My Son

Where do I start.

My beautiful boy has never had an easy start to life. His daddy died when he was very young. That is enough to mess you up. But he also was different. Was never like other children. No one believed me.

I was the broken widow. The single mum who couldn’t cope. All my fault. We went to cahms appointments and explored our relationship. Whether I was at fault. Imagine being a bereaved parent to be told that Ultimate worthlessness syndrome.

He spent primary school being treated as a bad boy. The head of the school actually was amazing and tried her hardest. He didn’t get that in class. He was made to feel bad. TAs I know from the village would tell me awful things where he was not supported. One day (after labour alone and having a csection a few days earlier) I waked him to school. I was abused. I was so upset I couldn’t walk into school. I remember crying and having a new born baby with me. No one was there.

He was went on to high school with no diagnosis apart from the team saying he has always been on their radar. He was a child who spent all of year 6 doing SEN transition.

Suddenly secondary school said he had ADHd and elements of autism. I thought this was the end of a long hard road but we live in a rural community. We had Ww2 show where kids could buy anything. Mine bought a BB gun as all the kids did. I didn’t know as would have said a hard no, he wanted to make friends so took it to school so was expelled. This was at the start of year 8.

It went downhill from there. He wasn’t allowed to apply to other secondary schools as other parents felt he was a bad boy. He wasn’t but the schools shut him down.

He ended up on a PRU. These places are incredible but weren’t right for my boy. He was offered a place at a SEN school. It was epic and rate it lots. We had a tour, timetable and uniform sent. Then was told 4 weeks later was a clerical error.

He lost engagement. We had many dark days I won’t blog about. But he found college. They believed in him and his passion. He started to bloom.

He got his Btech photography and graphic design level one and is now doing level 2. His ADHD and ‘borderline’ autism do not affect him. All he needed was teachers who cared.

Teaching During Lockdown

I’m writing this as a reflective post, as we move into a different phase of lockdown, with schools opening wider and end of term looming. The expectation things will start to become more normal for the next academic year is bright and positive. I wanted to write this blog simply for me. To remind myself that I tried my hardest for my own children and my class at home, despite the hyperbolic headlines and vocal voices of discontent online, about what teachers have been doing during lockdown. Getting tans and making cakes was my personal favourite…

I remember sitting there when the news broke, unable to process all that I was hearing, and not quite sure what it meant for me, my own children and my school. That first Monday back in school (after the announcements) was one of the most stressful times I think I have faced in education, and I have had many experiences that have made me come home and want to bury my head in a bowl of cheese.

I can’t even begin to imagine what my wonderful SLT went through in those early days (and indeed throughout as new guidance was dropped). Rota groups were quickly announced and we were left to gather our thoughts about planning. We would be using the class dojo platform with parents and children, as that was already well established in school, but it would be in a way none of us had ever used before.

Those early days were like some kind of whirlwind of stress and isolation. Homeschooling my two children and completing their work as well as juggling supporting my class online, planning for the following weeks and not seeing another adult (when not on rota) got to me. I found myself slipping and sliding on invisible treacle, feeling a failure in all areas. I remember one day in particular where both girls threw biros at my head and screamed, ‘We’re on strike!’ at me. It was at that point I made the decision I would go into school every week for 3 days, as apposed to the week on and off rota, as my mental health was struggling too much. It was a hard decision. Would mean taking my own kids into school and risking their health. I didn’t make it lightly and as always, Karen on twitter accused me of putting the lives of children at risk by being in school more than I should be. Karen and Nigel have had such fun over lockdown on social media haven’t they!

That little change however worked. We fell into a happier routine at home and work and I started to practice what I preached to parents, with regard to my own children’s homeschooling. I would tell my parents, when they were stressed and struggling, not to put pressure on their children and do what they could, when they could. I realised I wasn’t doing that with my own children and was trying to implement an unmanageable schedule on them. I will openly admit some days we didn’t do maths at home. But we survived and got through. And did lots and lots of Art! Have I mentioned before how much I love the Arts? I’m not sure that has cropped up in my tweets before 😜

I didn’t just get ‘through’ though. I now realise I did great things. I have been very low and now I am pulling myself out of that treacle (with support from friends, colleagues and my wonderful SLT) I want to record some good things I did to remind myself. Karen on twitter will probably read this and make a passive aggressive post about edu-celebs thinking they are amazing. But Karen doesn’t know what I’ve been through and why I need to do this. So. Here we go. Things I’ve done in lockdown I am proud of.

1) Keeping the joy of Brightstorm going online with the children, despite being in lockdown. I adapted all of our literacy work to be accessible at home. The engagement and work produced has been stunning. Vashti Hardy even sent them a couple of videos in lockdown to keep their spirits up. She’s an amazing woman.

