Sunday, 30 September 2012

Week 40: Your favourite book

My favourite book is a book called Holes by Louis Sachar. When reading this to my class in 2003 I fell in love with the story. 

Amazon's blurb is: "Stanley Yelnats' family has a history of bad luck going back generations, so he is not too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Centre. Nor is he very surprised when he is told that his daily labour at the camp is to dig a hole, five foot wide by five foot deep, and report anything that he finds in that hole. The warden claims that it is character building, but this is a lie and Stanley must dig up the truth. In this wonderfully inventive, compelling novel that is both serious and funny, Louis Sachar has created a masterpiece that will leave all readers amazed and delighted by the author's narrative flair and brilliantly handled plot."

Fate brings about a series of events that had me completely enthralled.

My other favourite books are:
The Harry Potter series
The Hunger Games Trilogy
The Da Vinci Code
Duncan Bannatyne's Anyone Can Do It

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Chester Zoo

Our Year Fours visited Chester Zoo today. Chester Zoo is one of the largest zoos in country, with plans for further expansion. It's a great day out with your family, and also with your class. We visited as part of our Animals Around The World topic.

The children took part in the Amazon Adventure Rainforest Habitats workshop. The children enjoyed investigating the different materials to find out more about the animals who live in threatened rainforest habitats.

After the workshop we looked around all of the zoo. The children loved visiting the African Painted Dogs, cheetahs, bats and chimps. The dinosaur exhibition was popular too! I don't know if it was because the zoo was quiet that the animals all came out to show themselves, but we saw all saw the animals. They never did that thing where they hide from the visitors - they were there to be seen (apart from the black jaguar, who I don't believe actually exists. It was beautiful to see the lion roaring, the bear taking an afternoon stroll and the tiger snoozing.

After the visit the children have been learning more about Amazonian habitats in Science lessons, and exploring the geography of South America too.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Outstanding Teaching 4: Engaging Pupils

 I recently read The Managing Workload Pocketbook from the brilliant Teachers' Pocketbooks series. The book was written by Caroline Bentley-Davies.

In the fourth and last in a series of posts, I look at advice given about engaging pupils

Remember to do things FAST
F Focus - Get the pupils focused on the task in hand, settled and in the right frame of mind for learning.
A Activity - Get them going! Activities need to be simple, quick to set up, but sifficiently challenging to make them qorthy of completion
S Systems - Have well understood strategies for managing homework, forgotten pens, latecomers, etc.
T Teach! - Get on with the learning and don't waste time! Remember, getting them settled and quiet is a means to an end, not the end in itself.

Pupils are centre stage in great lessons. A silent lesson is rarely an outstanding lesson. In outstanding lessons pupils ate active in their own learning and engaged. The real test of a great lesson is what the pupils can do as a result of it. In the very best lessons, pupils learn a great deal; they absorb new skills and information and are able to do something for themselves - not just in that day's lesson, but days, weeks or moths later they can still recall it and put it into practice! Their progress is demonstrable. However, getting pupils to become independent learners can be a real challenge. Obstacles can include: apathy, lack of confidence, and an over-reliance on the teacher or teaching assistant completing the work for them.

Steps to ensure the pupils can demonstrate their learning/resilience:
1 Understanding the goal
2 Defining the challenge
3 Develop active and engaged learners
4 Lesson strategies - resources, display, teacher - think of 3 ways of finding out the answers before resorting to asking the teacher for assistance

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Week 39: A smartphone app that you use in school

I'm experimenting with two apps currently:

ClassDojo is a classroom tool that helps teachers improve behaviour in their classrooms quickly and easily.

So far the children love the idea and have been working hard to get points which are only given for positive behaviour.

ThreeRing allows teachers to quickly and easily create digital portfolios of student work. Just snap a picture with your smartphone, and our app will sort the work by student, tag its content, and upload it to an online interface accessible by teachers, students, and parents.

As I've only been trying these out since September, although I've been impressed I'm going to write a post about these apps another time.

Friday, 21 September 2012

FM Radio Presets

Now that Chris Moyles has left his Breakfast Show at BBC Radio 1, I've completely removed Radio 1 from my radio presets in my car. I like Scott Mills, and Greg James is listen-to-able. But as far as the rest of the station goes, I don't rate anyone or anything. 

A lot of criticism was made of the small number of records played by Moyles, but surely that was the whole point of the show - you didn't listen to it because of the music! I tend to only have two opportunities to listen to the radio - on my way to work, and on the way home. Whilst I will often play music from my iPhone, I tune in to the radio to listen to what the DJ has to say, not for the music.

Now I have relegated Radio 1 to a hard to find FM preset, I have started to rearrange my stations:
1 - Signal One 102.6 A local radio station with interesting DJs, and local news. (I can't listen in the mornings though, as the breakfast show presenter, Louise, is too annoying.)
2 - BBC Radio 2 88.1
3 - Capital Manchester 102
4 - BBC Radio 4 96.1
5 - BBC Radio Stoke 96.4
6 - Key 103
7 - Radio City 96.7
8 - Real Radio 105.4
9 - Rock FM 97.4
10 - Heart North West 103.4
11 - BBC Radio 1 98.9 (just to fill the 12 presets)
12 - Smooth FM 100.4 (just to fill the 12 presets)

I'm still not entirely happy with my choices though - can anyone make any recommendations?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Outstanding Lessons 3: Learning Objectives

 I recently read The Managing Workload Pocketbook from the brilliant Teachers' Pocketbooks series. The book was written by Caroline Bentley-Davies.

In my third in a series of posts, I look at advice given about learning objectives.

It is often good practice to share lesson objectives with the class at the start of the lesson. In many classes these are recorded on the whiteboard and explained to the students. When used effectively they can:
  • Signpost the learning, keying pupils in to the purpose of the lesson and making clear what the teacher will be focusing on.
  • Ensure that the lesson actually helps the pupils' learning because the activities clearly focus on the objective.
  • Make a distinction between the tasks and the learning.
  • Allow a clear way to review learning during and at the end of the lesson.
However, if every lesson starts with an explanation of what pupils will be learning - and especially if students have to copy this down - lessons soon become tedious, routine and ineffective. Those who are slow writers or who find literacy challenging will struggle. Sometimes you will want to:
  • Surprise the pupils
  • Make them think!
  • Disguise the 'unpopular topic'
  • Develop pupil independence by getting them consider: what is it you already know about this topic? And what do you think you need to know about it?
Outstanding teachers ensure it is clear what pupils are learning but they know there are many ways to convey this.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Week 38: Your CV

I'm currently building a CV at

I'm also on but I need to get my profile updated!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Outstanding Lessons 2: Planning

I recently read The Managing Workload Pocketbook from the brilliant Teachers' Pocketbooks series. The book was written by Caroline Bentley-Davies.

In my second in a series of posts, I take note of the author's advice about changing your mindset about planning.

Learning, not Doing

Before you start planning first consider what it is you really want them to learn

There is a significant distinction between learning and doing. Many lessons go awry because the teacher is too focused on the students completing a task or activity (doing), rather than on what they want the pupils to learn

The sequence for planning lessons should be:
  1. Knowing where your pupils are in the learning.
  2. Deciding what their next steps in learning are, i.e. the skill or knowledge you want them to develop in the lesson.
  3. Planning a range of engaging lesson activities to support this.
The activities should give the children the opportunity to demonstrate and apply what has been learned. 'Nice' activities just don't cut it.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Week 37: A photo of your school

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Electrical Gremlins

I feel bad!
A new teacher in school has only been back a week and she has already had problems with her laptop. The power pack failed. "Not again!" I thought. This would be the third teacher in a row to be a nightmare with technology! In the last three years the two teachers in the room beforehand had got through two laptops, had a warranty repair and two new chargers. I've given them regular jibes about causing trouble for my ICT budget!

Suddenly it occurred to me - maybe the teachers weren't the problem. Maybe there was an electrical fault! It seemed too much of a coincidence that all three teachers were doing something wrong!

Sure enough, when the electrician checked today he discovered a faulty wire in a socket that was causing spikes in electricity and damaging laptops!

