Friday, October 30, 2015

Thinking out loud: assessment

In amongst my roles at school is that of assessment coordinator. It's in the back of my mind a lot and as a county moderator I am acutely aware that we need to produce a system for our school, grounded in our curriculum, before I go out and act as a critical friend to others. For that's all I can be at the moment. With so many different systems, questioning a school's rationale for the systems they have in place may be the best I can offer.

 The confusing aftermath of the removal of levels has been captured brilliantly by @theprimaryhead in his blog post, Who Needs Levels Anyway? If you need a good chuckle, it's a must read! (Don't read whilst drinking tea. Spitting it out could seriously damage your tech!)

So how can we develop an effective assessment system?

As an advocate of all things formative, I agree with many of the messages in the Final Report of the Commission on Assessment without Levels and of course Dame Allison Peacock's Learning without Limits. I have written about this before, but having seen fleas in a jar it captures beautifully (scarily?) what happens when you put a ceiling on children's learning i.e. by levelling them.

 I have questioned my own practice considerably over the last few weeks, particularly in maths, and wonder if I have unintentionally been putting some of my children in a jar. That is another blog post, but some superb maths CPD and a relective moderation meeting have challenged my ideas and are helping me move forward. Although I heartily agree with much of what Tim Oates says, I have blindly followed some assessment systems without questioning them. Carry on learning eh? 

So here is what we have done so far at East Harling. It may not be perfect (yet), but it's our story and therefore we can redraft and tweak it as and when necessary. This will be essential over the next couple of years as we adapt our curriculum and aim to create a seamless system whereby assessment is an integral part of teaching. (When I say 'we' I am not elevating myself to royalty, but referring to our SMT, which consists of my HT, English, Maths and curriculum coordinators. Four of us have been deputies. It is an experienced team).

We use Pupil Asset at school, which I quite like. Under the new curriculum it takes the NAHT KPIs and allows you to click beginning, developing, embedded and not achieved for children. It then provides a DNA strip that will quickly show you what a child is able to do and where they struggle. For maths the KPIs are clumped into 'domains', though in the National Curriculum it is made clear that rich connections should be made between them, to develop fluency. 

At school we acknowledge that not all teachers are as familiar with this. We haven't had a staff meeting on it yet and you can't assume that everyone will have had a play with it. Equally, some teachers prefer to work on paper. Because of this, at the beginning of the year I created paper based tick lists for Maths (tweaked by our maths coordinator), based on the KPIS, and today have spent time creating them for English*. They need to be used in conjunction with the National Curriculum and the NAHT assessment frameworks and it is important that, especially for maths, you are not just assessing content, but fluency, reasoning and problem solving. Our expectations must exceed the NAHT descriptors so that learning is not limited (especially in writing where they seem low for some children). Because of this, our assessment sheets identify where an objective has been seen, (the child is) secure, (the child is) fluent and can reason and problem solve- the greater depth part. The latter may not be 'tickable' until the end of the year as children would need to show that they have mastered the skills across different contexts. I think it may prove hard to measure - and could be very subjective. This itself causes problems as schools may differ in their expectations as to what fluency and greater depth look like. 

I think that the Rising Stars assessment progression frameworks could prove invaluable. Why? Because it reminds us that we must not just focus on the things we are assessing (fleas in jars?), but all the things that will help make our children competent, confident, inquisitive, creative and expressive mathematicians, readers and writers.  

This is particularly important for new teachers who will not have the knowledge of the breadth of the curriculum, or those missing objectives. Likewise, they may not understand all the components that would make a child fluent with concepts such as place value, that the KPIs are only the big ideas that save us assessing countless objectives. And that's what we need to decide and tweak for our school by asking questions, like: What are the big ideas in our curriculum, the things that children must know at the end of each year? I anticipate that our method of assessment will be tweaked continously until it fits us. What we are desperate to avoid is the limiting of learning that Tim Oates and Dame Allison have attributed to levelling. Can we find an effective system that doesn't do this? If you have any thoughts or ideas, I'd love to hear them!

If you want to reflect even further on this, read (or re-read) @michaelT1979's 'Have we forgotten the rationale for scrapping levels?' or hot off the press, 'Updated assessment journeys' by @tim_jumpclarke. 

I'm still wondering how many schools are doing the same thing, creating systems, questioning what they are doing, becoming confused and going round in circles ...

* I will share these via google docs if anyone would like a copy

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants - reflections from inspiring CPD

Today I was fortunate enough to attend a free conference at the UEA about maximising the impact of teaching assistants*. The presentations centred around the very helpful guidance document, 'Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants' from the Education Endowment Foundation, which does what it says on the tin. I used snippets of it in teaching assistant meetings during the last school year, but know that more needs to be done (there's always more to do isn't there?!) This report provides 7 recommendations for maximising the impact of TAs and provides guidance on effective deployment. The conference today reminded me about what this report says - and it is always good to have opportunities to refresh your memory. I highly recommend it to anyone working in the classroom.

The impact of teaching assistants has received mixed press over the years and the role has changed significantly. I don't think anyone can disagree with the guidance that they should not be used as substitute teachers for low attaining children - our least able children need consistently high quality teaching if the gap between them and their peers is to be reduced. Jonathon Sharples and Rob Webster talked about how TAs are effective when interventions are structured, high quality training is provided and TAs are prepared. Simple, common sense ideas that we aspire to at East Harling. Most of our TAs have received Read, Write inc training and our great phonics results are testament to the impact this has had. Equally, the impact of 1st Class@Number has been significant. With both of these interventions our TAs receive ongoing support and high quality training. They have guidance to refer to and although the structured lessons may make some teachers grind their teeth, they provide appropriate scaffolding for TAs to deliver high-quality lessons. When I have a TA in my maths lesson, I try really hard to give them a written plan, such as Numicon activities, so that they have something to refer back to whilst supporting a group. Quite often TAs are expected to follow a stream of verbal instructions, without being shown expectations. No wonder they sometimes get it wrong. To ensure that our support staff don't inadvertently confuse children, objectives and activities need to be clear, through appropriate guidance and careful monitoring.

Another important message was reiterated at the conference: we must ensure that TAs realise that they are not judged on the amount of work a child has completed. We are probably all guilty of thinking that children haven't done very much, but actually the conversations, thinking and experimenting that has taken place will have a greater impact in the long run. We were introduced to the concept of the 'snow plough TA', who pushes the child through the activities by providing answers and not really expecting the child to think or problem solve. We are aware of the minimal time that teachers give children to answer a question, hence the use of strategies such as think, pair, share, talking partners, popcorn etc. We were told that the average time a TA gives is 1 second ... It is our responsibility to do something about this, by training TAs appropriately. Questioning techniques are paramount too, which is why we use the Q-Chart at school - it reminds us about open and closed questions and those that promote deeper thinking. Things like this are not just for teachers, they need to be shared with everyone who works with children. A deeper understanding of the importance of this must be made explicit through training and discussions in the classroom.

Marc Rowland gave the analogy (taken from a fiction book) of people being taken up Everest with a guide, who falls to his death. Because he has not equipped the people with skills, he has merely 'pushed' them up the mountain, so they all perish too. This story got a shocked laugh from the audience and was a great way of demonstrating what happens when we don't promote independence or deep thinking. How true that many of our children develop a kind of learned helplessness because they have not been expected to try, think or struggle. 

Schools are accountable for how they deploy staff and the DISS project made it clear that it is our responsibility to fundamentally rethink how we use them, to ensure we are getting good value for money. Whilst it feels wrong to talk abut people in this way, I do agree that we need to work with the strengths of our staff. I was a TA for four years and I think I was deployed effectively for about 50% of this time. I'm sure that given the chance, most TAs could reflect on their own value in a school, and maybe there are cases where the SLT and the TA know that best use is not being made of them, but for many reasons things cannot change. One of the things that I did shortly after becoming a SENDco was to compile a TA register that showed training and skills. I believe that we deploy our TAs as well as we can, but I am also aware that there are skills that are not being used, because there are not enough hours in the day - and because sometimes it's the same children who need access to specific interventions, but how many times can you take them out of whole class activities. Incidentally, we were encouraged to do this - pick some children on the SEN register and count how many hours they spend outside the classroom. Juggling time and trying to do the best for each child can mean they are missing out on other important things in the classroom. It is a huge dilemma at times. 

There are things that I will do as soon as possible as a result of this course (purchasing the book and reading it) and some things that I haven't got round to doing, that need to be done, such as auditing TAs and trying to find ways of making time for TAs and teachers to spend more quality time together. The headteacher of St Andrew's Cof E school in Stockwell has developed some innovative ways of doing this, such as fortnightly meetings where the whole school has a music lesson whilst the TAs and teachers have CPD sessions together. The TAs are given a gap task - something to complete before the next session - which is supported by senior leaders. This culture of shared practice is having an impact, though the head acknowledges how fortunate they are to have the funding to do so. With almost 50% pupil premium, funds can be used creatively for the benefits of all children.

The Maximising TAs website has some great resources  for auditing the use of TAs, such as a deployment survey questionnaire and working in the classroom

As always, after CPD like this, I came back buzzing. Now I just need the magic fairy to whoosh a few more hours into the day!

*Where I have used TAs in this post, I am referring to all support staff in school.

Monday, September 28, 2015

My verbal feedback stamp

I sometimes use a verbal feedback stamp. According to @TeacherToolkit it's madness and it makes me a laughing stock. I'm sure I've been called worse, but it does bother me that an influential blogger - and senior leader - is stating his opinion in a way that could put a dent in some teachers' morale. And assumptions are being made about how and why it is used. Consider this, some teachers may use the verbal feedback for themselves. Not OfSTED, not the SLT (but possibly for parents). Regarding the latter, my son struggled with writing and when he was in year 6 the one really good (imo) piece of work was unmarked. If there had been a verbal feedback stamp then I wouldn't have questioned the lack of written comments. 

I'm well aware of OfSTED's marking guidance and wouldn't dream of spending time writing down what was said during the feedback, but in a couple of seconds the stamp shows that feedback has been given. It's something I strive to do - guide the children whilst they are working, to support their progress. I am fully aware that a stamp itself adds no value to learning, but the feedback does! 

For myself, I use the stamp sporadically, but it is for my benefit and certainly not proof that I am stamping for evidence trails (another assumption). I ask my children to leave their books open for marking, in a pile. If I've put the verbal feedback stamp on any, it acts as a reminder that I don't need to mark it again. That saves me time, which can only be a good thing right?! 

Today I used it in the middle of a maths lesson. When I looked at the subsequent work I could see that my verbal feedback had a positive impact.   How's that for self assessment of my teaching? So forgive me, but I'll keep my stamp, thank you - and make a mental note that when I have strong opinions about something I will avoid using words/phrases intended to ridicule fellow professionals.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How can digital leaders have an impact on the computing curriculum?

A post for #DLChat on 17th September at 9pm

I confess that my work with digital leaders has been sketchy over the past couple of years. I left the role of ICT coordinator two years ago, but that doesn't mean I have lost my passion for what I believe to be an asset to any school. We do have digital leaders at East Harling and I am fortunate to work with some of them in our code club, but I am not directly involved with what they do for the school. I have tried to get KS1 digital leaders going (mini DLs as I like to call them), but this has proved difficult despite their excitement about the role. Time is a problem. I aim to try again this year! The reason I am telling you this is that the following is based on experiences that are over two years old. They are still very valid and I actually feel very proud of what we achieved as a school before the computing curriculum became statutory. 

My digital leaders met at least once a week and had different areas of expertise, depending on their interests and what they wanted to learn. A couple were responsible for blogging and they updated their digital leader blog independently. They had lots of ideas, many of which came into fruition.

They hosted an open event where teachers and technicians (spot @kevin_sait!) came along to learn about the impact they have in school. I know that this had an impact as the ICT coordinator from my current school attended - and subsequently advertised for digital leaders. He has been supporting them in school for over two years now. 

So what about computing? Well I like to think that between the digital leaders and I we left a legacy of good practice. I was always quite hot on teaching the computing elements of the ICT curriculum as I knew that it was the part that teachers shied away from. Being an AST meant I had to know. I also wanted to find resources and ideas that would inspire children to engage and teachers to develop the passion to deliver confidently. So my digital leaders learned how to use - and become experts in - a range of resources such as:

  • Kodu
  • Mozilla thimble
  • Hackasaurus
  • Scratch
  • BYOB
  • Probots
  • Popcorn
  • Sherston resources
  • A range of ipad apps
I'm sure there were more, but these were the ones I remember most. I did not teach them, they learned by exploring, breaking things and through trial and error. Pretty much the same way that I have learned. It seems to stick better that way. 

They taught their peers during class ICT sessions, provided staff workshops and 1:1 support (depending on the teacher's year group), provided computing workshops for teachers in our cluster, presented e-safety sessions in assemblies, hosted kidsmeets, attended kidsmeets to learn new things and participated in cluster livewriting sessions to share expertise with other children. I have no doubt about the positive impact that they have had. I am very proud of one of my digital leaders who, after two years of campaigning to get her high school to employ digital leaders, has taken on the role herself. At the end of last year she had 20 year 7 digital leaders turn up! Wow! 

Of course the impact they have had is only measurable by the anecdotal evidence from other staff members, but I know that many felt more confident to try things out after they had received training from a digital leader - or they had them supporting in class. The laptops were being booked out more, staff were becoming more adventurous with what they were teaching and the children were leaving school with a greater level of skills.

I know that schools rely on passionate staff (or young people!) to keep any digital leader movement going. As a deputy, SENDco and year 2 teacher my time is very limited. My experience with year 6 digital leaders though was that they almost managed themselves. Some of them came more than twice a week and I was quite frank that they had to work things out themselves - and they did! At times all I provided was my room, meagre tips (and only when I could sense frustration) and the fact that I was available (often marking). So if you really want to get started but are concerned about protecting your time, promote an ethos of self-learned expertise. 

In #DLchat I would love you to share your successes and struggles. Maybe we can persuade others to employ them this year and find out for themselves what impact they can have.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Learning without limits

Today I have been fortunate enough to attend the conference 'Assessment without Levels' led by the inspirational Alison Peacock and Mary Myatt. The opportunity to hear their messages (and network with esteemed colleagues) made it well worth being out of my classroom. I had envisaged live blogging, but quickly realised that I would not be able to do it properly, whilst listening to what was being said. It was too gripping! What follows in an overview (I have written pages of notes) and I have refrained from putting in quotes so that I don't unintentionally mis-quote, but have tried to capture the essence of what I learned. This is my interpretation of the day, so some of what I have written is not precisely what was said.

Alison kicked off the day by reminding us that we need to keep our principles intact and our children at the forefront. This sounds obvious, but maybe it isn't for those schools who have been judged as RI or inadequate. It is a message that was reiterated by Mary in the afternoon, who told us that what we do is for the children's learning and progress, not for OfSTED. 

Alison was emphatic about not labelling children, but keeping the door open - enabling learning without limits. We are sometimes in danger of limiting the children with the labels that we give them, even if our intentions are good. Giving children a level may limit, or put a ceiling on, what you expect from the child, or they expect from themselves. 

What Alison said about mastery really struck a chord and was particularly relevant in the context of my practice at the moment. I am a fairly experienced teacher, but in no way complacent about what I do in the classroom. I am always seeking ways in which to be better. I am familiar with Dweck's mindset work having read the book a few years ago and from returning to it this summer. The radio 4 programme Mind Changers (in which Alison and her school appear)was part of our inset training on our return to school, with a follow up discussion about it in our staff meeting last night. I am really trying to think about growth mindset in terms of mathematics and to be frank it is making my head hurt. I have gone from thinking that I am a 'we can do it' kinda teacher with uber high expectations, to someone who may inadvertently been capping learning. 

Alison said that real mastery is not knowing, but questioning everything. You think you know, but actually you don't. Yes! That's exactly it! My thinking is being challenged and I have become confused with my maths planning. Luckily, Alison unknowingly gave me the solution to my confusion! Although I like to think I challenge children appropriately, in maths children were often grouped by ability - at least 3 times each week. This to me was the way to manage the tasks they needed to do, pitched at the right level, to help them make progress. Yes there were many days when they chose the level of activity and I provided lots of opportunities for more open ended maths where everyone had the same starting point, but essentially children belonged to groups. I could talk about the children who developed resilience, the ones who could do but couldn't talk/share their learning and the ones who had a positive view of their maths, but were inaccurate, but that could be a whole new post. The idea that Alison shared about differentiation through having challenges that children select (challenge 1,2,3 or 4) is something I am aware of, but have not adopted as consistent approach. It makes perfect sense! I've always considered it to be successful when I've done it, but have never considered doing it every day. Simples?! It's something that I can implement immediately and observe impact. Our children already have brilliant learning behaviours, so I'm sure will learn to select the right challenge for them, and we have a culture of trust, which is another thing that Alison was very clear about. Children must feel confident enough to voice their ideas, views and opinions without fear of threat or ridicule. They need to know that it's ok whether they choose challenge 1 or 4, that there are no judgements made.

Mary reinforced this in the afternoon by saying we are responsible for creating an atmosphere of high challenge, low threat, in which it's ok to make mistakes. These mistakes are vital for learning. Mary also said that if we work on a rich curriculum, we won't always know what will happe and with uncertainty comes challenge. This is why I love the mantle of the expert approach so much - the children lead, you can't always guarantee the direction you will go and the challenge is exciting! Everything these two ladies said made me think of this approach, from student voice to building resilience and positive attitudes - and giving all children equal starting points. If you haven't tried this approach before I can tell you that you I am constantly surprised by children's responses, which are very often contrary to what you would expect from their 'labels' (e.g. NC level). It levels the playing field. What this approach also does is provide ample opportunities for children to share ideas, make decisions and have an impact - all essential in the new OfSTED inspection framework. Mary asked, what do the children have to say? Student voice is one of the powerful indicators of where you are as a school. Pause and think about this.

