Helen Birchill’s review of “Oops! Helping Children to Learn by Accident”

Review of  “Oops! Helping children to learn accidentally” by Hywel Roberts and Ian Gilbert

If you are one of those teachers who likes to be creative in the classroom but sometimes worries that you might be considered a little eccentric by your colleagues, or you are just trying to break out of the mould or extend your repertoire to avoid ‘death by power-point’, then this is the book for you.  An inspirational (and short!) read, this encourages you to seize opportunities and embrace radical ideas. The book is full of anecdotes and practical suggestions. It has very useful appendices (eg ‘ 10 sites to inspire you to hook into stuff’)

In particular, Roberts and Gilbert turn their RAVE curriculum (Relevant, Academic, Vocational and Educational) into the BRAVE (Buzzin!)  They promote the idea of making lessons relevant as a key to success.  This is something we can all learn from.  Also, sharing our experiences with students is rewarding and promotes effective engagement.

I took this on recently in my own lessons in the following way:

  • Why did it take so long to abolish slavery in the 18th/19th Centuries?

I ‘hooked’ students in by asking them to think of stories they were aware of in the news. How were they aware? How could they have been made aware? (BBM; Twitter; Facebook; The News at Ten! (admitted by one student only because he was waiting for Match of the Day!); etc ) This led to a discussion of how different the channels of communication were in the 1800s and enabled us to begin to understand how the Abolitionists campaigned to end the slave trade.

  • How far was corruption within the monasteries and convents a factor in why Henry VIII closed them down?

Students could better understand why Henry used this as an excuse by considering  a local feature of the landscape which is of value to them.  They chose The Carrs, a local outdoor area in Wilmslow. We were able to discuss how they would feel if it was taken away by the local council in the interests of saving money.  How could the local council  ‘soften the blow’ so as not to upset so many of the local people?  By suggesting it was a health hazard? Suggesting it was no longer utilised? etc

Both lessons worked really well and the students remarked on how they went really quickly. Time flies when…

In terms of sharing experiences, what better way than telling them about some of your own?  In Geography, that climb up Mount Etna or being caught up in an earthquake, or the fish you saw with a ring pull around its neck…

Go on! Get  thinking of how you can make your lessons relevant to the students. Share some of your own experiences/ memories  with them and see how you get on. It’s good for the students to know that we are all human…

Helen Birchilll


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