The power of action in the classroom, of combining learning with doing, goes beyond integrating teaching and activities. It extends to giving pupils a sense of ownership over the classroom, creating an environment they feel is theirs. And far from creating more work for teachers, this can actually take some of the pressure off you.
My first few weeks teaching in a high school, I almost drowned in marking. There was so much more to mark than in primary school, so many more answered questions, so many more completed tests. The books piled up like a mountain of guilt, waiting to topple over and crush me. Finally, I went to my head of department for advice, and she gave me a simple answer – have the pupils mark each other’s work during the lesson. You can’t do it all the time, but when you do it not only takes away your marking, it helps pupils to further consider the work they’ve done, by critically evaluating others’ answers.
I was reminded of this when I read Peter Smith’s article on streamlining your lessons. One of the things he suggests is using willing volunteers for tasks that you don’t need to do – things like cutting up cards and laminating. Like the solution to my marking problem, this can use pupil power to take some pressure off you.
But these changes also achieve something more. They lower the barrier between teachers and pupils, the great sorting of tasks into things pupils do and things that are done to them. This can leave them feeling more in control, more like the classroom and the lesson are spaces they own and help manage, rather than external forces of control. And that shift in culture will help them to value their learning.
Next time you’re planning a lesson, or tidying your classroom, or facing that pile of marking, consider how you could get your students involved – not just to help you, but to help them too.