Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Reading For Displeasure: 13 Books To Take Children Out Of Their Comfort Zone

Reading for pleasure is all the rage in schools, but how often do we, and the children we teach, read for displeasure? Or, perhaps more accurately, for discomfort?

Ask any number of readers what they like about reading and there will be plenty of replies on the theme of escapism. Internet memes carry lines such as "Books: a cosy doorway to paradise".

Actually, for many, it should be that books are a doorway out of a cosy paradise.

Click here for more, including 13 recommendations of books for a range of ages which will take children out of their comfort zone and into the shoes of others: https://www.tes.com/news/13-books-take-primary-pupils-out-their-comfort-zone

Note: This article does not cover the whole range of uncomfortable life situations that people find themselves in. I have focused in this article on issues such as loss (of a loved one, of a sense of safety, of a sense of community) as well as racism. It is by no means a definitive list. I would suggest that there could be plenty more articles submitted to the TES highlighting books that will help children to understand other life circumstances.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Building Sticky Note Sentences

The EEF's KS2 Literacy Guidance has as one of its recommendations that teachers should 'develop pupils' transcription and sentence construction skills through extensive practice' (recommendation 5).

It states that 'it is important to promote the basic skills of writing—skills that need to become increasingly automatic so that pupils can concentrate on writing composition... this includes the sentence construction. If these skills are slow or effortful then this will hinder progress in writing composition. High-quality practice is essential to develop fluent transcription skills.'

Writing grammatically accurate sentences is something that many children really struggle with. This is particularly so for those who have less exposure to the English language either orally or in print. As a result, children for whom English is an additional language and children from low income backgrounds, for example, may need a more step-by-step approach to learning how to write sentences.

The EEF guidance goes on to say that'sentence construction can be developed through activities like sentence-combining where simple sentences are combined so that varied and more complex multi-clause sentences are produced. Initially, the teacher can model this, but pupils should go on to work collaboratively and independently. Pupils need to learn to construct increasingly sophisticated sentences, for meaning and effect, with speed.'

Now, the activity that I am going to write about in this blog post is neither innovative nor complicated - it is a very simple activity carried out by teachers all over the world and it is not something I claim to have created (in fact, I'm very sure I've received training from Alison Philipson, Philip Webb and Jane Considine on very similar activities). However, the fact that it does seem to help children means that it is worth sharing here on my blog.

The Context

The lesson that the photos come from was with a mixed attaining group of year 4 children. They had been reading the beginning of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the work completed in the session was based on Chapter 1.

This activity could be adapted for any year group - more on this later.

The Activity

The purpose of this particular lesson was solely to help children to write grammatically accurate sentences. However, this could be used to cover many writing objectives, for example, using connectives, writing fronted adverbials, including parenthesis, using accurate punctuation, etc.

To begin with, based on the chapter of the book, we generated some very simple sentences based on the summary of the chapter that they had written during their reading lesson. With one group I wrote all the words on the board - they had to transfer the words one onto each sticky note and then rearrange them into 4 sentences (they knew there were four as there were four full stops and four capital letters).

Two children rearranging the words to write the 4 sentences.
With the 4 sentences I deliberately demonstrated how simple and short sentences can be. We discussed whether or not a sentence with only two words was really a sentence - we decided it was although I didn't completely go into the language of 'subject' and 'predicate'! Instead we talked about it having a noun and a verb. Some children were surprised that two words could make a full sentence.

Here are the four sentences we generated for use in the rest of the activity:

The four sentences we generated as a starting point
The first sentence edited to give information
about 'where' and 'when'. This was written after the
sticky note activity.
For this activity we decided to help the children to think about the potential content of a sentence using some of the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When). We worked out that so far all of the sentences we had written contained the 'who' and the 'what' (we planned to leave the 'why' to another day as it would involve a greater range of conjunctions).

Next, I modelled how to include the 'when' and the 'where' by adding information to the sentences. Once we had transfered the additional words onto sticky notes we were able to play with the sentence, moving parts and making changes to things like capital letters and full stops and adding in commas.

By moving parts of the sentence around we were able to reinforce some prior learning about fronted adverbials.

In our particular example we discussed how certain rearrangements didn't really sound right and didn't make much sense ('Sitting on a bank, Alice was on a hot day and she was bored'). Instead we opted for: 'On a hot day, Alice was sitting on a bank and she was bored.'

The fact that the words of the sentence were written one on each sticky note meant that children were physically able to rearrange the words in order to find something that made sense. The children did not struggle to move entire clauses because they had seen the whole clause added at once (and knew that the purpose of it was either to add information about 'where' or 'when' something happened).

The children worked in pairs - here is one example of the first sentence before the 'when' clause was added.

Here is one example of the first full sentence before it was rearranged.

My example on the board. An alternative way to model from the front is to use larger pieces of paper folded in half and
hung over a 'washing line'.

Once this had been modelled, and the children had had a go at playing with the modelled example, I asked the children to have a go at adding 'where' and 'when' clauses to another of the sentences: 'The rabbit ran'. Children first worked on sticky notes but were soon able to form their sentences orally before writing them in their books.

Some children demonstrated an over-reliance on the use of 'on a hot day' so I challenged them to use either 'before' or 'after' to write about 'when' the rabbit ran.

Adapting this activity

This activity, or versions of it, could be used from the very beginning of a child's writing journey. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Ordering words in sentences
  • Adding adjectives or adverbs
  • Replacing nouns with pronouns
  • Improving vocabulary
  • Including action and/or dialogue into descriptive writing
  • Using commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, brackets
  • Joining two sentences with conjunctions
  • Adding relative clauses
  • Changing tense
  • Editing and revising to add/remove information
With any of these as a focus the basic requirement is to have something to write about (a picture, a story, a video clip) and to start off by writing the simplest sentence possible (2-4 words is all that is needed). Sentences can then be quickly built to the point where the desired objective becomes the focus.

I would love to hear from those who've done this kind of thing before and from those who try it for the first time.; please share examples of the work you and your class create!

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

From the @TES Blog: Times Tables Check: What Do I Need To Know?

We’ve known about the proposed key stage 2 multiplication check for a while now, but have so far been waiting for more information about exactly what the check will entail. With the publishing of the 2018 'Key stage 2 multiplication tables check assessment framework' this month, we now have a greater insight into what we can expect of the tests.

Click here to read the rest on the TES site: https://www.tes.com/news/times-tables-check-what-do-i-need-know

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Reading Roles Linked To Reading Comprehension Strategies

Recently someone contacted me through my blog asking a very important question:
I have recently come across your Reading Roles. From 2016 you have the weather forecaster etc ones and then from 2018 there are also the student/quiz master roles - do you recommend using all of these to cover content domain or focus on the newer ones? It seems like a lot of roles to remember.
 And here's my answer:
I would focus on the ones that are reading strategies, rather than ones which are only areas of the content domain from the test frameworks: 
Professor: Activating Prior Knowledge
Quiz Master: Questioning
Director: Visualization
Student: Monitoring/Clarifying (this one covers the Translator and the Interpreter so those two can go, although there needs to be a heavy focus on the vocab)
Detective: Drawing Inferences
Editor: Summarising 
I need to blog about this properly, so thanks for the prompt!
So here's my blog post:

When I initially developed the Reading Roles I focused solely on the areas of the content domain taken from the KS2 test framework. This was in reaction to the infamous 2016 KS2 reading test.

As time has gone by I have learned more about reading strategies as opposed to the reading skills that are tested. Some of the research-backed strategies are linked to the reading skills that are tested (inferencing, summarising, predicting) but not all of them are. This led me to add to the Reading Roles that I initially developed in order to shift the focus to learning metacognitive strategies that children can apply in order to better comprehend what they read.

