Using the Outdoors To Support Disadvantaged Pupils

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I am always amazed by how much of an influence a change in the environment can have on pupils.  We often expect so much from pupils through the restrictions of four concrete walls. We ask pupils to describe the smell of the beach on a hot summer’s day  and to write down the sounds of an ocean during a storm.  In these circumstances we are hoping that the pupils will have experienced this at some point through real life, a film or a book. We might even set a group task to create a word bank filled with ideas – but who is really producing these ideas?  Are they coming from the pupil who has never experienced a beach?  Or are they coming from the highflyer who experiences a captivating new destination every July? We might, then, ask pupils in their group to choose their ‘most descriptive words’ and we can all guess who has provided them.

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In the classroom, it’s my belief, that we are often in danger of unintentionally excluding some pupils from our lessons.  Even if we were to check pupils’ prior learning we may find that, for some pupils, their prior learning is really the learning of their classmates. They have picked up certain ideas and words through the experiences of their peers. Although some may argue there is nothing wrong with this as they are sharing the learning, we must remember that many pupils may have never experienced a beach or a theme park.  We might be able to provide visuals for these pupils through images and videos, however does this give them a sensory experience that will enable them to add description and excitement to their writing?

I am currently taking one of my classes out on monthly trips throughout the year. As their peers add more experiences to their collection, my class are being left stationary, or worse, slipping further behind due to the vital early years now being behind them.  Their peers are constantly adding to the knowledge and skills they have through their experiences. They have the prior knowledge to help them adapt to situations and new learning.  However, I realised that my class, often, don’t have this prior knowledge.  They may have picked up parts of it from their peers but they have never fully experienced it for themselves. Therefore this encouraged me to start taking my pupils to new places for their creative writing.  My aim is for them to start thinking about their senses and how they can use them to enhance their writing.

One of my first trips allowed pupils to experience creative writing in a woodland parkland with over 170 acres to be explored. We had discussed sensory poems in class and we were now going to create them in the outdoors.  It was a perfect day for it. The Autumnal leaves were starting to fall and the winter air was apparent but not too harsh.

The pupils first task was to think about 4 of the senses: sight, sound, touch and smell. The pupils’ task was to walk around an area of the park, on their own, and consider some describing words for each of the senses and I said that I would do the same.  The pupils were all provided with a booklet with a box for each of the senses.  I noticed that having this structure and separating the task into sections, rather than just delving into the poem, helped pupils to focus. Before I set the them off I also asked them to consider the way the leaves fell from the trees, the colours they saw, the sounds they were hearing around them and to touch the grass and the trees to get a real sensory feel.

Some of the describing words were fantastic. One pupil  described the leaves falling as ‘dancing’ and another described a tree as ‘looking like a monster’. As well as sight pupils considered the grass as ‘smooth at first but with an unexpected jag’ and the leaves on the ground having a ‘satisfying crunch’.   After we had our words we began to think about moulding them into  a short 4 line poem; with a sense for each line.  I have attached some pictures at the bottom so you can see some of the work the class produced. Although some people might look at them and think they are nothing amazing, I was really proud of the work the pupils produced on this trip. To describe a tree as ‘like a monster’ was fantastic and I am sure they would not have said this in class. In fact  a parting comment from a pupil was, ‘my poem in class would be different and it probably wouldn’t be as good.’ This shows the benefits of a short trip like this.  I am lucky enough to have a small class but most schools will be within a 15 minute walk from a park and I would definitely recommend branching out from the classroom and allowing all pupils to experience the outdoors and all it can offer.

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Trees like monsters with scary branches,                                                                            The cold frosty air moved on my legs.                                                                                  The sweet smell of the autumn leaves,                                                                                Ducks talking to each other through quacks.              

_20171030_203152                                                                      Leaves rustling in the grass,                                                                                                 Leaves changing colours like,                                                                                               Red, orange and yellow.                                                                                                          Wet and soggy grass like a dog,                                                                                             Birds chirping a pretty tune.

_20171030_203142                                                                            The leaves are multi-coloured and falling slowly,                                                              The birds sound like a chatter.                                                                                             I feel the cold on my hand,                                                                                                     As the winter air creeps in.                                                                               

 

 

 

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