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 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.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Emoji Visual Timetable

My timetable has always consisted of those funky, yellow faces, even before I knew they were called 'emojis'!  Now that they are used so often by kids and adults, I thought I'd share the timetable for others to use, if they wish.  Click the image below to download the 7 page PDF document.

I have been using this for 5 years and have added to it again and again.  Some of the subjects may be from when I first started teaching (ICT / Literacy instead of Computing/English).  Just ignore those ones and any others you don't need! 

If you use it, feel free to tweet me a photo of how you've set it up and I'll upload it below. 

Click here or on the image above to open all 7 pages. 
When the document opens, click the down arrow to download and print. Please note: some school email account won't allow access to the file.  If this occurs, logout of your school account or try a different browser (Google Chrome / Internet Explorer). 
All images from Microsoft Clip Art.

Friday, 19 August 2016

We LOVE Reading (for pleasure!)

It is an educational truth universally acknowledged that reading is of paramount importance to a child's success throughout their school years and beyond.  For that reason, we have worked hard over recent years to get children reading and to help them to enjoy it.  Here are some of the things we have done to raise the profile of reading and encourage children to do it and enjoy it.

Independent Reading Books - Recommending and buying
As in most schools, all our pupils have a book which they are reading independently.  In Y4, that is normally a short chapter book, perhaps with a few pictures.  We are always talking about which books children are reading, recommending them other books similar to those they've enjoyed and eyeing opportunities to buy new books for them to read.  Many boys last year enjoyed reading a Hank Zipzer book which someone picked up from the library van.  A few this year loved it too so we bought them the whole set.  Once children started reading them, the love for Hank Zipzer spread like wildfire and I'm not sure there are many boys in my class who haven't read at least one of them.  I find that once particularly vocal members of the class get hooked in a series, it is very easy to persuade their wide circle of friends to read those books as well.  Boys have particularly enjoyed the Time Hunters, Jack Stalwart, Football Academy, Foul Play and Percy Jackson series this year. Many conversations about these books have encouraged more children to read and enjoy them. 

Movie Books for Class Readers
Each half-term, we read a book which has a movie.  I read this to children at different points during the day.  It is protected time and the aim is to finish the book in six weeks.  We finished every single one this year.  The only way to do that is to value highly the time spent on it and prioritise it.  At the end of the half term, we sit down together as a year group and watch the movie.  This leads to interesting discussions about the comparisons between the books and the movies, particularly the choices made in the movie of Matilda.  

Reading Areas and Bookshelves - Beg, borrow, steal!
Every primary school (hopefully) has a dedicated reading area and most classrooms will have one bookshelf or reading corner each.  These are vital when it comes to encouraging children to love reading.  However, it is the texts on the bookshelves rather than the aesthetics of the area which make a real difference to children's enjoyment of reading.  This year, our reading coordinator organised two book fairs to generate the maximum possible profit for teachers to use to fill their bookshelves. These have allowed us to buy appropriate texts for our year group shelves using this list which was compiled from teachers' suggestions.  As a year four teacher, I am always going to other classrooms to find books that some of my pupils would love to read.  The look on a child's face is priceless when you tell them you "stole" the book from a year five or six bookshelf just because they might like it.  That alone is often motivation enough for them to start reading the book.   

Our Favourite Books
Each year, we read our favourite (children's) book to our classes.  That gives us the chance to share our passions for a book with them and discuss reasons why we think it's the best.  I read my class Scribbleboy by Philip Ridley; here's why I love it

Book Bingo
This is an idea I had during a frustrating moderation meeting.  We started handing out Book Bingo activities and giving children a star for completing 4-in-a-row.  At the end of the year, we held a big raffle with all the stars put into a bucket and children chosen to win prizes.  I thought this would be something relatively boring for children but they were completely inspired by it and, as you can see from the stars on our display boards, many rose to the challenge.  One child even created a Book Bingo photo montage of him completing one of the grids. 

Blue Book Bingo photo montage. Image used with parent's permission.

Author Visits / Giving Books Away
Nothing inspires reading and writing more than a visit from an author, especially one whose books you are reading together.  We combined budgets through year groups and the English curriculum and invited the wonderful Caroline Lawrence to come to visit us and share her expertise.  When her books were really cheap in sets, we gave each child one and she graciously signed every one.
Book Amnesties
This year, we have started something new to ensure our bookshelves are always full.  We discovered that some families had many books belonging to the school at home but were too embarrassed to return them as there were sometimes up to ten books.  To solve this, some of our school council set up a table on the playground for a week before and after school.  This became our Book Amnesty table, where parents and pupils could return books that belong to the school or certain teachers with no questions asked.  During our first amnesty, hundreds of books were returned to the school but many families donated old books to the school as well.  The school council then decided which year group each book should be returned to.  This has become a regular occurrence which helps us make sure we have a big selection of stories for our children to choose from.  

Take The Time To Talk - know your kids and know the books
If a child was struggling to know what to read, I would do one (or some) of the following. 
 - recommend a book based on their likes/dislikes
 - give them 2 appropriate books and suggest they read the first chapter of each and choose one (or we'll find a different one)
 - go the library or another classroom together and find some books similar to those they've enjoyed
 - suggest a child who is similar in their likes and ability to talk to the child about books they'd recommend
 - ask a child they admire or one of their friends to recommend some books to try
 - compose an email to staff members (with the child) to request a specific book and then buy it from our budget if no one had it.
Making time for such conversations isn't easy but the long-term benefits far outweigh any short-term minutes lost.  Generally, I encourage kids to "try before you buy" and I never force them to finish a book.  Discussing which books everyone is reading together is important too; we do this for the register sometimes.  Also, engaging parents in their child's choice of books is a powerful way of helping pupils enjoy reading. This is something I'm hoping to explore further this coming year.  Watch this space...

Further Reading (about reading!)
You may be interested to read this post about how teachers at The Wellington Academy have raised the profile of reading in their secondary setting.  
Also, Rhoda (a friend and former colleague) has written this post about what she'll be doing this year to enhance engagement with reading. 
Finally, this post was written with KS1 children in mind and has some more ideas for encouraging kids to read.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Mixing It Up - Mixed Ability Grouping in my Primary Classroom

I have a confession to make. It's one I've made before on this blog and something I don't mind reminding people of time and again.  It's also important to remind myself repeatedly because I learned a lot from this big mistake I made as an NQT.

When I started teaching, I was obsessed with ability groups. 

How were groups organised?
In my NQT year, I had ability groups for maths, writing and reading so pupils moved between different tables for these lessons.  At first, these groups remained the same for half a term then they were changed based on assessments.  Children would be disheartened and parents would enquire if their child went from Rectangles to Circles. Equally, celebrations were had when they went 'up' from Rowling to Blyton.  

Very soon, I decided this wasn't working and that my groups should be more flexible.  For the next year, I changed maths groups each week, abandoned writing groups and kept reading groups the same; after all, it's impossible to do guided reading with 5 different books with flexible groups.  The move from Guided Reading to whole-class reading lessons allowed me to abandon reading groups. 

Why change the strategy?
Although it felt like I was doing some really important things, in reality having ability groups was damaging for many reasons.  Without realising it, I was cultivating an ethos of fixed mindsets.  The children knew where they stood in the class and equally that was where they stood in my mind - very little movement or opportunities for them to go beyond where I'd placed them.  Their tasks and activities were set at the right level for their table and they completed them.  However there was no real personalised challenge.  I was putting a ceiling on children's learning.  

Also, the children and their parents were acutely focused on the groups rather than the learning of the subject.  This had negative consequences on children's self esteem in return for no learning gains.  Having to change ability groups every week or six weeks meant I was creating unnecessary workload for myself. Within a week of being at my new school, I had completely abandoned all ability groups. 

How does it work now?
Children sit at mixed ability tables for all subjects.  Sometimes I specify who children sit next to in the groups and, occasionally, I've insisted they sit boy/girl/boy/girl; although this is for behavioural reasons.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, we plan our lessons in a top-down format.  We consider what will stretch our children who come to the lesson with the highest starting point and then plan to support the rest of the class to aim as high as they can within the same learning objective.  Instead of prescribing which level of support children have, they are able to choose what they would like to complete.  This means that all children are challenged and there is a greater motivation for them because they have had an element of choice.  

I often use my three-tiered tray set to help organise this but sometimes the options for the activity are just displayed on the board or discussed as a class.  If there are resources to support children to aim high (word lists, writing frames, 100 squares etc), they are placed in the trays corresponding to their level of difficulty.  Children know where they can go for more support or more challenge and, as much as possible, I try to ensure children can aim higher throughout the lesson if they are confident.  

When children are completing activities, I use my time in a variety of ways.  Firstly, I could be using my little Ikea stool to move around the class and support various children as and when they require some help.  Early on in the year, children learn to ask for help when they know they're stuck rather than expect me to come straight to them.  This is especially important for the children with the lower starting points.  In ability groups, they are often very used to having adult support immediately.  In mixed ability groups, they must become more in control of their learning and understanding, particularly recognising when they are stuck.  

