Monday, February 25, 2008

Célestin Freinet : Too progressive to be remembered ?

80 years ago the French pedagogue and educational reformer Célestin Freinet moved to Saint-Paul-de-Vence with his wife Elise where they both worked as teachers.

At that time C. Freinet had already developed most of his major teaching principles which he called techniques (in opposition to methods which he associated with a top down approach). Each of his techniques were meant to connect learning in school to real life outside school and to encourage students to be productive, explorative, critical and collaborative while learning.

Freinet's students regularly left the school building to join their teacher in exploratory walks during which they gathered impressions and interesting information about their natural and social environment. Back to their classroom the students composed their own "free texts" which they discussed with their classmates and used a printing press to publish their "authentic" and most of the time collaborative work in newspapers. Gradually these newspapers were used as meaningful and rooted learning material instead of the preestablished curricula schoolbooks and they were exchanged with those of other schools.
These exchanges of "culture packages" between the Freinet's and René Daniel's students marked the beginning of interschool networks which became one of the characteristics of the Modern School Movement.

Besides the printing press Freinet's students used other instruments like photography, slide shows or audio-tape recorders. The instruments and techniques established a different relationship between students and teachers, between students and school as an institution, and most important between students and knowledge.

Freinet's efforts to establish collaborative teaching through interschool network was also motivated by the strong conviction that collaborative reflective teaching is essential to any serious school development and a necessary ground for reaching beyond rigid top down curricula and the latest teaching tricks, methods or ceremonials in fashion.


  1. Hello,
    I am a student at the University of Luxembourg and I have a few questions on how to prepare children to be able to write free texts in primary school and how to prepare such a project.
    Are there any exercises to get the children used to write freely and not being afraid of writing mistakes. What kind of input do I have to give? Should I let the children work on their own or is the regular control of the teacher nessecary for them to succeed? Should I correct their texts? In this case, what should I correct? Only grammar mistakes or the discourse too? Can these corrections cause the pupil to develop a writing restraint or do they help him to learn to write correctly?
    As the children should work together in small groups, I would like to know if I should organise them in heterogeneous or homogeneous groups.

  2. I don't think you need any exercices - only encouragement to write. The subject could be anything - as it's free.
    Concerning mistakes : It is difficult to convince people to ignore mistakes if the same person was used to focus on mistakes all the time. If you are the same person - you should talk about the situation with your students and that you are going to change your attitude on evaluating writing.
    If you are not the same person, and if you have children who try to avoid writing, because they have lost self-confidence or because they won't trust you, when you say that spelling and grammar won't count, tell them that you won't take the copy if they don't feel like giving it to you. In that case it will be enough if they read the text to you or to a group of children.
    What input do you have to give? Show some real interest in what is important to them. Ask (honest!) questions, beginning with "that is interesting, how did this happen? I would be disappointed, angry, if this had happened to me. How did you feel about it? ... Oh yes, now I understand, maybe you could ad this in a fews words ..." and so on.
    About correction : Read through some of my articles on ( Have also a look at this website . Did you read Gerard Gretsch's book "Computer im Schreibatelier" - and watch the video? There you can see children engaging in writing and discussing their texts.
    Concerning groups : I think deviding your class into "homogeneous groups" is somehow artificial and not necessary. First concentrate on the content and not on the form. And pass this message to your students when they work together or when they give each other feeback. Try to model this behaviour like with the questions above, so that your students can imitate this attitude and make it their own. That's all you need to know to start. Keep it up!

  3. We're studying at the University of Luxembourg too and in our coming internship we're going to organise a "Schreibatelier" in a third grade according to Freinet's ideas. We're actually reading some books (like the one by Gérard Gretsch you mentionned) concerning this activity but we have still have several doubts: When can we consider a text as finished? If one child considers his text to be finished even if he has a lot more time left, shall we "force" him to continue his writing or shall we accept his decision? Shall we impose a language or shall we leave this choice to the child as the main goal to be achieved is the free writing? Is it possible that an imposed language influences the children's writing motivation?

  4. A text is finished when the author has said what he wants to say (or to reveal), when there is a feeling of satisfaction with a job well done, when there has been reflection and negotiation on meaning enough and when you come close to a deadline.
    It's just the same as in real life.
    The main goal for me is not "free writing". Free writing is a technique to learn to read and write through creating meaning and sharing inner worlds.
    I don't know what you mean by imposing a language. So I won't comment on this.
    Maybe you could give some explanations.
    Regarding "influence" - That's what teaching is about.
    Influence and respect can be but are not necessarily contradictions. Teaching is not about just letting it happen.


Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain