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

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

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.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Making Geometric Stars: An Investigative Christmas Maths Teaching Sequence

So Christmas is upon us and, as a conscientious teacher, you don't want the learning to stop (or the craziness to begin), but you also want to make the most of the Christmas context/the kids are pestering you for a 'fun' lesson. You've got something for writing (please don't let it be letters to Santa - so much wrong with that - go with writing a list of presents they'd like to give others, preferably not bought ones either) and RE is sorted - so's reading as there are so many Christmas-themed texts out there.

But what've you got for maths? Some Christmas-themed word problems? If I eat 24 mince pies over the Christmas season and mince pies come in boxes of 6, how many boxes of mince pies have I eaten? Bit tenuous. Let not mighty dread seize your troubled mind. Try this investigative teaching sequence which culminates in making some lovely geometric stars:

Step 1: Investigate the size of internal angles in regular polygons

Begin with triangles, discussing what they already know about the sum of the internal angles in any triangle. A tangent here could be to check a number of different triangles, not just equilateral ones, to see if indeed all the angles add to 180 degrees - doing this will also provide important protractor use practice for later on. It might be worth pointing out that the half-circle protractor also measures 180 degrees.

Move onto squares, rectangles and other quadrilaterals. Again, call on prior knowledge: all of a square's internal angles are right angles, right angles are all 90 degrees and that multiplying 90 by 4 is 360 so a square, and a rectangle, has interior angles which add up to 360 degrees. You could mention at this point that circles also contain 360 degrees. You could also get them to check a range of different quadrilaterals, reinforcing their names and other important shape
vocabulary.

Although probably too early, you could ask children to make conjectures about what the internal angles of a 5-sided shape - a pentagon - might total. Some may point out that from the triangle to the square the number doubled so may predict that a pentagon's internal angles might add to 720 degrees. Others may point out that from the 3-sided shape to the 4-sided shape the number of degrees increased by 180 and therefore predict that the pentagon might have internal angles totalling 540 degrees. If both of these conjectures are brought up you can discuss how it is too early to be sure of any pattern and that it is important to continue testing the hypotheses.

Provide a printed sheet containing at least a pentagon - it's also worth including a hexagon, a heptagon and an octogon (you could even include a nonagon and a decagon). Allow the children to further investigate the sum of the internal angles in these shapes. At the same time ask them to create a table to record their findings.

Shape
Number of sides
Each angle (in a regular shape)
Sum of internal angles




Triangle
3
60 o
180o
Quadrilateral
4
90 o
360o
Pentagon
5
108 o
540o
Hexagon
6
120 o
720o
Heptagon
7
128.57… o
900o
Octagon
8
135 o
1020o

After measuring and totalling (this could be by multiplication or repeated addition - discuss efficient methods) the internal angles of each shape they should make further conjectures about what the next one will total - before moving onto the hexagon they should be almost certain that each time a side is added to a shape another 180 degrees are added to the sum of its internal angles.

It should be noted that some of their measuring almost certainly won't be accurate and that some mathematical reasoning will have to be applied, for example:

"If I measured one angle as 107, another at 109 and another at 108, which is most likely to be?"
"I've predicted the sum of the internal angles to be 720 degrees but it is coming out as 723 degrees - which is wrong, my prediction or my angle measuring?"

Once findings are recorded in a table it becomes easier for children to begin to find a way of expressing a rule for finding the sum of the internal angles of a shape with any number of sides. I have worked with year 6 children who have managed to generate a formula for this. Even if they cannot yet write it down, some will be able to verbalise the rule:

"Number of sides subtract 2, then multiply that by 180"

To get to this point it helps to talk about the triangle being the first shape, the quadrilateral being the second shape, the pentagon being the third shape, and so on. With this as a starting point they can generate something like this:

Shape
Shape Number
Number of sides
Sum of internal angles




Triangle
1
3
180o
Quadrilateral
2
4
360o
Pentagon
3
5
540o
Hexagon
4
6
720o
Heptagon
5
7
900o
Octagon
6
8
1020o

Now that they have the shape number next to the number of sides in the shape they will much more easily be able to see that the difference is two therefore subtracting two from the number of sides results in the number that 180 must be divided by to find the sum of the internal angles.

