Postman Pat to Birds' Eye View

It was a small four class First School. Today's first lesson for YR/Y1 saw the fourteen children gathered round the large floor mat, the kind designed to be a street map with roads and roundabouts, public buildings and streets of houses. The activity centred on Postman Pat's delivery round. What did he have for No.1 Station Street? Why was it called Station Street? Where might the trains go to?

Through such soundings children across the mixed age and ability range were enabled to contribute what they already knew which, in its turn, is broadened by what others reveal. There is scope for interactive discussion that further enhances the insights into the lesson goal- increased awareness of geographical concepts. It was not confined to geographical, though, because the teacher then asked which house the postman would next visit.

When this had been suggested she asked what number it was. This drew the children towards matters some already knew but others not, namely odd and even numbers as used in most urban streets. The opportunity was taken to consider their own village, where some small streets were numbered "properly" i.e. sequentially. There was useful discussion of their own village streets.

Wherever the postman went the children were asked what he was delivering. Here social and economic geography emerged as they clearly knew about bills and letters from grandparents and birthday cards, presents too, with much discussion revealing their own preferences.

After 25 minutes the teacher took Year 1 away, leaving the reception children to play on the mat, overseen by a classroom assistant. The teacher ensured her colleague would encourage some of the new learning. Both knew that the children's normal play might be the richer for the new input and, as Maurice Galton has so clearly revealed from years of classroom observation, might reflect what they had just learned and could repeat within their free play. The effective fusion of input, repetition and use of individual experience leads in good professional hands to very effective learning.

Year 1 sat at a long table with simple but different objects in front of them. They were asked to look down from above and draw what they saw, including the furniture- effectively the birds' eye view that maps represent. As an introduction to fundamental map concepts it worked perfectly and they were quickly open to follow-up questions leading very naturally to differences of scale - something for a future lesson because this was but the second half of the lesson and PE was to follow. The work contrasted with the more pictorial forms of the play mat and so was progressive in its demands. The teacher observed the children very carefully and as work developed introduced to particular children the problem of how might they represent themselves sitting on their own chair. Evidence of a teacher using on-going observation and evaluation is a central requirement for effective teaching and a high Ofsted grading.

Where our profession sometimes fails its own high standards is the concept of education tied to Year group. There were probably one or two YR who were ready for the birds' eye view developments while at least one from Year 1 found the concept just too difficult to grasp for now and might have been better staying with car play on the mat.

This teacher back in 1998 gave the children several of the elements reported in NCL's 2009 survey of what primary children wanted from education... not least the chance use their own local knowledge in their learning and a chance to work with children of different age groups. Small schools are so good at this of course... even if we can still improve the ways we exploit it.

The Leadership Factor: The quality of teaching in a school will invariably, inevitably reflect leadership. The Head of this school knew what effective teaching and learning looked like. She later moved on to lead a Special Needs School. Teachers working with such children really understand what is going on in a child's mind. Here she concerned herself about that other special need - giftedness.

Once a week her four class teachers sent her one or two children identified as talented. She fed this completely age-mixed group with extension tasks in a range of curriculum areas over time. It was clear that often the youngest children led with ideas and responses, less inhibited than their older friends who seemed to want more certainty before drawing conclusions in solving the various questions and tasks. Levels of co-operation were remarkable. Though from four classes they worked as if they had known each other all their lives. It is no surprise the NCL study asking children what they wanted from primary education reported a wish to work with others of different ages.