Saturday 20 March 2021

How to plan reading lessons

I love planning reading lessons.  In my role, I'm lucky enough to sit down with colleagues across the school and plan with them.  Each time this happens, it makes me reflect on the process of planning an entire reading unit.  I touch on this during my reading training sessions (in person and online!) but have never put it down on the blog goes!  This post is aiming towards a set of lessons in the four-part structure explained in Part 2 of these CPD videos. It might be worth watching before reading this post if you're not familiar.

Read the book...twice.

The first thing I do with a new reading unit is to read the book.  This seems really simple but it's surprising how often teachers start planning a unit before they've read the whole book.  It's important for this first time that I just read and enjoy the book, taking in any main themes or potential trigger areas.  Of course, I will start to get ideas as I read but generally I won't write these down yet.  Really, I'm reading the book to check its appropriateness: are the themes appropriate for the age (remember some book covers are deceptive)? Are the themes appropriate for my class/cohort? Am I enjoying reading the book? Would my class/cohort enjoy the book? How easy is it to follow the narrative and get lost in the book? Are there any issues in the book which may trigger certain reactions from children due to their lived experiences?  With that last question, if the answer is 'yes', that's not necessarily a reason to not use the book; it's a reason to consider communicating with that child and the family about the potential triggers before introducing the lessons. 

Once I'm happy the book is wholly appropriate and of a high-quality, I will read the book again.  This time, I'll read with a notebook next to me, scribbling down a variety of things: 

  • Key vocabulary which comes up time and time again (e.g. in There's A Boy In The Girls' Bathroom there are a lot of American words) 
  • Any general knowledge references which children may not know about or know enough about to fully comprehend the story (e.g. in Number The Stars, the Danish Resistance is quite key to many elements of the story)
  • Key moments which would be good points to stop and summarise - perhaps before or after a complicated part of the plot - or to predict. 
  • Extracts which lend themselves to a specific skill

These notebooks are fairly messy and rarely are all the ideas used, but it makes a very good starting point for planning.

Map out the book over the time

The next job is to ensure that we will finish reading the book in the time given.  You might have a half term, a term or a fortnight in which to complete your reading unit.  In this time, it's so important to finish the book with the children so that they get closure on the story and so that you can guide them through their comprehension right to the end.  I start this with the halfway point: if we're reading for a term, then by half term I need to be halfway through.  I create a rough guide to where I need to get to each week using page numbers or chapters.  This is something I started doing after making the mistake of not getting far enough and having too many pages to read in the last week of a term! 

Identify the chapters to 'just read' and link to skills

These chapters will be the ones you focus in on for teaching the reading skills to pupils.  They need to be at an appropriate point in the book each week to ensure you'll get through the text and also have enough quality text in them for the skill you want to achieve.  I often start with a retrieve or authorial intent (choice) activity linked to characters so the first 'just read' chapter could be one which introduces the main characters.  Once you're well into the book and before a big twist occurs, there may be a chapter which requires children to really understand what has happened - that could be a point at which you teach the summarising objectives.  I sit with the skills in front of me and match them to chapters/extracts, ensuring all the main comprehension skills are covered within a unit (unless it's a short unit).

By now you should have a skeleton overview with the key chapter/extract and the focus skill for each week. 

Vocabulary / General Knowledge

Each 'just read' lesson has a session before in which we front load (or pre-teach) some key vocabulary or general knowledge.  If my notes from the second read through are detailed enough, I should know whether each week's extract lends itself to a vocabulary focus or a knowledge focus.  These are added to the overview.  If it's a vocabulary week, it's important that the activity allows children to learn and understand the new words which they will encounter during the week.  Occasionally, this could be a dictionary task but I'd recommend the Vocabulary Ninja book and Closing the Vocabulary Gap for ideas for other vocabulary activities and some sound theory on vocabulary teaching.  A general knowledge week is a good chance to practise reading comprehension test skills with an unseen text.  Alternatively, children could complete a comprehension activity based on a text (or video, infographic, cartoon etc!) which helps them learn the appropriate information. 

Comprehension Activities

By now, the skills for each extract each week are mapped out.  It's time to decide how children are going to practise and improve the skill you are teaching.  More often than not, this means a focused comprehension activity rather than multiple comprehension questions as per CGP books or reading tests.  Will children need to respond to a question with prose? Do they need to match elements together? Are they making a judgment on something and how could they show their response? Do they need to justify their response with quotations?  I always have a go at completing the activity to consider what children will find difficult and what they will need during the input in order to be successful. This is sometimes the hardest part but by keeping these simple and focusing on the reading skill we can build children's understanding.  The more you talk to teachers, look in other teachers' reading books, have a look over Twitter (there are some brilliant ideas there!) and search, the greater your bank of potential comprehension activities will become. 

