Monthly Archives: September 2010

With Drama In Mind

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On Friday I went to a drama conference at The Garage in Norwich. There were teachers there from 35 Norfolk schools, as well as a few others from places like Iceland, Turkey and Norway. We are all taking part in Phase 5 of D4LC (Drama for Learning and Creativity).D4LC is a national school improvement initiative which gives teachers the chance to improve their drama teaching by working with drama specialists in the classroom, carrying out action research and networking and planning with other teachers.

I am really pleased to have been given this opportunity this year. A colleague and I are taking part, and another of my colleagues is a Leading Drama Teacher and will actually be mentoring other teachers from different schools.

We have identified reasons why we wanted this opportunity and what we hope to gain from it. Personally, I would really like to improve my drama teaching skills and do more of it! In my first 2 years of teaching, I taught drama to the whole year group in timetabled lessons and also ran an after-school drama club. However, I feel as if I have been doing less of it recently. Of course I do things like thought tracking, freeze frames, still images, conscience alley, forum theatre and things like that, but I haven’t taught a purely drama lesson for years. As one of the speakers at the conference said, “It’s like teaching football skills but never playing a match.”

So, the conference! First there was an amazing performance by Grassroots Theatre Company – really invigorating and exciting to watch! There was then an introduction by Patrice Baldwin and a keynote speech, which were both also very inspirational and got me chomping at the bit to get started!

I was lucky enough to have bagged a spot in the Grassroots workshop! It was all about exploring Fairtrade, equality and friendship. We started off by playing “Name Volleyball”. We had to introduce ourselves using big images such as “Ephson the Baboon”, “Patience the Ostrich”, “Amanda the Panda” and so on! (I picked Nikki the Writer. Not very exciting but I do like it!) Then we had to pass the ball across by shouting people’s names, and if you got it wrong you had to go in the middle and do a dance while everyone else sang a funny song!

After that we played “Coconut”. This is a stretching warm up  where you spell out the letters of the word “Coconut” with your body. You could use any word – this was a fun way to get started and I think could be used well in any drama lesson.

We then had to take on different roles. First we were 5 year olds, then 8 month old babies, then someone whose team had won the World Cup, then a child with measles, then someone who had just arrived in Zimbabwe in 45 degree heat, someone arriving in the Arctic, then a woman in Africa trying to sell a basket of fruit so that she could send her child to school – growing increasingly desperate as time went on. This was quite challenging for me but I tried my best.

After that we went into groups of 10. We were to take on the role of members of a remote African village who had decided to grow sunflowers in order to change our lives. We had to discuss what we would need and make a plan. Things like water, seeds, tools, came up, then we started to discuss other things we would need like a fence, an area of land, a way to transport water, a way to sell the sunflowers, etc. It was very interesting and thought provoking as we realised exactly what a difficult job it would be. Then our task was to create a drama showing how we put the plan into action. Each group chose a different tack to do this. Ours involved a long chain representing the distance travelled, and a funny moment where we decided we needed manure, and one member of the group became a cow while a member of Grassroots took on the role of….the manure itself and got “shovelled” by rolling along the ground towards the seed! The laughter aside, we took away a very powerful experience of how much effort is involved in a real project of this sort. I can really see how this approach could be used. For example, last year I taught a series of lessons about sweatshops using stories about people who work in these factories. I can imagine the children would have been even more engaged in this topic had they been involved in some drama of this sort and realised the reasons why people have to take on work in factories like that.

After a very nice lunch, I went to my next workshop, run by Kate Fleming (who will be my mentor this year). It was all about the life of Vincent Van Gogh, and as she explained, this is a good way to explore the life of any famous artist, composer, or anyone really!

She first took on the role of an art historian and read us a summary of Vincent’s early life until he arrived in Arles in France. Some of us then had to take turns to sit on a chair in the middle of the room while the others completely ignored us, to show the theme of rejection. I had to sit on the chair, and it was awful – trying to make eye contact only for people to look away. Very powerful.

