The Early Years guidance is very clear that there needs to be a good mix of adult directed teaching and child initiated learning in your setting. What it is not very clear on is how much of each there should be.
The reason for that is there is no real definitive answer, as with a great deal of Early Years practice it depends on a range of other factors.
Before you even begin to discuss percentages and ratios, the first thing you need to do is to define what you mean and understand by the terms 'adult directed' and 'child initiated'. I often find that these definitions can be tricky to clarify within a team and that practitioners individual interpretations can differ considerably.
The next thing I would do would be to work out how you think your direct teaching is going to work because that is the easier bit.
Is it going to be every day? If so, how many times?
Are you going to teach whole class or group by ability?
Which members of the team will be planning and which will be delivering?
If you are following a programme like Letters and Sounds or Read, Write Inc. how are you going to fit those in?
So, you might decide that you are going to have 3 sessions of direct teaching each day. Theses will be at the beginning or the end of a session as you don't want to compromise the children's opportunities for sustained shared thinking, exploration and deep level learning.
Great. That is that sorted! Problem is what do you do when the children leave you after the direct teach?
Well you have a couple of options. Once you have finished the input then you will say 'red group you stay with me and the rest of you...go and get busy!' Shame for red group having to do more 'work' while everyone else gets to go and 'play'. Still I am sure that they will give you maximum engagement, after all who wouldn't rather count multi link as opposed to play in the water?!
Once 'red group' have finished, you have the eternal dilemma of what you do next. Most people opt for developing a common condition known as 'tambourine elbow'. Common in Early Years practitioners and members of the Salvation Army. It occurs from excessive shaking of the tambourine!
So, red group have finished and while their seats are still warm you reach for the tambourine and shake it. Everything (well, nearly everything) stops. All the creativity, all of the sustained shared thinking, problem solving, deep level learning, imaginative play, everything! You then proceed with the 'I am looking for blue group mantra'. Now depending on the genetic make up of blue group, this could take some time.
After 5 minutes you have managed to coral 4 of the 6 children, but 2 are still AWOL. Outside on the bikes or making guns. Telling them that if they don't come in now they will never go out again, probably does nothing for their levels of engagement - but at least you have managed to rally blue group, safe in the knowledge that in approximately 15 minutes the tambourine will come out again and the herding of green group will begin!
I don't think anyone would argue against the fact that there needs to be some direct teaching in Early Years. Maybe with my idealist head on I would argue that every aspect of the Early Years Foundation Stage can be taught through quality play based learning, but with my realist head on I know that in the majority of settings that type of learning just isn't practical and nor does that style of learning fit in with the way most settings operate.
My issue with grouping children for Literacy, Mathematics and then 'topic', is that the groups are too broad. At this stage of children's development they can excel and need support with different aspects of the same subject area. So I might be a brilliant talker but not such an adept mark maker yet I will be in the same Literacy group for both. I might be fantastic at shape but not so great with numbers but I will be in the same mathematics group for both.
I know what some of you are thinking...How could you possibly have a different group for each aspect of each subject area that you teach? The answer for me is...don't have groups.
When I say don't group your children, what I mean is that you would group them in the aspect of the subject that you were planning to teach. Then (and this is the good bit) you take the next steps to the children not bring the children to you.
So... You might do a direct phonics, literacy and mathematics teaching session every day.
You would always place these at the beginning or end of a continuous provision session. You might ability group the children or teach them whole class.
At the end of this direct teaching session your children all go into Continuous Provision.
WARNING - When I say Continuous Provision I of course mean provision that is linked to assessment, leveled and dressed for attainment. NOT just places to play.
When the children are in CP the adults will go into that play not only to look for opportunities for assessment and observation, support children's play and discovery but also to teach, delivering an objective that had been identified by assessment as a need and has then been broken down into next steps for each ability group.
This Objective Led planning might be linked to the direct teaching sessions or it might be linked to any other aspect of the Early Years Foundation Stage that your assessment and observation has identified as a need.
This planning for adults in CP would last for a week.
