Thursday 29 December 2016

Perspective #Nurture1617


Last year, I wrote about how we were moving, literally and metaphorically, from an odd to an even year.  Given the world news from 2016, it couldn't be further from the even, plain-sailing year I was hoping for.  Similarly, my personal year hasn't been the easy, trouble-free year I was expecting as cancer reared it's ugly head in the form of a serious diagnosis in my very small family in January.

Needless to say, that news made this year difficult.  Family has always been important but this year it became highlighted further as we gathered around to provide the best physical and emotional support possible.  Around us, friends and colleagues lent a helping hand and a listening ear when needed, and my husband was wonderful in his support.

Many of the actions I had put in place to improve my mental health came further into play as I tried to cope with helping during the unfolding diagnosis, treatment and care.  Running the Race for Life to raise money for appropriate research gave me a positive focus, as well as getting me out and about pounding the pavements to keep fit; again supported by amazing colleagues and friends. The treatment went as expected and, thanks to a brilliant NHS team and lots of prayer, the visible cancer mass and cells are now gone.  

Also, it goes without saying that this year has provided further perspective to life and work.  Many friends who are teachers and parents have often said to me that, when they had children of their own they took a different view of teaching.  They no longer did everything possible to be a better-than-best teacher; they simple did what they needed to in order to get the job done.  It would be fair to say that the journey my family have taken this year has given me a similar perspective.  Rather than living to work, I'm working to live. 

This year, hasn't all been doom and gloom, though!  Here are six highlights from 2016 - three teaching related and three non-teaching related:
  • Joining forces with Twinkl to deliver a Facebook Live video about Marking and Feedback - this was such a buzz and has been watched over 10,000 times on various platforms. You can watch it here.
  • Discovering this blog about teaching by Mr Nick Hart.
  • Bumping into a pupil from my class in the streets of Sydney, Australia over the summer holidays. 
  • Going to the 10th Birthday performance of my favourite musical, Wicked and having a magical backstage tour of the show. 
  • Discovering that Tesco now sell frozen avocado halves
  • Netball Super Saturday launch of the 2016 Superleague season.  My netball club have gone from strength to strength this year and I know 2017 will be a bigger year for us. 
I've enjoyed another great year teaching and learning in the classroom.  Incredible memories have been made in and out of the classroom and, despite all the challenges, I think I love teaching more than ever before as 2016 draws to a close.  


Here are seven things I'm looking forward to in 2017: 
  • Moving House - this is now definitely happening, hopefully in January!  
  • TeachMeet Sussex - we have two events planned in this school year.  Thursday 2nd March in Rustington and Thursday 9th June in Horsham.  Visit the website to find our more information and sign up to come along.  
  • Reconsidering Reading - I've written lots about my school's move from Guided Reading to whole-class reading lessons.  This year, we are tweaking how we teach reading (again).  I can't wait to try out the first set of new lessons and see if we can help children further love and understand the books they read.  
  • Publication of Making Every Primary Lesson Count - I always imagined that if I wrote a book, it would be a thrilling murder mystery story similar to those I read regularly.  This year, I was honoured to be asked to co-write this book about primary teaching with a colleague. It's been a big learning curve but a great experience. I can't wait to hold a copy of it! For now, it is available to pre-order on the Crown House website!
  • Y4 Production - Without a doubt, putting on a production with 90 children is my favourite time of the year.  However, I am (literally) always ill.  This year, I aim to get through the Spring Term without one day off sick.  Wish me luck! 
  • Treasured Family Holidays - We have a couple of family holidays planned to make memories and share important time together.  
  • NAHT Edge Advisory Council - Recently, I've joined the advisory council for my union, NAHT Edge.  It's a union specifically for middle leaders.  I'm looking forward to our first virtual meeting and seeing what we can achieve together. 
You can read all my previous nurture blog posts here.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Feedback: Principles and Strategies to be Effective and Fast (VIDEO)

Recently, Twinkl asked me to do a Livestream video on their Facebook page.  I chose to speak about Feedback and Marking as I feel these areas are quite misunderstood in primary schools and I've learned a lot about them since qualifying.  These misunderstandings lead to a huge workload which doesn't have a great impact on children's learning.  In the livestream, I shared principles and strategies for ensuring feedback is effective and fast.

