Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

What The Headlines Didn't Tell You About Ofsted's Latest Covid-19 Report

Ofsted published a new report about the impact of Covid-19on education and here’s what you know: kids are back in nappies, they eat food with their fingers and they’ve played too many online games and are now falling out about it.

Here’s what, if you haven’t read the full report, you probably don’t yet know: some children have been more exposed to domestic violence, there has been a rise in self-harm and some children have become more involved in crime. But those are just some of the most concerning, negative outcomes of the pandemic for some young people.

Here’s what else you might not know, according to Ofsted: the vast majority of children have settled back into school, are being taught a broad curriculum and leaders and teachers are doing an excellent job of adapting necessarily with positive results.

But that sort of stuff does not a headline make, does it?

Wellbeing

When it comes to wellbeing of pupils, the report is clear: ‘leaders said that their pupils were generally happy to be back, and had settled in well.’

The report also records that ‘leaders in most schools continued to report that pupils were happy to be back. Pupils were described as confident, resilient, calm and eager to learn. There was a general sense that they appreciate school and each other more. Many leaders noticed that behaviour has generally improved… Many emphasised that fewer pupils were needing additional support than had been anticipated.’

Imagine the headlines we could have had: Pupils return to school with confidence and resilience! Children eager to learn as they get back to school! Students defy expectations in calm return to education!

In addition, Ofsted identify that schools are going above and beyond in their response to ensure that pupils are happy and able to deal with the changes the pandemic has brought: ‘Many schools of all types reported a greater focus than usual on their personal, social and health education (PSHE) curriculum to develop aspects such as resilience and independence and to reinforce or improve learning behaviours, but also to address pupils’ anxieties. Some schools were also strengthening their PE provision to support pupils’ physical and mental well-being.’

And it’s not only children who have got back to school and got on with doing a great job, it’s the staff too, according to the report: ‘Leaders said that their staff have generally adapted well to various changes, and are working hard to make these work. They attributed this to frequent and effective communication with staff as well as to a stronger sense of team spirit that has emerged over the last few months.’

Further potential headlines for your delectation: School staff working hard to adapt to changes! Strong sense of team spirit seen in schools!

And perhaps being at home hasn’t been such a bad thing for children anyway; perhaps it isn’t just the fact that they are finally back at school which has made for such positive changes: ‘Many leaders spoke positively about pupils with SEND returning to school. In a couple of schools, leaders noted that additional time spent at home had been positive for pupils with SEND, who had returned with confidence.’

Attendance

One of the fears of school leaders in the summer was most certainly around what attendance would look like come September. Fears have been allayed, according to Ofsted’s report: ‘Around three quarters of the schools visited reported having attendance that was similar to, or higher than, this time last year… where attendance had improved, leaders often attributed this to the work that they had done to build families’ trust during the first national lockdown, and their continued efforts to inform and reassure parents about the arrangements they had made to keep pupils safe in school.’

More headlines: Home-school relationships improve: attendance rises! 2020 Attendance higher than ever!

And Ofsted even acknowledge just how thoughtful and flexible school leaders are being in their commitment to children: ‘Leaders described how they were working closely with parents and offering flexible arrangements if these were needed to help pupils to return as soon as possible.’

Curriculum and Remote Learning

Much was said during lockdown regarding ‘gaps’ that would appear in learning. I’m sure many school leaders considered whether or not to slim down their curriculum, providing what might amount to an insubstantial education which did not develop the whole child.

However, what Ofsted have seen is that leaders are ambitious to return their schools to their usual full curriculum as soon as possible, that most of the secondary schools were teaching all their usual subjects and that many of the primary schools they visited were teaching all subjects.

Another favourite subject of lockdown discussion and thought was remote learning. Public figures weighed in with their ideas, as did parents, teachers and students. Would schools be able to truly provide remote education to a suitable standard?

Well, Ofsted have found that ‘almost all schools were either providing remote learning to pupils who were self-isolating or said that they were ready to do so if needed’ and that most schools ‘were monitoring pupils’ access to the work provided or attendance at the remote lesson.’

