Hold a child’s hand and walk him through the curriculum

The curriculum starts off as a document: it’s then up to teachers to turn it into something that will resonate with them –and their pupils

I’m not a proper teacher because I don’t work full or part time in one institution. I don’t have the long-lasting relationships with a GCSE class anymore and I miss that camaraderie of treacle-stepping through the English anthology in the hope we’ll get it covered.

I miss the end of the day team-talk, the smiling at small triumphs and the despair with year 8. I miss Sundays spent rehearsing.

I don’t miss the static, the awful invisible force-field of stress and despair that sneaks up and attacks like the mysterious creature from the Id. Like every teacher, I just want to get on with it. Give me stuff that works, useful CPD and the space and tools to apply it.

This piece isn’t about the static. It’s about finding what works for you.

I am offering strategies to add to a teacher’s repertoire

I describe myself as a travelling teacher. I do training events and consultations around the UK. More importantly, I still teach and practise what I talk about. Last week I taught year 1 and 2 in a primary school. Next week, it’s year 6 in a SEBD special school in Barnsley.

I often lead the learning following email and face-to-face conversations with teachers. The class teacher, and other available staff, observe and participate. They are not there to be shown how to teach, rather, I am offering strategies to add to their repertoire.

Approaches I’ll use in primary and special schools

Setting the context This is where the curriculum sherpa-ing comes in. As teachers, we have to turn the curriculum into something that will resonate with us and the children. So let’s say we’re doing a piece of topic work about “the beach” with key stage 1.

Mapping We map out a beach after we have thought about it and what we might find there. Recently, a year 2 boy suggested we might find an abandoned VW camper van with its wheels missing. After the lesson, he revealed his dad was doing up a camper van and doing his mum’s head in. This is what I mean by resonance.

Sound tracking and scene painting When we stand on the beach, what do we hear? What do we see?

Signing the space We label the beach (the classroom) with Post-it notes – a nightmare to clean up, but children invest in the topic. Their labels include: starfish, footprints, rocks, a stream, caves and castles.

Teacher in role and introducing the dilemma This isn’t amateur dramatics. It’s providing a human element to the work. I never dress up although some teachers like to. I simply bring the children in by saying: “I’ll speak as the beach owner. Is that OK?” I’ve never had a kid say no. And now a dilemma.

“Thanks for coming to my beach. I need your help. There is something I can’t explain in the cave.”

Then, as Mr Roberts, I say, “If we are going to help the beach owner, what do we need to do first?” A healthy dose of learning tension. And lots of questions from the children.

Low/high tech I use paper and fat pens a lot. This is all very nice, but we need to ensure there is genuine integrity to the learning. I test this in the laboratory situation by asking: “Where does the curriculum lie in this work?”

When that’s identified, we can talk about coverage. The children may then work individually or continue to work as a group. The work has purpose for them because they are emotionally hooked; they want to help the beach owner. This is where we place ourselves as sherpa. We hold children’s hands and walk them through the curriculum . . . the curriculum should be an extension of us.

What was in the cave? I’m afraid it wouldn’t be safe for me to tell you.

Hywel Roberts is speaking at The Sunday Times Festival of Education on June 19 at 11.30am

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