There is a certain amount of irony in the title of today’s post in that I haven’t written it myself. Instead it comes from the typing fingers of the marvellous Kenny Pieper. His excellent blog Just Trying to be Better than Yesterday is well worth a read.

There are two reasons for this:

1. I’m knackered after the first day back at school – even though it was only an INSET day.

2. Kenny has already written exactly what I would have wanted to write.

So without further ado:

Over the summer holidays I caught up with a few Ted talks, especially the ones which had such an effect on me when I watched them over the last couple of years. One of my new resolutions has been to try and read more educational articles and to watch TED talks whenever possible and I felt the same awe watching Ken Robinson and the like as I did first time round. However it is Sugata Mitra’s ‘The child-driven education’ which continues to knock my socks off. His witty and eloquent discussion on the way kids learn without teachers should be essential viewing for every single teacher starting a new year.

After two weeks of this new term, it came back to me. It came back to me sitting with a glass of wine on a Friday night when I was exhausted. Two weeks in and I was absolutely drained, completely empty and very quickly eyeing a second big glass. I fired up the old Ipad and watched it again. It came at a good time. We teachers spend the summer thinking of new things to do in our classrooms. We listen to others, read about great strategies, pick up tips from Twitter and our favourite Blogs. But when we start back again and we’re thrown head first into the hugely stressful, never stop whirlwind of a day in our schools, it is so easy to revert to type and creak out the lessons that we have used before. It seemed that some of my good intentions were already being consigned to next year. Sugata Mitra cured me of that.

By Monday I’d decided to test out his theories for myself. My S2 English class (13 years old) were proving to be a tough nut to crack. We set in S2 – an argument for another day – and I have set nine out of twelve. They seem nice kids but they are very aware that they are in class nine out of twelve. Our system has placed a value on their ability and they know it. A very passive ‘learned helplessness’ seemed to have overcome them. I had intended to work on Mindsets with them, hoping to convince them that, yes, they can get better at English. Sugata Mitra’s talk gave me an idea.

There was nothing especially scientific about what I did. I wrote four questions on the board and gave each group of four one netbook.

1. What are Mindsets and does everyone have one?

2. What different Mindsets are there and what are the main differences?

3. In what ways can you change your Mindset?

4. How might knowing about Mindsets help you in school?

I sat down. I asked them to stand up and put their chairs to the side of the class becaue I wanted a bit of movement and a bit of active learning. The only ‘rule’ I imposed was that every member of the group of four had to be able to answer the four questions convincingly i.e. know what the words meant without reading notes.

They did it, of course. It took a wee bit of reassurance at times, along with a few ‘you have the whole world at your fingertips, why ask me?’ responses along the way. But with what Sugata Mitra calls a ‘granny’ approach to praising and prompting, every student could respond to a difficult concept they’d never heard of fifty minutes before.

And, do you know what, this simple short lesson might even be the life saver I’ve been looking for. I cannot continue to be so utterly exhausted on a Friday night. If this is ‘flipping the classroom’ then I’m in. This may seem like simple thing to learn, perhaps even obvious, but at a time when our lives as teachers are so completely taken over, I must remember that if I’m working harder than my students while they are in the classroom then something’s wrong. I did nothing original. The point was to reclaim the creative ideas I’d planned over the summer and drag myself away from ‘safety’. As teachers everywhere go back to school today – three weeks after me – you should try to retain that creativity and those great ideas. You will soon become so submerged that it is easy to lose that energy. Watching this TED talk could help you.

Thank you, Sugata Mitra. Thank you.

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