Douglas really took off when the subject turned to birds, recalls Maggie Smithson

10th June 2005 at 01:00
When they moved into Year 2, my class was already involved in a project called the Home School Knowledge Exchange, aimed at bridging the gap between what children learn formally and informally.

Many children have different personas at home from the ones they have in school, and this was a great way to get to know them better. I wanted to link the project with developing and motivating creative writing, so I took up the idea of shoeboxes.

Someone at school has a daughter who works in a shoe shop, so we were able to collect enough boxes. The children were asked to collect things, such as special stones or crystals, found objects or items that meant a lot to them, put them in their boxes and bring them back to school to use in a story. I also asked them to decorate the boxes.

One little boy, Douglas, was bright and well-behaved but reserved and hard to reach. I felt I didn't know him very well. There are some kids who tell you everything, and you know all about their home life. Then there are children like Douglas with whom it's very difficult to build a relationship. And much of the class appeared to feel the same way.

When the children brought back their boxes, it was amazing. Some were wonderfully decorated and full of interesting objects. Douglas hadn't put much effort into decorating his box, and he hadn't collected much stuff either. But what he did bring was excellent.

He brought feathers from his lovebirds and some photographs, which were beautiful. He then talked passionately about birds to the whole class. It was astonishing. Here was this quiet little boy standing in front of everyone, answering questions like an expert. The children were so interested you could have heard a pin drop.

He followed it up by writing a wonderful non-fiction piece about birds, but, more importantly, he'd presented it to the other children successfully, giving his confidence a real boost. The other children had seen him as a class expert and he ended up with a much higher profile as a result. His status rose.

Maggie Smithson has been teaching for 19 years. She currently works at Sefton Park infants school, Bristol. She was talking to Su Clark. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email

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