Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Pedagogy of 'Zog'

"Now that you've been shown, you can practise on your own
And you'll all be expert fliers by the time you're fully grown."

That's the pedagogy of Madame Dragon in Julia Donaldson's 'Zog'. Every time I read it I wonder if teaching really is that simple.

At a recent Talk for Writing training session it was said that "If you're not modelling reading, then you're not teaching reading" and I agree. I am strong advocate of whole-class reading where the teacher models aloud the thoughts of a reader - why did he say that? What does that word mean? I wonder if...? In writing too: if the children haven't seen how a writer works, its hard for them to be one - they need to see how a writer re-reads and edits, considers word choice, sentence structure and so on. So in a sense, Julia Donaldson is right to portray the model-then-practise approach to learning.

But in maths I often take a very different approach. At the end of this half term we had an in-house 'teach meet'. It was a really positive way to end a half term and was enjoyed by all. I challenged my colleagues to begin lessons not by standing up and 'teaching' (by which I suppose I meant modelling) but by giving the children an activity to complete first without any input. My reasons are simple: you find out quickly who can do it and who can't. In this way no child is sitting listening to something that is either too hard or too easy for them. In this way you can very quickly see who is applying previous skills and strategies and who is struggling to make links. As a result you can very quickly start making learning more bespoke: if you are prepared with extension activities then the ones who find it easy can move on, some children you will decide need to continue working, for others it will be clear that you need to intervene, and it is at this point, for these children, that you model in a small group.

In writing I like to employ the 'cold write' technique. Although more time-consuming than taking a similar approach in maths, it does, again, mean that you can tailor the subsequent learning so that you you know what to model and to whom.

So, Madame Dragon in 'Zog' was right to model how to fly as she had no doubt already assessed whether or not the young dragons could fly. I'm sure she started her lesson by saying "Good morning dragons, I'd like to see, who can fly up into that tree," and upon finding that none of them could, embarked on modelling the flying process before sending them off to practise.

I challenge you in the same way I challenged my colleagues: begin more lessons by just giving the children the task, making assessment the first job you do. Use the first five minutes to decide who needs the modelling, who needs to continue applying their skills and who needs challenging further. And then get on with the modelling but allow for plenty of practise time too.

"Now that you've been shown, you can practise on your own
And you'll all be expert ??? by the time you're fully grown."

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