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

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Thoughtful Questioning: Why Cold Call Is Not Enough

This blog post is now available at:

https://www.aidansevers.com/post/thoughtful-questioning-why-cold-call-is-not-enough

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing pedagogy at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Forensic Assessment

This blog post is now available at:

https://www.aidansevers.com/post/forensic-assessment

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing pedagogy at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

From @TES: Is it time for a new name for SEND?

 

https://www.tes.com/news/it-time-new-term-send-special-educational-needs-disabilities-schools

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

From @HWRK_Magazine: What Should I Do If a Child Has Finished Their Work?


https://hwrkmagazine.co.uk/what-should-i-do-if-a-child-has-finished-their-work/

A common question, but countless potential solutions. I explore how to use time effectively when a student has finished their work earlier than anticipated.

You all recognise the scene: a line of children stretching from your desk to the classroom door and then doubling back on itself, snaking its way between desks and chairs, children waiting patiently (alright, not always patiently) to have their work seen and to receive their next instruction. To be honest, many of you will have solved the problem of the eternal queue, but the question remains:

What should I do if a child has finished their work?

Read on here: https://hwrkmagazine.co.uk/what-should-i-do-if-a-child-has-finished-their-work/

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing pedagogy at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Monday, 28 December 2020

My Corona: A Christmas with Covid

As the 18th of December drew closer, the fear inside me grew: what if we had to send a bubble, or more than one, home in those last few days of the school term? What if holidays were going to be ruined by isolation for scores of children and staff?

There was a selfish fear too, of course: what if I come into contact with someone who tests positive and have to isolate? Or what if one of my own children gets sent home from their school?

My fears were, inevitably, pretty quickly realised: my middle daughter came home on the penultimate Friday, destined to self-isolate until Friday 18th. But that didn’t touch Christmas, but it meant a huge burden on my wife, working at home fulfilling Christmas baking orders. I hurried back from school every day in order to try to provide some relief. Every day, that is, until Thursday.

Because, of course, it was the unthinkable that actually happened.

Rewind to Wednesday night:

Wednesday night was a tough one: I had an inexplicable pain across my lower back – I couldn’t get comfortable in bed and, along with the accompanying nausea, it kept me awake most of the night.

I ‘woke up’ the next day feeling slightly unwell, in my own words. Thursday was to be the last day in school, and not thinking that back ache and tiredness should stop me from enjoying the last day of school, off I went.

Thankfully, I spent the day ensuring, as usual, that I was social distancing, was in well-ventilated places, keeping my hands washed regularly and so on. The day was a great way to end what had been a fantastic term – yes, a challenging one, but a challenge I had relished. I was glad to leave by the end though, as, due to a lack of sleep, or so I thought, I was flagging somewhat.

At home I caught up a little with the DfE’s newly-revealed plans to ask secondary schools to test pupils as of January. I fired off a quick commiseration email to our principal (I work in an all-through academy) and thought I’d forget about it. With one more work-from-home morning left to go, I retired to bed that night, although not before a heated discussion with my wife regarding whether or not I should get a Covid test: when my symptoms are definitely those of Covid, was my stance; tomorrow, regardless, was hers – so that we knew for certain whether or not our Christmas plans would be affected.

But my subconscious brain clung on to the evening’s thoughts, weaponising them and torturing me all night. I dreamt of having to set up a testing centre at school – one of those looped dreams consisting of bright colours (the testing booths were decorated with red and white Christmas string), repeated phrases and nothing at all very tangible other than the feeling of dread. I woke at 4:10 am and headed downstairs to book myself a Covid test, the fever being such that the virus was becoming a more certain possibility.

***

Just before lunchtime on Sunday the test result came back. I’d all but convinced myself it would be negative, mainly on account of an easing temperature and the presence of phlegm: it was a chest infection, it must be.

Dear Aidan Severs

Your coronavirus test result is positive. It means you had the virus when the test was done.

I went downstairs to break the news. By now, of course, the rules for Christmas had changed, all our plans involved people now marooned in tier 4, so my corona was not going to be the cause of spoiled Christmas plans. However, there were plenty of other consequences.

