Find the plot

7th August 2015 at 01:00

The end of my first full year as a teacher gave me plenty of cause to reflect - and to blub over wonky handmade thank you cards, feel exhausted and be revolted by the stuff I found underneath the drawers and on the surfaces after three terms in a P2 classroom.

I asked my motley crew of noisy, bouncy six- and seven-year-olds to say what they had most enjoyed about their learning this year. Almost all of them talked about two interdisciplinary projects: one in the first term based on the novel Cakes in Space and another in the third term about the Romans and Celts who would have lived in our area during the expansion of the Roman Empire.

Thinking back on these projects gave me a light-bulb moment about the value of narrative. As teachers, we aim to design relevance and coherence into learning, and to ensure that children are as engaged as possible. I have found that narrative is key to this. If there is a story at the heart of what you do, suddenly everything is tied together in a pleasingly uncontrived way.

Cakes in Space - which I highly recommend for five- to eight-year-olds - is about a girl named Astra and her family, who are leaving Earth to live on another planet. It provided context for exploring science, technology, expressive arts, literacy, maths and social sciences in our lessons.

In September last year, around the time of the Scottish independence referendum, it even enabled us to run our own interplanetary referendum to decide whether, if we were setting up a society on a new planet, we would take the rulebook from home or opt to govern ourselves when we got there.

It was the story that drew all this learning together and made it exciting and meaningful for the children, who had developed a strong relationship with the characters. Months later, they still remembered every detail and were thrilled to watch the author Philip Reeve and illustrator Sarah McIntyre talk about the book in a live BBC and Scottish Book Trust online event.

I was initially worried about how to make the Romans and Celts project real and exciting for such a young class, so I asked every child to develop their own Celtic character. Their learning was then linked to these characters' lives. Again, it was the narrative element - the ongoing story - that drew the children into the learning, making it coherent and personal, and maintaining their interest long after the project was complete.

It can be tempting to design these kinds of interdisciplinary projects around a simple theme. But as I go into next year, particularly since I work with younger children, I will keep looking for fantastic new stories to put at the heart of our learning adventures.

Susannah Jeffries (@MrsJTeaches) completed her probationary year at Strathdevon Primary School in Clackmannanshire. Next year she will be working in Fife

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