With thanks, as always to Melanie, my librarian wife, for lists of recent books.
There’s always a need to fill in a few minutes here and there, even within a well-oiled organisation. You’ve finished and cleared up from a lesson, in readiness for assembly, when a note is circulated to hold on for five minutes while something in the hall is sorted.
You have 30plus children in a snake, ready to walk to assembly and time on your hands.
Poetry can be a great filler. I always had a set of poetry books on the shelf, to share regularly, and could then choose as few or as many as needed to fill in the available time. It’s especially useful if the children know many of the poems my heart, so can join in with the telling, as a rehearsal activity. Children like silly poetry.
They also like silly songs, so a collection of these would be developed through the year, so that, with a few minutes and a child chosen, the line could become an impromptu choir, enjoying the feeling of performing together.
Blank playing cards offered a wide range of potential uses.
The numbers 1-100 written on separate cards allowed two or three to be selected at random, with the chosen numbers discussed by the children. This allowed discussion of larger/smaller, or greater/lesser, place values, ordering a set of numbers according to attributes. It could also become random mental maths challenges with addition, subtraction potential.
Dice come in different number combinations. These can be thrown to create random maths problems.
I’ve even used the Dienes base 10 material, challenging children to find specific values; 36= 3 tens and 6 ones.
Blank cards can become flash cards, with particular words to be shared regularly, especially after their phonic components have been covered.
This could be extended to broadening vocabulary needs, where a word selected at random is created into a sentence, and improved around the class. This could be subject specific vocabulary, with the need to incorporate other knowledge into the sentence.
I also had three piles of cards, divided into people, places and things. Children would take one card from each pile, then create a story to link the three elements within the time available. This style of activity was occasionally developed as a writing stimulus, for longer consideration.
Images. A classroom collection of images, as paper copies, or through the IWB becomes a talking point, starting from description of what is seen, through speculation about what happened before and after the image was taken, or what was happening outside the frame of the image.
Five minute slots can be very important for rehearsal activities. It is far better to have ideas as a back-up plan, as five minutes can sometimes extend and a line of children standing around can get very restless, developing into a behaviour management issue.
My advice is always to be prepared. Have something up your sleeve, especially if you can do magic tricks!
You might like to look at one minute data ideas or five senses starter activities
It ain’t what you know, but the way that you use it…
It’s been a bit of a week, probably a good one to go out and buy a hard hat, if you spend any time on Twitter. It wasn’t just raining, it was, on occasion, literally pouring. Bile ducts were seemingly emptied on the heads of a few writers willing to proffer views with were opposite to others; as if people can’t see things in a different light. If it wasn’t knowledge, which it largely was, it’s overtaken by some element of English teaching, but that invariably comes back to children’s lack of knowledge that can be utilised within their oral or written efforts or in their ability to decode the written word.
The two “camps” could be described as those who think they can impart knowledge by sharing a specific body of knowledge, within their classroom teaching and those who seek to develop this knowledge through a variety of linking experiences, including the spoken word.
This can sometimes appear to be the divide between (some) Primary and Secondary practitioners, with the extended argument that Primary learning is all discovery and play. That the approach is sometimes different, I wouldn’t want to argue, it can become a moot point, but, in reality, it’s likely that there is more convergence than divergence. Whereas young children “play with ideas” through active engagement and sometimes concrete examples, older children, hopefully, are more able to “play with ideas”, so have greater insights from their developed vocabularies.
Now, I don’t know about you, the reader, but, if I wanted to teach someone about, say, castles, which is/was a regular element of Primary life, to sit and talk about castles could be interesting. It’s relatively easy, within initial planning, to write a list of, say, twenty key aspects of castles that the teacher deems essential to be covered and understood within the topic. If however, half or more of the class had not been to a castle, the children may not have the means to engage with the details.
Words like drawbridge, portcullis, motte, bailey and keep might be explicable, but what about barbican and belvedere, casements and crenelation. They might have fun with the idea of cesspits and garderobes… As for the fighting people, their support and family lives, with the attendant additional vocabularies and layers of understanding, the complexity grows.
So, as a Primary teacher, wanting to interest children in such an area, it’s likely that some kind of site visit would assist, particularly if there is a local example. If this can be guided in some way, by a local expert, this can add colour to the visit and deepen the narrative. Any need to interpret what was said can be done by the teacher in follow up discussion.
Particularly in the early days, but throughout my teaching career, a display of available material would support the topic, both in picture and in book form. Later, this would also include video or DVD material to be shared, as a class, or within groups. All to provide some additional background and stimulus.
Before the internet opened up search options, the books were a key element of the reading curriculum, extracting appropriate information from using the contents list and the index, to provide answers to pre-set questions. This might be extended with a request to record three/five additional interesting items of information. The research would be shared and sometimes collated in a displayed alphabet of the topic; effectively developing our own glossary. Try http://www.castlesontheweb.com/glossary.html if you’re interested.
DT was deployed to make models, of drawbridge and portcullis “mechanisms”, using pullies. Castle models were built, dolls dressed, food prepared and cooked…
Sketches from the visits were developed into larger pieces, added to from the available imagery. Photographs were taken, developed (taking a week), then used as storyboards.
Drama situations were set up to re-enact situations and seek some kind of further understanding.
While specific elements of history were relatively easy, geography might be developed through an exploration of where people chose to position their defensive sites, but also consideration of material availability and movement, the availability of water and food.
Science might be developed through trajectory exploration of a range of objects, or material strength, including exploration of elements like lintels across openings.
Throwing things could also link with PE…
With the Normans, Portchester Castle is very close, it was also possible to look at the language that came with them, at an appropriate level of course. So we might look at cow and beef, pork and pig, mutton and sheep.
In many ways, thinking as a Primary teacher automatically seeks to incorporate the curricular range available within a specific topic, without seeking to shoehorn in ideas just to be cross curricular. However, it does demonstrate that, so far, every area covered allows language development.
Mathematics from building exploration can include shape, measurements using age appropriate forms; with year six, we made a clinometer to work out an approximate height. Setting a challenge to estimate the number of blocks used to build the castle allows for some estimation, but also calculation, to gain a rough idea.
And how were the stones cut? What was the life of a stonemason like? How did they build their castles ever higher?
Essentially, you could take any topic and take it to post graduate degree level. Some teachers will have done, in a relatively narrow field of expertise. The information shared with children has to be age appropriate, using language forms that are understandable to the children and interpreted to those who don’t have an understanding.
It is reasonable for a teacher to ask whether they know enough about the topic and to create checklists of information that they think will come in handy, as aides memoire. These then inform planning decisions. Some are calling them “knowledge organisers”. Where they are described as to be taught and then tested, with under-confident/early career colleagues can lead to that being the approach. Making a topic broader, going beyond the skeleton to put real flesh on the bones can take deviation from plans and adding value to agreed approaches. When a confident teacher is able to fully develop the learning narrative, the children engage further and, in my experience, then start bringing in aspects that they have done at home; a picture, model or some writing from books at home.
We have to accept that, as learners, children are in the process of learning.
The teacher is the leader and their guide throughout. The teacher if map creator and reader, deviating to the evident need of the group or individuals, stopping, taking stock, pressing on and adding further, with hopefully all arriving safely at the preferred destination. Some will get messy on the way, having struggled through the muddier elements.
Hopefully, even after a good picnic, which they’ll always remember as a highlight, they are hungry for more.
We take what’s outside for granted!
Going outside provides the easiest set of free resources that any teacher could want, the buildings that make up the locality. Of course, if your school is set in 50 acres of rolling fields and woodlands, you might beg to differ, but they can offer an alternative environment for study.
Some of the best topics, projects, thematic approaches that I’ve undertaken, have had housing or settlement at their heart. The central idea of people needing a place to live is quite a central one to human existence and in many ways provides a hook for young children to hold onto. They understand the need for shelter, warmth and keeping dry.
