Archive for the Category ◊ Curriculum ◊

The Half-Way Point
Thursday, February 20th, 2014 | Author:

This half-term has been a bit different to usual. Yes there are days out and yes, the nieces have come to visit, but I have also been into school, not for planning, but for completely redesigning my classroom. This post will also be an update on the classroom tour post I shared in September.

I have a massive classroom. It echoes, it’s just huge. The plan was to redecorate and build a small office/workroom space at the back for interventions, so I held off making changes for the first term but as this work isn’t going to happen now, I could get in and change things. Also, I wanted to reflect on what has worked and what needs to be improved.

Literacy – As blogged about here, we focus on a different sentence every week. In practice this actually becomes a “sentence of the literacy unit” but that doesn’t sound as cool. So what I have done is to make a board showcasing different sentences. Some are examples of complex sentences, e.g. embedded clauses and some are taken from Alan Peat’s book. The idea is to have examples to share with the children but also to have space for children to share their own too. Example sentences will also be in their toolkits on their tables so that they can see them while they are working.

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Maths – Before, I had a working wall and a whiteboard for Maths. The whiteboard didn’t really work and soon became used for other things as I needed somewhere to write notices for the children and also put up learning objectives, the date and other similar information. I love the A4 whiteboards that we have. These are not the chunky ones for using on the carpet, these are flimsy ones that snap very easily (one broke yesterday when I dropped it onto the carpet!) but they are perfect for blu-tacking to the wall and writing on. For my Maths board, these will have questions based around the maths we are doing. I try to differentiate them but the more-able will always try and answer every question anyway. there is also space available for me to stick up paper to show methods or ideas as we go along. The main thing for me is to make their toolkits on their table better so that once we have taught something in Literacy, Maths or Spellings, it comes down from the wall and into their toolkit to be replaced by new learning on the wall.

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The Science wall has more whiteboards stuck to it with questions about our topic. I could print the questions and stick them on but these whiteboards are fab for quickly changing ideas. I have also left space for children to stick post-its with their own questions too.

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A big change in my room is that my dry-wipe whiteboard has been moved. There are various reasons it hasn’t been moved until now, but having it at the front of the room will help. The behaviour chart is also now at the front, next to me while I teach. One issue that I had is that when the children move up or down the chart, I had to break from the teaching and request that the child moved their name. This meant that the flow stopped and sometimes there could be problems if a child didn’t want to move their name…so by having it at the front, I can move names without discussion if needs be and continue with the lesson.

Another change is that I now have a board for “Building Learning Power” which is something we are trying to start in school.  It is about picking up the learning behaviours and making children aware of what they need to do to be better learners. My wife suggested making it Lego-themed and singing “Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team” to show how working together can achieved great results. I have a few children who want to improve, but want it on their terms. They want to work on their own and don’t want others to help. I want to break this down and make them want to learn and succeed together. So learning behaviour is going to be a big push this term.

One idea that I found in the book Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners is the idea of having marbles in a jar not to represent “good” behaviour but to represent learning behaviour instead. So “Well done Timmy, you have shown great resilience today” which then leads to a marble (or for me, ping-pong ball) going into the jar. The whole class will need to work together to focus on the behaviours we are trying to learn about. I want to make this very explicit to them so that we can discuss what is meant by resilience or perseverance. It’ll be interesting as some of the children find persevering very difficult indeed at the moment!

It’s odd to think that half of the year has gone already and I’m still figuring out what to do. I am doing OK so far but I want to get better and I hope that the re-arranged classroom will give y children the chance to succeed even more than they have done so far.

 

Scratch Programming in Easy Steps
Wednesday, January 01st, 2014 | Author:

One benefit of the Christmas holidays is the chance to catch up on various jobs that need doing and books that need reading. One book that I have had for a couple of weeks is Scratch Programming in Easy Steps by Sean McManus.

I know that many people will find this book extremely useful and as I have mentioned before, Scratch has been part of my ICT curriculum in school for a few years now. Programming won’t take over the curriculum, but if you are looking to introduce Scratch then this is a useful book to use. This takes the excellent resources from Code Club a few steps further. Those are good for getting started but this book actually begins right at the beginning, with explanations of the different blocks and their functions as well as instructions for changing elements such as the background or the main sprite.

