In which Pooh looks for a 21st Century Education Part 4

Pooh!’

‘Yes?’ said Pooh

‘When I’m – when – Pooh!’

‘I’m not going to do Nothing any more.’

‘Never again?’

‘Well not so much. They don’t let you.’

Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.

‘Yes, Christopher Robin?’ said Pooh helpfully.

‘Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?’

‘Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.’

 

In which we look at a classroom that connects directly to the timeless democratic education values we observed in the 1950 classrooms.

Sue Bradly’s new entrant classroom was visited by me and written up just before the move to Tomorrow’s School.  While the values remain the same, the practices from 1950 have been developed and extended. This is a classroom that expresses perfectly the primary school education culture, but in the Tomorrow’s Schools’ era, when recognised scorned, and when not, simply overrun.

Such classrooms work for all children and meet the highest purposes of society and education.

It is a classroom that expresses teacher-produced knowledge (accommodating of other knowledges but unique in combination) making it a threat to those who control the education system with knowledge produced from ideology and business and given theoretical backing and specificity by co-opted academics.

 

A new entrant classroom before Tomorrow’s Schools

At the conclusion of this account, Sue Bradly, the new entrant teacher involved, says something of forlorn significance:

I’m just one of thousands of primary teachers who think like this. 

But not now, and those that are, are considerably isolated and at risk.

I visited Sue’s room in 1989, knowing that even before the Labour government had concluded the introduction of Tomorrow’s Schools it was the end of the co-operative education system as we knew it; the end of respecting teachers like Sue and their knowledge; and the end of the holistic philosophy that had its beginning, it could be said, with the 1937 New Education Fellowship Conference – to be replaced in the Tomorrow’s Schools years by teacher denigration and centralised control based on fear, command, propaganda, and a curriculum that could be measured, policed, tested and, above all be sufficiently simplistic to be able to be understood by those in control.

I had resigned from the formal education system, begun Developmental Network Magazine, then set out to take courses around New Zealand to do what I could do to preserve the holistic, to keep the lamp alight. I also determined to record the stories of teachers – teachers like Sue Bradly.

What follows in the description of Sue Bradly’s classroom links directly with what was shown in the 1950s film including the aspirations of the 1937 New Education Fellowship Conference and forward to Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Elwyn Richardson and further forward still to a strong vein of inspirational primary teachers especially junior ones, some still there today, hiding in the shadows. This is our culture, our inspiration we want to celebrate; our knowledge and values we want the freedom to act on. We challenge the knowledge coming from the cult of the academic used to shore up and make more powerful the bureaucrats and politicians. We want a sharing education system.

The 1989 classroom is an expression of the values demonstrated in the 1950s classroom: values drawn from a close observation of children’s needs and characteristics and agreed on by teachers and all in the education system.

Look for expressions of values such as:

We want children who are lively and eager and full of wonder

The free play is a direct introduction to the idea of community; their own way of understanding and controlling the world around them

The teacher plays a delicate role: setting things up, letting the children explore, intervening judiciously

Reading is finding the meaning behind whole words and sentences: from first to last it should be a ‘thought-getting’ process

Pleasure, interest, and enjoyment in reading carry forward into their lives a love of reading

Number works is more than figures and sums; it involves what number means in the world outside the school

Number work should connect with the outside world and involve activity and experience

A lot of what children do is extended make-believe from experience

Those experiences need to be vivid and stimulating whether a story, exploring nature, or gaining knowledge in other ways

The children’s art work is bold in colour and scope meaning their imaginations have been stirred

Imagination links experiences

The overall aim is to establish a vivid and stimulating environment to retain children’s love of learning and a sense of wonder.

 

And one thing to look for in particular in Sue’s room:

The ‘I can do’ attitude that comes from confident, interested children.

You can see Sue chivvying the children along on the idea of: I can read or can write – and then one day they can.

The description of the new entrant room (1989) begins

When I arrive at Sue Bradly’s new entrant room at 8.25 a.m., eleven children are already at various activities. One child is doing carpentry, one is holding two dolls to comfort them, one is reading with the teacher, one is painting, one is carrying around what I thought was a doll but I subsequently found to be a  live rabbit, one is reading a story he has written.

‘This is a long book,’ Stuart says.