Having a local woodland available allowed me to take an infant class to make shelters, from scratch. At the same time, we had access to a Romany heritage museum, being run by a traditional van maker, who had a bender tent in the grounds. It gave the children insights into simple structures. This was extended with a second trip, to the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, at Singleton, with a collection of houses from Saxon times, some moved and rebuilt, a few built from records as examples.
In another school, I started the topic with an “I spy trail” creation project with the local Secondary art (photography) department support. Children, working in small groups, started at the “village” centre and went in one of six directions. They had to decide on and record (Juniors drew, Secondary photographed) twenty different features along the route. On return, they swapped drawings and had to follow the trail. On the return to school, the trails were interpreted as sketch maps, with written instructions.
Within our locality, we also have the Iron-age Farm, which started on the top of Butser Hill, as an experimental archaeological site, developed by the late Peter Reynolds. This has been redeveloped in Chalton, south of Petersfield, still with an experimental brief, but more of a visitor experience. These early buildings were a source of great interest, with exploration of the basic materials, where they might have been sourced, reflections on how they were cut and prepared with very basic tools, moved from distance to where they were needed. Working at heights without scaffolding etc. Challenging their preconceived ideas. The experimental site introduced early textiles, food storage and other basic needs.
A mapping project in another setting, looking at the village development over a few hundred years of maps, sourced from the County archive, led to a drawing and investigation walk to the village centre. The Georgian fronts of the village centre, had been established as false “fashion” fronts to earlier tenements, where inhabitants were explored through earlier histories and census returns, which showed several families in each building. Some obliging local families opened their housed to show the features of the earlier houses that still existed. Finding Roman tiles used as a part of the local church was linked to one child digging up a tile in his garden; verified by the County museum service.
Sketching was a key element of each topic, used as a means to encourage the children to look closely.
Where possible, these were supplemented with photographs; much easier now with digital. Photographs were the basis for recall and retelling, which supported poorer writers to retain some order and organisation.
Basic pictures were given to support dialogue with each other and with the accompanying adult(s), who also had some additional information sheets to share.
Drawing sketch maps secured some feeling of spatial awareness, extended with giving instructions to get from one place to another, inside school or within the locality, but also extensive use of local maps to aid orientation.
Written reports and instructions were developed, as were histories of some of the individuals who had made up part of the developing narrative; the local Lord of the Manor and his wife were buried in the church, while some of the local people’s headstones were in the churchyard.
Clay modelling allowed making bricks and creating "dwellings", which in turn became the centre for story making.
A museum of tools and building materials allowed exploration of modern approaches. Local builder dad talked about some of the issues in building a house.
Making concrete of different consistencies in margarine tubs allowed some stress testing of materials.
Creating a 3d model of the "Village with three corners", derived from a reading scheme, alowed children to picture and develop storylines more clearly, using little model people.
Just opening children’s eyes to what is around them can give them something to talk about with their parents, particularly if they walk the same areas together. This can lead to further personal exploration, which adds to the general stock of knowledge and shows that the child’s education extends beyond the classroom.
Recently, we went for a walk in Winchester, parked by the water meadows, then walked the footpaths, passing opposite Winchester College, into the Cathedral Yard, then onto some of the smaller streets where we find our favourite coffee house. During that mile of walking, we passed over nine hundred years of history.
It made me think that just going for a walk around your neighbourhood tells many stories, if you know how to read them.
In the first place, there is the organisation of the area itself, a series of interlocking paths that offer alternative routes and different scenery; we took a completely different route back to the car, to avoid the mud of the water meadows.
Knowing your way around is a fundamental organisational skill, which can apply to navigating your house (try moving around your house in the dark during a blackout, a different place) through to the journey to school or other important place. Within the school, orientation is an important aspect of being in the right place at the right time. So having mental maps is an important aspect of living in the world, in order to function independently.
My childhood, in Exeter, Torbay, Brisbane, Adelaide, and other cities en route to and from Australia and, living in a time where parents were less concerned about stranger-danger, the act of exploring created mental maps of localities, supporting active, confident and safe movement within the local environment. I was unconcernedly walking the mile and a half to school at five.
Today’s children may not have the same possibilities. One grandson is now being allowed to go out with friends, as long as he has a fully charged mobile and credit and makes regular contact, within a very clear time limit.
How is this change impacting on the mental imagery of children?
Are they creating useful personal maps within their heads from which to determine routes?
Do they have an exploratory (survival) mentality? Do they actively engage with their local area, with their parents?
Children drawing their routes to school vary greatly in detail. Some come by car, so may not pay close attention to the journey, while others walk and may possibly have a greater insight into their locality, although many do not, as they engage in activities other than looking around themselves. It can be a salutary experience to ask children to explain how they get from the classroom to specific areas of the school. Linking geography, oral and drawn and mental organisation akin to coding (giving directions), a child’s awareness, ordering and organisational abilities can be explored.
Orientation is an essential life skill. I have heard it referred to as psycho-geography; developing maps in your head.
Or why SPAG may not be the be all and end all of writing
Last term, I watched a PGCE student on final practice take a class of year four students through an exemplary English lesson, with a major focus on grammar. The learning objective was on creating a setting.
The children demonstrated very good understanding of a range of grammatical elements, significantly more than I knew at their age. The lesson had several parts with imagery and excellent opportunities to talk and capture ideas. The writing and the supporting images were focused on the class book, so there were textual links as well as imported images and a short DVD.
The focus of The Railway Children was interesting and the children came up with similes and metaphors, adjectives and adverbial starters, strong choice of verbs and embedded noun clauses.
At the end of the lesson, the children had produced and shared a wide range of examples of sentences and constituent parts that showed that they could write appropriately.
But, throughout I had a nagging feeling. Did the children really have a good understanding of the setting about which they were writing? Despite the local station being a five or ten minute walk from the school, there was no guarantee that any of them had ever taken the train, or stood on a platform and watched trains arriving or departing. In addition, the setting was the early part of the 20th century, with steam trains, so several removes from their experiences. None wrote about the real sensory experiences, such as the noises, the feelings and the smells. They had the visual, so they wrote what they saw on the video.
In the summary session, the children were asked to share, on a post-it, what they knew about writing settings. Without exception, they wrote down the grammatical constructs. While they are essentials, the sensory aspects need to be available to provide the depth, to create writing that fully brings the reader into the narrative.
Children today, more and more are living vicariously, through television and computer imagery. While they give a flavour, as David Attenborough did, for me, as a young child, it was the fact that my best friend’s dad was the zoo superintendent at Paignton Zoo, so was able to get close to the animals, that they really became real.
Don’t assume that children have experiences from which to draw mental images. That may be a significant limiting factor in a child’s education.
Ps. The conversation after the observation was very positive and reflective; the student is an excellent prospect.
People need somewhere to live. Some live in houses, terraced, semi-detached or detached, while others might live in a flat, or possibly an apartment. On two occasions in my life, I lived with my family in a caravan.
Working on locality based topics allowed for an orientation project, using the landscape and features to orientate the children.
Another topic, based around settlements explored the need for temporary shelter, finding ways to cover and protect someone from the weather, then using the available materials to build slightly more permanent dwellings, within which families might be able to live all year round, which enabled them to develop small farmsteads. Within 20 miles of all the schools where I worked, were two excellent “living” museums, Butser Ancient Farm and the Weald and Downland Open air Museum, as well as Portsmouth Museum rooms from history, or the Gosport Search Museum 1930s experience. These provided excellent stimuli for exploration.
The basis of the topic was discussion of life essentials, food, water, shelter and the better places to build a house and to find out where the first settlement might have been. Exploring maps over an extended time frame gave the impression of the area growth.
Once this was established, consideration of the available materials for building gave rise to speculations, which could be checked through our local museums; for example, where locally there was evidence of Neolithic habitation, if they used trees to build, how did they cut and shape the trees with axes? Equally, with the museum showing deer antlers used for “digging” preparing for planting, finding a similar shaped piece of wood offered an opportunity to try in the school grounds.
Creating a building museum in the classroom and asking children to bring in labelled offerings, we received a wide variety of building materials that were surplus to projects, as well as a significant range of tools. Every item gave food for research and reflection.
Bricks, made from local clay, enabled the challenge to dig some from various gardens, then to make small dwellings from mini-bricks. Other (purchased) clay was also used. Various waterproof materials were explored to find the best for a damp-proof course, while sand, gravel and cement were mixed with water to make various concretes, which were then tested for strength.
Vocabulary was probably the most significant winner, providing the language through which the topic could be discussed, researched, explored and expressed.
All of the above was with Infant and lower junior classes, while an extension would be provided by exploring building details, windows, doors, brick sizes, all giving clues to the ages of houses, with local census materials giving the evidence of habitation over time.
The essence of good topic activity is opening children’s eyes to what is around them, but also giving them the knowledge language with which to interrogate what they are seeing. The alternative is to leave them “blind” to their surroundings.
As a species, we tend to live in communities, starting with families, extended or otherwise, living in our street, among others with similarities and differences, within villages or towns which have different forms of collective structures.
Each of us experiences our personal narrative as a result of birth, most of us, fortunately, being brought up and kept safe by our parents, grandparents, wider family and friends. We are born in our particular time, which has implications for the articles that surround us and possibly the finances available to parents to support our upbringing.
Our story, my story, her story, his story = first steps in history.
I used to use the idea that each of us has a story when I worked with Infants and Lower Juniors, to make a link between different ages of “lived lives”. Working with their own memories, supported by photographs, we were able to consider time before they were born, with exploration of parent and grandparent narratives, again with photographic storyboards. In this way, children could develop the idea of time having passed. The oral tradition of sharing stories was kept alive and the shared experience was often quoted as bringing children closer to older family members, as links were established.
Stories of playing, or eating and how they dressed were shared. The highlights and difficulties of significant events. Each could be recorded, physically on tape, but also as transcripts.
People around us
The local police officer was a regular visitor to schools, especially when there was dedicated school link officer, to talk with the children about growing up issues and responsibilities. Other regular visitors would include the fire-service, ambulance, school nurse, area librarians, local sports coaches and local representatives of several different churches. In so doing, this extended the school community, by invitation.
Local organisations often asked for children to participate in local events, sometimes singing, carols or summer fair fun songs, sometimes country dance, including maypole dancing on 1st May on the village green.
Taking advantage of local expertise supported some aspects of the wider curriculum, as they became known to the school.
All of these events served to show the breadth of people locally and the specific skills that each had to offer to the community.
Life is largely lived in some form of group, home, school and work. Each of us has to find our place within this matrix. Some find it easier than others. An aware group will keep an eye on each member, to ensure that each has a place and is valued for themselves.
Children need to learn to live within and value the group for all that it offers them and others.
The first twenty years of my life were somewhat nomadic. By that point, I had been around the world twice, both times as emigrants to Australia, first as £10 Poms, then at 17 with residual family after parent’s messy divorce. It was seen as the land of milk and honey by my dad. We came back reasonably quickly, as 1) he discovered that bringing up teenagers alone was not going to be easy and 2) he was worried that I’d be called up for the Vietnam war.
As a result, I got into the habit of travelling relatively light. The things of childhood were spirited away, but not into someone’s loft to be rediscovered in a sense of lost joy. A few special pieces remain from that period; my County cricket cap, having been awarded that the year before the second Oz trip and a small wooden model of a man that “lived” in my grandmother’s display cabinet and came out when I visited. The legs moved and that was magical to a three year old, “walking” the man down the arm of the chairs or across the table. That this belonged to my grandmother means that it is now over 120 years old.
That I lived a somewhat itinerant lifestyle and had little when I got married meant that this period was the most settled period in my life to that date. Seeking out and renovating furniture became a hobby. To be able to look at a finished piece and feel that it was pleasing to look at and the product of personal effort imbued the object with special meaning. It was something of mine. It belonged to me, and, in a sense, created a sense of belonging.
A few pieces remain from that period. After my first wife died, it was a period of sorting and readjustment, with special emphasis a couple of years later, as I remarried and moved house. Some special bits remain, this time some in the loft, but, in order to rebuild a life, it required an adjustment and a selection of specific special things. You cannot live in the past, only the present and with plans for the future.
A new “nest” had to be created.
The “things” that remain, when all is said and done, are the memories that go with and surround any physical pieces. You may pick up something and remember. I remember holidays in South Wales when I smell coal dust; the smell of the slag heaps. Meeting people jogs memories of shared experience.
The things matter, but so do the ephemeral aspects of life, the stuff of memories. The pictures and the words often outlast the physical closeness of “things”.
I just need to know that I belong, which is also what I wanted for any child in my classes.
People, Places and Things
There's always a time when whatever activity you have devised for a class comes to a close before the time you had planned. There's a need for some kind of "filler" activity.
Early in my career, a colleague suggested that I should make three sets of cards, based on a set of people, places and things or objects. The idea was very simple. a child would select a card from each group, then link the elements together in a short spoken story. This became a very popular filler, but had the potential to be developed further, into extended pieces of imaginary writing.
Where experiences might be limited, and based on the teacher's good knowledge of their class, each of the groups can be tailored to their locality. Of course, this also relies on the teacher having a good understanding of the area where their class lives!
Having just come back from a summer well-spent in the garden of my tiny maison secondaire, which had few facilities, including a lack of internet connection, time was available to indulge in some of the boxed games that pass time, especially of a warm evening, or during the heat of the day, when a hammock isn’t in use.
An old game but a favourite is Boggle. It’s advertised as a three minute word game, but sometimes the time is less relevant, as it is equal for everyone. It provides a mental challenge, with an element of competition. The requirement is to make as many words as possible, with three letters or more, with one point for 3 or 4 letter words, 2 for 5 letters, 3 for 6 and 5 for 7+. The letters have to be linked on an edge or a corner to make a complete word.
For me, this year, it was interesting to reflect on my approach to the game, in line with on-line discussions about word attack skills, including phonics.
Letter-sound correspondence is a key starting point as is the ability to blend letters together; examples on the shared board might be ea, st or ng. Each offers the opportunity to extend the sound by adding letters before or after.
St links to ar, to make star, with the addition of e, becomes stare, so we have a one point and a two point word, but this can extend further to stared, a three pointer. Patterns emerge in many games, so that a “part word” can be extended with prefixes or suffixes.
Of course there is always the possibility of a non-word, or a suspect word creeping in, so some form of adjudication might be necessary, either an adult, or a dictionary. It can give rise to interesting discussions, extending vocabulary.
Game playing with a real purpose, making lists of words, often within a “family” of sounds, checking each other and challenging as needed, all support word attack skills, but without the formality of a taught lesson. It can effectively become a test, especially of the random nature of the shaking of the box is removed to provide specific letter combinations that have been recently learned.
It might provide an alternative to word searches. However, you have to put up with the sound of shaking dice.
I wonder how many different words you can make from the example above, in three minutes?
Probably available from your local charity shop, for a few pounds.
As a Secondary school library manager, M enjoys reading and keeping up to date with current literature, to be able to advise children about available books. Annually she creates a list of suggested recent books for feeder schools.
Here's the 2016 list, books from the past year.
What level of disorganisation can you deal with in life?
On a personal level, I think that, over time, I have become more organised, in order that I can then deal with the inevitable changes to plan that life offers. In order to ensure some element of home-life balance, as a teacher, I sought to ensure that marking was done at school before leaving, so that, if anything needed doing in the evening, or at weekends, it would be an aspect of planning. There were inevitable compromises, as meetings or training events impacted. There had to be some element of flexibility built in. As life impacted, too, when I was a headteacher, I needed work to be as organised as it could be, to enable quality time at home.
