Curriculum

Handwriting – how to teach it?

FullSizeRenderI know that there has been much debate around the topic of handwriting on Twitter lately, and it is one which continues in our house.

Previously, I have been guilty of overlooking the teaching of handwriting. Not for the lack of trying, I hasten to add, but because I have never found a way to make it work.  If I’m honest, in the world of National Curriculum Levels, it didn’t really feature very highly, and so it was easy to miss it out.  With the new curriculum, handwriting features more predominantly, and so will be much harder to ignore.

In reality, I’m really pleased about this. Over the years, I have seen many fantastic writers come and go who have been let down by the fact that their writing was barely legible.  MNQTH argues that this is not a problem: we live in a digital age where people very rarely need to write by hand.  We communicate via texts or emails – the art of letter writing is almost dead.  Application forms are often filled in electronically; do we really need to have a beautiful, cursive hand? I think we do.  I can’t argue against the electronic world, but I just don’t think we can dismiss the need to be able to physically write.  In my early days as a teacher, I was led to believe that joining handwriting aided letter formation and spelling: a quick Google search landed me on the British Dyslexia Association, where this was confirmed (I would hasten to add that I have never researched this myself: I have no evidence beyond the above link, but I would be interested to know people’s views on this).

So, I know that teaching handwriting is important and valid, but the big question is how? I’ve tried it in different ways – teaching patterns as a whole class, small group interventions, patterns for children to copy when they come in first thing in the morning, but no way has worked.  There just isn’t enough time for whole class teaching, our TAs are run off their feet like never before with interventions, and independent writing doesn’t work: those who know how to join succeed, those who don’t continue to make the same mistakes.  At T’s parents’ evening (he’s in Y2), we were presented with a handwriting book for him to bring home.  On each page was a letter pattern to practise, followed by a page of words which included the pattern.  Clearly a lot of time had been put into making this, but ultimately, it boils down to MNQTH and I to teach him.  That’s not my job.  Well, technically, it is, but not when I’m at home.  MNQTH and I will take the time to sit down with him, show him how to form the letters, make sure the relative heights of letters are correct, monitor the joins: I know T well enough to know he wouldn’t get it right if left to his own devices.  He would use the wrong lines in his book, take shortcuts in his joining, stop mid join – just like most children who are learning to join would do.  This one-to-one support is exactly what the children need in school – but when? In an ideal world, by the time the children reach me in year 4, they would be confident in joining, but no-one else has the time either.

So, a plea to all of you teachers out there: if you have an approach which has worked, which has successfully taught children to join without completely taking over the timetable, then I’d really appreciate your words of wisdom.

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Family

That’s what I call true love. 

Nothing about education, school or children, just a way to acknowledge my wonderful husband. 

This week, with much trepidation on my part, we embarked on a family camping holiday. I didn’t want to go, but MNQTH said it would be a good idea. And it was. 

But today, only 2 days in, we got flooded out. We tried to suppress the puddles that kept appearing through the tent, we lifted everything off the ground, but still things got wet and the rain found a way back in. Through my tears and panic, I wanted to go home. So MNQTH grudgingly agreed. But with 2 young children (one of whom had taken to sitting on the floor in puddles), there was no way we could pack up our trailer tent mansion in the pouring rain. 

So we are nearing the end of a many hour, many mile round trip to take the children to their grandparents so we can go back to the mud pit to pack up. 

As we near the camp site, the sky is clear, the roads are dry and there is every likelihood that many of the puddles will have dried up too. But not once has MNQTH told me I was stupid, or that I over reacted.  He saw the state I was in and did what I needed him to do, even though, in reality, I ruined our holiday. 

Camping in October wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was actually enjoying myself. And I truly am sorry. I don’t say it very often (as MNQTH is always very keen to point out!). 

So, as publicly as it possibly can be, here is my apology:

I’m sorry xxx

CPD, NPQSL, Workload

Reflections on #NPQSL

typoramaIt’s been a while since my first Face to Face session for my NPQSL, and I have been meaning to blog about how the day went. Having had a few weeks to distance myself from the day and my first task to undertake has given me plenty of food for thought.

Approaching the day itself, I was very apprehensive of what was to come (read my blog here). I felt under prepared, inadequate and lacking relevant experience.  Not like me at all.  Reading the introductions of the other participants was very daunting.  I’m not sure what I was expecting everyone to be like, but whatever it was, they weren’t!  Everyone was very down to earth; many were as apprehensive as I was.  We were a very mixed bunch of people: primary, secondary, special schools, alternative provision, EYFS providers, private schools.  You name it, we had representatives there.  The huge variety led to lots of very interesting conversations.  I even found that I had much to contribute from my own experience.  Already, I have my little group of “train buddies” with whom I travelled, and the conversations about the day continued well into our journey home.  I learned even more about life in different settings from them than I had done during the day.

We had a multitude of pre-course tasks to do, all of which I had diligently completed. However, this didn’t mean I had the right paperwork for the day (interestingly, nor did anyone else!), so I did feel a bit like a naughty school girl trying to read over people’s shoulders!  A laptop is a definite necessity for next time, so I can download all of the random documents we suddenly need to have with us!  Despite the lack of documentation, I really enjoyed the activities.  I had seen the outline for the day and was feeling very daunted by the analysis, the mingling and working with different people, the presentations, but the group was so friendly and the atmosphere so unthreatening that I felt completely at ease.  The day flew by as we worked through session after session – although it was exhausting!  Had it not been for my train companions, I’m sure I would have nodded off on the 2 hour trip home.

At times, the workload did seem a little overwhelming, and I am sure it will continue to be so, especially once we start the online modules, but I can see the value in much of it. The task ahead of our next session was to analyse our RAISEonline data and find strengths and weaknesses (I’m sure there will be a blog on this to follow very soon!), which is a vital skill for any member of an SLT, and  especially for me currently as Assessment Leader.  Much of the work required for our assessed project can fit around my existing role, but just being recorded in more detail and with more thought to its impact: that can’t be a bad thing.  As a result of our discussions about the competencies on which we are assessed, I am already beginning to change my leadership style.  I am beginning to hold others to account by not doing everything for them – a huge challenge for me!

I am only a fraction of the way along this NPQSL path, but I can see that I am going to enjoy it.

Curriculum, Family, Observations

Working together

FullSizeRenderAs a teacher, it is my job to teach children. As a parent, it is my job to raise them.  But the two cannot be mutually exclusive.

I teach the children in my care at school the National Curriculum. More than that, I teach them the School Curriculum, whereby we teach the children to become respectful, mature, thoughtful, appreciative and well-rounded human beings.  For most, in this respect, we just build on what their parents teach them at home.  Nurturing decent human beings is a combined effort.  And so must developing knowledgeable children be.

We spend 6(ish) hours a day, 5 days a week, 39 weeks a year in the company of the children in our schools. And in that time, we have to teach them to read, to write, be fluent in the language of mathematics, to master all of these skills, and then teach them all of the other subjects, personal and interpersonal skills as well.  To say it is a challenge is an understatement. And this is why we need the two- way support of parents.

We can teach the children to read and to enjoy books, but it’s the relaxed family time reading together and sharing books that fosters the true love of reading. We can teach the children maths skills, but it’s using maths in real life situations at home where they truly master them.  We can send carefully thought out homework to reinforce what we have learned in school, but we can’t sit down with children at the kitchen table and do it for them.

I know it is my job to do the teaching. I know, being a mother of a year 2 child, how the demands of everyday life make homework an inconvenience.  I know that I often remember that we haven’t done our reading just as I am starting to prepare the dinner, so we end up reading over the hob while I cook.  But I also know that T’s teacher has set the homework for a reason.  He’s developing a good work ethic; he’s making sure T regularly reinforces what he has been learning; he’s making sure that we share stories together and talk about the books that we read.

Homework, from the point of view of both teachers and parents, gets a very mixed press.  It takes time to plan, to explain, to do at home, to mark.  Some love it, some hate it.  Many help their children to do it, some cast their eye over a finished task, some don’t bother, some make excuses.  Whatever your view of it, surely it’s worth the inconvenience? It’s there for a reason: to help your child to learn.

I understand that, in practical terms, it’s hard to find the time. But when I hear of a parent who has barely ever heard their child read, it makes me want to weep.  Sharing books, sharing homework, working together: they are all ways to bridge the gap between home and school. You ask your child what they have done at school – you get the answer “nothing much.”  Every child does it at one time or another.  But surely the homework gives you an answer? If nothing else, it’s a way for parents and children to start talking.  Some need that: they need a way in to a conversation.

For those, like MNQTH and I, who dutifully listen to reading, practise spellings and work our way through homework: thank you.  And for those who don’t, a plea: please do.  At the very least, share a book and read a bedtime story.  Help your child to love reading. Teach them to want to learn, as we endeavour to do.  Help them to learn that life brings responsibilities and challenges.  Help them to realise that sometimes they have to do things they don’t necessarily want to do, but there is a reason behind their doing them.   And, regardless of your own experiences of school, background, education or job choice, if you do the homework together, you never know, you might learn something new too.

Please help. It really does make a difference.

PS.  I’m pretty good at maths and have been teaching it well for 16 years.  But T taught me something new this week when doing his homework – the Bar Model will be making an appearance in my classroom very soon! 

Curriculum, Observations

Down in the jungle…

Overcoming my phobia of the Giant Millipede
Overcoming my phobia of the Giant Millipede

I don’t honestly know where to start describing my day today. Or even how to describe it. But “incredible” is a pretty good place to start.

My Y4 children have loved our “Down In The Jungle” topic. We’ve done loads of map work, investigated the layers and animals of the rainforests, made food chains and looked at skulls and teeth, and yesterday, we made poo to explain how the digestive system works. If you’ve never tried it (in the non-biological sense!), watch this video to see how – it’s amazing! The children were buzzing with talk about the topic.

But today, it all became more real.

Jonathan Cleverly brought his jungle roadshow to school.

Jonathan's Horsehead Grasshopper
Jonathan’s Horsehead Grasshopper

The children got to see tarantulas up close and personal (even more so when the so-far-unnamed Peruvian Pink-Toed Tarantula climbed over the camera that was projecting onto the whiteboard!) and to handle a millipede, leaf insects, geckos, enormous horsehead grasshoppers and Mrs Noah, the rainbow boa.

Jonathan immediately put the children at ease, explaining that there was no pressure to hold the animals, that none of them were dangerous, and by basically talking about poo a lot! His passion for the animals was instantly obvious, and the children so picked up on his enthusiasm and began to see the creatures as the beautiful species they are, rather than being “scary creepy crawlies”. Even those children who were initially apprehensive soon got involved and held everything they were offered. It was incredible to see their confidence grow by handling the animals.

The beautiful Crested Gecko
The beautiful Crested Gecko

Jonathan gave the children an enormous amount of information about the animals, often referring to his website to show them pictures of the animals in different environments and at different life stages. The children (many of whom often find it difficult to listen and concentrate) were completely engaged, asking question after question for Jonathan to answer. I don’t think I have ever seen them so focussed, or be so quiet during “gecko time”. Several members of staff came to see me at lunch time to say they had been bombarded by children wanting to share spider/gecko/millipede stories, all desperate to tell them what they had learned.

For these children, the topic came to life today in a way that I know they will be talking about for a long time to come. Next week, they visit the Living Rainforest so see the kind of environments where these creatures can liv, so they can continue the rainforest experience. I was asked very recently if I thought that topic work ought to take a back seat to make way for more reading, writing and maths. I can categorically say: no way. The children got more from a few hours with Jonathan today than they could ever hope to get in a literacy lesson. The amount of information they took away from today was phenomenal, and they have had an experience that will stay with them for years.

School is about so much more than assessments and work in books. It’s about learning about life and the world around us, and giving the children the confidence to deal with what they find in that big wide world.  And while most of these children won’t encounter geckos and tarantulas on a daily basis, they will know they have the confidence to overcome fears and the obstacles they encounter.

Observations

Popularity contest?

Created using Typorama
Created using Typorama

A young man in my class very nearly reduced me to tears today.

