What is the lived experience of the child? by @PaulStrange

Something that has struck me as vitally important in the realms of education at the moment is the lived experience of the child.

Now, you may be sat there thinking, ‘Isn’t this stating the absolutely obvious?’ I hear it said so often that underpinning every decision made in schools is a focus on the children. Please don’t misunderstand me at this point; I am not calling into question the motives of educators and leaders. I just thought it pertinent to bring this to the fore in the wake of the myriad of difficulties schools face in relation to increased budget strain and stretched services.

I think it’s important to ask the question at the head of this blog post:

What is the lived experience of the child?

I hope I’m not teaching granny how to suck eggs here, but you can do this in so many ways. Here are just a few suggestions:

I am a firm believer that pupil feedback is a critical piece of the puzzle when deciding to implement a new initiative, buy into a new resource or make some other change to your institution. You might have read about a contemporary initiative, formulated a plan, run a small-scale trial, analysed data and seen an improvement. Fantastic! Stick it in the School Improvement Plan to roll-out throughout the entire school the following year. At this point, I say hold your horses, what was the experience of the children in all of this? Was it enjoyableDid it enthuse learners? Is it instilling a passion for lifelong learning and a thrill in relation to the pursuit of knowledge? Small-scale, short-term gains attributed to an initiative, which presents as dull as dishwater, will fail you in the future when you have a bunch of older children, who are more self-aware, that can’t bear the thought of pursuing a career in a particular subject. I’ve yet to discover an effective initiative for re-inspiring disillusioned learners. If any of you out there know of such a thing, please get in contact with some urgency. Perhaps we could package it up, sell it like hotcakes and indulge in an early retirement plan?

Next up, I present to you something that I read recently with regards to the use of textbooks in schools. The following is taken from a transcript of a talk given by Nick Gibb MP entitled ‘Knowledge is Power: The Social Justice Case for an Academic Curriculum’.

We are working with teachers and publishers to increase the use and availability of high-quality textbooks in schools. Good textbooks provide a structured, well-honed progression through a subject’s content. They also ease workload for teachers, who no longer need to spend whole evenings and weekends preparing ad-hoc resources. Despite these benefits, textbooks are a rare sight in English classrooms: only 10% of primary mathematics teachers here use a textbook as a basis for teaching, compared to 70% in Singapore and 95% in Finland. I have challenged textbook publishers to do better, and am determined that we will secure high-quality resources to underpin an academic curriculum.’

The complete video and transcript can be viewed using the following link:

Inherent within this one paragraph are a plethora of issues, including teacher workloads, a hot topic at the moment. This one is perhaps an issue for further exploration in a future blog post, but my reason for stating this information is around the posit that we should see a rise in the prevalence of textbooks being used to teach – even at a primary level.

It has been a while since I was at primary school, but I distinctly remember being taught mathematics from a textbook. Needless to say, it wasn’t something that grabbed my attention; I ended up with a complete disdain for the subject and actively avoided it in my secondary education. Please don’t misunderstand me, it wasn’t that I wasn’t good at mathematics – quite the contrary; I was actually pretty good at it. In secondary school, the onslaught of textbooks continued. I was placed in ‘top set’ for my year group and was offered the chance to take my GCSE early and go on to study statistics in my final year at the school. Graciously, and to the horror of my mathematics teacher, I bowed out of this as it included additional classes in school at out-of-school times. I just couldn’t face being confronted with another page of a textbook. You’ll forgive me for my reminiscing at this juncture, but I am getting to my point…

Mathematics was destroyed for me through the use of textbooks and uninspired teaching that lacked creativity, investigation and exploration.

When I got to college, I was encouraged to take mathematics. I went to the first session, which was split between two classrooms with a short break in between, was faced with a test of my ability and promptly walked out of the department at break time. Decidedly, I dropped mathematics and took up psychology instead.

Stop! Stop! Please hold the tiny violin concerto – I’m OK and I don’t think there is any permanent damage in relation to developing a fear of numbers, but it does beg the question, ‘What might have been?’ I wonder if I could have replayed my education without the textbook, would I have gone on to pursue a love of mathematics? I guess we’ll never know.

I believe that much of my own personal experience might have been circumvented by simply asking:

How are you enjoying mathematics?

Who knows, maybe times have moved on and textbooks are now riveting, engaging teaching tools that children love and are a much-loved and valued part of the school experience?
(Forgive me for not holding my breath…)

Here, I suppose we tussle with a moral dilemma: what is more important, ‘good’ results or a passion for lifelong learning in a subject? I wonder what would most benefit the future of our economy…

Anyway, I digress! If you take anything at all away with you from reading this humble blog post, please let it be this: ensure that you build a pupil voice/pupil survey/pupil pursuit component into the monitoring and evaluation systems in your own schools.

If we so often cite that our primary reason for decision making is the children, then isn’t it prudent that their opinion is sought and carefully considered?

Stay sharp and conscientiously consider the lived experience of the child.

This article originally appeared at https://mrpaulstrange.wordpress.com/2018/10/05/what-is-the-lived-experience-of-the-child/

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About Mr Strange 4 Articles
Creative, proactive and driven Deputy Headteacher!

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