Every aspect has colour images (crucial when using Scratch’s different coloured control blocks!) and it also includes step-by-step guides to writing each program. The next step for me would be to adapt the numbers. What happens if the 50 becomes a 5? Or I change this to 2.5? As confidence grows, children and teachers can then explore changing blocks to see the impact it will have. The book is very clear and gives lots of information about each element.

Once the basics are covered, there are various projects such as playing Dodgeball, creating your own choir (little bit odd, but fun) and also creating your own quizzes and conversations. Towards the end of the book there are projects involving Raspberry Pi and webcams as well as some short projects such as Keepy-Uppy. The book covers the how to do it but doesn’t give examples from the classroom. But that’s where good teachers come in. I saw the conversation aspect and thought about how I could get two characters from my Guided Reading book talking to each other discussing why they had acted like they had.

If I was looking at the new Computing curriculum and wanted to include aspects of Scratch,  I would start with this book and Phil Bagge’s Code-It website which has plans, resources and videos. Then, when confidence has been developed, teachers could change the dodgeball game to a similar one but with a different outcome and this will enable your plans to grow and grow.

 

For information: I was sent a copy of this book to review, but if I didn’t like it, I would say so.

Getting on with it
Friday, December 27th, 2013 | Author:

One of my Christmas jobs is to plan the curriculum for the rest of Year 4. We did look at this in May when draft documents were out and we pencilled in an overview for the year but quite quickly we realised that we needed to change it. This happened for many reasons including:

  • The final curriculum was released and changed our plans
  • We wanted to make something coherent and exciting, our initial plans were done in a couple of hours and didn’t fit together as much as I would’ve liked
  • I now know the children. I didn’t then. I was new in September and hadn’t worked with the children so didn’t know what would or wouldn’t work for them.

I know that this year, as the National Curriculum documents were disapplied, we can do whatever we like (pretty much) but I want to think longer term so that I have some things in place for next year if needs be. Not to 100% re-use but to adapt and change as needed.

There has been a lot of talk about Gove, his constant teacher-bashing and the new curriculum, among many other things, but y’know what, being a teacher is an amazing job so I’m going to just get on with it. I read this post from Pete Yeomans and I know that some people disagree with his tweets and think of him as argumentative at times, but read that post.  He talks a lot of sense. As a profession we have just been given a hell of a lot of freedom. Let’s make the most of it and create something amazing for our children and our schools.

Take the new curriculum. For Science it lists five areas that Year 4 must cover. The electricity area is so small and simple it can be done in 20 minutes (allowing 10 minutes for finding some batteries that work of course). It involves making a circuit with buzzers, bulbs, switches and batteries/cells, play with it a bit e.g. what happens with more batteries? Or with more bulbs? Then draw a diagram of it. Simple. So this gives you loads of time to expand on it and develop it. The problem with the circuits made in many schools is that they don’t really do anything. What about this though. We could get some proper equipment with batteries, LEDs etc and make a torch that the children can take home. That’d be better wouldn’t it? We could even write instructions for how it works.

It’s the same for many other areas of the curriculum. Yes there are things we don’t agree with in there, but I think this is because we have no idea what happened in Baghdad or Benin in 900AD so we don’t know how to teach it yet (I’m sure someone is making/has made documents to help). Having a slim curriculum is fantastic, it gives you the chance to open your mind to a whole host of possibilities. I asked the children what topics they would like to learn about and they stuck to fairly standard things such as Egypt, Romans, Vikings but also wanted to know about their body, weather, aliens and my favourite, London. This could be a great topic looking at the capital throughout the ages, stopping off at the plague and the Great Fire along the way and, of course, a school trip. Many just want to go on the underground as they’ve never done it before. Think of the writing opportunities from that first-time experience though!

So my New Year resolution is not to moan about the curriculum, even the Computing bit, I’m going to make sure that the stuff we teach the children is going to be fantastic. It will encompass ideas from the children and from teachers, it will include chances to be entrepreneurial and it will involve parents as much as possible. And my children will make a lot of progress along the way too.