A lovely boy, sometimes a bit of a rogue, usually full of beans and sometimes full of mischief, you can’t help but smile at him. He’s found life a bit tough at school recently though, as a good friend left the school. I hadn’t really realised what an impact this had made on him though, until he opened up to my job share partner last week. Everyone in the year group had noticed a change in his behaviour, but no-one knew why.

Today, we found a few minutes to sit down and talk about how he was feeling, and unexpectedly, he talked really honestly. He comes across as a bit of a lad: not one to talk about feelings. He closed up last week whenever emotions were mentioned. Today, however, he was brutally honest. He talked about feeling lonely, about having no-one to play with. We went through the normal chat of what we could do about it: identify people he could play with, tell an adult if he was in need of a chat or help to find someone to play with. We agreed to get a small group of boys together to explain the situation, and for them to act as buddies for him. And that’s when he almost floored me. As we went through the boys in the class, some were approved, others not (there are some very different personalities in my class, and some combinations would never work). I gave him a few names of a group of lovely boys and he replied “I can’t play with them, Miss. They play with the popular kids and I’m not one of the popular boys.” I could have cried for him.

So where has he got this idea from? Certainly not from the boys themselves: I know they would be really upset to think that he felt he couldn’t approach them. And not from the rest of the class. This young man has just as many friends as the group of boys. It can only have come from his own perception. He is one of the popular boys – just as much so as any of the others in the class, but he obviously has such a low opinion of himself that he sees them as almost a higher status than himself. How long has he been going through school and seeing himself as inferior to the others in the class?  I hope that it’s just a fleeting view brought about by his close friend leaving, rather than a deep-seated belief.  What on earth would that do to his self worth? His chances of success in his work will seriously suffer if he continuously compares himself to the rest of his peers – it seems he is a boy who finds it difficult to recognise his strengths.

Had we not found a few minutes to talk today, I would never have seen this view, and I wouldn’t have been able to understand his change in behaviour. I can do everything possible to try and build his self esteem, by praising him, by making sure the others are aware when he is on his own and approaching him, and by giving him the confidence to approach them on the playground. This young man shows that we can’t take any of our children at face value: to anyone watching him, he would appear a cheeky young boy who sometimes goes too far to get attention. Clearly, he’s crying out to be noticed. It’s my job to ensure he gets noticed for the right reasons.

Observations

Laughter is the best medicine

Created using Typorama
Created using Typorama

This term at school has been one of the longest ever. Perhaps not in the number of days, but certainly in the number of man-hours. We, as a staff, have worked incredibly hard to get things in place this year: new curriculum, new planning, new teaching styles, new assessment. As I’ve written before, we have all been chasing our tails. As a result, we have all been pretty exhausted. While we are all still giving everything we can, a pick-me-up was definitely in need. So, in good school tradition, a few of us organised an evening trip to the pub. And to be honest, it was the best thing we could have done.

It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. My goodness, how true that is. We sat, we ate, some drank, and we laughed. Oh, how we laughed! Others in the pub may not have appreciated the laughter (sorry to everyone else in there!), but what they wouldn’t have known is the good it was doing us. Research shows that there are physical benefits of a hearty chuckle: increasing endorphins, relaxation, stress relief, improving mood, helping you to cope with difficult situations and enabling you to connect with others. We certainly got a good dose of the funny stuff.

But who cares what the science says anyway? I got to sit down and have a proper chat with people who I often only get to talk about work with. We shared stories, we reminisced, we did talk shop a little, but mostly we just talked nonsense. We laughed at thing that weren’t actually all that funny (as I found out when I tried repeating the stories at home – you really had to be there), we took the mickey out of each other, we were just a group of ladies (and a man or two) having a brilliant night out. My face hurt where I laughed so much, and my cheek muscles even ached the following day!

This evening, when I sat down to plan my lessons, I genuinely felt refreshed. I hadn’t spent every evening this weekend planning, and yet I still got it all done. I didn’t fall asleep on the sofa or go to bed early on Friday because I was tired – I actually stayed up late for a change, and I made it through the weekend (although thanks to MNQTH, I did manage a couple of lie-ins). I had a life outside of school, and I had a whale of a time doing it.

Laughter, a good meal and a brilliant bunch of friends really is the best medicine.