Saturday, January 17, 2015

Challenge (in the primary classroom)

I have been thinking a lot about challenge in the primary classroom and what it actually looks like in practice. From experience, discussions with other practitioners and through social media, it appears to be something that is hot on the OfSTED agenda (see below). Whilst I don't believe that schools should be doing things for them, I do believe that getting the best out of children comes when appropriate challenges are planned for.  So what does that mean? If you look at definitions from the Oxford dictionary:

Challenge: A task or situation that tests someone's abilities. Makes demands on.

A challenge problem: one that offers interesting difficulties

So let's take into consideration the National Curriculum 2014, which states that

 ‘Decisions about when to progress should always be based on the security of pupils’ understanding and their readiness to progress to the next stage. Pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through being offered rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content. Those who are not sufficiently fluent with earlier material should consolidate their
understanding, including through additional practice, before moving on.’

The important part (in my opinion) is that they are challenged, before being moved on. We've all had those conversations with parents who want their child reading books far beyond their understanding, or completing mathematical calculations that they are unable to apply in real life.
 The teaching standards state that a teacher must:

1. Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils


So how do you know if you are doing that? For me, it's not just about whether they are making progress, it's whether you are fostering curiosity and a love of learning through your teaching - and how much ownership children have. In my mind that (love of learning) is a much bigger challenge than showing that you have helped them move on 2 sub levels in a subject, in a term. In my year 2 class this half term it has felt quite easy, with the topic of the Great Fire of London. Yesterday, my TA came back from taking a group down to the library and, in her words, was completely amazed by what they know and how they were talking about it passionately. A great topic can inspire this passion for learning and children are continuing their learning at home because they are interested. Next week I shall become a teacher in role as the maid one day and Samuel Pepys another. Experience tells me that the quality of writing produced afterwards will be much higher than without the drama. Appropriate challenge in the form of engaging their emotions and creating opportunities for them to ask questions.

GFoL movie made (and acted) by a 6 year olds last year

Reflecting further on my own practice, there are many ways that I believe I offer challenge, not just through differentiated tasks, but through the way that I refuse to spoon feed children (I've written a bit about that here).  They are expected to try, to use their initiative and to consider previous learning that may help them solve current problems. I know when direct teaching is needed, to rectify misconceptions (or teach to prevent them) and when they just need to learn things by rote (in an infant style of course!) I started to list all the ways that I felt I challenge children, from open-ended child-led tasks in maths, to mantle of the expert and enquiry led topic work.  My list started to grow, but as always I want to learn if there is anything else I can do, so I decided to share it as a crowd-sourced document in the hope that others would contribute to it. When you look at it, consider how many approaches you have used in the classroom.


The OfSTED part

I have picked out some relevant parts from OfSTED guidance and have found this web page - OfSTED 2012: Challenging tasks matched to children's learning needs - interesting, especially the bullet points saying why and how.

Much of the following is lifted from guidance and is a little disjointed, but relevant to this post.

OfSTED guidance states that inspectors must consider whether teaching engages and includes all pupils with work that is challenging enough and that meets the pupils’ needs as identified by teachers. They will consider whether assessment is frequent and accurate and is used to set challenging work that builds on prior knowledge, understanding and skills.

Inspectors must consider the rigour and effectiveness of systems to drive improvement, including:

  • monitoring the quality of provision and children’s outcomes; the professional development of staff; evaluation of the impact of actions taken; and setting challenging targets 
  • (The lesson's) effectiveness depends on the impact of the quality and challenge of the work set.

Evidence of learning over time may include:

  • the level of challenge provided, and whether pupils have to grapple appropriately with content, not necessarily ‘getting it right’ first time, which could be evidence that the work is too easy (183).

And under grade descriptors:

Outstanding - Provision across all areas of learning is well planned and based on regular and precise assessments of children’s achievement so that every child undertakes highly challenging activities.

Good -  Learning opportunities are well planned and based on regular and accurate assessments of children’s
achievement so that every child is suitably challenged.