By this point, the weekly overview should be complete and you're ready to look at individual lessons.  I end up with something like the grid below.

When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll


It's important that all children can access the learning and the activity.  Take time to consider how the children who struggle the most with comprehension or decoding will be successful with the skill you're teaching. Children who struggle with comprehension will often require different support to children who struggle with decoding.  Scaffolding for comprehension can include sentence starters or structures, more guided adult support, steps towards a final product or to focus on one element of the activity/story.  Scaffolding for decoding can include highlighted words or phrases to focus on for the reading, shorter extracts, a simplified version of the text or an audio book to support.  These children will require decoding intervention in addition to the reading lessons - we do this during the fifth independent reading session.  Make sure the scaffolding for pupils is clear on the plan, and that you've considered how all children can be successful.  Also remember, scaffolding should be withheld at first to give children the chance to smash your expectations of them, and any support should be temporary - but that's a whole other blog post!

Plan and resource

This final step is the one teachers are very familiar with and good at! Once the bare bones of the unit are in place and well-planned, it's easy to meat out the plans with clear explanations, modelling of the reading skill (including use of Teacher Fool), any questions which will be asked, key misconceptions to go over and the role of any adults within the lesson.  I tend to add detail to the plan as I resource each session: as I prepare any slides, resources or support materials, I ensure the plan is clear how and when they should all be used. 

I hope this has been useful, particularly if you're new to teaching or new to teaching reading in this way.  Please do get in touch on Twitter, via email or on the contact form on this blog if you have any questions.  There are tonnes more blog posts about reading here. Happy planning! 

Sunday 4 October 2020 Computing/Coding Curriculum


For years at my last school, a colleague went on and on about the computing resources available on  Across the school, we used the site once a year for the Hour of Code in the autumn term and I was always impressed with the quality of the learning available within an hour.  I do consider myself to be someone who will take a good idea and run with it but for some reason I never fully explored the site.  

At my current school, I've been working with an RQT in leading computing and our coding provision just wasn't up to scratch.  Thankfully, my former colleague's years of repeated messages about must have sunk in somewhere as we began to explore the site and realise the goldmine of an entire free curriculum of plans, resources and online lessons for the whole school (and beyond) in coding and e-safety. works in a browser, including on iPads so is perfect for every primary school with access to at least a half class set of devices.  I trialled using the Y1/Course A plans with a Y1/2 code club in the summer term of 2019.  This was really successful and it was easy to see how the lessons would work well so we set up the whole school, created our own plans in school format based on the lessons and last year were poised for an entire year of high-quality coding lessons for our pupils.  We only made it halfway through the year but the feedback from teachers was positive in terms of ease of teaching and the quality of learning for pupils. 

Strap in, this is going to be a long blog post which takes you through setting up the teachers and pupils, how they log in, how to set the learning, how we organised plans and how assessment works.  You may want to read a section, action that section and then come back.   

Good luck and please email ( or tweet me if you have any questions. 

Setting up the school

The first step was to set up accounts for teachers to access to view their cohort. For assessment purposes, each cohort (not year group) at our school is assigned a colour; this allows for tracking cohorts back.  This also worked well for because it meant the cohort could keep the progress they'd made previously without having to lose it year-on-year. Therefore, after our IT technician had set up cohort colour email addresses, we set up teacher accounts for each cohort on using the email address associated with that cohort (i.e.  Teachers have access to the passwords for all cohorts so can login to view the cohort they are teaching each year. 

Creating "sections" or classes

The next step was to set up the pupils' accounts.  We set up each class as a new "section" within the cohort.  Adding the pupils in the "manage students" section was SO easy. We simply had to copy the forenames and surnames of every child into a box. We actually copied each class from our Pupil Progress Meeting form which is in a table and it work.  This gives each child an account which they use to complete activities and which teachers can view to track progress.  Once sections are set up, you can assign a course (unit) to each class (see below). 

You can easily print out login cards for the section
Logging in

To log in to their section, pupils either go to the first link on their login card or visit before entering the section code (also on their login card).  They then click their name and their secret picture.  There is an option in the teacher account to toggle something called paired-programming. This is useful if children will be working in pairs at one computer as it can track both pupils' progress on one computer. We don't use this as we have an IT suite with enough computers for each class. 


There is an entire curriculum appropriate for primary schools, including coding, e-safety and some IT skills.  The curriculum is called Computer Science Fundamentals for Elementary Schools.

