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Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Many Roles of a Teacher

Teachers fulfil many varied roles throughout their career, from social worker to policy maker. But it is the amount of jobs we do in a day that is unbelievable. For instance I performed all of these jobs during my day today:

Teacher (or to be completely up to date learning facilitator) - teaching the prepositions 'a' and 'an' amongst other things.

Nurse - to several children with problems ranging from a cut finger to constipation!

Social Worker - supporting parents with both medical and learning difficulties via a quick chat before school and phone calls to other agencies

Policy writer - writing a new calculation policy in line with 2014 curriculum

Dictionary - providing no end of spellings to a couple of children who simply refuse to write a word they cannot spell

Secretary - typing up and emailing to Governors the said calculation policy

Tutor - delivering a booster lesson to a small  group of 'off track' children

Arbitrator - helping two children solve their differences

Planner - planning lessons (or was meant to but ran out of time) for next week

Playground supervisor - supervising over 90 pupils during break time

Play leader - playing and suggesting games on the playground

Police Officer - policing a class of 34 pupils so that they are able to learn


Its no wonder really that I go home at the end of the day pleading with my family not to speak to me for at least half an hour to allow me time to regroup!!

But do you know what? I wouldn't change it really!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Back to school Itis

“Back to school itis”… definitely exists all of us experience this, it is really a form of stress. Children and adults alike handle transitions differently from each other and many do just fine but the start of a new school year, term or even half term is a transition where expectations and work increase. Some of the symptoms of back to school itis are:
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep issues
  • Stomach pains
  • Nervousness/anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Depression
So firstly how do we the adults/teachers manage and combat these feelings? Academy Award winning actor Judi Dench said in an interview that she leaves her handbag near a doorway of any building she is in as an assurance that she can walk out at will.

But we are adults and have learned to deal with the feelings of panic in our own way, performing little mind tricks to help us cope. I have recently started Meridian Tapping  it is called tapping because you literally tap on endpoints of meridians on your body, while focusing on what’s stressing you. It’s a combination of ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. Latest research is showing that when we tap on these endpoints on the meridians, while focusing on the stressors in our lives, it sends a calming effect to the fight/flight part of our brain—the amygdala. So we’re retraining the brain to react differently to that stimulus of whatever is bothering us.

For a child, it is more difficult to first rationalise, and then make accommodations for their fears. Fear is fear. So what can we do to help our pupils? 

Ask parents to ensure they have looked after the basics.
Nobody copes well when they are tired or hungry. Anxious children often forget to eat, don’t feel
hungry, and don’t get enough sleep.

Avoid giving reassurance... instead, problem-solve and plan! Children often seek
reassurance that bad things won’t happen in order to reduce their worry. Do not assure them with
“Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!” Instead, encourage your pupils to think of ways to solve their problems. For example if they are worried about friendship groups allow time for a 5 minute chat with their friends during registration so that they can share things they have done over the holidays.

Focus on the positive aspects! - Encourage your pupils to re-direct attention away from the
worries, and towards the positives. Ask them to name three things that they are most
excited about on your first day of school. Most kids can think of something good, even if it's just
eating a special snack or going home at the end of the day. Chances are that the fun aspects are
simply getting overlooked by repetitive worries.

Keep them in the loop - After their catch up tell your class what they will be doing that day. I often find this relaxes them straight away because their is usually at least one thing that they will enjoy.

Have Fun - Most of my children have been fine but one or two had 'mystery' tummy aches yesterday and today so I decided to begin the day with a song, well it bagan as a song and quickly turned into as full blown song and dance! The song of choice was Pharell Willaims 'Happy'

Hopefully tomorrow is another day and most of the school itis will be miraculously cured. Well for the children at least!
 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Sharing best Practice

Teachers have a huge range of skills and tools that they use every day in the classroom, these tools and skills form for them their 'best practice'. This best practice changes constantly in line with their professional development, experience and increasing pedagogy.

Best practice is now being shared between like minded people from all around the world on Twitter, Pinterest and in events such as TeachMeets which are held regularly around the country. All of these are having a very positive impact on a lot of the teaching that goes on in schools and colleges. Ideas and resources are shared from country to country, county to county and town to town. We have become a much more global education community. 

Somewhere, someone is doing something different and getting a different result that is better. The best teaching, just like the best science and the best medicine, is a moving target. And so the process of pursuing best practice is just that: a process, something fluid and dynamic that we should all try to stay actively involved with as much as we possibly can.

Despite the recent explosion in Teachmeets and Twitter however for lots of teachers, teaching is a very personal matter that seems best explored behind a closed classroom door with no other adults present. These teachers also have vast amounts of best practice that they could share and yet will never attend Teachmeets and certainly would not use Twitter or Pinterest.

Perhaps this is due to the constant intrusions into classes by repeated observations which inform nothing and yet give no end of pressure along with the constant call for the for Outstanding lessons which merely focuses attention on single lessons rather than on teaching and learning as a whole. 

So how can we put this right? Get rid of S.L.T formal lesson observations, allow teachers to share best practice in their own schools via:

Peer observations - providing an opportunity for staff to discuss with, or observe, the teaching of a peer.

Team teaching - providing teachers with the opportunity to pool ideas, teach a lesson together and have a professional dialogue afterwards.

Staff meetings - providing teachers share an opportunity to share discuss their best practice with the staff in their school in an open forum.

Cluster meetings -  providing wider opportunities for informal gatherings of teachers to share their best practice in their school.

Maybe then teachers will feel more inclined to leave their classroom door open and share the huge amount of knowledge and experience they have in a safe and open manner which is beneficial to everyone, especially the pupils. It is important to share globally but it is also important to share in your own setting improving standards in our own schools and then beyond. 


Monday, 24 February 2014

No one rises to low expectations


 No one rises to low expectations



I have for 15 of my 16 teaching years worked in KS2, for at least 11 of these years I have taught in upper key stage 2. I know I have always had high expectations firstly of myself and also of my pupils. These high expectations are just natural to me but perhaps part if it comes from my mother. I am from a family of 8 children and my mother taught us that if we wanted something we had to work for it. We would not she would say be handed life on a plate, it would be what we made it.