I have begun to wonder if technology, while making some elements of life easier over time, have actually made some elements of teacher life harder. An example of this would be planning.
Whereas, as a classroom teacher, my planning was handwritten in a hard back notebook, for me, as an aide memoire, today teachers can be asked to fill in an electronic proforma, with boxes designed to inform someone in a management role that certain aspects have been considered and often written in considerable detail. I would concentrate on the bigger picture, of the essential knowledge to be shared and particular needs of children to be considered, whereas now, I often see plans as scripts, developed from an earlier medium term plan. It is possible to think that teachers are being asked to over-plan.
This was an element that exercised me throughout my time as a headteacher, as I was aware that I needed to strike the right balance between my need to know what was going on in the school, in order to be party to and to be able to share the overall narrative, while at the same time, safeguarding the well-being of staff and ensuring that they had sufficient thinking time to develop practice.
The only way to take charge of this is to operate within different levels of interlocking organisation, starting at school level.
The curriculum was clearly developed within a planning structure that I have blogged about, with different timescales developed that enabled quality time for thinking.
In essence, the whole was based on
Every topic being developed as a “specification” that detailed the essential knowledge that underpinned the learning as well as the anticipated range of outcomes across a mixed ability class, based on capabilities developed from “level descriptors”.
Topics lasted as long as needed, not allowed to expand to fill a half term/term. There was flexibility to link topics where a teacher saw creative benefits. This allowed for subtly different interpretations each year.
An annual plan for each year group (see above), covering all subjects in outline, was developed on a July closure, before the new academic year, ensuring a positive start in September.
First two weeks in September given to a teacher topic to get to know the children well.
The second Friday of the September term given to admin for the year and time to develop a detailed overview of the remainder of the half terms’ plans, based on good understanding of children’s needs. A copy came to me.
Teacher short term and daily plans were personal, in any form that supported their teaching.
Teachers met with parents in week 3 or 4 in September to share the year plan and to share ways in which they might help their children during the year.
The school overall plans ensured that high demand times for teachers, such as report writing, February and June/July, were not subject to high demand training or meeting schedules.
Knowing that specific information is required at specific times allowed teachers to organise their own diaries to ensure that this was done, in so doing reducing the need to chase staff and add to pressure.
Knowing ahead of time that certain topics would be covered enabled library book exchange to ensure that there was sufficient stock available to support research, that high demand on some equipment could be managed and that necessary stock items could be ordered in time.
Good structural organisation also enabled quality thinking time to be planned and funded, so that development time could be focused and more effective, both in creation and dissemination of projects. Occasional slippage, caused by staff absence, or an unexpected eventuality, as can easily occur in school, could be managed more easily.
Reading. Using a well ordered colour coded reading system allowed staff to enable children to have free access to books for changing, maintaining interest and motivation. With guided reading books at teaching/challenge level, home books were at a colour below, so a greater fluency level meant children could read them for themselves.
Writing. Order and organisation was developed in the approach to writing, with books developed as personal organisers. This allowed teachers to interact with individuals with a known agenda for development. It supported dialogue and written feedback, so marking became more focused to need, so had greater impact.
The whole enabled a clarity of narrative at child, parent, teacher and school level, ensuring that everyone had as clear an idea of direction of travel as we could hope to achieve.
Additional linked blogs
Director of education or scriptwriter?
Get them reading!
Reading is a personal thing
Reading; between sessions
Fifty(ish) reading ideas
Reading; once upon a time...
Note making, not note taking...
National writing project; revival time?
All writing in one exercise book?
Writing process; tweak your books
Exercise books as personal organisers?
Something, of worth, to talk about, to read about then maybe to write about, with an adult coach, guide and teacher.
Nobody can fail to notice that (new tougher) SATs start today. An article from the Telegraph on 6th May, by Javier Espinoza, that I saw as a tweeted link, suggested that the current (tougher) testing regime was an essential part of raising standards. What surprised me was Nick Gibb’s statement that tougher test somehow ensure a rise in quality.
Nick Gibb said: "Our argument is that if you don't come from a home where your parents speak in a grammatically correct form day in day out, if you don't have a home surrounded by books, where reading isn't a daily occurrence, [children] need that kind of structural instruction and teaching about how sentences should be constructed.”
When I was a headteacher, our intake included children from households such as those described. This was identified as an issue to be tackled, so we ensured that there was a rich language environment; talking learning, regularity of reading, personal and shared, across a wide range of genres, children working in pairs or threes to discuss preparatory activities or to solve problems, creating stories, pieces of collaborative art work and much home activity was developed to support dialogue and discussion.
Children need to become confident communicators.
The deficit model implied by Nick Gibb may be a feature of a number of areas; it was identified in the late 1960/70s in a number of studies, including Wilkinson, Plowden and Bullock, but the prescription being suggested now will not necessarily improve the confidence of the children as communicators. In fact, I’d argue that some may become more reticent as their awareness of their deficit becomes clearer, largely as a result of the necessary repetition to become “correct”, with the implication that they are always getting it wrong. Is unconfident but correct significantly better than confident with a few errors? I’d rather children developed confident articulacy applied across all the subjects of the Primary curriculum, instead of spending, in some cases, a disproportionate time on grammatical constructions that many adults, including Nick Gibb, find challenging.
Meanwhile (using a time connective) the broader curriculum, which embeds the wider, world-describing vocabulary of culture and science, is, with anecdotal reports, sacrificed. Inevitably (oh look, a fronted adverbial), in my opinion, over the next few years, children in Primary schools will experience a shallower diet across subjects, if teachers continue to focus on the narrowness of SPaG. English may be based on SPaG, which gives it an importance, but confidence in use, across all areas of learning, is equally important.
We need to teach children to communicate, to speak, read and write, with confidence. Different subjects offer variety of vocabulary and communication needs, so a broad balanced curriculum is an essential component to good communication, including SPaG, but I’d argue for SPaG in use and application, rather than a dry focus on teaching it.
It is possible to have both as quality aspects of teaching and learning.
If that makes some elements of testing more difficult, we should be able to cater for that.
Inevitably, however many times I proof read my blog, readers are likely to find something that they see as a grammatical error. To err is human...
There’s lots of stuff in the world. We give all this stuff names.
The stuff has colour, shape and size. Everything has a word, so we can compare and contrast stuff.
The stuff does stuff; it moves and changes, in different ways and at different times. All that stuff has words too.
Sometimes, the stuff does stuff to other stuff, so we need to know some more stuff about the stuff so we can explain to each other what we know and think about the stuff.
Knowing enough stuff can be tough; there seems to be so much more stuff to learn.
Thinking about and remembering stuff can be hard if other stuff comes along to think about.
The world’s a big place and there’s just so much stuff.
There’s a need to make sense of the stuff, so that life makes sense.
The way you see and understand stuff may be different from the way I see and understand stuff.
So I have to share stuff using the names, colours, sizes and shapes, and the movement words and the words that show how stuff does stuff to other stuff.
You have to be able to share the stuff you know with me, then I know when to introduce other stuff.
Because, with the world being so big and stuff being discovered all the time, neither of us will ever really know enough stuff, or all the stuff.
We have to live each day with the stuff that we think we know, using that stuff to communicate with others, picking up little bits of new stuff to mull over and store, so that, from time to time, our heads are just stuffed full of stuff and we can feel challenged.
But the stuff settles and takes a form and the organisation of the words begins to overtake the nebulous nature of the stuff, so the detail becomes clearer and our communication is enhanced, to a point where we can hold detailed conversations with people, who have insights and ideas to share.
We can become learning partners, with others with expertise leading the way, coaching to need, as they spot the anomalies in thinking or understanding.
We become thinkers in our own right, able to operate independently of others.
As thinking beings, we know there is always something to learn.
For Jemima and Alfie, who are starting the journey.
In the meantime, we start at the beginning.
