“You have brains in your head…”

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”

Theodor Geisel
World Book Day at the JSC

This week saw the anniversary of a ground-breaking author’s birth. An author who has affected lives and entertained in equal measure. An author who has influenced and educated but is probably not often recognised for having this massive influence. I write of course of Theodor Geisel. No, me neither. Geisel published his first book And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937 but he did not rise to fame until the publication of a book commissioned by an educational specialist designed to encourage children to read independently. He was given a list of 300 words and had to write his book using those words only. Happily, the words “cat” and “hat” were on the list and the rest is, as they say, Green Eggs and Ham (which uses a miserly 50 words and only 1 with more than one syllable). I wonder how many in our community count Dr. Seuss’ books as being some of the first that they enjoyed. One of the reasons for his ongoing popularity is that Dr. Seuss’ books are some of the first to be read independently. They are often the books that we read to adults with pride when we were a little younger. They are a sign of independence, and with it, freedom from Mum and Dad having to read to you.

It will come as no surprise that this week has been dominated by questions of “what if?” Our plans for maintaining educational services in the event of a COVID-19 shutdown are well advanced. If we are instructed to lock our doors, then pupils will have to rediscover their love of independent learning as we will move to a system of remote teaching and learning. Happily, technology means that we will be able to have contact during the period of lockdown and support will be on hand, particularly for those who face exams later in the year. Ultimately any system of remote schooling or distance learning relies on pupils to be motivated to learn. We have learned significant lessons from our colleagues in the Far East who have been locked out since 16th January and we know that there will be some teething problems and inevitable frustrations. But putting all of that aside the biggest challenge we face is that this style of study calls for pupils to engage fully with it. Lessons on-line call for clear focus and real commitment. Studying this way is far more difficult than sitting in a classroom. Our young people will have to be ready to tap into the excitement they felt when reading independently for the first time. They will have to use all the good habits of independent learners – self-monitoring, using scaffolding, being reflective, using feedback constructively to ensure that they make the most of this valuable time.

If we have to close, and that is a big if, our young people will have to work with both independence and enthusiasm. They will have to be ready to self-motivate and they will also have to demonstrate academic maturity. We cannot treat this as another holiday, we need to maintain as much study momentum as we are able. Perhaps variety is the key here. Some screen time, some time working on an exercise book or paper and other time spent reading would seem to me to be an ideal combination.

Whilst I sincerely hope that we remain open I would be interested to see just how independent our learners can be. I suspect I would end up impressed.

Nicholas Hammond