Thursday, November 7, 2013

If I ran my own primary school...

Science would be taught for half an hour a day, 5 days a week for half of the year (every second month). 2 of the days each week I'd read the kids interesting information books on the topic or show them interesting videos. On the other days they would do experiments, do their own research or reading, and write in their journals. I would know that I'm teaching well if the kids are fascinated by what they are learning and looking for ways to find out more, if their knowledge base is expanding, if their are asking good questions and getting better at designing/carrying out experiments.

History would be taught for half an hour a day half of the months when Science wasn't taught. For two lessons a week, we'd read books getting an overview of our topic. For another lessons, we'd look at primary source documents. In the other lessons, the kids would respond to the reading in various ways...

Geography would be in the non history/science months. The kids would learn that England is not part of Asia and that Melbourne is not a state. I know there is more to Geography than this, but basically I wouldn't care if was all just maps, maps, maps. There are basic things that everyone needs to know.

Music would be taught for half an hour each day following a (seriously accelerated) Kodaly model.  From year 3 students would be expected to be learning an instrument privately. There would be orchestra and concert band and choir of course.

PE would be taught for half an hour a day with two lessons a week run by a specialist. Two of the non specialist days would be pure cardio training. Get out there and swim/run/skip. If you aren't puffing, you're not working hard enough!

Maths would be taught for an hour each day by someone who understands it and likes teaching it. (I understand it, but hate teaching it to kids who don't. get. it.)

English would be taught for an hour and a half each day. 15-20 minutes of that time each day should be spent listening to a story. 20 minutes should be spent on spelling. Two days a week should be spent on skills training - comprehension, grammar etc (Texts that are used for comprehension tasks should be carefully graded so that kids are working at a good level for them. They should also be worth reading.) three days a week should be spent in more creative, interesting, analytical... joyful pursuits. Poetry must  not be taught by people who have no interest in poetry. Kids who are struggling to read and write should be assessed by educational psychologists, speechies and OTs to work out exactly what is going wrong and plans put in place to help them progress and remain engaged with learning despite their difficulties.  

Visual art would be taught by a specialist for 2 hours a week. 

Dance and drama would happen within English and PE and also have intensive bursts with specialists a couple of times a year.

There would be only 20 kids in each class.

Homework would be minimal. Home readers would be worth reading. Technology would work.

Happy utopia.


  1. Switch the history and music allocations and I'm good with this!

  2. Well, to put it in context... That's already about twice as much history as is mandated by the curriculum. (Though I have put in about 20 times the amount of music as is technically required, so you may have a point!)

  3. So much of this sounds perfect. Especially subjects being taught by teachers who actually like them and are interested in them. Humanities the way it's taught in Australian high school is enough to teach any kid to hate history ...

  4. Amen. Especially more geography and more maps. And, with due respect to our Aboriginal history, can we do more than just aboriginal history in every year of primary school? There's a whole world of history out there.

  5. I have a (only slightly related) question: my 6yo has expressed an interest in learning an instrument and I'm wondering if you have suggestions or advice on what instrument? She has good pitch when she sings (which is a lot), we have a weighted keyboard, we are not wanting to spend a lot of money on an instrument she may not go on to play a lot of, and she is most keen on flute or violin (but not stubborn about this). Suggestions??

    1. Ask yourself:
      1. Am I ready for this? Music lessons aren't like swimming lessons. You don't just do it for a term then stop. If you start, you are pretty much committing yourself to $30-50 per week forever.
      2. Am I ready to help her practice and insist that she practices when she doesn't want to? Kids need mum or dad to be firm about practice (in an encouraging way). It's hard to get the instrument out when you've neglected it for 3 days. Much easier when the habit is established. Some kids need more help than other kids. Our #2 needed lots of help, since reading was an issue for him (and we held off until he was older). #3 told me to leave him to it on his very first practice!

      If there's 2 yeses, go for it. She's probably too little for flute, but could manage violin or piano. Small violins don't cost that much (and you can sell them when she moves to a bigger size) but it is really worth getting it from a specialist string shop rather than a general music store. A lot of young string players drop out because the instrument they are given to play is set up so badly - it will be difficult to play and always sound awful. If you get one from a general music shop you might save $50 but it's probably been put together by a guitarist who really has no idea.

  6. If "From year 3 students would be expected to be learning an instrument privately." means that these student are expected to be taking private lessons, then it's a private school, yes? As in, not really open to low socio-economic families due to the cost of required 'extra-curricular' activities.

  7. Aimee - ask at your school or the music specialist store if they hire instruments out. It's a good way to try before you buy and be able to try different brands of an instrument (which can make a large difference in 'playability' and enjoyment leading to on-going preparedness to practise). If your daughter finds that when it comes to actually playing an instrument she has a preference for one over the other, you won't have chewed through lots of $ only to find the less preferred instrument languishing in a cupboard a year later.

    Some places will hire instruments out on a week, term or semester basis. Some private teachers may also have a spare lying around (often their old one) that they'd be happy to hire out to one of their students. That's how I first started learning sax until the one I ordered was delivered.