Monthly Archives: October 2010

Writing Teachers

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Having mentioned Writing Teachers on my last post, I was asked to tell more, so here goes!

Writing Teachers is held once a month at the education building at the UEA (where I did my PGCE). It’s run by Jeni Smith, one of the PGCE tutors, who is passionate about teaching writing! I always loved her lectures and workshops when I was doing the course, so when I heard she was running the “Writing Teachers” group I jumped at the chance to attend!

The first session was held last month. There were about 15 of us and we were given several different prompts to work on. EG: Write 5 words that you really like – maybe they mean something to you, or are special, or you like the sound of. (Mine were: myriad, immiscible, Styrofoam, estrella and incendescent)  Write a poem in praise of something that doesn’t usually get recognition. (I did the pampas grass outside my house. And coffee. I love coffee!) Write about yourself as a writer. Write a sentence that reminds you of some of the stories you tell in your life.

We then had time to write silently before we shared our work with others (if we wanted to).

I found it a really valuable experience and it actually got me writing again after a very difficult 10 months in which I had done hardly any regular writing – maybe 8000 words in the whole year, apart from editing. Since I attended the group I have written 10,000 words in just a few weeks. Having the prompts to work from and the support of the others in the group seems to have got the words flowing again!

The group is great because it is all about being open, writing together, letting ideas come, and there is also time to reflect on writing and what it means to write. It’s great to be put in the position of the writers in our classes and to see things from the other side of the fence, so to speak!

I’m really looking forward to the next session. I’ve also got my poetry course, Well Versed, beginning on Thursday, and will blog about that afterwards too. I really am feeling extremely literary at the moment!

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What a tiring week!

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This week has been one of the most exhausting I can remember for a very long time!

Had Parents’ Evenings on Monday and Thursday, 3.30-6.00 both times. It was lovely actually, the parents were very nice, the children all seem really happy and I got a lot of positive comments about the blog! One comment that stood out to me was “It’s changing the way she talks about her learning.” This is really important to me – helping children share their learning with their parents and allowing them to talk together about what goes on in school. As a parent myself I know how easy it is to feel locked out of what goes on in the classroom and I really want to help the parents know more about what we’re doing, and to let the children feel proud of their achievements.

On Tuesday I was at an RE meeting and have volunteered to help write the new agreed syllabus! That’s going to be a big job I think!

Wednesday was drama – we planned a session as part of a group based on the book “A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts” (yes, there were a few jokes!). It was a productive session and interesting to see how our thoughts developed and what the focus became. The downside was I was so tired I had to down several cups of coffee to wake me up and then may have become a bit hyper!

Today has been one of my highlights of the school year, the Country Show. This is a school tradition in which children are given categories to choose from such as “Your favourite country in a shoe box”, “Halloween eggs”, “Poem about bonfires”, “Bad taste biscuits” or “Fruit and vegetable aliens” and they then have to make something creative and crafty. They bring them to school on Friday evening/Saturday morning, PTA and governors judge them and write each child comments (often involving puns, especially on the eggs and the vegetable items!), and every child gets a certificate with the best entries receiving a special certificate as well. It’s so great to see what the children come up with – they are incredibly imaginative and come up with things that I would never think of! On the Saturday afternoon everyone can come to see all the creations on display and there is also a tombola, car boot sale etc. It’s a lovely whole school/community event.

Here are a few pics from the day:

I’m going to have as relaxing a day tomorrow as I possibly can. Got a few books to mark, couple of lessons to plan and some novel to write but trying to conserve energy for next week! Got another Parents’ Evening from 4-7 Monday, Writing Teachers on Wednesday and my poetry course Thursday. Mainly fun things but still another very busy week! Thank goodness after that is half term! (and my birthday!)

Book Week thoughts

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This week has been “International Book Week” at school. It has been a VERY busy week! In fact, I’ve been a little worried about it as I’m so tired already and I have an even busier week coming up next week (with 2 Parents’ Evenings, an RE co-ordinator meeting and a D4LC meeting). I think I’ll need to get very early nights!

It’s been a fun week, though. We’ve had so many different activities!

1) We took the books that the children had written down to our feeder infant school. The children went in groups of 10 so that the whole school was read to by Year 5s. It was fantastic!  Our children really enjoyed it, and so did the Year R-2s that they read to! I was then able to photograph and upload photos of all the books to our blog, which, despite taking up all 2 hours of my PPA pretty much, was well worth it! I’ve had some fantastic feedback from both parents and kids. It’s really nice for them to be able to share their work with their parents through the year, rather than only at parents’ evening, open evening or when the books come home at the end of the year.

2) All the teachers and teaching assistants read a book aloud for half an hour and children could choose which book they wanted to hear. I read “Love That Dog” by Sharon Creech (which went down really well, especially the “Apple” poem – if you’ve read the book you’ll know why!). I did nearly start crying near the end as it always makes me choke up but I did manage to hold it together! What was even better was that the children came back really buzzing about the books they’d heard, and when we went to the library afterwards one boy was delighted to find “Holes” there and is now reading the whole book himself!

3) A performance poet came to visit us on Wednesday. He was very good! He was great at keeping the kids engaged (for an hour!) and had a mixture of funny poems and ones to make them think. In one poem called “Shoot the Poet” he actually tipped his chair sideways and fell onto the floor at the end! He encouraged everyone to use personification and the children went on to write some really great poems afterwards.  eg “I am tree. My branches are swords.”

4) We had a visit from the Norfolk Writers Centre – a writer and a refugee from the Refugee Council came to our school together and did workshops with 5 different classes. We found out all about his difficulties in his home country and how and why he came to live in the UK. It was great for the children to be able to hear this firsthand story. They also did an excellent activity – the children had to write down 5 things they would take with them if they had to flee – but it was a magic suitcase so they could be astract things like the view from a window, or pets or family members. The drawback was that when they got to the next country, they had to swap the first thing on their list for food and water! Cue lots of howls of “I have to give up my hamster!” or “I have to give them my whole house!” but the children soon realised that what was a fun exercise on paper for them was a reality for millions of people. They are coming back to visit us again in November – I’m really looking forward to it!

5) We did a class reading swap where half the children in my class swapped with half the children in a Y3 class and read to each other. It was lovely!

6) We had a scriptwriting workshop. The children really got into it and wrote some fun scripts about imaginary cafes such as “Dracula’s Deadly Diner” or “Insect Sushi Bar”. I saw some previously hidden drama talents, particularly in one girl who had to swap between a normal character and a nasty dinner lady as she had to have two roles in their drama – the difference between the two personas was striking!

7) Another year 5 class put on a fantastic class assembly based on “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” – except that this was the low budget version so it was “The Cat, The White Goblin and the Bedside Cabinet”. It was hilarious!

All in all, it was a very fun and valuable week but I am now left with rather a lot of science, Creative Curriculum and literacy to fit into the last 2 weeks of term! It’s going to be all go I think!

Maths groups – enriching learning

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We are trying a new way of working in maths this year. For the past 4 years, we have been teaching in sets – a large top set, slightly smaller second set, small (25ish) 3rd set and very small (10-15) bottom set. While this has produced excellent results for the high achievers, it has not been quite as successful for those near the bottom of the top set (who maybe lack confidence as they feel overshadowed by high flyers?) or for those further down the sets. Our Maths co-ordinator is currently doing the MaST training and has been doing a lot of reseach in this area, so we are now trying a new approach. At first I wasn’t sure, but the research won me over and I’m glad it did!

Here’s how it works: we are still teaching in sets – 3rd and 4th set are the same, but we now have two parallel top/second sets (I teach one of these). This is in Year 5, so the ability range is approximately 3b-4a. I am seating the children in mixed ability 4s, enabling the top achievers to act as “mentors” in a way for the children working at 3b-3a. This is for 3 days a week, when we teach skills and methods. For the other two days a week, we do problem solving and mental maths methods in our usual classes (ability range about 2c-4a).

The problems we choose are from the NRich website (which I think every teacher of maths should know about!). They are rich problems which require lots of thinking, talking and collaborative work. The children are in mixed ability 4s again, and each person in the group has a role. These roles rotate each week so the children all take turns in each position.

Facilitator – makes sure everyone is on task. Keeps things moving.

Understanding co-ordinator – checks everyone understands what is going on. Asks questions to make sure everyone is clear about the methods used.

Resource manager – responsible for fetching equipment and asking questions of the teacher. Nothing is provided to the children – if they think they need whiteboards, calculators, compasses, cubes, they have to get them!

Reporter/Recorder – keeps track of the group’s thinking and working out and feeds back at the end.

We repeatedly tell the children in these sessions that it is not just about finding the right answer – it is about the journey that you take and the maths you use to get there, and making sure everyone gets there together. It has been really great, especially for the lower ability children, who would not usually be able to access this kind of material but are able to join in and contribute in this kind of supportive environment. Research has shown that when children have experience of working in this kind of way, they are more resilient and are more likely to have a go at questions. Often in tests, lower ability children can be so daunted they will not even attempt questions – this approach aims to give them that confidence they need to just try their best.

I really enjoy these sessions – they are my favourite maths lessons of the week! I think the children really like them too. I am hopeful that our end of term tests/APP will reflect the great work that has been going on in class!