Not too long ago, one of our lessons was based on creating our perfect world. I asked the children what their perfect world would be like, and we came up with strategies to help us make that happen. Their ideas were perfectly plausible, the product of innocent naivety. Common sense ideas to reduce the cons of this planet, the antidote to the daily headlines. They were kind, thoughtful and very considerate.
So I ask you the same question. What's your perfect world, and how would you make it happen?
This modern age is full of ignorance; gender stereotypes, lack of religious understanding, racism, homophobia, greed, abuse of all types; overarching labels, with no real relevance, attached to groups of people we're too ignorant to get to know personally. Ignorance is the main fuel of conflict; the internal combustion of our own kind. Yet here, in my school, I work with the most open minds available. So at what point does that change? At what point do we rely on labels as a get-out clause for laziness, unaware of the deeper messages this transmits?
Recently, I took myself off to some free Professional Development, provided by the University of Greenwich in conjunction with Shaun Dellenty, Founder of Inclusion for All and recent receiver of the 'Mayor's Highest Civic Honour' and 'Point of Light Status' award from the Prime Minister. His work is predominantly around tackling LGBT+ issues within education, but all of his strategies can be used to prevent all types of discrimination; a break-down of labels.
He has stories of horrific discrimination at all stages of life. My own misunderstanding appeared when he told a tale of the Crouch family, who lost their son to suicide; not because he identified himself as one of these labels and was being teased, but because others forced these labels on him and he couldn't take it anymore; being continuously taunted for something he never was, and the misplaced shame attached to belonging to that group. I'd not considered the impact of language on someone that wouldn't relate with it in the first place.
The power of the bully is overwhelming. But the power of society is stronger.
As establishments for education, we are legally obligated to care for the well-being of ALL learners. Furthermore, as a race of human beings, we are morally required to support the emotional and physical health of each other, if we are to ensure longevity; a prosperous existence, strengthening each generation in readiness for the next. To do anything else would be counterproductive. It's not necessarily accepting someone's differences, by way of agreement, but acknowledging their differences as a part of what makes them a unique human, like you; promoting their right to live and learn - just like you do - by giving no reason to break attendance or feel distracted by outside influences, taking away from the teaching of basic skills for life.
You might not understand this person's life, or how their culture operates, but that's not a reason to hate them. Let them be.
Show strength through your ability to allow others to be their authentic selves, rather than weakness by joining a band of desperate pessimists, intent on unravelling those brave enough to support people, struggling with their identity, based on the superficial use of stereotypes they feel like they need to fulfil.
Your gender, the colour of your skin, your orientation, your religion, country of origin...the list goes on. Even within those categories, there are tangents; family set-up, hair and eye colour, taste in music, types of clothes... We can keep going. It gets to a point where the venn diagram looks like an elegantly drawn Spirograph (remember those?); it's possible to break each category down so much, that we end up with groups of one.
So how about we use just one label; your name.
How about we refer to just one group, the only group we have in common; human beings.
Dear Bully; your misplaced dislike of these glorious people isn't their fault. It's your own arrogant refusal to be educated - an apparent preference for gruesome headlines that cause my young people great concern.
Walk into any classroom and you'll find this huge variety of backgrounds sat around a table; human beings, each with a name. They might be discussing some incredible music they've just heard, or debating a moral dilemma. They might be sharing the religious festival they attended, or a funny family story. They might be helping each other solve a problem, or laughing at their teacher's terrible drawing...
One day, in many years, that table might be replaced with a pub bar, or train carriage. Office desk or queue at the bank. They'll still be laughing.
Bully, you won't win. Our young people are smarter than you.
Let's continue to teach our children to celebrate difference, as a way to learn more about each other, to break down stereotypes and be more inclusive of everyone. If not for now, then for the future. Show compassion. It's the only way this population will survive; All Inc.
Liken this profession to a comic book, and you'll find thousands of heroes saving people from mishaps, all over their own towns. Innocent citizens in mini Gothams, protected by the under cover figure who only needs to remove his glasses, or spin in a phone booth, to become a masterful alter ego. It's time to take off the mask.
Like Captain America, we are patriotic.