Then we were all assigned roles. I was in the village cafe and decided to be a regular customer. Other places were the sorting office where Joseph Roulin worked, the school where Camille Roulin was a pupil, the mayor’s office and the Roulin household. We enacted our busiest time of day, then our quietest time of day to help us get into role. Kate read us Van Gogh’s own description of himself from one of his letters home. She then took on the role of Van Gogh and arrived in town, and we had to react to his arrival as she passed us. We were then each given a different copy of one of his paintings to look at and discuss in role. As our characters began to warm to Van Gogh, Kate subtly kept us on track in a negative viewpoint  by hinting that the people were not easily won over. She then toured the room again and we had to voice our thoughts about him.

We then made an improvised scene in which a member of the Roulin household came to each place (except the mayor’s office, where they were receiving complaints about him). Madame Roulin visited the cafe and we were very scornful and rude to her! We then polished our performances and improved them. Kate then became the narrator and told the story of his increasing rejection as she brought each of our scenes to life to illustrate each point.

Next we had to queue up outside the mayor’s office. The mayor’s assistant brought us in in turn and we had to explain our complaint about Vincent. This became faster and louder with each person adding to the complaints, echoing others’ complaints and discussing it amongst ourselves as our queue encircled the Roulin household.

At last the Mayor had to go into the Roulin house and confront Joseph Roulin about the complaints. We had to stand outside at first just watching but then we started to pass comment, and eventually to shout and berate them all saying they had to get rid of Vincent until at last Joseph shouted “All right!” and had to agree to the demand.

Kate then read out a short piece – “Of course, we all know how the story ends…” and explaining how he took his own life later.

Then Vincent took his last tour of the village and we expressed our feelings in role. “Good riddance. About time.” Then he finally passed the Roulin household and Madame Roulin called after him “Goodbye Vincent. I’ll never forget you…” It was very emotional and moving.

After this we were told we had new roles and we had to turn our papers over – they had been Blu-tacked to the table. On the other side were the names of art galleries! It was a nice touch that these other roles had been there right from the start yet we never knew! We were told we were in the Mayfair auction rooms and we were going to be bidding for the portraits of the family that the villagers had scorned earlier. We each got an envelope with our budget inside (we had to look up a currency converter to change it into £ first). This was secret! We had to decide which picture we would bid on and how much we would go up to. Kate told us that a recent portrait had sold for £42 million to give us an idea! We didn’t have time to do more, but in class the children would have researched their own gallery (we had the Prado in Madrid which I have actually been to which was helpful!).

The bidding war then began! We had decided to go for “The Schoolboy” and make sure we won it. After an opening bid of £2m from the Pompidou Centre, we went in with £30m and won! There was then a very exciting challenge for the 2nd picture, and in the final round it went crazy with the Pompidou striking up a deal with New York (6 months each with the portrait) to outbid the Tate!

2 amazing workshops and a lot of inspiration in one day, including an excellent display of picture books from Marilyn Brocklehurst and the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre. I am so fired up now and ready to get started! I’m going to start by booking out an hour each week in the music room (a lovely carpeted space in its own building out in the playground) for dedicated drama time. Sometimes it will be linked to the topic, sometimes a picture book or other stimulus.

Sorry this has been such a long post, but if you have read this far you will see what am amazing day I had! Writing about it here has made me realise just how much we did and reminded me how much I enjoyed it!

Refugees

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Today was absolutely excellent! The children started to troop in at the start of the day, carrying large backpacks and clutching special teddies. They were very excited!

They had some time to unpack their backpacks and see what the others on their table had brought. We had such a range – spare clothes, books, notepads, plasters, water, snacks, cards, wind-up torches, blankets – all sorts of things! In one of the other classes someone had even brought a small tent! After looking at everything they had some time to write up what they had brought and to list the things they would have liked to pack if they had had more time.

We paused then to read “Gervelie’s Story” which a girl in the class had brought in – it’s the story of a young girl who was forced to flee her country due to war and now actually lives very near to our school. The story really seemed to bring home the seriousness of the situations that people find themselves in, and some children mentioned the floods in Pakistan, and how those children won’t have the chance to go back home to collect anything they didn’t have time to pack.