We assign each unit as follows:
Course A - Y1
Course B - Y2
Course C - Y3
Course D - Y4
Course E - Y5
Course F - Y6

You can view the curriculum here
View Course - view the only learning, assign the course to a class, hide irrelevant lessons, view previous versions, view progress of whole class if assigned. 
Lesson plans - view and download the plans and resources which go with the course. has been running for many years and has tweaked the curriculum over time.  For this reason, they allow you to assign the unit for a certain year group and from a particular year.  We have stuck to the 2019 curriculum as we based our plans on that year. 
Click the down arrow to view a previous curriculum for the same course. There are very slight changes each year. 

Our e-safety provision was already sound in school so we didn't require all of the lessons.  After assigning each course to the section (each unit to the class), we went through the course and "hid" the e-safety and other random lessons, maintaining only the coding lessons. 
Click "hidden" to remove from the class

One other feature which makes ideal is the set of "ramp up" lessons in Course E (Y5) and Course F (Y6).  These are a few lessons before the main course which helps children get used to the  codeinterface and catch up with some skills if they've never used it before: perfect for if you're introducing across the whole school in one year, which we were.  Once children have been using for one year, these lessons are not needed for future cohorts. 

Planning lessons

The coding lessons consist of a mixture of unplugged and plugged lessons. The unplugged lessons are to be completed in classrooms and require no technology - we actually really like these and they are often a good way into the new coding skill which will be introduced on devices the following week. The plugged lessons do require children to log in to the online interface to complete activities.  

As computing leads, we worked through each of the 6 courses, downloading the full lesson plans and resources and saving these on the school server in the correct folders for year groups. We also took their long (sometime 4-5 pages) lesson plans and put them into our basic planning grid so teachers had an idea of what they were doing at a quick glance - the full plan is there if they need to refer to it.  Often unplugged lessons require the full plan as they can be a bit complicated.  We ensured all resources were available and even printed off masters, creating zip wallets for each lesson if appropriate.  Obviously, we were given plenty of time during the school day to do this.  It would be possible for class teachers to do this themselves but we wanted to make it as easy as possible for teachers to pick this up and run with it.  

Each lesson plan has support/challenge ideas which are worth pointing teachers towards.  Also, the online interface has options for viewing a hint, slowing the run speed or running the code one step at a time.  The plans refer to a coding notebook - we are not doing this as the plans are quite long and we are already time-restricted.  After children have completed all the online activities, there are project studios which look similar to Scratch where they can practise the skills they've learned more freely.  These save on their account and they can come back to their project week-on-week to build on it. This is where most proficient pupils will end up each lesson. 

Assessment is great for assessment as a class teacher and as computing leads.  In the Teacher Dashboard, you can view how well children have engaged with an activity.  In the example below, Lesson 1 was unplugged and lessons 2, 3, 8, 9 and 13 were not coding-based.  

You can see the extent to which children have completed the activities for each lesson and how efficient they have been with their coding. 

This has been so useful with Covid-19 as it's very easy to see where cohorts have got up to and so where they need to pick up this school year.  We have also worked out how we can use the Course E and F ramp up lessons to ensure children don't miss any coding objectives in their time with us.

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Reading CPD Videos

During the Coronavirus pandemic, I've been sharing some CPD via Facebook Live for free.  You can find the recordings of the videos below.

They are split into parts.
Part 1 (Thurs 26th March 8:15pm) - important elements when planning and teaching a reading unit.
Part 2 (Weds 1st April 6pm) - a structure for teaching reading, particularly with whole-class lessons.
Part 3 (Coming soon...after the Easter holidays) - KS1, poetry, comprehension activities, FAQs.

Saturday 21 March 2020

Sharing Videos During Closure - A Simple Solution

Here's a blog post I never thought I'd write! Now we are closed to education (but very much open to childcare), lots of schools are turning to using video.  Because of bandwidth issues and the enhanced pressures on the internet, it's better to record videos rather than try to share them live. We are doing this daily with our year group teams for children and regular whole-school videos (assemblies, shout-outs, sing-a-longs, fun snippets).  Here I'll outline the very simple way in which we are hosting these. 

What you need: 
A Google account.  I'd recommend a new one which doesn't link to any personal email addresses. 
A phone/tablet to record.
The Google Photos app - optional. Only really useful if your device is a school device and you're happy to stay logged into the Google account you are using. 

