More than child's play

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
Out have gone worksheets and formal desks. In has come "playful learning"

for P1 pupils - writing in glitter and learning maths by bingo.

At Burnside Primary in Ruther-glen, the emphasis is on active rather than passive learning. Kevin Kelman, the headteacher, says that the changes are still very much a work in progress.

The impetus was an HMIE report last year which urged the school to provide P1-2 classes with more choice in and responsibility for their learning. So, to build on their pupils' pre-five experiences, the teachers visited nurseries and other schools which were doing more play-based learning.

"What we decided to do differently was to focus on maths and English, but using a different approach," Mr Kelman said. "For instance, rather than the children lining up on their first day of P1, we followed the nursery practice, where parents settle them in for the first three weeks."

Perhaps the most radical move was to do away with chairs and tables, or any identified learning space. Activities are done on the floor or at tables.

Workbooks and worksheets have been thrown away, although the Oxford reading scheme is still followed, albeit differently.

"We wanted learning to be more fun and less formalised," Mr Kelman said.

"The other big difference is that the teacher might start with the whole class in an interactive learning session, but then, rather than say 'the blue group do this', she lets them choose where they want to do their learning."

Different activities include analysing letter sounds using everything from Playdo to lentil boxes made in a letter-sound outline; bingo; card games and pictures that correspond to initial sounds which allow them to move on to blending, and then making words; lacing cards and rainbow writing; and whiteboard activities that are more adult-led.

Wendy Stephen, who has been teaching P1 for seven years, finds the children more engaged and focused: "We are not bogged down with workbooks and worksheets and can concentrate on their understanding of concepts. We can move at their pace."

The choice and activity-based learning allow the middle and bottom end of the class to keep up, while the top end can be stretched by the teachers adapting the games to push them.

Mr Kelman, who is doing research work at Strathclyde University, suggests that teaching methodology, rather than the age children start school, is the real issue.

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