Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Importance of the Arts and Creativity

This is something I have felt passionately about for some time now, since starting my journey with Mantle of the Expert my eyes were opened widely to the benefits learning through the arts could have for children.  Previously an area that I only dabbled with because of my own lack of ability, I quickly came to realise using the arts as a vehicle for the curriculum had an incredible effect on the engagement of all children (not just the ones talented in these areas) and increased the emotional connection ten fold.  Not only did it have a huge impact on their engagement, it also had an incredible effect on their understanding of what we were learning. 

The biggest eye opener for me was how using the arts as a vehicle for curriculum, opened up access to learning for those we would consider 'struggling, shy' learners, and even our ESOL children.  All children seemed to connect with learning in a much deeper way.  The arts is a language we are all capable of engaging with, yet as we get older, we forget and lose this connection unless it is part of our everyday life.

Using the arts as a vehicle for learning was like having a magic key that seemed to unlock learning for all and in that moment of realisation, five years ago, the idea of Number Agents 1.0 was born. 

Number agents has evolved over the last few years, and the storylines morphed as the children add their personalities and ideas to it, but one thing has remained constant....we are learning about maths, but through the vehicle of the arts.  Over the last couple of years in a play-based environment it has developed even further. 

What I came to realise is although I do not consider myself an 'artistic' person, this didn't matter at all, as adults we let this hold us back, but for children using creativity as a means of communication is as natural as breathing.  They don't measure their abilities by any standard. They sing loudly; dance with their whole being truly feeling the music.  They paint and draw with no abandon, and on any surface they are allowed to, including themselves.  They have no prescribed view of right or wrong, of what colour goes with what, find bits and pieces that go together to create a fantastic artwork or a wonderful machine.  They joyfully, with no abandon explore their environment, noticing the
small details that we as adults lost sight of years ago, the mark of a true scientist!   They giggle loudly at funny words that rhyme and say them over and over again just because they can, make up their own jokes with no need of a punch line that makes sense.  They dress up in weird and wonderful outfits and they use drama as part of their play, it is how they learn, so adding it in a more 'directed' learning situation may seem challenging for an adult, it is just a part of who they are for a child. 

What if we captured this ability and actively used it as an approach in our classrooms, what if we used the arts as a means to deliver the curriculum...could we ensure that children did not lose this creativity as they get older, may we even unlock aspects of their abilities that may have gone

untapped in other situations.  Could we have an impact on their overall wellness and sense of being...absolutely I have been overwhelmed by the positive impact it has had across our whole school!

 We all know how therapeutic creativity can be.  I love to write, would have loved to be an author...may still be one day.  I even took up painting when I had my babies as an outlet, I'd never painted in my life, but I absolutely loved it!  Music gives such pleasure to others, it can lift your spirit, even if you have had a bad day, it is like storytelling...the arts communicate directly to our soul, they ground us and centre us, they talk to the 'humanness' of us all.  You only have to go to a concert and feel the vibration of the music, the way it unites the crowd, it is like a zap of electricity to your soul.

Unfortunately over the years our curriculum and the experience we allow children to have in our classrooms has been narrowed by a 'theory' that there are important subjects and those that are just frivolous.  Firstly I don't believe in subjects at all, because we do not experience the world in 'subjects' and secondly I think we have it all wrong, those areas considered frivolous and all but excluded from some of our classrooms today, except for two or three week 'units' playing the recorder, or painting, are actually the most important areas of learning for us.  They allow us to see the world in a different way.  Not as a list of facts to be learned, or arbitrary knowledge that needs to be consumed, but in a way that allows us to see the connected nature of our world.    Engaging creativity and using it has the potential to truly unlock our human potential. 

Why would we deny children this right?

Maths, science, technology, social studies, even sport fall naturally out of the arts and by harnessing creativity we actually expand our ability to truly develop understanding.  If we truly want to be preparing children for the 'future' we need to be embracing creativity, not shying away from it. 