How to prepare
Log into the Google account you are using and go to  Go to the Albums area: 
Within Albums, create the albums you wish to have (we have one for each year group and a general one). 
Until you have added anything into the albums, these will appear in the Sharing area:
To set up each album appropriately so people can see it but not add to it or comment on anything, go to the three dots in the top right-hand corner and click on "Options".
You will then want to configure the options as below, allowing the album to be shared and obtaining a link for this, while also turning off the collaboration and comments/likes options.
Now your albums are all ready and you have your links for each album.  The link remains the same and you simply add videos into the album whenever you wish.  It's worth making a document with all the links on.

How to record
Record your video as you normally would.  iPads must record with the home button to the left ('left home') otherwise it may be upside down! 

How to upload
The best way to upload videos to Google Photos is via an internet browser.  Go to and sign in with the account you are using.  You may need to download the video from the device you are using - it depends on which devices you are using to record/upload.  Our staff are saving all the videos in One Drive/Sharepoint (the school works entirely on Office 365 but the Microsoft package still doesn't have an option to share albums publicly like this) and I'm downloading from One Drive them uploading into Google Photos. 

Once you know where the video file is saved, go to the album you want to upload into and click the add photos symbol.
For the first video
For any further videos

If you're recording straight into Google Photos, you can then choose the videos to add into the album.  If, like us, you're not. You'll need to click the Select from computer button in the top right-hand corner.
Browse to where the video file is saved (mine will be in downloads after I've taken them off the One Drive).  It's important for handling lots of videos that they're named correctly so you know which files to choose. Choose your file and click "open".  The file will then upload. This can also be done by dragging the file into the album page.  The upload takes some time if the file is large but it works for videos up to and beyond 15 minutes in my experience.
Once the video is uploaded, it may take some time to fully process. 

How to share with the community
Once your albums are made with the appropriate settings, the videos are recorded and have been uploaded to Google Photos into the correct album, you're ready to share the link. Simple copy the link in the "options" area and paste it wherever you like.  We are using this page of our website to share video links and pdfs to work to complete. The same page will be updated every day. However, the video album links never change.  You could also send the links via a parent communication system, Twitter, Google Classroom...however you like! 

Please note: there is an option within Google Albums for people with a Google account to "join". We are asking parents to avoid doing this (although many clicked Join anyway!) as it shows your name to everyone who can view the album. This isn't a big problem but worth knowing.  They can't do anything else with the album (if you've sorted the options above) and no other information is visible from the album. Also, these albums are now completely public so we will be only using first names and class. 

I hope this has helped some of you with preparing for this coming few weeks/months and I wish you all the very best with looking after yourselves, your families and your pupils in whatever way is most appropriate. 

Tuesday 21 January 2020

West Coast Road Trip (California)

Lots of people have asked us about our road trip last summer so I thought it would be a good idea to scribble down some recommendations, tips and ideas in case others are planning on doing something similar.

Our road trip went as follows: 
3 nights San Francisco
2 nights Monterey
1 night Pismo Beach
3 nights Los Angeles
2 nights Newport Beach
2 nights San Diego
2 nights Palm Springs
1 night Lake Havasu
1 night Grand Canyon South Rim
3 nights Las Vegas

