Spot the difference

4th February 2005 at 00:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Spot the difference

There's a very easy way to identify the visual learners in your class. Get your hair done and see who tells you: "You've had a hair cut!"

Unfortunately, observation is not always at a premium. I had just changed a display that had been up an embarrassingly long time and had, in its place, painted a rather glorious tooth, roots and all. After the register, I said, "Do you notice anything different in here?" The replies were all about things that had been done weeks before. Finally, someone spotted it, making me realise how much the room was taken for granted.

We work hard to make our classrooms visually stimulating. Interactive displays, key vocabulary, place value charts, 100 squares, quality work and many other things are put up in the hope it will improve pupils learning by osmosis, simply absorbing knowledge by being in the same room. The problem is it can all just become visual "noise" that pupils filter out. Little and often is more likely to stick. I just can't change it dramatically and frequently so I had to come up with some other way of drawing pupils'

attention to what is around them.

A discussion with a friend led to the idea of making our classrooms living versions of those "spot the difference" cartoons you find in comics. The idea was that each day, when the pupils came in, something would be different. I decided I would always do Mondays and then the pupil who spotted it first could come in a few minutes early the next day to get something ready, and so on. I tried something really obvious: I changed the Literacy Key Vocabulary and Numeracy Key Vocabulary titles over. It took until lunchtime for it to be noticed, and then only because I dropped a massive hint. The next day, Tyler swapped 76 for 67 on the 100 square and they got it within seconds.

Now, along with the other morning routines, pupils are running their eyes around the room, desperate to be the one to spot the difference. With most wanting to keep any discoveries to themselves, it's not too disruptive and I have the satisfaction of knowing that every word and digit on every display comes under scrutiny.

When it comes to making the difference themselves, pupils are much more subtle than I would dare be.

But I'm saving my trump card: one day, I'll wear a different tie. That'll get 'em.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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