Sunday 13 December 2015

Supply Teaching: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

My husband has had an interesting couple of years since he started teaching and he is now a sought-after supply teacher in our local area.  Below he recounts how he ended up doing supply work, some of the challenges he's faced and why he's never looked back.

Supply teaching saved me and my teaching career. There is no doubt about that. I had seriously struggled through my NQT year and it completely put me off teaching before I even got the chance to get a foothold in the profession. I started at a school that was classified as ‘outstanding’.  It was also a school I had attended as a pupil, which for some reason made me feel that I was going to the right place to start my teaching career. I’m not going to lie, my NQT year was terrifying, included two OfSTED inspections in separate schools and I would not wish it upon anybody. Somehow, I managed to get through it, but it made me very negative about teaching and I found myself putting others off going into the profession. I completely understood why class teaching was not (and still isn't) an attractive career path for upcoming graduates. I very nearly quit teaching myself. 

I was in my second year of teaching, I'd left my second school and I was preparing to become a supply teacher. What was I thinking?! Surely, I wasn't going to be able to just turn up on the morning of a school day without knowing what I was doing and teach from someone else’s plans. Was I insane? What about not getting paid if I took a day off ill or not getting paid during the holidays? That would seriously alter our finances. What about my teacher pension? What if I didn’t get much work and ended up seriously reducing our monthly income? I had to consider all of these issues before deciding just to go for it but, ultimately, the choice was taken from my hands and I signed up to all the local agencies and direct with some schools.  It didn't take me long to realise that supply teaching wasn't just the final straw for me; it was the job I should have been doing all along. 

Supply made me see teaching from a completely different angle. It became enjoyable again. I got my life back; I got my passion back. There was no more time slaving away at home to plan for the following day. No writing of reports, planning for class assemblies, assessing children’s work or writing IEPs etc. I went to work, did my job (the most enjoyable part of it – teaching children), marked their books (if there was anything to mark), left teachers notes to tell them about how the day had gone and went home happy! When I got home, I could do things for myself and be a support to my wife. This meant that she was happy too. During my NQT year, my wife barely saw me. To have me back, and for me to be happy, made her happy. As a result, my home life improved significantly. I was back to being the man my wife married. I had been unbearable to live with when I was in a full-time class teaching role. I was depressed and stressed; not a good mix! Now, I can do what I want to do in the evenings and I don’t go to bed at silly o’clock when I have finished what I have to for the next day.

Due to being a happier man, I became a better and happier teacher. I was able to have fun in the lessons I taught because I knew that, come 5:30, I would be travelling home and I would have a free evening awaiting me to do whatever I liked. I started being praised by schools I worked at and my agency, who take my bookings. Not only that, but the children I was teaching enjoyed my lessons more. A happier teacher means happier pupils. They were asking me to come back and teach them again, which made me feel ecstatic. When I did go back, they remembered my name! I knew I had made a positive impact on their schooling.

I can understand that supply doesn’t suit everybody. Yes, reading plans in the mornings can be hard to do, particularly as different schools have different planning formats. However, you get used to this and eventually, it becomes a lot easier to do. I make sure I am at school around an hour before the children start the day so that I have time to go over plans in my head and prepare for the day. Some teachers leave very understandable plans. Some are there to talk you through the day. Other teachers in the school and especially in the same year group tend to be very supportive. 

You also learn tricks as a supply teacher that mean even if you don’t understand the plans you can improvise. After all, as long as you don’t freak out and do your best, the children will learn. Sometimes plans can be a little sparse, however from the experience I have gained, I know to have things up my sleeve to call upon if I have time to fill. I can understand it when teachers don’t leave thorough planning because I remember being in their shoes when I was in a full-time role and how hard it can be.  I have to factor in that some mornings the call will come at 6:30am but, the majority of days, I am booked in advance and I have the prerogative to say "no" if there is a school which is too far or where I've previously had difficult days. 

Because of just being able to focus on my teaching without having to think about much else, I have learned so much from supply. I perform better in the classroom because I understand how to engage and motivate children better. I have found myself managing classes better and understanding systems/routines better. My marking has improved, despite having to be much more time efficient due to not being able to take work home.  Since starting supply teaching, I have taught all year groups across the primary range.  Now adapting between difference key stages, even in the middle of a day, is like second nature to me.  I have learned strategies to engage and motivate children of all ages; something that, as a class teacher, it would take years for me to experience.  

Going to different schools has also helped me enormously. I have realised that not all schools are unhappy places like my first teaching job. A lot of schools do care about the well-being of their staff.  Some of them share my philosophy that if the teacher is happy, their pupils are happy (and learn more). Every school is different and it gives me a really good understanding of the different challenges teachers face. It has also meant I have made new friends. Going into different staff rooms and meeting new people is great. Many of the schools I go to make me feel at home to the point at which sometimes I forget I am not actually employed by the school! I have been offered a whole host of jobs by schools I supply at, which really helps my confidence. I know that eventually when I do want to go back into full-time teaching, the opportunities are there.  For the time being though, it is easy to resist accepting class teacher jobs because I know I'm in the right role doing supply cover.

So, if you are considering supply work or you end up needing to do it for some time, I would highly recommend it. Yes, there are downsides as I've mentioned previously, however there are also a lot of positives. Have a go and, you never know, you might enjoy it as much as I do!