Everything with four legs, fur, a nose and a tail is a “Ca..”, so that will have to do for now, and we’ll keep talking about stuff, because, if we stop talking, even if we are sure it doesn’t yet make sense. We hope it will do in time, but without it, you won’t have the words to share with us when you can.
Really learning stuff takes time and effort from many people and one lifetime won’t ever be long enough for anyone.
Jennifer “can’t read”.
Try reading this line again just using only phonics knowledge.
Was it possible, as an able, adult reader, to revert back to an early reader stage? If it was, was it quick and fluent?
This week, I have been visiting School Direct trainees as they embark on their second experience. Two lessons, in particular, stood out as food for thought. One was a maths lesson, where children were challenged to use small coins to make 10p. The other was a phonics lesson, where children were asked to use knowledge of sounds to make words. As this was a second practice, the trainee reflected on the subtle difference between the schools, as one was working on Read, Write Inc, while the second school was using Letters and Sounds. There was some nervousness in her approach, as she wanted desperately to “get it right”.
The whole coalesced when I bumped into an elderly ex-colleague, who reminisced about her teaching days, including the regular teaching of phonics, as a part of reading.
In my own mind, it brought together a simple premise. In mathematics there is the concept of conservation of number, where a whole number has a known value. Where a child has conservation of number, they are able to hold the value of a number and add or take away another without recourse to counting from one. In the maths lesson, it was interesting to see who was reverting to counting, rather than maintaining the values of coins. Conservation of number and accompanying visualisation supports fluency in mathematical thinking.
In words, the building blocks of each word are the letters and sounds that combine to make the word. Much has been written and argued about phonics teaching and the relative merits of one approach or another, often centred on the idea of mixed methods or whole word approaches. I know that I learned through whole word, largely Ladybird and Janet and John. However, throughout my teaching career, I have taught children, of all ages the letter-sound correspondences that make up a phonics approach. In fact, it was often an area of investigation of “non-readers”, that I would check their phonics knowledge. Non–readers would present with fluency and accuracy issues, both of which meant that they were then no able to understand the text being read.
While there is a need for direct phonics teaching and, where it is done well, it does impact on learning, once words are built up, it seems eminently logical to me that they are then “conserved” as whole words for ease of carrying around, rather than having a pocketful of small change, reserving phonics as a tool for tackling unknown words when they are encountered. I remember all of my children, and now my grandchildren, asking “What’s that word?”
They wanted a holistic answer, not a “Let’s work it out” approach, as the word, as a whole, embedded some information, whereas the sounds would need a further layer of processing in order to put the sounds together to be able to make the word. In that period a young child will have switched off. However, having shared the word, it was then possible to explore the word for the component parts, depending on the context and the interest of the child on that day.
There is much interplay between the elements that coalesce into what we take for granted as a word. Children when learning to speak, tend to focus on whole words. It is when they need to use their emerging child vocabulary in the context of reading that they have to essentially relearn the elements of the language, which might result in some loss of confidence, or bring to the surface, as yet, undiagnosed issues.
Children need a rich vocabulary, orally, to fully participate in lessons that rely on speaking and listening skills. This is likely to come from a range of modelled sources, home as well as school. A good knowledge of each child is likely to result in almost intuitive engagements with language pitched to the needs of the child. It may, in some cases, require a form of interpretation, where several constructions are used to exemplify the same idea. This may not be only the province of an EAL child need. Issues orally can indicate hearing issue, so this should be checked as a priority, where a concern exists; eg undiagnosed “glue ear” can cause language delay.
Translated to the written word, where a broader range of needs come together, children may exhibit behaviours that demonstrate a need for a sight check; not necessarily uncommon. School can be the first point in a child’s life where this issue becomes apparent, through the needs of a new skill. However, a quick visit to the optician can miss some of the more subtle issues with eye problems. One child whom I taught had an exceptional general knowledge, a journalist, articulate parent, with whom, at six, he would talk philosophically, yet J “struggled with reading”, despite every possible support and level of intervention. Eventually, after some very deep investigation, it was discovered that there was a level of “flicker” in his eyes that distorted words on a page. Once established, and remediated, this child flourished as a reader.
As a class teacher of reading, and while listening to children reading, I would regularly undertake a “miscue analysis”. Where this brought up a possible issue, this was addressed, with either a post read interrogation of the significant misconceptions, or a follow up, with a greater investigative focus, to create as full a picture as possible.
This would focus on:-
It sometimes became apparent that the “performance” aspect of reading was a potential issue. Where this was the case, the use of recording was tried, to allow more privacy to the child and to remove that as a possible cause of concern.
It is better to investigate and address, rather than to need to remediate at a later stage.
If a word was worth a penny, a vocabulary of 5000 words would be worth £50, 10,000 would be £100; that sounds quite a reasonable equation.
Photos from the Musee Zadkine, Paris.
The notion of Language across the Curriculum has been around for a very long time. Harold Rosen was doing work on this in the 1960s. From time to time there have been small nudges in this direction, sometimes more overt expectations, but with what can, at times, seem like limited impact.
So, how about using the expertise derived from the English lesson to provide the drivers for language improvement across the curriculum?
There is a difference between Primary and Secondary in this regard, as the Primary teacher crosses all subject boundaries, while the Secondary teacher is likely to be a subject specialist. In Primary, as in Secondary, children do a lot of writing in many different subjects. They can move from an English lesson to Geography or History and do more writing in some form. At the same time, opportunities are missed to use experience as the basis for quality writing in English and without intervention, the quality of English in written form in other subjects might not be as good as it could be.
A visit to a school where high quality art work was on display, along with many other high quality displays, led to a discussion about the potential for that activity to lead to equally high quality writing about the process, or an evaluation of one’s own work, or a critique of another’s outcomes. Some examples would have lent themselves to interpretation as poetry or prose. The English lessons had been created to look at writing a recount, but had paid no attention to the art work.
Equally, the displays did not include any real modelling of adult language, such as questions, explanations, bullet point statements, model critiques, can all provide insights and expectations from learners.
High level engagement in subjects other than English supports the development of higher level English skills, purely and simply because the children develop the broader vocabulary and spoken structures within which they can explore ideas, through discussion, then to seek to express what they have encountered, as reported speech, prior to reported writing or writing instructions or some other non-fiction element. The deeper the engagement, supported by a high quality teacher model, the higher will be the quality of speech, reportage and subsequent attempts at writing.
Jerome Bruner wrote that “the language of education, if it is to be an invitation to reflection and culture creating, cannot be the so-called uncontaminated language of fact and 'objectivity'. It must express stance and must invite counter-stance, and in the process leave place for reflection, for meta-cognition. It is this that permits one to reach higher ground, this process of objectifying in language or image what one has thought and then turning around and re-considering it."
To me, this statement implies the need for drafting and redrafting of ideas, thoughts and spoken language as well as in written forms. Ideas should be capable of an alternative viewpoint being presented, in ways that invite reflection, so that they might be reformed if needed.
Perhaps schools, especially Primary schools, need to make better use of broad activity to generate the stimulus for writing. Any ordered event, from a science experiment to a gymnastic sequence could provide the stimulus for talk, note taking or writing.
If, during the first week of a half term there was a focus within English lessons on a specific aspect of language use, such as
Outcomes could be shared and be put together to form a portfolio of exemplars, with teacher critique and commentary to support colleague development and internal judgements. It is important that every teacher sees themselves as a teacher of English.
These internal investigations could also provide evidence of an internal hierarchy of skills and alert staff to shortcomings, improving practice from evidence. Portfolios could also provide a baseline of evidence for teacher judgement.
Two page approach to writing (Embedding the whole writing process)
Using the exercise book as a personal organiser (SEN links)
Primary; all writing in one exercise book
Drafting and redrafting
With a little more time on my hands as I take more control over my diary, I am finding that I read more, in part as a result of being an active proponent of the #teacher5aday project that has been running throughout this year. As we reach the end of the year, it is perhaps a time to reflect on reading journeys as a whole. What actually makes a reader a reader?
