Sunday, 8 March 2009


Children and young people just love learning through play and activities. Visiting friends in Felixstowe this weekend we spent some time on a very cold and windy beach with my young daughters. Sandcastles were demanded - but what started as just play quickly became a whole discussion about types of sand and castles as we tried different things.

The girls were born and until quite recently brought up in the Caribbean. Sandcastles there were totally different - the sand was much drier, softer and finer - in fact it was really difficult to make decent castles at all as they just collapsed. As we undertook major construction one daughter chatted happily away about sand, (different textures and properties) and asking why it was different. The final full blown castle complete with moat (not shown), obviously a triumph of design and architecture, still lost water from the moat .... but it was her that told me why!

Research shows that most people learn by doing, by experimenting and by playing... rather than just receiving information. So why are so many people still expecting students to sit and 'receive' or copy notes from the board or book? Recent surveys show rather bizarrely that, if anything, the numbers of students being asked to do this is increasing. It makes really very little sense. The schools that have more students who are really engaged in their learning are those who involve them in the design of lessons and activities. Doesn't this just make sense?

The challenge for authorities and schools is to help teachers develop their skills in new ways of learning and teaching for the 21st century. Modern students DO know an awful lot about how they like to learn. They want to be active, collaborative, do research, use ICT, present and refine ideas and share them. They want their teachers to be experienced learners as well. We all know this and yet many teachers are still just too nervous to ask them to be engaged in designing their learning, which is just a real shame!

It may start with sandcastles, but this active learning already continues through nursery into project work in primary schools ...... so what happens next where all too often students are being turned off learning?

(So which sand did the girls prefer? Well the UK sand for building sandcastles actually... but overall they much preferred the actual beaches of the Caribbean - funny that!)


Anonymous said...

this is interetsing blog.. I visit it often like I know many people do. Please keep writing often.

Gareth Long said...

Gosh that was quick! I had only just posted the last entry.

Thank you for reading. I will keep on posting. You are also right in saying that, amazingly, many people do check out my blog. Several thousand people do access it every year and numbers continue to rise sharply.

Thanks for reading again

Anonymous said...

You obviously don't teach anymore. It is not that teachers (in my experience) are afraid of different teaching and learning styles, they are afraid of the chaos that ensues when they attempt something different - even if you do have a couple of TA's to help.

You need to go back and try a year in a typical comp. Teachers love to sit and discuss but too often they have to give up and sort out the disruption.

Oh, and then there is the results driven culture...

Gareth Long said...

Thanks for the comment.

I do totally agree that many teachers do want to engage with learners in discussion and a whole range of learning and teaching styles. What does have to change in many places, (certainly not all), to really engage students in their learning is the 'culture of learning in the whole school'.

This has to happen over a period of time as new styles are learnt and confidence gained by staff and students. It cannot just happen overnight or even over a week, or only in pockets around a school. Equally students need to discover that their role in learning is going to be both accepted and valued - but again this needs to be developed with them. Too many older students have had little to do with the learning process, they are simply receivers.... or not.

None of this can be done by having a dreaded 'expert' telling people what to do - confidence has to be gained and developed in the classroom with existing students over time. The context has to be real.

As for being out of touch... I know I am not in the classroom every day now, but I have worked for over 25 years in some very tough secondary schools, including at Headship level (And yes I frequently did go into the classroom - usually as cover teacher : not only to save money but to see all my students in 'action'). In my current role I am in schools quite often, including last week and again this week working with staff and students. I especially ensure that, when I have a choice (which is not always), I ask to meet / work with those learners who are least engaged. They still have an aweful lot to say about learning.

I have always stated that teaching is a very tough profession and undoubtedly getting tougher. Good interested teachers are worth their weight in gold. The more we can do to engage the learners the better for all of us.

Inevitably some will not agree with my comments, but that is part of the purpose of this blog - to stimulate discussion, share good practice and ideas and simply pass on random thoughts.

I am pleased when people comment - positively or not, and the readership is really increasing - several thousands of people from almost a hundred countries read this blog each year.

Thanks again for commenting and good luck.