Wednesday 31 December 2014

Fall Back to Spring Forward #Nurture1415

Last year, I got so much out of writing my #Nurture1314 blog post so I am here once again to reflect on the year that has passed and look forward to what may come! 

Falling Back - 2014 in review

  1. New York City - Without a doubt, this was the highlight of my year.  My husband and I talk about it every day without fail and are planning to return as soon as we can afford it.  I wrote a quick top 10 list about what we did (including photos) here
  2. Year Leader - When I wrote this on my 13/14 list last year I had no idea that the opportunity would arise so quickly.  With the incredibly sad departure of two superb year leaders to "up north", I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to take one of the roles.  It's felt like a baptism by fire but it was exactly the challenge I was after for my 4th year in teaching.  
  3. NQT - Last year, I was in the middle of supporting my husband through one of the hardest NQT years I've heard of.  Sadly, it just got harder for him but eventually he passed and is now a fully fledged, fully-qualified member of the profession! I'm so proud of him and am amazed at how he's pulled through.  He's survived 2 OfSTED inspections in his NQT year - not many people can say that!
  4. Blogging (School) - I have almost got my school onto the blogging wagon, with them now using a Writers Blog which I set up.
  5. Blogging (This one!) - Having stuck to the only-post-when-there-is-something-worth-saying mantra here, my posts are few and far between but I've enjoyed writing them and the feedback from people who use some of the ideas makes it worth it.  This year people have been interested in improving their marking and feedback and have had lots of questions about whole-class reading lessons.
  6. The Hardest Term - For many reasons, this last Autumn term has been the hardest of my teaching career so far.  I feel like surviving it with a smile has been a real achievement.  Hopefully the worst is over and I can enjoy the rest of the school year. 
  7. Writing - Through Twitter and this blog, many exciting opportunities to write for other organisations has arisen.  I've most enjoyed writing a couple of articles for Teach Primary magazine and reading fellow teachers' ideas in it.
  8. Reading - As always, I haven't read as much as I would have liked but I've still managed to read some crackers.  My three best author discoveries this year were M.J. Arlidge, Peter James and Harlen Coben, all of whom write in the crime/thriller genre.
  9. Theatre - I've seen a good bunch of shows this year including Jersey Boys, Billy Elliot and taking 17 people to see Wicked.  My theatre highlights of the year were seeing Kerry Ellis live in Horsham and the Pheasantry (London).  
  10. Reviewing - This year, I've re-started reviewing theatre for The Public Reviews.  As part of that, I've had the chance to see The Mousetrap, the Illegal Eagles and the Wicked UK tour for free (click the titles to read my reviews).
  11. Friends and Family - We've had the chance to head around the country this year to see various family members and friends.
  12. Having Students - I feel like mentoring is a rite of passage into leadership in schools.  It gave me a lot of skills and understanding ready for my year leader position and I hope to continue supporting students each year.
  13. Netball - This year, I've joined a team and absolutely loved playing every week.  Having never really been sporty before, I'm not competitive at all but completely enjoy the team spirit and exercise.  
  14. Trips and Gigs - Harry Potter Studios, McBusted and Taylor Swift have provided memorable trips out with treasured friends throughout the year! 
Springing Forward - Hopes for 2015
  1. Job Adventure - This year will start with my husband doing supply to find a settled role.  
  2. Moving House - Maybe this year....maybe not! 
  3. Blogging (at school) - I hope that the school will continue to enjoy blogging and that parents will see the benefit of commenting and interacting.  Our purpose is to enhance the place of writing so I hope that will be a side effect once blogging takes off. 
  4. Blogging (this one) - If I've got something to say, I'll continue to say it and maybe people will keep reading.
  5. Reading - I'm going to try to get through the Peter James series this year and maybe see one of his books as a play.
  6. Writing - If the opportunity arises this year to write articles or posts for publications or websites, I hope to be in a position to say "yes".  
  7. Theatre Reviewing - I'm hoping to do lots more of this in 2015, workload dependent of course.
  8. Double Family Holiday - this year we're going abroad with the in laws and the parents! We'll see how that goes but I'm looking forward to both.
  9. Wedding - not mine but my sisters! 
  10. Wycombe Wanderers - We scraped through to stay in league 2 last year...perhaps we could be promoted this year! I hope to see them play more in 2015 - maybe that will help!
  11. TeachMeet Sussex - Over 150 people have come to this event in 2014 - perhaps 2015 will be a bigger year.
  12. Saving Money - we're not very good at putting money aside each month so maybe this will be the year we crack this.
  13. Friends and Family - I hope this year will be full of more exciting trips around the country.
  14. General Election - Despite always voting, I've never really been interested in politics but this year I'll be keeping a close eye on what happens.
  15. Work/Life Balance - I said it would be here every year until retirement it is. I may be proved wrong, of course, if Nicky Morgan can sort it out!

Sunday 14 December 2014

Making Marking Speedy

I've previously written about how I use gel pens to Make Marking Meaningful, however I've tried a lot of strategies since my NQT year to enhance the speed of my marking.  Here are some of the ideas I've tried which work.  As with everything else in teaching, these are used when appropriate in a range of subjects! 

Note: particularly useful in maths or SPAG activities.
On the outside, this is very simple: have some form of answers available so the children can mark the work.  However, how the answers are used can affect the degree of learning taking place.  For example, sometimes children mark their own work at the end of a lesson.  They have time to complete any corrections in gel pen (read why here) and comment on their progress.  Alternatively, they check their answers halfway through the lesson to assess whether they are on track.  They then choose to continue working to become confident, move onto something more challenging or get some help to address their errors.  This ensures that all children are challenged at their own level.  Of course, children can mark each other's work and find errors that someone else has made. Sometimes I make the answers available to children throughout the lessons so they can check any one answer and get immediate feedback.  They find this really useful because they can get help straight away if it is incorrect and an adult or child can talk through the process when it is fresh in their mind.  This means any post-lesson marking can be focused on misconceptions and next steps as all corrections will have been made in the lesson.  

