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

We still don’t know what schools are for.

paganel_snowIt 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?

What are schools really for?

In a previous post I quoted the research that shows that schools contribute around 20% to the achievement of any particular student. The other 80% comes from a student’s family and community.

This opens up a question then – what are schools really for?

Should we

see them as ‘education-only’, with the intention to do that 20% really brilliantly?

Or should we

see schools as a vehicle to break into that 80% – to break into families and communities, making school’s not just about education, but about social services, family support, better parenting, medical aid and so on…

For those of us who would like to see schools treated as the former, it is depressing when government and media make decrees as if schools are the panacea for all society’s problems.

Policies such as judging schools with league tables, or judging SMSC (Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural education) in Ofsted, are both methods to try to force schools to break into that magic 80% of achievement that is actually held within the student’s community. Similarly fads such as SEAL, P4C, VAK learning styles and the like, whilst they can have their own educational merit, can also be used to force teachers into educating into that same 80%, when perhaps their efforts would be better served focussing on the 20%.

Myself, I’d like to be able to that 20% really, really well, without working in the fear that I am actually being judged on the entire 100% of a student’s life chances.

Hopes, Dreams, Aspirations, Ambitions, Fantasies, Nightmares and Regret

Hope is a funny thing.

I was chatting to a colleague a few months ago about my #purposedu post of 1st May, where I pronounced that the purpose of education is Hope. While I see my role as bringing hope to children, he saw hope as a more negative thing. For him, hopes were things he once had, that he could now no longer achieve. Hopes for a different kind of family, hopes for a different kind of career. Hopes that were now unattainable. Hopes that were now regrets.

I’ve been listening to people since then and have noticed that whenever people mention a ‘hope’ word, they mention it in pairs. Each hope word has a partner to help explain it together.

I think people say words in pairs when they don’t really understand what they mean. For example you hear people say: “teaching and learning”; “monitoring and assessment”; “morals and ethics”… It is when you’re not completely sure of a word’s definition that you have to pair it with another word.

Hope words are the same.

Think about this – how different is it to say “dreams and aspirations” from “dreams and nightmares”, and indeed “dreams and fantasies.” Each one has entirely different connotations.

A hope is something that you wish would happen, a fantasy is likewise, but has more negative connotations and for most people achieving your ‘fantasies’ is contrary to achieving success. An aspiration is something you would like to become, but so is an ambition – but the former has more positive connotations about achieving within an ethical framework, whereas ambition speaks of drivenness.

Regrets too can drive you onto succeed – that is certainly true for my colleague I mentioned above. While he has seen his ‘hopes dashed’, he has used his regrets to drive him on to become a quite marvellous headteacher.

Hope for me is important. Bringing hopes into families where there is none, is important to me. But I recognise that the words around the subject can both be used synonymously and can have radically different meanings to different people. Funny really.

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.

The almost #purposed #3×5 image


On the 12th April I posted an image to the #purposed #3×5 campaign using words from Graham Attwell’s post back in March. His words The internet provides us with rich and free spaces for expansive learning’ had rang true to me as he clarified his argument that education is the practice of freedom. I had wanted to capture that with an image of children in a free and open space using technology to collaborate and create together, so I chose the image shown here.


But then I met the ostrich. And it spoke to me of someone whose head is no longer in the sand, but is standing tall, looking for opportunities to be free. For spaces to do expansive learning. So I chose that picture instead.


But I thought it would be shame not to put my original picture somewhere. It illustrates a different line of thinking, but still one with some merit.

Stuck in a loop

So, I’m trying to upload my 3×5 images for the Purpos/edApril campaign and I ‘ve found myself getting a bit stuck in a loop.


Two loops to be precise.


The first loop is a creativity loop. I had chosen a quote that I found particularly entertaining: “The internet provides us with rich and free spaces for expansive learning.” from The Practice of Freedom by Graham Attwell. It instantly made me think of some images that I would like to take myself. That is, with my own camera, instead of searching the Creative Commons like Purpos/ed suggest. Now of course, I’m no photographer, so actually taking the images I could see in my head has proved somewhat tricky – and I don’t have quite what I was searching for. This has meant that I’ve gone back to the images a few times and tried to take more. Then I’ve returned to the first images I took and tried to edit those. Then I’ve become dissatisfied with all of them and tried to take even more. I’ve got stuck. In a loop.


So I’m breaking out of it today and these are my two best images (yes, I know). I’ll have to choose one of them for tomorrow, which is the day my image ‘goes live’.


The second loop is a technical one to do with Creative Commons. The instructions on Purpos/ed say that I should give the image a CC by license. But they’re my own images, and I’ve never licensed them before. If only I’d just searched the Creative Commons instead of trying to be so damn creative. So I’ve gone back to my images and looked at them. Then I’ve gone to the Creative Commons site and tried to work out what’s going on. Then I’ve gone to my Flickr site and had a look at that. But I’ve done nothing. I’ve been stuck. In a loop.


So here’s me breaking out of the loop. This e-mail will send my images to Posterous. Posterous will send my images to Flickr. Then I should be able to work out how to assign a creative commons thing to them. Shouldn’t I?


I hope so.


At least I’m not stuck any more.
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