He proudly holds up a stapled newsprint booklet. Inside the booklet (which did in fact have very long pages) are pasted two small yellow memo tabs on which he has written seven words.

 

 

Sue told me later that those seven words represented a breakthrough for Stuart. He has succumbed, as had the other children, to the blandishments of the ‘I can write’ confidence that pervades the room.

Two children are reading in the reading corner, one of them rests on a cushion, the other on her friend. The sun slants onto their sprawled limbs.

Two children are talking.

‘I’m writing about the new baby.’

‘Oh – what is it?’

Another two children are writing – one in a newsprint booklet, the other in her exercise book.

There are twenty-three children on Sue’s roll. As a class they are a representative mixture from the various cultural and social groupings. Most of them have been at school about two months, some only a few weeks.

The room is interestingly organised – full of angles, corners, hide-aways and possibilities. There is a reading corner (already mentioned), a play house and a supply of dress-up clothes, a display of shoes for language experience, an overhead projector set up with some children’s stories ready to show, a filmstrip projector showing the opening frames of a picture story, an oven with catering utensils beside, a writing table with alphabet charts and various language activity cards, a settee, a table for displays (at this moment showing some outcomes of the social studies feeling for approach), and an art and craft area with materials readily available for the children to use. Outside there is a carpentry table, large building blocks, and water and sand play equipment.

Other resources are available to the children. Prominent is a shelved stand holding the children’s boxes of independent reading material. Also available are mathematics and physical education equipment.

Three large junior tables for the children to work at are in the centre of the room.

And, of course, on the walls, and strung across the room are examples of the children’s current work.

By now all the children are involved in some activity. Whether the day has officially begun is difficult to decide. Whatever the situation, the programme in Sue Bradly’s new entrant room is gathering momentum.

Sue is now doing ‘running records’. These are taken fortnightly with every child. Sue said later she found the developmental atmosphere allows her to take such records at various times during the day.

A parent arrives to help in the classroom. The functioning of a roster means there is usually a parent present, especially in the mornings.

When I talk to the parent she tells me that to help her carry out her role, she had attended two meetings. At these Sue had explained the nature of the programme, and ways parents could contribute. She remembers Sue being particularly insistent on the need to listen carefully to children, and not to cut across children’s efforts to solve problems for themselves.

Another parent comes in to discuss a matter with Sue. After doing this she goes over, hugs her child, and leaves.

Sue has two or three children around her. They start singing a song. The rest of the class drifts over.

I’m introduced to the class.

‘This is Kelvin. He’s writing a book!’

‘Put up your hand if you’re an author too.’

Very quietly Sue starts to read a story about a taniwha (Terrible Taniwha of Timberditch). The teacher leaves silences, which are followed by surges of responses by the children. A rhythm develops between teacher and class. A kind of oral cloze procedure is used, not for teaching points, but as part of the story-telling. Pictures are discussed, and so are key parts of the story, but the momentum is always maintained.

The children are asked to mime certain parts. A girl stands up and sits by the teacher and looks back at the children in a teacher sort-of-way.

At an exciting part of the story the children mime spontaneously. The teacher moves location, the children swivel and follow pied-piper-like. The teacher’s voice lowers to a whisper; the atmosphere is hushed and expectant. As the teacher rises, the children rise; when the teacher paces, the children’s heads  turn-their eyes alight with excitement.

The story ends. There is a moment of reflection – then the children move away.

Two children pick up the taniwha book and read it together.

Five children go to the art and craft area to make a taniwha with flax, or to continue with some other activity.

Others go to the large tables to write about the taniwha, or on topics of their own choice.

The children write variously in exercise books, long books of stapled newsprint, or on newsprint sheets.

One child lies down and feeds the rabbit.

Another tells me that everyone has to write something before the end of the day.

Stuart comes up to show me his long book and to read his story again.

‘It’s the first one I’ve written.’

The teacher discusses a spelling contract with a child. (However, the teacher does not use the term contract in doing this.)

Another child comes up and says she’s written two books. ‘One about my baby. The other about Andrew’s bike.’

The children mainly use ‘have-a-go’ spelling but one or two prefer ‘try-cards’. As the children write, the teacher moves around talking to them.

Two children are working with an alphabet game.

The parent is listening to a child read a story.

