Sunday, 4 December 2016

Feedback: Principles and Strategies to be Effective and Fast (VIDEO)

Recently, Twinkl asked me to do a Livestream video on their Facebook page.  I chose to speak about Feedback and Marking as I feel these areas are quite misunderstood in primary schools and I've learned a lot about them since qualifying.  These misunderstandings lead to a huge workload which doesn't have a great impact on children's learning.  In the livestream, I shared principles and strategies for ensuring feedback is effective and fast.

You can watch the video below. Apologies for the slightly out-of-sync audio.  You can watch the original video on the Twinkl Key Stage 2 Facebook Group (request to join and one of the Twinkl staff will accept you).

I am doing a similar livestream about whole-class reading in the same group on Thursday 12th January at 8pm so make sure you request to join the group before to watch live. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

From Prearranged to Unannounced Observations

My school has recently changed how it organises performance management observations and I love it.

Previously, we had two hour-long observations throughout the year.  We were told well in advance when they would be and there was often some negotiation about the time of them if they fell on something we'd rather not be observed in.  Originally, these lessons were graded but, as OfSTED stopped doing that, so did our SLT.   It all sounds reasonable and fair...doesn't it? 

However, it wasn't.

It wasn't reasonable for teachers to spend longer planning that one lesson than all the others combined in the week.  It wasn't fair for (some) teachers - me included - to get worked up, stressed and sometimes ill with the pressure of that hour.  It wasn't fair for the SLT to see those teachers who can keep their cool perform beautifully and tick all the well-known observation boxes while others were struggling to hold it together.  But, most of all, the snapshot of learning which the SLT were observing was far from a reasonable picture of what happens in every lesson.  In fact, it was a complete farce.  

This year, it was announced that observations would take place every half term.  They would be completely unannounced and would be undertaken by any member of the SLT.  We were given a four or five week window in which we could be dropped in on and we soon realised that this was going to be in a random, unpredictable order.  Six observations a year with no warning or extra preparation time.  It all sounds very stressful and unfair...doesn't it?

However, it isn't.

It isn't stressful as there's nothing to get stressed about.  There is no time we are aiming for.  There is no over-planning to do; neither are there extra resources to make.  We just continue to do what we do everyday - we teach and the kids learn.  And, providing that is good enough, there shouldn't be any problems.  As word spread around the school during the first round of observations, there was a slight air of anticipation.  For me, that was nothing in comparison to the nerves, worry and sleepless nights I've had prior to some prearranged observations before.  It's far from being unfair because our SLT are seeing teachers in their normal lessons.  No one is doing anything fancy to show off, no one is at an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how they cope and the feedback we receive is much more useful in our everyday teaching.

Understandably, not everyone is as positive about the new arrangements.  If you've always done well in observations, suddenly being watched unannounced must be a bit daunting.  However, as a teacher who has always struggled with the 'show off' nature of prearranged observations and the pressure to 'perform', this new system suits me perfectly.  Also, as a middle leader, I feel drop-in observations mean the SLT have a much clearer picture of what is happening in classrooms everyday and can really tailor where we are heading as a school from a truer starting point.

I previously wrote about grading observations - read that post here

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Running A Primary School Council

For the last few years I have been the staff representative on our KS2 School Council.  It has been expertly run by our Deputy Head, Sue, and I always refer people to her on Twitter when they are interested in starting one in their school or changing how theirs works.  Having watched and learned how to ensure the School Council is effective in its purpose, I've included in this post how Sue has run ours for many years.  

Who is involved?
After short speeches, every class elects two representatives by a secret vote at the beginning of the year.  These same two children come to every meeting throughout the academic year.  Also present are representatives from the SLT, teachers, teaching assistants, governors and parent/teacher association.  Pupils reps are identified by a School Council badge and their photos are displayed in our main corridor.  There are two School Councils; one for each Key Stage.  We are a large 3-form entry primary school so this makes it easier to manage.  In smaller schools, a School Council could included representatives from every class instead. 

How often and how long are meetings? 
The school council meets approximately once a month.  For most adult representatives, this isn't a problem.  For me, it means I need to be covered for the hour-long meetings.  This cover comes from our headteacher, assistant head or SENCo.  We meet in the hall and tables are set out in a square with representatives sat in year groups along each side of the square.  

What happens in meetings? 
Each meeting has an agenda, created by Sue, and is chaired by a different pair of Year 6 representatives each term.  These children are given a short script to help them run the meeting smoothly.  For each item, the Year 6 pupils announce what will be discussed, share some information and then go around the tables to hear pupils' suggestions, ideas or opinions.  We often have votes to make important decisions.

