Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Inspiring writing

After looking through pupil asset this holiday I have been trying to think of ways to further inspire writing at East Harling, as this is an area that needs improving. As SENDco and the person with responsibility for assessment, I need to be aware of all the children who are struggling and I feel it is my duty to support the teachers to support the children. Running a Film Club for year 6 children targets some literacy skills as they write reviews and we discuss the films. I can also have a direct influence on children in KS1, but need to make sure that I support the children and teachers in between.

As a school we have just introduced Read, Write inc and although I was the biggest sceptic, after using it for a few weeks I can see how it will support struggling writers. This is only part of the solution though, so I am thinking of other ways of creating a writing culture at school. Many of you will know how I use a dramatic enquiry approach to teaching and this lends itself very nicely to purposeful writing across the curriculum, for example my digital literacy project and 'A Waspish Sort of Problem'. This has been embraced by East Harling and we have agreed as a school that teachers will teach though drama at least once a term. 

 Introducing blogging will further help develop a writing culture and this is top of my list for 2014. I will also let teachers know about Julia Skinner's 100 word and 5 sentence challenge. I have used Julia's ideas effectively with my own pictures as additional creative writing  and guided group sessions. I have shared my 'Talking Pictures' visual literacy pack (laminated stills and art work) with our year 3 teacher and she reported that the children loved it. The pictures include a selection of Jacek Yerka's art work, which I have blogged about here

I use a range of interesting pictures, then ask questions to inspire talk, before descriptive writing. The pictures are great for comprehension, lending themselves nicely to in-depth inferences and deductions. When writing, starting with simple observations about the picture, then building on them can inspire some great sentence writing. We write on white boards so that editing can be done easily (I have found that this reduces anxiety for children). I laminated the questions below to support teaching assistants and parent helpers deliver effective guided sessions, as they may need support with development of questions. 

This works well in my class, but I need to think about promoting writing across the school. These are my ideas so far. They are not original ideas, but ways of developing writers: 

  • Hold a whole school writing competition each month. This can be part of my assemblies, so kills two birds with one stone (I'm all for time saving!)
  • Get East Harling blogging
  • Employ some reporters to write about sporting events or other special occasions
  • Start a newspaper club, managed by a parent
  • Host drama days 
  • Participate in Livewriting
  • Start a book club for year 4/3 children, managed by a parent, to meet once a month
  • Start a creative writing group
  • Create a blog with resources that teachers can use
I sent a message to my good friend Jenni about the last point, as she was an AST for English and has delivered many workshops and training on writing. She was way ahead as usual and had started a blog called 'Never Mind the Spag'. It hosts a collection of resources to support writing that have been used successfully before. Taking the time to share things is what makes Jenni the inspirational leader she is, and I was chuffed when she invited me to blog with her. I have added my favourite pictures from Machinarium and Tiny Bang Story as these have worked for me in the past. 


I hope that these are of use to you too. Don't forget of course the fantastic Literacy Shed, which hosts a huge range of resources to inspire writing. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Big O - Some Inspection Reflections

OfSTED published new guidance just before Christmas, which I learned about via Andrew Old's blog post 'A Christmas Miracle'. He has included the important points 64-67 in his blog, but for the sake of ease I will repeat them here:

'Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. Moreover, they must not inspect or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework, handbook or guidance. For example, they should not criticise teacher talk for being overlong or bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time. It is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to necessarily expect that all work in all lessons is always matched to the specific needs of each individual. Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable. On occasions, too, pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning. Do not criticise ‘passivity’ as a matter of course and certainly not unless it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding.

When in lessons, also remember that we are gathering evidence about a variety of aspects of provision and outcomes. We are not simply observing the features of the lesson but we are gathering evidence about a range of issues through observation in a lesson. Do not focus on the lesson structure at the expense of its content or the wide range of other evidence about how well children are learning in the school.

When giving feedback, inspectors must not argue that they are unable to give a particular grade because of the time spent in the lesson.

Inspectors must not aggregate the grades given for teaching is a formulaic or simplistic way in order to evaluate its quality overall.'

As Andrew Old says, it is now our duty to make sure everyone is aware of this. If you read Andrew's post (and I think you should as the comments add to the post) I would recommend that you also read his subsequent post saying why this news is so important. From what I have read in the past and via twitter I can safely say that Andrew and I have totally different approaches to education, but we share the view that good teaching or a good lesson is 'what works'. I suspect that we both teach in the way we are most comfortable with, which is why I guess (I assume) that we are successful in our roles. I have been fortunate to observe many others teaching through my roles as induction mentor and AST and truly believe that a range of teaching styles are important - and apparent in successful schools. As a teacher who regularly reflects on her practice by asking the children what they think, I am fully aware that some children have preferred a more structured approach, which is why it was important that they received this during my outreach days. I feel that the fact that my children were becoming more aware of their preferred way to learn at age 6 was an achievement itself. I also feel that the range of teaching styles and approaches on offer was what made our school successful.

 The purpose of this post is not to brag about OfSTED successes, but to share some observations and reflections. These are my experiences and I am fully aware that with different inspectors, the outcomes could have been very different.


I started my teaching career as an unqualified teacher in a new school for children with autistic spectrum disorders. It was at the same time that the numeracy and literacy strategies had  been introduced and, although it was not compulsory in my school, I familiarised myself with these and as many other approaches as possible. That is one of my first tips - try to keep abreast of trends and current thinking by regularly checking the DFE site, OfSTED latest news and reports and of course news from your authority.

In the late 90s at Church Hill,we were given a free reign (under the guidance of our principle) to develop a social skills curriculum with many opportunities for learning outside the classroom. It was an amazing introduction to teaching for me as I approached teaching by delivering a very child centred / personalised curriculum.
In the four years I was at the school we were observed by HMI, educational psychologists and folk from the National Autistic Society on countless occasions. I was a very young-minded 27 year old with an open mindset* and I welcomed all professionals in, because I knew that I would learn from them. Having this approach meant that I was always fairly relaxed, which in turn seemed to affect the 'inspectors' view of me as a teacher. They saw confidence. I know it is easier said than done to ask teachers to relax when stress levels in schools could be extremely high, but it has worked for me. I have the view that I am the expert in my classroom; I know my children and what makes them tick and I teach accordingly. Whilst I am still open to (good) advice, I have been known to argue with inspectors when I feel their observations are inaccurate/unimportant (not necessarily about my lessons). Sometimes they need additional information; they cannot know everything. So that is my second tip: make sure you are the expert on your children and don't be afraid to argue about what is best for them.

It may seem arrogant or immature, but developing an 'I am right and you are wrong' mentality seemed to work for me in the same way as those who say they deal with anxiety by imagining others in their underwear.

Behaviour management

During one of our Bicycle Shop gatherings Jenni, Becki and I were reflecting on our recent inspection observations and the feedback we had been given. We have all been employed as advanced skills teachers and as such have had to prove that we were outstanding teachers by gathering portfolio evidence and through our very own day-long OfSTED style inspection (2 lesson observations, scrutiny of work, scrutiny of children's progress in our classes over the past three years, interviews with staff, governors, children and parents). Between us we have many inspection / observation experiences.

During our conversation we compared our recent OfSTED observed lessons and what made them successful. Our experiences were very different, what we taught differed greatly and the children behaved differently, but the one constant was the behaviour management. The fact that the children clearly knew the routines, expectations and classroom rules (not because they recited them, because they were following them) was, to the inspectors, proof that good teaching was taking place. In fact one of the things that was said to me (by a secondary trained inspector) was how my children went from whole class teaching to group activities with less fuss than she would have had with her secondary students. The fact that a child threw up part way through the lesson and another child (with SEN) was behaving out of character did not affect the judgement made. The way that the children responded to these things was amazing - they impressed me greatly that day and proved that they could rise to a challenge. So my third tip is to make sure that you start each year by spending time getting to know your children and establishing high expectations of work and behaviour. This will stand you in good stead when being observed. I will not go into detail about how I do this as I intend to blog about it one day, but I use a mix between Optimal Learning and Bill Roger's suggestions for the establishment phase of the year.


The three OfSTED inspections that I was involved in at Roydon were very different. During the first the inspectors came into all of my lessons, sometimes two at a time, because they had never seen teaching through the mantle of the expert before and they were intrigued. They saw very little teaching, but saw the culmination of English / ICT / DT work in the form of 'Seahorse Production Company' poetry DVDs. In this mantle we had been asked by the BBC (or similar) to make an updated version of Michael Rosen's poetry box video. One of them can be seen on our class blog here (our first year of blogging, so the posts are a bit minimalistic). The inspectors loved how the children were in control, collaborating and making choices. They praised the teaching approach and I felt very proud, but also very aware that if they had come another week they may have seen the start of a mantle and may have been less impressed.

This had happened when my HT came to observe a mantle lesson. He came at the start of the week, when my class became 'Swift Air' - a company to rival Ryanair! It was a maths based mantle and my HT was trying to judge it as a maths lesson, not a mantle. He praised their independence and collaborative working, but was less than impressed about my role. I reminded him that he requested to see teaching through mantle and we had a heated debate about this during which I refused to back down. At the end of the week I presented the maths work. My year 4/3s had been working with money and time, planning itineraries for travellers, working out costs of fully inclusive trips (hotels, flights, car hire etc) and special half price offers, with the more able children going on to work with time zones. I was blown away by their work. They were using and applying a range of maths skills and working with money (numbers in the thousands with 2 decimal points) accurately and confidently. The point that I made was that it only took them 5 hours to achieve this. Yes they may have started slow, but decisions, organisation, collaborative skills need working on too. They felt a huge sense of achievement at the end of the week and so did I. The point is, had that been a real inspection, would the inspectors have the insight to see that the skills at the start of the week needed establishing before the mathematical progress could be made?

I guess this leads to my fourth tip: Stick with what you believe in, but make sure you have a clear idea about the learning outcomes and can justify the journey towards achieving them. If you are not passionate about this journey, you may not be able to persuade someone else of the benefits.  

It may help if you have evidence of previous work on a similar theme, to show the results that can be achieved. This is where class blogs can prove very useful.

Of course the way you teach may be dictated by the school, but your personal touches can be added. I was very skeptical about teaching the read, write inc programme, mostly because I like to be in control of my own plans, but I have embraced it and added my own touches to ensure that I am comfortable and enthusiastic when teaching.

Hard work

In two out of three inspections at Roydon I was fully into mantles, so that is what the inspectors saw. At the time it did not feel like hard work, because the planning was minimal as the lessons flowed naturally from one to another. Indeed in the second inspection I was in role as a very old author and whilst the children were teaching in role, I kept nodding off. It was a risk to do this, but again the inspectors loved the way that the children were leading.
 In our most recent and unexpected inspection we knew that their arrival was to do with the previous year's results and (we assumed) a change in headteacher. It felt very different, like we were having to prove ourselves. Although my lessons were already planned, I worked hard to make sure that they would work well and I found additional props for the drama elements, fearing that the inspectors would not be able to use their imaginations in the same way the children were used to doing. It was time consuming because I thought through my teaching very carefully, whereas I am very used to thinking on my feet during dramas. So although it is obvious and more of a statement than a tip, be prepared to work hard during an inspection! Incidently, I didn't spend time on written plans and the inspectors didn't see any, yet I was told that my planning was outstanding. The evidence was in the lesson - it had obviously been planned and prepared carefully. My views on planning are a whole new post, but suffice to say that when I hear teachers saying how long they have spent writing plans it makes me groan, loudly.

Being prepared

As a team we had decided before the inspection that we probably wouldn't maintain our outstanding status and we were prepared for that. What we were not prepared for was the harsh reality. They arrived at the end of our 'book week' and by Thursday lunch time things seemed to be going well; all teachers had got either good, good with outstanding or outstanding for their lessons. We felt quite upbeat. Apart from a learning walk in the afternoon, they didn't seem to carry out any more observations, so we were shocked to hear at the end of the day that teaching required improvement. Where the inspectors in our previous inspections had been looking for proof of our outstanding status, it now seemed as if they were trying to prove that we needed to improve. Aside from one NQT, the teaching staff hadn't differed since the previous inspection. It felt wrong. Apparently an unsatisfactory judgement had been made during registration. Huh? The teacher wasn't aware that it would count as it was literally the register before assembly.

At lunch time on Friday I felt so desperate about what was happening that I asked to visit the inspectors. Although I was told it wouldn't do any good, I felt compelled to try and do something. I was received and commenced to reel off the innovative things about Roydon - the Kidsmeets, the ICT, the drama days, the cluster events and all the other things that made our school unique. I was hosting a digital leader kidsmeet event with an emphasis on livewriting and control ICT that afternoon, so I invited them along. They came and proceeded to question teachers from other schools - most inappropriate! Although I'm sure that they were impressed with what they saw, they managed to turn this into a negative as they were aware that I was leaving Roydon. They questioned what had been done to keep me there and failed to see that I was leaving to take on a new kind of leadership role. The team had come with a negative view and nothing would shift it. So this leads to my final tip reminder: You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

Some things are out of your control.

What I have learned (some more tips)

These are the (mostly) positive things that I have learned from this inspection. Some of them will seem very obvious:
  • Marking needs to be consistent across the school. It is the leadership team's responsibility to monitor this and ensure the policy is updated and followed.
  • The leadership team must be familiar with the data and the children it refers to
  • Senior leaders must make systematic and rigorous checks on the quality of teaching and learning, through observations, learning walks, moderating work and book scrutinies
  • Sustainable practices don't matter. Don't file things in folders, but stick work into topic books. Yes it has time and resource implications, but it is much easier for inspectors to sift through your work (can you feel my resentment about this one?!)
  • Create portfolios of evidence of progress for the children whose data implies they haven't made any
And some even more obvious things that need including:
  • Know your children, where they are and what they need to make progress
  • Politely challenge the inspector's misconceptions. Don't accept their false knowledge. It may not make a difference, but you will feel better for trying

If nothing else, this last OfSTED experience will stand me in good stead for the inspection at my new school that is due in the summer term. I am very aware that I have a lot to do to prepare for this, but am applying some of the knowledge I learned from Roydon and am able to share insights at my new school, which is proving to be very helpful.

I would welcome your OfSTED tips, experiences and views - please leave a comment!

* Last year I read Carol Dweck's book Mindset where she talks about fixed and growth mindsets. It makes interesting reading. I recognised that I may have become more fixed in my NQT year as a result of feeling like I had something to prove. It took a little while to revert back to the more open/growth mindset that I feel I have.

Monday, December 23, 2013

New beginnings

My blog has been somewhat neglected for the past few months, so I thought it was about time I should share reflections of my first term as a deputy head teacher. Maybe it will help someone else making/thinking about making the move.

I had worked at Roydon for 11 years and felt valued, appreciated, 'listened to' and supported. Working for an experienced head made things easier as he recognised my need to be constantly moving and learning. I was involved in many school development projects, such as eco schools, ICT, AFL and mantle of the expert. This led to a new role as an advanced skills teacher (AST). 

The outreach work I did suited me well, but there came a point when I started to question the impact I was having on some schools I was working in. One school had such a transient staff that I worked with three different ICT coordinators in a 6 month period. It became frustrating, but clarified a desire to go back to the point when I had a big impact on my 'home' school. I had two career options, start the NPQH and apply for headships in small schools, or find a deputy headship in a large school. When a post came up at a large rural school, very similar to Roydon and 5 miles up the road from my home it seemed too good to be true. The biggest wrench would be giving up my ICT responsibility; the biggest challenge would be that the DHT was also the SENDco. Having a background in special needs helps (and I have completed two thirds of a masters in inclusive practices) but the SENDco role and huge changes to SEN provision would certainly be a challenge. I was elated when I was offered the job and have not once thought that it wasn't the right decision to accept it.

New challenges

Over the summer I went into my new school a number of times and quite literally stared at walls. I needed to be in my new space (which is small - just a tad bigger than my living room at home) to think through how I was going to organise it. The outside area is a godsend and the classroom doesn't feel as small as it is because of the extended space it sits in.

Good habits

I decided that I needed to start as I meant to go on, with good habits. These included:

  • Continuing to use the mantle of the expert approach
  • Reading a poem a day (inspired by Michael Rosen and Jenni)
  • Watching CBBC news round once a week (inspired by Jenni)
  • Participating in the 5sc to boost writing skills
  • Getting children to respond to their marking
  • Developing an outdoor approach to learning

I have succeeded in all but the last one - and I'm working on that. My feet haven't touched the ground since I started, but it feels good. I believe that the following things have helped me feel as though I have been at the school for much longer than the term I have been:

  • Going to the same year group. Even though the job was advertised as year 5 (which is what I wanted) and the year 2 class was renowned for being a difficult class, I have realised that sticking with the same year group relieves one part of the 'moving stress'
  • Finding a school that is similar in size. This has meant that responsibilities are shared similarly and many practices such as play/lunch duties are the same
  • Knowing your travelling limits. If you like a journey because it gives reflection time, then stick with that. I like a short journey because I don't like getting up in the morning!
  • Ethos. Both Roydon and East Harling have similar ethos and strengths. For example, both dip into mantle of the expert, use ipads and have strong sporting backgrounds. 
  • Leadership styles. If you disagree with lots of things you hear when you visit a school, it is unlikely you will be able to change things without a great deal of stress.
  • Personalities. I think you can tell very quickly if your personality will fit in. 
They may sound obvious, but they have helped me think about the type of school that was right for me.


As well as adjusting to a new school, difficult class, new SENDco role, leadership training and being left in charge for the second week of term, I have had to learn to teach Read, Write inc (I will blog about this later.) The latter has been a huge change for the school and has taken many hours of reading in order to teach it correctly. I will blog about this at another point.

It has felt like a whirlwind this last half term, but I know that I have had an impact in my new setting, even though it is only a small one. The school now has year 6 digital leaders, its first ever class blog and a film club. I have also supported a teacher who has undertaken the 'Improving Teachers' course (not my idea of a motivational course title) and become a school governor. 

Needless to say, although I have tried my hardest to continue #DLChat, it has been a bit neglected this half term as has the Digital Leader Network. However, the lack of time for twitter has been quite liberating. Yes I have learned a lot from it and read some inspirational posts, but I have also realised that I spent too much time on trivia. I was inspired by another tweeter to have a 'cull' and try to leave behind the people who truly inspire me.  This has proved difficult, but I have managed to delete a few unknowns. The recommendation to get down to about 200 tweeters is proving difficult ...

I am looking forward to relaxing and catching up on a few books and films over the holidays, but as always am already thinking about the new year and am getting excited about the potential dramatic inquiry elements. 

My book choices (for anyone interested) are: 

A Tale for the Time Being
The Elegance of the Hedgehog

If you have any recommendations I'd love to hear about them!

Inspirational Educators

I started to write this post in the summer holidays ...

Being between jobs has been a little odd, though my summer holiday has taken the same pattern. I have had quality time with my family, time to enjoy reading, baking, travelling and catching up with friends. My reading for pleasure has included Mr Stink, The God of Small Things and the Painted Man trilogy (second reading of them) but as always I have flicked through Hywell Robert's 'Oops' as he captures beautifully my stance on how children should learn.

Another book recommended to me was Will Ryan's 'Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners.' Many parts of this book are familiar and I'm guessing that I have read snippets on other people's blogs or on courses. It is well worth a read. For me though, the most inspirational person is Sir Ken Robinson. In my opinion his talk 'Do schools kill creativity?' should be watched by all teachers. His claim that creativity is as important as literacy may hook you, whatever your beliefs.

I also challenge you not to be blown away by his animated talk. It's not new (2010), but it may be new to you. 

As always in the holidays I have reminded myself of Bill Rogers 'Establishment Phase', which you can read about here and here. It is useful for newly qualified and established teachers alike.

In the holidays, these questions troubled me ...

If OfSTED like innovation, why are so many schools following the same curriculum? 

If a personalised curriculum is best, how are we to do that whilst fulfilling the demands placed on us?

I have read how OfSTED have commended developing a relevant curriculum through enterprise, such as 'Equipping children for their lives at St Mary's Catholic Primary school' and 'Good Shepherd Catholic primary school - combining enterprise and sustainability'and this reassures me that creating a unique curriculum that caters for the needs of our school and community is important. The first INSET days at my new school gave us a chance to do just this. Together we created our educational tree, which I will add to this post very soon. It shows how we view our creative curriculum at East Harling. I feel satisfied that my teaching style and ethos will be allowed to flourish in my new school - and that is a good feeling.


So that is as far as I got with this post in the summer holidays. It's not a great post, but will serve as a reminder about things I find important, so will be very useful to me. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Arrival

Last week I visited a school that I has worked with before, to support new staff with teaching through the mantle of the expert approach. It was a great day, not just because of the drama activities, but because of the great educational debate that followed the two sessions that I delivered.

I had been asked to work with year fives in the morning and year ones in the afternoon. These are both ages groups that I have a lot of experience teaching, predominantly through a dramatic enquiry approach. the challenge was to deliver something that could be started and ended quite quickly. Instead of using something I had done before, I decided that I wanted to use Shaun Tan's book 'The Arrival' as my hook. So here follows a description of the first lesson.

The children sat in a circle in the hall and I began a story of a boy who was sitting in a busy building, in a city, watching a suitcase. I placed an old brown leather suitcase in the middle of the circle of children and continued to describe how he could see that the suitcase had been left unattended and was intrigued as to what might be inside, so making sure no-one else was watching the case, he picked it up and casually left the building. He walked to a nearby park and sat on a bench. The case was locked and he had his second dilemma. Should he force the lock and break into the suitcase? His conscience had split and the good morals his mother had given him were saying don't open the case, but the inquisitive side was saying 'do it'.
At this point I asked the children, 'What if you were his conscience-what would you be saying?' They took it in turns, contributed ideas and made some pertinent observations. A brilliant conscience alley followed, with quite an even split between opinions. Incidentally, with younger children the majority have wanted to open a bag/case before hearing reasons against it. Their curiosity far exceeds any caution. That said, there was still a slight majority who wanted to open the case with this year five group. The way that I had planned this mantle, it wouldn't have mattered either way.

After they had decided I then asked about the thoughts and feelings of the person who had lost the case, so we did a very brief thought tracking. I then invited the children to return to class.

As soon as they were in I said 'Thank you detectives for joining me in the incident room, we have a new mystery to solve'. I hadn't had a lot of time to prepare for this session, so took a few short cuts. The contents of the case had to imply that the owner had a family and was poor. The actual contents of the case were Florence Nightingale props from a previous mantle, so we couldn't physically open the case. If I had time I would have hunted around charity shops for appropriate props, but what I did turned out to be just as effective. I had written 'Incident Board' on the white board and proceeded to stick up exhibit a, b, c etc which were laminated pictures of the contents of the case.

This included a tie, braces, a shirt, a man's hat, grooming kit, bar of soap, pyjamas, socks, pants, vest picture of wife and child and a letter. All the pictures of clothing were 1940s style. I talked about how the case had been found in the park, with the lock broken and these were the contents that were left inside. I then asked the detectives to consider the facts, then write their thoughts ready for a meeting in 15 minutes. This was an inference and deduction session and when asked afterwards they were clear about this, even though I had given no learning objective.

The children had a 'Missing Person' sheet to write thoughts on and an iPad for each table. The discussions, reasoning and ideas grew throughout the session. Fortunately there were other adults in the room that had come to watch the session and they helped push the children along to start with. As they had not worked in this way before (the teacher explained how he scaffolds by modelling skills) they needed a little push to start talking to one another and to consider the facts and what they might mean. Once they warmed up they quickly decided that google translate would help them decipher the letter and they talked through what the objects in the case implied. On a couple of the tables the children had became confused about the lack of trousers in the case. This was good and the discussions they were having were amazing. I had deliberately left them out as in my story he is poor and is wearing his only pair. I wondered what the children would make of it. They considerd many ideas, though came up with two final ones-that it was an overnight cases or that indeed, the owner was very poor. Before the letter was translated some considered it was from the wife and had been written in a hurry, or whilst she was dying of a war wound. Remember, they had no other visual images other than the contents of the case. They were listening to and building on other children's ideas.

After 15 minutes we had a meeting where the detectives shared their ideas. Some had successfully translated the letter and some great inferences and deductions had been made, based on wars, death of family, need for work and other themes. thought their reasoning was amazing from the few facts that they had been given.

I then told the detectives we were jumping forward in time to two days later. I started to create a timeline on the board, made up from various pictures from Tan's book. I told the group how they had been back to the park and spoken to many people nearby, especially at the immigrations building and the docks. The pictures showed a narrative that could be interpreted in different ways, and here is how the session ended. If it had carried on, a piece of writing could have followed depending on what the teacher wanted to achieve. For example, it could have been a letter back to the child describing the journey, or a diary entry, or the stories of other people in the pictures. I would have created a tableaux of the people on the boat, probably have done some sound-scaping and maybe some emotion tracking. This book lends itself to many possibilities.

After the session we had a very fruitful discussion about this way of teaching, Gove's curriculum and the expectations of OfSTED. I cannot recount all the details here, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenging questions and the professional debate that ensued.

The afternoon session with the year ones was a potted version of the Fairytale Travel Company, which you can read here. The great thing abut this session was that one of the teachers said it proved to him how you didn't need to model all skills, that he was amazed at how I had given the children the tools and the expectations - and they achieved them, easily. He compared how he would have taught it with what he had witnessed and was 'blown away' by how his ideas were being challenged. I know that I saw someone moving from a fixed to a growth mindset. In fact all of the teachers that I worked with were open to change and desperate to provide the best education for children. When they told me about their working hours and the time and effort that they put in, it made me feel immediately cheesed off about the slating that teachers get, especially Norfolk teachers at the moment. In this one school I had just worked with four dedicated and passionate teachers and it feels great that what I did with them had a positive impact.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Two new computing resources

I thought I would do a quick share of a couple of new computing resources. They show up on a computing / digital literacy document that I am working on (it is very much a working document - and gdocs is not letting me do what I want with the cells, so please excuse format in places!)

So, two new resources. The first is called code monster and is a free tool made by a computing guy who wanted to teach his children basic code. I think I would introduce this in year 4. I'm sure younger children could do it, but I think it would go well with other lower ks2 learning. 

The code monster gives you basic instructions to follow, to change the code and see what happens. It is very simple to follow and use, letting children explore, break it, fix it and learn!

The second resource is called kodable and is an ipad app, shared by . It is a simple resource that promotes logical thinking - in a similar way to beebots. On first look I was a little disappointed - I was hoping for a Cargobot style challenge, but it didn't seem as challenging as Beebot or ALEX. However, I can see that there is a big place for this starting in EYFS, and the further you go, the more challenging it becomes. The basic app is free and the kodable pro (currently 70% off at £1.99) promises 90 levels of programmable fun! (I've not done them all yet!) 

This is what I like about what this app can do as you progress through the levels (synopsis taken from the app store):

- Learn to solve problems (especially fuzzy ones) in sequential steps
- Include conditional statements like "If this, then that" to do even more
- Add loops: commands that repeat a number of times
- Lead fuzzes through 30 linear & logical labyrinths they'll love

- A second world packed with 30 additional mazes
- Extra fuzzes to add to your collection
- Learn to (re)use functions more than once for smarter coding
- Find out what happens when you combine functions and conditions!

It certainly kept me entertained whilst I was playing on it and is very simple to use. For more information, read on here!

Friday, June 7, 2013

The transition from ICT to computing

The draft computing curriculum caused a big stir. To me, that in itself is an achievement. It's got us all talking, thinking and debating the issues. I like change; I like to feel that I'm moving and learning, though I do recognise that this may be because I'm still relatively new to the profession. As a mature student I have only been qualified for 11 years (though have taught for longer in a special school setting). In 11 years I have moved classrooms 3 times and taught all ages in ks1 and 2. It's good to know where children come from and where they are going. How does this relate to the new computing curriculum? I am a teacher and a life long learner. I recognise that new things will come along that challenge me. I am competitive enough to not want to be in the dark about something new so do my best to embrace change and 'carry on learning'.

Having said that, I also know that technological changes are easier for someone who likes to play with (and occasionally break) ICT. I have said before that for some teachers asking them to learn computing would be like asking me to teach geography using the Polish language. It's too much. On twitter last night there were some thought provoking tweets about this subject. Consider how in no other area of the curriculum would teachers be expected to teach themselves a new subject. The government doesn't seem to be putting in the money to support training either. @DigitalMaverick quoted how teachers would need to be retrained for c. £135 a head. Food for thought? It seems that a lot of problem solving will need to be done. 

Luckily, one of my strengths (so I have been told) is my ability to problem solve. So the problem is the new curriculum, the solution is to simplify it and make it accessible for all. When this curriculum 'appeared' one of the first things I did was to start this crowd sourced computing doc in google drive. The power of twitter has been proven again with the amount of (notable) people who have contributed some great ideas and free web resources to it. 

Doing my bit

 Regular readers will know how we are very fortunate to have iPads in school. They have already made the transition to computing a lot easier. Because I have had positive experiences I am keen to share these with others. So here's what I have done. I hosted two cluster programming events for infants and had a computing morning in class in March. Teachers were invited along to the events to see how quickly the children can pick up new skills - and share them with others. My mini digital leaders helped at both these events too and it was like having extra hands!  By the end of the session the children and adults all knew what an algorithm is - and that it's not a scary word!

A few weeks ago I was invited to a SMT meeting at another school  to share my ideas about progression in computing. The response was huge relief and new found confidence from the staff that they would be able to do this - and do it well. I should point out that they have access to ipads too, though they each said that they would choose a new web based resource that I recommended to learn over the summer. 

This term I have also delivered workshops with my digital leaders to support teachers to use computing resources such as scratch, kodu and Mozilla Thimble and Hackasaurus. It is essential that teachers get this time to play so that they are confident to teach. It is also necessary to overcome the idea that computing is dull and for secondary experts. There are lots of great resources that are free on the internet and computing does not always mean working with or developing an expertise in code. I get by with my limited skills - and I am clear about my limits. I tried the html workshop at GTAUK and did a runner after 10 minutes. It was way over my head!

Doing a little bit more 

On June 22nd I will be providing three Mozilla Hackasaurus workshops at a teachmeet in Norwich. During the teachmeet I will also be showing progression in computing from EYFS to year 6 on an ipad, in seven minutes (hopefully!) Hopefully there will be many more events like this that teachers can come to and learn/play with others in a 'safe' environment. Yes teachmeets mean giving up your own time, but we do that anyway don't we when we plan on a Sunday or catch up with reading in the evenings. 

Creating an overview

As a point of reference I have started to put together a very basic progression in computing document that will serve as an overview for Roydon Primary next year. It needed to be simple for teachers to follow, so that they will use it, so it just uses 'pointers' rather than lengthy descriptions of each tool. Where the tools are used in the curriculum is up to the teachers and hopefully they will be written into their subject overviews. Once finished, I will share an editable version so that it can be adapted for any school setting. 

The computing document is accompanied by another that I have called 'digital literacy'. I have explained my thinking about this in the document and am really just trying to keep it simple. Other folk have put together some great ICT plans and I don't want to reinvent any wheels, I just want to create an overview that will point teachers in the right direction. It is what the staff at Roydon appreciate - they don't want to be bamboozled by lots of words on the page. I will add links to more thorough planning available on the internet for anyone who needs help with it.

Any thoughts or ideas would be appreciated!

Friday, April 26, 2013


I put this video together for EPPS ipad evening. I really like hopscotch because it is another free resource that complements our existing resources for the new computing curriculum. Simple and accessible! Ant Evans (@skinnyboyevans) has explored it too and very kindly let me use his video within mine, to show what can be achieved with it. You can see his existing posts here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Self assessments as a reflective tool

Before teaching in mainstream I taught in a fish bowl. It was a new school for children with autistic spectrum disorders and therefore constantly visited by HMI, psychologists and other professionals. I was very self critical, partly because at that time I was unqualified and felt I had much to prove. I always wanted to do better. The school principle said once that it was my best and worst quality. I didn't need anyone else analysing my practice, I could do it well enough on my own.
I strongly believe that this underpins good teaching. Self assessing is a regular part of my practice, because it has a dual purpose - it helps the children focus on their strengths and areas to develop and it also helps me understand mine. At the end of each half term I want the children to spend a bit of time reflecting on their learning and also their proudest moments.We start by thinking and talking about all the things we have learned in class, what we have achieved and our thoughts in general. They then talk to their partners about what they have got better at and things they are proud of.

 I ask them to be frank and to tell me what would have made it even better for them in class as this helps me become a better teacher. It is their chance to be frank with me. Whilst I understand that the fact that these are not anonymous could influence what the children feel comfortable saying, I do also believe that our youngest children have the power to be frank when asked.

So here is what I learned from this set of self assessments:

  • Older children often focus on their improvements in writing (especially handwriting) and maths. Although this is not that dissimilar for my year 2/1s, my children also identified improvements in singing, sewing and behaviour such as sitting/listening on the carpet.
  • My children are very proud of a range of things: the puppets that they made, their stories that scared Mr BB, a range of maths subjects, their clay work, singing and a range of writing. This is good because I feel it shows how all learning is valued.
  • A lot of children identified that the noise levels in class sometimes prevented them from concentrating. This became a great discussion point and has provided a reference point for when I ask them to use indoor voices/turn their volume down in the future. 
  • Some children wrote that they have had a lot of help in class, from adults and from their friends. They seemed very able to identify that they are well supported. 
  • There were still too many blank spaces for the 'This would have helped with my learning...' section. When I asked children they told me that they were happy, that they had enough help and that they didn't know what to put in there or how it could be better. Some children went away and added 'I have enjoyed everything'. It is difficult to get them to add anything more constructive without putting words into their mouths.
  • One child had written that it would help if there were 10 Miss BBs ;-)
  • A G&T child wrote: 'I have enjoyed having lots more hard work, because the other maths is too easy.' Although I thought I had been stretching her, her 100% accuracy was not making her feel challenged. She prefers it when she struggles slightly as she knows that she is learning (I can relate to this). This is a fine balance though, but at the moment it seems to be the right balance.
  • They have enjoyed a range of subjects that we have covered. 
  • Identifying specifics is difficult for this age group. They might know that they want to improve their maths, but may not be clear exactly which part.
  • If my children had their choice next half term they would like to learn about: airplanes, the world, cats, tsunamis, dinosaurs, body and bones, Norwich, transport, squirrels, experiments I can do at home, polar bears, fish, how to bake cakes, the Hulk, horses, all about artists, Spanish, more numbers, poisons, another language, bears, Swedish, Spanish and French. A third of children gave reasons for their choices.

Now I can definitely cover some of these, but not all. This is why my team teacher and I made the decision to let our children make their own choices about their learning in the form of self study projects, at least twice a year. It is something that I have always done with older children, but it has proved very successful and enjoyable with my year 2/1s too. They enjoy the process and all children produce work of a standard that is high for them. They put a lot of effort in.

I have made brief notes from these self evaluations to inform my planning for next term, but more than that I enjoyed reading them. They were a pleasure to read and follow up on.

Example of PE self assessments

A little further (more academic) reading: 

The reflective teacher-McGraw Hill
Towards reflective teaching
The reflective teacher - Geoff Petty
Becoming a reflective teacher - Sage Publishing

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A little holiday food for thought

Today I have been catching up on some tweets/blog posts that I  favourited on twitter. I thought that some of them were worth sharing. 

The first post I re-read this morning was Oliver Quinlan's Knowing Creativity. I took time to reply directly on the post, but had ipad failure once again and it deleted my comment. Next time I will try to remember to copy before I press send... In a very small nutshell (I recommend reading it for yourself), Oliver's post explores the idea of creativity being less of a result of inspiration and more as hard graft. I agree with this as it reflects my practice and who I am as a teacher/learner. My colleagues have described me as a creative teacher, but the approaches and ideas I use in the classroom have all been adapted or inspired from other people's ideas and practices. In short, I am a magpie - unashamedly so. It's not that all my ideas are pinched directly from other people, it's just that I could probably identify the initial inspiration for most of them (even if they do not seem at all related-my thought processes are not a uniform thing!) The more 'unique' ideas that I have had have not always worked so well, but I like to try them out, even if I fail. Taking risks is a big part of my learning. I would like to point out here though that if the idea ends up being a big one, I am always careful to attribute the source of my inspiration. 

Another related piece of reading and  TEDTalk is by Sir Ken Robinson 'Do school's kill creativity?' which I believe all edcuators should watch (2006 but very relevant).


The third favourite was from @digitalmaverick about the Scratch Literacy Project between schools in London and Prague. This project involves year 8 children, but could be a great thing to adapt for younger children. 

Nick Chater also shared this youtube tutorial - how to create a duck hunt style game using Scratch. A great share for our digital leaders.


This next favourite is a 'Bloom's taxonomy' in apps shared by @ethinking, created by @aangeli. Lots of great apps, even if you don't necessarily agree with their position in the table.

This was also shared by @ethinking and is a chart of key apps and a 'master plan for a 1:1 ipad programme.

And a final favourite that I felt important to share is this:

In an interview, children reckon that writing the objective at the top of their work had never helped - personal targets and good marking do

Need I say any more?


Some creative ideas that haven't reached fruition. Yet...

1. A set of story books based around the 'Fairytale Advice Bureau' ... seriously! I've written one. It's got chapters and everything!
2. A set of eco-friendly picture story books. Quentin Clancy lives in a beach hut ...
3. Betty Buttercup's recipe book. (A spin-off from the 'Fairytale Advice Bureau)
4. A blog by 'Billy Buttercup' that shares his personal, social and emotional problems, requiring children to help him through with their comments. (Another spin-off) 

There are more ... 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hakitzu - JavaScript coding on an ipad!

I am going to start this post with an admission. I'm not really a gamer and my coding skills are poor. Yes I can keep up with KS2 children; I have learned how to use basic HTML code for blogging, can use Hackasaurus and Thimble and love gaming Kodu and Scratch, but that's about my limit.

We have children at Roydon who love minecraft. We use it as an incentive and as a reward for good behaviour with certain children. When I first heard about Kuato Hakitzu, via twitter of course and Kuato's chief education architect David Miller, I thought it would present great challenges for our digital leaders, but also for a talented child in my class who has behaviour that challenges (some people) and an obsession with gaming derived from being allowed to access 18+ games at the age of about 3. Incidently, this child also enjoys playing 'Teach your monster to read'. Very twee in comparison. He also loves A.L.E.X on the ipads - a game similar in nature to beebot, which I have blogged about elsewhere. I hope that Hakitzu will help channel some of his talents with a more appropriate platform, whilst helping him develop coding skills. 

So as with everything, I have had a play before introducing it at school. Unfortunately most of my digital leaders are girls and I'm not sure how much it will appeal to them, but hopefully they will learn to use it so that they can teach others. I think it is great and I know how children can be influenced by a teacher's enthusiasm!

So, my first experience with this game. I started by kitting out 2 of my robots. At this point I realised that I was more worried about the colour and aesthetic qualities rather than anything else. It's a female thing. I've always been Tom-boyish, but maybe not when it comes to shiny things. They have to look good! So my robots probably aren't the best designs for battle. I'm sure that children will spend more time experimenting than I have. After kitting out your robots, you then choose where you want to battle. There are three arenas: Hardplace rock, Rumble rig and Destropolis.

Once there, you are given tips on how to code, then off you go! You cannot make an error as it highlights it in red if you do. You only have 120 action points to start, so you have to be wise about your moves. I wasn't, then realised I had totally overspent when it came to executing the moves. I had to reduce one of the codes that had taken me ages to write! (A youngster would have probably done it in seconds!) You can also only do 9 'moves' in one go, so you might not be able to reach your desired goal in one execution. This makes it feel a bit like a game of chess. I am trying to imagine what my opponent will do, so that I can defend whilst attacking. Great for promoting strategic thinking in our children!

Even more embarrassingly than not paying attention to my credits, I managed to 'move' one of my robots to exactly the same position! He is now a sentry in the wrong place (see picture!) Gah! I have always been rubbish with my left and right, but I thought I had been careful with this. Clearly not!

My robot did some nifty footwork, but stayed in the same place!
I am blogging quickly whilst awaiting my opponent's move. I fear I will not live long...we shall see. I am loving this already, even though I am sure that I will never be an expert at it. It has huge potential for our proposed computing curriculum and to bring a bit of that awe, wonder and excitement to education. A great companion (next step) for my other favourite- Kodu and perfect because it allows our children to develop coding skills on the ipads. It is always great when we can show  I would love to know your thoughts too!

Three arenas for your battles

For further reading, take a look at the press release or maybe you would prefer to browse their youtube channel. David has also pointed me in the direction of a facebook page which may interest you.