Peer Editing
Note: great for long pieces of writing in any subject.
I discovered this after reading through 31 fairly poor pieces of writing and despairing at the length of time it would take me to mark them.  Having looked through but not marked the work, I went back to my class and explained to them that I had chosen not to mark it because there were so many mistakes.  I felt so harsh but by the end of the next hour I knew I'd done the right thing.  Knowing their two main mistakes - tense and viewpoint (first/third person) - I'd prepared a piece of writing filled with those two errors to be the input of my next lesson.  As a class we read it through, the children realised that it sounded wrong and they corrected the errors.  Then, in pairs, they completed two activities.  Firstly, with no pens in sight, they simply read their partners work aloud back to them, word-for-word.  Both children did this as it was important to hear and realise that their errors were fairly similar early on.  Next, they edited for the mistakes, corrected spellings and improved words and phrases if they had time.  The quality of work I had back in was substantially higher than it had been and it meant my marking time was cut by over 50%.  At the end of the editing process, I asked the children to comment on how they found it.  It was clear from what they wrote that they had got a lot out of it and wanted to do it more often.  Therefore I've added a similar lesson during most long pieces of writing.  

Hold A Pen
Note: Useful in any lesson! 
Make sure you, your TA and any other adults are armed with a pen during the lesson.  Give the instruction that if they work with a child, they should quickly mark their work to get an idea of how they can help.  As a teacher, this means as you verbally check work you can leave a mark to show this and any workings done with you stand out.  This makes tracking progress easier as independent or adult-assisted work is obvious.  I've found children like having their work marked during the lesson if there's time and it's a wonderful feeling to open the next book in the massive pile and find it already marked! 

Note: This costs a bit at first (£5-10 each) but saves so much time in the long run and they last ages!
I have written at length about why I use stampers and which ones are most effective.  Quite simply, they are the one strategy which has had the biggest impact on reducing the time I spend marking.  I cannot recommend them highly enough and I'd encourage anyone aiming to reclaim some of their work-life balance to invest in a few effective ones.  

Note: Particularly useful in grammar activities and English lessons.
As part of the plenary in certain lessons, I ask children to underline in gel pen the main elements of the learning.  For example, if they have be learning to use subordinating conjunctions, then I ask them to underline the ones they have used.  That way I can see if they have used the correct conjunctions with commas if necessary and check whether the words they have used make sense in their sentences.  This sometimes highlights to children they they haven't used any or many and gives them a chance to correct this before the work is marked.  When I come to mark the work, the coloured lines guide my eyes to where I need to look to assess the extent to which children have achieved the learning objective.

Similar to underlining, I sometimes ask children to put a *star* by their favourite sentence, fact, calculation, word problem etc as is appropriate to the lesson.  I explain that I will look at all their work but will mark their favourite in detail.  Likewise, I sometimes ask children to circle any which they have struggled with or which they think are incorrect so I can look closely to help them with those.  Again, my eyes are drawn to the symbols used so that my marking can be completed quicker. 

Note: Useful for presentation errors.
Thankfully we don't have a whole-school marking code which I have to stick to religiously.  I'm not a big fan of long marking codes as children can spend longer deciphering the marking than actually learning from it.  That being said, I do use codes to improve children's presentation; mainly 4 symbols.  T indicates they need to write the title (as required by the school - only 1 or 2 words).  D shows they should write the date. U implies they should underline the title or date and I draw a simple tree if they are wasting too much paper (save the trees!).  These 4 codes take hardly any time to draw, save me writing sentences and ensure the children can understand and respond quickly to presentation errors.  

Primary Roll Call - Classroom Ideas

As part of a joint venture with Michael Tidd, I am collating some of the primary tweeters, bloggers and pinners who share exceptional practical ideas for the classroom.  This collection of educators, through their tweets, blogs and Pinterest boards, have had a direct impact on my teaching; their ideas are sound and they are certainly worth a "follow".

So, here goes, as Dermot says, "in no particular order":

Claire (OhLottie)
As the inventor of Graffiti Maths and an all-round inspirational primary teacher, Claire's ideas are always tried and tested and come with her own evaluation on their use.
She tweets, blogs and pins.

Sam (SAiston)
Sam provides a no-nonsense commentary on Education with lesson ideas and common sense theories for the primary classroom.
He tweets.

Rob (RedgieRob)
Famous for being the creator of The Literacy Shed, Rob also (somehow) manages to simultaneously be a fantastic primary teacher.  His twitter feed is full of good practice and useful resources.
He tweets.

Alison (AliMattWells)
This lady is a fount of practical classroom ideas; whether displays, English, maths, topic - she's got it covered!
She tweets.

Michelle (FootieFanMiss)
With extensive Pinterest boards covering a range of education themes, Michelle is well-worth following.  She is an advocate of Working Walls and has some brilliant examples on her blog and Pinterest boards.
She tweets, blogs and pins.

Ian (IanAddison)
As a former ICT advisor for Hampshire, Ian's posts about technology are really useful.  However, since moving back to the classroom, he provides useful ideas and resources to be used throughout primary lessons.
He tweets, blogs and pins.

Rachel (rpd1972)
Rachel's blog posts, tweets and articles focus on simple ideas which have made a difference in her primary classes.
She tweets and blogs.

Sarah (Sarah__wright1)
In the important job of training primary teachers, Sarah shares brilliant ideas for KS1 and 2 classrooms along with inspirational books and quotes from the training programme at Edge Hill University.
She tweets and pins.

Sway (SwayGrantham)
Sway is an important UK educator to follow if you are interested in the changes being made to technology in learning.  She has some specific advice relevant to BYOD and Rasperry Pi in primary education.
She tweets and blogs.

Lisa (TishlyLishly)
As Early Years queen, Lisa regularly shares early reading and maths ideas, impressive display photos and ways to enhance themed areas.
She tweets and pins.

BONUS - There are a few secondary bloggers, tweeters and pinners who give superb ideas which are easily transferable to the primary classroom.  However, Rachel Jones' fount of inspirational blog posts, tweets and pins stands out from the rest so I feel she deserves to be an honourary primary teacher for the sake of this list!

Michael has published a similar list of Primary leaders and thinkers here.  You can follow him on Twitter or his blog.  I collect and share ideas on Twitter, Pinterest and this blog.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

When Will I Get My Oscar?

