Subject Teaching in Primary Education


Patrick Smith & Lyn Dawes

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    Editors' Preface

    The authors of the chapters in this book are teachers with a shared commitment to enabling children reach their potential. Many of the children you will teach will not have had the best start in life, but school should provide the necessary environment for all children to flourish. This book will support you as a teacher in providing rich learning experiences across the curriculum so that each and every child has the very best opportunities and an excellent start in his or her education.

    This is not a book we expect you to read from cover to cover. We think you will be more likely to thumb through to the relevant subject chapter that is of interest to you. Wherever you land, however, we are confident that you will find a shared philosophy and love of learning as all the chapters have been written by subject specialists who are also experienced teachers. You will also find stimulating ideas, food for thought and suggestions for planning, and we hope that you will adapt our ‘In the classroom’ activities to suit your children's needs.

    We have always enjoyed teaching our subjects, but, more importantly, we have enjoyed teaching children. We hope you will, too.

    Patrick SmithLyn DawesAugust 2013

    About the Editors and Contributors

    About the Editors

    Patrick Smith is Associate Dean in the Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing at the University of Wolverhampton. He has many years' experience of teaching children in schools and working with trainee teachers in higher education. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. His specialist subject area is physical education and he has led numerous staff development events for teachers in the UK and overseas. He believes that children who experience high-quality physical education can reap huge benefits and are more likely to enjoy lifelong physical activity.

    Lyn Dawes taught secondary science before retraining to become a primary teacher. Now an education consultant, Lyn has taught science and education at the University of Bedford, University of Northampton and University of Cambridge. She has a special interest in ‘Talk for Learning’ and regularly provides workshops for education professionals in schools around the UK.

    About the Contributors

    Balbir Ahir is a senior lecturer in primary mathematics in the Faculty of Education, Health and Wellbeing, University of Wolverhampton. She joined Wolverhampton after being a primary school teacher and a leading maths teacher for a number of years and has supported continued professional development in mathematics of teachers in local authorities. She was involved in a number of primary National Strategies projects and initiatives and has research interests in fit for purpose pedagogy in maths lessons, as well as supporting learners with English as an additional language needs in mathematics.

    Jo Barter-Boulton is Programme Leader for the PGCE (5–11) at the University of Northampton, where she teaches English on the BA (QTS) and PGCE programmes. Prior to working in higher education, she taught in primary schools in Northamptonshire and also worked for the local advisory service as an advisory teacher for English and drama, delivering CPD to teachers across the county. Jo is co-author of Drama Lessons for Five to Eleven Year Olds (Routledge, 2013), Drama Lessons: Ages 4–7 (Routledge, 2012) and Drama Lessons: Ages 7–11 (Routledge, 2012) and the three book series, Role Play in The Early Years (David Fulton, 2004).

    Ken Bland has experience of teaching in primary and secondary schools and has worked in two universities, training teachers how to teach geography in primary schools. His research interests include the use and deployment of higher-level teaching assistants and the impact of forest schools. He has recently developed a forest school on a university campus and engages in consultancy on work outside the classroom for schools and field centres.

    Mary Bracey has a BEd (Hons) from Wolverhampton Polytechnic. She trained as a history specialist. She has wide teaching experience in a range of urban and rural schools and has taught across the primary age group. She currently teaches at Yelvertoft Primary School and is coordinator for mathematics and history, with experience in coordinating science and RE. She is responsible for Key Stage 2 assessment and the lead teacher for promoting road safety and charities. Her school is in partnership with the University of Northampton and she undertakes the role of mentor and ITT Coordinator. She is engaged in providing a microteaching experience for primary education history specialists in the school.

    Paul Bracey is Senior Lecturer in History Education in the School of Education at the University of Northampton. He coordinates and teaches history within both BA (Hons) and PGCE primary education courses and contributes to school placements and PhD supervision. He has a BA (Hons) degree in economic history from Leeds University, an MA in history, PGCE and a PhD in education from Birmingham University. Paul is secretary of Midlands History Forum and a committee member for the History Teacher Educator Network.

