Category Archives: English

Educational reforms.

As soon as the PISA results came out, the questions, accusations and incriminations began. Blame it on the CfE, blame it on the SNP, blame it on the boogie. I’m not going to blame anyone, there’s plenty of stuff written by plenty of people on the internet already, indeed I’m not sure the PISA results are something to aim for or worry about – Finland seems not to be too concerned – but I am going to write about working through major education reforms in my career to date.

The two major reforms which took place whilst I’ve been a teacher occurred in England and Scotland. In England, I taught through the time of the National Literacy Strategy, the National Numeracy Strategy, the QCA units, the QCA unit plans, SATS tests and OfSTED inspections every four years in a range of schools in England.  In Scotland I’ve taught throughout the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence, and seen at first hand via The Girl, the national assessment procedures.

The reforms in England were massive and to a large degree micro-managed. The Government wanted improvements in literacy and numeracy and wrote strategies to make sure this happened. If there was debate around what ‘good’ literacy and numeracy should look like, I wasn’t part of (I was in my 20s though, so I knew everything anyway). The strategies were written by a group of literacy experts and then rolled out to schools in the autumn and winter to be put into place for the start of the next school year.

I recall the literacy strategy being rolled out in 2 hour staff meetings after school – I hate after school meetings, I’ve done a day of teaching, there is assessment to do and I’m tired: You’re not going to get the best out of me. These meetings were scripted by the government, the trainers read out what we needed to know and we worked through units of work which explained how the strategy worked, how we should plan, how we should teach reading,writing and spelling. We soon spotted that the answers to the trainers’ questions were usually on the next page of the document! For this training we were given a complete strategy, various unit breakdowns of our own, resources (which we needed to make up in school) and some examples of expected work. It was a slog but by September we had stuff in place and away we went with it. The lessons I taught from the strategy weren’t perfect, but there was a structure in place to help me.

Of course, your school didn’t HAVE to follow the literacy strategy, but if you didn’t and the OfSTED or local authority came a calling, your school literacy strategy had better be an improvement on the national strategy. If your SATS results weren’t up to standard then OfSTED might make an extra visit and again, you’d better be getting the national strategy in place or else (or else usually meant your HT retiring or resigning).

Once we had successfully implemented that – well actually by October of that same year – the National Numeracy Strategy was launched. If you’ve had the misfortune to chat to me about this, you’ll know I love the NNS! The Government spotted some of the problems with the literacy strategy and made some key improvements.

The NNS contained examples of questions and ideas you could use, straight out of the folder. The document, like the NLS had learning objectives for each term of each year group (meaning for differentiation there was a progression mapped out). However, the NNS was supplemented with two things I thought were brilliant.

Firstly, there was a 5 day maths course for every teacher in the UK. 5 days out of class (in a hotel at times) to discover the document, talk about it with colleagues from other schools, plan how you would implement it with your class, look at all the resources. Like the NLS it too was scripted, so the Government really were leading this change in EXACTLY the way they wanted it to go. The 5 days were back to back. A full week thinking about nothing more than numeracy. It changed my teaching approach to maths from ‘here’s the book kids’ to something I love to this day. And really it bloody well should have done, bearing in mind the cost of this to the UK taxpayer.

The other wonderful thing was the resources the NNS team made and shared. They created some wonderful teaching programs which I use to this day and they wrote the unit plans. These were highly detailed documents for each unit of work. Unit one was place value it contained 5 plans, one for each day of the week. Each plan was A4 and was pretty much a script for the lesson. There in the same folder (and latterly on CD-ROMS) were the resources (including worksheets) you needed for the lesson. Differentiated. The idea was that these plans were a start point, you changed them to suit the needs of your class. Lots of teachers did and that was great, but even if you didn’t (because you were, like so many teachers lazy 😉 what you delivered was good quality, written by numeracy experts, lessons. If you were new to the job it allowed you to know where to pitch an average lesson and how to piece your maths teaching together over a term. I loved them and still did out the ideas for a concept which my class find tricky to see if I’ve missed anything.

After a year or two, the Government did it again. They released the QCA topic documents. These detailed the teaching for all of the non-core subjects on a lesson by lesson basis. Again, all the information you needed to teach the lesson was contained in the folder. You adapted it, changed the order, added bits in, took bits out but the basic lessons for all your Art, DT, History, Geography, Music, Science, RME and PSE were there. Concurrent to that, the Government noticed that problem solving and investigations was not progressing as well as they wanted, so they created more problem-solving resource and ran another 5 day maths course for two teachers in each school to upskill them in teaching this. Again, resources and knowledge I still use to this day.

Looking back, it seems a great time, with resources aplenty, cash aplenty, but it was hard, hard work at times, with the pressure of OfSTED ready to pounce and the pressure of SATS scores needing to meet targets for school and local authority. For me, giving me start points close to a finished article of a lesson plan or termly plan allowed me to focus on the delivery of the lesson, moving children to their next target (of which they had many) and how I might make these at time dry lessons interesting and meaningful for the children. For teachers, new to the profession it certainly offered a proven scaffold to begin their careers. I loved the support the strategies and unit plans gave me and the time it freed up to think about the needs of the children in my care.

I will discuss the education reforms since I’ve moved to Scotland in my next post. I think it’s possible I moved out of England before things took a turn for the worse, but I’m happy to hear comments from people who disagree with that thought or with things as I recall them from the late 90s and early 2000s

Web 2.0 Week 4/5

It was also a 3-day week in our authority, this being our spring half-term week. Despite this we had a busy time.  I did an update of my class’s blog page with 3 new stories based loosely on some Burns’ poems which an excellent group called Oor Rabbie came in and worked on with my children.  There was also a creepy tale about a bed, based on a story by Anthony Horowitz.

When entering these stories, I learned a new feature -the insert more tag – which I put to use on these stories. It means we can show more headings and postings on the front page of the blog. If you want to read more, you click on the read more link. I think in future I might mention this to my class and allow them to tell me where to put the ‘read on’ break. It will make them think carefully about the shape of their writing and create a ‘suspense’ spot from where the reader has to click to read on.

I also updated the Buddy Bear Blog with  a new adventure from Buddy, who visited Jacob’s house. The class are finding the diary being posted on the blog very motivating and look forward to publishing their entries. I have also added on some pictures now. If you have a look on the page,  a comment would be really appreciated by the class.

Web 2.0. Week 1

I don’t know if I’ll keep this up, but I thought when I use a new program in class (which I’m aiming to do a lot of this year) I’ll post on here to say how it’s gone.

My first application/program I used was wallwisher. My class enjoyed this and have produced their reflections of 2009 and ideas for 2010 here. One of my class went home and made her own wall for favourite animals which I was really pleased about. We’ve also done walls for our class novel and for some snow haiku we wrote.

I’ve had a couple of problems with it which I feel I should share.

Firstly I embedded our 2009-2010 wall onto our class blog page. I noticed after a couple of days that when I was logged into the wall to approve and edit, it also allowed people viewing on the blog page to approve and edit! I decided that for now the best idea was to take off the embedding and replace with a link.

Secondly, on our haiku wall I showed the children how to put a picture on. In showing one of my class how to do this I seemed to have planted the picture on the wall, completely independently of the wall. I cannot edit the picture, nor delete it! It has become detached from the writing as well. I may begin a new wall. Apart from those hiccups it’s been great. I now need to ask the LA to unblock it from Pupil Internet access as so far I’m entering them up on my machine only.

The other program I used was primary pad. This was really popular with the children, with comments like ‘this is better than MSN’, and children asking how they could share a pad with someone at home. We created a word list for snow poems and this seemed to work really well with 18 different users on the pad at once. What was interesting was how thoughtful the children were about not overtyping. I hadn’t used it with so many children in one go so I didn’t really know what to expect (or how our internet would hold up). They coped really well and were considerate of other people’s feelings and word ideas.

I will try to find the opportunity to do some more collaborative writing using primary pad in the next couple of weeks and we will certainly continue with wallwisher.

Literacy Starters

Primary Pete has posted on Twitter asking about favourite literacy starter ideas. He said he liked the ideas on everybody writes which features the ideas of Pie Corbett. I was lucky enough to attend a writing conference run by Pie Corbett in Jan 2007, and despite a raging toothache (mine,not his!) I thought he was great. Great enthusiasm for writing and really good ideas. I’d not come across the everybody writes site before, but I will be using it a lot in class I think for English starters.

The main resource I use for starting English lessons are the VCOP activities I downloaded from the TES resource bank. The link for these resources is here. The activities are self-explanatory and allow for focus on one of the VCOP areas. Importantly when I use these activities there is a buzz around the class with the children wanting to take part and try out new and interesting ideas. These ideas are often reflected in their subsequent writing.

Wallwisher.

My aim for 2010 is to make better use of all of the collaborative tools and sites that are available, with my class.

The ideas to inspire site gives loads of ideas in which these pieces of software can be used. http://www.ideastoinspire.co.uk/index.html#1

I’m going to start these ideas off straight away with the children using wallwisher to create a wall of their achievements of 2009 and their aims for 2010.

Here is the link to wallwisher http://wallwisher.com/ and here is a link to my class wall so far. http://wallwisher.com/wall/PrimarysevenA

Thanks again to Tom Barrett and the people who have contributed on the ideas to inspire site.

Wordle

I’ve been using wordle with my class this term for our class assembly.
It is a program which creates word clouds for text entered into the program. You can copy and paste text in, or type text in directly to the program. I find typing into word and then saving the list a better option as the program crashed a couple of times when being used on our school network.

Primary Pete @primarypete_ has created this video tutorial on how to use wordle.

Wordle from Peter Richardson on Vimeo.

I liked the program as I feel it highlights the design element of using IT in class. I like the idea of children selecting carefully their typeface/fonts that they work with for different projects and purposes.

Tom Barrett’s site edte.ch.blog has this interesting ways to use presentation created on it.

http://edte.ch/blog/interesting-ways/

And Ann Carnevale has ideas about how to use it in class also on her blog. http://anncarnevale.edublogs.org/2009/09/23/website-wednesday/

Finally, here are the examples from my class’s blog page of the wordles we created about our favourite foods.
http://blogs.wled.org.uk/uphallps-p7/2009/10/16/our-wordles/

Grammar.

I always try to have active grammar lessons. I dislike grammar ‘by the book’ as this seems to demotivate children and lead to a situation where a grammar point is grasped in the grammar sessions and then instantly forgotten about.  I try hard to have a range of active grammar lessons as this seems to help the children pick up the idea of the lesson and,more importantly, remember it for the rest of their writing lessons.

I find the Grammar for Writing book has lots of great activities in it and this is freely available to download from the DCSF website.  http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/153924

Another published resource I find useful are these books from Scholastic. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Grammar-Punctuation-10-11-Years-Photocopiables/dp/0590636707/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1261343498&sr=8-2 These are out of print now but can be tracked down from online shops. Don’t be out off by the ‘Photocopiables’ tag, they have lots of active learning ideas in them.

A good literacy website is http://www.teachit.co.uk/index.asp?CurrMenu=124 This has a lot of activities on there, some totally free and some which you have to register for (but are still free). I think there’s a few resources on there you have to pay for too!

css.php