Monday, 2 December 2019

Including Word Etymology On Knowledge Organisers

Knowledge Organisers, Key Fact Sheets, 100% Sheets - whatever you call them - are de rigueur right now, and for good reason: they help both teachers and children with teaching and learning. For teachers, they are a good guide as to what they need to teach (and the act of creating them can be a very clarifying process). For children, it's a one stop shop for what they need to know, and is the starting point for using various methods of retrieval practice to learn the information that their teachers think they need to know.

One of the great realisations (it's more of a blindingly obvious reawakening) of the last few years, is that having a good vocabulary is key to understanding pretty much anything and that we must help children explicitly to develop their vocabulary.

If you don't know what a word means on its own, then how can you tell what it means in a sentence? And if you don't know what a sentence is trying to get across, how can you understand a whole paragraph? And if you can't work out what a paragraph mea... you get the picture: vocabulary is really important.

Often, when teaching a unit of work, in geography, or history say, there is a lot of terminology that is necessary to the explanation, but which itself is complex to explain. As a result, many teachers employing Knowledge Organisers and the like have taken to including key vocabulary too: words which will help children understand and talk about the concepts and facts they are learning.

But developing one's vocabulary isn't always easy. But, as Alex Quigley wrote, 'Etymology is a goldmine of an opportunity (too often missed) for teachers of every subject discipline'. He goes on to say that 'The stories that underpin our language can often illuminate the ideas and meanings we seek to communicate' - sounds good, right? Note the use of that word 'story' - our minds privilege story, and we learn stuff well if it is presented in story form. And what is etymology if it is not the story of a word? A story which can help us learn the meaning of that word.

Not only does learning the etymology of a word help us to understand the one word in question, it also arms us with knowledge which helps us to discover the meaning of other words that share the same root. For example, if children know that the root of the word 'terrain' is the Latin terra meaning 'earth' or 'land', they might be able to discover something of the meaning of the word 'territory', 'terrestrial' or 'terrace'. Further, they might come across the word 'terrarium' and link it to their knowledge of what an aquarium is and come to the understanding that a terrarium is like an aquarium without the water, but with earth in it instead.

Coming back to the Knowledge Organisers: if it contains information you want the children to learn, including word definitions, then why not also include some etymological information which might help the learning to stick as well as provide the basis for future understanding of word meaning?

It's simple enough to do. Here are some examples (click on the images to see them in more detail):



In order to create primary-level information about each word's etymology I usually use a combination of the google dictionary (just google the word + etymology) and etymonline. Using these resources I can usually create a child-friendly version, often opting for the 'deepest' root, usually Germanic, Latin or Greek rather than the various incarnations of the word. Here's an example:



If I were to use this word with a primary child (I probably wouldn't need to), I'd just choose to give the following: from Latin in meaning 'into' and carn- meaning 'flesh'. To get that meaning I also had to click through the link to the page for 'incarnate':



Once that definition were given, we could talk about how 'in flesh' has come to mean 'in human form'. We could also link to Chili Con Carne (meaning 'chili with meat/flesh') and the link to other Latin languages that use carne to mean meat. That's the sort of thing that is much easier to remember because it is a little strange, even though it makes total sense.

Obviously, putting the etymology on the Knowledge Organiser is only step one - what you do with that next is up to you. Certainly, you'd want to begin by teaching more around those words, displaying the words, definitions and etymology in your classroom, playing matching games, having multiple choice quizzes about the word meanings, locating those words in texts, finding other words with the same root words and working out their meanings... there are myriad possibilities.

If vocabulary is the gateway to knowledge learning, and understanding etymology is a path to vocabulary development, then half an hour spent on providing the etymology of your unit of work's key words is probably time well spent - have a go, and I'd love to see some your examples!

For more on teaching vocabulary, see my TES article 'Why Etymology Boosts Spelling And Vocabulary: https://www.tes.com/news/sats-why-etymology-boosts-vocabulary-and-spelling

For No-Quiz Retrieval Practice Techniques, click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/06/no-quiz-retrieval-practice-techniques.html

For my blog post, Using Mnemonics For Retrieval Practice, follow this link: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/07/using-mnemonics-for-retrieval-practice.html

For more information about using Knowledge Organisers in Primary, I've written a short overview and provided links to other educators who have written about their use: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2017/06/using-100-sheets-aka-knowledge.html

Friday, 29 November 2019

History Key Questions To Ask When Learning About A Person, Event or Period in KS1

Last year I provided a list of Key Questions linked to the KS2 National Curriculum. Since then , a few people have asked for a KS1 set of questions. When it came up as a potential need in my own school, I decided to act.

Here are a set of questions, split into three categories (People, Events and Periods of Time) that teachers can use to structure their planning and teaching. Some of the questions may be suitable for children to ask themselves, others might be better used as guidance for teachers as they plan content. Many of the questions across the three categories are very similar although there are one or two more category-specific questions.

to download these questions as a Word document, go to TES.com: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/key-questions-to-ask-and-answer-during-ks1-history-units-12217633

People

Questions to ask about historical figures who are studied in years 1 and 2:

Characteristics:

What are the most important facts about this person?
What do these important facts tell me about this person? (focus on understanding, rather than knowing facts)

Where (linked to KS2 Elsewhere):

Where did this person come from?

Evidence:

How do we know about this person?

Significance:

What did this person achieve or help to achieve?
Did this person’s actions change anything for the future? How did they make a difference?

Timeline:

When in history did this person live? (birth dates and death dates)
Did this person live before or after [another person/event they have studied] lived/happened?
How many years before or after [another person/event they have studied] lived/happened did this person live?
What period of time did this person live in?
Did this person live within or beyond living memory? (living memory: can be remembered by people who are still alive now, not children’s own living memory)

Events

Questions to ask about historical events which are studied in years 1 and 2:

Characteristics:

What are the most important parts of (key facts about) this event?
What do these key facts tell me about this event? (focus on understanding, rather than knowing facts)

Where (linked to KS2 Elsewhere):

Where did this event take place?

Evidence:

How do we know that this event happened?

Significance:

Did this event change anything for the future? How did it make a difference?

Timeline:

When in history did this event happen? (day/month/year(s))
What period of time did this event happen in?
Did this event happen before or after [another person/event they have studied] lived/happened?
How many years before or after [another person/event they have studied] lived/happened did this event happen?
Did this event occur within or beyond living memory? (living memory: can be remembered by people who are still alive now, not children’s own living memory)

Periods of Time

Questions to ask about historical periods of time which are studied in years 1 and 2:

Characteristics:

What is similar about the way people lived in this time period and [another time period they have studied]?
What is different about the way people lived in this time period and [another time period they have studied]?
What are the most important things (key facts) to know about this period of time?
What do these key facts tell me about life in this period of time? (focus on understanding, rather than knowing facts)
What important events happened in this time?
Which important people lived in this time?

Where (linked to KS2 Elsewhere):

Did the things that happened in this time period happen in a particular place?
Were things the same everywhere in the world during this time period?

Evidence:

How do we know about this period of time?

Significance:

How did life change during this period of time?
Did this time period change anything for the future? How did it make a difference?

Timeline:

When did this period of time begin and end? (specific years and approximate number of years duration)
Was this period of time before or after [another person/event /time period they have studied] lived/happened?
How many years before or after [another person/event/time period they have studied] lived/happened was this period of time?
Did this period of time occur within or beyond living memory? (living memory: can be remembered by people who are still alive now, not children’s own living memory)


Also available:

Geography Key Questions for KS1 and 2: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/06/geography-key-questions-place-national-curriculum.html

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

#Lollies2020: Joshua Seigal - 'I Bet I Can Make You Laugh'


When I was asked to champion one of the books nominated for the Lollies 2020 book awards, there was really only one choice for me: Joshua Seigal's 'I Bet I Can Make You Laugh'. My middle daughter (I have three) is an avid reader (I mean really avid) and, amongst other things, she is partial to both funny books and poetry. So when a copy of Joshua Seigal's 'I Bet I Can Make You Laugh' which I won (and is signed) dropped through our letterbox, she pounced upon it and devoured it.

And it's regularly off the bookshelf for a quick read, which, as avid readers among you will know, often turns into a long read (I'm not complaining). With poems from Joshua himself, as well as a range of other poets such as A.F. Harrold, Sue Hardy-Dawson, Frank Dixon (aged 7), Irene Assiba D'Almeida, Alfred Noyes, Lewis Carroll, Kat Francois, Andy Seed and Jay Hulme, this collection really willmost probably, almost certainly make you laugh - if you're an adult. If you're a child, there's no doubt about it: you will laugh.

And if you don't believe me (and I'm so excited about this), here's a brand new poem from Joshua Seigal to give you a taste of what's to come if you get your hands on a copy of Lollies 2020 nominated book 'I Bet I Can Make You Laugh'. I cheekily asked that he pen something new especially for my blog and here it is: a funny Shakesperean sonnet (go on, count the lines and try reading it in iambic pentameter)!

The Ferocious Commotion

A ferocious commotion’s occurring next door.
It’s like ten thousand buffalo having a fight
It’s as loud as the crash of a rusty chainsaw
and I know it’ll keep me awake half the night.

Like the whistling whoosh of a runaway train,
a ferocious commotion’s occurring next door.
Like a hideous gargoyle yelling in pain,
it’s as loud as a battlefield, loud as a war.

It roars like a lion that’s stepped on a pin.
It clanks like a tank that’s got stuck in the mud.
It shrieks like a shark when you tickle its fin
with a hoot and a honk and a bang and a thud.

What on earth is it? I go exploring
and discover it’s only my grandfather snoring.

www.joshuaseigal.co.uk

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

In Praise Of The Written Lesson Evaluation (And The Motivating Power Of Success)

Remember when, as a trainee, you had to have that pristine file (or two) that contained all your paperwork? I can't even remember what on earth all that junk was, only that I was constantly in trouble with my tutors for not having my file up-to-date.

What I do remember, and resent, was the lesson evaluations that we were supposed to write. Inevitably, after a day full of teaching and an evening full of planning (repeat ad nauseam), they were never filled in whilst the lesson was fresh in my mind.

Well, 13 or so years after finishing my degree I've finally discovered that written evaluations actually can be quite useful.

The other day, after working with a group who had been selected as ones who would potentially struggle with a research and present task, I resorted to writing down some thoughts after a somewhat difficult time with them. Here's exactly what I wrote in my notebook that lunchtime:

Not a Torture, But a Joy (principle of the Kodaly Concept)

Today was not a joy. It was torture for all involved. 'Pulling teeth' was the phrase used by the head who overheard me 'teaching'. I was tortured by the lack of interest and engagement, as were the children (who were tortured by my frustration).

The task - research and present - has been dragging on for a few weeks now. Every session I scaffold the time and activity even more to try to combat the inactivity. But there is no drive, no determination, no will to research and present. It's not, I think, that the ancient civilisation of the Indus Valley means nothing to them, but that reading books, locating information and then preparing to re-present that information does not interest them.

I'm also fairly sure that the children in my group, selected for this very reason, don't know how to carry out such a process. This lack of skill has led to past experiences where they have felt unsuccessful in such a task - I assume. And this lack of feeling of success, I reason, must have led to the lack of desire to make an effort today.

I talk so often of 'lack'. I see that they need to experience success. Must some success be my main goal, then? By what means? What must I jettison in order to gain this success? Must we put something aside, at least for now, in order to gain what they currently lack: success, motivation, confidence.

A tentative yes - I must prioritise their experience of success over what I am currently trying to get out of them. And what is that? The skill of reading for a purpose: gaining knowledge. The skill of writing coherent sentences, paragraphs, texts in order for them to then present it verbally.

What will I give, then? How will I ensure that what I give provides them with something from which they can derive the experience of success, without attributing all the success to me and my provision?

What if I asked them what they wanted? Would that reveal what they are truly motivated to do?

Beyond this particular piece of work, how can learning become a joy rather than a torture for these children?

Next session:

  1. group discussion: ides for the presentation
  2. finish off revision of text - teacher-led/modelled
  3. edit text - shared work
  4. back to organisation of presentation - what needs to be done? Assign roles
  5. children prepare presentation; teacher to provide assistance where needed
4 and 5 rely on 1. 2 and 3 should be inspired by 1. If the children are motivated by their own decisions about the presentation they will hopefully be more motivated to get the script right.

Let's see...

After some more thought (those moments of solitude - in the car, on my bike, in the shower - can always be relied upon for further reflection and inspiration) I decided that I would complete steps 2 and 3 myself, bringing a complete script, informed mostly by their reading and notes, to the next session.

I sat down with the group and showed them the script I'd brought. We read it through. They recognised that the majority of it was their hard-won work and, seeing it all typed up, seemed pleased with what they had, with my help, produced. They fell to assigning parts of the script with gusto and, impressively, no arguments - everyone got the bit they wanted to say (nearly all of them chose to present the information they had researched and contributed to the script - a sign of ownership and pride, I think).

They began to rehearse it, ad-libbing and adding new bits in to make it more of a presentation and less of a standing-up-and-reading-from-a-piece-of-paper affair. Some of them even set about learning their part by heart (which they succeeded in doing). One particular child who often finds it difficult to focus for various, real reasons, took a lead role and did a great job of organising the team. They decided they needed visuals and went off to find some big paper (they agreed to avoid powerpoint as they had previously presented work in this way). They returned with a roll of paper and decided to make a long poster which followed the timeline of the script. Accepting my suggestion, they used some of the research materials I had prepared, cutting out relevant images to display based on the content of the script. They practised - I'll admit it was rowdy at time - and when the day finally came, they presented confidently (even if nerves did lead to very quick speaking) and proudly to their gathered parents.

