Sunday's article about a boys classroom certainly caused a stir, rightly so. I was involved in some interesting discussions via the twittersphere and loved the blog posts that have come out of it also. At home, my dear wife had some interesting takes on it, with a teacher husband but no recent experience in primary schooling her opinion her thoughts on the article might be reflective of some viewers. I had a different view again, I think the media are doing education an injustice here, to the NZ public and the school may not quite be getting it right (but I reserve judgement).
I loved the perspective that both Steph and Ruth have added in their posts (Steph's post, Ruth's post). They both reflected on the role of the effective teacher and this has to be paramount in the journey that these boys only classrooms. The fact that stereotyping both girls and boys is dangerous, that a female could be just as good for these males is accurate. Their posts were great responses to the need for boys classrooms, but still some will appear and others will continue. At HNS last year we were talking about possibly creating one, I was even interested in being the teacher. I've just moved into a shiny new classroom and many of these shiny new classrooms are cropping up around NZ while others are being upgraded to become shiny old classrooms. So? What is my point here?
Changing the environment won't necessarily change the education experience for the child unless there are fundamental shifts in the pedagogy. This argument has been swirling around MLE's for a while I understand, Mark Osbourne and Core resources often assisting many to comprehend the moves required. Very little emphasis was put on the actual pedagogy that was being employed by the male teacher in the boys classroom, as a educator I resented that, it was what I was truly hoping to see and found myself critiquing the implied pedagogical cues that were present. This is certainly unfair for the school, parents and children as other educators would have been doing the same. I know that as all the shiny gadgets and toys were what the media represented about Hobsonville Point Secondary last year, rather than the obvious pedagogy differences that HPSS are pursuing. The layperson's reaction, "What about the basics? They still need to teach the basics!"
The cues that I spotted which worried me were superficial but they were there, reading from school journals, talk that boys won't keep quiet, teaching in 15 minute blocks and the need for hands up. Flimsy cues for making judgements but that is what the rest of the nation were doing. For me these cues represented other things. How can you talk about boys not engaging and then present a reading group with a school journal, giving the boys real books and real tasks will generally be far more engaging. When did a classroom have to be quiet for the boys to be learning? I'm thinking about the comment here that an effective numeracy lesson is one in which there is lots of noise from discussion and activity. If they're all busy in books, yes it will be quiet but how much learning will be happening? 15 minutes or they turn disengage, fine but have you thought about the content you're teaching? I made the inference that this meant there would be no passion projects, no real choice in how their day would be proceed and that nothing had really changed. Steph and Ruth's effective teacher wasn't in this room and again it will be the children who miss out.
Its not fair to judge the pedagogy being used on such superficial cues but that is what I did. I respect the courage that the school and teacher have shown. They had no editorial influence on that article and will be suffering a backlash. This is where all educators and schools suffer, once again we're at the mercy of the media and its portrayal of us. I hope that the pedagogy has changed in that classroom, I trust that it has, but how will these changes affect the boys when they move back into their co-ed classrooms next year? Will 1 year accelerate their learning enough?
The environment is only a small part of the picture, it is the box that the jigsaw puzzle comes in, the way the pieces are put together is up to us.