Us teachers don’t often get the opportunity to visit other classrooms in our own schools, let alone in other schools, and even less frequently in schools that are leading in great practice. I’ve always thought this is a shame because there is so much to learn from others, whether it’s big ideas, new ways of teaching or those little behaviour management tricks that are handy to have up your sleeve. A future vision of education could involve much more opportunity to share ideas, observe others and feed back. After all, isn’t this how we learn and develop as teachers and avoid our ideas becoming “stale”?!
This blog is about two wonderful schools I have been lucky enough to visit – Sandringham Primary in London and Miriam Lord Primary in Bradford – and a few short highlights of what stood out at each school (there were many many things, but for the sake of keeping things relatively concise, I’ll pick a “top” few from each).
Sandringham Primary was a feast of fantastic ideas! They are spearheading elements of Learning Power alongside a focus on oracy and a careful leadership plan, with the help of @WholeEducation – it really felt like a potent mix for engaged, articulate and purposeful learners. Here are some highlights:
1) Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.
Oh, what joy! In every classroom, children were collaborating in carefully chosen mixed attainment pairs. The children were SO focused. Really. SO focused.
The maths lessons I saw were structured around Ron Berger’s “Learning The Lasts” and @MathsNoProblem. The lesson started with “grapple” – a maths problem that was a challenge and introduced the lesson. The idea of this is that all children get used to struggling with their learning and enjoy the struggle of a challenge. The children talked excitedly, jotting down ideas on whiteboards with their partners as to how they could solve the problem. Once they’d had some time to “grapple”, the teacher brought the class together to discuss strategies. Here’s the best bit. The teacher took all strategies from the children and jotted them out on a mind map on the board so the children could see multiple ways to solve the problem. This links directly in with Guy Claxton and Ellen Langer’s use of “could be” (see here for background on “could be” language) , modelling to the children that there is no “right” way to solve or record the problem ( there might be more efficient ways, but children work towards that and by giving a range of strategies it creates an entry point for all). Once the class had discussed different strategies, the children went off in their pairs to solve a problem by themselves, which brings me to my next point …
2) The children chose how they were going to record.
I have written about children taking ownership and choosing “the how” of learning here.
I LOVED this. For each problem the children solved, they chose what method they were going to use – each book was different and each book was a work of art. Instead of working out loads and loads of problems, the children concentrated on explaining how to solve one problem really, really well (like a set of instructions). The children took care to explain the problem and method they had used. Each partner could use a different method, but they still knew they had their friend to rely on if they needed help or someone to share ideas with. Doing this meant that the children built a really in depth understanding of problem solving.
As you will see from the photos, the children also reflected on their learning each day, explaining how easy or hard they found their learning, how independent they’d been and what they had learned that’s new. This is similar to what I have described on my website, here.
3) Developing oracy
I loved these displays in each classroom,about speaking and listening and why it was important. The children had obviously discussed why sharing ideas was so key for their learning. They also learned how to share ideas, add to other children’s ideas and develop arguments. There were anchor charts in every classroom as well as specific anchor charts for lessons, such as in Guided Reading. Here are some examples:
These weren’t just “wallpaper”; I heard children using and referring the them whilst they were learning and adding ideas to discussions. For example, whilst addressing a misconception in maths, I heard one girl say, “I can see where you’re coming from, but can I also add …” I though this was an articulate and caring way of adding to or correcting a friend’s idea or method.
I saw so many more amazing things! In one class, the children were solving an unsolvable problem – they were really into their learning and were excitedly trying to find new ways to get to an answer. It was a great way to get them used to not finding an answer easily or at all, therefore building their resilience and allowing them to relish in the struggle of learning, not just gettting the “right” answer. Here’s one group, grappling with their unsolvable problem:
I also realise I was hoping to write about two schools and have only written about one – too much good stuff! There will have to be a part 2!