Do schools achieve more when teachers teach less, and children have more free time?

Francis Gilbert's picture
In this video, Finnish education expert, Pasi Sahlberg, talks about why the best education system encourage children to play by teaching them less, and teachers to improve their practice by having less contact time in the classroom.
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/05/2012 - 08:27

"The bottom line: When it comes to learning, it's the quality of teaching at school and students' attitudes towards learning that count most, not the number of hours students spend studying."

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 24/05/2012 - 08:28

When asked as a last question - If he could change one thing about English education what would it be? Pasi said that it was that we need to give our children more time to play.

He quoted Gladwell's law of 10,000 hours and said that it's most important application was to children and play.

Children in Finland do not start school until they are 7 - that's year 3 for us, having the opportunity to go to school half time at 6.

My daughter attends a pre-school in a Quaker meeting house with a big walled graveyard/garden. At this time of year they are out in the garden all morning, building things, swinging on ropes form the trees, exploring the rocks in the rockery and so on. In the winter there is a big room where which is set out as a classic free play playgroup room and they spill over into the meeting room when they need a big space to dress up and play.

I am so glad she won't be starting school until she is nearly 5. She's advanced for her age and will be fine at her play and exploration orientated primary then but my son and others like him would have been better off starting later and she would also be fine having more time to play. Where is the skipping and the juggling and the handstands?

Why are we putting our children into full time school at just turned 4? This is crazy. They are completely knackered and have no other life.

For many of us parenthood is flashing by in a whirl of trying to fit children in to our spare time and both we and our children are missing out on tremendous opportunities to learn to be children and parents. There isn't enough work around. Why are doing this?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 24/05/2012 - 10:03

It's important to remember that it isn't just any old play that works.
In Finland most of the kindergarten teachers are pretty well qualified too and there is a plan. One of the things that causes such disparities in development here is the vast difference between middle class and deprived children in terms of exposure to sophisticated language. Finnish play leaders really work on this.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 24/05/2012 - 11:00

"It’s important to remember that it isn’t just any old play that works."
Absolutely. We also have many, many examples of outstanding nurseries and pre-schools in England. English teachers work on these things too Ricky and of course this reasoning underpins the logic of the nursery places for two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds offer.

But there is a great deal more too it than that. On the afternoons when my daughter and her friend play together they chat all the time in a way I never do with her - because they are truly interested in the same things and are seeing the world from the same perspective. The relative rapidity with which they are developing because they are expressing what they have seen or leaned is very obvious compared with quiet solo play. When you say something - or write it down it's almost like you've put it outside yourself and you've space for new and deeper thoughts to emerge. Also you can see what you were thinking more clearly because it is 'out there'. Children also need masses and masses of sleep to thrive - right through their teens - and many of us don't pay enough attention to this.

"One of the things that causes such disparities in development here is the vast difference between middle class and deprived children in terms of exposure to sophisticated language."
And of course this issue becomes more important for older children, which is one of the reasons setting creates such a problem and is illegal in Finland. If you segregate children by their attainment and teach to their 'appropriate level' you are substantially pre-determining the intellectual and linguistic capacity they can develop. If you teach mixed-ability then what children can do when they are very young becomes less relevant as they can catch up as and when.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/05/2012 - 08:49

The latest Ofsted annual report found a strong link between teaching judged to be good and outstanding and highly effective use of assessment. This is not just monitoring pupils' progress within lessons but using assessment to aid differentiation through lesson plans and schemes of work. Ofsted identified one quality of effective meetings - concentrating on teaching methods rather than administration.

But teachers need time for this. Too many hours at the chalk face leave insufficient time for assessment, planning, cooperation and professional development.

Children need time too in order to pursue their own interests. Too many hours in school mean less time for other activities.

Less is definitely more. Quality not quantity.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 24/05/2012 - 08:53

I was startled how much better students learned secondary maths in three one hour lessons rather than in four fifty minute lessons.

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