One of our TDT tasks for RME is to visit a sacred place or place of religious significance. So during reading week, I took a visit through to Dunfermline, to visit the Abbey. To my disappointment – the abbey itself happened to be closed on that day! However I was still able to walk around the outside, and to visit the church.
The church at Dunfermline abbey is an active, worshipping community. It holds a weekly Sunday service, as well as various other activities such as prayer groups and ‘messy church’ (for more information, see the website).
When walking around the outside, I was able to appreciate the ancient architecture of the abbey and the impressive church building. I felt that this shows the importance which was placed on these buildings at the time they were built. It is also located in a central area of the city, close to the main high-street. This showed me that the church would have, at one point, been a highly important part of life for the people who lived here.
Inside the church, I was interested to find that the building had been renovated and decorated in a modern way. I was told that this part of the church was re-built following a fire. I also feel like the more modern feel reflected the fact that this church was still being used, and was not just an ancient tourist attraction. That being said, the tourism aspect was clearly apparent, as a gift shop had been erected at the church entrance, information guides were dotted around, and there were also information boards and plaques designed to point out facts of particular historical interest – such as the supposed tomb of King Robert the Bruce.
There were many items within the church which took my interest, including the huge organ, the stunning stained-glass windows, and the monuments and carvings that told the story of significant people.
There was a feeling of quiet respect within the church. Everyone speaks in lowered voices, and moves slowly as they take in their surroundings.
Following my visit to the church, I feel that a primary class could certainly benefit from a similar experience. I would spend time with the class learning about the worship, rituals, and key aspects of the religion first as I feel that children need to have a certain level of basic knowledge and understanding before they can learn from a religious or non religious viewpoint. This relates to the phenomenological approach to teaching religious and moral education (described by Ninian Smart) which supposes that students should be introduced to the key aspects of religions in an objective way (cited Barnes 2014).
Following this, the visit to a church (or indeed to any place of religious significance) could help the students to make a more personal connection with the ideas and concepts. This relates to the interpretive approach (described by Jackson), which emphasises the importance of being exposed to religion from the view of an ‘insider’. It also recognises the importance of reflection and allowing students to assess their own views and beliefs.
Using both the phenomenological approach and the interpretive approach, I would be providing children to opportunities to learn about and from religion, an idea supported by the writings of Grimmitt(2000).
Barnes, L. Philip. Education, Religion and Diversity : Developing a new model of religious education, Taylor and Francis, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central
Engebretson K. (2009) Learning About and Learning from Religion. The Pedagogical Theory of Michael Grimmitt. In: de Souza M., Durka G., Engebretson K., Jackson R., McGrady A. (eds) International Handbook of the Religious, Moral and Spiritual Dimensions in Education. International Handbooks of Religion and Education, vol 1. Springer, Dordrecht
Grimmitt et al (2000) Pedagogies of Religious Education: Case Studies in the Research and Development of Good Pedagogic Practice in RE. McCrimmon Publishing co. ltd.
Jackson, R (2016) Introducing Religious Education: an Interpretive Approach. Available at: http://www.theewc.org/Content/Library/Research-Development/Literature/Introducing-Religious-Education-an-Interpretive-Approach
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love stories! I’ve always got at least 2 books sitting on my bedside table, and when I’m working in nursery, story time is among my favourite times of day. It’s a chance to calm down, relax, and lose yourself in another world.
During this afternoon’s RME input, we discussed how various story books could be used to explore children’s moral development. These stories could be religious (such as parables from the Bible, or stories any of the other religious texts), or can be non-religious (such as traditional fairy tales or other children’s books).
In this post, I have chosen a story which I feel could be used with a class to explore moral actions.
The story I have chosen is:
The Smartest Giant In Town (Julia Donaldson). This story would be appropriate for children at the younger stages of Primary school.
In this story, George the Giant is fed up of looking scruffy, and treats himself to some smart new clothes. Feeling pleased, he begins his trip home where he happens upon various characters who are in need of help. George is a kind Giant, and happily helps his friends, in ways that just happen to involve his nice new items of clothing! In the end, he has given up all of his new clothes, and ends up wearing his old scruffy robe again. Then, when George finally arrives home, all of the friends that he helped are there to thank him and give him a present.
