Monday, 9 January 2017

Book Review: 'Hopeful Schools' by Mary Myatt

Recently I've been wondering how all of my educational ideologies hang together. I often experience the discomfort of feeling like some of them are at odds with each other. I'm the sort that likes to have all my ducks in a row; I like to to understand my own thoughts with great clarity but rarely is the bubbling surface of the witch's brew calm enough for me to divine the meaning of the concocted ingredients.

Mary Myatt's latest book 'Hopeful Schools' has joined the dots between many of my pre-held education-related beliefs and ideas thus forming a far clearer picture in my head of how I think schools (and those who work in them) should operate. 'Hopeful Schools' has shown me that I am a hopeful teacher and leader working in a hopeful school and that most, if not all, of the ways I operate are precisely because of that - Mary makes it clear that my ideologies do hang together well. The book also provided me with further food for thought: areas of practice that would hang together well with my current philosophies.

Reading through, my highlighter went into overdrive as I found phrase after phrase which spoke words of affirmation to me (I had to refrain several times from just writing 'YES!' in the margin). But these same words, to someone less hopeful, are words which have the potential to transform thinking and promote positive action: the chapter on scarcity and abundance is particularly helpful when it comes to shifting mindset. And despite writing that 'hope cannot be forced on others' Mary Myatt makes such a clear argument for why educators should be hopeful that she is sure to win many sceptics over.

Part of the winsomeness of the book is that it acknowledges that negative feelings and thoughts should be taken into consideration and that being hopeful doesn't equate to blind optimism. It also takes into account the fact that many of our base human instincts might initially lead us to focus on 'sad, bad things' but the book then gently pushes the reader on to consider how these instincts might be overcome. 

There are recurring themes and ideas throughout the book, often looked at from slightly different angles in different chapters, but which sometimes feel a little repetitious. The short chapters are great for dipping into but to get a sense of how all the aspects of a truly hopeful school work together to create an environment of hope I'd really recommend that the book is read through as a whole in a short time frame. Reading it in this manner will leave the reader with a melting pot of simmering ideas allowing the brain to refine the showcased ideas into clear, actionable points that are relevant for their setting.

A highly recommended read.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Key Stage 2 SATs Results 2016 Explained: 15 Insights That Will Change How You Teach Year 6 Maths in 2017

Given that I'm maths leader at my school you'd expect that my blog would contain more than just one post about maths, but it doesn't. Until now, that is. And even this one's not a full and proper post, only a link to a piece of work I've done for Third Space Learning.

I spent some time with the Question Level Analysis document produced by RAISE online, working out what the most difficult aspects of the KS2 tests were in 2016 so that hopefully we can all prepare our children well enough for the 2017 tests.

Click here to read the full in depth analysis: Key Stage 2 SATs Results 2016 Explained: 15 Insights That Will Change How You Teach Year 6 Maths in 2017

Sunday, 1 January 2017

At The Portal: Optimism and Positivity for a New Year

As we stand at the portal of an opening year we are wont to reflect and prepare; like Janus we look both backwards and forwards as we assess what has been and what is to come. With a panoramic view of past and future we experience myriad emotions, our minds an ever-changing sky of sunshine, rain, storm clouds, rainbows, bright stars and dark nights.

2016 has been characterised (and in some ways victimised) as another annus horribilis (politics, education and celebrity deaths spring immediately to mind) but the practice of ruminating on a year just gone is least effective when looking at it in a negative way. Conversely, identifying the positive aspects of the previous 12 months and remembering the events and people one is grateful for allows for more optimistic forecasting.

Scientific studies show the many benefits of practicing gratitude: more and better relationships, improved empathy and self-esteem, reduced aggression, higher quality sleep and increased mental strength. And it stands to reason that if someone can look back on a difficult year and still find the positives that they will also be able to look optimistically through the gateway into the unknown of another year.

Winston Churchill said that 'an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty' but it's not necessary to wait for difficulties to arise in order to be optimistic. In fact it's easier to generate optimistic thoughts and feelings in less challenging circumstances which will stand one in good stead when one comes up against the inevitable struggles that life (and teaching) present: the workload, the work/life balance, the behaviour of the kids, the new GCSEs and their results, improving on last year's dire SATs scores - your personal list will no doubt go on.

