Thursday, 16 November 2017
My guide to bar modelling, written for Third Space Learning, is now available to download. The guide includes information on different types of bar model, how to use them across the primary phase and in different areas of the maths curriculum.
The download also includes a PDF of PowerPoint slides which can be used for staff training purposes.
Monday, 13 November 2017
If ever you wanted to introduce small children to technical legal vocabulary then this book is for you. Alibi, investigation, examined, eyewitness report, evidence, culprit... they're all in the there. And not only is the terminology introduced, the book also provides a great place to begin learning about the process of solving crimes and the following legal processes.
The book throws up some excellent discussion points around justice (Did the culprit get what he deserved? Should criminals be allowed a second chance?) and motivation (Can crime ever be justified? Should we be empathetic towards criminals? How far should you go to be the winner?) making this a useful text to read to inspire debate in the classroom. It also has an environmental focus: teachers could look further at how nature is being damaged by humans, potentially by providing linked non-fiction texts which children would be more inspired to read because of the story's context.
'The Great Paper Caper' is a great example of how picturebooks use images to do more than illustrate a text. The illustrations have to be read and interpreted too - without them the story would be incomplete as the text alone does not give all the details. In the context of the whole story there are plenty of opportunities for teachers to do reading comprehension style activities (particularly focusing on inference skills, it is all about finding clues, after all) using just the pictures.
This is another triumph for Oliver Jeffers, and one that has stood the test of time; it was first published in 2008. Here is a book which a child can enjoy alone, with an adult, or during a variety of different school lessons, and one that's sure to raise a few smiles as well as questions.
And, regardless of gender, all children should be subject to high expectations. Boys deserve to be expected to do well at school.
And when I refer to equal treatment I mean something along the lines of providing children with different opportunities to help them achieve the same outcomes. Some may refer to this as equity rather than equality.
Now, please read my piece for the TES: on how I think we need to treat boys in the classroom:
The Question Level Analysis for the ks2 tests now provided on ASP (the RAISE online replacement) contains national and school data which can be useful to key stage 2 teachers to inform their future teaching. It's also useful for year 7 teachers, but they don't often get access to this information.
So, for the benefit of many teachers and children, here's a breakdown of the parts of the 2017 maths tests that children scores the country struggled with the most:
But that's not the world Jeffers focuses on in 'Here We Are'. In fact he looks at humanity and our planet positively and hopefully, encouraging his readers to re-envision what they see around them. Of course, these 'notes for living on planet earth' are inspired by the author's son so the optimistic standpoint is one of childish naivety, and that's OK. Adult readers will understand the negatives behind the positive statements - the book provides a stimulus for adults to discuss world events and issues with children at an age-appropriate level.
The book has excellent Science and Geography links - Jeffers, in his inimitable style, illustrates the solar system, the night sky, the human body and species of animals providing engaging starting points to several areas of the national curriculum. In fact, so good are these that you'll be crying out for an Oliver Jeffers 'How Things Work' style non-fiction book to use in all aspects of the STEM curriculum.
First, 'Here We Are' is celebration of the planet on which we live; it encourages awe and wonder as we notice and learn about the world around us. Second, it gently urges its readers to look after the things around them - the environment, others and themselves. A double page spread beautifully illustrated with an impressive variety of different-looking people serves as a great talking point alone - how should we treat those who look different to us? Even though we look different, are there similarities? These are such important questions for young children to be discussing if our societies are ever to be more empathetic.
C.S. Lewis said "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest" and Oliver Jeffers never fails at this. Adults reading this book will be reminded about what life is really about and will be inspired to ensure that in all the areas the book touches upon that they are good role models to the children in their life. 'Things can sometimes move slowly here on Earth. More often though, they move quickly, so use your time well.' is definitely advice needed by adults more than by children.
If there were to be one overarching theme I'd say it was wellbeing. And not that selfish kind that only says look after yourself, but the type that celebrates the positive impact of caring for the wellbeing of others. In fact, the five ways to wellbeing are clearly all celebrated in this book: Connect ('You're never alone on earth'); Be Active ('...when the sun is out, it is daytime, and we do stuff' accompanied by a gorgeous yellow-tinted illustration of all kinds of activity); Take Notice ('There is so much to see and do here on Earth...'); Learn (the whole book is about learning new things); and Give ('just remember to leave notes for everyone else.'). What parent wouldn't want wellbeing for their children?
Basically, this is essential reading and needs to be a staple on library shelves and in schools and homes. Books do have the power to change perceptions and this one is something like a manifesto for how children will need to operate in order to change the way things are going in the world. But, I'd even recommend this to adults who might never read it with a child - it could be the gentle reminder they need to adjust their lives for their own wellbeing's sake.
This book would be a great place to start conversations with younger children about any of the above topics. So many questions for discussion spring to mind: Should circuses be allowed to feature animals? Where do polar bears come from? Do we only belong with people who are like us? What makes family so important? Is it possible to be friends with someone who looks different? What does it feel like to be alone in a foreign country? It's easy to forget that young children are able to engage with these ideas and picturebooks like this are a great safe space for them to begin to grapple with life's big questions.
Kirsten Sims' colourful gouache and ink illustrations and quirky typeface will appeal to fans of author/illustrators such as Oliver Jeffers, but that's not to say they are too similar. This artsy approach to picturebook creation should mean that this pleasant little story stands out on the shelves and is read by many.
Sunday, 12 November 2017
'A beautiful, bittersweet tale of family, love and loss' it says on the back. And the blurb isn't lying. Stanley's dad has left, his sister is seriously ill, his mother is struggling with medical bills (it is set in the US, so no NHS) and, at a guess, mental health issues (although this is not explicit) and his best friend has OCD (not a main factor as it is in Stewart Foster's 'All The Things That Could Go Wrong' and Lisa Thompson's 'The Goldfish Boy'). And then a skeleton grows out of the ground in Stanley's garden and comes to life.
The skeleton, to an adult reader, is a metaphor for death, but Ventrella cleverly explores the very real experience of how mixed emotions come into play during the loss of a loved one. The skeleton is funny (there are laugh-out-loud moments) and he brings some light relief to what is otherwise a very sad story. Because this book deals so explicitly with death I would recommend that adults read it first and then make a decision about whether or not it is suitable for their child, or for a child in their class. The book may help some children to explore the emotions felt during a bereavement, for others it may not reflect their experience and might be unhelpful.
Many books about death which are aimed at children attempt to provide some sort of explanation as to what happens to someone when they die - this book doesn't really do that, and is better for it. Beliefs differ widely on this matter so is best left to parents to explain.
'Skeleton Tree' is a clever and emotionally-charged children's novel which will be enjoyed by children and adults alike although I acknowledge that it may not be for everyone. It blurs the boundaries between what is real and what is a coping mechanism in a convincing way - the reader only has to suspend disbelief on a couple of matters, and for children that comes naturally. Not many books make me feel as emotional as this one - based on that alone I'd say this book deserves to be on a good number of home, library and classroom bookshelves!