Global creativity for control freaks

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: The personal project

My first was on the Tower of London, my second on the kings and queens of England. I bet if you think about it, you can remember what yours was on.

When you remember I'll bet you something else. I bet it was in a big pink landscape book.

I'm talking, of course, about the primary school rite of passage that is the personal project. How many boxes in how many attics are lined with dog-eared project books, full of pictures from magazines and postcards from museums? We all did them and even though they were probably not filled with ground-breaking research, I bet we all learned something that we can remember to this day.

Thirty years ago it was called a "topic". Now, a project which is chosen by the pupil, driven by independent desire to learn, and recorded in a manner of the pupil's own choosing, is called "personalised learning". Of course, it all depends on how it is structured. I got a feeling, even as a seven-year-old, that when my teacher said: "Do a bit on your topic," what they meant was, "That's all I can think of for you to do, so go and keep yourself busy."

The driving force then was the subject of my research. The Tower of London captured my imagination and I loved the chance to read about gory executions and expensive jewels. The kings and queens of England was the same. I can still picture the drawing I did of King Alfred getting his ears boxed for burning the cakes, and how Miss Bolt explained to me what that phrase meant.

So what's this got to do with anything creative or global? Well, it seems kids haven't changed since I was one. If they have a topic they are interested in, they want to work on it in a way that suits them. As the world is opened up to pupils, photos and souvenirs start flooding in and they begin to find an attachment to distant places. The natural development is to give them time and a big pink book to record their learning. I give pupils who don't have an obvious link to a particular region the chance to choose somewhere they have an interest in or buddy up with someone else to do some joint research.

Time in the library, quiet times, reading times and some of those other spare minutes at the beginnings and ends of sessions are now filled with children scribbling information down, finishing the picture of a pyramid or putting the finishing touches to the Italian flag. The internet used well is excellent, but ICT can confuse with too much information and I've seen pupils rediscover an appreciation of colourful books that lay information out simply. After all, what would "ear boxing" throw up on clip art?

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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