Tuesday 31 December 2013

One Step Back and Two Steps Forward #Nurture1314

One Step Back - A look at 2013 and what it meant to me.
  1. Work/Life Balance - This year I vowed to reclaim my work/life balance.  It was terrible in my NQT year so I was at the "I can't continue this forever" point.  I'm a very solution-minded person so, rather than moan about it, I set to finding ways of rebalancing.  Finding weekly things to do has been a big part of this - I'm now part of a stoolball and a netball team.  I'm not sporty at all but I've loved learning new skills and being part of a team. There is a drafted blog post about this waiting on my hard drive as I feel I'm about halfway there.
  2. Learning - I started this year with a new blog, Learning365, in which I learned something new everyday.  It should have lasted all year but it was taking up too much time (see 1) so I went to 6 months! I have learned loads this year, some of which will feature below (see 4 and 11).  Highlights have been learning the guitar and bowling my first wicket in stoolball! 
  3. Assessment - This really clicked for me this year. I learned the value of assessment for learning and have found many different ways to assess work and alter my plans. I've become much quicker at marking (see 1 and 12) and any blog post on assessment that's ever been written, I've read it! It's become the most important part of my teaching, and my methods are always evolving.  This will continue into 2014 I'm sure! 
  4. Making Bread - I have always wanted to bake bread. It's my favourite food, especially when combined with full fat butter or olive/balsamic/chilli dips.  My first loaf was a Rosemary and Sea Salt one which tasted divine.  Since then I've made a variety of loaves including bloomer, granary and doughballs and even lead children in making it (see 7).
  5. OfSTED - Yes! They came, they saw, we conquered! After a year and a half of OfSTED-related staff meetings, they made their visit.  We came out as Outstanding and you can read how, here
  6. 30 Day Shred/C25K - I fancied having a go at my wedding-prep workout, the Couch to 5K plan, but this year I combined it with Jillian Michaels' gruelling 30 Day Shred DVD.  It was amazing and worked so well that I'm going to have another go this year! I blogged about doing them here
  7. Favourite Week of Teaching - After OfSTED's visit, I had an off timetable week with a group of years 5-6.  We spent a week making and baking bread to sell as part of an Apprentice task! They loved it, I loved it and they learned loads.  Read about it here
  8. Moving Schools - After 2 years of a 30 mile commute each way and a 5 hour journey home in the snow, I decided it was time to move to a school closer to home.  Although I miss and love my first school, it was a brilliant decision and I've moved to a wonderful school near my house.  I've settled really fast into a super team and I'm so excited about what next year will hold there.
  9. TeachMeet Sussex - In moving schools, I was moving to an area where there were no TeachMeets in primary schools. So Ben and I set up TeachMeetSussex. We had the first event in Worthing. Over 50 people came and heard some inspirational ideas.
  10. NQT - My husband started his NQT year this year and I've been supporting him through his first term.
  11. Hour of Code - I've loved learning about computer programming and coding with my class.  They really enjoyed taking part in the Hour of Code this year and I was blown away by the amazing, free resources provided on the website.  
  12. Stampers - This year, I became Stamper Queen! When assessing books, you will see me armed with my plastic box full of stampers that have helped me to reclaim my work/life balance (see 1!).
  13. Christmas - I was SO disorganised for Christmas this year - I'm ashamed of myself! School was sorted but home was a mess - I think I still need some work on number 1!
Two Steps Forward - A glance at 2014 and what I hope it will hold.
  1. New York - my husband and I are fulfilling a lifelong dream and heading to the big apple! I can't wait to see the normal touristy attractions and, of course, go and see my favourite musical - Wicked - on Broadway.
  2. Family - my sister lives far away so I hope to go and see her more often.
  3. Running - I'm hoping to train for a few 5k runs this year. I'm not a runner but I like the chilled-out time I get to myself when I run!
  4. Learning To Lead - having done 2 years in a one-form entry school I'm now in a larger school which has year leaders.  It's something I'd definitely like to do and so my wonderful year leader is letting me shadow her and learn the ropes. 
  5. Moving House - maybe...maybe not...but maybe! 
  6. Baking - I hope to make more bread, cupcakes and keep making my house smell good! 
  7. Blogging - I try not to blog for the sake of blogging. I only write posts when I feel there's something I want to say. This year, I'm going to try and make that happen a little more often. 
  8. Reading - this is surely one of the best pasttimes so I'd love to do more of it! 
  9. Pirates - my year group are putting on an awesome piratey musical and combining it with a mini pirate topic! I love pirates so I can't wait.
  10. Christmas - I was rubbish this year so in 2014 I'm going to make sure I'm mega organised - with stamps to send Christmas cards and everything! 
  11. Theatre - I mustn't go too much because it gets expensive but I'd like to go a bit, and maybe see Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time after our tickets got refunded because of the ceiling collapse.
  12. BETT - I'm so looking forward to going this year and getting my head around computing and the new curriculum. Also, I can't wait to go to the teachmeet afterwards! 
  13. NQT - I will continue to support my husband through passing his NQT year.
  14. Work/Life Balance - this will be on a similar list every year until I retire so here it is! 

