It doesn’t take a genius with a social media account to see that having continuous provision in Year One is definitely starting to spread as a trend across schools in England and it’s great because as anyone with an Early Years background will tell you, it’s the most purposeful way for children to learn. But where to begin?
Earlier this year I had some Year One teachers from another school come in to visit my learning environment. They were amazed at the lack of tables and the informality, but also the engagement of the children. One of the more experienced teachers, with an undertone of astonishment, said, ‘go on then, how do you do it, how do you fit it all in?’ Now I know this is the burning question that Year One teachers, Key Stage One Phase leaders & Headteachers want to know the answer to, because it’s the very question I had myself at the start of this journey and I thought I had it all worked out in this article (link). The curriculum is so full, time is already so squeezed, how on earth do the children get time to play as well? Since then I have figured out the answer. Learning and playing are not separate entities; bring them together and you will find yourself with an abundance of time and delving deeper into the curriculum than you ever have before.
I began Autumn One with a model we had followed the previous year. English, Maths and Topic lessons were planned to be around 40 mins to give the children time to access provision afterwards. Provision was a kind of reward for sitting and completing the book work.
When I look back at this timetable now I just cringe! There are no benefits for anyone involved! The children simply rushed activities to get to the provision sooner, the learning in provision was shallow, resources were limited and pushed to the edge of the room, plus children didn’t have time to pursue their interests! They had to tidy away almost as soon as they got into anything! But it was a start. It was a start. Through these quick bursts in provision I began to see the potential for learning opportunities. I realised Lego presented more that just fun; it developed fine motor skills, positional language, problem solving and communication. Whilst this wasn’t the best practise, it was a step in the right direction. But the days were busy with quick turn arounds. Definitely not a calm environment conducive to deep learning.
Prior to this term beginning I had started to voice my opinions about a more play-based environment to SLT. I had visited another setting to develop my understanding of how to run this approach successfully and done A LOT of reading. Finally, the Phase Leader told me to go for it and I did!
The timetable was cleared, and I aimed to maximise accessing provision as much as I could. PE sessions were moved from two shorter sessions to one longer session. Our days turned into English, Maths and Reading based days; consisting of a single carpet session that was taught in the morning, then the children would freely access provision. I would spend the majority of provision time taking guided groups for English, Maths or Reading whilst the TA would be facilitating learning in provision.
I’ll be honest, I was concerned about coverage. Going from five Maths and English lessons a week to two seems terrifying at first. But delivering the learning through guided groups meant that concepts were secured quicker, the time wasted by children agonising over where to write within their books was abolished and in groups we could dive deeper into the learning. I had such a clear understanding of where every single child was at in every area of English and Maths because I was spending so much time with them. Progress at this point was rapid.
Some of you may be concerned upon reading this that the children will lack independence learning in this way, that they will become too dependent upon an adult ‘being there’. However, I believe this can be avoided through teaching style. Although I was at the table with the children, it didn’t mean that I was walking them through everything, I didn’t always answer their questions or show them how. But I was there to address misconceptions, witness consolidation and challenge them further.
The makeup of the classroom changed drastically. All tables apart from the guided group and art tables were removed from the classroom. The environment was neutralised. Plus, lower lighting and soft furnishings were introduced. The provision was carefully laid out and resources were tailored to provoke interest in current topics. On an afternoon our topic lessons began with a ‘hook’, something interesting to draw the children in or a question for them to dwell upon. During provision time, the TA would balance between delivering adult initiated activities to focus groups linked to topic, supporting children in their own enquiry related to the hook or facilitating them in pursuing their own interests. At the end of the day, the children who had pursued the topic would feedback to everyone what they had found out or created. That way everyone was exposed to the learning taking place and the children took ownership of their learning!
Engagement was at a high with this timetable. The children were free to delve deep into their interests. My initial worries about children not engaging with our topics were diminished; I learned that providing I presented engaging resources and activities within the provision, all children would seek it out.
If I could I would have maintained the Spring timetable for the rest of the year. In my school year Two currently has a formal learning style. So when thoughts turned to being ready for Year Two, I was asked to start getting the children ready to take on formal learning. I absolutely did not want to return to the model from Autumn, so I decided formal, but active mornings were best, followed by keeping our provision-based afternoons.
These afternoons were filled with my TA in provision similar to Spring. But there was no need for me to deliver guided groups in Maths and English as the learning has been completed in the mornings. So, I was free to deliver guided reading groups and interventions. This model worked well for the end of the year and helped the children transition towards the full formal timetable they are now following for the final few weeks. However, I definitely feel that the progress in English and Maths slowed down. I missed the luxury of catching misconceptions as they formed (impossible to do for everyone in whole class learning) and the amount of time I could give individuals to push them on. I also miss spending time in provision with the children. Whilst I was busy during the spring timetable delivering guided groups, I would find at least 10 minutes if not more a day to go into the provision and witness learning that was happening. This sounds cheesy but that just blew me away every day. From a distance, looking at the room it seems as though children are ‘just playing’. But when you get in there, take part and observe what is going on, it’s nothing short of magical. Everything the children are doing is so purposeful to them, everything has depth and always links to the curriculum in some way. They really are the masters of learning when given the opportunity to play.