Over in the art and craft area some children are working on various constructions. Containers permanently fixed between the tables give the children easy access to materials. An art and craft book open on a stand is being used by a boy to guide his activity.

‘Yes, I chose it. I mainly work from the pictures.’

The teacher sets up a printing contract with a child.

Another parent bustles in. ‘I’ve just come for half-a-day. I’m feeling a bit fragile’

The parent exchanges a smile with the teacher and then skilfully slips into a supportive role with a child.

Two children engaged in another alphabet game busily rub the magnets to make them work better.

Nancy, a child whose second language is English, sits at the writing desk to write a story about the rabbit. She’s writing on yellow memo tabs in a long book. Every now and then other children sidle up to her to see how she’s getting on. They give help when it’s requested.

The teacher continues to work with individuals. At the moment she is doing running records.

A child is sitting next to Nancy at the writing table, practising his printing.

The writing table is a focus of much activity. A large alphabet chart is displayed on it, as are various suggestions for language activities. Available for the children to use are pencils, thin stemmed marker pens and lined sheets. Various task-cards for printing, punctuation, and spelling are stored in half containers and envelopes.

While I’m standing near the writing table a child settles down to do some writing.

‘I’m writing a letter to my dad.’

Another child nudges me.

‘I wrote a speech bubble.’

She then reads it to me.

‘Who am I? I’m five and I like lollipops.’

‘I’m going to write a story about going to the farm now.’

A parent arrives with her child. The boy is to start school in a week. For orientation, the parent and her son have been coming to school each morning.

The two of them are looking through the Ready to Read books.

A child beside the writing table is learning a contract spelling word.

‘School, S-c-h-o-o-l, School’

The child covers the word and writes it in her book again.

A relaxed but purposeful air prevails. There is a pleasant hum of conversation.

A girl leans towards a boy.

‘There are two t’s in little.’

He reflects for a moment then reaches for a rubber.

There is a clatter as some felt-tips spill on the floor. In a matter-of-fact way two other children come over to help pick them up.

The outside equipment is shared with a neighbouring room. Two children are hammering and sawing, one is pouring water.

The teacher is on the move now, questioning one or two children to check they have a sense of direction for their morning’s activities.

A child is using the tape-recorder and intently following the story being told.

Two children are showing the teacher their constructions. She admires them and gets them going on their next activity.

Nancy has made good progress with her story.

She reads her stories to the rabbit.

The teacher comes over and talks to me.

‘The organisation is such that they don’t learn they are behind in this or that. They don’t feel they are scrambling to be first to climb up learning ladders. When they are working they simply feel they are doing reading or doing mathematics, and so on?’

The parent and child having an orientation week are now looking at the mathematics resources.

Stuart shows me his taniwha. ‘I’ve made it for my sister. She’s three.’

Two children are now in the play-house using the dressing up material. The teacher looks over there, and so do some of the children. Clearly something of significance is occurring.

I learn later that the boy who is playing ‘house’ with the girl has a problem in getting on with other children.

His playing with another child in the play-house is the first time he has been seen by teacher or children to sustain a constructive relationship with another child.

I watch him as he carefully wraps a doll in a blanket and places it in the pram.

After morning play, the teacher sits down with a book. Very soon there is a cluster of children around her to listen. However, many children continue with the activity they were on before play.

A song in Maori is coming from the tape recorder. Two children sing along with it.

Three children are over at the writing table working on spelling contracts. Another two are writing out the  alphabet. One child is doing printing on his own initiative.

Stuart rearranges the social studies display to make a space for his long book.

Four children get out some musical instruments and start beating time to their singing. The teacher joins them.

The boy in the play-house is still maintaining his constructive behaviour. He’s tidying up now with the girl.

The parent and her child are looking through the blown-up books.

Two children have taken a pointer from the pointer container and are reading around the room

Greer comes over to me. ‘If I put my hand to bunny’s mouth he licks me.’

Two children are doing a spelling activity. They put their hand in a box of words (high usage words) and pull one out. After a quick look they turn it over and write the word down. ‘We’re not supposed to look again but I just cheated.’

‘I like doing neat printing,’ says the child at the writing table.

Greer is walking around the room reading to the rabbit.

Two children are making constructions with dough.

Three children are working together using lego.

