Saturday, 19 August 2017

3 Books That Introduce New Vocabulary To Children

Discovering new vocabulary is one of the most exciting parts of reading, but children don't always know what new words mean. Of course, children can be taught methods of finding out what new words mean - morphemic analysis and contextual analysis are the techniques that come in most handy in the primary classroom - but some books do the job for them. Whilst these books are not a substitute for learning the skills needed to decipher new vocabulary, they are a great way to get children into the habit of actually finding out what unfamiliar words mean. Some children are quite happy to skip over unknown vocabulary, which leads to a lack of overall understanding of texts, and one of the most important jobs of a teacher is to enable children to have excellent comprehension skills; if a child can read with understanding they can learn almost anything.

There are several children's books out there which in one way or another creatively and cleverly give definitions for words that children might not already know:

The Great Cat Conspiracy by Katie Davies


This particular book encourages the use of dictionaries - something which some children appear to be allergic to! Perhaps by using this book with children they will catch the passion that the main character has for understanding new and difficult words.

The best way to share examples from this book is to show you some pictures of the book's pages where illustrator Hannah Shaw has done a sterling job of communicating Katie Davis' desire to help children to learn new vocabulary:



Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

'On the second day there was nothing to do. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Which is why, when his father said, 'Ah there you are. I was just thinking of going for a brief perambulation. Would you like to come too?'
Stuart answered, 'Oh all right, then.'
By 'brief perambulation', his father meant a short walk. That was the way he talked all the time...'

Stuart's father writes crossword puzzles and as such prides himself in the use of words that most people don't use. It's up to the narrator or Stuart's father to explain what the words mean. Here's another example:

''When I was a youngster,' his father told him as they walked, 'there weren't any houses in this part of Beeton at all. This whole area was sylvan.'
'What's sylvan mean?' asked Stuart.
'Wooded. And there was a stream running through the middle of it.''

Stuart appears to be used to the way his dad speaks so sometimes there are no explanations for words such as 'mechanisms' and 'diversified', (although a sentence containing 'conflagrated', 'incediary' and 'armaments' is translated by his father as Stuart has no idea what he is talking about!) meaning that children will also have opportunities to discover some word meanings for themselves.


A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket

In the most well known of the books here, and representing 13 books in all, the narrator often interjects with definitions of more unusual words. Take this example from the first page of the first book 'The Bad Beginning':

'Their misfortune began one day at Briny Beach. The three Baudelaire children lived with their parents in an enormous mansion at the heart of a dirty and busy city, and occasionally their parents gave them permission to take a rickety trolley - the word “rickety,” you probably know, here means “unsteady” or “likely to collapse” - alone to the seashore, where they would spend the day as a sort of vacation as long as they were home for dinner.'

Another example where one of the characters, rather than the narrator, explains what a word means:

'“‘Perished,’” Mr. Poe said, “means ‘killed.’”
“We know what the word ‘perished’ means,” Klaus said, crossly. He did know what the word “perished” meant, but he was still having trouble understanding exactly what it was that Mr. Poe had said.'


Of course, if you've read any of the Lemony Snicket books, then you'll know they celebrate learning and the reading of books, and the vocabulary used reflects this - there are plenty of other words used that children can discover the meanings of themselves. And hopefully they will be inspired to do so by the way some definitions are included in the text.

All of the books I've chosen are also well-written, exciting and original stories which, apart from their entertainment value, have many other qualities. 'The Great Cat Conspiracy' provides teachers and parents with an opportunity to discuss senile dementia and how we care for the elderly as well as introducing younger readers to the crime/mystery genre. 'Small Change for Stuart' encourages problem solving and could provide great links to books like 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret'. The 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' books contain an alternate view on what it's like to be an orphan when compared to, say, Disney films - there are also opportunities for comparative work between the books and the film adaptation and the Netflix series.

So, if you find your class, or individual children, unwilling to engage with new vocabulary, perhaps one of these excellent books could inspire them to become a vocabulary detective.

This blog post has the potential to be an ever-changing beast with your suggestions - have you come across any books which take a similar approach to the ones mentioned above? Please comment below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Book Review: 'All The Things That Could Go Wrong' by Stewart Foster

This book isn’t about Dan. And it isn’t about Alex. It’s a book about bullying and friendship. Dan is angry about his brother and Alex has OCD and worries about everything; Alex is an easy target for Dan. But their mums are friends and they force them to finish off building Dan’s raft together – neither of them relish this prospect to begin with, but as they work together, things begin to change.

There are often two sides to every story and Stewart Foster tells both equally well in ‘All The Things That Could Go Wrong.’ Over 61 short chapters Dan and Alex take it in turns to tell the story from their perspective giving the reader an inside track into the mind of both a child with OCD and a child who is channelling their feelings about their own difficulties into bullying someone else. Children can often be very black and white about bullying - this book will help teachers and parents explore with children the possible causes of a bully’s behaviour. It could also encourage children who are expressing their emotions in a negative way to talk to someone about how they are feeling.

