is teaching child’s play?

Q: When is a train carriage not a train carriage?

A: When it is a classroom.

This is the substance of a conversation I heard on the train recently.

Initially I only vaguely listened while trying to concentrate on my book, but the conversation began to grip my attention and I transcribed it.

Names, while overheard, have been omitted in the interests of privacy.

This conversation was one of probably hundreds of similar conversations between parents and children going on throughout the UK at the time.

Scene: a train carriage in the UK

Protagonists: a mother and male child, late nursery or early primary school age.
Child is reading aloud, mother is encouraging the child to continue and is engaging the child in conversation about the book he is just finishing.

Mother: Excellent reading, darling, excellent reading. So now, um, shall we, shall we make a sentence?

Child is silent.

Mother: What was your favorite bit?

Child: All of the story.

Mother: No darling, ‘favorite’ means ‘the best bit’.

Child: I TOLD you, mummy, I liked all of the story!

Five minutes later…

Mother: We’re gonna think more about the story. What was your favorite bit?

Child ignores.

Child: Mummy, you know what? Everybody’s animals, except trains and bikes. We’re animals. We’re all animals.

Mother: That’s right. Take your feet off the seat or you lose two points.
(Note: the mother apparently uses a points system to reward/penalise the child for certain behaviour)

Mother: (staring our of train window) Look at those cars. They’re going faster than us! That can’t be right!

Five minutes later…

Mother: What was your favorite part of the story?

Child: All of it!

Mother: Look, you could say ‘I really liked the story because…’ er, ‘because lots of exciting things happened.’

Child: My favorite part of the story was ALL OF IT!

Five seconds later…

Child: This is our stop.

Mother: we’re getting off at Luton.

Child: This is Luton: M-I-L-L-H-I-L-L-B-R-O-A-D-W-A-Y. See, Luton – we’ve missed our stop! (giggles, then looks out window). Look at those cars! They’re going faster than us! That can’t be right!

Mother: Don’t do that: it’s annoying.

Five minutes later…

Mother: Look, what I really want to do is think about this sentence.

Child: Oh look, we’ve missed our stop.

Mother: OK, right, that are you going to write? Where’s your pen?

Child: A pen! A pen! A pencil!

Mother: That isn’t a pencil. You know it isn’t. What are you gonna write?

Child: My favorite bit of the story is all of it because it’s really fun!

Mother: That’s not very specific, now is it?

Child: (quietly) I didn’t like the story.

Mother: You didn’t like the story?

Ten seconds later…

Mother: how about ‘Wilma told Grimlock she would stop the noise if he gave her the bell…’

Child: I can’t remember all of that!

Mother: Look – do you want a treat at the station?

I have the following questions about this conversation and I would be very interested to hear your responses:

    1. What thoughts did you have and how did you feel while reading this exchange?
    2. Who did you sympathise with: the mother or the child, or both, and in what ways?
    3. What would you say the mother’s underlying beliefs about teaching and learning are, based on her responses and behaviour?
    4. If you had the chance to speak to the mother at any point in the conversation, what would you say to her?
    5. If you had the chance to speak to the child at any point in the conversation, what would you say to him?




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