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Time to stand and stare-does your classroom have it?

Time to stand and stare-does your classroom have it?
It is half term week in many areas of the UK and what are the majority of teachers doing? Sitting with a cup of tea and a good book, having a glass of wine and a good meal, relaxing and switching off? Well maybe for some of the time, but if the evidence on social media is anything to go by many are planning their classroom environments for the second half of this term.
I started to think about a tutor’s comments many years ago when I was on my final teaching placement. She came to visit me in my first week on placement to make sure everything was in place. I had spent hours making resources and setting up my classroom. I proudly showed her round and described all the exciting learning experiences that would be happening over the following term. When I finally stopped talking she was quiet and then said ‘that’s all great but where’s the time to stand and stare?’ She made me realise that in all my planning I hadn’t left any time for reflection, every minute was accounted for and every part of the classroom was full of stimulating experiences. Her question has stuck with me and influenced every classroom environment I have provided ever since. I believe it is vital to have a quiet area in every classroom, somewhere that is peaceful, somewhere children can think, somewhere they can sit quietly, somewhere they can take time out.
I think we should always look at our classrooms from a child’s point of view. One thing I ask my staff to do is to get down to the eye level of a child in their class and take photos, it amazing how different things can look from the view of a 4,5,6 year old (the piles of clutter under the table which you cannot see are right in their line of sight!). A colleague talks about classrooms as being like ‘a chocolate box’. I love this analogy and have adopted it to describe how I want children to feel when they enter my school. I want children to come through the door and have that feeling of opening a new box of chocolates, the excitement of new learning experiences waiting to be explored. Margaret McMillan talks about ‘an environment where learning will almost be inevitable’.
However as well as learning we should also think about giving children those quiet times, space to think and reflect. Tina Bruce talks about ‘the kind of environment that allows children to wallow and take as much time as they need’.
Plan a quiet corner in your classroom, a space with calming colours, cushions, small throws to wrap up in, beautiful natural objects to look at, pot-pourri to appeal to the sense of smell and allow in your busy timetable that ‘time to stand and stare’.
Kathrine

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Mark the Maths Monster!

Mark the Maths Monster!

I started the year with a group of Year 6 children who were frightened of maths and so set myself the task of making maths fun!

Their Year 5 teacher had introduced Maths Monster to the children and they had really responded, solving problems for him and helping him get into Monster University by helping him learn maths. They obviously loved him because when he came back for a visit, one maths lesson, they were so excited to solve complex investigations and buy into the concept of this poor creature that couldn’t do maths.

From this, I decided to adopt a Maths Monster of my own (because they’re real you know!) and along came Mark, Maths Monster’s more confident, but clumsier, younger brother. Mark often rushes through his workings and doesn’t get things right and so the children have to sort out the mistakes he makes.

The children also had the idea that one of them would take him home at the weekend and do maths with him, taking photos and recording their maths in Mark’s diary.

This is adding an extra layer of maths for the children and on Friday they are so eager to see who is taking him home. The maths they are doing is complex and in a real life context, such as recording how many minutes Mark was asleep, tracking the average speed on a bike ride and measuring and converting ingredients when cooking for Eid celebrations.

I would recommend this, it’s great and the children initiate most of the learning so are totally invested.

Have fun!

Alice and Mark the Year 6 Maths Monster!

Mark the maths monster

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Are we teachers or actors?

Whilst on my first teaching placement I had a wonderful link tutor: a retired teacher who specialised in drama. She was lovely, and with my background in music and performing arts we got along well right from the off. One thing I remember about her was after each observed lesson she would always comment on ‘classroom presence,’ a phrase that I had not really come across before. I used to think to myself, “Classroom presence? Well yes, I’m present, surely that ticks that box?” She would say things like ‘the classroom is a stage; you have to be a performer as well as a teacher.’

To be honest, I don’t think I fully understood what she meant by that. But this week’s events with my class took me right back to that conversation 2 years ago.

Our English focus this week has been the story, “We’re going on a bear hunt.” I know what you’re thinking, “been there, done that, trekked through the grass and mud and snow.” Trust me, I know. I remember being read this story when I was in primary school. But this story is a classic for a reason.

As well as writing their own versions of the bear hunt, changing the animal and the obstacles along the way, I have been desperately trying to engage my reluctant writers. I have a group of girls who given the chance would draw butterflies and princesses all day, and a group of boys who would use all the Lego and Duplo in the school if they could get their hands on it. Sorry for the gender-stereotyping, but that is my class as they come!  (I tried introducing some descriptive writing about Frozen characters and Transformers last week, which weren’t met with the same enthusiasm as I had hoped.)

Allow me to set the scene. Whilst the children were in assembly I ransacked the role play, turning over the table and scattering the resources all over. I painted large bear prints down the wall, across the floor and along the pipes. (I mixed some washing up liquid with the paint- my TA assures me that means it can be washed off easily!)

By way of context; the class have already read the story last year in reception.  Told it, acted it out, been on an outdoor learning school trip on a bear hunt theme…. Would my painty paw prints really match up? In all honesty I wasn’t expecting much of a reaction. But as usual, my class proved me wrong. (They’re getting too good at that!)

We came back from assembly and the reactions were priceless. We had shock, laughter, worry, outrage…the whole range. It was a whispered conversation between two of my more ‘streetwise’ children that made me smile the most.

“Do you think they’re real?”

“Nah, Miss N’s painted them.”

“Yeah I know but shall we pretend?”

“Yeah”

That willingness to use your imagination and play along is one thing that I think you are never too old for. Remember Alice’s fairy houses and role play in year 6? To get theoretical for a moment, it’s all down to the “willing suspension of disbelief.” A term coined in 1817 by poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  He postulated that if a writer (in our case a teacher) could incorporate a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a story, the reader (or pupil) would suspend judgement about the implausibility of the narrative.  This goes for adults as well as children. When you go to the theatre you know that those people singing and dancing on stage are playing characters and aren’t real, but you are willing to suspend reality in order to become an active player in the narrative.

I believe this is SUCH a powerful tool for us as teachers. If we can get the children to suspend reality and become active players, that’s half the battle won. They then become intrinsically motivated to solve problems and try new things. The work that has bubbled out of these bear prints has been so exciting to see. The children have created wanted posters with descriptions and promises of rewards for anyone who finds the bear. My group of reluctant writers spent the morning in our construction area planning the most wonderfully elaborate traps to catch the bear and were more than happy to label them and tell me all about what they did! The small group of butterfly girls that ordinarily wouldn’t say boo to a goose marched off to the neighbouring year two classes to warn them of the dangers of the bear! Even the children who are relatively ‘street wise’ and knew it was just paint have kept schtum because they want to come along for the ride.

So in answer to the title question, “are we teachers or actors?” I would say we have to be a bit of both! If we’re not willing to suspend reality every now and then (let’s face it, teaching can get pretty surreal sometimes!) and become ‘players’ with the children, how can we expect them to?

I’d like to end with a thank you to my link tutor- it may have taken me two years but I finally fully understand your brilliant advice!

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Hannah