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

Monday, 22 July 2019

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


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

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.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

From The @TES Blog: Teacher Development: The Balance Bike Approach

So far, I’ve successfully taught two of my three daughters to ride a two-wheeled pedal bike. While I learned to cycle the traditional way, by using stabilisers and then ditching them once I was a bit more confident, I've eschewed that for my own children and instead followed the current trend for balance bikes.

It really does work, reducing the complexity of the learning process. And it made me think: when we develop teachers’ skills, either during initial training or as part of ongoing professional development, should we use a balance bike approach, or should we bolt on stabilisers?

Allow me to flesh out the analogy...

Click here to read the whole article: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/how-a-balance-bike-approach-training-will-give-us-better-teachers

Friday, 16 March 2018

From The @thirdspacetweets Blog: What Every KS2 Teacher And Maths Lead Needs To Know About NEW KS1 Maths Assessment Frameworks

From The @thirdspacetweets Blog: What Every KS2 Teacher And Maths Lead Needs To Know About NEW KS1 Maths Assessment Frameworks
Valentine’s Day 14th February 2018 brought KS1 teachers not one but two lovely treats: the teacher assessment frameworks for the 2017/18 academic year and the same document for the 2018/19 academic year.

While there are no changes for the current cohort of Year 2, the current Year 1s will be teacher-assessed on a new and amended framework.

Of course, the biggest question on everyone’s lips is…are the changes to the KS1 assessment framework for Maths an improvement?

To find out more, read on here: https://thirdspacelearning.com/blog/new-ks1-assessment-frameworks-maths-insights-ks2/

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

From The @TES Blog: We Should Balance Out, Not Destroy, The Pipe Dreams Of Our Students

From The @TES Blog: We Should Balance Out, Not Destroy, The Pipe Dreams Of Our Students

“I left school at 14 and look at me now: I’m a millionaire!”

“I didn’t get anything higher than a C in my GCSEs but now I’m a celebrated author…”

“I’m rich and famous and I only got one O level!”

As predictable as testing season arriving in schools is the abundance of people telling our students that exam performance does not matter. There are even articles with titles like “These famous people prove you don’t need to do well at school to be highly successful!” and “10 Celebrities who are winning at life despite failing school!” to re-enforce the point...

Click here to read the full article: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/why-we-should-balance-out-not-destroy-pipe-dreams-our-students

Saturday, 27 January 2018

On The @TES Blog: Job Hunting: How Do You Know If You're Ready To Move Schools?

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/job-hunting-how-do-you-know-if-youre-ready-move-schools

Scouring job adverts, visiting prospective schools, completing application forms and enduring rounds of interviews is enough to put anyone off leaving the comfort of their current job. But there comes a time for most teachers when they consider moving to another school.

And if you are considering moving, then this is the point in the year when you will be weighing up your options and deciding if you are ready to make a leap before next September.

In an age of five-year plans, teachers can often feel the pressure to move on, but this way of thinking can lead you to make decisions for arbitrary reasons. Job hunting is a stressful process, so you want to wait until the time is "right" before throwing yourself into it. So, what are the signs that you really might be ready for a move?

Click here to read the 6 ways to tell you're ready for a move: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/job-hunting-how-do-you-know-if-youre-ready-move-schools

Sunday, 7 January 2018

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue: Oracy Games For The Classroom

Hello and welcome to another blog post on thatboycanteach.blogspot.com, the blog that has done for teachers 'what being hit repeatedly on the head with a large croquet mallet does for small frogs... or so I'm told'. You join me here today as I consider what teachers can learn from the long-running BBC Radio 4 panel game 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue'.

Whilst the chairman always introduces the teams as being given silly things to do, the entertainment is usually derived from witty and clever wordplay which demonstrate the competitors' mastery of the English language. Both the EEF's KS1 and KS2 literacy guidance reports have the development of pupils' speaking and listening skills (or oracy skills) as their first recommendation - in the KS2 document the emphasis is on developing pupils' language capability.

The KS2 guidance specifically mentions the benefit of collaborative approaches to improving oracy skills:
The impact of collaborative approaches on learning is consistently positive, but it does vary so it is important to get the detail right. Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to collaborate; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains. Effective collaboration does not happen automatically so pupils will need support and practice. Approaches that promote talk and interaction between learners tend to result in the best gains. The following should be considered when using a collaborative learning approach:
  • Tasks need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some pupils will try to work on their own. 
  • Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively within their group, though over-use of competition can focus learners on the competition rather than succeeding in their learning, so it must be used cautiously. 
  • It is particularly important to encourage lower achieving pupils to talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks, as they may contribute less.
  •  Professional development may be needed to support the effective use of these strategies.
Now obviously the games that the participants play on ISIHAC aren't research-based but if we apply the principles above, and pay heed to the warnings too, we should be able to use some of them to promote a collaborative approach to improving oracy skills, and as a result improve reading and writing skills as well.

Without further ado, the games:

Ad-Lib Poetry: The teacher (or another child) reads or invents a line of poetry. Children than take it in turns to continue the poem, one line at a time. The focus could be on rhyming words, adjectives, synonyms or telling a story. This game does not have a strong competitive element.

Cheddar Gorge:  Children all start with 10 points. By taking it in turns to say a word each, children should aim not to be the one who completes a sentence. If the word they say finishes a complete and grammatically correct sentence they lose a point. The main tactic is to try to force the next person to complete the sentence. This game has a focus on correct grammar and syntax and might help children to assess whether or not a sentence has been completed. Teachers could record the sentences and model correct punctuation. As an extension to this children could be permitted to name a punctuation mark instead of giving  a word - this would allow for the inclusion of parenthesis and other clauses.

Compressed Works: Children give brief synopses of films and books whilst other children guess the title. Similar to this is Rewind where children explain the plot of a book or film as if everything happened in reverse order. This could be played in pairs, groups or as a whole class and gives children the opportunity to practise summarisation - an important and often difficult reading skill.

Letter Writing: Similar to Cheddar Gorge, children take it in turns to say a word, this time 'writing' as famous or historical person to another such person, usually about something they are known for. This can be played in teams with the two teams taking the roles of the two correspondents. Letter Writing could be a good game to use in history lessons or in response to the class novel with children taking on the role of the book's characters. This could be simplified for any style of writing so that children orally co-create a piece of work prior to recording it in writing. One tactic in this game is to add in conjunctions, adverbs and adjectives to prolong the sentences. Another variation is Historical Voicemail  where children suggest messages that might have been left on the answerphones and voicemails of historical figures.

Uxbridge English Dictionary: Children come up with new definitions of words based on the parts of the words. This is potentially difficult so this game might need some preparation in the form of teachers selecting words that would work well. This is a word play game which requires children to know meanings of other words, rather than the one they are redefining. A health warning exists here: it might be wise to supply true meanings as well so that children don't believe that their new definitions are correct.

What's the Question? Either the teacher or a child supplies an answer to a question. Children then have to make suggestions as to what the question could have been. Plausible or funny answers can be accepted. This game might get children thinking about cause and effect and is a great opportunity for them to ensure that their questions are succinct and linked well to the answer.

Word for Word: Children take it in turns to say a word. The aim is to say a word that has no association to the previous word. If another child can prove, however ingeniously, that the word a child say is associated with the previous word, then they gain a point. This game could develop children's vocabulary as they hear words that others know and by trying to find links children will think carefully about word meanings.

Click here to listen to examples of the show on the BBC iplayer (may not be suitable for children)

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Crowdsourced Advice: How To Find The Perfect School For You

Crowdsourced Advice: How To Find The Perfect School For You
When you looked round your school how did you know it was the one for you? 
What were the tell-tale signs that it was going to be a good place to work?

Those are the questions that I asked a whole host of teachers who love their current place of work. I wanted to find out from people how it felt looking round a school, and being interviewed there, which they subsequently went on to enjoy working at. In their answers there are resounding echoes and although I’ve roughly categorised them there is plenty of crossover in what they say.

So, here’s what to look for when you visit a school you’re thinking of applying to for a job:

A Warm Welcome

"A warm welcome from the staff and happy content-looking students." - @resayer

"As I walked through the doors, the office staff were laughing and joking then I got a really warm welcome. In my interview lesson, the TA offered me a brew first and couldn't do enough to help me then the kids just seemed lovely. Lots of smiles of encouragement from interviewers - overall just making the place seem as welcoming as possible. A 'we want you to do well' attitude rather than trying to catch me out, which is then exactly how it has turned out - a very supportive school." - @fandabbydoz

Just a Feeling

"It was the 'feeling' of the culture. It was how people talked about students and each other. Obviously supportive and genuinely caring." - @terryfish

"It was a feeling more than anything else. The way in which staff (both teaching and non-teaching) spoke with each other as well as how they interacted with the students. You can have the shiniest of buildings and equipment but if you don't have the basic positive human relationships as the main ethos of a school then it's not worth it!" - @SamlouJ

"It was a bit like buying a new house. It just felt right. Very much a family feel." - @diankenny

"It was the feel when I went to visit. It was welcoming and the staff were incredibly friendly. The head was off but it seemed calm and everything was running smoothly. I had a tour by a TA and it just felt very natural. Spent about twenty minutes over a break time chatting in the staff room! It was relaxed yet purposeful." - @kathrynmc77

First Impressions Count

"The first person I met was Amy, in the office. She was so friendly, acted like she was truly happy to help. Almost made me feel like we already knew each other. She's got a real skill and welcomes people to our school with such warmth." - @EmmaValerio82

"When I walked into the foyer there was an explosion of children's creative artwork everywhere, books listing the children's certificates of the week for every class, and an outside environment that celebrated childhood and showed how important play was in both key stages. It is a place where I can still enjoy my childhood as an adult. I'm allowed to. Now in my 7th year!" - @natsbailey1

The Headteacher

"The headteacher gave me her vision; it was clear and simple. I felt I knew what she wanted from teachers. Students were calmer than my previous place." - @Mr_Davies_Eng

"The principal was visible in the school which was a HUGE selling point - he visited classes daily, greeted families in the morning and afternoon and obviously had a lot of respect for and from the staff." - @kaz_phi

"I instantly clicked with the headteacher and I could see massive potential in the double RI school I was looking round. I could see that my experience of working in a school that had been in a similar place would be helpful. All the signs were pointing in the right direction. Best move I ever made." - @jessmann11

"For me it was my conversation with the Head. I'd had a really tough time in my previous school and he was very kind and understanding about it. It was also really apparent that we had very similar values, so I knew I could work for him." - @DaisyMay29

"Primarily it was the headteacher - she was definitely someone I knew I could work with. Hard to quantify, but there was definitely a good vibe and a happy ethos and the other staff seemed friendly. Also, it is in the town where I live, so was going to cut a horrid commute!" - @rcoultart

"I was convinced I didn't want to work there before - I wanted a 2 form entry school but when I visited, the head sold it to me. (Flora Barton). She was so enthusiastic, was clearly so passionate about her school, and the children responded to her really well. Our conversation was entirely based on teaching and learning. I remember going back to my previous school and telling my colleague how blown away I was by her, and that's when he told me he used to work with her too, and confirmed that she was great to work for." - @mrsbarlowteach

Behaviour Matters

"It was the students: positive and calm even at lunch. The older students, I noticed, also mingled well with the younger students." - @TJohns85

"450 children were sat in the school hall while the assistant head led assembly. There were no other adults in the room and year six were NOT mucking around! Then the orchestra played as part of the assembly and I was blown away. Also, the fact that it was a six form entry school and teachers shared planning. It was clear that there was an ethos of respect and sharing which would also ease workload." - @LCRteach