Anyway, now to plan a topic suggested by my class about the human body and the digestive system. I think it’s just because the children wanted to say poo without me moaning at them…

Sentence of the Week
Monday, December 02nd, 2013 | Author:

Recently we have introduced a few new strategies to improve the vocabulary and the writing for the children we work with. Firstly, we started with “Word of the Week”. This is a different word that we would teach the children each week. Following an inset day, we discussed that words fitted into three groups.

  1. Words that they already know e.g. watch, house, quietly
  2. The bit to focus on – I’ll come back to this in a minute
  3. Words that they will probably only remember when in the zone and thinking about it e.g. photosynthesis, chunking

The decision was made to focus on the group 2 words. So far we have had words such as: friendship, emotion and perspective. We spend 2-3 minutes each day looking at the word, saying it, spelling it, putting it into sentences etc and it is helping to improve vocabulary and the children’s writing.

Following this, we thought about making a bigger impact in our year group. I have been following Alan Peat for a while now and I am a big fan of his books. The one that I used a lot last year talked about different sentence types and he has recently released a follow-up. Both of the books contain a variety of different sentences and in class, we are picking one a week to focus on. In future weeks, I hope to let the children choose the focus sentence.

We started with BOYS sentences and these contained But Or Yet So. This helped to teach the children about connecting ideas together in different ways (not just with “and”). Last week though, we had huge success with the sentence of three with action as suggested by Pie Corbett, author of Jumpstart Literacy and Jumpstart Storymaking. This works like a 3 item list with commas but has more detail and describes actions.

We were writing the story of Bear and Hare from the John Lewis advert and there’s a great bit where the animals are decorating the tree. This is where most children put the sentence to great use. Here are some examples:

The hedgehog walked over, picked up the decoration and gave it to the squirrel to put on the tree. Carefully, the deer reached down, picked up the bauble and hung it on the nearest branch.

Our aim is to choose a different sentence type each week and teach how it can be used, altered and adapted to suit the need. So far, it has given the children the chance to explore sentences and experiment with their writing.

100WC Questions
Sunday, October 20th, 2013 | Author:

I am writing this post because I have been asked by a few people how I actually use the 100 Word Challenge within school. So I though I would share a few ideas to get you started. This week, over 1000 children have contributed to the weekly prompt for the first time. I wonder how long it is until over 2000 posts a week are submitted?

 

Where do the children write their posts? 

In our school we have blogs: www.ridersblogs.co.uk and this is setup using WordPress Multisite. This means that each blog I create is a sub-blog from the main one. I have created a blog for the 100 Word Challenge: www.ridersblogs.co.uk/100wc and every class has a login. The children are aware of the login and password and because of restrictions I have put in place, the children write their posts but it won’t go live on the site until I check it. When the children are writing their post, they add their name into the tags so that we can search for all of the posts from a particular child quickly.

You could of course have any blog just for 100 Word Challenge, but WordPress Multisite lets me manage it easily. I don’t post them onto the class blogs as they would quickly get filled if 30 children were writing on there every week!

How do I use the prompts without a blog?

When I am first showing the 100 Word Challenge to people, I suggest that they use it within class as part of  Literacy lessons or maybe morning tasks. To start with, I help the children witht he planning stages. Use the prompt and see what ideas they have. Will their writing be a letter or a story? What about something else? What characters or settings are there?

Last year, I wrote the prompt (or printed if it was a picture) and put it on the wall in the classroom. The children could then write about this during the week, maybe for 5minutes a day during registration or as one of the activities in a reading carousel. This gets them used to using the prompt and writing around 100 words. I often get the children to peer assess these as they can then look through them and build up their awareness of targets and the content of writing rather than just marking and saying “your writing is neat”.

A text-based curriculum
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 | Author:

We’ve been having a bit of discussion about the curriculum at my new school and I wanted a chance to jot down some ideas and see if anyone had done something similar to help guide us before we get started.

Currently we are sort-of looking at the new curriculum and teaching from bits of this but I think it’s fair to say that we are teaching with a subject-based approach. In Year 4, we are teaching literacy based on the book Rebecca’s World, our science is all about liquids and solids and our artwork is based on the work of John Dyer. So it isn’t linked up. Yet.