Stuart, having finished his taniwha, is again clutching his long book. He reads his story to anyone he can inveigle to listen.

There are now a lot of children reading books. Since morning play the emphasis has moved to reading. Some children have gone to their individual reading boxes and are now variously reading their designated instructional reader, or an associated reader, or a wider choice reader (known to them as ‘swap’ books).

The teacher explained later that the instructional and associated readers are chosen by the children but from within a restricted range of reading levels. The wider choice reading box has books with a wider range of reading levels.

The teacher is very busy hearing children read to her. With some of the children she does running records.

A child comes over to me with some folded cardboard into which he has cut serrations.

‘These triangles make diamonds when you open it up, see?’

‘Who thought that up?’

‘I did.’

The musicians go to their individual reading boxes for reading material.

Except for one child in the art and craft area, the two children in the play house, and two children at the writing table, all the children are now doing reading. They have settled to it gradually, without fuss, and without direction.

Stuart comes over with his reading box and reads All Join In to me.

The teacher is introducing books to a group of eight children.

They glance over to the play-house and express concern that the boy is not with them. The teacher reassures them.

‘We’ll leave him. He’s done pretty well today.’

The children understand.

The boy is now pushing the pram around the classroom.

Three informal groupings have developed. There is a group being introduced to some books, a group preferring to read on their own, and three children who have not fully settled to any particular reading task.

Stuart reads to me.

‘As tall as a …’

He looks at the illustration for a clue.

‘As tall as a …’

He looks to and fro. ‘House.’

Josh comes over to help.

‘I’ve read this book.’

In anticipation of some support, Stuart looks grateful.

The children’s involvement in the reading programme is now far more dispersed.

Everywhere there are children reading on their own, in pairs, to the teacher, or around the room.

A number of children are reading their homework books. In these books there are various bits and pieces for children to read at home. Included in these bits and pieces are songs, poems, and jingles the children have written. They seem to know most of them off-by-heart.

The play-house boy is looking at the taniwha. 

Josh says, ‘Stuart.’

Stuart moves along the settee so Josh can sit beside me and have a turn at reading his book.

There is a buzz of children reading.

The play-house boy is now working with dough.

Stuart carefully follows the words as Josh reads.

The teacher is hearing various children read.

Greer is practising the spelling of a word she found difficult in her reading. She goes through the routine she has learnt for learning words.

I ask her if the teacher gave her the correct spelling of the word.

‘No,’ she says. ‘She made me think of where I had come across the word before. It was in On a Chair. I got it from there.’

A child holds a Maori text towards me.

‘Can you read Maori’?’

I shake my head.

‘I can,’ she says.

She then proceeds to do a ‘translation’ by reading the pictures.

Children are reading everywhere: in the class library, on the settee, on the floor, on desks, under desks, around corners, in the play house.

The children are intent and purposeful. There is a quietness to proceedings. Movement from activity to activity has been relaxed and unhurried. The programme has unfolded impressively. A shift to fitness occurs as the children see the teacher take some equipment outside.

The lesson begins with children choosing some task-cards and doing what is suggested individually or in pairs. They then go to teachers stationed around the playground for group activity. The teachers are available because a number of classes have joined in.

After lunch the children come in and settle down with books.

Josh asks me to read the story of the taniwha again.

The teacher encourages the children to take a careful look at the books in the library.

She starts to read Where the Wild Things Are. A number of children settle around her.

The teacher then takes an enlarged printed book and turns over the pages to a taped story. As the story of Mrs Wishy Washy proceeds, the children mime parts of it.

The children drift to various places to read. They are mainly reading their wider choice books now.

They read to anyone they can collar.

There is movement to mathematics. Two groups of children continue to work with activities from their previous day’s work, while one group works with the teacher.

The groups away from the teacher show absorption in their tasks.

A teaching group is working with the number 5.

Another group has jig-saw cards.

Various materials are used for counting.

After children have their turn at group teaching, they continue with that activity for a while, then they go to a collection of materials and activities designated for their group.

The children select some materials and then find somewhere to use them.

A relaxed atmosphere is evident.

The quality of the conversation amongst the children is purposeful. ‘If you move these 2 and put them with those 3, you have 5.’

All the children are now working independently.