Happy, Friendly Staff

"Staff were smiling (always a good sign!), calm atmosphere (but purposeful - people were 'about' but always on their way to or from something and able to explain what and why), and HT was open and honest about positive and negatives of the school. Just a good 'vibe' for want of a better phrase." - @LCWatson01

"It had a sense of calm, instead of intensity. The staff looked healthy not bedraggled." - @natalee_paice

"Every single communication with every single person was polite and kind and good-humoured: not just between me and the Head, PA, Receptionist, HOD and kids giving me tour, but also between staff. For example, in staffroom when I was waiting for different parts of the interview - watching the relationships between staff as they came in and out of staffroom was really positive. Humour was evident throughout - not mocking, satirical humour but just people having fun with each other and ideas. Short answer: the school felt like it was about people and relationships and high aspirations... and it is." - @teacherwithbike

"Existing staff were friendly and welcoming. I've now been here 9 years and can honestly say that even though we have had lots of changes the staff are still as friendly and welcoming as they were then." - @magpie221

The People

"The way I knew I it was the right sort of school for me was more about the people. When I met who was to become my new HOD I could tell that we would get on and that she would give me space to teach the way I wanted. The two students who took me around the college on my first day were open and honest about the school, both its good points and things that weren't so good, for example the fact they have Saturday school but get longer holidays." - @HecticTeacher

"It was all about the staff for me. So positive and all team players. I'd actually seen them all on a night out at the local pub and said to my mate I'd like to work there. Then a job came up." - @MrHeadComputing

Great Atmosphere and Good Vibes

"For me, it was how open everyone was when I first met them. When I looked around, I was welcomed into classes with the head and children we super enthusiastic. There was a positive atmosphere from the first phone call and just good vibes. However, I did know what I was looking for. I wanted a school who were looking to improve and I wanted somewhere which had a strong link and attitude towards well-being and growth mindset. How lessons were taught were also very important to me; I didn't want too many restrictions and some ownership- which was clear I would be allowed. But the winning point was just how open and happy people looked." - @DanMorris90

"Well I was lucky and looked round on World Book Day when everyone was dressed up so it was good vibes anyway. But it was just little things like, on my interview day I was waiting in the staffroom and everyone would come in, speak to me, force me to eat the cake on the table! Everyone was laughing and getting along so well." - @MrTWC

"I'd left a very toxic environment in another school so I was very wary when I visited my new school. Atmosphere was very important. I've been teaching a long time and my antenna is finely tuned! Atmosphere was very positive. Staff are friendly and a good laugh. Head is open, direct and honest. I looked at their twitter feed too and was impressed with their work with parents too."- @weeannieg

"It was the atmosphere - it felt nice going around. The acting head showed me around and was very honest (it's a tough area and attainment is always an issue) but about the positives as well as the challenges - and my experience has proved that she was telling the truth. As I looked around I could see parts of the school practice or ethos that I identified with and felt comfortable with as well as aspects that were new or challenging but that I was excited by. Staff that we met were friendly and welcoming. I heard them laughing together as we walked around and it sounded a happy place to work (it was the Monday of SATs week as well so quite a stressful time!). I do believe first impressions are very powerful in affecting your decisions." - @KatyVaux

"The feel of the place did it for me. The physical building is shocking but the atmosphere was friendly, inviting and purposeful. The headteacher at the time, the staff and governors all made me feel welcome (both during my pre-visit and the interview day itself.) The conversations were around the children and the aspirations for them." - @bethben92

Reputation Precedes

"It probably started before I looked round as I knew of a couple of people who worked there so was able to find out through them what the head was like and how the school was developing (the head was very new and there were things that needed to be changed)." - @rach_b84

"Firstly I already knew the school by reputation and that they had a very low staff turnover - schools I'd worked in in the past had staff who were desperate to leave and that was reflected in their incredibly high turnover which I never think is a good sign!" - @helen25c

The Children

"Loved the ethos of the school, the children were very proud of their school. Really liked the head - he was old school and a true gentleman!" - @klsacker

"I started as a supply teacher so it just grew on me. One thing that struck me was that there were never any tearful or reluctant children being peeled off of parents. When I asked the children if they'd had a good summer holiday, they said they looked forward to coming back to school more." - @JMPNeale

"The impressions I got from both the head and the HoD were very positive (both left within seven months of my arrival!) and the pupils were honest in the Pupil Panel section which was endearing. I've been at interviews where I have withdrawn because things didn't feel right." - @dooranran

"I went round on a Friday afternoon and the students looked happy and engaged. The school was calm but had a bit of a buzz about it. 6th formers showed me around, I could go where I wanted but they were really proud of their school." - @mrsdenyer

"I had already seen the girls at the train station- very confident and lively girls that I knew I would mesh well with in the classroom. Super welcoming environment and the head teacher popped in to see me to say hi because she was off on a trip and couldn't interview me. Just a really relaxed environment which I knew I wanted." - @MrsHaggerNQT

"The first sign was that the older children were the people showing me around without an adult, their responses to questions and the way they spoke about the school and the staff. True honesty and a clear love for the school and those that worked with them." - @APLByrne

Fair Interview

"A very endearing aspect of the interview was that they gave us questions 15 mins before and encouraged us to bring notes in stating they didn't want to catch us out. Despite the challenges I've faced since joining I am really enjoying the freedom the school offers. We are getting a new Head soon too and I think with a few easy changes the school could be one of the best in Wales." - @davowillz

"At interview we were given the questions before the formal part to prepare answers to show our best. Never had it happen before (or since)." - @littlemrsj

Best Fit

"Many reasons: potential that matched my skill set and previous experience; ethos and culture - albeit untapped to some degree; students - I recognised them; Chair of Governors - felt I could work with him well. It felt like 'me' but also like I could really help lift it to what it could be - very exciting!" - @BarlowCaroline

"Just got a feel for the place, good vibe from the head, her philosophy seemed to align with mine. You've got to be on the same page as the head though I think, because they set the climate." - @MrClarkeY6

"Meeting the head, hearing her vision, realising I could help and recognising that she valued what I could do in the classroom. I had been through a horrible time before and she listened." - @BespokePeter

"The feeling I got from faculty, SLT and students was that my kind of approach would be welcomed and valued - a good fit. The school had academic aspirations but were secure enough in their school status that they would let me get there with my own approaches. Gut feeling was that this would be a good fit and turned out that I was right, even better actually." - @MrDeach27

"It felt calm and welcoming, staff and children I saw were smiling. As I went into interview, it felt relaxed like they knew what they were doing, questions were what I would have asked and showed we were a good fit." - @geordiecat2012

Strong Testimony

"The headteacher introduced me to other staff who pretty much all said that they were either proud to work at the school or that it was a great place to work." - @KateHalfpenny1

"I knew someone that worked there so they could give me an honest view of the school and that made a big difference!" - @LAShaw66

"I had a feel of community and support within the staff. Everyone had something positive to say (and you could tell it wasn't faked) I was encouraged to visit and watch classes." - @MissNP_

"One of my friends from my previous school was working in the department, and I was still in regular contact with her, so she gave me an honest appraisal of what the school was like. It was also an instinct thing if I'm honest. I liked the ethos, the students and the way it felt teaching my lesson (to a mixed ability tricky class) so I felt like I'd had a true picture of what it would be like." - @SusanSEnglish

"When I drove past on the way home from other places the car park wasn’t full very early/late. I didn't look round it during the day but the HOD met me after school and they were really friendly. People speak highly if it as a place to work and a middle leader there recommended the school to me. During my interview lots of what SLT were saying clicked with my ethos." - @JenJayneWilson