My Primary School Experience
Whilst my earliest training was secondary school based, since my appointment as English Adviser / Inspector in Oxfordshire in 1990, much of my professional development has been occupied in working with primary schools. I was responsible for the introduction of the Literacy Strategy in both Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes, recommending and modelling the most effective classroom practices in both LAs in sessions that were popular and well-subscribed.
In Oxfordshire I was ‘trained’ by the hugely knowledgeable and influential Primary Advisory Group for English (PAGE), comprising Jenny Monk, Sylvia Karavis and Pat Davies, who were associated with the Language in the National Curriculum (LINC) programme in the late 1980s. This team was later supplemented by Paula Iley and Julie Carr. In Milton Keynes I was able to work closely alongside my primary consultants Carol Smith, Jan Villa, Sue Jagger and Kate Mathews from 1999 to 2008. These ex-primary teachers, employed to improve standards in schools, were formidable, creative and demanding trainers.
My focus on READING is well known in a number of schools and local authorities. I try to illustrate how picture books, particularly, can be used in classrooms in a large variety of ways, and try to show how they have real impact on children’s developing literacy skills – as well as being sources for considerable enjoyment in their own right. I like to consider with schools ways in which more able readers can improve their reading attainment. One of my chief pleasures is to be asked into primary schools just to read to children – in small groups, whole classroom settings or assemblies – and to enjoy the reading materials without having to link them to other worthy ‘schoolly’ tasks.
I also work alongside children in a series of WRITING activities, and run workshops for teachers, encouraging them to establish steps and stages of writing success that enable pupils – particularly formerly reluctant boys – to rediscover the pleasure of writing and to make new progress. For more able writers I also present specially designed workshops to motivate writers to seek new ways of communicating in written text, and to take risks and explore the language with confidence.
More recently, I have been developing training involving ‘Asking Better Questions’, based on the book by Norah Morgan and Julia Saxton (Morgan & Saxton 2…?), designed to encourage the practices of a range of SPOKEN discourses in properly equipped learning classrooms. Their work has much to contribute to higher order thinking, beyond the usual stages of Bloom’s better known taxonomy of learning.
Employing DRAMA with primary pupils is a wonderful way of exploring texts and wider literacy issues. I have trained a number of whole staff groups and worked alongside individual teachers to develop their drama skills and to challenge children’s thinking and knowledge. Once again, I have supported groups of more able children to use texts as starting points for developing dramatic role-play and greater insight into the subject matter being studied. I have also worked in many schools with large numbers of teachers and pupils, aged from 4 to 11, making and studying MOVING IMAGE TEXTS of all sorts. Very young children in the Foundation Stage greatly enjoy making simple ANIMATIONS, and with more technology available to them they soon begin to explore the massive range of possible ventures open to them. A former colleague and Foundation Stage consultant, Ann Murtagh, paved the way for ambitious and challenging programmes of study for the very youngest school pupils. I am an accredited British Film Institute trainer and regional reference point, and worked with Hilary Pearce in promoting and establishing teacher training to support the launch of the very successful Bfi resources: Starting Stories, for infant children, and Story Shorts, for their junior school counterparts.
In an age when pupils enjoy access to considerable ways of making and editing and broadcasting texts, I believe that is essential they should understand and use as many media as possible, both for its own important sake, and to illustrate their own learning in different sorts of messages. Sometimes I come across really young pupils who already have much experience of shooting moving images and editing their materials, with voice-overs and background music and effects as standard.
I try always to demonstrate to the teachers with whom I am working the possibilities of new ideas and approaches to seemingly familiar topics and areas of learning. This might sometimes mean planning ‘dangerous’ lessons; i.e. lessons which we are not certain will be wholly successful, but are worth trying anyway! Or, I might attempt to rethink an unusual avenue capable of motivating fresh responses and deeper involvement on the part of the learners.