At the end of each meeting, there is always time for "Any Other Business".  Favourite topics for this section are toilets, break-time snacks and, currently, Pokemon cards however we have had some very useful and important suggestions made when the floor is opened up.  After all, this is the point of a School Council; to give children the chance to be heard and learn more about what happens in school.  
School Councillors vote each year on our school charities, suggest and organise fundraisers and communicate such information with their classes.  They were the first to view our newly built wing of the school and often find out exciting or important school news before their peers.  The teacher rep (me!), takes the minutes of the meeting so that there is a record of what was said and decided. 

What happens after meetings? 
The minutes from the meeting are shared with all members of staff at the school.  Also, the Year 6 leading reps take a copy of the minutes to every class for the reps to put in their School Council folder.  Each pair of class reps is given time in the classroom to share with their peers what was discussed in the School Council meeting.  Sometimes, they must collect ideas from the class to share at the next meeting or have a vote to share the results.  This is also the opportunity for their classmates to raise any other business which they want raised with the School Council.  Some children have specific jobs to do after the meeting; for example, speaking to the premises officer or receptionist about a problem.

Below you can see an example of the minutes which shows the matters for discussion in one of our recent meetings.  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below or to tweet myself or Sue.  

Click to enlarge


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Whole-Class Reading and RIC in KS1


In sharing ideas, resources and lesson plans about teaching reading in whole-class lessons, the question I am asked most often is about KS1 and how it can work there.  This post will hopefully answer that question and give you some information and resources to demonstrate how it works.  Also included at the end are the Year 1 and Year 2 Reading Objectives organised under RIC headings and a link to the folder which contains all Key Stage 1 resources for you to download.  Two colleagues, Laura and Sophie, have helped me put together this post so my thanks must go to them for their time, permission and expertise. 


In our school, children are taught to decode through daily whole class phonics across KS1.  This is important because it allows children from all phonics groups to access sounds  and words which they wouldn't necessarily be taught in a streamed sessions.   As it is taught as a class,  the children are placed in groups (on paper) for the knowledge of the teacher.  The children can then be questioned appropriately and moved along at their own pace.   They are assessed regularly (every half term) to gauge which sounds they have learnt and which they have missed allowing the teacher to pick up any gaps.  

In addition to daily phonic sessions, the children take part in a small-group reading session with an adult.  In this session the children are grouped according to their phonic ability, this allows the focus book to be at the correct level for each child.  This is similar to the group with the teacher in traditional carousel guided reading sessions.  Over the week the children are introduced to the story, adults pre-teach the vocabulary they need and groups discuss similar events in their life with predictions based on the title.  Follow up sessions include reading the book at least 2 times with a final session based on comprehension skills using the RIC objectives - depending on the level of the child this can be verbal, written multiple choice or traditional written questions. 

Year One - RIC
Two or three times a week, Year One children sit down together before home time to complete a Read with RIC session.  During this session they decode some real words, some alien words (you can thank the Phonics Screening for that) and read a book together.  They use the RIC logos to answer questions about these texts which require them to retrieve, interpret and predict.  In the autumn term, this session is completed verbally with a main focus on retrieve.  As the term progresses, the focus changes to interpreting and predicting with RIC. In the Summer term, the children move to producing written responses to these RIC questions.

Year One - Whole Class Reading
Whole class reading is carried out through texts we use in our Literacy lessons, using a rich and broad text to teach English reading and writing objectives.  The children become familiar with the text through drama and speaking and listening activities so that all children can then access the text and even read specific sections despite it being a challenging text for the children to read independently.  Activities always include an aspect of comprehension understanding at both word and sentence level with a writing outcome.  For example, We're going on a bear hunt.  We use this text to teach contractions, prepositions (word level work) jumbled sentences, sequencing (sentence level work) and the children write their own version after going on a bear hunt in their school environment.  

The slideshows below show a Year 1 Read with RIC session from the Autumn Term and then one from the Summer Term.  You can see the progression, not only in the sounds referred to in the decode section but in the expectations in the RIC questions.

Autumn:

Summer:


Year Two
At the end of Year Two, the expectation from the government is that children should write responses to questions about texts.  Therefore, phonics sessions and verbal reading groups will not suffice to prepare them for this.  Children are introduced to RIC activities similar to those used in KS2.  Some of these use visual stimuli such as videos and images however the focus is mostly on text-based stimuli, as per the assessments children will take towards the end of the year.

In whole-class sessions, children complete RIC activities in a RIC book which are then marked and discussed in the session.  Some of these RICs have more than one question per objective so children practise answering such questions more frequently and, as the tests approach, general reading comprehension questions are mixed up so children get used to recognising question types without the logos.  RIC sessions also mean teachers can address the interim framework statement about linking the book they are reading to others they've read.  Year 2 teachers base RICs on videos and cartoons as well as texts which are familiar to children such as traditional tales.

