Looking for Miss Read: British Education and the Legacy of a Great Teacher

Article excerpt

In the darkening gloom of a July evening, the village of Peasemore, in the county of Berkshire, England, seemed a world away from our university campus in the midwestern United States. We were looking for the school in which Miss Read, an English author, had taught for a while in the 1950s.

A teaching strategy can be defined as a carefully prepared plan that involves steps to achieve a goal. Strategies come in all forms and can be found in many places. Sometimes you need a different perspective to understand your own circumstances. To help American university students better understand the education philosophy, program goals, curriculum planning, and learning outcomes of American public schools, the authors led a summer study trip to England to investigate British primary and preprimary education practices. We employed several strategies that allowed students to compare and contrast the two countries' education systems.

Readings: We asked students to read several articles before the trip began. Both of us have a collection of "Miss Read" books, which we loaned to the students. One day while in England we spent an afternoon at a teacher center, where students were able to order books and ship them home to the United States. We also visited a university library many times, where students browsed and photocopied articles and book chapters to use in preparing their final projects.

Meetings: We met with students twice before the trip, and once after we returned. We discussed what we expected of the students, as well as their expectations of the trip, including such details as what British money looks like and what food they would likely eat there. To understand exactly where we would be going, we made available maps of England and did some game-like exercises designed to help the students understand the geography of southern England.

Questions: Before, during, and after the trip we asked all sorts of questions. "Roadmap" questions, for example, asked students to find basic information: Where is the University of Reading, where we'll be housed? What is a British primary school? A junior school? How are British schools funded? "Landmark" questions asked students for their opinions, to help them deliberate about their experiences: How did you feel about what you observed in the primary school today? In what ways was it different from what you might see in the United States? "Milestone" questions were meant to prompt discussions of moral and ethical issues or dilemmas: Should the United States have a national curriculum as Britain does?

Observations: Each of us visited at least six primary schools and spent several hours talking to the "head" (i.e., the principal), exploring the buildings and grounds, meeting teachers and children, and observing a typical day. We were treated warmly by everyone we met and were utterly charmed by the children. We observed many differences, and some similarities. The classrooms were lively and colorful with many hands-on activities and manipulative materials, as ours are. The children wore uniforms, and parents were typically part of the school environment each day.

Journals: As apart of the course's academic requirements, our university students wrote journal entries on days that we had educational activities. We read the journals three times during the trip, and students received grades on the entries at the end.

Culminating Project: The most important academic requirement was a final project, which the students completed after returning home. Most chose a topic while we were in England; their topics included special education, the role of the arts in education, and the use of technology in the schools. Students were asked to synthesize and summarize their learning in a form of their choice, such as a photo essay or narrative prose, using appropriate resources.

Looking for Miss Read: One of the most powerful strategies, and certainly the most exciting, was Looking for Miss Read. …