Risk Strategies

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Just what is it that entitles a lesson to a high Ofsted rating? Detailed, scrupulous planning, in line with Ofsted criteria, may guarantee "safe" but not necessarily sparkling teaching. The geography lesson shown here was successful because detailed planning had translated into a notable learning experience.

The teacher "took a risk" by taking the pupils outdoors ("risks" can also be taken in the classroom!) with the possibility of losing control over them. In the process, however, she demonstrat ed awareness of the surest ways in which young children learn - through first-hand experience, providing opportunities for active learning via observation or investigation of a familiar environment, and through building on their previous experience. She guarded against the risk of pupils treating the lesson as just another playtime by making them keenly aware of the purpose of the expedition and the expected outcomes.

The lesson comprised a judicious mix of class and large and small group activity and an effective balance of teacheradult input, pupil contribution and open-ended learning opportunities. There was strong teaching support, allowing for intensive interaction between an informed adult and manageable groups of pupils. The pupils were set challenging learning tasks (such as being required to match photographs to physical features) which exemplifies

high, but realistic, expectations on the teacher's part.

Resource provision, in terms of materials for investigation and for completion of tasks, was of a very high standard. Parent-helpers had been briefed and were aware not only of their responsibilities, but also of the purpose of the lesson and the intended outcomes. Investigation tasks were very carefully focused, requiring children to observe, reflect and discuss, knowing that their ideas and responses were being recorded.

Because of the nature of the central learning task, all the children were able to contribute to the plenary discussion, but the group activities were differentiated. The teacher had the confidence to extend the activity into a sequence of lessons as she realised that her expectations, the children's involvement and the complexity and potential of the learning tasks called for more time. Not least, there was evidence of an infant teacher's perennial awareness of her pupils' needs in her readiness to stop everything so that they could have a drink!

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