Recently I was asked to do something by one of my senior colleagues. It was an unusual task. One that involved me speaking to a range of contacts outside of school and then communicating with my colleague about what had happened.
However, I found myself deeply frustrated afterwards, because I knew neither the purpose, nor the outcome of the task.
It’s possible that I will find out in time, but it is also possible that I will never know.
Reflecting on this, I wonder how many times I put my students in this position. I may give them an activity, made up of a sequence of instructions. They then do the activity. I thank them for doing the activity. I may even praise them or give them stickers. Is this good teaching?
It makes me realise I need to ensure my learners are always engaged with the purpose of an activity and have time to reflect on the significance of the outcome.
#28daysofwriting Day 27
I’m not averse to a bit of roleplay. I like to be able to drip bits of it into lessons from time to time.
For example: the suspension of belief that the plastic food is actually a grocery shop and we are actually shopkeepers so I can give children a chance to practice their number bonds.
Or one of my favourites, when I set the classroom up like a conference room and we all pretend we’re attending the annual dragon hunter’s conference – I model the report of my most recent dragon hunt and of course the children all join in, motivated to both write a lot and also include various features of report writing.
However, I like to think that this forms the motivational 20% of my teaching. The rest of my time is spent in what might be deemed more traditional methods. But I don’t want to go on about that, because I’ve already done so here.
What has struck me recently is the amount of times I’m seeing and hearing off roleplay in primary school teaching, like it’s the next big thing. Mantle of the Expert has been around for a while, but I’m seeing it being used more and more to achieve the double-pronged Holy Grail of engagement and enjoyment. At conferences, respected speakers show videos of the outcomes of using ‘drama’ with children – demonstrating how children suspend their belief, get engaged and make great progress.
I’m wondering if one of the reasons for this is the lack of roleplay that goes on in the home. With the amount and quality of TV around, what child has the time to play shops, or dragon hunters in their home? And if they do have time, they may not have the inclination, for their own roleplay cannot be as well acted as whatever they see on the flat screen. Probably in 3D.
So this is where school comes in. With less roleplay going on in homes, schools pick up the slack, providing the made-up worlds in a safe place for children to play in. Great. But is this really what schools should be for? What if all the children came into my school desperate to learn more English and maths? Would they really be bothered with roleplay. Might they not turn round to me and say: “look, teacher, there’s only 5 hours in a school day, teach me something. I can do this roleplay stuff at home.”
It seems bizarre that having had schools for so long – over 100 years in this country – we still don’t really know what they are for.
Some of us know what we’d like schools to be for. Many of us have preconceptions of what schools already do. But none of us really know what they are for. No shared understanding exists for the purpose of schools.
How do I know this? Simple: snow closures.
This week’s debate about the vagaries of snow closures has demonstrated beyond a doubt that we do not know what schools are for.
Amused reporters have appeared on TV pointing out the closed school and the open school within close proximity to each other. Headteachers have argued about the difficulty of making a decision that balances the safety of their children with the education of their children. Teachers and children have cheered at the prospect of snow closures. Except that is, teachers whose own children are off, while they themselves have to work. Meanwhile participants of radio phone-in have told us that it wasn’t like this in the 60s. And the CBI have warned us that snow closures could push the economy back into recession. Mind you, they already told us that last year.
So what does all this tell us about perceptions of the purpose of schools?
- The CBI thinks that schools are for babysitting – their main purpose is to keep adults in work and keep the country productive.
- The radio phone-in participant from the 60s thinks that schools are there to serve the community and should remain open whatever
- The headteacher who closes their school because of snow thinks that schools exist to nurture and protect children.
- The headteacher who opens their school despite the snow thinks that schools are there to develop a sense of risk and adventure.
- Children think that school is for making them bored, as snow days are the very definition of fun.
- Teachers think like the children, unless their pay is docked because their own school is actually open.
Of course, this is massively over-simplified. I’ve faced the difficult decision of opening or closing my school several times this week and I’ve had several conversations with people who have been disgruntled at coming down on one side or the other – parents who are losing money because we’ve closed. Parents are frustrated that they’ve had to make the effort to get to school because we’ve been open. Children who are bored of the snow and just want to have some lessons. Teachers who can’t believe we’re opening. Teachers who can’t believe we’re shutting. Fortunately neither the CBI, nor any TV reporters have knocked on my door this week.
Either way, it’s really interesting listening to what people say about school closures, because it opens up a little window into what they believe schools are really for.
What have you heard this week? And what do you think schools are for?