This is a great article here, that I really enjoyed reading.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

What is our job?

Over the last few weeks I have been mulling a question over and over in my a teacher what is our role...what is our most important work? 

For many teachers buried under a pile of paperwork it would seem that our most important work would be planning and preparing lessons, setting learning intentions and success criteria and then measuring their students against this.  If you have ever read any of my blog posts, you will absolutely know that this is an answer that would not wash with me. 

To answer this question for myself I have been delving back into my memories of school, Primary and Secondary, what is it from this time in my life that I actually learned.

Now this is going to sound harsh, but there is little learning wise I can remember from school, however I do remember a lot socially and emotionally, good and bad.

For the most part I enjoyed primary school.  I was an 'average' child academically...probably because I was never encouraged or given the learning experiences that encouraged me to step out of that average.  I was not a risk taker in learning, I liked to be right.  However I do think that I had the ability to do more, if mistakes had been cherished and the importance of struggle made clear to us.  Maths was not my strong point back then, or at least I was never given proof otherwise.  I was in the 'bottom' group with the other children that struggled, together we accepted that this was just our lot. 

Maths was also quite competitive back then....and competing in a subject that I 'struggled' with was just not something I was ever willing to do, I was happy to shrink back into the background... to be that child that was always labelled in end of year reporting as quietly confident. 

What rubbish that was!  Confidence was one thing I could have really done with.  I seemed confident perhaps, because I've always had a talent for acting.  I knew just to put my head down and enjoyed working from textbooks for maths, not because I LOVED this way of learning, because they were safe, the thinking was narrow, there was always one right answer, and best of all, the answers were in the back of the book.

I was lucky at primary school really, in a small school I was known, and had great relationships with my teachers (for the most part) so even if I lacked confidence academically, I still got what I needed emotionally.  High school was a different matter altogether, little miss average doesn't really get a look in at High School.  Not needing extra help, not needing extension, really not a priority.  So what does Miss average do, when attention is lacking, becomes the class clown of course, and when that doesn't work, gets suspended...hmmm who would have ever predicted my future career.  I was much more of a follower back then. 

My absolute passions were the outdoors and animals, I was an excellent athlete and I always shone in this area of learning...what my teachers didn't know is that for every activity that I mastered and 'won' there were just as many activities that I simply didn't take part in for fear I would not be the best.

 I guess perfectionist comes to mind here...I would slowly make my way to the back of the line for anything I felt I would mess up, because the teachers had this vision of me as this incredible athlete, I just didn't feel I could show them anything other than this competence.  I was praised over and over for this ability, for being the best, how an earth could I bring myself to shatter this illusion.

What a difference the power of yet would have done for me...a culture based on embracing mistakes may have completely changed my path in this area.   Perhaps I would have actually gone on with athletics...but sadly for me, as soon as I hit high school and there were others as competent as me and I didn't win each and every event, I gave up.

So this brings me back to the point of my post, what is our core role? 

Can you relate to any of my comments above, are there any children like me in your classes?  I bet there are, the safe sitters of the world can be found in every classroom, these safe sitters are our target audience, because if we get it right for them, if we can encourage them to take risks and embrace challenge, I believe we can get it right for all children.

I am going to offer up a contentious point of view here, you may or may not agree with me, obviously that is the beauty of having our own minds, but after much mulling, much arguing with myself I believe the one most important part of our job, our key role is not the teaching of content, or curriculum, but the development of character, the fostering of strong relationships and the building of emotional connections. 

Each child has such huge potential and it is our job to build strong, connected relationships that allow us to push children out of their comfort zones, to cherish the value of persistence, to embrace mistakes, to think deeply, to appreciate the process of learning and to understand that we do not always have to be right.  In doing this, we allow children to come to understand themselves, to appreciate not only their strengths, but also their weak points and how they can use struggle and challenge to overcome these.

