Monday, 20 March 2017

3-0 Down With Five Minutes To Go

On Saturday, I attended the second annual Primary Rocks Live event at Medlock Primary School in Britain's greatest city. Actually, I am privileged enough to be part of the organising team. As a result, my experience started on Friday afternoon. This involved a few hours setting up 200+ chairs, shifting thousands of musical instruments and being told what to do by the legendary Sophie Merrill. The event itself from us in the organising team felt like a roaring success. This may seem arrogant but I attribute that success in the most part to the people that came to learn, to speak and to network. Us organisers merely provided the platform.

For many reasons that I won't bore you with, teaching has become a very challenging job to be in at the moment. In the past, it was challenging but in more positive ways. If teaching were a football match, sometimes it can feel that you are playing for the team that is 3-0 down with only five minutes to go and desperately trying to find a way to claw yourself back to a respectable draw.

So, at 9.30am on Saturday 19th March, we were 3-0 with five minutes to go. Then Gaz Needle stepped up and delivered his battle-cry. This definitely rallied the players and we were all suddenly up for the fight.

Next, was Paul Dix who smashed one into the top corner with his wonderful presentation about how to aim for adult consistency when tackling behaviour. 3-1 Things were looking up, there was a chance we could do it!

Up stepped the first round of speakers in their workshops. The corridors emptied at lightning speed as people dashed to make it to their first choice of workshop. All the rooms were crammed full of eager people soaking up the ideas. 3-2

In the afternoon, after a hearty lunch (yes, I used my access to the kitchen to snaffle an extra muffin), the workshops began again. Jungles were built. Ofsted's National Director arrived and was led to his room by a barely comprehensible me, trying to make small-talk. Gaz Had sent me with him as his tech support. Yet it was he who found the button to turn the Smart board on! I  rapidly retreated, mumbling something about there being muffins and ice-cream downstairs. Another great round of workshops rounded off with a brilliant keynote by Michael Tidd about marking and feedback. 3-3

After Rob Smith had closed the day, there was a rapid clear-up session (much quicker than putting it all out on Friday) due to all the people that stayed and helped. Then we headed for the pub. This was where we started to network, New friendships were made. Old ones re-ignited. Positivity was everywhere. Like an extra-time header at the far post. 3-4, game won. The spark was back. Thanks to everyone that came, see you next year.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Beyond The Crib Sheet - An Idea For Low Stakes Assessment

I was thinking about the panel discussion from Primary Rocks Live 2016. The dreaded KS2 SATs was mentioned. Jon Brunskill suggested that we should have SATs every year. Jon is someone whose opinion I respect enormously and I found myself agreeing with this idea. It got me thinking about how this could be drilled down to low stakes assessment on a regular basis in the classroom. Recently, I saw a post on Twitter about a marking crib sheet. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the teacher who initially shared it but I thought it was a great idea. I thought, why not do a combination of the two. A quick system for assessing while marking that would act as a form of low stakes assessment which in turn would inform teaching and learning for the following week.

Anyway, I am not suggesting I am inventing anything original. In fact, I am using great ideas from other people (such as the afore mentioned teacher). This has led me to come up with simple assessment grids for English and Maths (see links below). I intend to use them weekly as a way of gathering data quickly following some form of assessment activity carried out by the children. In English, this might take the form of a long write/short write based on some form of stimulus and include elements of SPAG that you have been working on as part of the success criteria. For maths, I would ask the children to complete a weekly skills check in whatever form suits. This will include work covered that week and previous weeks.

When I collect the books in, I will then complete the English Weekly Assessment and the Maths Weekly Assessment. This will enable me to adjust my plans for the following week if necessary.

English Weekly Assessment Grid

Maths Weekly Assessment Grid

The 'Extra Mile' children mentioned in the grids would be the children who have exceeded/gone into greater depth or whatever you want to call it.

The 'Star Models' would be examples of vocabulary, sentences that you would like to share with the class in the following week.

Please bear in mind that this is my first attempt at this so it may need adjusting. However, I am going to give it a try next half-term. By all means feel free to use the grids in your classrooms.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Primary Teacher Reads

I'll be honest, before I became involved with Twitter, I rarely if ever, read 'Teacher' books. However, in the last two years, I have come across and read some excellent books. I thought it might be useful to share some of them as these are books that have had an definite impact on my practice. They are in no particular order.

1. The Secret of Literacy by David Didau - This book is a very engaging read offering lots of sensible advice about the teaching of literacy. It was through this book that I first came across the concept of Slow Writing which I have used in the classroom many times since with great results.

2. Oops by Hywel Roberts - This is a funny, practical book full of ideas about how to engage children in the curriculum using drama techniques and looking at things a little differently. Having met Hywel a few times, this book is a perfect embodiment of his personality. A wonderful book written by a wonderful bloke!

3. Teach Like A Champion 2.0 - This is written by Doug Lemov and is a collection of techniques that Doug observed the best teachers using. The best thing about this book is the way it provides ideas that you could use in the classroom the next day. There are also links to examples of resources and videos of teachers demonstrating the techniques. Although aimed at the American secondary audience, many of the techniques could be used in the primary classroom.

4. A Beginner's Guide To Mantle of The Expert - this is written by the wonderful Tim Taylor. It describes a concept first designed by Dorothy Heathcote in the 1970s. It is a brilliant book, explaining the theory and application of the technique along with resources to help you implement it in the classroom.

5. Making Every Lesson Count - By Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison. This is the best teacher book I have every read. It offers a wealth of sensible advice and practical strategies. It should be recommended reading for all teachers. The book identifies six key principles for effective teaching and learning and provides advice and ideas for delivering each.

If you start with these five, you can't go far wrong.

As well as these five, there are numerous teaching resource books I would recommend. For example, anything written by Mat Sullivan or Alan Peat will be extremely useful when preparing lessons.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter who lived between 1872 and 1944. He was a contributor to the De Stijil art movement founded by Theo Van Doesburg. He developed a form called neoplasticism. This is a white background with a grid of horizontal and vertical black lines and the three primary colours.

He began to  produce paintings in this form in 1919 while in Paris.

Here is a link to the painting for this week's Painting Talk discussion. It is called Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow from 1930. The series of compositions to which this painting belongs has been used in lots of other areas of culture such as fashion and even a Katy Perry music video. (Thanks Mike Watson)

Composition II in red, Blue and Yellow 1930

I have always liked pattern and order which is why I think this style of art work appeals to me. I like the contrast between the black and white grid and the bold primary colours. I like the apparent simplicity of it while at the same time being an impressive visual image.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Problems With Peer and Self Assessment

Self and peer assessment is very fashionable and has been for a while. Ofsted seem to like it, teachers seem to like it and SLTs seem to like it too. Having used a variety of types of methods of peer and self assessment in my teaching career, I am yet to be convinced of the impact they have.

As teachers look for ways to cope under the crushing weight of complicated marking and assessment policies, peer and self assessment can offer a helping hand. If the children mark the work then the teacher doesn't have to. Crazily, I know teachers who mark it themselves as well. Why would you do that, defeats the object surely. This brings me onto the first problem with self/peer assessment. Teachers, who are under massive pressure to prove they are doing a good job, are scared to leave any piece unmarked by them. This means that the marking by the pupil during peer/self assessment becomes largely irrelevant.

Secondly, there is the issue of time. Time has to be taken from lessons to complete self/peer assessment tasks. With the raised demands that come with the new curriculum, there is simply no time to waste. Ten minutes taken from a lesson to self/peer assess could be ten minutes used to further master the learning objective of the lesson.

Teachers have spent a lot of time training to be a teacher, they are professionals with a sound understanding of the subjects they teach. They are best placed to make decisions about whether a child has achieved a learning objective and what the next steps should be. I would argue that a pupil is not capable of making these decisions effectively or efficiently. A pupil can tell you whether they have found a particular activity easy or difficult. Does this matter? Does it tell you anything about their achievement? If you are teaching a child something they have not come across before, how can they decide whether they have learned it? Surely, this is judgement that must be made by a well-trained professional. Children can find evidence in their work to show they have met certain 'success criteria' but they cannot decide whether this means that they have achieved the objective.

Peer/self assessment forms part of a larger issue around pupil voice. I am not a fan of pupil voice even though it seems to be fashionable. In terms of assessment, that should be done by the teacher as the professional or if you really want to involve pupils as a discussion between pupil and teacher with the teacher explaining to the pupil what their performance in an activity means with regard to their  achievement/progress.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Using F.E.A.R. As A Stimulus For Poetry

The song F.E.A.R. by Ian Brown has long been a favourite of mine. I thought that the structure of the song would mean that it would be good to use as a stimulus for developing poetry writing in the primary classroom. For those of you that don't know the song, thee verses and chorus all spell out the word FEAR e.g. Fantastic Expectations Amazing Revelations. The idea is that the children could replicate this in their poetry by generating their own words to fit FEAR. Also, it is a pretty cool song!

The lesson went something like this, with Year 4.

First of all, we listened to the song and I asked the children if they noticed anything about the lyrics. We quickly established what I mentioned earlier. Then we listened to the song a second time with the children jotting down on whiteboards any of the verses (or chorus) that they could pick out. Some of these were then written on the board as a scaffold. Next, the children generated their own four line verses to match F.E.A.R. This led to some silly attempts e.g. Fat Elephants Are Red. This in turn led to a worthwhile discussion about the mood of the poem and how we would try to choose words that would match the mood of the poem/song.

Once this had been established, the children came up with some fantastic choices e.g. Find Enemies and Ruin. The children put their ideas together to make a poem of several verses interspersed with the chorus from the song (For Everything A Reason). This could be extended by giving the children other words e.g. love, hate, excite etc. Some children performed their poems and filmed them, creating a movie in iMovie.

All in all, the vocabulary generate by the children was better than they had produced before and I think the structure and mood of the song helped with this. They also developed a better understanding of creating a mood in their writing.

A word of warning. If you are going to use the official video to the song, stop it after about 2 minutes as there is a dodgy bit after that. There are also videos made of the song where the lyrics are displayed on the screen. You may or may not find this helpful.

Friday, 6 February 2015

There's An App For That.

There is much debate as to whether schools should spend large amounts of money on buying iPads. Some schools have 1:1 devices while others have very few devices at all. This post is not about making the case for iPads in school, rather it is written with the intention of providing some hopefully useful ideas. 

Having used iPads in the school where I teach for a couple of years now, I have been able to experiment with a range of apps. My aim has always been to use iPads in order to complete tasks that could not be done without them rather than copying a task that could be done with pen/pencil and paper.

A comment made by a presenter at the Google stand at BETT recently made me reflect on the apps we use in school. He said that rather than looking for a Science app or a Geography app, we should look for apps that can be used across many subject disciplines. To me this makes sense for at least two reasons. 

First of all from a purely financial point of view. You would buy one app that can serve many purposes instead of a whole myriad of subject-related apps that may only be used within that subject. Secondly, subject-related apps tend to tend us and children into 'consumers' of technology rather gazn really using it to enhance learning and achieve what I stated earlier was my aim. Having said this, there are some very useful 'consumer' apps such as Battle Times - a free times table app. Times tables are probably best learnt through regular practise and testing. This app enables you to do this with a competitive element. Indeed the are also certain subject specialist apps that can be used to enhance learning effectively.

Going back to my aim, I have put together what I think would be an ideal gathering of a few apps that could help to enhance learning across the curriculum and allow our pupils to complete tasks that, if used thoughtfully, could not be done without such technology. My collection is by no means exhaustive but will hopefully be useful to those starting out on the iPad journey. 

I must note hear that all the apps below are apps that have been recommended to me by people such as Lee Parkinson (@ictmrp) and Mark Anderson (@ictevangelist) both of whom write excellent blog posts about using technology to enhance learning. Here are five apps I have found very useful.

1. Explain Everything - A superb app that is very versatile. It is a bit like having an interactive whiteboard on your device. Many, many used across all subjects.

2. Book Creator - Can be used to create books incorporating sound, images and video. Books can be added to iBook store. Very easy to use.

3. Comic Life - Creates eye-catching comic style documents. Can be used ina variety of ways in many subjects e.g presenting research of key historical figures. 

4. Minecraft - This app has so many uses it is impossible to list them all here. It also taps into children's interests as many play it at home anyway.

5. Tellagami  and iMovie - These are both brilliant film-making tools. Free version of Tellagami only allows 30 second recording so iMovie can be used to collect a few of these together which can them be edited into a film.

If you have these apps on your iPads at school you will certainly be able to make a start on your journey into iPad use.