Do you remember this sort of acronym? Watching the ‘well-behaved’ students being rewarded and praised for their listening, or being praised yourself for not making any noise? It very much reminds me of the quiet assembly line, industrialised education with a one-size-fits-all product at the end of a process, led by teacher instruction. Seeing this in a classroom recently made me begin to wonder… Do we sometimes confuse good manners as good learning?
Of course, both remain integral to successful participation in modern society. Understanding where a colleague’s boundaries lie and showing appropriate levels of respect are important when developing positive working relationships and shared understanding. But, are they an indicator of a strong learner? We strive to create confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners, providing opportunities for all to succeed, explore, and embrace their curiosity. And yet, as a teacher of many years has said to me earlier today, “So, based on the image, 90% of our girls and only 20% of our boys are shining.”
Perhaps it’s a case of unpacking the meaning behind what it is to shine at school. Our very purpose is to educate our students. Whether this is providing them with the fine motor skills and phonics to access learning, or to unpack advanced pure maths at NCEA level, we have a duty to engage and enable our students. So, does this mean that sitting nicely is shining? Or perhaps, making no noise is an example of a shining learner? I am, of course, being facetious. As we baulk the trends of the industrialised education model in favour of innovative learning and opportunity, it seems strange that this mantra can still exist today. Can it not now be said that a shining student is one who ‘thinks things that have never been thought, to solve problems we do not know exist?’ A true shining student is one who innovates, one who evolves, and one who shows resilience in the face of failure. Risk taking is hard, it promotes failure and learning from it. It creates hindsight and powerful short and long-term memories from which our personalities grow. Sitting nicely with folded hands is, in my opinion, not indicative of a risk taker, nor an innovative student.
Shining now often means learning through experiences. Creating and failing in order to inform learning and create again. These processes are, at best, a little (and, at times, a lot) noisy! Sitting quietly with folded hands reminds me of an old expression my grandmother once used: “Children should be seen and not heard”. And, within her generation, as a product of a regimented system of education ruled by the teacher and fear, she was correct. But times have changed.
“If all classroom activities were interesting and fun, students would engage in them naturally. But, students face many tasks they do not like, or in which they are not interested, or do not feel competent. Teachers thus need to be aware of how to adapt the curriculum and their teaching so that students find the classroom activities more interesting, purposeful, and enjoyable…” (OECD 2010)
Changing teaching practice to meet the needs of the learner has been well researched in recent years. Our role is to educate the child, not force the child to fit the curriculum. How many learners show excitement and wonder quietly? How many of us would be disappointed if we tried to engage our students only to be greeted with an assembly line of identically sat children, hands folded, in their learning place on the mat, making no noise and staring forward? Personally, I find the thought of it rather eerie.
We have a duty to make the learning fit the needs of our students, not the other way around. So, why do the expectations of some, when thinking about student behaviour, still reflect this? Perhaps a new acronym is needed — Shine 2.0.
Some days, it can be hard not to confuse good manners with good learning. But, perhaps you should stop and just watch your students for a moment. Question whether those who are sitting beautifully really understand what they are being asked to complete. Or, is their behaviour a learned ‘coping-mechanism’, and one that more often than not brings them reward. A good friend and incredible teacher I once worked with said, ‘Learning is messy.’ And, do you know something?… She was right.
OECD (2010), The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, OECD publishing