There are many issues to be taken into account when planning SPHE in the classroom. A plan of work for the classroom derives from the overall school plan and must reflect school policy on all matters related to the social, personal and health education of the children.
Creating a positive climate and atmosphere in the classroom
There is a direct correlation between the quality of the learning environment and the quality of the learning that takes place within it. A positive classroom climate and atmosphere, where children feel respected, valued and cared for, is essential for the effective implementation of an SPHE programme. Any learning that occurs will need to be reflected in the everyday interactions in the class and in the ways in which the children and the teacher work and relate together.
In a pleasant and secure working environment, children can explore issues and topics knowing that their opinions and ideas will be taken seriously. The ways in which they are grouped or are given responsibilities will contribute to their learning and their developing sense of self. Similarly, the manner in which conflicts are resolved, decisions are made and children are rewarded will reflect the democratic process and ensure that children experience in their everyday lives what is being taught and advocated in the formal teaching time. The way in which teachers and children communicate with each other, how time is managed and activities balanced will support the programme and help to make SPHE real and meaningful.
Routine activities such as the exchange of greetings every morning help children to feel welcome and secure and to experience a real sense of belonging. Engaging children in informal conversations can contribute to their social, personal and health education and provide appropriate opportunities to teach vocabulary, particularly that of a sensitive nature. Changing the classroom furniture around where possible or moving the children to sit with different people helps them to cope with change and fosters their social skills.
At the start of the school day or school week it can be useful to allow children time to set goals for themselves. For example, they could identify three things that they would like to learn or to achieve in the coming week. The children could then learn to represent these goals in different ways and to chart and record their progress.
Providing opportunities to reflect together on the day’s work in class can also be very effective in fostering a positive classroom climate. This type of review is one where successes can be shared, failures put into perspective, and new directions planned. Children can be helped to see where they have made some progress, to recognise small gestures of friendship or ways in which they showed independence. Reflection at the end of the day allows children to see all the roles they played in one day, how they worked in class, and what they have learned.
Through a Quiet time teachers can create a space in the schedule for fifteen minutes once a week or a fortnight for each child to work quietly on his/her own. The activities used during this time can include drawing, reading, making a picture or writing a story, listening to a tape or using a computer. This time can also be used for personal reflection, either on some event that happened and its possible outcomes or on some work that was carried out during the day. The children do not have to share these thoughts in the class but are encouraged to think for themselves and reflect on their own behaviour, actions and attitudes. The teacher can sometimes prompt the children to help them in their deliberations.
Quiet time also provides opportunities for children to be still and to find some space for themselves in the centre of their everyday living. The development of such a skill will be significant for children in their later lives and will help them to realise the importance of a balanced life-style.
Planning for discrete time and integration
Many aspects of SPHE can be dealt with in a cross-curricular manner, while other aspects will benefit from the discrete time available on the timetable. In planning it will be crucial for the teacher to decide how these two approaches can be used effectively to implement the curriculum. He/she will need to identify aspects of the programme that could be integrated in a meaningful way with work in other areas, decide on how such aspects could be treated, and arrange the timetable in such a way as to accommodate any integrated learning and teaching.
Similarly, the teacher will need to identify the aspects of the programme that will require discrete time and find the resources and materials needed to meet these needs. In planning for both approaches the teacher will have to ensure that
- the SPHE programme is comprehensively covered for all children
- the integrity of individual subjects is not compromised
- the discrete time is used as effectively as possible
- integration is meaningful.
Possibilities for integration
Integration can take place in various ways: teachers can adopt a thematic approach, where a theme is explored from a number of different perspectives, or integration can be subject-based, where for example an SPHE issue is the main focus of the exploration and skills or information from another subject are used to enhance the learning. Integrating learning processes is also an effective way of implementing SPHE across the curriculum, where, for example strategies to foster selfconfidence, independence, positive attitudes or critical reflection are used in a variety of subjects.
Some of the opportunites to integrate SPHE throughout the curriculum are identified below:
- language: using language precisely; acquiring appropriate vocabulary; developing communication skills; learning how to question, to predict, to be critical and to analyse; developing one’s imagination and exploring emotions and feelings through the spoken and written word; examining the print media
- history: developing empathy; exploring changing influences on our lives; learning about the factors that shape the community; exploring the various contributions of different groups to society; exploring myself and my family
- science: exploring: the way the body works, the constituents of different foods, the process of physical growth and development; learning to care for the environment
- geography: developing a sense of place; exploring local and national issues; developing an appreciation of different national, religious and cultural groups; learning to care for the environment
- mathematics: interpreting and representing data; measuring and estimating; comparing and recording; solving problems
- visual arts: creating and exploring images and pictures; expressing ideas, feelings and experiences in visual form; looking at and enjoying images in the environment
- physical education: choosing teams and playing games in a fair manner; understanding physical exercise as necessary for overall health and wellbeing; developing individual skills and talents; developing self-esteem and self-confidence; providing opportunities for co-operation and interaction; appreciating the importance of safety and learning how to act safely
- music: using music to explore moods and feelings; understanding the role of music in our heritage; exploring music as a form of universal communication; developing selfexpressionand a sense of well-being through music; making decisions; taking individual and group responsibility through composing
- drama: using drama: to recognise and manage feelings, to learn to trust and respect others in a group, to experience open and healthy relationships, to foster respect for differences in people, and to help the child understand and moderate his/her temperament.
Other factors in planning SPHE in the classroom include
- the experience of the class so far. The work carried out in previous classes will have to be considered when drawing up a class programme
- the need to respond to changing social and environmental needs. The choice of topics will be influenced by the needs of the children; and where there is selection within strands, teachers can choose on the basis of current social and environmental needs
- a spiral approach to the programme. It will be essential to revisit the content in a planned and consistent manner to ensure that children explore issues appropriate to their age and stage of development
- individual difference. In any one class there will be a broad range of abilities, interest levels and stages of maturity. The depth of exploration in the programme will have to take this diversity into account
- finding a balance. In any programme that is developed for the class it will be essential that a balance is achieved between skill development, the fostering of values and attitudes, and the acquisition of information
- the need to use a variety of approaches and methodologies. The use of a variety of active learning approaches will be essential to an effective SPHE programme. These are outlined in detail on p. 58–99.
- incidents and events that may arise in the classroom. Many happenings and events that occur incidentally can provide opportunities for learning. Flexibility is required if issues of importance to the children are to be explored and given the time and attention they may need.