It feels like only yesterday I was writing to you about this year's classroom. Blink, and the first term is over! It's been a term of all kinds of progress, both for myself and the children! Our school has recently moved to using the Cornerstones products: a cross curricular, thematic approach built around exciting topics. They give lesson suggestions, supplementary texts that could be included, all sorts! It's safe to say that our team have really enjoyed engaging with our first topic in Year 6 - Darwin's Delights! We've applied so many of our skills to different contexts and we are so pleased with the children's start to the year!
DT, Art, great links with our Science topic, Geography and a few History skills too. I wanted to share their work so far this year. It is my intention to share their learning each term. Almost like an online moderation exercise. All feedback is welcome!
We've tracked Darwin's journey, written in role from the HMS Beagle, explored the Galapagos, sketched the tortoises... Alongside the topic, we read Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis. The text inspired much of our writing. I'll share our English and Maths books in a couple of weeks too if you like?
Perhaps it's a rite of passage, most often a series of bad moods catching each other on the wrong day, during what is most likely the least comfortable period of your life. Choosing to take offence because we believe the world owes us something. Either way, it certainly builds a thicker skin, rather than playing victim to the basic, eventual life-limiting, ignorance of others. But out of the many experiences you often hear of, my secondary school was the best place to be. We were well cared for by everyone around us. Very much a community.
It was here that I made my best choices up to that point. For A-Levels I chose subjects that practically ignored all academia. I went for creative, personality building subjects. I went for subjects that would force me to speak in front of people. I went for subjects that encouraged group work and portfolios, the clear building of progress over time. McLuckie, Brown (who became Beecham), Hobbs and Collins. In many ways I owe you the most.
Primary is the basics, the essentials that we all need. When those are down correctly, secondary builds on that and helps you focus on a direction. You most definitely, alongside my beloved friends - whether we have remained in touch since then or not - taught me to be comfortable with myself, to live without limits. And when that bit was right, academic success and my future were set.
My response is purely my opinion, and you're welcome to comment below with changes you would make. But this is what I'd advise personally:
A specific 'ice-breaker' isn't going to be necessary, especially as you're the new one, not them. Even when you have a class full-time, my advice would still be to get into the learning as soon as possible, setting the long-term standards, and learn about each other along the way. I'm sure there are many teachers that give out a neatly compartmentalised grid with the children's hopes, food dislikes and favourite subjects scrawled across, but I doubt they do anything of any value with it; I'm pleased you're ambitious, I won't be cooking for you anyway, and you can love or hate every subject, it's still going to be taught to you!
You must keep in mind that, at some point, you're going to be responsible for the progress of these children (whether it's a placement or an employed post), so while you obviously want to get to know everyone, and for them to know you, you must ensure that you keep control of your image. By this, I mean that we are so keen to tell everyone our quirkiest talents, best adventures and funniest stories in an understandable bid to be liked, and all these episodes build the picture someone has of us.
With this in mind, consider the picture you want (and ultimately NEED) the children to have of you. Eventually, you're going to need them to feel safe with you, listen to you, in order to create the best outcomes with regards to learning. My advice would be, everything in moderation:
Being their friend first, and teacher second is never going to work. They're going to fall in love with you regardless. They want someone who is going to work hard for them, and they'll work just as hard for you. Best of luck!
Certainly when I was at school, I had burning questions for my teachers. So, for this reason, I gave my students the chance to do the same. They were surprisingly brave in their demands; you can catch up on Part One HERE, and Part Two HERE.
My research dissertation was around the subject of teacher control; the title was something along the lines of, "To what extent does teacher confidence affect pupil achievement and self-esteem?" - the idea being, if a teacher isn't brave enough to let go, and is constantly providing a rigid example for children to copy, will they ever be able to match up to the standard in a way they could replicate on their own? Or will it be a constantly negative comparison to the version you created, leaving them ill-equipped?
Naturally, the conclusion was as fluffy as, "a mix of strategies is best" - this is the conclusion for everything in education. Often a rigid example (the support) is required near the beginning of learning something, and then you can loosen the strings as their experience broadens. Like learning to ride a bike.
With this in mind, the fourth part of my #LearningFirst workshop was about teaching the children the importance of Responsibility and Choice.
Strategies for improving teaching and learning:
1. Honest Modelling.
Your input should be you exampling what YOU would do, however, I think it's important that you let them know OTHERS may do it differently. Explain that if they're finding it tricky, to stick with the method that you have shown, but if they have a way of doing something themselves, that they can confidently explain, then that's alright! (Use their explanation to clarify any misconceptions too).
2. Provide options.
Imagine how far you would get through life without needing to make a decision. Would you ever achieve anything of any real value if you were constantly told what to do? My Maths is self-differentiated, and I veer away from guided groups in writing. Teach children the importance of making choices, and create a sense of pride in being an independent learner. You will also be able to promote more self and peer assessment through this route as they navigate their own decision making.
3. Foster Creativity.
One of the things that makes marking more bearable is that I have 30-ish pieces of work that all different! Disseminate the information they need and watch what they do with it. My class and I have an agreement, whatever they present to me at the end of the lesson needs to be informative and aesthetically pleasing. Try it, you'll be amazed at what they produce. You'll also be maximising the occasions that they find themselves solving problems.
4. Use responsibility as an assessment tool.
Often, the argument against providing less support is that they 'can't be bothered if you don't help them'. If this is the case, your classroom ethos is wrong, not the fact you haven't given them a structure. My children know that taking the easy way out is not going to get them anywhere - a fact they can apply to life. Granted, they're also aware it's going to be tough at times, but then I echo the thought above - teach them what pride feels like.
As the end of the academic year is upon us, just like the children, it's time for my End of Year Report. I wonder if I've made any progress since last year's? Having read the comments in preparation for posting, there certainly seem to be some, completely falsified, running themes. Rascals.
Welcome to Part Two of AskMrN! Gone are the days where teachers are believed to sleep in the cupboards - our kids had some fresher burning questions. If you missed Part One, catch up here!
While I'll never recover the costs of creating the app, I loved every step of the project, and I fully intend on doing it all again soon; it's an expensive hobby, but I really enjoy the process. I'm so grateful for everyone's support - the feedback has been so kind and generous. I can't believe, after making a little sketch in my notebook, that I now have something selling globally; this has been such an adventure. Thank you for everything. Mr N. x