• Anita Demitroff

C is for Collaboration

On Fridays, we feature some of the people who have influenced those of us who make up You First Education, starting with one of Ana Demitroff's colleagues in Pre-primary.

A teacher never works in isolation. Apart from responding to his or her learners, he or she is always learning from and giving back to colleagues. Teachers work tirelessly, don’t always get recognised and always refer back to their teams. Today Cristina Botana, who works at the Colegio Lestonnac in Valladolid in Valladolid, Spain, is in the spotlight. I still smile when I think about the rapturous rendition of “We’re Going on A Bear Hunt” we managed to pull off one year!

So, what has Cris shown this English language assistant, who came into her classes keen to learn?

1. You can find time to do hands-on Science.

You can be creative in how you organise your timetable so that there are opportunities for deeper, hands-on learning. The children in the second year of Primary in Lestonnac Ferrol, Spain, finished the coursework in their textbooks from Monday to Thursday so that they could do a project on Fridays.

Indeed, one particularly reluctant reader eventually managed to get his tasks done so that he could join the others. At the end of the project, the whole class then explained how electricity worked to their older classmates in Secondary. Both of these achievements almost eclipsed the fact that the local, Galician, government had given them a prize for their work and representatives from the class appeared on television!

2. Drawing is a skill to develop.

Children tend to draw smaller and smaller pictures as they get older. Cris has a hack: if she can’t see a drawing from the other side of the room, it’s too small. And drawing as a skill has to be worked on across all subjects and ages, both in its scientific/realistic and artistic/inner eye varieties.

3. You and your learners need quiet AND dynamic moments.

Outside English staff tend to get children fired-up with lots of lively activities. However, with mindfulness routines (like the Pink Panther one mentioned in Blog 3) and chants, you can also lasso pupils back in and have them re-focus. If not, you may lose opportunities for learning.

4. An inclusive class runs as smoothly as a finely-tuned engine.

In a good school, children are taught to work together to ensure everyone can participate. The mission statement of Lestonnac, Ferrol is “Everyone, Everything.” It’s not just a question of an individual teacher’s classroom management: such an endeavour can only be successful if the whole school is involved. Working with the same groups over the years, you can really see the impact Cris and others in her team have had with this approach.

5. Technology must be integrated.

Cris often finds a way to add something “techie” to a project: a circuit with a LED light in a model castle from a Pre-primary project or a theme-based mat for the robot. Schools like Lestonnac Ferrol or Atios in Valdoviño (both in Galicia, Spain) allow technology to seep into the curriculum across the ages and teachers who are passionate about technology share it with their colleagues so that they are confident enough to have a go.

6. Transitions are crucial.

Like many good Primary teachers, Cris has a foot in both the Pre-primary and the Primary worlds. She taught me the importance of seeing how Pre-primary teaching and learning work in order to understand early Primary. What cannot be forgotten is the adage most often applied to Pre-primary: “If I can’t feel it, I can’t learn it.”

Cris made me realise how that’s true beyond Early Years, too.

7. Children “take off” during the second year of Primary.

At seven or eight, the logical mind and greater sociability of children both come into play. They can begin to see the crossover in a Venn diagram, begin to work together to create something and make their first attempts to try to explain what has happened in an experiment.

However, they still haven’t consolidated their reading skills in English, so we have to contextualise content a lot, orally and practically, before we present them with a text. English teachers sometimes overestimate what the pupils can understand in print but underestimate the cognitive challenge we can provide.

Cris is just one of the many great professionals I have had the privilege of learning from. Who are there special individuals in the staffrooms you've been part of? They are often the ones whose presence in a team is invaluable, but their modesty keeps them in the background.

Thanks Cris and every other teacher who really makes a difference!

By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.