A great start to our visit to Bedfordshire, with some sixty children from Holywell Middle School in their school hall.
Thank you David Brandon-Bravo, Headteacher of Parkfields Middle School, Toddington, Bedfordshire, for recording his observations during the morning’s lessons.
The sound of rushing wind starts abruptly, the students look up; what is going on? Sharing tables with teachers is bound to be problematic for these Year 7 students, but the bottles of water in place in front of each of them, compensates. Tim Rylands has arrived at Holywell Middle School in Bedfordshire.
“Hello” shouts Tim. “What is that sound? Is it wind?” Apparently he has a bit of a problem with wind!!!
The scene: a cold sports hall, a screen, scattered tables seating an assortment of teachers and pupils. All are slightly bewildered. Who is this chap? A bit eccentric, clearly. What’s with his walking stick? And he has a very lovely assistant, but for some reason, he makes fun of her!! Oh, it is to make us smile so that the photos have lots of happy faces on them.
The warm up begins with Mr Walker, his walking stick. Why are there holes up and down it? Discuss with your table, the wackier the better.
Sounds of the fierce wind bring the discussion to an abrupt end as Tim screeches, “what’s that??” All attention is drawn to the spooky landscape on the screen. “Is that an alien ship?”
But then back to the walking stick; a flute is far too obvious. It could be used to rent the holes out to woodworms? A swordstick? An exercise yard for caterpillars?
Back to the scene on the screen. What is happening? Are those rocks actually giant teeth? What’s that smell? Is it coming from the ship? Is it milky, acid?
Over to the tables. What is happening? Hands going up are like corks in bottles, it stops you listening. Ideas come thick and fast but giggling prevents the ideas from flowing. Questioning techniques are discussed. How can you encourage the student to develop their idea? Body language e.g. tilting head, use of eyes, raising eyebrows. Talk for a second or so but then that wind kicks in and all goes quiet again.
Why has he been pretending to drink from an empty coffee cup? It is to hide behind? More ideas. Back to the eerie scene. Are they shark’s fins?
Simile or metaphor. Who remembers Tim’s daughter’s name? All the students do – Ellie, but few of the teachers remember!!! Yes, Tim had mentioned her when talking about his walking stick “Mr Walker” The students have far better memories than they realized. But why weren’t the teachers listening so closely? Ellie walked on apple crumble when she was little. Not really, it was a beach near Bristol. Back to the eerie scene, Tim describes it with a voice that sounds like an E4 voiceover for the Munsters, but this time he is accompanied by screeching from the class according whether or not he uses similes or metaphors.
Tim interrupts. Stop. There’s no right idea. Don’t try to guess what I want. There’s no wrong idea. Whether it is cold or hot, it is right. Nicking ideas is fine, but add to them. Don’t worry about the spellings. Don’t let the spellings get in the way. Let your creativity run wild. Don’t be constrained with rules.
Finn, the young lad next to me, asks me “how do you spell “abandoned?” Don’t worry I tell him, Tim’s just said “don’t worry about the spellings”. But Finn can’t help himself, he asks me to check the spelling. It’s fine I say, but he’s not convinced. Others are also concerned about their spelling; just let it go, I say. The ideas start to flow.
Then, students are allowed to take each others’ ideas and develop them. Student follows student as the description unfolds, self selected the students follow each other with their descriptions. Sometimes, they read a sentence, sometimes they read a paragraph. Tim beats his chest in jungle rhythm creating atmosphere.
All readers stand to receive a sitting ovation.
How can we improve our description, be aware – the word “suddenly” is a no, no. Start each paragraph with style. Look at the scene on the screen. “Enticed by my surroundings” “And then it happened”.
The scene on the screen changes, excitement mounts. Running commentary. A student is invited to take over. Describe where you are going. The student is standing in front of the screen and forgets his audience. The student relaxes.
Rapid change. Dropping in ideas. “What was that Sound?” And then Tim moves on (but will return to the idea at a later point). Students are challenged to take part “Do you want to see the crew of this abandoned ship?” All the audience does of course but then five students emerge from the audience and take on the role of the crew. Tim in turn becomes the translator, he takes the ideas and takes them to a new level. Groups are helped by “Thinking Dice”. These dice are there to develop higher level thinking skills.
Questions start but Tim isn’t happy, – yet – we need to reach a higher level of questioning; perhaps the translator can take the questions up a notch.
And as for Mr Walker. Yes, he is a… well, you’ll just have to keep guessing!
Next, we skidaddled to The Sharnbrook Hotel, Bedfordshire, for an afternoon session with heads from middle schools in the county.
Thank you to Peter Haddon, head teacher at Holywell for organising our trip and to all there for your smiles and support with the ideas shared today.
Category: 1) Events and Training days