I have to admit I cried. Many times. Everything set me off. The thought of potentially ruining so many other Christmases. The fact my wife had to cancel and refund all her Christmas orders. Knowing my mother-in-law, who is in our bubble, would not be able to spend Christmas with us meaning that she may face it alone. The knowledge that my children, who have soldiered on through the country’s toughest restrictions, living as we do in Bradford, and not even an area of Bradford that got out of local lockdown for a while, would have to endure more time indoors with only each other as company. Heightened emotions may be a symptom – then again, its legitimate for it to be that upsetting without that as an excuse.

I completed my Test and Trace information, and the academy’s counterpart. Thankfully it was deemed unnecessary to ask anyone else to isolate, due to the mitigations in place and my keeping to them. That was a weight off my mind, although I spent each day of the holiday waiting to hear that someone else from work had come down with it because of me. At the time of writing, I have heard only of one very tentative transmission, and am hoping that when I speak to my colleagues again in the new year, all will report a healthy Christmas holiday.

And the thing just left me weak, wheezy and a waste of space. Unable to go out, incapable of doing anything of any value. I par-watched a film, and an episode of a series. Reading, writing, music had very little draw – besides the initial headache that came with my Covid prohibited these activities. I slept on and off. I mostly just felt guilty – I know it wasn’t my fault - and sad that my wife was having to take on everything. My muscles ached, my skin felt like it was on fire, my head felt like it was sunburnt.

At some point, it robbed me of my sense of smell, leaving me with only a partial sense of taste. All that Christmas food! Would I be able to taste it? That was if I even had the appetite for it – usually ravenous the whole time, I certainly experienced some fluctuation in my desire to eat.

It felt unfair. We’d stuck to all the rules. I’d survived the term, always being there at work, covering when others thought they might have had it, or indeed, when others did have it, plugging away finding never-ending solutions to all the latest Covid problems. We’d ridden wave after wave of the UK’s harshest restrictions, very rarely losing hope.

Even after a week, I was still dog tired. I woke up on the 23rd feeling a bit brighter, a little more energised, but as the day wore on, that wore off. If there’s one thing this virus does well, it’s robbing its host of their vitality. Perhaps the exhaustion was due to my body fighting of the illness effectively enough for me to remain at home, instead of being hospitalised? I suppose if that was the case, then I am thankful for the tiredness.

Of course, friends and family rallied round. Many a kind message was received, people picked stuff up for us, dropped it off. Entertainment for me and the children was sent. My wife did a cracking job of keeping the morale high despite everything.

Christmas Eve was merry – I was feeling a lot better and managed to join in with all the day’s activities – still inside the house, isolating of course. Just before we headed out for a drive around to look at the Christmas lights loads of my family members came to the street and sang to us – a lovely, heart-warming moment, and a chance to sample some of my dad’s Covid Carols live! But we weren’t only going to see the Christmas lights, we also made a second trip to the test centre: my wife had begun with a cough -  a cough which by now was plaguing me to the point of perceived pain in my lungs.

And on Christmas morning, whilst preparing the meal, her text came through: positive.

And the so the saga continues. Thankfully by Sunday 27th (my official release date) I was feeling normal enough again to do a decent job of having a good time with the children, feeding the family and keeping the house in some sort of semblance of order. I took the kids out for a brief walk in the woods and it did us good. At the time of posting, my wife is still ill in bed, experiencing her version of all the symptoms I had.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

From @HWRK_Magazine: Staring At Snowflakes (Real Behaviour Management)

 

Having a bit of a laugh with students can actually be a great behaviour management technique in and of itself. 

If we’re honest, many behaviour management strategies kind of squeeze the enjoyment out of being in a room with 30 or so children. It’s easy for a teacher to assume that when children express their personalities and visibly enjoy each other’s company, that they aren’t in fact learning. 

But there’s quite a simple thing you can do to begin to work out whether or not learning is going on, regardless of how much enjoyment they might be having: you ask yourself the question ‘Are they learning?’.


If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing teaching and learning in your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

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



If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing teachers at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Finding Your True Teacher Persona

This blog post is now available at:

https://www.aidansevers.com/post/finding-your-true-teacher-persona

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing teachers at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

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."

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing pedagogy at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

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...

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.

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing reading at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

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.

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing reading at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

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.




This article is now available in full at my website: