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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

Freinet and Collaborative Learning Processes: DAY 15

In this post we’re continuing to have a look at Célestein Freinet’s pedagogy and educational principles. We will in particular be having a look at the more practical dimension of Freinet’s philosophy; the ways he believed that a child was best taught.

As mentioned in the previous post, Freinet believed that children were best educated in a space of ‘work’ and he was amongst other points inspired by his life with the peasants in the French alpes. And since most work is done in some form of collaborative process, so did Freinet believe that children were best taught together in group work and in production processes.

A concrete example of this that I can share from my own time at a Freinet school is that from the first to the sixth grade we weren’t taught in age divided classes. Instead I belonged to a group of thirty students that shared a space with two class rooms and a group room. The group was then divided into two smaller groups and as such my ‘class’ was a group of approximately fifteen students all ranging from the ages of six to twelve.

In grade seven all the students of the same age from the various smaller groups were then gathered into a ‘regular’ age divided class for the remainder of the basic level education lasting nine years in total.

Since my group or class wasn’t divided by age, we obviously couldn’t receive lessons in the exact same material. Therefore our days were spent; often in our group room each student working on a particular project or with a particular book. In the school there was a principle that the older students were responsible for assisting the younger, so often it wouldn’t be the teacher that would assist but an older student. Once a week we had a group meeting with the entire group of thirty students where we would discuss the passing week and any incidents that might have come up. All students were allowed to contribute with points to the agenda and a student would be responsible for directing the meeting with the assistance of a teacher. On each meeting we would have a ‘pro’s and cons’ type of segment. Here the students could bring up any cool points for example of students having assisted each other in a cool way or reversely bring up for example topics of bullying.

As such I once in the second grade, with a little shaking hand in the air declared that I would like the two girls from the sixth grade that had been teasing me to stop teasing me because I didn’t liked being teased. They stopped.

From the first to the third grade we were responsible for – entirely according to Freinet’s pedagogy – creating our own schedule. As such on Mondays I was handed a week schedule with blank time slots. It was up to me to fill them up and though I weren’t allowed to write ‘play’ or ‘sleep’ I was allowed to for example draw or spend an entire week working on learning how to read and write.

We also had many projects and as I was reviewing Freinet’s pedagogy for this blog series, a particular project came to mind: we had a week’s project about the history of mankind specifically focusing on for example the Stone Age. In this particular part of the project we were working with the Bronze Age. And so instead of reading a lot of books and looking at pictures, we would build replicas of the houses that the people lived in in the Bronze Age out of clay and wood. We would make clay cows and straw roofs as we learned about how these people lived. As we did, we talked about how it must have been to live back then, what they might have experienced, how their families were.

As such, through a collaborative process we learned about the Bronze Age in a direct ‘hands on’ way that was a lot of fun. I don’t at all remember it as boring or tedious or hard. It was simply fascinating and fun. And it was as though we, through the modeling process were close to the people of the Bronze Age. Many projects were done in the same and similar ways. And I can only say that I was never bored.

Now – let’s have a look at first the benefits and subsequently the downsides of such processes and ways of learning.

The collaborative processes between students have many benefits. There’s absolutely no reason that older students shouldn’t be able to assist the younger. Often such set-ups have really cool results because children naturally look up to older children – more so than they do adults. Furthermore, such a set-up can assist in initiating compassion because it is directly stated as part of the school’s core-principles and as such it becomes part of how the students interact with each other. To know that you have a responsibility for assisting younger children, gives you a different perspective on these children but also on yourself. I am quite sure that there was a lot less bullying in our school than in most, though it did obviously occur.

To learn in a way that is natural, where students collaborate on projects is quite a cool process and in many ways I didn’t even realize that I was partaking in a learning process. Such lessons can also be a great preparation for work life where one will often have to be able to collaborate in teams.

If I were to mention some downsides to what I’ve here presented in context to Freinet’s pedagogy – a particular point that comes to mind is the fact that we had to create our own schedules. Because a concrete consequence of that was for me that I never actually learned math. I didn’t particularly like math and so I would just skip it can every day I’d rather work on writing and reading which the teachers more or less allowed. In grade seven where our lessons became more ‘regular’ to prepare us for graduation in the ninth grade, I was therefore still at a third class math level and I wasn’t able to catch up.

One of the particular reasons why I disliked math was because my mom disliked math and she pretty much said straight out that it was a genetic problem – lol – so I simply believed that I had some kind of deficiency and besides, I simply liked other subjects better. The problem with giving children absolute freedom over their own education is that they might not know or understand what is best for them in all cases. This is also due to the fact that the school is a particular environment that perhaps doesn’t counter for the home environment. As such my decision to not do math weren’t exactly a ‘sound’ one and can be argued to have been made based on a dysfunction in my family. As such, in an optimal education environment were such principles of freedom were to be applied, the teachers would have to know about the child’s background and family situation to be able to actually assist the child in making sound decisions. There’s an odd logic to concluding that it is more important that a child has freedom than it being provided the support to learn math.

All in all, I find a lot of Freinet’s practical teaching principles to be cool and effective. One of the reasons for why they work so well – meaning in a way were it is a joy to learn and be taught, is that the starting-point is a focus on and a consideration of what the optimal way to learn is. In the current education system, there seems to be a focus on instead seeing children as part of a production line being shaped and molded into ‘competitive’ human resources.

Something else that is odd is that school in the current system is separated from the rest of life. School is like an artificially set-up environment where the rules are different from anywhere else, from family and from work-life. It makes sense thus that Freinet wanted school to be an integrated part of the community with similar processes as those existing in the work environment. There certainly aren’t any common sensical reasons why school should be its own world, separated from the rest of life. There are so many ways we could create schools and education environments that would actually be fun and enjoyable, not only for the children, but for the teachers too. So why it is that school is often boring and tedious and leaves so many behind? Because the focus is not on honoring children as life in equality. The focus is not on assisting children to become the best possible human beings they can be. The focus is not providing children with the type of education environment that we ourselves would have wanted. In the end, everything is about money – about optimizing the production process and lowering the costs. So many children don’t even get an education. Others get educations that are useless.

Again – I can only stress the importance of an Equal Money System. We need a political and economic system that prioritizes the lives of children and as such, the lives of all of us. If you agree – go place your vote here.

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