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Creativity for control freaks

Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week:

At one with the environment

One of my favourite things about visits to museums or places of worship is the instant reduction in volume as a class walks through the door. The environment whispers in their ears as they enter, telling of history, reverence and respect. In response, they whisper to each other, and for a few golden moments, there is a harmony between visitors and visited. Soon it will be broken by a request for the toilet or the shop, but until then, that indefinable "awe and wonder" is actually tangible.

I wouldn't want to establish a classroom that elicited a similar response, but these visits remind me that my classroom also whispers in the ears of pupils and they will respond in kind. Once the "instant" displays for the beginning of the year have done their job, I try to introduce visual stimuli that will provoke desired qualities in the class such as creativity, questioning, respect and affirmation.

This year's classroom has less display space than I'm used to, so I'll mark a section off and begin with a photo and a question. It's changed weekly, and pupils begin to look for it, particularly if time is set aside towards the end of the week to discuss the image and the question. I'll see if an interactive element can be added with a pile of Post-it Notes for pupils to write their responses.

In time, the pictures become topical, either to the curriculum, the season or world events, with the questions also evolving as pupils become more used to sharing their thoughts. I put pots of growing herbs near the display to stimulate the senses. Pupils can rub the leaves and season their thoughts with the scent.

Once pupils have a respect for this process, I set up a "tree of hope", although this year it might be a "bush of hope". Pupils can write their hopes on leaf-shaped paper and stick them on. A "wishing well" can be just as successful. Pupils throw coins into a bowl of water, recording their wish in a book if they want to. Every so often, we look at the book again for any progress on what has been written. At the end of the year, we give the pennies to a charity.

The way time is allocated in the classroom shapes pupils' beliefs about what is valued, so if I give time for a talk about the display, an importance is attached to it as pupils share their thoughts. Just like plants, the more space I give to these thoughts, the more they flourish. It would be good to think that in years to come, pupils will feel they had flourished in my classroom. Just as when pupils retell their experience of museum visits, you sense a flavour of the place in their words. Then they might forgive me for never letting them go to the shop.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester

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