Written by Mr P

Sunday 22 November 2015

A Few Thoughts On Attracting and Retaining Teachers

In the last few months, I have had many conversations about these issues with colleagues and friends.  We've all generally agreed but nothing will ever change with people just saying their thoughts in conversations.  Hence, I am sharing my views in this post.

It all started with that advert. You know. The one which says that great teachers earn up to £65,000 each year.  Twitter went into meltdown trying to locate such teachers.  Did anyone find them? Anyway, my first reaction to the advert was that I'm earning well below half of that amount so, according to the DfE, I'm clearly not 'great'.  My second reaction was one shared by a huge amount of those who I spoke to.  Why are we using money as an incentive to attract teachers?  This made me consider what attracted me to teaching, especially given that I grew up as a headteacher's daughter saying over and over again, "I'm never going to be a teacher."

During my A Levels, I got my best grades in Economics.  I loved the idea of business and was pursuing a Management and Spanish course at university.  When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time volunteering at kids' clubs, nurseries and summer camps.  While completing my UCAS application, I realised that, were I to go into a career in business, I would spend my working life in the office and my spare time volunteering to help children. I judged that if I became a teacher, I could make a positive difference to children's lives during the working day and have some time for myself.  Basically, I became a teacher for a good work/life balance; ironic really. 

Pay was never a part of my decision, nor was it a contributing factor for my friends.  Generally, teachers become teachers so they can have some sort of positive impact on their pupils' lives.  That is why we work far beyond the hours people expect of us and do unusual and uncharacteristic things (scooping fox poo from the school field anyone?!).  So does the DfE want scores of teachers entering the profession because of monetary incentives?  Surely it would have been better to use Taylor Mali's original poem about What Teachers Make.  Aren't those the sort of teachers we want in our profession?

I know that there is a massive need to recruit more teachers.  Six years ago, when I was training, the university had the prerogative to say yes or no to their applicants.  However, I recently read this article which states that, for three years running, ITT application numbers have missed government targets.  So, not only are fewer people wishing to be teachers, the universities are now under more pressure to accept people who would have previously not been successful in their applications, thus increasing the retention problem which I will come to later. 

So what is stopping people from applying to be teachers? I think the problem is three-fold: the press, OfSTED and people's personal stories.  Positive news articles about teachers are few and far between.  Strikes, cuts, league tables and workload stories are more common and are giving a less-than-attractive view of our profession.  More and more people are aware of OfSTED and their role in schools.  During my last inspection, the local pub called the school to offer lasagne for the whole staff because they knew of the pressure on that first night after the call.  OfSTED gradings appear on a variety of websites, including Rightmove and Zoopla.  Also, the pressure of OfSTED is reported time and again on websites and blogs.  It is stories about inspections, like this recent one, which target emotions and make even dedicated teachers question whether it really is all worth it.  

As is mentioned in business time and again, word of mouth is the best advert.  In order to attract new applicants, the DfE need teachers to give a positive view of their profession.  Up until recently, my optimism has meant I was able to do that.  However, I honestly don't think I could recommend teaching to many people right now.  I could only suggest teaching to the strongest, most organised and highly adaptable people I know.  I work in a "good" school with a solid, realistic leadership team and so can only imagine what those in schools with a lesser grading or weaker leaders would say.  This makes me incredibly sad for a job which I love so much and which is important to so many. 

I would need an extra few hands to count the number of people I know who have left the profession or opted to do supply instead over the last few years.  Which leads me on to retention.  Why is UK education struggling to hold onto so many of its employees?  Why are there so many headteacher jobs vacant?  Personally, I think it's the pressure from out of school which is causing massive stress to leaders, teachers and many other school workers.  OfSTED have tried over the last few years to dispel any myths and stop leaders adding to teachers' workload with documents like this.  However, all the while OfSTED exists and is making judgements about schools from the data presented to them, jobs, lives and teachers' wellbeing are suffering.  

Planning, teaching and assessing; it's a simple cycle which teachers are trained for.  It's my favourite part of the job because, in essence, it IS the job.  However, teaching nowadays involves a vast amount more than the important bits and often the peripheral jobs take the longest time and cause the most amount of stress.  I think teachers are exasperated and bored of doing useless (to them) tasks to please other adults rather than help the children in their care.  And there is no obvious panacea to put an imminent end to this.  Some of us can sit and wait for the light at the end of the tunnel, some can focus completely on the children and remember the reason we ended up in the classroom in the first place, but for others it just isn't worth even that any more so leaving the profession becomes their only option.  

This post has turned into a much longer one than I originally planned and has a more negative tone than I would like to have on this blog.  I do really love teaching...because of the kids.   However, I still have those moments when I think what I would do instead and imagine that the grass could be greener with different job title.  Always, I get to the other side of those moments and come to the same conclusion: there is nothing else I would want to do and nowhere else I'd want to be.  I just wish the DfE would make it easier for others to arrive at a similar decision.

Other education bloggers' thoughts on attracting and retaining teachers:
I'd be very interested to read your own thoughts in the comments below.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

List of Primary Age-Appropriate Books

In response to my blog posts about teaching reading, I received many emails and tweets asking if I have a list of book suggestions to use in each year group.  I didn't but thought it would be a really useful resource to have.  Through Twitter, I've collected this massive list of texts (over 350) which could be used in EYFS, KS1 or KS2.  Thanks must go to everyone who filled in the form or shared it with their followers on Twitter and Facebook.  