If children don't have prior experience of writing this as a formula they can be shown how to record this:

Sum of interior angles = (n-2) × 180° (where n = number of sides)

And that each angle (of a regular polygon) = (n-2) × 180° / n

Step 2: Investigate drawing stars within circles

Nrich has a couple of great activities for this:

Path to the Stars: https://nrich.maths.org/1097 (their printable resources page has circles with pre-printed dots on it for this ativity: https://nrich.maths.org/8506)

Stars: https://nrich.maths.org/2669 (this is an interactive resource)

Round and Round the Circle: https://nrich.maths.org/86

In these activities it is worth drawing out rules such as:
  • if you draw a line straight to the next dot you get a regular polygon
  • with an odd number of dots, if you a draw a line which skips a dot you get a star shape
  • with an odd number of dots which isn't a mulitple of 3, if you draw a line which skips two dots you get a star shape with longer points than when you just skip one dot (doesn't work for 5 dots as there aren't enough dots - skipping two is the same as skipping one in the opposite direction)
  • if you skip just one dot when there are an even number of dots you get a regular polygon with have the number of sides and vertices as the the original number of dots
There are many more rules such as these to notice and discuss.

You could also experiment with Nrich's Mystic Rose activity (another great interactive resource: https://nrich.maths.org/6703) which does more than just create star shapes.

Step 3: Practise drawing regular shapes using a protractor


Model to children how to draw the shapes from step 1 using the angles they discovered and by deciding on a particular side length. Impress upon them the importance of accuracy in measurements - perhaps demonstrate how even being a few degrees/millimetres off once or twice will result in an irregular shape.

Children should mark a starting point and draw a line of the side length they have decided. Then they should measure the internal angle according to their findings in step 1 and draw a second side of the same length to the shape. This should be repeated until they reach their starting point again.

It will be best to do this exercise on scrap (and/or large) paper as often the children will find that their chosen side lengths lead to their shape becoming too big for the paper! In this case they will have to readjust and start again.

Step 4: Make stars!

Once children have mastered the drawing of regular shapes in step 3 they can move onto making their stars. Give children coloured/decorated card in festive hues/patterns to draw their regular shapes out onto.

From protractor to tree!

Once they have drawn out their shapes they can use what they experimented with in step 2 to join the vertices of their shape in different patterns to form stars.

If you carried out the Mystic Rose activity in step 2 you will need to ensure the children can identify a regular pattern where they will cut (there will be many options). It is a good idea to give them a pen to go over the lines that they want to cut before they take their scissors to their carefully drawn out shape. The mystic rose patterns that they have drawn will provide interesting decoration to their finished stars.

Alternatives:

If you don't have time to follow the whole sequence, or teach children too young to be able to do all aspects of it, there are alternatives to the above sequence which avoid the lengthier steps 1 and 3:
  • Just do one of the activities from step 2 then make large print outs of the Nrich templates on coloured card so that children can make their stars.
  • Teach children to use a pair of compasses to draw their own circles then teach them to use a protractor to divide the circle into equal sections by dividing 360 by the number of points they want ( 5 points = 72°; 6 points = 60°; 7 points = 51.42...°; 8 points = 45°; 9 points = 40°; 10 points = 36°). They can then use these to create star or Mystic Rose patterns on coloured card to cut out.
A colourful hexagonal mystic rose pattern - the green part will have been cut off to form a star.

A well-drawn nonagon with mystic rose pattern and a heptagon with mystic rose pattern that has already been transformed into a star.

If completed on plain card children can decorate their stars - perhaps in more festive colours than this one!

If children can draw a perfect hexagon then they can also make and fold shapes which can be cut into snowflake shapes which will have a realistic six lines of symmetry.

    Tuesday, 6 November 2018

    Explicitly Teach Metacognition to Boost Maths Skills


    Anyone who has ever taught primary maths will, most likely at many points, have asked themselves, ‘Why on earth did they do it like that?’.

    You know, when a child completes a full written calculation just for adding 10 to another number or attempts to divide a huge number by reverting to drawing hundreds of little dots.

    And it’s an absolute certainty that every primary teacher will have asked the following question, but this time with a little more frustration: ‘Why didn’t they check their answer?’.

    Click here to read the rest on the Teach Primary website: https://www.teachwire.net/news/we-need-to-explicitly-teach-metacognition-to-boost-maths-skills

    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!