Wednesday, 17 May 2017

From The @TES Blog: Why Every Primary School Needs To Embrace Non-Fiction

Everyone has their favourite children’s book. And it is almost always a work of fiction. While children do read a lot of non-fiction, it is not venerated in the same way as the novels and picturebooks beloved to us all.

Unfortunately, this can make non-fiction seem somehow less important and some can even question its place in the primary classroom.

We need to fight this denigration of the genre: non-fiction books are essential tools in the primary classroom. Here is why:

Click here to read on over on the TES blog: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/six-reasons-why-every-primary-school-needs-embrace-non-fiction

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

How To Stay Sane Now The KS2 SATs Are Over


The fourth and final post in my series of blog posts for Third Space Learning focusing on teacher and pupil wellbeing during the key stage 2 SATs testing period:

An almost audible collective sigh of relief rises from Year 6 teachers and KS2 pupils across the realm. Suddenly, the prospect of life beyond SATs becomes tantalisingly real and, at least for now, it is there to be enjoyed.

Feelings during the next few weeks will (though I hate to have to remind you) morph from the relief that the end of the SATs week brings into the impatient wait for results day on July 4th.

Click here to read my five tips for staying sane now that the key stage 2 test are over: https://www.thirdspacelearning.com/blog/2017/sayonara-sats2017-5-golden-rules-for-year-6-teachers-to-make-the-most-of-lessons-after-sats

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Being A Writing Teacher: 6 Reasons Why Teachers Should Write


"No one would say 'I can't read', so why do people say 'I can't do maths'?" We've probably all heard that frustration expressed before, and it's a point worth making. But, where primary school teachers are concerned, it doesn't make a difference if they say they can't, they have to anyway. As in, they will teach concepts by modelling them and will solve problems at least in order to work out what the right answers are. They can do maths despite what they say.

But this isn't about maths. This is about writing. And what you will never hear is 'I can't write.' And that's not because they can write and they do write. It's because they think they can't write, know they don't write, and are perhaps are bit ashamed of that. And I'm not even talking about writing for pleasure in their own time, I'm talking about modelling writing in the classroom. I know that there are teachers out there who will avoid writing if they can help it.

It's understandable - good writers are revered, and rightly so. Writing has become the preserve of a select few - those who have truly mastered our language and appear to effortlessly produce flowing prose. Writing isn't for everyone... except for every single child in the education system! We expect them to write, yet many of us teachers have opted out of being writers, having done our time during our own schooling. 

I've said before that teachers should all be readers and actually that's an easy pill to swallow compared to this: all teachers should be writers. Primary teachers should at least be able to write at the level expected of the most able writers in the school. This of course means that secondary teachers should be even more proficient.

How can we teach children to write well if we don't write at all? Even if you are fairly confident in modelling writing in class, ask yourself how good it really is. If you only ever write for those few minutes every now and then in class, are you really honing your skills? Would you benefit from writing for pleasure a little more? This is as much a challenge to myself as it is to anyone who may be reading this - I do not claim to be an expert writer and I know I could do better.

These thoughts have been whirring round my head for some time now, at least since the beginning of the year when I encouraged people to join the #WeeklyBlogChallenge. In fact, on further reflection, I've been acutely aware of the need for teachers to be writers since giving some training where, actually, I think I encountered some fairly reluctant writers.

The benefits of striving to be a proficient writer are, as you can imagine, many fold. I'd suggest six main benefits, though:

1) You will understand the pressure that children feel when you present them with a cold task, or even a task that they are well-prepared for. And when you've experienced that feeling of having a mind as blank as the page in front of you, then your writing lessons will get a whole lot better. If you are someone experienced in seeking inspiration, then you will become a teacher who is better at providing helpful stimuli.

2) Your modelled writing will inspire the children: sometimes all they need is a few words from a good example of writing to get them going. For this reason, many resources (such as the excellent Pobble 365 website) provide exemplar paragraphs and openers, but there is power in the children experiencing the writing created in front of them...

3) The act of modelling writing will inspire the children. I've noticed many times that when a teacher joins in an activity, be it Art, PE or an assault course on residential, that children respond more enthusiastically too. I know not of the pedagogical reasons behind this, only that it is what I've observed to be true.

4) You will feel more confident to share your writing. If you write regularly, even if progress is slow-going, words, sentences and paragraphs will come more naturally to you. If this is the case then you will feel far better prepared to stand up and 'perform' a piece of writing. You'll also find it easier to complete shared pieces of writing as you will know how to weave the pupils' words and ideas into a great piece of text.

5) You will be able to model the editing and revising process more realistically. Children at the top of the primary age range are expected to choose words for meaning and to understand the impact that the chosen words might have on the reader. Often, teachers model editing and revision as an exercise in word swapping, but with very little purpose. Someone with a little more  experience of writing will more naturally model a process where choices are made for a reason, and they will be able to verbalise those reasons too. 

6) You will give more effective feedback to the children about their writing. No matter how your policy dictates you provide feedback, it remains that someone with more experience as a writer is better placed to identify strengths and weaknesses in another's work. Based on your own experience of writing, you will be able to work out exactly what it is a child needs to do next to improve their written work.

The act of writing is an act of creativity, and there are many other benefits to self that being creative brings. There is a sense of great achievement to be had from writing something, whether that's something that helps one to explore one's own thoughts, feelings or ideas, or something that can be shared with others. And achievement is enjoyable: if you begin to enjoy the creative process of writing then this will no doubt translate into an enthusiasm for teaching writing - and enthusiasm is infectious. 

Here's the challenge, teachers: become a writer and begin to infect your pupils with a love of producing the written word. Will you accept?

Read the Arvon/University of Exeter/Open University research 'Teachers as Writers' here: http://www.teachersaswriters.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Arvon-Teachers-as-Writers.pdf

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Twas The Night Before SATs by @parky_teaches


Twas the night before SATs, and all through the land
Not a teacher was stirring, the curriculum banned.
Past papers pored over, practised just so,
Fingers are crossed that thresholds are low.

The children were fretful, nervous in their beds
While visions of ticking clocks danced in their heads.
Heads in their offices give keyboards a tap
Writing excuses for that OFSTED chap.

When out in the playground arose such a chatter
Of parents and media to see what was the matter.
They could not believe just what they had heard, 
And started to panic about things like adverbs.

Would the Reading test reduce children to tears?
This was just the first of their fears.
Revision packs bought, tutors booked up
Parents stressed out, leaving nothing to luck.

A courier arrives, so lively and quick,
The papers are locked in the safe with a click.
Staff arrive early, their visages bleak,
Year 6 teachers wishing for just a quick peek.

"Now, Kirsty! now, Donna! now, Seb and Mina!
On, Holly! On, Dev! On Connor and Tina!
To your new seating plan! Right next to the  wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As children that before the biggest challenge try
When they're met with a SAT they let out a cry
"Not more past progressive, not more long division
We can take no more of the government's indecision!"

And then, in a twinkling flash of inspiration,
Memories flicker across the nation.
The teacher sits, fidget spinner in hand,
Hoping beyond hope things go just as planned.

They were just about dressed, from their head to their feet, 
And their eyelids droopy from the lack of sleep
A bundle of assessments, flung on their back, 
In case a standardised score is starting to slack.

His pupils - how they twinkled! (Well they did in year 5)!
Now they were dull, barely alive
Drilled into submission, all out of fear
That somebody's job might be gone next year.

The stumps of pencils found gnawed by teeth, 
And clumps of hair torn out in disbelief 
Looking over shoulders, "Is that a four or a nine?"
Mentally of course, we don't want a fine.

Once the first one is over, it's onto the next
They're really relentless, they are, these tests.
We jump hoops through SPaG, through every last trick,
Then it's onto the maths, the ol 'rithmetic!

They spoke not a word (they weren't allowed),
But when the time was up, they cheered and they howled, 
And laying aside their pencils and pens, 
They breathed a sigh of relief, along with their friends.

Teachers sprang to their desks, to their teams gave a whistle,
And outside they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard them exclaim, ‘ere they drove out of sight,
"Oh wait, it's writing moderation next, bugger..."

Saturday, 6 May 2017

10 Things I Still Do Today That I Learned As A Lazy NQT

I was a lazy NQT - that's for sure. And whilst there were negative aspects to that there were definite positives too. I eased myself into teaching, churning out a steady run of 'Satisfactory' lessons in my first year. I was really well supported by a motivated, organised and inspirational teacher and if she was long-suffering she didn't let it show. It was only after a good few years of teaching that I began to be a bit more ambitious and hard-working. By then though, I'd actually embedded a way of working, derived from laziness, that seems to have stuck.