There is a huge and continual debate about the “nuts and bolts” of reading, with often polarised disagreements about the right or wrong way to learn. You have the basics of letters, sounds, words, sentences, text and this is not seeking to determine the best way to teach it, because, I think that there is a need to explore the needs of the learner in all this. It is relatively easy to teach the discrete concepts that constitute reading, but it is in the mind of the learner that the whole has to come together to make sense.
I get upset at announcements that x% of children “cannot read” at certain points in their school lives, more for the children, who may have individual reasons why this is the case, but may, in reality, be close to the mark of being a reader, but failed to get a mark in a test that supplied the data for the comment.
Phonics was an integral part of teaching and learning, with Jolly Phonics in the Infants and more general phonics check lists within the juniors. Spellings were a mixture of personal spelling errors to address, with topic words and for some word “families” to explore. I would have to admit that it probably reflected my own analytical approach.
Reading, for many years used to be a close encounter between a teacher and the child, as it was based on individualised progress, sharing some of the book, setting targets for reading in between the shared sessions, often with the help of parents through a home-school reading book. Up until 1992, my career did not include any kind of teaching assistant, and in the early days, these were often used for the administration tasks in the room. Teachers knew the schemes available and many knew the authors and the free readers that were in the libraries.
Creating a class reading area was an important element of the room, especially when particular authors were selected as the “author of the month”. Rather than book reviews, we often wrote a postcard or a letter to the author after the month and, if the author was still alive, would send them off through the publisher, often receiving a reply that caused great excitement.
Books were available at a challenge level, and a fluency level, so that children could read for pleasure, as well as read for challenge, but avoiding books that would cause frustration and demotivation. Bookmarks, or notes in the home-school book highlighted the different challenges, so that parents could understand and listen appropriately.
Miscue analysis, by the teacher, underpinned some of the listening, to identify areas where the child may be having an issue. These would be addressed appropriately and in timely fashion, with individual guidance and support.
Just listening intently to children read meant that they had to perform. Some are better performers than others, when reading aloud. I would always give preparation time to the children to allow them to read to themselves for five minutes before reading aloud to me. As we would share some of the prepared text, this assurance often led to improved fluency. Reading aloud, from “cold” can be a challenge for adults.
Sustained silent reading was an after lunch entry activity, always from their fluency level book, so that they could read independently for enjoyment, as well as using some of the time for changing within that same level, if the book was finished.
There was always a class reader, with potentially “dead” time being used to share another few pages, as well as some dedicated sharing time at the end of the school day, after everything had been properly cleared away. It is surprising how a good book can encourage rapidity in tidying.
For more able readers, two things came together; selecting their own books as “free readers” but also “conferencing”; readers talking about what they were reading, to encourage classmates to try new and perhaps more challenging reads. In that way too, teachers got to know a greater range of books, often then reading them for themselves. The selection of books was based on the “five finger rule”; if, in reading the first page, more than five difficult words were encountered, children were encouraged to choose another. This was to encourage fluency and stamina through reading longer books. Challenge was still kept for texts shared by the teacher. Children had the right not to complete the book if they were not enjoying the narrative or the author style, but this was discussed before agreeing. Rapid and easy changing routines are essential.
In the days of class tape recorders as the only technology, every child had a personal tape, into which, at least once a fortnight, they had to record a few pages of their book, while listening through headphones, then listening back to themselves while they read silently. This provided a stimulus, but also a record of progress, which they took home at the end of the year. Digital technology offers the same potential.
Parent guidance is essential, if they are not to become a negative element in reading progress. This might entail a reading evening, an information booklet on how to share a book or personal advice at parent’s evenings. Equally, a bookmark that says either “I think I can read this by myself”, “I may need some help with some words in this book”, or “I’ve chosen to challenge myself with this book and it might be hard”. If the bookmarks are on green, amber and red card, they are easily interchangeable and easy to spot.
Reading is personal. If a child is experiencing difficulty in reading, it is incumbent on the teacher to investigate fully what might be causing the issue and to set up appropriate support to address the issues. It might simply be choosing a more appropriate book. Analyse the need, plan for remedy, action the plan effectively, follow up regularly, check progress and coach accordingly. Turn them into comfortable performers when reading aloud.
This is the only way that children will leave Primary schools able to read. In my school, we got 95% of children reading at level 4+ (50-60% L5) by using these approaches.
Good readers made better writers. There was considerable spin-off benefit to this approach.
Thanks to my wife, Melanie, a Secondary library manager, for these suggested book lists for years 7,8 and 9.
Might be a starter for a reading challenge.
Semantics-it’s only words.
The narrower the teacher frame of reference becomes, the narrower the learner view becomes, as it is controlled by the former.
It is strange. For the first part of my school career, there was talking with children about their ongoing learning, sometimes as individuals, often as groups and then there was marking. As the talking and the marking were in the context of work being checked, edited, discussed, reframed, as a part of developmental approaches, drafting and redrafting ideas, the discussions could be seen more as “editorial boards”, with the recipient of the group discussion having to go away and recraft their work. As my career was largely in Primary, these were 5-11 year olds. The later classes also had the benefit of being participants in the National Writing Project, which had a strong local base.
I am beginning to reflect that, as the discussions were part of a known process, it was this context, with the need to follow up, to improve the detail that was the successful element.
Today, too often, as has always been the case in many classrooms, a piece of written work can be seen as an end in itself, with the potential that any critique, or support, offered at the marking stage, will only be tentatively applied, or retained, as the class moves on to the next topic.
This creates for me a broader question. Is it better to craft fewer pieces of higher quality, than a greater number of pieces of possibly lower quality?
The approach that I outline above, with a focus on the process, could mean that a piece of writing was developed over a couple of weeks, and, as this was all hand written, needed careful management, to avoid children just rewriting for neatness.
An example that I used, with one able group, was to spend the lesson time developing the ideas and planning carefully, with a home activity to write a (short, 15 minute) chapter draft, to bring back to the class to discuss and edit the following day, before moving to plan the next chapter. A lower achieving group had the task of developing their storyboard at home, to use in the lesson, to talk about, plan, draft, edit and create a “chapter” of three sentences. Lesson length varied with the needs of the task, to ensure quality outcomes. Topics were governed by the need for quality.
“Publication” was a hand task, with each child’s work mounted, bound and incorporated pieces of associated art work. Children were trained to mount their work with care. Their finished products made them proud and they became a part of the class “library” for a while, before going home.
Teachers talked together about the outcomes, especially within year groups, but also across the school, as a topic or a particularly exciting outcome was shared. Everyone grew, by talking together and being allowed to try things out.
My school, as a whole, took part in these approaches, and, as I was one of the leads for English, and undertaking my post grad in Language and Reading development, it provided a great platform for personal and institutional development. We talked improvement, created generic formulae to describe this from Reception to year 3 (It was still a First School) and we got children to an extremely high level of achievement, often not believed by the receiving Middle School. Many were at what would have been called afterwards, a good level 4.
It was in the last three years of my time as a class teacher when the original National Curriculum came into being. This gave a form of words to all teachers, across all schools, to discuss progress. More focused moderation began to offer broader insights into outcomes across schools. Ideas were shared more widely, but then there were also apocryphal stories about schools not able to do the same, as they were more tightly controlled in their timetabling or what they had to offer.
In many ways, the inception of the National Strategies, with the further development of Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) grids, to my mind, enabled a greater stereotyping of approaches, with ever narrower aspects being the focus for learning; losing sight of the bigger picture, especially as moderation then began to focus on sub-levels. The words of moderation killed off the teacher aspiration to hold onto the holistic process of writing, and to focus on ever smaller elements, which children then often had to put together themselves.
Rather than move in this ever-narrower way, within my school, we worked towards what became the two page approach to the writing process, embedding the best of the National Writing Project outcomes with what we felt was the best of the emerging development narrative. This enabled us to move to around 85% level 4+ in the 2005 SATs, with 40% at level 5. The process of writing was always at the forefront, with the discrete elements fitting together.
This approach was further developed across the curriculum, with a focus for each week’s main piece of writing. There was one book for all major writing, developed in the same way, over the course of a number of days, with a purposeful outcome; display or class book being the main sharing points. Shorter, note based writing also happened, to facilitate some other subjects.
Development discussions were always based on the whole level descriptors, with subject managers adjusting these, or advising, if there were discrete elements to be considered.
In essence, the school focused on
Order and organisation of thoughts. This might be aided, in any subject, by storyboarding, a series of photos, mind-mapping, story mapping, scaffolds, or some other structural aids. Some children crafted three sentence narratives, reports, letters etc, with a beginning a middle and an end, then were challenged to add detail. Others were able to develop a more coherent, extended narrative, but needed guidance to focus in some way.
Getting good at words. Collecting together, sharing, words and phrases appropriate to the needs of the writing, including thesaurus or class sharing activities. Talking about adjective, verb and adverb choices, crafting sentences.
Bringing in inspiration from what they were reading. There was a link with books read, as every class had an appropriate “Author of the Month”, with a set of books available to supplement other reading. This allowed teachers to read quality literature aloud, children to share with each other parts of books that caught attention, but also to write “in the style of”, from some experience. Guided book sets were also author linked where possible, so there was a joined up approach.
Modelling, as needed to some children, including TA as scribe for some at different times.
Oral rehearsal; telling the story out loud and capturing in some form, for those whose needs dictated that; in the early days with a tape recorder. Nowadays there is a multitude of digital alternatives.
Sharing developing drafts. Talking improvement, at every stage, with the “final” drafting being seen as capable of further improvement. It was the best it could be at the time.
The children were getting better at getting better. They were party to their own development, so their energies were clearly directed towards self-improvement. Becoming learners, they needed “feeding” rather than always needing to be led.
Of course, after all these efforts, to improve the outcomes of children, and even if 85% of them achieve the “national standard”, will Secondary schools accept these outcomes? That has been a question since 1987, when Juniors argued level 3 in infants was “different” in the juniors and Secondaries argued the same from their perspective. That question is, to me, the crux of future developments.
There needs to be a common language and common agreement about outcomes. For what it is worth, I did think level descriptors 1-5 described Primary progress imperfectly, but quite well as an overview.
Develop exercise books as personal learning organisers, for the learners and the teachers?
Some elements of this post are subjects of linked posts, so I have highlighted and linked them.
The essence of this post is based around the 2 page approach to writing, with the question of whether, in Primary, all writing should be in one book. At all times, the search is for personalised approaches to support each child’s learning journey. Blank page books enable differential writing guide lines to be used beneath, but also support the left hand page to be used for storyboarding, notes, images, word collections, planning, etc. The idea of flip out memory joggers can be very supportive of learning dialogue across a wide area of need.
As a classteacher, and often as a teaching headteacher, one of the difficulties was remembering the personal needs of each child in the class across the range of subjects.
Over time, a variety of aides memoire came into being, such as personal bookmarks to highlight reading needs.
Flip out personal targets were joined to the edge of the exercise books, so that they could be available to the child and me at any point, including when giving feedback or marking, when the focus was very much clearer. As children got older, they began to point out where they had achieved, so this was recorded and new foci created.
If generic reminders are needed of spelling and grammar (SPaG) rules, these can be on another flip out card.
Specific spellings which cause the child a problem can be highlighted on another card, or topic specific words can be developed, so that they are more regularly used.
Working in this way, the exercise book becomes a personal organiser surrounding the central need to focus on and improve writing, at whatever age. Card supports can be made for any purpose and, to be effective, should be personal.
Where “word walls” exist in class, consider the potential for a table top 100 word dictionary, to be available the learners in front of them, so that they can check and reproduce common words accurately. Short term memory can be supported, of the child is trained to use look, cover, write and check, for all these words. An example, (from Autopress Education) is below. There are many around.
Children asking for spellings can cause a problem, so a solution might be using small wipe-on-wipe-off boards, to have a go, to hold up for adults to check and intervene as needed.
To develop the best practice for each class, there needs to be a generic approach which can be tailored to the needs of each child. In that way, their developing personal independence can be used to support class organisation.
Busy teachers don't always have the time to keep up with the multitude of books that are printed each year.
My wife, a Secondary Library Manager, produces, each year, a list of books which is shared with the school feeder Primaries, to encourage the year 6 children to keep reading between SATs and entry into the school. This year, I have persuaded her to develop this as a "flyer" and wanted to share the outcome generally. The books are varied, in interest and challenge, but should encourage a good level of discussion.
Please let me know if you use the list.
In case you missed it, there is also a list of books for Inclusion, which might be of interest. Link HERE.
Apologies to colleagues (on PC) for two versions of the list below. I've done that as Scribd doesn't seem to like mobile, so hopefully mobile users will get one version. Overkill maybe.
Trying to find a context for phonics.
Everyone is at it. It is a wonder how we ever really learn to read.
(My) Simple View of Reading; For a start, I am wondering if we are in danger of overcomplicating things, with a focus on the teacher rather than the needs of the learner. I do have a relatively simple view of reading, which can be summarised as, in through the eyes, churned around in the brain (which we can’t see) and out through the mouth, if you want to extend to performance, with this latter often casing children evident discomfort as they are very much on display and can suffer from the equivalent of stage fright.
However, we need to take a step back even from that phase, as a child will have lived a few years before learning to read, so will have developed some oral language which hopefully is sufficiently sophisticated to interact with storylines as they develop. We cannot legislate for pre-school experiences within families, nor the quality of oral interaction, but it is to be hoped that there will have been some learning of nursery rhymes and songs, with some simple poetry and that picture books have already been introduced and shared. Hopefully visits to places of interest which stimulate talk will have happened. I know it won’t be the same for each child and this can become significant variable, with teachers making assumptions about what their children might have experienced.
In this phase, a number of learners will begin to associate the squiggles, the black shapes on the page, as writing, with the adult reading the squiggles. If they are introduced to the concept of writing their name for example, they may well see their name in all sorts of places, usually as a result of seeing the first letter. Children will often as what something “says”, which shows an insight into reading.
So the idea of the squiggles “saying” something is an important step.
Phonic knowledge (sound and spelling) Identifying the squiggles as letters provides deeper insight, and develops visual and oral skills, with recall an essential aspect. Just saying the alphabet does not equate with knowing the letters.
The learner begins to pick up combinations of letters, which together subtly change the sound to make a new sound. Just learning the sounds does not make a child a reader. The sounds have to be recombined into the words, which in themselves embed concepts.
I’ve always had an analytical brain, so looking for patterns is almost hard-wired into my brain. Putting combinations of letters together must have just made sense, as I don’t remember having a problem with a combination of letters that made “and”, then adding letters to make “families” of words, such as band, dandy, hand, land, sand, which gave me insights into the whole world of whole words.
For example, tree, requires some juggling as the single sounds would not be helpful. T-r-e-e brought together as tr-ee, to make the two sounds (three in SSP; t-r-ee), supports successful articulation. If a child has an image of a tree, that supports learning, as the concept matches the word. Nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives can fall into this category. You can picture it, draw it or act it out in some way.
Phonics is important, whichever approach suits the learner, as far as I am concerned. It is one skill in building a complete picture of what makes words.
Word recognition: Quite a number of words which support a broader concept of reading either are not all phonetically simple, nor do they necessarily embed an image. Articulated clearly within the Ladybird Key Words research, they included the following:
a and he I in is it of that the to was all as at be but are for had have him his not on one said so they we with you about an back been before big by call came can come could did do down first from get go has her here if into just like little look made make me more much must my no new now off only or out over other out right see she same their them then there this two up want well went who were what when where which will your old
Extracting the 25 most common words, which make up one third of reading, increases the urgency to know these particular words efficiently.
the of and a to in is you that it he was for on are as with his they I at be this have from
I like to think of some of these as narrative words, part of the language that supports linkage of ideas. Rapid recall of words aids fluency, while fluency aids understanding, as the words are put together into sentences. It is the basis of many early reading schemes.
