Games that teach children the skills they need to learn independently could bring curriculum subjects together in new ways. Helen Ward reports
It looks like an ordinary maths lesson for class 5M, of Ward End Primary School in Birmingham, but teacher Airlie Main wants her pupils to practise more than long division. Afterwards, nine-year-old Arjun Singh Kooner says his classmates learned to co-operate and not give up easily. "We had to work in a group. Sometimes people had different answers and started to argue. In the end we decided to work together."
Teamwork and tenacity are two of 10 "personal capabilities" children at Ward End have been learning. The others are creativity, self-motivation, problem-solving, positive self-image, self-management, verbal communication, social intelligence and critical thinking. By setting pupils explicit targets for these capabilities and giving them the chance to practise during lessons, headteacher Sue Gormley hopes students will develop the skills they need to learn independently. They could be at the forefront of National Primary Strategy innovation: one of its aims is to examine how such capabilities can be mapped against curriculum subjects.
The children are introduced to the personal capabilities through games. To explain teamwork and tenacity, a three-by-three grid is laid on the floor.
Eight pupils each stand in a square leaving the middle one empty. They must then try to line up in a particular order by moving one at a time, horizontally or vertically, into the empty space. Educational therapist Jan Wood, who devised the game, warns this challenge can take days. Pupils are then shown how the skills can aid learning, through the space-centred topic Out of This World, which blends science, maths, and design and technology.
Former teacher Dr Lynne Bianchi, and Professor Bill Harrison, of the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University, developed the personal capabilities as a way of improving children's achievement in science. Her initial research with teachers in eight secondary schools created schemes of work which incorporated the skills.
Dr Bianchi and City Technology College, Kingshurst, in Birmingham, won a pound;24,000 Government grant to develop topics for the college's eight feeder primaries, including Ward End. Now the funding body AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust has given pound;140,000 to help run the scheme, called Together We Learn, in 18 schools. Dr Bianchi has also started work with the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment to introduce personal capabilities into the curriculum in Northern Ireland.
Sue Gormley says: "The past 10 years have been so prescriptive. This project is good because it shows teachers how different areas of the curriculum could really run together. Very often we tell children to work in groups, but this explicitly teaches children how to work in groups.
Children are learning about why tenacity is important."