Friday 8 November 2013

Stampers in Action

My previous post explained why I use stampers.  Below are some pictures of the stampers I use, with short explanations of how I use them and why they're effective for me; sometimes for formative feedback, sometimes to save me time and often for both reasons!

Firstly, here are some group shots (!!) of the stampers I have in my trusty marking box! See below for the stampers in action in order from most formative to least formative (in my very humble and inexperienced opinion!).
Personalised Stampers
Pre-Inked Stampers
Stack-N-Stamp Stampers

1) Let's chat about ______ on M Tu W Th F

The red pen shows how she thought she did in the lesson and the blue shows her comments after I "chatted" with her about carrying.  I try and tick the stamper when I've "chatted" with the child but obviously I forgot to here.  With many things in education, it's important to make a habit of checking whether children have this stamper in their books OR make the children get into the habit of always requesting to chat!

This was purchased from Primary Teaching Services here. Please be aware that with these personalised stampers, Comic Sans font is the best - others can smudge.

2) Well Done! Your next step is:

This is so simple but it helps children know where they're going and also helps me group the children for the next lesson according to their next step.  I tend to move groups around all the time so there's no talk of "moving up" or "moving down" a group.  Every few lessons they move into "the right group" with children who are doing the same activity and learning the same thing.

This was purchased from Primary Teaching Services here.

 3) Verbal feedback given.
I don't use this one very often, but it's so useful when I do.  This stamp comes into its own if, as I'm floating around the class giving mini-inputs to groups or individuals, I come across children who have had a go but are totally stuck and very wrong. I stamp where they have got up to, explain where they are going wrong, model the skill again and then they carry on.  That way, when I come to mark their books later, I ignore what was done above the stamper as I have already seen it and know that it's wrong and I can focus on what they did after my input.  Thus saving me time and reminding me who I helped and when.

This was purchased from Primary Teaching Services here.

4) Teacher assisted work. / TA assisted work.
There aren't any pictures for this one but it's fairly self-explanatory.  This isn't for the children's use but for the use of any adults who look at the books (including me!).  It helps when it comes to completing summative levels - I can tell what the child can do independently and what has been done with help. Simple, effective, time-conserving but not particularly learning-based.

This was purchased from Primary Teaching Services here (Teacher) and here (TA).

5) Practice makes perfect! Repeat ___ times:

I made this stamper in my second year of teaching as a way of quickly getting children to practise spellings without me having to write more than the word.  I was writing the same thing over and over again so, hey presto, I made it into a stamper! This one is mainly effective in saving me time but, without it, would I have the time to get them practising their spellings if I had to write that all out: NO!

This was purchased from Primary Teaching Services here. Please be aware that with these personalised stampers, Comic Sans font is the best - others can smudge.

6) You've achieved your learning objective. / You're working towards your learning objective.

A no-brainer - it's simply to save me time when children have "got it" and perhaps we are moving onto a new topic.  It gives me time to focus on children who haven't "got it" and spend more time explaining in their books:

This was purchased from Primary Teaching Services here (achieved) and here (working towards).

7) Checked by your teacher.

This stamper is so useful for homework diaries, reading records and anything that you have to check! Bang, stamp, DONE! This photo shows how I sometimes use it in lessons.  I think here I asked children to tell me if they had done it before, how they found the learning and what they'd like to do next.  Obviously, all the questions were asked to the class as a whole so I didn't have to write them down - lazy, I know, but easy! 

This was purchased from Primary Teaching Services here

8) Headteacher's Award (I know the stamper has no apostrophe - it annoys me too!!)

Just a simple stamper in a totally different colour which I use for amazing pieces of work.  The kids love opening their books and seeing a red stamper and wander off to the head's office, rightfully proud! A quick note on the highlighters - this is what we use for more detailed feedback.  Pink = tickled pick = I love this.  Green = Grow me green = this needs improving.  We highlight over work that is skill practice and write it under for neat pieces of work.  As you can see, this child has thanked me for her "tickled pink" comments and has ticked to say she has gone through and checked (and hopefully corrected!) her spellings. 

You can buy one with the correct apostrophe here (black) or my grammatically awful stamper here (red).

Please do let me know if you have any other stampers which you find particularly effective - I'm always in the market for a new stamper or two.  Also, leave me a comment if you think there are any stampers that you use in a different way - I'm always up for magpie-ing other people's great ideas! 