Looking back on it now I can see that these were very wise words indeed. At the time I was probably annoyed because this meant tidying my own bedroom, doing lots of chores around the house from as young as I can remember and generally being responsible for my own actions. I left school with the basic CSEs and O'levels as there was absolutely no possibility of my parents being able to afford for me to go to college or university, in fact it was never even mentioned.

So when I left school at the grand age of 16 I immediately went to work and have worked non stop ever since. I only completed my education when my own children were in high school and even then worked whilst also raising my family to fund my education. I consider myself to be very fortunate in lots of ways, I am resilient and hard working and do not take anything that I achieve for granted. I set high expectations and achieved them at each stage. I have and will always work hard to achieve my best so it is only natural I suppose that I set the same high expectations for my own children and the children that I teach.

This academic year though, my first in KS1 has been they year that these high expectations seem to be magnified. I never have problems stretching the more able as I know what is expected of them the following year and beyond. Also because I was, as a primary pupil, always in the middle group I know how they often like to hide safely plodding along so I push them to their limit and beyond. As for the lower end of the class I probably push them the most as I genuinely believe for the majority of them they are only at the lower end due to missing out on a key area of learning for a variety of reasons and have to work hard to 'catch up' and this will not be achieved without that high expectation from me and from themselves.

Our class mantra is: Be Nice, Work Hard and Never Give Up. This pretty much sums up my tips for my pupils succeeding. Nothing can be achieved without working hard and if you give up you will never achieve your goals, as for being nice that is hugely important because charisma is the key to open lots of doors. Charismatic people.


So is it wrong to have high expectations? Yes, sometimes. Expectations like everything in education need to be matched to the child. If a child is overly anxious and the expectation is too high this anxiety could in turn lead to lower achievement but that is not to say that the expectation should not be there just choose carefully how and when you share that expectation. 

When parents and teachers don't expect enough, children rarely complain. However, they under perform and lose confidence in their abilities to achieve. They show symptoms of anger, anxiety, and depression. The new Federal Title I program is spearheading an attempt to raise expectations for disadvantaged students by accelerating and enriching curriculum. Much of what educators have learned about acceleration and enrolment from gifted education will be applied to educating children of all abilities. Although differing abilities and learning styles in children cannot be ignored, children may achieve more and fulfil adults' expectations if more is expected of them. High standards can be effective motivators. (Dr Sylvia Rimm)


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Classrooms without TAs?





During my sixteen year teaching career I have worked with twelve very professional TAs, both male and female. Although all very different in their skill sets they all without exception worked hard, daily going above and beyond with the hours they worked and activities both in and out of school that they supported.

I am not naive enough to think that all TAs are wonderful, no more than all teachers are and clearly some are better than others but I personally would have had a very different teaching experience without them.  The official description of the role of a TA according to the DfE can be found here http://bit.ly/1cB1GY2 what strikes me about the official description is how brief it is compared to what TAs do every day in classes around the country.

The role description also miss out what is for me the' key role' of an effective TA, that of ' riding shotgun' alongside the teacher. This essential role has its own criteria list:
  • A good teacher/TA relationship, an understanding that can best be likened to a classroom marriage
  • Planning together or at least close sharing and input into the planning
  • Trust, trust, trust from teacher to TA and TA to teacher with openness and transparency
  • A sense of humour 
If the teacher and TA are in 'tune' this opens the door for so many teaching and learning opportunities for every pupil in the class. Rather than always supporting small groups (still an important part of the role) the TA works hand in hand, side by side with the teacher, a true team teach situation. Some of my most, dare I say the dreaded word, 'outstanding' lessons have been as a result of this close working relationship with my TA. It takes many forms ranging from 'staged' discussions in front of pupils about calculation strategies in maths, to role plays for History lessons.



I know that some teachers find it hard to relinquish their 'sole teacher role' feeling threatened by sharing planning. They like to keep their TA at arms length and even out of the room as often as possible in some cases. I think this is a real opportunity missed though perhaps it is understandable, teachers are so regularly 'de-professionalised' in the media and by politicians that for them the only thing they have left is to feel in total control in their classroom they need to feel that they can shut their classroom door and keep the beast out and unfortunately the relationship with the TA suffers as a result.


Why have one person directing the teaching and learning when you can have two? Batman and Robin, Morecambe and Wise, Laurel and Hardy, Ant and Dec? Cagney and Lacey? Which dynamic duo are you and your TA like?


Friday, 21 February 2014

The most used tools in my teaching toolkit


All teachers have a toolkit of those tried and tested tools that they use in their classrooms regularly. The toolkit grows constantly as we absorb ideas from our fellow teachers in our own educational setting, on Twitter, Pinterest and if we are lucky from courses we attend. 

Here, sorted under headings, are some of the most used tools in my toolkit:

Behaviour

The Great Behaviour Game - an online game which accumulates points constantly, unless paused. Points can also be added for anything you choose. It is displayed on the whiteboard allowing the pupils to see how they are getting on. My class love it! 

Postcards home - the daily winner of the Great Behaviour a game gets a postcard home. Popular with pupils and parents.

Assessment

Lolly sticks - avoids hands up and keeps all pupils on their toes as they have to listen in case they are chosen to answer the question. I use these in two ways, firstly random picking of the sticks after I have asked a general question or I pick the stick before I ask the question so that the question can be differentiated to match the pupil.

Traffic lights - these are used in a variety of ways but mainly on the whiteboard with the lesson objective above. At the beginning of the lesson pupils put a post it note, with their name on, where they think they are, then at the end of the lesson, they move their post it note to where they think they are now. It provides a very quick, visual means of both teacher and self assessment. 

Pose, Pause Pounce, Bounce - again a good tool for quick assessment of pupils understanding but also as a great pre lesson assessment to gauge understanding of a new topic. I pose a question, pause allowing thinking time, pounce on an individual, pair or group, then bounce it to another individual or pair allowing for either an addition to the answer or a different answer.

Reading

Reading Eggs/Eggspress - used both in school and for homework it really helps improve reading. This is really clear from the comparison between the levels of those using it (all abilities) to the levels of those that don't. The children enjoy using Reading Eggs because of its simple to use format which regularly rewards them with points and eggs which they can spend on items in the shop to buy items of clothing for their avatar or furniture for the house. It is also useful as an assessment tool as the children have to take a quiz each time they complete a map and this is easily tracked by the teacher.

Reading journals - the children in my class have a reading journal to keep track of what they have read, to whom, how much and how they have got on. It also serves as a reading activity book because when they finish a book they have to complete a reading activity based upon the book as homework. They are expected to complete an activity a week. If they have not finished a book they still complete a mid book activity. This book helps us to keep track of reading in our rather large class and provides great assessment evidence. 

Reading Buddies - during silent reading the pupils in my class are allowed to choose a reading buddy (cuddly toy) to keep them company. I have been amazed at how something so simple works so well. The  buddies have really helped my pupils to develop real reading stamina which was something that due to their age they were quite poor at.

Writing

Friday Books - the success of Friday books has been phenomenal.! The original idea came from Pinterest. The idea is that the pupils write a letter home to their adult at home every Friday telling them what they have done in school that week. The adult is then asked to write a letter back to their child which results in dialogue between adult and child. In a recent parents evening at least 95% of the parents said how much they look forward to Friday so that they can read what their child has been up to in school. These books have become, quite unexpectedly, a great way of showing progress in writing. Most of the children began in September writing in simple unlinked sentences but are now writing in paragraphs.

Maths

Mathletics - This is hugely successful as it allows the teacher to assign tasks which are linked to whatever they are or have been teaching. Live Mathletics is a great way of improving mental maths whilst Times Tables Toons helps the children to learn their tables through songs. Points are accumulated and certificates awarded from Bronze through to Gold. These certificates are then awarded in Headteacher Award assembly. Again their is a direct correlation between the progress of those children who use Mathletics regularly and those who don't.

Maths Probes - this is a way of learning anything ranging from number bonds to10 to division facts and times tables. The pupil has a question and answer sheet. The question sheet is stuck into their probes book and the answer sheet is kept in an envelope at the back of the book. They take out their answer sheet and hand it to a partner or their adult at home then they go through the question sheet, which is in the form of a grid, and their partner checks if they have the answer correct. If the answer is not correct their partner tells them the answer so that they can remember it for next time.This is to be completed daily for 5 minutes a day. It is simply another way of helping children to learn facts in a fun, none threatening way and due to the repetitive nature is often successful.

Other

Desks as Whiteboards - the children are given whiteboard pens and rubbers and allowed to solve problems, answer questions, draw shapes etc.directly onto their tables. This is very popular with all of the children in my class because they think it is really naughty. This can be used in so many ways and for a range of subjects. Fun and engaging!

Friday Song - Every Friday we start the day by singing along to our Friday song, The Candy Man by Sammy Davis Junior. The children race into school every Friday and rush to sit on the carpet because they really enjoy the whole Friday feeling it gives. It is a lovely way to end the week.

The list is quite exhaustive but I have tried to stick to the ones I genuinely use all of the time. If you have any you use please comment or tweet to let me know.




Thursday, 20 February 2014

Setting Goals




Teachers are excellent at setting targets for their pupils, we ensure these targets are personal and stretch pupils to achieve their personal best. They also help their pupils to understand the importance of having personal goals, this often comes at the beginning of the academic year and then again at New Year.

Personal goals for primary school children are often linked to things that they would like to do better such as reading, learning times tables, handwriting etc. Older children then begin to set goals such as passing an entrance exam for their next school, getting into a football team ... We help our pupils to understand the difference between short, medium and long term goals and the steps they need to complete to achieve them.

What most teachers are not good at is setting their own goals. They have targets thrust upon them linked to school performance and data. If they are really lucky they are then allowed to select one personal target but again we are encouraged to link this to the schools development plan. But whatever they are they are not really the goals they should all have for their future, not just professional or school development but personal goals to lead them to where they would like to be in their future.

The whole structure of pay scales and Senior Leadership Teams is altering constantly and Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) points are being phased out all of which leaves teachers with very limited room for professional development if they do not want to go along the traditional deputy/head route. If the leadership route isn't for you it can leave you feeling 'stuck' even the old authority advisory teacher jobs which you could be seconded to in the past are going. So what next? Goal setting!!

As a teacher myself  I looked into the whole deputy/head route and at one point convinced myself it was for me but after just one interview I quickly realised it really wasn't. I love teaching and see that really headteachers are now increasingly administrators managing budgets and juggling finances. That is not for me!

If you haven't set any goals recently at this point you may want to check out Action Jackson on Twitter @Actionjackson he is a motivational speaker and sends out regular tweets to encourage all of us to be motivated and take action! I listened and took action and set myself a short term goal of a blog a day for 365 days! I am doing my best but it is hard, my medium term goal is then to write a book with the subject linked to my experiences of teaching but the fine details not yet decided. I may even write a children's fiction book.

This week for me is half term and it has provided me with that bit of reflection time I do not get during term time and as a result I have had a bit of an epiphany! I truly did not know what I saw as my long term goal but lying in the bath today it came to me....

My personal long term goal is to become a Teaching and Learning consultant! There I have said it and once I set myself a target I will do my best to achieve it. I am absolutely passionate about my job but I know that in order to remain on top of my game I have to have goals, these will keep me motivated and up to date with current educational changes.

So to all of  you teachers out there, go for it, set yourself some personal goals. After all you deserve it!

Where have all the good librarians gone?



Books provide education, information, comfort, reassurance, companionship, laughter, tears ...... They come in and out of our lives from birth through to death. Access to books through public libraries provide access to this wonderful resource to all of us for free. 

Public libraries are currently under attack as never before. Quite apart from the threat of cutting council spending, many critics question the point of public libraries. With the advent of the internet and the ebook, public libraries are described as out dated. 

The National Literacy Trust says that:

"Children who go to a library are twice as likely as those who don’t to read well. It is not just picking up a book. It is the social experience of reading, talking about the books, browsing, comparing what you have read with family and friends. Librarians are gate keepers in that process. They open doors to new worlds, new possibilities. They ask library visitors to evaluate the information on offer. Most importantly, they give access to narratives. Children and adults do not just need information to thrive as thinking beings, but stories. Libraries are the temple of story. They are not in decline because of some natural, historic progression, but because of the monstrous cultural vandalism of savage cost-cutting. We will pay a terrible price for the behaviour of our masters.” (Alan Gibbons)

Libraries are where so many children discover what books they like best and become lifelong readers. They’re also great places for research. When I worked in Easterhouse library lots of local children came in to do their homework – browsing, reading and receiving help from the experts on hand, rather than sitting at home printing out reams of often irrelevant and undigested material from the internet.” Julia Donaldson, children’s laureate

I have visited libraries all of my life, as a daughter with my Mum, as a mother with my own daughters, as a grandmother with my grandson and as a teacher with my class. I cannot imagine being without libraries and if they are to survive they clearly have some challenging times ahead. They have to embrace new technology whilst cherishing the value of the written word, keeping that fine balance of past, present and future. 

One very simple thing I think they could do hugely better is with librarians. If libraries must change then so too must librarians. Gone are the days of the traditional stern librarian whose only job was to sort books and keep the noise down. 

I am sure there are lots of good librarians out there, I just haven't met them yet. My experience of librarians is not a good one.  They are pretty much like the picture above, stern , scary, unsmiling. All of which infuriates me! When I take my pupils and grandson to the library I want them to get that love of books that I have which will not be achieved by quite intimidating librarians. 

In our local library they have installed a scan in and out machine which is a novelty for children but I'm sure not as much fun as getting to date stamp your own books and get a little bit of human interaction and discussion about your carefully chosen books. I have visited many libraries and sadly my experience had been replicated in most of them. 

The librarians sit behind the counter or bustle about without any public interaction at all!  Librarians have a vital role in making the library an enticing place where children are encouraged to develop a love of reading and a thirst for knowledge. By offering a welcoming and friendly library, the right books and a range of book-related activities, they can help provide children with a love of books which is a gift for life. 

So come on librarians fight for your library as much as the public do, share the passion for books which I'm sure you have, interact, smile and who knows you might actually enjoy it. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Navigating the sea of Pedagogy


It seems teaching methods, pedagogy,  how pupils learn and the never ending quest for the elusive 'Outstanding' lesson are in the newspaper, on T.V. and all forms of social media daily. 

So what is pedagogy? Below are two dictionary definitions but beware it seems even the definition of the word pedagogy brings on a debate. 

the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept - Oxford Dictionary 

the study of the methods and activities of teaching - Cambridge Dictionary

So how do we, the teachers on the 'chalk face' survive this daily bombardment? How do we know we are doing the right thing? Below are some of my survival tips, the ways in which I navigate my way through the often rough perils of the pedagogy sea:

1. Use a variety of teaching methods - a good mix of collaborative learning, student led enquiry and dare I say 'talk and chalk' or maybe to be right up to date I should say 'talk and whiteboard pen'

2. Have fun - I really believe that happy, relaxed pupils learn better but even if this can't be proved statistically what I do know for sure is it makes my teaching experience better. It's a bit like being a parent having to suffer Butlins when you would sooner be basking in the sun of the Med. If the 'kids' are happy the parents are happy. 

3. Keep up to date with technology and all technological advancements - we live in a digital world and our pupils certainly do. We owe it to them to talk their digital language and prepare them to navigate the digital world safely. 

4. Use rigorous methods of assessment - marking shouldn't just be a 'policy' exercise but clear and purposeful. Use both assessment of and assessment for learning. You need to know where your pupils are and what they need to do to get to the next level. 

5. Teach topics which are relevant to your pupils - the children learn and engage so much in a good topic. Keep it to a specific focus i.e. Literacy, History or Geograhy led but encompassing as many of the other areas as possible. 

6. Get to know your pupils really well - this helps you to target them specifically, teach them using their preferred style and be in tune when they are having problems both in and out of school. Knowledge really is power in order to teach effectively. 

7. Have routines - children really do like to know what they need to do when they first come into school in morning, what happens when they finish a piece of work, who gives out the pencils etc. But also keep them on their toes by mixing things up now and again! 

8. Don't over plan - lesson plans should be structured around the learning objectives but should not be overly detailed because this doesn't allow for 'reactive teaching' those times when the children actually lead the learning. 

9. Be prepared to abandon all plans for unexpected events in the news. One of my best lessons came from the discovery  of Richard the thirds remains. 

10. Keep you professional development up to date - you really do owe it to yourself and your pupils. For me Twitter and Pinterest are my daily professional development. Pinterest provides a never ending supply of resources and ideas whilst Twitter keeps me informed about the world of education and connected with some great educators. 

11. Finally be confident in what you do - as long as your pupils are happy, engaged and making progress you must be doing something right!!

These are my top sailing the sea of pedagogy tips hope they are useful or maybe you can suggest some to add to my list.  

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Teaching the 24/7 Profession


The information about a national college of teaching has led me to do lots of thinking about our very noble profession. Anything which raises the profile of teaching and leads it back to a more respected profession can, in my opinion, only be a good thing. 

There are a vast number of professions that without argument deserve that respect: Surgeons, Medical Consultants, Nurses and Firefighters to name a few. These professions are commited and hard working often working long anti social hours. 

Of course teaching is a profession and  I would argue the only profession that NEVER switch off. I know the other professions work long and hard but being a teacher is more of a lifestyle choice than a profession. 

I am sure you would not find Firefighters taking their families along to 'potential spots for fires' yet teachers drag their families along on 'reckies' checking out potential trips' for their class. Making sure  the local farm really is suitable and has sufficient toilets and hand washing facilities for class of 5 year olds. 

Do doctors or nurses spend their days off trailing around second hand shops to buy  books to put on the ward? I doubt it but teachers do, they spend weekends trawling the local second shops for books suitable to appeal to 7 year old boys for their class library. 

I wonder if surgeons find themselves running up and down the aisles of poundstores buying packs of playing cards for their patients? Probably not but teachers do, they get excited at the prospect of buying basketfulls of what others see as tat but to them is pure treasure: balls of string, little plastic eggs, playing cards... The list is endless. 


Even a trip to the local supermarket becomes an opportunity to browse the stationary aisle for those essential Sharpie pens to label everything from pieces of art work to boxes containing the precious class lego. 

Teachers are the best recyclers, they hate throwing anything out and can be seen coming into school laden with empty cereal packets, toilet roll tubes and egg boxes for 'the junk area' 

Even the annual summer holiday is full of potential things to use in the class from leaflets and brochures for persuasive writing to photographs of landmarks for Geography lessons.  We must also not forget the regular trips to car boot sales for wet play games! 

So as you can see teaching is a 24/7 job. Teachers are a commited bunch or do they just simply need commiting? 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Parents Evening


For the next two nights I have parents evening. Tonight I have completed parents evening part 1 and with a class of 34 children that meant 17 appointments back to back! 

In order to ensure everyone has a slot the parents are allotted 10 minutes each. This means one of two things: 

Firstly you are doomed to get behind because inevitably there is a lot more that needs to be discussed about some pupils than others ranging from IEPs to behaviour, lack of homework etc. 

Secondly some parents arrive late because they have been to another teacher about another child and that teacher had got behind. A domino effect ensues. 

My first appointment was 3.30 and the last should have been 6.20. I am really pleased with myself because my last appointment actually came in at 6.35 so not bad at all. 

It is nice to meet parents because although you meet one parent regularly, usually the one who does the school run, it is rare to have met both parents. It is also fun to see which parent a child looks like the most, lots of Mini Me's. 


Parents evening can be stressful too, I'm sure we've all met those difficult parents. We are really lucky in our school though as the TAs support teachers on Parents Evening and that is a great help. My wonderful TA helped keep me on track with timings and took over talk occasionally about reading books, times tables etc therefore giving my voice a rest. 

Roll on Friday when not only will Parents Evening be finished but it is also half term!! Bring it on!



Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Boxing Clever with Alan Peat part 3

Today has been a very hectic but productive day in year 2 for both children and teachers! We have been continuing with our Katie Morag books using the structure of Boxing Clever.

We began our morning with page 3 of our books and box 3 of Boxing Clever which is 'Where Next''. as the children had already placed the post it notes on the relevant parts of their Katie Morag story I began by putting, in note form,  some of the things they could include on their page depending which story they were on. The children then drafted their sentences checking for capital letters and punctuation and then had this checked by myself or my T.A. Once it was checked they then went off to write it into their Katie Morag book.

I thought that as this is quite a long process and we still had Assembly, Maths and P.E. to do today that the best case scenario would see us completing box 3 and 4 at most. How wrong was I? They were clearly on a roll and absolutely loving the praise they were receiving both for content and presentation.

For boxes 4 (Why?) and 5 (What Goes Wrong) I wrote further instructions on the board. See the picture above to get a sense of how brief my instructions actually were. The children then went away and we repeated the whole read, draft, check with teacher, write up structure from before.

The results have amazed me! Below are two examples of the books so far. As you can see they are beautifully written and in the children's own words. One of the pieces is from a level 1A writer and the other a level 2C so they are not my best writers at all but you can see how well they have done and what standard they have reached.





The best part of all of it though has been the way previously struggling and in fact reluctant writers have achieved so much and actually enjoyed the whole process. Quite simply I think this is because of the structure of Boxing Clever which just makes sense to them. It is so easy to follow and understand and just makes sense. I have even had pupils ask this afternoon during a reading session if they could get on with box 6!

We do still have 6, 7 and 8 to do followed by the drawing and colouring but after that each child in the class will have produced their own book. I have promised them that they will then be displayed in the school library for everyone to see and they are all excited at the prospect. I am also sure their parents will be delighted when they finally take them home.

Look out for Boxing Clever part 4, the conclusion, coming soon to a blog by you!!!




Monday, 10 February 2014

Mental maths



I would like to make a case for raising the importance of mental math as a major component in students’ tool kits of mathematical knowledge. Mental math is often associated with the ability to do computations quickly, but in its broadest sense, mental math also involves conceptual understanding and problem solving. (Cath Seeley NCTM President)

With the implementation of the new curriculum we have recently changed our approach to the teaching of mental maths. Instead of the traditional class based session during Numeracy hour with mixed ability children we now 'set' for a weekly mental maths session. 

The sets are based upon children's current maths level and teacher assessment of their mental maths ability and confidence. Confidence plays a huge part in all areas of maths but perhaps even more so in mental maths due probably to its fast pace. Setting results in mixed age range groups and as we use TAs as well as teachers to deliver session allows for smaller,more targeted, groups. 

We have been running these sessions for 5 weeks so it's too early to analyse the impact they are having however the reactions of the children has been really positive. 

The emphasis from day one has been that the children are not competing with each other but with themselves. This then removes some of the potential stress and means that even if they score 10 out of 20 as long as they get 11 the following week to improve their score or at least get 10 to equal it then they are doing fine.

The results of each question are then analysed to identify common errors which informs the teaching for the following session. Any minor errors are addressed at the end of the session. The common errors in my group have been fractions, decimals and percentages with plave value and rounding up and down as the minor errors. All of these are easy to address and have led to some real quality targeted teaching. 

From discussion with staff the language of maths seems to be an area which requires addressing for most groups. I think that as we use the language of maths everyday in our daily teaching we assume the children retain it all and know what it all means. Clearly this isn't true and needs to looked at. 

