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Monday, 12 October 2015

Kicking the TIM habit

Two things that I am determined to do the very next time I am in my classroom are as follows:
Number One
I will show the fantastic Austin’s butterfly video to my new class.  It is something I show every year sometimes more than once.
Showing this video is useful for many reasons: it reminds children to have a “growth mindset” and persevere; it teaches them how to peer/self-assess in a way that is kind, focused and specific and it shows them the power and importance of redrafting work.
Number Two
I shared some ideas with the Soton Scitt students this morning about AFL, which included feedback and marking.  I described a couple of ideas about how to save time marking; including using colour coding that leads to pupils copying down their own next step the following morning before redrafting.  I was discussing how I mark pupils’ work in green and then they respond to my feedback and questions using purple pen etc.  Then I said that pupils should then respond to my feedback using more purple pen (I stressed that the colour of pen didn’t matter and that I would only ask pupils to do this if their work had been independent etc- so not after every lesson!).    
After the lecture I realised that I haven’t been encouraging my pupils’ independence enough; and that although I had told the Scitt students about @learningspy’s blog and how he advocates pupils taking ownership of the feedback progress, I hadn’t really been doing this myself!  I had been occasionally asking pupils to peer or self-assess their work, particularly in maths and sometimes English.  But by accident I had fallen into the horrific Triple Impact Marking (TIM) trap!  
Now I want to try to break my habit so I am going to print these next three steps out and try to make me and my pupils follow them at every opportunity:
1.     Pupils self asses their work and highlight sections where they feel they have taken a risk or struggled
2.     Teacher provides feedback where it has been requested by pupils (and if necessary- feedback about pupils progress towards the original learning objective)
3.     Pupils then improve a section of their work using the teacher’s feedback
Can I kick the habit?  I will let you know!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Jumping for Joy- at Primary Scratch Jam Dorset

Yes we had one yr5 boy literally jumping for joy at our recent scratch coding competition. It was literally a yr5/6 computer geeks paradise when boys and girls came to compete in our coding competition. 

The stakes were high as students scored lego bricks in a bid to win Amazon vouchers and other prizes. There were also trophies to award pupils for creativity and teamwork too. 

The secondary teachers present were amazed by the skills of our primary pupils and felt that they could have competed against GCSE level students. 

One of the highlights for me was; during break time, when a boy from my school demonstrated a Python game he has made at home to a pupil from a rival school. 

It was a fantastic day and it was great to meet up with local teachers and pupils; and has inspired me to start digital leaders at our school. 

Watch out for a larger Scratchjam next year hopefully based at Bournemouth Uni; to build upon our links with the animation school there. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Twitter Inspired CPD

Mine and my colleagues' CPD have recently exploded due to using Twitter. From asking for specific resources or advice, to networking and idea swapping, it has become our main and virtually only method of CPD. 

It was a great means of communication that helped when organising our Teachmeet; and Primary Scratch Jam.  It allowed us to secure sponsorship and funding as well as delegates to attend our events. 

More recently I have discovered the fantastic Twitter based forums, including Primary Rocks (Monday night 8-9); amongst others. I have also heard about Staffroom and am keen to start blogging on that site.

I find with Twitter that one find leads to another and thus I have discovered fantastic websites and apps thorough Twitter links; e.g. Literacy and Maths Shed websites. 

I also find out about conferences, including Pedagoos, that I would never have known about otherwise. 

Children love it when a celebrity retweets their work or responds to a tweet!

One of my favourite Twitter advantages is finding other local teachers and organising events for local teachers and staff to meet up and idea swap. 

So get tweeting teachers and spread the word!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Can we all be above average???

Amidst the backdrop of current Education representatives' targets for Britain to raise standards in Maths and English to compete with the best in the world (Japan, China, Singspore and Norway etc); I am left pondering several points.

First of all, how did we get so far behind? How can the English, not be the best at English?

Then there are many cultural and sociological elements to consider. How can we possibly compete with countries where school hours and homework hours are longer? Countries where people think and know that hard work can pay off! I know that some of our schools are teaching pupils about Mindset theory etc but is it all too little too late? 

Do parents and pupils have more respect for teachers in those high ranking countries?  Perhaps, dare I say it, the selection process for teachers is tougher in their countries? Are their teachers trusted and given more freedom? Are their teachers more numerate and literate than ours?

The fact remains, that trying to compare Britain to other countries that are so dissimilar to us might not be helpful. I am not by any means saying that standards shouldn't rise. They should! I believe that parents and teachers need to encourage pupils to learn basic facts and concepts at a younger age: reading, tables, number bonds, sounds and tricky words etc. 

