One teacher described how she had given the children blank topic webs before half term and asked what they knew about Tudors and what they wanted to know. Children’s feedback changed the direction of the topic to Tudors and treasure with a focus on the Spanish Armada. Many of the children already knew about Henry VIII so the topic addressed new areas.
An immersion day was planned for the first day of term, consisting of a visit to a Tudor House. Children were enthused and inspired and excited about the topic ahead.
‘Take one Picture’ (National Gallery) was the focus for one school. They began by sharing objects from the painting but not the whole picture. Children were asked to decide what they thought the whole picture might be about. Children were excited by the mystery.
Another teacher described a Literacy topic, based on Roald Dahl’s Matilda. She decided to run with their enthusiasm and make this the focus for the entire half term. Children were immersed and were completely enthused by the topic. There was a clear improvement in their writing, with excellent results.
One teacher described a topic on markets which began with a trip to Greenwich market. They collected everything they knew about markets under different sub-headings: where? What? Atmosphere? Comparison around the world? Then their own ideas were gathered under subject headings with skills. Children felt more involved and interested than in previous topics.
Another teacher took children to a forest and told them the story of Robin Hood as the beginning of a topic.
In one school, talk partners came up with everything they knew about space, prompted by a picture of a planet with a statement. Egg timers were used to keep their focus. The resulting list was displayed and ticked off as truth or thoughts as the topic progressed. Children’s questions led to their own research. It was mentioned that a tight rein has to be kept to stop children’s ideas going in the wrong direction.
Another teacher asked children to sort their questions after the initial brainstorm: questions we know the answer to, questions that are impossible to answer, questions that we can investigate and find answers to. This made the learning, the planning and the organisation more manageable.
In ‘My Money Week’ in one school, children sorted cards into what they knew and what they want to find out. Grids were used to inform planning. Children added their own questions to those given. This strategy created good discussion and progressed their thinking.
One teacher displayed pictures to show the National Curriculum coverage. Children discussed their current understanding which generated ideas to investigate. This was very meaningful and made learning more purposeful. Children were excited to find out more.
At the start of a new topic children work in groups to discuss what they know and what they want to know. Teachers match the skills to their activities and act as facilitators. Quizzes were used to find out prior knowledge. The impact has been greater pupil involvement, ownership and flexibility, with resulting higher standards.
Children were interested and motivated, especially reluctant boy writers.
All teachers had tried immersion before inviting children to decide activities and presented the skills coverage. Children loved the immersion sessions and were inspired to find out more.
One teacher took children to a museum in which they dressed up. They were then given the skills coverage. They struggled to come up with creative ideas and lots of teacher input was needed. More ideas came up as the topic got going, but by then the scheme of work had been written and there was not the same flexibility.
Another teacher had ‘egg week’ for 2 weeks before Easter. Pupils made an ice egg and used it for various measuring activities, which linked in well with maths skills required.
Teaching a literacy unit on formal/impersonal writing with an outcome of writing a tourist leaflet.
I introduced the outcome to the children –a letter from Albus Dumbledore saying that they had decided to open Hogwarts as a tourist attraction during the summer holidays and needed the class to produce an information leaflet. I also laid down some success criteria: formal writing, some persuasive writing, give enough information, must read just like a real leaflet.
The project was then handed over to the children. They had to decide how they would complete the task and what they needed me to teach/help them with. Initially they found this difficult, but I kept asking challenging questions, ‘How will you know whether it is good enough?’, ‘What will you include?’, and ‘What will you find out?’ They independently worked out that they needed to study leaflets and evaluate them, and that they needed to make notes and research Hogwarts. Following that they came up with a list of different sorts of writing. I challenged them constantly about how the activities they came up with moved on the learning or achieved the end product.
The impact was huge. The children were very motivated to write and even reluctant writers were asking to do this. The children (and I) pushed hard to achieve a good quality and many commented that they thought it was the ‘best writing they had ever done’.
One teacher began a topic by displaying some true/false statements which children discussed as a group. Disagreements were researched. She could gauge their initial understanding by this strategy.
Another teacher gave electrical equipment for children to explore, which showed their current level of understanding.
One immersion activity was that children were met with broken equipment and smashed glasses. They designed activities to respond to the event, such as a letter to the council and a warning manual.
One teacher has a ‘wonderwall’ which uses children’s questions to inform planning.
The impact so far has been greater ownership of learning, clear contexts and greater inclusiveness.
I presented children with resources to build a circuit and said ‘Just have a go. Show me what you are able to do. Experiment.’
One child who is a lower achiever in some subjects was able to be a higher achiever, helped by the fact that his father is an electrician. In discussing circuits he had made he talked about parallel circuits, whereas in maths he would not be confident using the term parallel. He explained how to ‘systematically test and change each component if a circuit isn’t working.’ His confidence has developed and grown in all lessons ever since. He is a higher achiever in science.
Teacher from Thameside Primary
Some teachers are having planning meetings on their induction days in July to plan for the autumn term so skills are already prepared for them. Skills have been introduced to children as the focus for their ideas, which has led to much more focused contributions from children. Children have taken responsibility for the topic and therefore get more from it. Report writing has been much easier. Children can be creative about what they want to do, beyond what the teacher would have done. Children now know the difference between knowledge and skills and want to do topic work. It was mentioned that children sometimes switch off towards the end of a topic because they’re eager to get going on the next topic.
Parents are more aware of what’s going on in school as resources come in and parents are chipping in with their ideas. Teachers understand what children enjoy and what they don’t want to learn about.
Doing the Olympics I assumed children would want to learn all about Usain Bolt. When asking them to plan after immersion, they were not interested in him but really liked fencing. I then brought in loads of equipment to wear and modify and they gained a lot more from it.
Claire Hodgson | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tower Hamlets, London
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Stella Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org
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