In the not so distant past, I, as a fresh faced teacher education student was introduced to the idea of context creation as a way to create a framework that could make learning accessible, relevant exciting and purposeful. At that time there were two documents that were being used to articulate the thinking behind context creation and that explored the tensions between and benefits of a thematic approach to learning and a subject specific one. These documents were Mr Togs the Tailor and Some Aspects of Thematic Work. These inputs proved to be hugely influential for me and I came away from them convinced of the efficacy of the arguments for context creation and captivated by the prospect of creating the conditions for learning where I could ‘suspend children’s disbelief’ in order to take them places with me as we all learned together. I subsequently made this approach an integral part of my professional practice and from the mid 1990s onwards I created contexts such as the Ghost of Charles Dickens which then led on to a whole host of ideas based around, amomngst other things, contextualising computer games and learning
It was with some delight then that I saw, what I think, was a very good example of context creation when I went to carry out an MA4 (Hons) summative visit (a crit in old speak) as part of our assessment procedures. The student in question, Emma Hopkirk, was placed in a P.1 class at Hillisde PS in Dundee. Emma has kindly given me permission to share what I saw with you.
I was ushered in to the class first thing on a Monday morning and took my place at the back to ensure that I had a good view. The professional files were all ready for me to review and I watched as the student (Miss Hopkirk) welcomed the children in to the class. It was clear to me that a very strong relationship had already been established by the student as their was a lovely atmosphere in the room. She sat them on the carpet in front of the whiteboard and then she began her carefully crafted lesson:
Miss Hopkirk: “I was looking through my emails last night and do you know something, I received another email from…
P.1 Class: (Children looking at each other wide eyed and excitedly whispering,”It’s the Shape Detective, it’s the Shape Detective…”)
Miss Hopkirk: Can you guess who?”
P.1 Class: (all in excited unison) THE SHAPE DETECTIVE!!!
Miss Hopkirk: “Yes, the Shape Detective. Will we have a look at his latest video message?”
P.1 Class: (all in excited unison) YES!!!
Miss Hopkirk: “I wonder what he’s got to say…”
At this point I too had bitten the contextual hook that Miss Hopkirk has thrown out to her class and watched intently to see what the Shape Detective has to say in the latest of his video messages to this class…
The video (created by Emma and hosted on her own YouTube channel) appears, tastefully done in a mysterious 1940’s style of flickering black and white. The central character ( a friend’s partner played the Shape Detective) is dressed up as if in a disguised and mysterious fashion with hat, dark glasses and a detective coat! He then proceeds to speak to the children. Here is the video that I saw…
The children were totally captivated by what the Shape Detective had to say. Each and everyone of this P.1 class hung on to every word that was said and their eyes did not flinch from what this mysterious but valued partner in their learning had to say to them.
The video finished and just as it did there was a loud knock at the door. In came the class teacher holding a parcel wrapped in gold (the letters being returned by The Shape Detective)…
Class teacher: “Excuse me Miss Hopkirk but a parcel for P.1 has just arrived.”
P.1 class: (excitedly talking) “That’ll be from the Shape Detective!”
Miss Hopkirk: “Shall we open it?”
You can guess the response.
The lesson then proceeded as Miss Hopkirk then took the children round the activities that she had set up that, just by chance, were exactly linked to what the Shape Detective was asking from them on this latest 3D shape mission! Magic! The children were so on board with what was going on and I even saw some of them jumping up and down and clapping their hands with glee at the prospect of finding out more about 3D shape.
This was teaching.
So many of our students, like Emma, are about to embark on their induction year already at the stage where the are using a range of digital tools and other resources in a confident, thoughtful, creative and purposeful manner to enrich the learning experiences of the the children in the classes they teach. As our students Graduate from the University of Dundee today I wish them all the very best for their future in teaching. The example of Emma Hopkirk’s practice and so many more of what I have seen from our student teachers affirms my confidence in teacher education and tells me that we are doing so much that is right and that our new teachers will make a huge contribution to ensuring better outcomes for all learners.