To that end I have been investigating the use of KIRFS and a super website for maths practise , mentioned on Micheal Tidd's blog (courtesy of Jo Harbour). This prompted me to play Numberbonds to 5 Tennis with my 4 year old in the car.  He picked it up right away. It doesn't take much for parents to support children a bit more at home. Helpful sites for parents can be shared on school webpages too, as understandably not all parents have had teacher training!

Perhaps Britain is still trying to find an optimal balance between Victorian style schooling and modern approaches including Independent learning; between  drilling and exploring through play? But maybe that isn't what matters most? 

Societal and cultural influences could count more than we counted on?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Blogging With Year 3

My lesson today all started when I came across Phil Bagge's Spider search lesson ( 

Last week the children role played being spiders trawling the Internet, to find all the glue sticks, pencils etc in the classroom. Then they ranked the best places to find each object in a similar way that search engines do. 

Today I was planning to get them to role play being parts of a school computer network, so they could understand how it works... when they asked me if they could practise using search engines (we hadn't had enough time to do this last week).

So this is the lesson that unfolded: the children used Google to search the Internet for facts about the Egyptians. When they found their facts they posted them onto our class blog ( 

I had some limited time to approve/reply to them during the lesson (whilst trouble shooting-as it was the first time some of them had blogged!) and showed the stream of comments coming through on the IWB. They were very excited to see their comments appear on screen, and it motivated them to find more facts (they went on to comment on other posts on the site too). 

At the end of the lesson we reviewed their comments as a whole class and they were able to spot that many children  had forgotten to include full stops and capital letters. 

Then I linked their blog comments onto my teaching Twitter feed and requested comments from my colleagues to prove we had a real audience! 

They will be thrilled to see that another teacher at our school, Mrs Lucas, has replied to them. 

So to conclude, the lesson ticked many boxes: they really enjoyed working in pairs to use a search engine to find facts (which were linked to their topic). They were all able to comment on the blog during the lesson and were writing for a real online audience. Some children were inspired to add more facts when they got home. Above all they really enjoyed the lesson. We printed off the blog feed and put it up on our Egyptian display. 

Next week we will be role playing a computer network. All thanks to my Twitter CPD finds! 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A pupil's 12 days of Christmas and Using WWW and EBI for feedback

On the twelve day of Christmas my teacher gave to me:
12 festive word searches 
11 colouring pages
10 crafts with glitter
9  paper chains
8 things to tidy
7 pencils to sharpen
6 lines to learn 
5 chocolate coins
4 letters home
3 last rehearsals
2 weeks off 
And a lobster role in the Nativity

That was just a distraction! You could challenge your pupils to write a version, which I am sure will be better than my quick outpouring. I was going to write one about target setting but thought better of it!

As usual in teaching there are really mixed messages at the moment when it comes to written marking. Some are saying that marking in books is currently very important to Ofsted.  Others that concise and useful marking is better than evidencing everything. Some of the teachers at my school have taken to sticking in success criteria strips in children's books when the lesson outcome was not written, for example when pupils have produced drama pieces etc. In the old days it was enough to expect planning to evidence non written work. And yes we do still have full planning; and in some subject areas we now have more written planning than ever before at our school!

I have been using What Worked Well (WWW) and Even Better If (EBI) stampers for both the written feedback that I give pupils; and also for when they peer and self assess each other's work. Last time I blogged about adding 'so that' to the EBI targets which was working well with my year 4 pupils. This week I have been thinking about the wording of my WWWs and EBIs. 

As a PPA teacher I see a range of other teachers' written feedback. I frequently come across written feedback that serves only to describe what the pupils have or have not done. And as I have said in previous blogs, it makes me ask the question 'who are these comments aimed at??'

The next time I am in the classroom writing feedback in books during class, I am going to challenge myself to write comments that serve to question my pupils. It is tricker to hint at answers rather than spell out precisely what we think a pupil's next steps should be.  Make them do the work instead of us- easier said than done.

I am also going to continue experimenting with my 'verbal feedback given' stamper; I have started to ask children to write my verbal instructions in their own succinct words next to my stamp during the lesson. The challenge is for them to do so swiftly. Perhaps they might even write if my intervention helped. I am always thinking whether my actions will help them; and if it will be an efficient use of their learning time?

