Showing posts with label education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education. Show all posts

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

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...
 

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, 22 July 2019

History Key Questions To Ask When Learning About An Event or Period in KS2


Recently I posted a whole set of questions to ask when learning about a place in Geography (http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/06/geography-key-questions-place-national-curriculum.html). Here are the History versions. They are based on the KS2 History National Curriculum and, yes, there's an acronym: CHESTER.

So here are the CHESTER questions which you can ask whenever a new historical period or event is studied - ask these questions over the course of a unit:

Characteristics:

What were people’s lives like during this historical period?
What was/were society/culture/economy/military/religion/politics like during this historical period?
What else do I want/need to know about this historical period?

Historical Links:

How has this historical period influenced other historical periods?
How have other historical periods influenced this historical period?
How does this period/event compare to other historical periods/events (that have already been studied)?

Evidence:

What is the evidence for this historical event?

Significance:

What is significant about this historical event or period?
What were the main achievements of this historical period?
What were the follies of mankind in this historical period?

Timeline:

When did this event occur?
How long did this period last?
What came before and after this historical period?

Elsewhere:

What was going on elsewhere in the world during this historical period?


Response:

What do I think about this historical event?
What do others (past and present) think about this historical event?



You can download a word version of the above here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/key-questions-to-ask-and-answer-during-ks2-history-units-12152665

For History Key Questions To Ask When Learning About A Person, Event or Period in KS1, follow this link: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2019/11/history-key-questions-KS1.html

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

What Should Adults Be Doing When Children Are Working?

Years ago I was told that I should stop buzzing around the room so much and that I should settle down and spend more time with groups – that I should sit in a position where I could see the entire class (for behaviour management purposes), and get on with working with a small number of children (whatever that means). There is, I now believe, both wisdom and folly in this advice.

The wisdom is that there are benefits to both working with groups and taking a step back. The folly is that by basing oneself only with one group, the other children are missing out on important interactions with an adult.

A later piece of workload management advice – to give feedback during lessons – freed me from the bondage of only ever working with groups and helped me to understand more of the adult’s role in the classroom.

More recently, my increased understanding of early years practice (don’t get me wrong, I’m no expert), gained mainly through observation of really skilled practitioners at work, has helped me to see that there is so much to be gained from the ways that adults in classrooms interact with children.

Teachers as experts

This concept is one which should influence all our ideas about the adult’s role in the classroom.
One of the main things that teachers do as experts is to share what they know – this isn’t the place for going into very much about how that happens, but I will say that it is essential before children get to the point when they are positioned at whichever workstations are present in the classroom doing some sort of follow-up work.

In ‘What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?’ Doug Lemov writes: ‘Teacher-driven dissemination of material is critical at times. It’s one of the best ways to share knowledge, and not only is knowledge critical to learning in and of itself, but it’s the driver of rigour during more interactive applied activities.’ (p148)

In the article in ‘The Case for Fully Guided Instruction’, Clark, Kirschner and Sweller argue that ‘decades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance. So, when teaching new content and skills to novices, teachers are more effective when they provide explicit guidance accompanied by practice and feedback, not when they require students to discover many aspects of what they must learn.’

Rosenshine, in his article ‘Principles of Instruction’, says that before children begin the aforementioned period of follow-up work there should be a period of time he terms as guided practice time. He writes: ‘The more successful teachers used this extra time to provide additional explanations, give many examples, check for student understanding, and provide sufficient instruction so that the students could learn to work independently without difficulty.’

The near-myth of independent learning

Whilst most agree that independence is one of the goals of education, there are opposing views about how to go about achieving it. In their book ‘What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?’ Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson point out that ‘…independent learning might be a desired outcome, but paradoxically, it may not be the best way to achieve that outcome.’ (p203) There is no point in expecting a child to become independent by simply asking them to do something independently – imagine if swimming teachers did that!

Within any given lesson, though, there may be periods of time which we call independent learning – we’ve already mentioned how it is the time after a teacher has done their bit up at the front when the children are at their tables (usually). But what does this period of so-called independent learning look like?

In the previous quotation Lemov mentions that this time within lessons should feature ‘interactive applied activities’ and Clark, Kirschner and Sweller say it should contain ‘practice and feedback’. They also point out that a focus on explicit instruction ‘… does not mean direct, expository instruction all day every day. Small group and independent problems and projects can be effective – not as vehicles for making discoveries, but as a means of practicing recently learned content and skills.’

In ‘What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?’ Paul Kirschner also writes: ‘…they’re a student and you have to instruct them properly. And at certain points give them the leeway to make use of what you’ve taught them without you constantly standing in front of the class lecturing. (p216)
So, there should be a part in every teaching sequence where children are allowed to work on their own, or with a partner or a group, to tackle tasks related to the input from the teacher where they have the chance to practice, use and apply the content and skills that have been taught. At this point in the lesson or teaching sequence there should be interaction from the teacher, part of which should be the giving, receiving and acting upon of feedback.

The need for adult interactions

We are now assuming that the adults in the classroom are the experts, and that in each teaching sequence there will be a time when children are able to practice what they have been taught. We often call this independent learning to discern it from whole class-based activity, but if it follows teacher input of any kind, it is not truly independent.

During that practice time, then, the experts should be interacting with the children in the room, making judgements about when to get involved and when to stand back. But in a class of 30 children it would be rare for there to be a prolonged period of time when no child would benefit from some interaction with an adult.

Early Years staff understand this principle well. Back in the days of The National Strategies a practice guide entitled ‘Learning, Playand Interacting’ was published. It puts paid to misconceptions that some teachers of older children have about how children learn in Early Years settings – it’s not just all children playing and adults changing nappies and bringing out snacks, something much more is happening:

‘Adults have a crucial role in stimulating and supporting children to reach beyond their current limits, inspiring their learning and supporting their development. It is through the active intervention, guidance and support of a skilled adult that children make the most progress in their learning. This does not mean pushing children too far or too fast, but instead meeting children where they are, showing them the next open door, and helping them to walk through it. It means being a partner with children, enjoying with them the power of their curiosity and the thrill of finding out what they can do.’

Interaction is key, and whilst children in Key Stage 1 and above (right the way through to Further Education) are progressing on their journey to independence, if the content is new and challenging, they are still novices and will need quality interactions with experts to help them to learn. If that is the case, then what is written above about Early Years interactions should be applicable to all experts who are teaching novices.

The same document breaks down something which happens in a high quality interaction. It points out that in those spur-of-the-moment, reactive, responsive interactions, the whole cycle of teaching is happening, sometimes at lightning speed:

‘…young children, however, are experiencing and learning in the here and now, not storing up their questions until tomorrow or next week. It is in that moment of curiosity, puzzlement, effort or interest – the ‘teachable moment’ – that the skilful adult makes a difference. By using this cycle (observation, assessment, planning) on a moment-by-moment basis, the adult will be always alert to individual children (observation), always thinking about what it tells us about the child’s thinking (assessment), and always ready to respond by using appropriate strategies at the right moment to support children’s well-being and learning (planning for the next moment).’

In classrooms beyond the Early Years I’d suggest that excellent teachers are also doing these things and that these are things that all adults in the classroom should be aspiring to do.

Monitoring independent practice:

To be able to make the most of every teachable moment, adults in the classroom need to be vigilant and aware of what is going on in the 30 minds before them. In order to do this the independent practice time should be monitored. In the same article I have already quoted from, Rosenshine writes: ‘Research has found that students were more engaged when their teacher circulated around the room, and monitored and supervised their seatwork. The optimal time for these contacts was 30 seconds or less.’ He goes on to clarify that where these interactions were above 30 seconds the teacher hadn’t spent enough time at the guided practice stage.

This monitoring of practice should then lead the adult to make further decisions: is feedback necessary at this point, or do they need re-teaching, and are there other children who would benefit from that? Would some questioning or retrieval practice help at this point? Basically, once monitoring has led to understanding of how well the children are doing, there needs to be a response from the adult: what sort of interaction is appropriate at this point?

Sustained Shared Thinking

Again, many Early Years practitioners will be aware of Sustained Shared Thinking.
‘Sustained shared thinking involves two or more people working together to solve a problem, clarify an issue, evaluate activities, or extend a narrative. Key features include all parties contributing to the interaction—one aimed at extending and developing children’s thinking.’ (EEF Preparing For Early Literacy Guide

SST provides some good pointers for making decisions about appropriate interactions. Some of the following interactions would take above 30 seconds, but that would not necessarily be an indicator that the teacher hadn’t modelled the learning enough in the first place – some of these techniques, for example, are to extend thinking and further the learning.

Techniques that adults might use include:

         tuning in—listening carefully to what is being said and observing what the child is doing;
         showing genuine interest—giving whole attention, eye contact, and smiling and nodding;
         asking children to elaborate—‘I really want to know more about this’;
         recapping—‘So you think that…’;
         giving their own experience—‘I like to listen to music when cooking at home’;
         clarifying ideas—‘So you think we should wear coats in case it rains?’;
         using encouragement to extend thinking—‘You have thought really hard about your tower, but what can you do next?’;
         suggesting—‘You might want to try doing it like this’;
         reminding—‘Don’t forget that you said we should wear coats in case it rains’; and
         asking open questions—‘How did you?’, ‘Why does this…?’, ‘What happens next?’


The above points were taken from a presentation by Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford, where she also included the following techniques:
  • using encouragement to further thinking: ‘You have really thought hard about where to put this door in the palace but where on earth will you put the windows?’
  • offering an alternative viewpoint: ‘Maybe Goldilocks wasn’t naughty when she ate the porridge’
  • speculating: ‘Do you think the three bears would have liked Goldilocks to come to live with them as their friend?’
  • reciprocating: ‘Thank goodness that you were wearing wellington boots when you jumped in those puddles Kwame. Look at my feet they are soaking wet’
  • modelling thinking: ‘I have to think hard about what I do this evening. I need to take my dog to the vet’s because he has a sore foot, take my library books back to the library and buy some food for dinner tonight. But I just won’t have time to do all of these things’



On listening

The first two points on the list of SST techniques are both about listening and hearing. If we do neither of these then any other interactions we have with children whilst they are working will be misguided.

Mary Myatt has this to say: ‘I don’t think we spend enough time thinking about the quality of professional listening. This is important, because I cannot expand on, probe and challenge pupils’ responses unless I am paying careful attention to what is being said. And when this close attention and response to pupils is in place, then I am more likely to shift towards cognitively challenging dialogue.’ (‘The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence’ p108-9)

If we want to question, check for understanding, have dialogue that moves children’s thinking on, and so on, we must begin by listening. Good Early Years practitioners know the power of standing back and listening in before they intervene in any way - teachers mustn’t be too quick to dive in and children should first be given the opportunity to grapple with what they are doing.

On questioning and checking for understanding

It is interesting to note that in all the techniques for interaction mentioned above, only 5 involve questioning. Questioning is a powerful tool, but is not the only one we have. Having said that, if an adult spends their time questioning whilst children are carrying out independent practice, they will be using their time pretty wisely.

In her book ‘The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence’, Mary Myatt writes: ‘It is through the ‘to and fro’ of questioning conversations in the classroom that I know not only whether pupils have completed something, but whether they have understood and are able to apply it in different contexts.’ (p55)

One of the principles of instruction that Rosenshine observed is that ‘effective teachers also stopped to check for student understanding. They checked for understanding by asking questions, by asking students to summarise the presentation up to that point or to repeat directions or procedures, or by asking students whether they agreed or disagreed with other students’ answers.’

Questioning is very much part of the monitoring that we have already looked at.

However, Martin Robinson mentions how it does more than that: ‘You ask questions of kids who you think need to be questioned at any particular point. You’re really testing out what they know and don’t know, looking for depth of knowledge, and also it is about creating some sort of atmosphere in which kids can ask each other questions that are interesting. This is what you want, over years you want this class of novices to become a classroom full of curious, interested and interesting students.’ (‘What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?’ p153) Teachers who use questioning are modelling to children that asking questions is an important and exciting thing to do.

Questions can be closed (good for assessment and clarification) or open (good for extending thinking and moving learning on).

On feedback and assessment

Once monitoring has taken place – often using questioning - the assessment process has begun. But there is more to it than just questioning: questioning is part of an overall conversation or dialogue between child and teacher, novice and expert.

As Mary Myatt points out, ‘the most effective way to consider progress is to look at pupils’ work and have discussions with them, over time.’ (‘The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence’, p62) To get a good idea of what that dialogue might look like the aforementioned Sustained Shared Thinking techniques are very useful. Not only does this give a real purpose to the adult’s time in the classroom, it also has the potential to eliminate ineffective written feedback which is given after the lesson has ended, thus decreasing workload.

On differentiation

The definition of what differentiation is and what it should look like varies depending on who you speak to. Recently there has been a backlash against the three-way differentiation that was popular when I began teaching. That kind of differentiation is limiting to children and often takes a lot of preparation time.

One of the ways adults can use their time in class is to support children with differing needs. Mary Myatt suggests that this ‘…support consists of live conversations and additional unpacking of the material during the lesson …the support comes through live conversations with those who haven’t grasped it or who are struggling.’ (‘The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence’, p69) Again, the Sustained Shared Thinking techniques play a part here.

In order for children to be motivated at all, they need to have experienced success. Teachers should ‘…provide an environment where students can genuinely see themselves being successful…it’s about what kind of support you can give that allows both individuals to perceive themselves as being successful.’ (Nick Rose,‘What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?’, p116) Adults in the classroom can make or break a child’s day, depending on the interactions they have – if nothing else convinces you of what you should be doing whilst children are working, hopefully this will!

Guided Interaction

The EEF’s Preparing for Literacy guidance (aimed at Early Years practitioners) gives us a good piece of terminology to use to sum up everything that has been discussed: Guided Interaction.

Whilst children are carrying out independent practice, the adults in the room can be judicially practicing guided interaction with particular children, or groups of children:

‘Guided interaction occurs when an adult and child collaborate on a task and the adult’s strategies are highly tuned to the child’s capabilities and motivations… Discussion is a key feature of this approach and the use of a variety of questions helps to develop and extend children’s thinking.’ (https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Preparing_Literacy_Guidance_2018.pdf)

Friday, 21 December 2018

A Model For Teaching The Wider Curriculum

After two half terms in my new school, and since curriculum planning and delivery is a hot topic, I thought I'd share a document I put together to help us visualise and explain the logistics of how we teach the wider curriculum.

The purpose of organising the delivery of the curriculum this way is to achieve the following, which we consider to be aspects of the school's culture which help us to deliver on our vision and values:
  • Responding to misconceptions through same day intervention
  • Setting children learning challenges (Apprentice Tasks) that are open-ended and encourage decision making (and time management)
  • Setting up inspirational areas of provision within the environment
  • Providing frequent masterclasses which communicate age-appropriate skills in all areas of the curriculum
  • Supporting children to critique their own work and that of others
By delivering the curriculum this way we hope to ensure that all areas of the curriculum are covered and that they aren't being squeezed out by Maths and English. We also hope that as a result of taking this approach children will not produce near-identical pieces of work. As well as this we aim to provide children with less structured time which gives them opportunities to engage in decision making and time management. Because there is less structured time than in a more traditional timetable teachers are also freed up to spend time on same day interventions based on feedback gained during all lessons, including Maths and English.

The green sequence shows what the adults are doing during the sessions; the turquoise sequence shows how children are grouped.
Units of Work

Each unit of work runs for one half term. The length of the half term will dictate the number of Apprentice Tasks set and the number of Masterclasses that take place.

Each unit of work is based on a book. Units of work cover National Curriculum objectives as well as objectives taken from the school’s own skills continuums for painting, drawing, clay work, woodwork etc. Long Term Planning documents ensure coverage of all objectives.

Each unit of work is also centres around a question which should be answered by the end of the unit using information learned during the half term.

Units of work usually cover a range of national curriculum subjects although there is often a predominant subject e.g. Space covers mainly Science but also some History and Geography, Castles covers mainly History but also some Geography. Currently most Science is taught discretely by a cover teacher during teachers’ PPA.

Key Fact Sheets

Knowledge teaching is supported by Key Fact Sheets which contain 10 key facts for the topic and 10 key pieces of vocabulary. This information is learned by heart supported by various retrieval practice activities. A Key Fact Sheet is produced per unit of work prior to the planning of the unit to ensure teachers know what it is they want children to know by the end.

Facts on the Key Fact Sheets should spark intrigue and should be a gateway to further learning. They should provoke children to ask questions and to want to find out more.

Key vocabulary words should be linked to the theme of the unit and should be words that will be used regularly in both spoken and written language during the unit. Child-friendly definitions should be written by teachers.

Diagrams and useful images may be included on the Key Fact Sheet.

The Showcase

The Showcase event provides an audience and purpose to all the apprentice tasks. It might be in the form of an exhibition, gallery, exposition or a screening. Alternative audiences/purposes might be a website, a tea party (e.g if the unit is formed around Alice in Wonderland) or a show. This event is decided upon before planning the Apprentice Tasks to ensure all tasks feed into this final event.

Apprentice Tasks and Masterclasses

Apprentice Tasks are open-ended tasks which allow children to operate with some freedom and creativity. However, each task has a set of objectives that should be demonstrated in the final piece. The expectation is that each child produces unique and original pieces of work.

Each Apprentice Task, or sequence of Masterclasses, is typically controlled by one member of staff: they source or make exemplars, research information further to the core information contained on the Key Fact Sheets, deliver the masterclasses and support children during the independent application stage.

One Apprentice Task might require more than one sequence of Masterclasses running consecutively. For example, an Apprentice Task which requires children to produce a painting might have two sequences of Masterclasses: drawing skills and painting skills.

During a Masterclass focusing on creative skills such as woodwork, painting, drawing or clay work, children will create studies which will help them to practise the skills they will need to complete the Apprentice Task.

Not all Masterclasses focus on skills teaching. There are also regular Masterclasses focusing on knowledge teaching, particularly linked to Science, Geography and History. These Masterclasses expand on the Key Facts from the Key Facts Sheets.

Some Masterclasses may focus on producing a final piece for an Apprentice Task – this would occur when children need more adult input, for example if it is too soon to expect independent application of the skills.

Some Apprentice Tasks may be group tasks, most are individual tasks.

Some Apprentice Tasks may be worked on as part of the English lessons, particularly where writing is a major component e.g. a script for a documentary, a poem, a story, a report. In this case, the Masterclasses become the whole class/half class teaching inputs.

Logistics and Organisation

Although a detailed Medium Term Plan is produced, logistical and organisational planning takes place weekly to ensure best use of time and adults. This might sometimes making decisions to provide whole class inputs rather than repeated group inputs, making decisions about length of time needed to complete a Masterclass carousel and so on. No two weeks look exactly the same where timetabling is concerned.

Most of this work takes place in afternoons once Maths and English has been taught. However, English is sometimes taught in half-class (or smaller) groups whilst some children complete a Masterclass or work on their Apprentice tasks.

Materials needed to complete Apprentice Tasks are readily available either in classrooms or in shared areas. Most of them are displayed in sight and not kept in cupboards – children can access what they need when they need it without needing to ask for it.

The Environment

As well as the Apprentice Tasks and the Masterclasses there are also further activities (linked to prior teaching in all subjects) which children can access (usually independently) during the time set aside for work on the wider curriculum. These will be set up in classrooms in the same way that Early Years classrooms have activities set up in areas of provision.

Equipment for all subjects is available to the children at all times enabling them to continue to practise skills learnt in Masterclasses.

The following are some images of the studio area we have developed outside of the classroom as an additional learning environment. The classrooms in year 5 are set up as fairly traditional classrooms with a bank of 5 computers each - the size of the rooms and the size of the children meant that to provide the aforementioned items in our environment we had to use some other space.







Saturday, 8 December 2018

What You're Forgetting When You Teach Writing


Time in a primary classroom is at a premium: there are so many things to try to fit in. Even under the umbrella of English there is handwriting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, composition, reading, and more. It’s so difficult to make sure that everything is covered. And there are certain parts of the writing process which are either misunderstood or don’t always get a look in because of time constraints.

The 7 stages of the writing process

The writing process, according to the EEF’s ‘Improving Literacy In Key Stage 2’ guidance report, can be broken down into 7 stages: Planning, Drafting, Sharing, Evaluating,Revising, Editing and Publishing.

In a recent training session, when I asked a group of school leaders and teachers to write down elements of current practice in their own schools for the teaching of writing, we found that most of the time was spent on planning, drafting and editing. In fact, there were very few examples of how the other stages were being taught.

Click here to read more: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2018/12/08/895/

In summary

  • Set a clear purpose and audience before beginning the writing process;
  • Teachers complete the task themselves;
  • Allow children to work at each of the seven stages of the writing process as they work towards a final piece;
  • Model each of the seven stages to the children using the I/We/You approach at each stage; and
  • Evaluate,share and revise by checking the writing fulfils its purpose.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

From the @tes Blog: The Myth of Pupil Data Groups


Once upon a time there was a spreadsheet and on that spreadsheet there was lots of interesting pupil data.

Very helpfully, the spreadsheet had made some calculations so as to inform the teacher of how well the children were doing with their learning. The spreadsheet told of how many pupils had: made expected progress, achieved age-related expectations, achieved accelerated progress and who were sadly working below the expected standard as a result of making slow progress.

"Thank you, spreadsheet – that is very useful," said the busy teacher.

"But that's not all I have, teacher." replied the spreadsheet. "I can also provide for you this very day some group data."

"Indeed?" asked the teacher. "Do show me more of what you have to offer."

Click here to read more on the TES site: https://www.tes.com/news/you-cant-reduce-child-spreadsheet-number

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Writing Characters In Key Stage 2

My new year 5 team and I sat down to plan together for the first time last week. Our class novel is Cosmic by Frank Cottrell-Boyce and the teachers decided they were going to focus on character both in reading and writing lessons. With a view to having children write their own piece of narrative involving a character of their own invention we set about planning how we would teach them to introduce their character to the reader.

I have lost count of the number of times I've taught children to write character descriptions but I know that every time I've done it there has been a niggle. A paragraph describing what a character looks like and what they like is not something we come across that often in the books we read. I have seen numerous requests from teachers for passages from books which contain good character descriptions and whilst there are some out there, I haven't noticed it to be that common, especially not for a main character,.

So, my team and I discussed how we might teach children to write about their characters in the way a real author might. Looking at Cosmic we found that information about Liam's character was scattered throughout the first few chapters. To begin with, the information about his character is explicit, then the information becomes more implicit, then, crucially, no new information about his character is given - all his actions, thoughts and feelings for the rest of the book are congruous with the character that has been introduced in the first few chapters, apart from instances of the events of the story changing an aspect of his character. I don't know if that's how Frank Cottrell-Boyce planned it to be, but that's certainly how it seems to have panned out.

I suppose what we were looking at teaching was characterisation - how a writer portrays their character. In Cosmic we found examples of both direct and indirect characterisation but what we didn't find was a big chunk of direct characterisation, which is what children are often taught to do (which is probably fine at an earlier age).

Our first port of call was to read the book in order to be inspired both by the character and by the organisation of the text. Reading lessons focused first on retrieving information about the characters (as well focusing on the all-important vocabulary that is foundational to understanding how characters are being described). They then moved on to being focused on inferring information about the character based on their actions. Examples of these comprehension questions can be downloaded from my TES resources page. These, and the accompanying book talk (discussion), gave the children the chance to see how authors pepper the text with carefully-placed pieces of information about their character.

Next came the task of developing characters for their own stories. This was done in the usual way - nothing too innovative or fancy here - if it ain't broke, why fix it? Children drew their characters and annotated them with phrases that they wanted to use to describe them.

It was the next part that was going to be difficult. How were we going to get children to use the information about their characters in a piece of narrative without writing up as one paragraph of character description? We decided to focus on one thing at a time: the inclusion of descriptive phrases and not the creativity that would have had to go into writing a piece of narrative. To achieve this, one of the teachers wrote a short piece of narrative devoid of any description, direct or indirect, of the characters mentioned. She double-spaced it and provided a copy for each child. The children then edited the piece to include, in relevant and suitable places, phrases of description of their character.

An example of the provided narrative and the edits made in an attempt to add character description.
At the point of writing this children have had a first attempt at completing this activity. After reviewing a few books it would seem that the children need to revisit their original characters, develop some more details and then ensure that when they edit the narrative that they have included the information that conveys to the reader what their character is like. For example, one child's character is a snail, but nowhere has he mentioned its shell, its tentacles (yes, apparently that's what they actually are) or its single, slimy foot. All children have also missed the opportunity to add a direct piece of description after the character catches sight of their reflection in the control panel - this will be a simple, whole-class starting point to modelling how they might further include character description in the narrative.

What Do Authors Say About This?

But what do I know? I've only read a load of books. So I asked a few people who've actually written books how they go about describing their characters. Their replies provided food for thought for further lessons (bring on PPA!).

Writing Dialogue To Convey Character

Lisa Thompson, author of The Goldfish Boy and The Light Jar, says that she has 'never written a character description', which is pretty much why I've written this blog post - published authors don't really seem to do it.

She advocates conveying the character's personality through the things they say - how they 'speak, their mannerisms and gestures'. This is definitely a good starting point for an interesting sequence of key stage 2 writing teaching.

Lisa also talks about how she just writes and the character appears - I'm not sure this would happen naturally with less experienced young writers.

Writing a Letter From The Character To Discover Characteristics

Author of both Bubble Boy and All The Things That Could Go Wrong, Stewart Foster, found, when writing his second book, that he got to know one of his main characters when he wrote (in first person) a letter (click here to see the letter in a Twitter thread from Stewart) from the boy to his brother. This would be an excellent exercise for children to undertake in order to help them think like the character would think. As in ATTTCGW this letter could be included as part of the narrative, making for a more varied and interesting text. Cosmic begins with Liam speaking (from space) a monologue to his parents - this is very similar in style to the letter.

Compare And Contrast Instead Of Direct Description

Victoria Williamson, the author of The Fox Girl And The White Gazelle, mentions the idea of sprinkling bits of description 'through the first few paragraphs or pages... so it's not just an info dump. She also mentions avoiding the use of any direct description, instead she chooses to point out similarities and differences between two characters in order to bring them to life. Perhaps a technique to try out with greater depth writers in upper key stage 2.

As well as this Victoria suggests that writers can describe a character through another character's eyes, which works especially well when writing in first person. As she wrote in her guest post on my blog though, this can lead to a skewed perspective on 'reality' because characters see things only from their point of view.

Describe Interactions With Other Characters

As we explored in our reading sessions on Cosmic we can often infer lots about character by the way they act and behave, particularly, as Tom Palmer (whose book Armistice Runner is published today) points out, the way they interact with other characters. This might include their gestures and stances as well as the things they say and do.

I think that to help children to do this in their writing it might be useful to go back to a text and analyse how authors have done this themselves. Children could make a list of what a character does and make inferences about what this tells us about their character. Again, another skill perhaps for the children who write fluently already.

In addition to this, more confident writers might want to use character description to signify something important in the story - a turning point in the plot, or to show how a main event has affected and changed a character. I can imagine teaching this to a small group and modelling how this might be done.

Click here to read about how Tania Unsworth, author of The Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was A Mermaid, writes her characters. Tania Unsworth mentions many of the techniques already covered - her answer to my question would be a great one to study with the children.

Hopefully our attempt to do something a little different, and the hugely helpful insights from the professionals might inspire one or two of you to try some new things out when you next teach characterisation. I'd love to hear from you if you've tried something like this before - please leave a comment here or on Twitter!

Tania Unsworth On Conveying Character

Tania Unsworth, author of the wonderful The Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was A Mermaid describes the process she goes through when writing her characters:

For my main characters, I try not to present a physical description, unless it's important for the story or it reveals something significant about them (perhaps they have bitten nails, for example). I think leaving the physical description somewhat vague allows the reader to conjure up a much richer, more flexible image in their mind's eye, and thus involves them more fully in the creative process. Hopefully it makes the character feel personal to each reader. The kind of writing I admire and aspire to is what I think of as 'generous' - it leaves as much as possible to the imagination of its readers. I have a different approach to minor characters, often describing their appearance in detail - they tend to be more two dimensional as a whole, mostly seen through the lens of the main character.

So how do I convey character? I try and do it in terms of their reaction to things. I aim to put them as quickly as possible into a situation where their responses begin to reveal how they see the world, their fears, hopes etc. Dialogue is another useful way of doing this. I love dialogue! How they talk, how they respond to the person they're talking to. As an exercise, it can be fun to take a chunk of dialogue from a book and without knowing anything else about the story, try to see what can be deduced about the protagonists simply from their conversation.

I tend not to start a book with a very clear idea of my main character. I learn about them as I go along, through their responses to things that are happening in the plot. By the end of course, it's turned the other way around - the character has formed to such an extent, that THEY are shaping the story.

It's a strange sort of paradox that I can never quite get my head around - how my characters grow out of the needs of the story, but at the same time how they ARE the story itself...does that make any sense?

