Q&A #1621

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Class Repetition

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From: Neil Sills

To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 1999070901:42:16
Subject: Class Repetition

I found this thread quite interesting. Both my wife and I are
teachers, I in the Arts (English, History, Modern Languages, Art) and
my wife, Felina, in the Sciences (Maths, Statistics, Biology,
Physics).We both teach at Tertiary level, but also have taught at
infant, primary and Secondary levels.

We are reasonably radical concerning the education process, and firmly
believe that no child should be given abstract principles to learn
before the age of roughly seven. Before this time it is a world of
imagination, a Kingdom of Childhood. To this end, when our children
were small, we didn't even read to them. We ourselves, read the
stories and then retold them orally to our children. At the time they
were around 7, they were really ready to read. Books play an important
part in our life, and they wanted to imitate us. Furthermore, as
colour and shapes are so important to children at an early age, art
was a significant factor in their pre 7 education. Our kids, along
with other kids in the school of around the same age who were going
through the same process, learned to read to the level required by the
State, within 1 term. It was the same with Maths. However there was
one small departure here from the general didactic process in teaching
early maths, and that was we started from the whole, and then moved to
the parts. So the equation was not 3x4=?, but 12=3x? This gave
children an idea that there is a unity of things made of smaller
parts, rather than vice versa. Though this may be seen as a moot
point, it encourages children to view the whole (in all aspects of
life) and then see the detail. This is training the mind, not just
learning arithmetic.

Another curious incident occurred in the mathematical education of my
elder daughter. She was having the "Maths block" at around age 11. She
was getting particularly upset about this, and was using the "I can't
do maths" negative reinforcement on herself. However, her teacher of
the time said to her [and he was a perceptive man!]"Anyone who can
crochet as well as you, doesn't need to worry about maths!" She came
home very happy about that, and over the next two weeks just ignored
maths altogether. She then took a little interest and started asking
Felina about this little maths problem, and that little maths problem,
and the next thing we know, she has completed her grade of maths, and
was spending her lunchtimes (voluntarily) doing maths problems from
the next year level, which she completed, and moved on to High School
maths...within the space of one term, and all on her own! However, she
remained in the same age group class, and in the spirit of the
schooling we adhere to, helped other kids.

My children are intelligent, but are not "gifted". (Except maybe in
art). Their education is integrated...so art, mathematics, English,
German, Science are all taught as one. There are no lines of
distinction. This form of education, of course, meets a lot of
resistance from teachers in the mainstream, as class preparation is
extremely arduous. The kids are not taught ad hoc, but in very
carefully structured lessons, with a specific didactic goal. 

In this instance, it is not the methodology that is really being
questioned, but the effort the teacher has to make. In our school, the
basic structure is Kindergarten ( always a separate area) up to about
age 7. Primary school, 7-12 (Here the students have the same teacher
for 6 years, and s/he really knows the students) and High School
12-18. Here the kids do diversify, and have some different specialist
teachers, but still a "mentor" teacher, who stays with them throughout
their High School years...

At year 12 (around age 18) children do the matriculation examination,
which is a State run exam for entrance to University. This school is
the only school which to my knowledge, accepts the internal assessment
of the students for them to receive entrance to any faculty of any
university. For our kids, this examination is optional. I think this
recognition of an alternative system of education by the government
and the tertiary institutions speaks for itself. Both my kids are in
Unversity now, the eldest (the one with the maths problem!!??) is
doing architecture/engineering, and the other is doing law.

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