What I took from the story:
George is willing to make sacrifices to do what he thinks is right – even giving up his brand new clothes that gave him so much happiness.
By helping others, George is able to spread his happiness around, and in the end, discovers an even greater happiness with his friends.
If using this story in the classroom, I would use a ‘reading the text’ approach where we interpret the text and think about the meaning. I would stop at regular intervals to encourage the children to talk about what the characters may be feeling. After reading, I would encourage the children to think about a time when someone was kind to them, or when they were kind to someone else.
The idea of kindness and helping others is one that is also covered in religious texts (such as ‘The Good Samaritan), and it would be interesting to make some comparisons.
I think that a lesson like this could cover the following E’s and O’s:
I am developing an increasing awareness and understanding of my own beliefs and I put them into action in positive ways. RME 1-08a / RME 2-08a / RME 3-08a / RME 4-08a
I can show my understanding of values such as caring, sharing, fairness, equality and love. RME 1-09b
I have spoken to a few teachers on my placement about this subject, and have found that some of them (even more experienced teachers) lack confidence and would prefer a specialist to lead this learning. I wondered whether this is a common feeling, and therefore have decided to open these questions up to a larger audience via social media. I created a simple survey with questions are based on those used in the Hallam study. These questions include:
How confident do you feel about teaching music?
How important is music to children’s learning?
Do you consider yourself to be musical? and
Do you think that music should be taught by a specialist?
I have never used this type of software, or conducted a survey in this way, so this will be an interesting learning experience for me. I hope that the responses will give me a greater understanding of how current primary teachers feel about the subject of music.
As I do not have experience with conducting a professional survey, I have ensured that all responses to my survey are completely anonymous and the results will not be posted, rather they will simply be used to inform my own professional understanding.
Hallam, S., Burnard, P., Robertson, A., Saleh, C., Davies, V., Rogers, L., and Kokatsaki, D. (2009) ‘Trainee primary-school teachers’ perceptions of their effectiveness in teaching music’ in Music Education Research, 11(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14613800902924508
As I prepare for the beginning of my Learning from Life placement (tomorrow!) I’ve been doing some reading about music education and the value and impact it can have on children.
There have been many studies which have investigated the benefits of music education. Standley (2008) and Hallam (2010) report that well planned music activities can improve children’s language and reading skills, and Roden et al. (2012) found that musical experience can aid memory skills.
These studies appear within a wealth of other research. Here are 2 TED Talks which consider the impact of music on brain development:
I particularly enjoyed this TEDx Talk, where Richard Gill discusses the value of music education:
The key points that I took from this talk include:
Music education should be introduced with our young children;
This can take the form of listening, focusing, and imitation, e.g. nursery rhymes;
Music is not prescriptive, instead it evokes, suggests, and implies;
Allows children to access a different way of thinking to the other curricular subjects;
The act of singing can have links with the development of literacy;
Music is worth teaching for it’s own sake;
Every child should have access to properly taught music education, from a properly taught teacher.
The last point interested me, as I have also recently read an article which explores how trainee teachers feel about teaching music. This study was conducted in England, however I feel that the findings will also apply within Scotland. Hallam et al. (2009) agree that children have the right to a high quality music education, however the research shows that many trainee teachers and NQT’s feel unequipped and unable to teach this subject effectively.
The study showed that teachers who were able to play one or two instruments were more confident in teaching music, however this was a smaller percentage, meaning that in many classes and schools, music education is being neglected. Among other suggestions of more training and CPD for teachers in this curricular area, it was proposed that the use of specialist teachers, whether working independently or alongside the class teacher, could have a positive impact. Relating back to what Richard Gill said above; children should be provided with their music education from a properly taught teacher.
I have not yet decided whether this ‘properly taught teacher’ needs to be a specialist, or whether it can simply be a primary teacher who embraces music in the same way as any other curricular area. There are many of us on my course who would admit that we are less confident teaching maths, science, ICT… however we wouldn’t dream of avoiding these subjects! Instead, we must recognise that it’s our responsibility to continually develop our own professional knowledge and skills.