They also report that leaders are responding well to their findings, particularly that ‘during the first national lockdown, pupils reacted very positively when there was live contact from teachers, so want to build on that when needed.’

And again, leaders are adapting well to the new circumstances, thinking outside of the box and ensuring that staff wellbeing is a priority: ‘Leaders in a few schools explained how they were trying to mitigate the additional demands on staff of providing remote learning, for example through the help of teaching assistants, or having staff who took a particular role in leading or modelling remote education.’

A further possible headline: Schools found to be providing full curriculum and good remote learning!

CPD

Remember how teachers were all lazy during lockdown and should have been back at work? Well, turns out, they were actually working really hard (surprise, surprise), not only providing aforementioned remote learning but also taking the opportunity to sharpen their skills en masse: ‘staff in many schools seized the opportunity for training and development during the months when most pupils were not physically in school.’

Now that certainly won’t make the headlines: Teachers work hard despite perception of journalists!

Learning ‘Loss’

And finally to the big one: have children fallen behind? Are their gaps in their learning? Academically, has Covid-19 set children behind where they should be?

Well, much is said in the report regarding this, however a key takeaway should certainly be the following:

‘In the mainstream schools visited, there was no real consensus about the extent of pupils’ learning loss as a result of the disruption to their education.’

Correct headline: No consensus on Covid learning loss!

This is where the main criticism of the report might come: it is written in such a way that the negative is the focus.

For example, the report makes it clear that some leaders commented that writing was also an issue for some pupils, including writing at length, spelling, grammar, presentation, punctuation and handwriting.’ And it is this that then hits the headlines, with the ‘some’ removed, of course. Such a statement becomes ‘Children forget how to write during lockdown’ when it is headlinified.

Indeed, the inverse statement surely is equally as true: ‘Most leaders commented that writing wasn’t an issue for most pupils, including writing at length, spelling, grammar, presentation, punctuation and handwriting’ or even ‘Most leaders didn’t comment on writing being an issue for most children.’

Yes, it is right for schools to identify the negative impact of the pandemic so as to make progress with children who have been affected, but at the same time the positive impacts and the huge amount of work that has already been done in this vein should surely be celebrated more widely.

Not just for the benefit of hardworking school staff either – as a parent I want to be reassured by both Ofsted and the media that schools are doing a great job with my children. Thankfully, I don’t have to rely on them to form my opinion: I know for certain my children’s school is doing a fantastic job, and I know the school I work in is too.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Questions To Guide Teacher Reflection


As part of the researchEDHome 2020 CPD series, David Weston, CEO of Teacher Development Trust, presented under the heading 'Schools that unleash teachers' expertise and how to lead them' - that's the video embedded above.

As he spoke, outlining for the first 20 minutes what it is that expert teachers do, I began to jot down some questions that a teacher, or a coach working alongside a teacher, might ask to prompt reflection on their practice.

I imagine these being used post-lesson, either by a teacher wishing to reflect on their own, or by a coach and a teacher - it could be that the coach has seen the lesson, but that might not be necessary. 

Where lesson observations are concerned, David Weston made it clear that many of the things that make an expert teacher an expert cannot really be seen by an observer. Later on he pointed out that SLTs often try to glean information from lesson observations (as well as book and data scrutiny) which they can then use to direct CPD - a fairly ineffective practice. Although he only touched on this, there was the suggestion that far more information about teaching and learning can be gained from a discussion-based approach to pedagogical coaching - this information can then inform CPD planning.

So, the questions that I began to jot down became perhaps more pertinent: these questions (not an exhaustive list by any means, but based on the effective practices of an expert teacher) could be used to develop how well teachers reflect on their own practice in order to gain insight and develop perception. In turn, via coaches, school leaders then might be able to gain a better insight into teaching and learning in their schools, allowing them to provide more pertinent CPD opportunities.

The purpose of using questions such as these would be to gradually develop independence: teachers might begin to naturally reflect on such questions before, during and after teaching, removing the need for such a set of questions to be asked in any structured way.

I've loosely grouped the questions - in this way, discussions might be guided by coaches, or self-guided, towards a particular aspect of the lesson. It might be useful to use some of the whole session reflection questions to begin with, before moving onto specifics. Obviously, when reflecting on a lesson no one would attempt to answer all the questions below - they just represent the broad range of reflection points that expert teachers think about subconsciously as they work.

Reflecting on the whole session: 

What were the main things you noticed happening during the session? Did you notice anything that wasn’t happening? Should it have been? What was the story of that session? What did you notice about the whole session? What was the main focus of the session? Does that match to the intended focus? Which parts of the session had the most impact? What was the cause of the successes in that session? What was the cause of any lack of success in that session? How were you feeling during the session? Did your feelings change? How did you deal with your change in feelings? 

Reflecting on specific identified incidents: 

When have you come across a similar situation? What did you do then? Reflecting on outcomes: What did you see that showed you they were learning? Which was the most effective part of that session? How much of the time did you spend doing the most effective things? Which parts of the session had the most impact? What was the cause of the successes in that session? What was the cause of any lack of success in that session? 

Reflecting on behaviour: 

What happened before that behaviour issue? Were there any signs that it was going to happen? How could it have been tackled earlier? Were children complying? Did this mean they were learning? 

Reflecting on questioning: 

What was your questioning like in that session? How and why did you adapt your questioning? What was the impact? 

Reflecting on differing needs: 

What variations in understanding did you notice? Which individuals did you notice? What do you know about them already? What did you do to address differing needs? 

Reflecting on responsiveness: 

At which points did you go off-script? Why did you do it? Did it help? Did you have to give extra explanations? What made you do that and did it help? How did you adapt the session as you went along? 

Reflecting on sequencing: 

How did that session link to prior and future learning? Where did that session fit in the sequence of learning? What did the children already know that helped? What didn’t they know that would have helped?

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Finding Your True Teacher Persona

 In Mary Myatt's ResearchEd training video she reminds those working in education that they are 'human beings first, professionals second'. It's a theme I've touched on before when I wrote about how we might avoid allowing judgments about our teaching define us as people.

However, there are other benefits to remembering what Mary so neatly sums up. If we are human beings first, then our professional selves should take our cues from our 'human' selves.

Many teachers spend a chunk of their career trying to work out how to present themselves in the classroom. Back in my early years it was seeing other teachers in action that most influenced this, as well as taking feedback from them when they observed me. There was also the notion of an 'Ofsted-lesson': a checklist (often a physical, literal checklist) of things that should be included to get a Good or Outstanding grading. In addition to this, many teachers, some who have harboured a desire to be in the profession since the days of lining up their teddies and taking the register, have pre-conceived ideas of what a teacher should do, and how they should act, in the classroom - often based on their own experiences of being a child at school. Most of these are great places to draw inspiration from, yet they are not enough.

Nowadays, I suspect much influence comes from social media: what the teachers of Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook are doing can cause a teacher to believe that they too should be doing those things. However, the nature of the medium means that the influence is largely aesthetic: what might a display/book corner/work outfit/art activity look like? Social media communicates little of how a teacher might act within the visually rich (or otherwise) environments they've created. This has the potential to fool us into thinking that because someone possesses a classroom we admire, they must also have it all sussed out in the actual teaching department - there is very little way of knowing whether or not this is the case.

In both scenarios - whether we watch our colleagues teach or scroll through Twitter looking for creative ideas - we potentially miss out one of the most important influencing factors: ourselves - our true, human being selves.

Who are you? 

What are your interests? 

How do you interact with the people you feel closest to? 

How would you describe yourself in three words?

What makes you tick in real life?

It's these things that should form the greatest part of your teaching personality, or persona. If you think your defining characteristic is how humourous you are, then use humour in your classroom - even if it sarcasm that you major in. If you're not that funny, don't try to be in the classroom as it won't come across as genuine. If you know that its your quirkiness that makes you tick when with your friends, transport that into the classroom and allow the children to see the true you. If you know that actually, in real life you are really introverted, you don't necessarily have to create an extroverted teacher persona - a quiet and thoughtful teaching style will benefit children too. 

