Saturday, 19 November 2016

'You're an idiot, and we don't trust you'

I listened to a radio program about traffic, and it made me think about teaching. I think you might see the analogy...
He took me on my first day down a little rural road, and I was a bit puzzled about why he was taking me here. It was a sunny day, and, being Friesland, there were lots of cows, Friesian cows everywhere looking over this fence, and cowpats on the street.And he said, 'Did you see that sign back there?' and I said, 'No.' It was a standard triangular European warning sign with a cow on it. And he said, 'What does that mean?' 'I suppose it means beware of cows.' He said, 'No, no, you can see them, you can smell them, you can hear them, you can just about reach out your hands and touch them! You would have to be completely sensorily deprived not to be aware there are cows here. That sign says, 'You're an idiot, and we don't trust you.' Now he said, 'First rule of safe engineering: never treat drivers as idiots. Use their intelligence to respond to the surroundings.'
That's Ben Hamilton-Baillie, talking about Hans Monderman, pioneer of the 'Shared Space' approach to urban planning, on a 30-minute BBC radio program Thinking Streets.
The streets beneath our feet are getting smart. Pavements are melting into the roads and traffic lights are disappearing. Inspired by the work of scientists and engineers in Holland and Japan, this is a revolution in urban design. Part of it is a movement known as 'Shared Space', which promises to dramatically change the way cities look and how we experience them. In Thinking Streets, Angela Saini asks if all these ideas really fulfill the promise of making us all safer, happier and more efficient?
The idea is: cars go fast, too fast, because they have their own exclusive rule-bound space. Drivers don't need to think, or think they don't need to. But when the traffic lights, barriers, road markings, curbs are taken away and tarmac is replaced with paved brick, drivers have to become aware of the space they're in and what else is going on in it. They slow down.

I've had experience of this. Toulouse has been changing some its most beautiful spots, getting rid of curbs, paving the road, making it hard for the driver to see where the road begins and ends. Driving through, I slowed down. I was no longer in my narrow rat-run, I was having to become conscious of the space. As a pedestrian, I enjoy being there much more. 
Place de la Daurade, Toulouse
Image source: Mairie de Toulouse
So, in teaching maths, in emphasising the algorithmic - 'This is what we do; you don't need to think about it too much, just follow the method and it will come out right" - we undervalue both the intelligence of our learners, and the complexity of the real world. We privilege speed over understanding. We should expect understanding. Can we open up spaces, take the road markings away, and get students to think about the space they're in rather than rush them on?

Certainly it's a delight to see what happens when we trust children's intelligence. Just yesterday, there was a delightful moment as children struggled to make sense of how numbers fit on a number line. We slowed down, we discussed, we had different answers.
They had good reasons for their choices, and they expressed them well. Actually, as we'll hopefully confirm in a lesson like Kristin's number lines lesson, all of them were correct: 5 goes in all three places once the numbers are spaced out.

So, removing the road markings, making the space more confusing, trusting the learner...

No comments:

Post a Comment