I hope that my Learning from Life placement will allow me to develop my own confidence and skills in teaching music. Despite being able to play 2 instruments, I currently lack confidence in this subject, perhaps because I am not fluent at reading musical notation. My visit day has already helped me to feel slightly more confident as I was able to see the level at which the children were working, and how this was linked with the ‘figurenotes’ approach. During my placement, I will have the opportunity to work with a variety of music specialists, where I can observe and learn some of their techniques and teaching methods. While working with the children, I will also be able to practice working with sheet music and notation. I hope that this will improve my ability to teach my future classes, allowing them to benefit from the highest quality of music education that I can offer. I also hope that my musical experience may allow me to support other students and even teachers who lack confidence in this area.
“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning” – Plato
Hallam, S., Burnard, P., Robertson, A., Saleh, C., Davies, V., Rogers, L., and Kokatsaki, D. (2009) ‘Trainee primary-school teachers’ perceptions of their effectiveness in teaching music’ in Music Education Research, 11(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14613800902924508
Hallam, S. (2010) ‘The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people’ in International Journal of Music Education, 28(3). DOI: 10.1177/0255761410370658
Roden, I., Kreutz, G. and Bongard, S. (2012) ‘Effects of a school-based instrumental music program on verbal and visual memory in primary school children: a longitudinal study’ in Frontiers in Psychology, 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00572
Standley J. (2008) ‘Does Music Instruction Help Children Learn to Read?’ in Applications of Research in Music Education, 27(1). DOI: 10.1177/8755123308322270
This morning my brain is buzzing with a thousand thoughts. Through a connection on Twitter (did I mention that I love social media?) I was advised to listen to a wonderful show on BBC iPlayer entitled ‘My Teacher is an App‘.
This is a fascinating piece about the ever increasing role of technology in education. Much of it is centred around America’s ‘Silicon Valley’, but the points made are equally valid in a UK context.
On the show, various professionals discussed their opinion of where education is headed. At the beginning of the show, it was mentioned that we are moving towards a society of one to one computing in an educational situation. Some of the proposed advantages of this include:
high levels of engagement
Up to date information and resources (as opposed to textbooks which quickly date and become obsolete)
The radio program introduced us to Salman Khan; the creator of Khan Academy. Khan Academy is a non-profit organisation which provides short instructional videos/ lectures in the form of Youtube videos. This means that they are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Khan proposes that our current models of teaching (involving grouping students and standardised testing) are vastly outdated and suggests that the Khan Academy model is more suited to the learners of today.
Below is a ‘Ted Talks’ video of Salman Khan discussing the use of his videos in learning:
As Sarah Montague (the radio presenter) points out; one of the huge benefits of teaching in this way is that pupils can learn at their own pace. A video can be paused, rewound or re-watched as many times as a learner requires in order for them to grasp the concept. There is also no fear of ridicule from peers, as no-one needs to know how quickly or slowly you are learning.
Within his talk, Khan mentions the idea of the ‘flipped classroom’. This is a model where traditional teaching and learning methods are reversed. Students are required to watch short educational videos at home before the lesson, and in class time they undertake tasks which are more like traditional homework activities. It is suggested that this method will allow teachers to spend more time addressing children’s individual needs, whether that be support for specific problems, or challenge for the more able.
The BBC radio show also discusses the use of video gaming in learning. Nolan Bushnell, the “father of modern video gaming” and founder of Atari, discusses his online resource: Brain Rush. This is a website full of short, educational games, designed to allow learners to develop skills quickly. Bushnell speaks about making learning fun and addictive, claiming that children can learn almost anything through gaming. It is also suggested that gaming can help pupils to review and memorise information, although these claims cannot yet be substantiated.
One group of schools in America which have embraced the use of technology is Rocketship Education. In these schools, children spend around a quarter of their school day online. Results in these schools are said to be very high and Rocketship suppose that this model of teaching will help to close the attainment gap. One of the issues of this model of teaching and learning is that the use of technology means that fewer teachers are employed. On the other hand, those teachers who are employed, are paid very competitive rates compared to standard teachers.