The last thing you want to do, and I'm afraid I probably tried to do this for far too many years, is try to be someone else in the classroom. Whether that's trying to ape the teacher who has been on the job for years, your super-dynamic year group partner, your favourite TV/movie teacher or just the idea of the ideal teacher that you've pieced together after years of being taught by teachers. If those teachers as human beings are different to how you are as a human being, why should your teaching personas appear to be the same?

I believe it is a good thing for children to experience a range of personalities in their classrooms as they move through school. After all, it hardly prepares them for the big wide world that they are already abroad in to only experience one kind of person. Teachers are hugely significant adults in children's lives and it is part of our job to share with them the diversity that exists in the world: everyone is different, and (cheese alert) the best person to be is yourself. Children need to see this example set. They need to be able to transition from working with an extroverted, larger-than-life year 1 teacher, to a more introverted, calming year 2 teacher, to a hilariously wacky year 3 teacher, to a nurturing but minimalistic year 4 teacher, and so on. 

Children need teachers to be who they really are. Yes, there are many times when teaching feels like a performance - a time when we don the theatrical costume and step outside of our comfort zone - but at the same time, for long-term impact there must be a defining element of authenticity in what we do. Relationships are key when it comes to teaching and relationships based on falsehoods, I'm sure I don't really need to point out, are doomed to fail. Children are often very perceptive, too: they, unwittingly, are looking for real connection, and will sense when a teacher is having to try too hard to be something they are not. 

If a teacher is putting much of their effort into hiding who they really are, instead applying it all to generating a facade, children may well pick up on this. Children aren't looking for the next TV entertainer, they aren't looking for a replacement of Miss So-and-so from last year, they aren't looking for a new mate - they are looking for a teacher who they can be sure and certain of. They are looking for someone who is transparent who they can trust, someone who they feel safe with. When a teacher feels safe with their human being self, that confidence will exude and children too will feel safe.

And your you-ness is never static - you are probably constantly adding strings to your bow: taking up new hobbies, exploring new reading material, visiting new places, making new friends - all these things subtly change us as human beings. I am certainly a very different person to who I was when I was an NQT - my life experiences have changed me significantly (and hopefully for the better). 

If you took some time to answer the questions above - and I suggest that at some point you do - and felt yourself lacking (I hope you didn't, because no-one is lacking in their own personality) then some self-discovery (sorry - bit of an icky phrase) might be useful: spending some time in reflection about what makes you you, writing about your life experiences or speaking to friends, family or colleagues about how they might answer those questions about you could help.

Whatever you do this year, however Pinterest-worthy your classroom is, however many children's books you read, however many weekend CPD events you attend, make sure that you prioritise allowing your true, genuine, human being self to be the armature onto which you build your teacher persona. With The Current Situation, and All That's Being Going On in these Unprecendented Times, children will be returning to school after the summer looking for security -  a security which they will easily find in a teacher who is secure in themselves, confident that they are presenting a true version of themselves in the classroom.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Back to School: Recovery or Catch Up?

Recovery.

We’ve been hearing a lot of talk about recovery with regards to the curriculum we teach when schools can eventually reopen to all children.

But the question must be asked, what are we trying to recover?

Are we trying to re-cover past material to ensure that it is secure? Are we trying to recover normality and perhaps just try to ignore this blip? Are we trying to help staff and children to recover mentally from the upheaval - similar to how a hospital patient might need to recover? Are we talking of something akin to roadside recovery where we fix a problem and send them on their way, give them a tow to get them to a destination or just give them a jump start?

Maybe we need to attempt to do all of these and more.

But the recent talk of ‘catch up’ does not help us to do any of the above.

When we normally think of catch up we think of small groups of children taking part in an intensive burst of input over a short amount of time - indeed, research shows that this is exactly how catch up interventions should be run so that they have maximum impact.

