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.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Can That Boy Teach?

It was my first year in post as assistant head. In reality I was a full time year 6 class teacher. The headteacher (well known in the area, if you catch my meaning) from the school next door (yes, we share a boundary wall with a three-form entry primary - we're two-form) observed me teaching (for whatever reason - local partnership review day or something). The lesson didn't set the world alight (I remember it being graded as 'Good' back when we did that sort of thing) but, as reported to me by the headteacher, as he closed my classroom door he uttered the words 'That Boy Can Teach'.

I suppose I can. It'd be a travesty if I'd got the position I'm in now without that being the case.

And what position am I in now? Well, I'm finishing my third year of being an assistant head (actually, now an assistant (vice) principal) with responsibilities for upper key stage two and whole school maths and year 6 teacher, but there are changes afoot. In September I'll be leading the year 3 and 4 phase, mentoring three NQTs and two Schools Direct students and leading a maths team. I'll also be working two days for the MAT that my school is part of - I'll be Lead Primary Practitioner working on various projects in three other primaries as well as working on the NQT, RQT and middle leaders programmes (and probably another, currently secret, aspect of the academy's work).

But I won't be teaching. Or at least, I won't have a regular teaching commitment.

My teaching commitment (roughly 70% timetable these last two years) has been my bread and butter - the thing which has garnered me respect and credibility; my team know that if I'm asking them to do something, then I'll be doing it too. Because I've been teaching, I've been able to represent the voice of the classroom teacher in SLT meetings - I was the one truly 'on the ground' so I knew the impact on teacher's lives of our requirements. It's also given me plenty of tweet and blog fodder.

And classroom teaching, day in, day out, is what has kept me going - I know this now I've stopped. I absolutely love it - you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone; absence makes the heart grow fonder. I savour the feeling of having achieved many things, all in the space of one morning. I thrive on the challenge of trying to teach children things, especially the process of creating and implementing more effective ways of teaching. I have, quite simply, enjoyed my 11 years as a teacher. And I'll miss it a lot.

So, can I teach? Or will I teach? Will I be able to somehow teach as part of my new roles? I hope so. I'll be looking for every opportunity to get in those classrooms to work with the children where the magic happens. I anticipate team teaching with my NQTs, teaching model lessons for my students, covering my team members to allow them to carry out other tasks. I'll no doubt want to do some interventions and definitely some 1:1s (so effective for improving writing I've found). Whilst none of that will compare to having my own class (oh, how sweet it felt as an NQT to finally have my own class instead of teaching someone else's) I am hoping that it will satisfy the need to teach children.

I've been told by a couple of wise heads now that my class will be the teams I work with. I've also been warned of the 'slow' nature of non-teaching work - how you have to adjust to working with longer term goals. I hope that I will manage these changes, as well as others that I'm sure I've not even thought of yet. And if it doesn't suit me, I'm sure there will be a classroom somewhere that'll have me back. But I hope to make a good go of my new roles, even if it means my Twitter/blog name might seem a bit irrelevant.

I'd love to hear from you if this transition from classroom teacher to non-classroom 'teacher' is something you've managed effectively. Please get in touch via the comments or on Twitter with your wise and wisdomous advice.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Changing The Teaching of Reading: Did It Work?


Disclaimer: Although this blog post is all about SATs data, it's not what I'm all about, nor has it been our singular focus this year. This blog post merely serves to analyse test data, however flawed it is turning out to be, in the spirit of transparency.

Regular readers will know I've blogged quite a lot about reading over the last year (slight understatement). I've developed ways of teaching reading (based on research, not just whim) which I've shared with others, and which others have used in their own classrooms. I've been eager to share my approaches because I've been excited about them, but there was always a question in the back of my mind: "What if they don't work?"

So, as results day approached, I was worried for more than just one reason: I hoped I had not let my own school down, and I hoped as well that I hadn't sent those who'd tried some of my ideas down the wrong path.

And because I've shouted loudly about how we've tackled our approach to teaching reading, particularly in year 6, it's only really right that I share something of our results with my readers.

I feel that first off I must signpost an excellent blog post by Mr. Jennings: 29% to 92%, a reading journey! The blog is an in-depth exploration of everything his school did to make a supremely impressive jump in their percentage of children reaching the 100 scaled score in the 2017 key stage 2 reading test. I feel honoured to have been mentioned in the blog post as part of Mr. Jennings' journey, but I now hail him as my new hero! What an achievement! I shall be learning from all the amazing work he has done this year.

Attainment

Well, we didn't quite get a 63 percentage point increase in our reading results - ours was a much more modest 21 percentage point increase, meaning that roughly half of our 60-strong cohort reached the magic 100 mark.

I was pleased with the increase - I've been told that a school working very hard to improve something can expect a 10 percentage point increase in results on average.

However, I was hoping that we would get 60% of children reaching the pass mark. Looking into the data, I found there were a number of children who were between 1 and 4 marks off getting 26 marks - these children would have brought the percentage of children reaching the 100 scaled score to my desired 60%. (I am hoping to have 3 of these children's scripts remarked.)

Progress

So, whilst our attainment was low, it wasn't a surprise. Our school's history and context (in short: Inadequate Ofsted December 2013 leading to academy conversion January 2015, 94% EAL, 37% disadvantage) means that our children haven't consistently had good teaching.

A review of historical data shows that only 22.2% of this cohort made average or above average progress during their time in lower key stage 2, and, as a result, only 5.6% of them were working at age related expectations in reading at the end of year 4. This figure was 26% (at ARE) by the end of year 5.

Our online tracking system (SPTO) takes a CTF file from the NCA Tools website and assigns points to the different scaled scores. Using this data, this 94.8% of this cohort have shown to have made average or above progress. In fact, 91.4% made accelerated progress. Looking at progress from official key stage 1 data shows that only 10% of children didn't make expected progress - at the beginning of the year that figure was 43% not making expected progress across the key stage.

So, even though our attainment results don't yet reflect the progress being made due to low starting points, there is considerable reason to believe that the approaches we took in the teaching of reading have had a positive impact on the children.

Test to Test

One or two of you may remember that I reported that before Christmas almost 50% of the cohort achieved the pass mark on the 2016 reading test. This is something that has caused me quite a bit of consternation: did no progress occur between December and May, given that the same percentage of children passed in May as in the December?

So, I spent some time looking into the data. Thankfully, I'd kept the scores from when the children tried the 2016 test as we wanted to see if taking the 2016 test was a good indicator of how well children would do on the actual test so that we could rely on using it as a practice paper in the future.

Positively, I discovered that:

  • two extra children 'passed' in May who hadn't passed in December (one child who had 'passed' in December didn't 'pass' in May).
  • of the aforementioned children who had scaled scores of 97, 98 or 99, all of them got significantly more marks (between 6 and 12) than on the 2016 test and all but one of them (the one who 'passed' in December but not May) got a higher scaled score, for example one child moved from a scaled score of 90 to 97.
  • most of our lowest attaining children, and our SEND children, made the most progress between the two tests: some of the most vulnerable children getting a double digit increase in both their scaled score and number of marks gained.
  • overall, children had made progress, some very impressive, from one test to the next, even if this did not mean that they achieved the 100 scaled score.
Interestingly, I also found that a number of children who 'passed' both the tests achieved lower scaled scores in the 2017 test than in the 2016 test, with an average of a -2 points difference. For some children it appeared that the 2017 test, although easier, with its raised pass mark was actually harder to pass than the more difficult 2016 test with its low pass mark.

So, is the 2016 test a good indicator of how well a child might do in the 2017 test? Yes, although some children may get an equal, or lower, scaled score on the more recent test as it could be considered harder to pass.

And does the fact that our percentage of children passing both tests despite the extra teaching time in the middle mean that our approach to teaching reading didn't work? I believe not as most children made progress between the two tests, gaining both extra marks and higher scaled scores - this was particularly evident for lower attainers. 

However, it draws attention to a group of children who were scoring in the 90s on the 2016 test in December who would have benefited from some additionality - this is the challenge for next year: what does that intervention look like? What do those children need in order to be more consistent when answering comprehension questions? Are there other factors that meant these particular children struggled to reach the pass mark, despite showing progress?

I hope that this blog post has been read with interest and without judgement - I only seek to be transparent. I am fairly certain that I can conclude that what we have done in reading has been successful on the whole, and that like most new approaches, now just needs some adjustments and additions. However, I do share this hoping that I might gain insight from outsiders on how else I might interpret the data and make conclusions - for example, if it seems to you that my approach hasn't at all worked, I'd prefer to know that and not waste any more time on it!

A small request: I'd be interested if you would share with me, publicly or privately, the increase in percentage you have experienced between the 2016 and 2017 reading results (between last year's cohort and this year's).

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Going Deeper With Dahl


Recent research shows that many teachers have an over-dependency on Dahl. Indeed, his books are excellent so he is certainly a best-selling children's author, and one who everyone is aware of: it's no surprise that he continues to be well-loved and well-read. And whilst I would be the first to advocate promoting a wider range of authors and books, I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bath water.

We often read Dahl books with young children (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first 'proper' book I remember reading to myself at the age of 7) because the plot lines are easy to follow, the characters are wild and wacky and the stories are exciting and funny.

So, when reading with younger children, we can easily skip over the more horrific details and focus on the heart-warming stories and crazy words. But it is in these details that we have the opportunity to explore so much more: sadness, tolerance, difference, poverty, neglect, bullying, abuse, evil, animal cruelty, safety, unrequited love - all of these in his most-popular children's titles without touching his lesser-known books, or his publications for adults.

With this in mind, anyone who is familiar with Dahl would be able to mentally flick through their library of his books and identify how the stories could be used to help children understand the world and themselves a little better - especially with those trickier issues that we don't always know how to broach with children.

Five ways to go deeper with Dahl:

Family

I've always been fascinated with the fact that so many stories for children are about children with no parents (nearly all Disney films, for example). The Witches, James and the Giant Peach and The BFG all fall into this category. Why do story tellers do this? Do young readers fantasise about having adventures, and if so, do they get the impression they can only have them if parents are out of the picture? That would certainly be an interesting discussion to have with children. These books all provide great opportunities to discuss how many children all over the world are not brought up in a traditional family unit - an opportunity for our young people to empathise with others.

Abuse

Even where parents are present, as is the case in Matilda, relationships might not always be as they should be. Reading as an adult it is quite shocking how the Wormwoods treat their daughter, and indeed how the Trunchbull treats Miss Honey and the children in her school. Work here could go beyond the identification of good and bad characters to discuss right and wrong, looking at human rights for children and what is and isn't safe for children to be exposed to. Opportunities to study intertextuality are available here too: James' aunts’ treatment of him could be studied alongside.

Poverty

Poverty is a recurring theme too - most prevalent in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl paints a bleak picture of Charlie's family's lack of means, and again, this can be used as a starter point to discuss how many people in the world, including in our own country, our own towns, are less fortunate than ourselves. Another opportunity to link texts lies here with the depiction of Miss Honey's simple lifestyle in Matilda. In both stories we actually see the nicest characters being the poorest - perhaps a good debate topic can be derived here: Is it better to be rich and unkind, or poor and kind? Or something along those lines to help children to assess what the most important things in life are.

Difference and Diversity

What Dahl book doesn't deal with difference in some shape or form? The BFG's a friendly, vegetarian giant in a world full of vicious, human-eating brutes, and when he's not in giant country he's still a giant, making him very different to the humans he meets. Willy Wonka is quite something else, as are his Oompa Loompas, not to mention how different each one of the children are. Matilda has special powers. Danny lives in a caravan and poaches pheasants. The bugs inside the peach are a very diverse bunch. It might seem contrived to use these characters to explore difference and diversity but actually, to children, these things matter, and make sense - in the context of these stories they will be able to explore ideas that they would find difficult to begin to understand from real-world examples.

