We had our first lecture to introduce the ‘developing effective teaching and learning’ module on Monday 17th September. We were discussing topic work and how it can often be the most memorable sort of work that we did at primary school and how it can be a vital tool for interdisciplinary learning.
Our task was to write a blog post discussing one memorable experience of topic work from primary school. My experience was when we did our World War 2 topic and it still sticks with me even to this day. We looked at events that happened during the war and the way people lived, which led to looking at how that compared to our everyday lives. The way the teacher engaged us using creative tasks and very practical hands on activities always made the lessons fun and interesting. I also think because of the way it was taught made the whole class more motivated and eager to learn more about the war. The teacher used different methods whilst doing this topic with us, we would watch different videos on the war and how people lived, and we would talk and answer questions that included working in pairs and small groups to engage us in discussion.
Doing topic work in general always made me feel excited and I always had a smile on my face whenever we were told that we were going to do it. What I didn’t realise at the time as a pupil, but I do now as a trainee teacher is that it is a perfect opportunity to combine many different subjects in a way which stimulates children’s interests. I think for me it was great as there were no different level groups which is the norm in maths and literacy for instance. It was everyone together having fun and taking part in wonderful learning experiences.
For example, one particular experience that really makes it memorable for me was when we used all of our knowledge and learning to put on a show for the rest of the school and local community which of course involved us combining our topic work with drama. It was all about the war time and my part in the show was to perform the World War 2 song ‘Run Rabbit Run’ by Flanagan and Allen with my friend David. It was such a fun, engaging learning experience for me, as I was able to do something I really enjoyed, whilst learning at the same time. During this show, we invited the local care home also to come along as we thought it would be a great idea to allow them to get all nostalgic about the olden days and their youth. They all loved it and it was a wonderful opportunity to bring together the wider community and open our classroom up and show what we had learned at the same time.
It was also great fun to dress up in clothes from that era, which we did on several occasions, not just for the show.
I also particularly enjoyed the opportunities it gave me to sit and interact with family as I had to talk to my gran and grandad about their experiences and I found this fascinating to learn about how they lived and what they experienced during that time. I was even lucky enough to borrow my grandad’s ration book to take to school. My grandparents also enjoyed reminiscing and sharing their memories.
Another fantastic topic at school was Falkland Palace and Scottish History, more predominantly, Mary Queen of Scots. This is another experience that I remember very well and again, the practical element of this project made it memorable and for me was a powerful learning experience. The context behind the project was looking at Scottish history and how that impacted our lives as well as looking back at past events and stepping into the shoes of some famous characters of Scottish history including Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox. Some aspects that I remember vividly include having to use our researching skills to discover more information regarding events that occurred, as well as using our literacy skills to try our hand at different writing tasks. These included writing newspaper reports on the murder of Mary Queen of Scots private secretary David Rizzio and writing diary entries and letters as if we were Mary writing home from France to her family. Reflecting on this experience now, I can see how this is an excellent way to practice and improve writing and literacy skills in a stimulating way where the children don’t actually feel as if they are doing ‘proper’ work. As the topic they are writing about is interesting, children will be more motivated to complete the task and to a high standard. We also took part in creative art activities such as making and designing booklets and filling it with information about Scottish history, events, weapons etc.
One of the best opportunities we had during this topic was to visit Falkland Palace for the day. Our journey began with a tour of Falkland learning about the past and were then taken to Falkland Palace where we learned all about Scottish history and the story of Mary Queen of Scots. We also got to dress up like characters from the past which was always great fun. I was Lord Darnley. We really felt like we were experiencing first-hand how the people lived and the use of actors to portray the characters that day really helped spark my imagination. In my opinion, class trips such as this are essential as they can allow children to get out of the classroom environment and really experience something first hand. It could also perhaps result in children who may not flourish in the classroom environment to do so.
This whole experience of this topic made me feel like I was actually there during the time of Mary Queen of Scots and the practical, full on element of the project meant that it was never boring. It really stimulated and challenged me and constantly made me think, whilst providing me with so much learning and knowledge. Something that still stays with me today.
I believe that project work can provide children with fantastic opportunities to learn so much about a certain topic and the element of wonder and surprise during these experiences can be a very powerful learning tool. I particularly like the fact that it can meet the needs of all children and everyone can take part and have fun doing it. It is a very inclusive type of learning and this can only be good for children’s confidence and development. Of course, the effectiveness of this type of work can depend on the approach the school and teachers use, as well as the attitude the teacher has towards topic work. But on the whole, if links can be made across subject areas, creative teaching strategies are undertaken, and the children get to participate in a variety of engaging activities then in my opinion topic work can be one of the most memorable experiences you can have in primary school. I know it certainly was for me.