I have just finished reading Good Ideas by Michael Rosen who is a writer, poet, educational agitator, broadcaster and former Children’s Laureate. It is a delightful cocktail of a book, which is one part autobiographical and one part manual for developing curiosity in children. Through exploration of his childhood memories and his interactions with his children, he offers the reader an insight into his own ‘spirit of inquiry’ and how you may develop one in your own child. Although written mainly for parents I think there are some nuggets of advice here for the PE Teacher.
1. Talk. Rosen treasures talk. Moments where we talk to children about being part of the world and through that how part of the world becomes them. He believes we shouldn’t downgrade talk with children, but it has to be two way. It has to be interpersonal where we as adults listen and leave gaps for children to answer and and encourage them to ask us further questions. As PE teachers we have a role in developing a child’s literacy, not through reading and writing as they don’t necessarily fit with the practical nature of our subject, but through encouraging them to talk. Within our lessons we should be trying very hard to engage our students in a dialogue, getting them to verbalise their decisions, their thoughts, their ideas and their answers. Then we should talk to them about talking. This year I have been recording my conversations with my students via my phone. In some lessons we have, where the students has felt comfortable, listened to it as a class and talked about the language being used and how we could improve it. Most of the time PE Teachers are just telling, which is understandable with the inherent dangers having 32 Year 9 boys throwing the Javelin, but we have to try and make time to have conversations within our lessons. Through talk we can enlarge our students knowledge and feelings and encourage their inner voice which shapes what they do and their understanding. This isn’t easy, but if learning through talk, learning how to do ‘inner talk’ and learning how to learn is important then we need to make a conscious effort to make time to really talk to our students.
2. Clubs and activities. As PE Teachers it is an expectation that we provide after school clubs and activities for our students. Rosen’s take on this is that they have provided some of the most important learning experiences of all both in his and his children’s life. His reasoning behind this is simple. As long as the motivation for attending the club lies with the child, then there is more willingness to learn, to get better and to gain knowledge then at any other time as they have autonomy. There is a lot of writing about ‘helicopter parents’ at the moment, where they hover and control every aspects of a child’s life, so much so that child becomes disillusion when older and withdraws from the interests they may of had when younger. However as PE Teachers we need to be aware acutely aware of our responsibility. With a poor choice of words, with not talking to the child about our decisions and with having favourites, where we could ‘kickstart’ a life long passion, we could easily destroy it. We need to not think about what our club or activity may provide our students in the long term and how that may shape them in adult life, but try to think about the immediate. The here and now of the activity and how we can make it fun, and challenging and interesting. To get students to feel these things every time they come to us voluntary and revel not in the success of winning, but the fact they decide to come back again.
3. Outdoors. Not necessarily exploring the great outdoors, which is something that seems to have fallen by the wayside in school, but the ‘little outdoors’. Rosen suggests that there is much to be learnt and gained for just exploring the ordinary outdoors of our modern lives. He describes many things parents and children can do to explore the ‘little outdoors’ but the one that resonates most with me is the local park. Close to my school there are two local parks, and whenever I run to them they are deserted. The local parks in my partners home town of Berlin in comparison are a hive of activity, especially in unstructured play. This is something we have discussed in our PE Department many times. How can we encourage our students and their parents to play? To play at break times at school and to play in the local parks. A colleague has suggested that we teach a unit of play, where students get to create their own activities and games, to go out at break time and teach them adapted versions of games like cricket or volley football. Then provide them and their parents with details of where their local green space and parks are. To plant a seed of a thought and reminder that play can be hugely beneficial, especially for the health and wellbeing of our students.
4. Sports Stadia. A trip to a sports stadium is one of many very good ideas that Rosen has for what to do with children in the holidays. Either for live games to experience the spectacle and the crowd or tours to investigate the history and the legacy that sport can provide. This is something we have now done for three years at my school. It was brought in by a new colleague into the department and is hugely successful. Each term the PE Department organises a trip for pupils, parents and staff to go and watch a live game. Championship Football, Premiership Rugby, Premiership Basketball, Premiership Cricket, Premiership Ice Hockey. They all give great discounts for students and they are wonderful days or evenings out. They get children watching, thinking and talking about sport which can only be a good thing. They get the school community together to appreciate physical activity that might inspire one or two of our students to find out more and potentially participate in a school or out of school club.
As a teacher I might not agree with everything Michael Rosen writes within his book. He also offers no advice on how to over come the child who is difficult to enthuse or excite in anything. However what you can’t deny when reading this book is the man’s passion for extending and supporting his own and his children’s education. He reminds the reader quite clearly that it is not the sole responsibility of the school to promote and support the education of a child. Perhaps if we had more parents like Michael Rosen, who look to develop thinking and curiosity in their own children, how easier our jobs as teachers would be?