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Monday, 22 December 2014

The Power of Non Verbal Communication

The recent Ebola crisis in Africa has brought home to me how, as humans, we rely upon communication in all of its forms: we communicate verbally, non verbally via facial expression and body language and through physical contact. When one of these forms of contact is taken away, as in the case in West Africa, the impact can be devastating.

As part of one of the news items covering the crisis in Sierra Leone the reporter was interviewing some of the volunteers who were physically and emotionally exhausted . During the interview one of the volunteers was describing the thing that he found most difficult to cope with, the ban upon all physical contact. 

Physical contact is a basic human instinct that is part of our everyday lives, from holding hands and cuddles and kisses with those close to us to shaking hands with new acquaintances. Imagine then witnessing parents unable to hold their dying children or children unable to comfort a parent? It seems totally inhumane but is done with the intention of stopping the spread of this dreadful disease. 


However even in these dreadful circumstances the human ability to communicate in a variety of forms still managed to find a way. The volunteer went on to explain how shaking hands had been replaced by the left hand placed upon the heart, a very powerful gesture. This led me to think about the power of non verbal communication and how it crosses many barriers from language barriers to the barriers of a range of disabilities. 

As teachers we rely upon non verbal communication from the minute we greet our pupils in the morning to the minute they go home. Each of these non verbal communications can be both  positive and negative and each has a wide range of meanings.


Facial expression - A smile to offer reassurance, to say hello, to say well done, to show humour frowns to show I don't understand, no thank you, stop doing that ....... Let's not forget the famous teacher stare .......


Body language including thumbs up - Well done, good job, keep trying, that's right. 
Thumbs down - that's incorrect, please stop that ...... Arms folded - I'm waiting, are you ready? you are taking toO long, get tidied up now please .... 

Voice - It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. When we speak, other people “read” our voices in addition to listening to our words. Things they pay attention to include your timing and pace, how loud you speak, your tone and inflection, and sounds that convey understanding, such as “ahh” and “uh-huh.” Tone of voice, can indicate pleasure, happiness, sarcasm, anger, affection, or confidence.

Non verbal communication is used daily in schools all around the world but what we shouldn't forget is that not all of our pupils can 'read' those non verbal cues including those with ASD. The National Autistic Society is one of the many places to look for tips on ensuring effective communication with all of the pupils in our care  teaching-young-children-with-autism
Some other websites with practical tips for teaching pupils with non verbal communication difficulties include The Friendship Circlefacial-expressions-for-kids



Sunday, 7 December 2014

Are you a Reading Evangelist?

Reading has always been an important part of my life. One of my first memories of reading is of sitting in my Mum's bed feeling warm and safe whilst she read 'The Cat in the Hat' to me. 

Perhaps this event was a particularly memorable one due to my being the youngest of eight children with both a mother and father who worked full time. This meant time alone with my Mum was precious. 

I remember Mum initially read the book to me and then gradually after lots of repetition I read the same book to her. Mum had, she told me later, bought a set of Dr Seuss books with the intention of teaching me to read. This strategy was, she would enjoy telling me, very successful as I could read quite proficiently by the age of four. 

Years later when I became a parent I read to and with my children regularly trying to pass on to them the gift of reading. 

It is as a teacher though that I became a true reading evangelist. 

Reading is an important part of my classroom where the more recognised 'formal teaching' of reading plays only a tiny part. 

read to my class as regularly as possible, the books I read range from picture books such as The Stickman by Julia Donaldson and Katie Morag by Maori Hedderwick to The Enchanted Garden by Enid Blyton. 

The children are encouraged to bring books into school. They talk about and share their favourite books making recommendations and suggestions to their friends. 

We visit the local library at least twice a year and our own school library weekly. 

We have a class library filled with books of all types. These books are an eclectic mixture of books collected over the years from jumble sales, charity shops and library book sales. The library also contains a box of reading buddies, a box of cuddly toys, which they choose to accompany them whilst they read. 

The children love choosing their own books from the library with absolutely no adult interference. The books they choose in class are for reading independently. 

It is interesting to watch them the first few times they do this as it is quite alien to them. I don't think I realised quite how much adults interfere in children's book choices. Clearly this is done with the best of intentions but actually if we are brave enough the children quickly learn to sort it out for themselves. 

Initially they choose books either too easy or too hard but after a few attempts they actually get it just right. They then settle down somewhere either in the library corner or at their tables with their book and reading buddy tucked under their arm. 

Total silence then ensues! 

It is a wonderful sight to see a class full of 6 and 7 year olds of all reading abilities losing themselves in a book! It doesn't matter if they begin by looking at the pictures or get stuck on the odd word, they quickly develop the strategies needed and rapidly begin to enjoy the independence that reading gives them. The joy of reading, a gift for life! 

Are you a reading evangelist?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Marking - Keeping it Simple

Teaching is a rewarding and challenging profession. Teachers are instrumental in the type of future their pupils will have, it is an influential profession. Teachers are therefore understandably scrutinised. The problem is this scrutiny has been incessant. It seems everyone has an opinion on the subject of teaching with study after study, recommendations on teaching and learning, changes to the curriculum, new teaching standards, changes to Ofsted inspections, lesson gradings and the gradings of teaching. It is not surprising therefore that many teachers are at best confused and at worst stressed and burnt out.    

In a recent blog post Are we Overthinking Teaching? I suggested that we should leave teachers to choose their own teaching style, to trust them as professionals to teach the way they teach and not to conform to a certain teaching style. In fact Ofsted we were told, as of the new academic year 2014 would no longer grade individual lessons.  

Could this be true? Teachers across the country cautiously celebrated. They were right to be cautious. The new 'push', 'drive' to improve teaching and learning is here ...... Marking and Feedback. Teachers have always marked pupils work so what is the problem? 

The opinions, suggestions, studies ........... Yet again teachers need to be told how to mark, how much to mark, to allow their pupils time to feedback on the marking, to ensure the marking is informative, provides next steps. The list is yet again endless. Again teachers become confused and unsure of how best to do something they have done well for years.

Teacher call for marking guidance from Ofsted

Teacher Swamped by Marking Heads Claim

Sadly all of this not only leads to teachers disillusionment but is also makes teachers look like moaners, constant complainers! Perhaps they are, perhaps though this is again because of the over scrutiny. Why oh why cant teachers be trusted, taken out of the spotlight for a while? Let teachers catch their breath, get a handle on the new curriculum and do what they do best, TEACH!

This government is emphatically on the side of teachers. We are freeing teachers from the constraints of government bureaucracy - and we want to go even further. We have challenged the orthodoxies that have undermined the teaching profession; and we are working to put evidence right at the heart of our education system to free teachers from having to kow-tow to such orthodoxies.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Are We Overthinking Teaching?

Whilst indulging in one of my favourite  'teacher' past times at the weekend, tweeting, I came across yet another teaching methodology article from the BBC Lavish Praise from Teachers does not help Pupils.

This article is based upon a study 'What Makes Great Teaching', produced by Prof Coe for the Sutton Trust which drew upon more than 200 pieces of research into what works in the classroom. The main findings of the report are as follows:

The two factors with the strongest evidence of improving pupil attainment are:
  • teachers’ content knowledge, including their ability to understand how students think about a subject and identify common misconceptions
  • quality of instruction, which includes using strategies like effective questioning and the use of assessment
Specific practices which have good evidence of improving attainment include:
  • challenging students to identify the reason why an activity is taking place in the lesson
  • asking a large number of questions and checking the responses of all students
  • spacing-out study or practice on a given topic, with gaps in between for forgetting
  • making students take tests or generate answers, even before they have been taught the material
Common practices which are not supported by evidence include:
  • using praise lavishly
  • allowing learners to discover key ideas by themselves
  • grouping students by ability
  • presenting information to students based on their “preferred learning style”.                
Whether I agree or disagree with the findings of this study is irrelevant. My problem with all such studies and their following reports is the constant suggestions of what teachers 'need to do' or in the case of this article 'stop doing,' in order to get better and raise standards. 
Teaching is a profession that is wide open to constant scrutiny, teachers are bombarded with suggestions of changes to their methodology which, it is purported, will improve their teaching and likewise raise standards. The barrage of suggestions on how to improve are relentless. This can lead to teachers teaching in a way that does not fit them, it becomes forced, it doesn't flow.

What is being missed in all of these studies into teaching and learning is that  there is no 'magic teaching formula'. We know great teachers raise standards but no two 'great' teachers are the same. They each have their own individual styles and skills sets, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Great teachers love teaching and it is this passion and commitment that drives standards. 

The ability to be 'great' comes from teachers crafting their skill finding and refining their own individual style based upon their teaching philosophy, personality, age and life and teaching experiences. ...

Trainee teachers and those new to the profession should be allowed to discover themselves as teachers, to craft and refine their skill. Experienced teachers should be trusted to be 'great'' to do the job the way they know works and the way they, as professionals know they can!

Let's stop overthinking teaching!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Top Tips For Parents Evening

Parents Evening is one of those times in the school year that almost all those involved can find difficult. Parents, pupils and teachers all anxious about what the other is going to say. However, this is not how it needs to be. Parents evening is an opportunity for all of those same people to build relationships, to share information and to work together towards one shared goal.

So here are some tips to ensure that your parents evening goes as smoothly as possible:

  • Stand up to greet them, start with good eye contact, a smile and tell them you are pleased to meet them   
  • Use the sandwich technique - Start on a positive and remember that your pupil is someone’s precious child. Open your conversation with parents by acknowledging their child’s strengths before you focus on areas of concern. Then remember to finish on a positive

  • Have up to date data to hand to share - This should include information about their latest assessments, recent progress, attendance, punctuality, mental maths and spelling scores and how they are at handing in homework

  • Discuss sensitively any areas of difficulty their child has along with solutions and ways forward to help them to get back on track. Include ways that they the parents can help too
  • Inform the parents of their child's friendship groups, whether their child listens and answer questions, as these are often things that parents worry about the most
  • Listen - Allow parents to share their concerns and ask questions
  • If a parent asks you a question that floors you, don't be put on the spot. It's fine to let parents know that you need some time to reflect on their question before you respond. Let them know that you'll get back to them in a day or two. This will give you time to explore options and perhaps bounce ideas off of a colleague before you respond to the parents. 
  • Don’t be afraid to end a meeting with parents who become confrontational. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to provide an opportunity for all parties to cool down and reflect on the issues at hand by bringing the meeting to a close. Set a time and date to meet again and ask for a member of your SLT to attend if need be.
  • Don’t let yourself get dragged into disputes between families of children in your class. When parents begin to share information about squabbles, let parents know that you're receptive to their thoughts and ideas about their child, but you must stay out of personal issues between the families. 
  • Try your best to keep to allotted times, other parents waiting will get irritated if they are stood outside your door for hours on end. If it looks like a parent needs more time suggest they make another appointment when you can give them the time they need.
Managing parents can be one of the hardest parts about teaching. It’s easy to dwell on negativity and begin to question your skills as a teacher. Instead of worrying about how those parents perceive you, offer them the opportunity to join you as you help their child have the best year possible. Chances are the vast majority of parents of children in your class are thrilled that you are their child’s teacher! Focus on all that positive energy and have a great rest of the school year!