Our year group is last for lunches this week, which was perfect – when they went in at 12.45, the teachers went out! We had coned off one of the playgrounds and proceeded to strew it with debris – tarpaulins, bricks, bamboo poles, string, bin liners, etc! We soon drew a crowd of children from other year groups wondering what on earth we were doing!

After a briefing in the hall, explaining that they were being taken to a place to build a shelter to stay for a few days and safety instructions, we headed for the doors – and saw it was chucking it down! Did we cancel it and decide to go in and do it in the hall instead? No way! Coats on and out we went. The children were soon hard at work building their shelters. They organised themselves into groups – we had explained that they would have to make sure that not only they were safe and sheltered, but that everyone in the year group had to be too – all 100 of them! So they really helped each other out, taking people into their groups and lending a hand. We even saw some trading going on! Gaffer tape being exchanged for bricks!

 

The children who had brought the tent were ready very quickly – they popped it up and spent the rest of the time playing cards inside! Others were ready quickly, unpacked their food supplies and settled down with a good book. A few had trouble right til the end but everyone managed to build something they could use. Every now and then, “Food Aid” arrived – a TA with a bag of cards with pictures of beans and water bottles on them. The children had to keep an eye out for her and go to fetch supplies when she arrived so they could make sure they had food and water for a few days.

It was fantastic!

Afterwards we went indoors and the children changed into dry clothes. We then had a chat about it and gave prizes for the best shelters and for those who had stocked up well on supplies. This was the time for the serious message about those people who are living through this situation for real. I really think this was a great way of getting that message across to the children.

Final thoughts on it all: “Who had fun?” EVERYONE’S hand went up!

“Why did we make you do it in the rain?” Child: “Because in real life you can’t choose the weather – in Pakistan it is flooding so it definitely would be wet for them.”

Edit: 17/7/11 This activity took place right at the start of the year, and yet the children are still talking about it now and it is remembered as a highlight of the year. Definitely an activity worth doing if you are covering any topics relating to migration or refugees – a real learning experience.

Trading Day

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Had a really good lesson this afternoon so thought I’d share! It was my colleague who came up with it so I don’t take credit for the idea by any means, but I had a lot of fun teaching it!

The children were organised into 5 groups (I did this with the Virtual Hat). Their tables were totally cleared. Each group was given a folder and clear instructions.

“You can only use the equipment on your tables. You get 1 counter for making a white square with sides 5.5cm by 5.5cm. You get 2 counters for making a coloured circle with diameter 7cm. You must work in your groups.”

However, when they opened the folders, some of them only had scissors, compasses and counters, others had paper but no scissors or pencils. Oh no! At first they didn’t know what to do. They told me they didn’t have what they needed. I said “Oh no, what are you going to do?!” They tried creative techniques – drawing with a compass point, scoring with scissors, etc. Then eventually one person said “Can we get things from other people’s tables?” “I said “If they let you!”

So it began! At first the groups were very kind – giving away their things for free to the other groups. Then they realised that they would have to trade! I was very strict as well – a square with one 5.4cm side? No counters! It was a very exciting lesson and the children really enjoyed it. I think it also taught them a lot about trading and the value of things – towards the end of the lesson, paper was in short supply and people were prepared to swap a few counters for a sheet of paper, so we talked about how this is reflected in real life when things are scarce and their value rises.

All in all, it was a great end to the day. In the last five minutes, I gave out the envelopes with TOP SECRET – DO NOT OPEN UNTIL THURSDAY MORNING stamped on them for tomorrow’s activity – the children are TOTALLY intrigued and excited!

Exciting day ahead…shhhhhh!

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We have got a very exciting day planned for the children this week! Think it is going to happen on Wednesday or Thursday depending on schedules. It is top secret until the day itself!