Language comprehension – is understanding the meaning! Our speech patterns follow the rules of oral grammar, for the most part, to a point where people are able to complete the sentences of others.
In a written form this is articulated as cloze procedures, where words are erased from a text and the reader asked to find appropriate words to make sense of the text being read.
The little …… was on ….. bike in the ……..
There are lots of possibilities, rather than one correct choice for each space. This allows for a teacher to check grammatical understanding.
Fluency, to me, is the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with expression. Fluency is important because it provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. When fluent readers read silently, we have to assume that they recognize words semi-automatically. They group words quickly to help them gain meaning from what they read.
Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate as much on decoding the words, they can focus their attention on what the text means. They can make connections among the ideas in the text and their background knowledge. In other words, fluent readers recognize words and comprehend at the same time. Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on figuring out the words, leaving them more limited attention for understanding the text.
Reading fluency encompasses the speed or rate of reading, as well as the ability to read materials with expression. Meyer and Felton defined fluency as "'the ability to read connected text rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding" (1999, p. 284).
Determining a child's reading rate
A child's reading rate may be calculated by dividing the number of words read correctly by the total amount of reading time. If you count out 100 words in a passage and then time the child as (s)he reads the passage, you can get a view on the speed.
Miscue analysis: If the 100 word passage is also marked for any miscues, the teacher can also support a diagnosis of the specific needs of the child.
Performance: Eventually the early reader is encouraged to perform as a reader, often using the teaching level book, sometimes within a Guided reading session, where there is a larger audience. All reading aloud is performance, whether adult or child. Reading aloud is likely to cause some internal tension, as it is, for the child, a test situation. This is not always considered by adults, who use it as a means of ascertaining the child’s current reading skill.
The performance is often judged by additional criteria, beyond accuracy, with elements such as fluency and expressiveness being highly regarded. If a child is reading an unprepared passage, or at a challenging level, it is likely to suffer from reduced performance.
Fluent readers read aloud effortlessly and with expression. Their reading sounds natural, as if they are speaking. Readers who have not yet developed fluency read slowly, word by word.
Fluency is one reason why I have always favoured colour coded reading schemes as the basis for reading, especially independent reading; a variety of schemes graded according to challenge, with an associated reading age. This allow for a number of challenge levels, the main two being teaching, where a book can be read with some support and guidance, and fluency, which essentially is any colour beneath the teaching level. If children are able to select widely and change their books as needed, they can enjoy reading for themselves, but also can explore performance based on an enhanced fluency. Going above the teaching level can allow some to become frustrated, but the challenge might demonstrate to some that they are better readers than they think.
If children can learn to ride a bike and skateboard once some early support has been given, through personal practice, why can’t we let them do the same with reading?
Can children really fall off a book and hurt themself? Why shouldn't they have a book and have a go? They might make a few errors, but that's not necessarily completely wrong. They will still need specific coaching and guidance and interest being shown, but there is a real need to enhance overall reading skill as reading impacts on the whole curriculum.
Readability (12 point)
Readability (16 point)
Readability (18 point)
You only have to type the word readability into a search and you are confronted with a broad range of reading options. The essence of a range of studies is that the size of a font and the spacing between will make a difference to the ease with which different readers will be able to access the information within a piece of text. This can seem self-evident, but it is an easily overlooked aspect of creating worksheets for different groups of learners.
Browsing online reports of studies into readability and font sizes, and there are many examples, the common thread seems to suggest that the larger fonts increase the fluency and speed of reading, so improving the comprehension of the reader. This aspect was fascinating, as the central tenet of reading currently seems to have a major focus on decoding.
Beyond decoding, there is the need to make sense of what is being read and the speed, fluency and accuracy, if influenced by the font size, must be a consideration when presenting texts to learners, especially if the language is content-heavy. This could be especially important in second language speakers, as well as native speakers with poor reading.
Some of the studies suggest that minor variations in eye movement can have a link with dyslexic functioning, so that adaptations through font choice can support some improvements.
"Many dyslexics have problems with 'crowding', where they're distracted by the words surrounding the word they're trying to read," says John Stein, Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University and chair of the Dyslexia Research Trust. "When reading text on a small phone, you're reducing the crowding effect" (Hill, 2010).
Given the larger impact on the reading for students with certain disabilities, increasing text size should be a prime consideration for educators of these students. The O'Brien study concludes:
The finding that dyslexic readers require larger print size to attain their maximum reading speed has implications for the type of print that educators select for these children (O'Brien, Mansfiled, and Legge, 2005).
There are a number of studies into the use of ereaders, where participants report improvements in reading and enjoyment through the ability to alter the font size for themselves, which could be a very positive argument for the use of ereaders for children seeking to improve their reading enjoyment through increased fluency, speed and accuracy.
Given the easy availability of technology that enables rapid adaptation of teaching and learning material for children, there are few excuses for poorly presented text material.
Cloze Procedure is an exercise, test, or assessment consisting of a portion of text with certain words removed (cloze text), where the learner is asked to find appropriate words that will match the missing words. Cloze tests require the ability to understand context and vocabulary in order to identify the correct words or type of words that belong in the deleted passages of a text.
Cloze can be useful as an assessment tool of the breadth and depth of understanding of both native and second language learners. It is also relatively easy to set up and to personalize for individuals at their own reading level, in that it embeds aspects on comprehension, but also enables the teacher to explore specific aspects of grammar understanding.
Cloze procedures are often set up by deleting every seventh word in a text, then asking the reader to supply linguistically plausible alternatives. It is not a requirement that the child should provide the exact word, although I have encountered teachers whose aspiration was exactly that. By doing that, the “test” becomes more limited. Having the child provide a number of plausible answers gives a greater insight.
The simplest way to set up a cloze text is to take the selected text and to delete, for example, the adjectives, especially if that has been a focus for the class, so that it also provides feedback on the child’s understanding of the teaching. As long as the alternative words will fit in the space and the child has a reason why it could do so, they get credit. The use and application of a range of reading skills is the aim. Spelling approaches can also be checked.
From Take Back the skies, by Lucy Saxton
Rain fell lazily from ………. clouds as Catherine Hunter sprinted through ……. streets, her ……. hair tied in a ……… braid and tucked beneath a …… cap. Her ……… coat and ………. trousers disguised her gender quite nicely. She was practically unrecognisable; only the people who knew her well would have been able to tell who she was. A ………….. smile tugged at her lips as she reached the …………. tree beside the ………… wall that surrounded the area in which she lived. It took barely any effort to swing herself up into its branches, the knots worn into footholds by …………. use. With ……………. ease, she scrambled up as high as she could manage, edging on to an …………… branch that just brushed the wall’s peak. From there it was a short jump over the wall, her thud upon landing muffled by the grass. Taking no longer than a second to regain her balance, she resumed running, diving into a gap at the base of a bush. The ……… panel behind it was open, as she’d left it, and she crawled through without a care for the mud on her clothes. Her father would never see them.
(It took only a few minutes to create a cloze text from a passage; perhaps quicker than a usual worksheet)
Children can benefit from a cloze procedure approach, as it embeds meaning making from the text and enables discussion of a range of approaches to reading. It embeds a level of comprehension and challenge, so requires some stickability. It might identify children whose reading approach is single word, so needing to develop a greater overview of the textual meaning. Discussion of word choice allows consideration of the breadth of personal vocabulary.
The cloze passage can also lead to an extended piece of writing, by simply asking, “What happens next?”
It can be used to determine subject specific knowledge, by leaving out the key words in the passage. Cloze procedure can provide an alternative form of testing, within a reading challenge.
Long career in education, classroom and leadership; always a learner.
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