The tension between the two boys is held throughout the book, making for an exciting read – children and adults alike will not want to put this book down as they end up rooting both for Dan and Alex. The book would be great to read aloud to the class but individual chapters could be used equally well to link to other texts that focus on similar themes (such as ‘Wonder’ by RJ Palacio and ‘The Goldfish Boy’ by Lisa Thompson) – particularly the ones which give an insight into why Dan bullies Alex.

A thoroughly enjoyable read for readers aged 9-13 who love to read exciting stories about real life issues.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

@bbcTeaching Interview With @thatboycanteach

Ben at BBC Teaching (no, not THAT BBC) is interviewing a whole host of teachers this summer. Have a read of mine and then stick around to discover the stories of more inspiring teachers:

http://bbcteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/a-bbc-interview-with-that-boy-can-teach.html

Up next is Mr. Mystery himself 'That Boy Can Teach' or, as I like to call him, 'Batman'. I am one of the privileged few to have always known his secret identity, and was just about to sell him out to the papers when he removed his cloak of secrecy himself. Well, sort of.

Please introduce yourself, as vaguely as you like.


My real identity is out there and easy enough to find - I'll leave readers to sleuth that one out for themselves.

I've just completed my 11th year of teaching having done a 4 year teaching degree (with art) straight after 6th form. I've worked at three very different schools in the Bradford area - my current one is in a deprived city centre location where the majority of children have English as an additional language.

For the last 5 years I've taught in year 6 (in two schools) but have taught in all KS2 year groups (despite specialising in KS1 at uni).

I've been an assistant principal for the last three years leading the UKS2 phase and maths across the school. Next year I'll be leading LKS2 and mentoring NQTs and SCITT students and continuing with Maths for three days a week - the other two days I'll be working as Primary Lead Practitioner with the other primaries in our MAT on various projects.


What made you become a teacher?

http://bbcteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/a-bbc-interview-with-that-boy-can-teach.html

From the @TES Blog: 10 Tips For Successfully Leading a Subject

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/10-tips-successfully-leading-a-subject

So you've been given a subject to lead. But where do you start? And how do you get everyone interested enough to teach your subject effectively in an already overcrowded primary timetable?

If you are leading on a non-core subject, the challenges can be particularly difficult to overcome. But by following these 10 steps, you will be better placed to make your subject shine.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/10-tips-successfully-leading-a-subject

Monday, 31 July 2017

Songs of Summer: Teacher Wellbeing in the Holidays

The clich├ęs of summer are all about us now: the skies are the bluest of blue, greenery explodes in a million hues, warmth hangs in the air lethargically and I even heard some seagulls this morning, despite my school's city centre location. 

Summer and music go together for me and plenty of songs feature on my summer playlist, but for the purposes of this, my final blogpost of this academic year, I've gone for some of the most obvious - the ones that really make sure you know they're about summer.

Ray Charles said "Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond." Here's how I plan to respond to some of my favourite summer tracks:

"...Summertime, time to sit back and unwind..."

The idea that teachers might be tightly wound by the end of a school year isn't a far-fetched one. The stress (not necessarily a bad thing) of the job can often see us beginning holidays as a tensed up ball of emotion. I find the best way to relieve that is to wind down gradually - going from full-throttle working to 100% relaxing is not the way for me. I prefer to spend some time in reflection (perhaps expect more blog posts in this vein), sorting through all my thoughts and feelings about the year just gone.

Confucius said 'By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.' Forget lesson planning and classroom decorating - the real preparation for next year comes by reflecting on the year just gone.

I also enjoy doing jobs around the house that I've not had time to do during term time - this way I get to be productive without it being work-related

"...Lazing on a sunny afternoon, in the summertime..."

Well, the Fresh Prince already mentioned sitting back, and here we have that summer ideal: lazing around, ideally in great weather. And for me, there has to be some time to be lazy - my perception of what that means has changed over the years, particularly since children have been on the scene, but having time with no plans whatsoever are key to my wellbeing in holiday times. Having some time where there are no commitments hanging over me really helps me to clear my mind.


"...I'm staying out for the summer..."

Of course, summer is all about doing all the things you can't normally do - whatever that may be. There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to wellbeing - get out there and do what you want to do. Last summer I rediscovered rollerblading and actually managed to continue doing it during term time; if you get out there and do this summer, it might just become a habit that you make time for once you're back at work.

