Student talk

13th March 2009 at 00:00

I never knew there was so much to teaching," my partner's mother remarked with a heavy sigh recently. She caught me mid-flow as I enthused about Vygotsky's theories on the social nature of learning and the joys of reciprocal teaching.

I should have noticed her eyes glazing over. At this stage in my training, nothing should escape my radar-like scanning skills. It dawned on me that I would probably be eaten alive on my next placement.

But, as it happens, I have not so much been eaten alive, as pawed to within an inch of my life by the swarm of ankle biters (as a teacher friend affectionately calls the early years) that make up my charges.

I never thought, when I started out on this lark, that I would one day find myself prowling and growling like a hungry fox during a maths lesson. Or, that while pursuing the child-centred learning theories I have been reading about, I would be on a hiding-to-nothing trying to persuade a sceptical bunch of four-year-olds that counting floating, plastic ducks is MUCH more fun than using them to squirt water at each other. Who was I trying to kid!

As my partner's mother said, I never knew there was so much to teaching. I have been told that in the early years the trick is to go with the flow. Every learning opportunity must be child-led and adult interference kept to a minimum.

So, for example, if you plan an art activity to make a duck pond collage (linked in a cleverly cross-curricular fashion with the earlier maths lesson), then all you should do is provide the necessary resources - glue, tissue paper, sticky shapes, that sort of thing - talk a bit about ducks, then leave the children to express themselves. Whatever you do, you do not show them what to do.

Returning briefly - I promise - to Vygotsky, I cannot work out how this fits in with his "zone of proximal development", or ideas about scaffolding children's learning to help them achieve more than they can do alone. I realise that, with this tender age group, any control freak tendencies must be curbed. And I am more than willing to accept a variety of oddly shaped ducks, or even splodges that are meant to be ducks. But what I want is ducks. Is that too much to ask?

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