Phonics and one size fits all.

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” – Angela Carter

One characteristic that often stands out for me about mainstream education in England is the obsession with “evidence based” teaching. This is such an effective term because it hides within it flawed assumptions, which if we were to think about more, will make the whole logic of the system crumble. This “evidence-based” approach assumes that we can all agree on evidence towards “the goal” (scoring higher in tests that are built by the same people collecting the evidence) and on “how” (there is one method which all children universally respond better to).

Yet, one might ask, if our approach is so “evidence-based” – why have we not figured it out? Why instead of having the brightest, most enthusiastic, highest-achieving kids, we are facing larger than before anxieties and drop-rates? And, one might ask, why do “evidence-based” policy makers ignore so often “the evidence”?

Take, for example, phonics. Despite no evidence to its superiority, mainstream education policy in England has made phonics into the dominant method meant to teach reading. The reason behind this, in my opinion, is because evidence-based education is never about the “evidence” – it is about control. The guise of objectivity allows policy makers to design a system in which every act of the student and the teacher can be recorded, assessed and scored. There are numerous ways to teach reading, but phonics stands out as the easiest method to assess and grade. It is hard to assess “love of reading” and “confidence”, but with synthetic phonics you can score a five-year-old on whether they can properly pronounce made out words such as “blem” and “meck”.

Democratic education, by contrast, offers a fundamentally different approach. Rather than try and choose one universally correct method for teaching reading and writing, we believe that children will not master language by gradually being “given” it by adults and then “tested” by them. Language is to be mastered by children when they feel that it belongs to them, that it is being created with them and for them.

In practical terms, it means that children are given the freedom to choose to read and write, to read at the pace they want and to read and write about the things they want to read and write about. When the children are learning about topics that they want to learn about, they are happy to read and write about them. When we are in an environment in which children are not graded, they have greater confidence to read out something they may ‘get wrong’. We encourage children to write their thoughts, feelings and creative ideas, and learn from the strengths of each other’s work.  We believe children will master their language because it belongs to them as a tool of learning and self-expression. 

Mainstream policy makers will continue to find ways to rigidly assess children’s every step of acquiring language because it is a powerful tool of control, and we will continue to help them feel that that this language belongs to all of us because it is a powerful tool of liberation.  

Nimrod Evron, Lead Teacher, Hebden Bridge Learning Community

       https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jan/19/ministers-obsessed-teaching-children-phonics-nonsense-words

Welcome to our blog!

Phonics, who decides how we learn?

“Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” – Angela Carter

One characteristic that often stands out for me about mainstream education in England is the obsession with “evidence based” teaching. This is such an effective term because it hides within it flawed assumptions, which if we were to think about more, will make the whole logic of the system crumble. This “evidence-based” approach assumes that we can all agree on evidence towards “the goal” (scoring higher in tests that are built by the same people collecting the evidence) and on “how” (there is one method which all children universally respond better to). 

Yet, one might ask, if our approach is so “evidence-based” – why have we not figured it out? Why instead of having the brightest, most enthusiastic, highest-achieving kids, we are facing larger than before anxieties and drop-rates? And, one might ask, why do “evidence-based” policy makers ignore so often “the evidence”? 

Take, for example, phonics. Despite no evidence to its superiority, mainstream education policy in England has made phonics into the dominant method meant to teach reading. The reason behind this, in my opinion, is because evidence-based education is never about the “evidence” – it is about control. The guise of objectivity allows policy makers to design a system in which every act of the student and the teacher can be recorded, assessed and scored. There are numerous ways to teach reading, but phonics stands out as the easiest method to assess and grade. It is hard to assess “love of reading” and “confidence”, but with synthetic phonics you can score a five-year-old on whether they can properly pronounce made out words such as “blem” and “meck”.

Democratic education, by contrast, offers a fundamentally different approach. Rather than try and choose one universally correct method for teaching reading and writing, we believe that children will not master language by gradually being “given” it by adults and then “tested” by them. Language is to be mastered by children when they feel that it belongs to them, that it is being created with them and for them. 

