While learning is learning, and teaching is teaching, the ways to teach and learn differ depending on the subject matter. These are my most recent thoughts:
- Maths, for example, is a series of updates. It doesn't matter what age you are, addition is ALWAYS addition, you just update how you do it. Moving from a number line, to organised columns for example. The same is true for all the operations.
- English, however, doesn't get updated. It gets added to. At different stages, you learn new skills, but you must retain and apply all the previous skills successfully.
In my opinion, this is the biggest challenge when teaching writing; it counts on a good grasp on all the previous teaching, in years gone by, for them to stably move forwards, otherwise the gaps get greater. (It was this thought that prompted my most successful blog to date.)
So, I needed to find a way for my children to retain all of the things they have learnt. This need became greater when I found simple mistakes in their writing that needed to be addressed, and scanned their English books from last year. I noticed (almost to the exact date) they had done a similar 'gap filling' lesson the year before; a clear sign that their previous teacher found they were missing the same simple skills that needed to feature. If I'm honest, my heart sank a little; seeing that some of these children STILL hadn't grasped the very basics, despite their teachers' best efforts year upon year, was irritating. However, this is where our supportive families and a growth mindset come in.
I had 2 options:
Option 1 - accept these children 'just can't do it'.
Option 2 - ask around, research, experiment, engage, involve...find a different solution, and hope that it sticks with them. If not all of them, some of them.
Option 2 is essentially a teacher's job description; filter out those who don't understand something and find a way to help them engage with it, storing it to memory! Option 2 is it! Here was my solution:
I decided to refer to almost every skill as a tool, and that we were adding it to our Toolbox. In order to keep a record of all the tools we were learning, I gave the children a 'Tool Box' to keep their tools in!
A simple sheet stuck in their books provided a 'one-stop-shop' for everything they're learning, easily referred to when the focus of the lesson is different, but they still want to include a skill from before.
It also serves as a good Assessment for Learning tool, as I can review their toolboxes to see what they have a suitable understanding of, and what definitions/uses may be slightly off.
Each child takes charge of their toolbox; they all look different, and I see them adding to it all the time!
However, I also found they needed space for all the Magpie-ing good authors do. Cheers Pie! For this reason, I also wanted to give them another space to keep track of words and phrases, applicable to lots of writing. I used the trusty VCOP method to organise this, and provided another layer of their tool box to keep these ideas in...
As with everything, this won't be effective for every child (I will need to work hard to find other solutions too) but it's important that we try new things to filter out those who don't understand, in order to help them move forwards.
I need to improve my own use of them, how they are organised and what order I teach the skills in, allowing for sensible opportunities for application in well-planned chances to write for a range of audiences. It can be tricky to ensure they remain relevant, but so far they're proving to be really effective. I need to find a more efficient way to integrate them into my lessons, and I would LOVE any ideas you might have? You can download your own copies of these below...