The dancer in the classroom!

Sir Ken Robinson tells a great story about girl whose parents were terribly worried about her lack of concentration in class;

I also have a very similar story. (I have kindly been given permission by Lucy’s mom to use her real name and share this story)

Two years ago Lucy came into my class as an enthusiastic Y5 girl. However, there was a problem, or to put it more precisely, a reputation that came with her. Lucy couldn’t concentrate in class.

Lucy couldn’t ‘sit still’, she was ‘noisy’ and her energy levels never seemed to wane. I thought carefully about this, as her teacher I became concerned. I wrote to her parents to request a meeting. At the meeting her mom informed me that this was ‘Just Lucy’. At the time I felt a little unsupported, however, I look back now and realise her mom was spot on. Lucy was just Lucy. She can’t sit still, she likes being vocal and she loves moving around the classroom; it was my duty to adjust to Lucy, not Lucy’s job to adjust to school! I therefore went about thinking of strategies to help Lucy and her learning.

I first ensured there was plenty of movement. I facilitated lots of talk (P4C was wonderful for Lucy) and sitting at a table became a choice not an order. At home Lucy’s mom decided to see if Lucy would enjoy ice-dancing…She loved it! In fact two weeks ago she won her first competition!

In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, Lucy didn’t have a problem; she wasn’t ‘naughty’ – she was in fact ‘a dancer’, someone who loved moving! Even more importantly Lucy can still be ‘just Lucy’

Last week I took two classes, Lucy included, on a residential trip. It was a tiring but wonderful week, the children gained invaluable and immeasurable experiences and collaborated on a range of tasks. It quickly dawned on me that all of the tasks had something very much in common:

  • No activities were preceded with a learning objective.
  • Differentiation was decided by the youngsters themselves
  • No-one got things wrong and everyone made mistakes
  • Every pupil was challenged but not compared with each other
  • Adults allowed children to explore possible solutions
  • Nothing was neatly recorded in  books
  • Children were encouraged to set their own targets
  • There were no walls (Except for bed time!)
  • Children were smiling – lots!

Taking ideas from outdoor education centres is not just about asking children to identify trees in the wooded areas and having a camp fire. It’s also about using ideas like those above; where children were challenged but had choice, where they built their self esteem by making mistakes. When youngsters didn’t always have to sit still and be quiet.

Talk to any teacher and they’ll tell you the value of an outdoor educational experience. So what bigger hint do we need that classrooms (In their traditional sense) are not always the best places to learn, they’re just a small part of the wider picture.
On Monday morning the children walked into my classroom. It felt different though. Unnatural. Odd that these young people were forced to congregate in a room within a building called a school after hugely successful week in an environment very different from a school.

For the past five years I’ve researched, experimented and applied many theories to my pedagogical approach, taking every opportunity to tap into children’s natural way of thinking and learning. It follows that perhaps over the next five years my emphasis should be on the physical learning environment and how it can be used to help all children succeed.

I will make lots of mistakes, but after last week I feel confident that it’ll work out for the best!

Remember when children are ‘fidgety’ it’s because they don’t want to be still, when they’re not concentrating it’s because they’re bored and when they’re noisy perhaps they want to perform! Whatever the reason, it is our jobs to adjust to the needs of the children, not the other way round. I no longer worry about Lucy, she’s just fine!

The Thought Weavers

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8 thoughts on “The dancer in the classroom!

  1. Yvonne

    Had a similar experience with a boy in my Y6 class some years ago. Always “drumming” and a very agile gymnast. However, he was in the army system abroad and there just wasn’t the provision or opportunity for him to develop his talents within the English/maths-bound culture of school. Don’t know where he is now, just hope he isn’t drumming on his cell wall.

    • Hi Yvonne,
      If you little man is drumming on a prison wall it will be as an officer or a teacher and not as an inmate. Even if he is an inmate that’s not the end; as when the Thought Weavers are not in teaching in class we also teach in prisons. Hey ho we’re on a winner all ways.
      Look out for this week’s blog which is all about begaviour and relationships within the classroom – Posted on Wednesday.
      Thank you for your continued support.
      Lee and David (The Thought Weavers)

  2. Again, congrats on another fabulous, teacher-stretching post! I’m suddenly thinking of particular students in my 9-10 year old classroom! Suddenly you have me looking at them positively rather than negatively! In other words, how can I conform, not, how can they? Like you, I’m not sure of all the answers and I do find the confines of tight planning very constrictive. Maybe on Monday, I’ll ask them!

    • Thanks Marg,
      It’s positive replies and comments like yours that encourages us to write our weekly blog. Look out for this week’s blog which is all about begaviour and relationships within the classroom – Posted on Wednesday.
      Thank you for your continued support.
      Lee and David (The Thought Weavers)

  3. Cherise Duxbury

    I love this post and I agree with everything you say on so many levels. At this time of year we are given oppotunites to hear what our new class is like and who the ‘trouble makers’ are…. I tend not to listen as I want to make up my own mind and hopefully give the children that chance to show me who they are. As adults we would hate to be judged before we have a chance to show who we are and what we can do. I wonder why we do don’t give children the same curtesy?
    Having just come back from a weekend residential, I can relate to what you are saying and find myself thinking about the children in my classroom. I loved seeing them for the amazing children that they truly are and seeing them as children with so much potential and not just a sats level. Seeing them as children who deserve to be nutured and appreciated for who they are.
    Reading this post has help me to organise my own thoughts and this promise myself that next year I will strive to provide more opportunities for the children to achieve successes in the classroom like they achieved on their activity weekend.

    • Fantastic Cherise
      As you are well aware that it’s all about giving every child every chance to learn. You’re also right about the system of colleagues passing judgement on pupils 8 weeks before they have even had the chance to teach them. By all means pass on relevant information that will help the children to learn but to send them up to their new teacher with a label around their neck is criminal. Look out for this week’s blog which is all about what we have discussed.
      Thank you for your continued support.
      Lee and David (The Thought Weavers)

  4. “Remember when children are ‘fidgety’ it’s because they don’t want to be still, when they’re not concentrating it’s because they’re bored and when they’re noisy perhaps they want to perform!” ….

    Love this sentence. Had a child in class who was similar. Her parents said a doctor recommended she take Ritalin for ADHD. Parents were concerned about the drug use and wanted my opinion. I said the choice was up to them not the doctor. I felt this child was coping well enough and the effects of the drug would suppress her curiosity and enjoyment of school. My experience of the girl was she was active, intelligent and curious. My class was one where the sound of children talking was seen as an engaged class, where activities were around the class when children needed them, where children contributed to learning, and where I was there to guide them and support them.

    They decided against the use of drugs.

    Today the same girl is studying a nursing degree in university, still is very active, curious and loves life. I feel it would have been a very different story if she had been suppressed artificially or made to conform to some standard outside her normal self.
    Again I repeat your sentence.

    “Remember when children are ‘fidgety’ it’s because they don’t want to be still, when they’re not concentrating it’s because they’re bored and when they’re noisy perhaps they want to perform!”

  5. Pingback: Winding Up and Winding Down » Inside Learning

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