So last Saturday the alarm went off early ready for a 7:30am pick up. Why up so early? Well it was Northern Rocks. A day where 500 primary, secondary and FE teachers gather at Leeds Beckett university in the name of becoming better teachers. The wealth and experience in the speakers was something to behold and definitely made workshop choices rather difficult.
As the day progressed certain messages were coming out. Similar themes were popping up in the sessions I had selected to attend. Themes that resonated loudly with my own experiences and teaching practice, especially this year.
The First theme: The quality and use of speaking and listening.
This was present in all of the workshops I attended. The need for children have a language rich environment in order to describe the world around them. I have always felt that speaking and listening needs to have a greater emphasis in the curriculum, especially further up. In EYFS the children learn through play and discussion; however this gets lost as children get older and the focus shifts to reading and writing. But as Ros Wilson said in her session, ‘If the children can’t say it then they can’t write it’ – how true! Mary Myatt backed this up totally asking, ‘Why do we privilege writing and reading before speaking and listening?’ In answer to her question; I have absolutely no idea. Children need to hear vocabulary in order to extend it. They need to understand language, the meaning of words and the subtle shades they have in meaning in order for them to express themselves eloquently. Also they need this in order to be skilled readers and have the ability to play with language structures as a writer.
As a year 6 teacher, I know that without the exposure to wide, rich and high level vocabulary children will not cope with the current assessment system as it stands. They need access to quality texts which will challenge and deepen their understanding of language in order to tackle the reading paper. They need to have almost swallowed a thesaurus in one sense in order to tackle some of the synonym and antonym questions that appear on the grammar paper. If we don’t allow our children to develop their use of language then we really are setting them up to fail.
The second theme: Challenge, challenge, challenge!
The age old argument – coverage vs depth of learning. For me personally I would always go for depth of learning. I would rather my children left with a solid understanding in a few of areas than a vague idea pitted with misconceptions in lots areas. If I am going to teach it, I am going to do it right, I am going to do it and the children justice. At the start of his talk Alex Quigley said, ‘In trying to fix everything, we struggle to fix anything.’ And I must say he has an excellent point. Things need to be embedded well in order to have an impact.
Mary Myatt talked a lot about high challenge with low threat. It was interesting to hear her talk about how we should pitch high and un-pick concepts through discussion. This really struck a chord with me as it is how I have worked all year. I have taken on some very challenging texts with my class this year and they have excelled way beyond my expectations. Why? Because I gave them the opportunity to. This year I have covered both Frankenstein and Macbeth with my class. Some of the discussions I have held in my classroom have been incredibly advanced for year 6, to the point where my TA shared a picture of some of the GCSE questions her daughter is doing and they are some of the questions I have posed to my own class. How is Macbeth manipulated? Who has the power in the Macbeths relationship? How are women portrayed by William Shakespeare in the play? My class have handled these conversations brilliantly, with children of all abilities offering insightful and thoughtful contributions.
The third theme: Inspire!
I want to inspire the children I teach. I want them to be immersed totally in what they are doing. Why? Well simply because I want them to enjoy learning and also I have always found that if the pupils are ‘feeling it’ then outcomes are much better as they have a greater investment in it.
Tim Taylor’s session hit the nail on the head with this totally. His session was both engaging and inspiring and was definitely something I will do in my class next year. I have used aspects of mantle of the expert this year in order to hook my children in and it has worked perfectly. Using something as simple as a few pictures in order to raise questions and spark discussion is well worth doing. It inspires, develops vocabulary and deepens the learning.
Ros Wilson said, ‘An inspirational teacher will make a mediocre curriculum inspirational.’ I am curriculum leader at my school and more than anything I want to make sure that our curriculum inspires our children. On Monday I will be delivering staff inset on the new curriculum maps I have developed for the next academic year. I will talk to staff about how they can tie in and link subjects together to create a holistic approach in order to deepen the learning and give it greater purpose. I also want to talk about those magic hooks. Those simple and effective bits and pieces we can set up in our rooms in order to wow the children.
I came away from Northern Rocks this year feeling very differently to how I have other conferences. I came away reassured by what I was doing. I had more confidence in the direction I am going and want to continue to go in. On another note it was also great to see and talk ‘in real life’ to the many teachers and practitioners I engage with on Twitter. So thank you Debra and the team. It was a great day and here’s to next year!
PS. Thank you Mike for sorting me out with a ticket and thank you to the Goodman’s for letting me hitch a lift x