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. 
Monterey
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
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

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Mum

With a glass of gin on one side and a box of tissues on the other, this is undoubtedly the hardest post I'll ever write but it is the most important. 

After two and a half years bravely battling Ovarian Cancer, my mum passed away peacefully on Friday morning.  Cancer really is the cruellest of diseases: it takes someone who is full of life and reduces them to a shell of their former self.  We are well aware of families who have been given weeks or less after a diagnosis, and so are incredibly grateful for the time we've had; time we've spent on family holidays, reminiscing about good times in the past, and being there for each other through gruelling treatments.  We spent mum's final day laughing, joking and thinking of all the good times, in amongst the tears.  She knew it was her last day and the team at St Barnabas hospice ensured it was the perfect send-off, if there ever is such a thing. 

I've spent a lot of my life being known as "Janet Sharp's daughter"; something which at one point I resented but I quickly learned it was a badge to wear with honour. She was a respected school leader in West Sussex, taking on multiple failing schools one after the other and turning them around, dabbling her toes in the world of OfSTED inspecting (don't hold it against her - it didn't last long) and gaining a string of teachers who moved school with her to continue to be led by her - many of whom have been a great force of strength and support to us in her final days.  Even after receiving the diagnosis she went into schools and spent days supporting the leaders, remained as the trustee of an education committee for a long time and generally continued making a difference. 

It would be impossible to tally up just how many children's lives she has affected directly or indirectly.  She started off as a secondary maths teacher, despite having a geography degree, and was part of a department who all reduced their contracts to 4 days a week to avoid any colleagues being made redundant. She taught in a few local schools, including the one my sister and I attended years later, before falling into acting-headship.  With a taste of school leadership, she then found herself as head teacher of a string of schools before consulting in lots of West Sussex schools, including my former school. All the while, being a trustee for multiple organisations: a church, a residential centre, an education committee, and being heavily involved in the NAHT. This was all alongside looking after dozens of foster children in the family home for 15 years. Supported by my patient and servant-hearted dad, she really was a force to be reckoned with. 

Mum's mum had been a teacher so education certainly runs in the family.  However, it wasn't clear cut that I'd end up here from the start.  My plan after A Levels was to do a business management degree.  I don't remember telling mum that I wanted to be a teacher instead, but she always remembered it so clearly.  From the age of 11-18 I was at Christ's Hospital - a charity boarding school which is fully means-tested.  Many pupils' families were far away or abroad so we didn't go home very often - it was very rare that our parents came to visit randomly.  

Apparently one weekday when I was in my final year (aged 17), I rang mum and told her I had some important news so could she come up on Saturday and take me out to Wimpy in Horsham (our normal leave-weekend routine but this wasn't a leave-weekend).  I remember none of this but mum always said she spent the next few days stressing; she was convinced I was going to tell her I was pregnant!!  Apparently I was very bubbly and seemed fine when she arrived to take me out, and I had said nothing of any note at all so, part-way through our Wimpy meal, mum reluctantly asked what it was I wanted to discuss with her.  "Oh - I've changed my uni plans and decided I want to become a teacher. I hope that's OK?" was my response.  I'll never know how she actually felt about the news because she was just so relieved that her prediction was wrong! 

There are lots of things mum will miss over the coming years but I'm so glad she got the chance to read Making Every Primary Lesson Count in its early stages and to see it published.  She wasn't well enough to attend the Teaching Awards ceremony but I'm so pleased she got to experience that time of my life. In her final few weeks, mum had the opportunity to visit my new school where I started as Deputy Head Teacher in January and to see the hospital where my sister was working. She visited all my schools and showed an interest in everything education, always asking my husband and I about changes in our schools - she even wanted to know our SATs results in her final few days!

I've always trusted mum's judgement and, as it happens, all the head teachers I have worked for knew her before they knew me.  She always suggested great heads to work for and she respected Bruce, Martin and Alexis a huge amount.  No matter who I worked for, she had one piece of advice, which I heard on a weekly basis, normally during a conversation about my many netball matches.  It's great advice for anyone in a busy profession but particularly for teachers and it is this:

PACE YOURSELF

She has been the inspiration behind so much that I've done in life, as well as in education, and I'll forever be proud to be known as Janet Sharp's daughter.  And, mum - I'll endeavour to pace myself...as much as possible!

Mum and I managed to grab the school photographers
for a quick snap during the time I worked
as a TA in the school where she was Head Teacher in 2007. 

