(Or should I say ‘Buenos dias’? Duo would be proud.)
Yesterday was Thursday, so pre-school day.
The sixty-minutes from five-thirty to six-thirty p.m. on a Thursday is the longest hour of my working week.
And the one I do most preparation for.
Besides shifting the adult-sized classroom furniture, so as to make space for a couple of bright-green plastic tables, and seven little plastic stools…
…not forgetting to cue up the DVD to the right scene in ‘Frozen’ (the one with the angry snow giant)…
…and placing the TV and audio remotes higher than little hands can reach…
… there’s the lesson itself to plan.
Ideally, so that it’s as pacy as humanly possible. With changes of activity every five minutes or so.
Time is short – little feet will shortly be hammering up the stairs.
And there are still the ‘jungle animals’ bingo card pictures to photocopy!
In a rush, I press ‘7’ twice, rather than the once I’d intended.
The machine starts spitting out paper before I notice my mistake.
At which point, stabbing my finger at the ‘cancel’ button on its touch screen seems to have no effect.
We pay our photocopier supplier a fee for each copy made – hence my panic.
And now I have seventy-seven sheets, each with a picture of a lion, a tiger, a crocodile, a snake, a parrot and, most apt of all, a monkey.
What am I going to do with approximately four hundred animal pictures?
OK, change of plan.
1 large sheet of paper for each child, the box with the kiddy-sized scissors, pots of coloured pens, and we’re good to go!
First Cookie the Cat finds the new words in Lulu the Kangaroo’s pouch, and tries, with no success, to teach the children to say them.
Next we ring the bell and move to the little green plastic tables.
Great news! Today we’re going to draw a jungle.
I take a coloured pen and put a vertical brown slash up the middle of my A3 sheet (landscape not portrait if you’re doing this yourself at home.)
A green pen adds some foliage to my tree.
Green scribbles form undergrowth around the paper’s edges,
A patch of blue over here is water.
There, a jungle!
And now we need some animals to put in it.
By some strange chance, here in this cardboard box there are plenty.
And wow! They’re the exact same ones that Cookie found in Lulu’s pouch, see?
Take as many as you want.
Now watch – I’m going glue these monkeys onto my tree, one up there, another down here, like that.
Careful not to get my fingers sticky.
And now I’ll fill the pond with scary crocodiles!
And the parrot lives in this other tree.
The lion can go over here. Let’s draw a hill for him to stand on….
Paper for you, paper for you, one for you…
Coloured pens, scissors, glue, off you go!
(Silence, concentration, maybe for the longest-ever time…)
Many mintes later the ‘lesson’ is so close to its conclusion that there’s not time to do anything useful before dishing out sweets and switching on ‘Frozen’
The jungle scenes have been completed and placed on the table near the door, ready to be taken home.
I’ve added a name added to each so I’ll know whose is whose – though the kids usually recognise their own work.
And there are still, what, a couple of hundred animal pictures left?
Ring the bell, kids.
Everyone sit here on the carpet, please.
OK, I hold up a picture, if you know what it is, shout it out.
It’s a lion, very good. Here you are.
Oh, another lion.
Lion. There you go, that one’s for you.
Take it home and you can add it to your picture, OK? Ask your mum to buy you glue.
Very good. Take it.
Snake. Take it home, glue it in your jungle. Maybe in the tree. Snakes like trees. Remember Mowgli?
Within a few minutes each kid has a handful more animals to take home.
The sweet, five minutes of TV, and finally it’s 6.30!
Bye kids, take your pictures, hold them like this or you’ll drop all the animals that aren’t glued on.
You don’t want the sweet? Here spit it in the bin.
Bye, bye! See you next week!
I roll up the carpets, pick up the scraps of paper, swap the kiddie furniture for the usual classroom layout, and we’re done for the day.
Time for some wine.
My wife tells me later that, outside the classroom, the kids showed their parents / babysitters / grandmothers the pictures they’d just ‘won’:
Lion! Snake! Monkey! Parrot! Crocodile! Tiger!
All of which goes to show, well what?
Maybe that teaching and learning, while supposedly correlated, are quite different activities.
They may happen independently of each other.
I guess a lot of teachers will admit that, sometimes, the best-planned lessons, the ones they’ve worked hardest on and care most about, just don’t go that well.
Whereas on other occasions, something just works.
I notice the same with cooking.
It’s not something you can rely on but, now and again, a meal that I just throw together at short notice with random scraps from the fridge is a hit with my family.
While a dinner party concoction I laboured over is forgettable.
And another thing…
‘Cooking’ can mean ‘preparing a meal by taking things out of the fridge and arranging them on the table along with crockery and cutlery’, no heat or cutting required!
While ‘teaching’ can be understood as ‘keeping the kids safe, interested and under-control’.
Rather than actually causing learning to happen.
However much the teacher, and the teachee, might want learning to take place, it just may not.
Especially if no one is paying attention.
Edward is rolling on his back distracting everyone, including me. No good will result.
In theory, teaching might mean something like ‘acting in such a way that learning results in others’.
In practice, it’s more a matter of managing the circumstances in which positive outcomes could, potentially, result.
That is, if the wind’s in the right direction and nobody farts at a critical moment.
‘Learning’ would seem to be uncontroversial by comparison. But even this term – that we all, teachers or otherwise, feel we understand – could do with closer examination.
Do we mean ‘memorising’? As if for an impending test?
Or do we mean the more gradual and subconscious process of assimilating new abilities, or understanding, into the congnitive resources we already possess?
Personally, I prefer to learn WITHOUT learning, if you see what I mean.
I’m doing Duolingo Spanish at the moment.
So ‘learning’ as in gradually becoming able to recognise and understand, perhaps use.
Being lazy, and knowing from experience that it’s a poor use of my time, I haven’t ‘learnt’ (memorised) anything.
Learning, as in assimilating rather than memorising, CAN result from effective teaching.
But sadly, it’s not guaranteed.
Learning can also result from using well-structured apps, or from placing yourself in situations in which learning is required, or from reading, or from listening to the radio.
Also not guaranteed.
Learning doesn’t require teaching.
Teaching doesn’t guarantee learning.
Take a lesson or a course, learning might happen.
Read a book or go for a beer with a group of native-speakers, ditto.
You pays your money, you takes your chances.
Bene, that’s me done for today.
A lunedì, allora.
Next week is spring!
And as Easter is absurdly late this year – I blame the pope for making teachers’ lives a misery – we’ll be having our Spring Sale!
So, expect a juicy discount on online Italian lessons, ebooks and so on.
Watch out for the coupon code on Wednesday 20th March.
In the meantime, of course, there’s the half-price ‘Book of the Week’ La montagna.
Check out the FREE Sample Chapter (.pdf)
Or pick something more suited to your level from our Catalog.
That would have the pre-schoolers in stitches.
Just as when Cookie the Cat does a ‘scoreggia’.
Anyway, don’t forget to listen to yesterday’s (Thursday’s) Easy Italian News.