Our schools are our kingdoms and we protect those inside our castle walls. The land outside our fortress can be a dangerous place, so we educate the civilians to cope with the world on the other side of the door. School mottos and extremely official Codes of Conduct give us rules to live by and attitudes to exhibit. We lead by example and keep our guard against unwanted villains.
Like Iron Man, we are foolishly ambitious.
No lesson is too grand and no resource is too hard to create; if our students require something, we do our upmost to locate it. Similar to the eccentric genius Tony Stark, we are strategic problem solvers, willing and brave enough to try something new for the sake of our followers. Yes, we might make mistakes. But until you try, you'll never know!
Like Thor, we have strong family values.
With so much time spent in our classrooms, it becomes a second home. Perfectly fitting when many of our pupils require extra pastoral support, in order to make academic gains. Twinned with the real families we work with, a school community thrives with a welcoming environment and focus on well-being as the prime state for progress. What's more, we have many more tools to our belt than just a hammer! There's the marking pen, sticky notes, staple gun, heavy-duty ring binders...
Like Black Widow, we're stealthy.
There's unfathomably little that goes on inside our classes that we don't know about, and certainly nothing we won't find out about with a bit of interrogation. We have eyes and ears everywhere. So although you might not see us, we see you, and you won't get away with it. Although maybe not as acrobatic as the real deal, we are able to move in shadows and appear without cause or reason.
Like The Hulk, we have to keep a lid on it.
While our citizens keep us from turning a strange shade of green, there are often times when a peculiar case of annoyance brushes over. Bitten tongues and deep exhales remedy the uncontrollable frustrations of being controlled by S.H.I.E.L.D's every whim. That said, this fierce attitude frequently comes in handy when we feel our little ones are being mistreated.
Every teacher has their power, but it's only when they group together, that the 'super' comes in. You'll move through the corridors throughout your career, picking up the talents of those around you, academic or otherwise. Your school community is what drives success, and variety only makes it stronger. There are villains out there, many are metaphorical, but your people need you.
One of my students has just been telling me about her birthday party. It was a fascinating discussion.
First of all, it's important that you know she was a new pupil this year, relocating after a big family move. For this reason, she knew no-one from this area, from local out-of-school clubs or family friends. Coming to this school, she was a complete stranger.
Yet today, mere months later, she's telling me about the small group of friends she's inviting to her house; "Nothing fancy," she said, "I don't like big parties." I was stunned. So often these days, we hear of young people having tantrums in shopping centres, craving the most expensive gadgets.
Children deserve a lot more credit. I wonder at what point adults lose their fearlessness.
This child came into a room of 29 strangers and instantly built a relationship. In many ways, it's a sink or swim situation. But pretense doesn't last long - especially when you're 9 - so there must be genuine friendship there. I'm pleased to teach a class of such accepting characters. And kudos to the guardians for setting up the communication to facilitate this budding group.
Interestingly, I also heard a parent today, explaining to her son how meaningless possessions are. As she spoke, she pointed to her head, and to her heart. "These are all that matter," she said. He beamed a sign of agreement.
Supportive families deserve a lot more praise. I wonder at what point they notice the outcome of their generosity.
This child was being given a simple life lesson; a message that would last longer than the time it would take for him to grow out of the expensive jeans he wanted. A message far more valuable than any label. I'm so pleased our pupils go home to mindful messages from caring people. Ignorance and jealousy are the main causes of conflict, yet here we are showing our young people what really leads to happiness.
A short post this afternoon, simply because I had to tell you.
I enjoy my job most days anyway, but observing these episodes today have added to the increasing number of reasons why.
Respond if you please.
SATs week has arrived and the tests have been opened. You're about to be assessed on a 6 year curriculum, that you've only experienced for a maximum of 2 years. There is a great expectation that many will come out as 'Emerging' or 'Less than expected', when in actual fact they have made incredible gains against the curriculum they were just on. For all, the progress will have been tremendous; there's just no previous set of numbers to prove it. How irritating.
Here's why I thought the Baseline Assessment was a great idea.
Originally, a group of companies were put forward as the official suppliers of, what would have been, a nationally recognised test, to be completed within the first 6 weeks of a four-year-old starting school. The critics never liked the idea, and in practice, it sounds like a hideous ordeal for a small person; a test, for a 4 year old? Horrific.
Paper and pencil, tapping a tablet screen or supplying copious notes and photographic evidence were all strategies included in administering these entry exams to infants just out of the pram, but they have finally been announced as no longer being 'used for accountability'.
The differing actions of data collection were cited as the main reasons for the decision; how can you fairly compare data collected through such different methods?
However, I actually thought the principle of the Baseline Assessment was ideal.
The first 4 years of every child entering your school have been completely different. One little person in your September intake was read to every day, while another was placed in front of the TV to stare at whatever screen was on at the time, age appropriate or otherwise. That little boy sat in his high-chair completing some very cheaply resourced crafts, while another was hardly spoken to as their primary care-giver (be that hired or otherwise) barely said 2 words to them, because why would they? They're only a baby. That little girl was taken to the park (free of charge) to play on the swings while another viewed the world through the phone screen that was tossed at them to keep them quiet, day in, day out.
The first day of school arrives and they all find themselves in your classroom; vibrant displays, carefully chosen resources and a team of smiling faces are all ready to help nurture their social skills and physical development. It's your job to start teaching them their initial sounds, letters and numbers. Now, some of them have seen these before in books, some of them might even have made recognisable marks on paper before. Some of them have already started learning how to share and be sociable, to say please and thank you and how to look after their most basic needs. However, some of them have no idea what you're talking about; they've never been read to, scribbled with a crayon, cheered '10 Green Bottles', jumped in a puddle or had a friend over for tea.
The Baseline Assessments were FINALLY a way to get the Ivory Tower to see what you're faced with on that first day in September. Yes, it seemed drastic, but these people only speak in graphs and percentages. YOU know what's going on; you've done your home visits, asked the important questions, and put the appropriate support in place. But the Big Wigs didn't see that, they weren't there.
It was finally a way to see the ENTIRE impact your school has on a child's life, measuring their development across the whole time they spend with you; rather than checking up on them 2 years in, when some of your best work has already been done, and then again at the end of KS2.
We are all so aware that children make progress at different rates, racing up and down depending on what's going on in their lives. So what about those children who made their most accelerated progress once they stepped into your safe, Early Years environment, catching up with many of their peers? It goes unnoticed by those who could ultimately tell you you're not doing a good enough job? Based on what? They don't have their starting point in a format they'd recognise.
Part of me can convince myself these are no longer being 'used for accountability' because the results would have been too good; the upfront and honest nature of their starting point, with little room for criticism of the school, against an impressive KS2 result (after a lot of hard work and a supportive family) would mean we're doing too well! Surely, it's better to assume all 4 year olds are the same, and expect them to achieve identical results with little regard for how far they have come? Maybe not.
I think the results of a Baseline Assessment would have been too much of a wake-up call for too many important people; they got scared. Finding the genuine value of a school's impact from start to finish? Too real. To banish them completely would be too much money wasted, so we'll say "Schools will have the option to continue to use the baseline assessments...as part of their on-entry assessment of pupils. The outcomes from the assessments will not be used for accountability."
Translation; We would like to politely ignore the differing backgrounds of your children, in favour of assuming they are identically matched in every aspect at age 4, as this is the system we use at the end of each key stage. We will review your end data, without knowing the start point, and let you know our findings.
Although maybe not the best method of data collection, I think the Baseline Assessment was a decent idea (that needed tweaking) discarded too soon. The principle of it was exactly as I believe Assessment should be; measuring a starting point (Baseline) and an end point (SATs), noticing the difference between the 2. Surely they couldn't 'fail' that way? I'd be interested to hear from anyone using them.
While completing my studies, an ever-increasing number of years ago, we studied a module called "Cross-Curricular Learning". There was a big push on this approach at the time and it differed from my own schooling, where we had subjects taught discretely. Although my compulsory education has finished, throughout my studies as a teacher, both in and out of the classroom, I have experienced and enjoyed the benefits of teaching skills applied in various subjects, linked to the same 'topic'.
As a teacher, I've previously written of how pleasantly challenging it is to plan a 'topic'; piecing together sensible chunks of learning, making links between curriculum areas in order to best example exhibiting a particular skill. However, in a profession where every conclusion is "one size doesn't fit all", is a cross curricular approach always best?
