Bringing the Learning to Life

‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ Anton Chekhov

If I tell you, I run the risk that (a) you won’t actually be listening, (b) you won’t really understand what I mean or (c) you won’t remember what I said. (And in any case, if I can tell you by just putting it into words, I might as well write those words down on a piece of paper so you can read them in your own time.) No, I want to show you. I want to bring my ideas to life by weaving a story around them. I want to breathe life into the concepts by creating a story that connects with your experiences. I want to make a lightbulb spark to life in your mind. I want to help you understand something, to see something, anew.

* * * * * * *

“I want to get you thinking about consistency now, and how it is that sometimes we might not be as consistent as we would hope. In your groups I’d like you each to talk briefly about two different students. First, a student that you love. A student who always listens, and works hard, one who is just generally lovely. If you’re a parent, perhaps you briefly considered naming your own child after this student. And second, I’d like you all to talk about a student who gets on your nerves. One who, for some reason, really winds you up.

Okay, now could I get someone to tell us a bit about their lovely student? [‘…….’] Thanks, that’s great. In a moment I’m going to ask you to be that student. But don’t worry, you won’t have to do anything. I’ll explain in a moment. Now can someone volunteer to tell me about their difficult student? [‘…….’] Thanks. In a moment I’d like you to be that student. Again, don’t worry, you won’t have to actually do anything. Now imagine I’m teaching, and both those students happen to be in my class. I’d like my two volunteers to just sit there and do nothing. As though you’re refusing to work.

[In ‘teacher’ role, goes over to the ‘lovely’ student and crouches down.] Is everything okay? Do you need some help with this activity? Come on, I know you can do this. [Stands up, strides towards the ‘difficult’ student and starts to rant.] Why aren’t you working? What is your problem? If you don’t get this finished you will be staying in at break …  Now obviously I’m exaggerating, but here’s something that they don’t tell you when you train to be a teacher. You will like some students, and you will find it really hard to get on with others. And this can come through in subconscious ways. As a professional, you have to learn to overcome your emotional responses, to treat all students consistently, no matter how you feel about them.”

* * * * * * *

This is not a ‘role play’. This is me bringing the learning to life.

Postscript: After reading Debra Kidd’s beautiful post today, I was reminded of something that happened once, at a lunchtime after I had used that particular scenario. A teacher came to find me, with a drum case that one of his students had made. Earlier, this student had been the nominated ‘tricky one’, the one that I had reacted to differently, because of my subconscious feelings about him. ‘He’s a good kid, really,’ the teacher said. ‘Look, he made this in my lessons.’ And that’s another story, that I share with the teachers I meet.

This entry was posted in Behaviour, Consistency, Drama, Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Bringing the Learning to Life

  1. Paul Dix says:

    Spot on Sue. Learning without story, connections or experiences that are meaningful to learners just doesn’t cut it for me. I can learn far better from a computer than I can from a teacher who is only interested in showing me the powerpoint. In fact, I struggled at school because all they were interested in was machine gunning facts into me.
    Working as a street theatre performer taught me how to choose those who will play along and those who would rather stab themselves in the leg with fork than join in. Something magical happens when you get someone who will play. The audience engage on a different level. They are invested. There is now tension on the rope. The fourth wall is never there with children, why should it be there for adults.

    “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across an empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.’ Peter Brook



  2. Alan B says:

    Hello. I am a new teacher and I find this is confusing me – do I like them or do I not like them? what do I do?


    • suecowley says:

      You don’t have to like them, it’s not possible to like everyone in this life. Consistency means that you just don’t let it show either way. Because you’re a professional. Hope that helps 🙂


      • suecowley says:

        And of course I should add, find something to like in every child, no matter how much difficulty they might cause you. They were all tiny babies once.


      • Alan B says:

        Thanks Sue. But I am still confused. Isnt it unprofessional to be a fake and pretend and perform when you are a teacher. My tutor told me that teachers do not perform and that teaching is nothing to do with performance but you seem to be sayng that?. Also it doesnt help me to think that they were al little babies once. Not being rude but that just is not relevant when you are teaching them at al


  3. Alan B says:

    at all


    • suecowley says:

      Teaching is as much about performance as it is reality – about avoiding the emotional reaction and presenting a ‘teacher model’, so I’m not really sure what your tutor meant. For instance, at times you will feel very cross, but you train yourself not to show it because it is not useful in terms of classroom management or learning. You are not the same ‘you’ in the classroom as you are when out with friends – presumably that is the case for you?

      Remembering that every student was once a small baby is helpful for me in getting over the ‘why did they turn out like this?’ question. It is life that intervenes and causes a child to turn into a difficult or disruptive student later on. For me, this helps me keep a perspective when things are going wrong. It might not work for you as a strategy.

      In the end you will need to make up your own mind about all these things, which is what teacher training is about. I hope that helps.


  4. Alan B says:

    Thank you very much. I guess that my tutor was wrong. also Paul Dix reply is a good one too.


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