As maths co ordinator these sessions have been fascinating and have provided me with lots of areas for development to add to my maths development plan. 

The next focus? Problem solving!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Twitter as a professional development tool

I am a tweeter! I only tweet however in my role as a teacher, mine is a professional as oppose to a personal account. That's not to say that occasionally a tweet will be about something I am watching such as The Voice or Elementary but on the whole my tweets relate to my day job, my role as a teacher. 

I have been teaching for 16 years and on the whole still enjoy my job. I have always seen it as a vocation. But this is something which in our present climate that is challenged constantly. 

Despite being one of the more mature teachers I keep reviewing my practice and my teaching toolbox is constantly evolving. I refer to myself as a pragmatic teacher because I will gve anything a go. 

Twitter has, alongside Pinterest provided me with a huge range of ideas, resources, educational research and contact with people from all over the world. It or should I say they have opened up my world giving me access to a huge staff room full of diverse interesting and often like minded people. 

I have delivered staff training on both Twitter and Pinterest and also blog regularly something which was actually inspired by some of the wonderful blogs I follow on Twitter. 

I believe my practice as a teacher is enriched due to my online contacts. However, and it is a big however Twitter does have its dark side. 



We all know and hear regularly about how we must teach our own children and our pupils about safe surfing and use of social media. The same though needs to be said of anyone using social media. I think as professionals we know and understand the etiquette of Twitter and if we don't initially it becomes clear the more you use it. But it is not the etiquette that is or can be the problem. 

The first area to be aware of comes from those we follow. In order for Twitter to be effective professionally you need to build a bank of people to follow. These people will provide you with lots of advice, tips, information etc. They are invaluable! These people are by definition hugely successful otherwise we wouldn't want to follow them but you must proceed with caution. 

Picture the scene - it is a cold, wet morning in October, you have had problems with a parent the day before, the childrens behaviour is challenging and you are about to have a lesson observation with pressure to deliver 'Outstanding' against an ever changing list of criteria. You unwittingly seek solace in Twitter, you come across those hugely successful people. Does it help? Maybe but the likelihood is probably not. In that state of mind all you see is how good they are and how crap you are. It adds to your low self esteem, you question yourself, doubt your own abilities. We and probably they have all been there but at that moment you can't see that. 

The next area in which we need to proceed with caution comes from the 'Twitter cliques' and trust me they do exist. It is similar to the playground parent  clique or the clique church even your own staff room cliques. On Twitter they reply only to each other's tweets, they send personal tweets to each other rather than direct messages and you rarely get invited to join their little group. This can be deflating, you tweet away thinking at some stage they will acknowledge what you have to say but you get no reply at all not even a retweet or favourite. The only way to get them to acknowledge your Twitter presence is to disagree with something they say and then boy do they pounce! 

These things may seem trivial but I do know teachers who have been put off Twitter as a result of one or both of these things. So the only way to deal with it is to be aware if it. You need to know when to back away, to leave it for a few days and go back. 

I will continue to preach the use of Twitter for professional development but will also make those that use it professionally aware of its benefits and it's drawbacks. This is because without Twitter we cannot create that professional digital footprint that potential new employers seek. But perhaps more importantly without it we lose a huge professional development tool.

Practical maths




This week in year 2 I have been teaching the children about units of measure for measuring length and height. We began with millimetres and centimetres as I had decided to start small and go larger.

We began by looking closely at a ruler on the visualiser and demonstrating to the children how I measured a couple of items. The children were then given the opportunity to measure a selection of items around the classroom, which they were told should be smaller than a 30cm ruler. They thoroughly enjoyed it and it helped them become more familiar with manipulating rulers and understanding what they were reading. 

The next step was to measure lines as accurately as possible and then to draw lines of a given measurement. I have to say they all managed this remarkably well, due in part to the earlier practical activity. 

For the next lesson I asked the pupils how they thought I could measure the length of classroom. Could I use a ruler? They did think, pair,  share and came back with some good and some bizarre ideas about what equipment I should use and what unit of measure it should be. After this discussion I showed them a metre ruler and a trundle wheel, allowing them to look at them and discover what unit of measure they are. 

We then divided up into four groups, one outside measuring the length of the playground, one measuring the length of the corridor, one group measuring the classroom and a final group measuring height. They then rotated around the groups discussing, measuring, exploring as they went as well as recording results. 
It was a logistical nightmare, organising 34 children and three other adults but was well worth it. 

To assess their new found knowledge I gave them photographs of each other measuring and asked them to describe what they were measuring, what equipment was used, what unit of measure and what their results were.

A great time was had by all but more importantly in the assessment that followed they all excelled. With only the odd mix up of centimetres and metres. Not bad for 34 six and seven year olds. 

Measuring mass next, which again lends itself to a practical lesson so chaos here we come again!

Looking After Chickens in School

In our school we have four chickens. Since the picture above was taken the chickens have, as well as a lovely cosy coop, a brand new chicken run. I think the plan is to eventually have more chickens and then perhaps some pigs.

Keeping chickens is a new venture in our school which has been received very favourably by the children and parents alike. We have 'chicken' monitors, a job I know I would have loved in primary school because lets face it it beats book or pencil monitor any day!

The monitors go out to clean, feed and replace the bedding for the chickens as well as to collect the eggs. During the winter the chickens lay an egg each a day and apparently this will increase as the weather improves.The eggs are then sold to parents or staff for a token price which is then put towards the cost of the feed.

I decided it would be good for my class to learn a bit more about the chickens by taking over the jobs of the KS2 monitors for the next two weeks. Fortunately my T.A. has some experience of looking after the chickens as during the school holidays she comes in to care for them when the caretaker is not around.What I didn't know however is that she is actually scared of them which has proved quite hilarious, especially when she goes into the run to change the bedding. Obviously she hides it from the children but it is funny to see her doing her best to avoid them and them following her around. Well we do have to get our fun from somewhere don't we and fortunately she has a similar sense of humour to me.

The most challenging part of looking after the chickens has been the organisation of my class.

Firstly we had to get all 34 of  them to bring in wellies or a change of shoes, this has proved a nightmare as despite two weeks notice and two text messages I still have two children without a change of footwear! Then obviously we have had to store 33 pairs of wellies in an already full classroom.

Secondly trying to get 34 around the chicken run was clearly not going to work so we have had to split the class up into two groups which then means my T.A., bless her, has to brave the chickens twice every day!

Finally imagine trying to get 17 children to find their wellies, take their shoes off, put their wellies on at the door (to avoid mud all over the carpet) and repeating the whole process when they come in again along with washing of hands. Sound chaotic? Well it is and then we have to do it all over again for the second group!!

Even when I am writing this I am thinking 'You must be mad!' but I'm hoping to gain something for all of our pain. A bit of writing at least and of course lots of fun and real life experience for the children. I really do believe that they are and will over the next two weeks get so much out of the whole experience.

Watch this space!!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Boxing Clever part 2

I blogged earlier in the week about my experience of using Alan Peat's' Boxing Clever' with my year 2 class (Step 1).
We used 5 Katie Morag stories together as a class and then in groups we decided  what would go into each of the 8 boxes.

Today came (Step 2).
The children were set the task of producing their own Katie Morag book based upon their favourite story. 
They were put into groups based upon the book which they had chosen, then within that group recapped the story and placed 8 post it notes on the relevant pages as guide of what to draw and write in their own re telling.

My long suffering T.A. has spent two days drawing lines into home made books complete with 8 pages for the 8 boxes! But it has been well worth it because they are so excited at the prospect of having their own complete book. We have even got a brand new class set of felt tip pens which I think I am even more excited about than them!

After being put into groups and having sorted post it notes etc I then set the scene of what they needed to write on each of the pages. 

This began with me identifying a checklist of punctuation, conjunctions and vocabulary that they should try to add into their writing. They were also given a word bank and their own word books to support spellings. 

Next I modelled writing one of the pages using the Visualiser to show the whole class. Then they set off writing for about 15 minutes, this was then followed with a mini plenary or as we call it a 'pit stop'. I then chose a name from the llolly sticks and that child placed their work under the Visualiser to share what they had done with the rest of the class. 

Sharing work and giving feedback is a relatively new skill to year 2 but I am proud to say it is going really well and they are getting quite good at saying what is good and what needs to be improved when looking at each other's work. 

This was followed by another 10 minutes writing. Clearly they have a fair bit to do to finish the writing and draw and colour pictures with our brand new felt tip pens but so far so good. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Mathletics and Reading Eggs

I introduced Mathletics, as part of my role of co ordinator of maths, several years ago. Since it's introduction it has been an important part of our maths tool-kit in helping to raise maths results from years 2 to 6. Our KS2 maths scores in 2012 placed us in the top 40% of all schools with 97% of our pupils achieving expected progress in 2012 when the national level was 87%. Now obviously this is not all down to Mathletics but there is a definite correlation between use of Mathletics and individual pupil progress. In simple terms, those pupils, of all abilities, have a higher rate of progress if they use Mathletics regularly compared to those that use it less often.

My year 2 class have only been introduced to Mathletics this year and these are some of their comments about it:

'It is tricky but it does help you get better at maths'

'It's brilliant, it really helps me with my maths'

'It's good'

'It really helps me with my learning'

'It is a bit hard but I know I'm getting better at maths'

As a teacher, what I like the best about Mathletics is how easy it is to differentiate my pupils learning, set tasks for both school and as homework and to keep track of the children's progress.This information can then be fed back to parents during Parents Evenings or a general reminder given to use Mathletics more regularly via the termly newsletter.

As co ordinator of maths I also regularly check individual pupils use of Mathletics across a two week period. The three pupils who have accessed Mathletics the most have their name placed on the leader board in school. The first place winner receives a trophy to keep for two weeks and the second and third place pupils receive a certificate each. These are awarded during our weekly celebration assembly and are very popular which helps keep the pupils interested and using Mathletics regularly.

Reading and Reading Eggspress are a newer addition to our Reading tool-kit having been introduced to the school at a later date. The main difference with Reading Eggs is that as you can see from the picture above it can be used by children from the age of  3, in our school it is used from F2 through to year 6. Our reading scores at the end of KS2 are in the top 20% of all schools in KS2 and KS1. Reading eggs is KS1 can be quite competitive as the pupils strive to finish all 12 maps which then results in them moving onto Reading Eggspress. Here is what some of the children in year 2 think about Reading Eggs and Eggspress:

'Reading Eggs helps me with my reading. It's amazing'

'I like the activities'

'I think Reading Eggspress better than Reading Eggs because it has more things to do, because you can choose what games you play'

'I like Reading Eggs but I wish I was on Reading Eggspress'

As a teacher I find Reading Eggs and Eggspress a bit more difficult to navigate. It is self differentiating but does not give me the facility to set activities or check their usage however which means that although you can suggest they use it for homework whether they have done it is difficult to check.

Like Mathletics a trophy and certificates are awarded to encourage use at home but in Reading Eggs this has to be based upon them writing stories rather than reading which isn't as useful.

I would though without hesitation recommend both Mathletics and Reading Eggs/Eggspress so if you haven't already why not give it a whirl!


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Importance of Laughter in School

We all know that laughter is important to our mental health and general well being. Here are some quotes on the benefits of laughter:

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
--Victor Borge


If you're too busy to laugh, you are too busy.
--Proverb


We don't laugh because we're happy – we're happy because we laugh.
--William James

With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.
--Abraham Lincoln

Schools have become a source of increasing stress both on staff and pupils with the constant focus from the media, the use of education as spin from politicians and governments seeking votes. the strive for results and targets etc. The list is endless.

The results of this stress are felt by everyone involved in education from the office staff, through to teachers, pupils, senior management and governing bodies. All of this makes laughter important for without it, we would, as one of the quotes says above, not be happy.

Being around children can provide no end of laughter, they give us those precious teacher moments that result in tears of laughter and they laugh with each other. laughter is infectious. What we have to do too though is provide opportunities for laughter. We need to laugh with them, give them opportunities to laugh at us. This can often be provided in the unlikeliest of places. 

I was in an assembly in school today which was delivered by the clergy from our local church. They are wonderful people who have a real sense of fun. They manage to turn potentially boring Tuesday morning assemblies into a look forward to day when the whole school end up smiling and laughing. 

Today's assembly was about Zacchaeus the tax collector so had the potential to be boring but not with our clergy! It began as it always does with some acting. There are three people who come to deliver the assembly, they consist of one man who is very thin and tall, two women, one of whom is of average size with one is as small as the man is tall. Two of them are comedy actors with the third being the perfect straight actor. They always also involve at least a couple of children in their comedy sketch which makes for even more fun. 

The sketch today involved a painted tree and a set of step ladders with the smallest actor on the steps pretending to be Zacchaeus, the tallest actor and three children being the 'crowd' blocking Zachaeus' view and the straight actor trying to keep the chaos together whilst playing Jesus. It was hilarious! I looked around the hall and everyone from the youngest F2 to the oldest year 6 and staff were laughing. 

After the'acting' comes the singing. The song today was 'Does The Lord make you sad?' Which as usual was accompanied by a series of actions, led by the clergy, with absolutely everyone joining in. 

These songs with actions are 'famous.' Having appeared in a leavers assembly a few years ago with a few of the year 6s impersonating the clergy whilst singing one of their favourite songs from the assemblies complete with actions. It brought the house down! 

What is special about these assemblies is that the'message' always gets across whilst the whole school have fun. Tuesdays assembly is the day we come out if afterwards with smiles on our faces having shared laughter and experienced joy. 


Monday, 3 February 2014

Boxing Clever with year 2

As a school we have recently invested in some 'Alan Peat' training in a bid to improve our writing scores. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the training but was fortunate to have feedback from the rest of the KS1 staff in a recent meeting.

One of the things that stood out to them and me was Boxing Clever, which for those of you who haven't come across Alan Peat before is outlined below in the words of the man himself as explained on his website:

In an Early Years context, and throughout the Infants, a great deal of the fundamental understanding of what a story is, is gained through hearing a broad range of stories read. Many of these will be formulaic and will assist in introducing book-language and structure. A range of activities can be used to augment the central role of story reading in developing narrative awareness. The approaches outlined in this article are helpful in easing the transition from reading to writing. One method of helping Infant aged pupils to grasp the linear nature of a typical story is 'The Story From Boxes' game. In order to play this narrative game with pupils seven boxes are needed. These are labelled as follows:

  1. Who?
  2. Where?
  3. Where next?
  4. Things that go wrong (problems)
  5. Who helps?
  6. Where last?
  7. Feelings. 
As our topic this half term is Katie Morag and we have read four Katie Morag books so far, this I felt lent itself beautifully to Boxing Clever.

I began by putting pictures, kindly photocopied by my T.A., from Katie Morag and the Two Grandmothers into each box, discussing the choices as we went along. This served as an ideal introduction to story structure which the children enjoyed.

For the next book, Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted, I asked the children to suggest which pictures they wanted to go into each box which resulted in lots of interesting discussion and enabled the children to be actively involved in the process.

Finally I put a Katie Morag book onto each table, with the pupils roughly sorted into reading groups, and gave them 7 post it notes with the headings from the boxes on. They were then set the task of putting the post it notes onto the pages they felt matched each heading best. Obviously this led initially to a bit of fussing but once they settled it actually resulted in some great discussion.
Each group then shared and justified their choices with the rest of the class. 

The top reading group were extended further by having the challenge of a book we hadn't read together. This meant they had to read it as a group and then place the post it notes themselves. It was quite a challenge so I decided to give them a chance to revisit the story tomorrow before presenting their ideas to the class. I will also read the book to the class afterwards to see if the rest of the class agree with or can predict their choices.

I am pleased with the results so far and do feel it is helping the children get to grips with story structure. The final proof of their understanding will come with their final task, which is over the rest of the week, to rewrite their favourite Katie Morag story containing all of the key story structure elements. Their story will be made into a mini book with their own illustrations.

I will let you know how it goes.




Saturday, 1 February 2014

The success of Friday books





In September 2014 I began a new challenge, teaching in year 2. This was a first for me as these were the youngest children I had ever taught. 

Thankfully I had, the previous academic year, discovered the joys of Pinterest. Pinterest provided me with no end of ideas and inspiration ranging from reading buddies to Friday books. 

I have blogged about Friday books before but really felt they needed a mention again as now we are almost mid way through the year and I am even more impressed with the idea. 

Every Friday my pupils write a letter home to their adult telling them about all of the things they have done in school that week.  It helps keep the parents informed and provides the children with the opportunity to do a piece of independent writing each week. 

The writing the children complete in their Friday books is always the same format, a letter, which I believe then allows them to concentrate on the content, their handwriting and spellings etc. 

The only input they get from me is a recap of lessons taught, some tricky spellings on the board and a focus which links in with a 'word, sentence level or phonics' activity that we have completed that week. This weeks focus was singular pronouns which they had just learned about. 

The letters are not marked at all but myself or my T.A. read through what they have written as they finish. This is more in a proof reading capacity, looking for missing words etc. 

This week I decided to ask some volunteers to let us all look at what they had written on the class Visualiser. We compared what they had written this week with what they had written at the beginning of the year and I was absolutely blown away! I had chosen children of a range of writing ability yet they had all, without exception made huge progress. 

Most of them began in September, with short sentences without any conjunctions. They were basically just writing a list of what we had done. 

Now, they are writing full sentences joined with because, but, so. They are also adding thoughts and feelings and even writing in paragraphs!

I am so proud of them and genuinely think they would not have made as much progress without the Friday books. 
I think Friday books would work for any age group so why not give them a go?