We were talking today about having a text-based curriculum. I was originally thinking about each unit being based around a book but this has now extended to videos too, allowing us the chance to use the great animations on the Literacy Shed too and also full length movies as well. Through the range of texts we use, we could teach the other aspects of the curriculum. For example, the book How I Met Dudley is all about machines and how they work, linking well to science with circuits or Design Technology where we can make our own machine of some kind.   The thinking is that we will cut back on having science/art/etc every week and just teach intense units where they link properly. It will mean a lot of Literacy-focussed work, but this will be good for raising standards but we will of course include opportunities for cross-curricular work too.

So, I guess my question is, can anyone suggest any great books for use in Key Stage 2 that will allow us to teach some excellent Literacy, but will also allow some links to other curriculum areas? Does your school have a book-based curriculum? What are the possible downsides?

Category: blogposts, Curriculum  | 6 Comments
The 100Word Challenge…Live!
Saturday, September 21st, 2013 | Author:

I have been a fan of the 100 Word Challenge for a long time. For those that aren’t aware, this is a weekly prompt provided by Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice).  The idea is that children will then write 100 words based on the prompt which may be a picture or phrase. They write about this on their class blog and then link to it on the 100 Word Challenge blog. Then Julia’s team leave comments to help encourage the children to write more, to include more features and to share their writing with the world.

I blogged about it here and here.

This week, we were lucky enough to have Julia visit my new school. She worked with two groups of children from Year 4 to Year 6 and I was a little unsure how it would go. We are still at the start of term and I wasn’t sure if the children would want to write to their best ability, but with a bit of prompting and support, they have produced some amazing work.

To view this, visit www.ridersblogs.co.uk/100wc – they would love to have comments from other people too!

Having Julia there made the 100 Word Challenge even more exciting. The children came out of the session buzzing and thanked me for getting her into school. I hope that I can continue to inspire them in the coming weeks!

To find out more about Julia’s work in schools, visit here.

A Tour of my Classroom
Wednesday, September 04th, 2013 | Author:

This post has come about because I was commenting on a blog post from Teacher’s Pet about buying equipment from Ikea and I posted a photograph of my reading area. Someone asked a question about it, then soon after there were more questions asking where I had got certain resources or why I had this up, so I thought that a tour of my classroom might be useful. Also, it’s good to reflect on why I have certain things in my room and what the benefit will be. I know that some people will see this as pointless because research suggests that classroom displays have minimal impact on learning and I know that others will think that many of the things I have are obvious. But a few people asked me to share what was on my walls, so here goes:

 

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Our topic this half-term is A Bird’s Eye View and although these pictures aren’t the top-down view normally associated with a bird’s eye view, they are still taken from high up. From the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth in fact. These are photos with questions asking the children to think about the land use. For example, which are the oldest or newest buildings in the pictures? Are all of the boats used for the same purpose? What evidence can they see of tourism?

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Every class at Riders sponsors a child from Tanzania. This is led by @clairemarie00, so please direct questions to her! But we will be writing letters to Nuru and hopefully receiving some too.

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My Science topic is States of Matter and the wall has a variety of vocabulary related to solids, liquids and gases. As the topic progresses and we carry out investigations, we will remove some of these and replace them with photos of the children working and carrying out investigations. I want to get the children to ask their own questions and this will be happening in the first lesson.

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One thing in our school is that planning should be readily available to a visitor such as the Head Teacher and actually, it is also useful for the team of LSAs to be able to grab it if they need it. So I have zippy wallets on the wall with planning in them.

 

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For spellings, we will be splitting into ability groups and in my group, the sounds or spelling rule we are looking at will be in the centre of the stars and then example words will be written around it. In the pockets (from Ikea) are different cards with ways to learn spellings e.g. write them in bubble writing or write a mnemonic to help learn the word. Here is a document with some of the ideas on it: Spellings 

 

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I have two areas to my maths wall and one is a whiteboard. This will allow me to draw methods quite easily to demonstrate to the children. The bottom area of this board contains a range of maths challenges in plastic wallets. These are ideal for the children when they come in before school or during the register. They can grab a challenge and have a go. Some of these have been taken from, or adapted from, the 7Puzzle blog.

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The other aspect of my Maths display is the “traditional” display with the 100 square (when it arrives), the number line, and the vocabulary for the four operations. I also have whiteboards blu-tacked to the wall to enable me to scribble ideas on if we need to.

 

 

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This is a Teacher Toolkit, taken from an idea from @MrsPTeach’s blog post. Jo has written a great guide of how to make one and although I can’t claim the credit as my wife made mine, I still think it’s a fab idea. I now have somewhere to put little things that I often lost in drawers such as staples, my whistle or hair bands for the child who forgets theirs when it’s PE!

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Another idea borrowed from Jo’s blog is these trays from Viking. They are coloured to enable me to quickly see at the end of a lesson which children have achieved the objective. I won’t use them in every lesson, but it’s always useful to see where the children think they are and how they perceive their learning to be going.

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There are a couple of challenge areas around the room and another morning activity is Boggle. Each week I will pick a range of letters and the children can have a go at finding words that use those letters. There is a sheet of paper to record their words. As we move through the year, I’d like to get them finding multiple words on their own sheet of paper or in their morning books, but we’ll start slow. I will also find an image from Twitter every week to get the children thinking. It might be to write a story about the picture, it might just be to write a caption, we will see how it goes. The third challenge is Today’s Number. Each day I will choose a number and they then have to follow the prompts below e.g. multiply it by ten, write the next three even numbers and so on.

 

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I have about 6 wallets like this around my room. Some contain laminated stars, some have post-its and some have speech bubble notes (again from Ikea). These will be used to add pupils’ ideas to displays. When they have a great word or a question, an answer or any suggestion, it can be added by them, quickly.

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The Literacy display isn’t quite finished yet, but the whiteboards will come in handy for the objectives. This is similar to the All/Most/Some or Must/Should/Could type displays but I think that Good/Great/Amazing is more positive. Each one will have mini-targets on for the children to aim for. For example if we were writing a story, I might say that a Good story will have an interesting opening sentence, a Great story will contain adverbs and an Amazing one will also contain complex sentences. I found that in my last class, the children wanted to make their writing as brilliant as possible and they loved suggesting difficult things to add to their writing.

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At St John’s, we focussed on questioning and it is something I think that I do very well. On my wall I have a range of questions to act as prompts when the children are working with each other. The idea being that one of them is the question master and they might start playing devil’s advocate and probing the decisions the group has been making.

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When we are working in a group, I like to use toolkits. These are packs of resources to help the children achieve their objectives. In the Maths drawer, there will be 0-9 dice and number cards to help children generate numbers when trying new methods or skills, 100 squares and multiplication squares to help reinforce counting and times tables and any other equipment that they might need. In the Literacy drawers there will be examples of different punctuation, connectives and sentence openers to hopefully improve their writing. These will be on the wall too, but having a physical card in their hand, might help a few children.

 

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This is my Reading corner. It’s quite a novelty as I have tended to have small classrooms before and I’ve never had a room big enough for a whole corner! Each month I will choose a different author to focus on. On the board we have a few questions about the author and his books e.g. How would you get your own back on George’s grandma? In the pockets on the wall I will have books by the chosen author.

 

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The last display is a blogging display. I have a class computer and the blog is a completely new idea to the school. We will be launching it this week and I wanted a display to show where our quad classes were and to also give ideas for what to blog about. I have adapted Simon McCloughlin’s Twitter prompts as we won’t be tweeting for a while yet.

There are a few things to note, the class is huge so there are lots of displays, and also, there isn’t anything from the children on display yet as we have only just started back. Very few of the displays are static and I believe that it is important to change them regularly and to consult the children too. However, with that many boards, I couldn’t wait until September to get them all put up!  I wanted the children to have lots to look at, to inspire and to make them think and I will adapt and change the displays as the year progresses. As I am no longer focusing on ICT, I will hopefully be blogging more about my general class and my teaching so will share how they change throughout the year.

For a great series of blog posts looking at the use of classroom displays, visit Simon McLoughlin’s blog.