It is now September and I have spent the last two days in school preparing for the beginning of term. It has been interesting to reflect on how the time has been spent and what I, and others, have felt needed to be done.
At the end of July it was discovered that the sink in the corner of the classroom had been slowly leaking into the wooden floor. The carpet was lifted, the floor was repaired but it took most of the summer to dry out. Last week my partner teacher and I went to prepare the classroom but found we could not because it was not dry. As a result the last two days have been really busy – rearranging furniture, sorting and throwing out resources, putting up labels and naming books.
The two weeks before that have been a hive of industry – printing off labels, letters and numerals from a commercial resources site, laminating them and cutting out. Important decisions have had to be made – What design should be on the labels? Should I say Maths or Mathematics on the heading of the working wall? Should I put just first names or first names and family names on drawer labels. Consideration of these issues have taken up a lot of time and added onto this has been the printing, laminating and cutting out. My husband watched in bemusement and asked, ‘Is this really what a professional teacher needs to do?’ Is it indeed?
As we were clearing out the cupboards we found a box of letter templates – my partner teacher, an NQT, did not know what they were for. I explained that we used to draw round them and cut out the letters for display labels. Many years ago we handwrote labels with thick felt pens. How the world has changed but does it really matter?
As I have been making the classroom into the sort of environment I want it to be, it has been evident that each decision reflects a philosophy of teaching and learning. A colleague from university gave me an old armchair which has pride of place in the book corner; a writing area has different things to write on and different things to write with; there is a role play area with clothes and puppets. Children have not been assigned to groups but will be called to work in focus groups or allowed to choose where they work. There are plants and wicker baskets, cushions, rugs and throws and lots of good quality children’s books in every area. I am sure I will write more about this in the weeks to come but for now my answer to my husband’s question is a definite ‘Yes.’ There was much more under the surface of the laminating and cutting that met the eye.
In the way we were setting up the classroom we were reflecting the ways in which we believe learning happens and is best supported. For example, the book corner demonstrates, hopefully, the importance of reading for pleasure and of using high quality texts in a classroom. We want the children to become independent learners able to make decisions for themselves about their work, rather than just completing activities they have been given.
We met with the teaching assistants, known as teaching partners in this school, and had a really powerful discussion about how we are gong to work. I was so impressed with their real concern to do the best for each individual child and particularly how to address the needs of individual children. They were so keen learn and to know more about how to support the children. I was amazed at how pleased they were to be asked to share their views and ideas. I asked them each to carry with them a pile of sticky notes and note down anything a child said or did which they thought was worth noting. The positive reaction to this was so strong I was surprised and encouraged.
Half of today was training to use an on-line assessment tool; lists of objectives are given relating to the National Curriculum and for each child and each statement we indicate if they have been taught it but not understood it, almost met the objective, securely met the objective or exceeded the objective. I will write more about this as I use it but my initial thoughts are that it over simplifies that complex process of learning. Teachers are under such pressure to record and evidence progress that little thought seems to be given to what that progress actually looks like in reality. As I reflect on this, my thoughts turn to ideas of deep learning from Hattie or learning as a social process developed through talk from Vygotsky or Alexander. Can teachers play the game and create the evidence or does ‘real’ learning (whatever that may be) have to be sacrificed to ensure progress. I’ll return to that idea more than once I think.
Finally, a reflection on planning. I have enjoyed thinking about what I wanted the pupils to learn and how I wanted to achieve it. I have spent long hours reading, investigating but mainly talking. I became excited about the term’s work and what we were going to achieve together. However, writing down all those ideas was both tedious and challenging. The necessity of recording my ideas in an accessible and meaningful form again meant an over-simplification. My plans are fine but do not begin to demonstrate the richness and depth of what I have been thinking and of what I hope will happen in the classroom. It seems that in many ways recording leads to an over simplification. Maybe my expectations are too high and I need to refine and simplify my ideas – let’s see.
The children arrive on Monday – that’s when it all becomes real!