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
January's #LearningFirst conference is but a distant glimmer in the past, although new dates have recently been added! Watch this space. Today's entry reveals the second part of my workshop. If you missed the first, you can catch up here.
Under a levels culture, the process of assessment often felt like it was forced upon you; everything geared up to an 'Assessment Week' where a set of numbers would be generated, pigeon-holing both you and your children. It connoted judgement, fear and malpractice. However, by putting learning first (within the new curriculum), of which assessment is very much a necessary part, you can genuinely do a better job.
Strangely, I considered asking the children what they already knew, before teaching them anything! By this, I don't mean a fluffy 'KWL' grid (or whatever they're called). I decided I would sit therm with a set of questions that I would have originally planned a series of lessons on, to see what would need more attention. I call it an 'Entry Quiz', and the findings are invaluable to me as a teacher:
Finally, to the lovely person who requested them after the workshop, I have compiled a collection of my Entry Quizzes, and you can download them below. I hope you find them as useful as I do!
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.
I started the year with what my classroom looked like, so it seemed only right to end the year with what it looks like now! Any teacher will know that how you visualise things and how they end up, are two completely different entities. So here's what happened...
Our Learning Walls
My English Working Walls became a staple part of my lessons, an extra resource that I referred to daily. I've got a separate post about them currently drafted. The main rule is that nothing gets added unless it has been used with the children (otherwise it just becomes wall paper). Ideally, I like to think the children seeing it being used and then pinned to the wall gives it a bit more context.
It was a great idea in theory, but it's nothing that marking wouldn't have told me. It would have added ownership, but I also felt I'd achieved a great deal of ownership with the Entry Quizzes (which are one of the things I will definitely continue in the new year).
I have really enjoyed using this, almost as a scrap book. It's been really easy to add to and take from. Depending on what we've been learning at the time, it's been useful to refer to, a simple place to add 'things we've learnt', a great source of feedback and it's also served as a place to display those extra bits they bring in as homework or independent study. In future, I'd like to add more photos and maximise its use at the beginning and end of lessons. I love a Post-It!
Teaching Maths is like spinning plates. While teaching fractions, you need to keep the number and place value plate spinning, ensuring the geometry dish is still going, before the multiplication ceramic comes crashing down.
In years gone by, this could have been achieved through 'starters'; traditionally the first 10 minutes of the lesson, to warm up the students' brains. When we were working with the National Numeracy Strategy, I used to take an objective from Block A through E for each day, Monday to Friday, to revise. It worked well; we all knew every Wednesday that I would present some form of graph and ask questions; we dreaded Fridays because I would ask for decimal fraction equivalents.
However, in this time of curriculum change, where children already in the system are playing catch-up to meet the new expectations, sometimes the first 10 minutes of revision could be better used as a hook for the latest objective or a chance for deeper study of the raised bar.
Yet we still need to keep the plates spinning.
Alongside my Entry Quizzes, I try to have a good grasp on what the children can already do. While never 100% accurate, it's much simpler to plan for their next steps when you have a real-time starting point. Using this information, I know where to pitch their work and, as a further result, I can also design more challenges for them; chances to reason, problem solve and apply.
Each lesson includes a series of questions that the children can choose from. (I'm likely to write about this sometime too!) But, in addition to these Challenges, I use simply typed sticky labels, placed randomly in spare spaces by some helpful children, to mix up the types of question they answer; it's like an extension of the Extension, adding that 'starter' style revision, just to the end of the lesson, once the most important skill of that day has been covered. I have found it more time-efficient than opening the lesson with a series of information that might be of little use when it comes to the main input. In an ideal world, of course the opening would link to the main, but then we return to square one when considering how to prepare children for a world that isn't so neatly compartmentalised.
For example, in a lesson on addition, showing adequate proficiency once you have answered your questions, tackled the Challenge (the Extension; likely a set of word problems or a "what are the possibilities?" question) you can flick through your book spotting the stars; these are the sticky labels.
Upon the labels, you might find new versions of the measure problems we have been tackling, or a fractions question that'll need to be solved. It might ask you to calculate the area of a shape, or find the answer to a question requiring multiple steps. Either way, you'll need to search your brain (and your book) to remind yourself of the methods, ideas and strategies we were learning, switching from the addition you have just been practising.
It will rarely be something new, and I have found it really useful as tool to look back on; cast your eye over their answers to see how much is being retained and what will need further coverage.
Furthermore, I'm a big believer in the children's books becoming almost like a catalogue; a self-made text book. Hopefully, by encouraging them to look back through everything they have achieved, the pages become little triggers; setting off a memory of that unit we haven't visited recently, searching for the label that could be answered by revising this page.
As with everything, this won't work for everyone. However, I think it's important to find new ways to have the children revise the learning they have covered; it's a study skill for life. This method gives every child a chance to do that. We work hard to ensure 'everything makes sense' to our classes, but once we are not there, we need to feel confident that they can make sense for themselves, choosing suitable methods to solve mixed problems with the vast knowledge they have been given.
I have created some Challenge stickers below; each set adheres to the objectives of the specified year group. They're great for a quick and easy extension, covering a variety of topics, aiming to keep as much learning as possible at surface level for easy retrieval and application. They should print neatly on a simple label sheet (18 labels to a sheet). Alternatively, you might want to print on paper and guillotine.
I take my classroom almost too seriously. It needs to be practical, attractive and inspiring but also easily maintained. Every summer, for a couple of weeks, I rope in as many helpers as I can get to help sort my creative chaos; a series of bright ideas, with the best intentions, all aimed at promoting independent learning and community spirit.
This is the result of Summer2015's efforts:
Our Learning Walls
Much to the frustration of a previous colleague, I used to back ALL my boards in white. However, I soon realised that posters, models/images and reminders, often on white themselves, would get lost in the background. With that in mind, I chose black backing with borders the same colour as the subjects' respective exercise book.
Why the little whiteboards?
I have a grand plan to write up my week's objectives, so the children can see where our learning is heading; the end product of the hard work we will be putting in. Whether that's solving a problem using the methods we learnt, or writing something including the skills we rehearsed, I'm hoping my learners will be able to move their name tag along the lessons to show they are ready to move on. It'll be a good way for me to focus my feedback and organise extra support and revision where needed.
My English wall features a "Spelling Spy". I was inspired by my class last year, who used to enjoy finding words that could have belonged in their spelling list that week. The number of times quiet reading would be disturbed by, "Mr N! I've found another word with 'tion'!". I decided to capitalise on that this year, and provide a space for the words to be collected.
With the changes in the English Curriculum, and the apparent disappearance of 'Writing Genres', teaching writing got a little blurred; too many people with too many ideas of what 'good writing' is. In my opinion, the genres were a great way of showing off various types of language in different contexts. Writing instructions, for example, to best show off time conjunctions, or descriptive writing to best see the impact of adjectives and use of the senses. I can only assume we became too reliant on the genres and writing became very predictable. I will use this Tool Box idea to keep a reminder of all the different strategies we learn, so we can use them at any time; aiming to remedy the previous problem regarding genres, that we only use brackets in a newspaper to reveal a spectator's age!
My new school teach subjects fairly discretely. I've not worked in this way for a long time so I am looking forward to experiencing it again. Therefore, rather than a 'topic/theme' display, I have chosen to give an area for each subject. Whereas the Vocabulary board is dedicated to important language, posters and reminders, this board is solely for children's work and successes. Photos of PE, annotated maps or creative timelines, reports and fact-files; this board will become a scrapbook of each term's learning completed by the students.
And there you have it! My 2015/16 classroom! I'd love to hear what you think, any suggestions for additions and ideas for next year! Our classrooms are where we spend most of our teaching lives, so take pride in them and make them yours; the children will appreciate your efforts!