Our ultimate role is therefore not to get swamped by paperwork, to write the perfect learning intention, to integrate an inquiry perfectly, or to spend hours marking work, our ultimate role is to spend time getting to know children, to know them well enough that we are able to find that learning switch inside of each one of them, that shows them just how much they can achieve and how much potential they have.

I am not saying to stop planning, to stop reflecting (I may be saying to stop writing learning intentions­čśť and success criteria, because children should have more ownership over the direction of their learning, and how an earth do we know where something is going until we get there) or to stop having a fantastic understanding of the curriculum and competencies. 

What I am asking you to reflect on is how much you remember of what you learned in school, or how much of your learning happens just in time, when you need it? 

Who was your favourite teacher and why...I believe most of us would pick a teacher who saw us, understood us, who fought in our corner it won't be the teacher that was so busy trying to cover everything that they never had time to stop and just see us.

Every child has a learning is our job to find it.  This switch is usually located close to their heart, therefore it is this that we need to connect with if we are to help them become successful, resilient learners who understand that learning is not confined to the inside of the classroom walls and only limited by their own vision of themselves as a learner. 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Number Agents - Term One Reflection

Quite honestly, I am always super surprised by how well children just slip into the world of Number Agents.  This year has been no different and every year, I get better at building the storyline, increasing the children's belief in this imagined world.

Isn't that the amazing thing about teaching?  That we get to build on our practice each year and make things new an improved, not just repeat what we have always done?

This year with our play-based environment evolving and improving, I think the attachment to Number Agents has been even stronger.  The children ask daily if we are going to be agents, and just like the agents before them they take this world into their own play.

Through the hooking in process, which took us about three weeks, children became more and more intrigued by this world and just like classes before them started to invent their own stories about the portal.  That is where the idea of a crack in time and space came from, and now this crack is displayed proudly on our agent wall.  (this is how the villains manage to get through to our world.)

The children loved the message in a bottle this year, just as much as last year and took to the concept with the glee that only a child can show.  They loved it so much that this has been kept up as a way of working on strand on the days that  I am not in the room.
the bottle arrives
How we feel when a new message arrives
The black circle (portal) arrived first.  I didn't need to tell the agents this was a portal, they told me.

Then Head Agent appeared, with messages for us in speech bubbles.

Head agent was again welcomed with open arms and the children just slipped into the world of being agents, joyously drawing their plans for our construction crew to come through and build our offices.  Dressing up with excitement to take their agent photos.  Wide eyed with amazement when professor visited for the first time, and overwhelmed with absolute and pure happiness when the first villain arrived to take us on.

They learned the chant quickly and were hugely keen to take on the role of clients themselves rather than have the pictures of them as a signal of their presence.

This world leaves them so open and connected to what they are learning that the maths understanding just seems to be a natural part of the process.

I've never claimed that this was self-directed play, but over time I have come to realise that although I am orchestrating the storyline and the characters that visit each day, the children really do own this process.  This ownership and emotional connection is absolute key.  Framed as experts, this truly is their world!

So over the last few weeks we have settled into a beautiful rhythm, it is as if they have always been agents and are ready to take on anything I put in front of them. 

That is the absolute key really, this world is embraced by the teacher and the children in a beautiful dance of mutually agreed playfulness...the maths understanding is a bonus and fabulous side effect of this world.

An example of a dragon video, this character usually only appears in video form.

So far we have met the Knight Adder, Subtraction Shark and Captain Fraction.  Next term I will introduce more visual based problems through the Three Headed Colour Changing Dragon, introduce the Wacky Witch of Change Unknown, Doubling Dinosaur and Sum Snake.  I absolutely can not wait to introduce our new villain The Grouping Goblin.  He will visit once we have worked more closely on visual images and dot talks.

Our focus for term two will be on visual patterns and subitizing, last year these activities had a huge impact on progress.

If you are just starting out in Agency in Term 2, please take the time to hook children in, go back through my old posts to read about how this is done, I also have a video on youtube that describes the importance of this.

