SItting on the other side of the table, walking a mile in someone else’s shoes – they are both experiences that help us understand other people and how they experience life.
In education, understanding what it is like to be a teacher can be important. And for teachers, it is useful to remember what it is like to be a student. And when it comes to textbooks, children know what they like. Why shouldn’t they help publish them?
Netherlands: Easy Maths
It is common for teachers to find themselves in front of 30 or more children, unable to focus on any one individual. Monique Pijls – a maths teacher in the Netherlands – has found a way to change that with her Betacoach project.
She explained: “You learn more when you can teach a subject, and weak students never come to that point. So that’s why I developed the project Betacoach – students who have difficulties in mathematics become responsible for five younger students during the maths lesson. They develop self-confidence, rehearse prior knowledge and see what strategies work in learning mathematics.”
Wendy, a Betacoach, said: “When I give an explanation to the other students I suddenly notice that I finally understand something about mathematics, so I said really triumphantly: ‘Yes I finally managed to understand maths!’”
Koen is also a Betacoach: “I really like it that we help younger children cope with the problems that we also had, so they have fewer problems with mathematics later on. So it feels great to know that our teaching might make their maths a lot easier to deal with.”
There is another benefit too. Using Betacoaches makes all the students more interested in maths.
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Russia: Pink Giraffe
Pink Giraffe in Moscow is not like any other publishing company. It was founded five years ago by two women who wanted better educational books for their children. They didn’t know anything about publishing but decided to go ahead anyway and luckily for them, their very first books became best-sellers.
Julia Zagach of Pink Giraffe Publishing told us: “Everything that we find interesting may seem the opposite to our public, the children. Children are the most important editors we have.”
Her partner at Pink Giraffe Publishing, Marina Kozlova, said: “And vice versa. Take the example of ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar’. We noted that almost all grownups, looking at this book, said: ‘What’s so great about this?’ But as soon as a child picks this book up, you understand why this book is a bestseller, why it’s famous worldwide: because it’s simply impossible to tear children away from it!”
Children started out by giving their opinions on prospective books, but now they are actually helping to write them. ‘Lighthouse’ was a collaborative effort between Danish writer Ida Jessen and a group of children.
Since 2008 Pink Giraffe has launched five blogs about popular science and young readers are leading the way, especially in their favourite section ‘Pocket scientist’.
Children ask questions like ‘How do birds go to the bathroom’, ‘Why do we need girls on earth’, ‘What would happen if there was no moon in the sky?’ And they all get answered on the blog.
Spain: Teachers back to school
Ana María Pulido is a teacher near Madrid. But soon she is going to the UK where she will be sitting on the other side of the table. She told us: “They will teach pure English and the teaching methodology in English. Not just speaking English, but also how to learn English. It is really important to get back to the classroom as a student sometimes, or you lose perspective. To sit down and listen again, see how you can engage students, how tiring it is sitting on a bench. You can put yourself in the students’ place and realise you have to engage them or they will get frustrated. You learn techniques from your own teachers and you say, ‘Ah, I am going to do that.
That works.’ It’s wonderful.”
Michael Hall, International Coordinator of Short Programmes, Marjon University, explained: “This programme is a partnership we have with Conserjeria de Madrid. They have sent us teachers for the last three summers now. The focus of the course is about developing English language competence, but particularly I think developing their English confidence, so they will be comfortable and happy about speaking in English in front of the students.”