You can watch the video below. Apologies for the slightly out-of-sync audio.  You can watch the original video on the Twinkl Key Stage 2 Facebook Group (request to join and one of the Twinkl staff will accept you).

I am doing a similar livestream about whole-class reading in the same group on Thursday 26th January at 8pm so make sure you request to join the group before to watch live. 

Saturday 19 November 2016

From Prearranged to Unannounced Observations

My school has recently changed how it organises performance management observations and I love it.

Previously, we had two hour-long observations throughout the year.  We were told well in advance when they would be and there was often some negotiation about the time of them if they fell on something we'd rather not be observed in.  Originally, these lessons were graded but, as OfSTED stopped doing that, so did our SLT.   It all sounds reasonable and fair...doesn't it? 

However, it wasn't.

It wasn't reasonable for teachers to spend longer planning that one lesson than all the others combined in the week.  It wasn't fair for (some) teachers - me included - to get worked up, stressed and sometimes ill with the pressure of that hour.  It wasn't fair for the SLT to see those teachers who can keep their cool perform beautifully and tick all the well-known observation boxes while others were struggling to hold it together.  But, most of all, the snapshot of learning which the SLT were observing was far from a reasonable picture of what happens in every lesson.  In fact, it was a complete farce.  

This year, it was announced that observations would take place every half term.  They would be completely unannounced and would be undertaken by any member of the SLT.  We were given a four or five week window in which we could be dropped in on and we soon realised that this was going to be in a random, unpredictable order.  Six observations a year with no warning or extra preparation time.  It all sounds very stressful and unfair...doesn't it?

However, it isn't.

It isn't stressful as there's nothing to get stressed about.  There is no time we are aiming for.  There is no over-planning to do; neither are there extra resources to make.  We just continue to do what we do everyday - we teach and the kids learn.  And, providing that is good enough, there shouldn't be any problems.  As word spread around the school during the first round of observations, there was a slight air of anticipation.  For me, that was nothing in comparison to the nerves, worry and sleepless nights I've had prior to some prearranged observations before.  It's far from being unfair because our SLT are seeing teachers in their normal lessons.  No one is doing anything fancy to show off, no one is at an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how they cope and the feedback we receive is much more useful in our everyday teaching.

Understandably, not everyone is as positive about the new arrangements.  If you've always done well in observations, suddenly being watched unannounced must be a bit daunting.  However, as a teacher who has always struggled with the 'show off' nature of prearranged observations and the pressure to 'perform', this new system suits me perfectly.  Also, as a middle leader, I feel drop-in observations mean the SLT have a much clearer picture of what is happening in classrooms everyday and can really tailor where we are heading as a school from a truer starting point.

I previously wrote about grading observations - read that post here

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Running A Primary School Council

For the last few years I have been the staff representative on our KS2 School Council.  It has been expertly run by our Deputy Head, Sue, and I always refer people to her on Twitter when they are interested in starting one in their school or changing how theirs works.  Having watched and learned how to ensure the School Council is effective in its purpose, I've included in this post how Sue has run ours for many years.  

Who is involved?
After short speeches, every class elects two representatives by a secret vote at the beginning of the year.  These same two children come to every meeting throughout the academic year.  Also present are representatives from the SLT, teachers, teaching assistants, governors and parent/teacher association.  Pupils reps are identified by a School Council badge and their photos are displayed in our main corridor.  There are two School Councils; one for each Key Stage.  We are a large 3-form entry primary school so this makes it easier to manage.  In smaller schools, a School Council could included representatives from every class instead. 

How often and how long are meetings? 
The school council meets approximately once a month.  For most adult representatives, this isn't a problem.  For me, it means I need to be covered for the hour-long meetings.  This cover comes from our headteacher, assistant head or SENCo.  We meet in the hall and tables are set out in a square with representatives sat in year groups along each side of the square.  

What happens in meetings? 
Each meeting has an agenda, created by Sue, and is chaired by a different pair of Year 6 representatives each term.  These children are given a short script to help them run the meeting smoothly.  For each item, the Year 6 pupils announce what will be discussed, share some information and then go around the tables to hear pupils' suggestions, ideas or opinions.  We often have votes to make important decisions.