    Helen Caldwell is a senior lecturer in initial teacher education at the University of Northampton, where she is curriculum leader for computing. Prior to this, she was the adviser on assistive technology to Milton Keynes Council, providing guidance on the use of technology across a range of age groups and for children with special educational needs. She is a member of the Primary National Curriculum for Computing in ITT Expert Group, supporting tutors and trainees in teacher training in preparing for the new curriculum. Her earlier roles included the post of South East Regional Manager for the Vital programme, which was managed by the Open University and funded by the Department of Education. Helen has over 15 years' teaching experience across the 5 to 16 age range and held an ICT coordinator role for nine years, working across a number of schools to develop their capability with ICT. Her research interests include ICT and special educational needs, eLearning and social networking in higher education and digital literacy in primary education.

    Gill Chambers is a senior lecturer in primary English education at the University of Northampton, where she has taught for the last two years. Gill has 25 years' experience in primary education, working as a class teacher across the primary age range and holding leadership roles, including in English. Prior to joining the university, Gill worked as a local authority adviser for primary English, leading teacher continuing professional development and the Every Child a Writer initiative for Northamptonshire. Gill currently teaches on undergraduate and postgraduate courses and leads the coordination of systematic synthetic phonics across all programmes. Her other research interests include philosophy for children and developing trainee teachers as readers.

    Kate Coleman is a senior lecturer in primary initial teacher education at the University of Northampton. She has 23 years' experience in primary education, working in a diverse range of primary schools in Surrey, the Home Counties and East Midlands with subject and senior leadership responsibility. More recently, Kate has worked as a local authority adviser, supporting schools regarding literacy and school improvement. She is currently teaching on the BA Qualified Teacher Status primary English, specialism English and primary professional studies courses and supports students in school. Kate has a particular interest in developing children's writing, particularly the impact and teaching of grammar.

    Gareth Davies is a senior lecturer in primary and secondary initial teacher education at the University of Northampton where he has taught for the last four years. He has 35 years' experience in secondary education and 14 years' experience working with primary schools on transition and leading on cooperative working between secondary and primary schools. He has worked as a subject teacher, subject leader in English and drama, year head and, for 14 years, a secondary deputy headteacher. Gareth currently teaches on undergraduate and postgraduate courses and leads on English specialism and secondary postgraduate training. Gareth has a particular interest in primary to secondary transition, developing reading and the use of drama.

    Babs Dore has many years' experience teaching in primary schools and higher education, working with undergraduate and postgraduate trainee teachers. Babs has published key texts in primary science and has a national profile in science education.

    Sue Fawson is a senior lecturer in early primary education at the University of Wolverhampton, where she has taught and developed a range of Early Years courses, including the BA in early childhood studies, foundation degree in early childhood studies and BEd in early primary teacher education. Sue is currently developing a PGCE in Early Years education. Earlier in her career she managed Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 settings and taught on a range of childcare and education and teaching assistant courses in colleges of further education. Her research interests are focused on early drawing development and education.

    Paul Gurton is a senior lecturer in primary initial teacher education at the University of Wolverhampton, where he has taught for the last seven years. He has 20 years' experience in primary education, working as a class teacher in London and the West Midlands and latterly as headteacher of a Warwickshire primary school. Paul also has four years in international education spent in Rome. He is course leader for the BEd in primary education with European language placement and cluster leader for primary professional studies, BEd and PGCE courses. Paul has research interests in primary language teaching, reflective practice in trainee and beginner teachers and Philosophy for Children.

    Alice Hansen is the Director of Children Count, an education consultancy company. She worked in England and abroad as a primary school teacher before becoming a senior lecturer in initial teacher education. After 13 years in ITE Alice became an education consultant. She publishes widely on primary mathematics education and develops mobile applications for teachers. Alice's research interests lay in technology enhanced learning in mathematics.

    Christine Hickman has taught in secondary, primary and special schools in Leicestershire. She moved into the role of Learning and Support Advisor for Leicester City LEA, having autism as her specialism. She has worked in higher education since 2000, having been at the University of Northampton before moving to Liverpool John Moore's University. Her academic background is in art and special educational needs. At Northampton, Christine was School of Education art coordinator and taught on all teacher training courses. Christine has an interest in creative and therapeutic approaches, especially in the fields of art and music. She is involved in various international link programmes, especially in Sweden. She is Programme Leader for the PGCE Early Years programme at Liverpool John Moore's University. In addition, Christine teaches across several programmes, including the MA and both postgraduate and undergraduate teacher training courses.

