Sometimes the invisible line that separates the junior and the senior school seems impenetrable, at other times it seems fluid and malleable. Students know not to cross from one playing area to the other and teachers pass through the boundary as they move from one set of buildings to another but it’s not often that we get the chance to stray into the other’s territory and spend some time living and learning in someone else’s classroom. When I walk through the junior school yard at recess I often think that it’s like a packet full of small children exploded all over the yard. There are kids everywhere, playing games, running, laughing, throwing balls, talking fervently and passionately about all sorts of things. When I go into the senior school, the students seem more relaxed, sitting back on the grass, leisurely, talking and there seems less intensity in their interactions. I wonder if this is a good thing and I wonder where the passion and fervour of primary school has gone?
I wrote a while ago about a cross age tutoring experiment I was planning with my Year 7 students and a Grade 1 class (Bonjour and Bienvenue) and last week I was finally able to make the timetable collide in my favour to take my Year 7s down to my friend Ros’ classroom. Ros and I worked together in a rural secondary school when I was in my first year out and despite moving in different directions, ended up at a different school together again. A couple of years ago Ros retrained as a primary teacher and now she has crossed that invisible line from secondary to primary teacher and has her own class full of excited, enthusiastic Grade 1s. My Year 7s had made little picture storybooks, with basic French vocabulary in them, things like bonjour, salut, ca va, je’mappelle. Some of the storybooks looked ‘prettier’ than others, some had elaborate illustrations and English and French translations, while others were like tiny flip books with stick figures and speech bubbles on jaunty angles. In the classroom we paired up 2 Year 7s with 2 Grade 1s and watched as the Year 7s read the books and talked about what the language meant. Ros and I smiled at seeing our kids together in this way, and we smiled at once again being able to be together in a classroom – we’d been together in a classroom many times, but this was a new way of being together in a classroom for both of us.
Each of us were interested most of all in the sharing and talking that might occur between the students and we were pleased to see some students slipping easily into conversation with someone they had just met. The Grade 1s were excited to have visitors in their room and the Year 7s were talking about their own memories of primary school. Some conversations were stilted, with others ran over with enthusiasm. We joined all the students together and Ros and I began to ask the Grade 1s what they had discovered. A sea of hands burst into the air as they shared the vocabulary they had found out, telling us the French word and what it meant in English. Like sponges, they were soaking up the new words that the Year 7s had shown them. We left some of our books in the reading stand for the Grade 1s and Ros and I hatched plans to make this happen more often. While it’s not revolutionary, it’s something we have to fight to make time for, to bend and reshape the boundary that exists between our classrooms and to create classroom experiences that bring our students together.