Friday, October 28, 2011

Schools of Tomorrow: Part 1 - Play

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” ~ Leo Buscaglia (author, educator)
 Following on from my last post that concerned play in the EYFS, I want to turn my attention to play as we go up through the primary school. Play should be ever constant in the primary school; all the way up to year 6.
“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” ~ Plato (Greek philosopher)
It is not play for play's sake. This kind of play needs careful structuring. Or, rather than structuring, it needs nurturing.

Play should be of different types:
  • playing with each other
  • playing with toys
  • playing roles
  • talk in play
  • playing sporting games
  • making up games to play
Playing with each other means that children have to accept others points of view. Isn't this something we, as adults, find just as difficult in the world of work. Playing with each other is the roots of team work. Team work is the essentials of the modern world of work (see next post on team work)
“It is becoming increasingly clear through research on the brain, as well as in other areas of study, that childhood needs play. Play acts as a forward feed mechanism into courageous, creative, rigorous thinking in adulthood.” ~ Tina Bruce (Professor, London Metropolitan University)
Playing with toys involves all of the rules and routines that go with it. Children learn to play by a set of conditions. These conditions are not always pleasurable. If you take the game of snakes and ladders and watch as a child hits that square that has the head of the snake. Children often shake their heads and show denial. Children will miscount their die throw or if the finishing square is in sight, a slide down the snakes head can be enough to upset the balance and game. Counters and die can be upturned in one swift tantrum. Surely having children become comfortable with the pitfalls of games makes the first foundation for the ups and downs of life.

Playing Roles whether in the wendy house, imaginary school or further playing the roles linked to the theme currently being studied: all prepare children to step into other people's shoes. Play with inherent roles must be carefully set-up and also must push children to play in those roles that they are unfamiliar with. These roles can be extended further into the fun hot-seating that goes on as the children get older and are able to explore fiction with developed characters in it.
 “As astronauts and space travellers children puzzle over the future; as dinosaurs and princesses they unearth the past. As weather reporters and restaurant workers they make sense of reality; as monsters and gremlins they make sense of the unreal.” ~ Gretchen Owocki (childhood educator)
Talk in Play should not be left to chance. As educators we should be scaffolding or supporting talk so that it is useful or purposeful. Setting up a shop is not enough. Children given parts of dialogue will more enthusiastically throw themselves into play. Teachers must lead by modelling the importance of the words spoken in play and this will promote its place in play. Children will not just want to wear the best 'policeman's' hat but will want to say the lines of dialogue explaining to their fellow classmate why they have just been arrested.(This dialogue helps to support any writing based on the theme of the play). Higher up, children given the right words in team games will help to motivate and encourage their team to work together.

Playing Sporting Games builds upon many of the same principals mentioned above. Children have to accept their part in a large group whilst developing the physical coordination that they can use throughout their lives. Individuals again have to conform to the rules whilst relying on another. Basic principals that govern many of our working and social situations.

Making up Games to Play is vastly underestimated in the modern school. It doesn't happen spontaneously. It has to be built upon the basics of game play from the  regular use of games in school. Games with the elements and rules identified and taken apart. Again laying a scaffolding for the children forming their own games. This leads to good level of creativity.
“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.” ~ Abraham Maslow (psychologist)
The proposal that play belongs across the whole of the primary school can be taken a whole stage further. Educationalists across the world are promoting the place of the computer game in the classroom. Both as a motivator and as a more complex combination of skills brought together. Latest research also shows that those adults that engage in regular 'game play' such as chess, soduku or crosswords, live with their marbles in tact to a much brighter age.
 “Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein (scientist)
What is play like in your school? Start with a play audit. Identify where it occurs and to what extent it is structured. From there you will be able to target areas of play for development. Time set aside will ensure that the planning. scaffolding or structuring can be done in a thorough way. Then all there will be left to do is for the children to play.
“It’s not so much what children learn through play, but what they won’t learn if we don’t give them the chance to play. Many functional skills like literacy and  arithmetic can be learned either through play or through instruction – the issue is the amount of stress on the child. However, many coping skills like compassion, self-regulation, self-confidence, the habit of active engagement, and the motivation to learn and be literate cannot be instructed. They can only be learned through self-directed experience (i.e. play). ~ Susan J. Oliver (author, Playing for Keeps)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I'm sure I went to 'playschool' rather than Nursery.

