Consider it a win for students worldwide.
An American school teacher who went ‘back to school’ for two days says she was so exhausted by the experience she was rendered unable to do anything mentally stimulating at the end of each day.
Author Grant Wiggins commissioned his daughter Alex Wiggins, a teacher of 15 years now working at a private American international school, to spend two days shadowing another student to gain a better understanding of auspicious teaching methods.
Her resulting piece, entitled ‘I have made a terrible mistake’, received mainstream media coverage in the US after Wiggins lamented not trying the exercise far sooner.
“I waited 14 years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of 10 things,” Wiggins wrote.
The teacher shadowed the work of a Year 10 student on day one, and the work of a Year 12 student the following day. She was required to do everything the student did, from frantically writing notes to completing practical work and exams.
After completing geometry, Spanish, world history and integrated science classes from 7.45am-2.45pm, Wiggins said the simple act of sitting down for extended periods had taken its toll on her and affected her overall learning capacity.
“I could not believe how tired I was after the first day. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot … we move a lot.”
“But students move almost never. And never is exhausting. By the end of the day, I could not stop yawning and I was desperate to move or stretch.
“It took a lot of conscious effort for me not to get up and start doing jumping jacks in the middle of science just to keep my mind and body from slipping into oblivion after so many hours of sitting passively.
“I was so drained I couldn’t do anything that involved mental effort, so instead I watched TV, and I was in bed by 8.30pm.”
Wiggins also reported that students weren’t being intellectually challenged as much as they could be, suggesting mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning type activities would be more beneficial.
“My host students rarely spoke,” Wiggins said. “I was struck by this takeaway in particular because it made me realise how little autonomy students have, how little of their learning they are directing or choosing.
“I felt especially bad about opportunities I had missed in the past in this regard.”
The other major concern Wiggins had was how often students were told to be quiet and pay attention.
“You start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day,” she said. “In addition, there was a good deal of sarcasm and snark directed at students and I recognised, uncomfortably, how much I myself have engaged in this kind of communication.”
Wiggins’ post was initially published anonymously on her father’s blog, but it elicited such a strong reaction the pair revealed its origins a week later.
Wiggins said the experiment might give teachers a better perspective on how to best engage with their students and improve learning results.
“It seems, then, that by the very nature of the job of teaching, we are prone to be insensitive to the actual daily experience of our students,” Wiggins said.
“And that’s what the anonymous post so beautifully accomplished: for a moment we could leave our egos and empathise, really sense vicariously, what students often feel.”
This article was featured on Stuff on October 27 2014 and was written by Tom Decent.