One item at a time, the wall has evolved.

The children call the question marks mysteries, so cute!

 "If you are wondering where agency came came from my imagination and a wonderful childhood memory.  As a much younger sibling with older brothers I spent a lot of time playing on my own.  I invented worlds where I was the hero, defeating villains.  This world has stayed with me for all these years, I wanted to give that wonderful gift to the children in my class and so far it has been nothing but positive."

Term One Reflection

Wow, that term went by in a blink of an eye.  We started the term with 27 children between the two of us, 14 of those first timers :)

Our term has been completely based around play, with children spending large chunks of their day directing their own play.  Usually during the day there will be anywhere between 2 and 4 more teacher directed sessions.

We have altered a few things to start the year, basically this year we are using the developmental indicators that we decided upon through our inquiry last year.  These indicators are a huge foundation of our classroom

The diagram associated with these can be found here and the goals directly associated with this here.

These developmental indicators have proved to be absolutely invaluable in helping not only gauge readiness, but to also 'see' progress in a different way.   About 12 of our children have transitioned to one to one reading with us twice a week and are showing good progress.  By the time they do move onto this more formal reading with us they are usually anywhere between R2-Y1...but even better they already have a good awareness of books and early book skills.  Reading and the whole point of it makes sense to them.  If they do not want to read with us, they do not have to.   If they want to take the book they have read with us home, they can, if not, they don't.

Interest reading has had a huge boost this year, every day children spend time browsing at books that interest them.  They retell stories, make the story up, read the pictures etc.  They then take this book home to share...or not.  It is important to have parents on board with this, so we have created this poster which we send home and pop into our visitor packs.

Our aim is for children to love reading.  If the spend the whole year, or more, getting ready to learn to read, it is no big deal.  I know that when they are ready, they will read.  I believe pushing reading straight on children when they start school can have the exact opposite impact that we hope it to have, it creates an anxiety around reading and for some children is a real roadblock to future progress.  Despite what many think, pushing children earlier into learning, does not mean they will be advanced or ahead of their peers.  What it does sometimes mean is that these children who are pushed lack understanding and comprehension later on, not something we want to happen.  They can also fall into that group of children in Year 3-4 that we notice lack social and emotional intelligence, those children who we just don't see 'growing up.' An over emphasis on academic means these children miss out on the much more important social and emotional learning that play has to offer them.

Writing has focused on storytelling, we had great success with this last year, and are already seeing the benefits.  There is no pressure, children need to have something to say, if they are to want to write something down.  We teach as we see children are ready...not before, and are reaping the rewards for this.  All of our children are happy to write, they feel successful, what more could we want.  It is not that we are not teaching them, it is that we are tuning into those moments in time when children need the knowledge we have to offer, in that moment of need, what we are teaching will make sense, and in turn be remembered.  I have blogged quite a bit about this process if you are interested.

Number Agents never fails to amaze me, and just like the group before them I have a keen group of agents who love participating in this imagined world, it is playful, it is intriguing and they feel a real sense of ownership and control...just like a storybook each day is a new page with new
understandings being developed and new characters being introduced.  I am always quite astounded by how much children remember when in this world, and this also transfers into their mathematical understandings.  They have an emotional connection to what is being learned, this means that they attach this connection to maths and in turn their progress is positively impacted on.