The slideshow below shows some RIC activities which Year 2 have used.  Children write answers to these in a RIC book which, nearer to SATs, is used for comprehension test practice too.


Assessment
As with KS2 classes, I've made the following objective sheets for KS1.  These can be downloaded  in PDF format from the link at the end of this post.  Please see this post for how these objective sheets have been used in KS2 and let me know in the comments below how you use them in your KS1 class.  As well as listening to children read and asking them questions verbally, tests form an important part of how we assess children's understanding of what they've read.
Year 1 Objectives
Year 2 Objectives
Year 2 Interim Framework Objectives

You can view and download everything mentioned in this post (including all the slideshows, assessment sheets, RIC examples and more) by clicking here.
To download items, click the down arrow in the top right-hand corner.  I will be adding to this folder over the coming weeks.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Going A.P.E. (Replacing P.E.E.)

For the last few years, I've been searching for a replacement for P.E.E. to help children answer longer response questions in reading.   I think it's a little silly to have an acronym for children which has two letters the same; it makes it harder to remember the letters.  Last year, I played around with using What? How? Why? as a format but, again, children forgot what each section meant they had to do.  Not satisfied, I continued searching for a solution.  

Recently, I found a post-it note on which I had scribbled down 'Answer it, Prove it, Explain it'.  It turns out, on Googling, that this isn't a new concept so I thought it was definitely worth a try.  Having made some posters hopefully making it clear to children, this is what I'll be trying this year.  The idea is that all children in KS2 should be taught to answer questions with reference to the text (Answer it and Prove it) as per the National Curriculum.  As they get older and more mature, including an explanation of links with other parts of the text and prior knowledge becomes important.  

Below you can find a poster explaining A.P.E. and some posters with sentence starters.  I'll be printing off the main poster for my cupboard door and printing some small versions of the sentence starters to go on tables during lessons.  Feel free to download and use the posters which are available in JPEG and PDF format in this folder (or click the RIC Resources link in the side bar).


I'll keep you posted on how it goes...

UPDATE:
Through Twitter, I have heard that many people have started "Going APE" in their reading lessons, throughout KS2 and KS3.  Many have used APE for interpret (deduction/inference) questions including alongside Read with RIC lesson starters.  

Alison used APE in maths to help children answer true/false or yes/no questions.  This inspired me to create an APE poster which could be used in maths and a blank one which could be used for any subject or adapted.  

Image from @AlisonHogben on Twitter


PLEASE NOTE: This post was originally published with the image of a monkey on the posters. This was due to me struggling to find a cartoon APE with the appropriate copyright terms.  

Monday, 19 September 2016

Times Tables Tracker

Why is it necessary? 
Once children have a solid understanding of place value and are ready to manipulate numbers, instant recall of times tables facts is vital to enhancing their speed and fluency in mathematics.  Each year, children would come into year 4 with differing times tables knowledge.  It was difficult to know where each child was at and how best to help them.  For this reason, I've been keen to have something in place which tracks times tables knowledge so we know what children can do and, more importantly, what they are struggling with and help them.  For the last few years, we've experimented with various reward schemes similar to something my previous school did and this year we've launched the finished product (if you like!) across KS2.  

How does it work? 
Based on a suggestion made by Stephen Lockyer at TeachMeet Sussex, we've created an order of learning linked to different awards.  Children learn the multiplication and division facts linked to the times table they are working on.  On a given day each week, they complete a test with 40 questions.  In Year 4, they have 4 minutes to complete it however the time given can easily be adapted for different year groups.  We decided 6 seconds per question was long enough for them to think and write the answer but short enough for them to not be able to count up on their fingers.  

When the time is up, children swap tests and mark someone else's. To help with this, we created booklets of answers to all the tests however once some children have finished the tracker they can help with marking.  They move onto the next test when they get all the questions right and they revise all previously learning times tables before completing an award.  We encourage children to keep all their tests so they can see themselves improving even in the weeks when they don't get them all right.  Children can monitor their progress on an individual tracker (we use stickers for this) and teachers can update a class tracker each week.  This takes around 10-15 minutes each week, especially once the children are in the habit of it. 
Individual Tracker
Class Tracker
What do you need to use the tracker? 
Firstly, you need to download all the resources in this free Google Drive Folder.  These include:
  • All the tests (and an editable version),
  • A tracking card for children to keep (and an editable version),
  • An editable letter to send out to parents with all the information,
  • A class tracker for teachers to use.
Also, some stickers are useful to keep children motivated.  We use these diddi dots on the tracking cards and these stickers (click the links) for when Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond awards have been completed.

