I visited Dirleton Primary School this morning. The difference between visiting a school like Dirleton and a school like Ross High School is that I observed 100% of the teachers in Dirleton in a single morning.
It was good that I managed to speak to the teachers over coffee before visiting the classes and was able to explain a little bit more about what I was trying to achieve through my visits – they’ve also promised to have a go at rewriting my explanatory letter to make it less formal and intimidating.
The overwhelming feature of the practice I observed during my visit was the consumate way th teachers managed composite classes. Composite classes strike fear into the majority of parents’ hearts and in the secondary sector they are relatively unheard of. Yet here I saw two particular classes P3/4 and P5-7 being taught the same topic (mental maths) in a way which took account of differing abilities and rates of progression.
At the end of one of these classes I managed to ask the pupils what they thought about being in a class with children of different ages. They couldn’t see any disadvantages but were able to give me a list advantages:
- “You get to hear things that you’ve done before but didn’t perhaps understand the first time”
- “You get to help other people in the class who are doing new things”
- “You get to know people of different ages”
- “You get to see what you will be doing next year”
There were a few others but I didn’t get them down quickly enough. Attainment in the school is very good so the children certainly don’t seem to be suffering from the experience – in fact attainment is improving. So what did I take from this?
What I saw were classes where everyone belonged and was valued. I saw classes where children knew where they were and where they were going. I saw classes without artifical limits. I saw classes where teachers used learners to help learners. I saw classes where learners were involved in their own and others learning.
The consequence of all this was captured by discussion I had with the pupils at the end of the lesson. They were confident, responsible, effective and successful learners (now where have heard that before?)