Sunday 27 March 2016

Back To Basics

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world - Malala Yousafzai

This Easter Sunday, we sat down to watch He Named Me Malala - the BAFTA-nominated film about a schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out for her right to an education.  To say it was inspiring would be an understatement.  It was a raw and thought-provoking journey through the life of Malala and her family.  The documentary had beautiful, unique animations to illustrate parts of their history as they narrated and it showed her to be as strong and courageous as her media persona suggests.  

Although the film contained audio and video clips of the Taliban's fight against girls' education as well as some graphic images of the resulting violence, it was the focus on education weaved throughout which struck a chord with me.   Especially now.  At a time when there is so much unnecessary change in UK education - so much discontent, discord and negativity,  it is helpful to go back to basics.  

Malala's father, Ziauddin, set up his own school in a rented building with $150.  His aim was for the pupils to learn what they would need for a successful and happy future.  After all, that's the aim of all education systems.  Over the years, the bare bones of education in the UK have been getting lost amid layers and layers of accountability, politics and power.  The government, OfSTED, curricula, examinations, league tables, data etc have been lumped on top with the promise of 'raising standards' and adding 'rigour'.  We're in an obesity crisis and we need to shed some weight.  We need to go back to basics.  Plan, teach + assess, repeat. 

I have often heard learning categorised as being 'just-in-case' or 'just-in-time'.  When children are learning 'just-in-case', they are storing that information or skill on the off chance that they might need it one day - for example in a test or a pub quiz!  When learning is prompted 'just-in-time', pupils are discovering new knowledge or skills because they need to.  After I read about the two different categories of learning, I set about aiming for that 'just-in-time' learning in my classroom everyday.  It wasn't easy fitting the curriculum in but we had some fantastic real-life projects which children loved and learned a lot from.  However, over the last few years I have found it increasingly difficult to avoid 'just-in-case' learning.  With the less-than-basic elements of the new English curriculum and some random additions to the mathematics curriculum, sometimes it feels like children are merely learning things 'just-in-case' they are asked about it in a test. 

Alternatively, Ziauddin's lessons in Pakistan would have been full of 'just-in-time' learning.  Children were learning things because they needed to - they had to.  This is how the UK education system  started as well, I'm sure.  Teachers on street corners helping kids learn what they needed - just in time for the next part of their life journey.  Undoubtedly, it was the hope of making such an important difference in the life of another which inspired me, and many others, to become a teacher.  We're in the job for the basics.  

Children, teachers, books and pens - imagine if you could forget the rest.  

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Book Bingo

The inspiration for this post is threefold.  I've been meaning to create a resource like this since this photo on Pinterest reminded me of a list I was given when I was in Year 6.  The list simply had some brilliant classic novels which I would never have picked up if left to my own devices.  From reading some of the texts on the list,  I discovered and fell in love with stories by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Some in-school reading moderation this week prompted me to take action and people's reactions to my original Book Bingo tweet reminded me to share the resources so here goes! 

These cards are designed to encourage children in KS2 to read for a range of purposes, to enjoy reading and have some fun as well as suggesting a range of authors and books for them to discover.  I envisage each box being stamped or given a sticker once it is completed and then children getting some form of award for completing four in a row or a full house.  On each card there is a WILDCARD box for children to get creative with the card's theme.  Teachers could give these to pupils in their class and parents could use them as a basis to help their child choose a new text.  

All ideas on the cards have come almost entirely from my own experience (with a bit of help from Twitter) so you are likely to disagree with some of my choices of authors or classics.  Therefore, I have included a link to download these and editable versions of them at the bottom of this post so that you can create your own.  If you do edit them and you are willing to share your Book Bingo cards, please do email them to me so they can be featured on here. 

You can download high quality versions of these Book Bingo cards as well as download an editable version of each one in the Reading Resources Folder

Tuesday 1 March 2016

4 Growth Mindset Myths

1) Hard work, alone, produces talent. If you've got a Growth Mindset, you can become smarter/faster/better than the best.

In reality, sometimes nature trumps nurture when it comes to ability.  I demonstrated this to my class the day after I went to watch England play Australia in the netball.  They know I play netball some weekday evenings and often ask me what the score was.  After I watched the international series match, we discussed as a class how I could get better at netball.  The pupils said how I could practise, work hard and put in 100% effort.  We then talked about the England squad and how, no matter how hard I work and how much better I get at netball, I will never make the squad due to my height.  At 5 foot 2My growth mindset in netball can make me a better netballer but it won't make me an England netballer.  

2) Growth Mindset in primary schools is about putting up displays.

I hear of (and see on Twitter & Pinterest) many schools and teachers claiming they are "doing" growth mindset in their school by putting up lovely displays.  I have avoided having any displays to promote mindsets and attitudes; partly because I don't have enough display space for it and partly because I don't want that to be the only strategy which I implement.   Nurturing and encouraging positive mindsets is about the language we use, the attitudes we demonstrate and streamlining our praise.  

3) Growth Mindset means only giving constructive comments, not praising.

When I was first introduced to the idea of mindsets, this was my understanding.  It didn't take long for me to realise how wrong I was.  Instead, growth mindset comments are those which praise effort and attitude as well as providing constructive comments.  I try to use the following words in my feedback, written and verbal, as much as possible: effort, attitude, progress, hard work, focus.  Mostly, these words are used to praise children and their mindsets.  

4) You either have a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset and a short questionnaire will tell you which one you have.

Some schools, when introducing the idea of a having a growth mindset, start with a quiz for children to take to determine whether they have a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset.  This can become like a label for that child. “Charlie won’t get it...he’s fixed mindset”.  There are two reasons why this is wrong - firstly, the labelling of children via a quiz takes me back to the learning styles era! Secondly, you can have a growth mindset about one subject, skill or activity and a fixed mindset about another. For example, as a kid I always used to love a challenge in maths.  It wasn’t about getting it right for me, it was about the process to get there. I loved writing pages and pages of algebra as I went through secondary school but I professed deeply that I hated art and couldn’t draw.  I would have a go...ONE go and that would be it.  Same with P.E. and running. I would choose to walk a race because I knew I wasn’t going to do well and would rather be seen to be an "opter-outer" than a "have-a-goer"!  I’ve recently taken up netball, stoolball and running and have really had to utilise all this growth mindset stuff but, once I did, I found I enjoyed it.  Art is how I really demonstrate Growth Mindset to my class. I talk through my thoughts and feelings.  You will recognise this in children in your class.  The children with a fixed mindset in a lesson will be quite obvious - the ones who copy or cheat, give up and those smart children who get upset when they get one answer/activity wrong.  Be careful not to label them as “fixed mindset” but keep in mind that, for that subject, some failure and guidance around it, is going to help transform their mindset.

I feel this short clip from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix really demonstrates Growth Mindset and it's power as well as dispelling (excuse the pun!) some of the myths mentioned above. As you watch it, focus in particular on Harry's comments and Neville's mindset.