Children can practise their times tables for free on TimesTables.me.uk by ticking the correct boxes and choosing the appropriate settings.  We also use Times Tables Rockstars to compliment the tracker.  A feature on Times Tables Rockstars means you can split a rock band (year group or class) into five sections.  We've named these sections after the awards and scheduled the appropriate times table to each section.  Children are put in the correct section then are practising the correct multiplication and division facts when they play online.  


Times Tables Rockstars Schedule

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Lessons I Learned About Teaching from my Teachers

Brand the learning (sometimes) - Mr Hawke (Year 4)
I went to lots of holiday camps and clubs as a kid and loved them.  I can still remember some of the crazy/weird/cool names they gave to sections of the entertainment; we knew what was coming and responded accordingly.  Mr Hawke's class sometimes felt like those except we were learning.  He would have certain activities, comments and routines which happened the same each time.  They were branded and therefore familiar and memorable.  I remember him responding WDYT to many questions (what do you think) and regularly drawing his own awesome cartoon faces, Brainboxes, on brilliant pieces of work.

Times have changed in education so I'm sure my class doesn't feel like they are in a holiday camp, especially when learning inverted commas and subordinating conjunctions, however I try and ensure there are some parts of the learning they can guarantee they'll recognise.  The RIC reading activities we use are an example of this and I took up Stephen Lockyer's advice of branding your class name.  

Like your kids and be likeable - Mr Paine (Year 5)
Do you have to be likeable to teach kids well? Probably not.  However I loved my year of being taught by Mr Paine and my sister enjoyed her year equally.  He cared for his class and showed this in his teaching.  We were regularly given cards to take home and show off to our parents.  I remember feeling really safe and happy in school when I was in Mr Paine's class. This is how I want the pupils in my class to feel.

Ethos is key - Mrs Miller (Year 6)
I was so sad to leave primary school and head to secondary school.  This was because Mrs Miller had fostered an ethos in our class which meant we were all equal, all important and all in it together; we were a team.  She did this before Carol Dweck had written Mindset and before Ron Berger had shared his views on excellence.  The amazing thing is that I can't put my finger on exactly what she did and how she did it. All I know is that she created the most amazing ethos in the classroom and I will spend my whole career attempting to emulate her.  

Know your stuff and love it - Mr Grindlay (A Level Music)
Mr Grindlay let me take A-Level music despite the fact I hadn't done the GCSE or my Grade 5 theory test.  At the time I just wanted to learn a bit more about how music worked and thought doing the A Level was the answer.  Not only did I learn the intricacies of music, I also learned that the best teachers really know everything possible about their subject and are hugely passionate about it.

Now, if I were a secondary school teacher, I would have learned that I need to know my subject inside out.  I admire deeply the work of secondary teachers I encounter on Twitter and in real life (!!) who are absorbed in their subject and highly knowledgeable.  

As a primary teacher, however, knowing our 'subject' inside-out requires knowing pretty much everything!  Instead, it's important to understand the exact meaning of each of the words we use in English and Maths lessons.  I try and be one step ahead of the kids when in comes to non-core subjects and up-to-speed on current trends and changes in my specialist subjects.  As for being passionate; this is fairly easy for most elements of the primary curriculum because it's quite fun to teach.  Art has been a real sticking point for me but modelling a growth mindset in my art lessons has helped to turn this around a little! 

Look at work and let pupils know you've checked it (a.k.a. give feedback often a.k.a. mark work) - Mrs Fleming (Y7 Latin)
I'd never learned Latin before but in that first year I learned a lot, mainly because Mrs Fleming always checked our work, homework and vocabulary tests.  We knew exactly how well we were doing, what we needed to do to improve and she showed us how to do just that.  Knowing she would check up on me made me practise and work hard for her.

Marking is only one weapon available to teachers in the "feedback" arsenal however I feel it is an important one.  Therefore I try and ensure children's work is looked at and, when appropriate, marked.  I have some very quick ways of doing this which ensure the children and I get the most out of it.  There's no point me marking if pupils don't read, respond and reflect on it so I try and make time in lessons for them to do this regularly.  

Go off on tangents if you need to; it's okay - Mr Walsh and Mr Reid (English)
I remember Mr Walsh telling us about an eventful trip to Edinburgh (I think), including detailed diagrams.  Mr Reid spent a whole lesson with us discussing the powerful make-up of many English expletives after discovering the phrase "pointy reckoning" in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  He showed us the hard consonants used and, yes, he was saying the words over and over again - always a winner with a bunch of teenagers! 

When reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my class, I discovered most of them hadn't tasted Turkish Delight.  The next day, I bought enough for the whole year group to try so they could appreciate the story.  We did some data collection based on their reactions and found different adjectives to describe it, deciding if we agreed or disagreed with C.S. Lewis' choice of words.  Sometimes, it's important to delve deeper into something which isn't prescribed by the curriculum or evidenced in your planning.  I find these are often the best lessons.