What I did discover quite quickly this year is in terms of play and urges, these children are very different from last years lot.  What worked for our children last year, what lit them up, just doesn't do it for this group.  Our children last year had a fascination with the bush, this group prefer imaginative role play and a lot of their play comes from their real world and a construction and transportation urge.  My goal this year has been to design provocations around the urges and interests I see and to let the play shape our other curriculum areas.  This term we have been involved in fishing and a lot of discovery around this interest, and forces, with much of the children's play exploring motion. 
Fishing has been a real interest

Our class scrapbook has worked perfectly to store class learning stories and I love using it for reflection.
Our Scrapbook of Learning Stories

Learning stories is another one of my main areas of learning this year.  We aimed to do two for each child this term, and used a form that showed the transition through developmental goals through to stories that focused on more curriculum based learning.  This term has allowed us to see that we have to tweak this process....we read individually, check developmental goals individually, catch learning for seesaw AND were endeavoring to do class and individual learning stories.  The conclusion we have come to is that there is only so much we can expect of ourselves.  During term two we will continue to write class learning stories where appropriate, but we will use seesaw to develop learning stories, adding a bit more detail than we have been doing, so that it gives parents a better developmental/cognitive picture of how their child is going.  We are hoping this will be more manageable for us and will still serve the same purpose.

We did write a snapshot paragraph for each child to end the term, updating parents on how their child is going and what their next steps are...these were very well received.

Another major change this year has been the way we start the day, and I have to say it has been really worth it.  When the morning bell goes children come in and start playing.  We wander around, great children and do the roll.  After about fifteen minutes children hear our welcome song playing and they come to the mat to sing with us.  After our songs we may reflect on the day before or talk about some of the learning that we could extend on during our play, or reflect on some sort of emotional/social learning from the day prior.  Children will then move off for their first block of self-directed play.

People often ask what planning looks like and what our timetable looks like.  This is a hard question and a difficult one to answer.  Planning evolves as the play evolves and the timetable is fluid, we have teacher-directed time that we want to fit in, but it falls as it falls without the need for a timetable.  Our day just flows, we don't pack up till the end of the day, and if children are absolutely humming with where their play is taking them, we will not disrupt this.

However I do plan in overview example is here.  Ingredients here.  Specific term one overview here.  Below is a basic timetable that we use, but it is not definitive, just indicative.  We work with readers and developmental goals during play-based time, this can be a balancing act and we keep handwritten records of what has been done each day, with specific children having specific days that we will 'check in' with them.  Now swimming has finished we will probably place agency back in the middle block.
Mat times are short, writing takes about 15 minutes tops.  We do spend longer in agency, but children are so involved in this playful world and adore the professor and cowgirl so much they don't even seem to notice.
What I have been amazed by again (and I don't know why because I have absolute belief in this approach) is the progress children have made emotionally and socially.  They share, they negotiate, they know each other well, they very rarely have conflict, and are largely able to solve their own problems using their words.  They are very aware that they have control over their day and will actively consult us if they would like to go outside of their 'external' boundaries in a search for extra supplies for their outside creations.  In a term this is quite remarkable.  Another thing...yes we have cohort entry...yes a couple were still four...guess what, you wouldn't have picked them, in a developmentally appropriate programme they were able to settle in happily, just like their peers.  Would I rather children started at six...yes for the most part, but if we don't have the ability to change this, then the least we can do is ensure our programmes are designed to cater for developmental needs rather than being based on age.  

Progress...that old pearler.  There are many who would have us believe that in a play-based class children couldn't possibly be making the academic progress they should be.  I am going to call 'fake news' on that assumption.  Our children are doing very well.  They are making progress I would expect, if not better and you know what...they understand what they are doing and learning has a point.

Where to next term?

For myself it will to be continue to work on making learning stories manageable by using seesaw and planning for open provocations that invite but don't dictate or direct the task.

For our learning?  Well the children have exhibited a real interest in barricades and defence systems based on their love of playing wars.  I was thinking of provocations around this area, like castles, knights, periscopes, but we will see where that goes and what direction the children decide to go in.  We talked to them about areas they would like in the class and they really want to garden and tinker, along with a keen interest in we will endeavor to create our classroom space around these ideas.

Looking forward to Term 2!

Monday, 9 April 2018

I just knew...

This is an answer that as a teacher I used to hate, or should I say rather than hate, it absolutely frustrated me.  "Can you tell me how you solved that?"
 "I just knew!" or the good old shrug of the shoulders, where a child would have the right answer, but had absolutely no idea how to explain how they solved the problem.

