Creativity for control freaks

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
In his new column, Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it.

This week: taking the register

As the start of the academic year approaches, the excitement of starting a new job in a new school is building up. That "new boy" feeling swept over me in waves as the summer progressed, with the knowledge that at the end of this raging torrent of nerves would come the waterfall of the first day.

I'll be in good company. Even though they will know the school better than I do, and probably more of their classmates' names, my class and I will be sailing over that precipice in the same boat. What we need is something familiar, something everyone can understand, to start our time together, and the first rock I will cling to is the register.

If initially it is a welcome old friend, the register will be the first brick in the wall of creativity that I hope to build in the coming weeks. I don't do breathtaking things in the early days. Getting changed for PE is about as risky as it gets; instead we concentrate on the everyday structures and routines that will act as a scaffold for classroom management in more hazardous days ahead.

Equally, I want to whet my new class's appetite for doing things differently. The register is one of the few things that I can be sure I'll be doing on both the first and the last day of the academic year, so it is a good vehicle for setting early expectations alongside the promise of future excitement.

The morning register tends to be a tone-setting exercise, with pupils engaged in morning tasks or pre-assembly rituals, so it is in the afternoon, when there is usually less pressure to move on to other things, that variety can spice up the roll-calling.

The first key to unleashing pupils' creativity is to reveal your own, so I play to my strengths. I have tried:

* asking them to reply with a score out of 10 for their lunchtime;

* singing their names and asking them to sing the reply back;

* asking them to write a message to me on their whiteboards and show it to me when I show them their name on my whiteboard;

* calling their name in a high voice and asking them to reply in a low voice;

* giving them a question, such as:"What is your favourite pizza topping?";

* asking them to reply to their name with a mime that shows what they did at lunchtime.

This year, I thought it would be the perfect way to introduce a foreign language, perhaps making the questions and answers more sophisticated as the year progresses.

There will be some who take advantage - and that's OK. Until the boundaries are tested, pupils don't know where to stop, and that will be crucial knowledge if they are to become more independent in their learning.

Most of the class will love it though. They will respond with enthusiasm, coming up with their own suggestions. They will begin to suspect that even the mundane, everyday tasks in my class are not going to be mundane every day.

= Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester

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