Can this be replicated for whole classes of children, some of whom will have been doing very little at home, others of whom may have followed all the home learning set and really prospered from that? We certainly need, as ever, an individualised, responsive approach for each child, but it is fairly certain that when we are all back in school we will be ‘behind’ where we normally would be, even if it means everyone is equally behind.

It would be foolish to think that by the end of the first term we will have caught up and will be able to continue as we were back in February and March. To believe this surely puts us on very shaky ground. Any kind of intensive approach to recovery is almost certain to negative repercussions, not least where children’s well-being is concerned - and that of staff, for that matter.

Year after year we hear stories from teachers escaping toxic schools and even leaving the profession who speak out on the hothousing, cramming, cheating, off-rolling, flattening the grass, and other morally bankrupt practices that go on in schools in the name of ‘getting good results’.

Well, back to my question: what are we trying to recover? How do we define ‘good results’? What result are we wanting from that first term back? That second term back? That third term?

How long are we willing to give this? We don’t know how long this will impact learning for - we’ve never had a period this long without children learning in classrooms. Perhaps it will barely leave a mark academically, perhaps the effects of it will be with us for years? Maybe we are overstating the potential impact on mental health and once we are back everyone will just be happy to be there, but maybe it will effect some of us for a good while yet.

What’s for sure, at least in my mind, is that we need a slow, blended approach to recovery. We must focus on the academic but we must not neglect everything else - bear in mind that phrase ‘the whole child’ and extend that to ‘the whole person’ so that it takes in all the people who will be working in schools when we can finally open properly to all.

We can not revert back to a system cowed by accountability - arranged around statutory assessment. Maybe they will scrap SATS this year, or edit the content that children will be tested on. Then again, maybe they won’t. Either way, schools - leaders and teachers - need to be brave enough to stand up for what is right for their children.

Ideally, we’d have an education department who, instead of telling us that modelling and feedback are the ideal way to teach, were willing to consult the profession in order to create a system-wide interim framework. A slimmed-down curriculum outlining the essentials and cutting some of the extraneous stuff from the Maths and English curriculum. Many schools are doing this piece of work so it would make sense if we were all singing off the same hymn sheet. If this was provided by the DfE then any statutory tests could be adapted accordingly - but this is the bluest of blue sky thinking.

And in suggesting that we limit the core subject curricula, I am certainly not suggesting that the whole curriculum is narrowed. Children will need the depth and breadth more than ever. We mustn’t let all the gained ground in terms of the wider curriculum be lost. We need the arts - I surely don’t even need to remind of the mental health benefits of partaking in creative endeavours. History and Geography learning is equally as valid (especially as they are the most interesting and captivating parts of the curriculum - fact): these must not fall victim to a curriculum narrowing which focuses solely on getting to children to ‘where they should’ be in Maths and English.

Who is to say, in 2020/2021, Post-Covid19, where a child ‘should be’? Perhaps we need to define this, or perhaps it’s not something we can even put our finger on.

I’m sure that if Lord Adonis read this I’d run the risk of becoming another of his apologists for failure, but that’s not what I am. What I am is an optimistic realist who wants the best for the children returning to our schools and the staff teaching them. What I am is someone who has observed the UK education system over a number of years and have seen schools who really run the risk of falling for rhetoric and accountability that leads to practice which does not best serve their key stakeholders. What I am is someone who is committed to getting all children back to school, back to work even, as quickly as is safely possible. I am a leader who is committed to the highest of standards but who won’t take shortcuts to get there.

When it comes to success(ful recovery) there are no shortcuts.

Some important other reads:

http://daisi.education/learning-loss/ - Learning Loss from Daisi Education (Data, Analysis & Insight for School Improvement)

https://www.adoptionuk.org/blog/the-myth-of-catching-up-after-covid-19 - The myth of ‘catching up’ after Covid-19 by Rebecca Brooks of Adoption UK

https://researchschool.org.uk/unity/news/canaries-down-the-coalmine-what-next-for-pupil-premium-strategy/ - Canaries Down the Coalmine: What Next for Pupil Premium Strategy? by Marc Rowland - Unity Pupil Premium Adviser

Friday, 15 May 2020

From @TeachPrimary Magazine: Sounds Like A Plan

"Enjoyment and engagement of learning can, and should be, intrinsic: the act of learning is enjoyable and engaging, providing that you are actually learning."

Read my latest article for Teach Primary Magazine for free online, pages 50 and 51:

https://aplimages.s3.amazonaws.com/_tp/2020/0515-NewIssue/TP-14.4.pdf?utm_source=TPNewsletter&utm_medium=20200515&utm_campaign=Issue11

"Imagine a way of working that was not only more responsive to children’s needs, but was also better for teacher wellbeing. If there was such a way, surely we’d all want to be doing it? I’d like to suggest it is possible; that by planning learning sequences and designing lessons flexibly we can provide for individual needs without it being a huge burden on our time and energy.

In order to ensure that our planning and teaching doesn’t impact negatively on our wellbeing, we have to find an efficient way to work. And in order for something to be efficient, it usually needs to be simple. However, teaching can often be overcomplicated by myriad solutions for how to engage children, manage behaviour, include technology, make links to other subjects, and so on."

Monday, 10 February 2020

Losing The Teaching Flab (And Becoming An Expert Teacher)

Hands up who has ever tried to lose weight? And hands up if you've ever tried putting on weight? I'm very sure that if you asked a room full of people in the UK those two questions (I mean, why would you, and are they even questions?) then there would be significantly more people with their hands up in reply to the first one. In another place, or at another time, it absolutely wouldn't be the case, but for the purposes of the blog post we'll go with the original scenario.

You see, I want to propose that learning to be an expert teacher is like losing weight. And conversely, that learning to be an expert teacher is not at all like trying to put on weight.

Let me explain myself:

I suspect that we start teaching with a lot of excess weight - expectations, misconceptions and hang-ups - that actually we need to lose before we begin to be effective.

Almost everyone has a preconcieved idea about what a teacher should be, what they should do and how they should behave. After all, the majority of us in the UK have spent our childhoods interacting with teachers, observing their behaviours and imbibing a certain set of characteristics which we think a teacher should have. We'll most likely have come across multiple depictions of teachers in TV, film and books which add to our ideas about what a teacher should be. Some of us even spent time as children playing at teachers, either bossing around siblings, friends or cuddly toys. All of this shapes our view of what it is to be a teacher before we ever step foot in a training college or in a school.

It's all this excess flab that we'll need to lose before we come an excellent teacher. And although some of the experiences mentioned above may have influenced us in a positive way, what we remember are only outer manifestations of what made those teachers good. By aping their actions, we might not always end up aping what actually made them effective. It's very easy to watch a teacher do their thing and think that you can put your finger on exactly what it is that makes them successful. In reality, it is not that easy to tell which actions are the ones that make a teacher good at what they do.

And, if you're an early-career teacher, it is even more difficult to discern what makes a teacher great when you watch them work. Often, a more inexperienced teacher can walk out of a more experienced teacher's classroom with a bag of tricks to try, none of which are the things that actually made the lesson they just watched great.

One of the main downfalls is that a less experienced teacher can believe that a teacher's style (their personality, quirks and originalities) are what makes them good. In fact, those things are more likely just to be the way they go about doing the things that actually make them good. If an NQT then goes back to their classroom and tries to act like them, it can be quite confusing as to why they don't see the same results - I should know, that NQT (/RQT/RQT+1/+2/+3...) was me.

"'Tain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)"

Sorry Ella/Banarama/Fun Boy Three/whoever else recorded a version, when it comes to teaching, that does not apply. In fact, as you might have guessed, the opposite is true:

It's What You Do ('Tain't the Way That You Do It)

An introverted teacher can do the same as an extroverted teacher - both can be experts. A funny teacher can do the same as a serious teacher - both can be experts. Someone in a three-piece suit can do the same as someone in a cardigan - both can be experts. What I didn't get for so long was that I had to do certain basic things but in my own way.