You can read this list below or can open the PDF document into a new tab by clicking the pop-out button.  From there, you can also print or download the document to share with others.  

If, after reading the list, you feel there are key texts missing from a certain year group, you can submit any additions by filling in this form.  I will endeavour to update it from time-to-time.

Personally, I can see this list being important for planning reading lessons and finding high-quality whole-class readers for across the school.  Also, it is a good starting point for recommending appropriate books to children and parents.  Parents could use this to loosely match new books to their child's approximate reading age and ability.  

Sunday 8 November 2015

Six Things To Do Before Accepting A Teaching Job

I am writing this post because, after becoming sad and then angry reading this post entitled "How to Break a Teacher in 12 Months" (UPDATE: The blog post, which detailed someone's year in a school which forced them to leave the profession, has since been deleted.), I asked on Twitter how you can spot a school like that before you accept a job there.  One teacher has suggested there should be a survey of teachers in schools about how happy they are and that the results should be made public.  In the article, the strategy is described as a 'no-brainer' however I can see it potentially causing more trouble than good, especially if it's filled out on a bad day and, as with all cold-hard data, you really don't get to experience the stories behind the figures.

I am not in the market for a new job at the moment.  However, if I were, these would be some of the things I would do before accepting a job in a new school to ensure that I don't end up uninspired, unhappy and in a position to quit.  

1) Speak to someone who works there or a local supply teacher
You've probably heard of the theory of six degrees of separation?  It is believed that we are only six steps away from every single person on the planet.  This is especially true in the world of Education and Twitter has helped to make that world smaller.  Through Twitter and Teachmeets, I have links with many teachers and leaders in schools across the county.  Use any links to have to find out from the inside what it is like to work in the school.  My husband is a supply teacher and, from his work, he has made it very clear in which schools he would be willing to accept a class teacher job and for which leadership teams he would happily work.  He can also tell me which schools provide reasonable planning, others where teachers rarely enter the staffroom for lunch and which SLT give little support for poor behaviour.  

2) Visit the school...twice
Obviously, if you are invited for interview you will get one chance to visit the school but I would suggest you go before handing in your application form.  Teacher applications take a few hours to prepare so you need to know whether it is going to be worth your time.  Most schools offer tours so take them up on this.  

3) Look closely on the tour
Of course, look at the classroom environment and the children's faces.  You can pick up on some of the philosophies which the school holds for teaching and learning.  Keep an eye open for educational fads and fashions and ask the tour guide about the impact of these on the learning; you can see whether they are making a difference or just being done for show.  Also look closely at the teacher.  If you get the chance, have a quick chat with one or two; you can very quickly tell how they are feeling. 

4) Talk to children and parents
Again, this won't tell you a huge amount about what life is like for teachers in the school but you can gauge whether the children are happy and how behaviour is dealt with.  Children are often more honest than adults and will be happy to tell you the truth - just be prepared to hear it! 

5) Read the OfSTED report
This doesn't give you a huge amount of detail about what it's like to work there but it will give you an idea of what the school is working hard to improve.  If you accept the job, it is likely that those suggestions will take up a significant percentage of staff meeting and INSET time. 

6) Ask Questions
At the end of an interview, the panel should ask if the candidate has any questions.  This is your chance to dig below the shiny prospectus and "outstanding" banners and find out what it is like to work in the school.  Remember, teaching is a difficult job in any school however it is easier in some schools that others.  Personally, I would want to know about observation procedures, performance management reviews and professional development opportunities.  It's also important to find out a school's teaching and learning beliefs so I would ask about how classes are organised (streamed/mixed), which strategies have been introduced in the last few years that have had the biggest impact on learning and the biggest challenges which their current teachers are facing.  This sounds like a lot of questions however, as was pointed out to me on Twitter, you will want to know exactly what you are walking into, should you be offered and accept the job.  Therefore, if the school isn't willing to answer your questions or wiggles out of them with edu-jargon, then it's probably not the sort of place you want to be in the first place.  I would want to be in a place which values teachers who care about teaching, learning and wellbeing and so is willing to answer any questions. 

This is not a flawless way of choosing the perfect school in which to work however doing these six things will give you a better impression of the sort of work/life balance you will end up with and could prevent you ending up broken like the teacher in the article above.  

Sunday 1 November 2015

Preventing Extinction

There is a sound which is slowly become extinct from our spoken language and I'm on a mission to ensure it remains:

There are over four thousand words in the English language which contain the 'th' sound and some of them are among the most common words used.  However, in the last couple of years I have a noticed a deterioration in the pronunciation of it.  Often, children and adults are replacing it with a 'v', 'ff' or 'd' sound.  

Before training to teach, I spent four months in a children's centre on the outskirts of Mexico City. To bring in some money for the centre, I taught English classes to adult beginners in the evenings.  'Th' is a very unusual sound for South American Spanish speakers; they don't have any sounds which require them to push their tongue forward like that.  I always encouraged them to show their tongue to ensure they were making the right sound.  "Quiero ver tu lengua," (I want to see your tongue) became a regular phrase in the English lessons.  It was hard work for them but when they persevered they made much clearer English sounds.  Why, then, are we not encouraging native English speakers to make the real 'th' sound?

When I first started recognising this as a problem among my primary students, I found it hard to correct children because I felt like it might be an inappropriate thing to insist on.  After all, very few people speak the highest quality English and I was worried about highlighting the fact that children weren't speaking correctly.  It was when I realised this lazy form of speaking was having a negative impact on the spelling of some of my best writers that I started taking action.  

Below you can see some of the errors I've come across since September.  These are from a range of abilities and contexts. 
fin - thin
somefing - something 
ve/de - the
dere/fer - there
dat - that
phrone - throne
deaf - death
over - other

To try and tackle this and prevent the correct 'th' sound from being extinct from some children's speech, I've made it explicit in my class that every time we us a 'th' sound, it needs to be correct.  They can correct me, I can correct them and, most importantly, they can correct each other.  To help remind them, I've put this poster up on our Scribble HQ wall.  

It has quite shocked me the extent to which some children struggle to make the 'th' sound but, with the highest of expectations now, I am hoping to prevent extinction and improve the high-frequency spelling of my class.

UPDATE: I have recently added the poster below to my walls after discovering that well over half my class cannot correctly pronounce the number three.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Quick, Free, Online Tools (NQT Presentation)

I recently was asked to present to some NQTs the quick, free, online tools which I use to enhance teaching and learning in my classroom.  I've embedded the presentation below and will try and add a commentary after.  Some of the slides link to sites which I demonstrated and the NQTs could try on our Chromebooks.  The Kahoot link won't work as it requires more than one player & a teacher! 

S2: The link will take you to the Kahoot I demonstrated but will require you to sign in.
S3: You can click and use this link. Explore by adding the X-Ray Goggles.
S4: The link will take you straight to our Year 4 Wibki page as an example.
S5: The link and QR code will take you to a Lino canvas which you can practise using the post-it notes and posting your answer.  Write your name as the "tag".  You can click a tag to view all post-its by that person.
S6: The link will show you my Pinterest so you can see how I've organised it. 

Monday 12 October 2015

What's in my marking kit?

Recently I tweeted this photo of my marking kit as I was sitting down to mark some Y4 writing.  There was a lot of interest in the box and its contents so I thought I'd go through what I have in it and how I use them.  The box itself is from Hobbycraft and was a bargain £5 when I bought it in the summer.  Some colleagues have gone back to buy it and been successful.  It's available in clear, pink, blue and green
Marking Kit

Click on an item to view it on the seller's website - it will open in a new window so you can keep reading.

Repetitive Phrases Stampers - e.g. "Please use full stops", "Take more care with your presentation" or Personalised Stampers
I first started buying stampers when I found myself using the same phrases over and over again.  These save me so much time.  
Personalised Stampers
Repetitive Phrases
Growth Mindset Stamper - e.g. "Super Effort" or "Great Work - Keep It Up"
Some work simply needs to be seen by a teacher - it may be that no in depth marking is required or that children have marked the work themselves.  Alternatively, you may need to get somewhere fast or just improve your life-work balance.  A stamper like this will help you whizz through a set of books in around 15 minutes and praise children for their effort.  

Special Stickers - e.g. Dinosaurs, Football, Minions, Frozen etc!)
Nowadays, stickers are useful for giving children information but they started life as pure rewards.  Stickers like this, which are linked to children's hobbies and passions, can give children a wonderful feeling of pride when they see it on their work.  My class love to get a special sticker, they even put in requests and are incredibly grateful when I buy some and use them on their work.  Sometimes they choose to wear the sticker instead or collect them on Reading Records.  These don't have a direct impact on learning but, in my eyes, anything which gives children excitement about learning is of value.  

"On Target" Stamper and "Target Met" stickers (could be a stamper instead)
Our target sheets have numbers so we simply put the sticker and a number. The child can then highlight it on their record.  We've found this has really enhanced children's engagement with their writing targets and the impact of them.  

Targets in action
"Your Next Step" Stamper and Coloured Dots 
These go hand in hand to encourage children with how they move on. I used to use just the stamper but I found myself writing the same thing out hundreds of times.  Instead of doing that, I now use the coloured dots to show children what their next step is and I display the code in the next lesson.  I also link the colours in with our Good, Amazing, Awesome way of challenging children.  You can read a bit about that here
Your Next Step in action
There are also two stampers I have which don't stay in my marking kit; they stay on my desk:

Lots of people hate the idea of stampers like this and the "verbal feedback given" ones.  However I find this is very useful to carry around when helping children during a lesson. Sometimes, especially in maths, you come across children who have got lots of answers wrong.  Instead of marking each one, I just stamp thing after their incorrect work, support them to improve their understanding and then I only need to mark the work below the stamper which the child has completed after my intervention.  Sometimes I ask the child to note down what we talked about to help remind them of their mistake and their new knowledge.  Obviously, this helps anyone who is looking at your books to see what happened in that lesson too. 
We've Talked About This in action
"Adult Assisted Work" Stamper 
This is really important for assessment in this new curriculum.  I have to look through children's books to check which objectives they are able to do independently.  Every adult has access to this stamper in a lesson and it enables me to differentiate the independent work from assisted work.  

Other items
  • Green pens - my choice of marking colour. I love green! 
  • Random stampers - most of these I've inherited or bought very early on.  
  • Highlighters - see how I use them here.
  • Tabs - to show where children have forgotten to go back and respond to feedback. 
  • House point stickers and headteacher's award stampers/stickers (watch out for apostrophes!)
  • Stickers which praise handwriting and spelling.
Tabs in action - show where a child needs to respond to feedback but has forgotten.
Other posts about marking and feedback:
Stamper Snobs and Me
Stampers in Action
Marking Marking Speedy
Making Marking Meaningful

Please note that some of the contents of my marking kit were given to me by Brainwaves.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Life + Work = Balance?

Teaching is a job in which it is possible to fill every single hour of everyday.  Earlier this year, I wrote this post about how I realised it was my fault that I was working all the time.  Not long after writing that, things got on top of me and I ended up at the doctors.  Thankfully, I didn't miss any school time but it made me realise that rather than just reflecting on the choices I've made, I need to change some of them.  I need to transform my work/life balance into a life/work balance.  I need to 'work to live' not 'live to work'.  I read Andy Tharby's post about 'becoming a happier teacher' and this made me consider how I could make choices to bring the time I spend on "life" closer to the time I spend on "work". 

An ex-colleague of mine, who is also a wonderful friend, started working with me during my NQT year.  We were both getting married and working every hour that we possibly could.  When we weren't working, we were wedding planning.  That school year was bonkers and then the following year OfSTED (booooo!) turned up.   The next year, she had a baby.  I don't have kids and recently she gave me some brilliant advice about my life/work balance (as I am now calling it).  She explained how she cannot imagine how we filled all that time with work because she manages to complete enough work for her job and  have time with her children; quality time.  Gently, she encouraged me to consider what life would be like with kids - of course I would make time.  Her point was that I should make that time now. But not make it for kids; make it for me.  

I am trying some new things this year to improve my life/work balance and general well-being:
  • Removing work emails on my phone - This has made an enormous difference. I remember sleepless nights in the last few years because of something I have read at 11pm after accidentally opening my emails on my phone and loading my work messages. 
  • Removing all phone notifications - I discovered how freeing this is when on holiday.  I turned off all notifications to avoid the massive phone bill from abroad.  When I returned home, I didn't turn any of them back on and loved it.  Notifications were coming through from Twitter and Facebook but it was the news notifications which were probably affected me most because they are rarely positive distractions during the day.  It's so refreshing to see a blank screen nowadays - I'll never go back! 
  • Drinking caffeine-free tea and coffee - I find caffeine not only reduces the quality of my sleep but also puts me on edge.  Switching to caffeine-free was easy and I am loving lemon and ginger tea as well. 
  • Burning candles, especially lavender - A friend recommended lavender for relaxation and I've found candles instantly make me feel relaxed and chilled. 
  • Trying to stop work at 8pm - I say "trying" because sometimes I know I will need to work later than 8pm.  Generally, though, I am turning the laptop off at 8pm and stopping work.  Last Thursday I found myself marking at 8:15.  It may sound silly but I stopped exactly where I was and stuck to my guns.  I marked the books the next morning and it didn't affect anything else in my teaching.  That proved to me what my friend had suggested - you can still do a good job with time away from work. 
  • One set of books home...maximum - In my experience, two sets never get marked.  If two sets need to be marked, I'll do the most important/urgent set.
  • Not checking Twitter/Facebook in bed - Like teaching, social networks can fill every hour of every day if we let them.  I'm trying to use them downstairs only so that when I head to bed my head is clear and ready to dream. 
  • Reading before bed - Reading takes me away to another place and keeps my mind firmly on something other than school; even if my choice of genre is crime/thriller!  I try to make time to read every night before bed even if it's just ten minutes reading one chapter. 
  • Going to bed on time - Sleep is important so I want to make it a priority.  I am trying to get to bed around 10pm so I can aim for eight hours every night.  That means recording later TV shows to watch at another (earlier) time! 
  • Prioritising exercise - Although after a day of work I just want to sit and chill, I am making sure that I get to my netball matches no matter how I feel.  I always feel better after playing so I'm forcing myself to go every week! 
  • Adult Colouring - Yes.  I've joined the bandwagon.  We'll see how it goes! 
I will update here and on Twitter as the school year continues but the overall aim is to be healthier, happier and more efficient.

Sunday 6 September 2015

#Summer10 Debrief

1) Get better and relax - Things are still not perfect and the summer holidays hasn't had the curing effect that I thought it would. However, it has been good to not have to worry about work.  I'm still taking things one day at a time and I'm staying positive! 

2) Read...alot - I have definitely managed to do this! I'll include some of the books I've read below and a mini-review! Please note: None of these books are suitable for children.

Someone recommended Rachel Abbot to me as I like crime/thriller books.  This was superb and exactly what I enjoy reading - it was fast-paced, easy-to-read and unpredictable.  It turns out this is the author's fourth book so I look forward to reading the other three.

I had no idea what this book would be like but I was recommended it and so downloaded it onto my Kindle.  The best description I can give of it is that it's like Room by Emma Donoghue but at the other end of life.  Written from the perspective of a forgetful older lady who is trying to find her friend, Elizabeth.  I would say it was a charming read but not as fast-paced and exciting as some of the others that I read this summer.

This was quite simply a cracking read.  This book starts with a tragic hit-and-run in which a child is killed before spiraling down some surprising story lines!  I can't say much more but it was a brilliant book.

I was recommended this by a lot of people who said it was exactly my type of genre and they were right.  When trying to persuade my husband to watch the movie with me, I described it as 'like 50 First Dates but after the happy ever after'.  Christine wakes up everyday with no memory beyond her early twenties.  It was a great psychological thriller! The movie was also good but very different.

The Letter was a very easy-going holiday read about a woman who discovers a 40-year-old letter in a pocket of a jacket.  She tries to trace its owner whilst battling her own struggles. It wasn't life-changing but was a fairly-good read.

I've also read books 5 and 6 in the Roy Grace series by Peter James.  I love his books as they are in the style of James Patterson but are set in and around Brighton, a town local to me!

3) Read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - I am half-way through this book and absolutely loving it. It's a must-read for all women and Sheryl's message is that we should lean into our careers and not let the fear of rejection or failure stop us from pushing ourselves to the limit.  

4) Catch up with friends - Thankfully I have managed to get out and about and see quite a few of the friends that I hadn't seen much in the final few weeks of term.

5) Try yoga or pilates - I managed some morning stretches (pilates-style) and some water Zumba while on holiday in Crete.  

6) Tidy up & clear out - The house is still a mess but a few important things have been sorted.  Getting there...slowly but surely! 

7) Fall back in love with running - Hmmmm - I haven't done so well with this one. The closest I've come is stewarding a 10k race at the back of the runners.  This will continue to be an aim for this term! 

8) Family time - I've had lots of this which has been lovely. 

9) Bake / Cook / Make - I've had the chance to fix and alter some clothes to make them wearable and have done a bit of cooking. 

10) IT Logins - I have really started to do this and have got quite far.  I've also managed to delegate some of this and my final step is out of my hands so this is pretty much done! 

Friday 28 August 2015

RIC Reading Lesson Starters

RIC starters are short tasks at the beginning of a whole-class reading session which help children practise the most important reading skills.  RIC stands for Retrieve, Interpret and Choice.  These activities require children to read, watch, observe or listen to a stimulus, often a piece of media, and then answer some questions.  Below, I will introduce the stimuli, three questions and how to write them before explaining how the logistics of the activities work in my classroom.  I will show a RIC based on a video and come up with some potential questions which could go with it however you can view over forty examples of RIC activities on this blog post

The Stimulus
This can be absolutely anything but here are some examples of what we have used:
  • movie clip
  • trailer
  • poem
  • song
  • paragraph from book
  • blurb
  • photograph
  • cartoon
  • unusual object
  • front cover of a book/dvd/cd
  • TV clip
  • jingle
  • advertisement - poster and TV
  • newspaper and magazine article
  • image from book/newspaper/magazine
  • short interview script.
The Questions
The questions are labelled R, I and C, standing for Retrieve, Interpret and Choice.  
Retrieve - This question must be something that all children can access and answer.  It should be something very clear because this question helps children to realise that a lot of reading questions are obvious - they just have to retrieve it.  It might be a number, a colour, something the children have to count, a fact or something they must spot or listen out for.  
Examples: How many birds are in the video?  What colour is Juliet's dress?  How many ballet shoes are made each year? When does this film get released?  
Interpret - This question should require children to use clues from actions or events.  The answer should not be obvious in the media but should require some deduction and/or inference.  Questions about feelings or reasons behind actions are quite common.  With a sensible guess, children should be able to have a good attempt at this question.  The RIC logo for interpret has him holding a key.  This is because children have to unlock the answers from the clues given.
Examples: Why did he go down that road? How is the rabbit feeling? How did they get out? 
Choice - This is the hardest question to write - please be careful with this one.  It is important to say that this question should always be about the creator's choice, not the choice of a character in the movie.  Questions about a character's choice would be Interpret questions because children use clues from actions and events.  Think about the creative elements which have been used to have an impact on the observer.  The question should encourage children to think about why the creator made that choice so they can transfer this skill to thinking about the author's choice in books. 
Examples: Why did the director use this music?  How has the composer made you feel scared? Why did the producers put the information in text instead of spoken word? 

The Delivery
In our lessons, this is how the RIC starter is delivered.  
  • Children stick the RIC into their Reading books - this means the questions and potentially the stimulus appear alongside the questions.  This is to help them remember the questions while they are answers because sometimes there is something else on the board.  It also helps parents, staff and OfSTED (boo!) see what the questions and stimulus were for that activity.
  • Children look at, watch, listen to or read the stimulus. 
  • Children answer the questions - all children are expected to answer the Retrieve and attempt or guess the Interpret question.  Children move onto the Choice question if they have time; normally they do.  
  • Children switch to a gel pen.  Read more about this here
  • Use lolly-sticks or a similar method to hear children's responses to the Retrieve and Interpret questions.  Children mark and correct their own answers and we go over a quick explanation if some are confused. 
  • Children put up their hands to offer their response to the Choice question.  Lots are often keen to do this and we go over different answers in a lot of detail, discussing as a class why they are correct or not.  Most of the response time is spent on this.  Children mark their own and add to their answers from the responses given.  We praise children for using their gel pens to write successful answers and they respond to this.  Sometimes we combine answers to write a perfect response and children all write this down. 
This takes between ten and twenty minutes to complete in lessons however sometimes, when there is a lot to get from a stimulus, we will have stand-alone RIC sessions which are longer.  

The video below is an interesting one in terms of how it is shot.
Potential Questions:
R: How many ballet shoes are used each year by the Royal Ballet?  How much does the Royal Ballet spend on shoes each year? What colour are the ballet shoes? How do they stay on the dancers' feet? What tools does the first worker use? 
I: What is the camera being? Why does the screen go dark halfway through? Why does the Royal Ballet spend so much on shoes each year? 
C: Why did the Royal Ballet make this video? (Focus on the word "support" at the end).  What is unusual about how the director chose to shoot this video? (Perspective of the shoe).  Why did the director chose to shoot this video from the perspective of a shoe?