At the end of each meeting, there is always time for "Any Other Business".  Favourite topics for this section are toilets, break-time snacks and, currently, Pokemon cards however we have had some very useful and important suggestions made when the floor is opened up.  After all, this is the point of a School Council; to give children the chance to be heard and learn more about what happens in school.  
School Councillors vote each year on our school charities, suggest and organise fundraisers and communicate such information with their classes.  They were the first to view our newly built wing of the school and often find out exciting or important school news before their peers.  The teacher rep (me!), takes the minutes of the meeting so that there is a record of what was said and decided. 

What happens after meetings? 
The minutes from the meeting are shared with all members of staff at the school.  Also, the Year 6 leading reps take a copy of the minutes to every class for the reps to put in their School Council folder.  Each pair of class reps is given time in the classroom to share with their peers what was discussed in the School Council meeting.  Sometimes, they must collect ideas from the class to share at the next meeting or have a vote to share the results.  This is also the opportunity for their classmates to raise any other business which they want raised with the School Council.  Some children have specific jobs to do after the meeting; for example, speaking to the premises officer or receptionist about a problem.

Below you can see an example of the minutes which shows the matters for discussion in one of our recent meetings.  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below or to tweet myself or Sue.  

Click to enlarge

Sunday 9 October 2016

Whole-Class Reading and RIC in KS1

In sharing ideas, resources and lesson plans about teaching reading in whole-class lessons, the question I am asked most often is about KS1 and how it can work there.  This post will hopefully answer that question and give you some information and resources to demonstrate how it works.  Also included at the end are the Year 1 and Year 2 Reading Objectives organised under RIC headings and a link to the folder which contains all Key Stage 1 resources for you to download.  Two colleagues, Laura and Sophie, have helped me put together this post so my thanks must go to them for their time, permission and expertise. 

In our school, children are taught to decode through daily whole class phonics across KS1.  This is important because it allows children from all phonics groups to access sounds  and words which they wouldn't necessarily be taught in a streamed sessions.   As it is taught as a class,  the children are placed in groups (on paper) for the knowledge of the teacher.  The children can then be questioned appropriately and moved along at their own pace.   They are assessed regularly (every half term) to gauge which sounds they have learnt and which they have missed allowing the teacher to pick up any gaps.  

In addition to daily phonic sessions, the children take part in a small-group reading session with an adult.  In this session the children are grouped according to their phonic ability, this allows the focus book to be at the correct level for each child.  This is similar to the group with the teacher in traditional carousel guided reading sessions.  Over the week the children are introduced to the story, adults pre-teach the vocabulary they need and groups discuss similar events in their life with predictions based on the title.  Follow up sessions include reading the book at least 2 times with a final session based on comprehension skills using the RIC objectives - depending on the level of the child this can be verbal, written multiple choice or traditional written questions. 

Year One - RIC
Two or three times a week, Year One children sit down together before home time to complete a Read with RIC session.  During this session they decode some real words, some alien words (you can thank the Phonics Screening for that) and read a book together.  They use the RIC logos to answer questions about these texts which require them to retrieve, interpret and predict.  In the autumn term, this session is completed verbally with a main focus on retrieve.  As the term progresses, the focus changes to interpreting and predicting with RIC. In the Summer term, the children move to producing written responses to these RIC questions.

Year One - Whole Class Reading
Whole class reading is carried out through texts we use in our Literacy lessons, using a rich and broad text to teach English reading and writing objectives.  The children become familiar with the text through drama and speaking and listening activities so that all children can then access the text and even read specific sections despite it being a challenging text for the children to read independently.  Activities always include an aspect of comprehension understanding at both word and sentence level with a writing outcome.  For example, We're going on a bear hunt.  We use this text to teach contractions, prepositions (word level work) jumbled sentences, sequencing (sentence level work) and the children write their own version after going on a bear hunt in their school environment.  

The slideshows below show a Year 1 Read with RIC session from the Autumn Term and then one from the Summer Term.  You can see the progression, not only in the sounds referred to in the decode section but in the expectations in the RIC questions.



Year Two
At the end of Year Two, the expectation from the government is that children should write responses to questions about texts.  Therefore, phonics sessions and verbal reading groups will not suffice to prepare them for this.  Children are introduced to RIC activities similar to those used in KS2.  Some of these use visual stimuli such as videos and images however the focus is mostly on text-based stimuli, as per the assessments children will take towards the end of the year.

