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A CPD `festival' in South Ayrshire revealed how active learning can add another - exciting - dimension to traditional methods of teaching, from downloading YouTube clips to provoke debate on stereotypes to pupils making their own board games to help with their swotting

A CPD `festival' in South Ayrshire revealed how active learning can add another - exciting - dimension to traditional methods of teaching, from downloading YouTube clips to provoke debate on stereotypes to pupils making their own board games to help with their swotting

Question: What do you call a continuing professional development event for 1,400 staff, offering 80 workshops on A Curriculum for Excellence, all delivered within six hours?

Answer: Some might call it a logistical nightmare, but South Ayrshire Council described it as a "festival".

Held at Belmont Academy, in Ayr, in the morning, and at Prestwick Academy in the afternoon, the event allowed teachers, nursery nurses and classroom assistants to attend two seminars each.

"The most important thing for me is that teachers are willing to share what they are doing, as far as A Curriculum for Excellence is concerned," said Margo Williamson, head of curriculum and service improvement in the children and community department.

Her job, until a year ago, was programme director of curriculum and assessment at Learning and Teaching Scotland, so she used the national perspective to create what she hoped would be a local version of the Scottish Learning Festival.

To her astonishment, the response was "enormous", with 80 people volunteering to share what they were doing in ACfE. "Some people think that CPD is going on a course - I think that's beginning to change," she said. A lot of people now buy into the vision "I learn better when I do it with colleagues".

So the day before the festival, which was a showcase of best practice, staff worked in groups in their own schools, discussing how to implement the final experiences and outcomes.

Davina Chalmers, depute head of Tarbolton Primary, illustrated in her workshop, "Money, Money, Money", that A Curriculum for Excellence need not mean a complete change of teaching practice. Along with nursery and early primary colleagues, she demonstrated active numeracy approaches they had always used for pre-five up to P2.

What had changed was the school's closer focus on tracking the children's progress, using observation charts which the teachers designed. The school would not be abandoning traditional learning methods, Ms Chalmers insisted: "Active learning is fantastic, but children still need to learn to be able to sit and focus on a written task, so we will continue to use the Heinemann programme. The philosophy in our school is that there must be a balance."

Helen Holdsworth, principal teacher of modern studies at Belmont Academy, transformed her approach to teaching pupils in her FoundationGeneral class - but not because of ACfE. In 2004, her school trip to the United States was led by tour director Russell Snow, a retired Texan banker who revealed what she believes is the essence of the "American dream" - the belief that it is up to them to make it work.

In a workshop entitled "If it is to be, it is up to me", she outlined how, after that visit, she took over the teaching of the Foundation modern studies class and transformed the pupils' attitudes and attainment.

In 2005, 60 per cent of her FoundationGeneral class passed modern studies Standard grade at Foundation and 20 per cent did not even turn up for the exam. By 2008, 63 per cent passed at General level and only two did not turn up; 10 scored Level 3 passes; eight are now sitting Intermediate 2 in S5, and two are sitting Higher.

Mrs Holdsworth has dispensed with workbooks and jotters, giving this class ring-binder folders with differentiated information sheets; they are not a Foundation class, she tells them - after October they will be working at General level - and she reels off the names of older pupils who have achieved General passes. "If you are aspirational for them, they will be aspirational for you," she argues.

She works on their literacy levels, and shows them clips from "Jack and Victor doing the Slosh" on YouTube to provoke discussion about stereotypes of the elderly for their Changing Society topic. She taps into as much ICT support as possible for those with learning support needs, and uses senior pupils as support assistants.

Mrs Holdsworth also uses games - one of her favourites is: "Here's the answer, what's the question?" which builds critical thinking skills. She teaches them exam strategies, such as AW - answer and why; AF - answer and fact; and PEE - point, example and explain.

She does a "working breakfast" once a week - roll and sausage and juice originally, now a plate of strawberries in line with the "health and well- being" climate. The senior management team would often appear at these classes - "on the cadge", says Mrs Holdsworth, but the kids were delighted that they were taking an interest in them. "It's effort, it's investment, it's time, but it's worth it," she sums up.


Sarah Harris, Teacher, Heathfield Primary, Ayr

"I did the `Creating music in the primary school' workshop. The presenter, Shona Mitchell, made me realise that the things I have done in the classroom are the things that are expected. She also provided good ideas about materials. I don't think an event like this is the only way to provide CPD, but my experience today was good - I am quite impressed."

Margo Anderson, Nursery nurse Muirhead Primary, Troon

"I went to the same workshop. Quite often, some of the courses are not relevant to nursery, but this was. It was good to see the progression to the upper school."

Peter Noble, Pupil support teacher Prestwick Academy

"I went to a workshop on games-based learning. I liked having a choice - the event was not as prescriptive as usual." (see opposite)

Shona Mitchell, Chemistry teacher Prestwick Academy

"I went to a session `Glow with chemistry', delivered by a probationer. It was definitely worthwhile. I exchanged emails to swap resources with other chemistry teachers there."

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