And it's these more visually impressive aspects of teaching that can be the flab we carry around with us: the things that distract us from doing the things that really matter; the things that detract from the actual learning that could be going on: the comedy, the drama, the laminated things, the lavish displays, the volume - the things which all can lend a certain je ne sais quoi to lesson, but which certainly do not the lesson maketh.

To cut through the flab in order to discern what is really having an impact in our own practice and that of others, we can ask some simple questions by way of reflection:

Why did they do that?
What impact did it have?
If they hadn't done that what would have happened?
Which aspects of the lesson actually made the difference?

You see, an expert teacher might be doing lots of things that are only really the sprinkles on the icing on the cake. You might see them teach an all singing, all dancing lesson, but it's probably not the singing and dancing that does the trick (unless it is a singing or dancing lesson, that is). It's probably the really basic, dull, staid stuff that really makes the impact. Things that they do day-in-day-out: routine stuff.

What are these simple things? What do we need to strip it back to? It's things like clearly explaining concepts in small steps, giving children time to just practice a concept without distracting contexts, ensuring that equipment and resources are ready and available, revisiting past material as a matter of course, drawing links between concepts, allowing children who understand something to get on with it whilst providing more instruction to those who don't, guiding children through work they can't yet do independently, responding quickly, providing scaffolds, modelling, questioning, discussing...

OK, so often it will be a lot of simple things all at once, which can seem complex at first. But in reality, it all comes down to a few key ideas - a few more questions you can ask yourself whilst in the planning stage:

What do the children need to learn?
How can I break it down and teach it in the simplest way possible?
How can they practice it in the simplest way possible?
Is this aspect of the lesson really necessary to children achieving the indended outcome?

Hardly any of us walk into teaching skinny, eager and ready to put on the muscle necessary to become a  heavyweight teacher. No, most of us probably walk in to teaching needing to shed a few pounds. What aspects of your practice might you be able to lose in order to focus on the simpler things? Which of the things you do in your classroom really have an impact, and which are just things that take up a lot of time with very little impact? It might even be something you hold really dear, but if it isn't making a difference, is it really worth doing?

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Beware The Reverse-Engineered Curriculum (or The Potential Pitfalls Of Going For Retrieval Practice Pell-Mell)

Aren't Knowledge Organisers brilliant? Isn't Retrieval Practice just the bees knees? As for Powerful Knowledge... sigh - the stuff dreams are made of.

Over the last couple of years, many of us have taken the outcomes of relatively recent research and applied it to the way we teach and we are pleased with how it's going - children are actually learning, retaining and retrieving information, something which, if we're honest, didn't always happen before.

But what seems to me to have happened is that we have found something that actually, reliably works, and we have made our curricula work for it. We've realised that retrieval practice does make a difference and we've begun to design a curriculum which focuses on what can be learned by that method.

Sure, there are other arguments for teaching Powerful Knowledge - it's supposed to ‘enable students to acquire knowledge that takes them beyond their own experiences’ (Young et al., 2014, p. 7) and for this reason it is often held up as essential for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who we see as needing to be upwardly-mobile socially. Powerful Knowledge is seen to be the answer to closing the gap between the rich and the poor.

Perhaps it isn't even Powerful Knowledge that we're even talking about here, but actually what is known as Declarative Knowledge - facts and information stored in the memory. I'm not sure Powerful Knowledge could be defined so narrowly. Powerful Knowledge is supposed to be more than that.

Whatever terminology we use, the focus on knowledge is potentially narrowing what is taught and how it is taught. And this narrowing is perhaps now coming as a result of the most vaunted method of teaching the knowledge from a knowledge-rich curriculum: retrieval practice. And more specifically, the activity that seems to have become synoymous with retrieval practice: quizzing.

Because retrieval practice works so well, we seem to have searched out the things that best suit the method: the sort of information that can be retrieved and recited e.g. history dates, word definitions, geographic processes, scientific theories and outlines of philosophical concepts, for example.

But is it right to have allowed a certain understanding of the concept of Powerful Knowledge to reduce our curriculum to the identification of exactly which pieces of information we are going to teach, and to the teaching of that information using retrieval practice techniques?

Indeed, possessing Powerful Knowledge, and being able to retrieve it, is supposed to be so much more than rote learning; more than memorising and regurgitating facts. Done right, it should, lead to better understanding and it should improve complex thinking and application skills.

But is an approach to teaching and learning which is satisfied by children who can simply recall information really what's best? The recall of information is not the end of the story. A high score on a (supposedly low stakes) quiz should not mean job done.

Actually, I'd argue, once the facts are memorised, that's when the real teaching and learning begins. Once children know the facts, that's when they can start to use and apply them in various ways. Powerful Knowledge is supposed to allow us to generalise and use what we've learned to think beyond the immediate context.

And don't forget procedural knowledge - how to do things. You can't teach writing, artistic techniques or how to use a tool just by teaching facts. Any time we model something (and this is something we should do a lot in teaching) we are teaching procedural knowledge. This procedural knowledge is separate from 'common sense' knowledge which we gain from everyday life, and therefore lands it more in the realms of Powerful Knowledge. However, the focus on bolstering the curriculum with declarative knowledge has the potential to leave procedural knowledge behind. A balanced approach is needed.

Does your recently-re-written curriculum (all 'i's dotted - intent, implementation and impact) allow the learning to go beyond the retrieval of facts? Or has a child who has learned all the dates on the knowledge organiser and filled in the gaps in the booklet succeeded in all you set out to do? And did that child get the opportunity to do anything else that half term, or did they spend all of their time ensuring they knew all the facts?

If we reverse-engineer the curriculum based on one teaching method which allows one aspect of what might be taught to be taught, then we might not end up with the curriculum we really need.

Those of us involved in curriculum design or review should think carefully about the problems we are trying to solve in order to decide on the criteria we need to set for our curriculum development. We should definitely identify the declarative knowledge we want children to learn - the facts, the information - but we should also be thinking about other kinds of knowledge too.

Things to think about

  • Don't narrow your curriculum down to just the things that can be learned through quizzing. 
  • Think more broadly about how a greater range of retrieval practice techniques can be used to help children learn things from a wider knowledge base than just simple facts and figures. 
  • Ensure that your curriculum really meets the needs of the children in your school and let them be your starting point.

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...
 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Choose Simple


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

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

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

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

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

"Please can I have a dictionary?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 2 August 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Planning For Learning Sequences (Instead Of Planning Lessons)

My latest for HWRK magazine is a really important piece. We teachers spend far too much time thinking about lessons as little hour-long chunks of time - instead we should be thinking about learning sequences and saving ourselves some time.



https://www.hwrkmagazine.co.uk/

To download the full magazine and to read the article, click here: https://www.hwrkmagazine.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/HWRK-Issue08-Summer2019.pdf

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, 10 April 2019

From the @TES Blog: 7 Ways To Make Art Inspiring At Primary

Actually '7 Ways To Choose Artists, Artworks and Artistic Movements For Your Primary Curriculum' would have been a more accurate title...



As well as developing skills within the realms of drawing, painting and sculpture, and producing their own creative works of art, children, according to the National Curriculum, should also ‘know about great artists, craft makers and designers, and understand the historical and cultural development of their art forms’.

The artwork of others is one of the greatest sources of inspiration and information when it comes to children learning, and then applying, skills to their own pieces of work. So it is important that we teach them to appreciate the human creativity and achievement of the world’s most renowned artists.

But it is also important that the artwork, artists and artistic movements we expose our children to isn’t just a line up the usual suspects. A planned, whole school approach to developing an art curriculum is essential. Perhaps due to a lack of knowledge or time, teachers will often wheel out the same old, same olds, often meaning that children see similar things over and over again.

Read more here: https://www.tes.com/news/art-curriculum-inspiring-primary