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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: One-room schoolhouse taught kids to be self-directed

By Linda Green/Missourian reader
August 19, 2013 | 4:26 p.m. CDT

The Missourian is asking readers to tell us how school has changed since they were young. Contribute your own perspective, or upload your back-to-school photos.

Here's an answer shared by reader Linda Green.


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When I was a kid back in the 40's and 50's, I went to a one-room schoolhouse in rural Iowa. There were about 14 kids in the whole school, all 8 grades, all subjects, and one teacher.

Almost all the kids walked to school, and some for several miles. We pumped water at the pump and carried it in in a bucket for hand washing. Heat was from a coal stove, and there was an outhouse for the boys and one for the girls.

The teacher did not give lectures, but made reading assignments in our texts. When our class was called to sit in the front of the room, we were verbally quizzed over these readings, and sometimes there were workbooks or problems to be checked. If we did not do well in the verbal quiz, we were reassigned the same material to do over, so the work was at our own pace. Everybody could listen to all the classes.

We learned everything from books, and it was a great way to learn. We got all our work done at school — homework was rare. And it was a good thing because the farm kids had chores to do at home in the evening. And we had plenty of time at school for extra projects, like reading or drawing on our own.

The kids learned a lot about time management, and our time was used very efficiently. We had a whole hour to eat our sack lunches, and play, which was mostly outside. Shooting marbles was very popular, as well as jump rope, swings, teeter-totters, playing cowboys or wild horses, softball, dodge ball, steal sticks (a group game), Andy Andy Over (throwing the ball over the schoolhouse roof, and if we caught it without letting it bounce, our team could rush around the school and tag members of the other team to be on our side).

We built snow forts and had snowball fights in the winter. All this was usually not supervised, and the kids made up their own fun.

I realized later that this was an excellent school, and helped me be an independent life-long learner. My interest in self-directed learning continued when I later became a Montessori teacher, and today, I spread the word about Khan Academy's free lessons on You Tube. On the Khan site, anyone can learn or review via videos: math in incremental steps from 1+1 through various strains of college math, and other subjects to their heart's content. Khan talks about "flipping the classroom," whereby the teacher does not do a lock-stop one-size fits all lecture, but instead assigns learning via videos at home (or at school), and then uses class time for teacher and peer tutoring on what used to be "homework." This leaves time for extra class projects as well. With Khan, everybody works at their own pace to reach mastery before going on, so failure is virtually eliminated, and the teacher has a "dashboard," which tracks everybody's progress at a glance.

Thus, competition is downplayed, communication, cooperation and community building are fostered, and many good qualities of the one-room school are carried forward and expanded upon.

TELL US: How has school changed since you were a kid?

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.