We booked the whole holiday through The American Road Trip Company, who we can't recommend highly enough and who we've booked another holiday through because we were so impressed.  They booked our flights, car and accommodation and sent through a holiday itinerary pack which was so useful when planning the holiday, deciding where to go and driving between destinations. We were recommended The ART Co by a colleague who, in turn, had been recommended it.
Malibu Pier
Best things to do/see/eat in each place
San Fran
Alcatraz - book it 90 days in advance, put the booking date in your calendar and book the very first ferry of the day on your first morning. You'll be jet-lagged so you'll be up early and the island is empty when you arrive. It also means you can get on with your day and get other things done in the afternoon.
The Stinking Rose - a restaurant dedicated to garlic (even with ice cream). Book in advance.
Oracle Park - If you can get to a baseball match, do. They are really cheap and this stadium is so picturesque with views across the water. 
Take the cable car. 
Golden Gate Taproom - great for snacks, sports and drinks. 
Lori's diner - classic and cute
Walk: Lombard St, Steiner and Broadway (Mrs Doubtfire house), Pier 39 (to see the sea lions, no need to spend long here), Alamo Park, Haight/Ashbury, Golden Gate Bridge, Crissy Field. 
We did a hop on/hop off tour between some of these places over the 2 days but also walked a lot. 
Whale-watching - We booked a morning cruise (to have the rest of the day). We saw quite a few whales but it was very foggy. Later would have been better but would have broken up the day. 
Paluca Trattoria - Bar which was dressed as a coffee shop in Big Little Lies. Great spot for a prosecco.
Louis Linguinis - have their Clam Chowder
Dust Bowl Brewery Company - good place for drinks, great playlists! 
Cannery Row Brewery Company
Walk: Monterey Fisherman's Wharf to Cannery Row
Pismo Beach
Wooly's - great spot for drinks and food. Delicious fish tacos. 
Walk: Along the beach and on the long pier. 
Los Angeles
Griffith Observatory - absolutely must do. Get an Uber up here an hour before sunset (it gets expensive and busy around sunset time). Beautiful sunset, lots to see. Great views of the Hollywood sign. The best thing we did in LA. 
Warner Brothers Studio Tour - If you like movies, do this. They have Batman, Harry Potter and Aquaman displays. 
Universal Studios - Get there early. I have a great itinerary to do the whole park and avoid crowds given to us by our hotel concierge. Leave a comment if you'd like it! 
Mel's Diner for Breakfast
We really enjoyed the Hollywood Museum - so cheap and quite interesting, particularly the spooky downstairs. 
The Grove - The Fountain for drinks, or Mixology or Bar Verde. 
Walk: Dolby theatre and see the Hollywood sign from the sofa at the back, Hollywood Boulevard, Chinese Theater
Newport Beach 
Corona Del Mar - lovely busy family beach
Balboa Island - We walked around the whole island before getting the ferry to Balboa Peninsula. We then walked from Balboa pier to Newport Pier (an hour walk). We watched sunset from Newport Pier before dinner. 
Dory's Deli - I had the best sandwich EVER here for dinner - it was called Pistol Pete's. Go here if you can! 
San Diego
The Zoo - Get there early, save where you parked (we lost the car), we were there until about 2pm and saw most of it.
San Diego Old Town - worth a visit. We found free parking. Nice to walk around for free and we had fish tacos in the square. 
Sail San Diego - We did the Sunset Sail and it was one of the highlights of our holiday. Fab staff and a great tour. If you want a special evening, do this. 
Walk: The Gaslamp District. We walked all the way from the main city back to Shelter Island (where we were staying) past the airport which was amazing! This meant we saw a few of the ships, airport carriers, lots of the Navy bits and pieces, and the kissing soldier statue. 
Palm Springs
Aerial Tramway - The best thing to do in Palm Springs. Don't miss this. 
Smoking Burger - great place for burgers! 
Walk: Do not walk in Palm Springs! Too hot! 
Lake Havasu
Great places to eat and drink: Dry Martini, Barley Brothers' Brewery, Blue Chair (this was one of my favourite bars on the whole trip - great music, quirky atmosphere and a good selection of drinks).
Walk: London Bridge
Grand Canyon South Rim
Sunset - watch from Hopi Point or Mohave Point.  Hopi is probably best for sunrise too (although we watched outside Bright Angel Lodges!)
Use the free buses, they're amazing and you can see so much of the canyon in a short space of time. 
Get up early for sunrise - it's so worth it! 
Las Vegas
Check which shows/gigs are on beforehand and book. 
Giordanos - Have a deep pan pizza here. Have a small one. They are HUGE and incredible. 
Use the Deuce buses - very cheap and you can get everywhere. We went to: Vegas sign, Little White Chapel, Stratosphere. Just go everywhere you can by walking/bus. Go in and out of casinos to stay cool. We also used the monorail for 24 hours but it doesn't go everywhere. 
Top of the World - top of the Stratosphere. Expensive but very nice. 
Hell's Kitchen - go for a late lunch (before 3pm I think) for a reasonable menu, more tables available. Highly recommend the burger and the sticky toffee pudding. Both were delicious. 
McWay Falls, Big Sur