    Ellie Hill has many years' experience of teaching in schools and higher education. Previously a primary school headteacher, she moved a school from special measures to good before joining the University of Northampton as a senior lecturer, specialising in ICT, RE and professional studies. She has recently relocated with her family to be at the heart of the Malvern Hills, and is senior lecturer in RE at the University of Worchester. Her role spans Initial Teacher Education (Primary) and Education Studies.

    Gareth Honeyford is the Strategic Lead for Initial Teacher Training (Primary) for Essex County Council, running teacher training courses that encompass both School Direct and school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT). Prior to this he was the Programme Leader of the Primary PGCE and Northampton and ICT subject leader. A long-time advocate of the use of new technologies in the classroom, he has also worked in City Learning Centres, education action zones and for the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta). When he is not working with trainees in the classroom or staring at a screen, he enjoys spending time with his family in the great outdoors, cycling, camping 1970s style and narrowboating.

    Bob Kellam is a teacher at a lovely primary school in Bicester. He has been teaching for five years, after qualifying at Northampton University. He is currently head of Years 3 and 4, school sports coordinator and has twice supported his class to win the school's film competition. He is passionate about teaching by combining excitement, experiences and creativity.

    Sandra Kirkland has a BEd (Hons) and MA from the University of Leicester. She is an Associate Tutor at the University of Northampton and the University of Derby. Until July 2013 she was the Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 Manager and teacher at Naseby CE Primary School. She was responsible for leading a number of subjects including history, science and personal, social and health education (PSHE).

    Jo Palmer is curriculum leader for English in primary education at the University of Northampton. She teaches English and professional studies on both the undergraduate and PGCE courses. Prior to her move to Northamptonshire, Jo was on secondment at Canterbury Christ Church University, where she taught on the undergraduate primary education course alongside teaching in primary schools in the Medway area. Jo is currently engaged in developing international research opportunities among members of the initial teacher education team at the University of Northampton.

    Carol Wetton is a passionate advocate of music for everyone. She believes that music has the power to transform and enrich the lives of everyone and it can transcend all barriers to help create a better society for all. For 30 years, Carol has been involved with music education as a teacher, lecturer, workshop leader, performer, composer and conductor. At present, she runs her own music school and choir, is a senior lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton and works as a primary school music leader.

    Emma Whewell is a senior lecturer at the University of Northampton and Curriculum Leader for Physical Education. Emma leads on the postgraduate, undergraduate and school direct programmes. She has been teaching for 13 years as a physical education teacher, head of department and head of year. She is passionate about physical education and initial teacher training. Emma's research interests are the learning and teaching of vulnerable children and development of professional identity in physical education.

    Karen Woolley is a senior lecturer at the University of Northampton and Pastoral Team Leader for Initial Teacher Training. She has taught for 14 years in middle schools and secondary schools as a physical education specialist and head of department. The move to initial teacher training has allowed her to follow her passion for working with children and adults with dyslexia, particularly in relation to physical education.


    The editors would like to thank Moira Williams and Neil Mercer for their invaluable support and guidance. Thanks to James Clark, Monira Begum and Rachael Plant at SAGE. Finally, thanks to colleagues at the University of Northampton and the University of Wolverhampton who made a significant contribution to the publication of this text.

    The image of Weymouth sea front (Figure 7.3, p. 143) was sourced from English Heritage ( Teachers can pick and mix from a database of over 9,000 images and find curriculum related resources, for all key stages, to use or adapt for their pupils.

    Figure 6.1 (p. 113) and Figure 6.2 (pp. 114–115) are reproduced with the permission of the Geographical Association and Routledge respectively.

    SAGE and the editors would also like to thank the following reviewers whose comments on the proposal helped shape this book.

    Paul FrecknallUniversity of Bedfordshire
    Justin GrayNewman University
    Tim LucasYork St John University
    Tim RobertsUniversity of Hertfordshire

    Walkthrough Tour

    Learning objectives set out the main topics covered and what you will learn by reading the chapter.

    In the classroom real-life examples from schools demonstrate intelligent and engaging ways to teach different subjects.

    Reflective questions invite you to critically engage with what you have read and apply it to your own teaching.

    Further reading suggestions direct you to more specialist literature.


