Think back to when you were part of the thirty-something students in your classroom. How did it feel with the teacher standing in front of the class rumbling on about stuff you had no idea about? Does boring sum it up? I bet you wished you could be watching paint dry instead. Well, that’s just one of the problems with traditional teaching methods; sometimes, the teacher makes the lesson so dull that students can’t help but think of ways to escape.
Well, that’s all in the past now; you made it through this traditional schooling system to be reading this article right now. But, what could have been if you’d studied under an alternative mode of teaching? Yes, there are other teaching methods that go beyond the traditional way of teaching, which – in most cases – basically involves a tutor standing in front of class doling out knowledge on the chalkboard (sounds familiar?). One thing’s for sure; you wouldn’t have bothered with report cards, long lectures and homework if you had chosen these alternative education systems.
Imagine having the freedom to decide how you want to spend your day in school. If you went to a Montessori school, you would have been forgiven for wanting to turn it into a playground and focusing on having all the fun you wanted with your pals. Dr. Maria Montessori – the brains behind this system – did not create the system in order to transform schools into playgrounds; her thinking was that Montessori teaching methods should allow students to explore opportunities on their own. With this line of thinking, students can be more innovative, so if you had gone to a Montessori school, maybe you would’ve come up with a huge innovation that earned you comparisons to Isaac Newton and Co. But the best part about this system is that there are zero tests, grades or any other type of formal assessment. The thought of not having to face your stone-faced paps with your report card every school term must bring a wide smile to your face. Lack of assessment also makes the classroom non-competitive, which would have also brought peace to your heart. Something you should know though; Montessori teachers are committed to watch over their students as they engage in whatever they’re doing – just in case they decide to be mischievous. After all, you would need some adult guidance to show you towards your destiny even as you freely decide what to do in school.
With the Harkness method, it all comes down to an oval piece of table – sounds crazy, uh? Don’t give me that bewildered look, let me explain; invented by Edward Harkness, this teaching method creates an aura of intimacy by gathering small groups of students around an oval table with their teacher. Were you the kind of student who would keep your ideas locked up safely in your heart for fear of ridicule? Did you suddenly wish the ground would swallow you when told to speak before your classmates? Remember all the times your palms became sweaty and your temperature rose when you had to make a presentation in front of everyone? You would have felt at home with the Harkness method as its small number of students allows everyone to contribute their ideas for review – including the shy ones. In case you’re scared about embarrassing yourself, the teacher’s there to ensure that no one hogs all the limelight or intimidates others.
If you thought that Montessori allows you all the freedom to do what you want in school, then you’ve probably not heard of the Sudbury teaching method. Talk about taking democracy to the extremes, this alternative teaching method gives students the freedom to choose what they want to learn and how they want to be taught. You think that’s awesome? Wait till you hear that you can dictate how you want to be evaluated. It doesn’t stop at that; you’ve got the power to make the school rules (maybe you could reduce the school hours?), you can choose your student leaders as well as decide on the budget for hiring new teachers. Thank God for the Sudbury philosophy which believes that students are able to make sound decisions and be responsible. With this kind of responsibility come a lot of lessons that you’ll mostly learn through the consequences of your unwise decisions. This kind of teaching philosophy ensures that you will have a mentor at an early age in the form of an older student – no need for the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. It’s a form of collaborative learning that mixes students of different ages in same classes.
4. Reggio Emilia
As a kid aged between three and six years, I bet you had a lot of thirst for knowledge; always curious to understand what was going on around you. Many are the times your toys were damaged beyond repair because you tried to act the mechanic and fix what was not broken in the first place. Don’t worry, that was your curiosity playing out and if you were indeed a curious child, the Reggio Emilia teaching method could’ve been more to your liking. In this method, the focus is on creativity where an art teacher guides you in making use of your creativity – mmmhh…this makes me wonder if I could’ve been the next Picasso if I’d focused more on those scrawny paintings I did in pre-school. With Reggio Emilia, you wouldn’t have had to tussle with mom about getting out of bed in the morning; why would you when school feels just like home? The classroom layout is designed with a home feel while the curriculum does not have any definite lesson plans. Your mind is a goldmine of ideas though still contained deep in your mind. Reggio Emilia teaching method seeks to encourage you to excavate for these ideas and use them to tackle some of the world’s problem – ok, get out your shovels and start digging!
How would your life pan out if you chose to undergo the Waldorf/Steiner method of teaching? For starters, you wouldn’t have been able to read until you were seven years old; the first seven years of your life would have been spent playing and interacting with your friends. Before learning how to read a book without having to stutter in between words, Waldorf/Steiner students also learn how to hold a pen and write. By the age of fourteen your creativity and imagination would have been in excellent shape, and you would have then moved on to be taught about social responsibility. Another great perk of this method is that you would have learnt a foreign language between the age of seven and fourteen. These are the tenets of Steiner teaching method – named after its inventor, Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian scientist and philosopher. It stresses on creativity, spiritual values and social responsibility that seeks to create unity of the spirit, body and soul – isn’t that what yoga’s for? Still, the fact that this teaching method’s curriculum has remained unchanged for close to 90 years speaks volumes about its stature as an alternative teaching method.
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Who said school has to feel like a prison? If sitting for hours on a wooden desk - while having to listen to your chemistry teacher rumbling about periodic tables and stuff - wasn’t your idea of fun learning, then one of these teaching methods would’ve been your saving grace. Well, at least you can now get things right when it comes to your children’s education.