2) Communication with parents has been a massive positive for me. I feel I have spoken and developed a greater bond with parents during lockdown than I have in 15 years of teaching face to face. When I was down, I remember getting several wonderful messages from parents about how grateful they were for the communication and how the work was pitched perfectly. I won’t forget this cohort of children or their parents ever I think.

3) Doing silly little things to make my children smile. One that I still chuckle about is using the class pet in school to send them naughty photos. 4) Making sure reading for pleasure is HIGH profile despite lockdown. I have read a chapter of Gargantis to my children every day and made sure they are excited by generating book buzz by making little props and setting voluntary challenges for them to do around the book. Thomas Taylor (the author) is equally as wonderful as Vashti as made them a video to encourage them to keep listening to me read and make sure the interest didn’t wane. 5) Spending time with my children and appreciating all I have. Sometime the little things get lost when we are busy. I have watched them grow and mature before my eyes. My son completed his college course in lockdown and got a distinction. I am enormously proud of him and the wonderful adult he is becoming.

6) I am particularly proud of my work around vocabulary during lockdown. Words and vocabulary have always been massively important in my teaching and I developed posters to share with my class online in pdf form and also in videos using a big book I could discuss with them. Despite lockdown, they will have been exposed and taught over 150 new words, then exposed to in context as I read the class book.

7) Stronger friendships have been forged with colleagues at work (Amy, Becky, Gemma I love you lots) and my friendships with twitter pals has only deepened. I can’t mention you all but my heart has a special place for these amazing tweeters who have been there for me through highs and lows of lockdown:

Kat Howard @SaysMiss

Louise Lewis @MissLLewis

Louise Cass @louisecass

Ele @lllwriteitdown

Joanne Jukes @MissRegardless

Joanne Tiplady @MissJoT

Shannon Doherty @MissSDoherty

Emma Cate @emmaccatt

Callum @Callum_SEND

Helena Brothwell @educurious2015

Ed Finch @MrEFinch

Matt Swain @mattswain36

Kevin McLaughlin @_kevinmcl

Nimish Lad @NLad84

Visualising The Future

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I’ve have been waiting to write this blog post for ages but for some reason or other, there has always been something that has cropped up that has stopped me. I am not sure why, as using a visualiser is probably one of the most influential techniques in my teaching armoury, and I have found it has given me the greatest impact in the quality of work produced and knowledge retained. I am going to discuss the various benefits of using a visualiser based on my experience as a primary school teacher. This however is relatable to secondary classrooms and indeed further education.

MODELLING.

I can not say that word ‘modelling’ without enough emphasis. The key to getting things right in the classroom on every level (from a sheet stuck in correctly to an accurately converted improper fraction to a mixed number) is down to how you explicitly model that to the learners. For me, the best way to do that is by using a visualiser. I have used one for the last 5 years now and I honestly can’t imagine how I would produce the quality of work I do without one. As a child, I adored seeing art tutorials where they gave me step by step instruction how to succeed. A visualiser allows you to do just that. In every single aspect. Primary teachers will know that you can tell a child how to do something multiple times and they will still interpret that oral instruction in their own way. Seeing it laid plain and bare, with no wriggle room, makes it clear precisely what you expect. Presentation, expectation, achievement laid out in front of the child. Those of you who have read my ‘presentation pest’ blog will know how important this modelling is within the classroom.

EXPERIMENTATION WITH A W.A.G.O.L.L

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For those unfamiliar with the phrase ‘W.A.G.O.L.L.’ it literally means what a good one looks like. Whatever lesson I teach, I will use a visualiser to create a live W.A.G.O.L.L. to serve as example children which will inspire to achieve. The great thing about a W.A.G.O.L.L. is that it allows for instantaneous differentiation of the SAME taught task without the tedious (and pointless) need to create separate work. I will create a W.A.G.O.L.L. which is constructed through dialogue with the children and then give the same set phrase:

‘You can use my W.A.G.O.L.L. to guide you at the start, change elements of my W.A.G.O.L.L. or completely ignore it and do your own thing.’

Three choices. Same task. Allows for scaffold, support and challenge. All provided under a visualiser through co-construction. The above photo shows how they took shared ideas in a DT session and followed that pattern.

FEEDBACK

The ability to provide whole class, immediate feedback under a visualiser is simply breath-taking in how powerful it is. As I walk around the class room, I can find examples of powerful, excellent writing, art, critical thinking and whip it under the visualiser straight away for the whole class to see. We all know the power of peer and how seeing the work of another child displayed to the whole class has in terms of engagement and reaction to improve and want to emulate.

I would NEVER use a visualiser to display misconceptions spotted in children’s work (although have heard horror stories where teachers do this) but when I spot them in work, I write them down, stop the class and invite the children to look at what I have done wrong. We discuss and they go back and check own work to make sure they haven’t made those errors. So no pointless next step marking they check the next day that means nothing. Immediate whole class feedback, under a visualiser, during a lesson in context to support progress.