Teaching in a cross-curricular way means that so much more of the learning can be transferred across different areas of the timetable. Not only is this almost a time saver, it also means that each lesson throughout the day scaffolds the next. For this reason, learners find a great deal of confidence from a cross curricular approach; increased self-esteem and being more willing to participate. It's as if they were taught the answer before this lesson, and now they can apply it to their task.
It's a real skill for a teacher to be able to match up the various learning objectives, in order to ensure the children are reading a book in English, that links to a period of History, that took place in that specific Geographical area, allowing a study of Technological advances during the time (and maybe designing and making a version of your own) while immersing yourselves in the the culture (music, religion, art, etc) of the area it all happened in!
Such a focus on a particular area gets the class fired up; with one buzz-word or topic on their mind, they are free to do their own research. Outside of the classroom, parents are able to talk to their children about, or take them to visit, or help them investigate a variety of things linked to this single subject they are coming home to talk about!
Linking curriculum areas allows better rehearsal of the most basic skills, wrapped up in an exciting context; writing the newspaper article about..., solving a problem linked to…, etc. So much of the vocabulary can be used, outside of lesson it was introduced in, as they may require it for a piece of writing or to aid them in their reasoning.
All of the above only counts if the 'topic' is something the children care about. While much of it is down to delivery (some elements of the curriculum need real acting skills to model how 'exciting' they are), perhaps there are just some curriculum targets that some learners aren't interested in?
Picture this, a cross-curricular theme that the quietest, most polite learners really disengage with, you'd never know because they don't make a fuss; learners in your room that don't give two hoots about different mountain ranges around the globe, the explorers that climbed them, writing a diary entry from their 'journal' and plotting a graph about the heights of each. Or that group of children who aren't fussed by the gory details of the Egyptians, writing a story of an archaeologist, or investigating different types of triangle that didn't make it to the final pyramid design. Through a topic that's solely about either of those, that's potentially 6 weeks of learning missing the key ingredient; motivation.
Equally, while I write above that planning a topic that requires a huge amount of skill, there are some elements that just don't fit. Consequently, we run the 2 main risks:
The solution? Well, you can't ignore the objectives they find boring or that you can't make purposeful links with. It's in the curriculum; they need to learn about it at some point. So perhaps teaching the mountains in Geography and the Egyptians in History, as discrete lessons, means you can appeal to more interests over a longer average period of time, without missing as many curriculum ideas.
My most recent setting has really got me thinking; it's less 'cross-curricular' than I was used to, and I have been really surprised by the differences I have seen.
First of all, I have never seen a group of children so excited about the different curriculum areas; they have a real passion for particular subjects, and this differs from child to child. Now, some will say that we need to get them excited about ALL of the different subjects, but common sense will tell you that's not likely to happen. They keep checking the visual timetable for when Science or History is, or whether Music or RE is coming up. I've never experienced this before, but this is likely due to the fact I never made the 'lines' between the subjects clear enough; we were never learning 'History', we were learning about the Romans (and within that we tackled so many other subjects, that I also didn't specifically state).
Secondly, I've been thinking about how cross-curricular learning, in a sense, could potentially be counter-productive for making the links at the core of being cross-curricular. What links are the children making, when we've been the ones to package it up so neatly for them? My brain ticked over again, and considered how this could also hinder meta-cognition and training the brain to retain and apply information and skills; if I have planned for you to complete a 6 week topic, does that mean you delete everything in time for the next topic to start, or do I need to plan a further week, to revisit this topic, in a few months time to see what you've remembered?
Perhaps a weekly discrete lesson, for more than 6 weeks, encourages the brain to store information more efficiently, over an extended period of time, because you're required to use it more often, with greater gaps between each instance? Like how Maths and English are a constant cycle of revision and extension to ensure the appropriate method of addition, use of adverbial phrases or how to find equivalent fractions, spell homophones or convert to digital time are less likely to be forgotten!
In conclusion, while teaching is extremely fad-led, don't lose sight of making the best choices for your class. Ask them how they learn best, or how they would like to tackle something. At different points in your year, plan chances to be cross-curricular but also remember that everyone in your room has different tastes; perhaps a single unit in a subject would be an enjoyable breather?
What do you think? Cross-curricular all the time, or back to how you and I were taught?