Taking digital learning even further, is the idea of ‘Virtual Schools’. In this situation, students do not attend school in the traditional sense, rather, they are responsible for undertaking their own learning via the internet and technology.
I find the idea of technology gradually replacing teachers rather unsettling. While I am completely on board with personalised learning and tapping in to the tools which engage children, I do not feel that the social and emotional aspects of development can be met without building the strong and important relationships with teachers and significant adults. In my opinion, technology and digital tools should be used alongside teachers and lessons, in ways that extend and deepen pupils’ knowledge and understanding.
When discussing Virtual Schools on the radio show, Sarah Montague raised the same issue that immediately popped into my head – what is keeping the children from becoming distracted and going off to do something else? While pupils may be motivated to learn about subjects that interest them, I cannot imagine them maintaining the self discipline to persevere at more challenging subjects, when temptations such as video games or TV are close by.
Never the less, virtual schools are a concept which may be appearing within the UK. In 2014, the Telegraph posted THIS ARTICLE proposing plans for a state funded ‘virtual school’.
Towards the end of ‘My Teacher is an App’, listeners were presented with a theory of learning and education which contrasts completely with the previous, highly technology based models.
The Waldorf approach places focus on child development through free play and expression through art, music and nature. These schools emphasise playing and exploring through natural and organic experiences. In this type of education, the use of technology is discouraged until children are older (around 13 years) and it is even suggested that technology could impact negatively on children’s ability to form relationships and express themselves creatively. Find out more about the Waldorf approach HERE.
Shields and Behrman (2000) also believe that excessive use of technology may have numerous dangerous effects on children, including access to unsuitable content, and reducing physical activity which may lead to obesity. In THIS JOURNAL, they discuss the need to limits and strict controls on the use of technology with children.
I am fascinated by the idea of the Khan Academy, Brain Rush, and the flipped classroom, and would love to see it in action within a real class. Despite this, I have to wonder whether it could actually work in our schools. While many pupils do have access to computers, tablets, phones or other devices to access the internet, there are those who do not. How does this model of teaching and learning support those who cannot access the videos before the class? Maybe a school which uses this model would provide access to ICT facilities before/ after school so that all pupils have the opportunity to access the resources?
Another issue of using technology in education is that many schools do not have the budget to provide computers/ devices for all pupils to use. Or, some schools do have computers, but they are old, slow, outdated machines which take an age to load and are perhaps cannot run the software that you want to use. I wonder if the rise of technology in education will create further inequality between schools, where some can access resources which others cannot.
I find it interesting that there appears to be a divide between the big push for outdoor learning and learning through nature (such as Forest Schools), and the growing role of technology in education. My opinion is that, like everything in life, there needs to be a balance. I firmly believe in the value of free play and natural play, but can also see that technology has an important and increasing role to play in children’s learning. It is the role of the teacher to provide opportunities for both.
Listening to the radio show has opened my eyes to some of the wonderful digital tools and resources which exist, and ways in which technology may start to change the way in which our education system works. Whether or not Virtual Schools take off, or the ‘flipped classroom’ begins to appear in more schools; I can see how teachers and educational professionals must continue to be flexible and reflective as discover the best ways to teach their pupils.
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to teaching! Throughout planning, implementation and reflection, it is essential for a primary teacher to recognize that every pupil is an individual. This means that there are numerous learning approaches and preferences throughout any class.
In 1987, Niel Flemming devised categories of learning in order to encourage teachers and students to think about different learning styles. This is known as the VARK model.
VARK stands for:
Visual: learners who have a preference for images or visual representations of information,
Auditory: learners who prefer to listen to information (for example in lectures) or perhaps use music to aid learning,
Read/Write: learners get the most out of reading texts and writing information
Kinesthetic: learners prefer practical, hands on experiences.
If you would like to find out your learning style; there are many online tests available. I used THIS test which revealed that I have a multimodal learning style with a preference for the read/write and visual approaches.
While I agree with this result to some extent, I feel that my preferences depend on the type of learning that I am involved in. For example; if I am trying to learn facts and figures for a test, then I prefer to read and write, however if I am learning how to bake a cake or sculpt a model, I would choose visual and kinesthetic methods.
There has been much debate around the validity of learning styles. One of the main criticisms is that there is no empirical evidence that the use of learning styles improves student performance within education. In fact, it has even been suggested that focus on learning styles may have a detrimental impact (Venable, 2011.) Lafferty and Burley (2009) argue strongly against the use of learning styles, stating that “Learning styles are subject dependent, they are teacher dependent, they are temperature dependent, they are emotion dependent etc. In fact they are dependent on so many things, that they are on a continuum and therefore not measurable, and do not exist.” This supports my own feelings about my learning and therefore, as a teacher, I would avoid grouping pupils due to their perceived VARK preference.
On the other hand, I feel that learning styles are a helpful concept to know, as they encourage teachers to reflect upon the ways in which they deliver lessons. This relates back to my “one size fits all” comment; as a teacher who only presents information in a didactic way is not appropriately supporting those pupils who may learn best in a practical way. It may also be beneficial for students to be able to recognize which learning styles work for them. Flemming and Baume (2006) point out that “any inventory that encourages a learner to think about the way that he or she learns is a useful step towards understanding, and hence improving, learning.”
As a primary teacher, I will strive to deliver lessons which provide opportunities for all different styles of learning (albeit not necessarily all at the same time!) I hope to avoid the mindset that these styles are fixed but rather to encourage children to continually explore the different approaches to their learning.
Earlier this week, I attended the launch of the Upstart Scotland campaign. This is a campaign aimed at raising the starting age of children into schools to 7 years; following the example of many high achieving countries such as Poland, Estonia and Finland.
Currently, children in Scotland start school at age 4-5. It is suggested that this early starting age could be having negative impacts on our children, not only academically, but also in their overall wellbeing. In answer to this, Upstart Scotland proposes that a kindergarten stage should be introduced, delaying formal education and extending the amount of time that children can spend just being children.
The Upstart launch consisted of talks by 2, fascinating and very knowledgeable women. Sue Palmer is the founder of the movement. She is also a literacy specialist and focuses on early education and play. Dr Suzanne Zeedyk is a developmental psychology specialist from within the University of Dundee.
Both speakers placed great emphasis on the importance of play. Now, I am a big advocate of play of all kinds and I always get excited when people recognise its value and worth. Throughout the evening, it was mentioned that we should not have to JUSTIFY play, as if it were an indulgence. Here here! Following this, a point was made that at first I agreed with, but on further reflection I just can’t get my head around:
Why does it always have to be LEARNING THROUGH play?
(Please don’t quote me on the exact wording, but this was the idea.) The suggestion was that play should just be allowed to be play, without the learning emphasis.
The reason for my initial agreement is that, yes, I do feel that children should be given the time, space and freedom to play without adults intervening or guiding in order to meet outcomes.
However, when I was thinking it over at home, I realised that:
Play IS Learning!
In my opinion, there simply is no such thing as playing without learning. As hard as I tried, I could not think of an example of play where no learning was taking place.
Take splashing in puddles for example, on first glance this might appear to be pure play, without any purpose or learning. Then take a minute to think. The child is learning to control their body so that they can land in the puddle. They are learning that if they jump or stamp then the water will splash. They are perhaps learning to take turns, if someone else is splashing in the same puddle. They are learning that if they splash in a puddle wearing their trainers, then they get wet feet, however if they wear their wellies then they can stay dry… You may not be able to map all of these against the curriculum, but learning is certainly taking place.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that Sue and Suzanne would agree with me, and that the point was aimed at ‘play based learning’, which is a very different thing. Play based learning is usually planned experiences with a planned outcome. It is adult lead and has the clear goal of learning a skill or consolidating knowledge. This is the type of play which appears more often within schools rather than free play which is intrinsically led and spontaneous with no obvious goal.
Personally, I cannot see a problem with the phrase ‘Learning through play’ because that is what children are doing all of the time. In fact, I believe that this is what the Upstart campaign is all about! By raising the starting age of formal school, we are giving children more time to investigate their world, explore and establish relationships, develop innate motivation and wonder. We are giving them more time to learn through play.
For more information about the Upstart Scotland Campaign please visit: