Killer Clown Pedagogy

In today’s busy teaching world with all the very important knowledges that our young people have to do learning in it can be hard to find a hook to hang all the learning stuff on in. So. One great way to hook the young learning people learners with is something that they already like. Like putting beetroot in brownies.

Enough of that. Killer Clowns. Kids love them, you love them. Here’s twenty one ways to spuriously shoe horn them into your substandard generic lessons.

1. Literacy – Creative Writing. Show the pupils a picture of a Killer Clown, mind shower exciting adjectives onto the whiteboard. ‘terrifying’, ‘creepy’, ‘green’ Then get them to write their own descriptions of a Killer Clown. You could provide an example as a model, ‘The terrifying Killer Clown was creepy with green hair.’

2. Maths – Word Problems. Don’t waste too long preparing this one. Don’t bother writing actual word problems – get the children to do it for you. Show the pupils a picture of a Killer Clown and get them to make up their own maths problems. You could provide an example as a model, ‘I saw two Killer Clowns on the way to the shops and three more Killer Clowns on the way home. How many Killer Clowns did I see?’

3. Science – Reversible and Irreversible Changes. You know that thing with the bicarb and vinegar? The one that does rockets and volcanoes. Do that, but with green food colouring right? Show the children a picture of a Killer Clown and get them to waste most of a lesson doing their own one on a bit of A3 out of the bottom of the photocopier. When it’s done put a couple of teaspoons of bicarb where the hair is, pop a few drops of food colouring into the vinegar and pour it over the bicarb so it foams up. Insane fun. The kids can spend the rest of the lesson clearing up the mess.

4. Art – Portraits. Show the children a picture of a Killer Clown and get them to draw it. If you can be bothered you could get the paints out and let them have a bit of a splash about. Don’t provide an example as a model; it would constrain their imagination and, anyway, who’s got time to paint an arising Killer Clown.

5. Home Economics – Designing a Menu. Ordinary clowns go wild for custard pies don’t they? Ok then, what pies would killer clowns go wild for? Acid pie? Toxic Pie? Can the children design their own pie for a Killer Clown? If they spend a while drawing their frankly pointless design on a bit of A3 out of the bottom of the photocopier you could maybe provide paper plates and shaving foam for a fun class custard pie fight at the end of the lesson. Probably not though.

6. Design Technology – Design Technology. What do I have to say here people. Show the children a stuffing picture, tell them to make a Killer Clown. What more do I have to tell you? “Can we use the 3D printer?” “No, you cannot use the 3D chuffing printer. We have wood, we have saws – go and make a Killer Clown while I have a sit down.”

7. Modern Languages – Vocabulary. What’s ‘Killer Clown’ in some other language? I don’t know. I’m not doing this for you. Have you not heard of google translate? ‘Tappaja Pelle’. There that’s Finnish. Go and find out more.

8. PE – Devising Our Own Games. Do this one in the hall. One Kid starts off as the Killer Clown. He has to walk around like a Killer Clown would. The others have to get out of the way. If he touches them they get to be a Killer Clown too. And so on till there’s only one left who’s not a Killer Clown, he’s the winner and gets to be the first Killer Clown in the next game. Easy.

9. Music – Writing Our Own Music. In scary movies they often use sounds like music boxes or little tinkly things to make a freaky atmosphere. Like you’d think it was cheery because it’s kids musical instruments but they make it freaky somehow. SHow the children a picture of a Killer Clown and then get out the class set of xylophones – guarantee there’s a set somewhere in the school – and get them to make up their own spooky music for a Killer Clown. If there’s time they could record it on a graphic score (you’ll need A3 paper from the bottom of the photocopier).

10. Geography – Maps. Get Google Maps up on the interactive whiteboard and talk about all the nasty creepy places in the local neighbourhood where a Killer Clown might hang out. Then they draw their own maps marking all the Killer Clown spots on them. They’ve got to label it. Labels make it a map not a waste of time.

11. ICT – Make a Game. Kids are amazing at programming. Really, they’re way ahead of adults. Not much point trying to ‘teach’ them this stuff as such. Have a chat about the games they like to play then get them to have a go at making their own Killer Clown game in Scratch. How hard can it be? If they don’t know what to do get them to help each other. Stuff the hot drink policy, bring in a cup of tea and a pile of marking – let them get on with it.

12- History – History. Make them do a PowerPoint on Killer Clowns. ‘Where did Killer Clowns start?’ ‘How many Killer Clowns are there?’ ‘How long have there been Killer Clowns?’ They can copy and paste stuff off the Internet and get pictures too. And they can spend ages changing the colour of the background and messing about with animated transitions between the slides. Don’t let them show their presentation at the end, takes too long and it’s as boring as… It’s boring.

13 – 20 Project. You know what? This whole single domain learning thing is rubbish. That’s not how children learn man. I’m talking cross curricular here. Show the children a picture of a Killer Clown and tell them to do their own projects. Let them show some CREATIVITY people. Why should you do all the work anyway? Let them get on with it – a good project can take up a whole half term and so long as you get in your Literacy and Maths who cares what happens in the afternoon anyway?

21 – Flip a Pokemon Go Bottle in the style of a Killer Dabbing Clown. Go where you like with this one. I’m out.

‘Look at Me!’

This post was written in response to Mary Myatt’s blog with the same title.

At my school we have a proper set of apparatus, big frames that hinge out from the wall with bars, beams and rings. There’s bolt on cross bars too, and clip on ladders, even a pair of ropes that hang all the way down from the ceiling. Really, the best treat you can give pupils at our school is an hour in the hall with the apparatus and freedom to try themselves out.

I don’t usually bother with a learning objective for a session with the apparatus. A few safety reminders and they’re off, clambering, swinging, jumping. Trying, failing, trying again, failing better. And loving it – by and large. If you’d like to see what this looks like there’s a few seconds at the start of this video .

You’d think that a session on the apparatus might be a stressful lesson for me – that I’d be hyper vigilant, trying to look in every direction at once to spot the accident before it happens. You’d be wrong, I’ve been running PE in this hall for over a decade and never had an injury to worry about. Humans are primates and when primates get scared they cling on so, yes, I’ve talked a few children down when they’ve got a bit stuck but I’ve never had to catch one.

So, it isn’t a stressful lesson for me but it’s an exhausting one. Exhausting because of the amount of noticing I have to do. At every moment a child somewhere in the room wants their achievement noticed. This one has swung from bench to bench, ‘Look at me!’; that one has got halfway up the big frame for the first time ‘Look at me Mr Finch!’. This one has found she can reach up and touch the ceiling now ‘Look what I can do!’, that one is dangling upside down from a rope ladder like an over-ripe plum ‘Look at Me!’

And I do try to notice each and every one (I said ‘try’, not ‘succeed’) because it’s in that moment that they see me seeing them that they see themselves. The experience of being stronger/braver/higher than you’ve ever been before is powerful, but it doesn’t have meaning till you ‘see’ yourself doing it and part of my job as teacher is to be the prism through which the pupil sees themself.

Of course, other children have a role to play here too. If I see someone doing something remarkable I’ll call the attention of the class: I’ll do my signature clap, the hall will fall silent, “Hey everyone – look at what Chad can do!”

Noticing is really important but so is narrating. ‘Look at Me!’ ‘I see you Samihah, you got to the other side.’ ‘Look at me Mr Finch!’, Hey Seb, you got halfway up that’s the highest you’ve been.’ ‘Look what I can do!’, ‘You’re touching the ceiling Ahmed – that’s amazing’.

And children get to narrate too. When they’re sitting getting their breath back and packing away the adrenalin before socks, shoes and playtime, as I’m packing away the equipment I’ll ask “What did you see someone else do today?” There’s never a shortage of answers, sometimes things I didn’t notice myself. ‘I saw Ben go like Spiderman on the rope.’ ‘I saw Maria go right across the balance beam without even wobbling’.

A few years ago we realised that while we had lots of warm fuzzy feelings about our school,  – and were heading for Ofsted ‘good’ with a following wind, and popular in the community to boot –  we’d never agreed a set of values for the school. If someone asked us what we stood for we’d have nothing clear to tell them. We consulted all stakeholders – pupils, parents and carers, staff, governors – gathered literally hundreds of post it notes, grouped them, rearranged them, puzzled over them, regrouped them and ended up with five values that, we thought, encapsulated what the community valued and aspired to. Ladies and Gentlemen, we had the Five C’s. At Larkrise Primary School we are Caring, Confident, Curious, Creative and Celebrating. If you’d like to hear a song about it you could watch this video but don’t feel compelled to watch to the end.

I could probably argue that the PE lesson described in the first few paragraphs of this post illustrates all the Five C’s to some extent but it’s the last one ‘Celebrating’ that I’m thinking about today. To me, when we were going through the lengthy process of defining our values, ‘Celebrating’ was the nearest I could come to ‘recognising and valuing the individuality of ourselves as individuals and as a community’. That would have been a terrible mouthful and, anyway, doesn’t start with a ‘C’ so ‘Celebrating’ it was. I don’t think we’ve ever done a good enough job of defining ‘Celebrating’ with the children because, when we ask them how we could make our school better at celebrating, they invariably ask for more parties. We need to do better with that. Nonetheless I’m starting to see that our understood meaning for our agreed value ‘Celebrating’, something like ‘appreciating diversity in the individual and the community’, is not the whole, nor even the greater part, of the values real use in our school.

Some years ago our local area in East Oxford was the heart of a police operation which uncovered a sickening network of child sexual exploitation going on right under our noses. Families we knew throughout local networks were affected, our community was wounded, we wondered what had been left undone which could have protected the young people in our care from coming to such harm.

The young people made victims by the East Oxford sexual exploitation ring are not easily categorised. Some were in care, others not. Some were victims of prior abuse, others weren’t. Some were living in chaotic, unstable families, others had apparently stable loving homes.

What were the abusers looking for when they targeted their victims do we think? Vulnerability of course, but what was that vulnerability? I’m wondering if one aspect of their susceptibility to the grooming  of the perpetrators was an insufficiently developed sense of their own subjectivity – they were not strong enough in their ability to see themselves as the drivers of their own lives. This chink was enough for the abusers to gain purchase and to start their grooming process. These young people had not learned sufficiently to notice themselves. And, as I tried to demonstrate at the start of this post, a major role of the teacher is to be the prism through which the child learns to see themselves. If I can get you to leave our school –  at the end of the day, at the end of term, at the end of Year Six –  with a well developed healthy image of yourself, knowing yourself to be flawed yet ‘good enough’, robust enough to take some knocks, taking responsibility for your own decisions and actions, knowing that it’s you who are the driver in your own life; then I have done the very best I can to keep you safe from the dangers of low self esteem, mental distress and everything else we read so much about.

That call of ‘Mr Finch look at me!’ is the clearest signal the child can give me that they want to be noticed, that they are ready to notice themselves: that the work of creating subjectivity can be begun. When the children ‘Celebrate’ themselves in our schools the principle purpose isn’t to make ourselves happy about or lovely, diverse school: it’s a deadly serious moment in which we can build resilient individuals at a time when young people need to be more resilient than ever.

Effective feedback at school, within ‘academic lessons’ as much as in P.E. or on the playground – goes beyond the stipulated learning objective of the given activity. “Look at you,” it says “You did that. You are capable of that. And so much more. Look at you.”