A child with special mathematics needs is given individual help by the teacher.

Three children recite a number chanting song.

As part of evaluation, the teacher has a cardboard checklist on hand. From time-to-time she ticks a section or writes a comment.

The teacher introduces new activities to children as the programme proceeds.

A child says to me, ‘Our activities are over there. I just put my hand in and got one.’

The teacher moves fairly quickly around the class. She is making sure the children know what to do for the beginning of the next day’s mathematics.

Towards the end of the lesson, a number of children become involved in group game activities.

Some children decide they are finished with mathematics and move away to do other things.

‘I’m good at maths too,’ says Stuart.

The teacher sits on a chair near the social studies display – the children around her on the mat.

The day before, the children had been asked what things grandma and grandpa had, and did, at school.

As they said them the teacher had written the children’s ideas in pencil on small strips of newsprint.

The children then printed over the top of the pencil script with thin stemmed felt-tips. Some children, though, printed their ideas without this support.

For to-day’s work the children sit on the mat looking at their ideas blu-tacked to the display board. Beside the display board is a Venn diagram with a main label of At school, and three sub-labels of Our school, At both schools, and Grandma and grandpa’s school.

The teacher goes over the list of children’s ideas — responding to questions, or skilfully encouraging the children to respond to them themselves.

‘Did they write on paper?’

‘What do you think?’ asks the teacher. There is a chorus of replies from the children.

‘What about felt-tips?’ asks a child. A pause by the teacher encourages responses. They quickly resolve matters to their satisfaction.

‘Did they have radios?’ This one takes longer to discuss, and is not conclusively resolved.

The teacher says, ‘Now what things are only at our school, or only happen at our school?’

The children look through the list, or just remember. When they think they have an answer, they stand up and blu-tack the label in the appropriate space.

The children are asked not to comment on the correctness of the placements.

‘We’ll discuss that tomorrow.’

Next: ‘What things were only at grandma and grandpa’s school, or only happened at their school?’

And, finally: ‘What things were at both schools, or happened at both schools?’

By this stage of the topic, the children have developed a feeling for grandma and grandpa’s life at school. There is considerable interest by nearly all the children in the activity. One child, however, near the end, drifts off to the play-house. This is accepted matter-of-factly by the teacher and children.

At the end of the lesson the teacher reads a story of school in olden days.

To finish  the day, the children have music. They sing a song to a tape, accompany it with some instruments, and then respond with movement and dance.

The children go to their reading boxes for their ‘bedtime’ readers, and they collect their homework books.

Most of them say goodbye to the teacher individually. They are kind enough not to forget me.

Another day is over in Sue Bradly’s new entrant room.

 

 

Sue rests her forehead on her hand: I encourage children to solve their own problems. Sometimes I wonder if I demand too much of them. The emphasis is on children taking more responsibility for their own learning.

No matter the curriculum area, they’re expected  to think about what they’re doing.

I tell them to do this. Sometimes I will ask them what they’re doing. I expect a response. It’s to help them learn how to learn, it’s giving children a sense of control. They need to know why they’re doing things.

I’m just one of thousands of primary teachers who think like this. I wish those outside schools who talk a lot about education would listen to us. Really listen to us.

This account was in a booklet I published in 1989 (Developmental Teaching and Learning in Practice Part 1), I sold some copies, then put it away to become more-or-less forgotten. Somehow I came across the booklet and remembered Sue, wondered where she was, hoped all was well, then had a thought that the booklet might be useful for a posting, but didn’t read it. I sent it away to Allan Alach to transfer to Word, and in returning it he said: ‘A very good teacher.’ (Which I should have picked up on then because he doesn’t praise lightly.) I put it aside for processing and have just got round to reading it. I was overwhelmed and wept for Sue and teachers like her, and the children who could have had teachers like her, and didn’t, and myself (if you will excuse me) for a whole complex of things. This account is a treasure I feel transcendent to be associated with. It is dedicated to Sue and all the other Sues, some of whom, against the odds are still out there.

Pooh thought for a little.

‘How old shall I be then?’

‘Ninety-nine.’

Pooh nodded.

‘I promise.’

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out his hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

Pooh,’ said Christopher Robin earnestly, if I – if I’m not quite’ he stopped and tried again –Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand won’t you?’

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