In whole-class sessions, children complete RIC activities in a RIC book which are then marked and discussed in the session.  Some of these RICs have more than one question per objective so children practise answering such questions more frequently and, as the tests approach, general reading comprehension questions are mixed up so children get used to recognising question types without the logos.  RIC sessions also mean teachers can address the interim framework statement about linking the book they are reading to others they've read.  Year 2 teachers base RICs on videos and cartoons as well as texts which are familiar to children such as traditional tales.

The slideshow below shows some RIC activities which Year 2 have used.  Children write answers to these in a RIC book which, nearer to SATs, is used for comprehension test practice too.

As with KS2 classes, I've made the following objective sheets for KS1.  These can be downloaded  in PDF format from the link at the end of this post.  Please see this post for how these objective sheets have been used in KS2 and let me know in the comments below how you use them in your KS1 class.  As well as listening to children read and asking them questions verbally, tests form an important part of how we assess children's understanding of what they've read.
Year 1 Objectives
Year 2 Objectives
Year 2 Interim Framework Objectives

You can view and download everything mentioned in this post (including all the slideshows, assessment sheets, RIC examples and more) by clicking here (go to RIC Activities for the slides and Objective Sheets for the assessment pages).
To download items, click the down arrow in the top right-hand corner.  I will be adding to this folder over the coming weeks.

Sunday 2 October 2016

Going A.P.E. (Replacing P.E.E.)

For the last few years, I've been searching for a replacement for P.E.E. to help children answer longer response questions in reading.   I think it's a little silly to have an acronym for children which has two letters the same; it makes it harder to remember the letters.  Last year, I played around with using What? How? Why? as a format but, again, children forgot what each section meant they had to do.  Not satisfied, I continued searching for a solution.  

Recently, I found a post-it note on which I had scribbled down 'Answer it, Prove it, Explain it'.  It turns out, on Googling, that this isn't a new concept so I thought it was definitely worth a try.  Having made some posters hopefully making it clear to children, this is what I'll be trying this year.  The idea is that all children in KS2 should be taught to answer questions with reference to the text (Answer it and Prove it) as per the National Curriculum.  As they get older and more mature, including an explanation of links with other parts of the text and prior knowledge becomes important.  

Below you can find a poster explaining A.P.E. and some posters with sentence starters.  I'll be printing off the main poster for my cupboard door and printing some small versions of the sentence starters to go on tables during lessons.  Feel free to download and use the posters which are available in JPEG and PDF format in this folder (or click the RIC Resources link in the side bar).

I'll keep you posted on how it goes...

Through Twitter, I have heard that many people have started "Going APE" in their reading lessons, throughout KS2 and KS3.  Many have used APE for interpret (deduction/inference) questions including alongside Read with RIC lesson starters.  

Alison used APE in maths to help children answer true/false or yes/no questions.  This inspired me to create an APE poster which could be used in maths and a blank one which could be used for any subject or adapted.  

Image from @AlisonHogben on Twitter

PLEASE NOTE: This post was originally published with the image of a monkey on the posters. This was due to me struggling to find a cartoon APE with the appropriate copyright terms.  

Monday 19 September 2016

Times Tables Tracker

Why is it necessary? 
Once children have a solid understanding of place value and are ready to manipulate numbers, instant recall of times tables facts is vital to enhancing their speed and fluency in mathematics.  Each year, children would come into year 4 with differing times tables knowledge.  It was difficult to know where each child was at and how best to help them.  For this reason, I've been keen to have something in place which tracks times tables knowledge so we know what children can do and, more importantly, what they are struggling with and help them.  For the last few years, we've experimented with various reward schemes similar to something my previous school did and this year we've launched the finished product (if you like!) across KS2.  

How does it work? 
Based on a suggestion made by Stephen Lockyer at TeachMeet Sussex, we've created an order of learning linked to different awards.  Children learn the multiplication and division facts linked to the times table they are working on.  On a given day each week, they complete a test with 40 questions.  In Year 4, they have 4 minutes to complete it however the time given can easily be adapted for different year groups.  We decided 6 seconds per question was long enough for them to think and write the answer but short enough for them to not be able to count up on their fingers.  

