The One Disruptive Child

alvie with ice cream

I am the one disruptive child
The one you’ve labelled as too wild
I scatter chaos through your class
Destroying lessons as I pass.
I like to make my classmates laugh
By doing stuff you think is daft
You worry what I’m going to do
Especially when we’re using glue.

I am the one disruptive child
My name is known, my records filed
I got my label at the start
When paints got splattered during art.
“Stop doing that,” my teacher said
And that was when I first saw red
I didn’t mean the things I did
That’s why I ran away and hid.

I am the one disruptive child
The one that gets you hot and riled
The one you’d like to send away
So lessons can get underway.
I guess you know what you must do
If I do not comply with you
The rules are set, the sanction’s clear
It’s time to get me out of here.

“Get out of here!” you call to me
I turn to go, glad to be free
I kick the desks, I do not care
I give the class my hardest stare.
Without me here, you can all get on
You’ll hardly notice that I’m gone
The one disruptive child, that’s me
The child that no one wants to be.

Posted in Behaviour, Children, Poetry | 3 Comments

Holiday

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Would it be really rude of me
To offer to the DfE
A list of things they need to do
Before they start on me and you?

Assessment is a mighty mess
Rogue marker’s causing much distress
They published tests that shouldn’t have been
An accurate baseline is still a dream.

They’re causing too much childhood stress
Their system makes teachers teach to the test
Recruitment’s in crisis and budgets are down
The teachers they had are all leaving town.

They created thousands of charities
Unsurprisingly (or at least to me)
Some people took money out of their schools
And the DfE looked a lot like fools.

So fix these things first, dear DfE
Don’t treat me as the enemy
If I ask to take the occasional day
Where we learn lots of things, while we’re away.

The world is full of knowledge and learning
In the time we’re away, the world won’t stop turning
First model the things that you want me to do
And then I’ll be willing to listen to you.

011 078 037

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No Country for Young Creatives

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There are various ways to try and get your children to achieve the best possible results in their SATs tests, so that your school does well in league tables and avoids a data-related-forced-academisation-takeover disaster. You could trust that your teaching will be enough to see the children through, and carry on exactly as you would if there were no SATs tests at all. (This is the DfE’s fantasy about how schools should behave in the face of tests.) To do this, you need to be brave, to enjoy high-risk strategies, or (perhaps more likely) to work at a school that has an outstanding Ofsted rating and a high attaining intake. Alternatively, you could spend lots of time teaching to and with the tests, going through endless papers with your children. You could focus your efforts on children who struggle, running interventions and after school sessions. You could set up special training events during the holidays, specifically designed to make the children ‘SATs ready’. You could narrow the curriculum, until it is Maths/English, Maths/English, Maths/English, with the occasional dollop of PE thrown in when the children get antsy. Or you could, I guess, do something nefarious when it comes to the actual tests, and hope that you don’t get caught.

When we look at the inexorable upwards trend in SATs results since they first began, we ought to ask ourselves some pretty serious questions. When secondary teachers say they don’t trust SATs data, and that the results don’t seem to match the capabilities of the children, we need to wonder why that is. When we see primary schools advertising their ‘best ever SATs results!’ year after year after year, we should ask what is really going on. Has teaching got better and better and better over this time period? Have children become higher and higher and higher attainers? Have teachers got ever more skilled at teaching to the test, and ensuring that their children can jump through the testing hoops? Or has something happened to the curriculum in primary, since the tests became so goddamn serious, to make space for an added focus on the subjects that get tested? (If I was a betting person, I would spread my money around, but put most of it on the last one.)

In the days before SATs became the be-all and end-all of primary education, children spent a lot of time in primary schools developing their innate creativity. (I know that children still spend time being creative in primary schools now, but I also know how pressured teachers feel about fitting it in, and how many wish they could do more.) It feels like heresy to say this in the current climate, but primary used to be a time for exploration and play, a time to feel curious and excited about learning. It was a time to dip in ponds and to trail your sleeves through paint. It was a time to tie yoghurt pots together to make mobiles, and to spend hours listening to your teacher read you stories. It was a time to lie on your back looking up at the clouds and pondering what you might one day become. These days it feels like it is all testing and memory and knowledge and grammar and testing and a bit more testing in case the children haven’t had enough. Increasingly, the only children who will get access to creative opportunities are those from advantaged backgrounds, those educated outside the state system, or those in schools where the SATs stakes are not too high. And eventually this will become no country for young creatives, unless your background affords you the chance.