To those who knew mum, if you would like the information about her celebration service, please get in touch with me and I will let you know in due course. No flowers please. Mum requested instead for people to make a donation to support St Barnabas Hospice so feel free to do this - in memory of Janet Sharp - if you so wish. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jsharpstbarnabas

Please make sure the ladies in your life are aware of the often-misdiagnosed symptoms of Ovarian Cancer: http://www.ovacome.org.uk/information/symptoms-of-ovarian-cancer/ 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Top-Down Planning: How does it work?

On Radio 2, Simon Mayo runs a segment called confessions in which people can call in and admit something they've done.  On his first such podcast of 2017, a teacher called in.  The teacher had taken a group of children to an athletics competition and he had been put in charge of manning the shot put area.  Students had come and gone having completed their throws but one particularly strong looking student turned up, chose his shot and threw it a huge distance.  At the end of the competition, the results were announced and that student had broken all historical records in the area for the shot put.  The student was put through to the national competition to represent the area. 

A few weeks later, and having put all thoughts of the competition out of his mind, the teacher received a phone call.  During the conversation, he was reminded of manning the shot put and, particularly, the student who had thrown the shot a great distance.  He said he remembered the student and was asked which coloured shot he had given the student.  The teacher replied, "coloured shots?"  He was then told that different shots held different weights.  Apparently, the student who went to the national competition representing the area based on his amazing throw at the local event had, to his embarrassment and that of his family, been completely unable to lift the shot at the regional final!  

I was reminded of this story when recently a teacher told me about an issue she had unearthed in her school.  A teacher had come from Y6 to Y5 and, in the previous year, despite all the data looking rosey throughout the terms, the schools SATs results had been terrible.  After a few terms and a lot of digging, it was discovered that the summative assessment results of students in her current Y5 class were not reflective of the age expectations for the year group.  This explained the opposing picture in the previous year's KS2 results.  The teacher and leadership team thought the children were all doing great and that there was nothing to worry about; there was no need for intervention or raising the bar.  However, this led to a false sense of security and a surprise when the national results were released.

The student in the first story couldn't lift the shot.  The pupils in the second story couldn't reach the expected standard.  Why?  Because the standards they had been held to were too low; there wasn't enough challenge.

When I was an NQT in Hampshire, I heard Ian Troup talk about top-down planning and it felt like a revelation to me.  During my teacher training, I had always been taught and shown how to plan by starting with the main bulk - the middle, if you like - and planning what activity they will do, before differentiating the work up and down for the higher and lower ability pupils.  Instead, Ian argued that for all pupils to be appropriately challenged, we need to start by considering what the most able pupils need to learn next and then scaffold the work accordingly for the rest of the class.  This is exactly how I have always planned and taught ever since.


This diagram shows how, when you set the bar of expectation high, every pupil can be challenged.  Our challenge then, as teachers, is to ensure that pupils can access the learning appropriately.  This requires scaffolding.

Learning is scaffolded when supports (of various different forms) are in place to allow pupils to access the same learning.  Pupils can have heavy scaffolding - in the form of a guided answer with missing information, perhaps an adult to help - or lighter scaffolding, which could include a word mat or having been pre-taught something.

Planning like this requires a different process to the type of differentiation I learned at university which was very much 3-way, top/middle/bottom and delivered in ability groups.  Top-down planning is more personalised while sticking with one main activity which the whole class can access.  It sounds like extra work but it actually isn't.  Rather than preparing 3 (or more) different activities, teachers just plan for one.  Their time can then be better spent considering individuals and groups in the class and what they may need in place to achieve the learning objective through the same activity.  Sometimes this can be through a tweak, some pre-teaching, resources, adult support etc.

I'd encourage you to try and teach to the top.  Keep the expectations high so that your pupils aren't missing their potential.  Make sure they are best prepared to lift the shot and reach the expectations, unlike the poor boy in the regional athletics competition!

Coming soon - Scaffolding: How does it work?

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

10 Uses for Google in the Primary Classroom

Since starting my teaching career, I have - so far - worked only in schools with Google Apps.  As I move to a new school which has a different cloud-based system, I wanted to pull together some things which I have found useful about the Google Suite.  I am sure I'll find, as I settle, that many of these things are possible with other cloud-based software as well.  Google Apps for Education is free and, after some set up, is fairly easy to manage.  I have always had a set of Chromebooks available. As Chromebooks are powered by Google, the Suite links flawlessly and logging in for pupils works a treat. 



