Sunday, 11 March 2018

Top-Down Planning: How does it work?

On Radio 2, Simon Mayo runs a segment called confessions in which people can call in and admit something they've done.  On his first such podcast of 2017, a teacher called in.  The teacher had taken a group of children to an athletics competition and he had been put in charge of manning the shot put area.  Students had come and gone having completed their throws but one particularly strong looking student turned up, chose his shot and threw it a huge distance.  At the end of the competition, the results were announced and that student had broken all historical records in the area for the shot put.  The student was put through to the national competition to represent the area. 

A few weeks later, and having put all thoughts of the competition out of his mind, the teacher received a phone call.  During the conversation, he was reminded of manning the shot put and, particularly, the student who had thrown the shot a great distance.  He said he remembered the student and was asked which coloured shot he had given the student.  The teacher replied, "coloured shots?"  He was then told that different shots held different weights.  Apparently, the student who went to the national competition representing the area based on his amazing throw at the local event had, to his embarrassment and that of his family, been completely unable to lift the shot at the regional final!  

I was reminded of this story when recently a teacher told me about an issue she had unearthed in her school.  A teacher had come from Y6 to Y5 and, in the previous year, despite all the data looking rosey throughout the terms, the schools SATs results had been terrible.  After a few terms and a lot of digging, it was discovered that the summative assessment results of students in her current Y5 class were not reflective of the age expectations for the year group.  This explained the opposing picture in the previous year's KS2 results.  The teacher and leadership team thought the children were all doing great and that there was nothing to worry about; there was no need for intervention or raising the bar.  However, this led to a false sense of security and a surprise when the national results were released.

The student in the first story couldn't lift the shot.  The pupils in the second story couldn't reach the expected standard.  Why?  Because the standards they had been held to were too low; there wasn't enough challenge.

When I was an NQT in Hampshire, I heard Ian Troup talk about top-down planning and it felt like a revelation to me.  During my teacher training, I had always been taught and shown how to plan by starting with the main bulk - the middle, if you like - and planning what activity they will do, before differentiating the work up and down for the higher and lower ability pupils.  Instead, Ian argued that for all pupils to be appropriately challenged, we need to start by considering what the most able pupils need to learn next and then scaffold the work accordingly for the rest of the class.  This is exactly how I have always planned and taught ever since.


This diagram shows how, when you set the bar of expectation high, every pupil can be challenged.  Our challenge then, as teachers, is to ensure that pupils can access the learning appropriately.  This requires scaffolding.

Learning is scaffolded when supports (of various different forms) are in place to allow pupils to access the same learning.  Pupils can have heavy scaffolding - in the form of a guided answer with missing information, perhaps an adult to help - or lighter scaffolding, which could include a word mat or having been pre-taught something.

Planning like this requires a different process to the type of differentiation I learned at university which was very much 3-way, top/middle/bottom and delivered in ability groups.  Top-down planning is more personalised while sticking with one main activity which the whole class can access.  It sounds like extra work but it actually isn't.  Rather than preparing 3 (or more) different activities, teachers just plan for one.  Their time can then be better spent considering individuals and groups in the class and what they may need in place to achieve the learning objective through the same activity.  Sometimes this can be through a tweak, some pre-teaching, resources, adult support etc.

I'd encourage you to try and teach to the top.  Keep the expectations high so that your pupils aren't missing their potential.  Make sure they are best prepared to lift the shot and reach the expectations, unlike the poor boy in the regional athletics competition!

Coming soon - Scaffolding: How does it work?

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

10 Uses for Google in the Primary Classroom

Since starting my teaching career, I have - so far - worked only in schools with Google Apps.  As I move to a new school which has a different cloud-based system, I wanted to pull together some things which I have found useful about the Google Suite.  I am sure I'll find, as I settle, that many of these things are possible with other cloud-based software as well.  Google Apps for Education is free and, after some set up, is fairly easy to manage.  I have always had a set of Chromebooks available. As Chromebooks are powered by Google, the Suite links flawlessly and logging in for pupils works a treat. 



1) Peer Assessment
Introduce pupils to the idea of showing their work to a friend using the Share option just once and they'll want to do this each time you use the Google Suite for work.  Pupils can control how much access their friends have using the "View only" or "Comment only" features.  It's important to show them the differences between "Suggesting" and "Editing" a document as this can cause confusions when pupils start to share documents with each other. 