Oops! I've got a couple of apologies to make!

Here's a picture of the faulty socket:

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Outstanding Lessons

I recently read The Managing Workload Pocketbook from the brilliant Teachers' Pocketbooks series. The book was written by Caroline Bentley-Davies.

Although, I think, possibly more suited towards secondary school teachers, there is lots of great advice for how to deliver outstanding lessons.

Over a series of posts I will share some of my learning from this book which is well worth a read.

Bentley-Davies writes that in recent years, lessons judged to be outstanding have focused less on the teacher's demonstration of their expert knowledge and more on the students and their learning and independence. 

This is certainly the approach that I'm taking towards the way I teach, and also the way I observe lessons. When it comes to lesson observations, the focus is on the pupils and their learning, not the teacher at the front of the room.

The crucial questions to consider are:

  • What helps the pupils learn?
  • How are they encouraged to be independent?
  • How much progress have they made in the lesson?

In excellent lessons the four areas below are carefully balanced.

Teacher Subject Knowledge
  • Teacher knows their subject area
  • they create engaging and memorable strategies for passing this on.
  • They are able to anticipate, respond to and correct misconceptions.
Pupil Engagement
  • Safe environment in which to learn and share ideas.
  • Good management of classroom behaviour.
  • Pupils are actively involved in the lesson and learn from each other.
Effective Climate for Learning
  • Positive atmosphere - plenty of praise.
  • Pupils feel able to respond and take a chance.
  • Teacher fosters pupils' self-confidence.
Pupils Develop Independence in Their Learning
  • Pupils know what 'good' work looks like and how to achieve it.
  • They are aware of what their next learning steps are and how to tackle them.
  • They are able to work independently and discuss their ideas.

Brilliant Headteacher: Part Two

 As part of my plan to become a headteacher, I have been reading books which offer some great advice. I recently read Brilliant Head Teacher by Iain Erskine. This book is certainly a helpful read - it's full of practical, honest advice for anyone who wants to be a brilliant headteacher.

Modern Leadership
In the past there were some Heads that ruled through fear and would divide staff in an attempt to rule effectively. Traditionally everyone turned to the Head as the person who made all the decisions and had all the answers: there was little evidence of delegation or distributed leadership strategies. That old style of leadership has gradually disappeared so that it now hardly exists. Since those days research has taken place examining effective leadership qualities and successful leaders nowadays trust and build trust through credibility, positive behaviour and confidence.

Managing the school is an essential part of the job but we all recognise the danger of it becoming all-consuming. In many schools the term 'management' has been replaced by the word 'leadership', clearly articulating the role of the senior team in leading the school to greater and greater success. The structure of senior, middle and curriculum leaders that share the school vision and are truly accountable to the Head and the Governing Body.

The knowledge accumulated through distributed leadership enables Heads to confidently look into the future and make decisions on action needed to take the school forward. One of our most valuable strategies as Heads is the ability to listen and to ask pertinent, challenging and relevant questions that hold people accountable and help to progress the school; the Head as an enabler and with the ability to make successful appointments. It is said that Barack Obama deliberately appointed his challengers so that he was questioned on all of his decisions. Heads must appoint people that complement each other, and not simply people in their own likeness.

Heads must realise that they are in a powerful position and can make significant decisions about what initiatives their school will adopt as there are very few educational reforms that are enshrined in law.

Successful Heads have a strong moral purpose, they put others first and have a strong set of personal values that are shared with and responsive to the school community. In addition to this, as Heads, we must have passion and a strong desire to achieve excellence whilst creating a community that has a strong sense of unity and trust. As Heads we aspire to get the best out of others, we are enables, we nurture and develop, we allow others to take credit whilst strategically taking the blame on our shoulders when things do not go well so that our schools move ever forward.

The future
"In a 21st century world where jobs can be shipped wherever there's an internet connection, where a child born in Dallas is now competing with a child in New Delhi, where your best job qualification is not what you do, but what you know - education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success, it's a prerequisite for success... I'm calling on our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity."(President Barack Obama at the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 10 March 2009)

Children nowadays will watch television or listen to music whilst doing their homework and at the same time be having a social networking conversation and playing a computer game and yet the most common way of teaching children is still a basic chalk and talk, albeit pen and whiteboard, approach. Children multi-task out of choice and we teach them one thing at a time, often in silence.

