A Phillie Teacher

I was a starry-eyed teacher from New Jersey. Now I work for Philadelphia Public Schools.

The Same, All the Way Across the Ocean

Posted by aphillieteacher on December 4, 2009

I’ve taken interest in reading teacher blogs where I can find them. So far I’ve found two that I utterly love. The first is “Mr. Teacher” which is written by a man in the UK. I love this guy. Please give him a try.

The second is also in the UK (found through a link on Mr. Teacher’s blog) called “To Miss with Love” which you might have guessed is a take on the Sidney Poitier movie “To Sir with Love.”

Both bloggers manage to discuss topics that have become part of my sleepless hours when I’m not preoccupied with scheming up ways to get my own Philadelphia students to stop talking for at least a little while and try to learn something.

These are 12 year olds. They need to learn, but their hormones and social needs tell them to talk talk talk, flirt by stealing something from the opposite sex, and gossip.

My question is: why do we place their desks in social clusters facing each other so that their backs are turned away from the teacher and toward another student???

Here are a few choice quotes from “To Miss” that I particularly liked:

About “group learning”

. . . I said, why not improve discipline and concentration? We could rearrange the tables to face her and she could stand in front of the board. She looked at me with horror. “The pupils are working together, directing their own learning,” she said, her voice almost drowned by noise. Had I not appreciated what was going on?

Hahahahaha Directing their own learning!! My kids do that. Two weeks ago their “learning” was what I called The Rubber Band Wars. After a week of whizzing rubber bands nearly putting people’s eyes out, I called 7 ringleaders’ parents and put a stop to it.

The current craze is paper football – to the point where I am nearly beside myself with those damn paper triangles everywhere. Apparently the boys are “directing their own learning” toward flicking paper triangles across the room toward a classmate’s goal post fingers.

This must be far more important than learning about the Middle East or reading with understanding! What a great idea, letting 12-year-olds direct their own learning. Certainly they have wonderful perspective on essential skills and lifelong learning. (not)

Today I had another “cooperative” lesson with screaming, throwing, wrestling, gabbing, cursing, flirting, giggling self-learners and absolutely longed to make them sit facing forward, independently working on projects and taking personal responsibility for their own learning by quietly listening to a lesson and asking intelligent questions.

When did this grouping/learning partnership idea get started? whose bright idea was this in the first place?

More importantly, where are the statistics that prove that sitting in a group of three other kids will improve learning? Until you show me those numbers I will always believe that this is the worst idea since “open classrooms” back in the 1970s.

I can’t wait for it to be over.

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3 Responses to “The Same, All the Way Across the Ocean”

  1. HappyChyck said

    I used to believe in collaborative learning a lot more when I first started teaching. I use it now, but I’m careful about when, where, and how long. My IB middle schoolers do pretty well with managing themselves when I give them a structured assignment, but there are always the slugs and AHDH kids. My alt ed high schoolers don’t see the difference between their social shenanigans and my group assignment for them. Exhausting!

    I believe it is powerful for students “direct their own learning,” but not all students can handle it. I think the math chair whose room is next to mine might agree. His students have been working on a project, and we suspect the missing food in our back room is a result of his project–the broken door window is definitely related, too–and on the last day I heard him yell, “What the hell are you thinking? Sit your ass down!” I can’t saw for sure, but he traded in his coffee for a cool drink this week, despite the fact it’s freezing in our classrooms. Any guesses as to what’s in that cup? Coping liquid is what I’d say. Those kids are going to do much better next week when they are back in rows with their lecture, guided practice, individual practice Mon-Thurs with a test on Friday.

  2. This is pretty much my experience. From what I can tell, the immaturity level of my students prevents them from being “self-directing” in the direction of learning and is more toward fun.

    My disappointment is that administration doesn’t recognize that the kids cannot always work together; so the 3 ring circus goes on, preventing the serious students from having a chance to learn anything. :/

    • You can’t change the seating arrangement, at all? My classroom is ALWAYS in rows except for group assignments. The students consider it a privilege to work in a group to complete a task b/c most days we don’t sit in groups. My amazing students can put desks in groups of four in under a minute and put them back correctly in under minute.

      I’m sure at your NEW teaching assignment there will be NO groupings except planned, structured assignments.

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