    As adults, we may have interacted with a lawyer, a plumber, a judge, an airline steward, or a hospital cleaner. We can admire them and find their jobs intriguing but we never really understand what it is that they actually do. Most of us have interacted with a teacher in our school days – and because of this, we all have an opinion about what it is that teachers do.

    As children, we are marshalled, ordered, entertained, judged, instructed and disciplined by teachers. Such interaction, over days, months and years, colours our understanding of both what it is that teachers do, and why. We end up with an opinion of teachers as people and as professionals and as members of society. Some of you may think of teachers as friendly, approachable and supportive; for others teachers may seem to be frosty, bossy and harsh in their judgements. Teachers for some are part-timers with long holidays; for others, drudges who never leave the school building. The problem we as adults have with understanding what teachers actually do, is that we were children when we were at school; and so the rationales behind the endless rules, the strange mark schemes, the rewards and punishments, the interaction between ourselves and the teacher, were obscure to us and remain so in our memories. We did not know why we had to learn to read, look at an atlas or understand fractions. Even if we were told, it may still have been incomprehensible. In addition we live in a society where teachers are literally given a bad press; where parents who did not like school themselves pass their anxiety on to their children; and where teachers don't socialise with the children they teach, and so rarely appear human and ordinary.

    All this colours our adult judgement. To be in the position that children find themselves in during their school days – which may be benign and encouraging at best, or grim at worst – is always to be a learner, someone who does not know things, and is part of a large group of other small anarchic creatures who must always be marshalled, organised and controlled. It can be difficult to see why anyone ends up liking their teachers, and yet it is common for people to be able to identify teachers that they admire. There seems to be often an awakening, however, when we realise what it is that a teacher is offering us, or trying to lead us to learn. A teacher may stand out as really caring of our progress, understanding of our needs, or really good at ordering thoughts or explaining things in ways that we find truly interesting.

    So why would you choose to be a teacher? As adults it becomes obvious to us that a teacher holds a hugely responsible role and is much to be admired. Teachers are among the brightest and best educated members of our society. They are less concerned with getting and spending money than some, and more concerned with ideas, understanding, thinking, listening, and finding out. Primary teachers have the opportunity to work with others who are really good company – that is, children, who are charming, funny, clever and curious. They can create an harmonious environment, and spend time on any given day taking part in language activities, drama, music, art, science, physical exercise, learning about the world, the past, the future, and not only that, helping others to learn. They can change the world by influencing the plastic minds of children, and concentrate on using this influence for the better.

    But this is an idealised vision of a teacher's world. Alternatively, on any given day, a teacher may find themselves dealing with distressed or fearful children and aggressive or angry parents. They may have to complete a daunting amount of paperwork, try to organise groups of children whose intention is to scupper all attempts at imposing order; they may have to deal with an irate, irrational child, or talk to other professionals, all of whom only ever see one or two children at a time, and yet make recommendations about what the teacher should do even though they will rarely work with classes of fewer than thirty. A teacher might on one day have to find out about the workings of the solar system, the correct grammatical use of subordinate clauses, how to use a particular bit of software to compile pie charts, and all about the Sahara desert. And, once lessons on these things are over, the teacher must be ready to evaluate learning and prepare new lessons for the next day.

    But still, we find ourselves drawn to being a teacher. Every teacher will have different reasons for their choice, but for most, one key reason will be that teaching offers the opportunity to help develop young minds. This desire to teach is a powerful force. People like to inform one another; the contents of the internet are testimony to that. But to inform is not to educate, and this is the distinctive thing that teachers do. We teach; we match the starting point of the child with the desired outcome for their development, and create ways to help them have access to and begin to understand what it is they need next. And so it is that despite the school system we found ourselves in when we were children, despite our classmates, our youthful exuberance and our own natural attempts to avoid putting our minds to work too often, we were educated, and we have to acknowledge that it was teachers who were responsible for that. Being a teacher is the most important job there is.

    What is it, though, that teachers actually do? This book is intended to help new teachers to get to grips with what it is to be a teacher in primary education. Teachers do enjoy teaching. They like sharing their love of their subject. They do have those ideal days, and they do find themselves in contexts where they can have a direct influence on a child's thinking, which will last that child's lifetime. Teaching can be complex, demanding and tiring. But it is also simple, interesting and inspiring, and it is never ever dull. What teachers actually do is to find out what children think and know, and organise things so that they can move on to developing their thinking, and knowing a bit more. It is as simple as that.

