22 Aug

New Teacher Advice

A few tweets doing the round for this – and a few responses (some more tongue in cheek that others…. )

Here’s mine – and forgive me, but it is Primary Teacher aimed!

  • Best way to get to know your children is by teaching them – get straight into your routines and straight into all those great lessons you are raring to try!
  • Don’t waste time with a ‘what did you do over the holidays piece’ – see ideas for writing here.
  • Get straight into routines for presentation and your classroom. If you are not sure what they should be right now ask a colleague – but introduce something. I went massively overboard on ‘rotas’ in my first year teaching – child monitors for everything!!
  • Explicitly model presentation requirements – with older children get them to model them to you.
  • Children love helping! They do! Use this by all means but don’t let it eat into learning time.
  • Make sure when you are talking, they are listening. You are the expert remember, be proud of this. No fiddling!!
  • Get a good class book on the go – it calms tempers and can bring the class back to focus.
  • Listen to them read – no matter how old they are – even in Y6 I had a class list up and aimed to listen to all the children at least twice a week… it forms relationships and really helps with vocab.

Getting to know your school:

  • Have a chat with your head of year or deputy about what is expected in lessons and ask to see some of their sessions.
  • Use your PPA and NQT time wisely – think about what you are not so confident about teaching and brush up on that. Whether it is observing others or reading.
  • Sit in some of the sessions you are allowed to leave – I mean music classes, PE PPA cover, assemblies whatever – watching other adults with your class is a valuable lesson.
  • The SENCO is another good person to spend some time with. Look at how t paperwork is filled in and get to know any targets for your children.
  • Talk to staff! I mean all the staff. Not only about your children (some will behave very differently during lunchtime!) – but also the office staff (do you know what to do if you run out of something?), the cleaner (do they want you to put chairs on table at the end of the day?).  Take a bit of time to find out!

Above all try and enjoy yourself – every school is different but there will always be someone who can help, and if not join in on twitter. No problem is too small. Promise.


22 Aug

Digital 5 a Day!

This is a response to a post by Cliff Manning (@cliffmanning) regarding the Children’s Commissioner’s recent Digital 5 A Day campaign.

This campaign, in their own words aims to:

The Digital 5 A Day provides a simple framework that reflects the concerns of parents/ carers as well as children’s behaviours and needs. It can also act as a base for family agreements about internet and digital device use throughout both the holidays and term time.

Based on the NHS’s evidence-based ‘Five steps to better mental wellbeing’, the 5 A Day campaign gives children and parents easy to follow, practical steps to achieve a healthy and balanced digital diet.

And it makes complete sense – there is a need to give parents, and children, a different dialogue about being online that is not all about esafety and ‘nots’. There are lots of great resources out there for Parents who are worried (I wrote about them here) – but my experience, as a teacher, is that this focus can make pupils fearful about speaking out and, at the same time, Parents don’t ask for help if they need it as they feel they will be labelled. To have a campaign which focuses on the good technology can bring – and then uses that to bring families together can only be a good thing. Articles like this represent how it has been received. However, as is pointed out by by @cliffmanning:

The press headlines inevitably focused on ‘regulating screen time’ and rules — however the intention was to help young people develop a balanced, creative, empowered relationship with digital and devices.

What then, would support the young people develop this relationship?

I’m torn between the #digital5aday being too prescriptive and then not prescriptive enough.  The five elements are useful to guide thinking and will, with some, promote conversation amongst families. Themes that many schools will recognise and in fact teacher’s will talk about technology in such ways.  However, as I outline at the end of this piece, I do think that there other problems with a campaign like this.


Here parents are prompted to see the value in connecting with people. Parents are reminded to ‘keep a dialogue open’ (nothing new there then!).

With the support of parents children could be prompted to check in with a family member they don’t see very often? To message a friend and make them smile? For older children – can they support an older family member online? Can they look up their favourite author? Or TV personality – write them a short note? Author’s website can be a great source of activities such as writing competitions, or book-linked ideas.

Be Active

This prompt feels like it has been included just to make sure ‘screen time’ isn’t the only focus. But, let’s face it, using the internet as directory enquiries really isn’t that inspiring – these days it is the default. Asking them to research a place or local activity without using the internet would be a bigger challenge!

But – older children can challenge themselves to do something new – and then share it. Join a local group for their chosen activity? Find  a video of an inspirational achievement in their chosen sport? Can they learn something to help them improve their favourite acitivity?

Get Creative

This one is easy – and where children excel online. The danger is in mentioning specific games (which dates your publication immediately) – and you tube tutorials which parents of younger children may not let them access. Writing fan fiction is a great idea – especially as that can link to film and TV – not just games. But also signposting some game creation tools they can use something like Scratch -which would be a great joint venture with parents. Trying the Hour of Code – or asking children to contribute to a  blog post or to a writing competition. Sharing any creations would be ideal – designs using something like TinkerCad for example.

Give to Others

This is a really lovely inclusion which again many schools will recognise. Researching and linking to chosen charities would be nice here -and in the link to activity why not challenge yourself to do something to raise money for charity and set up (with parental help) – your fundraising page complete with charting your success via a blog?

Be Mindful

Another inclusion that feels little connection to the Digital 5 a Day. Good advice, of course, to switch off. Being mindful however is also about taking your time to really ‘be somewhere’ – and to give yourself completely to the activity you are doing. Whatever that may be.

The right campaign? 

