So, have we, at AJS, been successful in our aims when we introduced LOtC into our curriculum. Are we creating memorable experiences, are the children more motivated with increased levels of concentration? The easy answer is yes… but it would be too easy to stop there.
Most of the evidence to support our assertions is anecdotal – but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. In an email exchange with a head who is further down the LOtC route than we are, his primary evaluation of the success of LOtC was that ‘the children had smiles on their faces’. He did go on to analyse further… but the children’s reactions to LOtC were his primary concern.
At AJS, this is what I would say in terms of success:
The children great me at school eagerly asking if I’m working with them today;
The children tell me when their class teacher has taken them outside for learning, which is happening with increasing frequency;
Teachers tell me they have worked outside, and how good it was;
Teachers also report that learning outside has a positive impact on writing outcomes and learning in class;
When outside, most children will now concentrate for an hour without having to be prompted – and often complain if I have to bring them off task to come and share…;
The children are always keen, motivated and enthusiastic, whatever the weather or whatever the task;
Parents tell me that their children love outside learning and talk about it when they go home;
The ability of classes to work in small groups has improved greatly;
The quality of talk and development of technical vocabulary is impressive;
The children have become very adept at analysing their own risk, and looking after each other;
All children benefit, but those who sometimes find life harder in a classroom can benefit hugely;
Children are seeing the links between their attitudes to their work outside and the way they work in the classroom – ‘do you know how many times you did that before you were happy…? Now try to do that when you find things hard in your writing, or your maths..’ That is powerful.
And I could go on..
Has outside learning made a difference to attainment? Possibly – but is with every school, there are so many initiatives happening at the same time, we can never be sure. But my best guess is that through approaching learning in a different way, through creating practical and memorable experiences, through enabling the children to problem solve, ask questions, work together (or on their own)..., we are making a difference. Perhaps the CLOtC conference in November will help me to approach this in a more scientific way – but for now, I’m happy that the children are happy.
Helen Porter. September 2015
So, how did I end up with, what I would consider, one of the best jobs in teaching? Two years into my current post – outdoor learning teacher at AJS – I count my blessings and reflect.
A few years ago I was, as many teachers at some stage in their career, considering my future in the profession. Since qualifying in 1996 I had held many different positions in five different schools and loved the majority of what I had done. But I was facing the prospect of another 25 years ‘in the classroom’ and really didn’t know if that was what I wanted.
Then two things happened: I embarked upon modules which would lead to an MA, and I took a part-time job at a field studies centre (FSC).
Two seemingly distinct events culminated in being mutually reinforcing: working at the FSC provided the real-life experiences of working with hundreds of children in the outdoors, and the MA allowed me to focus on current research relating to outdoor learning, and relate this theory to practice.
The success of both the FSC work and the MA resulted in my being approached by AJS: the newly appointed head had various ideas that she was considering and introducing LOtC was on the radar. She could do it initially through using me to cover PPA, which would also allow me to support the development of LOtC throughout the school. The children’s LOtC experiences I offered would be curriculum linked, thus enriching and enhancing curriculum experiences, but would also be designed to help develop resilience, concentration and team work.
There was an additional reason for introducing LOtC: when we, as adults, recall our school days, the likelihood is we shall remember one of two things: either key teachers or school trips. Although school trips on a weekly basis are not feasible, we aimed at AJS, through LOtC, to create memorable experiences for the children. We want to the children to enjoy and be excited about their learning experiences, for them to talk to their parents and carers about what they have done. We wanted our children, in the future, to have positive memories of their time at junior school, and developing LOtC could play an important part in this process.
Have we been successful? The next blog will consider this question.
Helen Porter. August 2015