30 Jul

Clear walls = Clear mind!

 

This Tweet: 

This reminded me of an ongoing conversation that I have with teachers. Not just about tidying classrooms (don’t get me started on cables!) – but about their walls. It always seems to me massively counter-intuitive to suggest that classroom walls should be covered in stuff. Over the years I have argued with many head teachers who were convinced that every spare space of wall should be covered in, well, something vaguely connected to learning.  Lists of things to have; topics to be covered and how it should be set out.

This year when I planned my classroom I asked the children what they wanted on the walls – what they liked, what they used and, importantly, what they remembered with their eyes closed. Their current classroom is pretty typical – lots of grammar and punctuation hints (Y6) – topic ‘best’, maths working wall etc etc.

In a nutshell they could remember very little of their classroom wall when they were not in it! They felt proud of their work being up – and they wanted more of it. They found the vocabulary useful but could only really tell me ‘two or three words’ – and they really did not notice or remember any of the posters / extra displays (friendship reminders, class rules etc)




Those children who are coming to my classroom last year requested three key things.

Firstly they wanted their own space – in the school library we have a ‘proud of’ space for each Y6 – and they really, really liked this. I use it as a kind of ‘blog’ area.

They wanted words up that they can’t spell. Tricky this, as every child will find different words helpful, but they told me they can manage to keep it updated… Y6 also wanted grammar… same reason I guess.

Finally they liked the ‘polished’ displays… and we’re proud of their work on them, and they wanted to keep those. Interestingly,  not everyone, but enough to warrant me mentioning it!

Everything else… they were not bothered.

For me, I need a working wall, they might not remember it afterwarss, but somewhere to display the process we are working through is very useful during lessons and it certainly helps me organise my planning.

And finally, a special mention for the interactive display screen which they loved!

IMG_0232

24 Jul

Reflections on a PGCE

Just tell them…

Primary schools have a huge part to play in Primary ITT – trainee teachers seem to be in schools much more than ever before and it stands to reason that if we don’t like what is happening then we should stand up and say so.

The problem seems to be that in Primary there is a culture of ‘just stay one step ahead of the children’ – especially in history or geography topics where the teacher may do it once every few years. Moving year groups or key stages just compounds this – the curriculum across these very different age groups has very different demands.  Not to mention the fact that the whole thing changed three years ago with absolutely no support given for teachers to brush up on their own knowledge – European History study? Coding? The Americas?  And don’t get me started on chikdren’s literature – I firmly believe that their should be a reading list of core children’s books. I don’t really care what is on it, I just think it should be encouraged and seen as standard behaviour.

My own experience of teacher training now, as a Head, is very different from when I trained. My institution did their own English, Maths and Science tests. I remember talking about how to help children learn times tables by rote – how powerful chanting could be for memorising poetry and getting the ‘feel’ of the rhythm. We spent a day learning about animal habitats  – and then discussed how important it is to get the children writing up scientific study. I focussed on key stage 2 and my subject specialism was ICT (as it was) – and yes, we had a children’s book reading list.  I had to do an ICT test – and was tasked with learning how to create, and edit, a video. This was the year before (I think) – the national skills test. I remember trialling them in some London office and receiving my first, and possibly, last, crisp £50 note.

There was an early a lesson observation (seared into my mind!) – where I was really pleased with the ‘activity’ and the ‘busy’ classroom. My tutor sat down with me after the lesson (poetry) – and asked me a very simple question – ‘but what did they actually learn?’ – this question sticks with me now. Another memorable lesson involved the properties of solids, liquids and glass. My year 2s could not get the concept of gas being ‘all around us’ – as I was teaching it. We had balloons, we had huge sheets of paper, we made aeroplanes but I was getting more and more frustrated trying to get the children to guess ‘what was in my head’. In the end, convinced that I was on some educational version of Candid Camera I asked my teacher mentor what she would have done. In another memorable quote she answered – ‘just tell them – tell them first and then ask them to explain how we know it is true.’

School based?

Now, when trainees are ‘school based’ – there is a danger that school leaderships value the trainee who can control the class, who can please parents and who keeps the children smiling. The VAK culture – where teachers have to ensure they are hitting the needs of all learners means that our trainees are at the whim of their current class and their current leadership team. Unmanageable workloads and expectations of ‘cover’ will not help trainees. A school that ‘grows their own’ purely for fast track leadership will not sustain our system. I’m not against these systems, I just want to make sure we keep an open mind about the role of other institutions that have grown up recently.

We need to value what our profession actually does – educate.

The quality of teacher training is very patchy – and will always have an element of subjectivity – but it is right to be under the microscope like this. Those providing the training have a duty of care to their trainees and ensuring that the job is manageable is one of them. ITT providers should be able to challenge the demands of SLT in schools, should be a able to share the latest thinking with the schools without throwing out everything else that works. Universities sadly seem not to do this.  Certainly in my time as a school leader none of the tutors have ever engaged me in professional debate about why I do things in my classroom. ITT should be about time to reflect, yes, but also time to study what has gone before and debate choices.

I’m enjoying this current debate – there won’t be one right answer – but let’s ensure that ITT provides our teachers with everything they need to teach. Schools systems will change and children will change – but at the heart of what we do is ensuring our children are actually learning and our teachers can teach.

 

08 Jul

Cubetto!

This half term I was very lucky to borrow three of these fab Cubettos! 

The Cubetto is unique, not only because of it’s gorgeous aethestic feel but because it is designed to introduce coding to the youngest members of your school.

The instructions are placed, in sequence, in the unit and the then bot itself ambles along wirelessly doing exactly what you’ve told it to. The unit allows children to physically manipulate their touchy-feely wooden instructions,  and to experiment. It allows for the creation of a sub-routine and it allows EYFS children to explore problem solving and storytelling using tech without screens.

Firstly, it will not look out of place in any nursery or EYFS setting – it is just gorgeous. So well made and chunky.  It follows the same principles of a Bee Bot, but the commands are entered separately and physically. It really does make Bee Bots look like plastic rejects.

I started by asking my Y5/Y6 Digital Leaders to play with it, and then they were able to share it with the younger classes. Cubetto comes with a mat and a storybook (see their site for more options about this) – these are just brilliant ideas and a real starting point that many a busy teacher will love. As it happens my pupils set about writing their own stories for Cubetto – and I had to dissuade them from designing their own mat… We then set about looking at what coding we could actually achieve and plan learning for the younger ones.

The result? The children talking about logic, ordering of instructions and reading the Cubetto story to the younger children. One of the first things they did was to see how long Cubetto’s range was (answer – very long!) – and then to see if they could create an ‘infinite’ loop… The younger children loved to try the challenges – asking themselves questions and then using this in their writing. (Did Cubetto get to the mountains? )

Nowadays in these budget-conscious times the Cubetto represents a lot of bang for your buck – the well made resource (with great grippy wheels that work on all kinds of terrain!) – the whizz-bang of wifi and robotics and the genuine opportunities for learning. For being able to feel and see your instructions before your robot tries them out. I love having these in school and will definitely attempt to purchase some once our loan has finished!!