My final point about this is that I have begun to hear about a different approach to producing written feedback targets. The idea is this: when you find that several pupils have the same EBI target, you write a symbol or coloured dot/sticker. The next lesson you put these symbols/colour codes on the board with the targets written next to them.  Now this is the IMPORTANT part, the PUPILS copy their target down into their book- which should improve ownership and hopefully uptake. 

Here are my own tweaks that I am going to test out:
1. They/a peer could comment at the end of the lesson/week how well they have progressed towards their EBI.

2. After teacher has looked through books and chosen several reoccurring EBI targets; couldn't pupils select their own best fit target from the board the following lesson?

Now I wish you a happy final week at school and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

'So that' EBITs for peer assessed writing

I have recently taught my Year 4 English class again. Their class teacher had set them the task of redrafting a myth that they had written the previous day. I have to say I had some apprehensions prior to teaching the lesson, as they had rewritten the myth of Persephone as a Mayan myth and I was going introduce a chef themed peer assessment tool (as their topic that term was chefs). However, when I looked at their first drafts that morning I could see that they had risen to the challenge.

To link back to previous learning, I asked them to recall the lessons we had learnt from watching Austin's butterfly on YouTube. They remembered the video in great detail and understood the message, that written work is a draft that can be improved upon many times. 

Then I told them about the three important aspects of providing good feedback; that it should be: helpful (so that), specific and kind but honest. I had taken these points from David Didau's blog (learning spy). We felt that they were already leaving kind and specific feedback but that it could be more helpful. I demonstrated how to add 'so that' to their EBIT (even better if targets).

Then we spent some time looking at how to choose a sensible EBIT. I showed them how to select a suitable improvement target based upon success criteria for sentence level work they had covered in their previous lessons. I did this by modelling how to use a peer assessment tool I had created, under the visualiser, in partnership with one of the pupils. Together we carried out an indepth critique of her work, the class chipped in at times. I asked her which SC she had achieved and we highlighted those in pink. The pink highlights helped to form the WWW (what worked well). Then we looked for SC she hadn't met, and highlighted obvious mistakes (eg. a few spelling mistakes) in green. The pupil realised that she had not included enough descriptive language eg. adjectives and noun phrases, in her myth; so she wrote the EBIT: "to include more adjectives 'so that' my myth is more interesting for the reader."

The next thing I did was to show the class an exciting sentence writing mat I had made for them, it had examples of how to reach any of the success criteria for the lesson (sentence level only). So for any EBIT they chose, there was scaffolding for how to reach their target. The lower attaining children had more basic success criteria including correct use of full stops etc. Whilst the higher attaining pupils' writing mat had examples for how to include fronted adverbial phrases etc. So the peer assessment tools and exciting sentence writing mats were both differentiated and linked directly to the SC. 

Then armed with their first draft, peer assessment tools, exciting sentence mats, dictionaries, thesaurus and high frequency word lists for LA pupils, they worked in pairs to find their main EBIT. 

Once they had discussed their work together, highlighted the tickled pink and green for growth, they wrote the EBIT at the top of their 2nd draft page. They then worked in silence to redraft their work. I asked them to highlight in pink everytime they added something into their writing that was linked to their EBIT. I stopped a few times to put pupils' work, who had made lots of improvements, under the visualiser. Finally at the end of the lesson children returned to their peer assisted  learning partner  (who we called their PAL). They checked to see if their partner had made improvements linked to their EBIT and wrote a comment and gave them a star rating for how well they had improved. 

When I came to mark their work I was pleased to see that I had eradicated the habit of writing 'improve your handwriting' as an EBIT. All children had selected a suitable target based upon the SC. Most children had then made several improvements also linked to the EBIT and had highlighted them. A few children demonstrated that they needed more practice with identifying adjectives and adverbs, so this can become a future lesson for that group of children, or a lesson starter. 

Some children had done even better than I had hoped for by writing really 'helpful' EBITs, for example one girl wrote: "add adjectives so that we know what the girl looks like." This child's comment will become the input for my next lesson with them, which will be how to fine tune our EBITs with 'so that'. 

Another success of the lesson was that a little boy, who happens to have Down's Syndrome, showed me another adaptation we can make to our DIRT work. When he wrote his second draft, not only did he highlight his improvements, but in a second colour, he also highlighted more errors he had spotted. This really showed me that he had understood Austin's butterfly beautifully; that work can be redrafted and improved upon many many times. As Ron Berger said: "it is not finished, until it is perfect." 

After a little more practise with their peer assessment and a few more indepth critiques, we will try a whole class gallery (or public) critique. This is where pupils go around the class reading other people's work and leave post it notes as EBIs. Watch this space for an update on our DIRT.