Every single person I met was so kind and generous. It's fair to say - and clear to see - that I was utterly petrified, but every member of the team was so supportive and I was so grateful for their help. I always think that any adventure that makes your heart race is a good one, so this ticked all the boxes. Plus I met some truly inspirational people.
You've never seen such a well oiled machine! Travel arrangements, cameras whizzing, backstage crew, people in the gallery, assistants, make-up people...there was a specific person for every single item on the 'to-do' list. It was astounding. Check out the LIVE LESSON HERE, and catch up on the DISCUSSION PANEL with Ros, Susie and myself HERE.
Thank you so much to BBC Teach for inviting me to take part in this. I was absolutely honoured. I learnt so much from the experience and I'm so thankful for the patience you took with me. This is easily the scariest thing I've ever done, and I'm so grateful.
I found with many purchasable systems, they relied on a very basic, unfounded belief that all children make equal gains at timetabled stop-points within the year. As current teachers, we know that simply isn't true, yet in the business of proving progress, you'd be required the tick the box regardless, in order to make the algorithm give the result you needed on the analysis. I wanted a system that better reflected how children make progress in writing, while also giving leaders what they needed.
My systems works on the simple idea that you can reward children for the smaller steps in progress that they make. By awarding points 0 through 10, you can always credit the children for their inevitable progress, and the overall judgement is based on what percentage of the skills (at whatever level of capability) they are completing successfully.
Don't ask, "But how do you know whether to award them a 4 or a 5?" Use the same part of your brain that decided whether they were at or above, or a 3b or 3a. It takes a few turns, but it always has done.
While I'll never recover the costs of creating the app, I loved every step of the project, and I fully intend on doing it all again soon; it's an expensive hobby, but I really enjoy the process. I'm so grateful for everyone's support - the feedback has been so kind and generous. I can't believe, after making a little sketch in my notebook, that I now have something selling globally; this has been such an adventure. Thank you for everything. Mr N. x
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!
This process relies on them having paid attention at each previous stage in order for them to apply their learning of each skill at the end; the middle section is undoubtedly the most important, where we see the effect this skill has on a piece of writing. Visually, the learning process is extremely clear and the children are able to articulate the progress they have made. Each lesson starts with revision of the skills already covered, ready to add a new one to the list.
It does sound extremely long winded, with an easy response being, “How do you have time? There’s so much to cover!” But my equally easy reply would be that it’s important to invest time. As long as you have a rough plan about where you’ll teach each skill, and in what context, you’re safe in knowing you’ll get the coverage you need, while gently adding new learning to the ever-increasing list of features young writers are expected to exhibit.
I have found this method to be extremely valuable because it gives the learners more stable ground to move forward; investing time into teaching, and designing specific, purposeful practice opportunities, saves time banging on about the same missing features. The challenge as the teacher is to ensure the skills you have taught previously continue to be used, despite changing the focus to something new. For example, while I taught you about time connectives through writing instructions, there’s no reason you can’t continue to use them in your recount, when the new skill I’m teaching you is how to use conjunctions. Equally, I could teach you about using adjectives in your narrative to describe the setting, but I will still expect to see them in your non-chronological report about a creature, when I’m focussing the learning on the purpose of paragraphs.
Constant revision and visual clues help the children embed the learning; this is why I refer to all the skills as the ‘tools’ of writing. However, that’s nothing without you! Use personality, make jokes, anecdotes and actions for them to pin their knowledge to. For example, I always talk about using sights, sounds and feelings in writing; I point to my eye, ear and heart every time I say them. I know that when I say ‘feelings’, I can ask my children ‘Just emotions?’ and they’ll all point to their arm and reply ‘No, physical feelings too!’ I’m amazed they’ve retained so much, but I guess that's through spending time learning something, and repeating the quality we're looking for, rather than expecting sufficient competency after the first model.
Dear Student, I’m so sorry my explanation the other day was so poor, I hope this is a little better. I know what I mean! :)
Dear Colleagues, I'd like to know what you think; have I overthought something so simple, or do you do something similar?
A short while ago, I was trying to explain how I plan English to a student; I found it extremely difficult. This concerned me because I felt as though my poor attempts at explaining were reflective of my approach, rendering my methods useless, yet I was also extremely aware that no idea is original, and that there must be others who plan in the same way I do (just they can articulate it in a clearer voice).
So my post today comes with two aims:
I’m a big believer in teaching a concept before expecting the children to apply it. Many will do both at the same time; model a series of skills while applying them. Personally, I’ve found it difficult to do this. I prefer to break down a process and teach the steps, then model how to use the steps to create success. In my class, this often means that Success Criteria can be the same for a few days in a row, as we gain confidence and learn about each piece of the criteria. Over time, I have found my children more able to retain their learning through this method, as I try to make the learning more explicit before attempting the applying.
To illustrate, I’m going to give a commentary of my decision making process, alongside a fictitious sequence to demonstrate what I mean.
To be continued...
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...
A while ago, I wrote about the time I showed my class various articles, regarding teachers' requests for an extended data submission date, in light of the late receipt of the exemplification materials. I showed them the video message, from our Education Secretary, addressing teacher's concerns regarding assessment, where the MP clarified some of the surrounding myths.
It wasn't a lesson on indoctrination, as one might think, but my hook for a unit of Poetry.
We talked about the pros and cons of exams. I explained how I use them as a teacher. They said why they think they're useful for life. We shared experiences of tests and how we feel while preparing for them, taking them and hearing our result; the downs and the ups.
After that, we read this poem, by Michael Rosen. It's his hauntingly accurate Guide To Education.
Later, we read the poem "The Minister for Exams" by Brian Patten. We discussed the message behind it and I was careful to ensure they understood its apparent breaking of 'the rules'; I hadn't spent months banging on about proper use of capital letters for them to take this example as gospel. We noticed how, while punctuation was used normally, capital letters appeared at every new line, rather than new sentence.
We read the poems, and I showed them this video too...
While Patten's is a little more sombre, Rosen's penultimate line lightened the mood a little - "Education is getting better because there is much more testing". It really struck a chord and I was very impressed with the children's ideas and responses to the poem; they had a lot to say.
I was using the poems, video and discussion as a stimulus for children to write their own poetry inspired by Patten and Rosen, but I felt like part of it became a life lesson; a chance for them to think about their future and how to get there, beginning to understand some of the hurdles that they might need to overcome on the way; this strange idea that, sometimes (despite our own best efforts) our successes are completely down to whether someone else agrees with our answer!
Our next lesson started with me teaching the difference between open and closed questions. We gave examples of each and talked about how an open question can have many answers, and that our answer might differ from someone else's...so who is correct? If anyone? Apples or leaves?
Later, we started to make up our answers to open questions, thinking about how we could include our different writing tools: metaphors, similes, etc.
After our annotating of the poem, rehearsal of open and closed questions, it was time for the children to write their own. Many of them came from a real place. It was so interesting to read their final verses. Patten uses a road-sweeper as the result of his 'failure', and we took some time to discuss our own ideas of a job we would dislike. The whole point of the unit was to discuss how differing opinions are part of life, and job choice was the same. We were careful to ensure your idea of an awful job, might actually be someone's dream career (my younger brother always wanted to be a bin-man; he used to sit at the window and wave through the glass!)
While we 'ticked off' a few Poetry objectives, we gained so much more. We learnt that the discomfort of exam season is almost universal, but in a sense it's a rite of passage, the storm after the calm. We learnt about how people will always have different opinions to ours, but it's what we do about it that's important. We learnt how, sometimes, we can give our all, but if that key person disagrees, it might not get us where we need.
Not fair? Ask the Minister for Exams.
Let's teach children the idea of a Plan B and equip them with the skills to cope with possible failure, because there are times in life when we could have done no more, at the hands of an unknown authority.
Note: As you will see by the dates in the photos, this entry has been a long time in the making. It is written out of overwhelming pride in my learners; I am so pleased with what they achieved in such a short space of time and I have been really looking forward to sharing it with you.
RECAP - As I have previously written, Pie Corbett's system of 'Immerse, Imitate, Innovate' when planning for writing, is one of my favourite approaches. For me as a teacher, it makes complete sense (although not the only approach - one size doesn't fit all, remember!) To present my interpretation of what he means, I am going to explain the unit of work I planned, provide photos to illustrate what the children did, and I'm hoping you'll see the learning journey they went on in the process - each set of photos shows the work of one child, throughout the whole process, in order.
So, the children had read countless versions that I had written, experienced applying their learning surrounding expanded noun phrases and the uses of commas (required through varying our openers), and we were nearing the end of term. Needless to say, I was nervous about what this last stage would produce; had I wasted the last 2 weeks of learning time?
S T R E T C H I N G I T O U T
I explained to the children that our lives are fast paced; we are constantly on the move. When we give our own anecdotes, we only ever give the actions, the movements. And, unfortunately, their writing is often the same. However, the most popular books are the ones that transport the reader somewhere. If the author only relies on actions, everything will be happening in a blank space by a stick person with a name; the reader's imagination would have very little to use. The most successful authors make use of the expanded noun phrases and the senses to bring the world on the page alive. They can even control your breathing with their punctuation. Like this. See?
The final stage is fairly obvious. I gave the children a blank plan and an entire lesson.
They were well rehearsed in articulating what was expected of them; the qualities that would make their writing more engaging, with a real focus on the effect on the reader.
In conclusion, I was so pleased with what my learners had achieved in just a couple of weeks. From the first piece of writing, to the last attempt at their chapter, I saw a real improvement in both content and stamina. For my class, this approach really helped; it was sensible, engaging and step-wise, leading from an enjoyable text involving lots of discussion and opportunity to imagine.
The children were given time to think and space to share as they came up with their ideas and I tried hard to help them achieve. While these objectives will need constant revision (especially as they are designed to be mastered across 2 years) I really feel like they have made strong gains against their starting points so far! Next time we tackle narrative, I imagine expanded noun phrases will need a refresher, but my big focus will be dialogue. I am aiming to continue to drip-feed existing and new punctuation through my next non-fiction, always adding transferrable tools for them to choose from.
Without question, the best bit is their own realisation at how much better their writing became. Doing the writing at the start, and a piece with the same brief at the end, was the perfect way for the children to see improvement.
A great confidence builder and positive promotion of writing!