So many times I remember waiting patiently, giving them time, trying not to throw my voice in there, and in the end basically answering my question myself.  I often wondered why they were unable to explain their strategies to me. 

Since I participated in maths PLD, a few years ago now, I have had a few lightbulb moments and come to realise why the stock standard answer was "I just knew it."

There are several reasons in fact.

1) The way I presented maths encouraged children to be fast, and very much valued knowledge, children felt that they were successful if they did have the answer straight away.  They knew this was what I wanted and therefore it was the answer I got.  Even if they had used their fingers to solve a problem, or had to use counters, or some other strategy, they didn't feel that this was a valued way of working and they actually wanted me to think that they 'just knew.'

2) They actually didn't know who they had solved the problem.  We didn't talk deeply about how we solved problems, so articulating this was difficult for them.  Explaining a strategy is something that needs to be modelled and taught.

3) We very rarely explored problems that had more than one step, often the problems could be solved with pure knowledge with little strategy needed.  Word problems were not common and usually the questions asked had just the one answer.

4)The children worked largely in groups that were ability based, this meant that often the children in the group would have similar understandings and therefore couldn't build on the understandings of others, or hear different strategies.

So what has changed?

Well loads of things have changed, but thinking specifically about the response "I just knew" I suddenly realised the other day that this has not been an answer I have heard for at least two years.  I think there are some very valid reasons why.

1) We work as a whole class in mixed groups.  Discussion and sharing is valued.  Agents get to build on each others understanding and piggyback from each others ideas.  They are always keen to share.

2) We use visual images like dot talks and other images to discuss what we see and what we notice, this noticing is valued and there is not one answer.  We regularly use the sentence starter "I notice..."  for a range of activities.
We like to use images that the children have created through other activities.  
What do you notice?
How many....?  How do you know?
Could we sort them a different way?

What do you notice?
How many, how do you know?

We like to use images in groups and share our understandings before we talk as a whole agency.

3) We use talk moves.  Children are encouraged to talk about the strategy they have used and Cowgirl will scaffold or revoice this.  They still use knowledge, but they know that it is the strategy that is valued, the problems are sometimes multi-faceted and require deeper thought.  They are usually quite challenging.  Materials and fingers are valued.  We listen to each others strategies and agents have to think about whether they agree or disagree and if their strategy is similar.  These are the statements we use as sentence starters when sharing...
"I agree"
"I disagree"
"I think the answer is,------- because..."
"I have a similar strategy..."

Cowgirl will revoice their strategy and clarify what they are trying to say if they get a little lost.

Obviously discussion is highly valued, having a 'Goodie' with this specific role in the form of Cowgirl Calculation adds weight to the process.

I am happy to see an end to the answer "I just knew" and glad to see the back of maths that values speed and the correct answer, to maths that values discussion, strategy, open ended questions and visual images. 

Authentic maths - makes "I just knew" a thing of the past.

Cowgirl Calculation helps to revoice  and clarify understandings "So I hear you saying...?"

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Assessment in the early years....

If you are reading this blog post, I am absolutely that like me, you did a little dance and leap for joy when the demise of National Standards was announced.

If you have been reading my blog for a while you will be well aware of my views on assessment or to be more specific 'testing'.  I talk about this a bit in my latest book as well.

In my opinion assessment has taken over many schools, it has made the teachers role one of box ticking and created stress for children and adults alike.  It has taken a way a lot of the freedom and innovation and led us to believe that there is no other way.

I won't go much further into this, because this blog post is not intended to be full of my opinion, but to share what we are doing and where we are up to at the moment.

