It’s been a bit of a week, probably a good one to go out and buy a hard hat, if you spend any time on Twitter. It wasn’t just raining, it was, on occasion, literally pouring. Bile ducts were seemingly emptied on the heads of a few writers willing to proffer views with were opposite to others; as if people can’t see things in a different light. If it wasn’t knowledge, which it largely was, it’s overtaken by some element of English teaching, but that invariably comes back to children’s lack of knowledge that can be utilised within their oral or written efforts or in their ability to decode the written word.
The two “camps” could be described as those who think they can impart knowledge by sharing a specific body of knowledge, within their classroom teaching and those who seek to develop this knowledge through a variety of linking experiences, including the spoken word.
This can sometimes appear to be the divide between (some) Primary and Secondary practitioners, with the extended argument that Primary learning is all discovery and play. That the approach is sometimes different, I wouldn’t want to argue, it can become a moot point, but, in reality, it’s likely that there is more convergence than divergence. Whereas young children “play with ideas” through active engagement and sometimes concrete examples, older children, hopefully, are more able to “play with ideas”, so have greater insights from their developed vocabularies.
Words like drawbridge, portcullis, motte, bailey and keep might be explicable, but what about barbican and belvedere, casements and crenelation. They might have fun with the idea of cesspits and garderobes… As for the fighting people, their support and family lives, with the attendant additional vocabularies and layers of understanding, the complexity grows.
So, as a Primary teacher, wanting to interest children in such an area, it’s likely that some kind of site visit would assist, particularly if there is a local example. If this can be guided in some way, by a local expert, this can add colour to the visit and deepen the narrative. Any need to interpret what was said can be done by the teacher in follow up discussion.
Particularly in the early days, but throughout my teaching career, a display of available material would support the topic, both in picture and in book form. Later, this would also include video or DVD material to be shared, as a class, or within groups. All to provide some additional background and stimulus.
Before the internet opened up search options, the books were a key element of the reading curriculum, extracting appropriate information from using the contents list and the index, to provide answers to pre-set questions. This might be extended with a request to record three/five additional interesting items of information. The research would be shared and sometimes collated in a displayed alphabet of the topic; effectively developing our own glossary. Try http://www.castlesontheweb.com/glossary.html if you’re interested.
DT was deployed to make models, of drawbridge and portcullis “mechanisms”, using pullies. Castle models were built, dolls dressed, food prepared and cooked…
Sketches from the visits were developed into larger pieces, added to from the available imagery. Photographs were taken, developed (taking a week), then used as storyboards.
Drama situations were set up to re-enact situations and seek some kind of further understanding.
While specific elements of history were relatively easy, geography might be developed through an exploration of where people chose to position their defensive sites, but also consideration of material availability and movement, the availability of water and food.
Science might be developed through trajectory exploration of a range of objects, or material strength, including exploration of elements like lintels across openings.
Throwing things could also link with PE…
With the Normans, Portchester Castle is very close, it was also possible to look at the language that came with them, at an appropriate level of course. So we might look at cow and beef, pork and pig, mutton and sheep.
In many ways, thinking as a Primary teacher automatically seeks to incorporate the curricular range available within a specific topic, without seeking to shoehorn in ideas just to be cross curricular. However, it does demonstrate that, so far, every area covered allows language development.
Mathematics from building exploration can include shape, measurements using age appropriate forms; with year six, we made a clinometer to work out an approximate height. Setting a challenge to estimate the number of blocks used to build the castle allows for some estimation, but also calculation, to gain a rough idea.
And how were the stones cut? What was the life of a stonemason like? How did they build their castles ever higher?
Essentially, you could take any topic and take it to post graduate degree level. Some teachers will have done, in a relatively narrow field of expertise. The information shared with children has to be age appropriate, using language forms that are understandable to the children and interpreted to those who don’t have an understanding.
It is reasonable for a teacher to ask whether they know enough about the topic and to create checklists of information that they think will come in handy, as aides memoire. These then inform planning decisions. Some are calling them “knowledge organisers”. Where they are described as to be taught and then tested, with under-confident/early career colleagues can lead to that being the approach. Making a topic broader, going beyond the skeleton to put real flesh on the bones can take deviation from plans and adding value to agreed approaches. When a confident teacher is able to fully develop the learning narrative, the children engage further and, in my experience, then start bringing in aspects that they have done at home; a picture, model or some writing from books at home.
We have to accept that, as learners, children are in the process of learning.
The teacher is the leader and their guide throughout. The teacher if map creator and reader, deviating to the evident need of the group or individuals, stopping, taking stock, pressing on and adding further, with hopefully all arriving safely at the preferred destination. Some will get messy on the way, having struggled through the muddier elements.
Hopefully, even after a good picnic, which they’ll always remember as a highlight, they are hungry for more.