Learning through spontaneous combustion.

Let's put some of the hot air back into teaching!

Let’s put some of the hot air back into teaching!

Yesterday I described how I had been taken to task by one of my students for too long a sequence of gloomy pieces posted on this blog. She urged me to write something positive about education in order to redress the balance and to demonstrate that I still retained an optimistic perception of the future for teachers. Feeling suitably chastened I wrote yesterday’s piece “Reasons to be cheerful!” I have not seen my student critic today, but I hope that this latest writing has restored her faith in me as someone who believes in the ability of teachers to rise above the pressures and deliver quality teaching to their pupils.

I was pleased to see that “Reasons to be cheerful!” had encouraged one posting providing another example of a positive experience during a visit to a school. Saneeya a Kenyan student who has spent a while in English schools wrote about her time observing a teacher and was clearly excited by what she witnessed.

“It was a lovely sunny day, and so the Year 4 teacher decided to conduct the Art lesson outside in the school yard. Students took their crayons and art materials and sat outside in the sunshine discussing, debating and then drawing their versions of ‘A Village in Africa’. I will never forget that lesson, because it illustrated to me the spontaneous, yet wonderful combination of teaching whilst enabling children to make the most of a lovely day.”

On reading Saneeya’s comments one word stood out for me in relation to something I have always valued in teaching. Spontaneous is a term that I seldom hear used today from teachers in English schools, yet spontaneity always seemed to me to be an important factor in the teaching and learning process. Seizing the moment or grasping the opportunity can often lead to exciting learning experiences and should be welcomed by schools. As I was reflecting on Saneeya’s comments two particular events from my own days teaching in schools occurred to me.

In the midst of a lesson in my classroom in Somerset back in the 1970s one of my pupils suddenly let out an excited yell – “look Mr Rose, look at the balloon”. Sure enough glancing through the window I just caught a glimpse of a hot air balloon passing low over the school roof. Within minutes every child and member of the school staff was on the school field staring over a fence into farmland, where the balloon was making a rather bumpy landing. The excitement of the children (and most of the staff) was tremendous. For the next half an hour we all watched as the crew of the balloon man handled it to the ground and packed it into the back of a trailer that had arrived as we watched. The next day one of our teachers, a very creative Australian character, organised balloon building for the whole school. A day was spent with what seemed like acres of coloured tissue paper and glue, working to the teacher’s pattern until by mid-afternoon we had a fine armada of craft ready to launch. Hair dryers at the ready the balloons were carefully filled with hot air and released, forming a spectacular flotilla over nearby roofs and away in the direction of Frome town.

What did the children learn that day? I suppose we could have analysed every part of the day as contributing to their knowledge of science, technology, history (I’m sure somebody mentioned the Montgolfier Brothers), art, mathematics and English. When I think of it now I can see that there were opportunities for addressing each of those subjects during the day. In truth I don’t remember any of us thinking in those terms. What we were doing was enjoying a learning experience together and building upon the spontaneity of the occasion.

A few years later, when in the role of head teacher, I recall a time when snow had fallen steadily for several days and the school field lay beneath a cold white blanket. I was in my office when a teacher new to the school knocked at my door. “I wonder, she asked, if it would be OK for me to take my class on to the field to build a snowman.” How sad I thought that she feels the need to come and ask. “Wait a moment,” I said “let me grab my coat and I’ll come and join you.” Within the next hour every class had their own snowman looking in the classroom windows. It’s not every year that we get enough snow to take advantage of  a learning opportunity like this.

Spontaneity for the combustion of learning – long may it last!

Have you had a spontaneous learning or teaching moment? Is so, why not share it with others by posting a response to this blog?

I’ve posted one of mine just below.

It was January 2013 and no-one was around. So Professor Rose (on the pretence that he was on a learning mission) crept into the garden and built a snowman to surprise his wife when she returned from shopping!

It was January 2013 and no-one was around. So Professor Rose (on the pretence that he was on a learning mission) crept into the garden and built a snowman to surprise his wife when she returned from shopping!