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Friday, 31 January 2014

The Ups and Downs of a Large Class

The title of my blog today was going to be the pros and cons of my large class but I have to say that although it is challenging I couldn't really use the word cons to describe any child in my class or indeed the class as a whole. I genuinely enjoy teaching my pupils but as it does say in the title having lots of children in a year 2 class really does have its ups and downs.

Lets start with the beginning of the day - the children line up outside and myself and my long suffering T.A. go out to collect them. This, more often than not, results in us having to 'run the gauntlet' of parents who are wanting to have a 'quick word'. Next the children go and hang up their coats and bags, putting their lunch box into the relevant cupboard and their reading book and journal into a box in class. Sounds simple? Oh no, not with 34 children all vying for a place at their peg. This along with the four instructions and actions to complete resulted at the beginning of the year in chaos. Since then we have put in lots of work to try to avoid the chaos, from standing guard in the cloakroom and shepherding them along to standing by the relevant box and guiding them where they need to go next and what they need to do. All of this and it is still only 9.05!

Once in class we begin the register but even this I would liken to 'puppies in a basket' because just as one child sits another jumps up because they have forgotten something! Fridays register time is the most fun because we sing our Candy Man by Sammy Davies Junior and all of the children really look forward to it. In fact it is the one day of the week when the 'puppies' are all in the basket.

So after register the day begins, usually with Literacy or Numeracy and that is where the next problem can begin. Obviously in any class there is a wide range of ability but as you can imagine trying to support a wide range of abilities within a class of 34 is not easy. Add into this the photocopying and any marking which has to be done and you can see the potential for more chaos. My T.A. and myself manage this very well between
us, relying heavily on the three stars and a wish stamp, stickers and the addition of a wonderful volunteer who is studying for her NVQ 2 and comes into our class all day on a Wednesday and all day Friday.

Going to assembly and lunch can also be problematic as moving 34 relatively boisterous children around requires military precision which is why I often feel more like a sergeant major than a teacher. We manage this by having 'line up chants' which the children love:

Big Hug
I give myself a great big hug,
I'm standing straight and tall,
I'm looking right in front of me,
I'm ready for the hall.

P.E is a challenge beginning with finding 34 P.E. kits and getting them changed. It is great fun once we get to the hall and I am always glad to have my whistle around my neck because I have to manage them carefully. This time I would liken it to being a shepherdess herding sheep around the hall in an attempt to keep them safe and give them the space they need to do their gymnastics sequences or The Gay Gordons dance. 

The end of the day is I think even more hectic than the beginning. Picture all of the morning routine in reverse with the addition of newsletters to hand out and parents to spot out of the window before we can release our little chickens (the human variety) back into the wild!

I'm even exhausted just thinking about it! No wonder I'm exhausted but you know what it is also great fun!
Due to the amount of the children we have lots and lots of  funny moments and no two days are ever the same.  

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Scottish Country Dancing

As part of our Katie Morag topic I decided to teach the children a traditional Scottish dance. Never having taught a Scottish dance before I started where most teachers would with a Google search for 'Scottish country dancing KS1' and came up with the following link, which was very useful: Hints and Tips for Scottish Country Dancing.

Following the recommendations I decided to try teaching The Gay Gordons dance, probably because it is one of the dances I had at least heard of before. Again I searched for 'Gay Gordons dance' to show me the steps, thus enabling me to teach it to the children. Below is the video I discovered and have now used with the children.

When I first told the children we would be learning a Scottish country dance in P.E. their reaction was a loud and resounding cheer! This surprised me because having only taught country dancing in KS2 before I was expecting the usual groan from most of the class. Then when I went on to say the dance was called 'The Gay Gordons' I expected at least a titter but no, not even one. This was so refreshing, eager children and a fun dance to teach, I couldn't wait to get started!

On Tuesday we had our first lesson and it was great fun. We began by watching the video in the hall, then I put the children into pairs depending on height and of course boy/girl where possible which wasn't as easy as it seems as I have 22 boys and only 12 girls in my class. This resulted in some boys being partnered with boys but again being KS1 this was again not a problem at all.

By the end of the first lesson we got as far as getting the correct hold, walking forward for four beats and backwards for four beats, which they have managed remarkably well. The same cannot be said however of the 'pirouette' part which resulted in lots of tangled hands and arms and a good deal of laughter, most of which was mine.

