Monday, January 30, 2012

First look

OK, it's three weeks into the school term but the first half week was in-school orientation, then there was a week of camp, so really I'm about six days into teaching at my new home.

It's government bureaucracy crunch time with a deluge of files, schedules and plans to be filled out and submitted. Year plans, lesson plans, assessment plans, week plans, day plans...Sorry about grumbling but had to get it out. One kid's dad already phoned and asked why I've done so little marking of their exercise books.

Now, moaning aside, here's what I've noticed about my learners and myself so far:

1. There is a huge range in their abilities, in fact, two thirds of the learners are performing average to well, and very well. This is a big deal in South Africa, where our national performance in mathematics is abysmal. Nevertheless 10 out of 60 children are in serious danger of failing, and so, as in many classrooms around the world, there is a long bridge to cross, or maybe construct, in every lesson.

2. More than half the children are well-behaved and make an effort, but a significant group can be rowdy and resist doing homework. A few are disruptive and one child seems completely unable to control his own behaviour. I really feel the need to connect with the children who are on board, and avoid giving the bulk of my attention to the 'misbehavers'. I find this difficult. The school's existing disciplinary system is very 'gentle'

3. I do like children and I'm finding it easy enough to focus on their needs rather than on the 'needs' of the subject. Actually, having written that, I'm not so sure. I don't have any cleaer idea of what it feels like to be an 11 year old on the receiving end of my lessons, and I need to find out more about this, as well as ways to measure responses and progress.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Keep your eye on the... child

This post is a touchstone to remind me that children learn with their whole selves (hence the name of the blog).

More specifically, that my focus needs to be on the learners. Not on myself, and not, in the first place, on the wonderful world of mathematics, but:
on what children are busy learning about themselves, and maths, and about how they are able to engage with it. Any clever ideas are only good, if they make learning more accessible and healthy for the particular group of children in my class.

I worked with a teacher at the school I've just left, who repeatedly taught me this by example. She would challenge her learners, but only after ensuring they had a solid foundation in place. I'd always run my tests by her for editing - she has a special skill in phrasing questions and assignments in such a way that they are crystal clear and non-threatening, without lowering the standard of work.

Thank you, Birgit!