End of year review


Last summer I set myself some challenges for the coming year! Before I set my new challenges for 2011-12, it’s time to review how I did last year!

1) Assessment involvement

Last year my Performance Management was linked to me wanting to become Assessment Co-ordinator. I did a lot of work last year, involving leading APP moderation, working with our new tracker (Pupil Asset) and target setting. I’m hoping to get even more involved this year so I can take on the role of co-ordinator!

This goal has been achieved! I continued to be involved with moderation and assessment, helped with data tracking and target setting etc. There is a shuffle going on at the moment and the co-ordinator roles are being reallocated, so hopefully I will have good news at the start of September!

2) Using more technology in class

I really like hearing about all the different types of new technology that are available and how people are using them. It can all seem a bit overwhelming though! I have therefore decided to try one new techie thing a week! I will give each one a try at home and see where it would fit in well to my teaching that week. I’m hoping this will enable me to get used to lots of new things and help me to integrate them into my teaching.

Wow – yes, definitely! I now feel really confident using all kinds of different equipment and websites. It’s now not just a case of trying out something to see if I can use it, but having a lot of ideas at my fingertips and thinking “what would work well here to improve this learning…”.

3) D4LC

I will be taking part in D4LC (Drama for Learning and Creativity) this year. This involves going to some twilight sessions to learn more about using drama within the classroom then trying out some of these approaches. I like using drama and often think I don’t do it enough so I am hoping this will force me out of my comfort zone and teach me some new methods and ideas.

Yep! I didn’t actually get to do as much training as I would have liked here – but it definitely did reinvigorate me and, as with the ICT, I was able to start thinking about what drama technique would work well to improve learning. The children really enjoyed all the drama we did and there was some excellent writing and understanding that came out of it.

4) Poetry course with Norwich Writers Centre

This is another exciting project. Some writers will be coming into school to do some poetry workshops with the children, and I will be going on a 6 week course to learn more about teaching poetry. Poetry is a real love of mine and I always feel it doesn’t get the same attention as narrative & non-fiction do – well, it can’t really be assessed, can it?! But I think it has a lot to offer children and I will be very interested to see what I learn on this course.

Loved this! Got lots of new ideas that I can put into action in the classroom next year. Definitely not just a one off but an inspiration that will last into the future. Again, the kids loved this and their writing quality improved massively afterwards, not just in poetry but across the curriculum. Another thing that struck me was how it had improved their ability to express themselves through poetry. One of their classmates sadly died last year, and at her memorial assembly the children were able to express their feelings through beautiful poetry that they had written about her. It was extremely moving and brought home to me the power of poetry, which was now available to these children in a way it hadn’t been before.

5) ICT co-ordinator

Thanks to my PLN on Twitter I feel I am getting a real insight into the power of ICT across the curriculum and I have the feeling we are under-utilising it at school at the moment. I’ve asked if I can take on the role of ICT co-ordinator as the former ICT person has taken on Maths and so ICT is currently available. It may go to the Science co-ordinator, in which case I have offered to help and get involved. I like the idea of doing “Techie Brekkie” (or lunch!) where I could introduce some of the new technologies I’m trialling to my colleagues. I think people would really like to try some of them if they knew they existed! I will also be trying to recruit people to Twitter but I am not sure it will work! I can only try though!

This isn’t going to happen – our new Deputy Head is going to be the ICT co-ordinator, but that’s fine. I will hopefully be either the assessment, drama or G & T co-ordinator, any of which will be an exciting challenge for me! Plus I have booked some slots in future staff meetings to demonstrate technology that people can use – things like linoit, google docs, etc.

6) Teachmeets

I am looking forward to more Teachmeets this year! First the second one in Norwich, which I will be helping with in whatever way I can, and then TMM11! I really enjoyed my first experience earlier this year and learnt a lot so it will be great to go again and learn even more!

Love teachmeets! I went to 3 this year and got loads of fab ideas!

7) Problem solving in maths

We have moved to a new way of teaching maths this year. The children will be in sets for 3 days a week and then in their normal classes for 2 days doing problem solving in mixed ability groups of 4. I’m really looking forward to it! It will be a new challenge as it is a very different way of working but I think it will be very beneficial for the children. Another teacher and I will each be teaching a parallel top/middle set, rather than having top and middle separated which will mean we can plan closely together, which will also be good.

Wow. What can I say? Love it! I got my best ever maths results this year – fantastic progress was made across the board. It also did as promised – gave confidence to the lower ability children. Children who previously would have given up ATTEMPTED every question in the test – whether they got it right or not isn’t really the point – at least they are now confident enough in themselves to try, which will set them in great stead for the future. Also in the last problem solving lesson, a boy beamed up at me and said “I used to hate maths, but I love it now. I can see the patterns.” YAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!


The Highwayman


I’ve just finished teaching a really successful unit on The Highwayman to my Year 5s.

We began by looking at just the first two stanzas of the poem – analysing the language and trying to visualise the scene. As we discussed what a “highwayman” is, I was pointed to this excellent Horrible Histories video: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/clips/p00h9m20 Lots of fun, and immediately engaging for the kids. (At the end of the lesson, I played them “Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming” so that they could hear where the musical style had come from)

They then drew their idea of what the opening scene might look like, using the metaphors carefully (ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, etc).

The next day I resisted the urge to read them the whole poem. Instead, we had a “story bag” with props from the story, such as a red ribbon, a blood stained shirt, etc. (These were photos on the IWB but it just struck me that the actual objects would be even better for next year!) The children wrote down their ideas about how the objects might be used in the story and what the narrative might be.

Finally, in the third lesson we read through the whole poem, a stanza each, allowing children to opt in to read or opt out if they wished. I was really pleased to see some of the less confident readers earlier in the year reading beautifully! They then formed 3 still images of key points in the narrative. They performed these to the class and I took photos.


The next day, I showed the photos of the still images which I had uploaded to the blog the day before. I gave a bit of thinking time for the children to imagine what the characters might be thinking. We then set up the still images again and did “thought tracking”, where children come up to the characters, place a hand on their shoulders and speak their thoughts aloud. I had tried this before, but it hadn’t been very successful. However, this time it was great for a few different reasons. Firstly, I said that everyone had to say something for at least one of the scenes. They had had thinking time through seeing the photos, and there was increased engagement because I filmed the thought tracking so they knew their work would be recorded.  There were some very thoughtful interpretations.

At the start of the next lesson I showed the class the excellent machinima version of The Highwayman: http://www.archive.org/details/BritannicaDreamsProductions_2 They really loved it! We have watched it several times more since! I pointed out that an important part was missing – the scene with Tim the Ostler – and argued that this was the key scene of the poem. The children agreed – we had all come to the conclusion that Tim had told the redcoats about the Highwayman’s plans, and that if he hadn’t overheard none of it would have happened! One of the children suggested Tim might have had good motivations, and I invited her to come up and be hotseated in role as Tim. There were lots of excellent questions which she answered really well – such as how did he feel when Bess shot herself – did he try to rescue her – had he known she was meeting the Highwayman before or was this the first he knew. They had really thought about it carefully!

The final thing that we did with the poem was to write part of it in prose – the scenes from Tim’s point of view, using third person limited POV. Our class target is writing in paragraphs with links and topic sentences, so it worked well for this – there are lots of changes of time and place, and good ways to start the paragraphs. The stories turned out really well – some showing that Tim felt remorse when he saw the soldiers abusing Bess and that he tried to help, but failed. Others portrayed him as a coward who washed his hands of the whole thing. They all showed his feelings really well, due I think to their immersion in the drama techniques beforehand.

Even after we had finished this work, many children voluntarily chose to carry on work on this theme during self-directed learning time, making Wanted posters and rewriting other parts of the poem. I think it’s a great piece of literature and hope you may find some of these ideas useful if you are studying it next year!

NaNoWriMo – creative writing for kids!


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


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


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!

Self-directed learning


One of the things that I have always found frustrating and difficult to plan for is that moment when a child has finished their work and says “What do I do now?”

No matter how well you plan, there will always be some children who finish their work earlier than the others. I have always tried to get them to take responsibility for finding something to do once they finish – sometimes it is reading, finishing off other work, but this time has always felt a bit wasted.

I’m now trying a new approach which I am calling “Self-Directed Learning” time. This will be whenever someone finishes their work before the end of the lesson, and sometimes in the mornings or if we finish an activity earlier than expected.

I have asked the children to write down something they would like to get better at, explain why they want to get better, state exactly what aspects of the skill they would like to improve, and what activities they plan to do to achieve that. All this is self selected.

For example:

What I would like to get better at: Maths

Why?  Because maths is very useful in life and I would like to be better at it

Skills to develop: Times tables and fractions

Activities: Times tables games, worksheets, look at tables and practice them

For those children who wanted to get better at reading, I talked them through a simplified version of the AFs and pointed them to the specific area they needed to work on to improve their reading level and gave them some questions to ask themselves. I am also providing maths worksheets, times table and reading games, access to computers and the school library, paper and anything else the children want as far as possible – but they have to tell me what they want, of course!

All the children now each have a personal folder with their learning goals sheet at the front and have already started putting in sheets of the activities they are going to do. I am also going to give them a planner sheet where they can record the dates and activities that they do.

I’m very keen on encouraging them to become independent learners and hope that this is going to be a good contribution to that. We talked a lot in PSHE last term about going for goals and setting outselves challenges – here is their chance to improve their own learning, on their own terms!

I will update on this project as it progresses!