Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Quiet classrooms - thing of the past?

Allow me to be unusually controversial for a while:

When I visit a class of six year olds, I expect them to be able to write their own name legibly, copy my name and a book title from the board, and write a simple sentence about the story they have just heard, this latter with some encouragement and assistance.

I expect this because this has been my experience over the last six years of working in infant schools. Inevitably there would be probably one child who was less able or willing to participate, but with persistence and encouragement that child would produce a lovely piece of work, and the child and teacher would be thrilled.

Increasingly, it is my experience that these proportions of ability have been quite reversed: it is only a handful of children in the class who are able to manage the task, whilst most of the class struggle to scribble their own name, have no idea of what they are copying from the board, are not able to copy it accurately, or even approximately from the board, and are entirely flummoxed by the thought of having to write a short sentence, even with considerable help.

Teachers and classes of children vary enormously of course, but I am concerned that too many children are not learning how to sit quietly and concentrate on a piece of work. They are not expected to be able to achieve much, so they don’t. If they manage to get something scribbled down quickly they get to choose to do something fun, but they are not encouraged to try a bit harder, to do a little bit more.

This was illustrated tome very clearly in a school where I worked with two classes, a year 1 group and a year 2 group. The year 1 group listened well, actively participated then produced work of a consistently high standard. The year 2 group, a whole year older, were noisy, couldn’t think of any relevant questions to ask, and produced rather mediocre work.

In discussing this with staff later, I realised that the difference was not down to the ability of the children, but to the ability of the teachers involved. The year 2 teacher was excused as a “maths specialist”.

A maths specialist??

These children are 6 and 7 years old, they don’t need specialist subject teachers! They need teachers who can create an atmosphere where they can learn effectively, who can enthuse them, spark their imaginations. We need teachers who can TEACH! Sadly the year 2 group experience is by far the more widespread now.

I always know when a teacher has prepared for my visit by the quality of the questions the children ask in our “Q’s and A’s” session. Children who have been prepared well and encouraged to give some thought about what it might be like to be an author and how books are made, have fantastic questions to ask. Unprepared children tend ask irrelevant and unfocussed questions about dogs.

There are some great teachers out there who do a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances. I’m not knocking teachers. But I do wonder about the prevalent classroom culture that is disabling children from learning effectively.
This culture dictates that it is acceptable, or even normal for small children to make a lot of noise; that it’s acceptable to be told umpteen times to listen, that doing anything is better than doing nothing, rather than doing their best.
Let’s bring back quiet classrooms, the skill of concentration and the reward of hard work being the piece of work itself.

This is a deeply complex issue, and not least affected by the numbers of children displaying special needs that are now in mainstream classes, but let’s not be deflected: how can small children work properly in a noisy disruptive environment?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Too many ideas!

Clearly, having too many ideas is not a rare occurrence on this blog - when I started typing it in, it remembered me from before!

Although January is usually a pleasantly quiet month for us, this year has got off to a roaring demanding start, and I am already upto my nose in ideas. And yes, I AM standing up, thanks.

I've been playing about with some ideas for Frog as superhero; kids love the picture of him as the Cake Crusader, so now he's gone off and found himself the full superhero outfit.

"Faster than a speeding bullet, is it a bird? is it a plane? NO! I'ts Super Book Dog!"

"As soon as Frog walks into a book shop or library, he becomes... SUPER BOOK DOG!"

I think SuperBook Dog will be part of the revamped "Frog's Five a Day" initiative. It seems that asking parents to spend ten minutes a day reading a story can be too much for some people, so I have decided to restyle with only FIVE minutes. I will be writing a series of stories that can be read in five minutes or less, to encourage the less determined to have a go, presenting them in a bedtime story style book. It's hard for me to understand how a ten minute story can be too long at bedtime, but I've heard enough parents say it to know it's a problem, so I shall address it.

I'm also going to be emphasising how Frog the Dog books bridge the gap between picture books with minimal text for under 5's, and the "young readers" books that have very few line drawings. Children in this critical stage of reading need every encouragement to keep reading, so lots of colour pictures are still important.

"Feed your brain with Frog's Five a Day!" There, you heard it here first.

I have to go now, as Frog would say, it's time to cool down my brain.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

We have resolved....

Happy New Year!

We sincerely hope that the year ahead brings you everything you need and much of what you want, that the months ahead will be strewn with opportunities, fun filled and brimming over with contentment.

We have resolved this year to have even more fun despite the gloomy economic climate. We are planning to write a new book and aim to be seen and sold in new outlets. We will be refurbishing the content Frog's Wagsite and trimming up the Reading Heroes initiative to be even more focussed on helping parents and kids to read together easily.

We want to visit more schools to excite children about befreinding books, and hope to include extra visits to out of school groups like Brownie Guides to help with their Writer's Badges.

So much to do, so few fingers!

Watch out for "Feed your Brain with Frog's Five a Day" coming to a blog near you soon!
(Visit the FrogBlogDogLog to see what Frog did in the holidays....)