I am really looking forward to the second lesson next week and I know they are too! I will let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Katie Morag part 3

Today we finally finished the work for our Katie Morag display! We began with the art work, the children were placed into groups and made either a house or character from the story using collage materials.

Next we moved onto the writing. The preparation for this was two fold:

Step one  the characters from the story: we looked at a selection of character descriptions, we discussed the meaning of the word 'character' and together came up with a list of elements we would put into our descriptions of the Katie Morag characters.

Step two: the directions for getting to each of the buildings. In our maths lesson we have been learning about the language of direction, left, right, turn, angle degrees, North, South, East and West. We used what we had learned to give directions to each of the buildings on the Isle of Struay. 

The work was drafted, marked and finally written up in neat for the display. All 34 children have a piece of written work on the display. 

After the writing the children each coloured in a Map of the island and used a key to identify the main parts of the island. 

The results were amazing and the children are so delighted with the end results. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

When I was teaching year 3 two years ago I was very fortunate to have a wonderful German language specialist come into my class once a week for the whole year to teach German. As the children were year 3s with little or no previous experience of German they started with the basics, colours, numbers to 10, days of the week and animal names. This suited me as I too was a novice German speaker. The lessons were taught in a fun way using a variety of methods from stories to songs, both the children and I looked forward to the sessions.

The following year I went solo, teaching German myself. Now as at that stage languages was not timetabled it was usually done during register time and I have to be honest was not given the emphasis it was the year before. As a result my confidence levels dropped.

This year I am teaching year 2 and as MFL has, under the new curriculum, got more of a focus in Primary School we had a full inset day on teaching German (mentioned in a previous blog.) What shocked me during this inset day was how little German knowledge I had retained, however, as I warmed up things did start to come back to me and I began to feel more confident. What this really highlights to me is the need for repetition when learning a new skill.

I thought about how often we expect children to retain things from times tables to spellings. In fact we are always shocked at how much they appear to have forgotten over the Summer holidays. In my own class I know the children were taught number bonds to 10 and 20 thoroughly yet in a recent mental maths session it was clear that well over half of them were not confident with them at all. As with all classes there is a breadth of knowledge and levels so of those that new number bonds I thought I would check knowledge of counting in 2s, 5s and 10s. Again a mixed result and whilst they could count in 2s, 5s, 10s they were completely unsure what was meant by 2 times 2 etc.

As a result of our findings we have just given every child in the class a maths probes book. Probes books have been used in our school for as long as I can remember and are quite effective when practised daily both in and out of school and it only takes 5 minutes to complete. which makes this realistic.Each sheet comes with two parts, a question sheet and an answer sheet. The question sheet is glued into the child's book and the answer sheet is placed into an envelope at the back of the book. The child then buddies up with someone and calls out the answers to the questions on the question sheet, the other child has the answer sheet tells their partner if they have got it wrong or gives them an answer if they do not know it.

The reason it works for most but not all children is that it provides an opportunity for repetition, repetition, repetition. The child is only competing with themselves and will be moved onto another probe once they are secure on the one they have.

Perhaps I need to do this for myself with German days of the week, numbers etc!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

What is standard English?

Since writing my blog 'The Nuts and Bolts of the English curriculum' I have been doing a lot of discussing, reading and observing of spoken English in order to try to give myself an idea of what standard English actually is. There are lots of definitions but actually I have found this definition most useful it says not what it is but what it is not:

