".

They heard Barbara Prashnig, a New Zealand-based expert on learning styles, set the tone: "Don't teach, let me learn."

She quoted one girl who had just finished her first week of school and didn't want to go back. "I'm just wasting my time," she told her mother."I can't read, I can't write, and the teacher won't let me talk."

Change in education required three things, Professor Prashnig suggested - a philosophy based on the different ways pupils learn, developing ways of spotting these styles and applying them in classrooms, and transforming those classrooms from teacher-centred to student-centred.

Professor Prashnig's view was that "everyone can learn, but everyone learns differently".

Ian Smith, of education consultants Learning Unlimited, said in his presentation that teachers had also to be aware students are adept at avoiding learning. They can "become invisible, disruptive, go stupid, avoid trying and refuse to engage".

The issue then becomes how to motivate them, Mr Smith said. This can be done in two ways - by teachers re-examining their own approaches and by schools working with youngsters to change their attitudes.

Mr Best said he believed that presenting these challenges to the whole of the pre-school and primary sector had sparked "a learning revolution here that will provide a platform for 3-18 learning". At the moment this was confined to the three to 12-year- olds, however, "which is clearly not enough".

Barbara Dougan, the head of Lockerbie primary, believes it is essential for teachers to be made more aware about the brain and its role in learning.

"One can easily imagine what teaching in our classrooms would look and feel like if every teacher had learned how to implement these approaches - and if that knowledge could then be passed on to parents to support their children's learning in a very different way."

Professor Prashnig's concluding point was: "If you can't justify why you do what you are doing in class, don't do it."

Moira McCrossan, the head of Moniaive primary, said the messages about responding to children's different learning styles were challenging for teachers. They were accustomed to dealing with the learning styles of children who are successful - they sit still, they listen, they are visual.

There was a realisation that not all of the Prashnig agenda could be implemented within the confines of a school - although some of it could.

Ms McCrossan said a couple of her teachers, inspired by what they had heard, asked their pupils to reorganise their classroom for their own learning.

"The result was fascinating," she said. "Some wanted to sit by the wall facing towards it, some wanted to sit by the wall facing into the class, some wanted to sit by themselves, some preferred to be in the middle of the room in a group - and some brought in cushions to make themselves comfortable."

Mr Smith, of Learning Unlimited, pointed out that surveys it conducted among teachers showed that they, too, required to be motivated as much as their pupils.

The top four motivational factors it discovered were that teachers wanted people to be enthusiastic, encouraging, supportive and provide a sense of direction.

Mr Smith described the demotivating factors for teachers as "smart-arse, dismissive, inconsistent, over-critical, bullying, intimidating, judgemental, boring and unfair".

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