VIGNETTES SERIES 1
The following five vignettes are short descriptions of attributes and ‘awareness factors’ that can help teachers in setting classroom scenes
VIGNETTE ONE : IMAGINATION
Imagination – teaching and the ‘inner eye’. Appealing to children’s imagination and having students walk round inside their heads.
Imagination can be a powerful tool. Having children simulate situations through appeal to their imagination can be a very powerful supportive learning aid. Having children put themselves in the pace of literary characters, into a historical situation, using the ‘mind’s eye’ to imagine life in another country, simulating situations regarding applied maths … the list goes on.
Imagination can run riot in terms of the richness of variables and probabilities that light up the minds of children. Keeping students focussed is the role that belongs to the teacher. It is a quality that adds to the vibrancy and ‘life’ in lesson situations if allowed the opportunity for development and use.
With oral texts, shared reading can be enhanced if students are asked to use their imagination for the sake of predicting, considering consequences, analysing characters in readings and so on. This can extend to include drama and the acting out of scenarios. It also has credence in more academic contexts, including Science and Maths if students are ‘invited into’ domains bringing imagination to the classroom. This is situational learning where students are given questions based on real life scenarios. Maths, Science, Literacy and SOCE all lend themselves to scenario learning.
Scenario learning is also stimulation for teachers because it encourages them to use their imagination in order to set the learning scenes.
The imagination of children can be quite boundless. However with the use of electronic gadgetry and games I fear that imagination has become somewhat less and possibly unduly influenced by this gadgetry. The gadgets can stand in the place of children determining outcomes and play by setting the agenda to which day (children) simply react.
I used to say to children at all age and grade levels, that we have three eyes ; the left, eye, the right eye, and the mind’s eye. That eye is the imaginative eye and it sits in our brain behind our forehead. It can ‘see’ in the same way as our physical eyes by taking us to places in our heads.
Imagination can be a powerful tool facilitating teaching and learning opportunities in classrooms. It can enhance teaching and learning contexts and also build memories of the created events and scenarios.
VIGNETTE TWO : COMPUTER ENCOURAGES TEACHER SEDENTARINESS
Teacher needs in terms of planning, preparation, recording and data inputting, along with other benefits have come a long way since pen and paper, then later typewriters were the only available recording tools. Without doubt, computer and iPad options have been enhancing for teachers in terms of these functions.
With the emphasis these days focussed as it is on data and recording, there is a tendency for teachers to become desk-bound and screen-focussed, inserting data and results onto their electronic records. That is fine, but we ought not forget the importance of moving around the classroom engaging with students. That personal contact is important and can easily become lost because of screen fixation.
Anoppther ‘beware point’ is to watch that children are not engaged in activities that offer ‘filler’ time for teachers for data and recording purposes. Silent reading is an example. There needs to be a focus about sustained silent reading (SSR), an activities outcome. It ought not be a period of time that is provided simply to facilitate administration.
Be conscious of the need to move around the classroom between, among and engaging with students. Children value contact and appreciate teachers who take interest in them individually as well as class collectively.
VIGNETTE THREE : MAPPING MOVEMENT
‘Location location’ by teachers in classrooms is important. It is important that teachers are ‘boundary riders’, regularly visiting around their classrooms, talking to all children, being aware of how groups are working and keeping up-to-date with classroom happenings. This cannot happen unless they are migratory. Classrooms, metaphorically, might be considered as the estate for which teachers are responsible. The most significant elements of that landscape are students.
When at Leanyer and observing practice teachers, I would take a photo of the classroom, with desks and chairs in their normal places. Part of my appreciation of teachers undertaking preservice was to map their movement around the classroom. Not for every lesson but periodically. Over a twenty minute period, on the blank ‘classroom map’, I would trace their movement patters with a pen or biro. The completed map was part of the feedback given to them. It showed quite graphically their tracking patterns, creating awareness of parts of the room and students upon whom they concentrated. If the aim is to be uniform in terms of movement and engagement, it offered a ‘visual’ on adjustments that might be necessary in order to fully cover all students.
It is easy to over-focus on some students and overlook others. This process offered a tool enabling teachers to consider any necessary changes they might make.
If interested, you might ask mentor teachers to carry out a similar exercise . You could possibly (with the okay) take a picture of the empty room, and print, possibly to A4 size and ask your mentor to track you in a ‘time and distance manner.
After a while, you will become ‘subconsciously aware’ of your movement habits within the classroom. This will automatically trigger adjustments you may need to make.
VIGNETTE FOUR : TRANSIENT STUDENTS
There is a very high rate of student transience in the Northern Territory. This happens on two fronts.
* Movement of children between territory schools. This is particularly the case and remote areas with families moving to accord with ceremonial cycles and other obligations.
* Transfers of students with their families from interstate to territory and back a game after fixed periods. This applies to the many families in our Defence Forces and also to those who come on contracts for 12 months or two years.
It is important to understand this phenomena, because throughput of students within classes can lead to disconnections between students and also between students and teacher. It can be discouraging to build a rapport with students, then to discover they move on, often without notice. New enrolments come in their place and the enrolment- departure syndrome can continue.
It is important to not become downhearted or discouraged at the discovery of changes resulting from transience. Life goes on and we have to remain buoyed and optimistic for the other students in the class.
Transience is an issue that confronts some schools more than others but it impacts everywhere. The teacher – pupil relationship is best helped in these situations by acceptance of departure as being a fact of life, then moving on with the class and newly enrolled students to new learning.
A corollary for teachers on practice, to leave at the end of the practicum with happy memories, not tinged b y sadness the period has come to an end. In life we all move on (often). It is the way things happen.
VIGNETTE FIVE : ‘CONVERSATIONAL’ VOICE
The way in which teachers talk with children is an important consideration. Talking ‘with’ children rather than talking ‘at’ them is ever so important. It helps students understand you as being ‘one with them’, not someone over and above them. It is easy to talk down to children and when that happens the respect they hold for you becomes somewhat dampened.
Tone of voice needs to confirm teachers and being conversational. I often think of teachers who in staff rooms and talking to peers are conversational, speaking on the same level as their peers. When those same teachers go to their classes, their voice takes on a ‘tone of command’ that can become almost perpetual. In metaphoric terms, their voice, which has been ‘quiet and car like on a smooth bitumen road’ takes on the grind of a4WD engaged to travel over difficult terrain. That grinding, shrill, load, commanding voice is not something I would recommend as being of help to teachers wanting to engage with children.
Voice can embrace children; it can also be off-putting, distancing you from them and making the student group difficult to reach.
The teacher’s voice is her or his most powerful tool. Use it carefully.