1) Peer Assessment
Introduce pupils to the idea of showing their work to a friend using the Share option just once and they'll want to do this each time you use the Google Suite for work.  Pupils can control how much access their friends have using the "View only" or "Comment only" features.  It's important to show them the differences between "Suggesting" and "Editing" a document as this can cause confusions when pupils start to share documents with each other. 

2) E-Safety
Google Classroom forms a huge part of e-safety lessons.  We generally have two classrooms for each primary pupil: their class name which is for work and a "chat" classroom which is for their year group.  In the classroom for work, only teachers can post but pupils can comment. In the "chat" classroom, pupils can post.  This prompts discussions about what is and isn't useful.  We come back to only posting if something is necessary, kind or true.  In KS2, this is an ideal replacement for show and tell - rather than bringing in a trophy, pupils post a picture of it with an explanation on Google Classroom.  Teachers monitor the comments and posts and we regularly discuss these with pupils. 

3) Collecting and Organising digital work
Google Classroom makes it really easy for pupils and teachers to store and access digital work.  All "assignments" are saved in a folder in Google Drive called "Classroom".  One thing worth knowing is that, once pupils have handed an assignment in, they no longer have editing rights - it is passed to the teacher.  For this reason, I encourage pupils not to hand work in but to complete it and leave it so we can both continue editing later on.  

4) Learning essential skills for word processing
As well as regular use allowing practice of touch typing - an essential skill if you ask me - the Google Suite is organised in a similar way to Microsoft Office.  This means that pupils are practising the skills required to be successful in creating digital documents of different formats.  Ultimately, this means they can be flexible as they leave school and are ready to use different software. 

5) Questionnaires and quizzes (Forms)
The Google Forms app is great for collecting information and setting quizzes for the class.  Results can be views in a summary, which includes pie charts and bar graphs, or in a Google Sheets document.  I've used Google Forms to gather information from my pupils but I've also used it as an easy way of parents signing up for something - for example, requesting tickets to a show or booking a place on a workshop at school.  

6) Questioning
Google Classroom allows teachers to collect a huge amount of information from pupils almost immediately.  Children can comment on a post and read and reply to each others' comments.  They love doing this but it is so useful as a teacher. Rather than hearing from a handful of pupils, you can gauge the ideas of the whole class.  This is particularly useful for open questions or opinions. 

7) Gathering data (sheets)
Having a template Google Sheets document with the names of the class down one side makes it very easy to gather data quickly.  Children simply fill in the row which has their name on.  We've had 35 people editing the same document giving ideas and opinions.  They can all see each other's edits so it's important to consider when this is useful and appropriate. 

8) Collaborating
Pupils (and teachers) can work collaboratively on documents at home and at school.  I've found that this works best in pairs and is particularly useful in non-core subjects, when you want pupils to pool their thoughts and ideas with a finished outcome.  For example, in our Wisdom topic in R.E. last term, pupils collected quotations useful for life from their families and various sacred texts into Google Slides.  Doing this in pairs meant they could discuss the quotations and consider how to explain their meaning. 

9) Teacher Assessment
Providing pupils' work is shared with the teacher (this is automatic when it's set as an assignment in Google Classroom), the Google Suite is a great tool for assessment and feedback.  Teachers can use the "preview" option in a folder to quickly flick through the work of the whole class.  They can then provide feedback in the next lesson before pupils continue.  Alternatively, teachers can option the document and leave comments.  I use both options depending on the task, my expectations and how much time I have.  In my experience, children love getting comments on their work and are quick to edit and resolve any changes that are required.  Once a comment is "resolved" it is then archived but is available to view if anyone wants to see the trail of feedback for a document. 

10) Publishing work (Blogger)
Google's blogging platform, Blogger, is one I use a lot as it's so easy to publish posts and to create a collaborative blog.  Work can be embedded from Google Drive into a blog post with a basic understanding of HTML.  I learned this by searching "how to embed Google Slides in Blogger".  When pupils have a public audience for their work, it gives it purpose.  Blogging is the perfect means by which to do provide an audience and the great thing is, because it's a website, that audience is global.  Parents and governors can leave comments to further motivate pupils.  My favourite blogging moment was when a child's father, who was in Afghanistan with the army, commented on his son's work to congratulate him.  Pure joy! 

