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'It’s a wonderful moment standing there on the edge of a learning cacophony'

In the latest instalment in a fortnightly series, one 'travelling teacher' remembers the heroism of Custard, King of the Vikings

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In the latest instalment in a fortnightly series, one 'travelling teacher' remembers the heroism of Custard, King of the Vikings

The fog clears and here we are.

It’s Year 3 in deep Bradford. The children have created a landscape of mountains and forests and we are developing our very own Viking Saga to meet some literacy requirement.

We require adventure and we have found it.

Earlier in the session, I had spoken as Orlav, King of the Vikings, and asked my finest sword makers to create for me a sword fit for a king. The children had leapt into this task on scraps of paper, creating for me an array of bejewelled and fearsome swords sketched out with freshly sharpened pencils. Some of those swords had three blades! They were most certainly appropriate for the king of the Vikings. We stuck them on the wall and admired our armoury. Later in the scheme of work, the armoury became the Viking Museum

"The time to use our armoury is coming. The mighty swords will strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. However, we do not just need swords," I suggest, "we will need shields."

Sitting at our tables, we agree that the shields need to show how fearsome we are. If we are going to design our shields, what do we need to think about?

The class look at me from their tables. There’s time to gather some ideas so we do. A "thinking list" is created and we quickly sketch out some ideas – time is ticking so we settle on the idea that the shields should be colourful. There’s a neat idea from one girl that if we all stand with our shields held in front of us, a jigsaw image is created of a huge snarling dragon. We are all buzzing on that idea.

Teacher problems

I have the downloaded instruction sheet that tells me how to make a Viking shield sitting on the teacher desk. I’d forgotten about it but grab it to check we’re on the right track. The children are enthusiastically chinwagging about dragon shields, sagas and swords and I’m aware that they are getting noisier. The teacher doesn’t seem to mind – she’s chatting along with them. It’s a nice moment standing there on the edge of a learning cacophony.

I look at the sheet. It’s proper bugging me. We are here in 2012 and I reckon this sheet was made at least 10 years before. It’s not even photocopied straight. And the clip art sucks the marrow of your very soul clean away. I’m pulled back to reality by several children suddenly gathered around me with their hands in the air and chanting my name.

"How are we doing?" I ask, unsure if I’m Mr Roberts or King Orlav.

"We’ve got a problem," says a boy.

"What’s your name?" I ask.

"Custard," he replies, without blinking. I feel both my eyebrows arch in surprise.

Without a breath, he continues. "Mr Roberts, we have a problem with the swords."

A little girl with plaits joins in, "Custard says that the swords are no good because they are blunt and we need them sharp."

I suddenly realise these children are invested into the idea. I reckon I could burn that worksheet and nobody would mind. Chuffin’ shields. A problem with blunt swords is a good problem to have when you are getting the children to think as Vikings. It’s like when you set up the Viking village and the water source dries up. Something is drinking the water from under our noses. Children like these little dilemmas. These glitches. These problems to solve. We need to go on a journey with our swords and shields. We need to go on a Saga.

Swords over worksheets 

I gather everyone together and we listen to Custard speak.

"The swords are blunt and they need sharpening. And we need to find out what’s taking our water." He’s a good little speaker that Custard.

"How do Vikings sharpen their swords?" I ask in a booming voice that wakes up the visiting school governor.

There is silence. Everything is up in the air. We haven’t actually made the shields but we have done so in our heads. The turgid worksheet is bypassed and buried.

"How do we sharpen them?" I ask again.

A little boy called Ashid raises his hand.

"Go on," I say.

He’s very well-spoken and his direction to us is clear:

"We sharpen our swords on the teeth of sleeping dragons."

And so, our adventure, our Saga, can begin.

And the fog descends.

I remember the children running to playtime, swords and shields held aloft, ready for encounters with dragons and dreams.

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer. He tweets as @hywel_roberts. Read his back catalogue

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