RETRIEVAL

IMG_0059I am a huge fan of daily retrieval practice and you can read blogs I have written about what they entail and mean on my WordPress site. For me, the ability to use a visualiser to quiz children instantly means my work load is down (as I am not generating resources to display) and can act instantaneously on things I see need immediately addressing. A visualiser allows the questions you have to be written and displayed. Yes, this can be done on word or other software, or indeed written on a white board. I personally find the ability to write, draw, scribble, use dual coding to express my thoughts SITTING DOWN COMFORTABLY can not be underestimated.

ONLINE PLATFORM DURING THE SCHOOL CLOSURES

One final comment to make about the use of visualisers during recent stressful times is that that provide a wonderful support for parents at home to watch how you would deliver lessons. It isn’t the same as having their teacher there but that grounding of modelling and feedback can still be shared and used to produce excellent work at home using a visualiser. IMG_2520

Rosenshine and Retrieval Practice in a Primary School Setting

Well I am 6 months into my journey using retrieval practice, so I thought I would write a blog to follow up my previous musings about embedding retrieval practice across the curriculum. The research I based my work on came from reading Tom Sherrington’s excellent book Rosenshine’s Principles In Action and Kate Jone’s equally good book Retrieval Practice. I also used Oli Cav’s Dual Coding With Teachers as an excellent source of inspiration. All three books are well worth purchasing. Before I begin, one important thing to mention, which I was guilty of at the start in my enthusiasm to crack on, is that heavy focus on retrieval of prior learning should not over shadow the delivery of that knowledge. To ensure a novice learner can successfully encode and store that knowledge is crucial to enable retrieval to happen. Creating lessons that usefully use the limited storage capacity of a young child’s working memory is paramount to the success rate of later retrieving that knowledge. Reducing cognitive overload in lesson delivery goes hand in hand with revisiting and the ability to retrieve that knowledge.

As I previously mentioned, retrieval practice was an area I had seen discussed and consistently used within the secondary sector but hadn’t filtered into primary school settings. I’m pleased to say that I am seeing many more primary school teachers  embracing and understanding the importance of it, but it still is a very different lion to wrestle in a primary setting compared to secondary. These are a few of the things that I have felt helped me manage the enormity of it.

The Primary School Conundrum

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The biggest issue I faced when I sat down to plan last summer was how on earth to tackle the enormity of retrieval across a vast and varied primary curriculum, when time is precious and so many subjects are covered. My knowledge of topics previously taught was ok (as I have worked across most year groups in school) but deciding which content was the most important to recap and which year groups to focus on was huge. How does one review science knowledge taught when it is a lesson covered once a week? How do you apply retrieval in more creative subject areas such as art and music?

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My biggest tip is to not try and do everything at once. You can’t possibly try and tackle all subjects straight away and the children will find it as overwhelming as you do. I started with maths as it was easy to add into our daily routine at the start of the lesson. Four questions that focused on last year, last term, last week and yesterday. I also decided it would be impossible to try and cover all the leaning from every year group so kept it to content from year 4. As mentioned in my previous blog, I didn’t create resources and slides, and simple wrote the questions live under the visualiser or popped them up on the white board for them to use. The children, far from hating the testing, really enjoyed it and would actively take part in the process by informing me which content they were still unsure of that they wanted woven into the questions I gave them. The low stakes nature of the tests allowed all children to feel comfortable and they knew the science and reasoning behind why we were doing it as I felt it was important for the children to understand how their memory works. They take great delight in telling visitors who  come into the classroom about their 4 memory slots and how they need to review material to ensure they remember it. Understanding purpose is paramount to active engagement with learning. 

The results for November data drop one in maths showed a considerable improvement between the number of children reaching the pass mark. My teaching of the subject was the same but I now was consistently undertaking daily retrieval in the maths lessons. You obviously can’t compare a cohort from one year to the next but on paper, they both are very similar children in terms of ability, gender and SEN ratios.

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By the March, I had 87% of the class already reaching the expected standard or above. Unfortunately due to school closures I am unable to know what the class end data would look like but I’ll take those figures with bells on.

Once the routine of maths was up and running, I started to branch out into our literacy lessons. I think it is very important we don’t force a text book approach to how we deliver our retrieval sessions. What works for one subject, may be unsuitable for another. There is a danger to fit a model to roll out and I personally feel variety and reflection of delivery, adapting and changing to suit your class, is far more important than trying to force a model across all areas. In literacy lessons for example I will use the low stakes quizzing as part of my canon of techniques but also use drama, dual coding, games and group work. This approach helped me when I started to roll out into other subject areas. I decided that each lesson would start with retrieval of some form even if only taught once a week. To begin with, science and humanities subjects I kept it to content we had done from year 5 but eventually I started putting questions in that pulled on their knowledge of year 4 work. retieval model

Using a knowledge organiser effectively is a great way for children to independently focus on key areas to remember. Again, reiterating the point I made at the start, how we present that information to a novice learner is vital to ensure they successfully can access that material. By using icons and creation of their own images, children can more readily access the content given.

