Go for a walk around your school and see what other people are doing! If you're new to the school, use it as a chance to gather an idea of what's expected. (If it appears to be one of those ridiculous schools that dictate what colour to back the boards, don't plan on sticking around - if your school improvement plan genuinely believes that having specific shades for your working walls is going to be the kick-starter for drastic progress, you need your head checked). If you're staying on at the same school, it's still a great way to be inspired by colleagues. Tell them too, people like to hear nice things!
2. Go with your gut.
If there is something you've seen online, or an idea you've heard about, now is the time to try it! The worst that could happen is you change it, and that's not a problem. You know how you want to run your classroom, and have likely dreamt up a system or managerial strategy to reach that vision. Give it a go; you never know until you try! If it doesn't work, you know not to do it again.
3. Play teacher.
You've positioned the tables and chairs where you want them, and decided where different resources are going to be kept. Now have a rehearsal. Pull out all the chairs from under the desks (as if they have been filled with little people) - can you still get around the room? Sit in some of the seats - what can you see? What is that child's experience in your classroom going to be like? Yes, the pencil pot does look Instagrammable, but is it reachable?
4. Zone it off.
It needs to be a comfortable working environment for everyone in your care, both children and adults! It's important that you have a clear idea of what is accessible, and by who. Where are the adults going to keep their valuables? Do the children have space for their things? Be practical - your quaint 'Stationery Station' plucked straight out of Pinterest is lovely, but is the physical act of getting every child to leave their seat when they 'want the orange' to most suitable way to organise it?
5. Be flexible.
The only true test of your classroom will be on that very first day, where you'll find you have two options; stick with it or change it. Be prepared to adapt what you've got, because while most strategies are easily implemented by training your children, sometimes the time vs. impact simply isn't worth it. Either way, remember that your classroom is a place to take pride in. For many of us, we spend more conscious hours in it than our own homes, so it needs to be a place that both you and your children will feel encouraged by.
As has become tradition, I'll blog mine once it's ready. You can catch up on the previous years' here and here.
As the end of the academic year is upon us, just like the children, it's time for my End of Year Report. I wonder if I've made any progress since last year's? Having read the comments in preparation for posting, there certainly seem to be some, completely falsified, running themes. Rascals.
Welcome to Part Two of AskMrN! Gone are the days where teachers are believed to sleep in the cupboards - our kids had some fresher burning questions. If you missed Part One, catch up here!
Was there ever a question you wanted to ask your teacher? Did they really live in the cupboard? Where did the class hamster go? Here are some I've been asked recently...
Believe in Life After Levels!
Despite the new assessment regime being in action for a couple of years now (and the first round of 'the new SATs') many still struggle with the disappearance of beloved levels. In a strange way, they gave people a sense of safety. However, in order to put learning first, a life beyond levels needs to be embraced and taken full advantage of. Here's a rundown of my actions in a world where levels existed (some of this was the result of of me being an inexperienced teacher, but I strongly believe you will likely relate):
Simple. In a climate where we would be judged on an "average points score", if we pushed the uppers as far as they could go (moving further to the right on a grid with a similar design to below), their accelerated progress would make up for the lack of appropriate teaching the ones in the red still weren't making.
Genius! Although upon reflection, also an embarrassment. For those struggling to understand Life Without Levels, how about we swap images like above, for ones like this (for clarity, I haven't designed this because I think diagrams are a necessity. I'm hoping it could illustrate my ideals):
Within your year group, you focus on your designated programme of study.
You teach your programme of study to such a high standard that there is little way your learners can get it wrong.
As you teach, you spot those who find it difficult and you focus on them, while you supply those excelling within your standards with a variety of problem solving activities in which to apply the learning. Change the question, flip the approach, apply a real-life context. Constant revision.
Under no circumstances do you move them on to the next set of criteria, as this risks losing understanding for the sake of pace, leaving them insecure for the next teacher. It also means you're taking yourself away from the ones who need you the most.
Don't refer to it as 'holding them back' - grow up.
Assessment - you're looking for evidence to tell you, "To what degree are my learners able to..." and then you use this information to plan ahead, to delve deeper into the concept - which will bring me nicely onto the second point next time.
In a previous setting, I remember a big debate forming part of a staff meeting; how can we change the phrase 'Book Scrutiny' to something less demonic? For many, these two words send a shock of fear down the spine. However, I fail to think of many professions that don't encompass some form of Quality Assurance, and ours is no different. Moreover, it shouldn't be. It's just, as per usual, the strategies employed have often left a bad taste in people's mouths, resulting in negative connotations of such actions: scrutiny, observation, audit...sweating yet? Don't.
The silly thing is, unsurprisingly, whatever you call the Quality Assurance in any profession, its primary objective remains the same. Therefore, it's not the idea of being scrutinised that we don't like - it's the idea of 'failing' it. Furthermore, it's the proceeding steps that cause the discomfort; what happens next? That's the bit we need to get better at. It's common sense to check the quality of a product. Your car goes for an MOT, restaurants leave you a comment card, and I know you've heard of Trip Advisor. It's a necessity. Often misconducted.
My post today comes with a couple of aims:
Below, you will find 2 pieces of writing, each, from a small group of children in my English class. They will be presented as a series of paired sliding photos; one pair per child.
My writing process is very much based on Pie Corbett's methods. I first starting writing about him here. Check it out!
I teach writing using a three step process. I presented each step in 3 separate blogs that you can read by clicking below:
I was once asked how I plan English. After giving a terrible verbal answer, I wrote it down. Give that a read here and here.
All of my teaching relates to what I call the ToolBox. Whether displayed or otherwise, you can read more about that (with free resources) here.
Now I feel scared. I wonder if I'm actually brave enough to press POST.
Disclaimer. I'm more than aware we are very much 'working towards' age expectations. However, I am so proud of how far they have come in a single term, and I am really looking forward to building on our strong foundations. I am pleased to be developing a class of young writers, who are seeing themselves as such; writers. We will add further tools to our ToolBox in the coming terms. Let me know if you'd like updates!
If you had a penny for every time you said, "Where are your capital letters and full stops?", how much money would you have? Probably enough for a comfy retirement.
While learning is learning, and teaching is teaching, the ways to teach and learn differ depending on the subject matter. These are my most recent thoughts:
In my opinion, this is the biggest challenge when teaching writing; it counts on a good grasp on all the previous teaching, in years gone by, for them to stably move forwards, otherwise the gaps get greater. (It was this thought that prompted my most successful blog to date.)
So, I needed to find a way for my children to retain all of the things they have learnt. This need became greater when I found simple mistakes in their writing that needed to be addressed, and scanned their English books from last year. I noticed (almost to the exact date) they had done a similar 'gap filling' lesson the year before; a clear sign that their previous teacher found they were missing the same simple skills that needed to feature. If I'm honest, my heart sank a little; seeing that some of these children STILL hadn't grasped the very basics, despite their teachers' best efforts year upon year, was irritating. However, this is where our supportive families and a growth mindset come in.
I had 2 options:
Option 1 - accept these children 'just can't do it'.
Option 2 - ask around, research, experiment, engage, involve...find a different solution, and hope that it sticks with them. If not all of them, some of them.
Option 2 is essentially a teacher's job description; filter out those who don't understand something and find a way to help them engage with it, storing it to memory! Option 2 is it! Here was my solution:
I decided to refer to almost every skill as a tool, and that we were adding it to our Toolbox. In order to keep a record of all the tools we were learning, I gave the children a 'Tool Box' to keep their tools in!
Teaching is a stream of constant modelling, examples and sharing ideas. Therefore, when completing shared writing, I also wanted my own tool boxes that I could refer to! I add to them, just like the children do, in front of them so they can see (we don't want random posters to appear, without reference, and become wallpaper). My Tool Boxes went on the display boards...
Thus far, I have found these as extremely useful tools for teaching. The displays, twinned with their own versions, encourage independent learning; seeking answers, tweaking ideas and sharing strategies that others might want to use.
As with everything, this won't be effective for every child (I will need to work hard to find other solutions too) but it's important that we try new things to filter out those who don't understand, in order to help them move forwards.
I need to improve my own use of them, how they are organised and what order I teach the skills in, allowing for sensible opportunities for application in well-planned chances to write for a range of audiences. It can be tricky to ensure they remain relevant, but so far they're proving to be really effective. I need to find a more efficient way to integrate them into my lessons, and I would LOVE any ideas you might have? You can download your own copies of these below...
I'm not really a shouter. More one of those, "I'm so disappointed" teachers. In my opinion, the 'shout' is your last card to play, and once you've played it, you've got nothing left. IF you play it, it needs to mean something. WHEN you play it, there needs to be reason enough for it.
Picture it; you foolishly played the last card too early, over something comparatively menial. Perhaps you were trying to exert misplaced authority. Perhaps you thought if you got REALLY cross over that accidental pencil snap, NOTHING would ever go wrong ever again. Well my friend, for want of a better phrase, you're wrong.
Believe it or not, we work with the busiest brains, with the least experience. The trouble with trying to make learning exciting, is that you're doing it with the least controllable minds - the little people who can't sleep on the eve of their birthday. They're going to slip up, make mistakes and likely have some regrets. We all do; don't pretend you've never made a silly choice.
That's why I think we should use our experience of life, and the relevant routes we have taken, to teach the children responsibility, by way of managing their behaviour. Let them know of your difficulties, and how you overcame them. Tell them you used to find X, Y and Z hard, and how you practised to get better. Let them know that you also got into trouble, and how you wished you'd paid attention, because 10 years later...
Then, last year, it snowballed after I met another teacher wishing to get the children to understand the value of hard work. She organised a fantastic Career Day (which you can read about here). We had all of our Upper Key Stage Two involved with speaking to lots of different volunteers, who had kindly offered to tell us about their jobs, how they got to where they are, and any difficulties they faced along the way.
While these talks were geared towards the benefits of being a hard worker with a positive attitude, they also filtered nicely into managing behaviour and making good choices. That's what I think behaviour management should be all about; making good choices. That's a far more long term impact than screaming at someone.
This time last year I wrote my first ever post - 'Welcome To My 2015 Office.' It launched the beginning of what's been a fantastic year; varied, challenging and exciting.
There was a short period of absence, confirming how dull life would be if I wasn't in Education.
I've invited you in to my classroom, to show you things like this, this and this.
And I've even launched my own reading app, selling around the world!
But now, as the year starts all over again, I guess it's tradition to show you around the classroom! As ever, it took a couple of weeks to get ready; throwing tables around, adapting the design based on everything I learnt last year; changing school can be such a breath of fresh air. (I really related to this, by @ThatBoyCanTeach). I learnt a lot, as we always will, in the first year of my new place, and I've changed the classroom accordingly.
So here we go...
The Working Walls - These became one of my favourite things about last year's classroom; I used them as an extra resource, and the children were very good at using them as a reference point. I have a draft written about how I use them specifically, but the main rule is that anything I use in class, gets stuck up there somehow (that's why they're blank at the start of the year - I've never understood how an Working Wall can be so packed with information for the first day. Surely that's too much to look at?) They're great for visual triggers of experiences, posters and reminders, etc, and they're colour matched to the relevant exercise book.
Foundation Subjects - This large board eventually becomes a scrap book of our learning in Foundation Subjects. I have little cards for each subject (currently hanging in that pencil case in the top left corner) that can be pinned anywhere, allowing for total flexibility. This board doesn't compromise on size, so there's lots of opportunity to move things around. A class set of artwork, or the diagrams of a Science topic, historic timelines AND a few maps in Geography can all fit there at once.
Using the drapes adds a lot of colour to the room, especially when it's so bare at the start of the year, and I've ear-marked those green-bordered boards for an activity in the first week, which I'll tell you about soon.
The NEW Interactive WhiteBoard - GONE are the days of standing under that impossibly bright projector lamp, blinding you while you teach adverbials. GONE are the days where you want to 'cover' something on the board, yet it still appears on the back of your hand! GONE are those irritating prompts about that 'filter' that ALWAYS needed cleaning.
Our school have just purchased these CleverTouch Plus screens, and they are the best thing ever. Essentially a GIANT tablet on the wall, they not only connect to your computer, doing everything the old ones used to do, but they also run off Android - meaning you can use them without a computer as they feature their own web-browser, whiteboard function, and MS Office equivalents. I think I'll do another of these, where I ramble on a bit more!
There are a few other systems that I've changed, but I'll save those for another time, and let you get on with your day! Let me know in the comments what you think, and share some ideas about your own class! I'd love to see; we're such a nosy bunch!
PS. I know the little whiteboards are gone. We all knew that idea was never going to take off!
Like Dave Benson-Phillips would have said in the 90s, it's time for my kids to get their own back. It was only fair that they wrote me an end of year report...