Our ethos within Year 1 is to promote a love of independent learning. Extensive research underpins our approach and ensures curriculum coverage through developmentally appropriate practice. Our high expectations for academic attainment are combined with equal value being placed upon each child's holistic development, ensuring that emotional development and levels of well-being are at the heart of our pedagogy.
Initially, discussions were held with speech and language therapists and subject leaders with regard to the expected frequency of recorded work in subject specific books. We teach alternate days of maths and literacy, carefully taking into account each child's starting point and supporting those still working towards Early Learning Goals of the current Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) profile.
We feel strongly that quality over quantity is important and that the benefits of deeper learning within smaller, mixed ability focus groups outweigh the traditional whole class approach of formal teaching and learning.
Following a whole class input, small groups of children consolidate the daily learning focus and apply their new knowledge in a follow up task with an adult. If not working in a focus group, children are free to access the carefully planned and richly resourced areas of provision. This provision should be accessed freely by children without any pre-determined adult agenda.
In these areas, the children lead their learning. The spaces include block play, deconstructed role-play, our growing area and reading den. In addition, we add enhancements in the form of challenges which are linked to curriculum outcomes and developing skills (explained in more detail below).
Daily whole class phonics sessions include sentence level work on whiteboards and we also have a short daily maths fluency input. As a staff team, we felt strongly that the learning opportunities within provision should be given equal value to the recorded work in subject books. Subsequently, we agreed to use an online leaning journal to be able to record learning ‘in the moment’ and link this to curriculum outcomes. As a result of cross-curricular planning, considerable coverage of foundation subjects is achieved through the literacy and maths units. In addition, we plan and teach a foundation input on a Monday afternoon and then a group of children work with an adult each afternoon during the week to consolidate and apply their knowledge.
‘Taking time to observe the children engaged in their chosen activity and decide whether or not to interact and extend learning is a skill that can take time to embed.’
Rainbow challenge approach
The challenges (enhancements) are fluid and I change them once the children have exhausted them. Initially, there are two to three a week which increases as the year progresses and these are linked to the previous week's teaching.
Children have the autonomy to choose when they complete them during the time they're not working in a focus group. They take a coloured lolly stick from the challenge area and put it in their cup once completed. For example, the blue sticks are for the maths challenge. A quick glance at the cups is enough to know who needs a reminder/support! Differentiation comes from the interactions/questioning from the supporting adult – either myself or another member of staff. We have found that the children love the feeling of accomplishment once the challenge is completed and also the sense of autonomy that goes with it.
Planning the environment
An enabling environment is a key factor in ensuring the success of this approach. Discussions around a realistic budget, especially if just starting out, is something I would strongly advise. However, many open ended resources and loose parts can be sourced cheaply (if not for free) and are great for encouraging creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.
When planning and resourcing the environment, I consider specific skills the children need to develop, areas which lend themselves to curriculum outcomes and the children's likes and interests. Recently we have added softer lighting and more neutral displays. One child's response was ‘It's so cosy in here, I want to stay in here forever!’ We have double doors which provide free flow access to our outdoor area. Our view is that the outdoors is an extension of the classroom and as such, is given equal consideration when planning, resourcing and setting up each area. A covered canopy area means that children can access the outdoors all year round.
Role of the adult
Myself and our Year 1 teaching assistant (TA) work interchangeably between supporting focus groups and facilitating the learning within provision. A sound knowledge of the curriculum outcomes combined with effective interactions result in learning being extended ‘in the moment’.
Taking time to observe the children engaged in their chosen activity and decide whether it is appropriate or not to interact and extend learning is a skill that can take time to embed. The use of open ended questioning and probing statements are crucial to underpinning an effective interaction. Probing statements include:
- I wonder…
- Tell me about…
- What do you think will happen if…?
- How do you know…?
- What would happen if you…?
- What did you notice?
When using the online learning journal to record provision based learning, we are careful to not try and include absolutely everything. Our focus is working with the children and facilitating the learning, not becoming focused on trying to take photos of all of the learning and engagement that is taking place. Evidence of learning captured in this way gives a snapshot over time of the depth of learning and curriculum coverage achieved as a result of extending continuous provision and the principles of the EYFS into Year 1.
Use of the Leuven Scales of emotional well-being and involvement has enabled us to ensure children's levels of engagement are high and that our children are happy and motivated to learn. During the course of the year, they have made good progress from their starting points in terms of academic attainment. Qualitative, observational assessment of children's attitude to learning has shown increased levels of perseverance, critical thinking, problem solving and a wonderful, independent attitude to learning. Feedback from recent visitors to our classroom includes:
‘My Year 1 team came away buzzing and feeling inspired by your practice and are now feeling more confident about launching this way of working in our own setting. I'm glad they had the chance to observe you and your lovely TA working and leading sessions as well as the opportunity to discuss timetabling and indoor/outdoor provision’.
‘Everything is well-planned and both the teacher and TA supported children and knew what they needed to do to move the learning forwards. All children knew exactly what to do which also impacted on their behaviour for learning. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed the visit’.
- Moving on to Key Stage 1 by Julie Fisher (Open University Press)
- Interacting or Interfering by Julie Fisher (Open University Press)
- Year 1 in Action by Anna Ephgrave (Routledge)