Depth of Understanding
I remember being aghast at the fact that the children in my Y5 class were pretty hazy on the details of the Christmas story when I was teaching it 20 years ago. Surely they had been in nativity plays, heard the story loads of times and recognised bits of the story from the Christmas songs?
My response was to turn my classroom into a stable with a giant star, finger knitted vines round the stable, wool wound shingles for the roof (surrounding my blackboard) and so on. I seem to remember a 6ft painted donkey…. but maybe I imagined that bit. We didn’t do a cloze procedure worksheet, answer a short comprehension or even rearrange some carefully cut out story bullet points into the correct order. They had done that before when they had ‘covered’ the topic.
Two weeks ago we were delighted to host Pennyman Academy Y4s for the week. Sadly they were unable to stay in their own building because of fire damage. They used some rooms each day and even took part in our Scrapheap Challenge but it was the Thursday and Friday that stand out in my mind. The teachers had plenty of work for the children to do and one of those tasks was to ‘do’ the Easter Story. Their experience appeared to mirror mine from 20 years previously. The children had worked on the story every year since they were in school but the majority could recall barely a few details about what happened.
Because we have the space and facilities here, I suggested that they might like to work on the story from a creative angle, using our animation equipment (iPad and a stand!). The teachers did their input on the key points, ensuring the children created effective key bullet points for each stage. I then showed the children how to animate (and let them practice a few tasks for an hour). Animating is simple, I have done it with nursery children; quality animation takes time to develop. Like skilled writing it develops with an understanding of the audience, use of sounds to create mood, ensuring the language track is clear and much more. Coupling an app like Stop Motion with iMovie to bring it all together into a quality piece of work takes time and these children were up against it. I left backgrounds and characters for them because I was unable to be there for their 2 hour attempt to create the scenes and then pull them all together.
I arrived back in the centre late on the Friday morning to see various groups of children huddled in corners to ensure that sound pollution didn’t affect their voice overs (some clearly hadn’t spotted that this was useful!). “How are they getting on?’ I asked one of the teachers. The answer was hesitant but positive.
Well having been away for a week, today was an opportunity for me to download the work that was created. And what an amazing collection it is! I would argue that the depth of engagement with the story is clear to see. There are examples of music being used to change mood, key pointers as titles to develop plot, inventive use of extra characters to support the story and much more. Considering the time scale they had to work in I think their work is absolutely fantastic and shows a great example of quality teaching. The analysis of the story into a clear plot was led by the teachers prior to any story planning, and this stands out clearly in that the children have not only used it to drive their story but also to ensure that they explain what is going on in each scene.
I wonder if this deeper engagement will mean they remember more of the story this year?
I have managed to recover most of the work that was created so please enjoy the videos below: