Sunday, 6 August 2017

Getting Ready For September

Edu-Twitter and teacher Facebook groups are awash with photos from teachers' classrooms that have been prepared for the new academic year. While I admire their dedication, I do worry about when they switch off. Having said this, I have seen several very useful ideas on Twitter and far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their summer.  I am barely coming out of the end of term fog that descended on  me as I crawled to the end of the summer term. I also realise the irony of wondering about when teachers switch off while writing a blog post about teaching.

For what it's worth, I wanted to share how I intend to prepare for the new year in September in case it may be of use to anyone else.

I spend some time in the summer holidays thinking about what routines I need to put in place with my new class at the start of the year. These don't vary much but I think it is important to reflect on them and tweak them as it is such an important thing to get right. In the first few days of September, I will try to get these firmly established as it saves so much time later.

This is something that I think about a lot. I have tried various systems for organising resources and seating. I have tried rows, groups, pencil pots, having nothing on the tables at all. Which method I have used has often depended on the class I am getting rather than just using the same system every year. I try to aim for minimum movement and minimum distractions in order to maximise lesson time. This year, I am going to try having plastic zip wallets for each child with all the resources they may need. I'm also going to make bound booklets of resources for children to help themselves with their writing. Both of these ideas were ideas I saw on Twitter.

My displays will be minimal to start with. I will add to them as we do the work in class. I am not a fan of word walls. Often the words are too small for the children to read anyway unless they go up to them which goes against my minimum movement ethos. Secondly, if they are single words out of context, they are pretty useless anyway. I have seen word walls with lots of conjunctions on them that are of little use as an aid for the children as it doesn't have them in context. If a child wants to use 'because' from the wall and you have to explain how it is used then it defeats the object of it being an independent resource. All of this is why I prefer the bound booklets of resources as the children have them to hand and they can read them. You can also differentiate them if necessary.

I am going to spend time reading both children's books that I want to use in class and one or two 'teacher' books. It is my choice to do this and I enjoy doing it.

Apart from a short meeting with my year group partner at some point, that is all the preparation I intend to do for September. I would like to start the year re-charged and ready to go. We all prepare in different ways, do what works for you.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

How To Create A Reading Culture In Your Classroom

When I was a young(er) teacher, I found the teaching of reading quite difficult. I was trained when the National Literacy Strategy was first introduced. Everybody was using the carousel and big books. I never felt completely happy that I was getting it right. Some children read at home, some didn't. Significant groups of children that passed through my hands never seemed that bothered about reading, they saw it as just another lesson.

Having reflected over the years and tried to refine my approach to the teaching of reading, I have come to realise that for it to be really successful, it is a good idea to try to create a reading culture in your classroom. A culture where children are excited by books, where children know about books, where children are eager to discuss what they read including playing around with vocabulary they find in books. This blog post is my way of explaining how I have gone about creating a reading culture in my classroom.

1. Moved from a carousel approach to whole class reading. 
I know this can be a contentious issue but I just find whole class reading works better for me. This has been heavily influenced by reading 'Reading Reconsidered' by Doug Lemov. In my teaching of whole class reading, I have used techniques from this book successfully. While there are some fantastic novel studies on, this can create a resourcing issues as even enough books for half the class is costly. I agree with Ashley Booth (a children's literature expert) that extracts can often be the way to go, downloaded from places like (which is unfortunately disappearing at the end of July) as this means every child can follow the text as it is read. The film VIPERS on would also help with this issue as would any film-based reading. Anyway, I am not going to preach the case for whole class reading here. Just to say that it seems to work well for me and the children I teach.

2. Early Finish reading.
On each group table in my classroom is a basket of books that the children have chosen from the classroom library. It is there so the children can easily reach for their book if they have a spare 5 minutes after finishing a piece of work or at the start of the day/after lunch or any other time when they are not being directed to do something else. This is a book they have chosen because they like it. I don't control their choice other than to try to keep my classroom library stocked with good quality books. To go with this, they have a plastic wallet where they record the books they have read with a simple star rating review system and space for a short comment if they want to. This has to be kept an eye on initially to stop those children who flick through a few pages and then change the book. However, once the expectations are established, this doesn't tend to happen.

3. Reading to the children
I read to my class every day. I can't over state the impact that this has had. Children tell me it is their favourite time of the day (even better than playtime - ok, maybe not). When I read the first Stitch Head book by Guy Bass, the children loved it so much, many of them went to their parents and demanded that they purchase the entire series. It has also led to children sharing books with each other and in some cases, donating books to the class library. It is a great way to discuss vocabulary that comes up and sneakily hit other comprehension objectives.

4. Home Reading Chart
Like many classes when they reach Year 4, the amount of reading done at home varied a lot with my class. I had a chart on my wall where the children were given a star if they read a book at home. It didn't have to be one from the reading books they take home from school as long as their parents signed to say it had been read. There were no fancy certificates, I just use as a way of the children being able to see hoe much they are reading and to celebrate those that are reading lots.

5. Extreme Reading
This is where the children send in photos of themselves reading in unusual places. It is a bit of fun but I use it as a way of encouraging the children to be thinking about reading and books as much as possible and for them to appreciate that reading is an enjoyable activity.

I know none of this is ground-breaking but it has all contributed to making a class of fairly reluctant readers into a class that, in the majority, are enthusiastic about reading and have made excellent progress in their reading.

Monday, 20 March 2017

3-0 Down With Five Minutes To Go

On Saturday, I attended the second annual Primary Rocks Live event at Medlock Primary School in Britain's greatest city. Actually, I am privileged enough to be part of the organising team. As a result, my experience started on Friday afternoon. This involved a few hours setting up 200+ chairs, shifting thousands of musical instruments and being told what to do by the legendary Sophie Merrill. The event itself from us in the organising team felt like a roaring success. This may seem arrogant but I attribute that success in the most part to the people that came to learn, to speak and to network. Us organisers merely provided the platform.

For many reasons that I won't bore you with, teaching has become a very challenging job to be in at the moment. In the past, it was challenging but in more positive ways. If teaching were a football match, sometimes it can feel that you are playing for the team that is 3-0 down with only five minutes to go and desperately trying to find a way to claw yourself back to a respectable draw.

So, at 9.30am on Saturday 19th March, we were 3-0 with five minutes to go. Then Gaz Needle stepped up and delivered his battle-cry. This definitely rallied the players and we were all suddenly up for the fight.

Next, was Paul Dix who smashed one into the top corner with his wonderful presentation about how to aim for adult consistency when tackling behaviour. 3-1 Things were looking up, there was a chance we could do it!

Up stepped the first round of speakers in their workshops. The corridors emptied at lightning speed as people dashed to make it to their first choice of workshop. All the rooms were crammed full of eager people soaking up the ideas. 3-2

In the afternoon, after a hearty lunch (yes, I used my access to the kitchen to snaffle an extra muffin), the workshops began again. Jungles were built. Ofsted's National Director arrived and was led to his room by a barely comprehensible me, trying to make small-talk. Gaz Had sent me with him as his tech support. Yet it was he who found the button to turn the Smart board on! I  rapidly retreated, mumbling something about there being muffins and ice-cream downstairs. Another great round of workshops rounded off with a brilliant keynote by Michael Tidd about marking and feedback. 3-3

After Rob Smith had closed the day, there was a rapid clear-up session (much quicker than putting it all out on Friday) due to all the people that stayed and helped. Then we headed for the pub. This was where we started to network, New friendships were made. Old ones re-ignited. Positivity was everywhere. Like an extra-time header at the far post. 3-4, game won. The spark was back. Thanks to everyone that came, see you next year.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Beyond The Crib Sheet - An Idea For Low Stakes Assessment

I was thinking about the panel discussion from Primary Rocks Live 2016. The dreaded KS2 SATs was mentioned. Jon Brunskill suggested that we should have SATs every year. Jon is someone whose opinion I respect enormously and I found myself agreeing with this idea. It got me thinking about how this could be drilled down to low stakes assessment on a regular basis in the classroom. Recently, I saw a post on Twitter about a marking crib sheet. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the teacher who initially shared it but I thought it was a great idea. I thought, why not do a combination of the two. A quick system for assessing while marking that would act as a form of low stakes assessment which in turn would inform teaching and learning for the following week.

Anyway, I am not suggesting I am inventing anything original. In fact, I am using great ideas from other people (such as the afore mentioned teacher). This has led me to come up with simple assessment grids for English and Maths (see links below). I intend to use them weekly as a way of gathering data quickly following some form of assessment activity carried out by the children. In English, this might take the form of a long write/short write based on some form of stimulus and include elements of SPAG that you have been working on as part of the success criteria. For maths, I would ask the children to complete a weekly skills check in whatever form suits. This will include work covered that week and previous weeks.

When I collect the books in, I will then complete the English Weekly Assessment and the Maths Weekly Assessment. This will enable me to adjust my plans for the following week if necessary.

English Weekly Assessment Grid

Maths Weekly Assessment Grid

The 'Extra Mile' children mentioned in the grids would be the children who have exceeded/gone into greater depth or whatever you want to call it.

The 'Star Models' would be examples of vocabulary, sentences that you would like to share with the class in the following week.

