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How a Carousel Approach Can Turn Around Learning

29/05/13

Miranda is a Primary Supply Teacher working in schools  through Protocol Education in Manchester. Having recently covered for busy teachers involved in Year 2 SATS, she has noticed that students prefer, and benefit from, a carousel approach to learning.

How a Carousel Approach Can Turn Around Learning

I’ve spent the last few weeks in Year 2, covering for teachers involved in SATS. Children disappear from my lessons cheerfully and return looking absent-minded and faintly rattled as though experimented upon by kindly aliens.

My lessons have been patchy from frequent interruptions, with the first batches of returning children asking: ‘Who are you?’ and the second batch saying: ‘I don’t know what we’re doing now. Is this still literacy or is it time to go home?’ The class teachers are present and not present. So there are lesson plans but these are hardly the priority for the harried permanent staff members. I have taught a great deal of R.E and Citizenship. There is an old English saying that still rings true: Ye kiddes kepte on a carpete too lange will start hitting each other and doing plaits on each oothere haire.’

Those are the downsides. But during this period, I’ve also learned a great deal from witnessing so many different approaches to the same curriculum areas. In particular, I’ve discovered a marked preference, amongst the children, for a carousel approach to learning, particularly in Literacy and Numeracy. This is where groups are given several tasks – a mix of independent work, taught work, and pair/group learning. The children move around the tasks in different ways – either everyone has to do all tasks in (ability) groups organised by the teacher, where she is in charge of timing. Or everyone has to do at least two tasks and the children are given free rein to choose what to do when – with ‘guidance’ for those who would, given half a chance, choose to sit independently doing sweet nothing much. 

The group taught by the teacher benefits from its smaller size, which often means that disruptive children hold less sway.  Particularly in maths, children in smaller groups seem to be more confident in answering and asking questions. And there is more time for the teacher to respond to individual needs. For example, in a group of six, peer learning becomes more practical. Children with higher abilities explain alternative approaches to a problem. Mixed ability pairs work out a solution together and feed back to the group.   

The approach works particularly well with Years 1 and 2, I think, because it harks back to Foundation Stage, where continuous provision and a choice in what to learn and when is part of everyday life. Ironically, we expect more from Foundation children in the area of independent learning than we do our KS1 and 2 students (but that’s a whole new blog). 

Allowing movement around the class also helps dispel pent up physical energy and comes as a relief to those children who can’t sit still anyway. You know the ones who spend the day aimlessly sharpening pencils and trying to get you to let them out to the water fountain. Basically, I believe the quality of the learning experience at KS1 is much improved by a carousel approach, although teachers do have to accept the risk that children working on whiteboards or p.cs may occasionally get away with a lazy 20 minutes drawing pictures of Doctor Who on scraps of paper.

It will also be noisier in the classroom than some teachers/headteachers are happy with. This can feel risky if you’re introducing the approach as a supply teacher. From outside the door, it might sound as if you’ve failed to hold onto the reigns. But step inside and any one will be able to tell that the noise is one of harmonious, engaged productivity – with a bit of luck…

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