Outstanding from O TO G

10th February 2012 at 00:00
Award-winning teacher Kelly Wood has been speaking internationally on ways to be more engaging in the classroom. Here, she gives her personal guide to creating captivating lessons for children of all abilities

Ois for ownership

Giving children more ownership of their learning is vital if you want them to have a deeper level of engagement with and understanding of their education.

The Mantle of the Expert approach devised by West Yorkshire teacher Dorothy Heathcote is a fantastic way to do this. It involves children becoming "experts" and leading their own learning. Not only does this bring about higher levels of engagement, but it also allows children to be independent and more productive.

At our school in West Yorkshire the children were set the challenge of creating a Second World War museum for the local community. They were given the freedom to decide which aspects of the topic they would like to research and present in the museum (with strategic nudges from me to ensure coverage, progression and continuity).

In effect, what they came up with was the plan for the term, so they had huge ownership of the teaching and learning. Of course, the risk was that the outcomes of the learning would not be as good but, with subtle management, the results were much better than expected. We had elements of history communicated through poetry, discussions, descriptions, art, dance and role play.

The Royal British Legion visited as special guests and the museum was a great success. Feedback from parents confirmed that taking a risk and allowing the children to lead the learning was indeed worth it. Outstanding teachers should always be on the lookout for such creative learning experiences.

Uis for understanding pupils

This is at the heart of high-performing schools. Knowing what ignites your children's imaginations and motivation to learn should be at the centre of every learning experience. Building on their interest is the key to high levels of engagement and to finding ways to hook them into learning.

Films, video games, visuals, drama and even face paint are great ways to add a sprinkle of excitement to lessons and make the children feel valued as learners. Building positive interactions with the children, based on mutual respect and understanding, helps to secure a teacher-pupil relationship that creates a climate of high expectation.

Our pupils used their creative skills to make rainforest animal masks, which were then worn during rainforest- inspired dances. This captured their imagination, developed their creative talents and helped to enhance the overall effect of the dance routines.

Tis for time management

A good work-life balance is something we all strive for. Teaching becomes such a huge part of your life that it can become all-consuming. However, the most important aspect of time management must be how we manage the teaching and learning experiences.

Pace is a huge element of outstanding lessons. If you are aiming to use the time effectively, you must ensure that the children have the opportunity to work collaboratively and independently. Allowing the children to "do" from the start sets the right pace for the lesson.

Sis for sense of humour

We have a team of people who are not afraid to laugh at themselves. For our celebration of World Book Day we dressed as key characters, including our head as Little Red Riding Hood and me as Harry Potter (pictured above)

Adding an extra dimension to lessons can be achieved by dressing up and becoming a character. During one lesson where the children were recreating the atmosphere of the past, I burst into the classroom as a victim of the Blitz, with fake blood dripping from my leg and face, wearing authentic clothes and acting distressed. The children were captivated and the outcomes of learning were way beyond my expectations because of their engagement.

On other occasions, I have dressed up as an airline pilot and joined in with all the pupils as we became the aliens from the film Avatar.

Tis for target setting

We teach in an education system that is heavily based on targets and, therefore, whether we like it or not, they have to be a part of the teaching and learning experience. Fully understanding what each level looks like helps you ensure that the teaching and learning is pitched at the right difficulty in every subject.

Involving the children in this process helps ensure that they take responsibility for their learning - and aim high. Target setting must be specific, personalised and manageable.

We involve the children in every aspect of assessing, monitoring and target setting to ensure that they have ownership of their learning. And not just in the core subjects. This has helped to raise standards in foundation subjects especially and allows us, as practitioners, to demonstrate the progress and value that has been added across the curriculum.

Ais for Awe

Magical moments in the classroom can allow the children to develop their sense of wonder about the world. So it is worth planning ways to include them. Science is a great context for this as it allows the children to test ideas as scientists and, sometimes, be surprised by what happens.

The Magic Science materials produced by Dr Mark (www.dr-mark.co.uk) include ideas that challenge children's thinking and illustrate fantastic practical activities for the classroom.

In one experiment, the children see what happens when vinegar and bicarbonate of soda are mixed together. It is simple but effective (and even better when balloons are fastened to milk bottles to demonstrate CO2 being released).

It is important to plan for new experiences using new ideas. Building on children's talents and interests is a great way to make sure every learning moment is used.

I am passionate about dance and movement. There is no better reward for a teacher than to see a child develop in confidence and self-esteem - and the performing arts are a great vehicle for this.

We try to ensure the children have a wealth of experiences, which often spark new talents and passions. New ideas also relate to learning outside the classroom. We invest a huge amount of time in educational visits, trying to bring learning to life: excursions to museums and the theatre; days in the life of the Tudors, Romans and Victorians; and even a trip to Barcelona to develop children's understanding of European culture and their Spanish-speaking skills. The Open Futures Grow It, Cook It, Film It, Ask It project also equips our pupils with real-life skills to prepare them for the future.

Developing pupil voice can also help to ensure that children are fit for their future. The Investor in Pupils award (www.investorsinpupils.org.uk) is a great way to strengthen pupil voice and contribution to the strategic direction of the school. It has helped us create secure behaviour systems and formalised how we celebrate success and achievements. It has also helped strengthen classroom systems and give children responsibility.

Dis for dynamic

Inspiring children requires a dynamic approach, which is often the reason that teachers feel tired at the end of the day.

Children respond better when the teacher is engaging - it helps grab their attention and motivate them to participate fully. Energetic styles help create an exciting learning environment and encourage pupils to be confident and expressive. When children see that their teachers are prepared to take risks, they feel safe to have a go. Dynamic teaching helps create a school that buzzes with energy, passion and a real love of learning.

I is for inspiration

Ensuring that the curriculum is inspiring requires creativity. This can be achieved through the use of video and other media, and alternative teaching styles.

Tim Rylands' website (www.timrylands.com) is a fantastic resource for inspirational ways to use ICT. I have used the Myst Exile series - which makes a computer game the stimulus for writing - for years. Not only do children immerse themselves in the fictional worlds, but the quality of their writing demonstrates how high levels of engagement can lead to impressive achievements.

Nis for never giving up

High expectations are at the heart of outstanding teaching and learning. You have to be relentless and never give up.

We say it is all about having a "steel hand in a velvet glove". We create a climate where the children know that we are unwilling to settle for anything but their best. Sometimes this can be challenging, but it really does lead to outstanding progress for every child in the class. Our school motto is "Be the best that you can be".

For me, children's artistic creations epitomise the importance of challenging them to produce high-quality work. It requires resilience, drive, determination and energy from all those involved.

Gis for grounded

Whatever is going on at school, it should always be grounded in a simple question: "Is this helping to raise standards for the children?"

Having an understanding of this mindset will help to ensure that achievement is high. Yes, "all-singing, all-dancing" lessons help create a climate of enthusiasm and excitement, but there are also times when it is appropriate for children to "get their head down" and work independently.

Learning need not always be "fun". It must allow the children to develop as learners. After all, some aspects of the curriculum will never be seen as entertaining; it is our job to deliver them creatively to ensure that the children learn - and well.

Kelly Wood is assistant head at Southdale CofE Junior School, West Yorkshire and won the Teaching Award for Outstanding New Teacher of the Year in 2010. www.teachingawards.com.

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