09: What makes a good primary school resource?


25th May 2022

09: What makes a good primary school resource?

In this episode, we talk to Curriculum Manager Catherine Scutt and Commercial Marketing Manager Dale French about what makes a good primary school resource. Catherine and Dale oversee the production of all resources at Cornerstones Education, so they are well placed to explore the importance of research, writing, images and design when making resources. They also discuss the problems that arise when these elements don't all come together. Catherine and Dale provide a range of valuable hints and tips for teachers and explore some of their favourite resources, which are also available to download.

Useful stuff

09: What makes a good primary school resource?


James Marriott: Welcome to the Primary Knowledge Podcast brought to you by Cornerstones Education. I’m James Marriott, and today we’re exploring what makes a good primary school resource with Dale and Catherine. Guys, you’re much better at introducing yourselves than I am. So, tell us. Tell us who you are.

Catherine Scutt: My name is Catherine Scutt, and I’m the Curriculum Manager at Cornerstones. So, I oversee the production of all the resources that people use. I taught for 13 years in schools, and I’ve worked at Cornerstones on most of their products for the past seven and a half years. So, I live and breathe resources during the week, basically.

Dale French: Hi, my name’s Dale. Nice to see you again, James. I’m normally the person behind the scenes, to be fair, so it’s first time on a podcast for me. But I’ve been working at Cornerstones now for seven years. I’m the Commercial Marketing Manager, but you know, that has responsibilities as well of seeing the visual identity of the company and move that forward through the design department as well. You know, we’ve got a multitude of different things that we have to get our fingers stuck into, whether that be video production all the way through to resource design.

James: Cool. Thank you, guys. I’m looking forward to this because I mean, who doesn’t love a good resource? So, let’s tackle that question first. Then what is a good resource? What makes a good resource?

Catherine: There’s a multitude of answers to that. So, boiling it down to a few points is quite tricky actually. But from what we’ve learned over the years of creating a wide range of different resources… The first thing is that it needs to contain exactly the information that you want to put across. Now, I know that sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s quite hard to decide what you’re going to teach the children. So, a good resource has the key information very clearly written, and it also is written to suit the age of the children. The second thing is it’s got to be engaging and that can come from all sorts of different angles. It can come from what’s written in the resource, but, as importantly, the look of it, so that people can engage with it. It can be images, they’re very important, images have to be accurate, they have to be clear. It can also be the layout of a resource. The information can be as interesting as anything, but if it looks dull, if it looks boring, if it doesn’t look readable, it’s not going to work. So, there’s quite a lot actually to think about if you’re designing and making resources that actually will allow you to teach the points you want the children to learn.

Dale: I completely agree. And for me, it really is a visual point. You know, going back from my own experiences as a child in primary school, the resources that I loved the most were the ones that showed factually accurate imagery, especially when it came to history and geography and, you know, making the text in small pockets rather than reams and reams of paragraphs. There’s nothing worse, really, for a child to be presented with a resource that’s just really text heavy, especially for the younger years as well. Even for a year six, we’ve got to make sure that they get pockets of information and the information that they get is absolutely key. But from a visual point, though, you know, we make sure at Cornerstones that if it is a history lesson, for example, and we’re doing, I don’t know, Roman pottery, every single artefact shown is realistic. It either comes from archives, museums, and we do all that research as well. And we talk to local museums just to see if they have anything that we can have access to, just to completely enrich the resource. One of our things, and I think Catherine agrees, is that we believe every child deserves access to something outstanding and there’s nothing worse, you know, between state education and private education, why should one child be more deserving than the other? Even just the smallest resource as a picture card resource. Everything is thought about and every element we try to succeed and produce the best that we can.

Catherine: Yeah, it is amazing, what seems a tiny detail is very, very important. We spend an inordinate amount of time looking at images and yesterday I spent a lot of time looking at frogs to make sure they were slimy, you know? Which I know sounds a little bit weird, but when you try to teach kids that amphibians are slimy and that’s the key teaching point, if you’ve got a picture of a dry amphibian, that is not going to reinforce the teaching point that you’re trying to make. So, it is key that what you show is accurate. We very rarely actually use illustration in our resources. We do sometimes and we’ve got to sometimes, but if we can get a real picture or a real video of the actual object/creature, if we can get a source from history that we can use, that’s actually a first hand source, we will use it and take a lot of time to actually find it because it’s highly important that the information is correct and the picture you’re painting for the child is accurate. And that resource has got to do a job in a few minutes of teaching knowledge quickly and accurately. So, same with diagrams, we spend a long time creating our own diagrams. They go through so many different iterations and changes to try and make sure that everything is as accurate as possible. And when you’ve got used to doing that, you then look at some things that you find online and you’re going, “hmm, that’s not quite right!” When you’re looking at maybe the earth orbiting the sun and you’re like, no!