What Standard English Is Not . . .
  • (i) It is not an arbitrary, a priori description of English, or of a form of English, devised by reference to standards of moral value, or literary merit, or supposed linguistic purity, or any other metaphysical yardstick--in short, 'Standard English' cannot be defined or described in terms such as 'the best English,' or 'literary English,' or 'Oxford English,' or 'BBC English.
  • (ii) It is not defined by reference to the usage of any particular group of English-users, and especially not by reference to a social class--'Standard English' is not 'upper class English' and it is encountered across the whole social spectrum, though not necessarily in equivalent use by all members of all classes.
  • (iii) It is not statistically the most frequently occurring form of English, so that 'standard' here does not mean 'most often heard.'
    (iv) It is not imposed upon those who use it. True, its use by an individual may be largely the result of a long process of education; but Standard English is neither the product of linguistic planning or philosophy (for example as exists for French in the deliberations of the Academie Francaise, or policies devised in similar terms for Hebrew, Irish, Welsh, Bahasa Malaysia, etc); nor is it a closely-defined norm whose use and maintenance is monitored by some quasi-official body, with penalties imposed for non-use or mis-use. Standard English evolved: it was not produced by conscious design.
    (Peter Strevens, "What Is 'Standard English'?"RELC Journal, Singapore, 1981)
What stands out for me is  'nor is it a closely-defined norm whose use and maintenance is monitored by some quasi-official body'. Yet according to our recent staff training on 'The Nuts and Bolts of the New English Curriculum' Ofsted will do just that. In fact they will, we are told, judge schools on their use of, not just teaching of 'Standard English.'

My husband and I were on the bus going into Liverpool for the day yesterday. We enjoy getting the bus as its a rare opportunity to leave the car behind and we get to 'people watch' a pass time we both enjoy. Yesterday's trip proved a fascinating insight into the English language, well the spoken part at least.

On the journey to Liverpool we were sat close to two young girls of about 16. Their accents were hard to detect but were mainly 'Wirral' accents. My first impression was how loud they were talking about all manner of things and without any shyness whatsoever. The next striking thing was the over use of the word 'like' at first we tried to count but we lost count very quickly because every sentence spoken contained the word. The use of 'like' is quite widespread, even the young children that I teach use it regularly yet I would guess less than 5 years ago it would not have been used in its current context at all. This got me thinking again about how the English Language and indeed any language both spoken and written evolves constantly. Below are some of the new words added to the Oxford Dictionary:

November’s quarterly update sees a wide range of words enter Oxford Dictionaries Online. Whether you are about to spend silly money to go on a vacay, or have spent up on merch and will be at home listening to a slow jamFrom the world of technology high definitionlive-stream, and iOS are now featured, as well as terms refollowresubscribe, and hackableAlso added are words from the world of food and drink, such as house-made, in addition to environmental and genetic developments including frack and gene doping.
How then can we define Standard English? Language is beautiful, it changes, the world changes. If the argument for the New English curriculums obsession with  Standard English is that it will prepare our children and young adults to communicate in the global community using a common language I would argue that 'tech speak'is the new global language and that in fact beyond that people will always find ways to communicate. Our young people communicate daily with people from within their own community and with people from around the world via social media and they are doing it far more competently than we give them credit for.

So Mr Gove and Mr and Mrs Ofsted perhaps you need to listen to our young people and stop patronising them.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Reading for Pleasure

I have always been an avid reader.
My love of reading, which I believe is a gift, was given to me by my Mum and  
a teacher in high school. 

I have 7 siblings, lived in a council house and despite hard working parents (my Mum even had two jobs) we were not well off at all. But our house was full of books! We had two bookcases in the living room packed with books. One of my favourite games was playing 'library'. 
My Mum read to me and taught me to read before I started school, with the help of Dr Seuss. 

One of my favourite teachers in High school, an English teacher called Mr Birtles recommended we read a book a week. I remember thinking it was impossible! But I tried my absolute best to acheive it. 

Unfortunately I do not get the opportunity to read as much now. Particularly during term time and I have to admit that my daily blogging challenge has certainly not helped this.

I do however ensure that I encourage reading in my class. Reading helps children in so many ways. It improves spelling and punctuation, gives children experiences they can bring to their writing, provides them an escape, widens vocabulary and can provide lots of moral guidance (depending upon the book of course.)

Reading is an integral part of the daily routine in my class. The children have many reading opportunities:

The children in my class have a reading book to take home and read to their adult at home. Their adults writes what, and how, they have read and helps them complete an activity at the end of  book to check understanding. 

The children also have a book that they choose from the school library which they take home for them to share with their adult. 

We have a class library from which the children choose a book that they read themselves during silent reading time in class. During 'silent reading' they also choose a reading buddy (a cuddly toy taken from a box in the classroom) to keep them company. 

Once a week they do:
Guided reading
A reading comprehension
Reading Eggs or Eggspress

We have regular topics which are based upon books. These have included The Minpins by Roald Dahl and The Katie Morag stories. 

Finally I read a 'class book' to them as regularly as possible. So far I have read Georges Marvellous Medicine, The Angel of Nitshill Road and we will be starting Charlottes Web on Monday. 

As well as improving their 'levels' I hope more than anything the pupils in my class develop a love of books and reading. After all it is a gift that they will get pleasure from throughout their lives long after their 'levels' have become a distant memory. 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Nuts and Bolts of the new English curriculum

Our staff meeting this week was about the new English curriculum. It was delivered by a Literacy specialist from the local authorityThe lady delivering the course was good, her delivery and content clear and the objectives met. However, that is were my positive comments end! 

As maths coordinator I am and have had to be familiar with the new maths curriculum. What has struck me the most about the new maths curriculum is the change in expectations for each year group for instance what was once a year 4 objective is now a year 3 objective and so on. Some examples are that pupils should know all of the times tables up to 12x, Roman numerals are to be taught in years 4 and 5 and year 2 are to be taught recognise, find, name and write fractions including thirds along with fractions of a length, shape, set of objects or quantity.  There are, I think, lots of 'Gove' elements to the maths curriculum. The addition of Roman Numerals, the language changes (Shape and Space is now called Geometry?), the emphasis on short methods of written calculation etc. 

Knowing all of these 'Gove' elements existed in the new Maths curriculum then perhaps I should have not been surprised by the overtly 'Gove' elements which exist in the new English curriculum. Sadly though I was caught off guard and was well and truly surprised, exacerbated by what I was listening too. 

There is now a huge emphasis on Standard English in both written and spoken form. The training was therefore predominantly geared towards this. One of the slides had the definition of Non Standard English as Vernacular!

The first slide with the title Traditional Standard English:
We're not coming - Standard English (mainstream)

We ain't comin - Vernacular/Non Standard English

Us byant-a-comin - traditional Dialect Centesl Western England

For slide 2 we were treated to a definition of the difference between speech and writing:

Speech                                    Writing
Usually vernacular/dialect          Likely to use standard English

Usually interactive                      Produced for unseen audience

It got worse, the title of the next slide Standard English?

Demonstrate an understanding of,  and take responsibility for promoting high standards of literacy, articulacy and the correct use of standard English. How will you address this as a staff? We were told this would need to be discussed in a staff meeting because 'Ofsted' will be judging all school staff on their use of as well as teaching of standard English! 

I have always had a love of the English language. I am an avid reader, I enjoy writing and was taught and use grammatically correct spoken and written language. I understand the importance of standard English but my problem is two fold. 

Firstly it is the cleverly hidden implication that we should all be speaking the Queens English if we are to succeed. We are so bad at it that we need to have 'Ofsted' inspectors to check that we are compliant. 

Secondly I, like millions of people am a huge fan of William Shakespeare. I love his plays and sonnets but it is the Elizabethan language that I love the most. However it is clearly the language of a world long since past. Language evolves, it changes constantly. I look back to my childhood in the late 60s and early 70s and know that language has evolved since then too. Our children live in a technological age. They communicate in so many different ways than we did as children. We need to embrace these changes in order to provide them with the tools to communicate effectively in the world they live in now and will live in in future. This includes standard English of course but not at the expense of all other forms of modern day communication. Our children use text speak, they tweet, use Facebook, emails etc yet what do we do? Do we embrace it? No we frown upon it and in fact want to take them back to the language of a time long past. 

If we accept that we are no longer using Elizabethan language then we must also accept that likewise our children are no longer using the Queens English. We must therefore help prepare them for the world in which they live in now, and will live in and compete in in their future. 

Check out the new English curriculum for yourself:

Katie Morag Part 2

After the excitement of our full day of art on Monday, today  was the 'writing for the display' day which I am sure for lots of the children (about 99%) if  I'm honest it was not as exciting.

So there in lay my first problem. How do I make the prospect of writing descriptions for a display a bit more exciting? I think to make it exciting if you can is worth the effort because when children have had a good stimulus or a purpose to write I think their writing is often so much better.

The writing was to be character descriptions for those groups that had made the characters on Monday and directions on how to reach some of the buildings on the Island for those who had made the buildings. My intention is to have a piece of writing from each child alongside the art they created on our display. 

