Tag Archives: traditional schools

Which school? I found one!

school cropped

Most parents want to provide what is best for their children. However, they don’t always know what that best is, where it is available or how to get it. This is just as true of schooling as it is of anything else. Fortunately, most children are adequately schooled locally, be it at a state or privately run facility.

I attended a Catholic school and have taught in both the Catholic and State systems. I see little real difference between what is offered in local private and local public schools as far as philosophy, pedagogy and quality of teaching goes. The differences, as I see them, are more due to the inequities in funding for facilities and resources, the restriction to accessibility by the imposition of fees, and the ability of privately run organisations to decline students as opposed to the state’s willingness to cater for all.

While I think most schools do an excellent job of schooling, there are aspects I don’t like.

© Norah Colvin

© Norah Colvin

Fortunately, most children survive school and graduate adequately prepared for life in the adult world. But the scarring carried by many, whether visible or hidden, emotional or intellectual, is a cost that should not be accepted.

In this TED talk Sir Ken Robinson asks “Do Schools Kill Creativity? He explains why he thinks they do and the manner in which they do it. He ends the talk saying,

“our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. … we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it. “

By the time Bec was born I had already decided that I wanted more than schooling for her. I had read voraciously about learning and education. I had observed the magic of learning as my son wondered, questioned, explored and reignited my own curiosity, during his before school years. I saw those same traits inhibited by uninspiring teachers. I have written about this before here and in an article published in a teachers’ magazine when Bec was of school starting age. At that time, it was necessary to make decisions about her ongoing education.

To school or not to school

I had already explored local (and not-so local) alternatives. I attended information sessions, read their publications (no Google back then), and visited schools to observe their practices and speak with teachers, children and parents. Disappointingly I found none that met all of my criteria.

Some “schools” provided little stimulus or input to extend or challenge children’s thinking. Some were very structured and without flexibility in their approach. Some that claimed to be alternative appeared to be not so with uniforms and strict rules and timetables. Some that claimed to be mainstream were more child-focused with an organic curriculum matched to children’s interests, but lacked other things I sought.

When the pluses and minuses of each were considered, there wasn’t one with a compelling scoresheet. There was nothing for it but to found my own, a possibility I had been contemplating for some time and a “dream” shared by many teachers. The Centre of Learning Opportunities was born. These are some of the original documents drawn up by the team back then.




COLO brochure inside

While working to establish this alternative to school, I began an MPhil research project “Educational Diversity: Why school? What school?” which, as well as exploring educational alternatives, was to record the first year of an (my) alternative school. As part of the project I conducted a survey of local alternative schools with the aim of recording the diversity of approaches available in order to demonstrate that there is more than one way to obtain a quality education.

Although the degree went down the same dead end path as the school, I was able to (self) publish and distribute the results of my research to participating schools in a document titled “Diversity in Schooling: Discovering educational alternatives in South-East Queensland.” (Surprise, surprise, I have just discovered it in a Google search. How weird is that!)


I was reminded of my research and this document by a recent discussion with Pauline King, The Contented Crafter in response to my post Life — A “choose your own” adventure. When I alluded to the wisdom of young children and “our” efforts to obliterate it, Pauline agreed and suggested that she could do a post-long comment on the topic.  I jumped at the chance and immediately invited her to do so. Pauline again agreed but suggested I refine a set of questions as she could fill a book with her ideas. I”m working on it.

Responding to The Industrious Child Pauline wrote,

“Teachers need to be SO flexible in their ability to see their world, their work, their class as a whole and their individual students – it is never a one step process and different expectations and challenges can be laid down for different abilities. Almost every child will shine somewhere within the curriculum and many struggle somewhere else. After all, we all have our different talents and abilities. Schools are structured to meet the needs of a certain academic ability and those who fall above or below that parameter are, in my opinion, so often mis-educated.”

It is obvious that Pauline, Ken Robinson, and I, along with many others, are part of the same revolution.

In another comment on my post I found it first Pauline shared that she had spent many years trying to establish a school of her own but had found “an already working alternative system and never regretted it.”

I think I have questions enough for Pauline to fill a book’s worth of posts and look forward to sharing some of these in the future. If you have questions of your own, please pop them into a comment and we’ll see what we can do.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

What’s the difference?

Fifteen differences between traditional and alternative approaches to schooling

This list itemises some of the differences between traditional and alternative schools. The list is meant to contrast the stereotypes rather than reflect the culture of any particular school.

It is unlikely that a school would have all the characteristics of one approach and none of the other. Most schools will have some characteristics of both approaches to a greater or lesser degree.

As you read the list, consider each characteristic with regard to the schools you attended, or those attended by your children.

  • teacherbellTraditional schools are authoritarian organisations in which children are expected to conform. Alternative schools are run more democratically with children involved in planning and decision making.
  • Teachers in traditional schools direct activitiesclay from a pre-established curriculum; while activities in alternative school are more spontaneous and child-centred, with children involved in planning and choosing their educational experiences.
  • In traditional schools, students are passive recipients of information; while in alternative schools, students are actively involved in learning, both mentally and physically.
  • readingInformation taught in a traditional school has an academic orientation and is often disconnected; while students in alternative schools learn about a wide range of topics by making connections with prior knowledge, and through interaction with the environment.
  • In traditional schools, information is transmitted by someone or something else; while in alternative schools, students discover their own answers, solutions, concepts and create their own interpretations.
  • talkingMost communication in traditional schools is one way: the teacher talks and students listen. Communication between students and teachers, and among children in alternative schools is reciprocal.
  • Most questions asked by traditional teachers are closed and deal with facts; while students in alternative schools are involved in reflective thinking, problem solving, and learning how to learn.
  • gardeningStudents in traditional schools do a lot of written work while emphasis is given to hands-on-activity in alternative schools.
  • Traditional teachers provide little corrective feedback or guidance to students; while teachers in alternative schools usually provide guidance, evaluation and direction to students.
  • People_16_Teacher_BlackboardIn traditional schools, instruction is usually given to the class as a whole. A greater emphasis is placed upon individual instruction in alternative schools.
  • old school roomDesks are usually arranged to face the chalkboard or whiteboard in traditional schools; while space is used more flexibly in alternative schools.
  • The main focus in a traditional school is on imparting the existing values and roles of the society and culture. In an alternative school emphasis is placed upon the importance of the child in society and on educating the child for a responsible, thinking role.

school cropped

  • In traditional schools students are generally grouped for work by ages, but in alternative schools children work at their own pace.
  • clockThe traditional school day is divided into sessions according to subject matter, while the organisation in an alternative school is flexible and loosely structured.
  • In traditional schools students remain dependent; while students in alternative schools are encouraged to develop independence.

How closely do the characteristics describe the schools attended by yourself or your children?

What do you see as the main similarities and differences?

Where would they sit along the continuum?

The school that I attended as a child was firmly embedded in traditional practices without any characteristics of an alternative approach.

However some changes in pedagogical theories have occurred over the years, and the schools attended by my own children, and those in which I have recently taught, while still traditional, have moved a little along the continuum towards a less rigid and more flexible approach in some areas.

In an earlier post “To school or not to school” I shared some thoughts I considered when making choices for the education of my children.

I invite you to leave a comment and share your views.

Which of the characteristics are most important to you when choosing a school for your child?

Which characteristics would encourage you to choose against a particular school?

All photos courtesy of http://www.morguefile.com/

Clipart from www.openclipart.org