The children at Tuckswood - a school at the heart of a socially deprived community - are delightful, mostly well behaved and engaging, with supportive parents. But it was not always so. We have been working hard for eight years to develop the school as a true community of enquiry. We've had a few staff changes but have never lost sight of our focus: an organisation where children and adults can gain knowledge, skills and understanding through questioning and enquiry in an atmosphere that is supportive, exciting and energising.
Creative, critical and reflective thinking is at the heart of what we do, and much of our early training for teaching and support staff concerned our use of questioning. We work in an inclusive way, with all children feeling that a question is for them to find an answer for, and that their response will be valued. Staff are skilful questioners: they help children explain, clarify, justify and be creative and lateral in their thinking. We give children thinking time and encourage every child to "have an answer ready".
They also use "scribble pads" or small whiteboards to try out their answers. We don't always use "hands up" as a signal that a child has an answer; if a question has been asked of everybody, a variety of children will be chosen to share their answers. If a child does not have an answer ready, he or she is given more thinking time and expected to give an answer.
As they learn about how they learn and think, they become more aware of their learning needs and can identify what they need to do if their "brain switches off". For example, they understand why they need to sip water, take time to think, be comfortable and take "break states".
What are break states? Children have free use of their water bottles during learning time; they can talk to a friend about their work; they can take an exercise break - perhaps do a brain gym-style movement. And they can stop and refocus on another task if they need to.
We do not run a formal breakfast club, but children who have not eaten at home are given something at school as part of our nurture work and to make them ready for learning. Our pupils have always had a mid-morning break for milk or juice (no fizzy drinks), and we introduced fruit or a cereal bar (no chocolate or biscuits) two years ago. Children are noticeably more alert afterwards.
For the past three years one of our learning support assistants has used brain gym at a lunch club. We've seen great improvements in many children's co-ordination and learning focus as a result. We also teach mind-mapping, something which appeals to our visual learners. We use it to determine what children know about a subject, to help them organise their thoughts and remember information, and to assess their learning from a lesson or project.
All this work is supported and sustained by continuing professional development. Last year, one staff member spent a week in Malta with trainers from the Edward de Bono Research Centre. We've since used many of the strategies she learned, especially with our youngest children.
Reception children really enjoy a "CAF" (consider all factors) on the question "What if adults came to school and children stayed at home?" We ask three questions when we evaluate new initiatives - from national or local sources. What difference will this make for the children? What will this look like in practice in the classroom or school? How will it link into the big picture that is our "vision" for our school?
Sue Eagle is head of Tuckswood community first school in Norwich