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Sunday, 15 December 2013

Don't let the Grinch Steal Christmas

I haven't blogged for quite a while and when I reflected upon why it was for two main reasons.

The first reason is due to assessments. The end of a term brings with it the inevitable search for proof of progress, so Christmas or not the last couple of weeks have been peppered with a range of reading, writing and maths assessments. What strikes me the most every time I do assessments is actually how accurate my 'teacher assessment' is. However, I have to have some evidence upon which to base my teacher assessment besides my knowledge of the children and finely honed gut instinct.

The second reason for my long absence from blogging is a much more joyful and rewarding reason and that is the Christmas Nativity. This years Nativity was called 'Little Angel Gets Her Wings' and it has been an absolute pleasure to be part of. The pleasure I have got far outweighs the hard work that went into it. The preparations began with identifying the play, this was then tweaked by the head of  KS1 who ensured that every child in KS1 had a part, from F2 through to year 2. This for our school represents 92 children! After the play had been altered all of the staff got together with the children, we explained the story and parts and then asked them what they would like to do. Now obviously year 2 are expected to take the main speaking roles. year 1 do the non speaking acting  parts and F2 take the dancing parts. All of the children sing all of the songs.

The fact that the children get to choose the parts under some guidance really warms my heart as that means that the 'good readers' are not necessarily the ones that got the most lines. In fact our school ethos is that if the child is willing to have a go no matter what ability they will be supported to achieve that goal. Once  the parts had been chosen we then informed the parents of the costume requirements for their child. Again we are very lucky because on the whole our parents provide wonderful costumes and the staff always step in to sort out costumes which for a variety of reasons do not appear. Next followed two weeks of almost daily rehearsals in the school hall alongside lots of singing practice in classrooms. Having previously taught in KS2 I have been truly amazed at the behaviour of some of the youngest pupils, which was on the whole excellent. They rehearsed, sang, waited, acted, danced, waited ..... with very little complaint.

By the time the performances came along the whole play was like a well oiled machine, well as much as it can be with 92 four to seven year olds! We had four performances in all. A full dress rehearsal for KS2, one afternoon and one evening performance for parents and a final morning performance for grandparents. The best audience response came from the Grandparents who oohed and aahed in all of the right places and clapped and cheered at the end. I have throughly enjoyed the whole experience and gained no end of pleasure watching previously shy and quiet pupils blossom into confident little performers. I laughed until my sides ached at some of the antics of the children both on and off stage and cried many a quiet tear. I mean who could fail to be touched by the sight of a host of both male and female angels with wings of every shape and size, shepherds with tea towels on their heads, dancing pigs, cows and chickens,  talking doves and donkeys, Mary and Joseph arm in arm and finally Little Angel getting her wings. Truly magical!

My thoughts on all of this are that it is possible to not let the Grinch  (Ofsted) Steal Christmas and in fact not only is it possible it is I think essential that we do not let Christmas be taken away by this ever increasing madness of striving for levels. Yes I am aware only to well that 1 pupil not doing as expected can lead to at the very least a 'light touch' Ofsted. However, I would argue that that one pupil may in fact gain more confidence and self esteem from the joy of being part of a Christmas play which could result in better test results but you know what maybe that one pupil may not get better Sats results from taking part in a play but will gain so much more. My own very personal view is that Primary School is about laying the foundations stones for learning, instilling a thirst for knowledge, building character, teaching team work, building memories, but perhaps most of all making learning and school fun. After all when they look back on their time in primary school what do you think they will remember? Sats? or trips out, the school disco, visiting theatre groups, singing, performing in plays etc. I know what I think. What about you?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The importance of music in the classroom

Benefits of playing a musical instrument

Recent Research from St Andrews University  into the 'Improved effectiveness of performance monitoring in amateur instrumental musicians' has shown some very interesting results. The study was led by St Andrews psychologist Dr Ines Jentzsch, who compared the cognitive ability of amateur musicians versus non-musicians in performing simple mental tasks.

 The researchers say that the latest findings demonstrate the potential for ‘far reaching benefits’ of musical activity on mental and physical well-being. The most striking difference she found lay in the musicians’ ability to recognise and correct mistakes.  'Not only that, but they responded faster than those with little or no musical training, with no loss in accuracy. This is perhaps not surprising since musicians learn to be constantly aware of their performance, but to not be overly affected by mistakes.'

'The results showed that playing a musical instrument, even at moderate levels, improves the ability to monitor our behavior for errors and adjust subsequent responses more effectively when needed.'

My own humble findings:

I was very fortunate to be involved in one of the pilot phases of the Wider Opportunities programme which is a 1-year whole class programme for year 4 pupils who receive whole class teaching from a fully qualified music teacher and the free use of an instrument for a year. Instruments included in the scheme range from, Bb mixed brass and single brass instruments, mixed strings, violin and  recorders. As a complete novice I was given the opportunity to learn the 'clarinet' alongside my class at the time. I have since gone on to receive further tuition from one of the excellent teachers who came in to school to deliver the programme and have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. What I enjoyed the most though was witnessing the effect that learning an instrument had on the children in my then class. By the end of year 4 all of them could play at least three different notes, they could read music and were able to perform for their parents and the rest of the school. The most interesting aspect also came from witnessing pupils who did not excel at anything at all some of them with special educational needs suddenly excelling. It was pure magic. The resulting raising of their self esteem directly fed into the whole classes attitude towards learning as well as their overall behavior. They learned so many skills aside from the musical ones including that practice does indeed make perfect, and the importance of  working as part of a team especially when preparing for a performance.

So what about the benefits of listening to music? 


In recent research funded by Spotify Clinical psychologist Dr Emma Gray found that songs with 50 to 80 beats per minute allowed brain to learn and remember new facts more easily. Emotive pop songs, including Katy Perry's 'Firework' song, can produce 'heightened excitement that is likely to enhance creative performance'.Dr Gray said it is important to choose the right music for the topic a person is studying as it stimulates learning and can enhance concentration. Read more: 

Throughout my teaching career I have used music in class for a variety of purposes ranging from learning songs for assemblies and school plays and listening to music as part of the Big Write.

My own humble findings:

This comes from my present year 2 class. Those of you familiar with my blog will know that year 2 is somewhat of a new experience to me and I have found that listening to music for different purposes has had a big influence upon my teaching style and my classes learning. Since September we have adopted a Friday song which is played every Friday morning before register, the idea came from listening to Chris Evans on Radio 2. Our song of choice is The Candy Man by Sammy Davis Jr. It was at the beginning of the year greeted by year 2 with a bit of trepidation, they really didn't know how to react at all. They would come into class and sit listening to the song quietly. Now, 7-8 weeks later? Complete transformation, they rush into class, with me trying to prevent them from tearing along the corridor and flinging their coats into the cloakroom. They then sit on the carpet in rows with arms around each others shoulders, swaying as they sing every single lyric of the song off by heart. The morning greeting in the register after that is 'Happy Friday' instead of the simple 'Good morning' of the rest of the week.It is now very rare for any of them to be ofF on a Friday! The day is a positive one right from the beginning. My next challenge is to find a Monday song which will have a similar impact! 

My next example of the power of listening to music comes courtesy of it is a maths song called Odd Bod and Even Steven and is used to help children remember the rule of odd and even. We had as a class been learning odds and evens with very mixed results, that is until I stumbled across the song. After listening to it and singing it over the course of a week the whole class were then able to identify a range of odd and even numbers. A simple example I know but it happened to coincide with visiting my Mum (who unfortunately has quite advanced Alzheimer's) in her residential home. She is unable to recognise me anymore, if she reads she just reads the same passage over and over again as she doesn't remember that she has read it, she doesn't watch the television anymore ....... However, play her a song on her radio or CD player, sing her, a few bars of a song and the response is amazing! She remembers every single words and sings along with gusto.

In conclusion I believe that music is an essential part of education, be it playing an instrument, performing  in a school play, singing a song to learn facts or listening to a song a the end of a school week. Music improves memory, attention, well being, self esteem. The list of benefits is endless. I know it will remain an essential part of my teaching and class routines, will it be in yours?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Our class mantra

I was fortunate a few years ago to attend a seminar presented by Dean Schneider. The theme around his seminars is developing character.

You can check him out at his website:

Now although it was a few years since I attended his seminar a couple of things have really 'stuck' with me and have become embedded in my daily teaching practice. Now this in itself is, I think, unusual. How many courses/seminars have you attended over the years but you would find it difficult to remember the content let alone have them affect your day to day work as a teacher?

The first thing that has stuck resulted from a story Dean told about his young pre school daughter. I have turned it into a daily mantra which I have used with all of my subsequent classes ranging from year 6 to my present year 2 class. 

Be Nice, Work Hard, Never Give Up. 

This mantra is easy to remember and covers all of our class and school rules which is what makes it so effective. It also works nicely alongside my teaching of the 3Rs Respect, Responsibilty and Resilience.

Be Nice - no fighting, swearing or cruel words, listen carefully, help others, be a good friend, pupil, son/daughter. (Respect)

Work Hard - do your class work, homework, try your best (Responsibility)

Never Give Up - be determined, no quitting (Resilience)

The next thing that 'stuck' was something called 'The 20th Kid' Ths is again a character building tool which works by reminding the pupils about the value of helping others, becoming the 20th Kid. An example being a pupil drops his/her books in the corridor, 19 'kids' walk by ignoring the child's/ young persons plight, the 20th kid however, stops and helps.

Again I have used this from year 6 to 2. It is useful for teaching pupils to help others without looking for or expecting praise. The latter being the most difficult, especially for the younger children. Very simple but again very effective. A short phrase which helps the idea to stick. 

They both work for me why not give them a go!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The 3 Rs Respect, Resilience, Responsibility

I talked in my last post about my fight back against the changes to education and the increasing dissilusionment of teachers. 

This has led to me thinking a lot about teaching and learning and some of the potential barriers to effective learning. Without solid foundations our pupils are, as learners, unsupported and they can flounder lacking the tools needed to be effective learners and to succeed not just in education but in life. 

So the 3 Rs, responsibility, resilience and respect form part of a toolkit which if used effectively, I believe, enable our pupils to become more efficient learners.

Let's start with responsibility - how many of us frequently hear excuses from both our pupils (of all ages) and more worryingly their parents? Excuses for why homework isn't done, why they can't do P.E. why they haven't read at home, why they haven't completed projects and even why their class work is not up to standard. I'm guessing quite a lot of us. So why is this? Well I think is because we (adults) shy away from giving children and young adults responsibility. In fact we go to great lengths to avoid it on their behalf. I know when I was a young child of primary school age I had lots of responsibility. Ranging from getting myself ready for school, walking to school by myself, doing simple chores at home, being sent to the shops to collect essentials we had run out of making cups of tea for everyone in the family ...... All of these responsibilities gave me a sense of belonging, they raised my self esteem, they taught me to be responsible for my actions and not to take what others did for me for granted. Most importantly it taught me the value of hard work, if I wanted to be good at something I knew I had to work at it. I had responsibilities and I was responsible. My parents would not have made excuses for me but then I never expected them too or indeed needed them too. I knew my responsibilities and I got on with them. I understand the worries we have nowadays that result in parents reluctance to give children responsibilities. It is almost unheard of now for most pupils to walk to school alone let alone go to the shops for 'messages' as we called them. But I think that there are so many thing we as teachers to help give pupils responsibilities.

Next resilience or as I like to call it 'bounce back ability' - we live in an increasing blame culture. If a child falls over and grazes a knee in the playground or has a very minor bump or bruise we all rush around writing notes to parents and filling in copious forms. P.E. lessons are a minefield of risk assessments and many traditional playground activities such as handstands and cartwheels are banned for fear of the risk of injury. Add into this the increasing 'fear' teachers live in of parental complaints if they so much as look at their pupils in the wrong way let alone chastise them or laugh with them for fear of offending both the pupil and their parents. All of which has resulted in children who have very little natural resilience. Life, as we all know is tough. It is full of knocks, injustices and cruelty yet we do not prepare our pupils for this if we fail to encourage resilience. We all have to be able to 'bounce back' when life knocks us or when things don't go our way. 

Finally respect - this is two fold, respect for the adults around them, including parents, teachers, the police etc, respect for their friends and peers as well as self respect. Now respect is a tough one due in some part to a growing culture of lack of respect in society in general. We don't respect our elderly, we mistrust the police, we are one of the few countries who don't really have respect for our soldiers, we distrust people of other cultures and have lost our sense of cultural identity. It is hardly suprising then that the word 'respect' is not a word or concept our children understand or are familiar with. If they do not see the adults around them showing respect then they will not understand how to show or give it themselves. Lack of respect for others then goes hand in hand with lack of self respect which then leads to lack of self esteem and we all know where that can lead our pupils to as learners and in all parts of their lives. 

Now what frustrates me is that in classes all over the country, in primary schools, secondary schools and colleges teachers are teaching theses 3Rs every day. 

Pupils are making HUGE progress in these areas. Developing the skills to enable them to be efficient learners and happier more rounded citizens. However,  these essential skills are not measurable. Ofsted do not recognise them or care about them yet without them pupils are not as likely to make the measurable progress that Ofsted care about so much. 

We, as teachers and educators must keep teaching these skills, we cannot afford to let our pupils down! Now I make this plea because I have heard teachers say:

'I can't possibly do circle time or PSHE, we haven't got 5 days to go on the annual residential trip, school council can only meet in their own time or I will not meet my targets!'

All of which makes me cringe. We are allowing outside pressures to dictate how we teach, to prevent us teaching those thing we have done for years and that we know are hugely important. There has to be time, the 3rs are essential!

Find the time, do what you have done for years, do not allow this ludicrous system turn you into robots. Be the best teacher you can be and your pupils deserve. Do circle time, discuss issues in the news, talk, talk, talk! Do PSHE, encourage School Council, give your pupils a voice, make them think about their values! 
After all we are talking about pupils, children, young adults, not results, levels, Sats scores! 

And with these essential tools guess what will happen? They will succeed, they will actually be more efficient learners but more importantly better citizens. 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Fighting Back

I have this last half term, more than ever, felt that the teaching profession and indeed the whole education system have been under attack. Reading posts on Twitter, education blogs and watching and reading the news have filled me with sadness and frustration. It seems to be a constant stream of negativity and bad press. We are bombarded with impossible targets, more observations, bigger work loads and changes to the curriculum. Our pay frozen and our pensions under threat. It is not suprising so many of us have limped into half term.

Like thousands and thousands of my fellow teachers I see teaching as my vocation. As corny as it sounds I truly believe it is what I am meant to do. It is a job I have enjoyed for 15 years, a job I still feel passionate about and up until recently privileged to do. However, I have recently felt like walking away, leaving the profession altogether! The demands and pressures have become disproportionate to the pleasure I have previously gained. I had to put it bluntly lost my mojo. 

Now I say had because if you check out my recent posts you will see I have begun my own one woman fight back! I am determined to regain my mojo fully and retain it! I will not be dragged down anymore. I will not sit back and watch as our pupils suffer from becoming seen as targets to be put into labelled boxes instead of individuals, tested and assessed to within an inch of their lives, the joy sucked out of their classrooms by continual observations. 

How am I going to do this? How can I one single teacher make a difference? Step 1: bring back the joy - reverse that vacuum, go back to doing what I do best, teaching! After all nobody knows our class better than me and my TA. We spend more time with our pupils during the term than our own families. We know what they can do, what they need to do next, how they learn, what they are good at and what they need more help with, what makes them laugh and what worries them. No manner of targets, assessments, 'outstanding' lessons will do more for them than we can. We will ensure that each of them 'attains' and makes 'progress' and we can do it with our eyes shut. We will go back to laughing together, singing, reading for pleasure, painting, creating and having fun because I truly, truly believe this is how they will learn the best. They will progress with the things we measure but more importantly will progress with those we don't. They will become more rounded citizens, be more resilient, caring, have self respect and work as a team......

Step 2: be a teaching Yoda - I will do this by doing my job the way I know works. I will continually evolve, I will reflect on my practice and I will be the experienced, passionate teacher I have always been without apologising or feeling that somehow my experience is something to be ashamed of rather than something to be valued. Albert Einstein once said 
'The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.'

Step 3: I will try to get other teachers to join me in fighting the good fight! We need to go into our classrooms, close the door and go what we do best! Teach!! We need to stick our fingers in our ears and hum quietly every time someone slags us off or tries to drag us down with more and more burdens. Let's be pro active not reactive let's remember why we do what we do. For the pupils not for the statisticians, the politicians, or in fact the parents but for our pupils! 

