In defense of messiness

Children are messy. Their work is messy. Their handwriting is messy. Their thinking is messy.

But their enthusiasm, their joyfulness, their energy is wonderful, and so I am ok with a little messiness if it is produced in a rush of eager creativity.

For instance, I have been reading Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa to one of my Y3 classes, and we finished it this morning. It is utterly charming, and worlds away from anything else we have read recently – the simple language and imaginative story remind me a bit of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, while being totally different in setting and characters!

Anyway, we finished reading it this morning, and everyone enjoyed it, so when I discovered that my other planned activity wouldn’t work I threw in something else I’d been thinking about – writing letters like Giraffe and Penguin! I wrote an example on the board, and invited everyone to write a simple letter, using their own name and giving a clue as to what animal (currently proven to be living on the Earth, so no dinosaurs, Bigfoot or dragons) they were. Letters were hastily written, folded up in a variety of ways, then randomly distributed around the room, to be opened upon the count of three. The most fun part happened next, as students read out the clues and made their guesses, some perfectly accurate and others hilariously off the mark. We ran out of time to read out every single letter, but the boys had so much fun, and so loved the little puzzle and the connection to the book, that I have to say it was one of the best things I’ve done with them this year.

Reflection and Feedback

what stuck with you-

I just came across a blog post by Dani Raskin where she talked about a reflection technique called “What Stuck With You?“. Basically, towards the end of the lesson, students are asked to write a post-it note on what they got out of the lesson – or even what questions/problems they have been left with. Students share their thoughts before sticking the note onto a display wall. This lets everyone have a voice, gives the teacher immediate feedback on students’ understanding of the key points of the lesson, and will form the basis for review later on.

I’m keen to try this with some of my classes, but probably more at the end of a unit of work than at the end of a class, just because I am working with primary students, 25 or 50 min lessons, and I don’t think I will get the full power of the activity after just reading a story and talking about it with Preps….


The second thing was mentioned later in the same blog post: using the “Start, Stop, Continue” feedback model. In this activity, you ask the students for feedback on your lesson/unit/teaching, specifically ways to improve the classroom experience:

* What would they like you ( the teacher) to START doing?

* What would they like you to STOP doing?

* What would they like you to CONTINUE doing?

A bit of a search and I found this very clear explanation of the model as it applies to primary/high school teaching. I have been changing some of the ways I teach ICT skills to my primary classes, so this would be a good time for me to seek some feedback from them on how helpful these changes have been for them.


‘Twas the night before Term 2, and all through my brain…

beautiful chaos via Pixabay CC0

I’m juggling the chaos, I hope not in vain:

Great ideas born of desperation…

Sometimes a planned lesson just isn’t going to work… I had one of those late last term, when my Year 4 class could not settle. In sheer desperation I fell back on the traditional technique of giving out paper and pencils, and pulling out the whiteboard. I didn’t want to do something pointless and timewasting, so I came up with a series of questions focussed on books and reading, and asked everyone to write down their answers, but to keep them secret for a big reveal at the end. We ended up with 15 questions, such as favourite book, book character you’d most like to meet, least interesting book this year. With 10mins to go we stopped and I asked everyone to pick a few answers they’d like to share – hands shot into the air, lifting their owners off the chairs with their enthusiasm to share! I ran through the questions likely to give the most interesting range of responses, and zoomed through the forest of hands as fast as possible to give everyone a chance to speak – and insisted that everyone speak at least once on a question of their choice. Even more fun than the answers were the reactions of their classmates – cries of agreement or disbelief rang out, “I love that one too!”, or “I can’t believe you like that!”. This lesson went so well that I repeated it 3 lessons later with my other Y4 class (last lesson on a Friday, so having something really good is really helpful).

This activity turned out to be such a great way to have my students talking about their reading interests that I decided to take the sharing further. For our next lesson I typed up the questions (having taken photos of the whiteboard list so I didn’t lose it), printed them on different coloured pieces of paper and posted them in different places all around the Library. I asked my classes to type up their answers only. I asked for a minimum of 10 so that boys who are slower to type up work had some leeway built in. I gave them parameters for font size and style, and asked for names on each answer. Then we printed and cut out the answers, and I asked them to stick their replies around the questions. My Library now has 15 very untidy collections of paper strips stuck around coloured questions, and this is the door to my office:

Q8: Book on the top of your Must Read list?

Q8: Book on the top of your Must Read list?

It has been really rewarding though to see the number of students stopping to read the responses, not just from those classes but also older students and some teachers.

For such a simple activity this ended up having a significant impact, reaching well beyond the initial 50 minute library lesson.

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