When the time is up, children swap tests and mark someone else's. To help with this, we created booklets of answers to all the tests however once some children have finished the tracker they can help with marking.  They move onto the next test when they get all the questions right and they revise all previously learning times tables before completing an award.  We encourage children to keep all their tests so they can see themselves improving even in the weeks when they don't get them all right.  Children can monitor their progress on an individual tracker (we use stickers for this) and teachers can update a class tracker each week.  This takes around 10-15 minutes each week, especially once the children are in the habit of it. 
Individual Tracker
Class Tracker
What do you need to use the tracker? 
Firstly, you need to download all the resources in this free Google Drive Folder.  These include:
  • All the tests (and an editable version),
  • A tracking card for children to keep (and an editable version),
  • An editable letter to send out to parents with all the information,
  • A class tracker for teachers to use.
Also, some stickers are useful to keep children motivated.  We use these diddi dots on the tracking cards and these stickers (click the links) for when Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond awards have been completed.

Children can practise their times tables for free on by ticking the correct boxes and choosing the appropriate settings.  We also use Times Tables Rockstars to compliment the tracker.  A feature on Times Tables Rockstars means you can split a rock band (year group or class) into five sections.  We've named these sections after the awards and scheduled the appropriate times table to each section.  Children are put in the correct section then are practising the correct multiplication and division facts when they play online.  

Times Tables Rockstars Schedule

Sunday 18 September 2016

Lessons I Learned About Teaching from my Teachers

Brand the learning (sometimes) - Mr Hawke (Year 4)
I went to lots of holiday camps and clubs as a kid and loved them.  I can still remember some of the crazy/weird/cool names they gave to sections of the entertainment; we knew what was coming and responded accordingly.  Mr Hawke's class sometimes felt like those except we were learning.  He would have certain activities, comments and routines which happened the same each time.  They were branded and therefore familiar and memorable.  I remember him responding WDYT to many questions (what do you think) and regularly drawing his own awesome cartoon faces, Brainboxes, on brilliant pieces of work.

Times have changed in education so I'm sure my class doesn't feel like they are in a holiday camp, especially when learning inverted commas and subordinating conjunctions, however I try and ensure there are some parts of the learning they can guarantee they'll recognise.  The RIC reading activities we use are an example of this and I took up Stephen Lockyer's advice of branding your class name.  

Like your kids and be likeable - Mr Paine (Year 5)
Do you have to be likeable to teach kids well? Probably not.  However I loved my year of being taught by Mr Paine and my sister enjoyed her year equally.  He cared for his class and showed this in his teaching.  We were regularly given cards to take home and show off to our parents.  I remember feeling really safe and happy in school when I was in Mr Paine's class. This is how I want the pupils in my class to feel.

Ethos is key - Mrs Miller (Year 6)
I was so sad to leave primary school and head to secondary school.  This was because Mrs Miller had fostered an ethos in our class which meant we were all equal, all important and all in it together; we were a team.  She did this before Carol Dweck had written Mindset and before Ron Berger had shared his views on excellence.  The amazing thing is that I can't put my finger on exactly what she did and how she did it. All I know is that she created the most amazing ethos in the classroom and I will spend my whole career attempting to emulate her.  

Know your stuff and love it - Mr Grindlay (A Level Music)
Mr Grindlay let me take A-Level music despite the fact I hadn't done the GCSE or my Grade 5 theory test.  At the time I just wanted to learn a bit more about how music worked and thought doing the A Level was the answer.  Not only did I learn the intricacies of music, I also learned that the best teachers really know everything possible about their subject and are hugely passionate about it.

Now, if I were a secondary school teacher, I would have learned that I need to know my subject inside out.  I admire deeply the work of secondary teachers I encounter on Twitter and in real life (!!) who are absorbed in their subject and highly knowledgeable.  

As a primary teacher, however, knowing our 'subject' inside-out requires knowing pretty much everything!  Instead, it's important to understand the exact meaning of each of the words we use in English and Maths lessons.  I try and be one step ahead of the kids when in comes to non-core subjects and up-to-speed on current trends and changes in my specialist subjects.  As for being passionate; this is fairly easy for most elements of the primary curriculum because it's quite fun to teach.  Art has been a real sticking point for me but modelling a growth mindset in my art lessons has helped to turn this around a little! 

Look at work and let pupils know you've checked it (a.k.a. give feedback often a.k.a. mark work) - Mrs Fleming (Y7 Latin)
I'd never learned Latin before but in that first year I learned a lot, mainly because Mrs Fleming always checked our work, homework and vocabulary tests.  We knew exactly how well we were doing, what we needed to do to improve and she showed us how to do just that.  Knowing she would check up on me made me practise and work hard for her.

Marking is only one weapon available to teachers in the "feedback" arsenal however I feel it is an important one.  Therefore I try and ensure children's work is looked at and, when appropriate, marked.  I have some very quick ways of doing this which ensure the children and I get the most out of it.  There's no point me marking if pupils don't read, respond and reflect on it so I try and make time in lessons for them to do this regularly.  

Go off on tangents if you need to; it's okay - Mr Walsh and Mr Reid (English)
I remember Mr Walsh telling us about an eventful trip to Edinburgh (I think), including detailed diagrams.  Mr Reid spent a whole lesson with us discussing the powerful make-up of many English expletives after discovering the phrase "pointy reckoning" in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  He showed us the hard consonants used and, yes, he was saying the words over and over again - always a winner with a bunch of teenagers! 

When reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my class, I discovered most of them hadn't tasted Turkish Delight.  The next day, I bought enough for the whole year group to try so they could appreciate the story.  We did some data collection based on their reactions and found different adjectives to describe it, deciding if we agreed or disagreed with C.S. Lewis' choice of words.  Sometimes, it's important to delve deeper into something which isn't prescribed by the curriculum or evidenced in your planning.  I find these are often the best lessons.

Friday 2 September 2016

Emoji Visual Timetable

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

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

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

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

Friday 19 August 2016

We LOVE Reading (for pleasure!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 10 July 2016

Mixing It Up - Mixed Ability Grouping in my Primary Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The activity is the same for all children with different forms of support available.  I often use my three-tiered tray set to help organise this.  Sometimes the options for support for the activity are just displayed on the board or discussed as a class, other times I put resources to support children in the trays (e.g. word mats, sentence starters, questions, writing frames, 100 squares etc) occasionally corresponding the colours to the level of support but mostly the colours don't mean much. Children know where they can go for more support and, as much as possible, I try to ensure children can aim higher throughout the lesson if they are confident, removing supports to encourage independence.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 3 July 2016

A School Year Of Books (Y4)

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

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

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

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

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

Matilda Musical Programme

Thursday 30 June 2016

10 Reasons Scribbleboy is the Best Kids' Book Ever

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 12 June 2016

10 Reasons Monopoly is the Best Educational Board Game Ever

In a previous blog post, I urged parents to play board games with their kids because many help children to practise maths and social skills.  For KS2 children, I believe Monopoly is the best board game to support learning. 

Here are 10 reasons why:

1) Compliments to 10 and number bonds - With ten steps along each side of the boards and two dice, children are forever practising these simply but vital mathematical skills.  Encouraging them to jump the steps and count up to the next corner can enhance their speed and fluency. 
2) Multiplication - (utilities) Multiplication skills come in handy when a player must roll a dice and pay 4 or 8 times the amount rolled.  Also, many elements of the game use multiples of £50 (cost of houses around the board / rent on a station).
3) Doubling - Once someone has all of a set, the rent payable is doubled.  In most sets, this amount isn't specified so must be calculated by players. 
4) Adding/subtracting money - One of it's most obvious benefits for children is the understanding of money transactions, including change.  Put a child in charge of being the banker, be patient with them and watch them become faster and more confident with maths.
5) Percentages - When a player is really short of money, they can mortgage a property.  Once they are ready to return it to play, they must pay the banker the mortgage amount plus 10%.  This amount must be calculated by the player. 
6) Multiple Editions - Whether you like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Disney or Minions, there's a Monopoly board for all! 
7) Entrepreneurial skills - When most of the cards have gone, some bartering and negotiating must take place to secure a full set.  Players must decide which sets could be the most profitable as well as considering the cost and benefits of building houses and hotels.  
8) Rent - Quickly, players learn that nothing comes for free.  If you want to stay somewhere, you must pay them rent.  
9) Taxes - The chance and community chest cards help children to begin to understand taxes.  I remember playing as a teenager and adding in a "pension" element to the game too! 
10) Chance - The most important thing that children learn is that, mostly, life is about chance and that you never really know what's around the corner. You just have to adapt and make the most of what you've got.  

