Let's take this outside

15th May 2015 at 01:00

"Can we work outside today?" ventures Frankie, prompting sounds of yearning from others in the class. They already know the answer. The request for an al fresco lesson is one of the familiar rituals of the summer term. It's like seasonal birdsong, a warbling you hear drifting from open classroom windows on sunny days. And the proposition is usually met with a brusque trill of refusal.

Next time, however, I might just surprise Frankie and Co. Maybe I will agree enthusiastically and lead my stunned audience outside. Such a reckless move would fly in the face of received wisdom on this matter. Unless an outdoor lesson forms a credible part of a course (artists sketching a litter bin, scientists making water rockets, and so on), school leaders generally consider that enjoying the sunshine sends out "the wrong message" and is an early sign of summer slackness. So we keep our doors firmly shut. If any are left open, we are all doomed.

Many of us are happy to go along with this. I am generally wary of "outside". I don't mind decamping at opportune moments in the year, but it's usually just for a few minutes. My Year 7 classes, for instance, perform a supposedly "no hitting or hurting" re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings, with Harold and his army traipsing across the school field to take on their foes.

As you might imagine, it's a lively affair. Last time, William of Normandy suffered a surprise defeat after retreating too rapidly into a concrete ping-pong table.

In one geography lesson, my class role-played as animals competing for ever-depleting food stocks.I won't be trying that one again.

These activities are, at best, on the behavioural brink, and the students and I are usually quite relieved to get back to a carnage-free classroom.

But what about simply transferring a "normal" lesson outside into the beckoning sunshine? My instincts still encourage me to stay indoors, especially as I now rely so heavily on the classroom triumvirate of computer, projector and screen.

How could I possibly teach without all those Word and PowerPoint files, without all those Google images and YouTube video clips? I'd feel almost naked without my support team. Far from embracing the sunshine, I spend a large amount of time blocking out the rays for the sake of that all-important projector image.

Surely I need to become more adaptable? There is no logical reason why four walls and a ceiling should be essential to effective teaching, except when it's raining. I have become far too stuck to that screen. Outside I could utilise walls and trees instead, and perhaps get the class to use a prevailing cloud shape as the outline for their summary notes. Somewhere at home we still have a child's blackboard easel.

It would do me good to get out; it would force me to think of a wider range of approaches, old and new. The lessons need not feature anything special, nothing high-risk. They would merely take place outside - a more natural place for us all to be in the mellow atmosphere of a summer's day. The students might even learn more. Maybe.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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