I managed to organise a group of us (13 teachers in total), to visit 2 schools who are running a play-based programme in their New Entrant classes. Here are my observations and learning from each school:

School 1 – 6 months into running programme

Organisation – 2 NE classes, both using a double space, with their teachers team teaching. In the morning before interval, the children free played with a teacher roving. Their role was to facilitate and stretch discussion around what the children were doing. They also took photos and created a learning journal that consisted of one A3 page with photos, descriptions and curriculum links. The second teacher took reading groups during this time. The children had cards saying ‘I’m coming back to this’ if they had to leave a play activity for reading. After interval, they went to single cell class set up for literacy and maths.

School 2 – 2 years into running programme

Organisation – 2 NE classes, using a large space of 3 interconnected rooms. 2 teachers team teaching. The children took part in a range of play activities all day, with timetabled workshops for phonics and letter formation in particular. They also did guided reading. Maths and writing were taught through conversations during play. Tracking sheets were used to record what children knew in writing and maths and what their next steps were. The teacher facilitating the conversation had these tracking sheets on clipboards and brought the conversation round to extend the children into their next steps. The teacher showing us around gave examples of authentic writing opportunities – ‘one boy wanted a hole in a plastic bottle for something he was making, so he asked to write a letter asking the caretaker to drill a hole for him’. The writing came from the need, purpose and audience, rather than the other way around.

Main points from the visit

  • Need adult to facilitate discussion during play – team teaching was the way to do this, 1 teacher running workshops, other teacher roving and facilitating conversation with groups playing.
  • Roving teacher photographed play and created learning story page for each week, describing play activities and linking to curriculum areas and achievement objectives.
  • Displays on the wall served as reminders and prompts for teachers facilitating discussion, as much if not more so than for the children’s benefit.
  • Tracking is vital – especially for maths learning that happened solely during conversations initiated through their play – children would each have a sheet that showed what they knew and what their next steps were, the teacher carried this on a clipboard so could direct and facilitate conversation around their next steps.

Afternoon discussion

The 13 of us discussed what we were each doing in our schools and something we had taken from what we’d observed that morning. The plan is to keep the PBL group going throughout the year, with more visits and PD.