The dancer in the classroom!

little-dancer1
Sir Ken Robinson tells a great story about girl whose parents were terribly worried about her lack of concentration in class;

I also have a very similar story. (I have kindly been given permission by Lucy’s mom to use her real name and share this story)

Two years ago Lucy came into my class as an enthusiastic Y5 girl. However, there was a problem, or to put it more precisely, a reputation that came with her. Lucy couldn’t concentrate in class.

Lucy couldn’t ‘sit still’, she was ‘noisy’ and her energy levels never seemed to wane. I thought carefully about this, as her teacher I became concerned. I wrote to her parents to request a meeting. At the meeting her mom informed me that this was ‘Just Lucy’. At the time I felt a little unsupported, however, I look back now and realise her mom was spot on. Lucy was just Lucy. She can’t sit still, she likes being vocal and she loves moving around the classroom; it was my duty to adjust to Lucy, not Lucy’s job to adjust to school! I therefore went about thinking of strategies to help Lucy and her learning.

I first ensured there was plenty of movement. I facilitated lots of talk (P4C was wonderful for Lucy) and sitting at a table became a choice not an order. At home Lucy’s mom decided to see if Lucy would enjoy ice-dancing…She loved it! In fact two weeks ago she won her first competition!

In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, Lucy didn’t have a problem; she wasn’t ‘naughty’ – she was in fact ‘a dancer’, someone who loved moving! Even more importantly Lucy can still be ‘just Lucy’

Last week I took two classes, Lucy included, on a residential trip. It was a tiring but wonderful week, the children gained invaluable and immeasurable experiences and collaborated on a range of tasks. It quickly dawned on me that all of the tasks had something very much in common:

  • No activities were preceded with a learning objective.
  • Differentiation was decided by the youngsters themselves
  • No-one got things wrong and everyone made mistakes
  • Every pupil was challenged but not compared with each other
  • Adults allowed children to explore possible solutions
  • Nothing was neatly recorded in  books
  • Children were encouraged to set their own targets
  • There were no walls (Except for bed time!)
  • Children were smiling – lots!

Taking ideas from outdoor education centres is not just about asking children to identify trees in the wooded areas and having a camp fire. It’s also about using ideas like those above; where children were challenged but had choice, where they built their self esteem by making mistakes. When youngsters didn’t always have to sit still and be quiet.

Talk to any teacher and they’ll tell you the value of an outdoor educational experience. So what bigger hint do we need that classrooms (In their traditional sense) are not always the best places to learn, they’re just a small part of the wider picture.
On Monday morning the children walked into my classroom. It felt different though. Unnatural. Odd that these young people were forced to congregate in a room within a building called a school after hugely successful week in an environment very different from a school.

For the past five years I’ve researched, experimented and applied many theories to my pedagogical approach, taking every opportunity to tap into children’s natural way of thinking and learning. It follows that perhaps over the next five years my emphasis should be on the physical learning environment and how it can be used to help all children succeed.

I will make lots of mistakes, but after last week I feel confident that it’ll work out for the best!

Remember when children are ‘fidgety’ it’s because they don’t want to be still, when they’re not concentrating it’s because they’re bored and when they’re noisy perhaps they want to perform! Whatever the reason, it is our jobs to adjust to the needs of the children, not the other way round. I no longer worry about Lucy, she’s just fine!

The Thought Weavers