On the necessity of roleplay

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.”

The elephant in the purpos/ed room

Elephant in the Room
The elephant in the room

Having signed up early to the 2012 #500Words campaign for Purpos/ed, I was very kindly sent a book with all of the posts from the 2011 campaign. Thank you Andy and Doug. So naturally I did with the book what I am reluctant to do with my various devices I normally read blogs on – I read it in the bath.

I noticed something that interested me – there’s an elephant in the Purpos/ed room – our beliefs.

While many wrote eloquently and persuasively concerning what they thought the purpose of education really is, very few touched on issues of faith. There are a few oblique references, a mention of a stained glass window, a Bible verse quoted and even one contributor who almost seems to apologise for moving on to spiritual matters.

Yet only one blogger, Nick Dennis, actually hammers his colours to the mast called belief when he announces that he is writing from a standpoint that is “unashamedly liberal and deeply humanistic.” He explains in his post that we need to be clear on our principles if we are to better answer the question ‘what is the purpose of education?’

This got my me thinking about my own post – The Purpose of Education is Hope. I realised that I have some core principles, or beliefs, if you can call them that, that lie behind my post that I should expound upon. My view that all people need hope in some form comes from a Christian perspective. I could go on. I could explain how the joint experience of Jesus’ teachings and Jesus Himself have led me to this belief, but I won’t – that’s another post for another time.

What shocked me was that I felt somehow ashamed to blog such a thing – how could I admit it to my peers? What if some amazing atheist philosopher was waiting around the corner to shoot my beliefs down in flames? And I felt envious of Nick Dennis, who could so boldly write ‘unashamedly’ in his post. And it made me wonder how many other people had done the same thing.

I often hear comments that we are trying to do 21st Century Education on a 19th Century model. And yet the purpose of the National Education League as the driving voice between UK 1870 Elementary Education Act was to create an education system that prepared students for the work place, wresting it from the Church who had become to dominate education the UK education system. Is that much different from the pressures we have on today’s education system? And for that reason, it is even more important that we analyse the principles behind we why educate, both individually and corporately.

And so I would encourage future Purpos/ed contributors to follow Nick Dennis’ advice. Do be clear on your principles. Tell us about your beliefs. Let’s not be ashamed about things we hold dear. It will only make the elephant bigger.

Image courtesy of Madison Guy on Flickr – “You’ve heard of the Elephant in the Room

The Purpose of Education is Hope

Contributing to this year’s Purpos/ed 500 word campaign.

Education is how a society maintains and improves itself. Yet, while education is a relatively straightforward process, that very definition causes problems for discussing its purpose. Depending on whether you have a traditionalist or a progressive perspective, you will either place more emphasis on educating for the maintenance of past standards or educating for a brighter future. Add that to the various cultures, sub-cultures and expectations that exist within a modern multi-cultural society and there exists a vast complexity of purposes for education.

That’s my cap-doffing to the broader debate.

In my own setting there are roughly three groups that we educate, each with their own perceptions on what education is for:

  1. Education for success – these families believe that the school system will give their children opportunities. Despite limited success at higher education themselves, they want that for their children.
  2. Education for happiness – these families just want their children to be happy. Often with negative experiences of their own time at school, they want their children to feel safe and content within school. Success is often linked with celebrity and being able to get the latest DVD before it is out at the cinema.
  3. Education for hardship – these families want their children to be able to survive. They tell their children “if someone hits you, hit back harder”. They often see school as that annoying place that phones the social worker too often. Sometimes there is illiteracy in the family.

While each of these groups have radically different expectations of society, and therefore the purpose of education, they do have one thing in common – they all need hope.

I am aware that for some, the word ‘hope’ has negative connotations. They think of ‘hopes dashed’ and this leads them to regret. However this is not ‘hope’ as in the aspirations you may have had, but the Hope that things can be better, or at least as good as they once were.

So how does this translate into teaching? The obvious answer is to start a new core subject of the National Curriculum and start running ‘Hope classes’. I’m joking.

Group 1 –  they need so much knowledge at the end of primary school that they can fly into secondary school and perhaps become the first in their families to go to university. Good teaching helps these children love their learning.

Group 2 – good teaching again leads to happiness. The families are surprised at how their child can be both happy and doing well in reading, writing and mathematics. They start to believe that maybe their child can learn enough at primary not just to ‘get through’ secondary school, but to do well there.

Group 3 – good teaching brings success for the child. The family is (in the main) proud of this success and begins to gain a faith in a previously-despised school system.

In each of these groups good teaching produces hope. Hope that things can be better than they were.

So, when I’m stuck I remember: bring Hope – teach well.