You may think that I'm a teacher,
And that goes some way to say,
A little about the activities,
I complete in school each day.
You may think that I'm an expert,
And it might surprise you so,
That, really, I'm just an actor,
Who's a little in-the-know.

I crammed in the information,
The night before the class,
Put on a special wig and clothes,
And answered the questions you asked.
You played along, like I was somebody else,
A famous historical doctor.
It was such a great performance so,
When will I get my Oscar?

You really hurt me yesterday,
Using names so rude and mean,
And today I'm meant to treat you like,
It's forgotten; the slate is clean.
I smile and greet you as each day,
In my mind is yesterday's phrase.
You're completely none-the-wiser so,
Will my Oscar arrive in a few days?

I tell you stories using my face and hands,
Creating characters with my voice,
You complain when others 'don't do it right',
And, when I'm done, you all rejoice.
Each lesson; an elaborate episode,
I've learned the script by heart.
My audience are hooked to know the rest,
Surely an "award-winning" start?

There are times when you are struggling,
Disrupting and causing a scene.
I know you are craving attention,
Sometimes angry or overly-keen.
The learning continues, as that is my job,
'The show must go on,' I know.
It takes all of my talent to ignore you,
You stop. It worked. What a show!

In life, the worst news possible,
So much pain within.
But my audience expect the usual cast,
So I get up and drag myself in.
Inside, I'm cut up in pieces,
There's nothing that anyone could say,
But I'm on stage so I 'act naturally',
Is my Oscar on its way?

The directors want me to change the script,
The props - the whole production.
Really, I know my audience best,
I keep going with minimum disruption.
They want to review my performance,
So I simply adjust the show.
"When will I get my Oscar?" I cry,
Doesn't anybody know?

Each day the red curtain rises,
The education stage is set.
How much we both put into this,
Will affect how far you get.
The truth is: I won't get an Oscar,
And that's certainly not what I need.
The fact that you love learning and school,
Is like a standing ovation to me.

Saturday 1 November 2014

Why TeachMeet?

After promoting a local TeachMeet in a teachers’ meeting, I overheard a thought-provoking comment in the staff room the next day. Whilst gazing at the TeachMeet poster I had put up, a teacher who was absent in the previous day’s meeting pondered, “Why would anyone want to do that – actually choose to spend some of their own time meeting with teachers?” So…Why TeachMeets? What are they and why do busy, practising teachers put so much time and energy into running these independent events?

Despite going to many TeachMeets in my 2 years of teaching, it’s something that I’d never even considered.  I guess the main reason for this is that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every TeachMeet I’ve ever been to – it’s never felt like a burden.  I’ve come away from each one with a tonne of ideas to use in my classroom, new friends who are in the profession and a full belly from a very decent pub meal. Nevertheless I understand that, to those less familiar with them, TeachMeets seem like a less-than-appealing pastime - I’m on a mission to persuade teachers that this isn’t the case at all!

TeachMeets are founded on ideas.  Teachers sharing their great ideas with other teachers.  Sometimes this can be jazzed up with sponsorship, prizes, keynotes and fancy food (cupcakes at TeachMeet Sussex!) but in principle, the sharing of ideas is universal. However, as an organiser of a TeachMeet in a new area, the most difficult job has been getting local people to share their ideas.  These mini presentations throughout the evening are the heart of the TeachMeet yet seemingly great practitioners, who have signed up for a teaching event in their own time, are shying away from telling people about what they do well.  Again and again I reiterate to people, via Twitter, the website and word of mouth, how simple this should be. The best presentations consist of people spending a few minutes telling other teachers about one simple idea, resource or strategy that has been effective in their classroom.  They rarely need a PowerPoint, A/V equipment or even a pre-prepared speech!

Having been gently bullied into presenting at the first TeachMeet I went to, I’ve made it a general rule-of-thumb that I will present at any TeachMeet I attend.  This isn’t because I like blowing my own trumpet or because I have exceptional ideas – TeachMeets don’t exist for either of those reasons.  My understanding is that everybody has something to give – so why not give a snippet of what I do in my classroom?  I benefit so much from what other people have to share and my aim, by presenting an idea, is that someone will go away inspired to try something new based on what I’ve said.  Teachers are professional people who can make educated decisions about whether a certain idea is worth trying in their classroom so the the ball is in their court as to what they get out of the event. 

Sadly, there will always be a small amount of teachers who will shun this grass roots CPD.  However, for the rest of us, TeachMeets can be that link between work and life – an enjoyable, social event with great food and drink which can inspire and challenge us, reigniting that passion for teaching which prompted us to start out. The added bonus is that you can have a good time without feeling guilty about being “out on a school night”!

Note: I organise TeachMeet Sussex which happens in schools around Sussex each term.  This post was written as part of TeachMeet UK 2014.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Whole Class Guided Reading: How does it work?

Last year, Year Four in my school moved to teaching reading in whole-class lessons rather than the traditional carousel of Guided Reading activities.  We found it had a very positive impact on children's written responses to texts while being quicker and easier to plan and resource.  You can read all about our move to whole-class reading here.  Many people, after reading those posts and downloading the logos, inquired as to how the lessons worked so this should answer some questions and provide you with the plans and resources for an example lesson.

How does it work?
The simple answer is that it works the same as any other lesson; There is one learning objective for the whole class based around the same text.  The activities are adapted for different abilities so that all children can access the learning objective and be challenged.  Sometimes texts are part of a class book we're reading and other times they are a poem or non fiction article.  Please find below an example lesson plan using Harry Potter's journey to Hogwarts in the first book to interpret changes in feelings.  After the lesson plan, I have put some notes about certain sections of it to give more information.

Lesson Plan Notes
Top boxes - these are the overarching objectives which I've pulled from the new curriculum.
Read with RIC - the stimulus is always something different; it can be a song, poem, video, photo, advert.  Sometimes they require children to read, sometimes they don't.  They always contain a Retrieve, Interpret and (author/artist/director) Choice question.  All children are to try the R and I questions, most try the C question too.  We go through the answers to these and children steal other answers in gel pen to improve theirs. See more examples of our RIC starter activities here
Challenge - This is where we put the options for children to show their learning against the objective.  Generally children can choose which they complete out of Good/Amazing/Awesome.  There is some specific support using extra information and the TA.  The SEN activity allows children working significantly below the rest of the class to still access the objective at a level appropriate to them.

Having taught the lesson to my Year Four class, I would say it would be slightly more appropriate for Year Five.  

Click to view and download more plans and resources (including SMART Notebook files) for:

Across the School
Having piloted whole-class reading lessons in Year Four, our headteacher was keen to roll it out across the school.  Currently, all of our Key Stage Two are now teaching reading like this with two or three lessons each week, each lasting an hour.  Our other English skills are taught through Theme-based lessons, with 5-8 sessions in a week covering geography or history and English.  Key Stage One are continuing their phonics teaching in groups while using a RIC starter daily with their whole class to practise those important reading comprehension skills.

I hope this can answer some questions about whole-class reading lessons.  If you have further questions or comments, please feel free to put them in the comments below or on Twitter or check out the Whole-Class Reading FAQs.

To see all other blog posts about whole-class reading lessons, click here.

Sunday 28 September 2014

The Challenge of Challenge

High expectations vs glass ceilings.  Challenge for all vs differentiation and inclusion.  Ensuring all children are challenged in your class presents, in itself, an organisational challenge.  To set or not to set? To ability group or to mixed ability group? To differentiate the activity, the support or the outcome? To give children the choice or to prescribe their activity?  Recently, I've read these two posts, by Nancy and Rachel, which consider issues in differentiation and inclusion.  Both immediately had me thinking about what this looks like in my classroom and the effectiveness (or not!) of some of the things I've tried.

In my relatively short time teaching, I've used a variety of strategies and ideas to organise how children are challenged.  Because none is perfect for every learning opportunity, each lesson I consider which is appropriate for those children, the learning and at that time.  I use some of these strategies more than others but I've seen success with all of them in different circumstances.  Likewise, there have also been lessons when I've clearly done the wrong thing - I like to think that those were learning opportunities for me to reflect and evaluate for my future practice.

Top-Down Planning
In my NQT year, this phrase was used in an Assessment For Learning seminar.  I'd not heard it before but it made so much sense.  Mostly, at uni and on placement, I'd learned that from your learning objective your differentiate up and down for your highest and lowest ability.  The idea of top-down planning is that you consider the next learning objective for your highest ability children; that becomes your lesson objective for the class.  In your planning, you describe and prepare any inputs or resources to enable all the children to achieve this objective.  That way, your high ability children are truly challenged, rather than just kept busy, and the expectations for your lower ability children are raised.

Scaffolding the Activity
A while back I purchased these trays, mainly as a way of assessing children's opinions on their understanding in lessons.  Pupils place their book in the green/yellow/red tray according to how they found the lesson and I mark the red and yellow books first so that I can give them more time.  After a few weeks, I found another use for them; to give children a choice about the support they receive for the activity.  I started placing support materials in the coloured trays according to how much support is given.  Children could then choose if and when they needed some help with an activity, if available.  As a school, we have a big focus on giving children choices in their learning so these trays help me to explain the choices to the children.  They also mean children can make choices without their peers interfering.  I've found children are generally very good at deciding which tray to take from; this is probably down to the work we have done on Growth Mindset this year.  They are very aware that it is free-flowing so if they are finding something too difficult or easy they know they can go to the trays without asking, look at the board for ideas or request help from me (I rarely have a TA so children need to be very independent with this).  Obviously, on touring the classroom each lesson and supporting children at all tables I can guide pupils and remove scaffolds to encourage children to practise without support.  

Mixed Ability Groups
Early on in my teaching career, I did what I had seen in many schools - children ability grouped for reading, writing and maths.  The groups stayed as they were between assessments and there were celebrations when children were moved "up" and uproar when children were moved "down".  Having read the research and taught for a year, I abandoned ability groups for most subjects.  I did however, continue to use fluid ability groups in maths.  They were fluid in that they changed each week, sometimes during the week and even during lessons.  There was no "top" and "bottom" group, simply children working together at similar steps.  Sometimes the groups stayed for one lesson; sometimes they stayed for a week however it was rarely longer.  As I marked books, I piled them up according to children's next steps and those became  the new groups.  Nowadays, I have no ability groups. Children sit in mixed-ability groups with an appropriate partner sat next to them. They discuss and work together in all subjects as well as completing work independently. Children choose the support they require and are often working with more or less support than their neighbour. This has removed all glass ceilings from my lessons and allowed children to smash my high expectations of them.

Let's Chat About Stamper

I've blogged about this before here, but this is something I use regularly to organise mini-inputs for children when I'm marking their books.  When looking through their work from previous lessons, I can see where certain pupils or groups have struggled with concepts.  Generally, I decide on only one or two areas to "chat about" and stamp the appropriate books.  At a planned moment in one of the following lessons I will call children to the carpet.  The stamper means they know which input they come to while also acting as proof of this (for the powers that be!).  Sometimes I encourage children to explain near the stamper what they have learned as a result of that mini-input.  This is a way of ensuring each child is challenged at the point of their current learning.  

Like I said before, these are simply tools which I pick and choose according to the learning.  Sometimes I use all of them; sometimes I decide to do something completely different.  As I move forward this year, in which I have the widest gap I've experienced between my highest and lowest ability children, I'm sure I will re-evaluate these and other similar strategies regularly!

To read more about how mixed groups can work in a primary classroom, click here

Sunday 17 August 2014

Download All Reading Resources for FREE

To view and download all resources including plans, logos, display materials, assessment sheets, book lists etc, please CLICK HERE, the image above or scroll to the end of the post where you can find a Google Drive public folder which will open in a new tab. Click on an item to preview it and then click the down arrow to download it.  All resources are completely free and available to download. However, some school servers and/or email accounts restrict access to Google Drive. If you are having trouble downloading anything, please log out of your school emails, try at home or try a different browser.  If that doesn't work, please do contact me and I'll ensure you gain access. 

Resources in the folder:
To find out more about our journey from carousel guided reading to whole-class lessons, click here (will open in a new tab). 

I appreciate any comments on the resources (including any errors or typos), links to other posts about Guided Reading or requests for more information - just leave them in the comments below or via Twitter. Also, if you use anything here to create other resources which you are happy to share, please get in touch via email so they can be added to the folder. 

To see all other blog posts about whole-class reading lessons, click here.

Friday 8 August 2014

Making Marking Meaningful

Ask any (KS2) teacher to name the task which takes them the most time and you are pretty much guaranteed to get the response, "marking".  At the beginning of your teaching career, it feels like an endless slog with no light at the end of a very long tunnel.  Along the way, you borrow or create certain strategies to reduce the amount of time you spend on it; providing answer sheets, peer marking and, a favourite of mine, using assessment stampers. But still, it is the task which takes the biggest proportion of your time.   

In my opinion, there are two main purposes for marking books:
Firstly, it tells me what I need to know in order to personalise the learning in the next lesson.  This may require me to change the learning objective, make activities easier or harder, move groups around or go back over something which has not been achieved.  It tells me who got it and is ready to move on, who struggled through and who doesn't have a clue.  Also, I gain an insight into the volume of work produced in the lesson; with 30+ children in a class, laziness can sometimes go under the radar if books are not checked regularly.  
Secondly, it gives me the perfect opportunity to truly personalise the learning for each individual child, through comments, questions, suggestions, instructions, quick revisions to support them in their learning, whatever point they're at. 

Marking will achieve the first purpose if children's learning is assessed every lesson.  This doesn't require any written comments or response but could be accompanied by a stamper for the sake of SLT/OfSTEd or anyone else you answer to! I usually like to use a piece of scrap paper, post it note or the back of the lesson plan to keep notes, write groups or reorganise the next plan.  However, it is the second purpose, which only becomes meaningful if acted on by the pupils, that I would like to focus on.

The Problem
Since working with @HTBruce, I have been a big believer in ensuring the time taken on a task results in an equal or better impact on the children's learning. Therefore it hit me hard in my NQT year when, despite my hours of effort marking their books, my class were not reading, let alone responding to, the personalised comments I had lovingly written or prepared for them.  I had learned at University the importance of feedback and my comments were appropriate and formative.  I was also aware of my school's assessment policy and was only marking in depth as often as was required of me.  However I hadn't learned the importance of routine and so the comments were making zero impact on the learning while making a big impact on my time - Definitely not the right way round.  

Early on, I discovered stampers and they helped me cut my marking time (read how and why here) but they still didn't solve my problem. How could I get the children to read and respond to every comment I made? After all, if I was going to spend even the smallest amount of time writing a comment, I needed to ensure it would be seen.  I started off giving time in the school day, here and there, to respond to comments. This solved a bit of the problem but there was still about a third of my class who just weren't reading them.  It wasn't until this last year, my third in teaching, that I created a routine that meant no comment was left unread or un-responded-to. Simultaneously it improved the quality of my feedback as I was seeing the impact it was having and could adjust it accordingly.  

My Solution - Gel Pens!
Having dabbled around in different routines and strategies, I started the new year armed with a class set of gel pens.  Basically the rule was this: no one was to write the title and date (as required by the school every lesson) without having initialed or responded to any previous comments in gel pen.  Why gel pen? I hear you cry! Simply because it creates a physical movement before and after responding to comments and the children LOVE using them! 

At the beginning of lessons, every child starts with a gel pen.  They initial all comments, including stampers, and then they respond appropriately.  This gives the added bonus of their corrections or new work being in a different colour so when I/SLT/OFSTEd/whoever looks through their books, the corrections are easy to distinguish from their original lesson work.  Once they have read, initialed and responded, they switch to their normal writing implement for the start of the lesson.  

Once it was clear the gel pens were working for my marking, I added to their use; they became our assessment tool.  As a class we discussed assessment and feedback and what it meant.  Then we came up with a list of what we would use gel pens for, as well as reading, initialling and responding to marking comments:
- doing corrections (at the end of a lesson or after I'd marked it)
- underlining the words which linked to the learning so they were obvious
- putting stars next to their favourite sentence/calculation/piece
- leaving questions for me at the end of a lesson
- leaving comments for me about how they found the lesson
- marking own or other people's work
- leaving comments on other people's work
- when they helped someone else in a lesson they used gel pen for their notes and initialed it so I knew
- circling where mistakes are in own/peer's book.

Using the gel pens has made my marking more meaningful.  The reading/responding of comments has increased to 100% and it has created learning conversations in books when there is no time in class.  Children have become much more willing to make mistakes and they enjoy hunting for corrections.  At the end of each lesson, they now reflect on their learning (in gel pen) and write any questions/comments about the lesson in their book.  They are expectant of comments or activities which will move them forward when they read my marking; that in turn makes me more willing to write them. Also, they make my marking more regular and focused on the children's learning, particularly because they call me up on it if I forget! Overall, I enjoy marking more (shock horror!) because of the anticipation of children's responses and the knowledge of the impact it will have; now the time I'm putting into marking is finally making a difference.

Gel pens in action:

Friday 1 August 2014

Classroom Management - My tips for NQTs

Starting out as a NQT: you've done the training and gained QTS.  You've jumped through the hoops on placements, in QTS tests and through assignments and, in a month, you will have your own class. Crazy! Scary!

I got SO much wrong in my NQT year...everybody does.  But I also learned SO much in that year and in the 2 years since completing it.  I remember being happy with the planning and curriculum side of things; I felt I did quite well with that. However it was all the other bits, the things you're not really prepared for on placement and that come with having your own class. So below are some things I've learned since qualifying which have made classroom management easier for me.