Children would have something similar to this stuck in their books:

To find out more about RIC and our move from carousel guided reading to whole-class lessons or to download the resources and logos for free, click here

Sunday 23 August 2015

Whole-Class Reading FAQs

Recently, my school has moved away from carousel "guided reading" lessons and we have been teaching reading skills in whole-class lessons. It has been an interesting process and we are still adapting and tweaking to improve; it is by no means a perfect solution. I've blogged about it throughout the way and have shared resources but people often have questions about certain elements. Here, I will try and answer some of the most common questions.  Some answers will link to previous blog posts so all links will open in a new tab so you can keep reading here as well. 

What is whole-class reading?
Very simply, it is when reading skills are taught in lessons similar to maths, science, art and music, with the teacher teaching the whole class and ensuring all children are challenged through differentiation of language, instructions, activities etc. as appropriate.  

Why move to whole-class reading?
Rhoda covered this in her post called Our Solution To The Problems With Guided Reading.  The two biggest reasons people consider moving is because it takes up much less teacher planning and preparation time and children produce a lot more work than in carousel lessons. 

How do whole-class reading lessons work?
I've answered that in this blog post. You can see a sample plan and download a blank version and all the resources for the lessons.

What is RIC?
RIC is a character which I made to help children remember the most important reading skills: retrieval, interpretation and commenting on authors' choices.  He is a Screen Bean and is used in the logos I made to brand the main reading objectives of the new curriculum.  You can download all the RIC resources here.

What are the main reading objectives for the new curriculum?
For KS2, I have adapted to the old APP AFs for the new curriculum. They are: retrieve, interpret, (author's) choice, viewpoint, perform, review. You can read more about how they came about in this post.

Where do you get the learning objectives from?
We take them directly from the new National Curriculum, using the RIC assessment sheets to help us.  You can see more about the assessment sheets and download them here

What is a RIC starter? 
It is a short activity used at the beginning of reading lessons to help children use the important reading skills (retrieve, interpret, choice) to answer questions about some form of media; it could be a short paragraph, a poem, a song, a film clip or trailer, a photograph or cartoon or one of the short films from The Literacy Shed.  The idea is that all children can answer the retrieve and interpret questions and that children add to their answer as they hear others' responses.  The "Choice" question can be about the author's choice or a creative choice made by a director, photographer, lyricist or artist.  There are a lot of examples of RIC starters to view and download here and a whole blog post about creating RIC starters here

How often and how long?
Mostly, we have one-hour lessons twice a week. Sometimes we have had three sessions in a week and occasionally we have long RIC sessions (half an hour rather than the normal ten minutes) if there's a really good one from which we can get a lot of high-quality discussion. 

Are the lessons extra to your English/writing lessons or as part of those?
This really requires a whole other blog post about how our English lessons are organised.  Our reading lessons are in addition to any writing or SPAG/grammar lessons. 

What about the really poor readers?
You need to ensure every child is challenged at their level.  That means, for children who struggle to read, you may need to adapt the activity so they can still meet the lesson objective.  It could mean using a smaller extract or changing some of the words.  They might have a matching activity or filling in the gaps to simple retrieval sentences rather than writing a paragraph in response (as your highest ability might).  Their activities tend to focus more on word reading and understanding rather than the interpretation of texts.  Think about what you would do in maths for those who struggle and transfer that to reading; it's not that dissimilar.  To help you, there's an example of a lesson with some very poor readers here.  Also, it's important to mention that these children still get phonics input each week or day (as appropriate to them) on top of the reading lessons in class.

How are the higher ability stretched?
We have found that whole-class lessons demand more complex written responses to texts from children. We have seen analytical paragraphs from 8-year-olds, including quotes and explanations of texts, that we ourselves wouldn't have written until we were at secondary school. 

How do you assess Reading in whole-class lessons?
I feel there are three types of assessment which we do in relation to reading lessons. Firstly, during the lesson we circulate and give advice, address misconceptions and ensure children are suitably challenged.  As with other lessons, we look at books and mark according to children's success and next steps.  Finally, we get our reading assessment data using the RIC assessment sheets which you can download and read about in this post here.

How do you choose texts?
There are three main ways in which we choose texts. Either we focus on word level, our current theme or the children's interests.  Books like Charlotte's Web and Matilda have been chosen because they contain many words from the year 3/4 word list and language of a similar complexity as well as being just above the general reading ability. We have chosen texts about ancient Egypt or Rome when studying those civilisations and likewise have used river poems or mountain-based news articles during geography themes.  We have also been known to plan single lessons on subjects like ballet, horses, Lionel Messi and dragons at the request of children - they love learning reading skills through their favourite things! With all texts, we use the curriculum word list as a basis for the difficulty we look for.

How do you resource books/texts?
We have used a variety of texts in year four over the last two years of whole-class reading. We've done single lessons or a short series of lessons based on poems, song lyrics, newspaper articles, online articles and blog posts, none of which require any money.  Also, being a school, we have made use of the 5% of books that we are allowed to copy so have copied sections of books for each child - most of the time is this a paragraph or double page.  Each year, we have bought a half class set of books to focus on for a few weeks.  We have 16+ copies of Charlotte's Web, Matilda and Romans on the Rampage.  These we have bought with travelling book fair money or through the English (Reading) budget.  When we are focusing on one book for a period of time, we let the children know in advance what it will be and some of them choose to bring their own copy in or to get it out their local library; this increases the amount of copies we have in school. 

