Just Teach Us

Yesterday I had the opportunity to find out from some pupils what they thought about the way in which they are taught.

I was covering a two-hour lesson, and the set work didn’t arrive for the first 10 minutes. When it did turn up, it simply consisted of a wordsearch and the note:

Pupils then research their chosen topic and present this to the rest of the class. Laptops booked if needed.

When I told the class what they would be doing, they groaned. One boy called out “Not that again – why do we always have to do research?” A number of pupils agreed loudly with this.

I had spent the previous ten minutes chatting with the class. They seemed to be a totally mixed-ability bunch, and when asked, they agreed that they were. Although usually in sets for all lessons, the classes had been mixed as many of the pupils were out on a trip. Quite literally, there were high-flying pupils siting next to those with SEN.

I asked why they were complaining about being asked to do some research, and the answers I got contained variations on the following points:

  • It’s the teachers job to teach us, not another pupil’s
  • The teachers know more than us, so why won’t they tell us stuff?
  • How do we know if we’re doing something correctly if you won’t tell us?
  • Asking us to do research is lazy teaching
  • Are you asking us to do research because you don’t know?
  • How do we know if we’re finding out all the stuff we need to know?
  • If I make a mistake I won’t know about it until I hand my work in – then it’s too late
  • I want to ask questions, I can’t do that if I’m researching on my own

The children were in agreement that although researching their own information had been fun at first, after the initial novelty it soon became draining. And they didn’t feel they learnt any more from it than they would do if a teacher was giving them the information directly.

I then asked them about group work – surely if they were researching in a group that would be better? But they were even more scathing:

  • Group work’s rubbish – it’s really hard to get anything done
  • You spend more time arguing than working
  • Some people don’t contribute which is unfair
  • Why am I expected to tell my friends what to do? (from a bright pupil)
  • The others go too fast for me and I get confused and bored just sitting there (from SEN pupil)
  • It’s different topics but we do the same stuff – PowerPoints or videos
  • No-one else in the group knows anything either, so I just ask my mum

However, there were a few voices of dissent over this, some of the pupils said they actively enjoyed group work, although they admitted this was mostly because they didn’t have to work as hard as they would do if they were working alone. I asked the class if they’d ever said this to their teacher, they told me that whenever someone asked about group work they just responded with something along the lines of ‘study skills’, ‘collaboration’, ‘independence’ or ‘ownership of their learning’.

One child said she had asked what the point was, but was told that she ‘didn’t yet understand the value of her learning opportunities’.

In general, the consensus of opinion amongst that group of children seemed to be that being asked to do research was fine up to a point, but that it was of no use when the subject matter was tricky, or they needed to clarify something they didn’t understand.

Group work was also enjoyable in small doses, but mainly they felt they didn’t work as hard or concentrate as much as when they worked alone. They also felt the quality of their work was poorer. For some things, such as drama, it was essential, but they didn’t think they needed to be in a group every time they analysed a poem.

The children stressed that they didn’t want to stop doing group work or independent research altogether, but they didn’t see why those were the methods that were used the most often. A mix, they said, would be far more beneficial, so they knew they were actually learning the right stuff.

Of course, this is in no way representative of the collective opinions of every pupil in the country, but equally it cannot be ignored. I cannot have come across the only children in the country who feel like this.

Has anyone actually asked the pupils which method they prefer, and why? Which do they think they get a greater value from? If they needed to know something for an exam, which way would they rather gain that information? And have they been conditioned / prepped to say something to do with collaboration?

Many teachers and educational experts will espouse the view that pupils should not be given knowledge – they should earn it through independent learning. But when the pupils themselves are unsure if they really gain anything useful from this, shouldn’t we listen to them? Pupils’ views are regularly canvassed on a range of subjects, from school lunches to staff interviews, so why not listen to them when they ask to do less independent learning?

One of the pupils summed up the feeling of the class quite well, “Why do you expect us to know anything? We’re just kids. Why not just teach us?”

question box

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7 Responses to Just Teach Us

  1. debrakidd says:

    My class once said this too. And when I followed it up, it turned out that, in one child’s words ‘I don’t see why we should have to do all the work. I’m sick of having to think so hard’ which kind of sums up why we do it. Being told what to do makes life easier. But life isn’t easy.

  2. Therese says:

    Indeed. My sixth-formers in particular want me to teach them stuff, and they’re not idle – indeed, the lazy students are the ones who prefer ‘research’, as it means they can sit in front of a computer instead of taking notes. As one of my really bright Year 13s said last term: “You know the information we have to master for the exam – we don’t. That’s why you’re at the front of the class and we’re not.”

  3. Rachel in Kent says:

    I have a twelve-year-old daughter who quite enjoys doing some research for homework. She is intelligent and motivated and enjoys finding things out for herself. And, if all else fails, she can always ask me.
    What she hates with passion are the type of lessons where pupils are meant to go off in groups, “research” a topic and then “teach” it to others. As she puts it: “Why am I supposed to learn more from a twelve-year-old telling me something they have just looked up on google – and they don’t even know whether it’s right or not – than from a teacher who has actually got a degree in the subject?”.
    And her view of group work?
    “You always end up with someone bossy. If they like what we are meant to be doing, they just take over. But if they don’t like it, they just sit there and won’t do anything.”
    “Usually, we just spend most of the time chatting. But if we see the teacher coming, we quickly get back on topic”.
    “Often, it is just one person – me – doing all of the work. I get really fed up because lots of the others don’t care whether it gets done properly or not and don’t mind handing in complete rubbish. But I don’t see why they should get an A or an A* when they haven’t done anything.”
    (I know the last statement is true because at she is often set group homework, so I have seen with my own eyes what happens.)

  4. PerpetualMotionPhysics says:

    Reminds me of a top set I once taught in which a student said, “miss, can we have a lesson where you just tell us stuff and we write it down?” to general sounds of class agreement. I was gobsmacked that they asked for a lecture!

  5. StealthJew says:

    Debra, you seem to suggest that because a given method is more difficult for the students, that that method is superior. I’m not sure that one follows from the other.

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