I'm glad I didn't press on with forcing them to revise and edit the text as a group - I think I made the right decision to finish that bit myself in order to move them onto something that they would get a little more gratification out of. By completing everything I outlined in the last paragraph, the group surely felt motivated by their little successes.

Here's to hoping that next time, buoyed by this experience, they will feel more motivated to complete similar tasks - that is, if I actually decide to inflict that upon them again! Research and present is a little dry...

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Responsiveness and the Release of Responsibility (A Model)

Flexible lesson design can often be difficult to grasp - let's face it, 30 children all with their own needs with only one or two members of staff is quite difficult to manage. It's often easy to resort to doing lots of whole class teaching which inevitably leaves some children behind and at the same time isn't challenging enough for others. The upshot of this is that the teacher then tries to cater to these differing needs under the umbrella of a whole class input, for example. This gives the appearance of all needs being catered for (when done well) but if you add up the moments when higher prior attainers are being addressed and challenged you will get the amount of time that lower prior attainers are not having their needs met.

In this instance, a split input would be useful, but it's not only during the 'input' part of a 'lesson' that children might need differing provision. Some will need more adult support, some will be working on a different step within an objective and others might be on a different objective with different activities altogether. How do can this be managed?

First of all, the idea that children can be doing different things at different times needs to be considered as a necessary reality. This is easier to do when you understand learning as a sequence that doesn't always get started and finished within a 1 hour lesson, or even within a week. When you understand learning as a sequence, and you know children, you will also understand that children will be working at slightly different points along that journey at any given moment in time.

For more on planning and teaching learning sequences, please read my HWRK Magazine article 'Planning For Learning Sequences (Instead Of Planning Lessons)' : http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/07/planning-for-learning-sequences-instead.html

The second thing to be grasped is that all learning might have a process of going from not knowing something to knowing something (or being able to do something). The EEF KS2 Literacy Guidance suggests one such process: The Gradual Release of Responsibility. This process consists of children first receiving explicit description of a strategy, skill or piece of knowledge, then having it modelled to them. Following this, children engage in collaborative use and guided practice. Finally, they use the strategy, skill or knowledge independently.

With these two concepts in mind, then, I propose the following model as a way of thinking about how to structure learning time/lessons/sessions:



Looking now at the diagram above:

Within a teaching sequence (most) children begin in Stream 1. As time goes by they move into Stream 2, however some may need to remain in Stream 1. As time goes by some may then move into Stream 3, however some may stay in Stream 2. At most points in the teaching sequence it may be possible that you have children working in all three streams.

Children move stream based on dynamic assessment - this is a form of responsive teaching which allows children to be challenged appropriately. It is not necessary to wait until the end of a 'lesson' to move a child into another stream, this can be done whenever they appear to be ready.

The dotted line could be seen to represent a point in the sequence where a new 'lesson' or session is started. At this point, some children are ready to begin the 'lesson' or session in Stream 3 and won't require further explicit description, modelling or guided practice (Streams 1 and 2). Others might need to start the session in Stream 2, others in Stream 1.

One aim would be to siphon children into Stream 2, and then 3, as soon as they are ready.

It might even be the case that some children could BEGIN a sequence working in Stream 3, especially where the learning focuses on using and applying previous learning - this would be based on prior assessment. A child working in Stream 3 initially could always be moved back into Stream 1 or 2.

Similarly, a child who has been moved into Stream 3 but struggles, can always be moved back to work with children who are still working in Stream 2.

Making it work in the classroom


The theory above is simpler than the actual practice. To put it into practice, teachers will need to plan carefully, for example working out what children can do independently whilst the adults are working with those still in Streams 1 and 2. It helps to have a sequence of activities planned and ready for children to move onto - tasks which need minimal explanation. However, for example, it's not too difficult for a teacher to work with those in Stream 2 to get them going and to then nip over to those working in Stream 3 to quickly ensure they are on task and know what they're doing, before going back to guide the practice of those working in Stream 2.

Another thing to think about when trying to make this work is the role of the adult in the classroom. I've written about that here in my blog post 'What Should Adults Be Doing When Children Are Working?': http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/01/adults-classroom-role-guided-interaction.html

For more about making this approach work, please read my TES article 'Ditch the three-part lesson and remodel with these 8 things in mind': https://www.tes.com/news/ditch-three-part-lesson-and-remodel-these-8-things-mind

Friday, 27 September 2019

Prioritising Positivity in Leadership

I used to write a lot about optimism and positivity. And I used to write a little bit about leadership. Back then I was in a really tough school as an assistant head and had been incredibly inspired by my time on Ambition’s Teaching Leaders programme.

Now I’m a deputy head in what I think is a less tough school but I think I’m a lot busier, in work and in life in general. I’ve not written as much and I’ve certainly not thought about positivity and optimism as much.

Not that I’ve not been positive or optimistic. There have been trials and tribulations which haven’t got me down and about which I’ve always thought ‘We’ll get through this and all will be well’. But I’ve not been very deliberately positive or optimistic. I’ve just been getting on with it all.

But by not deliberately thinking positively and optimistically, I’ve allowed some of my natural tendencies to get the better me: namely, that I am always on the look-out for things to improve, change or make better. I’m a problem-solver by nature and I like making little tweaks to things to optimise them.

Because of this, I’m way more likely to pick up on development points than to celebrate successes, especially when I’m walking around school. In turn, this can pollute my mind, making me believe that there is so much to do, rather than looking at all that has been achieved. And I’m sure, that if I’m commenting more to staff about development points, they will potentially get bogged down in thinking that nothing is going well and that everything needs to get better and that simply isn’t true.

In Mary Myatt’s ‘Hopeful Schools’ she writes about Hopeful Leaders. She says , ‘…it only takes one person to shift into a hopeful mode and it eventually spreads.’ From what I can tell, focusing on the positives, for example, what teachers are doing well, is a great motivator. I’m sure that science backs up the fact that a compliment really does go a long way, and, rather than making someone feel complacent about their work, spurs them on to do more.

This has inspired me to make a few promises to myself about how I will tackle my propensity to only focus on what still needs work:

1. Deliberately look for the positives and celebrate them – perhaps a quick comment, a short email, a public thank you during a PPA session. But I’ll really have to force myself to see all the excellent stuff that is going on around me.

2. Ensure that the positives are the focus of more of my feedback – this can even be linked directly to the ‘next steps’ part of the feedback: ‘You did really well at x – how can you use the same ideas to improve y?’

