Category Archives: Thoughts

Writing Club update

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Today I put out a sign-up sheet for my writing club and was amazed and delighted to have 103 children sign up to take part this year!!! It has grown and grown, from 40 kids the first year I ran it, to 60 last year and now 103 this year! The great thing is that there are pretty much equal numbers of girls and boys and also quite an even split between years 5 and 6.

The only trouble is that there are only 18 computers in the ICT suite. Several people are going to pair up and work together, but there still wasn’t enough room for everyone in 3 sessions a week. I asked the Head if I could do an extra session, but she quite rightly said that I might burn out if I try to take on too much and that 3 lunchtimes a week was quite enough with everything else I have to do too! So I have decided I will split them into 2 groups and children will come every other week rather than every week. That way, everyone gets to take part without it overwhelming all my lunch breaks. The children will be able to work on their novels in between sessions and I have advised them to bring a USB stick or to learn their email address so they can use google docs or email their book to themself.

I’m so happy that so many children are joining the club – I never thought it would become so popular. Can’t wait to get going on Monday!

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Say hello to the new Drama Co-ordinator!

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Found out today that I am going to be the new Drama Leader in school, as well as continuing to co-ordinate RE! I am very excited about this new opportunity! I’m hoping to be able to help everyone to integrate drama seamlessly into their planning and share lots of ideas so that they feel really confident and happy about using it in class.

I have already started off by arranging for two drama teachers from Australia to come in to school to see how we use drama in education in the UK. To be fair I had already organised that before I knew I had been given this responsibility – it’s like it was meant to be 🙂

I’ve also completely revamped our RE planning using the Cambridge scheme linked to by @theotheralig. Everyone was really pleased and happy to be given the chance to change things up a bit – our old plans were getting a bit stale so this has come at a great time for everyone.

We had a good day today overall. Lots of information was given out in the mornings and we had some good discussion about how we do spellings, homework and what “outstanding” teaching looks like. At lunchtime we had a shared lunch where everyone had brought in something to share such as quiche, couscous salad, cheese, bread, tabbouleh, cookies and cakes. It was delicious and really nice to catch up with everyone!

I was starting to feel a bit frazzled by the end of the afternoon with all of the things we need to remember to talk to the children about, routines, plans and everything else. Feeling a lot more ready now though, I just need to write everything down in a list to make sure I don’t forget anything! Looking forward to seeing the new class tomorrow!

New year – new challenges!

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Time to set targets for the upcoming year!

1. Go through threshold

I’m due to go onto the upper pay scale this year, so I want to make sure I have checked out all the paperwork thoroughly and fulfil all the criteria. A striaghtforward goal but important!

2. Improve organisation

I want to work really hard on improving my personal organisation this year. This means having a level of filing and paperwork that I would describe as “Ofsted Ready”! We are expecting them this year so I want to make sure I am totally on top of things. Even if it wasn’t for Ofsted, I would want to get this sorted anyway! I have developed a great system at home – when post comes in, it comes to the kitchen table to be opened. All the junk goes straight in the recycling bin, things to be actioned go on the pin board, and I have a hole punch and lever arch file with section dividers in the kitchen right by the table so that important paperwork gets filed immediately. This has been a revolution – saving me lots of time hunting for paperwork and also getting rid of the old towering intray I used to have. I want to set up similar systems in school – so that planning, assessment, absence notes, APP, anything I might need to file has a definite place to be and goes there straight away.

3. Be a good _____ co-ordinator

Still waiting to hear which co-ordinator post/s I have been allocated, but I intend to work really hard on doing a great job with these!

4. Continue to integrate ICT and drama across curriculum

I want to continue with the work I started last year, making sure I don’t get complacent and am always looking to make good use of drama and ICT. We have already written a new topic called “PROGRAMMING” into our ICT curriculum map for the year, which will be great! I also want to introduce other staff to ideas that they can use so that they can see the effect it can have on learning too. I am hoping to possibly persuade one or two to have their own blog and maybe even Quadblog by the end of the year! This autumn I am in a quad that includes schools across the UK and also in Australia, I’m really looking forward to connecting with them!

