Primary Musings

thoughts of an every day teacher


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Who you gonna call?

This week we’ve taken on our new mantle with great excitement! Last week, there were several reports of strange sounds coming from the office next door to our classroom, so we decided to set up in business as ‘Soundbusters.’ (Any similarities to ’80s films of a similar name is, of course, entirely coincidental!) We’ve advertised our services with posters and a song (again, no similarities intended, obviously) and will be available for hire to investigate spooky, strange and mysterious sounds. We are hoping to persuade our Headteacher to invest in our business, Pocket-Money-Pitch-style, when we pitch our ideas to him tomorrow.

The Wolves in the Walls, by Neil Gaiman, has been a fabulous stimulus for our work so far. The illustrations are amazing and it is an incredibly language-rich text. The children are completely hooked – I love it when they beg for the next part of the story!  We’ve been writing poems based around The Sound Collector, by Roger McGough, in order to recreate the spooky atmosphere of Lucy’s house. Her Dad plays the tuba, so we’ll be thinking about how we can use our scientific ‘soundbusting’ skills to describe how it works next.

In the meantime, we’ll be listening hard for more sounds from behind our walls…

wolves in the wall

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Here Be Dragons

Last half term term was very exciting in our class! Stepping into our ‘What if’ world saw us becoming apprentice dragonologists to Dr Ernest Drake. We wrote letters of application, explaining why we would be suitable for the job and created a dragon post box where we could communicate with Dr Drake.

 

He sent us lots of information about the Manchester Ridge Back and the Thunder Dragon (courtesy of Pie Corbett) and we used this to sharpen our report writing skills.

Unfortunately for Dr Drake, he broke his leg and was unable to go on his next dragon hunt where he hoped to find a new species. Luckily for us, we were invited to go in his place as long as we promised to report back on what we had found.

Dragon hunting was extremely exciting!  We used our mapping skills and knowledge of habitats to work out where our dragons were from; investigated what they would look like using our observational and artistic skills; thought about the kinds of food they might eat, the kinds of treasure they might collect and what sort of activities they would enjoy.

The great thing about working with dragons is that there are lots of incredible books to support our language development and imaginations. The artefacts around our class for the dragon hunt were inspired by a range of these, including Dragonology, How to Train Your Dragon, The Dragon Machine, Pie Corbett’s work around dragons and Jackie Morris’s beautiful, beautiful book, Tell Me a Dragon.

dragonolgy

tell me a dragon

dragon dust.jpg

Dr Drake was really pleased with our reports and invited us to publish them as pages for his new book Dragonology II.

dragon display

This has been a highly successful mantle. The children were hugely engaged and their writing made great progress as a result. My favourite moment was having the parent of a somewhat reluctant reader tell me her son was begging her to buy the Dragonology book – “I have to have it for my research Mum!”


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What if…

I used Mantle of the Expert this half term and it’s been a really effective, not to mention fun, way of immersing the children in their learning. Here are my highlights (with thanks to @imagineinquiry, whose ideas I have used and adapted to suit my own context).

We began by looking at the notice board of Time Team, a group of expert archaeologists who have made successful programmes about different periods in history. I deliberately produced certificates, awards and letters to reflect historical periods I knew my children had already learned about, so it was a short leap to suggest we become this team to make a new programme about the Saxons.

The children were very excited about turning our classroom into an office. We rearranged the furniture, made I.D. badges and even created a ‘security system’ with a hand-scanner and codes on the door! One of the most revealing activities was creating an order list for equipment we thought we might need. The children’s language and reasoning expanded before my eyes as they suggested everything from microscopes, brushes and magnifying glasses to cameras, computers and paper clips!

We had lots of great episodes in our learning sequence, but one of my favourites was taking part in a Time Team dig. Previously, we had been to the Birmingham museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard and had done lots of work around Saxon artefacts. I started the session by showing the children a clip from a real Time Team episode based around a Saxon dig, then asked if they’d like to join in. We had a masking tape grid set up on the carpet (also great for teaching co-ordinates and translation!) and the children set about enthusiastically ‘unearthing’ treasures from the ground in their imagination. There were real sieves and paintbrushes which some children chose as their equipment, while others preferred to imagine they were operating metal detectors and diggers. As the children ‘dug’ they handled their fragile objects with great care and recorded their finds meticulously. I knew the children where highly engaged when many of them said “I’ve finished with this artefact, can I find another one?” and went back to the carpet to dig again!

Altogether, they ‘found’ parts of skeletons, sword handles, shield bosses, pottery, jewellery, sword pyramids and spoons and cups with Christian inscriptions on them. Their sketches and explanations showed a great understanding of the artefacts we had previously learned about, what kinds of Saxon artefacts were likely to be found, and what these things can tell us about who might have lived and died around the site. All excellent historical skills.

Our work as Time Team culminated with the children presenting their ideas to our Headteacher, who was in role as a BBC producer, come to see if he would like to commission our Saxon programme. Each group was responsible for a different episode which would be about a different aspect of Saxon history, including one based around Beowulf and Saxon myths to tie in with our English work. Our Head did a great job engaging seriously with the children and asking them questions in role, which again helped to demonstrate all their learning. You’ll be pleased to know our bid was successful and we received a £2, 000, 000 advance to make the show!

