Myth of the whole-class 'golden age'

11th April 1997 at 01:00
I was disappointed to find an educational psychologist joining the ranks advocating a return to whole-class teaching (TES, Opinion, March 28). Chris Woodhead and Gillian Shephard might be expected to hark back to a golden age when all children faced the front and listened attentively to the teacher, but an educational psychologist surely must acknowledge that children differ tremendously in their ability to learn.

Facing me every day are 37 children whose chronological age is either nine or 10 but whose academic ability ranges from that of functioning as a top infant to children who could cope in a Year 7 class at secondary school, and all shades in between.

Some lessons are suitable for whole-class introduction, such as discussing a stimulus for creative writing. But to lump all these children together for lessons where, for example, specific mathematical and scientific concepts need to be taught, would ensure some becoming bored because they understood immediately what was being taught and some having no idea what was going on. Grouping the children means their needs can be met far more successfully, and eye-contact is much easier with 12 than 30.

Just because the whole class is facing you and appears to be listening and "on task", there is no guarantee that the children are learning. I am fairly confident that on the periphery of a very large group, those furthest away are mentally either scoring goals for Liverpool or performing as the sixth Spice Girl.

It is far easier to interact with and question the children in a small group to ensure their understanding of a topic. Why do we seem to have lost sight of, or be conveniently ignoring, the fact that children have different aptitudes? Even the most expensive educations do not always ensure great academic results if the children are of limited academic ability - there are plenty of people in public life who prove this.

Until someone can prove that all children of the same chronological age learn at the same rate and are of equal ability, group teaching (admittedly taking a lot more time to plan and deliver successfully) must remain the most sensible option for most areas of the curriculum.

PAT DOWNES "Bryntirion" Bryneglwys Corwen Clwyd

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