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Monday, 14 April 2014

Teaching Without Limits

If without any warning Ofsted and Sats were removed and you, were left to teach without limits, What would you teach? What would your classroom look like? 

When I posed myself these question I thought great I know what I would do, but actually it has been a bit more complicated than I thought. 

This worries me because I think that the constant constraints of recent years have actually stifled my creativity. It's as if I now need those restrictions, Ive become institutionalised, I have almost put shackles on myself which are proving difficult to break off. 

But break free I will! Or should I say would. 

So let's start with what I would teach - I would obviously still teach Maths, English, Art, Design Technology,  Computing, Humanities etc. What would be different is how I would organise that teaching and learning. 

I would start with topic based, cross curricular learning facilitated by collaborative learning structures. Pupils generally learn better when they collaborate.

'Cooperative learning is the use of small groups through which students work together to accomplish shared goals and to maximise their own and others’ potential.' Johnson, Johnson and Holubec
(ASCD 1994)
Evidence about the benefits of collaborative learning has been found consistently for over 40 years and a number o reviews and analyses of research studies have been completed. In addition to direct evidence from research into collaborative learning approaches, there is also indirect evidence where collaboration has been shown to the effectiveness of other approaches such as mastery learning or digital technology. It appears to work well for all ages if activities are suitably structured for learners’ capabilities and positive evidence has been found across the curriculum.

Secondly, the lessons would not be of a specific length but would blend one into the other. I would not have set times for each separate lesson, timings would be dictated by the type of lesson and the pupils.  My pet hate at the moment is either stretching lessons or cutting them short. If I could choose I would definitely let the learning flow, measured by the engagement of the pupils and the learning that is taking place. This may result in short, sharp 20 minute periods of learning or conversely 45 minutes to an hour. The timetable would therefore be a movable feast.

Next, I would where possible, give the learning a focus dictated by the pupils with them having direct input into the topics through which the objectives are taught. Objectives can be met via lots of different topics and if learners are involved in, and have a voice in the topic to be taught, they would, I feel, be a lot more engaged. I acknowledge wide ranging choices would not suit every class but even the youngest pupils, or most difficult classes could cope with a more restricted range of choice as oppose to none at all. With my present class the topics would, I think be closely linked to Minecraft and Lego. But with older pupils this would be via mini enterprises with real life links thus making learning personal and pupil centered.

Then I would use Active Learning. Something I have blogged about before  Why I love Active Learning. As oppose to pupils sat passively at their desks but playing, experimenting, moving about both inside and outside of the classroom.

Finally I would give the pupils in my classroom the freedom to have official 'play or break time' with invisible supervision. Pupils would be invisibly supervised with as little adult interference as possible and adults acting mainly as observers of play, encouraging pupils to sort things out for themselves. Play times in schools in the U.K. have become dictated to by a fear of litigation. Children rarely play outside unsupervised even at home, unlike our childhoods they now have huge restrictions placed upon them they don't just go down to the park or out in the street to play so how are they to develop coping strategies, social skills, problem solving etc when there is always an adult on hand to sort everything out for them? Children need to make up their own games, know who to avoid on the playground, who to play with. They are, or would be, a lot more resilient than we give them credit for.

All of these changes would have a direct impact upon what my ideal classroom would look like. This is possibly the biggest challenge as we have become very fixed upon what classrooms would look like.

My ideal classroom be very similar to a Foundation Stage of Reception class room but obviously for older pupils. There would be areas for messy play and investigation, quiet reading and reflection, sustained writing, cooking, role play, and technology. All of this with access to an outside area too. This would obviously require more classroom space and possibly smaller class pupils sizes. Some Great Classroom layout ideas

All of these changes would not happen overnight. Even if the space and money were available it would require a change in classroom culture and behaviour management but that doesnt mean we shouldn't strive for it. I believe that these changes both in timetable, content and environment would all work together to improve teaching and learning. A commentary by the teaching and learning research program

What surprises me is how I am actually quite a hippie at heart!