When I was a new teacher I was told in no uncertain terms that giving children word puzzles was an utter waste of time. We had to ensure that every moment the student was in the classroom was filled with learning opportunities.
Now, almost 20 years later. I am reviewing that very rigid attitude. In fact, when I look back, I think I ignored it anyway. But I didn’t know why. My pedagogy was not as developed a superpower as it has become recently. Now, if someone challenged me on the use of anagrams, word searches or other cryptic puzzles I would be able to answer cleverly that these stretch the ability of student, encourages logical and lateral thinking and it engages the imagination and allows a student to develop concentration to perform and complete a task.
I have pushed it further. Recently as a revision tool, I gave students squared paper (that I had stolen from Maths) and set them the task of creating a word puzzle based on characters, plot and key themes and ideas based on a specific text they had read. I told them to make sure they had an idea of the solution in order to help others if assistance were needed, then as a prepare to learn activity a few days later, I gave the students a puzzle created by a friend. That worked. It was fun, enjoyable and challenging. There is something similar in the ‘Teacher’s Toolkit’ I think and if there isn’t, there should be!
Sometimes we assume that all our lessons have to be heavily resourced in order to show that we have planned. But something like this, as a culmination of a lot of hard work, challenges and encourages learning and revision. While the students were doing their peer’s puzzles they were asking all the questions I would have normally asked. ‘Which theme connects Lennie and Curley’s Wife?’ Just one familiar example.
We should never underestimate the power of low-tech. Audio-visual is good; but so is pen and paper. Raw creativity is just as much to be praised and encouraged as that build on PC research. Giving students the ability to question and support each other is key to duplicating our presence and ensuring that all students get a chance to learn and make rapid progress.
So, 20 years on, I will continue to use word searches, crossword puzzles, anagrams and cryptic clues because without them information gathering is mundane, and also Deep thought would have no committed puzzlers in 30 years time!
Every year, around the 3rd week in January our entire family embarks on the tradition that is the seasonal pantomime. We go to ground from Monday to Saturday evening, thinking only of the performance.
My husband is a musical director, so our household starts hearing tunes from about October. He puts a lot of work into arranging and sorting music so it fits the script. There are creative team meetings, where the decisions about script, music, costumes, setting and scenery are discussed and ironed out. If you have never been part of a production then you will have no idea how much is done even before the script is sent out to learn!
One of those backstage jobs is the one I’m doing this year. I am the Children’s licensing officer. That means that every young person involved in the show on stage has to have a performance licence. Once that paperwork is out if the way, I sort out the chaperone rota. Last year I was a principal and had to learn lines, music and moves as well as doing all the other backstage stuff. This year I’m focussing on one job!
Sunday is the ‘Tech’, actors do everything on stage but have to wait for light and sound cues to be set. It can be a long day. But from page to stage it’s an amazing process. Monday will be the dress rehearsal. This will involve the whole company, running through the entire show. Everyone steps up a gear and this is when we start to spot the magic.
I have always enjoyed the pantos. I think my husband has been involved for the last 5 or 6 years. My daughters for at least 4 years. I follow behind!
Now, the biggest thing for me is the amount of juggling I have to sort with school work this week. I will spend all Sat and Sun arranging all my resources so I can simply email them to reprographics and collect when I need them. My students will do Green pen self and peer assessments to keep up to speed on their marking and I will juggle everything else. I am just blessed with a husband who likes to cook and can keep the laundry under control! Well, we are doing Aladdin! Oh yes we are!
Mock exams. The very name suggests that we are simply laughing at the lack of effort so many students have made over the Christmas break to prepare for their forthcoming practice exams. The mocks. When I was a student we took our mocks seriously. We were told the mark would be sent to the exam board as part of our predicted grade and we would have to sacrifice our Christmas holidays to do the very best we could at this point. I was saved the pain of my English exams, because, as I was the third year of GCSEs we were doing 100% coursework. No final exam needed. Can you imagine it? Not any more.
So as of Monday our year 11 students are on Mock study leave in order to do mock exams. They are now beginning to understand. They had a briefing on Friday and sat in shock as they were informed that they weren’t allowed to take bags, coats, phones or any device into the exam hall. They were enlightened as to what the definition of ‘Communication’ was. But, they were also informed that if they so chose to, they were allowed to leave the school site when they didn’t have any exams. The most exciting point apparently being that they can have lunch at KFC without trying to ‘Jump fence’ – freedom indeed. Mock exams have suddenly allowed a degree of freedom that more than makes up for the 5 hour Art exam several students have to wade through.
I am looking forward to the marking…no hint of irony. My year 11s have worked hard; with the exception of Christmas. They have come to lunch boosters; they have engaged in exam question preparation. They have created their own reading questions based on articles and we have analysed the conventions of numerous writing formats, language for audiences and they can detect the purpose of a text from about 20 paces.
So why am I nervous? It’s always the same. I drum the info in and pull the knowledge out. The students prove they can do it, but, just as when my daughters were learning to take their first independent steps; I am still concerned that my students will falter. They won’t, at least not in the Summer. The mocks might be a different story. I can but wait. But in the meanwhile the mocks stare at me, mocking.