Lowering my expectations – a post from @pwallen1985


CaptureI tweeted out this recently and was hit with several posts from several people. Thanks to all who contributed – here’s our half-term hitlist for you to read.

HALF-TERM HIGHLIGHTS – SATURDAY

Here is the original post – thanks to Paul for allowing us to re-post.

So, my far less handsome and much less cool deputy counterpart and good friend, @MrWaldram, has been badgering me to take up blogging about my experiences in an infant school for some time now. So here goes…

I’ve been working as a Deputy Headteacher in an infant school for nearly 18 months now, where I also teach a Y2 class. I am also the only male teacher in the school although this was also the case at my previous school, a full primary just around the corner. Having mainly worked in KS2 where I was Head of Key Stage for 6 years prior to this, the move to KS1 was quite a culture shock. “What do you mean you don’t know how to use a ruler properly?’ and “Why haven’t you started your third paragraph yet?’ were regular comments I found myself saying during those early days. I’ve always been known for having high standards and high expectations of what children can achieve, quite rightly, but here my expectations certainly had to be lowered…to an extent.

I’m a firm believer that if you expect children to do something, 99% of the time they will rise to the challenge and do it. Conversely, if you expect children to not be able to do something, they will live up to that expectation. Why can’t children who are in KS1 stand up and deliver presentations like children in Y5 and Y6 can? Why can’t they take part in a debate like you would expect those in Upper KS2 to be able to? What’s stopping them?

Obviously now, with the introduction of the new NC, children are expected to work within a set of expectations for their age group. There isn’t the pressure to push children in their learning before they are ready, like with levels. I actually quite like this approach, and am keen to develop the idea of mastery and depth within my own teaching much further. It is the wider set of learning skills that I am keen to raise the bar with in terms of high expectations: team work, confidence, speaking, sharing and developing ideas, presentation…the list is endless. These are the things that children should have the opportunity to excel in, developing a well rounded learner as opposed to a child who can simply pass a SATs paper. If you model it to them and simply expect them to do it, they will do it, regardless of age, ability, background or gender.

For example, last week, to mark the end of our Inventions topic, my class held an ‘Invention Convention’ to share their learning with parents. It’s quite a standard thing to do, which I’m sure is common in schools up and down the country, but the buzz in the room was fantastic. I can quite honestly say that every child in my class spoke confidently and passionately about their invention when questioned by lots of different adults…this was simply because they had been given the opportunity to. They all had the ability to do it – they just needed the opportunity to demonstrate it. So whenever I hear people say, “They can’t do that because they’re only infants,’ my reply is always the same: “Why not?”

This leads me to my next point: gender. Boys’ writing is certainly an issue for many schools and there are countless teachers trying their best to narrow that gap between boys and girls. I recently attended a training course about targeting teaching towards and appealing to boys. It was interesting and thought-provoking and I certainly picked up a few ideas which I have used in my class which have appealed to boys. The boys in my class have always made good progress in both reading and writing…but so have the girls. It’s almost as if the girls have benefitted from the strategies I have used which are especially designed to engage and enthuse boys. Was it the competitive element I introduced which improved progress for not only the boys, but also the girls? Possibly. Was it the use of boy friendly texts and topics which not only helped the boys to become excited about their learning, but also the girls? Possibly. Is it the fact that I am a male teacher and so provide a male role model for boys, which also provides a good role model for girls? Possibly.

Deep down, I think I know the answer to why boys in my class make just as good progress as the girls in reading and writing. Yes, I’d like to think I provide a positive male role model for them. Yes, I’d like to think that I plan boy friendly topics and use boy friendly texts. But more importantly, I have high expectations. I have high expectations of the boys and I have high expectations of the girls (even if they are only KS1!). If I think back to last years progress data, the boys in my class had made really good progress…but so had the girls. The gap was still there (don’t get me started on the issue of the ‘gap’ and accelerating progress). Why was this? Simple. I expected the boys to do it and if I expected it from the boys, I had to also expect it from the girls. They too had benefited from the high expectations I had and the teaching strategies I had used to further engage boys. In short, they all had received decent quality teaching.

So, to finish, is there a trick to teaching children in KS1? Do I think it’s any harder or easier to teach in KS1 when compared to KS2? Is there a magic solution to teaching boys and improving progress? In my opinion, no. Just have high expectations of all the children you teach, regardless of age, gender, ability and background, and just teach them all. And teach them all well. That’s it.

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