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Before the school closures, I was looking at ways to make retrieval of art skills previously taught workable and not time consuming. This is something I will be experimenting with when we get back into the classroom.

My take home messages from my journey are as follows:

  • Make sure how knowledge is delivered to a novice learner is weighted as equally as how knowledge is recalled in your pratice.
  • Focus on one subject to begin with.
  • Make sure all children are actively involved.
  • Make sure you vary your method of delivery to ensure work load is managed and an understanding ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ is applied.
  • Involve the children within the marking and reflecting of their work.

Why I Love Teaching

newWe’ve all seen that video. If you haven’t then you will have seen many similar. An uplifting, happy reflection on why one should consider embarking on a career in teaching. I don’t normally pay them much attention but this particular one seemed to stand out. When I watched it, I felt a warm glow as the relationship and interaction shown felt close to how I feel. I understood it was an advert, but liked the added touches such as coffee rings on the marking being done at lunch time and changing midflow to try a new tactic when the children could not grasp the concept.

I then followed with interest the comments that spilled from it. He was going home with the children. Not taking marking home. Not enduring endless observations. I get that. I also get that it was an advert. You are not going to see an advert to be a surgeon showing that your patient may die on you or you will end up doing 24 hour shifts and napping on a sofa in your office. Jobs are hard. They come with massive highs and massive lows and all one can do is try and focus on the good and work collaboratively as a profession to change the bad.

I am going to focus on all the reasons why I love teaching because ultimately we will all experience those bad days that make us want to go home and sink our face in bowl of cheese. Focusing on the good is what helps remind us why we do this job, despite the lows that can hit all of us at any time.me young

Did I always want to be a teacher? Did I wake up as a small child and think this was my career path? Despite having teacher parents, suprisingly the answer is no. As a young child I actually wanted to ride BMX bikes or be a gymnast. The sport phobic in me now has to have a wry smile about that.

Sadly the dream of being a BMX hero soon passed and I developed a huge love for the environment and wanted to make a difference in that sector so embarked on a degree in Environmental Biology. This is me. Aged 21, just finished Uni and about to start an exciting career as an Air Emissions Technician. I was full of the glorious innocence youth has, thinking I would change the world. me

Sadly, what I found was the adult world didn’t really want to change. I won’t go into details but some of my sparkle and optimism left and I soon realised this career was not sustainable. But my desire to make changes and make a difference did not waver.

It was at this point I looked closer to home. The impact my parents were making on the many children they had taught over the years, and I started to wonder whether all this passion to perform and feel full of life (like that little BMX champion want-to-be) and make changes and impact (as the innocent environmentalist wanted) could be achieved through teaching.

Fast forward to 2020. I am moving into my 15th year of teaching and I know this will make some people eye-roll, but I  love it more now than I did all those years ago when I stood in front of my first class and squeaked good morning. Why do I love it?

  1. I love walking into my classroom and seeing happy smiles and warm hellos to greet me. I also love when I can make a child who doesn’t greet me with a happy smile feel safe and secure and know it is ok not to feel like smiling all the time and I am there to help them through that.
  2. I love being able to bring all my passion for reading, the Arts and science into the classroom. I am discovering new learning and knowledge daily and get such a wonderful, varied diet of knowledge it can’t but help to lift my soul.
  3.  I love those magic moments where a light bulb flicks on and you can see them suddenly understand a concept and skill and fly with it.
  4.  I love how my class becomes a team. Working together. Supporting each other. Including me. In December when I was so sad, they would come up and simply stroke my hand or slip little notes on my desk to cheer me up. Kids are great aren’t they?!
  5.  I get to meet the most wonderful friends in teaching through attending conferences and events. Friends like no other. You know who you are.
  6.  I get to have long, glorious holidays in the sun or the snow.
  7.  I get to spend so much time with my own three dragons.
  8.  The pay is enough for me to live comfortably when all around I know others are less fortunate.
  9.  It has made me a strong, passionate person. Given me an outlet. No matter what struggles I am going through, when I walk into that classroom I am Miss Eccles. The teacher. Wanted. Needed. Loved.

10. Being a teacher simply completes me.

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We did that last year!

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After reading Tom Sherrington’s Rosenshine’s Principles in Action, I was acutely aware that there was one area in my teaching that was not as consistent as it should be. Retrieval practice. I have always dropped in sessions around retrieval to make sure I was checking on the prior learning and utilised end of unit assessments to identify gaps, but how often did I revisit that knowledge? How often did I look back at areas which I felt the children were secure in to see if they still were 2 months later? Was I looking at prior knowledge from the academic year before? Were the lessons I taught with central ‘doing’ activity backed up enough with retrieval sessions to remind the children of the knowledge they had acquired in that session?

