by Catherine Malichecq
Pascale Pocard, former teacher turned pedagogical counselor, created an innovative approach to teaching. Her method, originating in Vosges, France, has seen increasing success since its release in 2011. She bases herself on several principles, each one accompanied by an action. Although this method was developed for the classroom, its principles can be used in the homeschool setting.
Pascale Pocard did not consider herself a good student. She still remembers the humiliation she felt when one of her teachers had read her writing out loud—the worst grade in the group—in front of the whole class as a bad example. Later on, her son suffered with difficulties at school including bullying, problems which are not trivial in a child’s life and that of his family. This caused the youth to refuse to attend school and to display poor self-confidence.
But, this teacher had a different concept of school, a concept in which school would be a source of happiness. She reflected upon it and then established a method, the school of knowledge which, according to her, can be summed up as “a lot of common sense, an extremely caring teacher, and rigour to reassure the student.”
More concretely, the essentials of the school of knowledge are founded on four principles:
1. Reassure the student and help him be open to learning
2. Respect the mental function of the student
3. Have the student acquire basic knowledge and consolidate it
4. Have the student acquire work methods to facilitate the establishment of concepts and his autonomy
To accomplish the first point, the teacher works to build “mental footholds” comprised of spatial, temporal, methodical, and relational benchmarks. Consequently, the materials and space are specifically organized, defined and identified. The temporal organization is routine and the learning sessions are intense, but are no longer than 20 minutes. These sessions are broken up as required because it is important to come back to the topic and question the class (at least three times in two days); and, the basis of this method is repetition. In this way, a lesson is reviewed several times: discovery, memorization, oral questions, and writing what has been retained and exercised. During this process, the teacher will verify the comprehension of all the students.
The intense learning sessions are interspersed with lighter sessions as well as “breathing room” free time. During this time children take about ten minutes to read, play an educational game, work with clay, or paint. It’s about relaxing before returning to work.
Methodological benchmarks are presented to the child: attitudes, use of the materials or procedures. In addition, certain relational benchmarks are established: on the one hand, applause and encouragement of children for their classmates; on the other hand, an extremely caring and rigorous attitude of the teacher towards his students, whose progress is always emphasized.
The goal is to allow children to make themselves available and attentive. Effective work sessions are presented and consolidated to promote long-term memorization. The children, therefore, develop analytical abilities that allow them to think and understand.
For Pascale Pocard, the second important point is the respect of the children’s “mental process”. The sessions must be hinged on: the children’s concrete thinking, their uniqueness, and their ability to concentrate and address only one concept at a time (the usefulness of which will be duly explained). Finally, memorization is the key point – it is conscious, repetitive, and promotes links with other concepts.
The essential knowledge that composes the third point are, according to this pedagogical counselor, those that can already be found in all school programs, whatever they are. This knowledge is subject to change. It particularly identifies the know-how, that which will enable the child to grasp the attitudes, postures and primordial behaviors in order to live in society. The know-how is the processes to be acquired in daily activities and the working methods that enable the student to become self-sufficient, as well as the subject-specific knowledge to be acquired in each subject.
The fourth point concerns the methods. The goal is to highlight all new learning, methods that the child can then reuse, regardless of the discipline and learning. These tasks can then become automatic and the children will have the opportunity to concentrate on other aspects.
Another important point: the children are not graded. For the pedagogical counselor, it is out of the question to rank the children.
If this method was initially conceived for primary-age children, the principles are applicable to all levels, according to Pascale Pocard. The main point is to underline the individual progress of each child. If they evolve in a peaceful, rigorous and benevolent environment, they will acquire a structured approach. This enables them to establish benchmarks and organize their knowledge while developing autonomy. According to the pedagogical counselor, these factors will automatically stimulate the children’s motivation and desire to learn.
Two of the first teachers who have been using this method for several years in classrooms where students were struggling are now witnessing “students who succeed at every turn.”
As for the students interviewed, they have confidence in themselves, seem motivated and enjoy life. This innovative approach, however, is still fairly new. It will be interesting to evaluate its longer-term results.
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