Routines - For certain parts of the day, having routines mean you don't have to spend a lot of time dishing out instructions.  It takes a bit of time at the start of the year but it is worth it.  End every lesson the same - I choose for them to tidy, put books away and stand behind their chairs. This gives me an opportunity to extend any plenary activities and continue questioning those who are ready to go.  It makes it easy for children to leave as chairs are already tucked in.  It's a small thing which makes life easier for me.  In the same way, they know what to do when they walk in the door in the morning.  Recently I've learned how a routine for them responding to feedback ensures they do this and helps them to get better at it (using gel pens). We have routines for lining up, collecting and handing in homework, using the laptops and handing out books and work, 

Marking - decide how and when you will mark their books so that you make sure it gets done.  This is something I wasn't too good at in my NQT year - I didn't plan the time to mark.  If you know you have a staff meeting or club, plan an "easy-to-mark" lesson - one where children mark their own or each other's or something which you can whizz through and stamp to get an idea of where they're at.  Plan your long marking sessions for the evenings when you can sit down as soon as they're gone and work through.  A colleague and I have marking parties, where we throw on some classic music and sit and mark together.  Getting some stampers makes this really easy and fast, while making your marking impact the next lesson. Never take more than one set of books home at night (chances are the second and third set will get left).  If you fall behind, you will end up marking work a week or two old so that marking has zero impact - you will be only doing that for the SLT and that is pointless! 

Behaviour - if at first they don't do it right, make them do it again...and again...and again until they get it perfect.  Repeat for as long as you need.  Time spent improving or perfecting behaviour is NOT time wasted.  I cannot stress the importance of this.  Start this on the first day so they know that you're serious and that you expect excellent behaviour and do it everyday if you need to. I learned a lot of how I manage behaviour for 'Getting the Buggers to Behave' by Sue Cowley. If you're going to read one book about behaviour management, let that be it - it's worth it.

Parents - a friend who is a parent of children in another school said to me when I started teaching that the best thing a teacher can do, in her eyes, is keep her well-informed. Parents want to know with good time when they need to do things, whether dress up, trips, special days or invites into school.  They also want to know how their child is tell them. Get a pack of 'note home' cards (I had some made on Vistaprint but PTS also sell them) and use them. Write in homework diaries and call parents with positive news.  They appreciate that more than you will ever know and it means, if you have to call with some bad news, they are more likely to support you.

Jobs - make them work harder than you. Give over time (5 minutes a day) for children to do jobs. Handing out letters, jumpers, writing tomorrow's date on the board, sorting the timetable, tidying and locking the laptops, stacking chairs, tidying tables and picking things off the floor. That 5 minutes will save you 50+ minutes at the end of the day tidying, sorting and organising and will mean you can put your time into assessing and re-planning. If, throughout the year, you find yourself doing the same meaningless thing over and over, simply add it to the jobs list.

Colleagues - the most important thing you must know in your NQT year is that nobody is perfect.  Not that teacher who all the parents love nor the one with beautiful, Pinterest-worthy display boards. Everyone will be behind in something and that's OK. Teaching is the job of the never-ending to-do lists.  Never will everything be done and so there's no point chasing perfection as a teacher. All you can do is aim to get better and you can do this by listening to, observing and asking others.  I learned so much through the other members of staff in my NQT year. My catchphrase became "I've just got a quick question..." and I'd delve into their expertise to try to enhance mine.  Also, the Twitter staffroom has helped me improve my practice and opened my eyes to how teachers do things in other schools, areas and countries.  So in short...ask! Ask your colleagues, ask your NQT friends, ask other teachers and ask on Twitter.

Everyone learns loads in their NQT year and it is a baptism of fire. These are things, aside from the day-to-day teaching which I've found to help me. If you have other tips, just leave them in the comments below - you never know who'll you'll help out.

Monday 7 July 2014

Chromebooks in Education

It's a conundrum which a lot of schools are facing in current technology: our netbooks (which we bought hundreds of when they were cheap and worked) are dying. What do we replace them with? Do we go down the iPad route? Expensive but slick. Complicated but cool.  Do we look at other tablets? Difficult to control and easy to get confused with.  So maybe laptops? Big, bulky, expensive laptops.  But also available on the educational devices market is the Google Chromebook, manufactured by a variety of companies including Samsung, Acer and, most recently, Asus and available for under £200.

What is a Chromebook?
The Google Chromebook is simply a web browser (Google Chrome) with a keyboard; there is no hard drive and it relies very heavily on an internet connection.  It sounds like nothing special but it has two important qualities which make it a hot contender for classroom use.

Firstly, it is incredibly easy to use. So easy, in fact, that out of the 30 Chromebooks I have in my room, there are at least 20 that I have never had to even touch; the children set them up and use them seamlessly.  A TA, who has struggled with using the Windows netbooks connected to the school network, is often seen using a Chromebook to check her email.  The children are able to troubleshoot themselves and found their way around the simple interface at lightning speed.

Secondly, it is reliable and fast.  Think back to the last time you used some form of technology in your classroom, especially if it was netbooks.  How long did it take to get every child/device logged in and onto a web browser?  5 minutes? 10? Or, like some teachers in my school, a whopping 20 minutes before every child is ready for the learning?  We've rigorously tested the Chromebooks around the school to find out whether they improve those times.  Generally, they take about 18 seconds from turning them on to being able to surf the net and it has never taken more than 2 minutes for the whole class to get on the relevant activity for the lesson.  As teachers, when so often we decide against using technology because of the fuss that comes with their use, that makes them ideal.

What are they good for?
Simply, they are great for anything you can do on the web.  They cope well with Flash-based games and activities and are perfectly designed to work with Google Apps for Education (including Drive, Mail and Blogger).

To enhance our use of them, I created a WibKi page for the children to bookmark to their Google Chrome bookmarks bar.  On our Vale4 Wibki are links to all the sites that they use on the Chromebooks.  They get a practice of typing in addresses but for ease of access and speed, the Wibki is brilliant.  I am the only one with the ability to edit the Wibki but all children can and do access it.  They also email me with ideas for sites to add. Below is a list of sites we have tried and used with the Chromebooks:
  • Sumdog
  • Manga High
  • Language Nut
  • Scratch Online
  • Tynker
  • Zondle
  • MyMaths
  • Thinking Blocks @ MathPlayground
  • BBC Dance Mat Typing
  • Code.Org
  • YouGetSignal
  • The MathPlayground Thinking Blocks (pictured)
As a school already set up with Google Apps for Education and logins for all the children, we made incredible use of the Drive, Mail and Blogger apps.  In Drive, we collaborated on documents and the children created their own which they shared with me.  I was able to leave comments for them and they could respond or resolve them.  They used the Mail app to keep in contact with me or for me to share quick messages or links and they wrote blog posts using the Blogger app to post to our Year 4 Vale blog.  

What are their setbacks?

Honestly, I think there are far too many positives with the Chromebooks and I believe they are brilliant classroom tools.  However they are not for everyone and there are plenty of activities which cannot be completed using them.  If the children use programmes which are installed on your school network then you may struggle with Chromebooks.  Thankfully, a lot of the computing programmes are moving online however some control programmes are installed and so would become unusable with Chromebooks.  The same can be said for things like Maths Packs or installed games.  Apart from that, the only other negative point would be that they don't seem as sturdy as the old netbooks however I can't comment on how easy they are to break as ours are still fully in tact and have not needed to survive any trauma - we look after them.

Overall, after four weeks of Chromebooks, I am incredibly impressed with them. I can see the huge potential for them to enhance the whole primary curriculum which allowing teachers to deliver the new computing objectives with ease.  The children adore them, some have even persuaded parents to purchase them one for home.  Other members of staff have oo-ed and arrr-ed at their speed and the apparent ease of use as they have entered my classroom and observed activities. This school in the US has had them for longer and have carefully considered their use across middle and high schools.  Their post is well worth a read if you are considering Chromebooks or other devices.  This post is also worth a read as it considers device purchases across the USA  We trialed the Chromebooks using the company Getech, who were absolutely fabulous through the whole experience and very competitive on a range of Chromebook manufacturer prices.  If you would like to find out more, tweet your question to @MrsPTeach

Sunday 29 June 2014

Guided Reading and the New Curriculum

Having had a successful year with changing how we teach Guided Reading to whole class teaching (read why and how here), it is time to consider how we will adapt our practice for the new curriculum which is coming into play in September. Using the new KS2 Reading objectives, which can be found here, we can adapt our approach from the AFs of APP to the themes which are displayed in the new curriculum.

Obviously, the government are keen for children to be able to retrieve information (the old AF2) and there is still a need for them to interpret feelings and emotions and to use these to predict (the old AF3).   They wish for children to identify a writer's viewpoint (the old AF6) and to comment on the author's choice of language, structure and presentation (the old AFs 4 and 5).   Interestingly, performance poetry now appears under the Reading heading in English and so that should be added into our Guided Reading units.  There is no specific mention of historic relevance or cultural influence, although these could come under the author's viewpoint.

Therefore, over the summer, some adaptation will be needed in regards to the Read With RIC resources I made last year.  I will likely remove the numbers as these only related to the APP grids and change the language as follows.

1) Decode
2) Retrieve
3) Interpret
4) Organise
5) Choice
6) Viewpoint
7) Culture

New Curriculum Suggestions
Interpret - including predictions
Choice - including language, structure and presentation
Viewpoint - including history and culture if appropriate
Perform - to make way for the Reading objectives of performance poetry and play scripts
Review - to include written recommendations, presentations and discussions as required in upper KS2

The RIC (Retrieve, Interpret, Choice) skills are still the most important and so the RIC starters which we have been using all year can remain, as can our character, RIC!  With a few weeks still to think about these and discuss them with colleagues, keep your eyes peeled for the new RIC resources as the summer kicks in.

UPDATE AUGUST 2014: New Read with RIC resources for the 2014 Curriculum can be found HERE.
UPDATE OCTOBER 2014: How Whole-Class Guided Reading Lessons Work including how the school has adopted this across key stages 1 and 2.

To see all other blog posts about whole-class reading lessons, click here.

Friday 30 May 2014

Things to do in New York City

Background Information: We went for six nights to NYC in Easter 2014.  That's when this blog post was first written. The sun shone for six of the days and we had one day of rain and snow.  We stayed in the Broadway Plaza Hotel which is midtown and so was perfect for walking uptown or downtown.  It was also right near a subway station which we used daily to get elsewhere.  These lists come with the disclaimer that we didn't go everywhere in NYC.  We booked a lot of this in advance and pack tonnes of trips into our seven days.  These may not be the best things in NYC but they were the best things we experienced on a limited budget and from our midtown location.
Since then, we've returned to NYC twice. Once in August 2017 for 7 nights and then again at Christmas/New Years 2018 for 6 nights. We absolutely love the place and can't get enough of it. We've stayed loyal to the Broadway Plaza Hotel and can't recommend the place highly enough. I've added updates since 2014 in italics so you can track our thinking! Easter is still my favourite time to go  - Summer was very hot and Christmas was so busy. 

5 Free Things To Do in NYC 
1) 9/11 Memorial - get your pass beforehand.  Security is tight. Since 2014 this has now changed. You no longer need a pass to go to the memorial. 
2) Walk the HighLine - an abandoned railway line which has been done-up so it's now a romantic half-mile walk through the city rooftops. This is still one of our favourite things to do. 
3) Central Park ($2 map is worth it). Again, a firm favourite. 
4) The Staten Island Ferry - good views of the Statue of Liberty and is free. Most people go around from arrivals to departures and get straight back on the next ferry back to Manhattan. Instead, we decided to take a walk around Staten Island and found the 9/11 memorial and some incredible views across the water. 
5) Find the friends building (Grove Street in Greenwich Village) and the Ghostbusters firehouse (where Varick street and West Broadway cross). We always go back here - it's also a really lovely part of town. 
The view from the 9/11 memorial on Staten Island
 5 Paid-For Activities (prices are approximate for each ticket)
1) WTC Tribute Center Tour (~$20) - people who were in the are on the day tell you their story and take you around the memorial.  This was such a poignant and important addition to our visit to the memorial.  You also get access to Tribute Center which has some exhibitions and donated items. I'm not sure this is still there now. Instead, go for a tour of the 9/11 Museum. Make sure you book in advance for the tour but it was so worth it. 
2) Go to a sports game. We did Nets vs Knicks (basketball) and Yankees vs Red Sox (baseball). (~$50). Since 2014, we have see the Yankees play plenty of times as well as watching the NY Rangers ($150 per ticket for us - ouch!) and NYCFC soccer which is played at the Yankee Stadium.  We loved the ice hockey but it was so expensive. Very interesting seeing a baseball stadium turned into a soccer stadium! 
3) Watch a Broadway show. We did Wicked in limited view seats. ($75-200). We've seen a few shows since and always bought our tickets online in advance for approx $80 each. We've always found the booths more expensive and a gamble  - we've never bought from them although I know lots of people have. 
4) Go up to an observatory. We did Empire State and Rockefeller. The Rock was better. (~$30). Now One World Trade Center is completed you can also go up there.  We always do The Rock as it's the best view in town but the view from One World is pretty awesome looking over the water. 
5) Take the Liberty/Ellis Island Ferry. (~$20)

