Teaching and Learning at Grayrigg.
Inspiring, wobbling and building dry-stone walls!
Teaching is not about standing at the front of the class, it’s about providing opportunities for children to learn. Teaching is not about putting on a show every day from 8:45- 3:15. It is about the environment you create, the experiences you provide and how you guide the little people in your care through those experiences and opportunities ensuring they get as much as they can out of every opportunity.
Of course, some of those opportunities may be less exciting than others. Yes, every child needs to learn their tables, but they don’t need to learn them at a table, They could learn them outside with a ball, using ICT or even in the forest. Our aim is to make learning fun and memorable so that children remember both the experience and the learning.
The children are split into two classes: the Acorns and the Oaks. The Acorns class is made up of Reception, year 1 and year 2. Their learning is inspired through experience, using both the indoor and outdoor learning environments as well as the forest classroom (at least weekly). Much of the learning is inspired through hands on learning. Of course, the older children in the class spend some time sat with work books recording their learning, but all learning starts with real experiences.
Some simple: role-playing Little Red Riding Hood in our real forest.
Some more unusual: blacking out the whole of the hall and doing PE with glow bracelets and anklets as part of a dark and light topic.
Some are even extravagant: children in year 1 and 2 take part in six, weekly sessions at the climbing wall, developing confidence, self-esteem and endurance in their learning.
All experiences are real and memorable. Children are encouraged to recognise the learning in new experiences, for example learning about the imperative verb whilst creating natural paints in the texture kitchen makes the learning of grammar real, fun and worthwhile in the mind of a six year old.
The Oaks class is made up of years 3- 6. Their learning continues to be inspired by experience, but also by the real, grown up world - working with experts as well as teachers. The teacher’s role then becomes one of making the understanding relevant to children of the various ages. Learning about stronger structures with the engineer who is currently building the Lancaster Bypass Bridge on the M6, really does put their learning into a relevant context, considering what would happen if he didn’t understand strong structures. Through technology there are more and more opportunities to talk to real life experts but the aim here is more than that. It is not just to invite experts in to talk to the children and be asked questions, it is getting experts in to work with the children.
Of course experience and inspiration must be backed up with a strand set of basic skills that children acquire through each year of their education at Grayrigg. Teachers and school leaders ensure these are taught through non-negotiables.
Whilst every teacher aims to inspire children they must first start with firm foundations. These are the skills required to progress in their learning. At Grayrigg we use the analogy of a dry stone wall when discussing the non-negotiables.
With dry stone walls not every stone is the same size, but they are all important. In fact it is the stones nearer the bottom that are the most important. If a wall has gaps lower down, you can build it higher and higher but eventually it will collapse because its foundations are not strong. Learning is the same, pushing a child without the secure foundations required to understand new concepts and ideas, will lead to a collapsing wall. At Grayrigg we definitely don’t want to build a child up to send them off to secondary school, only for their understanding to collapse when they move on to more complex learning.
As a school we have agreed non-negotiables for every year group, which they must be secure in by the end of the year. We keep a check on these throughout the school year and any child not becoming secure in them will be offered additional short term support to ensure no gaps are left. Children who are moving quickly are further challenged to ensure they have truly mastered the skills before moving on.
All teaching and learning is evaluated by first considering the non-negotiables:
Teachers must use the agreed non-negotiables for each year group in their planning and assessment
Teachers must put in place short term Intervention support for children who struggle with specific non-negotiables
Teachers must ensure all children know what they are working on (referred to as which stone they should add next)
All non-negotiables MUST be covered
Every teacher must know which children are progressing quickly, at the expected rate or slower than expected and must adapt their teaching accordingly
Teaching should be adapted to meet the needs of every individual in the class.
The Learning Journey and the wobble.
If you look out of the windows at Grayrigg your eyes are met by the stunning view of Whinfell. This provides the perfect metaphor for every learning journey and is used with the children. If you look carefully at the view you can see the path up the hill (to the mast), this part of the walk up Whinfell is relatively easy, in fact it can be reached in a car. Just like learning, the journey starts off relatively simply, however, when you reach the mast the view isn’t spectacular. To see the spectacular view you have to keep going - the climb gets more challenging as at this point there are a few steeper sections and the children are tired - but if they push on, stick with it even when they want to give up, they will reach the top. It is only at the peak of Whinfell that you see the stunning view in all directions.
We refer to the part of the journey when it get tricky as “the wobble” and we use this language in the classroom - to really learn that we should have a wobble, in fact it is the wobble that proves we are truly learning. Endurance is a core value at Grayrigg, the ability to keep going when it gets hard, not to give up. All teachers at Grayrigg are expected to discuss, embrace and celebrate the wobble with all children, at whatever point it comes. Every new achievement that has taken effort and stamina is celebrated however small it may seem.
The learning journey celebrates 5 Learning Values:
Endurance: keeping going through the wobble
Resilience: reacting positively to the wobble
Pride: appreciating their own achievements
Independence: knowing what to do when they wobble
Motivation: viewing learning as an adventure
Leadership: creating the learning path rather than just following it.
With a little inspiration, a lot of wobbles and the non-negotiables in place, we believe every child can reach further than they ever thought they could.