One-minute wonders

19th May 2000 at 01:00
Give pupils responsibilities and you'll be pleased with the results, writes Catherine Wragg.

Being newly qualified and keen to set up a positive climate with my class of frisky Year 2 pupils, I was drawn to the ideas of Professor Jerry Freiberg of Houston university.

Professor Freiberg, an ex-primary teacher, advocates giving children more responsibility for their own learning through a system of "one-minute monitors". Studies of classrooms in which his ideas have been tested show noticeably improved standards of behaviour - and significant improvements in maths and English.

His work involves all pupils taking on simple tasks that help the teacher but do not distract them from their own work for long. I decided to introduce the idea in my classroom through a circle-time discussion. What began as a teacher-initiated activity soon became a child-centred one that covered more curriculum areas than I had imagined.

I began by giving each pupil a job: the children identified problem areas and devised tasks to tackle them, from turning lights on and off to organising the maths resources.

The scheme was reviewed after a term, bringing a mixed response. Some children found that their job did not require much time or effort, while others spent far longer than the titular minute. The discussion sessions were wonderful, with the children expressing their job satisfaction and airing grievances.

We agreed that the best jobs were those that had to be carried out daily and took between one and five minutes. These included setting up the word processing package on our Acorn 3000 every morning, writing out the date at the beginning of the day on the blackboard and putting the book bags on tables at the end of the school day. There was less interest in jobs such as watering the plants (once a week) and tidying the wet play resources (surprisingly infrequent).

The children felt that the benefits of the scheme included a sense of responsibility, helpig the whole class, getting to try a variety of jobs - even being prepared for the "real world" of employment.

All 32 children had a chance to practise opening a computer package and develop keyboard and mouse skills over a week. Familiarity with the days of the week and months of the year when writing out the date and solving everyday maths problems - eight writing pencils in each pencil pot, 32 book bags spread across five tables - were among the other benefits.

I have now trialled "one-minute monitors" with two classes of Year 2 children. Both classes responded enthusiastically to the notion of shared responsibility, although they had different opinions about key organisational ideas. It has also allowed me to concentrate more on my own teaching.

Neither class let me forget to allow them to swap jobs - not necessarily straightforward. One of the main problems was the order in which children chose their jobs. A successful method was for one child to nominate someone who had achieved a good standard in work or behaviour during the previous week. This system, with its implicit threat of losing the privilege of the job, helped to improve behaviour and discipline, and without a word from me.

As I sit back and evaluate how my current class has matured since last September, I realise that the monitor system can easily be adapted to suit different ages and abilities and even the stage in the year of the class.

Next term, I will experiment with fewer, more rewarding jobs, and encourage the children to make written applications (yet more literacy practice and job awareness), as in Jerry Freiberg's model.

Unfortunately, while I no longer spend hours at the end of each day tidying up, I do still find Lego in the plasticine.

Catherine Wragg teaches at Wallands primary school, Lewes, East Sussex (see Snapshots, page 34). Freedom to Learn by Carl Rogers and H Jerome Freiberg (Prentice Hall. UK distributor: Pearson Education pound;23.95)

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