I hope you will join me and Remember 
Let's be careful out there!!!! 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Mad Maths Day

Today was Mad Maths Day at our school. As maths co-ordinator I had orgainsed the day with the intention of showing the children who do not particularly enjoy maths that maths can be not only useful but also great fun. Those children who love maths would obviously thoroughly enjoy the day anyway.

I  had planned it before the summer holidays thankfully, which meant I could just look forward to the day along with the rest of the staff. Each class was given a set of suggested activities including murder mystery maths, maths in art, outdoor maths, code breaking etc. However, the staff were free to come up with their own ideas too.

The day appears to have been a great success, judging by the feedback from pupils and staff. There was a real buzz around the school which was a real welcome on the last day of half term. In line with my own personal vow for the year I feel it really brought the joy back into my class and hopefully into some other classes too.

In year 2 we have made 2d monsters, played maths games on, made 2d shapes in groups of 4 - 6 with our bodies and finally became code breakers writing a secret code to our adult at home with the help of our year 6s. Obviously I am EXHAUSTED!!!! But I have to say probably the happiest I have been all half term and that's not just because half term beckons.

As a previous KS2 teacher I have to say I have a new found respect for KS1 staff. They never and I mean never sit down!! They, or should I now say we, hear our name at least 75 times a day, are constantly covered in paint, glue and snot! My head echoes with Mrs Kenny, Mrs Kenny all day long. Don't get me wrong KS1 does have its benefits I'm just too exhausted to remember what they are!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Bringing Back The Joy Day One!

Those that follow my Twitter account and previous blogs will know about my recent pledge to bring back the joy to teaching as I feel that whilst children are happy and relaxed they are more receptive to learning.  It is all to easy I feel to get bogged down by scores, sats and constant talk of levelling and progress. Now don't get me wrong my main aim for all of my children is to see them make progress but I do feel they are more likely to do this is if they are relaxed and we are all having fun. So today was day one of my pledge to bring back the joy which I feel for many reasons has been lacking.

So, as a conclusion to our Down in the Woods Topic we held a Teddy Bears Picnic day in our class.  We had a great, if not exhausting day! Our day began with us watching a clip of a couple of traditional bear programmes, Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear. Next we measured the length of our bears and weighed them. Then we made our bears a Paddington Bear style label in case they ever get lost, followed by a birth certificate complete with a photograph of our bear. In the afternoon we made our own sandwiches for the picnic itself with a selection of bear style fillings including honey and jam. We talked through the writing of instructions for making the sandwiches which we will complete tomorrow. Next came the picnic itself and whilst we ate our sandwiches we sang along to the Anne Murray classic, Teddy Bears Picnic.
Then we played a selection of parachute games with our bears and finished off watching Michael Rosen reading and performing We're Going on a Bear Hunt.

So all in all a very successful, joyous day and one of those days that you know the children will remember for years to come. A day when we all had fun and learned lots along the way!!

Bring on day 2

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Singing, singing, singing

Been doing a lot of thinking about teaching of late. Don't get me wrong I know that's all teachers do, think about our jobs. We are after all a committed lot who are passionate about what we do but I have. like lots of teachers I think, hit somewhat of a 'low' point and this has caused me to reflect, muse, even more than I usually do. One of my many thoughts is how I feel the joy is being sucked out of teachers and therefore the classroom, the reasons for this are vast and perhaps I will try to unpick that colossal thought some time in the future. For now however I thought I would share with you the rebel in me which is fighting in my own way against this raging negative tide threatening to swamp our classrooms.

My huge rebellion takes the form of singing! Now I would refer to myself , as a singer, as someone who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket but what I lack in technique I more than make up with enthusiasm. Singing has taken over my classroom. We start every Monday morning in year 2 with our Monday song 'What a Wonderful World' by Louis Armstrong. I chose this song as it, I feel, encapsulates all of the things that bring us joy in life and reminds me of all that is good with the world. Thanks to the power of adverts, most of the children had heard it  before and although a bit unsure at first by Monday, week three, were rushing in to sit on the carpet on Monday morning ready to sing it.

Throughout the week we sing a selection of  maths related songs, Odd Bod and Even Steven, times tables songs, the down, down, down, up, up rhythm for learning our tables. See the link below.

catchy tables

We have also this week been singing lots of Harvest Festival songs including Big Red Combine Harvester and a great song from Charanga called Vegetables.

Our week ends on Friday Mornings with perhaps our favourite song of the week 'The Candy Man' by Sammy Davis Jr. This song encapsulates the whole reason for my post today. The children LOVE singing this song, they sway and wave their arms in the air as if they were at a Take That concert, they smile, they laugh!
But what would Ofsted say? What would I get in a lesson observation? Sad isn't it? Now I said this makes me a rebel. Well it does in a way because sadly I know lots of teachers who simply wouldn't sing these songs as they don't have time, they don't teach the children anything, they don't see 'progress'. Well this is what I say to all of those teachers, the point is 'JOY',  life. Learning etc is enhanced by joy and happiness, indeed surely that is our absolute aim for our children's lives and our own lives - happiness. Because without out it nothing else makes any sense at all and maybe, just maybe we need to teach the art of happiness to our children and ourselves.

So please go away this week, be a rebel and sing with your class, have fun, laugh, seek happiness!!!!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Friday books and Reading buddies

As we approach the end of the first half term I have been reflecting about the most successful things I have introduced to year 2 this year so far. The first one has to be without doubt Reading Buddies, which are basically a box full of cuddly toys provided by myself and my T.A. The children get to choose a reading buddy when they are reading independently. This along with a whiteboard reading stamina count down has worked beautifully. The children actually say 'Yes' whenever independent reading is mentioned and they are now up to 10 minutes of independent reading stamina, which if you knew my class would definitely amaze you!

The reading stamina countdown can be downloaded from the link below:

Whiteboard files

My next most successful new initiative has been the introduction of our Friday books. This is an idea which I got from Pinterest. Basically it is a book into which the children write a letter every Friday to their adult at home telling them all of the things they have been doing that week. I had to model letter writing and they so far taking to it amazingly well. The idea is then that the adult writes a letter back to their child in reply and it becomes a dialogue between adult and child. It also prevents those conversations all of you parents will be familiar with:

 'What have you done in school today?' adult
 'Nothing' child

The letters are not marked by me at all, their main purpose is a way of improving their writing skills whilst communicating with their parents/adults at home.The only input from me is a list on the board, prompted by them of all the thing we have done in school that week. They are encouraged to keep to correct letter layout but other than that it is completely independent. The discussion about what we have done in school also acts as a mini assessment of what they have remembered and also for future reference what they have enjoyed the most.

Friday  books were launched the first week of term and the parents informed in more detail about them during our 'Meet the teacher' session. The books go out on a Friday, complete with the children's letters and should be returned with a response from the parent on the following Wednesday. Whilst the children are not over excited about writing the letters they clearly love reading their adults responses. If any of the children's adults have not replied, which sadly has happened quite a few times, I usually write them a response which they also enjoy.

So if you want a relatively painless way of improving writing give them a go. I think they would work equally well from year 2 to 6, with differentiation by outcome obviously. I think that they will also be a lovely thing for the children to keep and look back on in years to come.

If you do give them a try please let me know.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The further adventures of Stickman

At the time of  my last post (ha ha that doesn't sound right somehow) we had completed making our Stickman and had begun the preparation for writing the further adventures of The Stickman or in the case of some of the girls in my class the further adventures of the Sticklady love.

On the Friday after making the Stickman I made sure I had taken photographs of  all of them as a prompt for their stories as I knew very well the whole class were chomping at the bit to take their creations home to show their adults what they had done.

So there we were on Friday, my fabulous TA and I giving out reading journals, Friday books ( I will come to these in another post), letters to go home about Meet the Teacher evening and finally The Stickmen and women. Now for those of you have taught Primary children and especially KS1 children you can picture the chaotic scene, especially when we realised that our diligent labelling of the said Stickpeople with Sharpie pens had actually been covered over by their recently added clothes.

Now add into this the boy (who shall remain nameless) proclaimed every single Stickperson we held up to be his own and you can imagine our eventual meltdown into hysterical laughter.. This was also compounded when it became clear that one of the girls in our class had lost her Sticklady love but we simply couldn't figure out who had hers. I then took the very reluctant, yet selfless decision to hand her my Stickman, you know the WAGOLL, or Blue Peter Stickman that I had lovingly made and now found myself inextricably attached to.  Guess what said little boy said?? 'That's mine!" Now it was at this point I became a 6 year old when I replied "I know for absolute certain L.......... that this is definitely not your because guess what it's mine"

Result an absolute breakdown into hysterical laughter by myself, my TA and the rest of the class.

Thankfully every child even L... went home with a Stickman or Sticklady at the end of the day and as for the stories well again true to form with year 2 lots were well structure re-telling's of the original story but thankfully also some very original ideas for further adventures.

What I do know however, is how much the children have enjoyed the whole experience and even the children who re-told the story rather than coming up with their own ideas actually wrote so much more than they have before that the progress is clear to see.

On that note why oh why do I feel the need to protest that they made progress I don't know? Wait yes I do it is the system that we are working within at the moment. I at times like this, reflect that to me, progress is often not measurable. How can you measure the effect that making those Stickmen gave them, the group work, discussion, team work when constructing them, the independent choices they had to make in the material for the clothes and yes the absolute joy of that chaotic afternoon, breaking out in spontaneous laughter as a class and then finally going home, Stickman held aloft!

It is therefore a very valuable, personal reflection time writing this blog as it reminds me of all of those precious 'teaching moments' that often get lost in the stresses that the outside pressures bring us. I do hope however, that my musings are at the very least an entertaining distraction for you the readers of my blog.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Stick Man

As part of our topic we recently read The Stick Man by Julia Donaldson. It is a typical Donaldson book, it has a rhyming pattern, repeated verses and great illustrations. It links in wonderfully with our Down in the Woods topic as the pupils have been furiously collecting lots of items for our Nature Box (both in and out of school) and amongst the collected items there were lots and lots of sticks.
Now as always with teaching (well the way I teach anyway) one thing led to another, first the sticks, then the book, then the making of  The Stick Man!Well it would have been rude not to now wouldn't it?
Next? I hear you ask. Hopefully a story, telling the further adventures of The Stick Man. We have looked at Story Maps today in preparation and as you can see taken pictures of all of the Stick men to stick into their books (forgive the pun.) The children have also worked in pairs (Think, Pair, Share) discussing their ideas. This will all then be followed by a bit of talking homework and then hopefully a story.

The topic is then going to take a turn away from fiction (Minpins and The Stick Man) and will move towards non fiction looking at animals and trees and plants found in woodland areas.  

A very successful topic so far with lots of cross curricular links, science, maths, literacy and even PSHE (we did conscience alley - discussing whether Little Billy from our Minpins story should have gone into the woods without Mums permission.)

Have I said this already? I'm loving Year 2!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The day the Minpins moved in

The Day The Minpins Moved In

As part of our class topic in year 2 we have been reading The Minpins by Roald Dahl.  I have read lots of Dahl books but until stumbling across the Minpins had never heard of it myself, neither have many other people I have discovered.I would highly recommend it as a class reader and a lead into topic work as it has so many great teaching possibilities. So if you get a chance give it a go.

Basically it is about mini people (Minpins) that live inside and on trees. They wear suction boots to prevent them falling from the trees, they move from tree to tree via birds and they live in fear of the Gruncher a creature that eats humans and Minpins.

Today the Minpins moved into the tree right outside our classroom:

The children were so excited, they were even pointing out the knots on the tree and saying 'Look Mrs Kenny, it's a window.' It was truly magical, I mean what could be better than witnessing that sense of awe and wonder, the pure innocence of children.

So next time I am listening to the news, or reading a paper be moaning the teaching profession or Mr Gove telling us to go 'Back to Basics' I will let it all roll over me and remember that moment of magic.
A moment I am sure my class will never forget.

Monday, 9 September 2013

I'm getting the hang of this now!

What a hectic, exhausting, non stop, fun, entertaining, productive day today has been! You can't tell we've been using 'wow' words today can you?

 One of the things I love about teaching is those days when you have a plan, you know exactly what your doing for the day, you've even got all of the resources ready and then Bam! It all goes out of the window and your day takes you off in a direction that is a success but wasn't what you had planned at all. Well that happened today.

 I had on, Friday set a homework task which was to go on a 'nature scavenger hunt' at the weekend and bring into school what you find. Boy did my adorable class come up with the goods! The children greeted me on the playground with excitement, chattering about where they had been a d what they found, it was a lovely start to a Monday!

We went into class and spent most of the morning sharing what we had found. Items ranging from a toadstool (sensibly packaged in a sealed box), to acorns, pine cones, leaves of all shapes and sizes, berries and an echinacea flower !

We got speaking and listening, maths (sorting and grouping, and counting) science classification and identification, literacy 'wow words' the list of things the children learned goes on. Mind you I don't know if Mr Gove would approve after all we were doing group work and dare I say the words collaborative learning!

The children loved it and learned so much and guess what I learned a lot too. Mainly to relax and enjoy, let the children discover, explore and make sense of the world with a little input here and there and a little steering in the right direction.

So yes I think I'm actually turning into a KS1 teacher or am I just realising that its not the different to  KS2 after all.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Feeling better

Feeling better and a lot more confident

After the exhaustion and worry of yesterday I gave myself a good talking to and came into school today with more optimism, determined to have a 'positive day. I have to say, sat in the PPA room now at 1.45 my day so far has been a positive one. 

First I took the register but with a twist, asking each child to say good morning followed by their cheesiest smile. Now who could fail to feel cheered up by the sight of a class of 34 six year olds grinning at them, missing teeth and all! 

This was followed by me beginning to read our new class reader 'The Minpins' by Roald Dahl. I absolutely love reading to children, the looks on their faces as you begin to draw them into the world which the book creates is wonderful. Up until I began my preparation for this new topic 'Down in the Woods' I had never even heard of the Minpins before and if you haven't either I suggest you give it a try. Basically it is a typical Dahl book in as much as it has made up words and made up creatures which most children absolutely love but it is very similar to the Borrowers by Mary Norton. It is about a boy who runs off into the woods to explore, he is chased by a 'Dahl' creature and is saved by a group of people the 'Minpins' who are tiny and live in the trees in the forest.

As I was reading it to my grandson, who is often my guinea pig, I was overwhelmed by the possible activities the book has as part of my topic, including:

  • Drawing the creatures the book describes
  • Discussing if the main character should have gone into the woods alone
  • Writing what happens next
  • Lots and lots of art work possibilities from nature collages to leaf prints
  • Adjectives to describe the little boy, the forest, the monsters
  • Synonyms for some of the words in the story
  • Onomatopoeia poetry to link with some of the words Dahl uses to describe the monsters noises

After break we then did some counting in 1s, 2s and 3s but as I intend to so some drumming with my class to teach them about pulse and beat, we did our counting to different beats e.g. 1, 2, 345, 6,7 8910, 11,12, 131415 and so on. Great fun! Then we completed a 'Pinterest activity' Math About Me. Which enables the children to see how we have numbers all around us from the day we are born. Finally before lunch it was  outside for another nature scavenger hunt to find resources for all of the art work we have to come over the next few weeks.

So yes looking back on the day so far it has been great. It really does prove that it is all about mindset. My 'happy' mindset has also been helped by one of my summer holidays reading books -


An amazing read!! But if I am ever to get next weeks planning done that will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Day 2 and already behind

Day 2 and already behind!!

I am definitely back in school there is no denying it. How do I know? A restless nights sleep, when I eventually got to sleep that is. I went to bed at the normal school night time feeling exhausted after my first day back with my class, confident I would be asleep as normal, forgetting that of course the normal I was referring to was actually 'holiday normal' not 'school normal.' You see holiday normal means going to bed and after a little bit of reading straight off to sleep and waking the next morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Whereas school normal is difficulty getting to sleep, despite exhaustion, followed by a restless night and waking up feeling far from refreshed.

Oh my goodness how quickly I have fallen back into those bad habits! I tried to remedy my sleeplessness by putting a list of 'things I need to do tomorrow' in the notes section of my phone. This did work in s much as I was then able to go to sleep but unfortunately did not cure the tossing and turning, restless, rest of the night.

I have had a relatively successful day. I sat with a selection of groups throughout the day in line with my 'Immersion Vow,' I took groups outside to do a 'Nature Scavenger Hunt,' which was hugely popular, the children thoroughly enjoyed it. I chatted to lots of children during my two playground duties and we had a short 'show and tell' at the end of the day (very KS1). However, I haven't started phonics yet, given out reading books, read to the class, set up the relevant assessment files and I haven't even looked at the IEPs! Maybe its like this every year and I have forgotten or is it the change from KS2 to KS1 has meant me putting unrealistic pressures upon myself? Thinking and reflecting now and thanks to a chat from the supportive colleague who I did the Key stage swap with, I suspect its the latter. 

So my new vow to myself ......... Lighten up ........... Don't sweat ........ It will all come out in the wash ...... Remember its a marathon not a sprint!

As for that essential list I was writing at 11.30 last night? 
Sort phonics, guided reading and assessment folder and check out the IEPs!!!
Did I do any of them? noooooooooo

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The first day of term

What a Day! Fun and Exhausting!

Today was the children's first day back to school as year 2s and my first day as a KS1 teacher so the atmosphere was one of both anticipation and excitement. I arrived at school at 8 o'clock but due to my many trips to school over the summer and all of the work undertaken on Inset Day I actually didn't have much to do besides setting up the computerised register and switching on the Smartboard.

After a quick cuppa and our regular morning 'staff briefing' it was time to collect my class from the playground. They stood there in line all shiny shoes and brand spanking new uniforms, buzzing with excitement about all the news they had to tell and the friends to see for the first time in six weeks. The biggest cause of most of their excitement however, was their new bags and lunch boxes which ranged from Moshi Monsters to Monster High and from Batman to Superman. 

Their relevant adults stood their all proud, smiling and I'm certain a little bit relieved at being able to get back into a routine that would finally ease their bank balances after the long, expensive summer. Just in time for a quick goodbye before I led them into their brand new classroom complete with new furniture.

After taking the register, sorting out coats, lunch boxes and water bottles it was time for their first back to school assembly and time, thanks to the head saying we didn't have to stay in to take quick breather. 30 minutes later it was back to class for our 'Good Morning Song', very cheesy but such a hit I can see it becoming a regular feature.

Next they were given 10 minutes to tell their partner two of the best things they did over the holidays. It was lovely to listen to some of the things they were sharing with each other and to see the genuine pleasure in their eyes as they re lived some of their holiday highlights. Then off for break - I made sure they had had milk and been to the toilet before letting them loose on the yard. One of my pupils has Cystic Fibrosis so I have to make sure they have 3 Creons before having milk and a fatty snack, then 4 more Creons before lunch. I never fail to be amazed by some children's absolute resilience and the matter of fact manner in which they handle things. (Oh if only they were all like that!)

The rest of the day consisted of class routines, rules and expectations and a great activity, drawing onto a photocopy of a pair of sunglasses what they had told each other earlier about their holidays.(Another idea from Pinterest) as well as some 'choosing' time. Well they are only 6 bless them!

 The most challenging part of my day however was to keep to the promise I had made myself when agreeing to take a year 2 class and that was 'Immersion' I vowed to help the pupils to become immersed in whatever it is they are doing but also to be involved in that immersion myself and not to be tempted to leave them to it and go off a do all of the thing we teacher have to do every day.

Why immersion you may ask? Simply I think if you want to learn to swim you need to enter the water, you cannot learn to swim in the desert even if you study it for years. Perhaps this link in with my pragmatic style but I also see it as similar to becoming totally immersed in a book, that feeling of being totally lost in the moment, submerged, immersed in another place, time, world. It's pure magic!

Well did I manage it? No not yet, I realised it is not an easy task I am setting myself but I will over the next few weeks, months blog about my attempts at this for me and my class.

In the attempt though I had a very enjoyable but as I said in the title, absolutely exhausting day. Oh and think I may need to ditch the heels if I am going to survive in KS1!!!

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Hectic Inset Day

Today was my first 'official' back to school day. I arrived at 8.00 this morning and am still in class now 5.30! I am sure once the children are in tomorrow it will be just the same. Despite the long day I am so pleased with all that we (myself and my great T.A.) have achieved. Our class looks fantastic, check out the pics.

   Door sign (inspiration Pinterest.)       Spot our class fish Spongebob.
Children's faces instead of name.              Map of U.K. (Lots of uses)
           (Again Pinterest)

      Our class reading area
                                                           Smartboard with lots of storage
                                                           underneath for construction toys
                                                               (essential with 22 boys!)
But the best part of the day ..... My tables arrived!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Why am I so nervous?

I have as I have said before been teaching 15 years so you would think by now I would be used to the start of a new year. But no I am not! I am nervous, excited, a bit scared and its only an inset day. If the children were back in tomorrow I think I would be even more nervous.

So why am I nervous? I think it's because I know the year ahead will be exciting, fun, challenging and I'm absolutely certain exhausting. I, like the majority of teachers, throw myself into each year completely and utterly. It is an all consuming job that takes over every aspect of my life. That means I am realistically giving over my life for the next year.

One of the reasons I began this blog was to force myself to reflect more. Reflecting upon my feelings now I realise how much I am still utterly passionate about teaching. I think that makes me lucky, I wonder how many other people are going to work tomorrow to do a job they are passionate about?

So yes it's all consuming, infuriating and exhausting but I know I am lucky to have found a job I am

passionate about and one I think I am pretty good at. I also know that despite my 16 years experience I am still learning, honing my craft and that's why it's so exciting. Teaching is a job that is constantly evolving it never stays still and that's not just down to the politicl interference. It is due to our changing world, new technology, the economy, parents and obviously the pupils.

So yes I am nervous and yes I will not sleep much the next couple of nights and indeed for much of the coming term but guess what? I wouldn't change it for the world!

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Unofficial first day back at school

Unofficial First Day Back At School

Yesterday I decided to 'pop into school' or that's what I told my husband we were doing. You see two weeks before the end of term I was told I could order all new furniture for my room! Great! So I promptly ordered 6 round tables, 36 new 'unswingbackable'' chairs, (or so I hope), a new computer cabinet and a lockable teacher cupboard. 

All of this furniture I was told would be delivered in the second or third week of the holidays. I have been popping in and out of school throughout the summer, just to check if they had arrived. Tragic I know but come on 'New furniture!' When did you last get new furniture in your classroom?

Now each time I had called in I, along with said long suffering, had re backed boards, set up a gorgeous new reading corner, re organised cupboards etc etc etc. All with the intention of being 'good to go' on the first day back with my brand new year 2 class (all 34 of them). 34? I hear you cry, now that's another story. Anyway I digress, Hubby and I arrived in school to be greeted by ............. Yep you guessed it .......... a computer cupboard ...... a brand new lockable teacher cupboard ..............  36 'unswingbackable' chairs and ......... my old tables!!!!!

My face must have been a picture! Apparently the new tables will not be delivered now until Wednesday, which is the day after my lovely new pupils arrive. I was not impressed at all.  I felt like the naughty child waking up on Christmas morning to coal in my Christmas Stocking.

 But in true teacher, I can handle anything, fashion we got to work putting the cupboards in place, filling the new lockable cupboard with all manner of teacher essentials, putting all of the wires in place requires to keep the laptop charged, linked to the sound system and whiteboard and projector.

As we had worked so hard we decided we had earned a visit to the local hostelry. Well it would be rude not to wouldn't it?

Friday, 30 August 2013

Once a teacher always a teacher!

Yesterday I went shopping for my husbands birthday present. Now it is quite a treat to be let loose shopping on my own. Don't get me wrong I  love shopping with my husband because he too actually likes shopping, however when I get to go alone I can quite freely become a 'teacher shopper.'

Now those other teachers out there will know exactly what I mean. You see, as a teacher, everything around us, be it in the woods, at the beach, in the cinema, at the theatre, on a boat trip or yes even out shopping has us thinking 'Ooh now what could I use that for in class' or 'I know that's going to come in useful for my next topic.'

So there I was, all alone like a 'teaching ninja' stalking my way around the 99p store in search of those elusive things I just know I need in my class and no husband looking at me with those 'Come on are you sure you need that?' eyes. It was bliss! So what did I buy?, What things could my class not do without?

My 'teacher' purchases included:

A set of 6 mini plastic containers with lids - great for stopping the dice rollling around on the floor
(A Pinterest tip)

A book of 'Well done, Good job etc' stickers - You can never have too many of those now can you?

A microfibre cloth and some washing up liquid - For all manner of things from cleaning up after messy play (so keeping the caretaker on side) to tracing spellings in the washing up liquid on a tray for handwriting and spelling (Yet another Pinterest tip)

One of those hanging twister things that you hang up in a tree - for our 'down in the woods' topic. It will look great in the gorgeous tree outside myclassroom window

Several packs of playing cards - Great for a whole spectrum of  maths games

Thats all for yesterdays trip I think. Ha nearly forgot, the presents for my long suffering 'spouse of a teacher' husband. Which I hasten to add where not purchased in the 99p store honest!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

KS1 Here I come

The new teaching year sees me taking on a brand new challenge. I have been teaching for 15 years, I have taught years 3,4,5 and 6, all of KS2. But in the new academic year I will become a KS1 or infant teacher for the first time, I'm taking it easy though and will be cutting my teeth on Year2. I don't think I'm quite ready for the challenges of FS2 or even year 1 just yet but never say never.

Exciting times! I relish a new challenge but that said it will definitely provide me with a huge learning curve I'm sure. I have been into school this summer holidays more than I ever have, setting up my class taking on a whole new meaning.

Pinterest has, as always, provided me with some amazing ideas, ranging from line up chants to inspiration for a reading corner and I am probably more organised this year than I have ever been. Organised yes, ready no!!!!

It was the move into KS1 that finally prompted me to set up a blog as I am sure the road ahead will be fun, challenging, rocky at times but as a true pragmatic I say BRING IT ON!!!!!

A bit about me

So a bit about me.... I have been teaching for 15 years. Teaching was by no means my first job. I have worked in a travel agents, worked for Barclaycard, made pizzas in Asda, worked in Early Learning Centre and was a Preschool assistant.

Besides teaching, my most important job is that of being a wife, mother and now a Grandmother. I  have two daughters, one grandson and a husband (30 years). I love my life both in and out of work. I feel blessed. However, the challenges of day to day teaching, being a wife, Mum and Grandma aren't always easy.

I hope my day to day musings will help me reflect more and provide anyone who is mad enough to read it with a laugh and maybe even some tips!!

Getting started at last

Setting up a blog for the first time so here we go! So what am I doing it for? Several reasons really:

1. To share my day to day experiences in the classroom

2. To reflect upon my teaching (something I need to do so much more of)

3. To keep in touch, up to date with current and future educational practices

The name I really wanted for my blog was the pragmatic teacher, why you may ask? Well because I feel that word best suits my approach to teaching. I am always willing to try whatever is new in education. I am very much a doer rather than a thinker. I jump in, give it a go, try it out etc. Obviously this can be often chaotic but I truly believe that it can also be great fun for my pupils.

So bear with me while I get to grips with this blogging thing and I hope you will laugh with me and even at me on my next new venture.