The question is whether traditional subjects that go back to the 19th century are the right subjects for the 21st century. In how many other walks of life are we still following a system that was introduced over a hundred years ago?

Monday, 3 September 2012

Classroom Routines

I loved this article about establishing positive classroom routines in order to ward off behaviour probems. It can be found at:
This article was adapted from The New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook: Grades K–4 by Bonnie P. Murray, ©2002, published by Scholastic. 

There are so many routines that we have in the classroom (never mind outside the classroom in corridors, etc.) but until reading this I have never thought about writing them all down.

I plan to instill these routines in my classroom during our induction week (our first week back) and continually refer to them throughout the year.

Here's my own (adapted) version of the list of routines I will teach.
  1. Entering the room — I always remind the children that when they enter the room they should be 'ready to learn'. Enter quietly and politely; remove your hat if you're wearing one; don't interrupt other students; follow the appropriate procedures for each time of day (e.g., morning, after lunch, after a special class).
  2. Lining up — Stand up quietly; push in your chair; take all necessary items; line up without touching others or talking; face the front of the line; watch where you are going. I have set places in the room for the lines to be formed.
  3. Leaving the room — Tell me where you are going; take the correct hall pass; do not run or play in the hallways or restrooms. At the end of the lesson, children should leave calmly, without disturbing others who may be working.
  4. Beginning the day — Enter the room politely; put away your backpack, lunch, and coat; turn in your homework; sit at your desk and find your Busy Book. Check the board for today's Busy Work Challenge. Sometimes you might be asked to read.
  5. Ending the day — Clean off your desk; leave out your work notebook; pick up any rubbish on the floor under, or around your desk; stack your chair; collect any newsletters; wait quietly to be dismissed.
  6. Taking out/putting away/caring for supplies — Share group supplies; recap markers and glue; put all supplies back in the correct place. 'A place for everything, and everything in its place.'
  7. Participating in class and group discussions lessons — Sit facing the teacher with nothing in your hands; Don't speak when someone else is speaking.
  8. Obtaining help with tasks — Quietly ask the students at your table for help with directions if you need it; if you are working alone, raise your hand to get help from me; if you are working with a group, ask them for help in understanding how you do the assignment.
  9. Handing in finished work/homework — Make sure your name is on your paper; place your work in the correct place.
  10. What to do with unfinished work — If I ask for work to be turned in, let me know if it isn't finished; if I ask you to keep an unfinished project, put it in your work folder.
  11. When and how to use the school toilets — You should always use the toilet at break times. You won't usually be allowed to use the toilets at the beginning or end of class time. If I am not teaching the whole group, calmly raise your hand to ask an adult; do not play in the restroom; return to class before two minutes have passed (promptly).
  12. When and how to use the drinking fountain — When I am not teaching the whole group, you may get a drink; take only a three-second drink; you may bring a water bottle to keep on your desk.
  13. When and how to use the pencil sharpener — You may sharpen your pencil at the start of the assignment. Spend no longer than 30 seconds at the bin. Make sure that all of the sharpenings fall into the bin.
  14. Classroom jobs at lunchtime   Helpers will be given a badge which should be returned at the end of lunchtime. No one else should be in the classroom.
  15. Getting into work groups — Take all the materials you will need; greet each other; complete the task doing your personal best; make sure each person signs the project; thank the others in your group.
  16. Using the school library — When you are given time to change a library book, you should be no more than 5 minutes. Make sure you use the library appropriately.
  17. Lunch  — Go to wash your hands before going to get your lunch. If you have a lunchbox, after eating your lunch you should put it carefully back on the lunchbox trolley before going outside.
  18. Getting a tissue — You may get a tissue from the tissue box whenever you need one; you don't even have to ask; throw the used tissue away immediately; make sure it lands in the bin; get right back to work.
  19. Registers — You should be respectful of the register. The adult will take the register and say, "Good morning," "Good afternoon," or ask a question to each child. You should respond appropriately. Nobody should talk during the register.
  20. Throwing away rubbish — You may throw away rubbish whenever you need to if I am not teaching the whole group; do not play basketball with your trash; make sure it all lands in the bin; pick up trash even if it isn't yours.
  21. Turning in lost items — Ask the people around you if they lost the item you found; if not, write your name and the date on a slip of paper and tape the item to it; if it is money or something valuable, put the item and slip on my desk for safekeeping; if not, put it in the Lost and Found box; give yourself a "pat on the back" for being honest.
  22. Visitors in the classroom — When the Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher or Assistant Head Teacher enters the room, you should quietly stand up wherever you may be in the room. The teacher will tell you when to sit down. If other adults enter the room to talk to the teacher you should be respectful of the conversation. All visitors to the classroom will be introduced to the class; please make them feel welcome. 
  23. Fire drill — Stop everything; stand up and head for the door quickly, but without running or pushing; do not cover your ears. In your line you should make your way to the fire assembly point.  Wait patiently, calmly, and quietly in line outside until we are allowed to go back to what we were doing.
  24. Signals for attention — When an adult needs your attention, they will do a countdown - 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. By 1 everyone should be sitting down quietly, looking at the teacher. Alternatively the adult will clap a rhythm which you should clap back and then stop what you are doing.
  25. Helping other students — In a cooperative classroom, it is good to help one another; if someone needs help with directions or reading an assignment, help him or her if you are able; if someone needs help with understanding the problem, tell him or her to ask me for help; never put down another student who asks for help.
  26. Organizing desk — Remove all loose papers; decide if they should go home or stay at school; put papers that should stay at school in the front pocket of your work notebook; put pencil or art supplies in your pencil case; everything else goes on the right side; pick up your trash. You should tidy your desk at least once every two weeks.
Do you have routines that you teach your class?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Week 36: What did you do during the summer holidays?

