Termly topics inspire 'Oscar'-winners

7th January 2011 at 00:00
A creative approach to Curriculum for Excellence is helping primary pupils in Dumbarton to find their own unique wavelengths for learning

Superman, batman and Dave Ross of Your Radio are hard acts to follow. But the jolly guy in the red suit gets easily the biggest cheer of the day in the packed school hall at Dalreoch Primary's end-of-term awards.

Despite Santa's presence, this is not a Christmas show, explains the Dumbarton school's acting headteacher Marjorie Smith from the stage, after every Primary 1-4 pupil has come up to receive an Oscar.

"They got these awards because they've done so well," she says. "Yet what you've seen of their work next door is nothing out of the ordinary for us. It's what they have been doing all term."

TV and media was last term's topic, but the children have learnt much more than that - in science, art, language, maths, ICT - she says. They have improved their communication and developed their performing skills.

They have also been heading down different tracks from those planned by the teachers. "The children took the initiative. They have been encouraged to develop their own ideas and use their own words to create things that they can be proud of."

Which sounds great from a pupil perspective, but tricky perhaps for the teachers.

These term topics do take time to prepare, says Lynn Deeney, who teaches P1 skills, but this is the second year of Curriculum for Excellence at Dalreoch, so they have had time to develop methods that work.

One key element is team-teaching to their two learning communities, Leven (P1-4) and Clyde (P5-7), featured in last year's TESS (February 12). These are used for most subjects, with basic language and maths skills taught separately to year groups. Another vital component is co-operative learning, where each child is given a role such as timer, encourager or reporter.

"They have a social task and an academic task. They succeed or fail as a group. No one is left out. Everyone contributes," says Rachel Brennan, who teaches skills to P4, as well as the P1-P4 community.

Which is why both teachers take issue with the recent research by Stirling University academics at Monifieth High, suggesting inclusion is a concern in CfE because pupils are not getting the support, reinforcement and "step-by-step focus on content" that was so prominent in the past (TESS, December 10).

"I completely disagree," says Mrs Deeney, who also teaches the P1-4 community. "Our children work with so many adults and other children on so many activities. Every child gets a chance to shine. With the old curriculum, children could easily struggle because you were sticking rigidly to 5-14.

"But now we adapt in response to what the children tell us. We maintain eagerness to learn and build confidence. It is more inclusive."

Being responsive to children's interests comes at a price, says Mrs Brennan. "For this term, we had planned a range of activities - local radio, films, animation, lots of science - and related them to the experiences and outcomes for every curricular area. But some activities caught their interest and grew arms and legs."

Most notable of these was the DVD the children put together about their school. "They interviewed all the teachers, without telling us they were going to," says Mrs Deeney. "That was nerve-wracking.

"It does take time to plan to teach this way. It is harder at first. If the children come up with something new, you have to prepare new resources. But the more you do Curriculum for Excellence, the easier it gets - and you see the payoff in the classroom."

That part is easier for the teacher, agrees Mrs Brennan. "Once it's working, I can look around a class and see them all engrossed, all with jobs to do. Quite often, they don't come to me at all."

She laughs. "Nine times out of 10 I'm not needed."



While the younger pupils take the plaudits, smartly-dressed older colleagues mingle with guests, offering cocktail sausages and vol- au- vents. Kyle Furphy (P7) stops to explain that all Dalreoch pupils do topics, not just the junior school.

"Last term, we did World War 2. This term it's shipbuilding.

"It's a lot more fun than sitting with a textbook and a teacher. You can learn from a book, but you learn better if you talk to somebody or they show you something."

In the next room, Ryan Bailey (P2) is showing his parents and both grandmothers his Gruffalo work. "We wrote scripts for the DVD. We all had a different part of the school to write about."

His mum and dad were a little anxious, they say, when they heard how Dalreoch would tackle Curriculum for Excellence, with young children taking more responsibility and working with older pupils and adults. "Ryan was only four when he started school," says Nicola Bailey. "So there was a big age gap. But it's amazing the difference in him. It's done a lot for his confidence."

It's as if a barrier has come down, adds Andrew Bailey, "especially when you see his interaction with adults and older people outside the school. That's been a great benefit."

With such a big change in teaching methods, communication is vital, he believes. "There is a good flow of information between this school and parents. On days like this, everybody knows each other and the staff are approachable."

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