Firstly we watched a Katie Morag episode on BBC iplayer which they absolutely loved so that was a good start. It also served a purpose because they had more examples of characters and buildings to use in their writing. What is really annoying about iPlayer though is that it only has the last three episodes so they often do not match the Katie Morag books we have read. Also the titles of the televised Katie Morag do not match the books which can be frustrating.

Next we looked at how to write a Katie Morag character description via Powerpoint. Not as exciting I grant you but it did stimulate a discussion about what 'evidence ' means and where to find it. It was also useful because it helped to generate a list of things a character description should contain.

Then I displayed a picture of the island on our class Visualiser and asked the children to imagine they had arrived at the Jetty by boat and needed to get to various places. Their job was to direct each other in 2s of 3s to one of buildings from the jetty using some of the positional language they had used in Maths on Monday. This was quite good fun and non threatening as it was all done verbally. 

After that I wrote some instructions in the form of bullet points on the boards, I have two whiteboards in class which comes in really handy so one was used for character bullet points and the other for building bullet points along with word banks. This was followed by my 'modelling' how to write a character description and the directions for the buildings. The modelling served two purposes as it demonstrated clearly my expectations of their writing and as it was done with the use of the visualiser the children were able to see the full writing process very clearly.

Then the children were sat in the groups they had been in to produce their art to enable them to discuss what they might write before they actually started. 

Finally the writing! 

As I have yet to mark the writing the content and quality remain a nice 'surprise' for tomorrow. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Managing behaviour in the classroom

In a recent blog entitled 'Managing low level disruption' I shared my strategies and thoughts on low level disruption and how if unchallenged can have an impact upon teachers teaching and children learning. But what do we do when that behaviour moves beyond low level and what impact does it have on learning?

Really bad behaviour is in lots of ways more tricky than the low level disruption because the implications can and often are quite big for indivdual pupils as well as whole classes. 

I used to be of the belief that bad behaviour was generally rooted in KS2 and beyond. I have now though come to realise that actually bad behaviour can begin with quite young children and that this is where some of the bad behaviour of older children can perhaps stem from if it isn't managed.

Bullying is one example of bad behaviour that exists in all schools indeed in all areas of life amongst children and adults. I don't use the term bully lightly, after all as a teacher I have heard it bandied about quite often to describe simple disagreements or 'falling outs' between children. 

So how do we manage it? That's a tricky question to answer because often bullying is similar to level disruption but instead of it being lots of children in a class disrupting a teacher it is often one child disrupting lots of children but often focussing on a couple of specific children. 

As with the low level disruption the first step is acknowledging it exists which is difficult because it's time consuming but also sometimes we don't want the hassle of dealing with the consequences including the parents of the bully. 

Bullying is also quite often not one incident such as a fight but more likely little incidents, sly comments, pulling faces, pushing in the line, snatching things etc. These incidents happen day in day out and the impact is huge! 

How often do we get told that a child has done something we make light of it 'Oh stop fussing' or 'don't tell tales'. Yet this is the child or children telling us directly. As experienced professionals (don't tell Michael Gove I said that) we know the difference between telling tales or telling us what we neec to know. So we must listen, write it down somewhere see if there is a pattern if it is a fussy child or if it is constant low level nuggling that actually constitutes bullying. This recording may be useful when managing it later. 

Managing bullying once identified needs to be consistent. It really is one of those 'stick to the policy' moments. Seek SLT support. 

Above all be brave because after all if we, the adults in charge aren't brave enough or can't be bothered to deal with it the bully will go on unchallenged and the bullying will probably continue. The victim or victims learning and self esteem may be affected for ever! 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Katie Morag Display Part 1

As you enter my classroom a sign on the door reads:
Sorry about the Laughter, 
but we are learning in here

Well today all of those things were true. You have only got to look at the photographs of the state of my room at lunch time to see the evidence of that. Imagine it then with 34 children in too and you can picture exactly what it was like. 

I had decided in my wisdom today to have a full day of art and guess what? I survived, well just about.  I am glad to say I met my own target which was to get all of the art work for two displays done in one day, which I managed. I could have gone with the original plan which was to do some art each day for 5 days along with the accompanying writing and hopefully two displays by the end of the week. However, I knew from previous experience that besides the caretaker not liking me for a week, it would be more hassle getting everything out and set up each day doing it group by group than biting the bullet and going for it.

The children had a ball! There was lots of talking, working together, helping each other and of course the odd moan but on the whole I would say it was a memorable day for me and them.

I am glad to say I am long past the stage of making apologies for having a day 'off timetable'. Sometimes it is just necessary and perhaps more importantly fun. A break for the children from the routine, the normal Monday. Keeps me and them on their toes, they don't know what am going to do next and guess what neither do I!

 Tomorrow we will be doing a character Venn diagram and character descriptions for the display. So watch this space for part 2! In the meantime check out some of the fruits of their labour below. Not bad eh?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

To blog or not to blog that is the question

Day 18 of my challenge and blog 18 and still going strong! Well still going anyway.

began blogging originally as I found myself in KS1 in September after 15 years in KS2 and knew it would be a very different experience, that's the understatement of the year! 

In addition I had been tweeting for a while and other blogs I read through Twitter inspired me to blog myself. 

But perhaps the main reason was that I found myself, for the first time in my career, at a real low. I would go as far to say that I would have walked away from teaching if I could. Blogging therefore became a way of focusing on positives when I was not feeling positive at all. 

The reasons for my low were multi faceted and whilst not all just teaching related were mainly teaching. When I look back I can see I was suffering from depression. Now anyone who knows me would know how alien and unbelievable that is. I am the original 'glass half full' type of person and the Monty Python song 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' was written for me. 

Now that the depression is under control I can look back and reflect on the things that helped contribute to it, things that added to it and things that helped me to cope and lift it. 

The contributory factors were pressures, pressures and more pressures. I have been lucky to see teaching as my vocation but it was not becoming that way. Unrealistic targets to achieve, lesson observations that I instinctively knew proved nothing and were and are totally pointless and the real big one parents who thought that they could speak to me however they wanted. 

The other things that really didn't help were negative people, you all know them, the sappers, the moaners. These were people around me, people in the media and also people on Twitter. 

When you are down you seek people who empathise, who agree with you and feel your pain. It is a fine line though because this support really needs to then change to reassurance. When it doesn't and it turns into them getting in the hole with you it and actually dumping more stress on top it becomes a vicious circle. 

The continual bad press in the media about teaching was and still is ridiculous. It seems teachers are to blame for most of the ills in society. Everyone it seems has an opinion about teaching and actually according to the present government anyone can teach, qualified or not. 

I am a huge advocate of Twitter, I have delivered staff training on the benefits of Twitter as a professional development tool. Professionals share resources, ideas, inspiration and support. However Twitter can also be  self depricating. Negativity often abounds! It also has it's sappers along with the 'look at me I am amazing' crew who seem to spend their time slapping each other on the back, a cliche who only ever reply, retweet and mention those in their crew. 

So how has blogging helped me? At the outset I made a vow to when blogging about school to only focus on positive events. Target met! This really has helped me remember that teaching still is my vocation and helps me reflect upon all if the good bits, those teaching moments  that we forget. The fun side of the job, after all children are hilarious at times. 

It has also allowed me to share my experience. After 16 years I do know a bit! If only one thing I blog helps or inspires one person then again target met!

Blogging has also awakened that writer that was lurking inside me. I have always secretly wanted to be a writer, I am loving writing and never  knew I had so much to say. Who knows where it will lead. 

I can also honestly say I never knew I was so determined and competitive, even if it's only with myself. Challenge set I know I will I do my absolute best to reach it. 

So what next? More blogging! How many to go to meet my challenge 365 - 18. 


Friday, 17 January 2014

Taking Children to the Theatre

'A visit to the theatre has the potential to be a life-changing experience, as well as an opportunity for a unique kind of learning. It can touch the imagination, arouse curiosity, or fire an artistic impulse. Theatre can also be an exceptional resource, linking as it does to so many areas of knowledge: history, geography, language, citizenship, and much more. Learning in theatres has its own skills-set – theatrical literacy and the understanding of dramatic conventions, a specialised vocabulary, and the ability to sit and watch a performance without distraction.'

I absolutely love going to the theatre! I am not a huge fan of musical theatre but love going to see dramas and Shakespeare plays. I have been very fortunate to have visited lots of theatres and have seen productions by The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Northern Broadsides along with plays by semi professionals and amateurs. It is very rare that I am disappointed.

 As part of my degree I did Drama Studies and saw myself as a bit of a Director, in fact I always say that being a Theatre Director or Producer would be my dream job if I wasn't in teaching. So when I go to the theatre I am always keen to see the play but also the setting, costume and lighting. I love it when I can see the Director, Producer of Set Designers have been particularly creative. This doesn't mean I expect anything overly elaborate because actually one of the Productions I was impressed with the most was The Northern Broadsides interpretation of a Shakespearen battle scene reenacted completely on drums.

Going to the theatre is quite an indulgence though as most plays are expensive and therefore it is an increasingly rare event. However, I am going tonight because I bought tickets to see War Horse at The Lowry Theatre Manchester for my husband as a Christmas present, he loved the film War Horse so I couldn't resist.

I am really looking forward to going and was thinking how much children would enjoy going to the theatre and the huge potential benefits of watching a play. After all lots of children love to perform and at very least watch plays in school. A recent production of Bugsy Malone performed at our school by children from across KS2 was hugely 
Successful with the whole school community. 

Those performing or helping with scene changes, ticket sales making the programme etc all benefit from a sense of achievement and a raise in their self esteem. It allowed pupils who may be struggling academically to shine like the stars they are.  

So I did a survey in my class of how many children have been to the theatre at all. Out of 30 children about 12 had been to a pantomime or dance/scout show and only 2 had been to the theatre to see a play. The cost is a factor for parents but perhaps worse for schools which is a real shame because as the quote from The Prince's Trust says above their are so many benefits.

I know we are able to get groups in and put on plays ourselves but what is missing then is the whole buzz of a theatre just before a performance begins! 

This is one of those blogs that doesn't really reach a conclusion because I do not know what the answer is other than perhaps to encourage parents to take children to the theatre as often as they can and maybe for theatres to offer hugely reduced tickets to schools occasionally therefore providing access to an experience that we know lots of children may never get! 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Writing Process

I have done two things this academic year which have made me think about the writing process. 

Firstly after an idea I saw on Pinterest I introduced Friday books to my year 2 children. They write a letter home to their parents every Friday telling them what they have done in school that week. The adult at home then writes a letter back. It has proved very popular with the parents as it helps keep them informed about what the children have been doing in school, provides them with conversation topics with their child and also shows them how they are progressing with their writing. The children also enjoy reading the letter that their adult writes back to them and showing their friends what their adult has written. The books also provide evidence of 'progress' and perhaps more importantly allows the children to revisit a specific genre of writing regularly and improve upon it.

Secondly I had already written about 19 blog posts from September-December 2013 but in January 2014 I set myself a challenge of writing a blog a day for 365 days starting on 1st September. So far so good, today's blog is blog 16 written since January! And believe me it has really been a challenge. Writing every day is time consuming, choosing what to write about is often difficult. I always try to be positive, write about my experiences in class and my thoughts on education generally. But I also have to think about my intended audience so It has to be as interesting and grammatically correct as I can manage!

So what has this taught me about the writing process? Well it isn't easy this writing lark, there are so many factors to take into account from content, spelling and grammar to punctuation. Also much more importantly practise makes perfect. Yet so often I know that due to the constraints of the curriculum we do not give the children the luxury of time, time to rehearse, revise and revisit. Nor do we give them the support with the spelling, grammar etc. We expect the children to consider too many things at once. I know I will now have more respect for the writing process from a child's point of view. I will try to give them:

Time to write - practice makes perfect 

Lots of genre revisits

Clear information of WILF (what I'm looking for)

Support with spelling when spelling is not the main focus

The choice of drafting (or not)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Sats Booster Class

As maths coordinator I volunteered to do two booster maths Sats booster sessions a week right through to the tests themselves in May. One with the the level 3 to 4 boost and one with level 4 to 5 boost. I felt it was a good opportunity to keep in touch with year 6 maths, being in year 2 at  the moment.

Yesterday I held my first Booster class. I had a small group of 6 year 6 children who needed a boost to reach level 5. The lesson took place after school from 3.20 to 4.20 and because it was straight after school I gave the children a drink of juice and a biscuit as they came in. As I had taught them when they were in year 3 they were also really keen to come in and see the fish which I had bought only the year before they were in my class.

After our drink, biscuit and chat we settled down at one of my tables which they loved because I have lovely new round tables with new chairs. They said that although the tables were clearly too small for them they liked the fact that they were round so they could all see each other and that the tables sat six.

Finally we were ready to start some maths!! Although it had taken some time to settle I really wanted to set a relaxed, friendly, less formal atmosphere in the hope they will look forward to, rather than dread the sessions each week. We sat at the table together and began with looking at fractions as I know this is often a tricky area for most children, especially the level 5 questions.

What I enjoyed about the session the most was firstly meeting up with the year 6s for a chat rather than just bumping into them in the corridor and secondly the fact that we were exploring the answers together rather than me standing at the front teaching them. I felt that this was the right approach because I knew they had been taught fractions before and felt that if I just taught them again it wouldn't stick as well as if they were re visiting and discovering the answer together. The children appeared to enjoy the session too or at least didn't find it too stressful.

I now look forward to Thursdays level 3 to 4 group and wonder if the same approach will work with them or if they will be more suited to a more straightforward teaching approach.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Managing low level disruption

According to a recent Telegraph report:

'The country’s pupils are being held back by teachers tolerating “low-level disruption” in classrooms, the education watchdog will warn. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, will say that a "casual acceptance" of “poor attitudes” among children is causing schools to fall behind those in “high-performing” countries in the Far East.'

Whilst teachers have different tolerance levels for this 'low level disruption' I think all teachers would agree that it is one of the things that drives them crazy on a day to day basis in the classroom. The disruption takes many forms from pencil tapping, rocking back on chairs, to constant talking. We all experience it to different levels but nevertheless it exists in all classrooms.

So how do we manage this behaviour? Again it varies from school to school and teacher to teacher and for me from week to week because I have not found one fixed method that works day in day out from the beginning of the year to the end. That is in part due to me getting bored with keeping it up because lets face it often the solution to the problem becomes as tiresome as the problem itself. I also think the children become bored with it especially if they never succeed at it.

This year I am teaching a class of 34 year 2s so as you can imagine the noise level is often rather high! Unfortunately my noise tolerance levels are really low which raises a bit of a problem. Along with this my class have a lot of low level disruption behaviours. I have used several methods in an attempt to control low level disruption so far:
  • Sunshine, rainbow, cloud
Pupils start on sunshine, poor behavior becomes rainbow and bad behaviour cloud. If they remain on sunshine all week a note goes home. This is a school KS1 behaviour policy.
  • Team points 
All pupils are placed into four different teams, Vikings, Greeks, Romans and Tudors. All team points are collated at the end of the week and the winning team get announced in assembly and get the privilege of going in first for lunch. This is a whole school policy. 
  • Table points
Similar to team points but winning table get class privileges such as going to break first. This is my class only. 
  • The Great behaviour game
A great web based behaviour management system which I would recommend. Check it out on Google. It works by you registering all of the children in your class. It accrues points continually but points can be added on individually or alternatively individuals paused. 
  • Postcard home 
Usually awarded to the daily winner of the Great Behaviour Game and given to the pupil to take home at the end of the day.

All of these methods work but some work better than others. My classes favourite at the moment is the Great Behaviour Game combined with the postcard home. 

However, the noise levels have been rising quite a bit and I knew therefore that I had to try something new. I was also beginning to feel that the behaviour really was having a negative effect on the learning. 

My new strategy involves a class list, the Great Behaviour Game (GBG) and a postcard home. The children are told at the beginning of each lesson exactly what I expect from them in terms of behaviour and amount and quality of work. If they do not stick to any of the expectations they get 'strikes' which means their name has a mark put against it. At the end of the lesson the children who have no 'strikes' get 3 points on the GBG, those with 3 strikes get no points at all, 2 strikes gets 2 points and 1 strike 1 point. Points are also awarded throughout the lesson for good listening, brave learners, answering questions and good work. The winner of the GBG then gets the postcard to take home. 

Today was day one of my new strategy and it was a huge success! The children were a lot quieter, they got on with their work, listened carefully and were keen to answer questions. Result!! 

Will it work tomorrow? Next week? Who knows. I certainly hope so but just watch this space. 

For the full article check out Telegraph article on low level disruption