3. Prioritise HARD – what needs addressing right now? What can wait? I might even start writing things that can wait for later (so that I don’t forget them, but so that I feel I’ve done something about them). I reckon there might even be value in refraining from giving any development points as feedback at some points and just allowing someone to revel in their successes awhile.

4. Use knowledge of past myself to calm my fears – ‘What if I don’t try to solve this problem now?’ That’s my fear. But in the past, I’ve left things a while and things have turned out OK. I need to remember that.

5. Look at the big picture – the points for development are minor in comparison to all the amazing stuff that is already going on. I need to take a step back more often to see all the positives at play.

6. Share the impact – I often squirrel away positives very quickly so that I can get back to solving more problems. If I deliberately share the impact with others, then it might become more deep-seated in my mind. Besides, the impact is often the work of someone else anyway and they deserve the recognition.

7. Focus on the input as well as the output – when I think of impact, I think of a finished product. But actually, impact can be seen all the time. Not always in the form of hard data, but often in many other ways. Many positives occur on a daily basis just in how much work people are putting into a thing. This input must be celebrated too.

8. Remember what is valued – as mentioned before, it’s not all about cold hard data, it’s about all the other successes too. Being a school that values a broad curriculum and celebrates children’s creativity, for example, I should also be looking at the impact in these areas too, where there are plenty of positives to celebrate.



"On the more personal level, what this research means to me is that you have to work to see the up-side. Literally, this takes work, this takes effort. And you can practice this; you can train your mind to do this better. There's research out at UC Davis, showing that just writing for a few minutes each day about things that you're grateful for can dramatically boost your happiness and well-being, and even your health. We can also rehearse good news and share it with others... I think we can also work in our communities to focus on the upside. We can be more aware that bad tends to stick. One mean comment can stick with somebody all day, all week even, and bad tends to propagate itself, right?"  - Alison Ledgerwood

Monday, 23 September 2019

Book review: 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind' by Victoria Williamson

Family politics are never easy. Especially not when you're a kid with ADHD.

Family politics are never easy. Especially not when you're a kid who is trying everything, including being absolutely perfect, to make things how they used to be.

When Jamie and Elin's parents get together, and Jamie has to move in with Elin, things do not look good. With step-siblings, American boyfriends, new schools, changes in medication and school bullies to contend with, things get (realistically) messy. In 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind' Victoria Williamson turns her forensic but empathetic lens on life for children when their parents split up. Those who haven't experienced it will get a glimpse into the lives of those who have, and those readers whose parents have split will be quietly glad to see themselves represented in the pages of a book.

Williamson manages to convey the agony of having to live with all the complications of medical conditions and broken families with enough sensitive humour to keep the reader wondering how things will all resolve. Will Jamie and Elin ever learn to get along? Will therapy and medicine help the children through their confusion and anger? How does friendship figure in such a tense family situation? Through a sequence of immersive set pieces the story romps along, not always joyfully, but always full of heart, driven by the well-painted characters and the believable plot lines.

Joining Lisa Thompson's 'The Day I Was Erased' and Stewart Foster's 'Check Mates' and 'All The Things That Could Go Wrong', this book serves as an insight for children and adult readers alike into the potential reasons behind the actions of children who at school get labelled as 'the naughty kid'. It's not often that other children are given reason to empathise with these children making this an important read for youngsters. Although fiction, this story serves as a powerful illustration of how acceptance and understanding can help others to manage the impact of their experiences and medical conditions.

Employing a dual narrative technique, with each chapter alternating between Jamie and Elin's point of view, 'The Boy With The Butterfly Mind', is a moving and compelling read. Capable of triggering an emotional response, Victoria Williamson's latest book is a brilliant follow-up to her debut novel 'Fox Girl And The White Gazelle', giving her fans something else equally as brilliant to get their teeth, and hearts, into.

https://discoverkelpies.co.uk/books/uncategorized/boy-with-the-butterfly-mind-2/

Friday, 20 September 2019

Extract From 'Guardians Of Magic' by Chris Riddell

An extract from Chris Riddell's latest book 'Guardians of Magic', the first book in the new 'The Cloud Horse Chronicles' series:

Chapter 1: The Runcible Spoon

Zam Zephyr woke early and climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb the other apprentice bakers of Bakery No. 9, who were still fast asleep around him.

It was the day before the Grand Duchess of Troutwine's Tea Ball and Zam was too excited and nervous to stay in bed. Today, they would bake for the tea ball tomorrow. All twelve bakeries in the city competed for the honour of making the most delicious treats for the ball. If anything went wrong again, after last year's disaster that put Bakery No. 9 at the bottom of the heap, Zam and his friends would be sent home in disgrace. The thought of his father's disappointed face was too much to bear. No, Zam thought. He would do anything he could to make sure that his baking was perfect.

In the corner of the attic dormitory, his best friend Langdale the goat boy was gently snoring. Beneath the flour-sack blanket, his hooves twitched as he dreamed of chasing blue butterflies through the summer pine forests of the Western Mountains. In the other corner, the two Shellac sisters clutched the comfort shawl they shared. In the cots in between, the gnome boys from the Grey Hills slept soundless and still, five to a blanket, their small grey-tufted heads just visible.

Looking out of the window, Zam could see the golden roofs of the palaces glittering in the early morning sunlight. He gazed up at a billowing cloud and made a wish: 'To bake the best gingerbread ever, he whispered. 'Cloud horse, cloud horse, far from view, make this wish of mine come true.'

Zam took his apron and cap from the hook and crept out of the attic, leaving his friends to their dreams.

Zam ran all the way down the stairs to the basement, opened the door to the flavour library, and stepped inside. This was his favourite place. He loved how precise, tidy and ordered everything was here. He smiled to himself. With everyone asleep upstairs, it was the perfect time of day to practise without any interruptions.

Shelves lined the basement walls from floor to vaulted ceiling. Looking up through the glass paving stone, Zam could see the shadows of feet walking overhead as people passed the doors of Bakery No. 9.

The shelves around him were stacked with jars of all shapes and sizes, each clearly labelled.



Zam selected the jars he needed, opening each one in turn and taking pinches of the powders they contained. Carefully, he placed the spices on little squares of baking parchment, which he folded neatly and placed in different pockets of his apron. Satisfied with his choices, Zam crossed the stone floor to a large chest of drawers set in an alcove. He opened a drawer labelled 'Index of Crusts' and selected one with crinkle-cut edges and memorized the baking instructions written in small lettering on the underside.

‘For a crumbly texture, short, intense mixing and slow bake in quiet oven ... Zam read. The memory of the calm, reassuring sound of the head baker's voice filled his head, as it always did when Zam read his recipes. 'For a more robust biscuit, easeful mixing with broad, generous spoon and a short, fierce bake in busy oven...