Consequences of Choices

Finally, Dahl's books provide fertile ground for discussing choices and how consequences can affect us. Again, in the safe space of fiction children can discuss the negative effects of meddling with prescription drugs (George's Marvellous Medicine), the possible outcomes of contravening safety rules and not listening to adults (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) or the potential results of being unkind (The Twits). Whilst discussing the actual events of the books (which are quite ridiculous), it would be easy enough to open up more general discussions that relate more to real-life scenarios that children might encounter.

Next time you pick up a Dahl book, think twice before you pass over it and decide to use something else. Consider the themes mentioned above; even if you don't use the whole book (many children are familiar with the stories anyway), consider how you might link a Dahl novel to another story you are reading. And next time you read Roald Dahl remember that there are opportunities to go deep with the content - perhaps you'll find further ways to get children thinking and empathising as they read the magical and wonderful adventures of Dahl's colourful characters.

And if you're a Roald Dahl fan, look out for ReadingWise's free Roald Dahl pack in July. It includes extracts from The Witches and George’s Marvellous Medicine and will focus on teaching 12 ‘mini-skills’ comprehension strategies allowing the children to explore the extracts and make meaning – great for struggling readers. It also includes a SATs-style ‘challenge test’ for each extract. This will be followed by an available-to-buy pack including extracts from a further eight Roald Dahl stories.

http://readingwise.com/dahl

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

KS2 Tests 2017 Maths SATs Round-Up


https://www.thirdspacelearning.com/blog/2017/ks2-sats-results-2017-what-they-mean-what-they-ll-never-tell-you-what-to-do-next

I produced a quick response to the KS2 maths SATs results for the Third Space Learning blog.

In it I cover what to do once results are opened: support staff, conduct a marking review, report sensitively to parents and children, learn from the results and look for the positives in the results.

Monday, 3 July 2017

To My Brilliant Year Six Teachers

To my brilliant year six teachers,

Thank you and well done for all your incredibly hard work this year. I could not have asked for more commitment and dedication to the children of our school. They have received top-notch teaching and a highly-tailored curriculum this year - you have thought of each and every one, assessing their needs and then working on them meticulously to help them to make, in so many cases, very rapid progress.

You have had the highest of expectations for all the children in your care and have not let anyone get away with anything sub-standard. At the time, that might make you feel like an ogre, but, it is absolutely necessary in ensuring that the children have the best possible chance of present and future success.

It has been so encouraging to see how you have worked together, trying out new things and analysing their success. You have really made every effort to be excellent teachers - and it has paid off. Your self-reflectiveness and your desire to always better yourself has been an absolute gift, both to me as your leader and to the children.

And so, whatever the 2017 KS2 tests results say, I stand with you and support you. Should they be good, we will celebrate. Should they be disappointing, we will look for and celebrate the successes that are sure to be there. And we will optimistically plan for the future, resolutely seeking ways to better our practice from this year. 

Yes, I am now speaking about 'we' and not 'you' because, although your personal commitment is independently commendable, we are a team and we did this together. This is not a case of 'you', it is 'us' - that 'us' includes all the school's leaders and every other member of staff who has touched the lives of our outgoing year sixes. We did this together and we will stand together.

Thank you though for all the times you felt you were on your own, but you kept on going anyway - you truly do put the children at the centre of all you do.

When those results come in, think not of them as the only measure of each child's achievements, no matter how well they have done. They do not measure all the things that you have told me, and that I have seen, throughout the year: the small wins and the big successes. That child who was working on year two objectives who can now successfully demonstrate understanding of many year six objectives. That child who only started with us this year, having not been in school for a good while. That child who has discovered a love of reading, of writing, of maths, of history, of Shakespeare. That child who now speaks up in class. All those children who are raring to go to secondary school, confident that they are learners and that they will be successful as long as they hold high expectations for themselves. You did that. 

They might not thank you for it. But I do. And in years to come they will look back and remember all that you have done and they will wish that they had thanked you. 

But I know you don't do it for the thanks. You do it because you care. There is not enough thanks to cover that.

A vast understatement to finish, because anything attempting to sum it up would sound far too hyperbolic and platitudinous: this has been a great year and you should be proud of what you have achieved with the children.

This was re-blogged on the TES site: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/sats-year-6-teachers-results-day-there-arent-enough-words-say-thank