Posted in Children, Creativity, Testing | 2 Comments

Outside my Experience

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Although you don’t have to have experienced something to understand it, experience helps a lot when it comes to avoiding misunderstandings. On today’s news there was a story about the Queen. She was overheard discussing a visiting Chinese delegation, and how rude they had been. I giggled inwardly at this, because when we visited China with our children a couple of years ago, my definite first impression was that the people were rude. They spat in the street, they didn’t know how to queue, they wanted to take photographs of our children all the time, and they seemed to stare at us constantly. But within a day or two of arriving in China I realised that the problem wasn’t with them, it was with me. I had to adjust my cultural expectations and stop thinking that an entire nation should behave as I saw fit, just to fit in with my own opinions about what was and wasn’t ‘rude’.

Something similar happened to me when I moved from primary into secondary teaching. At first I was all at sea – the things that I had held to be true did not seem to apply in this new environment. I could no longer take time to discuss my expectations with my classes – I had 250 students and barely any time to get to know them. Working with teenagers was like working with an entirely different species compared to the playful, earnest and keen-to-please four and five year olds I had previously known. The same thing happened when I moved from teaching in a London comprehensive, to teaching in an international school in Portugal. The style that had worked so well for me before was basically pointless in this new place. And again when I moved back to a different school in the UK. And again when I began to do supply teaching. And yet again when I moved to an early years setting.

I’m lucky enough to have worked with 3 to 18 year olds in schools, and to teach adults as well, but there are some teaching experiences that I haven’t had. Because I haven’t had them, I wouldn’t feel comfortable to have expectations about what they might be like, and how hard it might be to do those things. I’ve never worked with babies in an early years setting (I’ve had a couple of my own, but I don’t think it’s fair to assume that having your own baby is the same as working with other people’s). And although I’ve worked in tough urban secondaries, I’ve never taught in a primary school in a deprived city location. I haven’t walked that walk, so I think it’d be a mistake for me to talk the talk to those who do. All too frequently it seems, I see people standing on the sidelines shouting “you have low expectations!” and “they need powerful knowledge!” (whatever that is) and “for gawd’s sake don’t let them play!” But how on earth do you know, if it is outside your experience?

Despite the best attempts of the DfE at complete incompetence, I haven’t yet seen this week’s SATs tests. I don’t have much of an idea of what was in them, beyond the few snippets of information I’ve been given via the teacher/parent grapevines. I don’t teach Year 6, and neither of my children is in that year group, so I don’t have any experience in that respect. I won’t have a proper idea of what the tests were like until I actually see them, so I’m going to hold back on commenting on them until that point. I’ve been told that, while some of the children at my kid’s primary didn’t have a problem, others were in tears because they couldn’t finish. I know these children, they are confident kids, and it strikes me that for them to be in tears then something about the tests was probably not right.

I have often seen it said that you don’t have to have taught in a specific phase to comment on it, and indeed that you don’t have to be a parent to comment on the effects of testing on children. (Both of which are patently true – since the advent of the Internet, people can comment publicly on whatever the hell they like.) But one of the very great dangers of commenting on something outside your direct experience is that you end up commenting solely from your own perspective. You take your own experience and you extrapolate from that, without really understanding how and why the context is different. And before you know it, you find yourself saying something that highlights your lack of knowledge and your stereotyped presumptions. Like I did when we were in China, and maybe like the Queen did as well. So before I see fit to judge you, I should walk a mile in your shoes. Because then I might understand why you’ve got blisters on your feet.

Posted in Children, Experience, Testing | 3 Comments

Don’t Forget to Have Fun!

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I’ve spent the last two days at the stunning St George’s Park, doing some sessions on creativity for the FA. It feels a bit weird to be saying that, but hey, go me! (#10%Braver @WomenEd) I was there to do some sessions with the coaches in the Foundation Phase, who teach children from 5 to 11 years, and who work at all kinds of famous clubs. (It was fun trying to work out which clubs everyone worked for. I don’t know all the team colours so I had to discreetly sneak looks at the emblems on everyone’s chests.) If you’re interested in the kind of things we were exploring, I’ve set up an FA page on my website. The course was relaxed, calm, and playful, thanks to the great leadership of Pete Sturgess and his team. I’ll admit that I don’t know a huge amount about football, so I was in the realm of transferable skills. But when you work with people who have a different kind of expertise, they can ask you challenging questions, and you can throw in ideas they wouldn’t have considered. We don’t all come from the same angle, so we can learn from each other.

Pete organised a Treasure Hunt this morning, where the coaches had to find ‘Golden Nuggets’ (post its in tea and coffee cups) in the sunshine. Yesterday, as well as giving them lots of information, I got the guys to make Plates of Creativity in my session, in which an apple got tippexed with the word ‘Rewards’  (you probably had to be there to get the joke). I read them a beautiful poem by @ImSporticus called “A pass, is a pass, is a pass”, which sums up perfectly the way creativity does not need to be bounded by subject limits, and how technique and knowledge are not really what creativity is about. The point about creativity (for me, at least) is that you can have all the knowledge in the world, but you have to do something lots of times to get better at it. You have to play with it. Creatively. Since I’m not especially creative at cooking, I need to do more of it so that I can improve, and so this is my first attempt at an Invention Test for my new show CreativityChef™.

1. Take a bunch of children and observe them really closely.

2. Sprinkle on plenty of technique.

3. Add a dash of risk, lots of confidence boosters and plenty of choices.

4. Stir in some ideas that other creative people had before now.

5. Mix in a reasonable quantity of challenges, constraints and problems to solve.

6. Add the imagination, the visualisation, the things that aren’t really there.

7. Don’t forget the focus, or your mixture won’t rise.

8. Try a pinch of competition, if you like a spicy flavour.

9. Leave to cook for several years. (NB: You can’t do it for them.)

10. Don’t forget to have FUN!

Posted in Children, Creativity, Learning, Play | 2 Comments

No Excuses and the Case of the Slow Drying Sun

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It’s Sunday night and “Houston, we have a problem”. It’s not that the kid hasn’t done her homework; the problem is that the homework isn’t dry yet. This time round the homework was to celebrate the end of the Solar System topic that her class has been doing. The learning log challenge was to answer some questions about the planets, in whatever format you wanted. So the kid has spent the past two weeks working on a clay solar system and some planet fact cards to go with it. And herein lies our problem – she made the sun too late and too big, and the clay hasn’t dried yet. And until the clay dries a bit more, the paint that she’s put on the sun just won’t dry either. Every time we try to pick it up we get orange on our fingers.

“Why don’t you just take in the fact cards, and the planets that are already dry?” I suggest. “I’m sure that will do.”

“But that spoils the point,” the kid says. “The point is it’s the solar system and the solar system has to have the SUN.”

“Will Miss mind if it’s late?” I ask. I’m not too sure of the etiquette for delayed solar systems, and I don’t want her to get into trouble unnecessarily.

“Not if I explain the reason why,” she says. “Miss will understand. And you can help me take it in as soon as it’s dry.”

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This morning the sun was finally dry enough to put in the box with the other planets, to take into school. The kid placed them carefully, lovingly in the box, in the right order. We added some fairy lights in a last minute dash of inspiration, to represent the stars. All the way into school she chatted about how Mercury was rolling out of position, how Mars didn’t move around because of the volcanoes she put on it, and how the Moon simply wouldn’t stay still. The box was really heavy so I had to carry it into school for her. As we arrived in the classroom, her teacher was talking to the class, so we snuck in at the back and I put the solar system down on a table.

“Ah!” her teacher said, smiling broadly and rushing over to look inside the box. “It’s the mysterious solar system at last! I’ve been so intrigued to see what that too wet sun was all about!”

I guess her teacher could have said that “there is no excuse for a late homework” and given my kid a detention. If she had, I would have insisted to the kid that she take it on the chin. (We had a chat about how she could have planned ahead a bit better; I think she learned that lesson without the need for a punishment of any kind.) Certainly it would be tricky in a large secondary school to be flexible about homework like this – to differentiate between all the reasons why homework might be late. But I wonder if we lose something along the way in our desire to be consistent and not to let the boundaries slip. Something to do with intrinsic motivation and the desire to take risks. The idea that mistakes are part of being human, and that forgiving people for their errors is not necessarily a bad thing.

“You won’t be able to do this when you go to secondary,” I said to the kid, before we set off this morning, to deliver the solar system. “You’ll get a detention if you don’t hand in your homework on time.”

“Detention? Urrgghh!” the kid said, scrunching up her nose and thinking for a moment. “Well then I’d better not do clay for homework when I go to secondary school.”

Posted in Behaviour, Children | 2 Comments

The Source of the Knowledge

What would happen if you handed over the management of a setting to the parents of the children who went there? Would they be excessively demanding, expecting things to be constantly adjusted for their own child? Would they put the desires of their own child above the needs of the many? Would it go all Lord of the Flies and descend into chaos?

chocolate face

Actually, no.

A voluntary run preschool is managed by the parents of the children who go there. The staff are in charge of how the setting is run, and how the children learn, but parents are the trustees, and make the strategic decisions. When most parents wanted our preschool to open 15 minutes earlier, to fit in better with drop off at our local primary school, we took a vote, got staff agreement and changed our opening hours. We’re not telling the staff how to teach, we’re working together to make the setting work at its best, for us and our children. Home visits are not a burden, but a brilliant opportunity to get to know our families. The thing about parents is that they have lots of information about their children, so they can tell us if something really isn’t working. (A bit like when we all tried to tell the DfE that the baseline was a silly idea.) As parents we spend countless hours with our children. We know what they need better than their schools could ever do. Listening to parents doesn’t mean us demanding and getting what we want, it’s just going to the source of the knowledge.

Posted in Children, Parents | 2 Comments