It’s OK everyone - I know you’ve been worrying, but everything is alright... The Colourful King and the Grey King have been reunited and colour has been restored throughout the kingdom! Wandsworth Prep has been in the midst of a real dilemma in our annual Book Fortnight where we use a book to inspire learning across the whole school. In the middle of a pandemic, why bother investing time, energy, new resourcing and thought into a specialist project week or fortnight? In fact, why do them at all, in any year? Surely it would be better to avoid interrupting the carefully structured learning across a year and keep things simple?
We don’t believe learning should be formulaic; we believe learning should be fresh. There needs to be points in a year where the new is explored and routine is disrupted to create energy and innovation. It enlivens children and teachers alike. When we plan for a new themed, whole school fortnight, teachers all come together, sharing their expertise and ideas into a creative melting pot. This sharing of educational ideas inspires us all to do better.
At the end of our Book Fortnight based on Aaron Becker’s ‘The Quest’ (please see our article on this year’s extravaganza), we evaluated the theme with the whole school via their Bubble Assemblies. A huge response was that the children liked working together as a school, towards a shared goal. They liked being able to interact with other year groups to discuss ideas and the oldest children relished their role as peer leaders who could infiltrate the project and influence the direction of the learning. In short, it was collective empowerment.
Children do need to be empowered if we claim to promote independence and whole school themed weeks lend themselves perfectly to this. When you run a themed fortnight you always have clear target points and goals that need to be achieved by the participants. The learning is purposeful as every task set has a specific audience or a timeframe. Not because it’s the end of the lesson or because your teacher ‘told you to’, but because the character/role player in the story has set you a challenge and you don’t want to let yourself or the school community down.
Motivation for learning tasks is absolutely essential. Here at Wandsworth Prep we meld together the imagined world with the real world. The role of the imagined world is to connect with children’s hearts and their motivation to learn and then the educational content and learning objectives fall naturally into the real world. These facts and skills are ones we need for this imagined world but of course, they will translate to all our future learning.
When children were challenged to provide the words to the picture book story, they all embraced the challenge. It had been set by ‘the Colourful King’ and our doing this would help to promote The Colour Movement, a movement which believes in bringing colour back into a grey world. Once inside this imagined context, any learning task is seen as important, worthwhile and simply ‘not work’. Pitching our efforts together to overthrow the Grey King’s strict rule gives the learning a momentum and a ‘them’ against ‘us’ motivation.
It’s inbuilt in children - working together to overcome evil and without fail a baddy really stirs them into a frenzy. Last year it was the ‘Director’ - an imagined Director of the Arts Council whose voice boomed into our school hall via loud speaker, denigrating the artwork the children had prepared for their Art Exhibition and insisting they must complete challenges to prove their worth as exhibitors. The proof in the pudding was when a 5 year old told me in November (8 months later) that he thought the Director might still be around and we should make sure our work is ‘still good!’
Themed weeks and fortnights are the spice on top of our learning plates - long may our taste buds tingle!