Thursday 7 November 2013

Stamper Snobs and Me

Recently, I blogged about my favourite assessment stamper.  Many people on Twitter commented that they liked the idea and could see the benefit, some even purchased their own and have kept me up-to-date with their use of it.  There are teachers, however, who look down on the humble stamper and, while pursing their lips, exclaim "I don't believe in stampers".  Claims like "the children don't read them", "they ruin work" and "they show laziness" flow from the mouths of these educators who I like to call the "Stamper Snobs".  One of the most frustrating things about these teachers is that sometimes they thrust their snobby attitude to stampers on their colleagues.  I would find it very difficult to work with a Stamper Snob and they would cry looking through my books.


Anyone who's read "The Lazy Teacher's Handbook" will know that laziness can lead to effective learning, independence, meta-cognition and, the holy grail of all teachers, a better work-life balance.  For me, assessment stampers help me in my quest to become the ultimate "Lazy Teacher".

During my NQT year I found myself working late into the night, every night, and almost all weekend, yet I was still behind on my marking.  When I was assessing children's learning, they weren't reading it, let alone responding to it and so its effectiveness was very low, probably zero. That was, until I discovered the humble stamper.

The first stampers in my collection were "You've achieved your learning objective" and "You're working towards your learning objective."  Nowadays, these are among my least-used and least-effective stampers, however at the time they saved me many minutes a night writing the same thing on many children's work.  It allowed me to look in more detail at work where children hadn't achieved the learning objective.  I felt it was important not to have a "You've not yet achieved your learning objective" stamper because that wouldn't save me time or encourage or help the child.

Not long after making my first purchase, I realised I was writing the same phrases over and over again on children's work.  Having found that the first two stampers had saved me so much time, I invested in a few staple stampers.  They cost around £5 each and often I would buy them when there were % off deals but I knew I would reap the benefits as they would last a long time and save me so much time.  Why bother repetitively writing long phrases when you can stamp them?

As I learned more about effective assessment, brilliantly guided by an amazing mentor, I began to understand the value of pushing children on in their learning.  The next few stampers said "Great learning today! Now try this: " and after the stamper I would write a short activity for them to complete which moved them forward in their learning.  There was also a "Well Done! Your next step is: " stamper.  This one not only saved me time during the marking process but it also meant that in the next session, I didn't have to tell each child what they were working on; they already knew.

The inspiration for my favourite stamper came from my Headteacher at the time who used "Let's chat" in books to give detailed verbal feedback.  I really liked this as it was less aggressive as "See me" or "Please discuss".  Thus I created a "Let's chat about __________ on M Tu W Th F" stamper for me to fill in so I had a record of any discussions and children had a place to respond to their new learning next to the stamper. So lazy and yet so, so effective in moving children forward.

By the end of my time at my first school, I was two years into my teaching career and I was spending much less time assessing children's work.  There was still a lot of improvement needed in the effectiveness of all my comments and most of what was needed was down to the children.  I was putting in a lot of work and money to make these assessment stampers effective, but many children were still not responding to or even reading what I had put.

Enter the Gel Pen!

Armed with a class set of gel pens, and probably a few more stampers, I started in a new school.  This is the year I promised myself I would be a lazy teacher. I vowed to make the children work harder than me and, for effective assessment to reign, I created an important learning habit from day one.

The school policy states that children should write a title and the date at the top of their work for the session but, to achieve my goal, I added a twist to this.  Before my class do the title and date they need to use a gel pen to do 3 things.
1) Do any corrections from last lesson.
2) Read and initial comments (which often included stampers).
3) Respond to any comments or stampers.

This has transformed the learning ethos of my class. The children now have clarity in their learning; they know where they have come from, where they are at and where they are going to. They have become more independent and in control of what they are doing and this has meant they request my help when they have any misconceptions.

The children love having the stampers in their books and know what they all mean. Comments like "Thank you", "Ok Mrs P" and "I'll try" show me that they've read and understood them and occasionally they use a gel pen to tell me if they think they should have had a stamper (normally if I've forgotten).  The effect that the stampers is having on the children's learning has also been noted by colleagues and SLT.

The stampers I have help to guide me to give formative feedback.  They allow me to focus on giving the most effective comments.  They help my children to understand how they are doing and where they have room for improvement.  They stop me from writing the same thing over and over again and save me the frustration of this.  They help me to alter the next lesson most appropriately. They mean my comments are neater and more concise.  But most of all, they have given me time.
And, as any teacher knows, time is a rare and precious gift.

See photos of how I use the stampers I have and links to buy them on the next post.

Sunday 29 September 2013

The Only Quote in my Classroom

There are many teachers with quote after quote up on their classroom walls.  I'm not one of those people. I've got nothing against them...I guess I've just never found that many quotes that I think could really make a difference. 

