Creativity for control freaks

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Around the world in 180 days

Give or take the odd day, we spend about 180 working days with our bunch of young people - more than half the days of the calendar year. The pegs and tray labels carrying my pupils' photos look quite current, but I know that by the end of the year they will be out of date and parents will look at the photo of their child, exclaiming "haven't they grown!". The longer time span of an academic year offers a canvas on which to paint a different picture with our pupils. Two things that younger children are remarkably useless at is patience with tasks that take a while to achieve, and marking the passage of time. A year-long project can provide a backdrop against which both of these can happen.

One year, we kept a "Thought of the day" file on our classroom computer.

Each day, a different pupil plucked a thought from the meadow of their day and added it to the record. Some just wrote a word - "Butterflies". Others wrote cryptic phrases that were hard to understand on reflection - "Coo like a bird!" - but most provided a one-a-day diet of wisdom in kiddy-speak with gems like "Sense your senses", "Useless can be useful" or "A million whispers make a shout". You realise that some of the offhand comments you make go the deepest. At the end of the year, a print-out of the journal was given to each pupil. They reacted with a mixture of excitement, laughter and nostalgia. They spontaneously started signing each other's copies, a genuine end-of-year seal of approval.

This term, I'm doing the same sort of thing with photos. Each day, a different pupil has the job of recording the day in pictures. At the end of the afternoon, the class chooses one photo they feel best captures the day from their point of view. This will provide a photo bank of memories from which pupils can pick and choose the ones most pertinent to them.

The key to making this manageable is ensuring that daily contributions are simple and easily passed around the class. Colleagues with different strengths could develop year-long projects to produce artwork, embroidery, poetry, sculpture or any other creative outcome that can be the result of sustained effort. A leaf could be added to a tree each day, or a pattern with 180 sections to be coloured could mark passing time and allow pupils to see each day in the context of the year as a whole.

As the year-end approaches, the good and bad days will blur into a holiday haze. It will be hard to remember cold autumn days on June afternoons, but they all work together to make our year what it is. When my pupils take their old photos home and reflect on how far they have come this year, it would be nice if they remembered at least some of how they got there.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester

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