Taking oneself out of the firing line

By Brigitte Pietschmann, July 2020

I write from the perspective of an English teacher who retired a few years ago and is aware of the danger of glossing over her experiences with hindsight. On the other hand, I did sit in on a lesson in a class 7 as a development consultant only a few months ago and experienced the way that it remains the task of the middle school teacher “to take oneself out of the firing line of the rebellious pupil tribe, always seeking boundary experiences.” Expressed in less militaristic terms: how can teachers manage to progress from a monologue to a dialogue with the pupils and also between the pupils? How did I deal with that situation myself?

Photo: @ Charlotte Fischer

A snapshot of my last English lesson with a class 8: we were busy to the last minute finishing off a pupil project. So instead of a qualified review of our year learning together there only remained time for the question: “How was it?” From the bottom of their heart came the mumbled response: “Great, because we were allowed to do everything ourselves!”

The project was about revisiting the grammatical basics. I had created a learning infrastructure for this in the second half of the school year in which two pupils each were responsible for a grammatical phenomenon. I gave the teams their tasks in accordance with their abilities. They were to explain their grammatical topic to their fellow pupils, then practice with them in a group, give them a practice sheet for their individual work and finally prepare a test which was then corrected by the “experts”. In my role supporting them I was able to ask question as they explained something or provide additional information. I also corrected the practice sheets and tests before they were duplicated. We spent a week on each topic in this way. By this means we were able to navigate our way through the confusion of a class 8 – with gaps in subject lessons due to the class play, project work and a more extended class trip.

A focus on everyone

Learning took place in various ways. To begin with, in a creative phase, the groups of two looked at ways of presenting their grammatical chapter. In the course of their school life they had already seen various ways of doing this by their teachers or in previous presentations.

In this phase they had to put themselves in the mind of their fellow pupils and examine or discuss with empathy whether what they were planning would lead to successful learning among as many of their mates as possible. Examples – as age-appropriate as I could never have made them – were frequently suggested by the Internet.

We had often already deployed such “learning by teaching” when someone had missed something because of illness or simply needed some extra tuition by a peer. A table with two chairs was placed in front of the English classroom for this purpose. Every teacher knows how much more committed the pupils are when one of them slips into the role of teacher. Observing this is not only stress-free but “balm for the teacher’s soul”.

The extent to which their mates were carried along by the pupils responsible for the topic showed itself both in the oral and written exercises and, of course, in the final test. The protagonists were rewarded by the good test results of the learning group.

Learning as a highly individual process takes place in the pupil. Depending on age and on the extent to which the reflective faculty of the pupils has been age-appropriately cultivated, their awareness can be guided along new paths – away from ego consciousness to a systemic awareness: “We as a class want to have a secure grasp of the basics of English grammar” – a contribution to teaching without stress.

About the author: Brigitte Pietschmann was an English teacher at the Schwäbisch Hall Free Waldorf School and for many years a school development consultant and conflict advisor in Waldorf schools and kindergartens. Facilitator of teacher and parent further training.


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