Dale: It’s amazing the inaccuracies we find on Wiki. You know, that’s a primary area really for teachers to use and you know, doing cross-referencing between Wiki and I think the curriculum team use Britannica especially for the history section, just to literally make sure that every fact is correct, and we don’t feed any of the children any incorrect information.

Catherine: Which is hard.

Dale: It is hard.

James: Are you suggesting that Wikipedia isn’t the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Heaven, heaven forbid, heaven forbid! Catherine, I must say I’m jealous. Frog watching. Perfect job. I would love to do that. That is an ideal job for anyone. All right. So, I mean, this is really important, isn’t it? Because particularly, you know, we’re talking about primary age children. The world we live in, taking the mundane and making it come to life is just essential. Otherwise, you know, you’ve lost children in seconds if you can’t grab their attention quick enough and keep it. So, I think it all makes sense there in terms of what makes a good resource. The next question really is the next step from that. So, we’ve touched on the fact that, you know, maybe Wikipedia isn’t the Holy Grail. Where do you source good information? And ultimately, if I needed to find a picture of a slimy frog, where’s the right place to go? Where are you going to get those good images from?

Catherine: Well, for the information, the answer isn’t that there is one place, that is not true. There’s not one place where you can go for good information. You’ve got to research, and you’ve got to cross reference. And I know that’s tricky for teachers in the classroom because everybody knows teachers are time poor. But what we’ve learned is there are some really good sources of information. Dale did mention Britannica. National Geographic is a really good source of information. Some of the historical associations like English Heritage and National Trust for whatever subject you’re researching, those organisations are very good for information, but they won’t contain everything you want to teach. So, what I would say is I would use information books that are published. So, if you’re doing about certain topics, so Romans or something like that, definitely get some information books to read, take that information and then cross-reference it with other sources. If you’re finding key dates, key facts and information actually go online and check. Is that date correct? Is that information correct, or has somebody actually found out something new? Because the other thing is some information was written quite a long time ago and some is brand new. And as we know, science changes over time, history changes over time, etc. So, all I would say is get a good handle on the subject first, have a good read around those different types of websites and in books that have been published and be cross-referenced in it and always have your eyes open for anomalies.

Catherine: So always think “hang on, I read that this was what happened first, but this source says something different” and dig down into it because you can find the answer. But it does take a little bit of digging down and digging deep. And also, you might read loads of stuff that you think is interesting, but actually you need to think, what am I wanting the children to learn and focusing on that. So that’s for the sort of knowledge-based information. Images, in the office it’s a bit different for images because we’ve got copyright laws to adhere to. So, we actually buy a lot of our images in from sites such as Getty Images, places like that. And also, we do source images from people. So, some archaeologists in York, we source some images from them, Skara Brae in Scotland, we source from them. We found an artist who did beautiful ancient civilisation reproductions, and we bought his images. Teachers have got a bit more leeway because they can, you know, do an image search, and show something on the screen. But all I would say is just make sure the image is showing exactly what it says. So again, cross reference. We laugh at Wiki, but sometimes they have a good image or two. But you have got to check that whatever it says on that image is right. So again, find something you like, check it’s right. Cross-reference it with another source and then you can be happy it’s worth using and it’ll teach the right thing.

Dale: Yeah, I was going to say, following off that, emailing artists. We’ve got some absolute fantastic contemporary ones, because I mean, that’s one of the most hardest ones that we’ve tried to find recently is anything modern, you know, everything’s restricted down and you know, it’s fine if the artist is 100 years old, but then the resources become a little bit more typical where it’s just like Raphael and Michelangelo. But I suppose with our resources, and I suppose to teach the children as well, we try to make everything the most up to date we can, just so they get a full plethora, you know, all the way from historic artists, all the way to the modern, contemporary ones. And some of the artists have been absolutely brilliant, you know, they email back, and they say, “Oh my God, thank you so much for, you know, including me.” And they absolutely love that exposure too, and it does really help with the children as well because they get a multitude of different cultures in there as well.

Catherine: I was about to say that actually teachers can do that. I think teachers should feel free to email somebody and ask if they can use some information or artwork because Dale’s had really good feedback from people and a willingness to share what their expertise is. So, I would definitely say to teachers, if they’re struggling maybe with local history or something like that, find some local sources and maybe drop an email or ask if there’s any photos to use.

