“Child-centred” has a nice, cuddly sound to it—and in truth, a lot of old-fashioned classrooms were pretty ghastly places. No one wants to return to huge classes where discipline was enforced with the cane, and woe betide the child who couldn’t conjugate Latin verbs.
Alas, modern ‘child-centred’ schools aren’t much better. A recent study revealed that 20% of our teachers have been assaulted, and that only 30% of our pupils feel safe in school. Truancy rates have soared, and gangs have taken over our inner-city estates. This is a far cry from the touch-feely, cuddly-bunny ideals of our ‘progressive’ educators. We’ve raised a generation of children who know their rights, but don’t understand their responsibilities.
The basic idea behind ‘child-centred’ learning is that children should be in charge of their own learning. They should learn ‘naturally’ through their own investigations. Fortunately, most teachers aren’t so daft as to take this to extremes—they know perfectly well that children would never learn how to count to ten if grown-ups didn’t teach them.
The simple truth is that children are happier when they know what’s expected of them. They like it when all of their friends are learning the same things they are. They admire teachers that love their subjects and know how to teach them. The last thing they want is wishy-washy ‘learning facilitators’ who can’t or won’t tell them what’s worth knowing—and expect their pupils to do all the work.
The Phoenix Free School will use modern direct-instruction techniques to give all pupils a thorough grounding in the knowledge and understanding that underpin all higher-order skills. Direct instruction is simple—the teacher delivers lessons by any appropriate means, and constantly questions pupils to ensure that they have all understood it.
Hence, the responsibility for learning is shared: pupils are highly-motivated to learn, because they don’t want to get it wrong when the teacher calls on them. By the same token, teachers are motivated to improve their lessons so that pupils are always getting it right. And when pupils are learning, they develop positive attitudes about themselves and their school.