This summer has been lovely. We spent so much time together as a family. It was lovely to watch our little girl a little bit each day. She has really come on in leaps and bounds in terms of her language, and the things she can physically do.

We have been for lots of days out: Blackbrook Zoo, Lakemore Farm Park, Liverpool, Llandudno, Conwy, Prestatyn, Warrington and lots of local trips too.

We went camping in Barmouth for a couple of days (although it was a bit of a disaster thanks to the weather!)

We've been to two weddings.

I've done lots of tidying and sorting things around the house.

We went to watch The Dark Knight Rises (awesome!)

I've been for a few nights out.

I've done some work for school.

Five weeks off isn't long enough!!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Monthly Review: August 2012

Days out
We've had some lovely days out with the family this month. Some of the highlights were visiting:

  • Conwy (A place I've loved since a child, after spending two holidays there. Over the years the place seemed to decline, but I think it's enjoyed a resurgence. It's back to its best!)
  • Llandudno (Always a great day out!)
  • Blackbrook Zoo (Our little girl loved looking at the animals!)
  • Prestatyn (Building sandcastles)
  • Dream (I have always wanted to go to see the Dream Scultpture which can be seen from the M62. It's worth going to visit.)
  • Liverpool (Shopping!)
Due to having too many passengers on one visit, and faulty items on another, I made three trips to Ikea in five days! I enjoy going to Ikea but can never understand how I manage to spend so much money on things I didn't know I needed.

We went to two weddings this summer - our third and fourth of the year. Lovely days!

We went for our first (and possibly last) camping trip as a family. Although the camp site was nice, the trip was a bit of a disaster due to the weather! Our little girl hated being in the tent, from the beginning. It didn't help when the wind caught it and lifted it up, just after going into it for the first time. The evenings and nights were not good at all. The days were nice though and we visited Barmouth, Harlech and Porthmadog.

Classroom Prep
This was the first time in three years that I've not moved classrooms or moved year groups. It was quite a relief to not have as much classroom preparation to do this summer.

Catching up
I've caught up with so many things this summer, but I neglected to do the things I needed to do for the new year. This meant the last few days of the holiday were a bit work-focused.