I made an off-off-the-cuff observation about the negatives of "good old days" schooling in a recent blog post. But reader Ron Smallwood from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, sent a wonderful reminder of just what these institutions might teach today's classroom teacher. He writes:
As both student & teacher, I must say that one room schools were heaven: personalized self-paced instruction with lots of multi-level group problem solving projects. I can remember the "Johnny can't read" problem brought on by publishers who thought that full page pictures behind the text Johnny was supposed to be reading looked nice. Test everything old or new. We should be researching textbooks & ebooks, blackboards & interactive whiteboards. Everything has its place & use but that place & use will change over time.
I miss my one room teaching days and it is too bad no one researched the advantages of one room schools. It seemed to me that the mixed age levels had the huge advantage of younger students being exposed to teaching directed at older students and older students could be given remedial help by having them tutor younger students. Science & social studies were taught as whole school problem solving projects with everyone doing what they did best. They were a learning community.
The proof of that came when I & my wife got sick and had to be medivaced out. When I got back 2 weeks later, the students hadn’t missed a day of classes. Without any adult supervision, they had come to school and worked together to keep school going. Older students knew how to use the teachers guides to figure out what to do next. My 2 oldest students were 16 year old boys who were in their last year so I had them rebuild a small diesel engine instead of the traditional math & science. They did science lessons on gears and levers and did a social studies project on the transportation of parts need for the engine. Even Jake, grade 1 male, had done his language arts. When I complimented him on it, he informed me that it was “her fault”. Eva, grade 1 female, smiles ever so sweetly and said, “I wouldn’t let him help me with my math until I helped him with his language arts.”
It is a heck of a note when you get to your highest goal, independent learners, in your second year of teaching.
An old belief of mine was that we made a mistake when creating multi-classroom schools that we separated students by age rather than ability. But perhaps our error has been in not recognizing the power of students teaching each other, using the differences so leverage fluid teacher/learner relationships among our students.
Thanks, Ron, for a great look at what we might learn from some educational history.
BTW, the township one room school near where I grew up was not used as a school, but will still used for social functions in my childhood. And I have warm memories of it and the events it hosted.