I am notoriously hard on myself and spent a few days feeling a bit of a failure for not thinking about this before, but after I stopped beating myself up, I started to get quite excited about the new academic year. I spent the summer reading the research behind why it was important and found it fascinating looking at how the struggle and challenge to recall knowledge is in fact strengthening our memory and enabling us to identify gaps. The more I read, the more I realised there was definite changes I needed to make to ensure the knowledge I carefully planned and lovingly executed was locked away in their long term memory and not filtered out over the years. I dedicate the time to lovingly prepare, plan and execute these lessons and now knew I needed to give that same love and commitment to retrieval practice.

The first thing I knew I wanted to do was make it a daily exercise in maths and English sessions, and each other subject would start with a retrieval session before the lesson began. I also decided I wanted to look at what the children had learned the year before to really make them stretch, challenge and strengthen their memory. Historically I know I have been guilty of doing the odd oral retrieval sessions in topic lessons and because Jack, John and Margaret can tell me 6 habitats, I mentally tick off in my head ‘ We’ve nailed that’ as a class. I wouldn’t do that in maths or English so shouldn’t do it in topic work. The final thing I felt was paramount was to share with the children the reasoning why I am doing it and how it will help them so knew I wanted to share the language of cognitive science with them.

So began the new academic year. Maths. Lesson one. I started with 3 questions under the heading ‘something I did last year’. My fresh-eyed eager new year 5s looked at me with disdain and I could see a mixture of puzzlement, frowns and the odd ‘huh’ comment. Then one child put her hand up and in her politest voice said ‘Miss Eccles, we’re in Year 5 now, We did this last year.’ I smiled to myself and said ‘I know, I’m just doing an experiment’ and the children settled down to answer the work. When we marked together, more than half had gotten 1 or 2 questions wrong and this is where I could step in with my spiel about long term memory, retrieval and cognitive science. I haven’t had a single child question why we are looking at historic learning ever since.

I have found the key to effective retrieval is mixing it up a bit and doing it in a variety of ways. The easiest way to deliver retrieval practice is through little tests. You can identify gaps and see which children really need more help. Interestingly I found some of my able mathematicians were not able to recall old knowledge. The power here was that the child could identify that and it made them more determined to improve and have active ownership over their education. Much to my shock, the children adored low stakes testing. It isn’t threatening. Is just a few key questions, and because it is delivered in a ‘high challenge low threat’ environment they relish it and have that ‘yaaaaaassssssssss’ hiss buzz around the room when they mark their work. They understand why it is important, how it will benefit them and see the tests as completely normal.

The maths daily retrieval has become a bit of a game. I don’t premake the questions. I do it there and then under the visualiser with the children. Have a running dialogue with them.. ‘What shall I pick from Year 4’… When they cry out ‘NOOOO’ to a suggestion I tell them ‘I’m now 100% going to give you that juicy one because if we can’t pull it out of our memory today, we will by the end of the week.’ High challenge low threat. When marking, I silently show the children my thought processes and how I work the problem out, and I now have children beg to come out and be ‘silent teacher’ to do the same. The retrieval practice has become so much more. It has become engrained, inclusive and an exciting component of the lesson, that not only secures the knowledge, it allows the children to become peer mentors and their confidence and self-belief to soar.  I do find it ever so slightly disconcerting seeing my mannerisms spookily acted out by the children and sit there thinking ‘is that really what I do!’ The power of modelling personified.

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As mentioned earlier, I do like to mix up retrieval and find dual coding vocabulary helps the children remember the words, as does drama play around that word and matching images through games. These are all useful exercises. Those oral sessions where you ask questions can still be used but it imperative to ensure all children are answering, which can be achieved by simply giving them all a white board to record their responses on.

Another excellent retrieval exercise that works well is holding a celebration of the learning at the end of the topic, where all their books are put out and they walk around and share and discuss everything they have done. The buzz and bubble of excitement is tangible but ultimately the conversations you can hear are around the knowledge they have acquired. The ultimate retrieval demonstration is the class assembly where knowledge is visible and transparent to parents and peers. A sure sign the knowledge has been retained when it can come out under pressure.

Adopting this approach to retrieval practice has completely changed my teaching and ‘we did this last year’ is a moment I won’t forget. IMG_6878.jpg

My teacher is a presentation pest

I have a saying I use daily in my class, which I teach them from the second they enter after the long summer break. ‘Miss Eccles is a presentation pest.’ I say to the children ‘I am a presentation’… and then instantly they shout PEST.

It sounds like a ridiculously small thing to get hung up over in the grand scheme of what we need to do as teachers, but I have personally found it has always served to filter into everything they do.

I don’t do it for book scrutinies from SLT. I don’t do it because Ofsted might be looming. I do it because I fully believe that taking pride and care in the appearance of work is directly linked to the quality of the content of the work produced. If you care enough to ensure your work is well presented, you care enough about the content you are putting down in words.

I use art as the biggest drive for this. I admit this is not probably applicable to secondary teaching (although I would be whipping out the watercolours if I was in KS3) but it comes back to hooking a child into learning. I teach the skills in art I wish to promote in that subject all year and use that to inspire them to replicate that joy and excitement in other areas.

I can’t say I have research surrounding it. I don’t profess to say this is something that will work for all settings. I just know that when I ensure I use the ARTs to inspire and have high expectations of presentation, the quality of the written work produced becomes significantly better.

The children won’t take second best on word choice. Art is the one true subject where there is no ‘black and white’ right or wrong. They produced a piece of art that knocks the ball out of the park so they want the vocabulary and sentence composition they use to equally match. Who wants perfect eyebrows but will settle for smudged lipstick?

We are there to deliver knowledge and ensure they retain that knowledge to become the best they can be. But do we need to separate that from a creative experience? I appreciate the arguments around ‘doing’ lessons and how actually they will focus on the activity not the content but if you manage the two together, with effective retrieval, you are onto a winner. You are filling their emotional bucket with joy, building pride and self worth and ensuring curriculum content is retained.

Research Ed Reflections

Having attended #rEdRugby last June, I naively thought I was slightly more prepared in what to expect at the National Conference, but nothing prepared me for the volume of people, when entering the building. There is something truly inspiring in seeing so many teachers gathered in one place, on a Saturday, for one reason only: to be the best they can. It was refreshing to see a mix of people, who crop up on my timeline, with wide and varied opinions in education, coming together in one place. Everyone welcome and valued.

Entering the Sports Hall was like emerging into a festival you had won a golden ticket to. The buzz and excitement reverberated off the walls and in all honesty, it was quite overwhelming. Being a primary school teacher, I naturally did what comes second nature and sat on the floor at the front, although I did draw the line at sitting cross-legged. The introduction from both Dan Moynihan and Tom Bennett served to settle nerves, build excitement and allow us the opportunity to realise the unique position we were all in. To quote Tom and his Game of Thrones reference, ‘When you arrive this morning you will be like John Snow and know nothing… hopefully when you leave you will be able to say that’s what I do, I drink and know things.’ Hopefully he was referencing the tea and coffee in the entrance hall.

These are a a few of my highlights from the day. Obviously they won’t be in any near enough detail to do them any justice.

Session One

I had agonised over this slot the entire train journey down, as whether to see Tarjinda Gill @Teach_well or Jennifer Buckingham @buckinham_j and felt Tarjinda Gill would give me practical and relatable ideas I could take back to school and implement into my teaching practice.

I felt nervous walking into a session alone, but was greeted with a big hug from Tarjinda as soon as I entered the room and her welcoming nature made me feel truly comfortable. She began by explaining the curriculum rationale from her setting that focuses on high leverage tasks (with a knowledge focus), assessing the growing domain of knowledge, building on that and a progression model that is visible in pupil’s books.

It was interesting to note that she advocates going straight into a teaching task over pre-assessment of ‘what do you already know.’

There were elements that I personally would rather have more autonomy over, such as the books I select within my classroom, but can fully appreciate the rationale behind the decision. Exposing children to archaic language and key texts that build on each other is equally important to me as exposure to modern, newly published books I have fallen in love with with.

Take home message was stripping things right back to the basics. Over-load of exposure to a multitude of text types, before the basics of handwriting, spelling, and sentence composition have been mastered, is counter intuitive.

I also really liked the idea of using ‘5 words to spell’ from a previous year group, alongside 5 new ones, provides ‘lovely big gaps in retrieval’ as promoted by @EnserMark (which I will discuss later.)

Session Two

I was equally torn who to see in this slot (which was a running theme of the day) but having been a huge fan of @huntingenglish for so long, I couldn’t let the opportunity to hear Alex speak pass me by.

As I expected, he spoke with clarity, vision, reflection and interestingly, huge humility.

Curriculum has been like a tsunami on my time line for a while now and it was surprising to see someone not presenting a magic bullet but instead exposing themselves publicly about the mistakes they have made in curriculum design.

Alex proceeded to explain the mistakes he made over this. No ego in the room. The take home messages included:

1) Lack of collaboration and co-construction stops a shared long term belief and vision.

2) An inability of consistent implementation often caused through through lack of support and the sustainability of that support when circumstances change.

3) The lack of ability to dedicate time to discuss reasonings about why and how.

4) Curriculum nonalignment.

5) Pupil’s reading ability and the challenge of accessing academic texts.

6) Enduring myths and high accountability.

Session Three

I will openly admit that the teaching of mathematics is the area I always want to develop in and it was an easy decision to chose @Mr_AlmondED for my final slot before lunch. With my brain buzzing and full of the ideas from the previous talks, it was very welcoming to hear the measured, calm approach to presenting Neil took in his delivery.

He began (like Alex) by showing humility and admitting the mistakes he had made within teaching and how cognitive science revolutionised his thinking and approach to pedagogy. Managing and reducing cognitive overload is at the fore front of Neil’s teaching and it was nice to have a quick recap on this area, particularly if it something relatively new to your teaching model.

I am very aware I won’t be able to do justice to the talk as it was scaffolded with excellent visuals that exemplified his points, but Neil succinctly talked us through the structuring of his mathematical model. Beginning with multiple choice questioning that (like Tarjinda discussed with her approach to spelling) testing new learning and old learning, often from the year group below. He discussed the research surrounding pre-testing and how actually sitting a cold test before study and instruction significantly improves the end outcome.

He then moved on to the the F word. Fluency. The importance of absolutely cementing fluency before moving into reasoning and problem solving; using the Rosenshine model of getting children to reflect on learning this week, last month, last term.

He then moved on to his delivery of new content and I loved the idea of ‘silent teacher’ to reduce cognitive overload, something I do without thinking in my literacy lessons but simply not thought of to use in mathematics- face palm. The whole process is explicitly scaffolded and opportunity to watch and engage equally balanced, finishing with diagnostic questioning. A fabulous talk and gave me lots to think about.

The Golden Panel

The golden panel consisted of @huntingenglish @Tom_Needham_ @buckingham_j @ThinkReadTweet and was hosted by @HoratioSpeaks.

James Murphy presented specific questions to panel members and eloquently summarised their answers into a pithy sound bite. I was actually so mesmerised by the speakers I didn’t write down many notes (again I won’t be doing the speakers justice) but things I scribbled down that have stuck with me include the following:

Alex- ‘Vocabulary teaching isn’t separate to curriculum and is the fabric of subject domains.’ It was really important to hear how vocabulary cannot be taught in subject isolation and exposure to meaning in a maths lesson of a word has a completely different meaning in a history lesson and a wider understanding of that is needed.

Tom- ‘Teaching through examples and structured sequences with foundations are the building blocks of fluency.’ I am actually massively annoyed I didn’t get to hear Tom present and I hope very much he is on the list to speak at #rEdnorthampton so I can hear more on what he has to say.

Diane- ‘Don’t put a ceiling on what children can do. An inability to read isn’t a sign of lacking intelligence.’ I actually was incredibly inspired by Diane and the staggering work she has done around supporting children in reading. I particularly liked how she noted that just because a child might not get a GCSE, isn’t a reason not to invest time and energy. By supporting a child to read, you are enabling them to live in society and function in a word rich world.

Jennifer- ‘All teachers should have a strong knowledge of decoding.’ Jennifer shone a spot light on teacher training and how not enough focus is given on equipping teachers with the knowledge of how to teach reading. In primary, teachers will have a secure knowledge in decoding and strategies surrounding how to support children with reading. It was interesting that within the secondary sector, that isn’t given as much time, training and support with. A science or history teacher needs as much understanding of why a child can’t read their text book as an infant teacher navigating a 4 year old through phonics. She also discussed the role Primary year 6 teachers have in equipping children with vocabulary needed to cope with transition into secondary education.

Ending with an Enser

The highlight of the day for me was listening to @EnserMark discuss interweaving within the curriculum. With a powerhouse speaking style, that slam dunked his first words out with a mic drop, Mark meant business. He regaled us with stories how in the past, lessons that focused on ‘doing’ and evoking episodic memories (such as teaching geography lessons using cake) are now shown to be a waste of time in cementing knowledge. (This may not be as straight forward as this in light of the blog dropped by Paul Moss @EDmerger earlier today but that is an aside.)

He then moved on to discuss interleaving, something entirely new to me. Using two things side by side to draw out differences. It was something I felt I wanted to read up on more and found this quote which was helpful in securing my understanding:

‘Interleaving refers to the benefits of sequencing learning tasks so that similar items – two examples of the same concept, say – are interspersed with different types of items rather than being consecutive. This results in a more variable and challenging task but is associated with benefits in terms of memory and transfer, which apply to concept learning as well as other domains (Kang, 2016).’

Full of energy, excitement and enthusiasm, we were given the analogy of treating curriculum like the preparation of making sour dough. (Mark Lehain would be happy hear this.) When making sour dough, you keep something back to use later. So in terms of the curriculum Mark eloquently discussed the need to

Keep something back to use later. What can we take out of one topic to put into the next? What are the threads that I am weaving through my curriculum that will keep appearing elsewhere?’

He then hit us with a planning model of beauty, which unfortunately you can’t see very well in the picture below.

Take home messages from the talk include:

1) Decide your big picture; fundamental knowledge, threshold concepts and examples.

2) Think how you will structure this.. ‘to understand x they first need to understand y.’

3) Plot the schema.

4) Build this into planning with places referenced, images used, knowledge organised to scaffold, retrieval quizzes built in and assessment to pull together.

Move away from a culture of doing to a culture of learning.’

Friendship

In conclusion, if anyone is wondering if these kind of events are right for them, the only way you will know is if you attend. I enjoyed my day massively and have lots taken away to reflect on. It’s also about friendship, shared passion and meeting people you spend hours chatting with online in person. I wouldn’t be me without ending with a series of selfies. Thanks for reading if you got this far.

Music And Storytelling

A few months ago, the wonderful Tiny Owl children’s book publisher @TinyOwl_Books messaged me to ask if I would be interested in a copy of their new book, The Phoenix Of Persia by Sally Pomme Clayton and Amin Hassanzadeh Sherif to review. When it arrived, it was a visual delight for the eyes, but also presented a beautifully crafted story that would appeal to all ages. Then I discovered the magic of the musical element. Running alongside the story, you can play a musical soundtrack, that brings the story alive in a whole new way. I immediately knew I wanted to base my next unit of music around it.

Tiny Owl have put together a wonderful teaching guide, that gives a variety of ideas how to use the book, and I used their Skeleton frame work to create 4 sessions.

Session One:

Before we even opened the book, I felt it was important to give the children an understanding of the culture, backstory and context of the book, so I made a PowerPoint to highlight key features. The children particularly enjoyed seeing video clips of the various instruments used in the book and quickly were discussing their favourite new instruments and how it made them feel unprompted.

We then settled down to listen to the story. I dimmed the lights, put on fairy lights and just let the magical story play using the QR code in the front of the book. You could have heard a pin drop. They were completely mesmerised and drawn into the story in a way I haven’t seen before. I observed children moving their hands and bodies unconsciously to music and not one child spoke until it finished.

We ended the session with orally appraising and discussing the book, and where they were spell bound and silent before, they made up for it with their boundless enthusiasm to talk about what they had just heard.

Session Two:

We listened to the story again, but this time I wanted them to specifically focus on how the music made them feel. What quality did it bring to the story? How do certain instruments make them feel at key parts in the story? Again the oral discussion was significant here. To finish the session, the children chose their favourite instrument to research and explain how it made them feel.Session Three:

Session three involved exploration of Iranian rhythms using 7 beat time. This was completely out of my expertise but the power of Teacher Twitter is the community of sharing. The wonderful @andykeegan jumped to my rescue and created some excellent video tutorials for the children to follow and copy. They were able to use this to follow and then eventually created their own 7 beat rhythms. Thanks again Andy!

Session Four:

The final session involved the children creating their own musical soundtrack to accompany the story. I split the children in small groups of 3 and gave each child a page from the book. They then had to select instruments to represent the characters and provide rhythmical backdrop. When the music trolley comes out, it is like cat nip for kids and inevitably letting them just bash and crash for 5 mins is part of the joy. Once, the novelty wore off, careful focusing to keep them on task was needed.

When using the drums, I reminded them to use the 7 beat rhythms. I also reminded them of the impact haunting melodies had if using a recorder. One child in the group would read their section of the story, and the other members provide the musical accompaniment.

Once the groups were secure in their creativity and section, we made a circle and sat in order for the story. I then just allowed them to become the musical and oral storytellers. The piece flowed from group to group and was a very magical moment seeing the end result.

I have thoroughly loved using this book in our music lessons this half term and would like to thank Tiny Owl again for giving my class this opportunity.

Books Are Powerful

Using books is powerful. Let us just analyse the word powerful. What does that mean? For me a great book has the power to shape and influence a child (and adult) in many ways.

As a teacher, I am blessed to have the unique opportunity to use books to help a child reflect, analyse, challenge and access every emotion possible.

I have been very reflective this academic year about what I use in my classroom. I knew that I wanted to open the eyes of the children to things they haven’t thought about. I decided our Space topic would put Katherine Johnson at the heart of it. The children really engaged with the narrative and the discussions we had (that were not planned) were possibly some of the best I have had in my teaching career.

Using a book to be the heart of a topic has a multifaceted approach. It can excite; inspire; evoke emotion; generate discussion; challenges stereotypes; be powerful.

A good book has the potential to open up dialogue about subjects we often worry about how we tackle. The last few weeks we have been reading Vashti Hardy’s glorious Brightstorm. The discussion we have had surrounding the book have been ‘powerful’ this week. We have discussed gender and can women be leaders? Stereotypes: can a beautiful person be bad? Age: does age matter? Family dynamics: can a kingdom be run by two kings? Pacifism: is Harriet right to not carry weapons in her ship?

All the dialogue we had was generated by the children and things I never thought about they homed in on. So in conclusion, pick a book for your class that is funny and excites 100%, but if you can find one that has the added power to generate and tackle important issues in context, you are onto a winner.

Books are powerful.