Risky business

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Add some adventure in class, advises Jenifer Smith. Heck, you might even enjoy it!

Passion, personality and experience. The inspiration for stimulating lessons does not have to come from the national curriculum-linked education resources.

Too many teachers rely on commercially-produced lesson plans that do not allow for all elements of good teaching and learning. With the increasing demands on teachers, there is a tendency to view such resources as a means to an end. The children undertake the task, the box is ticked.

But children are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge, but rather ships that float on the sea of life, the journey as important as the destination. There is a point at which lesson plans should be changed in order to meet the class halfway.

Look at the lonely hearts columns. Don't panic, I am not advocating that all NQTs should find a "mate" - though raising the pulse by something other than the stress of teaching is not a bad idea. However, these ads remind us of real life: human interests and needs which are essential to development. The most common request is for a GSOH (good sense of humour, just in case you really don't read them), and "a sense of adventure" (I'll try anything once). The messages here are clear: we all need to have a laugh, get involved and do something outrageous now and again. Educationists stress that learning should involve an element of risk. Surely we can't expect children to risk getting it wrong unless the teacher is also prepared to do so.

Routines and structured activities are important, but there is a difference between providing appropriate learning experiences and boring your pupils to death. While we are not substitute children's entertainers, learning should be fun.

Ask the children what they enjoy anduse a range of stimuli as a starting point. A creative approach may be frightening at times, but when I invited my Year 6 class to stand on the tables and recite poetry - yes, I did "borrow" the idea from Dead Poets' Society - it was exhilarating for everyone. The children expressed themselves eloquently and their written responses were beautifully articulated.

Having a belly laugh with the class joker also helps establish the teacher as a good leader. Risking making a fool of yourself can build respect and understanding more than many pre-wrapped lessons. I recently taught complex sentences. I found some pre-prepared activities and introduced the task. A few children grasped the idea quickly, but many looked confused. I grabbed some classroom objects and explained that we would use these props to invent some sketches - the children suddenly became enthusiastic again and we put together a complex sentence to describe the action.

A sense of adventure can lead to success. Focusing on a problem can make it worse. Children who are reluctant to write, for example, can feel overwhelmed. Reading schemes and phonic teaching, however, can make language fun. Several of my low-ability pupils make progress once they no longer feel they are being "formally" taught. I worked with one Year 5 group to produce our version of the Holiday programme. The children were keen to write the script and practise interview techniques, and their written and spoken language skills improved enormously.

While the Government has provided a sound structure, its methodology should not be to the detriment of professional intuition and flexibility. Sharing your enthusiasm for a subject and taking risks are essential - you might even enjoy yourself.

Jenifer Smith has been a supply teacher in inner London

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