But 2017 is year for optimism, hope and positivity. How do I know this? Because it is inevitable that it is a year that will bring many stresses, strains and worries, as any new year has the potential to bring. But why does that mean it's a year for optimism, hope and positivity? Well, because, really, it's the only feasible option for coping with what's to come. Dealing with difficulties negatively usually leads to a downward spiral in which further difficult situations arise. So when tough times do occur, a positive viewpoint and an optimistic response is all that will give one hope for the future; it's all that will allow one to continue when travelling the road ahead seems impossible. Without optimism there is no resilience, there is no willingness to continue, there is very little point to the future. Without optimism what's to come can only be met either negatively or neutrally, neither of which really allow for a response which will make the best of each and every situation.

I'm not encouraging an uber-macho taking of the year by the proverbial horns, nor a passive acceptance of come-what-may, but a measured, calm and determined approach to where life's road will take you this year. I'm not saying it'll all be hunky-dory either - realistically all of us will experience stormy times in 2017: some will just be caught in a shower, for others it'll be a relentless deluge. But no matter the scale, an optimism which acknowledges and embraces hard times, which seeks practical ways to overcome them, and which recalls and is thankful for the brighter times, will see any of us through the darkness.

As Big Ben chimes in the new year allow that first step across the threshold to be hope-filled. Set your sights on making the best of every opportunity you are given. Open your eyes to the possibility that positive things may be happening all around you, indeed some of them may be happening because of you. In 2017, as you continue on the undulating paths of life with its vicissitudinal weather, allow positivity and optimism to direct you. 


Thursday, 22 December 2016

UPDATED: Teaching Reading: A Simple Approach

In response to the 2016 KS2 Reading Test I've spent quite a bit of time researching and re-thinking my approach to teaching reading. This has resulted in the creation of a few resources which I've already blogged about. I have been asked a few times about the context in which I use these resources - this blog post will outline what a basic reading lesson might look like. Following the links throughout will lead you to more thorough information about the techniques and ideas mentioned.

Timetabling - my reading lessons happen on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:45 - 9:45. The children come in to a 'Do Now' which usually involves reading the day's chapter/passage/excerpt independently (more on this later). On those mornings I also teach writing-focused English for the following hour and then 1.5 hours of maths after break.

Whole-Class Reading - I do not have a 'traditional' carousel of activities. All children read and answer questions about the same text; research shows that children benefit from being exposed to higher level texts (when the teacher reads it aloud to them before they answer questions on it). Many of my reading lessons are based on a class novel which we read over a half term or a term; to facilitate this we have 'class sets' of many quality texts. Many people ask how the lower prior attainers can be catered for in these sessions - I've written more about that here. For more on the ideology behind whole-class reading please read Rhoda Wilson's blog post about it.

Lesson Sequence - During these sessions I ask the children to first read the chapter/excerpt independently, then I read the same passage aloud, then without discussion the children attempt to independently work through the questions giving written answers. Once the majority of children have done this we hold a whole-class discussion and I (or children who have written good answers) model best answers and children edit what they have written (in purple so as to distinguish their original answer from their edited answer). This sequence was inspired by Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov. This will usually be followed by a period of reading aloud the next part of the text (usually by me but I plan to begin to ask children to read aloud more often) which is often, but not always, accompanied by lots of discussion and modelling of my thought processes as a reader.

Reading For Pleasure - Many school plan elaborate initiatives in an attempt to entice children into reading with the hope that this will lead to them choosing to read for pleasure. My reading lessons always contain a time of just reading the class novel for enjoyment - books are the most powerful tool when it comes to getting children to love and enjoy reading. I've written more about it here in my blog post entitled 'On Why I'll Still Be Dressing Up For World Book Day And The Power Of Books'.