In practical terms, it means that children are given the freedom to choose to read and write, to read at the pace they want and to read and write about the things they want to read and write about. When the children are learning about topics that they want to learn about, they are happy to read and write about them. When we are in an environment in which children are not graded, they have greater confidence to read out something they may ‘get wrong’. We encourage children to write their thoughts, feelings and creative ideas, and learn from the strengths of each other’s work.  We believe children will master their language because it belongs to them as a tool of learning and self-expression.  

Mainstream policy makers will continue to find ways to rigidly assess children’s every step of acquiring language because it is a powerful tool of control, and we will continue to help them feel that that this language belongs to all of us because it is a powerful tool of liberation.          

 

            

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jan/19/ministers-obsessed-teaching-children-phonics-nonsense-words

Child-centred learning

What is child-centred education?

More focus is being placed on a holistic child development, which looks at all the factors that contribute to preparing children for life. Child-centred education places the child first, an approach with the message that all children have the right to an education that helps them grow to their fullest potential. It also focuses on the child’s well-being in all areas.

A focus on all areas of development
The core of child-centred education is to help the child become independent learners, responsible, and confident. Teachers who use this approach want to cover all areas of growth including social, emotional, and physical. Child-centred teachers engage in an “active learning” process. They want to help the child develop the knowledge and skills needed in all content areas.

Mental health and wellbeing

Young people’s mental health and wellbeing online.

Learning online can be a soulless business for children; ploughing through pre-made content or sitting in a class of peers they don’t have any genuine connection with. Families are increasingly turning to online learning as a response to Covid-19, but how do they make sure their children’s mental health and wellbeing are being looked after?

Hebden Bridge Learning Community thinks it has the answers. With years of experience of integrating mindfulness and yoga into children’s learning, they found that taking their community online during the lockdown was surprisingly positive, so much so that their students asked them to continue providing online learning alongside our in-person learning.

Their new online school is called The Learning Circle and it will address the mental health and wellbeing needs of the increasing numbers of children who are learning online.

Lead teacher Anil Sarna says “We try to make learning, fun, creative and personalised.Drawing from our experience in Hebden Bridge, we’ve combined what we already know works really well such as children and teachers making democratic decisions together about; choosing topics for learning and deciding what books to study in literature together with new elements that focus on wellbeing and making friendships” 

These include:

Wellbeing workshops. These weekly two-hour workshops include modules such as: how to look after difficult emotions, personal, social, health and economic education, student-led cookery classes, non-violent communication & conflict resolution.

Storytelling. We know that encouraging students to tell their personal stories enables them to feel that they can show up whole to school and not present just a public face. We facilitate storytelling in a variety of different ways. Once-a-term students and teachers are invited to put their names forward for the Gratitude Gift. We pick a name out of a hat and the chosen person gets £20. This can be spent in any way they like to thank someone special outside of their immediate family/peers. The only rule is that they must then share the story of what they gave, to whom they gave it and how the gift was received.

Keeping things small and personal. As our online school grows, it will do so in small, self-managed hubs which prioritise humanity over bureaucracy, along similar lines to the Buurtzorg healthcare model from the Netherlands. https://www.buurtzorg.com

Summer Camp! We’ve already been running an international summer camp for the last 3 years, one in Hebden Bridge, another in Barcelona and this year’s one in the Netherlands that we had to cancel. It’s a chance for students from all over the world to meet up and to experiment creating a democratic community together for a week. This will give our students the chance to cement online friendships and make new ones.

To make our online learning more soulful and involved we emphasise:

Being present. Our teaching is 100% live face-to-face. We believe that students benefit from having a teacher available throughout the learning day, especially online. At times when students are invited to work independently (write, think, create, discuss or do research) they will always have a teacher available to check in with whenever they need to.

Celebrating diversity. With students coming potentially from anywhere in the world it’s a huge opportunity to learn about different cultures through your class mates location and experience. Just pointing your camera outside your window can be fascinating and making friendships across borders has never been more important than it is now.

The Meditation bell/Singing bowl. We use a few chimes of the bell at the start and end of a class and other moments during the day. It is a way of coming home to ourselves. Taking a few deep breaths can be all we need to feel refreshed and renewed. We encourage students to have their own small (or big) bell at home and to either all chime together or take a breather with it whenever they need to.

We hope that The Learning Circle will make learning online as rich and supportive an experience as possible for everyone.