Dale: Definitely. Most definitely.

James: That’s a great tip, actually, isn’t it? Because it’s not as if you’re asking someone if you can use something for commercial gain. You know, this is for schools. You know, this is for education. And yeah, I think we’d all be surprised just how willing people are to support that, which is a thrill. All right then, I want to kind of double down a little bit more then and ask you, Catherine, I’ll ask you this first about the favourite resources that you’ve worked on. So, the stuff that really sticks out in your mind.

Catherine: Again, that’s quite a hard question because when you’ve worked on thousands of them, it’s quite hard to choose. So, what I would say is a genre of favourites, video work is a great favourite of mine. Because we’ve created some gorgeous videos for all subjects. One of the World War Two videos we created was spectacular. We could use some images, some film clips, lots of cine film clips in it. I also do love audio resources. We do audio stories and that’s a good one for teachers if you want to put a story across, but don’t just want to stand in front and teach, record the story, put some different voices on it and play it to the children. And we’ve got some lovely audio stories, especially for history, when it’s a bit hard to find the information and visuals, if you can make an audio story. And Dale does a brilliant thing with the sound effects on our audio stories.

Dale: Yeah, just try and make it fully immersive.

Catherine: Yeah, yeah, lots of sound effects on those bring them to life. Sorry, that’s quite a long-winded answer and it isn’t totally specific.

James: It’s a great answer to be honest, and I think brilliant tip there with audio because I think it’s an underused resource in so many different areas. But you know, we know that children have got amazing imaginations. And the great thing about giving them something in an audio format is they form their own pictures. They build their own pictures around it. You know, what someone describes can look different to every individual child in a classroom. So, what a great way to let their imaginations run wild. So, I think that’s an absolutely fantastic tip. Thank you very much, Catherine. Okay, so Dale, if I can, can I ask you the same question really, any favourite resources of yours?

Dale: My favourite has to be the knowledge organisers for the sheer fact it’s complete condensed knowledge that the children need. And if I was in school now and I had knowledge organisers like that to hand, it really, really would have helped. So much so, you know, they’re condensed key information, there’s glossaries on there, everything you’re going to learn that term basically being condensed into two A3 pieces of paper. And I think from us is an absolute phenomenal piece of work, and I know schools have given their feedback and say how great they are. But with that in mind, we’ve got novel organisers and book organisers throughout key stage one and two really, really great sources just to get that love of reading in there as well.

Catherine: Yeah, I think that’s the key thing that we’ve not actually touched on with this. We’ve talked quite a lot about visual elements, but that is another thing with resources. It’s about actually reading across the curriculum and a good resource gives children a chance to read for knowledge and understanding rather than just reading for the sake of it being a reading time or something like that. And that’s something that’s absolutely key because we really make sure that the sentence structure all the way through from Nursery through to year six is appropriate for the year group. We make sure that the vocabulary is appropriate and is accessible. Like Dale said, we provide glossaries, knowledge organisers to reread and overread because the idea of resources is that the information in them builds up over time a bank of knowledge, and that the children actually use them to independently learn and be able to increase their knowledge.

Dale: That proved really well for the coastline project that we have, especially children learning some rather complex things. You know that they just, and it just stuck with them. And I think from anyone, from a reading point, trying to, you know, always coming across the same words, you know, progression of vocabulary, it really does help.

Catherine: I also think that is key for teachers to actually put some stretch in the resources, if you’re making them. Not too far, you shouldn’t push too far, and you should be teaching what’s needed, but actually trust them, that if you challenge them a little bit and add in a little bit more or some interesting nuggets of information, they will respond to it. Coastline was one because it seemed quite a tricky project, but the feedback we got was children really learned about geography and they really read about it, and they use the maps to understand about different places. So that’s another thing we’re all for, you know, it’s got to be age appropriate, but also making them, giving an appropriate challenge as well. And like you said earlier, firing their imagination and hooking them in is really important, too.

James: Brilliant. Well, there is so much useful stuff in there and hopefully people will take a lot from it. So, thank you, Dale. Thank you, Catherine.

Dale: You’re welcome.

Catherine: Thank you very much. Nice to see you.

James: Now, as you’ve probably gathered, we love a good resource. So, we’ve put our money where our mouth is. We’ve dug out some examples. So, if you want to explore a little bit more around the topic, then head to the show notes for this episode. And of course, there is loads more information and you can find all our other episodes at cornerstoneseducation.co.uk. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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