Curriculum, Observations

Chasing my tail

Image created using Typorama under CC License
Image created using Typorama under CC License

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a tough few weeks. Not that my class are particularly challenging – they aren’t. Perhaps a little more spirited than I’ve had over the last couple of years, but they’re a fun bunch. I’m not even sure why this year should be different to any other, but it’s been absolutely manic.

Missing the first two days in class with my children was quite a big deal. I teach them 3 days a week, and it just so happened that the first two days they came in were my day off and management release. It meant I had to dive in headfirst, straight into “proper” lessons at the start of their first full week, and I’ve been chasing my tail ever since.

New curriculum planning, new maths planning, new assessment systems (ok, that one is my fault!), new interventions; they all mean that absolutely everything needs to be done from scratch. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t just churn out the same lessons year on year, but it does mean that in the past, there has been a starting point. Everyone seems to have lots of questions. We are all finding the answers, but everything seems to take a little longer than it has done before.

All of a sudden, we are half way through Term 1 and there are so many things to be done: my working wall doesn’t really work, my SPaG display needs updating, I’ve got a brilliant interactive display but need to set up some new Learnpads so we can access it, my Successful Learning display has all the components on it, but it looks rather scrappy: the list of bits and pieces to do just seems to go on. The really important stuff is done – the lessons are planned, the books are marked, assessments are done, interventions have been put in place, but I just don’t remember the start of a year being quite so frantic. Tomorrow might is set aside for getting some jobs done: there’s very little marking to be done (swimming lessons do have one big advantage!) and Wednesday is planned, so maybe I can catch up with myself.

I remember a friend of mine saying, when she dropped her hours to 4 days, that she still had 5 days of work to do, just in 4 days.  For me, that isn’t quite true, but there are still the same amount of displays and organisational tasks to be done, just with one less day to do them in.  Don’t get me wrong: I love my day off and wouldn’t give it up for the world, but it does mean there are a few less after-school hours in the classroom to get things done.  Prioritising has to be done: it can’t all happen if there aren’t enough hours in the school day.

FullSizeRenderOf course, you may be wondering why, when I am bemoaning all there is to be done, am I writing a blog when I could be marking. It’s simple: the contents of my memory pen are still wedged into my classroom computer! So tonight, I am having enforced shut down. For once, it really won’t do me any harm.

Let the tail chasing resume in the morning!

PS. I obviously needed to get this off my chest.  I had an entirely different title written, with the intention of an entirely different blog.  This one just seemed to fall out of the keyboard.  Chin up and keep chasing!

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Curriculum

Keeping it simple

typoramaI had a revelation today.

Last week, the vast majority of my children proved to me that they were proficient with counting in multiples of 6. Brilliant. They were ready to go on. But a small group of 5 children just could not get the tables facts into their heads: they just couldn’t remember them, and it was taking them ages to work out simple 6x table questions. So, I needed a new idea.

In the past, we’ve tried games, interactive programmes, playing pairs, answering questions on a worksheet, tarsias and countless other ideas. All great for reinforcement for those children who know their tables, but it doesn’t help them to actually learn the facts. Today, we learned the 6x table using multilink cubes. So simple, yet so effective.

Each of the 5 children made a stack of 6 cubes and put them on the floor in front of them. One child held theirs up: how many cubes? Two children? Three? So far, so good. But they still had to work out the answer each time. The children put their cubes back on the floor, and I would pick up different amounts of sticks, so they would have to count the number of sticks and multiply them by 6. Very soon, they picked up speed and were calling out the answers almost instantly. Once the children were completely confident with going up to 5×6, I added in a stick of mulitilink for me; they worked out how much 6×6 was from the cubes they already had, and the “game” continued. Within minutes, we had added in a 7th and 8th stick, worked out how many cubes we had with a 9th stick, and then finally a 10th, 11th and 12th stick of cubes.

These 5 children had very little confidence in working out the 6x table at the start of the lesson, yet within a few minutes, they were hollering out answers (correctly!) at the top of their voices. We then briefly practised some written calculations – I would put the cubes on the floor as an array, before they wrote the corresponding number sentence on their whiteboard.

In the last few minutes of the lesson, the children rolled a 12 sided dice and wrote the multiplication sentence on their boards… all correctly! Who would have thought that such a simple idea would have had such a huge impact? I’m a HUGE fan of technology: I use it constantly. But today just goes to show that sometimes, low tech can be the way forward.

Assessment

Being made to look incompetent.

I have always sworn that I will use my blog to promote positivity.  However, for one post only, I have to break that oath.  Michael Tidd’s post yesterday, among many others I have read, stirred up the anger and frustration that I have felt building for some weeks now.

So, we are still awaiting the long promised report from the DfE. The one that was promised last year and is going to answer all… most… some… well, maybe one or two of the questions that we have been battling over with our new and revolutionary assessment systems.