Comprehension Activities - I use the various question stem documents which are available to set my questions, and I colour-code each question and put the relevant Reading Roles symbol with them (see below for more on Reading Roles). Many of these comprehension activities will follow my Scaffolding Inference structure (see below) although I do teach other lessons which focus on the other cognitive domains. Examples of these activities can be found here. I have written a whole blog post entitled 'How To Write Good Comprehension Questions' which gives more insight into how I go about setting questions for reading lessons. In at least some lessons there is a focus on particular reading strategies, such as inference-making which I have written about here: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making.

Reading Roles - help children and staff understand the 8 cognitive domains. Each of the cognitive domains is colour-coded and has a symbol assigned - as mentioned, we use these colours and symbols when designing our comprehension activities. Reading Roles have been used by other teachers in other schools - some of them have written about it here.

Scaffolding Inference - this is something I've designed and developed based on research and findings from last year's SATs. Please see the quick reference guide which outlines this approach. I would say that this is the most effective thing I have done as it focuses on the reading test's three key areas: vocabulary, retrieval and inference. Not only can inference be scaffolded, other reading strategies can too: Scaffolding Structures For Reading Comprehension Skills.

Growing Background Knowledge - this isn't always easy to do as background knowledge can vary so much from child to child. What we do know is that our understanding of a text hinges greatly on what we already know - this might be a knowledge of vocabulary or just a more general knowledge. I have written about possible strategies to take when it comes to building children's background knowledge: 5 Ways To Make Texts With Unfamiliar Contexts More Accessible To ChildrenAttacking Children's Immunity To Imaginative Literature.

EAL reading activity structure - this is an activity (again, linked to the Reading Roles) which I have designed based on research on how to support EAL learners when accessing new texts.

Pairing non-fiction texts with fiction texts - this increases understanding of both the fiction text and the non-fiction text and has sparked some really deep conversations about moral, ethical and religious issues. I have also written about this for the TES: Why Every Primary School Needs To Embrace Non-Fiction.

We also use these resources in English lessons (with our Talk 4 Writing texts) and topic lessons - much of our work centres around texts so these activities help to ensure children comprehend the information.

The fruit of this approach is that in December over 50% of children in my group taking the 2016 KS2  Reading Test were working at or above average (according to the test's thresholds) after one term of year 6. This is a dramatic increase when compared to my results in last year's END of year results based on the same test.

If there is something you feel I've not covered, please ask and I will edit this to give a fuller picture of my approach. I'm not assuming it to be a silver bullet but am seeing good results after teaching in this way for a term.

Click here to read about how following these approaches impacted on our SATs results.

Further reading about reading from my blog:

Being A Reading Teacher

Reading: 2 Things All Parents and Teachers Must Do

Reading: Attacking Children's Immunity To Imaginative Literature

Reading for Pleasure

Changing Hearts, Minds, Lives and the Future: Reading With Children For Empathy

The Best RE Lesson I Ever Taught (Spoiler: It Was A Reading Lesson)

The Unexplainable Joy of Comparing Books

The More-ness of Reading

The Power Of Books

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Structuring Reading Comprehension for EAL Learners

Three staples of guided reading, be that a whole class session or a ‘carousel’ of activities, are the provision of high-quality texts, teacher reading aloud to children and the subsequent talk about texts.

The British Council website expands on these three pillars:
Reading as a collaborative activity is very beneficial to EAL learners:
  • Read aloud to learners. Recent research has shown that being read to for as little as ten minutes a day can make a significant difference to a learner’s reading ability.
  • Talk about what is being read. Pinpoint specific elements in the text through discussion. EAL learners need practice in reading between and behind the lines: they need to see that text may imply more than it actually says.
  • Make available high-quality texts (picture books/short novels/poetry/manga/illustrated non-fiction) that will encourage EAL learners to read for pleasure.
The British Council website makes other recommendations more specific to EAL learners (a catch-all term I know, but useful for brevity) which are not always incorporated into guided reading lessons:
For reading at paragraph or longer text level:
  • Give learners a clear idea of what to expect from the text, and give them plenty of time to engage with it. Consider providing a brief summary, in pictures or in straightforward English.
  • Prepare for reading: check text in advance, to work out which vocabulary items and structures may be challenging, not only for EAL learners but for others. Consider pre-teaching these.
  • Be aware of familiar vocabulary used in ways which may obscure meaning. What’s a ‘piggy bank’? What happened when the King ‘gave someone his daughter’s hand in marriage’? Also, be aware that texts designed for less able monolingual readers may pose substantial difficulties for EAL learners. The increased use of prepositional verbs and colloquial expressions (‘Oh, I give up!’) can make these texts easy to decode but difficult to understand.
  • Ask learners to say whether discrete sentences (taken from the text, or paraphrases) are true or false.
  • Give learners a number of false sentences, and ask them to reword the sentences to make them true.
The ASCD website also suggests:
  • Use informal comprehension checks: To test students' ability to put materials in sequence, for example, print sentences from a section of the text on paper strips, mix the strips, and have students put them in order.
And the Reading Rockets website adds:
  • The best kinds of activities for building background knowledge are those that get students involved in manipulating language and concepts, rather than just receiving information from the teacher. These include experiential activities such as science experiments, classification activities, role playing, previewing a reading and generating questions about it, and sharing predictions about the answers to those questions.
In order to make meeting these demands a little easier I put together a basic structure for an EAL reading activity. It can be used as a standalone activity or as a pre-cursor to further activities and questioning. It should always be used in conjunction with those three pillars mentioned at the beginning – particularly the pillar of discussion: the activity sheet should not be completed totally independently by the children. In addition to this, it should be noted that once children have made an attempt at reading the text independently (if capable) then the teacher should read aloud the same text to them.

The colour-coding and symbols in the proforma relate to my ‘Reading Roles’ resource which is designed to make the elements of the content domain more memorable for staff and children alike - click here to read my blog post about it..

Download the resource here from TES Resources.

Click here to download an example of how this resource might be used - this resource is based on David Walliams' 'The Boy in the Dress'.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Reading the Warning Signs


We’ve all experienced the moment when, mid-work, the computer begins to automatically shut-down; it needs its updates and a restart.

Our bodies send the same messages, often in code and rarely in the glaringly obvious written-across-the-screen way of digital devices. No, our bodies are more subtle and there are positives and negatives to that.

Continue reading here at www.integritycoaching.co.uk

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Reading Roles: Elements Of The Content Domain Made Memorable

A few years ago there were many resources available supporting children's understanding of the Assessment Focuses. Teachers found it beneficial to help children to identify the kinds of questions they were being asked about texts. The idea behind making children aware of the question type is that they might have a better idea of what the answer should look like in order to give better verbal and written answers.

With the recent introduction of the content domain (as set out in the English Reading Test Framework) and the upset caused by the difficulty of last year's KS2 reading test I set about reviving an idea that an old colleague of mine and I had a few years ago. Back then, we joked about conceiving it and setting up as consultants, peddling it around the local area but it wasn't even worth creating the resource as there were so many out there already that did the job just fine. Others out there are devising ways to help children understand the elements of the content domain however I believe the simple resource I have devised has some merits.

The concept of 'Reading Roles' is to assign a well-known job, role or profession to each of the domains. Most children will already understand what the jobs entail in real life and therefore will fairly immediately be able to gain an understanding of each element of the content domain. We have been trialing this for a number of weeks now and the children are already able to articulate what questions in each domain require of them. There is still work to be done - confidence in identifying question types consistently, but they now have the tool to do so.

Here are the 8 elements of the content domain and their assigned 'roles' (written for KS2):


This resource can be downloaded here, along with its KS1 counterpart and posters for both KS1 and KS2 containing one domain/role on each page.

As is obvious each domain is colour-coded and is assigned a simple symbol as a memory aid. We have used the colours and symbols to identify question types in the comprehension tasks we have set - the aim of this is to familiarise the children with the question types. Eventually we will remove the colours and symbols and focus more on question type identification. See here for examples of the comprehension tasks I've set in this way.

Click here for some testimonials from people who have used Reading Roles effectively in their school.

Again, as with the Scaffolding Inference technique, I'd love to hear from anyone who begins to use this. It'd be very interesting to see how this helps other children and in what ways it can be developed and used.

With thanks to Herts for Learning for the focus of each element of the content domain.