Not-to-be-missed stops along the route
San Fran to Monterey - You absolutely must stop at Santa Cruz. A crazy boardwalk town like Brighton on steroids. Allow at least a couple of hours and have lunch there - delicious food out on the front of the boardwalk. We also stopped at 1 Hacker Way (Facebook HQ and a big like sign for a photo) and the Googleplex. 
Monterey to Pismo Beach - So many beautiful places to stop.  Musts are: Bixby Creek Bridge (Big Little Lies), McWay Falls, San Simeon Seals (find a guide there, they know so much about the elephant seals).  We had lunch at the Big Sur Bakery - great views over the mountains.  Just allow all day to drive Big Sur. We left at 10am and arrived in Pismo around 6pm. We stopped whenever it looked beautiful. 
Pismo Beach to Los Angeles - another great day of driving.  We did all the piers in this day and again left at 10am and arrived in our LA hotel at 7pm!  We stopped in Santa Barbara (did the pier), Malibu (parked an hour's walk from the pier and walked along the beach - so nice. We had a late lunch on the end of the pier - would recommend) and Santa Monica (for an ice cream and ride as the sun was setting).  
Los Angeles to Newport Beach - My favourite pier was Redondo. This is where a lot of The O.C. was filmed. We had a late lunch in the diner they go to a lot in the series - it was so cheap, very understated and so delicious (I had the fish sandwich).  Recently, we saw Redondo Pier in season 2 of You!  It looked like a good place to stay if you want to be near but not in LA. 
San Diego to Palm Springs - We took a slight detour to Pioneertown - an abandoned wild west set built by some directors decades ago. A cute little place but not sure it was worth the detour, unless you're interested in those places!  We also stopped at a few Route 66 shops - crazy and cool but a bit pointless! 
Grand Canyon (on the way in and out) - We stopped in Williams and would highly recommend Brewed Awakenings coffee shop for coffee and an epic bagel! 
Grand Canyon to Las Vegas - Definitely worth stopping at the Hoover Dam. We drove all the way in and paid to park to walk over the dam.  Then we drove up to the Boulder Dam Bridge Parking (for the walkway to the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge for a view of the dam (and the Arizona/Nevada sign). 
On most of the other drives we just went from A to B, without stopping anywhere of note. 
Do NOT stop at the Route 66 diner. We had a horrible breakfast there - worst meal of the holiday. Go to McDonald's instead! 
Oracle Park, San Francisco

The stops
3 nights was ideal for San Fran.  If you're a parkrunner, try and be there on a Saturday to do the Crissy Field park run with views of the Golden Gate Bridge through the fog - stunning. We could have done one more night here. 
We'd recommend 2 or 3 nights in Monterey. 2 was just ok but we could have easily stayed another night.  
Pismo Beach was a really cute town but was so, so foggy when we were there. In fact, we only saw Pismo in the fog.  It has a lovely pier and we ate great food there but we drove past Morro Bay which isn't far from Pismo but was beautifully sunny. We could have stayed there and wonder if we may have had a better sunset if we had. 
Our least favourite stop was Los Angeles. 3 nights was perfect to do the tourist-y stuff but apart from that it wasn't worth going.  We're glad we did but we definitely won't go back. 
Newport Beach was our favourite stop. We loved exploring Balboa Island, Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar. We will definitely be back to Newport, probably for a fortnight and we'd bring children here. It's also easy enough to do a day trip to San Diego from Newport so worth keeping that in mind. 
2 nights was perfect for San Diego unless you want to spend a whole day in the Zoo or go to Mexico (you can't take the car into Mexico). 
Palm Springs was a stopover for a pool day in the desert on the way inland. It was so, so hot. Only worth going if you need to stop. 
Again, Lake Havasu was a stopover.  I preferred it to Palm Springs and could have spent another night there exploring the town and walking up and down the river.  Again, only really worth stopping here if you need to. 
The Grand Canyon South Rim was magical. If you want to go there, go.  It's an hour road in and out so it's quite a detour if you're not too fussed. We were fussed and we're so glad we stayed the night there and saw afternoon, sunset, evening, the stars at night, sunrise (05:00) and the morning. Beautiful.
Las Vegas was the surprise of the holiday. So much more enjoyable that expected.  Like New York on drugs! If you're up for the craziness, go! 
The Grand Canyon South Rim
Driving was much easier than expected. 
All cars are automatic (I was used to this with a Hybrid).
We hired a sat nav - do this. It was almost perfect and only had two errors: it once took us off the highway to come straight back on and it wasn't updated with the new roads on the way into Vegas by the Hoover Dam.
Highways go up to 9 lanes. Providing you have 2 or more people in the car you can use any lane. 
I much prefer crossroads to roundabouts. First come, first served. 
You can turn right at a red light unless it tells you otherwise. 
Just read ALL the signs and do what it says. 
Once you arrive on a highway, you often have to get straight over otherwise you could end up going off again. 
Lanes don't quite work like in the UK: there isn't really a fast/slow lane. You seem to line up according to when you're leaving the highway. 
Driving into LA around 6pm wasn't the best idea but it was fine. We just took it slow and steady.
Filling up the car with gas was interesting: it took us ages to work out how. Park at the pump, go in and pay what you think you're going to need, fill up and then they refund what you don't spend. 
The Mirage, Vegas
Top Tips
Plan where you're going to park. There's nothing worse than driving around aimlessly for a space. I used Google Maps to "save" car parks and we put those addresses into the sat nav. This made parking and getting around so much easier. 
Check out your parking and resort fees. Budget for this amount. Ours really added up so we made sure we saved for them.
Upgrade your car - go big. Our Nissan Altima was ideal. You want all your bags out of sight as you're leaving your car in random car parks full of bags a lot. 
Whenever we're going somewhere, I follow accounts and hashtags linked to the place on Instagram and then "save" places to visit on Google Maps. 

Sunday 24 February 2019

Tips for Teaching Time

Teaching children to tell the time is a big job. There are so many elements of maths, number and life which children have to understand in order to be successful with reading analogue and digital clocks and understanding 12 and 24 hour times.  Children often have very different experiences with time, depending on how and how much their parents refer to time.  I've taught this to different year groups in many different ways over the years and this blog post outlines some tips for teaching it which should be useful for any year group. 
  • Start with Clare Sealy's amazing blog post. Clare has outlined the steps to follow when teaching time to ensure children can keep up and to prevent cognitive overload. Many schools outline the order in which they teach written calculations. Having a similar document about the order in which time-related skills are taught would be a great idea and this blog post is where I'd recommend you begin when compiling it.  This order is completely logical, very different to how many teachers go about introducing time and I've not seen any maths schemes that follows these steps.
  • Buy a decent teaching clock.  I really like this one as the hands move together.  If possible, also get some similar clocks like this which the children can manipulate.  Claire suggests removing the minute hands at first - please be careful with this and test that you can put them back on successfully.  If it works, do it! 
  • Use an interactive teaching clock once children start getting confident. There is a selection of interactive clocks on the Interactive Maths Wibki page under the Time heading on the left.  Make sure the clock does what you want it to, for the purpose of the learning.  These are great to use during inputs but are also effective for children to use in pairs practising time between them, again with a particular focus. 
  • Carefully consider when, why and if children need to draw hands on blank clock faces.  There is worksheet after worksheet filled with blank clock faces for children to draw the hands to show the time.  Think about, as an adult, how often you think about time. If you're at all like me, it's quite often.  Now think back to the last time you had to create the time on a clock on paper by drawing the hands to the right time.  Unless you're an artist, illustrator or cartoonist, I can't think of a time you'd ever need to do that and I certainly never had.  This is such a useless task, especially when children are learning to tell the time.  There could be some benefit to children doing this once they've mastered all the steps in Clare's blog post, perhaps as a quick fluency or reasoning activity.  Please think about the activities children are doing, how useful they are and exactly what you are expecting them to learn. 

  • Teach all the 5s past the hour (including 40/55 etc past) before teaching the 5s to the hour. Once children have started learning the 5s past the hour, introduce digital time alongside this.  Then, only once children have mastered the 5s past the hour and the corresponding digital time, introduce the 5s to the hour. It's much easier to recognise that it's 5/10 etc to the hour when you fully understand that it's 50/55 past the hour. 
  • Have a Time-Teller Of The Day. Very simply, buy some watches and some stickers and watch your pupils become more and more confident with practising telling the time and discussing it with each other.
  • Weave the learning of time throughout the day.  As soon as I realised how few of my year four class could tell the time, I'd be found carrying my large teaching clock around with me.  I'd be giving children time-related questions in the line on the way to assembly, out at break if they were hanging around for a chat and on the side of the swimming pool while the other half of the class were having their lesson. 
  • Raise the profile of analogue watches with your class and their parents. I wear an analogue watch and I encourage pupils to do the same. We talk about their watches (not the makes!) and I tell them that the children who are best at telling the time are the ones who wear an analogue watch. We discuss how digital watches are good but are much easier to read.  Wearing an analogue watch encourages children to practise telling the time on the more difficult clock type and ensures they are more familiar with analogue clock faces. 

Sunday 3 February 2019

Video Coaching in School: How does it work?

There are multiple research articles which rate coaching as the number one method to ensure teachers continue to get better at teaching in the classroom*.  Sports coaches play a prominent role in the success of individuals and teams: they watch, film, analyse, identify, discuss and practice to find small improvements (marginal gains) to develop overall performance.  Last year, I joined a school which prioritises a similar style of video coaching for teachers.  I've experienced, as a coach and a coachee, how transformational it can be for staff, pupils and the school as a whole. 

Before joining my current school, "coaching" had been mentioned in various guises in my career.  Once, I was paired up with a teacher and we spent some time in each other's classrooms looking at areas specified by the person being observed (I asked her to watch a specific child I was worried about). We then had to find some time after school to meet up to go over that area.  More recently, lesson gradings were (rightfully) removed from observations in the hope that they became more like coaching. Different members of SLT would observe and give feedback - strengths and areas for development - after the lesson.

