Sunday, March 23, 2014

Owl cam and mantle of the expert

Bressingham Bertie (well that's what I call him)

So my owl addiction has returned ...

The Lopham and Redgrave cam isn't running this year, so I asked my class governor (who just so happens to be a cameraman for the RSPB) if he knew of one and bingo! Barn owl cam courtesy of Somerset Wildlife Trust. I feel many hours will be spent watching ...

I am recording all my owl sightings again this year, though a new school route means that I haven't seen as many. It's lovely to hear that numbers are rising again in Norfolk.

There is a purpose to the owl cam beyond my love of this creature. I am about to embark on a nocturnal animal inspired mantle again. It will be a tweaked version of something that I have done before that the children loved. What follows is taken from my blog short stories from the classroom (which I no longer write on - it's all here now) and is a synopsis of the mantle.

This mantle was with year 2/1 children as a voluntary organisation called WPIT. The learning was mostly to prepare the children for KS1 stats; I wanted to show how a creative approach can still deliver the results you want.

They had a bit of job to do when they received a letter from a member of the public who was a fellow nature lover. Mrs Jones stated how she was disappointed with the website, that there wasn't a lot of information on it.

 So the volunteers set to work rectifying this and made a good start gathering their information. Now they just have to wait for the website volunteers to get it all on the site. Take a look at it by clicking on the webpage here:

The mantle also involved imagining that we were responsible for setting up the webcam at Lopham and Redgrave fen (a local place).

You can click on the picture to go to the live webcam and watch the owls! 
We imagined that as part of our work  we put up the owl box and put the camera in place. We loved seeing how our owls were getting on!

Another big dilemma came when we had a request from backwoods Billy Baxter. The film clip worked out so well, that I was able to pretend to talk to him on the phone at the end. This was a jaw dropping moment for my class! (Though I couldn't play that part of the clip again!)

Backwoods Billy Baxter was a famous nature film-maker, who came all the way from Australia to find out about nocturnal animals. Unfortunately he was unable to catch any on camera! So the expert volunteers at WPIT decided to give him a bit of advice. They should know, they've been watching wildlife for a long while now. 

They decided to make a guide book too, to show Billy what he's actually looking for. After all he's probably more used to crocs and koalas! Some of the volunteers came up with some top tips to help Billy. 

Tip 1
Tip 2

Tip 3

Tip 4

Tip 5

Tip 6

Tip 7

Tip 8

Tip 9

This mantle was quite exceptional, in that we had a response via our class blog from a real Australian nature lover! You can see the blog here. We learned passed on more good tips to Billy, like having heat sensitive cameras to film wildlife. 

WPIT set to work making some ibooks on the ipads to help Billy identify the animals.

Ibooks for Backwoods Billy Baxter on PhotoPeach

The next dilemma came when poor old Billy had a bit of an accident ! This helped me deliver learning about being seen at night. The clip shows how Billy went out on his bike at night to look for some urban foxes, but fell off and hurt his wrist! Poor Billy! 

As we weren't sure exactly how it happened, some great discussions were generated about why he might have fallen off his bike. We thought he might have hit a log in the road, been hit by a car reversing out of a driveway, knocked off his bike by a fox and lots of other things! We also did some thought tracking about his feelings and decided he probably wasn't very happy about what had happened. Poor Billy.

Thought tracking

We thought of some top tips for Billy to be safe and be seen, then created some advice posters.

Here are some of the children's posters with sound advice for Backwoods Billy Baxter. 

Be Safe Be Seen Billy! on PhotoPeach

Backwoods Belinda

The children were enjoying being in role so much I wanted to keep taking the learning forward, but felt like I couldn't keep asking Billy (a fellow teacher called Mr Ringer) to keep creating films for me. Luckily, it turned out that Billy had a team mate called Belinda! (It was about time I dropped into the drama in role). Belinda was behind the camera when working with Billy, because she is a much better 'cameraman'! That was the response I quickly came up with when I was asked why I wasn't in any of the films.
So Belinda arrived, with a very dodgy Australian accent a bag of owl pellets and some bone identification charts. In role, I asked the children (as WPIT) to help me identify the animals that must be in the woods, from the owl pellets. It was a wonderful afternoon with all children engaged in investigating and identifying bones. 


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Being SENDco - part 2

This post will concentrate on three parts to my new role as a SENDco: action planning, IEPs/GEPs, personal profiles and case studies. Don't expect anything original - I've not got to that confidence point yet - but I hope this will be solid advice for anyone new to the role. I have shared all of my docs and would appreciate any tips or advice from anyone about any improvements/changes I could make.

Action planning

This morning I have been updating my SEN action plan, which in all honesty is serving two purposes. The most important of course is that it will be my guide, helping me prioritise actions and use my allocated SENDco time effectively. The second purpose I learned from a colleague on a 'New SENDco' course. She recounted how OfSTED inspected after she had been in role for three weeks. She spoke of her horror when she was unable to answer any of the questions that she was asked. Her saving grace was the fact that she had an action plan. What she didn't know was accounted for in her plan - it showed the actions that would enable her to become an effective SENDco. Being new to the role myself, it was the first thing I did when I left the course.


The phrase 'additonal to or different from that (provision) normally available to pupils' has formed the question by which we decide whether a child needs an IEP. If it is normal school provision, it is not additional to our curriculum, therefore we are not making special provision. This has helped form our SEN practice at EHPS.

One of the first things I did in my role was host a staff meeting to share the thinking behind the new draft SEN Code of  Practice and to support teaching staff to make the move from IEPs to GEPs. I used a short prezi presentation as a synopsis of the draft code, then gave each member of staff a crib sheet to explain the changes/help them make the decision about the paperwork that is right for their child. There had already been recent developments to provision at school, so naturally some staff were feeling a bit anxious about more change, but the fact that many of our children should be included in group education plans rather than individual plans, meant that paperwork would be reduced. I gave each class a folder entitled SEN interventions - working documents, because that is what they are. I want to see them annotated. I received positive feedback (given voluntarily) after the meeting, so felt that I had pitched it ok!

 Personal Profiles and Case Studies

There are some children who don't need an IEP or to be included in a GEP, because they do not need additional support for learning. Some of these children may need acknowledging for other reasons and/or highlighting to additional/new adults who may work in your classroom. For example, we have children at EHPS with ASDs, who are high ability and so don't need additional support, but whom we need to be made aware of their views, the things that excite or challenge them and how we can support them. Equally, there may be learners who are experiencing behavioural difficulties that need addressing and supporting. In my limited experience, completing a personal learning profile with one child and his family last October had a highly positive impact. The fact that his behaviour is now starting to deteriorate tells me something - the process needs to be done bi-annually.

The other thing that I have been doing, as recommended in Seven Steps to Ofsted Success is creating case studies. My good friend Jenni shared some examples with me so I could see what they could potentially look like. Case studies could prove vital in explaining why certain children have not made expected academic progress, whilst showing the impact of provision on their social, emotional and behavioural development. I intend to do one per class to start with and will focus on children who have not made expected progress according to tracking data.

A colleague in our cluster also shared this helpful SEN tracking sheet with which I intend to track all children at school who are currently on the SEN register. I have them all named and ready, now it's just a case of finding time to complete them! It's not so much my time, it's balancing the amount of time I pester other members of staff to spend time with me.
If you find any of this helpful, or have any tips to share, please let me know!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Dog listeners

Sometimes you read those tweets on twitter that just make you think 'Wow - what a perfect idea!' This morning I read another conversation - and have time to write a quick post about it whilst catching up with f1 qualifying. Skip my waffle if you want to get to the juicy part! (Links at the bottom.)

Reading for pleasure is something very important to me, as I assume it is with most teachers. I was an avid reader as a child, but my children have shown me that sometimes you need extra tricks to get them to read. One of my sons (now 26) reads whilst eating, travelling and between conversations. He confesses that he's not the best conversationalist and would rather be reading than chatting. My youngest son had the same diet of tractor and Thomas books alongside the many other picture books that I picked up for 20p at the boot sale. He would rather be outside and doing than reading. At primary school he struggled throughout and although the school challenged his level 3 result at the end of year 6, I knew that's what he was. Gifted and talented mathematician, logical thinker, weak reader. Even though I bought him motocross / big machinery books, he wasn't particularly interested. The only fiction that inspired him as child were Lemony Snicket's, read to him by his enthusiastic teacher. I could go on about his secondary experiences and the fact that the only book he has ever chosen to buy was a Wilderness Survival Guide (yes, we live in a rural location - but it's not that rural!), but this post is about something that I wish I'd thought of years ago. We've always had dogs. They are great listeners. I never thought to get him to read to our pets. So the tweets that I read this morning reminded me about how I had read before about dogs being used in a therapeutic way, but I'd never thought about how wonderful  it would be to have them as non-judgemental listeners for our struggling readers. The Bark and Read programme argues how dogs are perfect listeners - attentive and non-judgemental. Stroking dogs reduces stress, which is the part of dog 'therapy' that I have read about before, particularly with the elderly and children/adults with SEN. But it doesn't have to just be about children with SEN.

Meet Macy and Sabre (I named the former!) at Nettishall Heath
I think about how my son, who is similar to many of the loveable rogues that you will encounter in your classrooms, would have loved the opportunity to work with a dog - and yes, I truly think he would have read a story to one. I have 5 low attaining boys in my class and I would love to find out if a 'dog listener' would boost their confidence. One thing I can do immediately is to find out if any of them have dogs in their immediate or extended families and maybe suggest it as a homework activity. I'm sure my parents already think I am a bit bonkers, so I doubt they will find this too odd.

The other thing I can do is change the focus of our class bears. Instead of the children writing about what they have done with him (I don't insist on this, they all just seem to love doing it) I will get them to read him a bedtime story, then record the title of the book and author and maybe mark it out of 10. That way, other children and families can see the range of books and stories being read. It will hopefully be a good influence.

I intend to read a story to Macy later to see what she does, just so I can tell parents my experience of it. I imagine that Macy will just wear her usual bemused expression - and probably fall asleep. She's not know for any friskiness!

Although I would be more than happy to raise a smaller breed of dog that could come to work with me and inspire children, I'm not sure how schools that do embrace this scheme work around children with allergies. It is something totally worth looking into in the future though, when time permits. I'd love to be 'that SENDco who used dogs in the classroom'...

Our beautiful Norfolk coast, looking a bit grey

Quick links 

Still buying books to inspire Jake to read!

Mystery Math Museum

Now that my reports are done I have spent a bit more time playing with some apps that I've been meaning to look at properly for a while. The first one is Mystery Math Museum and really like it. It would hold the interest of some of the children in my year 2 class and I think would be a good way in for children with SEN, who enjoy gaming. It's not complicated - easy enough for my year 2s and younger, but the difficulty level can be differentiated.

You start with a map and access to some buildings. Other buildings get unlocked as you go through your journey. The essence of the game so far is that you rescue dragonflies or collect gold coins to gain a portrait, by going through different buildings.

To get through the doors you have to solve calculations (you can set the skill level of this so it is easily differentiated).

As you pass through rooms, you collect numbers in bubbles in order to complete the sums to open the doors. There's a certain amount of problem solving here, as you may not have the numbers you need, so you have to go a different route to find them. Within each room there are lots of interactive elements - mostly sound effects. Visually it looks good. Next week I will get one of my 7 year old digital leaders to have a look and review it from their perspective.

At £1.99 I think this could be a brilliant game to have at home and it is one that I will be letting my parents know about.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Being SENDco - part 1

I started this post last year...bear with me! It's a bit waffly, but will hopefully lead on to useful things.

In September 2013 I started a new job as SENDco at East Harling Primary School and Nursery. I have a background of teaching children with autistic spectrum disorders and prior to that working as a TA in a school for children with a range of needs and challenging behaviours. This meant that I participated in a range of CPD, which I continued when I started teaching in a mainstream setting.

My degree was based around education and disability and for my final dissertation I debated the question of whether a mainstream setting was a suitable place of education for a child with autism. I concluded that it depended on the child, their needs and what was on offer at the school. That's my dissertation in a nutshell! who needs 5000 words when you can write it so succinctly?! I've never really thought about what happens to these papers, but was surprised and delighted last year when my niece informed me that during her research she had (accidentally) found and read my paper and really enjoyed it! Apparently the UEA archives hold many things!

A continued interest and the temptation of free CPD led me to undertake two post grad certificates at masters levels regarding inclusive practices. I focused one on challenging behaviour and autism and the other on support mechanisms for teaching writing to children with SEN (lots of ICT there). I enjoyed doing these; through action research I believe I enhanced the way I approached teaching children with SEN in a mainstream setting. It was a very practical and useful way of learning for me. However, the courses only really impacted learning in my own classroom as the school employed a part time SENco and at that point had very fixed views on provision for children with special needs.

I must confess that despite my interest, I have never really desired to take on the SENDco role, but that may have been because at Roydon it was essentially a non-teaching role. When the Deputy Headship came up at East Harling, I knew I had to go for it. I know other teachers who have the view 'I will only leave my current post if a job comes up at ...' and deputy at East Harling was one of mine. Why? Location, size and rural nature of school, ethos, reputation and the fact it was part of a cluster that my own children belonged to. It felt right. The SENDco role was part of the responsibility and I would be moving away from ICT, but I felt ready for change.

 During the interview we had to answer the question 'As SENDCo how would you ensure that the school was effectively meeting the needs of all SEND pupils, taking into account the challenges and opportunities presented by current changes to SEND provision’ through a 10 minute presentation. I wrote a leaflet to hand out, which would serve more as a prop for me. (I will share this here as soon as I get textease working again.)

In the role

SEN is changing and thanks to the new (draft) code of practice the emphasis is put on what children and their families need. These are some of the things I have achieved since I have been in post, with the support of staff and governors at EHPS&N:

  • Hosting a coffee afternoon - invites went out to all parents of children on the SEN register so that they could put a name to a face and hear about changes to provision.
  • Moving away from IEPs for low attaining children who don't have SEN
  • Implementing group education plans for low attaining children
  • Implementing learning profiles for children who don't have IEPs, but who have needs that should be acknowledged by everyone working with them
  • Creating an action plan that will hopefully show OfSTED when they arrive that I have a plan of action!
  • Taking my first steps to achieve Seven Steps to OfSTED Success (separate blog coming soon!)
  • Hosting my first statement review meeting (with my headteacher as a much needed safety net!)
In future posts I will endeavour to be as honest as possible about the challenges I have faced (mainly to do with my own organisational skills), the good practices that I have inherited from my predecessor and Headteacher, the information I have gleaned from the 'New SENDco' course I am attending (brilliant advice!) and the interventions that are really supporting our children. I hope that these posts will be useful to anyone starting this new role.