Sunday, 27 August 2017

It's Just An Emoji! Bah Humbug.

Or is it? This won't be the first time I get called a humourless something-or-other: I've written terribly mirthless things before which reveal my sub-humanness and my inability to take a 'joke'. I won't even try to defend myself as someone who loves a good laugh and a joke - you wouldn't believe me anyway if you've already got me pegged.

I'm not outraged at this emoji - if you can believe me, I'm not. I just see it as part of a bigger issue, and that bigger issue does do something to me - perhaps I am outraged by the bigger picture I perceive this to be part of.

Education doesn't exactly receive good press. The big stories are usually the negative ones. Most government reforms - and they do seem to come with regularity - imply that education is not at its best. Plenty of teachers, for many differing reasons (some justified) don't have much good to say about the profession either. The public perception of teachers and the state of education isn't great at the moment. At least that's the way I see it.

This makes education a fragile thing. And all but the most outrageous comedians would pull their punches when it comes to fragile subjects for jokes. Except perhaps when that fragile thing is a what, not a who.

All I'm suggesting is that any unnecessary negativity aimed at education might be avoided. One emoji in one chain of high street shops is not exactly the death knell, but it has the potential to play its part.

In criminology, the broken window theory says that when smaller crimes are dealt with fewer major crimes will occur. And whilst it's not a crime to make jokes about how terrible going back to school is, it might just be one more little nail in the coffin. I know, I know that I sound like a real party pooper here - maybe I am spoiling all the seconds of hilarity this emoji no doubt generates. But I love my job, and I value education and I wonder if we could do better.

In times when many of us are worried about the mental health of both our students and our teachers, I can't help but question how a teacher or student who has genuinely cried over the thought of going back to school might feel when seeing this. Is the anxiety caused by the thought of returning to school really something to be made fun of? There will, as some have thoughtfully pointed out this week, be teachers who are experiencing genuine stress and depression at the thought of their return to work - that's not something I'd want to belittle. Perhaps it is just an emoji and that it isn't potentially degrading and corrosive at all.

There is clearly genuine psychological power in advertising - subliminal messages are all around us and are designed by experts to change the way we think. This one, I'm sure, was just designed to make us laugh and its possible undertones are unintended - I get that - but as part of a much bigger picture, where education is painted as ugly, it's something that I'm sure we wouldn't miss. 

I don't expect to change minds on this one - we all view things in different ways. My particular outlook is to build up and be positive about education where possible, even on the small things, because I believe even they can make a difference. Yes, this sounds all virtuous and holier-than-thou (maybe this should have been left unsaid) but I'd prefer it if my team of teachers and our children were coming back to school happily come September, not with a sense of foreboding or with tears streaming down their faces.

Obviously, they won't - but that'll only be because they're coming back to an awful, humourless teacher and leader who just can't take a joke and removes all the fun from learning.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Independent Reading With My Children

I often try to catch my children unawares in order to film them carrying out their day-to-day activities without the inevitable showiness that occurs once they know the camera's on them. This holiday we have instituted 'reading time' before bed - a perfect opportunity to sneak up on the children and catch them going about their business in a natural way. Before filming this I had checked that all three girls were busy reading on their beds, but when I actually came to video them, other things happened:


First of all, my eldest (who has just turned 7 and will be entering year 3 in September), got up as soon as I entered the room. But this was not because I had come in, it was because the Mr. Men book she was reading (Mr. Mischief) had told her to get up and look out of the window! She engaging with the text so much that it prompted her to respond physically. As I had intended to film them without their knowing, I didn't interact verbally with her when she explained what she was doing - I later broke this vow of silence.

Then, as I entered the room of the younger two children, the youngest (aged 3, about to begin a second year in Nursery) noticed me and broke off from her activity. Prior to my arrival she had been reading the very well known 'The Tiger Who Came To Tea' by Judith Kerr. For her, reading means orally retelling the story - this is a book she is very familiar with. She proceeds to exhibit that showy behaviour I mentioned before by showing the camera the book she had been engrossed in - again, I elect not to respond verbally (although I can assure you, I communicate very well with my face, and I did so at this time).

Upon my entrance, my middle daughter (aged 5, and due to start in Year 1) was in the process of climbing from the top bunk to get a new book, having just finished one (which she had thrown on the floor - some work needed on the treatment of books!). She immediately requested that I take a picture of her - that showiness again - but fairly readily engaged in a brief conversation about what she was doing (my plan to surreptitiously film them now aborted, I elected to speak to her). Despite forgetting which book she'd just read (laziness I think - she couldn't be bothered to even try to remember) she was able, once prompted, to talk about why she liked the book she'd just read - 'Mr. Seahorse' by Eric Carle. Normally, this would have evolved into a longer conversation, but I was conscious both of the video length, and her desire to get on and read another book.

This little episode has had me reflecting on the reading habits of my children, and what they might teach us about young children and reading in general. Let's take each of my daughters in turn:

Daughter #1 (aged 7): This holiday she has read a real range of books. Not averse to longer 'chapter books' (she has read things like Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree books, Dick King Smith's Sophie books and some of the Flat Stanley series by Jeff Brown, amongst others) she has actually spent more time reading shorter picture books and non-fiction books. She has particularly liked the Kingfisher 'I Wonder Why' books, 'What I Believe' by Alan Brown and Andrew Langley (published by Ted Smart and well known by primary teachers) and 'The Usborne Children's Encyclopedia'. This thirst for general knowledge does not surprise me - whilst watching an episode of Blue Planet together (watching nature documentaries is one of our daddy/daughters activities) she already knew lots about the featured animals as she had 'read about them in a book'. She has also partaken enthusiastically in a Mr. Men/Little Miss craze (as seen in the video) that started with a charity shop haul of Roger Hargreaves' comical little books.
  • It is generally thought that children, particularly girls, are less likely to read non-fiction texts - perhaps this is untrue, and perhaps we need to ensure they have better access to these books, and that we look for opportunities to encourage the reading of non-fiction books when the desire is there?
  • We should allow children to follow their preferences when it comes to reading at home - they don't always have to be engaging in reading long books bit by bit because other types of reading can be just as valuable.
Daughter #2 (aged 5): This time last year she was probably annoyed that she couldn't yet read sufficiently enough to read alone - now she can read almost anything without hesitation, and always with excellent intonation - a big thank you to her excellent reception teacher! Once she starts reading, or being read to, she feasts on books, but she doesn't always elect to read at times when she could. However, once she gets started (usually at bedtime) it is very hard to get her to stop! She has especially enjoyed the Mr. Men and Little Miss books (these have been a boon on car journeys as we can stuff tons of them in the pouch on the back of the car seats) and they have brought her independent reading freedom. She has also particularly liked reading family favourite picture books, as well as some new ones such as 'Oi Dog!' as she really enjoys rhyming texts and poetry, and often learns large sections by heart - 'Toddle Waddle' by Julia Donaldson was one of the first books she could 'read' by memorising it. Most of her choices this summer have been fiction books, unlike my eldest daughter.
  • Having just observed Daughter #2 reading over her breakfast, I am prompted to ponder how we can encourage children to read of their own accord - I might've been tempted to stop her reading whilst trying to eat a bowl of cereal, but perhaps it is worth allowing her to just get on and read when she wants to? Just as we allow children to follow their preferences when it comes to book choice, maybe we need to think more about how we can allow children to read when and where they want.
  • For younger children it is worth having a good idea of the types of text they enjoy - this helps with borrowing and buying new books for them. The question is, can this knowledge help us to search out books from other genres that might appeal?
Daughter #3 (aged 3): After a year in nursery she can read and spell CVC words, and some CCVC words with initial blends such as 'sh'. As mentioned before, her mode of reading is orally retelling stories that she knows well - her favourite for this during the holidays has definitely been perennial favourite 'The Hungry Little Caterpillar' by Eric Carle. Although she does like the occasional new book, she is much more likely to choose a book that is well known to her, for example, during a week away, she wanted 'Zog' by Julia Donaldson to be read to her on three separate occasions (we acquiesced). Most of the Julia Donaldson books that we own fall into this category of 'books to read and read again' - daughter #3 is also very fond of rhyming, as are most children of her age.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition - even if it gets a bit monotonous as an adult! Daughter #3 can 'read' by telling the stories in her own words, using the pictures to guide her - this is a real skill and is not to be looked down on! She can do this because she returns again and again, both with adults and on her own, to high quality and age-appropriate texts. An EYFS classroom should reflect this - it may only need a handful of carefully curated books with a focus on high quality not quantity.
Although my children have been reading for pleasure this holiday, they have no doubt learned things - new words, new facts, new stories, new ideas - and they've certainly given me some food for thought. I wonder, if you're a parent, have you made any observations of your children reading that have got you thinking about how you teach and encourage reading?

And to finish, my youngest daughter orally retelling 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar':

Thursday, 24 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.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Scaffolding Inference: Testimonials

Anna Storey (@StoreyRead), a teacher in the North East, sent me some feedback on her use of the scaffolding inference technique, which you can read about here: http://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/scaffolding-inference-trialling.html

I work in an inner city school with approx 95% EAL speakers, and high mobility. Reading has always been a target area for us, but never more so than this year after the 2016 test! Only 34% passed the reading test, so we knew we had to put some new procedures into practice.

The first step was moving to whole class reading. This has had a positive impact, but we're still figuring out the best way to address the needs of new arrivals and those who are unable to access the text in any meaningful or enjoyable way.

I was given the role of Reading Lead in October, so took to the internet in search of inspiration. I found your blog incredibly useful!

Like many schools, vocabulary was a huge issue for us; the main barrier to children's reading success. I held a staff meeting on ways of teaching vocabulary, and sequencing lessons for shared reading.

Your blog on scaffolding inference really helped me to link the 3 main areas of reading: vocab, retrieval and inference. I found it really useful to teach the three skills together (after spending a lot of time on using context et cetera to define vocab).

Looking at just one section of text in such great detail allowed the children to really get to grips with the intricacies of characters' actions, the narrator's description, and so on. The children also found it easier to remember the new vocabulary because they had an example in context to link it to.

With the prior knowledge taken care of, (definition of the word, and what it referred to in the book) the children were able to make more advanced inferences than I had seen, and took great pleasure in accessing the text on a deeper level.

The impact in SATs results was that our reading SATs score jumped from 34% in 2016 to 55% in 2017.

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