Last academic year, I trialled a new system in my year group. It worked well, but there were many questions that the parents asked which I couldn’t answer. Not because I don’t know my stuff, but because the answers hadn’t been given. So, I made assurances and promises. “It will all be ok,” I said. “The DfE are working on it. We’ll know what we are working towards, what we are aiming for, how your children will be judged at the end of Key Stages very soon,” I said. “I’ll work it all out for the start of next year, and I’ll keep you informed.” Fast forward to the end of the year, and I presented the assessment system to the Governors. Again, the same questions. Again, the same reassurances. “We’ll know it all before the end of the school year,” I promised. “I’ll get it all sorted.” Dedicated to the cause, I was happy to plough through the report, crunch numbers, tweak the assessment system, all in my own time in the summer holidays.

But of course, it didn’t happen. No report came. The start of term came, and we all held our collective breath as more promises of a report were made. And more promises were broken. Still the questions aren’t answered. I, like many across the country, led an INSET session at the start of term so that all staff are happy and prepared to assess the children against the New Curriculum and without levels. They are all raring to go (well, with varying degrees of raringness) and starting to assess their children. But still we don’t know what the goal posts are. We don’t know whether our children are on track, or how much work we have to do to reach the floor standard, whatever that may be. We have made our own judgements of where we think the children should be, but have we set our standards high enough? Or are we aiming unrealistically high?

We have planned an information session for parents to tell them all about our assessments, and once again, I am going to have to stand in front of a huge group of people and tell them I don’t know the answers to their questions.

I am a good Assessment Leader. I know my stuff, and I know my system inside out. But I am going to be made to look incompetent in front of our parents by a Government who seems to be cluless. I have no problem with admitting my own weaknesses and failings, but I resent being made to look something I am not. “The Government hasn’t told me yet” – what kind of an excuse is that? It’s just as lame as it sounds.

Teachers, TAs, Assessment Leaders, SLTs, Heads – we are all doing our share to try and make our schools the best they can be. We are working hard to implement the Government’s ill-thought through changes. It’s about time Nicky Morgan and her Assessment Commission played their part too.

Observations

What a difference a day makes…

Created using Typorama
Created using Typorama

Last night, I was pulling my hair out. I was despairing of all that I needed to teach my children before I could actually begin teaching them. After writing my blog, I felt a little better: I had got it all out of my system and went into class in a different frame of mind today. Still with high expectations, but with more realistic ones. With an expectation that I would have to take them through everything step by step. With an expectation that there were going to be seemingly obvious questions which I would wrongly assume they knew the answers to. And with an expectation that I would probably have planned too much and not get anywhere near as much done as I had hoped.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe it was my changed attitude, maybe it was their attitude changing. Or perhaps it was just the fact that we all knew each other a tiny bit better than we did yesterday. Whatever it was, it worked. Small steps, but it’s working. More independence, more logic (from some!), no moaning, lots of praise cards and stickers and merits. 24 hours on and I feel a different person than I did yesterday. I may be enjoying a glass of wine tonight, but it’s a celebration rather than a consolation.

We’ve still got a way to go, but I can definitely see us having a lot of fun together this year. My teaching week may be over, but bring on the next one!

Observations

Do we expect too much?

Created using Typorama
Created using Typorama

We get to the end of a year, having spent 10 months lovingly nurturing and shaping our class. We train them in our ways, teach them our habits, we get to know their foibles and they ours. 6 weeks pass, and suddenly, we find ourselves with 30 new, hopeful, smiling faces, moulded in the ways of their previous teachers and so much younger than those children we have handed on.

There is so much for them to learn, without even touching on the academic stuff. Where should they sit? Where do the pencils go? What should they do with their books at the end of the lesson? Who do they sit next to? How are the lessons organised? Should they stick work in at the beginning of the lesson or when they have finished? Can they go to the toilet in the middle of the lesson? How do they make their new teacher smile? How do they get noticed and earn stickers and rewards? Just how much chatter at their tables can they get away with? What is going to drive her mad?

For some children, just learning their new teacher’s name takes weeks. They wander into their old classroom on the way back from assembly, they use the line “in my old class…” repeatedly to begin with, they call us by their old teacher’s name. We expect them to learn all of our habits and routines AND we expect them to achieve their targets and have objectives signed off right from the beginning of term.

I’ve been in class for 2 days. I know all of my children’s names, some of their friendships and many of their habits. But I don’t know it all. Not yet. There’s no way I would expect to know everything about them all already: that’s ridiculous. But I expect so much more of my children – today, I experienced ridiculous frustrations when they didn’t do exactly as I wanted. They didn’t stick their work in neatly enough, or made too much noise at their tables, or lined up in the wrong place. I don’t know it all yet, so why should they? How could they, when I haven’t told them it all yet? There’s so much we assume they should know and don’t specifically teach them. We don’t even know they don’t know it until something crops up in class. So I’ve given myself a good talking to, and I’m not going to get grumpy with them tomorrow. I’m just going to concentrate on training them in my way of learning, teaching them well and making sure they enjoy coming to school.

We’ve got months ahead of us to get to know each other. Why rush it?

24 hours later…