Even to the untrained eye, the differences between an Early Years classroom and other classrooms around a school are clear to see. But in the small village school on the Norfolk coast, in the East of England, where I work the distinction is being blurred. Early Years principles are being used to shape both the classrooms and curriculum in Years 1 and 2 and are being introduced up to Key Stage 2 this academic year.
September 2017, fresh-faced and ready to start a new year, I was confronted with another ‘new’ I hadn’t anticipated – continuous provision in Key Stage 1 to be used for the teaching of the broad curriculum. Dazed and slightly bemused, I tentatively made my first attempts at teaching this way. A year on, and I can’t imagine teaching the broad curriculum any other way.
A lot of teachers I meet on courses and from other local schools all have the same moans and groans: workload, a curriculum which can appear dry upon first reading, and an assessment system which is in turmoil, drill down and you end up at the children who are being put through this system. Nevermore has Ken Robinson’s ‘Changing educations paradigms’ been more relevant. Without the teachers who question the systems in place and try to find ways around them, we would just be pumping children out of schools with the same knowledge, and most probably, a strong dislike for school and learning.
With this in mind, my school decided to try and find another way of engaging children and allowing them to learn about the objectives from the broad curriculum, but in a manner that is meaningful to them.
And that is where the use of continuous provision in KS1 started…
Classroom changing rooms
When you take on something like continuous provision, it changes the way you as a teacher think and, as I discovered, the way your classroom looks.
Little did I know that the success of teaching in this way would rest heavily upon the provision within the classroom. And having a range of resources to hand both enhanced to support the coverage of the objective but also open resources which could be used by the children to develop their learning in ways unplanned for by the adults.
As we are not an EYFS classroom and don’t own any of the beautiful shelving units that can be seen in many EYFS classrooms up and down the country, we had to think about how we could allow the children access to as much of the classroom as we could. This involved taking out a lot of class sets of resources you may use once in a blue moon, taking doors off cupboards to create open shelves and lessening the amount of furniture in the classroom. And filling them with well-presented easy to access resources.
This took lots of time and consideration. Unfortunately, it was not sorted at the click of the fingers as we had to contend with the more formal mornings which the room had to be set up to allow to happen and then be changed as quickly as possible for the less formal afternoons. Once we started to see the benefits for the children, the loss of half of our lunchtime setting up the room became worth it.
Play vs curriculum objective coverage
Many pre-conceived ideas of continuous provision are play, play and more play, so we did develop the expectation that the children were using the enhanced provision to show their learning and take it deeper.
The children started their session with teacher input about the objective and success criteria were shared so they knew what was expected. The children were then allowed to use the resources around the classroom to respond to the objective taught. As long as they were responding to the taught objective, they could use the resources in whatever way they saw fit.
Within a short space of time, children could be heard around the classroom challenging one another. One such dialogue took place between two boys, both of whom were reluctant writers and readers.
Child 1: “What are you learning with the LEGO?”
Child 2: “Nothing, I am just playing”
Child 1: “ This is not the time for playing with LEGO. You should be showing your learning, you are not going to grow your brain if you play all the time”
Child 2: “OK, well shall we work together to build a castle which we can label and take a picture of?”
As much as there were dialogues of this nature happening very naturally around the room between the children there were, as is often the case, the more reluctant learners or the “flitters” as I termed them who would access the enhanced provision around the room in very short unfocused bursts.
Considering we were relying heavily on adult observations of the children’s learning, including characteristics of learning as a means of assessing curriculum coverage and understanding the “flitters”, became a real issue.
How could I, as their teacher, say they had a good understanding of the curriculum objectives when they had looked at all the provision for a few minutes at a time? For these children, a structure had to be provided by the adults to scaffold their responses so in most cases this was a now and then arrangement, one adult-directed the other chosen by the child.
Metacognition in continuous provision
Just to clarify what I mean by metacognition I use the EEF definition of “Metacognition and self-regulation approaches aim to help pupils think about their own learning more explicitly, often by teaching them specific strategies for planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning.”
I can hear you saying, “but how can the children do this when they are working within a free choice environment using resources both provided and available?” That is where our characteristics of effective learning come in. When we introduced the continuous provision aspect of the children’s learning we developed characteristics of effective learning progressing from those used in EYFS. These were used for both assessing the children but also to support their meta-cognition.
The characteristics of effective learning cover how the children could display their knowledge, how they can regulate their emotions within a group or when they make a mistake, to also looking at how they are going to complete a project through planning what to do and what they need.
These were well documented by the adults with the children’s observations in their learning journeys and often the children didn’t realise what they meant. Towards the end of the year, we started to develop the use of learning powers, which were initially used alongside maths but covered the characteristics. These enabled the children to start to identify how they were learning and approaching the provision.
The dialogue around this element was less natural than that around what the provision was used for. This is the next step for us in the development of this approach to make sure it is having the biggest possible impact on the children’s development of learning and also skills within independently responding to the taught curriculum objective.
Beth Sleet @ManicSleetTeach is a Year 2 class teacher in Norfolk, She is PWP, RE, Science and Computing lead in school. Read her blog at manicsleetteach.wordpress.com
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