By Ben Langleben, 11 March 2013
About 25 parents had the privilege to be given a glimpse of Akiva’s approach to literacy in Reception, Key Stage 1 and 2. I found the evening informative and fun, and reassuring to experience how the school is adopting newer and better teaching methods.
For the benefit of parents unable to attend, I would summarise the key theme as investigative learning rather than by rote. Our children are given tasks and exercises which help them discover literacy rules and principles in a more engaging and penetrating way which is not so easily forgotten as the way many of us were taught. And rather than explain, the staff team used these methods with us to make a very dynamic, energising, and memorable session.
Here is a brief synopsis of the 6 ‘lessons’ we covered:
Phonemes & Graphemes
Given a short poster about a kite festival and working in pairs, we highlighted each instance of the ‘igh’ phoneme (sound) and copied these words into a Tree Map to classify each according to their grapheme (spelling). We quickly absorbed that there are different spellings for the same sound, but there are still patterns, and debated whether the ‘igh’ sound in ‘exciting’ is caused by a silent and invisible magic E, or the long vowel sound as in ‘tiny’ or ‘wild’.
Reading & Interpretation
Each group was given a book to read out loud, taking turns so the teacher gets the chance to hear everyone read, and each student hears how others interpret through pronunciation. As such we read the story of the princess and the pea, though as narrated by the pea, our previous understanding of this story may have been quite mistaken. We also heard how in class, our kids had had a deeper discussion about perceptions of roles in society having observed that the ‘lowly’ gardener’s daughter appears in every scene, unnoticed by the characters, or indeed, frequently the reader!
A drama technique known as ‘Freeze Frame’ was used to take the alternative perspective topic to the next level. 4 of us assumed the characters of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears at the precise moment the eponymous trio returns to find the awakening intruder. After much hilarity the 3 ursine and 1 erstwhile volunteers were each asked to explain the thoughts and emotions portrayed by our postures.
Following a review of different literary styles, we moved on to poetry. Starting with an image which set the historical context we were read an extract from Noyes’ The Highwayman, exposing us to different poetic techniques such as structure and repetition. Did you spot the assonance and alliteration in the Goldilocks description above?
In another drama technique, another volunteer played the Big Bad Wolf as he was interviewed by the class, expertly fielding questions such as why he opted for grandma rather than her surely more succulent granddaughter, and whether he felt that his rather sinister moniker was deserved. My wife and I enjoyed this so much we intend to try it out on the next long car journey!
Our final task involved the whole class and was rather more serious. Having read a short piece of text picturing a girl leaving school late in a futile attempt to avoid a gang of bullies, the class was split into 2 lines, one making arguments for returning to the safety of the school; the other for proceeding home past the bullies. One volunteer walked through the middle, asking representatives from each side in turn for advice as to what she should do, before making a decision on reaching the end.
Our thanks to Mrs Stone, Mrs Granger, Miss Gluckman, Miss Kaye, Mrs Vered and Miss Zinger for taking the time out of hours to give us a proper understanding of the learning goals and techniques for literacy. Following this and the Jewish Studies and PSHCE evenings, dare we look forward to follow-up events on other parts of the curriculum?