Over the last few months I’ve been working on projects teaching reading and speaking to three very different levels of readers. I’ve worked in a Primary school, with 7 year olds, in a Secondary school with 12 year olds and just recently on an ESOL scheme teaching adults to speak and read English. Reading with an adult is reading with a genuine partner, with a very active learner, who offers ideas and challenges the teacher effectively to improve their learning, even when their language skills are not great. These adults are focussed and learn well.
For too many of both the y3 and y7 pupils reading is an enemy, reading causes anxiety. It involves a lot of failure. Working with the children, you can see how complex it is to learn to read, and to feel powerful. One way we can make the difference is by giving children one to one attention. Not enough schools supply this valuable time but even in half an hour a week, a child can be carefully helped to acquire the skills that form the basis of all other learning. Working one to one is different to listening to the rising clamour and disorder of the average classroom, with its perpetual restless ‘on the edge of control’ feeling. How can we get more volunteers into schools? The current system puts up barriers to allowing outsiders into schools but we’re also shielding our least privileged children from learning.
This is our third classroom trial and we took Talkie Time to Ashmount Primary Reception Class. Despite being June it was a very wet day and the classroom had flooded the day before but the Ashmount school and staff took it in their stride.
Ruth Chalmers and I arrived at 8.30. We played one sketch, Super Sorting from the DVD, which the teacher was seeing for the first time, and set up the classroom. The teacher has to stand at the right-hand side of the whiteboard (as you are looking at it).
Ruth’s camera was low at the front left hand side to get the children’s reactions, mine higher at the back left to get shots of the whiteboard and the teacher.
It’s a large class. They filed in and sat on the carpet. Quite lively and curious. Most of the children had parental permission to be filmed but a couple couldn’t be on screen.
Ms Cussell told the class she’d made a new friend and was going to introduce him on the whiteboard.
We hit play and we couldn’t get our DVD to play, despite it having played 30 minutes ago. Memories of the classroom VCR disasters of the 1980s came back vividly. The delay went on and on and on. The children were kept completely absorbed though by the Teaching Assistants who, with no fuss, got them playing singing games on the mat. Wish I’d had those in the 1980s. The pressure could have been increased by the fact Saul Nasse, the BBC’s new Head of Learning, was sitting at the back of the class observing but he was very calm and said it happened all the time when he was Editor of Tomorrow’s World.
Amazingly, randomly, at some point after eventually deciding to open it in VLC instead, we hit the right button and the “Super Sorting” sketch started with no notice. Ms Cussell coolly made the class sit. Fortunately this sketch has about 18 seconds of Rodd talking to a plastic dinosaur with a feather boa so by the time Rodd came forwards from the back of the set and said “Hi, how are you doing?” many of the children said hello back, immediately and instinctively. Despite having lost a few seconds of sense, the show rolled on. The children responded with increasing confidence and Ms Cussell, following the words on the screen for the first time, gave a very assured performance.
At the end the first words I heard after ‘Bye..bye” were “I want to do that again.”
During the sketch some children gave the ‘wrong’ answer twice as a couple of our items are potentially ambiguous. But 95% were so clear that it was a done deal. And Ms Cussell was instinctively improvising, correcting gently and swiftly, keeping it all positive and purposeful.
The pace was very good, no longuers and the children keeping up.
We then played “Letters in the Air” which went down very well. This requires the adult to single out two children to do a special job and the children picked to come out drew the letter on Rodd’s back on the whiteboard. In this sketch Rodd demonstrate making the letter once by himself but I think the children’s instinct was always to do the drawing with him and if we do more we should look at this.
The children were still very eager to have more. We asked Ms Cussell if the children could count up to 12 so we could do the Time Quiz. Telling the Time isn’t in the EYFS, it’s only in KS1 of the National Curriculum so we were prepared for it not to work but this Reception class had no problem with it.
They went out for a break and we got some vox pops and an interview with Ms Cussell.
The children said they loved Rodd and wanted to do more. The teacher confirmed this and said she found the sketches very easy to use, having only had one insecure moment when she didn’t know the ‘pick a hand’ rules for choosing who started the game. And she improvised well enough for it not to matter in context.
After break they were still up for more and we played Drum Count as a finale to get rid of a bit of energy as it has a lot of clapping to time.
The video of this classroom trial will be edited and posted shortly.
Talkie Time is our new show for the BBC for 4-6 year olds, their parents, teachers and carers. It’s fronted by Balamory inhabitant Rodd Christensen (aka Spencer). You can watch a clip of parents and teachers using it on the BBC website
It’s the nearest thing linear video can get to game playing – a bit of karaoke/panto in these videos that adult and child can play together, reacting and having a conversation in role. The class supplying one half of the playful learning experience, by using the on-screen cues, the presenter supplying the other half.
Each short educational video will remain on the BBC website along with support materials
There are seven short ‘lessons’ to be played on a whiteboard or a laptop. We’ve had strong positive feedback from the classrooms and homes we’ve tested it in. It supports speaking and listening, turn-taking and increasing confidence for children as well as curriculum targets. It fits into EYFS and KS1 in England, the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland, The Foundation Phase 3-7 in Wales and the Foundation Stage for Northern Ireland
The Value of Play IV: Play is Nature’s Way of Teaching Us New Skills
A lucid post from Peter Gray on January 1, 2009 in which he explains how play is a vital part of our successful evolution, how closely play effortlessly generates all the conditions for successful learning and how frustratingly our schools manage to block many of the conditions for successful learning.
A great 5 minute video making the case for a revolution in schools and the way teachers need to be allowed to cast off 19th century ways of working.
Many thanks to JeanetteMcLeod for tweeting this