I did however want to share with you a little story that made me cringe...I am still hearing too often about visual assessment on classroom walls.  A recent story I heard talked about a display that pitted children against each other in a race to be reading at a certain level.  This kind of practice breaks my heart.  I don't for a moment think that these teachers are doing this to hurt children, but I don't think they have taken time to think about how the children feel.  How does this shape their view of what reading is or even learning is?   How does it promote a culture of shared learning and journey?  How does it speak to these children about failure and mistakes?

Would we as adults like to be pitted against each other in this way?  What would it do to our staff culture if we were pitted against each other in this type of competition?

Food for thought.

Ok, back to the point of this post.  It is really just a follow up, because I have blogged about this before and a lot of the info in here will be the same.  I have had many asking however about new entrant assessment and my opinions on readiness, so I thought I would create an updated post to cover off these questions.

Firstly my opinion on new entrant assessment....for some of you this will be quite confronting, but it is my intention to challenge current practice, just as I have challenged my own over the last few years.

I do not think that there is any place for academic (cognitive based) assessment of children on school entry.  I do not believe we should be doing a traditional SEA, testing children on aspects of learning that most are not cognitively ready for.  All this does is create anxiety in children right from the outset.  I also do not believe there should be a rigorous timeline that we stick to in terms of assessment.  No reports at certain times, none of that.  Assessment should be seen as part of the learning process and particularly for our youngest children needs to be governed by an individual timeline of development.  Take age off the table and think about developmental stage.

Why would you assess children on something they have no idea about, just to prove they have no idea?  Surely you could learn more by playing alongside and talking to the child?  What an earth is it that we are trying to achieve or prove.  There are other ways to show progress, that are far less damaging.

Yes, I said damaging, these practices are damaging, we need to own it, and we need to change it.  The growth in the level of anxiety can in the opinion of Peter Gray be related to the decline in play and the feeling of 'being out of control' for children.  I believe that the over emphasis on testing also contributes to this anxiety in children.  Children in traditional environments have limited control over what they are being 'tested' on.  They have no role to play in this, other than by being measured.  I believe we can still get good information on progress, while still allowing children to feel in control of their learning and involved in the process.

Ok, obviously I have strong opinions on this.  Obviously these are my opinions, but I have lived this change and observed the differences it has made first hand.  I know more about my children in my class now, then I ever did when I was using traditional new entrant assessments like observation surveys.  Children engage happily in the process of working through their developmental goals (which they are given after a month or two at school) and approach this process with a growth mindset and understanding that they are not being tested.

So what is it that we do?

Well we use this as our framework for how we approach each individuals journey.  This framework has been based on the development of the brain and allows us to engage with a child from the point they are up to.

From that framework we use this goal sheet that children work through with us as and when they are ready.

This framework and goal sheet is used as long as needed and you will notice that after working memory development, it starts to become more cognitive.  Age is not a factor here, the focus is on development and a child in Year 2 or 3 may still be working on developmental goals if that is where they are up to.

We also use this writing chart to track progress...taking a writing sample each term as needed.

You will notice that we do not read with children straight away, and our children read interest books, rather than traditional readers.

We use learning stories, at least two a term for each child.  These show the progression from a learning story more based on dispositions, urges and stages of play, transitioning as the child develops to a more cognitive focused one that is based on the curriculum.  These learning stories are kept in each child's assessment journal and are shared on seesaw.

We also use seesaw to focus in on dispositions and keep a class learning story scrapbook in class which children and parents can access.

In maths I use a lot of observational assessments through agents, but we do give children knowledge based goals to work on and track them ourselves through the stages.  We use JAM if we feel they are stage 4 and we need to know more about what they are doing strategy wise.

Dispositions form a huge part of our assessment of children along with stages of play and urges.  These are kept anecdotally in each child's assessment journal (we have one for each child.)

In practical terms we check in with each child once a week on whatever goals they are up to and full in their journal accordingly.

I hope that paints a clear picture of where we are up to and what we are doing.  Have we got it completely probably not.  I think we are always on a journey and things change accordingly, but if we always have children's needs at heart I think we will always go forward with the best of intentions. 