"...Summertime, and the livin' is easy..."
It has been said that life is all about relationships; certainly for me that is true. And what better time to invest in relationships that matter than when you have 5 or 6 weeks free to do so? It's not even yet my holidays but this weekend I've been to dinner with my sister and brother-in-law, had my parents round for brunch, had a friend for lunch, met up with our NCT friends for a child's birthday and been to some friends' for a BBQ. I've also spent some lovely time with my daughters, including making thank you cards for their teachers. If living is about relationships, and living is easy in the summer, then summer is a good time to make relationships easier, simply because there is more time, lack of which is the number one barrier to conducting relationships. 
Of course, even I couldn't maintain the level of social interactions I've had this weekend. I have to be careful about how much I do with others - there has to be a balance! However, without any time spent on relationships my wellbeing surely would suffer!
I wish you all a very good, and I'm sure well-deserved, break. I'm planning to be a little more scarce on Twitter although I'm sure I'll pop up occasionally to catch up and I've got a few blog posts in the pipeline too.
I'd love to hear what your summer songs are and how they help you to make the right choices during the holidays! One final one to finish with:
"...Summer breeze, makes me feel fine..."

To My Excellent Year Five Teachers

To my excellent year five teachers,

Thank you so much for all your hard work this year - that sounds like such a standard, stock phrase but I really couldn't mean it more.

I couldn't have asked for a better year 5 team - you have been the perfect combination of high standards and nurture and as a result the children have been transformed under your care. You don't really need me to tell you of the amazing changes that have taken place, but by way of celebration I will:

In terms of behaviour, the group of children you've taught this year is unrecognisable. I always believed that together you would make a difference very quickly and you really did - but just because it happened so rapidly that doesn't mean we shouldn't be celebrating it now. I know that the management of their behaviour has been an ongoing task but since you make it look so easy, it can often go unnoticed!

Because of the much-improved conduct the attitude towards learning has sky-rocketed. You both have classes who are so dedicated to learning, who really care about their education. You have modelled to the cohort how important their time in the classroom is and ensured that it has been time well-spent. They are now characterised by being one of the hardest-working cohorts in the school.

As a result, the progress those children have made this year has been so pleasing to see. From very low starting points you have really worked with precision to make sure that individual needs are addressed and worked on. With diligence you have prioritised the education of each child, giving those children the best possible launchpad to their final year with us.

As a result of that grounding, I am confident that these children will write the next chapter in our success story when, next year, results day rolls around. But, as we are all very aware, although it might not always feel like it, it is not all about results, and actually, because of your teaching ('teaching' sounds very crude, because you've done so much more than just teach) these children are well-rounded human beings who appreciate life in so many ways. You have allowed them to be themselves, but have helped and encouraged them to be better versions of themselves.

As for you being members of my team, I couldn't be more grateful. It was one of my main aims this year to lead a team who were a real team - and we have been just that, and that is down to your commitment to our school, our children and your colleagues. It's not going to be easy to leave such a dedicated group of people, but I know that I'm leaving you together and that team spirit won't die with my leaving - I feel very confident of that.

In the summer I wrote a letter to myself which I only re-read lately; in the letter I wrote, aspirationally, that this year would be a year that I would always be proud of, and it has been - it's been a year we should all be proud of. We have achieved so much, but because we are always aiming higher, we don't always just stop to take stock of what we've accomplished. I hope this summer, and perhaps prompted by this letter, you will take time to reflect and congratulate yourselves on all the successes of this year.

Thank you, once again, although I know you don't do it for the accolades - you do it because you care for the children.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Book Review: 'Making Every Primary Lesson Count' by Jo Payne & Mel Scott

To write a book about effective classroom practice without once mentioning Ofsted, national testing or the Department for Education is no mean feat, and this book should be celebrated for that alone. After all, the goalposts imposed on us change so often, but good teaching will always be good teaching.

But, Making Every Primary Lesson Count deserves to be recognised for more than just that. This is a no-frills, plainly-written book (and I mean that VERY positively) containing what I'd call sensible advice about how to make the most of those few hours in a day when children are supposed to be engaged in learning.

As an experienced teacher I found myself nodding along - I recognised that much of the content reflected the way I have learnt to teach over the years, often in spite of the way I've been told to teach. I also made plenty of notes - this old dog is always willing to learn new tricks, and  as Jo and Mel share examples from their own practice, and that of others they've known, there is plenty for even the longest-toothed teacher to glean.

Next year, I'll be mentoring three NQTs and two SCITT trainees - I certainly read this with them in mind. In fact, the book is being delivered straight into the hands of one of those NQTs who will also be working in my team next year. I wish I'd had this as an NQT - I might not have had to spend 10 years trying to get my approach right if I had!

The book is just the right mix of summary of evidence from research, comment on what works from experience, and solid, tried-and-tested, practical ideas to use in the classroom - the sort you could take away and try the next day without any difficulty. It comes across as academic but accessible, which for the majority of the workforce, is absolutely perfectly pitched.

Making Every Primary Lesson Count has something for new and old teachers alike and is worthy of a place in your CPD library, whether that's your personal one, or your school's. This easy-read would not be a bad volume to spend the summer holidays reading - one chapter per week and come September you'd be ready to spin those plates once more, giving you the best shot at making the most of the children's time with you.