So, what long-lasting lessons did I learn from my initial laziness?

1) Weekends Aren't For Working - the summer before beginning my NQT year I got together with my now wife and she still had two years remaining at Birmingham Uni. Many-a Friday saw me rocket out of school to sit in traffic on the M6 and the M5 (oh, that terrible junction). Many-a late Sunday night saw me blasting back up, windows down, music blaring to keep myself awake. When I wasn't doing that, she was visiting me. There was no time for weekend working -  a nice habit to get into.

2) Things Can Be Done More Efficiently - laziness will always tempt one to make shortcuts. The real skill is finding not shortcuts but the most direct routes. I learned that not everything needs laminating, not every wheel need reinventing and that, importantly, one can always spend more time on preparation, often unnecessarily and with no improved impact on learning.

3) Being Organised Makes All The Difference - as mentioned my mentor and year group partner was hyper-organised and, although she was a bit over the top (separate drawers for each day's resources, all prepared a week in advance and ready to go), I learned how this approach certainly led to a life of comparative ease. I could go away for my weekends knowing that on Monday morning, everything would be there and ready. It took me a while to become this organised independently but that first year was when I saw its importance.

4) Life Goes On After A Bad Observation - as mentioned I had a few not great observations which, after much more positive ones at uni (and the one that got me the job which convinced a panel who had already decided 'no men' that I was the man for the job), came as a bit of a surprise. I wanted to improve, of course I did, and even though I was prone to laziness its not like I did no work at all. Thankfully, for whatever reason, I was able to go easy on myself and didn't expect myself to be Outstanding right away. This paved the way for a pragmatic outlook on observations: if something goes wrong, it's just an opportunity to learn and improve. 

5) It's OK To Leave Work Before 5pm - perhaps I was working in a school where that was acceptable, although I'm sure sometimes it was frowned upon, but my lazy attitude meant that I didn't really care what others thought. If I couldn't think of anything that needed doing. Imminently then I wouldn't hang around. These days I often make tracks knowing that I'll set up shop again later at home - going early now means getting to spend time with my young family before bedtime.

6) Maintain Non-School Related Hobbies and Interests - in my NQT year I was not only in love with my future wife, I was also pretty in to rollerblading and many aspects of making music, particularly DJing. These were interests I shared with my best friend (who isn't a teacher) and we spent many a weekday evening pursuing these hobbies. With commitments like that that I wanted to keep I was motivated to keep evenings free of work too. Inspired by this, I recently took up rollerblading again and promised myself that I would allow myself regular mid-week skatepark visits - so far, so good.

7) Kids Can Actually Just Get On With Their Work - perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but sometimes in class I got quite bored of constantly sitting with a child or group of children. But because of this I soon realised that it was actually quite important for children to be able to work independently at times and that they didn't always need hand-holding. These days I often expect this independence of the children although I ensure that I'm not idle whilst they're working.

8) Strong Relationships With Colleagues Benefit Everyone - some of my time in school was spent socialising, especially in the morning before school began. I have this very morning spent time with two colleagues from my NQT year (now happily married) and it's good friendships like these that I think enabled us to work together so productively - we enjoyed it so much that the work didn't seem a drag at all. These friendships were also nurtured by many out-of-school social occasions. Although relationship dynamics in my current role as a leader are a little different, I believe there's a great deal of camaraderie (and banter) that, far from being a distraction, means our time spent working collaboratively is highly productive.

9) PPA Time Is A Time To Work Very Hard - I'm not claiming that my NQT year was easy (perhaps the worst moment was almost being stabbed by a pupil - I was not at my best when I arrived in Birmngham that day!) - I did work hard when it was needed. And waste a moment of PPA time I did not. That was the time to really knuckle down, work together and get stuff done; the motivation was of course knowing that the more that was done in school, the less I would have to do later - I also just knew I wouldn't be able to do it at the weekends. Even now, my team and I, in a friendly environment where we often will break out and chat about other things, get our heads down together and get the majority of the week's preparation done.

10) Being A Teacher Isn't A Competition - although I'm massively competitive with some things, as a lazy NQT I felt no inclination do outdo other teachers in any of the usual ways: amount of time spent at work, number of books taken home, inches of classroom wall covered and so on. Teaching was my job and I would do what I needed to do to keep it, not what was needed to score points against my colleagues or to martyr myself in the sight of others. It was also something to be enjoyed and I didn't need competition to be able to be fulfilled in my role.