‘Broad, generous spoon,' Zam repeated to himself, returning the crinkle-cut crust to the drawer and closing it. He looked up and was about to select one of the wooden spoons, which hung from the hooks in the ceiling, when he trod on something. It was a large spoon he hadn't noticed lying on the flagstone floor.

'That is so careless,' Zam muttered, picking it up. The spoon was broad and long handled, carved from a single piece of wood, by the look of it. Zam turned it over. It was a slotted spoon, full of small holes, with three large ones near the base of the handle.

‘Easeful mixing with broad, generous spoon,' the head baker's voice sounded in Zam's head.

‘Perfect,' he said, wiping the spoon on his apron before slipping it into a pocket.

He selected a favourite battered old book from a shelf: The Art of Baking. “There you are," he said happily and climbed the back stairs to the kitchen.

An hour later, the other apprentice bakers had been woken by the six o'clock gong and were filing in, putting on their caps and rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Balthazar Boabab, the head baker of Bakery No. 9, followed them into the kitchen smiling.

'Good morning, apprentices!' he said cheerfully, peering over the top of his half-rim spectacles. “As you know, the twelve bakeries of Troutwine are baking for the Grand Duchess's Tea Ball tomorrow, and we all have our parts to play.W

The head baker smiled again, a little ruefully this time. 'Bakery No. 1 is doing the first tiers. Bakery No. 2 the second and third tiers. Fillings are being produced by bakeries No. 3, 4 and 5. While No. 6, 7 and 8 are baking pastry shells and meringues. - Bakeries No. 10 and 11 are fruitcake and turnovers, and Bakery No. 12 is making floating islands...' Balthazar Boabab took a deep breath. 'This means, once again, Bakery No. 9 is picking up the crumbs…'

The apprentice bakers began to mutter. It wasn't fair. They had tried so hard, but they weren't being given a chance.

'I know, I know ...' said the head baker. 'It's not ideal, but after last year's cake collapse and exploding-eclair incident, Bakery No. 9 has a lot to prove ...'

'But that wasn't our fault,' protested one of the gnomes.

'The last head baker didn't pay off the League of Rats, said Langdale the goat boy, stamping his hooves, "and they ruined everything…'

'Nothing was proved,' said Balthazar gently. 'I am head baker now, and things are different, aren't they?'

Zam and the other apprentices nodded. It was true. Bakery No. 9 had changed since Balthazar Boabab had taken over: no more bullying, tantrums or random punishments. The kitchen was a happy place, and everyone was respected and baking beautifully. It was just as well. A year ago, after the disaster of the last tea ball, Bakery No. 9 had almost been shut down and everyone sent home. If Balthazar hadn't joined them from the fashionable Bakery No. 12, the apprentices would have had no future. None of them wanted to let him down.

"But what about the rats?' asked Langdale anxiously.

‘Let me worry about them,' said the head baker, doing his best to sound cheerful. ‘After all, we have heard nothing from the rats since I arrived.
Meanwhile, you have baking to do. We will be making the crusts as well as gingerbread and some spun-sugar decorations. And, at the tea ball itself –

Balthazar cleared his throat; even he couldn't sound cheerful about the next bit – 'Bakery No. 9 will be doing the washing-up.

The apprentice bakers groaned.

‘Langdale and the Shellac sisters are on shortcrust pastry shells,' Balthazar instructed. 'Gnomes are on glazed piecrust. Zam, are you confident to bake the gingerbread and help me with the spun sugar?'

'Yes, head baker,' said Zam excitedly. “I've already been down in the flavour library ...

‘Baker's pet,' muttered Langdale.

Balthazar gave the goat boy a stern look. But before he could say anything, an unexpected sound silenced them all.

In the shop, the doorbell had rung, and now they could hear the scritch-scratch of claws on the floorboards.

'I smell a rat,' said Langdale.
 


Publishing 19th September 2019 | Hardback, £12.99 | Macmillan Children’s Books | ISBN 9781447277972

Monday, 16 September 2019

From the @TES Blog: 8 Routines For Teachers To Nail Before Half-Term



The idea of routines in the classroom might be a bit of a turn-off for some, but they aren’t about creating robot children who don’t think.
 
They are about making time for the stuff that really matters and providing children with the boundaries and clarity they need to get on with learning...
 

The Right Book for the Right Child (Guest Blog Post By Victoria Williamson)

I remember very clearly when my love affair with Jane Austen began.

It was the summer between fifth and sixth year of high school, when I was seventeen. I’d picked up Pride and Prejudice for the first time, but not because I actually wanted to read it. It was a stormy day despite it being July – too wet to walk up to the local library. It was back in the nineties before the internet, Kindle, and instant downloads were available. I wanted to curl up on the sofa to read, but I’d already been through every single book in the house. All that was left unread at the bottom of the bookshelf was a row of slightly faded classics belonging to my mother. I only picked the first one up as there was clearly a book-drought emergency going on, and I was desperate.

The reason I didn’t want to read it, was because I already knew it was going to be totally boring.
Well, I thought I knew it. I’d already ‘read’ the classics you see. When I was ten or eleven, thinking I was very clever, I branched out from my usual diet of fantasy and adventure books, and opened a copy of Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I can’t remember why now – it might have been another rainy day and another book emergency situation, but whatever the reason, I spent several miserable hours ploughing through page after page of unintelligible drivel about Lincoln’s Inn, Chancery, and a bunch of boring characters who said very dull things, before giving up in disgust.


I ‘knew’ from that point on that the classic novels teachers and book critics raved about were the literary equivalent of All Bran instead of Sugar Puffs, and I wasn’t interested in sampling any more.

I didn’t pick up another classic until that rainy day at seventeen, when I sped through Pride and Prejudice in a day and a night, emerging sleepy-eyed but breathless the next day to snatch Emma from the shelf before retreating back to my room to devour it. That summer, after running out of books by Austen, the Brontes and Mrs Gaskell, I tried Bleak House again. And what a difference! Where before I had waded thorough unintelligible passages without gaining any sense of what was going on, I now found an engaging, and often humorous tale of a tangled court system far beyond the ‘red tape’ that everyone was always complaining about in present-day newspapers. Where before I’d only seen dull characters who rambled on forever without saying anything at all, I discovered wit and caricature, and a cast of people I could empathise with.

That was when I realised that there wasn’t anything wrong with the literary classics – it was me who was the problem. Or rather, the mismatch between my reading ability when I was ten, and the understanding I had of the world at that age. I could read all of the words on the page, I just didn’t understand what half of them meant, and I thought the problem was with the story itself.

I was reminded of this little episode in my own reading history recently when I spent the summer in Zambia volunteering with the reading charity The Book Bus. One afternoon we were reading one-to-one with children in a community library, when I met Samuel. Samuel had a reading level far above the other children, and raced through the picture books and short stories they were struggling with. I asked him to pick a more complicated book to read with me for the last ten minutes, and after searching through the two bookshelves that comprised the small one-roomed library, he came back with a Ladybird book published in 1960, called ‘What to Look for in Autumn.’

He did his best with it. He could read all of the words – the descriptions of wood pigeons picking up the seeds to ‘fill their crops’, the harvesters – reapers, cutters and binders – putting the oats into ‘stooks’ and the information about various ‘mushrooms and fungi’, but he didn’t understand anything he was reading. Needless to say I looked out a more appropriate chapter book from the Book Bus’s well-stocked shelves for him to read the following week, but the incident reminded me of the importance of getting relevant books into children’s hands if we’re to ensure they’re not turned off by the reading experience.

This is a problem often encountered in schools when teachers are looking for books to recommend to children. A lot of the time we’re so focused on getting them to read ‘good’ books, the ones we enjoyed as children, or the ones deemed ‘worthy’ by critics, that we forget that reading ability isn’t the only thing we have to take into consideration. We have to match the child’s level of understanding to the texts that we’re recommending – or in the case of that Ladybird book, get rid of outdated books from our libraries entirely!

Children often find making the leap to more challenging books difficult, and comfort read the same books over and over again – sometimes even memorising them in anticipation of being asked to read aloud with an adult. If we’re to help them bridge this gap, we must make sure our recommendations are not only appropriate for their reading level, but match their understanding too, introducing new words and ideas gradually in ways that won’t put them off.

Samuel and I were both lucky – we loved reading enough that one bad experience wasn’t enough to put us off, but other children might not be so fortunate. Let’s ensure all children have the chance to discover the joy of reading, by getting the right books into the hands of the right child.

Victoria Williamson is the author of Fox Girl and the White Gazelle (click here for my review) and The Boy with the Butterfly Mind, both published by Floris Books.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Choose Simple


It really is all about the simple things. The longer I've been in teaching, the more I realise this. I thought I'd realised that 10 years ago; I thought I'd realised it 5 years ago. Last year I thought I'd realised it. Next year I'll realise it even more than I do today.

The thing you need to be able to do in your classroom is teach. Whether that's explaining, providing feedback, working with a group, modelling, reviewing, summarising, or whatever your definition of teaching includes, you need to be able to teach.

What you don't want to have to be doing is all that other stuff that goes on in classrooms that stops you from teaching, and, in turn, the children from learning.

If you know what you need to teach and how you are going to do it, then you need to free yourself up to do that. What you don't need are the endless interruptions that are nothing to do with teaching and learning:

"Sir, I haven't got a pencil."

"Please can I have a dictionary?"

"Can I go toilet?"
"Pardon?"
"Can I go toilet?"
"Try again..."
"Please can I go toilet?"
"Please can I go...?"
"Please can I go toilet?"
"Please can I go TO THE toilet?"
"Ohhhhh… please can I go to the toilet?"

It might not be the things the children say. It could be the things they do:
  • Wandering around trying to find the equipment they need.
  • Sitting there without trying to find the equipment they need.
  • Not going to the toilet when they really need to and thus not concentrating on their work properly.
  • Faffling around when they think they've got a spare moment.
  • Arguing about the exact position of a shared text book.
You all know the type of things that really frustrate you as you attempt to teach.

But so many of these things are avoidable if you attend to the simple things first. In order to do this you might have to reassess what you believe to be a waste of your time.

Is it really a waste of three minutes of your time for you to go around each table in the morning to check there are 6 pencils and rulers in each pot? Especially if you are going to ask them to write in pencil and underline their dates and titles multiple times in the day?

Is it really a waste of your time to spend the same three minutes putting out the maths books at break so that the children are ready to work when they come back in?

Is it really a waste of your time to think about who is sitting where when you put the books out, and to make adjustments to the seating arrangements based on what you know of the class and the current relationships between children?

Is it really a waste of your time to write up a welcome message for the class which contains instructions about what they can be getting on with as they come in?

Is it really a waste of your time to prepare that resource that children can refer to during the lesson so that they don't need to constantly ask the same questions?

Is it really a waste of your time for you to design a routine for getting the books handed out in less than 10 seconds?

Is it really a waste of your time to plan for how you will add to your working wall during the lesson if it means that you don't have to then spend half an hour after school updating it on your own?

Is it really a waste of your time to arrange the equipment in your room so that children know where it is and can access it at all times?

Is it really a waste of your time to spend a few moments explaining to children that they can use the toilet whenever they need to (or that they must always only use the toilet during breaktimes)?

All of these examples require a little bit of extra work outside of class time, but it is exactly these simple things that, once a little bit of thought and effort has been expended on your part, will allow you to get on with the job once you and the children are in the classroom together.

Spend a bit of your time outside of class time sorting out these things and lessons will be such a dream that you will feel less like you need to collapse in the staffroom for 15 minutes in between lessons.

There are often very simple solutions to the issues that arise during class but they require a little forethought. Often, the problems you have in class are very hard to firefight at the time, but can be pre-empted and avoided with the development of a few simple routines. Sure, you might have to spend some class time initially explaining routines and practising them, but in the long run it'll be so worth it.

Next time you are frustrated by something that happens in class ask yourself: Does this problem have a simple solution? Could I pre-empt this happening again by spending a little bit of time in preparation? What can I put in place to avoid these distractions in the future?

If you can't at first find the simple solution, spend some more time mulling it over, or ask another teacher who may have already cracked that particular issue.

And the thing with simple things is that even children can do them. Perhaps it doesn't even have to be you who counts the pencils, puts the books out, arranges the equipment and so on - the children can do those things.

The really difficulty with being a teacher is that all the little simple things add up: remembering to do them all can be hard. Keep working intentionally at doing them and, just like the routines you drill with the children, you'll start to do more of them automatically. But in order to do that you need to value and embrace the power of the simple things to begin with, never belittling them or thinking you haven't got time for them. Often, ignoring the simple things can lead to complex problems.

Monday, 9 September 2019

From @Matr_org: Understanding Maths Anxiety: A Parents’ Guide On How To Overcome This Primary School Problem


"I remember finding ways to get out of maths lessons as a youngster.

My favourite ruse was to offer to tidy up the teacher’s cupboard – I even clearly remember stacking the maths textbooks neatly on the shelves, feeling inwardly smug that I did not have to open them and attempt the questions inside.