In terms of teaching character writing - you are the expert! I'm not sure I can offer anything new that you haven't thought of. I suppose I would suggest as an exercise that pupils not start with a character at all, but with a situation. Something has happened to someone. Then perhaps they could simply ask themselves a series of questions. How does that person respond? Why? Is it different from how other people might respond? What are they thinking? What do they feel? I do think that just like the reader, the writer has no idea of their own characters at the start - they must find out by asking a lot of questions. Sometimes it's only at the end of writing a story that the writer achieves an understanding of their own characters...which means more often than not, that they have to write it all over again!

For more on teaching character writing click here for my blog post Writing Characters in Key Stage 2.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Guest Post: Why Tackling School Leader Workload Is Not Enough By Viv Grant


In March, Damian Hinds announced that the DfE were going to implement measures to reduce teacher workload in an attempt to head off the recruitment and retention crises facing many schools across the country.

Whilst this is a very welcome initiative, unfortunately it is much like putting a sticking plaster on a wound when something more substantial and curative is needed.

If policy makers honestly think that measures to reduce workload are all that’s needed to stem the rising tide of leavers from the profession, then this shows just how far removed they are from the beating heart of those who are at its centre - teachers and school leaders.

So much more must be done to make the role of School Leadership sustainable amidst the growing challenges our Heads face on a daily basis.

The pace and volume of change over the past decade has led to increased ambiguity, inconsistency, insecurity and staggeringly high levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability. Meanwhile, the emphasis on data, results and policies such as academisation, free schools etc have only served to further complicate life as a School Leader.

As a result, Head teachers find themselves having to respond to a range of often conflicting national policy agendas. Many of which draw them away from their central school leadership role and into the world of local politics and excessively complicated levels of bureaucracy. The strain for many can be too much.

Yet the system seems immune to this fact and chooses to ignore the real reasons as to why so many school leaders are leaving the profession. Workload may be a contributing factor but it is not the sole one. School Leaders are leaving the profession because their needs as human beings are not being attended to. This is because we have yet to develop an accurate understanding of the support needs of school leaders.

Along with increased levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability, I believe neglect in meeting Head teacher’s psychological and emotional needs has become a major contributing factor to Head teacher attrition and early retirement.

Whether Heads are new in post or are well established and long serving, too often the predominate type of support that they receive is that which is concerned with meeting the strategic and operational aspects of the role. Their emotional needs are often neglected and this is where the system falls down in fulfilling its duty of care for school leaders.

Consequently, Head teachers often sacrifice the meeting of their own needs in order to meet the needs of those they serve. This level of constant giving, without moments and opportunities for renewal built into their leadership life can often lead to illness and for some, burn out.

This has to be understood and taken seriously because if the emotional and psychological needs of school leaders are not met, not only do our School Leaders themselves suffer but all school improvement efforts are also put at risk.

I fear this situation has been further compounded with local authorities now diminishing in size, meaning that there have been fewer and fewer opportunities where Heads can come together, to offer support for one another, and experience a real sense of collegiality and shared purpose to help combat this.

I feel this reduction of support has been felt across the profession and that’s why on the back of many requests from School Leaders, last year I began hosting “Education for the Soul” Conferences to offer a chance where Heads can have honest conversations about the issues they’re facing, replenish their passion and sense of purpose, and discover how to best support their own needs amidst the challenging demands of Headship.

Whilst I’ve seen what an incredible truly restorative events these can be, I still fear far more needs to be done across the country if we are to tackle this recruitment and retention crisis. We need a whole new conversation around how we support great leadership in schools and to find solutions that takes care of the “Person in the role”.

Meanwhile, policy makers finally recognise that workload measures are not enough. Instead they must learn that if they want help create outstanding schools, they must provide School Leaders and Headteachers with outstanding support.

The price of continually failing to do so is one we can no longer afford to pay. As when we fail to adequately recognise what it takes to create ‘Great School Leaders’, we also fail our children and their hopes of a better tomorrow.

Our children deserve the best care and education and our school leaders also deserve the best care that can be provided so that they can remain in the profession, fulfil their vocations and meet society’s hopes and dreams for our future generations.

Viv has been in the education profession for over twenty five years. She is a former primary head teacher and has been a lead trainer and consultant for a number of educational training bodies. Now as an Executive Coach and Director of Integrity Coaching, Viv works daily with others who have taken on the mantle of school leadership.