I hope that these days I'm not seen as lazy and that I'm known as someone who works hard and gets stuff done. But I also hope that I'm seen to have a work/life balance and good levels of wellbeing. I know I'm far from perfect but if anything, I would like to be living proof that one can do a good job without breaking oneself. And whilst many of my (what I like to think of as) efficient ways may be born of initial laziness, I no longer consider myself as a lazy person - just someone who has learned from the upsides of having once been one.

And then, after writing all of this, I begin to doubt myself and worry about how it does look to others. But teaching does that to you - have to ignore the constant feelings of guilt...


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Collection of PowerPoints to Introduce the 2017 KS2 SATs Tests (with Emojis!)

I have put together some light-hearted, potentially humorous, but hopefully informative PowerPoints to use with year 6 children either during the run-up to SATs or on the mornings before the tests.

They use questions from the 2016 KS2 test to remind children of test techniques and tips that will help them to do their best on the day.

Reasoning: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/powerpoint-to-introduce-the-2017-ks2-sats-mathematics-reasoning-test-papers-2-and-3-with-emojis-11595567

Arithmetic: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/powerpoint-to-introduce-the-2017-ks2-sats-arithmetic-test-paper-1-with-emojis-11594343

Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/powerpoint-to-introduce-the-2017-ks2-sats-spelling-punctuation-and-grammar-test-with-emojis-11593369

Reading: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/powerpoint-to-introduce-the-2017-ks2-sats-reading-test-with-emojis-11589341

Some reviews:

"All the things I say over and over again but with the added bonus of emojis. Maybe this will embed the message just that little more! Fingers crossed. Thanks for sharing."

"Excellent overview of the new SATS - thank you!"

"Thank you its just what I need for the final push."

"Good fun: will make my class smile and remember some of those important things they might forget when exam nerves set in. Thank you for sharing!"

"A wonderfully lighthearted PowerPoint to alleviate the concerns of any Y6 pupils anticipating the reading paper. Straight-to-the-point and precise, with smiley faces to boot. Cheers for pulling it together - may the force be with them."

"Have downloaded all these! Made me chuckle but gets the point across. It's also reassuring to know that all the little niggles I had with these tests, children are doing all over the country! TICK ONE BOX!!!!!!! AARGGH!"

Year 6 Teachers, You've Got This! Your 5-Step Game Plan for SATs Week 2017


The latest in my series of blog posts for Third Space Learning focuses on SATs week itself. The focus is on teacher and pupil wellbeing and provides 5 steps to take to ensure year 6 teachers and pupils aren't too frazzled by the end of it.

So, the time has come. SATs week 2017 is upon us. On Monday morning, after months (hopefully years) of preparation, the nation's Year 6 children will sit down to the first of 2017's Key Stage 2 National Assessments.

Year 6 teachers across the land will be pacing halls and classrooms, catching glimpses of questions and hoping beyond hope that the primary school children in their classes will do their very best.

And I assume you're probably one of those teachers, or a supportive Head or SLT member.

You'll be feeling a heady mix of excitement and nervousness while anticipating the children’s chance to show off all they've learned. You might also be wondering what on earth the test-writers have come up with this time.

Click here to read on over at the Third Space Learning blog: http://thirdspacelearning.com/blog/2017/year-6-teachers-you-ve-got-this-your-5-step-game-plan-for-2017-ks2-sats

From the TES Blog: The Pre-SATs Checklist: An Eight-Point Guide To Ensure You're Ready

Here's one I wrote for the TES blog all about those little things that might be forgotten in the run up to SATs but that, if sorted, will make the week run much more smoothly.

By now, as a Year 6 teacher, you're probably fairly fed up of Sats-related advice, but bear with me. You see, there's always the chance that some minor detail has been missed. Sure, your scripts are all locked away in the safe, you know which test is happening on which day and you can bet that the children are as ready as they can be, but is there anything else you need to sort out in these last few days before the Key Stage 2 Sats tests kick off?

Here's my personal last-minute checklist, which I will be running through in the next few days.

Click here to read for free on the TES blog: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/pre-sats-checklist-eight-point-guide-ensure-youre-ready