Pondering for a while actually as I've been visiting here, there and everywhere, teaching, meeting, reading and P D Day delivering. Hence unable to blog about it until now AND also I feel want to be able to convey the importance of the article for any of us with children's futures at our heart. It really is worth a read in its entirety. I was lucky enough to be working with a lovely bunch of teachers from the West on their PD day this Friday and, although the article is about reading it's also about imagination and creativity. It has relevance for any primary practitioners trying to hold on to inspiring their children to be creative, to be creative themselves in an ever increasing 'drilling for SATS' environment. It struck many chords for Storyshack but also for LIGHTING CREATIVE FIRES.
It concerns me, upsets me that heads and schools are so fearful of not maintaining or improving their positions in school league tables that they are prepared to lose creativity in favour of drilling to pass SATS tests. In turn this has led to a lack of 'whole books' real books, real writing and long term creativity. It's being squeezed out in fact. Neil Gaiman writes about the importance and relevance of IMAGINATION. He states the '.....the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different'.
Teachers when asked why they came into teaching are still saying 'to be a part of helping a child become happy, successful in whatever they'd like to do. That lovely quote 'Give them roots and let them FLY' springs to mind.
I think we imagine that things can be different too. I've been in teaching 21 years and working as a head (or something like that!) for 11 of those. During those 11 years we've had that same discussion and I've never heard anybody say they're in it so that children can attain a particular level at Year 6. I think we imagine, we dream and we HOPE for our children and want to instil HOPE in them.
NEVER EVER have I had a response around SATS or attainment or DATA. If you are reading this and you are a teacher I wonder what your response would be?
Although it sometimes seems out of a Hallmark card I think we genuinely feel we'd like to inspire, help, support, touch children's lives. That's why lots of us felt moved when watching 'Educating Yorkshire' this week when their teachers were moved. Many of us, I'm sure, have experienced those moments that are to do with the child themselves, the individual developing confidence, over coming something difficult, smiling, enjoying and learning. We're in it to make a difference, to make a change and inspiring our imagination helps us AND helps children do this. Books open doors to our imagination.
Neil also writes about the importance of fiction building empathy and the subtle differences between reading and watching a film.
"When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you , and you alone, using your imagination , create a world and people it and look out through other eyes."
We were discussing how we wouldn't 'lose' basic skills teaching if we approached learning in a more thematic, creative way at the PD day. In fact, as it states above, you create fiction by using words AND punctuation. Children would have a deeper understanding of SPAG if they had a reason, a writing context in order to USE those elements. SPAG and language helps us to communicate. When the topic of young people not having a basic grasp of literacy skills regularly arises I don't think it's around failing grammar tests.I feel we're talking about literacy as a whole here; a letter of application not laid out correctly,an application form with poor spelling, somebody unable to use language to communicate meaning or their feelings. It is absolutely our job to give children those vital tools, I'm not arguing against that. We must give them the power of writing AND reading. A SPAG test, for example, doesn't help a child KNOW how to communicate for later life-it drills her for a moment in time.However, creating reasons to write and use grammar and language tools CAN and children need to be able to explore their imagination to do this.
Lastly and VERY IMPORTANTLY I am heartened to have had many conversations about libraries in schools and with headteachers. Fantastic. I love looking at spaces and recommending books for children to enjoy. There's a wealth of other people out there too like Marilyn Brocklehurst from the Norfolk Children's book centre AND the national federation of children's books groups who have amazing lists and recommendations. Ipswich Children's book group invite children's authors to come and speak too - they'll often come and visit schools during the day so please look out BECAUSE we need to continue or START to immerse children in books. If you want a reading culture in your school you won't get one without it!
When I say books I mean books NOT scheme books and extract books-REAL BOOKS! In Neil's article he promotes libraries as a necessity just as Malorie Blackman did a few weeks ago and just as authors and readers will continue to do because:
"Another way to destroy a child's love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are not books of ay kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books...........We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use the, to protest their closure. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom, You are silencing the voices of the past and your are damaging the future."
Don't underestimate the power of fiction and using your imagination. It is a necessity that we create environments in schools where children can do this (and adults too) because they are the ones who need to daydream and make changes for a better future.