Our new Creative Curriculum topic is called “People on the Move” and it’s all about migration and refugees. The night before the event, we are sending home a sealed envelope with strict instructions on it – it is not to be opened until the next morning, 5 minutes before they would usually leave the house.

When they open the letter, it tells them that they are going to be “evacuated” from their home and must pack a bag immediately. The parents are not to help them choose what to take. They then come to school with their bag. We may tip over a few tables so the classroom looks a bit of a mess. They show each other what they have brought and will write down what they wish they had brought if only they had had more time.

After this, we take them into the playground where there will be a big pile of bricks, tarpaulins, sheets, poles, etc. They imagine they have arrived here and have to build a shelter that they will stay in. They have to organise their groups however they want. They should soon realise they need a few people together to help them build but too many and they will not be able to build a shelter big enough!

It sounds really exciting and I think it should be a fun entry point into a very interesting topic.  We also have some poets coming into school to work with us in a few weeks to talk about refugees who came to Norwich and help to develop the children’s ideas and understanding.

Creative Writing club

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Last week I sent out letters to children who might be interested in joining my Creative Writing Club. I ran a very successful club last year open to Year 5, and decided that this year I would do 2 sessions per week and open it up to Year 5 and 6 so that the children who had attended last year could keep coming, as well as my new Year 5s. I printed 10 letters per class, thinking that that would be enough. Well, it wasn’t!

We have 17 computers in our ICT suite so that meant there were 34 spaces available. I also said that children could work with partners if they wished as several people last year enjoyed having a co-writer and that would also mean more people could be accommodated. However, I was totally unprepared for the enthusiastic response I received! I was able to give places to about 40 children, but had to say no to another 30! That’s over a third of the children who want to be in the club! How brilliant! The great thing is that it isn’t just girls and it isn’t just high achievers – I have a lot of boys and a real range of abilities who will be attending. I have also said that anyone who didn’t get a place this time will definitely get a place in the Spring term.

I run the writing club based on the Young Writers’ Programme from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s a fantastic scheme! The original adult version of NaNoWriMo involves writing a complete novel (50,000 words) in a month (November!). I know it can be done because I did it myself last year! Yes, as well as full time teaching and the normal home responsibilities I also put aside an hour or so of writing time every night and wrote an average of 1,666 words per day. In fact, near the end I was writing about 4000-6000 words a night because I just got so excited! This is the sort of enthusiasm about writing that the event produces!

At Writing Club, we spent the first session thinking about our plans for our novels. The YWP produces an excellent workbook and I used a few pages out of it about creating interesting characters. We also had a good chat about conflict and how it drives a story. The children are used to having one lesson for most of their writing, 40 minutes, if that. The longest I think I have ever given for a piece is about 3 lessons. Writing Club, at 30 minutes a week, gives them up to 7 hours of writing time! So they need a good plan with plenty of conflict to stop their characters getting to their goals too quickly!

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that everyone who completes their novel within the month gets a free copy of their book professionally printed from CreateSpace! I signed up as an educator on their website and got an email after the event asking how many students had completed their novels. They then gave me a free code for every child! The printed books are fantastic quality and have become prized possessions for the children. Grandparents and other relatives have asked for copies of the books too! At current exchange rates, it costs about £5 for each extra book including postage – not bad at all for such a precious item! Parents can set up an account on CreateSpace for the children’s books, or you can do it yourself (with parental permission).

I’m really looking forward to getting started on the club next week! I love to see children so happy and motivated to write!

What a great week!

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I’ve had a really great week – perhaps one of the best in my career – so that bodes really well for the rest of the year!

The class have continued to be fantastic – really hard workers and very keen to learn. We’ve had a lot of fun lessons including…
using straws to blow paint blobs to create a network of neurons in paint
using kinaesthetic activities to remember the names of parts of neurons
making up and singing “drill-style” marching songs for the 2 times table
working in groups to solve maths puzzles
silent maths and “multiplying fingers”
colour-coding and labelling pictures of the brain
creating storyboards of The Piano
children writing lesson plans then teaching each other skills in pairs

I’ve also been able to use some web 2.0 tools!
Tagxedo so each child could make a word cloud about themselves
Slideroll to make these into a slideshow for our blog
Wallwisher for sharing research about the brain
Google forms for creating lesson reviews

The lesson reviews are still going strong. After each lesson the laptop is set up with the form ready and early finishers come and do a review. It’s been so popular I’ve had to put out a mini whiteboard so they can sign up to do a review! Some children have even done them at home. So far I haven’t had a “no” to the “Did you enjoy that lesson?” question. Phew!

It’s been very interesting reading after each lesson. I’m finding a lot out about children’s learning preferences. Some enjoy writing, some like drawing and others enjoy discussing their ideas. Shows the importance of having a variety of approaches available where possible.

Following on from The Piano, I was asked if they are going to be able to make their own film. I hadn’t originally planned for this, but logically it does seem to follow – they study film structure and then make their own film using the techniques they’ve learnt. So I am going to add on an extra week on the topic and they can make and edit their own short film! I like having a bit of wiggle room in planning so we can follow the children’s interests! 🙂

Wednesday was my presentation on Talk for Writing! It went really well! Here you can see the Prezi I used: https://prezi.com/secure/b3d1bd03f899a06f928377f3f02850072126f5d2/

I also showed these videos – at the “Book-talk” and “Writing as a reader” points respectively.
http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/156176

http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/155803

I was really pleased with how it went. Everyone joined in at the right points and seemed very interested. I presented it all as something that can be easily fitted in to everyday practice – which it can be! If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of Talk For Writing, you simply must try it – the effect it has on children’s writing is just astounding! The video of “Box of Stars” is the best introduction to it. It shows how you can enhance writing by pushing for good vocabulary and sentence structure. I use it all the time in shared writing, and the children go on to use it when they’re writing independently. We use the phrases: “The first word is not always the best word” and “Think it – Say it – Like it – Write it!” I also encourage Magpie-ing of great vocabulary and ideas!

Another really good thing that happened this week was when I went to see the head and she said how impressed she was with my work this week – she said she could see a huge increase in my confidence this year. Now I put this down to a few things – one, my class this year are so lovely and have been taught so well last year that teaching them is amazing and fun! Two, my new boots! I’m making an effort to dress more smartly and I think that has helped me feel more confident. And three, all the CPD I have been doing on Twitter this summer! I’m convinced that sharing ideas day-to-day and particularly in ukedchat, and the giving and receiving of good advice, has really boosted my confidence. I definitely feel a lot better in myself this year. It’s really nice because this job can really wear you down and I’ve had a few tough years recently, but I now feel positive, enthused, inspired and excited about teaching all over again! So a big thank you to everyone in my PLN for helping to get me to this point! 🙂

Children assessing learning

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I have had a really brilliant day today. My new class are absolutely lovely – they listen carefully, follow instructions well and are kind to each other. It’s not just first day honeymoon either – all their previous teachers have said what a great class they are. The great thing about this is that we will get to do lots of fun things. For example, today I did brain gym because I knew that we could do it, enjoy it and then get back on with our work without any silliness or fuss.

So I have already tried out a few things! Today in our ICT we did some research and put our results on a Wallwisher.The children really loved it! Here is their work: http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/thebrain

After the lesson I asked them to fill in a learning review. I got the idea from Tom Barrett here: http://edte.ch/blog/2008/08/23/10-google-forms-for-the-classroom/ It’s idea 10.

The results were very interesting! It showed me that the children had really enjoyed the lesson, but a few of them would have preferred to use Textease to present their findings. Some of them were frustrated that they hadn’t found the answers to their questions, so I know to follow that up to help them find what they’re looking for. Many of them said they had put in 100% effort and were very confident, a few were less confident, and assessment of the challenge of the lesson ranged from an easy 2 to a moderately challenging 6.

I’m going to have the form open on a classroom computer after each lesson so that early finishers can go over and add their thoughts. It’ll also be available on the blog so that they can add their thoughts from home or at a later date. I hope it will give me very useful data!