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.

 

 

 

To read how this classroom programme continues, go to Attacks! 72 – 77.

 

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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