I'd be really interested to hear what you've done with Google or any other cloud-based system. Please leave a comment if you've got anything to add. 

Friday, 29 December 2017

Say Yes To New Adventures #Nurture1718


Last December, I sat in the leaving assembly for our long-standing deputy head teacher, Sue Smith, and I promised myself I wouldn't leave my school.  This year, that same assembly was one in which the staff, parents and pupils bade me farewell before I start at a new school in January.  

This candle was given to me by a pupil and her parent recently.  They informed me that they had bought it for me before I'd announced that I was leaving and said it was quite apt for it to be my Christmas/leaving present. 

Isn't it funny how the world works?

These "Nurture" posts have been quite therapeutic for me each year as a way of reflecting on the year that's passed and looking forward to the next 12 months.   This one will be 7 things for 2017 and 8 things for 2018.  Many of the highlights of 2017 have come about because I've had to say YES to opportunities I could have easily let pass me by. 

2017
  1. Family - Once again, cancer has played its part in the year my family have had, with chemo appointments and regular check-ups being normal.  Managing the emotions of this has been interesting but, with the support of family, friends and colleauges, we've made it to now still smiling.  We enjoyed a family holiday to Mexico between treatments which was really special. 
  2. Teaching Awards - I was fortunate enough to be nominated for the Outstanding Use of Technology Award this year.  Being awarded the Silver and getting the chance to meet many other teachers was wonderful.  The ceremony was really special and I'm glad that my head teacher and some family members were there to join in with the celebration.  
  3. Making Every Primary Lesson Count - This was such a great highlight of the year.  The whole book-writing process was really interesting and enjoyable.  We had a book launch event in a local pub to celebrate the new releases and I won't tire of seeing our book on Amazon! (P.S. If you've read it, please leave a review. We love reading the reviews!) 
  4. NAHT Conference - I had such a wonderful weekend with the NAHT Edge Advisory Council at conference this year.  It left me with renewed hope for our pupils and our profession.  You can read about this in my reflective blog post here.
  5. Moving house - We finally got around to moving into our lovely new house this year and we haven't really looked back.  Only recently have we put the final bits on the walls from our travels this year and I've loved getting it all dressed up for Christmas - it's so pretty!! 
  6. Applying for a new job - This was such a surprise to me but something I'm so glad I did.  There were lots of factors involved in this, including incredible support from my husband and parents.  One thing which really encouraged me to apply was the continued stream of advice I hear, see and read from Sheryl Sandberg.  Her book, Lean In, has stayed with me since I read it years ago and gave me any extra encouragement I needed to apply for this leadership role in a great school. 
  7. Going LIVE - I've enjoyed completing a couple more Livestream events this year. You can watch the one on whole-class reading lessons here and on supporting struggling readers in secondary schools here.  This is something I hope to do more of next year.

2018
  1. New Job - Well this is the big one! I'm so excited about getting started as deputy head at a new school in January.  There will be lots to learn, especially in the first term, with names being my first priority! I can't wait to teach children across the school, get to know the families and be a part of such a great team of staff.
  2. SRocks18 - Earlier this year, I was delighted to be asked to speak at Southern Rocks in February and run a workshop.  It's going to be a wonderful weekend as it's be so well-organised by David and Kristian.  I can't wait to meet fellow presenters and attendees, some of whom I've been tweeting with for ages! 
  3. Travels - We have some overseas adventures planned this year which involve a lot of new countries - we'll see how many we can visit in 12 months! 
  4. Music - With Taylor Swift, Nashville Concert, Hamilton and Kerry Ellis tickets already purchased, I'm looking forward to seeing which other gigs and shows we can get to. 
  5. Reading - Recently, I've joined GoodReads to keep track of the books I read. I tend to flit between literature for kids and that of the crime/thriller genre, while also keeping an edu-book on the go.  You can follow what I read in 2018 here
  6. Primary Deputies Network - Kate, Fliss and I set up this Twitter account after a brief discussion.  I can't wait to see what we do with it. At the moment, it's just facilitating discussion with like-minded primary deputies. 
  7. Moving to big NAHT - I'm a little sad about leaving NAHT Edge and the advisory council.  I've really enjoyed getting to know James and all the team.  I'll be joining the big kids in NAHT from January and am hoping to get involved as a deputy when I have the chance. 
  8. Saying YES to other new adventures... - watch this space.
You can read my previous Nurture posts here.