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sunnuntai 14. huhtikuuta 2013

Students lying on the floor

I'll never forget one particular lesson I had with my 2nd graders a few years ago. It must have been in 2006 or 2007. We were having a "mixed" lesson, pupils had different tasks depending on what they had done so far. Some of them solved math problems in pairs with my assistance. In a corner of the classroom the assistant teacher was listening to some pupils reading. Some pupils were writing stories and a few read their "desk books", borrowed from the school library. Those who read their desk books sat comfortably on the sofa, except for one girl, who was lying on the floor under a table. (I had this quite large kitchen table in front of the window where I used to have piles of books and other stuff.) The girl had a cushion under her head and there she was, lying on the floor, reading her book. (Yes, I like to have sofas, cushions, blankets, floor mats etc. in my classroom.) The atmosphere in the classroom was calm and peaceful, everyone seemed to enjoy what they where doing.

Suddenly I heard a knock on the door and our school principal enters the room with a bunch of people. The principal tells us that we have guests from France who are interested in learning about Finnish education. I introduced myself and explained what we were doing at the moment. The pupils continued working without getting distracted, because they were quite used to having "PISA tourists" around. Those who had entered the classroom were principals from different schools in France. They wandered around in the classroom, observing and taking notes.

One of the principals was eager to make some questions and here's how our discussion went:

- Why do you teach Swedish ("mother tongue") and math during the same lesson?
- Well, some of the pupils are ready with all their math problems so far, while others still have something to solve. Some need to practice their reading skills and that's why they read with the assistant teacher.
- What about those sitting in the sofa?
- They have solved the math problems and they don't need extra training in reading.

Then the principal noticed the girl lying under the table:

- What's she doing there?!?
- She's reading her desk book.
- But why is she lying on the floor?
- Well, the desks aren't that comfortable, so the pupils are allowed to find a place where they like to read their books. Some like the sofa and she likes to lie on the floor with a cushion under her head.
- But don't you have any rules?!? Are they allowed to do whatever they like?
- (Sigh.) Of course we have rules and no, they are not allowed to do whatever they like. I expect them to focus on their work and to not disturb their classmates.
- But why does she get to lie on the floor?
- Well, she might think it's a peaceful place to read and as long as she isn't disturbing anyone it's totally fine with me.

The principal rolled her eyes and continues to the next classroom with her fellow principals. I sometimes wonder what she told about Finnish education when back in France?

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