In response to your article ‘Sugata Mitra – the professor with his head in the cloud’ Guardian (7th June 2016)
So, I am a teacher in my seventeenth year of teaching, as you can imagine over that time I have seen a lot of trends come and go, oh the hours on courses I have spent listening to the new ideas. Now don’t get me wrong I am not cynical at all, in fact I embrace change – it’s innovative and what keeps my ideas fresh.
So when I looked one day at the TED app on my iPad and came across Sugata Mitra’s talk, I was utterly inspired. It was everything I believed in: collaborative learning; high expectations of the learners; believing in children; celebrating how smart they are – in a nutshell SOLE. I contacted Sugata and since then have not looked back. SOLE is very much part of our KS2 environment, the children have utterly embraced it and the learning from it is phenomenal.
I told the children that you reported some were doubtful that SOLE had an impact and that they needed real proof – I am telling you there was an audible intake of breath from them. They were utterly amazed that some didn’t think it worked. I told them that people wanted ‘evidence’.… “Well” one boy said “It’s in here” pointing to his forehead.
Nodding heads agreed, all made that wonderful humming sound children make when they are utterly positive about something. “He could check our search history?” I explained that that will show where you have been, but not what you have remembered. People want proof that you ‘know’ it. Bemused, they all looked at me “Why would we spend an hour of our timetable doing it, if it didn’t work, we do it because it works”. The best was from one child “Hang on.. have they actually tried a SOLE, it definitely works for me?” Oh I am so proud of my children’s wiseness!
I’m sure you will know that children don’t see the point in doing something unless it is effective, why waste their time? Children also have a great way of telling you that something isn’t working. In SOLE my class relish the fact that I am letting them learn and discover without my intervention. I am certainly not arrogant enough to believe they can only learn from me. In SOLE, I am there to guide, and crucially it is the children who have the power to take their learning where they wish.
Essentially for me, SOLE is a teaching tool, one of many tools I use in my classroom. Across the board from my less able learners to my gifted learners all have achieved. Science has been a particular subject that has benefited from the SOLE approach, in an hour I can cover 2 or 3 objectives- therefore giving me time to widen their learning.
I am intending to teach my science curriculum through SOLE and practical investigations next year, why would I do this if it didn’t work? Each week they are accessing texts above their reading level and can only write something down if they can read it and understand it – undoubtedly this will have contributed to their progress in reading.
In maths, we use SOLE to help us to deepen our understanding, carry out investigations or indeed research something if we are stuck “Why is the number 60 so key when telling the time?”…. “ What is a decimal?” …“Let’s SOLE it!” is a regular statement in my room. Indeed in the time I have used SOLE my class have said some of the most profound, thought provoking comments.
There have been so many “wow” moments, so many “I did not know that” moments. Yes, these occur when I directly ‘teach’ but the joy is they have discovered it for themselves. Combine SOLE with my teaching and then the learning really sticks!
So, if it is evidence they require you need to come and listen to the discussion at the end of a SOLE – hear the learning, feel the buzz and sit back in awe. Come and see how they apply and remember their new learning. The internet is the future, technology is the future- embracing SOLE shows the children how to get the best of these. Peter, come and see a SOLE at my school- the children would love to show you the evidence and show you that it truly works! You will see a lot of qualitative evidence and this will give you an outstanding glimpse into how well my children are thriving through SOLE!
As for Sugata, never have I seen someone have such a spellbinding effect on the children, there was real wonderment. They felt smarter after he left, he showed them how SOLE helps you to learn and make links. You say he has no background in education, true. What he does have however is that natural gift to understand children and crucially understand how they learn. Some people I have met in my profession still haven’t got that!
Something to ponder – an article in Newsweek from 1995:
‘Then there are those pushing computers into schools. We’re told that multimedia will make schoolwork easy and fun? Students will happily learn from animated characters while taught by expertly tailored software. Who needs teachers when you’ve got computer-aided education? Bah.’
The author Cliff Stoll now says ‘And, as I’ve laughed at others’ foibles, I think back to some of my own cringe worthy contributions. Now, whenever I think I know what’s happening, I temper my thoughts: Might be wrong, Cliff…’
I leave you with that thought….
Sarah Leonard (teacher at Masham CE Primary School, North Yorkshire, UK)