Jackie Debeere has written about the perfect ofsted lesson, which is a good read.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Blind date with a book

I wanted to share this fab idea that one of my colleagues (Lovely Lisa!) shared with me. She had seen it at a reading conference, so I apologise for not accrediting the initial sharer of the idea. We both now give our children the choice of changing their reading book in the normal way, or selecting a blind date book. 

Algona Public Library

Each blind date book is wrapped so that children cannot see what they are getting. I teach class 2, so the books may be at the appropriate level, or a challenge for the child. I preempted confusion about this by sending a letter home to parents explaining about blind date books and that they are for reading alone or sharing together. I have included favourite class stories, picture books, early independent readers and some longer stories, which get put into a 'blind date tub'. Not only does it introduce children to books they may not usually choose, it makes them read (or read more quickly) at home because they are keen to choose another blind date book. 

Interestingly, two children at the end of last half term chose not take a blind date book. One of them was keen to read the last book from our reading scheme boxes, the other child just didn't want to take the risk!

You can see some more examples of blind date books on pinterest.

Friday, January 2, 2015

#Nurture 14~15

This is my first nurture post. I am writing it as part of my own well-being as I think it will be beneficial to think about all the positives from 2014. I didn't write one last year as all I wanted to do was settle into my new role and keep on learning. I believe I've achieved both!

So here are the best bits of 2014, in no particular order.

1. The spring and summer term of 2014 were particularly challenging, both at home and school, for many different reasons, but I finished the year with an overwhelming feeling of fulfilment and achievement. Sometimes, things that break your heart ultimately help you become more resilient. I have been incredibly well supported in my first post as a Deputy / SENDco and am proud to work with a team who care immensely about the whole child (not just the education bit). I have learned a lot about myself and am still striving to do better. Although everything happens at a fast pace, I believe that I have a relatively good work/life balance as I do manage to catch up with different friends every weekend and I get to the seaside often. Thanks @JenniH68 for all our Bicycle Shop/Prison Cafe jaunts in 2014, for being my inspiration and sounding board, for your wisdom and your silliness. You are my peacock-haired edu-twin!

2. I have survived my first OfSTED as SENDco (and Deputy). Phew. I have written about that previously (see SENDco posts).

3. I completed the Norfolk Talent Pool training and made some new friends and acquaintances on the way. There are lots of people I respect in education in Norfolk, but few as passionate and enthusiastic as @ms-jamdangory. It was lovely spending time with her. Spending my internship at West Earlham Infant School was also great (thanks @BinksNeatesEvans!) as it confirmed my strengths whilst providing food for thought and highlighting areas that I needed to develop. If the government were going to put one effective cpd strategy in place, then I think internships could be it. It's amazing what you can learn from other schools - that's why I loved being an AST so much. I read somewhere that the best schools are the ones that continue to look outward - and I strongly believe that.

3a. I passed the county moderation tests to become a ks1 moderator, just after OfSTED's arrival. I'm just pointing out here that I had to moderate work and write questions that I would ask the teachers about the child's maths, reading and writing, in the time the ks2 folk had to do just writing. I'm just saying, that's all.

4. I have managed to continue reading for pleasure throughout the year and our mini book club is going well. I have read books that I would never choose for myself - and enjoyed them! Notable (enjoyable) books in the last year were: A Tale for the Time Being, The Thirteenth Tale, Blood Song, The Girl on the Landing and We are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The time I spend reading has increased because the time I spent on twitter decreased significantly last year. I was very shocked by the public bashing some teachers were giving each other last year - we are all doing the same job and it's tough at times without 'colleagues' trying to ridicule each other. I realised long ago that my internet connection (and synapses if I'm honest) are not quick enough to enter a debate where you are limited to 140 characters and I admit that I have mostly shied away from sticking in my two-penneth worth. That said, I would like to bash some twitter heads together! Education is made up from many different subjects and teaching styles and thank goodness for that. People have different opinions and they can be as valid and valuable as each other. If I had been stuck with traditional teachers for my whole education I would have failed even worse than I did. Thank goodness for the variety! The point is, that I continue to read what positive disruptors have to say, because they challenge thinking rather than insult people, but the ones that are down-right rude I pass on by. Try it - you'll be amazed at how much time you save! (I have added to the end of this post the blogs that I continue to read, because they inspire/help me do my job well).

5. I was asked to deliver the keynote at an ICT conference in March 2015, which was a lovely surprise, mostly because I have been less vocal about ICT/computing over the past few months. I'm honoured to be the positive female role model they were looking for - there are plenty others out there that I know of who are passionate educators too. I hope I can inspire the people who come (I'll be trying my damnedest!)

BB Janus!

Hopes for next year

I have many work based hopes, but in some ways the most important hopes are for my friends, family and personal well-being. I have no doubt that my work based hopes will be realised through hard work, great team work, enthusiasm, dedication and the passion that comes from colleagues and I wanting to be the best that we can can be.

1. I hope my son Ben pulls his finger out and gets some work done at uni! I'm dead proud of him, but he has not inherited my ability to balance social life with a good work ethic! In terms of deadlines, he's very last minute. com! Conversely, Jake can balance both and I'm extremely proud of his achievements, though I rarely appreciate his happiness in the middle of the night - especially on a school night!

2. I hope that my closest friends stay happy and healthy. They are my rocks and they keep me grounded (plus they always humour my hair-brained ideas.)

3. I hope I find a yoga class that I can get to. I've not managed Zumba for a whole term and it now feels impossible to go back :-/ I recognise that exercise is essential for my wellbeing though - and last year it meant that I caught up with another close friend each week. I need to reinstate this.

4. I hope that #DLchat and the digital leader network continue. I know that the numbers have reduced, but there are some amazing digital leader advocates out there. I truly believe that all schools should employ them, I just don't have enough time to shout about them through social media so often nowadays. I often get emails from other teachers asking for advice or talking about their achievements and it is lovely. Wouldn't it be even lovelier if all local authorities invested in a DL advocate for each county? Of course some counties are lucky. Bradford has @chrismayoh, @pederosa and others; Yorkshire has @gr8ict, working tirelessly to support and promote DLs; Norfolk has @L_S_Stone (who is keeping the DLN going at present-thank you!) @kevin_sait and @kezmerrelda (and me of course!); Brighton has @traceyab1; Arden has it's DLs, @Lizsaddler and @Danielharvey9; @headdowneyesup down South and @robertd1981 up North; and of course there's @clcsimon and @beklayton who I have got to know this year as other hugely dedicated and passionate educators. Three mighty giants, @ictevangelist, @milesberry and @chrismayoh have continued to support through #DLchat and the UK is lucky to have Chris back with his wit and (huge) wisdom. They are but a few people who deserve a mention.

5. I  hope that the crops of ulcers that I have had in my mouth for many years continue to stay away. Despite last year being frantic at times (and my sleep patterns haven't improved), my mouth has not suffered like it has previously. This makes a huge difference (anyone who suffers with ulcers will know exactly what a relief it is to have none).

Gosh, that's 5 hopes done. I could have written many more! I'm not sure anyone will read this, but it's been quite cathartic writing it, which I guess is the whole point.

People whose blogs I read regularly, because they inspire me, help me do my job well or save me a lot of hard work (or all three!). Thanks to:

Mary Myatt - lots of fantastic pearls of OfSTED wisdom here!
Michael Tidd- brilliant resources for the new curriculum
Cherryl-kd - SEN goddess and lovely lady, with pertinent posts
Miles Berry- my computing/ICT hero
Tim Taylor - creative, lovely chap who is well read and a huge font of knowledge
Mark Anderson - ICT genius
Chris Mayoh - another ICT genius!
Doug Belshaw - for open educational thinkering 

I read others from twitter links, like @teachertoolkit, @debrakidd, @emmaannhardy and @beklayton, @learningspy, @oldandrewuk and @headguruteacher but the ones above are more relevant to primary or ICT.