I’m putting the fact back into the wow factor...

Hands-on activities are helpful but not an end in themselves
25th August 2017, 12:00am
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I’m putting the fact back into the wow factor...

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/im-putting-fact-back-wow-factor

I’m planning lessons for the new term and I’ve come across a stumbling block: they don’t have enough wow factor. Wowing children isn’t always uppermost in my mind when I enter a classroom, but in this case the instructions were explicit: more wow was needed in lessons and all topics should start and end with an “experience” - a veritable explosion of wow.

I like exploding volcanoes and the odd caveman day as much as the next overworked primary teacher, but planning lessons with the specific objective of making children gasp in astonishment leaves me cold.

I think it’s the implication that the subjects are in some way lacking and need a bit of jazzing up to make them palatable. A bit of window dressing can be helpful, but does anyone seriously believe no one in my class will learn anything about the Victorian era unless I teach it by gaslight with the kids all dressed as chimney sweeps?

The content provides the ‘wow’

A curriculum constructed around the need to wow misses the point. If the curriculum is good enough, the content will provide the wow. You don’t need a new angle on the Romans because, for the children learning it, chances are everything about the Romans is new and wondrous.

No amount of dressing up or food tasting can compete with the knowledge that the Spartans left their new born babies on the cliff tops, that the ancient Maya played a ball game where the losing captain was sacrificed to the gods and that the flowers found in Tutankhamun’s tomb still retained their scent - all facts that might just pass you by if you’re told them while retying your toga or eating your first fig.

Learning stuff is often enough to leave children open-mouthed. Know your topics well enough and you can draw a gasp of amazement armed with nothing more spectacular than a ruler.

Hands-on activities can be a great way to get a class engaged and excited, but they are not in themselves an end result.

There’s also the problem of time - searching for the wow takes time and energy. By the end of August, my social media will be awash with photographs of classroom reading corners created to resemble spaceships, woodland glades and fairy wonderlands. Maybe I’m jealous because my own reading corner resembles a shelf with books on it, but maybe, when it comes to reading corners, the books themselves are the main thing.

Behind the razzmatazz, I have a sneaking suspicion that the real wow factor lies in the mundane, everyday things - routines, times tables practice, reminders to use full stops and praise for when you do. In short, all the small things that make children feel safe and happy and keep them moving forward. If we want to wow them, maybe we should sit them down and teach them some amazing stuff. Then they can wow us back with some amazing work. Then we can celebrate by dressing as Vikings and roaring round the playground.


Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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