Indeed under the new framework OfSTED will look for

  • Children who are confident and self assured
  • Good attitudes to learning
  • Children can discuss and debate in a considered way

Children need to learn to agree to disagree and that it's ok to have a different opinion or change your mind (drama techniques like decision alley springs to mind). OfSTED will ask what children are doing and why, so time needs to be invested on the latter. We must also make sure we identify and rectify misconceptions, check systematically for understanding, build resilience, give children time to practice and, most importantly, teach fewer things in greater depth. In the Q&A session at the end, we were reminded that it was ok to take your learning objective over more than one lesson. We need to stop rushing through the curriculum. I can't be the only year 2 teacher who is aware of a child who still hasn't grasped a concept, but has no more time to spend on it. Being given permission in the new curriculum  to slow down feels wonderful.

As for assessment, Alison believes that focusing on a rich curriculum, expertly taught, with low threshold, high ceiling tasks and a culture of challenge is much more profitable than focusing on levelling children. They are rigorous about the quality of teaching, rather than the levels the children are at. Yes they have to report ks1 and ks2, but they didn't spend time worrying about sub levels. We need to ask what difference we have made, what value we have added and what it is like to be a child in our school. Formative assessment (assessment for learning) is embedded and although summative assessment can inform, it should not hamper high quality teaching (big agree here!) Like us, they now use the NAHT KPIs, but in a slightly different way. These are aggregated at the end of each year and passed on to the next teacher (how it should be!) Assessments can be triangulated with work in books and will provide a scaled score for parents. Children are at the heart of parent meetings, which makes total sense as they are the ones being discussed. They produce short films where they self assess and these are shown in their learning review conferences. I love this idea and will definitely do this with some of our children on the SEN register as I think it is a great way of adding to case studies. 

If you want to read more about the Wroxham School's assessment policy, it is set out very clearly on their website

I could write more and more about the messages from today - and lots more advice was given by Mary about the new framework - but I feel this is enough food for thought for now. You can find out lots of brilliant advice on her informative website and I would highly recommend subscribing to her updates. They save an awful lot of time trawling through educational/social networking sites and are always helpful. 

I apologise for any typos (tired eyes) and will polish this post when I turn on my PC by adding some links, bullet points, bold parts etc (ipad prevents proper posting!!) 

I hope I have done justice to Alison and Mary's key messages. This really is a nutshell and I'm sure another blog post will ensue. 

Update: Amy has blogged! A brilliant read that picks up on lots of things that I had written down - and some things that I had only half written because too many inspirational things were being said! (Amy is clearly much better at multi-tasking.)

Please comment! 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Deputy Head Network

A colleague in my current cluster asked recently if I was interested in getting together with other deputies from the cluster on a regular basis, in the same way that head teachers meet. I thought this was a good idea. A couple of days later the deputy from my old school said more or less the same thing. I see three other deputies socially, regularly and we often talk shop. For me, one of the most useful things about getting together is the sharing of valuable information. For that reason I started a new FaceBook group - The Deputy Head Network

It presently has 35 members, of which three of us have shared ideas / links. Like other facebook groups, it is not exclusive to deputies. I am a member of the EYFS group and I appreciate the posts, love the ideas and have used one from it already. The Deputy Head Network could easily have been named SLT group or Sharing Good Edu Practice and is a place where any practitioners who have the mindset that sharing benefits children's learning and pupil progress, at a whole school level, are welcomed. It is also a place to share ideas and resources for staff meetings. In the spirit of the group, if you join it please share something great! I'll look forward to seeing you there.

Maths Minion!

Like lots of infant teachers, I have always had a class bear or two. The first way that I used them was to teach children about the world. The Bears went travelling, we plotted their travels using Google maps and the children shared photos and wrote journals (see the blog sidebar and one of the pages of their travels). Lily went to Australia, Old Trafford, Las Vegas and the Yosemite National Park, to name a few, all in one year! 

When I started at East Harling the class bears were used to promote free writing. By the middle of the second year I changed the expectation to reading the bears a story, because the quality of writing in the books differed greatly and I didn't want judgments being made. My children were asked to read a story to the bears and record what they (the bears) thought of it. 

This year I have one bear that will be a travelling bear and a very new Maths Minion to try. As a school maths is a focus area so I thought that one way to support this would be to put together a rucksack with Stuart, who needs to learn some maths as he finds it tricky. The back pack came with a handy pencil case, folder and notebook. I will add a laminated sheet with some activity ideas, which will include lots of games, mental maths skills and ideas to use and apply mathematical in daily life. I have also linked the Maths Wizards blog I made  couple of years ago (for a child with SEN) to our Class Blog as I know that many children enjoy using technology to play games. Hopefully this puts less pressure on busy parents.

I'm relying on the novelty factor of Minions to entice the children to take Stuart home with them.  The important thing is that it will be their choice what they do. We shall see how it works! 

Minion Me! My lovely class Minions!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Holiday reading

Every so often I write a post about the books I have been reading and thought it was about time I wrote one again (well I thought it was about time I wrote any post actually...). I don't write in-depth reviews, they take too long and I am lazy. These are just brief synopses of some of the books I have enjoyed, with no plot spoilers and with the intention that you are not influenced by my views (I save them for book club). They are all, in my opinion, good books.

Elizabeth is missing by Emma Healey

This was a quick read that really struck a nerve. Alzheimer's affects many people and this book made me think often of my dear granddad. It is written from the viewpoint of Maud and weaves together her childhood and the disappearance of her sister, with the disappearance of her friend Elizabeth. The characters were believable, easy to relate to and I actually felt humbled by the patience of Maud's daughter (so much like my mum) and the determination of Maud. It made me laugh, it made me cry and was enjoyable even though it worried me (lots of books with realistic themes worry me).

Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I am a big fan of  Cloud Atlas and have about four of Mitchell's books on kindle waiting to be read. At the moment my eyes are preferring real books though. Bone Clocks starts in the eighties and, like Cloud Atlas, has reality mixed with 'believable' fantasy, in both characters and events. I enjoyed it because I could relate to the teenage angst of Holly in the eighties and I like fantasy fiction. It was gripping from start to finish, with only a few 'what?!' moments (I liked the end chapters, but got lost/annoyed somewhere before that). The reader is reminded of global issues such as terrorism, war and what might happen in a dystopian future society (food, electricity rations, no communication systems etc, which always freaks me out). The characters are great and believably written, from the obnoxious Crispin Hershey to the charming Hugo Lamb. I am in awe of Mitchell's imagination and storytelling and would love to have a book club chat with anyone who has read it! (Though I finished it a few weeks ago now and find that stories often float out of memory.)

Dirty Teaching by Juliet Robertson

I bought this one for school. A great book to dip into for any fan of learning outdoors, it has great ideas that support our school curriculum.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The name of this book was taken from a famous work of Japanese literature (one of the many things I learned from reading this) and is essentially about the building of the Thailand-Burma railway during World War II. It is harrowing and at times difficult to read. I am glad I read it. I wept many times because of the shocking conditions that these soldiers were in and the reality of how 300 soldiers can be treated so appallingly (and acceptingly) by the few in command. It brought back my psychology studies and a trip to a memorial in Borneo. It is a harrowing read. I sobbed uncontrollably twice. Once because of the compassion shown by a Greek man and his chip shop (I don't want to give anything away) and also the unbelievable, but true, part about the vivisections. There is a love story woven throughout, but this does not lighten it. I needed to talk to people about this whilst reading it, because I found it so incredibly disturbing.  A must read, even though I'm not sure when the best time to read it is - don't expect to sleep easily afterwards.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

A quick and easy holiday read. I enjoyed it for that very reason - it was light relief after the previous book. It has a slight fantasy feel to it, though I thought more could have been made of that. On amazon they liken it to The Goldfinch and Girl With a Pearl Earring, but it is not really in the same league as either of those. It does have believable characters and a good storyline, but lacks the depth of the former and the atmosphere of the latter. That is not intended to be criticism - I repeat that I really enjoyed reading it!

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

This book has a similar theme to the some of the others I have read of McEwan's, in that a significant event has a massive impact on one of the key characters. The central character is Fiona, a high court judge who deals with family law and is having a bit of a crisis in her personal life. There are many cases that she deals with that make up this story, but the main one is about a 17 3/4 year old Jehovah Witness (Adam) who has leukaemia and is refusing treatment. It is not a lengthy book, but I didn't read it quickly as I found myself really thinking about the issues in the cases and in her personal life, which I think McEwan captured well. I wasn't entirely convinced about Adam, but that's more about my experiences with teenage boys than anything else. Well worth reading (and again I would really like a book club chat about it!)

Looking back at my past book club post, I realised that there are many other good books I have read in between that one and this one: We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (very different from anything else I have read and took me back to my psychology studies too); The Rosie Project by Don Tillman (loved it - much more so than other book clubbers - and laughed aloud a lot); Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell (the second of his fantasy romps with a bit of a musketeer feel); Assassin's Apprentice and Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (not as in-depth as other fantasy novels, but that makes it an easy and enjoyable read when your mind is on other things at work); The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield were both good book club reads that I wouldn't have chosen myself.  I have read more, but some were not so good ...

I am now returning to my favourite genre of fantasy fiction, with Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan, which I am loving. Ryan has cleverly written this in a way where I am reminded of previous events, without him repeating anything or making the links between past books and present forced.  I also have The Skull Throne by Peter Brett to finish. I started reading it as soon as it was published, but decided that I needed to read the three previous books again before finishing it (my shocking memory was not helping me understand parts of it!)

As always, I value your recommendations, though I do have a pile of new books to get through (thanks to my boot sale addiction and the generous vouchers from parents and work colleagues).

Here are some of the books my friends are reading. I'm sure they will inspire you! I love how Amanda has separated her piles. I tend to borrow 'work' books from the library, then forget to read them until they are due back...

Amanda Cockburn's


Jo Neale's 

Becki Jennings'

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Teachmeet East Harling

This evening we hosted our very first teachmeet at East Harling. It really was a 'back to basics' teachmeet, with no live-streaming and no tweeting during the presentations. I make no apology for this and actually think that it made for a better event as everyone was concentrating on what was being said - and joining in with the more interactive parts. I tried to liveblog, but my ipad decided to have keyboard failure, so that was that!

Thanks to our generous sponsors, all attendees got a great swag bag with lots of goodies inside. We had delicious cakes and sweets on the tables to keep us going. The note books and pens came in very handy for all the top tips we learned throughout and our new hot mugs are much appreciated. 

Here is a flavour of the brilliant presentations.

Up first was @AmandaCockburn who took us through a series of activities and actions to support fine motor skills development. Funky fingers and finger gym activities are completed daily in her classroom. Amanda has a huge collection of resources in her classroom to support fine motor development. Her inspiration comes from @tishylishy on Pinterest where you can find other brilliant ideas.

We had a great bit of audience participation with dough disco! 

Next up, @AmandalYates shared story bags for RE, for creative and reflective responses to story telling. Using the props and the ideas from given scripts in the Bible Storybook, you can build up a story from the bible, ensuring that children are given lots of time for thought and reflection. Through this, children explore a range of ideas, thoughts and feelings.

Matt shared some great websites to use in maths for primary aged children. They can be found on the class blog. Favourite ones include maths sticks and transum.

Next, @beckijennings shared with us how films can be used to inspire writing. She has a fantastic Pinterest page where you can find a lot of these films.

I can vouch for My Morning Jacket - If you Touch Me ... as I have used it three times with year two children as a big writing stimulus, with incredible results. Try it yourself!

Next to come up on the fruit machine was @JenniH68 who talked us through the benefits of using solo taxonomy as a great method of assessment for learning. Jenni also explained how clearly it can show progress in a lesson, or across lessons, to any visitors in the classroom. She shared the lego film which explains nicely the principles of solo taxonomy, then showed how she uses it for self assessment by asking children to circle where they are on the learning objective / marking slips that go in their books.  

Next up, Lisa talked us through how she has used the inspirational book, The Arrival by Shaun Tan. She has used it in many different ways, but generally as a resource for PSHE. She shares how, as a book with no words in it, it levels the playing field for all children. It provides a great stimulus for thinking through a range of ideas, problems and dilemmas.

Lisa also shared the great video she has used that has been created by Frederik Vorndran. It really is a book that every school should own as there are many opportunities for PSHE, writing and drama that can be gained from it. 

Next up, Tessa (who used to take my yoga class and is utterly brilliant!) showed us how to use yoga in the classroom to help children maintain focus when they have been sitting for a while, like after assembly. She explained how she scatters bits of yoga throughout the day as a kind of brain gym, and as we all had been sitting for a little while we had a bit more audience participation!

After a spot of yoga, Melissa had a bit more audience participation with her spaghetti marshmallow maths! Why use art straws when you can have fun with food. There were rules though, like 'no licking!'
 I'm ashamed to say that I forgot to take pictures of some of the marvellous creations around the room, but you can see some of the class maths on their blog

After a bit of maths @jenniH68 showed us how to get some quality writing by slowing it right down with slow writing. This is another great free resource that really can help children produce quality writing, by following the prompts on screen and having thoughtful discussions with their partners. Try it! It's fab!

Back to maths with Laura, who showed us how you can use something in the news, like the sugar content in our drinks, to cover percentages in maths. You can see more on her class blog where her year 5 children participate in a think before you drink investigation. A super way to use maths in a meaningful context. 

Emma talked us through Osiris effort levels and how she uses these in class. By holding fingers up at children you can give them immediate feedback about where you think they are, or you can ask them to self assess where they are. Effort level 1 means you are distracting others, 2 letting yourself getting distracted, 3 is that kind of not brilliant effort place, up to 5 where you are putting best effort in. A simple but effective way of giving feedback and getting children to self assess.

I may have presented next, but there is no photo as I was using my iPad. I shared thinking blocks and lots of lovely computing resources for primary, which of course you can see on this blog by following the computing link. 

 Last but not least, @seeman_paul shared maths garden, which he learned about on a trip to the Netherlands. It is a whole school maths resource that has a huge benefit - it changes difficulty level according to where children are. You can track progress easily and they have found it to be a useful school resource.

The presenter raffle was much appreciated at the end - I will blog about this tomorrow!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Learn to Code

I have long been a fan of the Rising Stars Switched on ICT units because of the way that they cover ICT in a creative way, supporting teachers who have low confidence in covering he curriculum. With the move to the computing curriculum, Rising Stars have responded quickly, with a set of Learn to Code books, written by Claire Lotriet @ohlottie. 

When I first saw them I was impressed with the way that the units are set out in easy to follow steps and that they can be used progressively through KS2. Our ICT coordinator felt the same and that they would be a useful addition to the resources that we have in school. 

Exploring Kodu

The fact that the activities are based on free resources means that it can be a cost effective way of covering the computing curriculum, especially for less confident teachers. There is a great variety too! The programs in the unit cover sequence, selection, and repetition in programs; working with variables and various forms of input and output. I was pleased to see Kodu and Thimble included and impressed that it moved on to things like Python and AppInventor. 

Ensuring the Scratch instructions work!

It was important to find out what our children thought though, as they often have different opinions from the teachers!  So my year 5 code club (which includes some digital leaders) have spent the last couple of weeks reviewing some of the activities (they selected the ones they wanted to try out). The thing that stood out was that my children were generally able to follow the instructions and investigate independently. There is a range of ability within this group and the normal range of personalities, from those who quietly persevere, to those who prefer to work in pairs and others who are motivated by other's successes. The children who have the least stamina were given the easier tasks from the first books.

Lightbot explorers

I did my usual observing and questioning and when they did get stuck I encouraged them to return to the last instruction and try again, which they did! They have learned essential computing skills, such as using logical reasoning and debugging as well as perseverance. They have thoroughly enjoyed using them – not just the more familiar resources like Scratch, Lightbot or Snap and the creative enticement of Kodu, but relishing the success they felt when they have managed to create a script and program a turtle using TouchDevelop. Drawing a square with a turtle using this unknown resource was a huge coding achievement for one child.

Amazing perseverance with TouchDevelop

I think this is a great scheme for helping primary aged children (and early secondary) develop their coding confidence. If you lack confidence as a teacher to deliver the computing curriculum, you won't go far wrong with these. 

NB Depending on the experience of your children, you may want to use books meant for lower year groups with your children.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Successful resources for the computing curriculum

Last Thursday #DLChat focused on successful resources that have been used in the computing curriculum. I started a gdoc to crowd-source these successes and to show how digital leaders have supported delivery of the computing curriculum. Many of you will know how passionate I am about digital leaders, the benefits to them as students and the impact that they can have in school. It is great to see how schools have benefited from their skills. 

 This differs in the crowd-sourced computing document as it is not just ones that are known, but ones that have been used.  I have blogged about many computing resources and am proud to say that there are very few that I haven't tried in school - and this is mostly because they are new, not appropriate for KS1 and I only have an hour a week with my code club so haven't got round to them yet. Please add any that you know of that haven't been listed. There are lots of valuable ideas in the #DLChat story below too. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bugs and numbers

This is another lovely EYFS/SEN app made by Little Bit Studio. Like Bugs and Buttons, the graphics and the music are appealing and of high quality. There is a range of games to play, to enhance early maths skills from counting and adding to time and fractions.

As with the last app I reviewed, there is a handy finger to give you a hint should you need it.

The first game I played was number recognition and ordering to 100. If you get the order wrong you get an 'oops', but then continue from where you were, which is good.

At the end you get a score, which I would then encourage children to try and beat.

The next game I looked at was a sequencing game. It shows you the order of the xylophone, which you then shake up before replicating. A nice matching/sequencing game. 

The time game is a simple match the analogue to digital time. I only played this briefly so it may go past hour times. It scaffolds learning by showing the time as you move the small hand, then the train chuffs away if you match the time correctly. 

The adding game uses ants as visual, which I know will appeal to children. It is a great game for independent work for a child with SEN in my class as I know he will experience lots of success with it-which it more important than challenge at times. 

The music is appropriate for each game, with a lovely Italian favour during pizza fractions! 

The measuring lab had suitably scientific kooky music too. If you weren't watching your child at play, you would know exactly what they were doing.

There is also some lovely humour too - during game show addition and subtraction (level 1) I was told that I am a super genius! ☺️ That's what I tell my children all the while!

I haven't played all the games in the app, but from the ones I have played I would recommend it as another quality app for early years education. I will definitely be using this in class.