Please bear in mind that this is my first attempt at this so it may need adjusting. However, I am going to give it a try next half-term. By all means feel free to use the grids in your classrooms.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Primary Teacher Reads

I'll be honest, before I became involved with Twitter, I rarely if ever, read 'Teacher' books. However, in the last two years, I have come across and read some excellent books. I thought it might be useful to share some of them as these are books that have had an definite impact on my practice. They are in no particular order.

1. The Secret of Literacy by David Didau - This book is a very engaging read offering lots of sensible advice about the teaching of literacy. It was through this book that I first came across the concept of Slow Writing which I have used in the classroom many times since with great results.

2. Oops by Hywel Roberts - This is a funny, practical book full of ideas about how to engage children in the curriculum using drama techniques and looking at things a little differently. Having met Hywel a few times, this book is a perfect embodiment of his personality. A wonderful book written by a wonderful bloke!

3. Teach Like A Champion 2.0 - This is written by Doug Lemov and is a collection of techniques that Doug observed the best teachers using. The best thing about this book is the way it provides ideas that you could use in the classroom the next day. There are also links to examples of resources and videos of teachers demonstrating the techniques. Although aimed at the American secondary audience, many of the techniques could be used in the primary classroom.

4. A Beginner's Guide To Mantle of The Expert - this is written by the wonderful Tim Taylor. It describes a concept first designed by Dorothy Heathcote in the 1970s. It is a brilliant book, explaining the theory and application of the technique along with resources to help you implement it in the classroom.

5. Making Every Lesson Count - By Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison. This is the best teacher book I have every read. It offers a wealth of sensible advice and practical strategies. It should be recommended reading for all teachers. The book identifies six key principles for effective teaching and learning and provides advice and ideas for delivering each.

If you start with these five, you can't go far wrong.

As well as these five, there are numerous teaching resource books I would recommend. For example, anything written by Mat Sullivan or Alan Peat will be extremely useful when preparing lessons.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter who lived between 1872 and 1944. He was a contributor to the De Stijil art movement founded by Theo Van Doesburg. He developed a form called neoplasticism. This is a white background with a grid of horizontal and vertical black lines and the three primary colours.

He began to  produce paintings in this form in 1919 while in Paris.

Here is a link to the painting for this week's Painting Talk discussion. It is called Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow from 1930. The series of compositions to which this painting belongs has been used in lots of other areas of culture such as fashion and even a Katy Perry music video. (Thanks Mike Watson)

Composition II in red, Blue and Yellow 1930

I have always liked pattern and order which is why I think this style of art work appeals to me. I like the contrast between the black and white grid and the bold primary colours. I like the apparent simplicity of it while at the same time being an impressive visual image.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Problems With Peer and Self Assessment

Self and peer assessment is very fashionable and has been for a while. Ofsted seem to like it, teachers seem to like it and SLTs seem to like it too. Having used a variety of types of methods of peer and self assessment in my teaching career, I am yet to be convinced of the impact they have.

As teachers look for ways to cope under the crushing weight of complicated marking and assessment policies, peer and self assessment can offer a helping hand. If the children mark the work then the teacher doesn't have to. Crazily, I know teachers who mark it themselves as well. Why would you do that, defeats the object surely. This brings me onto the first problem with self/peer assessment. Teachers, who are under massive pressure to prove they are doing a good job, are scared to leave any piece unmarked by them. This means that the marking by the pupil during peer/self assessment becomes largely irrelevant.

Secondly, there is the issue of time. Time has to be taken from lessons to complete self/peer assessment tasks. With the raised demands that come with the new curriculum, there is simply no time to waste. Ten minutes taken from a lesson to self/peer assess could be ten minutes used to further master the learning objective of the lesson.

Teachers have spent a lot of time training to be a teacher, they are professionals with a sound understanding of the subjects they teach. They are best placed to make decisions about whether a child has achieved a learning objective and what the next steps should be. I would argue that a pupil is not capable of making these decisions effectively or efficiently. A pupil can tell you whether they have found a particular activity easy or difficult. Does this matter? Does it tell you anything about their achievement? If you are teaching a child something they have not come across before, how can they decide whether they have learned it? Surely, this is judgement that must be made by a well-trained professional. Children can find evidence in their work to show they have met certain 'success criteria' but they cannot decide whether this means that they have achieved the objective.

Peer/self assessment forms part of a larger issue around pupil voice. I am not a fan of pupil voice even though it seems to be fashionable. In terms of assessment, that should be done by the teacher as the professional or if you really want to involve pupils as a discussion between pupil and teacher with the teacher explaining to the pupil what their performance in an activity means with regard to their  achievement/progress.