Following the Crowded Shelf

I will admit to being one of those annoying parents. We have an elf that visits. Tiny-ificent (it’s better just to go with the name rather than take up a whole blog post to explain it) is in his 3rd year of visiting us. In that time he has built DVD mountains to climb the Christmas tree, written “Ho Ho Ho” on the bathroom mirror in toothpaste and had a full on cotton wool snowball fight with the toys. He has also sat on various radiators, shelves and cupboards and been loudly cursed at after midnight when I have locked the doors, snuck a last chocolate button from the tin, turned off the lights and settled down to sleep and then remembered that he is still happily perched in last night’s position. At those times I question why I do it, why I ever bought the extortionately, badly written, twee book with the slightly creepy elf and tied myself to this now firmly established Advent tradition. I certainly am not one to follow the crowd and I did not have extra money spilling out of every pocket. The answer is simple. I did it because I knew how much my children would enjoy it.

This year there appears to be somewhat of a social media backlash towards “elf mums”. In a world where Christmas is swallowed up in consumerism and media people may argue that those who have bought into this are merely satisfying a trend. Perhaps so. However, it could be argued that surely whatever families choose to do as their own traditions for Christmas is their business and no one else’s?

This race to the big day comes at the end of my first 6 week placement. The bundle of learning, planning and reflecting passed like a whirlwind encompassed by 25 little voices, all equally different, all needing just as much of my attention and time. Now, with the added invaluable benefit of hindsight, I am left with a resounding thought. What is more important – to follow my gut instinct as a teacher or to follow the crowd? Of course I fully accept that in a world of experienced teachers who have been there, seen it and done it they are the experts. These people know their stuff and anyone who hears advice from anyone in the job and disregards it, is foolish and arrogant. However, it is imperative that as teachers, we are not merely replicating what others do because that’s what they say is a good idea. Throughout my placement I realised the most important thing to do with that knowledge and advice was to take it, reflect on it and apply it to my own brand of teaching.

As one of my goals, I wanted to really get to grips with Learning Intentions and Success Criteria. By my 4th week, I still wasn’t fully happy with them and had a chat with one of the staff members who advised me to go back to Clarke’s WALT and WILF explanations. She talked of using a character as a “way in” to the learning. Hence Brigadier WALT and pirate WILF were born and for the last two weeks my learning contexts were created in the story world of the two characters.

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Before understanding how the advice of the experienced teacher could work for me, I had to reflect on what skills I had, where the gaps were in my own understanding and most importantly, what direction I wanted to take the children. It is a vital lesson that I will take forward not only to my second and third placements, but throughout my teaching career – how to apply advice properly. I would like to think I have now learned the difference between hearing about or seeing other professionals wonderful ideas and applying them to my own classroom in my own way and merely copying something directly because it is the “done thing” without really thinking through the implications for the children I am teaching.

As for Tiny-ificent, it reminded me why I had joined in the “elf craze” in the first place and why I will make decisions to start traditions whether in my own class or home. It will never be because other parents and teachers are doing it. It will only ever be because I see some intrinsic value in it. Even if the value is something as simple as a six and eight year old flying out of their beds in the morning and experiencing the pure joy on their faces or something more profound such as the child who doesn’t often speak out asking to try to read the pirate message left coincidentally in front of their desk in the bottle over lunch time. It may sound the idealistic musings of a student teacher, but I do believe that the children should be at the heart of each experience.

 

 

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Observing the small stuff

Ah the joy of the October Holidays. When many of those lucky enough to be able to take time off with the small humans depart for sunnier shores or indeed most of Angus head to Center Parcs and take full of advantage of the fact that they can have the place to themselves for half the price it would be to go a whole three nights later. Alas, Thing One and Thing Two have no such luck this year. With University still sticking to such Draconian laws of allowing only one reading week, we have to make do with the odd day trip to assuage any infighting in the ranks.

And so we find ourselves on Tentsmuir Beach with a teacher friend and her delightful Things. A glorious autumn day, the children happily playing that well known game of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys meets Captain America’s Avengers led by a two year old toddling king who amuses his cohort immensely by declaring everything he sees as a “bin”. As my friend goes on ahead with her children and I am left to watch Thing Two do an amazing leap from a stone (roughly 15cm off the ground) whilst Thing One whispers that “it’s not far at all but let’s just say he does really well Mum”, I feel one of those overwhelming moments of pure, unadulterated love for them both. Immense happiness and pride in the two small humans I am lucky enough to have in my life. It makes me wonder about those that share in this care-giving of my humans and consequently other children that I am responsible for, perhaps without realising it yet.

In university, our year group were let loose in schools, officially titled “Observation Week”. Whilst meeting our teachers (kind enough to open their doors and minds to our endless questioning) and classes we were to carry out observation tasks to help us begin to focus on the many, many, many, many things a teacher has to consider. I noticed that whilst the tasks were split into sections such as Classroom Management and Organisation, Behaviour Management, Questioning etc that the reality was these were all intermingled and interdependent. Classroom Organisation had an effect on Behaviour Management for example and my teacher was so experienced that her Questioning to illicit discussion was second nature.