Sunday 5 June 2016

10 Free Websites I Couldn't Teach Without

In this day and age, free websites which save time are worth their symbolic weight in gold.  Here are a few which I use weekly to plan, teach or organise my life!  All are free and most require no login or setup.  Click on the title of the website to visit it - it will open in a new tab.  In no particularly order:

Michael's curriculum website is my one-stop shop for all things new curriculum.  This lays out the whole 2014 UK Primary Curriculum in a simple but easy-to-navigate format.  Whenever my team are considering which objectives we are yet to cover or exactly what we should be teaching, we always make a quick check to this website.  

2) Trello
I have previously written about how discovering Trello has literally changed my life.  As a self-confessed to-do list junkie, this online tool, which syncs across browsers and apps, has meant I can mostly ditch the paper-based lists.  Read all about it here and then sign up and start saving time! 

Rob has created a brilliant site full of short video clips.  These are ideal for inspiring writing and reading activities as well as being a lot of fun for kids.  Clips are organised by genre but are easily searchable.  Rob has also kindly included many curriculum ideas based around the videos.  

If you ever needed any proof that music inspires productivity, just watch my children tidy up with and without this countdown created by Russel.  The Mission Impossible and Star Wars countdowns are our favourites but I also like introducing the children to some other famous pieces of music included for longer countdowns.  

Some may ask why I require two separate timers on this page.  Honestly, I've never really thought about it but I use this site almost daily as well.  It contains a countdown and a stopwatch, can be used in full screen, and it can be inserted into PowerPoint presentations with a simple understanding of Flash and HTML.  I use this to countdown our times tables tests, arithmetic papers and for a silent timer (it simple rings when the time is up).  The stopwatch can be used to time how long it takes to complete various loop cards around the room and get ready for lessons or events, always aiming to beat our previous times.

These maths teaching resources, which originate from the now-extinct 2002 National Numeracy Strategy, may seem quite old-school.  The NNS has since be replaced and archived but these interactive teaching programs can still be used to teach many elements of the 2014 curriculum.  When we start a new unit, I always check here to see if there is a simple, pictorial way of demonstrating the new concept for children.  As well as the interactive hundred and multiplication squares, the Fractions and Thermometer ITPs are particularly useful.  

7) Wibki (Links to my Y4 bookmarks) 
Wibki is an online bookmarking tool which makes it easy to provide links for children to access from various devices.  Websites can be organised into sections (on the left) and Wibki automatically finds the logo to go with each link.  It is completely free to sign up and children just require the URL to access the bookmarks.  Only the teacher with the login details can edit the Wibki page.  I have yet to find a bookmarking tool which does a similar job but better.

8) Pinterest (Links to my pin boards)
If you don't have Pinterest, there's a good chance you're a hoarding teacher; keeping things just in case you may need them later in your career.  Whenever I find a brilliant teaching idea (or recipe!) on the internet, Pinterest is the place I go to save it.  Using virtual pinboards, you can save images and return to them at a more appropriate time - no need to print and file.  I've written about the Wonderful World of Pinterest and how to use it as a primary teacher here.

9) Top Marks
This website has a plethora of educational games and teaching tools.  Some are hosted on the site and others are links to tried-and-tested activities on other websites.  A few highlights are the Moving Digit Cards (for teaching multiplying and dividing by powers of 10), the Calculation Balance (which has an enormous amount of options to choose from) and the brilliant Hit The Button game (doubles, halves, times tables, square numbers etc)

10) BBC Bitesize Primary
The BBC have an extensive selection of resources based on many subjects and topics.  There are teaching tools, interactive sections and revision games.  If I had to only keep one part of their site, it would have to be the Dance Mat Typing section.  As a child, I learned to type using the Mavis Beacon CD Roms - the free, online BBC lessons follow a very similar pattern and children feel they are making progress very quickly.