At their best first thing in the morning

9th December 1994 at 00:00
MARY ANNE YOUNG TELLS HOW SHE TEACHES. Name: Mary Anne Young Age: 33 School: Cadishead Junior School, Salford Post: Deputy head, Year 6 teacher responsible for assessment, language, art, home-school links Every morning, Mary Anne Young's Year 6 pupils spend the first half-hour of lesson time doing a series of brain-testing exercises - spelling (five new words every day), handwriting, sums (40 in three minutes at the beginning of term, rising to 80 by the end) - before the day's "real" work begins.

When deputy head Mary Anne first went public about these activities, her colleagues were astonished. "When the children come to my class," said one, "they must think they're on holiday!" They do, Mary Anne admits, feel exhausted by the end of term. So does she. And that, she believes, justifies the method. "It develops their ability to learn, through routine and method. It gets their brain alert, increases their capacity to remember, and they can then apply it to maths and English. It may be terribly rigid and formal, but the children latch on to the routine and it really works."

Mary Anne is a great believer in doing what works - for herself and for the children - not just copying the latest trend or following in everyone else's footsteps. When she was a probationer at Cadishead, she was "appalled" at the diet of reading offered to her Year 3 and 4 children. "They were very language impoverished. They weren't doing grammar or spelling or creative writing, and there were very few textbooks or resources." So she plucked up courage and introduced poetry, a project that generated school-wide displays, reading and drama work.

Such stories typify her feisty approach. Although Cadishead is in a deprived inner city area, she demands as much from the children as if they were in Cheltenham where she trained 11 years ago at St Paul and St Mary College.

"My philosophy is that children need to use their brains. And they can do it. By the end of the year, they're lapping it up. They say, 'We didn't think we could do this'. I really push them hard - and I'm always thinking of ways to push them further."

But is it worth the effort, when many of the children's parents are second generation unemployed and it's a likely fate for them? "No matter how deprived the children are, we still have an obligation to deliver this broad-balanced, differentiated curriculum as well as possible - just as the children have a right to it."

Influenced by her mother, a PE teacher who has taught from nursery to top secondary, Mary Anne did junior education at college, and returned to the 210-pupil, eight staff, Cadishead as a scale 2 art and drama teacher before being promoted to deputy head three years ago. She is currently writing her Manchester Metropolitan University MEd dissertation on the development of reading.

One of the major challenges to teachers today, she believes, is how to motivate children. "They're so stimulated by other media, they increasingly lack the skills to listen, motivate themselves, and be stimulated by speech alone. They need to be visually stimulated all the time. So you have to provide as many varied stimuli as possible, identify each child's strengths and build on that."

She is always on the lookout for new teaching methods. But if something doesn't work, she's not afraid to drop, or adapt, it. Which is what she did when the school introduced the T2MG (Scottish Primary Maths Groups) scheme. "I did it religiously for 18 months. But I found the bright children were being held back and the poor ones were copying. It all went to pot when children were away.

"We weren't doing any of them justice. And I was running myself ragged. So I brought it up with the rest of the staff, said it wasn't working and I was going to adapt it so each child could do it at his or her own rate. After all, we teach reading individually, so why not maths? There was a great hue and cry. But I turned it round, and now most of the others do it the way I do."

Her own teaching style is, she admits, "incredibly formal". Children sit in rows facing the blackboard, because "I like eye contact and they're easier to control." But she does move them around for drama, music, practical science and art. "I let them work co-operatively and collaboratively - they need to be given the opportunity to develop leadership and team skills - but there are times when they have to sit down and work on their own.

"All too often in group work, the brightest child does the work and the others copy. I'd rather have a poor piece of work which the child has done itself and of which it can be proud, than a good copy from the bright child next door. " Organisation is Mary Anne's keyword. "I have a set, established routine. They do almost everything in the same way, particularly at the beginning of the day, because they work better in the mornings. I like everything to follow on and have a place, and I try to make the children think the same way."

Last year, she introduced assertive discipline - an American system of positive recognition of good behaviour. Children are publicly thanked and earn rewards like notes, certificates and badges for good behaviour, accrue "consequences" - including phone calls home and visits to the head - for bad.

As a result, not only do the children feel 10ft tall when praised, parents - who are regularly notified about their offsprings' behaviour - are likely to prove more co-operative and supportive next time the child misbehaves. When first introduced, assertive discipline reduced disruption in lessons by almost 80 per cent. "There are still two or three hardcore offenders in school, but that's opposed to five or six in each class. " She also believes firmly in peer observation and teacher appraisal - Salford was one of the Government's pilot areas for the scheme, Cadishead one of the pilot schools. "I've found it very, very beneficial to sit in and constructively criticise and praise. You have to be fairly confident about your style. But you should also know where you could benefit from criticism.

"I'm constantly evaluating my performance and thinking, could that have been better?".

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