One of the challenges of using a new pedagogy in teaching is finding all the ways in which it can be used to further learning. I was challenged about using Mantle of the Expert techniques in short sessions to meet a learning intention. Firstly, I focused on angles in Maths (see earlier post about the clock) – this time I went for learning to use fronted adverbials starting with -ing words.
At stage-fright we have regularly played the waiting game where participants come and sit on a chair and wait for something without words. The group have to work out from their physicality what it is the person on the chair is waiting for. They then join them and so on. With my class of Year 4 and 5 children, I adapted this to teach fronted adverbials starting with an -ing word.
I placed three chairs next to each other and invited the group to make a circle including the three chairs. Interestingly, I have noticed that the class are much more efficient and careful with moving furniture around the room to create a space for us to work in. I then sat in one of the chairs and pretended to wait for a bus. They were able to work out what I was waiting for and I asked them to articulate how they knew. They told me that I was checking a timetable on the (imaginary) bus stop, checking my watch and leaning forward to look down the road. We then turned those into -ing sentences. Checking his watch, the man peered down the road waiting for the bus.
I then invited the group, when they were ready, to come and sit on a chair and wait for something. The power of this was in the use of ‘sitting’ and ‘waiting’, giving the children the -ing starters if they needed them. I told them that although the chairs were together they were in separate worlds. The reason for having three chairs was to have more involvement and more chance of children guessing what was going on but they weren’t linked in any other way. The children had to guess what the child was sitting and waiting for using and -ing starter.
After a while of doing this and reinforcing the grammar required, we moved on to doing the same thing with whiteboards where they had to write a sentence. We then shared and talked about the punctuation required and worked on ‘hearing’ where the comma should go in the sentence.
The next day I told the children that they were going to repeat and extend what they had done before but this time they were going to work in their books. I asked them if they felt comfortable working on the floor or did they want to work at tables. They chose tables and so we organised the room into a short of horseshoe shape with a performance space, with the three chairs at the front.
I invited a child to come and sit and wait for something. A girl did and, as she sat, she looked really pensive and worried. The children worked out that she was waiting for something to happen that she was worried about. We speculated about what this might be but I also took the opportunity of asking the children what it was about her posture and movements that made her nervous. We then established that she was waiting outside the principal’s office and so the class wrote an -ing sentence about this. ‘Waiting nervously, Patricia (not her real name) sat outside the Principal’s office. Realising the power of ‘noticing’ I asked the children to continue describing the girl noting all the things that made her nervous. This had the added bonus of adding noun phrases and really deliberate and delicate description to their work and practicing the skills of ‘show, not tell’ when writing. If every sentence started with an -ing starter, we’d have some poor writing on our hands.
We then talked about what might happen and we decided that the Principal would come out of the office. We added a principal in and we talked about how to add more tension. We had the Principal make deliberate foot steps towards the door. As the child chosen to be the Principal did this, Patricia noticeably tensed up so I stopped the action and we added the -ing sentence about the Principal and the affect that had on Patricia. ‘Hearing the footsteps of the formidable Principal, Patricia sat up still, her body tensing.’ Then ‘Opening the door menacingly, the Principal beckoned Patricia in’.
The children then realised that the chairs were in the wrong place and they needed to move to be like an office. I asked which chair was the Principal’s and they couldn’t really tell me because they were both the same. They noted that the Principal’s chair should be different and somehow more grander and important so we replaced the chair with the teacher’s chair. The Principal then invited Patricia to sit down and the class talked about what the Principal could do to make Patricia more tense; pace around the room, lean over her, tut noisily etc.
At each step the children were adding to their description. The lesson was about 40 minutes and the story had advanced from sitting outside the Principal’s office to sitting inside the Principal’s office but the majority of the children had written 3/4 page in their books. We commented on how little had happened v how much they had written to show that building tension happened through fronted adverbials and deliberate and detailed description of the setting, body and actions of the characters in the story.
Finally, we reflected on the learning intention and I asked them to count how many -ing sentences they had written over the course of the lesson and whether or not they felt they could do it in their free writing. We used the ‘I can island’, where the children draw a boat and a desert island with waves of sea between them and place themselves somewhere on this continuum, depending on how successful they have been The island means success, the boat means they don’t think they have started their learning journey and floundering around in the sea means they are learning! They also number themselves 1-5 to show confidence. Some children noted that they had written a lot but not really met the learning intention as they had gone on ahead of the action in front of them and written a story; others felt that they had only really copied the modelled -ing sentences and needed more practice.
All of the children wrote more than they would have normally in the given time. This was a real bonus. Even those who didn’t meet the learning intention wrote sentences of detailed description and action about the scenario. The main reflection on these sessions was the deliberately slow pace of the action (in the story) and how the children wrote about what they noticed (the clenched worried fists, the anxious face, the deliberate steps of the Principal – the pacing around the room). All these things enhanced the tension in their writing. This was something that I first noticed when I saw Tim Taylor lead a session at Oakwood Infant school in Hartley Wintney where a subject was approaching the King’s castle to petition him to help remove a troll from under a bridge. As a group we spent 20 minutes describing the subjects walk up to the castle. It was careful, deliberate and had modelled language in it, as did this lesson about waiting. Another reflection is how naturally I am beginning to hand over control of what happens in lessons to the children. They arranged the room, chose the storyline, noticed the small things that Patricia did to show worry and they self-assessed and reviewed their own work. All I did is verbally model the style of sentence I was looking for and write it on the board for children to use.
We never did find out what Patricia had done.