The crucial role of trust

We must trust ourselves,
we must trust our instincts,
but most of all, we must trust children.

Children are competent, capable human beings.  They are born competent, unfortunately we have created a stifling education system that instead of growing this competence, strips it away, layer by layer, until they themselves believe that they need to teachers direction in order to learn. 

When we finally expect to see this competence as they get older, they disappoint us by struggling to be independent and we wonder why.

We have robbed children of the gift of trust and it is long overdue that we gave it back.

I am not blaming anyone here, I think it is so engraved in our psyche that we don't even know what we are doing.  We have absolutely come to believe that children need our supervision and guidance 100% of the time, because they are not capable of competently looking after themselves without an adult hovering somewhere in the vicinity.

We have developed a system based on class treaties, rules and timetables, in the assumption that if we didn't have these things, control would go out of the window.  We have created environments that are completely without risk, yet things continue to get worse.  Our job continues to get harder, children are diagnosed with a range of behavioural issues and everyday a new gadget is invented to engage and motivate them and to just keep them still.   People are earning good money designing convoluted positive behaviour management systems, because children simply couldn't behave without them.

Even when a school does include a little risk and allows a child to climb trees, they can't stop themselves from painting a line on the highest point a child can climb to, hey let's face it, a child wouldn't be able to judge the risk for themselves without this painted line.

I think we should be very worried.

If we took these things away, what would happen? 
Obviously children would run riot, right?

I can just see the carnage now!

Sorry for the sarcasm, but I just want you to mull this one over for a moment.  At our place we discarded school rules a while ago ..I think we are going on six or seven years since we shredded them.  We didn't discard the rules because our children were not breaking them, far from it, we discarded them because we believed the rules simply were not helping anybody. 

We've never had a more positive playground.  Very few accidents other than skinned knees, and the odd bump and bruise.   No need for any 'behaviour' management system.  Do our children run riot? 
No, very novelly they actually look after each other brilliantly.  They show us their competence each and every day.  Yes they are children, they make mistakes, they learn from them and we move on.  If a child falls off a bike at our place there will be no shortage of people to pick them up.  If a child gets stuck up a tree, there will be a convoy of children to the staff room to let us know.  They do this because they feel a responsibility and empathy towards each other, not because we will give them a special sticker or card at the end of it.

Since we have embarked on play-based learning we have had to transfer this same trust to the classroom.  I would be bold enough to state that it is just about impossible to run an effective play-based environment if you don't trust the competence of children.  Play is not something you can timetable or micromanage. 

It comes down to letting go.  Our children have access to the outside most of the time, the outdoors at our place is quite vast, and we are not able to keep an eye on them at all times.  Children thrive on our trust, they don't need us hovering.  They do love it when we play alongside, or engage with them, but the don't need us to supervise them constantly.

This trust allows us to truly engage with children, to pay attention to a small group, without wondering what they others are up to.

If the do something to let us down, they know that they outside won't be an option for them for a few days...this is not something they want.

They grow in competence every day, instead of being stripped away by a prescribed programme, this competence blooms, their individuality and personality shines through and it is simply awesome to witness.

I believe trust is key.  We must bring back programmes and approaches that allow us to show a high level of trust in children, and we must also trust ourselves. 

Rather than dangling carrots to encourage positive behaviour and manners, we need to build on the competence they enter school with, building on this competence will allow them to develop resilience, responsibility, independence and dangling carrots required.    Does this happen overnight, of course takes time to allow children to develop back the competence that has been taken away.  It will take time, but it will be worth it.  Along with showing this trust, it takes a focus on empathy, kindness, citizenship and leadership.  It takes specific modeling and teaching of these things and approaches that encourage the process over product with a focus on dispositions rather than academic outcomes. 

But ultimately we do this by showing trust.

As one of my lovely colleagues who is on her own play-based journey this year said..."it is about being confident enough to just let go."