Sunday, 27 January 2019

Ditching the timetable - take two

I have posted about this previously, but because this is an issue many are thinking of at this time of the year I thought I would expand on it a little.  Have a read because there are probably things in here I won't mention again.

To me the word timetable and the word play don't go together, they are contradictory terms.  After all, what is a timetable for, well for the large part a timetable is to make sure we get through all the learning in the day.  All those things we must do.  But the mere fact we are doing this, does not set us up for truly independent play.  A timetable is probably also useful for management teams if they like to micromanage.

This definition of play, presented by Marc Armitage at a recent play-based conference is the best I have seen yet. 

"Play is what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way and for their own reasons." Playwork principles 2002

So if children are to play following their own interests, what benefit is a timetable to them or us?

Marc also raised this point, that we should be looking for children to start play independently, continue it independently and end it independently.  Again done best in an environment not constrained by time slots.

So when I say ditch the timetable, what do I actually mean.  What it doesn't mean is that I don't fact I do this a lot, but most of it is on the spot and reflective.  It guides my 'teaching' far better than any timetable I have every written a week before has.  I also don't sit down and write long-term or short term plans.  Once again the idea of planning this far out is contradictory to the word play and to the very individual needs of our children.  Planning for the 'mass' allows us to miss the needs of the individual.

So what is it that I do?

Well to start with I think about the components of my programme, what is important to me, understanding what I do and how I want to get it done.

I then think of the term, of the things I want for the children, these are dispositional not academic.  I also set this out in mind map form.

These help to set my priorities.

Each week, I use this to guide what I would like to pop into our reflective/discussion moments during the week - aka mat time.  There are areas of 'academic' based learning in there, it is just that this is governed largely by individual readiness and fits where it is appropriate.

Children begin the day with play and I then scribble what actually happened during the day as we go.  Obviously we have a swimming slot and we put Number Agents in there as well....but other than that our day is fluid.  We have rituals, like singing our songs from waiako, a lovely start to the morning, sharing a chapter book after lunch, browsing at books of interest for ten or so minutes some time in the day, sharing the play we are seeing and provoking a little more through discussion etc.  This scribble is usually done in the form of a mind map....featured below rather than being linear.  It works for me.

The gift I ultimately want to give to our children is large chunks of play that are not interrupted by an adult.

We do all we can to bring visibility to learning throughout the day, either through video, sharing on seesaw, recording in our shared class scrapbook etc, so the planning is done, it is just done after the fact.

This year I want to try mind mapping about individual children, this will be a challenge, but I think it could be really valuable.

Ultimately it comes down to trust, trusting the children, trusting that learning will fall endlessly out of play and trusting ourselves to make best use of this wonderful approach.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Writing in the early years - what should we be trying to achieve?

Inspired by this ...have a listen, it is very interesting.

Writing...a complex way to communicate with many pieces to the puzzle that I think often go overlooked.  I have previously shared some ideas on writing that can be linked to here.

What I wanted to think about today, for myself, as much as anyone reading this, is the parts of the jigsaw that have to be in place for a child to become successful at communicating in the written form.  Too often I think writing is thought of as this stand alone area, taught in isolation and without purpose. 

Firstly let me say this, children learn best through play, it is my belief that particularly in Year 1 - 2 their experience of school should be through play.  The most important part of learning for these children is social and emotional, if we fail to get this right, we can be part of creating huge problems later on.   We only have to look at our depressing stats around mental health in young people to know that something is going wrong.  Should we accept complete responsibility for that, of course not, but by placing stress on a child from a young age to do something their brain is not capable of doing yet, we are contributing to those statistics, as confronting as that may be, it is the truth. 

Have we done it knowingly, of course not.  Do we know better now?  Yes, so it is time to stop and it is time to put the overwhelming research into practice, because to not do so would be completely ignorant. 
If that means ignoring ERO, ignoring our Education Ministry, so be is the children that matter, and we are the ones who have the power to make a difference for them.

 From Year 3 onwards play continues to be very important, but if we can get it right in the first couple of years, we have done a huge service to the child and their later development as a well rounded, happy, secure person.

I've blogged about literacy development before.  That post can be found here, and many of my previous posts talk about my what I think about developmental readiness.  My diagrams on brain development in the classroom and literacy development are very relevant to this post.

Today I wanted to  blog specifically about writing...however as we know, writing is a broad term and it is all about communication.  Children don't learn to write in isolation and the teaching of writing can can attempt to do just that! Writing is far more than just the mechanics and the product.

Writing is not something that exists as abstract genres, which we teach on rotation, writing is about having a message, something to say.  Many write for pleasure and others write for purpose, some write for both.  When was the last time you sat down and decided it was time you wrote an instructional text.  Children will develop an understanding of different types of writing, not because we spend three weeks focusing on it, but because for  for the message they need to convey, this type of writing is necessary.  When it is necessary, when they are interested, then they will learn about it and be receptive to us teaching them more.

Ultimately "writing is the painting of the voice" - Voltaire

The thought that in many new entrant rooms across our country, children are forced to write from day one (and yes I also was guilty of this) makes me incredibly sad.  These children sit in classrooms, where they are not yet able to speak clearly, yet they are expected to write a message, to learn their name, to even have an understanding of what they are being required to do.  It all seems so absurd to me now that I've travelled this path into play.

There is nothing wrong with invitations to write, experiences based around storytelling, but the expectation that all children at five will magically walk in the door ready to sit and spend an extended time recording a message is quite ridiculous.  We sit down as a class, we talk about messages, we storytell, we expose children to a wide variety of rich and wonderful language through play, but when it comes to actually writing, if they are not ready, they are not ready and no amount of the teacher requiring them to write will make them ready.  In fact it will put them off and later on, they will become our reluctant writers.  As Nathan Wallis says, all they learn from being pushed into this learning is that they can't do it and therefore they are dumb.

And so to go with the diagrams above, what do I think are the crucial parts of the jigsaw puzzle to get children started out as writers when they are ready.  These are my thoughts.

I have shared this before, but it is a really useful tool for 'assessing' the product so that we can better engage developmentally.  Children will make marks during play in a variety of ways and this little assessment can be used to assess anything they produce through doesn't have to be a piece of writing on paper and it doesn't need to happen inside four walls of a classroom.

It is our job as teachers of the youngest learners to know that we do them no favours by foisting the mechanics of writing on them before they are developmentally ready.  However we can assist them by slowly putting the jigsaw puzzle together so that writing becomes a natural and enjoyable process that has everyday purpose in their lives. 

Play is the way and the sooner we realise that, the better off we all will be.  Play has purpose, through purpose comes authentic learning and learner voice and from there everything falls into place!

How would you feel if you were forced to write and you had nothing to say?