However, the most powerful Observation was not listed as a task – the relationship this teacher had with these children. She had taught some of them the previous year, but some had only been with her a matter of weeks. One small boy was very nervous and emotional, a lovely little thing but a real worrier. In my short time I noticed him becoming very concerned anytime he thought people were speaking about him, or his name was mentioned for example. Often this was under very innocent circumstances and in one case someone had been speaking about him in a positive light. During the week the teacher gave this little boy jobs to do in the class. Simple jobs, what any confident child would see as inconsequential. She would say “please can you put my glasses on the desk” or “someone has left a bit of rubbish on the ground, would you please pick that up for me”. He would carry out these jobs beaming with pride and with a sense of the utmost importance. I have to admit that I didn’t discuss this with the teacher at the time. I am not sure if she was conscious of doing this. It appeared, as an outsider that her level of care-giving was so ingrained that it was automatic. She instinctively knew that this was what would help this small boy.

I have that lionesses instinct with my two children, as do many of my “mum friends”. No one can care for my children the way I do. No one else will look at my children and feel that burst of intense love that I felt on Tentsmuir Beach. However, what an amazing thought that there are people I would not automatically list doing things in small, seemingly insignificant ways, to boost their confidence or helping them become responsible and seeing it as just as important as teaching them literacy and numeracy. I have realised what a weight of responsibility I have yet what a glorious opportunity.

Macaroni Wednesday

Yesterday was Wednesday, or in our house “Macaroni Wednesday”. I stupidly named it this around 6 months ago and ever since then I have been tied to making Thing One and Thing Two home made Macaroni for their tea every Wednesday, without fail. One fateful day in July I experimented with a swap, mainly due to the fact that I had no cheese, macaroni and very little milk. “Can we do Macaroni Thursday guys, and go for fish and chips tonight instead?” I was met with abject horror and disappointment. The only time my two have been happy to visit Tesco, gaily chanting “macaroni Wednesday” down every single aisle.

So, I resign myself to making macaroni every Wednesday. Yesterday’s, however, was preceded by another joy – “Meet the Teacher” at school. Who thinks of these events? I found my grumpy, pre-cup-of-tea self thinking at 7.43am (as I double checked the macaroni, cheese and milk situation). Who wants to go? The teachers don’t want to stay late, parents don’t want the middle of their evening usurped by many screaming children. The only ones really excited were people like Thing One who had the important job of shaking her fundraising can in tired looking parents faces. But 4.30pm arrived and two of us skipped gaily back to school. One of us trudged, picturing the promised glass of prosecco that always follows Macaroni Wednesday.

This is where I admit my secret. I was not there solely for my children’s benefit. Four weeks into a post graduate degree in primary teaching I have learned one of the most important lessons of teaching – borrow any and all good ideas you see. It’s not stealing! It’s cooperative learning. I will not lie, at first I was not wholly sure of this notion. How would fellow professionals feel if I reproduced their work? Something they had dreamed up and slaved over merely for a far less qualified novice to usurp? However, the more immersed I have become in the teaching profession, the more I read, tweet, engage and speak with educators it all clicks into place. We are collaborators all with an ultimate shared goal. I know that if anyone ever saw a resource or lesson I produced and thought it worth sharing I would feel some sense of honour, that I had achieved true “teacher” status, I was doing something right!

With this in mind I marched proudly into Thing One’s P4 class and filed away the fact that the walls are covered in examples of the children’s work. That they completed a “budget challenge” – something, in my naivety, I would never contemplate explaining to a class of 8 and 9 year olds.macaroni

Challenge noted and accepted.

Thing Two’s P2 class had more examples of creativity including the most amazing game that he had constructed with the instruction of “make a game for a BeeBot”. How simple and yet how effective. He hadn’t told me any of this “work” he had done at school and yet in the environment of his class he explained it in great detail, how they had planned it out, where various pieces would start etc. His teacher put it best in  our short discussion, and her words stuck with me “if they are not engaged how can they learn?”

I’m borrowing that too.

I read a quote from Andrew Pollard (2014) who says that “children are likely to achieve most progress in core skills or literacy and numeracy if they learn in a curriculum which provides them with stimulating content to talk, read and write about and to explore mathematically, scientifically, socially or creatively” (p272).

At university we are encouraged to read many texts like this and reflect on what it means to us as prospective teachers. The first few weeks have been a whirlwind, a blur of people, lectures, presentations and workshops. Today was the day that the first two dots started to connect, thanks to a lot of reading, some excellent teaching in my children’s school and a begrudged Meet the Teacher. All hail Macaroni Wednesday. The dawn of a new era.