    We have divided the book into subject chapters. This is because we found that each of our authors was in the grip of a passionate conviction that ‘their’ subject was the most important thing children could ever learn; and we wanted to give them chance to say why. Each chapter offers a rationale for teaching the subject which clearly indicates what it is about the subject that is distinctive, important, and necessary to ensure the development of the whole child. As primary teachers we can all teach any subject, but we are allowed of course to have our favourites, often gained from a teacher during our school days.

    Children, schools and education have all been subjects of careful academic research. Researchers have used their data and insight to develop theories of how children learn, and how teachers can help them to learn. Theories are used to suggest how teachers might teach. There is no getting out of it by imagining that theory is unnecessary; everyone has a theory of education, that is, an idea of how they think children learn which might be different from how we think we learn ourselves. You can test your own theory of education quite readily. Imagine that tomorrow morning, you must teach thirty seven-year-olds how to. … what shall we say? It is not often your choice, what to teach. How to write a haiku poem; how to count to ten and say hello and goodbye in another language; or to know the order of the colours of the rainbow, and how they relate to the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum. The question is, how would you do it? Your answer to that question is an indicator of how you think people learn – your theory of education. You could sit them down and tell them. You could use an interactive whiteboard or provide access to laptops. You could organise a drama or a painting session, or get out the percussion instruments. You could have the children working as a class, in small groups, or as individuals. You could insist on silence while you talk for half an hour. You could check that they had learnt something by giving them a test at the end. You could even begin by giving them a test. You could ask a lot of questions. You could organise a discussion, or help them to generate some questions of their own. You could take them outside or to a museum. You could get an expert in and then see what their theory of education is by looking at how they teach. People teach in ways that they think will enable learning; so how you teach reflects how you think children learn. This book offers the opportunity to think about theories of learning, and see what different ideas look like in practice.

    Each author has worked with primary teachers to identify some ‘In the classroom’ examples. These are activities that have actually happened in classrooms, with their context and a brief analysis of their impact. These sections are not what are disparagingly known as ‘tips for teachers’. It's actually fair enough to be disparaging about such things. They are only useful in the short term. It is no good providing a list of things to do, because once you get to the end of it, you would still not know what it is that teachers do, and how and why they do it. Instead we offer the theory, with some examples of practice. Making sense of what happens and why, and making your own decisions about what you think is important, is part of your building professional expertise.

    We have also asked our authors to provide some key texts for further reading. No one book can do justice to the wealth of knowledge and understanding about education that is available to teachers; we are aware that each reader will want to pursue different aspects of understanding, so suggestions are offered for each of the curriculum areas.

    A key focus for each chapter is on the importance of talk for learning. Talk is often suppressed in classrooms, and for some of the time, this is essential. You could not get through every school day with 30 children talking at will in a confined space. However the chance for children to articulate ideas, share information, discuss problems, and provide feedback are just some of the reasons why it is crucial that they are encouraged to talk to one another about their classroom activities. Another reason is that unless children talk to one another in class, there is little chance that they will develop into collaborative, fluent adults who understand that knowledge shared is knowledge more than doubled; who can engage with one another in rational, exploratory discussion. Talk for learning teaches children to be able to offer and accept challenges and gives them the strategies they need to question others, and to be able to change their minds when faced with a different point of view. That is, to be able to learn, and keep learning. Talk for learning is not difficult to organise; we just have to teach children what is meant by ‘a good discussion’, and teach them the skills to take part. Every child is entitled to such tuition. Every child may be more or less able to talk when they arrive in your classroom, but it will be your focus on dialogue, and your modelling of such talk skills as attentive listening, asking for and giving reasons, elaboration and explanation, and negotiating an agreement, that teach the child how to join in effective discussions with others.

    Every child is only going to achieve their potential in your classroom if both you and their classmates have that as the aim. To be a teacher is to be in the powerful and important position of orchestrator of the classroom, manager of learning, and evaluator of progress. To be a teacher is to influence many different futures. We trust that this book with its collection of theory, practice and ideas will inspire and support you as you step in to this difficult and profoundly satisfying role.

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