Now, as in my answer above, I would advocate a much heavier focus on developing the reading strategies instead of just getting children to prtactise skills (by answering test-style questions, for example). Thus, whilst the other Reading Roles might still be used, I suggest that anyone choosing to use the Reading Roles might choose to focus on the following:

Click here to download this as a PDF: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/reading-roles-linked-to-reading-comprehension-strategies-12016559
These reading strategies are recommended in the EEF's KS2 Literacy Guidance under recommendation 3:

Another useful document giving a summary of reading strategies is the IES Practice Guide 'Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade' where its first recommendation is to teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies (pages 10 - 16).

Both the EEF's guidance document and the IES practice guide point out that responsibility for the use of these strategies should gradually be transferred to the child. The intention of assigning familiar job titles to reading strategies is that children are given an easy-to-refer-to system for being more deliberate with their thinking during reading, with the ultimate goal of being able to comprehend texts. Therefore, Reading Roles should only be used until children are using the strategies automatically.

In addition to this, DT Willingham, in his article Can Reading Comprehension Be Taught?, says that research shows that "the strategies are helpful but they are quickly learned and don’t require a lot of practice... And there is actually plenty of data showing that extended practice of reading comprehension strategies instruction yields no benefit compared to briefer review... Ten sessions yield the same benefit as fifty sessions."

Again, to reiterate, these Reading Role strategies should only be described, modeled and practised collaboratively and individually until the strategies are seen to be internalised - this will most likely occur at different points for different children.

It is also worth mentioning that the Reading Roles are not designed to be assigned one to each child in a group. Children should be working towards being able to select strategies to use and therefore should be allowed to practise all of them. Having said this, in some sessions you may choose to only focus on one strategy at a time whilst the children become familiar with them.

Further reading:

To find out more about the Quiz Master, Student, Professor and Director Reading Roles, please click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/04/reading-roles-metacognitive-reading-strategies.html

To find out about a generic reading activity that uses the Director, Student, Professor, Quiz Master and Editor roles, click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/09/reading-roles-plus-generic-reading.html

To see the generic Reading Roles reading activity exemplified, click here: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/09/reading-roles-plus-comprehension-strategy.html

This blog post goes into much more detail about HOW we might teach reading comprehension strategies: http://www.thatboycanteach.co.uk/2018/03/reading-strategies-isolation-combination.html

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, 1 November 2018

Book Review: 'Little Bits of Sky' by S.E. Durrant

If I were to be lazy I'd describe 'Little Bits of Sky' as an emotional rollercoaster of a story about two children in care. But I have to do better than that - this book really deserves a review that does it justice.

In any case, it's not truly an emotional rollercoaster because S.E. Durrant so accurately depicts how life, even in tough circumstances, runs on the parallel tracks of opposing emotions. Siblings Ira (real name Miracle) and Zac live in a children's home and they know only too well how any given moment can be both joyful and full of sorrow. Readers of this book will experience just that - within a paragraph they will likely feel the urge to laugh aloud but be stopped from doing so by the lump in their throat.

And it is Durrant's beautiful prose that makes this possible. The writing is supremely believable as the thoughts of a child, recorded in a semi-diary form. The authenticty comes as a result of the inclusion of the small details that an optimistic child wanting to make the best of their life would focus on. Surprisingly it is these small details that keep the reader hooked - the storyline itself is slow-moving allowing plenty of space for a realistic portrayal of the world Ira, Zac and their fellow housemates live in: the coming and going, the behaviour of other children, school days, the relationships with social workers, siblings, teachers, friends, the coping mechanisms, the questions about parents.

What this everyday-ness ultimately achieves is a real feeling of empathy towards the children and a sense of mounting elation (and some dashed expectations) as the children go away to stay with Martha, a retired teacher who lives in a town outside of London. The story also contains some great twists as well as a surprising amount of history: the previously unchartered waters (in children's fiction) of the Poll Tax Riots in the late 80s are the setting for this brilliant novel.

Old or young, this moving story prompts reflection on the need for love and a sense of belonging, and the human ability to overcome adversity. Quite frankly, I wish every book I read were like this one - its gentle exploration of what it is to be a child, to be a person, is stimulating and somehow satisfyingly enjoyable. Substance, meaning and authenticity flow out of every page of 'Little Bits of Sky'. Do read it - everyone I've recommended it to so far has not been disappointed.