How can we all become better learners? Bella Osborne â€“ Teacher, Wiltshire, UK May 2008
What was your question all about? I have been a teacher for many years – and I was beginning to think it was maybe too many years. It had begun to feel that I was actually having to put to one side many of the things that had made me a good teacher. The children seemed less involved and I was not as open to their suggestions, as I might have been ten years ago. At that time, if a child said something interesting in the middle of a lesson, I could go with it. It was great. Recently, I had the delight of having the same class for three years; a real advantage. But they are a sparky class of seven year olds who don’t work together easily. There are some real individuals with amazing ideas and they’re a very ‘thinking’ group. These children thought having thinking skills was very powerful and often applied them. From day to day, I never quite knew what I was going to get – I began to feel like I was losing my way with them. By chance I was asked by my Headteacher to attend an Enhancing Children’s Learning workshop when the project came to Wiltshire. I took so much from it that I could do with my class. This is a story about how I regained my enthusiasm for teaching. What things did you try? The training gave me a new way of relating to the children, but more than that I came away with a few simple exercises I could use with the class. We started off with an exercise exploring simple groupings – e.g. boys and girls. Then I asked them to go into two groups in answer to, ‘Who’s come into school this morning absolutely ready to learn and who hasn’t?’ There was a large group who hadn’t – this was a big shock to me. So I used another exercise I’d learnt to get my children ready to learn – called stilling. I asked the children to sit very quietly and imagine themselves in a beautiful garden – just for a couple of minutes. I told the children, ‘If you’re not ready to learn, one of my jobs is to help you.’ The children were so excited by it, asking ‘When are we going to do it again?’
We had journals and every time we visited these exercises we would record our experiences. I told the children that it could be their own book, or it could be shared with their friends or, if they’d come into school with problems in the morning they could have some time alone with their book. They could do this independently. They knew we didn’t have time to do it every day, but they would come up to me and say that they needed to go to their book. And that’s all it took. If they were really struggling with a problem they could just go to their book and write it down. What did you learn and what insights did you get? It felt as if I’d been given permission to set aside precious time to get ready for the learning part of the day and to get the children’s engagement and participation levels up. It was also about just stepping back for quarter of hour at any time in the day, and putting aside the curriculum when the need arose. Using different strategies at different times and for different situations gives a huge payback. The class as a whole is so much more ready to learn together. I’ve loved using ‘stilling’ with the children – I’ve found that it is so good for me too. It means that I can let go of all the things that are banging away in my head. I can clear them up and put them on one side. Then I feel fresh and new, and with an open mind to think about what I need to do. How does your insight affect what you’re now doing and what difference is this making? It’s good to be able to share things that I am feeling. I say to the class, ‘I’ve got this problem and I need your help.’ They come up with some amazing ideas. They feel so empowered by it. Finding this common ground empowers us. It feels like a partnership and the whole class has started to bond and this funny little desperate group with so many ‘oddball’ characters has finally come together. The best thing that came out of it was the improvement in their writing, which had been a problem. Suddenly it was as if we had been liberated, it just came pouring out. I often sit alongside them as they write. The spoken
‘It’s now part of my practice and embedded into everything I do. Something like that you can’t just throw out. It’s changed me so much.’ Bella Osborne
vocabulary from the systemic work we did has started to pop up in the written work. It’s so exciting. They are having thoughts of their own and they can actually put these down on paper. We did this writing each day and pretty soon I noticed the quality of their work shoot up. It was in the SATs year and it changed the way we approached SATs. It was a steep learning curve but we had huge fun. ecl moderator Val Culff further comments... Bella Osborne, teacher at Sambourne Primary, Warminster UK, was having difficulties getting her class to unite and work creatively, especially in their written work. After attending a short training with ecl she found a few simple ways to bring the class together and connect the children to their creativity in a way that enabled them not only to talk freely, but write freely too. She particularly liked the stilling exercises she learnt to do on the training and found that she could use this at any point in the day, to calm the children and prepare them for learning. She raised the children’s awareness of their own feelings, and shared hers with them and discussed how everybody’s feelings impacted on the class’s readiness for learning. This gave the children a sense of belonging to a cohesive group, rather than just being a group of individuals. Bella felt, as a result of this, that she had regained skills and practices which had made her a very effective teacher. Words of Appreciation I think that really people need to go on the training and have the experience. It’s so hard to explain, but in my view it is amazing, it is exciting. It’s now part of my practice and embedded into everything I do. Something like that you can’t just throw out. It’s changed me so much.
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ÂŠ nowherefoundation 2008