However, in both of these scenarios, I didn't really learn much.  The first model was useful in that the other teacher could look at something you were missing but it didn't delve particularly deep into teaching and learning, and it rarely altered my day-to-day practice in the classsroom.  There was no saying how good a teacher your coach was so it was pot luck whether you'd learn anything useful.  In the second model, feedback was given after a lesson and a couple of development points were provided.  The discussion was dominated by the observer and, again, nothing really changed in my classroom as a result of those 20 minutes after-school.

The coaching model my current school uses is very different and has been in place for a few years.  It was devised and embedded by Alexis (HT) and Emily (Former DHT)** and is based on the Observation and Feedback chapter of Leverage Leadership.  I highly recommend this chapter if you are considering coaching in any form as it gives a very logical and effective approach and lays down some important principles to remember. 

Before I explain how the coaching model works, it's important to point out that there are two important things to consider when choosing who will coach other teachers.  Firstly, coaches must have a solid understanding of what makes great teaching and learning; they must be great teachers themselves and able to reflect on why learning has been effective or not. They must have the knowledge of pedagogy to dig below the surface with teachers and learners to identify where classroom practice can be improved.  Secondly, they must be able to successfully communicate with colleagues. They need to be able to use questions to tease out a reflective discussion with teachers, enabling the coachee to be dominant in discussions rather than spouting off their own information and ideas. Any coach must hold the respect of others as a teacher and ensure important messages  resulting from discussions are clear. 

With that in mind, we have five teachers who coach in our school and we use a teaching and learning document based on the principles in Making Every Primary Lesson Count to ensure we're all speaking the same language.  New teachers are given this document so they can start in our school knowing the general ideas we focus on with learning.  This means their first coaching sessions can begin with tweaking rather than laying down the foundations.  

Complete with a tablet and tripod, coaches watch and film a specific lesson.  Teachers know the dates of their coaching in advance because they aim to include any previous action steps in a lesson and many experienced teachers now plan to try new techniques to reflect on with their coach in these sessions. While spending time in the classroom, coaches devise reflective questions to guide a discussion later in the day, noting down times of video clips which will complement the direction they want to go with the teacher. These questions stem from many areas: anything children or teachers say or do, books, plans, support staff, classroom environment etc.  The questions written by coaches prompt a discussion about a specific element of the lesson. In most cases, it's an area which they've previously discussed and are now improving further. At times it may prompt a discussion about something completely different. 

Later in the day, the coach and teacher meet together for an hour to discuss the lesson. Sometimes short video clips are used to prompt further conversation and reflection, always through questioning.  The overall aim is for teachers, expertly guided by their coach, to decide what they will focus on to further develop their teaching and their pupils' learning.  From this discussion, the teacher devises some actions steps (1-3) to work on before the next coaching session. The intricate elements required to achieve that action step are identified, analysed, modelled (if appropriate), practised, and the coach ensures this is clear.  This action step then forms the basis of the following coaching session, digging deeper and further improving that area of teaching and learning. 

Most teachers receive two coaching sessions, a fortnight apart, each term, with NQTs and RQTs benefiting from extra sessions. The lesson is either first thing or after break and then cover is given for an hour that afternoon to reflect with the coach.  These discussions are recorded in note form on a very simple template which follows the Leverage Leadership model: feedback (on previous action step), probe (questions - this is the longest and most important part), action step, plan ahead, practise, follow up.

As someone new to the school last year, it was clear to see the impact that this model of coaching has on classroom practice but also on the ethos of the staff.  Hardly a day passes without a conversation somewhere in the school which leads to improved teaching and learning.  I had always considered myself to be a reflective teacher but teachers at my school are more openly reflective than any staff team I've worked with. Staff members regularly discuss the intricacies of what they say and do in the classroom and the impact this has on children and their learning.  

The impact of coaching on the ethos of the team was exemplified to me a few weeks into my new job when I was sat in the afternoon discussion after a teacher's second coaching lesson. She kicked off the reflection by saying, "After our last session, I went and spoke to (another teacher) about my action step..." This really made me stop and think. Up until that point in my career , teachers in the schools where I worked had only ever discussed the grade they'd received for observations and, rarely, the strengths seen in that lesson. I'd never experienced a teacher going out of their way to discuss a development point and get advice from outside the observation process. That is why the coaching method is a selling point to prospective teachers; I don't know of any other schools who give as much time to the best form of CPD*. 

Coaching really does have the power to improve the learning experiences children have at school and transform how staff reflect on their own teaching, but not necessarily in all the different guises labelled as "coaching".  Make sure, as you embark on your coaching journey as a school, that you use a model which has the elements that make the biggest difference for your children. They deserve that...and so do the staff.


*See the Teacher Training & Development section on Sam Sims' blog here
**Emily has written a brilliant article about embedding this approach in schools. Members of the CCT can read it here