We'd also recommend, if you're there around Christmas, booking for the 8am slot at the Wollman's Ice Rink in Central Park. 
Yankee Stadium
NY Rangers ice hockey at Madison Square Garden
5 Reasonable Eateries
1) Square Diner (Next to Chambers St and the Ghostbusters firehouse) - the only true diner we found. Food was amazing. We've been back time and again and also seen the diner on a few movies and Law and Order SVU. 
2) Mustang Sally's (on 7th Ave and 20something st) - Great bar that serves delicious, cheap food. Sally's has now closed :( However, we can recommend the wings at Lansdowne Road on 10th/43rd. 
3) Azalea (Next to Wicked theatre - the cast sometime drink and dine there) - Italian.
4) Serafina (in the meatpacking district on Gansevoort Street) - delicious pizza at a good price.
5) Ellen's Stardust Diner (Broadway and 51st) - the waitstaff sing while you eat amazing food. We go here every least twice. Longest we've queued is an hour but that was at Christmas time. Brunch is great and has a shorter queue. 

We would now also add Junior's for a cheesecake (ours is often at 1am!) and the Aria wine bar for food in Hell's Kitchen. 
Cheesecake at Junior's! 
5 Things we saved for next time (or didn't have time to do!)
1) Katz Deli (from when Harry met Sally). We have since been - it's brilliant. Aim for just before or after normal lunch time for 
2) Get off at Liberty and Ellis Island. This was very interesting but we've only done it once. 
3) Walk the Brooklyn bridge. We walked all the way from the Broadway Plaza Hotel (midtown) to the start of the bridge, which is near a lot of SVU filming locations, to Brooklyn and back.  Such a long walk but so many incredible views. We also bought some lovely artwork on the Manhattan side of the bridge. 
4) WTC Museum (opening May 24th 2014). Highly recommended as I said above - book a tour if you can. 
5) Get tickets to a TV filming (SNL, Letterman, Jimmy Fallon and GMA all film in NYC but you either get tickets beforehand or queue for ages) - go to the Rockefeller Center for information. We've still never done this! 

We've still never seen the Knicks, despite having tickets and having to cancel because we postponed our holiday due to the drones. 
Brooklyn Bridge
P.S. I know this is NOTHING to do with Education but I had to put it somewhere! Also I will go through and add links at some point!

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Very Late Thoughts on the Observation Game

Ever since OfSTEd, at a meeting with education bloggers, confirmed that in most cases inspectors should not be giving judgements on individual lessons, I have deliberated again and again about my thoughts on the matter.  I read the blogs of those in the meeting, followed by Mike Cladingbowl’s Guardian article and then the blogs of “mere mortal” teachers, those of us in the classroom day in and day out.  As I read each article, the same question went through my head – is this a good idea or a bad idea?

When I had two PGCE students in March, I came to think about observations again.  Their university required me to give four lesson judgements and a judgement per standard in two separate reports.   As I was sat there giving them feedback from their first observation, I saw what I know I have done in many of my own feedback sessions; they waited for the grading and reacted to it. 

I did it throughout my NQT observations.  Good = nod and smile. Outstanding = “YES”.  Satisfactory = “ok” and head down.  Without the written feedback I received from my mentor, I couldn’t remember my strengths or areas for development.  I remembered the judgement.  The judgement defined my teaching…for six weeks before the next observation. Did the judgement change my teaching? NO. Did the judgement change my confidence and pride? Yes – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.  The same was true for the students.

So, as I sat there giving meaningful and constructive feedback to these lovely PGCE students so early in their teaching careers, my mind was made up about observations.  For them, observation process would have been much more effective without an observation grade.  That way, the focus would have been on improving.  Rather than aiming for a “good” grade or an “outstanding” grade, my students would have focused solely on what they needed to do to improve.  Their confidence wouldn’t have been shattered or their pride overflowing.    Their immediate next step would have been what they remembered and worked towards, with my guidance.

My own performance management observations this year show how fluid and unreliable the grades are.  In three lessons I’ve been given three different grades.  They were fair grades and were exactly what I would have given myself.  So what grade would my teaching overall be? Am I an “outstanding” teacher? Maybe good? Or does my teaching require improvement?  In any lesson, I’d say the latter.  Not in the “used-to-be-satisfactory” sense of the word, but because there’s always something I can do to improve.  Removing a grade from the observation process would mean the focus is shifted from attainment to improvement. 

If that were the case, I wonder if teachers would welcome more observations. I know I certainly would. After all, it’s the negative grades we’re all afraid of.  I would love to be observed by more-experienced teachers in a formative way, where the aim for both of us is to make improvements.  That would encourage me to do what I always do rather than perform for the grade.  It would be an extra pair of eyes in my classroom giving me an insight into my teaching as opposed to someone making a judgement and checking off a tick list. Surely then, the more often someone comes into your classroom, the more rounded their view is of the teaching and learning that occurs.  Therefore, when it comes to a time for making necessary judgements, as I understand there is still a need for, they will have the clearest view of your impact on learning.  

I realise that removing judgements could be difficult when it comes to performance management however there are schools which have done this successfully and whose professional development programmes sound incredibly formative and collaborative.  They sound like a pleasure rather than a chore and are solely aimed at improving teaching and learning.  I hope that OfSTEd’s original announcement was to create that atmosphere in more schools, rather than just shock and shake-up the education world. 

Original post from the meeting with OfSTEd -
A few other posts about observations -