2) E-Safety
Google Classroom forms a huge part of e-safety lessons.  We generally have two classrooms for each primary pupil: their class name which is for work and a "chat" classroom which is for their year group.  In the classroom for work, only teachers can post but pupils can comment. In the "chat" classroom, pupils can post.  This prompts discussions about what is and isn't useful.  We come back to only posting if something is necessary, kind or true.  In KS2, this is an ideal replacement for show and tell - rather than bringing in a trophy, pupils post a picture of it with an explanation on Google Classroom.  Teachers monitor the comments and posts and we regularly discuss these with pupils. 

3) Collecting and Organising digital work
Google Classroom makes it really easy for pupils and teachers to store and access digital work.  All "assignments" are saved in a folder in Google Drive called "Classroom".  One thing worth knowing is that, once pupils have handed an assignment in, they no longer have editing rights - it is passed to the teacher.  For this reason, I encourage pupils not to hand work in but to complete it and leave it so we can both continue editing later on.  

4) Learning essential skills for word processing
As well as regular use allowing practice of touch typing - an essential skill if you ask me - the Google Suite is organised in a similar way to Microsoft Office.  This means that pupils are practising the skills required to be successful in creating digital documents of different formats.  Ultimately, this means they can be flexible as they leave school and are ready to use different software. 

5) Questionnaires and quizzes (Forms)
The Google Forms app is great for collecting information and setting quizzes for the class.  Results can be views in a summary, which includes pie charts and bar graphs, or in a Google Sheets document.  I've used Google Forms to gather information from my pupils but I've also used it as an easy way of parents signing up for something - for example, requesting tickets to a show or booking a place on a workshop at school.  

6) Questioning
Google Classroom allows teachers to collect a huge amount of information from pupils almost immediately.  Children can comment on a post and read and reply to each others' comments.  They love doing this but it is so useful as a teacher. Rather than hearing from a handful of pupils, you can gauge the ideas of the whole class.  This is particularly useful for open questions or opinions. 

7) Gathering data (sheets)
Having a template Google Sheets document with the names of the class down one side makes it very easy to gather data quickly.  Children simply fill in the row which has their name on.  We've had 35 people editing the same document giving ideas and opinions.  They can all see each other's edits so it's important to consider when this is useful and appropriate. 

8) Collaborating
Pupils (and teachers) can work collaboratively on documents at home and at school.  I've found that this works best in pairs and is particularly useful in non-core subjects, when you want pupils to pool their thoughts and ideas with a finished outcome.  For example, in our Wisdom topic in R.E. last term, pupils collected quotations useful for life from their families and various sacred texts into Google Slides.  Doing this in pairs meant they could discuss the quotations and consider how to explain their meaning. 

9) Teacher Assessment
Providing pupils' work is shared with the teacher (this is automatic when it's set as an assignment in Google Classroom), the Google Suite is a great tool for assessment and feedback.  Teachers can use the "preview" option in a folder to quickly flick through the work of the whole class.  They can then provide feedback in the next lesson before pupils continue.  Alternatively, teachers can option the document and leave comments.  I use both options depending on the task, my expectations and how much time I have.  In my experience, children love getting comments on their work and are quick to edit and resolve any changes that are required.  Once a comment is "resolved" it is then archived but is available to view if anyone wants to see the trail of feedback for a document. 

10) Publishing work (Blogger)
Google's blogging platform, Blogger, is one I use a lot as it's so easy to publish posts and to create a collaborative blog.  Work can be embedded from Google Drive into a blog post with a basic understanding of HTML.  I learned this by searching "how to embed Google Slides in Blogger".  When pupils have a public audience for their work, it gives it purpose.  Blogging is the perfect means by which to do provide an audience and the great thing is, because it's a website, that audience is global.  Parents and governors can leave comments to further motivate pupils.  My favourite blogging moment was when a child's father, who was in Afghanistan with the army, commented on his son's work to congratulate him.  Pure joy! 

I'd be really interested to hear what you've done with Google or any other cloud-based system. Please leave a comment if you've got anything to add.