This week, however, I found myself referring to a quote I heard a while back again and again and again.  

Particularly useful in maths, where children must do many calculations or repetitive activities, I think this quote has a space in my classroom.  I was able to explain my personal experience with the quote when learning the guitar. I told them how I was learning chords to a song and the first time I got it right I thought I was done.  Then the next time I played the song, I got the chords wrong and I realised I hadn't learned the song completely until I'd practised it until it was never wrong. 

Sunday 15 September 2013

My Favourite Assessment Stamper

This is a just a quick post about an assessment stamper I had made last year which I love and have used loads.  Similar to the "Verbal Feedback Given" ones, this stamper saves a long essay in children's books and helps me keep track of which subjects which children need recapping on. 

The stamper says:

It can be used like this:

On that day, the child must come and find me during the lesson, I will give a quick input on the subject and then I'll tick where the stamp is in their book to show that I've covered it.  The child then has to show what they learned from my input by either doing a question or writing a sentence or two about what they now know, having "chatted" with me.  

I think it's effective because it keeps a record for the child, it's much less aggressive than "see me" and also means the subject is covered on a day appropriate to the planning for the week.

The stamper was one of these personalised wording-only assessment stampers from PTS Stickers.

Mrs P

Saturday 7 September 2013

A Tour Of My Classroom

So this is my 2013-14 #ClassroomTour which shows each area from the centre.  This year I was fortunate enough to have a brand new classroom, newly built and newly furnished. So below are the before (left) and after (right) pictures of each area.  Then scroll down for some annotated close ups of displays and areas.
Reading Corner

Theme Board

Introducing the Class

English Board and Desk Area


Maths Board

Table Tidy
Groups and Timetable
A closer look at displays - I've annotated these using Skitch to show what will go where. 
Writing Display
Reading Display
Maths Display

Inspired By Pinterest 3 - First Day

I've been collecting ideas for starting a new year with a new class on this Pinterest board.  I've had the chance to try some of them out and here's how I got on!

1 - How do we treat books
Inspired by this pin and with a brand new book corner, I really wanted to put a focus on the treatment of books.  The children had great ideas which I will display in the reading corner and remind them of if things aren't looked after.

2 - Post-It Questions
This activity has been flying around Pinterest and Twitter for a while and I've always liked the look of it.  I never expected children to come out with the things they did or to be so engaged with it.  There are 6 things they must write on post it notes:
School is important because...
Our classroom should be ______ everyday.
What are your goals for this year?
What do you need to do to achieve your goals?
What does Mrs P need to do to help you this year?
How can we make sure our classroom runs smoothly?

The original pin (from my boards anyway) can be found here.

3 - Class Headed Paper
I loved the idea from this pin and so adapted it for my movie-themed classroom.  The children drew their face, I wrote their names and we stuck it all together and photocopied it many times. We now have personalised paper for them to write any free-writing or letters on. 

Inspired By Pinterest 2 - Displays

1 - Starring Board
I thought this pin showed a really great board for introducing my movie theme. Each child is holding a clapper board and, soon to be displayed is a book with information about the "cast"! (I've blanked out faces for anonymity).

2 - Reading Display
There are many of these on Pinterest so I took inspiration from this pin and this pin to create a reading display complete with question prompts and links to the reading AFs.  I learned to make the spotlights using this pin. There is a section of books on the bookshelf that are books of movies or books that have been made into movies.  The children asked if they could bring their own in if they had them.
3 - Movie Jobs
Finally, this display shows the jobs for the class set out as a cast and crew board.  Inspiration came from this pin and this pin.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Inspired By Pinterest 1 - Classroom Organisation

I've admitted my addiction to Pinterest and I don't feel so bad about it anymore! Setting up a new classroom in a new school has been a great opportunity to try out some of the things I pinned on my boards a long time ago. I'll put them up in a few separate posts, this one will focus on general classroom organisation ideas.

1 - Teacher Toolbox.
You can read all about this one and see step-by-step instructions in my previous post.

2 - Class journals.  
I saw this pin and immediately liked the idea.  I bought the notepads and sponge letters from The Range and decided these were the 4 topics.  The books will basically be free writing journals for kids to write about a sports event (like a report), a dream, a holiday or a wish. It's a really simple idea which, I hope, will encourage writing.  My job is to make sure children have time to use them.

3 - Assessment In-Trays
My husband and I bought a couple of sets of these each as an easy way of understanding how children felt the lesson went.  These used in the wrong way can be awful. However, with the right classroom ethos and understanding they can help teachers judge where to pitch the next lesson, who needs help on the next day and who is ready to move on.  The in-trays can be bought here.