5. Maths teaching

I am having a complete change in focus with my maths teaching this year. I will be teaching the small group (about 15) of lower ability children for 3 days a week, then teaching the same children combined with the 3rd set on the 4th day of the week, with the final day being class maths. This will be a new challenge for me, as for the past 5 years I have always taught either the 1st or 2nd set, which is a completely different way of working. I will have to do lots of research and find great resources. I am looking forward to hopefully building their confidence in maths and helping them to succeed!

6. ‘Big writing’

We have decided to try to take on some of the Big Writing principles in school. We are going to teach literacy units as normal, then plan in opportunities during our Creative Curriculum time to use these skills in a piece of cross-curricular writing. For example, we are beginning the year with “Significant Children’s Authors – Michael Morpurgo”, so next half term when we study migration I might ask the children to write a story about someone who was forced to leave their home, writing in the style of Michael Morpurgo. Of course I’ve used literacy skills across the curriculum in previous years, but not in such a structured and deliberate way. I’m hoping this will be great for enabling the children to revisit topics and embed their understanding of the different genres, in a way that is hopefully interesting and relevant.

7. Self-directed learning

This was working brilliantly towards the end of last year, so I want to make sure I introduce this right from the start of this year. This is where children set themselves a target of something they would like to improve, and work towards this in specific scheduled time or whenever theyhave completed their class work early. I look forward to seeing what impact this has!

Those are my main targets for the year ahead – I’m also keen to run a few more extra-curricular clubs – I have Creative Writing Club, which will of course continue, and the newspaper club, which is going completely online this year. I would also like to run a Scratch club and maybe even offer Latin! I’m going to wait and see how my workload is first though and make sure I have the time and energy to do them justice.

Looking forward to a great year ahead!

NaNoWriMo – creative writing for kids!

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I mentioned earlier on Twitter that I had finally ordered the last few of my writing club’s novels and a few people asked me to explain more about this, so I thought I would blog it!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s been going for over ten years and I have been involved with it for 2 years. For adults, the challenge is to write a 50,000 word book in a month (specifically, November). It’s a great challenge because many people have a idea for a novel but without a firm deadline it is very hard to put aside the time needed. The word count initially seems high but you soon realise that it can be done if you put aside an hour or so each day. There are also lots of people all doing the same challenge at the same time which is great to spur you on.

NaNoWriMo is not just for adults – there is also a version for under 18s called the Young Writers’ Programme (http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/). The site allows each young person taking part to sign up to the website, or you can (as I did) sign up as an educator. There is a recommended target word count for each age group but basically each child sets their own target.

I run NaNoWriMo as a writing club over lunchtimes, and this year had over 60 members take part, with targets ranging from 500 words right up to 30,000 for a G&T writer in Year 6. As an educator you get a great kit with a big poster and stickers so that children can chart their progress – and badges for when they achieve their target!

It’s a fab way to enthuse and motivate kids to write outside of normal lesson time. It lets them write about anything they want to and also gets them thinking BIG and writing extended narratives. I’ve had action stories, spy stories, fantasy stories, time travel stories and family issue based dramas! The really GREAT part is that every child who reaches their target gets a free proof copy from CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing wing. What a great prize! Imagine being a published author at the age of 10! WOW!

***Update: Jan 2012****

Unfortunately Createspace have now withdrawn this offer – the proof copy needs to be paid for 😦 However, you can purchase proof copies for around £5 so it could still be possible for the children to publish their books – it’s just more problematic. A real shame.

Now to how to organise things:

1) Before November begins, set up the club. Get the kids thinking about their stories. There are some excellent workbooks on the YWP site that have character and plot planning sheets you could use.

2) Set up your educator account on the site well in advance so you get your package of goodies!

3) Set up a template for the children to write on in Word. This will save you a LOT of time later. My preferred “trim size” when printing has always been 5 x 8, which in metric works out to a page size of 12.7 x 20.3. Set the margins to 1cm. Also add page numbers centred in the footer at this point. I also like to put reminders on this file for the children: I leave page 1 blank, put “Title by Author” on page 3, “Dedication” on page 5 and “Start writing here” on page 7. The word file is basically the interior of the book.

4) Make sure you set the template to a read only file so when club starts each child will save their own version. Incidentally, if you are using Google Docs so the children can work from home, it will not be set up that way for them, but they can always copy and paste into the template later.

5) Write write write!

6) When the children finish, get them to proof read their work. This includes making sure nothing (word art, clip art) is intruding into your 1cm margin or your file will get rejected. Also check to make sure that all the new chapters begin on an odd numbered page as all new chapters start on the right hand side. Something you don’t notice normally but you will notice it if you don’t do it! Also, every file has to be at least 24 pages long, with an even number of pages, and no more than ten blank pages in a row.

7) At the end of November, contact the YWP by email and tell them how many winners you have! (A winner is anyone who completes their target)

8) Start an account on CreateSpace so you can publish the books. Some people like to send home a letter to parents detailing copyright issues and assuring them their child’s intellectual property is secured, etc. That is up to you. Also, if children would like the chance to actually sell their own books on Amazon or CreateSpace’s website, they will need to get their parents to set up the account.

9) Start a new title for each new project. The children then get the really fun part of designing their own cover!!! You can upload photos or use the ones already on their website. Could be a good time to discuss copyright and Creative Commons!

10) Use a free PDF converter such as Primo PDF to convert the Word files into PDFs that can be uploaded as the interior file of the book. Make sure the name the child has put on the cover matches the name that is on the interior file. Surprising how often they are different!!!

11) You need to fill in lots of details on the CreateSpace website such as price, BISAC code, description etc. Most of this is just for use if you were going to sell commercially so don’t worry about it too much, as long as you put something in each box.

12) Once the cover is ready, submit it for review. If they are happy with everything you can order your proof! Here is where you put in the code that you have been sent for a free copy. I like to keep all mine in a spreadsheet so I can keep track of which child has used which code.

13) A few weeks later a very exciting parcel will arrive and you will be able to present a super excited child with their very own copy of their very own professionally printed book! YAAAAY!!!!!

If you have any questions please do ask me in the comments. 🙂

Independence in Maths learning

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Last night I received a email from a pupil in my class asking very nicely if she could have some extra maths homework. I was delighted and tweeted about it, of course!

But then this morning Oliver Quinlan replied that it would have been even better if she had contacted me to say “Here is some great learning I have done” rather than asking me to set her some work.

This really made me stop and think. This child is very bright, highly motivated and keen to learn. In her own time she researches all the topics we study in class, emails me facts and interesting websites she has found, writes novels and has shared them with me on Google Docs so that I can see she not only writes, but spends a lot of time editing her own work. Yet maths is the only subject she has asked me to “set work” for.

Similarly, in self-directed learning, the children have been able to locate resources and activities for everything but maths. None of the Y5 teachers routinely use textbooks or worksheets, yet when the children are seeking to practice their maths skills this is invariably what they have been asking for.

Is there something about maths that makes it hard to see a logical “next step” to study? In recent months I have had lots of parents ask me to set “catch up” extra work for pupils. I have been happy to do this, based on analysis of their areas of strength and weakness using data from in class work and tests. However, this always seems to have to take the form of extra questions and worksheets. In the past I have set homework that was just “Learn the 8 times table”, for example, and this was very unpopular – the parents were very keen to have “a sheet” to do.

We have been doing “Class Maths” every single week all year. In these sessions, as I have blogged earlier, we set challenging and rich problems from the NRich website, which require deep thinking, application of mathematical knowledge and skills, and great resilience. I had thought that this was serving to provide context and meaning to the skills based lessons, but perhaps this is not the case – or is just not enough?

I had actually noticed a bit of a problem developing in class maths recently. When working on solving a set problem, the children are fine – very motivated, keen to solve the problem and share their reasoning. However, last week I set them a task which was an open-ended investigation – which, crucially, had not yet been solved. It involved the children looking at spinners and working out which number properties (eg odd numbers, multiples of 3) would be most likely to come up on different spinners. At first it was fine, as they soon discovered that the best property to choose was “multiple of 1” followed by “odd”, “even”, or “multiple of 2”, and that if you picked something very random like “multiples of 1.4” your numbers would very rarely come up. This led to a good discussion about probability and their realisation that if you picked “multiples of 3” and span the spinners 100 times, your numbers would probably come up about 33 times.

However – after this, their task was to design different spinners and investigate what difference this would make. At this point, they floundered. There wasn’t a clear problem for them to solve, and they soon lost interest. I had thought some would be interested in trying out spinners with decimal numbers or only odd numbers, for example, but it really didn’t spark them off. I’ve noticed this before when setting problems with no real, clear solution. It’s a shame because interest in just asking “what if” is a massive part of maths, and life!

So I guess I have to work on developing this interest in pursuing different lines of enquiry! I did briefly the other week I think when the children were talking about speeds and I pondered whether Usain Bolt running as fast as he does in the 100m would set off a speed camera in a 20mph zone, so a group of children took this off and tried to work out whether he would, but then this is still a question with a solution – you really want them to be wondering about different speed limits, different creatures that might set off different cameras etc. Or, ideally, not needing me to set the question in the first place – that they would have thought of it themselves then tried to work out how to do it!

Ah it’s a puzzler. So what do I need to do to get children to see that they can find their own ways into developing their maths skills, can set themselves challenging tasks and find ways to solve them – without necessarily asking me to give them THE DREADED “SHEET”??!!

Thoughts about TMM11

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Yesterday I had managed to swap my PPA time so that I could leave work at 2.15. We zoomed off to the station and down to Stowmarket to meet Mark Allen (@edintheclouds) to go up to TeachMeet Midlands at the National College of Leadership in Nottingham!

I love TeachMeets and there aren’t enough near me to keep me happy, so I like to go to as many as I can – I wish more of them were on Friday/Saturday! The last TMM11 was brilliant and this one did not disappoint either!

I have come away with lots of excellent ideas. Nicki Wise reminded me of lots of excellent tools, many of which I have either used in the past but not recently, or have been meaning to try out for quite some time, so that has given me a boost towards trying those again. There were also some new ideas such as 3x3links which I will definitely be looking into.

Mark Allen had a great suggestion of using Posterous as a radio station – simple but brilliant, what a good idea! I am really coming round to the idea of using Posterous more regularly as it is such a hardy site which can handle pretty much any type of media and is very easy for children to post to!

I was very interested in Peter O’Brien’s Avatar project. I seem to remember reading about this a little while ago, and it was great to find out more. It sounds like an excellent ethos was introduced into the classroom. I loved the idea of the y6 child calling on the Word Weaver during the writing test! I also really love the idea of having values rather than rules in class. What a great idea! It sounds like a very positive way of working and something I would definitely like to try.

A fab idea from Ian Addison was making use of paper.li in a very useful and constructive way – by creating a digest of the class blog that could then be sent to parents! I have recently felt that parents aren’t looking at the blog particularly often, and that a lot of posts are getting missed by them due to the speed at which the page progresses, especially when we are doing the 100 Word Challenge and many posts drop off the bottom. What a good idea to collate the blog into the paper.li newspaper format and then email the link to parents. Super!

I really liked Oliver Quinlan’s presentation on how he is encouraging his children to use tools independently so that they can learn at their own pace. I had read about this on his blog so it was great to find out more about it. It is his work on independent/child-directed learning that has inspired me to try to develop this more in my class and I would love it if some of my children came and asked if they could make a video about their learning. Maybe I will have to show them the videos and see if any of them are inspired to have a go themselves!

There were lots of other excellent ideas at the event, too many to mention, and I will be looking back through the videos to make sure I get the most out of it all! It was also lovely to meet so many nice people and catch up with people I’ve met at previous events. The people who come to TeachMeets really are a lovely crowd, such friendly and inspirational people. I always come away feeling really positive and uplifted!