I’ve been thinking this week, a lot, about all the bickering and arguing on twitter lately. So many different arguments to follow and I rarely comment or get myself involved. We’ve had the progressive/traditional fights this week – it seems you have to be either side of the division. If you dare to speak out about one or the other or offer an opinion you can be quickly shot down in flames, subtweeted (or it is retweeted – I don’t know?), ridiculed and called horrible names. When I was at school many years ago, if we had had phones and twitter I’m pretty sure it may have been classed as bullying. My thoughts on social media is it’s about connecting with like-minded people, having (respectful) freedom of speech and taking an interest in the world around you. I don’t get why people have to fight about what they believe is right or wrong and force their viewpoints on others until the insults start to flow. We all have our own opinions and we should respect other’s, even if they differ to ours.
The way I see it (and I have only been teaching for a few years, despite my ageing years, so I am far from ‘qualified’ compared to others to address these issues) is that every single one of us will teach differently. Good teaching comes down to knowing your children and adapting to their needs. If one thing doesn’t work, try it another way. You cannot be rigid in your thoughts and your actions because children are fluid. The 3 different classes I have now taught are remarkably different from each other. Lessons I did with one cohort would definitely not work with another. It’s about knowing your children, giving them a breadth of learning experiences and styles. Any good teacher knows that children do not always respond well to a certain style of teaching so there should be a mix.
When I look back to my schooling, I was taught from text books, at times. I was also taught through experiences, through play, by going outside, exploring, trial and error. There was certain things I learnt by rote. I was introduced to the arts; was given chance to paint, to play music. Had I have not been given that chance I may not play an instrument now. We are in danger of losing the next generation of talented musicians and artists as opportunities to explore are being taken away at school, due to pressure to get results and also due to cuts in funding. When I was at school, we had access to the LEA music centre, which provided free music lessons, youth orchestras and centres where you could go and perform. I met some talented young musicians. Children today may not always get that experience at home to know they have a talent or whether they just enjoy it. I learnt my skill through learning music theory, reading the text books but also by practising. Over and over until it was right. You can learn from a text book, most definitely, but we need those experiential learning opportunities too. I guess it comes down to a mixture of all.
When I look back to my schooling my parents weren’t involved really, not because they didn’t take an interest, but parents weren’t seen as partners in learning. It didn’t do me any harm. I remember with huge fondness, walking to the library every Saturday with my Gran to collect as many books as I was allowed on my library card (and that she could carry). I would choose my books and rush back to get the bread out of the oven that I had made with her earlier on. I would sit for hours and be read to or read to my Gran or my Mum. In school I remember the amazingly stereotypical Peter and Jane books, which I always thought were funny as my parents were divorced, so my brother couldn’t help Daddy fix the car whilst I helped Mummy wash the clothes. I learnt to read by sight. All my class had little Golden Virginia tobacco tins with words in, that were dutifully changed once we had learnt them. I don’t remember using phonics. Which is the other subject often argued about.
As a year 1 teacher, there is a big focus on phonics. I’m not going to say whether it is the only way to teach reading or not. What I do know is that, yes in my experience, it does help children to read words. Any words; nonsense words, alien words, Obb and Bob words – whatever you call them. I have also had children for whom phonics doesn’t really work and they are sight-readers. What is important though is a child’s comprehension. What good is it if you have an amazing reading age but you have no idea what it is you have just read? There has been much discussion about books. Picture books in particular. As a child, I would chose a range of books from the library, some I could read, some I would have to have read to me and some that I would sit engrossed for hours, looking at the pictures and making up the story in my head. My brother and I would sit with his Asterix books, borrowed from the library and we would each take a part and make up the story, as neither of us could read it! We would both want to be Asterix in the hope that we would get to drink the magic potion and be super-human and would often arm wrestle in the hope we wouldn’t be Obelix.
There shouldn’t be a right or wrong type of book in the classroom, just a variety of books to engage the children. We have a story at the end of each day. Sometimes we have short picture books and I have also read to my year 1’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory which they loved. They listened intently, they laughed loudly in parts and they were sad when we finished it, but also happy that there was a good ending for Charlie as ‘it’s sad that he’s so skinny and they have no money for food’. I’m not an expert in literature or reading. I have my own opinions about phonics which I’m not getting into, as this isn’t intended to fuel another discussion/argument.
What is important is the children and sadly they seem to be forgotten in these discussions/debates/arguments. We are all in the same situation; under pressure to show progress, to get results no matter what year group you teach, be it EYFS or University. By the end of KS1, children who should still be playing and being nurtured by us, are expected to perform and achieve in their KS1 SATS. In a years time my year 1 babies are expected to be able to use subordination and coordination, expanded noun phrases to name but a few – and that’s just in literacy!
When I was 7, my class were taking books out on the field to read in the afternoon, we were painting, standing up and reciting our times tables, reading our words from our tins, going in the hall for singing… It didn’t do my generation any harm. My primary school class alone produced 3 teachers, a priest, a play-writer and theatre producer, a doctor, nurses, hairdressers, taxi drivers, shop assistants, a BBC camera man. Some of us went to university, some didn’t: we did ok. There was not the discussion and fighting from our teachers over the best way to teach us, it happened and for most it worked, similarly as today. Not all young people will be engaged regardless of whether you are trad/prog/teach phonics/use picture books.
Children cannot learn until they are ready to. In my opinion we expect too much from them beginning at an early age. I don’t remember sitting SATS equivalents etc. I remember having spelling and timetable tests and reading word lists with my teacher. In the madness of assessment, testing and progress we are all under pressure to show the government, we are losing sight of what is important – the one thing in which we all have in common: the children.