My daughter, who is almost two years of age, currently goes to a Nursery. At some point in the next twelve months, my wife and I will probably sit down to decide whether or when to move her to the pre-school at the primary school. This is a place I know well as I work in KS1 and 2 in the primary.

This pre-school (like a number that I have witnessed), has a formal feel to it. The room is a reflection of the latter stages of primary schooling with its set number of tables (often five) that six children can sit round. This structure then leads to stale lessons with children sat in their chairs all day. This seems an inescapable consequence in current secondary eduction but do we need to resort to it in primaries? It is definitely not a pre-school regime I want my child to go through but what do other people think?

This blog post by Frank Chalk promotes the opposite to what I suggest. It states that children should be moved into a formal setting as soon as possible. What is interesting is some of the comments that are added to the post.

A couple of comments point out the Finish model, which is recognised as the current number one model of best practice, where children don't start any kind of formal education to the age of six.

But a number of comments support this view:

"...I just felt that the teacher should be stood at the front teaching them, otherwise why do you need a teacher at all?..."

"...I want my child taught to read, write, sit still and listen by an intelligent teacher...."

We have to recognise that there are a percentage of our pupils' parents that may feel this way. (These were two out of fourteen comments so I make it about 15%) If we have some parents that think this way we have to look at why?

'Play' is the term that confuses them. Play to these parents just means children left to their own devices. Successful play in the pre-school though refers to the areas of learning carefully crafted by the teacher. Areas include construction, role-play, art, literacy, numeracy and a tactile area. These areas are centred around themes and are refreshed more than once a week. This is the play that is often referred to but 'play' used as a term by a teacher and 'play' as perceived by the everyday parent are two different concepts.

I recall my early years before I joined school in year one. I went to a playschool. Till this day the images of that time are some of the strongest I have of my pre-school years. (These and filling my Wellingtons with drain water - eugh!) When I visit my child's nursery I see those different areas carefully crafted and I know that it is this 'play' that I want my child to learn through as long as possible.

Further reading:

BBC article 1
BBC article 2
Scholastic education poll of opinion

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Using Fairy Tales to Learn to Write Stories

We ask children from a very young age to produce writing. Producing writing is, in itself, a complicated art form. Further, we ask children (as young as six years of age!) to produce original works of fiction. Not that long ago, many teachers still asked children to produce a piece of writing from just a title starting point - 'A Snowy Day' or 'My Holiday Adventure'! Astoundingly, many children would go away and do this and I imagine that there are some successful and sophisticated authors out there who started out in early schooling that way.

But engaging children in writing must start with engaging children in story structures. Some of the best stories to use are basic fairy tales. Use Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Billy Goats Gruff. 

The children need to internalise these stories: break them down; explore the characters; have the children retell the stories to each other; use pictures to represent the cards or a story prompts or have the children create a comic strip. This internalisation means that the story is visited at least three times, more if possible.

Once the children reach that level of comfort, then they are ready to reproduce them as pieces of writing. Children as young as six will write extended narratives following the solid structure of the fairy tale chosen.

Support the younger children by building a word wall with the words needed to tell the story. Allow the children to concentrate on the technical side of sentence construction, grammar and punctuation.

As the children move up the school, have them reproduce the stories but with alternative characters. Sven year old children may simply write the story of Little Blue Riding Hood with a tiger playing the role of baddie. Try The Three Hairy Deers as an alternative to The Three Billy Goats Gruff with an ugly Giraffe living under the bridge.

Ten and eleven year old children could take the narrative structure of Little Red riding Hood and twist it into a murder/kidnap mystery with a detective little girl arriving at grandma's house and finding it empty. She could find clues that lead her to the wolf who she has to trap.

Familiarity in the form of fairy tales breeds confidence in the worried writer but allows the flexibility for children of any level to develop technical elements of writing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Make Websites with Children Easily

Website making is easy with Weebly. Sign up for a free account and make your free website. You can add up to 40 children's websites controlled through your own account. Add multiples of children by creating an excel spreadsheet but save as a .csv file. This is a comma separated values document which uploads lists of information easily.

To make the website just drag boxes onto the page. To create two columns, just drag the two columns onto the page. Two create a four column page, split each of the first two columns by dragging another two columns box onto each one.

Drag the type of content that you want in each box. For example drag a picture icon into a box where you may want a picture. Or drag a simple title and text into another box.

Once the page is set-up the way you want it, then add your content.

Click here to see the fledgling site I have started this October 2011.