Secondly, I could be targeting specific children who I have recognised that may require support in the lesson.  I would aim for them, using my trusty stool, and ensure I address any misconceptions or questions.  Alternatively, I may have decided to work with a specific group - it could be children who struggled in the last lesson, pupils completing the hardest task which requires further input or announcing my help for children to come and go as they please.  In my classroom, I have a small carpet area which I use for these quick interventions.  Sometimes children bring their book and a pencil; other times they bring a whiteboard and a pen.  My aim in these times is to ensure children become confident enough to return to their working place as soon as possible but sometimes children choose work with me on the carpet for the whole lesson.  Providing they are challenging themselves and working hard, I am happy for them to complete the activity wherever.  

Their tables are named after Superheros and the groups are called their Super Groups.  Every 3 or 4 weeks (half of a half term) they change Super Groups and they can earn Super Group points for behaviour, effort, reading at home, getting diaries signed, games etc.   The winning team at the end of the time gets a prize - a box of heroes (get it?!)  - to share.  

Every lesson is different and there is certainly no formula I use to manage mixed-ability groupings.  I organise lessons based on the learning taking place and what I know about the children.  There are some patterns within different subject areas and, having used mixed-ability groups for a while now, it is second nature to ensure all children will be appropriately challenged.  At times, this requires changing the course of a child's learning mid lesson - and those are certainly the most exciting lessons! 

More information:
This post has information about challenging all children.
This post links mixed ability groupings to mindsets
This post goes into further detail about pupil choice in lessons.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

A School Year Of Books (Y4)

In preparation for leading an INSET day in a local school about how we teach reading (whole class rather than guided reading), I did something I never do: I went into school during half term!  I popped in to collect the all books we use in year four during our reading lessons throughout the whole school year to show the type of texts we use.  

I couldn't believe what an enormous quantity, quality and variety of texts the children in our classes are being exposed to.  I also couldn't believe how heavy they were to carry!  These are the physical copies we use however we intersperse these with other free texts and one-off print-outs.  

Some of the texts are theme/topic-related books, others are books we read "for pleasure" to our classes and there are other random ones which we link in for specific lessons or objectives.  I've set out below which books fit into which category. 

Class Readers - these are mainly read for fun but we sometimes do one or two reading lessons based on certain passages or chapters. 

Topic/Theme-Related - we use these a lot for our reading lessons while we are learning about the Romans and Egyptians.

Matilda Musical Programme

Thursday, 30 June 2016

10 Reasons Scribbleboy is the Best Kids' Book Ever

It was my favourite book as a child but as I headed into adulthood and into the classroom, I realised that Scribbleboy by Philip Ridley is truly the best kids book ever! I am currently reading it for the fifth time to a class of children and, as in previous years, they actually cheer every time I say we will read some and groan when I say it's time to stop, even when it's playtime or the end of the day!  At playtime today, my class were discussing it and children I taught two years ago said it was the "best book ever".  The boys love it. The girls love it. I love it. 

The plot revolves around a mysterious character called Scribbleboy who, once upon a time, had turned Bailey's new, grey, concrete neighbourhood into a colourful, vibrant environment through his graffiti, known as Scribbles.  When Bailey is invited along to the Scribbleboy fan club, his life becomes a rollercoaster of people, emotions, mysteries and Scribbles.  He meets the local cool kid, the ice-cream maker, disco queen Ma Glamrock, spitting bloke Pa Punkrock and many other fantastic characters including...Scribbleboy himself!

Without giving too much away about the plot, here are 10 reasons why it's the best kids' book ever: 

1) It contains classic cultural references which some children may never have heard of.  They all provide interesting discussion points as we encounter each one.  E.g. Top Gun, VHS, fan clubs, Banksy military language.
2) Mysteries and cliffhangers keep you hooked every step of the way - who IS Scribbleboy?!
3) Examples of Girl Power & Boy Power fill the plot.
4) Real-life issues such as mental health, divorce, unemployment and disability are tackled head on in a wholly appropriate and accessible way for Key Stage 2 children. 
5) The cartoons by Chris Riddell are amazing. We particularly like the first illustration of a Scribble - my class have requested to have some chilled colouring time to bring the pen drawings to life. 
6) It is written in a really cool style.  Philip Ridley breaks all the conventions we've learned in English lessons and he's written a great book to read aloud - different voices are essential in this.  E.g. Unusual prose, audience participation opportunities, rapping, made up words.
7) It's a hugely inspirational story containing normal kids who relish an opportunity. 
8) There is an amazing selection of characters in this book - someone for everyone to relate to and a few bizarre ones to love. 
9) The Scribbleboy Rap towards the end of the book is an unforgettable opportunity for some performance poetry.  We recorded our version last year - you can watch it here.  
10) It has a chase.  Every great story - whether shared in prose or video - contains a chase. Fact! 

If you haven't already read Scribbleboy and fallen under Philip Ridley's spell, make sure you do soon!