Please can we do it ourselves, Miss?

29th February 2008 at 00:00

Primary children enjoy a challenge. They like strict but fair teachers, but give the thumbs down to group work

Primary pupils dislike the routine and predictability of the school timetable and are reluctant to leave one task unfinished merely to move on to the next subject. They also enjoy finding answers for themselves, rather than being helped along the way.

Elizabeth Hopkins, of Bishop Grosseteste University College in Lincoln, interviewed 180 pupils between the ages of seven and 11. She asked them to describe their preferred forms of teaching, as well as the lessons that bored them.

All pupils objected strongly to the monotony of a fixed timetable. Several spoke of "doing what we always do" in negative terms. Younger ones particularly disliked leaving work half-completed in order to move to the next class. Ms Hopkins said: "The structure of lessons fitting neatly into a timeframe may not always be conducive to learning."

All children enjoyed hands-on lessons involving role-play, painting, sports or technology. One pupil said: "You learn loads when you do it yourself." They also spoke enthusiastically of having different teachers for different lessons and of those who would shake up the routine.

All questioned the value of group work. Many said that when the teacher was helping other groups in the same room, they found it difficult to focus on their own work.

And older children were reluctant to share ideas. One said: "I like to work on my own and not tell my talking partner my ideas."

Pupils of all ages expressed a desire to be challenged and to be forced to find answers without help. This was particularly true of Year 6. One pupil said: "I like to struggle to find the answers . Research makes you think."

Many also felt that over-explanation by teachers impinged on time they could spend doing tasks.

Strict but fair teachers met with universal approval. Fairness was particularly admired: one child spoke disparagingly of "a teacher who shouts at everyone when only a few people are being naughty".

Moodiness and favouritism were quickly spotted. Pupils also admired organisation and disliked messiness.

Ms Hopkins believes children's perceptions of the teaching process are invaluable but acknowledges that official requirements and the pressure of external tests make timetabling flexibility difficult.

"For pupil voice to have an impact," she said, "teachers . need a basic confidence that pupils have the potential to offer significant insight into improving their own educational experience."

- `Classroom conditions to ensure enjoyment and achievement' will appear in the forthcoming edition of the journal `Education 3-13'


- To be allowed to complete activities they enjoy rather than stopping to do something else.

- To find answers for themselves rather than be given pointers.

- Interactive, unusual lessons, including role-play, painting, singing, sport or ICT.

- Teachers who do not lecture or talk purely for the sake of talking.

- Lessons that let them interact without giving their ideas to others.

- Firm but fair teachers who don't punish all for what one has done.

- To be recognised for their achievements.

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