I think one of the issues with a campaign like this is that it tries to be too many things at once. I know what they are trying to achieve – but I think we need to pick our audience more carefully. Children / teenagers may find this advice patronising, and many will just be unaware of it completely. It is important to note that children and teenagers who are tech savvy enough to be aware and involved with these activites don’t need ‘digital’ 5 a day – the digital is superfluous and unnecessary. It would be better to just appeal to the ‘5 holiday habits’ or some such. Parents may welcome these kind of prompts – but I suspect that the parents who are aware of this, and reading it, will already be aware of the many uses of the digital world. The digital divide is very real for families and if you want to get to those children who are just left unsupervised with a tablet and TV for hours on end I don’t think this will do it.

A Platform

Finally with a campaign like this why not go the whole hog and develop a kind of ‘challenge’ – digital badges such as the like seen at Makewav.es. Being totally serious about it, they could develop a sharing platform? Using existing social media to put everything in once place for parents to see. Using existing networks already like faceboook for local sports groups would also help young people see what is out there.

20 Aug

How I teach writing…

A few steps into how writing is taught in my classroom….



I usually teacher upper KS2 – but I have taught all KS1 and KS2 – and adhere to these ideas. At my school the pupils have targets – written marking by the teacher is minimal but feedback is expected in class with children acting on it as we go. Peer marking and self evaluation is also trained in to the children, using Even Better If and What Went Well. Obviously at Key Stage 1 this process needs to be modelled by the adult.

I rarely teach writing as a standalone. It is part of a purpose, linked to work we’ve done, a book we’re reading or an experiment we are doing. In short, every bit of writing we do in the classroom has a context, and a purpose, and is a learning opportunity.

Nuts and bolts

Grammar rules, spelling support and punctuation is also taught standalone, across the whole school, for 20mins a day. But writing sessions need to pull this learning in. Individuals have their focus for their own writing,  but we may have a class focus for new grammar or spelling rules as well. Displays make use of this – as well as key examples during reading.

Task Planning (them and me!)

I encourage planning – but by the end of Key Stage 2 I don’t really care how they do it. We model different ways of planning – e.g. Story board (pictures), story mountain or just good old fashioned boxes, but, to be honest I don’t care as long as they have an idea where it will end. Instead I will limit something via the task. For example when we were writing a biography we limited ourselves to the same template and to two or three choices (from topic work). No time wasted on ‘researching’ their favourite footballer. When we looked at diary entries we all did the same piece based on August from ‘Wonder’ – then we all knew where we started and where we were finishing. I rarely ask them to just ‘write’ – though I will sometimes give them a choice of the character to write a diary entry from.


Success criteria?

When teaching I rarely give success criteria up front, instead as we get started I will give them something linked to the genre (or context)  and remind them of any grammar focus, especially if new. However I always stop them say, fifteen minutes in, and ask them to think any criteria the want to work on. They make a note of this at the bottom of their page. Note that for children who may find this difficult this will be modelled a part of a group, and if need be give a group success criteria.


I’m a huge believer that the children cannot write it if they haven’t read it. Often as we write I will also write the task and stop and share. Often I will do this on the whiteboard as a ‘guided write’ to get thing started. Then I will pause the board, get them going and continue myself. When we stop in ten minutes or so to look at success criteria I will share mine, and they will share theirs. This works very well for younger children who can use my modelling as springboard. I also love working from poems and books. Sharing good writing, and not so good writing. Asking them to reflect on stories by writing diaries, school reports, letters etc.



Using ‘The Wall’  – Y5/Y6

We have been reading this book – and the children had found some of the ideas and concepts quite challenging. As such we spent some time focusing on vocabulary and themes – exploring the choices made by adults and how they could appear to children. To do this we did some ‘short writing’  snippets of conversations that the characters had with one another (focus on speech punctuation, and on formality) in the lessons before. Some of which were on our wall to remind us. We then built up to a write where we chose Liev (a kind of bad guy) and wrote two letters. One to a ‘higher up’ – e.g. An old army boss or his current chief and another letter to a friend. Both letters had to explain his motives and we discussed which letter would be more honest. With this activity the letter writing layout was reinforced, but also the diferrent language and grammatical feature a more formal letter would have.

Postcard to a Pirate (Y1/Y2)

A whole assortment of Pirate works went into this – including the reading of various picture books and previous work on the characters. Then we decided to write a postcard to a pirate. Simple really. We thought about what a postcard is, discussed language we would use and then wrote it in our books first. I modelled mine, and then those less confident continued from where I left off. A taught editing session (with year two the same principle applied  we read our work and looked for finger spaces, capital letters, and any words that didn’t seem right)  – then the copied it up.

Key points – to finish with! 

1. Context is everything – especially with the more tricky vocabulary. Make your  literacy lessons worthwhile. Don’t waste time  – if you want them to write biographies link it with their topic, scientific writing can be done in literacy etc. If you want pictures of a character do that in art.

2. Expectations need to be high. You know your children – so high but not unobtainable; if you want them to spot missing capital letters then you need to pull them up on it. I had a chart once (only needed it for a week) where every missed capital letter was a minute they owed me. Y6. It worked. Word walls and misspelled words regularly shared.

3. Work ethic – a school wide issue I know – but they need to get used to focusing on their work. They need to produce a minimum. I don’t always stop ten minutes in, but when I do I use it to reinforce not just the grammar and punctuation expectations but how much I expect to get done.  I give them a specific five mins where they can look at someone else’s work and get ideas – they edit and correct in a different colour so I can see how they apply their learning and we use books with space at the bottom for comments. Silence is the norm when they actually write.

4. Key questions – plan some of these if need be. Questions which interrogate the text and which they can ask themselves. Even with the pirate task above thinking of ideas such as why they are writing a postcard, are they friendly, or boasting? (Etc)

5.Editing is an important skill and needs to be taught and modelled. Edit your work to show them them the process and, with younger children, give them an aim to editing. E.g. Just sentences, or just capital letters. You want them, by the end of Y5 to be drafting and then editing a piece – google docs is brilliant for this is you can model as they type!