Inspired by The MTPT Project’s former London Regional Representative, @m_x_f who visited Surrey Square Primary whilst on maternity leave with her daughter last year, Founder Emma Sheppard explores her local primary schools.
After visiting the children’s centre next door to Merton Abbey Primary to get my daughter weighed, I popped in to the school’s reception to ask about the possibility of a visit. I was delighted to receive an email a few days later from head teacher, Michael Bradley. In particular, I was warmed by his response to the request to observe a KS2 English lesson with my two and half month old: “I think she will interest the children initially – but I am confident that they will quickly normalise her presence in their classroom.” This definitely sounded like an MTPT Project-type school leader, and to their absolute credit, the students did not bat an eyelid at Lucie’s presence until break time when it was appropriate for them to coo and ask questions.
As a secondary English teacher, I have been guilty of the common despair when faced with the varying literacy levels of our Year 7 intake, and the apparent discrepancy between their SATs levels, which predict their end of year targets, and the work they produce for me in their books. I have rolled my eyes, shaken my head and ploughed on with teaching the basics that they “should” have been taught in primary school, and ripped my hair out when otherwise bright students still miss out their capital letters and full stops in Year 11. On Facebook and Twitter, and in conversation with primary colleagues, however, the opposite is apparently true: at secondary school, we take them backwards; we don’t trust the SATs levelling and border on offensive in our perception of KS2 teachers. If only we would come and see the fantastic work they do in primary school, then we would understand!
In addition to this, as my son has grown into a toddler and become more ‘human’ in his interactions, demands and expressions of interests, the development of very early literacy to my current ‘end point’ of KS4 has become increasingly more fascinating from both a parent and teacher perspective. How do children grow from attentive, joyful listeners of stories to neat handwriters to articulate analysers and voracious readers? Equally, at which point in this literacy arc do things go wrong? By the time they get to their GCSE exam, why can’t students explore the connotations of language, write legibly, or simply sit and read age-appropriate texts independently for more than five minutes?
With these two questions in mind, I joined Lynsey Eversden and her Year 5 class on a very wet morning just before the Easter holiday to observe a writing lesson using David Walliams’ ‘Gangsta Granny’ as a stimuli. I learnt a whole lot more than I had anticipated and left with a mind buzzing with ideas:
- The use of iPads for times table practice or other quiz/ game style literacy and numeracy drills – in form time, at the beginning of lessons, as a reward, as an intervention activity, to be held in the library for homework completion.
- Wellbeing activities linked to lessons – during wet play, and when waiting for the whole class to arrive after assembly, many of the students took out their cross stitching and chatted away as they stitched, having learnt about this craft activity when studying the Victorians. What a lovely activity, along with colouring or origami, for secondary students to get on with during form time, or integrated into relaxing revision sessions.
- Understanding the KS2 History and English curriculum – what periods do children study at KS2? What context can we build on, rather than teach from scratch? What texts have they already read as class readers? Can we avoid covering these again in KS3 if they are eager for more variety, or capable of greater challenge?
- Lesson ideas – integrating drama and craft activities as a way of teaching imagery in a Year 7 Roald Dahl lesson; laminating reciprocal reading questions to pick out of a hat during reading lessons to structure focused partner talk.
- Use of mini whiteboards – when is this purposeful? When does it work with my practice, and when do I really need students to write notes in books? What impact does the ability to rub out/ discard have on students’ confidence and the quality of their final written work?
- Grammar – we are miles behind the students as secondary school and take them back to the basics of noun/ verb, when they are covering relative pronoun exercises in grammar language that I struggled to keep up with. There’s a real opportunity here for primary teachers to develop secondary teachers through workshops, INSETS and speed-dating-style TeachMeets.
- Feedback – high frequency words that are often spelt incorrectly on a laminated sheet to hand out to students; using coloured highlighters during live marking to highlight incorrect spellings in one colour during your first round of the classroom, missing punctuation in another colour during your second round, and incorrect tenses in a third colour as you go round again for students to immediately self correct; using grammatical language to reinforce the explicit understanding in correct answers, and to fix/ finish incorrect or incomplete responses.
- Reading aloud – this really challenged me. Because of the nature of the lesson, students didn’t really need to see the text to complete the writing task, they just had to know what had happened in the last few chapters of the story. Lynsey read aloud from the front of the classroom with one copy of the text. I watched the students and even those who didn’t look engaged to me gasped, laughed, questioned, predicted, quipped at different stages. They were all engaged and they all loved being read to. How many times have I told students off and even punished them for staring at me when I read A Christmas Carol, or for staring out of the window? How hypocritical, when I have spent my maternity leave cooking, feeding, folding whilst listening rapturously to audiobooks. When do we insist that students follow the words, and when do we allow them to enjoy the treat of being read to, an experience that recalls childhood for many, or plugs gaps for those who weren’t fortunate to have this activity as a regular part of their early years?
- Seating plan – it was a horse shoe arrangement that seated 24 students. I’ll probably always have more than this, but the access that this gives the class teacher and the TA to well-placed individuals and groups whilst still enabling group and paired work and fostering a whole class community feel, was quite interesting.
I have so many English, Literacy, transition, EdTech, pastoral and CPD ideas to take back to school with me from one lesson observation. Whether on parental leave or not, I urge you to visit a local primary school, or if you are in a position to do so, to free up time in your team’s schedule to visit for at least one morning or afternoon a year.