I recall my dad spending what seemed like hours with me trying to help me to understand negative numbers and how to calculate them – unfortunately, his pictures of eggs and egg cups didn’t help at all although I appreciated his efforts!"

https://matr.org/blog/understanding-maths-anxiety-parents-guide/

Monday, 2 September 2019

Choosing The Gods by Steve Kershaw, Author Of Mythologica (Guest Post)

Imagine my joy! I’m a Classicist, a person who spends his life in the world of dead languages and the people who don’t speak them anymore, when all of a sudden I receive a fantastic opportunity to collaborate on a fabulously illustrated children’s encyclopaedia featuring fifty of Ancient Greece’s most powerful gods and goddesses, fascinating earth-dwelling mortals, and terrifying monsters. What could be better? I teach this stuff for Oxford University, but I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid myself. At my lovely Primary School in Halifax in Yorkshire, our teachers would read to us from wonderful books for the last 20 minutes of each day. And when a new young teacher read bits out of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to us, I thought this was totally amazing! Gods, monsters, heroes, astonishing adventures… I was entranced!

So who should I include in Mythologica? Obviously the twelve Olympian gods and goddesses. They can be a pretty jealous lot: if I’d left any of them out, they would just have ruined my life in the most horrible way imaginable. But they are also completely entrancing: Zeus, who can blast even the most awesome of giants into oblivion with his thunderbolts; Athena, his daughter, born from his head, with her mesmerising grey-eyed beauty and fearsome intelligence; Artemis, running free in the countryside with her dogs; or the blacksmith Hephaestus, who was severely disabled but still physically powerful, and married to Aphrodite, the most beautiful female in the universe! In some ways they seem incredibly distant and alien, and yet again they can be so like us. They are a close-knit family, and they behave like one, always squabbling and arguing with each other, but if any outsider threatens them, they immediately come together in inseparable unity. They’re just so easy for children to relate to!

Illustrations from the book by Victoria Topping
Selecting the mortals was like choosing a sports team from a squad of world superstars. Some, like wily Odysseus, beautiful Helen, mighty Heracles, swift-footed Achilles, and Medea the barbarian witch, picked themselves, but sadly others had to be left on the bench. Greek mythology can seem a bit male-dominated, but we wanted to strike a slightly fairer balance between male and female characters, and the ones who made the cut had to bring the amazing stories, staggering achievements, and brilliant skills that would excite our interest and emotions, and make us think. Our mortals needed to be people who we could admire, fear, love, hate, laugh at, or feel sorry for. As heroes and heroines they had be able to do things that we ordinary mortals could never dream of, face unimaginable dangers, make terrible mistakes, and possibly win eternal glory.

Our humans also needed to look great, and to provide a diverse range of character types. So in looking for inspiration for Victoria Topping’s magnificent artwork we thought about their personalities and behaviour, what they wore, what distinctive things they carried, their hair- and/or skin-colour, what their eyes looked like, where they lived, who they interacted with, and what amazing powers or abilities they might have. I think we found a hero for a very reader.

When it came to the monsters we just wanted the biggest, baddest, mightiest, weirdest, wildest, snakiest, doggiest, fire-breathingest, flesh-eatingest, turn-you-to-stone-est, set of colourful, evil, hybrid creatures that the Greek myths could offer. They had to encapsulate that wonderful world of ‘the other’ that kids find so entrancing. Cerberus the hell-hound, the Gorgon Medusa, the dangerously alluring Sirens, the bronze giant Talos, and their various brothers and sisters all had to thrill, scare, and astound.

Why are these tales so important and enduring? At heart, they are just fantastic stories with wondrous characters, and children adore them for that reason alone. The myths are so vivid that we feel we can get to know the gods, monsters and mortals personally. We can meet Athena, travel with Jason, and fight with the Cyclops. But there’s more to them than that. Myths are good to think with. But they’re not preachy, and they’re often morally ambiguous. We don’t find straightforward answers; easy morals are sometimes hard to find; it’s not always about ‘Good people’ versus ‘Bad people’, with the Good ones winning in the end - even the good guys do bad things; life can be unfair; bad things happen when it isn’t your fault, but they also happen when it is; and, ‘they all lived happily ever after’ doesn’t happen very often. So these Greek myths challenge our children’s imagination, and invite them to reflect on how we live today, presenting them with lessons and problems not just about the world as we would like it to be, but about the world as it is. The world of Greek mythology is still very much our children’s world.

Steve Kershaw is an expert on dead languages and the people who don’t speak them anymore. He’s been captivated by the Greek myths ever since childhood when he used to read Homer’s Iliad with his torch under the bedclothes. Steve wrote his PhD under Richard Buxton, arguably the leading scholar on Greek myth in the world. He has taught Classics in numerous establishments, including Oxford University Department for Continuing Education and Warwick University. He runs the European Studies Classical Tour for Rhodes College and the University of the South. He’s also an internationally renowned jazz musician.

http://stevekershaw.com/

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Book Review: 'Spylark' by Danny Rurlander

Just as Daniel Craig's James Bond brought a more human dimension to the franchise, Danny Rurlander has broken the Stormbreaker mould with the unlikely hero of Spylark. True, Tom Hopkins has lost both parents and is living with a relative, but he also suffers bullying at school, has terrible claustrophobia and is living with the after-effects of an accident which has left him needing a walking stick to get about.

Tom is at risk of becoming withdrawn and reclusive and his love inventing machines and piloting his homemade drones seems to be making this worse. But flying is his escape - as he explores the beautiful surroundings of the Lake District using his drone's camera's live feed he feels free of his body and able to do all manner of things. However, a routine flight brings him into a world of danger and terror as he attempts to foil the plans of a criminal gang whose activity threatens to have world-wide consequences. Tom's freedom very quickly becomes captivity.

Thankfully Tom isn't in this alone - he reluctantly befriends two children who come to stay in his aunt's holiday cottage and, as he becomes tour guide to their Swallows and Amazons fantasy holiday, he takes them into his confidence. And a good job too - they prove crucial not only in helping him combat the criminals, but in causing Tom to break free of how his life's experiences are holding him back.

Although certain aspects of the book are recognisable, the storyline is far from formulaic - halfway through it seems like the action is soon to be over: not so. You see, the familiar idea of children being taken seriously enough to have done what a country's secret services couldn't have done is rubbished in this story, lending it an air of credible realism. The fact that some adults don't believe Tom and his friends means that the story must go on and the no-nonsense advice of more trusted adults ensures that it does.

Spylark is an awesome page-turner and an incredible feat for this first-time author. If Arthur Ransome legitimately got so many sequels out of his sailboats-and-sandwiches romps (and don't get me wrong, they thrilled me) then Rurlander could certainly provide us with a brilliant follow-up to Spylark - I know I'd be queueing up to read it. Immediately gripping, this book would go down well with upper key stage two readers and upwards, not least with those considered to be reluctant readers. I couldn't recommend it enough - a cracking adventure.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Misguided Reading (6 Questions To Ask When Planning A Reading 'Lesson')


How should we teach reading? What do we even mean by 'reading'? Decoding? Comprehension? Both? Is it more than that?

Scarborough's Reading Rope - image from EEF's 'Improving Literacy In KS2'

Scarborough's Reading Rope breaks things down a little more and, if nothing else, serves to show that there is quite a lot going on when one picks up a book to read.

If the above 8 headings (background knowledge; vocabulary; language structures etc) were all the necessary components of being able to read, is it the case that if we teach them all, children would be able to read? If so, how explicitly do they need to be taught? Can some of them be developed unwittingly in a language-rich, book-rich environment? Do teachers and schools really have a chance if a child isn't being brought up in such an environment?

So many questions, and given the range of advice that exists about reading instruction, I'm not sure we have the answers - at least not readily. Indeed, the 'reading wars' have been raging for years (although they focus less on comprehension) - just how exactly should we teach children to be able to read so that they can read words and understand their meaning as a whole?

My personal experience is that this is something that depends heavily on context. During my own career I have taught classes of children who have needed very little reading instruction and vice versa - I am judging this simply on their ability to understand what they have read. A cursory analysis of  the differences between these classes reveals that it appears to me to be the children who have been brought up in a language-rich, book-rich environment who, by the time they are 10 or 11, can read exceptionally well and don't need teaching how to comprehend what they have read. Of course, some children will have been brought up in such an environment and still need help with their reading.

Why does context matter? Well, for the purposes of this blog post, it matters because what one teacher in one classroom in one school somewhere does, might not work for another teacher somewhere else.

For example, a reading lesson consisting of asking children to complete two pages of mixed written comprehension questions might work with children who can already decode, comprehend and encode, but it is questionable as to how much they will have actually learned during that lesson. A lesson like this might have the appearance of being successful in one setting but, share those resources online with a teacher in a different context and they might not experience the same levels of apparent success. The children in the second teacher's class might need teaching some strategies before they can access such an activity.

And what does said activity amount to in reality? Just another test. Weighing the pig won't make it fatter - it's just that weighing it also won't make it any lighter either: if a child can read already, then these kinds of activity might do no harm. But we must be clear: this practice of repeatedly giving children comprehension activities composed of mixed question types is not really teaching children much. However, perhaps the stress, or boredom, of constantly being weighed might start to have negative consequences for the pig: children are potentially put off reading if their main experience of it is repetitive comprehension activities.

So, if weighing the pig doesn't make it fatter, what does? Feeding it. But with what should we feed them with? What should we teach them in order to help them to read words and understand what they mean as a whole?

Is it as simple as Michael Rosen suggests? Is it just a case of sharing books with children and talking about them? I've seen first-hand anecdotal evidence which certainly suggests that 'Children are made readers on the laps of their parents' (Emilie Buchwald). My own children, taught very well to decode using phonics at school, also appear to be excellent comprehenders - they have grown up around family members who read an awful lot, have had models of high quality speech, have partaken in a wide variety of experiences, have broad vocabularies and spend a good deal of their own time reading or being read to. Give them a two-page comprehension activity and they'd probably ace it. However, as already mentioned, this certainly won't be the case for every child brought up in such a way.

But what should schools do when they receive children who haven't had the privilege of a language-rich, book-rich and knowledge-rich upbringing, or those for whom that hasn't quite led to them being excellent readers? Downloading someone else's comprehension sheets and making children spend half an hour doing them isn't going to help them to become better readers. Should we teachers be trying to 'fill the gap' - to do the things that some children experience at home before they've ever even set foot in a school? Or is it too late once they're in school? Does the school-based approach need to be different?

As I said before: so many questions - questions I won't answer in this blog post. But I will leave you with something practical, in the spirit of this blog post, it'll be in the form of some questions to ask yourself when preparing a reading lesson:

Does this activity promote practice of existing skills or is it teaching them new strategies? Sometimes you will want to do some practising, other times you will want to teach them something new - how to ask questions of what they are readin, how to summarise what they have read, for example.

Does this activity help children to understand the text better or does it help them to understand a strategy better? Again, on some days you will just want to do activities that help children to gain a really good understanding of the passage; other days you might want to focus on teaching and practising a strategy such as inference making or visualising what has been described in the text.

Does this activity promote an enjoyment of reading? I tentatively include his question, and provide some clarification: I do not mean Is this activity fun? Reading is nearly always enjoyable when one understands what is being read. A reading task therefore can be enjoyable if it focuses on developing understanding of previously unknown word meanings which then helps he children to understand what hey have read. Anything that makes a child feel a sense of success will probably also be enjoyable for them. If they feel like it's pointless, repetitive or way too difficult, they lose that motivating sense of achievement.

Does the activity require silent completion or dialogic collaboration? I would suggest at the first option is reserved for testing - occasionally necessary; the second option should be key to a reading lesson. Teachers should be reading aloud, modelling their thoughts, demonstrating strategies, explaining word etymology and so on, and children should be joining in with this. Although the act of reading is usually a very private thing, a reading lesson will need to be the opposite if the children are to learn anything in it. A lesson can legitimately feature a set of printed out questions that require a written answer but should never consist of this alone - such activities will need surrounding with plenty of decent talk. And it's that book talk that will make the lesson enjoyable.

Do the children need any new prior knowledge (of the world or of words) before they access this text? Reading sessions can be derailed instantly if the children don't know enough about what they are reading to be able to understand it. Spending some time previously learning new stuff (could be by reading a non-fiction text) will help a following lesson to go much more smoothly - comprehension, including inference-making, relies on prior (or background) knowledge. Of course, some fiction texts (historical novels, for example) can be great ways for children to learn new things about a subject.

Have I (the teacher) read and understood the text and the questions and answers I intend to ask? When I've seen reading lessons go off the boil, it's usually because teachers haven't asked themselves this question during their preparation. Downloading someone else's comprehension sheets can easily lead to teachers not being able to answer the questions themselves and then getting into a right fluster in front of the children. Although a good reading lesson will nearly always follow a tangent or two, it's best to know where you're going in general: pre-empt the questions the children might ask, the words they might not know, and so on. Plan out what you will model, which questions you will ask and definitions you will give.

What other experiences of reading do the children in my class get? The timetabled reading lesson shouldn't be all that children get. They need to discuss vocabulary and read across the curriculum. They will benefit from a physical environment which celebrates reading. Adults who have read the books on the shelves and can discuss them with children will really boost their engagement with books and reading. If a lesson is the only time children experience reading then they may believe that reading only belongs in that slot on the timetable.

Perhaps by asking the above questions during lesson planning sessions, reading lessons might develop a little more focus and direction. By preparing in this way a lesson might end up being more guided than misguided.