Who reads the text?
Sometimes it is the children independently, or in pairs.  At times children read paragraphs aloud or read a sentence at a time and occasionally the adults read the text aloud or play an audio version of the text.  It all depends on what the objective is and what is most appropriate for what we want children to achieve. 

What do KS1 do?
I will try and get a KS1 year leader to write a bit about what they do when we start back in September but I'll do my best. Currently, our KS1 children have daily phonics lessons; we use RWI and children are streamed.  Year One have added in a few whole-class phonics sessions to ensure all children get exposure to all the relevant content for the (stupid) phonics screening.  KS1 children also do some RIC activities as a class every week. 

How do whole-class lessons fit into your timetable?
We have two hour-long reading lessons each week and we fit in two independent reading sessions.  During these, teachers and TAs listen to children read and we can pick up on any misconceptions and help children choose new books.  Below is a sample weekly timetable so you can see how this fits in around other subjects.  English-based activities are in pink.  Maths-based are in blue. For Theme lessons, I've indicated which subject is being covered.
Click to enlarge.

Can I come and see a lesson?
The simple answer to this is yes you can.  I'm near Brighton, if you can make it to me then I'm happy for you to come and watch a lesson, nosey in some books and have a chat. Many people already have.  Contact me on Twitter or email me if that's something you'd be interested in. 

If you have a question that hasn't been answered here, please leave it in the comments below and I will add it in! 

Saturday 18 July 2015

Lessons I've Learned About Parenting

I am not a parent.  I am a teacher.  However my four years of doing the latter have given me some insights into preparing for the former.  So here are the things I've learned about parenting from being a teacher.  Please note: I am completely aware that this is easy to write but less easy to actually implement but hey...a girl can dream! 

Lesson 1 - Make "no" mean "no".
It is very easy to identify the children for which "no" often turns into "maybe" and then "yes" through a series of whinging, sulking and shouting.  At school, it only takes a few chances before they realise what the expectations are and they stop the silliness...mostly!  Don't give in. Fight it until it works. 

Lesson 2 - Read as often and as widely as possible. 
In my experience, the best readers are the best writers and the best mathematicians are often confident readers.  This is because children who are exposed to lots of books not only steal words, phrases and ideas but also absorb an awareness of how to entertain their reader so the quality of their writing is higher than their non-reader counterparts.  Also, much of how maths is assessed requires some form of reading; therefore the logically minded need good reading skills to show their maths ability.  

Lesson 3 - Give them money and a watch.
Generally, children are similar across the different skills in maths.  However, in telling the time and dealing with money, there is no way to predict how good they will be.  That is, until you know if they wear a watch and get pocket money.  Children who do, wherever they stand with maths, are very good at both.  

Lesson 4 - Play board games and card games and let them lose.
There are so many benefits to this.  Firstly, it keeps them off the screens for a short while.  Also, it encourages communication with other children and adults.  It is clear to see the children whose parents bubble wrap them and allow them to be the winner all the time.  Helping them to deal with losing early on in life will support them in their friendships and play.  Lastly, most card and board games require mental maths: number complements and bonds, sometimes fractions or percentages and everyday maths.  Monopoly is a personal favourite for encouraging a plethora of skills. 

Lesson 5 - Keep them safe online by talking to them. 
In parenthesis: don't just use filters.  In fact, consider not filtering content at all.  The best form of e-safety is communication; in school and at home.  Ask your children what they are doing online, go on their device with them, recap and review their history together and deal with any incidents as a team.  Make accessing the internet in a public part of the house the norm.  I have experienced first-hand the dangers of letting your children roam the world wide web with no supervision and have seen the shocked look on the faces of parents when presenting them with evidence of their children's less-than-angelic online activities of which they were completely unaware. 

Lesson 6 - Make rewards and sanctions appropriate.
This sounds obvious but you need to find what ticks for your child.  The carrot is generally better than the stick but don't threaten something that can't be followed through. Ensure sanctions really make them stop and think but ensure you don't take away things which are good for them or important.  

Lesson 7 - Know when you're being played! 
All parents think their children are angels.  I get that.  I'm sure I would too.  However, it's important to know when you're being taken for a ride.  Believe that teachers generally want the best for your child and accept that sometimes your child might be in the wrong.  

Lesson 8 - Take the TV out of the bedroom.
There's not much to say here except consider whether that screen needs to be the same place as where they sleep?  I've been concerned when parents have told me their child is struggling to sleep.  When I then hear phrases like, "he/she stays up all night watching the TV in bed," I struggle to sympathise.

Lesson 9 - Abide closely to the ratings on video games, movies, TV shows and websites.
Ratings are allocated for good reason.  Children learn their behaviour, good and bad, from things they experience.  Bad language is quickly picked up and repeated by children but it is the violence and numbing of emotions which have a less obvious but more profound effect on a child.

Lesson 10 - Share jokes, puns and quotes.
The children in my classes who have had the best general knowledge of the world are ones who get my funny comments and laugh along.  They have heard songs from throughout the decades and have watched classic films as well as the new ones.  Their families have a laugh and joke and they don't take themselves too seriously.

Teaching and parenting are completely different ball-games.  I'm sure you can be good at one and not at the other.  These lessons and more will stay with me as I continue in my teaching career and, perhaps, will come in useful one day a bit closer to home!