During that week the adult (or adults) responsible for that objective would try to deliver it to all of the children at least once through play
They would probably not have a planned activity that they took around the setting. Instead they would look for opportunities to to deliver the next steps objectives through what was engaging the children most.
If a child you were working with didn't understand or achieve the objective then you could revisit it a number of times in a number of different areas across the week.
By the same token if a child clearly showed that they were beyond the objective that you had set for them then you could revise that objective and deliver it to them again in a different play situation.
How do you plan for it?
For your direct teaching sessions you would differentiate your objective over 3 broad levels or more and direct your questioning to children based on their ability level.
For Objective Led planning you decide on which aspect of a subject you were going to focus on. It could be calculations, talk, upper body movement, pencil grip, ability to independently access the painting area. Anything that has been identified by assessment, observation or curriculum coverage as a need.
First you group your children by their ability within this aspect.
Next, on your planning sheet, you make a statement of current attainment under each group of children. This is an important stage in the planning process because it crystallises your thoughts about what you think these children are capable ot and how you know it. It also lets the whole team know what you are thinking
Then you make a 'next steps' statement of attainment for each group. This is what you are going to take with you into the play and deliver.
If you go into play and you find a group of children of mixed ability, there is no need to syphon them off by their ability level, you just differentiate what you ask them guided by your 'next steps' statements on your planning sheet.
I have found that any more than 3 objectives led planning sheets in any one setting becomes hard to manage and track. In larger settings adults often double up on one ojective and just present it in different ways.
Lindsay at Dee Point Primary has been trialling Objective Led planning with her two form entry team.
Here is an example from the beginning of the year. The objective was centred around the children's independent use of paint.
The next step for each group is split into 2 smaller steps, hence the numbering nest to the children's names.
These planning sheets were on clip boards to make it easy for the adults to pick them up and put them down.
Where I would usually have a column for 'evidence' Lindsay has put in an example of an activity starter, just to give her team some support with this type of planning until they got their heads around it!
Any extra assessments and observations were written on the back of the sheet or on a seperate sheet.
Here is an example of a different objective with assessments and observations attached
Of course there is no right or wrong planning format for this style of teaching as long as all of the essential elements are there.
I have attached an example of my A4 planning sheet here Download Objective Led Planning
Here is a n A3 wall mounted version of Objective Led Planning done by Susan from St Augustines that we were trialling before the summer break
The focus here was writing. Once this sheet had been completed then a member of the team would look for writing opportunities in the children's play and then encourage the children to access their 'next steps' target.
Joanne and her team at Chester Blue Coat Primary are also using this form of adult directed and then Objective Led planning to great effect. They started the process in their setting by every adult having the same objective. This was done so that everyone in the team could have a shared experience of how the system works. Once everyone is comfortable with what they need to do then you would move to different adults having different objectives. Here is Joanne's planning
Joanne had some lovely examples of how you can translate this sort of planning and teaching into display which had been created by her and the Reception team. (As this post is becoming a very long one, I will 'show and tell' those at a later date!')
I also popped into Halton Lodge to see how Ruth and her new intake were getting along. Again lots to share later from that visit, including their new 'Infinite Playgrounds' outdoor area. But, this is the objective led planning that she was using.
So, you might happen across a group of mixed ability children setting up an ice cream shop in the role play (this happened to me in Durham). If they were engaged in some amazing play or learning you would forget your Objective Led planning sheet and observe/assess/support what was going on.
If their play is fairly low level and non challenging (which it often can be) then you would go in, play alongside and then introduce the need for some kind of writing. A menu, a sign, a brochure, a website...whatever. Once you have engendered some enthusiasm you match your resources and your expectations to the ability of the children and the next steps objectives.
You do NOT turn it into a 'red group' table top session! You are going for high level engagement so you need to keep it relevant to their play and not hijack their play with your planning agenda.
If it feels like it is going that way then drop it and pick it up again at another time in another place.
It really is THE most effective way of teaching within the principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage and more than that, it allows you to be creative, have some fun and really 'teach' rather than just 'deliver'.
Give it a try! If you have got any questions, feedback or ideas, then post a comment and we can all share in each others experiences.