On Their Side: Helping Children Take Charge of Their Learning

by Bob Strachota (Northeast Foundation for Children 1-800-360-6332, 1996 ISBN 0-9618636-3-3.) Professional Book.
This review by Carol Otis Hurst first appeared in our April 96 newsletter.


On Their Side by Bob Strachota

This is a remarkable book -- non-threatening in format but long on thought. Disarmingly frank about his own mistakes in teaching, Bob causes the reader- educator or parent - to question and examine some personal similar missteps or misdirections. By re-examining with us several classroom situations in which he played a role, he gets us to look more closely at what it is that he, and by extrapolation -- we, are actually trying to get kids to do or to understand and how what we do gets in the way, blurs the picture or helps to make things clearer.

There's a lot of emphasis on asking real questions in On Their Side -- not those for which we already have answers but things that we want to investigate with the children. To Bob's questions there are no "right" answers and he is more interested in understanding how a given child arrived at a solution than he is in the answer given. He says that he begins "with the belief that children's urge to understand the world is so strong that they will almost always try to puzzle things out if they are presented with situations and questions that are neither beyond them nor beneath them, which neither overwhelm them nor condescend to them." He creates a tension between what they know and what they want to know.

Often the milieu in which these problems are posed is the math program, but his techniques reach far beyond that subject area. In social situations his interventions are also carefully examined. Often his questions are some variation of "How can we make this work?" By avoiding the common traps many of us set for ourselves and the kids which back the child to the wall and give him or her no alternative but to fight or to close down, Bob's techniques grant dignity to the learner and provide the child with lifelong strategies for learning and contributing to the group.


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