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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Successful Competitive Sports Day

For the last 8 to 10 years competitive sports days in schools all around the U.K have been frowned upon. This is clearly refected in an article in the mail online from 2006  School killjoys ban traditional sports-day  

Whilst I can see both sides of the competitive v non competitive argument I have always secretly missed the old fashioned running, relay, obstacle course type of sports day of my own youth and from my first few years teaching. I have to admit I have actually dreaded sports day in school each year, even going to the lengths of praying for rain, if I knew any rain dances I would have danced them. Trust me I loathed the 'team game' format that sports day had become. 

One of the reasons for my dislike of these type of sports day are simple, they are not, from what I experienced or observed much fun. The children are assigned to 'mixed age group teams' with children from F2 through to year 6, this fact alone clearly limits the type of activities the children take part in. Some of the activities include throwing bean bags into buckets, skipping, rearranging their group on benches in order of age and welly throwing.

The children and any long suffering adults then rotate around the activities until each team has taken part. Of course there is a bit of a competitive edge as the teams are competing against each other, albeit not directly. This lack of direct competition took a lot of the fun out of it, this along with the limited 'activities'. 

We actually, in my opinion, underestimate our children by indicating that the competitive nature of sports day is too stressful, whilst piling the pressure on to achieve high Sats scores and pass the 11 plus! Most children are by their very nature competitive, ask any child who has siblings, it is from day one in a family a competition. When at play children compete when deciding whose game they are going to play first, who is 'on' in tick, in the classroom they compete, even if it is only to claim the first pencil from the middle of the table or to be first in line going for lunch. 
Has this change in format resulted in children being less competitive, better behaved or more thoughtful and considerate towards each other than they were before? Were the children asked what type of sports day they wanted?

Thankfully for the children and adults in our school common sense finally prevailed and it was this year back to a fully fledged competitive sports day! Each year group took part in a boys then a girls running race followed by a boys and then girls obstacle race with prizes awarded in each case to the winner. 

After all of the childrens races it was over to the adults, starting with Mums/Grans, Aunties, then Dads, Grandads and Uncles followed by the staff race! To end it all we then had a tug of war with staff verses parents. It was a resounding success! The children, parents and staff all had a ball, there was a real sense of camaraderie, a community coming together and having fun.

I don't think I will be praying for rain next year!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Road to Outstanding Part 4 - Planning and Teaching

You know your cohort, the classroom environment is arranged and you have a clear behaviour policy in place. You are ready for the next step towards outstanding teaching and learning and in the words of Yoda:

  'A Jedi soon you will make.' 

What does an outstanding lesson look like? With a simple Google search it is possible to find a whole host of cafeteria's, tick lists and outstanding lesson examples. However , there are far too many different lesson types, cohorts and teaching styles to make these ideas useful. Actually using a criteria can have the opposite affect with teachers over planning, not teaching to their teaching style or strength and not considering the cohort of pupils they have before them with their own very individual needs. There is no 'ideal'  formula!

Ofsted and school Senior Leadership Teams have to take a lot of  the blame for spawning a fear that results in over reliance of a particular lesson format and teaching style. Teachers receiving Ofsted and Performance Management lesson observation feedback with criticism for 'too much teacher talk', 'pupils sat on the carpet for too long', 'not enough differentiation.' 

If we are to believe the recent press releases from Ofsted then actually Ofsted will not be grading teacher or lessons on these factors anymore:

'Inspectors should not grade an aspect such as teaching, unless circumstances are exceptional, without considering the broad range of evidence that they can gather during a visit to a lesson – for example, the behaviour of the students and how well they are managed, subject knowledge, the standard of work completed in books, the quality of marking and so on – and use this to come to a view about what teaching is like for those students and its impact on their learning over time.' 

'I was speaking to a colleague today, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors. He reminded me it is all about outcomes and that it does work both ways. In a classroom he was in recently, a teacher produced, literally, an all-singing, all-dancing lesson. There was music, comedy, costumes, games, ‘thinking hats’, and all with clear objectives on the whiteboard. He recorded a teaching quality grade of inadequate. Not because of the ‘performance’ on the day but because students’ graffiti-strewn books hadn’t been marked for six months and work was shoddy or incomplete. In contrast, he graded teaching as outstanding in a classroom where students sat reading in silence because of the exceptional quality of students’ work and the teacher’s marking in exercise books. He told both teachers what his conclusions were'    

A summary by Mike Cladingbowl, National Director, Schools.Taken from 'Why do Ofsted Inspectors Observe Individual Lessons and How do they Evaluatr Teaching in Schools' 
21st February 2014

Outstanding teachers do not try to fit into a specific teaching style or lesson format, they think, plan and teach 'outside of the box.' Whilst this may be a scary prospect, it does actually in essence free you from the constraints that can actually shackle and confine you, Teaching Without Limits.  There is no one way to teach or approach a lesson, however there are some key elements:

Teaching approaches should be active and creative allowing pupils to encounter the new and at times unexpected
Planning that is linked to pupils needs and interests
Immediate responses to items in the news, the weather
Age appropriate activities with a level of challenge built in
Personalised learning
Quick responses to extend, challenge but likewise know when to support
Opportunities to practice, reinforce
Consistent, positive marking and feedback
Time to reflect and respond to marking
Strong partnership with other adults in the room - T.As
Positive classroom environment

This list is by no means exhaustive, nether is it a defined, must see all elements, list it is merely some of the things that outstanding teachers strive for, think about and indeed add to and amend. Outstanding teaching evolves, changes, ebbs and flows. What it isn't is safe!

If teachers have high expectations of their pupils they also need to have high expectations of themselves whilst also being realistic. Not every lesson could or should be all singing all dancing, what they should all do though is:

(with object and infinitive or clause) Impart knowledge to or instruct someone as to how to do something

(with object) Give information about or instruction in a subject or skill

(with object and clause) Cause someone to learn or understand something by example or experience Taken from Oxford


Saturday, 5 July 2014

My life in children's books

I love books! Books have always been an important part of my life. I read for pleasure, I read when I am bored, I read to escape, I read for inspiration, I read to research, I read to learn, I read to remember and I read to forget. The joy of reading is a gift, it provides endless opportunities.

One of my earliest memories of books comes from the 'library' that we had in the front room of our council house. 
In reality the 'library' consisted of a couple of book shelves in the corner of the family living room, but to me it was a magical place filled with books old and new, paperback and hardback. I used to sit among the books sniffing them, inhaling deeply, it was a guilty pleasure. I loved the way they all smelled differently, they smelt of the adventures that would soon be mine.                                                
My next memory of books came not much later. I remember standing on tiptoe, looking out of the window waiting and waiting for the postman to deliver a parcel. The parcel I was waiting for was a I think a birthday present for my fourth birthday in 1965.

The parcel contained a full set of Dr Seuss books! Just thinking about these books evokes a thousand memories of pleasure. The pleasure of sitting in my Mums big, warm bed all safe and warm reading with, and then to, my mother. As the youngest of eight children with a mother and father who both worked full time, time spent reading with my mother were especially precious. 

'The Cat in the Hat', 'Green Eggs and Ham', 'Fox in Sox' but my favourite was 'Are you My Mother?' I loved the repetition and quickly remembered what was going to come next as my mother read. My mother always told me that Dr Seuss taught me to read! I'm not sure if that is true but I do know that Dr Seuss was indeed my first journey into books. 

The next phase in my relationship with books was when I was a newly independent reader.  The ones that stick in my mind the most from this phase of my life with books are 'The Wishing Chair' and 'The Far Away Tree' by Enid Blyton. With Enid Blyton I was able to enter a world full of fantasy: 'When Peter and Mollie wander into an antique shop to buy a present for their mother's birthday, little do they know how enthralling life is about to become. Quite by accident, they acquire a wishing-chair which sprouts wings and flies them wherever they want to go.'

My Naughty Little Sister came next, probably bought for me by one of my older siblings. She was actually the little girl I wished I could be when in fact I was, I think, a quiet and quite serious little girl.

Then the Borrowers entered my life, taking me back to a world of fantasy -  'The Borrowers own nothing at all; they live in the secret places of quiet old houses – behind the mantelpiece, inside the harpsichord, under the kitchen clock. Everything they have is borrowed from the 'human beans', who don't even know they exist. Arrietty's father, Pod, is an expert Borrower – he can scale curtains using a hatpin and bring back a doll's teacup without breaking it. Girls aren't supposed to go borrowing but as Arrietty is an only child her father breaks the rule. But then Arrietty makes friends with a boy – a 'human bean' – and from that moment danger is never far away for, above all else, they must avoid the great disaster of being seen'.

Her Benny by Silas K Hocking was given to me by my Mum. It had been her favourite book as a child growing up in Aylesbury in Wiltshire. How ironic that she would later go on to raise her children not far from the city in which the book is set. This book was to become the first book that made me cry. I remember sobbing when Benny's little sister Nelly died. 

My Next adventure with children's books continued with the birth of my two daughters Sarah and Beth. I vowed to read to them regularly, as my Mum did with me so that I too could give them the gift of reading. I have many happy memories of reading to them in my double bed, one of them either side of me, all snuggled, safe and warm. Peepo was one of their early favourites due to both the beautiful illustrations and the repetitive, rhyming pattern which allowed them to eventually join in saying the words along with me as I read. My daughters are 26 and 28 now and one of them a mother herself and they still remember all of the words in this book off by heart!

As they grew into toddlers their favourite books became the stories of Alfie and Annie-Rose written and beautifully illustrated by Shirley Hughes. Alfie becomes trapped inside the house whilst Mum and  Annie-Rose are outside on the step, the window cleaner nearly saves the day by climbing up his ladder to let himself in an open window. But just in time Alfie manages to turn the lock and let everyone in - andhimself out. On the last page, Alfie, his mum, Annie Rose, Mrs MacNally, Maureen and the window cleaner are sitting cosily round the kitchen table with tea and biscuits - the perfect celebration for the perfect little hero. 

We went on to read many, many books together and both of my daughters do indeed have the gift of reading and although both have busy lives they try to read as regularly as they can. My daughter Sarah who has her own son has gone on to read both 'Peepo' and 'Alfie and Annie Rose' to her son. After raising my family I went back into full time education and qualified as a primary school teacher. This was to herald a brand new adventure with children's books and to provide me with the opportunity to share the joy of reading with many, many children over my 16 years of teaching.

Harry Potter Lloyd and the Philosopher's Stone' was published in 1997 whilst I wl and swept along with the hype that followed. I was, and still am,  a huge Harry Potter fan. Any author who can capture the interest of children and entice them into reading has my vote without question. As we know J.K. Rowling went on to write a further five books which has provided me with a great amount of reading material to read with my pupils over the years. I even have a copy of the first three books on tape read by Stephen Fry which I used constantly on the school Coomber. Sadly Coombers no longer come with tape players but I cannot bear to part with them nevertheless!  

I have to confess that I have never really been a fan of Roald Dahl books. I think this is perhaps because they do not really lend themselves to 'reading aloud.' However, this all changed when became a KS1 teacher for the very first time. My first topic 'Down in the Woods' set me off in search of a 'class read' or 'read aloud' book. I considered 'The Far Away Tree' but felt that it would be too long for my purpose. The book I wanted needed to be relatively short as I wanted it to be part of the exciting launch to a topic. I then stumbled upon, literally, The Minpins: Running from the terrible Gruncher monster of the woods, a young boy is rescued by the tree-dwelling Minpins, a tiny race of nature-loving beings who live in an ancient tree high above the forest floor.This book was an amazing find as it led on to me cresting a 'Minpins' door at the bottom of the tree outside my classroom which the children in my class then 'discovered' The results were magical! We also used 'conscience alley' to help us to think about the conflicting feeling Billy had before going into the forest despite his Mum's warnings. 

As part of the same topic we also read The Stick man by Julia Donaldson. I am a huge fan of Julia Donaldson. Her books are beautifully illustrated by Alex Schiffer and due to the repeating, rhyming nature of the stories they are lovely to read and allow the children to 'join in' in key parts of the story. This means they are all actively engaged in the reading process which I and they love. After reading the book  we all made our own Stick man or Stick Lady love which was great fun.

All of the childrens books I remember the most are' fiction', perhaps because my own personal joy of books comes from the joy of sharing, imagination and escapism. Non fiction has been part of my life in children's books but not as much a memorable part. 

If I had listed all of my favourite children's books my blog post would quickly have turned into a book itself, such is the impact that they have had on my personal life as a child, mother, grandmother and teacher. I love children's books! Which books would be on your list?