In a world of dwindling numbers of adults in primary classrooms, how can we make sure that learning happens, even when it’s just you and 30 children? I am one of the lucky ones; I have a wonderful LSA who is shared between our two UKS2 classes, however being a small school, she is often the first port of call when cover is required. I also, for much of the time, have a student teacher, but again she has additional placements and training time to be at university. All in all, as a full-time classroom teacher, I can still end up with no additional support for large chunks of time during the teaching week.
So how do we promote the highest amount of learning, even when it’s Friday morning, you’re tired and you know they still haven’t understood how to make equivalent fractions? I write in order to share some tried-and-tested ideas which may support you in maximising learning when you end up without an additional adult.
Disclaimer: I will be honest; I teach year 5, and I am therefore used to children having a certain level of independence. I have the utmost respect for my early years colleagues, and know that some of this may be beyond the reach of your little people, but hope that in some way this will be useful for your too!
Explicitly teach the expectations
Just as we wouldn’t expect children to know their times tables without first teaching them how to multiply, we can’t expect children to know how to act when they are supposed to be independent without showing them how. I recently read a blog post (here) by the amazing Ben Newmark (@bennewmark) which gave such a great description of that oh-so-familiar problem of when the children expect too much from us. It led me to talk to my class about the idea of ‘help’ and manage their expectations of me. It was shocking to hear how many children felt that they were only being ‘helped’ if they were part of a small group or working individually with me. I then explained to them that if I took 5 minutes with each of them in a lesson, that would add up to 2.5 hours per lesson, which quickly silenced the room! I also made the very clear point that my input at the front of the room is ‘help’ and that if they listen to that first time, they won’t need me to come and see them individually. Now, during lessons, I say clearly ‘this is your help’ before any input, mini-plenaries, modelling, feedback etc, making the point that I don’t expect to see them raising their hands unless they really don’t understand.
Give yourself a break
If you know you have a day alone, pacing is vital. If I’ve planned a morning with high levels of teacher input, I then make sure that the afternoon is much more child-led or requires less of me. I’ve often made the mistake of trying to keep up the levels of teacher input throughout the day, and have been so tired by the end of it that I’m not proud of the way I am with the children, and the quality of my teaching suffers. Something that works really well is flipped learning, where children are given your main input via some kind of electronic device, so they can then access this at their own pace, and your role changes to become intervention-only.
High levels of teacher modelling
Another model that really made me think recently was this one I found via an interesting thread between @Missie_Bee and @LHteaching on Twitter, with this simple image, giving brilliant advice about scaffolding in maths lessons.
(Image Source: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/113006/chapters/Learning,-or-Not-Learning,-in-School.aspx)
Not only is it great teaching, it’s a really effective way of maximising your impact as lone teacher. Children gradually become independent and reduce the need for your support, and those who still need you, stay with you. Sounds simple, and it does take practice, but it works really well after a bit of time embedding it. In my classroom, it roughly goes like this:
- Input on the new material with everyone
- Introduce the most important task that everyone needs to complete
- Mention the other tasks that they should do once finished with that one
- Tell children to start if they get it, and go through the most important task on the board with those who don’t.
Of course, this varies day-to-day depending on the task, and this could be a whole other blog post, but generally speaking it’s a great survival tactic.
Fail to prepare…
…prepare to fail, or so goes the old saying. On days when you’re on your own, though, it really does ring true. Part of my preparation for a day on my own can involve everything from the normal gathering of resources before the start of the day, through to briefing other members of staff across school about potentially risky situations where you might need support. Some examples recently have been a child with an updated medical situation, and another whose behaviour deteriorated because of a home situation, and I knew he may need some time out the classroom. In both situations, I enlisted the help of colleagues before the start of the school day, enabling me to continue teaching when those situations arose.
Children are amazing. They really are. And they love responsibility. On good days (and sometimes these are few and far between!), my classroom runs like a well-oiled machine, and that’s predominantly because I have trained the children in running the basics of the classroom, from tidying the bookshelves, to handing in their maths books. During playtimes and lunchtimes, there are always a few children who’d love to stay inside and help, and when you’ve run a messy art activity by yourself, this is sometimes a lifesaver. If you teach younger children, don’t hesitate to ask teachers of older classes to get their pupils to support if you need it. Children in my class would love the opportunity to come down to year 1 and help them tidy the classroom or sort out big piles of books.
It may be that we live in times of tightening our belts, but hasn’t it always been the mark of great teachers that they are able to embrace difficulty and still strive to get the best from the children they teach? We have a responsibility to encourage our children to become independent as well as interdependent; with the right guidance it’s possible, whether or not we are blessed with additional adults.