On reflection, my feedback to myself is as follows:

  • Rearranging the classroom was a great idea. Doing it with the children, then asking a colleague to help me move it round again to get it just right, was an even better idea. I needed some carpet space for drama-type stuff and also a space for gathering the children in close when I wanted to move our story on. But I didn’t want my Year 4s to  feel they were being ‘babied’ by being made to sit on the carpet again. Calling it our ‘meeting room’ and doing the initial rearranging with the children gave them ownership and made the space purposeful.
  • Being very explicit that we were using our imagination worked very well. I picked up this tip from @rkieran and I think this is what held the whole mantle together in many ways. I was very clear from the start about how we are going to step into our story using our imagination. For instance, when we began to move furniture, I said “we know that in the real world, this is a classroom with tables and chairs. But what if it was an office space for a team of archaeologists? What would it look like? What might we need in here? How should it be set out?” Using this kind of language is great because the children don’t have to spend all their time wondering if you’re really tricking them, or refusing to join in because it’s not real. We all know it’s not real, but we all agree to suspend our disbelief and engage in the moment. At first we talked quite a bit about the difference between the real world and the (what) if world, but I found that once this was established, the children were able to switch fluently between the two with confidence and understanding. Right at the end of term, one of my children said, “I think if stands for Imagination Followed.” A perfect explanation.
  • I need to look at some better ways of evidencing the great things that are happening in my room. I’m going to talk to our fab reception teachers again about how they do this and what ideas I can borrow from them. If you have any great ideas on this, please let me know!

 


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A little taste of success

My first taste of teaching “Mantle of the Expert-style” came while I was working with the hugely creative and talented Louise Clark and Clare Sleeman at Linton CE Infant School. I absolutely loved working in a cross-curricular way, engaging children with the power of an ongoing ‘back story’ where various characters needed our help in different ways. It was exciting and stimulating for me and the children alike, giving context, purpose and meaning to the learning.

Having moved to a new school and different year group over the past year, I’ve had to do some more thinking and research about how I could make this kind of learning work as well in Key Stage 2. I’ve been really inspired by @debrakidd ‘s ideas, (see here, for example) and, with a bit of a nudge from Tim Taylor (@imagineinquiry), went and spent the day with @rkieran and his team at Woodrow First School a couple of weeks ago. It was a fantastic day where I was reminded of lots of things I already knew, but had kind of forgotten, and was also challenged and stretched with lots of new thinking and fresh approaches too.

As ever, when I’m excited about something I want to start straight away! My SLT have been hugely supportive of me trying new things, so I dipped my toe into mantle-style learning with my class the very next week.

We had been working all week on The Enormous Crocodile, linking it to our work around teeth and food chains, and the children were really engaged with it. I wanted to do a court scene at the end of the week to decide whether the Enormous Crocodile should be sent to jail or not (not a new idea, I know!), but wasn’t sure how the children would respond. Luckily, the day before, one of my more challenging children had commented that he thought the crocodile wasn’t nasty, he was just trying to find some food. So what was intended to be a bit of a derailing comment ended up setting the scene for the next day perfectly! Incidentally, I think it is a major strength of this approach that even seemingly negative, or off-message comments can be incorporated and brought in as part of the work.

enormous croc

The big day came and everyone was up for the challenge. Remembering what I had learned from Woodrow about giving the children enough time to get into their roles and invest in the fiction, we spent the first half of the morning sorting out teams and preparing for the court case. We had lawyers for the defence, lawyers for the prosecution, all the characters from the story and several police witnesses. This was really successful because the children chose their own roles and there was something everyone could identify with. We started off by making simple hats to define our roles and then the teams created their evidence. Their creativity was amazing! They made all sort of things, including maps, footprints, witness statements, incident reports and questions for witnesses. The previously mentioned challenging child made an excellent lawyer for the defence, creating a map to demonstrate that the Crocodile had to pass each place in the story to get to where his family were waiting for him!

By break time, everyone was fully immersed into our work, and we left excited about the next session. (You know you’ve got the children hooked when they’re role playing what you’ve just done out in the playground!)

After break, court was in session. We rearranged the furniture to resemble a courtroom and I presided as judge to keep the proceedings moving along. What followed was absolutely incredible. The children listened carefully to each other, stayed engaged and responded in role throughout the whole hour and a half session, making careful arguments for their side. It was particularly moving to see children who are normally very quiet, take on roles and speak passionately about their thoughts. One of the highlights for me was seeing an autistic child respond to the questions he was asked in character, demonstrating a deep understanding of the story and an ability to infer a character’s motivations. I am also sure there are some future lawyers in my class who will do an excellent job!

In the end, the prosecution won and the Crocodile was carted off to jail by the police.

Throughout the whole process, we learned how to make and present arguments and observations, how to ask relevant questions and listen carefully to others, how to win and lose graciously, how to be patient and take turns, how to imagine and infer within the world of the text, how different people might have different points of view, how to make decisions based on evidence, and how learning doesn’t just have to be for some time in the future, but can be important and exciting right now.

It was an amazing experience that has really cemented our relationship as a class, and I can’t wait to do a ‘full on mantle’ next!