Monday, 25 May 2015

using a challenge based approach....

Having had a student teacher with slim experience of little people my class have been overtaught and talked at for the last few weeks. Despite my best efforts as her mentor the littles haven't really been partners in their learning, their experiences haven't been too genuine and they haven't been interlaced or magical. I have 6 weeks until both summer break and my maternity leave begins and a lot to get through and tie up before we finish. However I thought it best to pause this week, to take a different approach, to offer freedom of choice and independence of thought, to offer plentiful opportunities for engagement in the missed opportunities that have shouted to me not to ignore in the past few weeks whilst I observed in class, to remind the littles of the hundred different ways that they can express their deep understanding and individual ideas.

 

With this as an aim because I like to keep things simple! I decided that for each of my 3 year groups within my multi-composite class I would create individual Challenge Sheets, to be used independently across all areas of the classroom throughout this week. With any straight age class this could be created for different groupings of course.

The challenges include assessment tasks such as check your first 100 words,


and write the numbers 0-20 on the whiteboard, add your name and take a photo. Tomorrow these photos will be added to maths jotters and annotated with the children's thoughts, this little has already found me to say his number 2 has gone a bit funny....
use a drawing program on the netbooks to create a picture of your favourite moment from James and the Giant Peach, again these will be printed, put into reading jotters tomorrow and independent writing will be added.
For the peach challenge below photographs of the 7 insects from James and the Giant Peach were available, the littles were invited to carefully draw each insect, cut to shape and after colour mixing and painting a peach join together to create a scene from the story. A linked challenge invites them to draw and add a portrait of James.
Below one of the littles has chosen 6 objects within the class and is investigating floating and sinking before recording her findings...
Someone here using the timer to read for 5 minutes independently. Upon finishing reading a linked challenge invites the littles to record questions and further ideas for investigation of forces into our class planning book...
Another assessment challenge below (blogged about yesterday) linked to sequencing numerals and matching totals. After completion the littles have to add their name and take a photo...
Here we have someone who has chosen a drawing challenge from a selection, this one asked for a plan of the classroom to be drawn and labelled ...
Other challenges include tidy your tray, take a photo of a friend, review your learning log, find and record 5 facts about .... I am sure you get the idea.
Now that day one is complete I am of course exhausted being the facilitator of all of these challenges but they are set up to be independent, the littles choose what to do next, where to work, they find their own materials, tidy up afterwards before moving on. I have been free to observe, assess, discuss, question and listen for large parts of the day.
So much of today and our week to come makes me happy but I am happiest of all that I have the freedom (and courage) to go off timetable and to make these choices for my mainstream primary class. The littles are age 5 to 8, reading ages are 4 to 12 and I can link every single challenge to experiences and outcomes in our curriculum and justify everything with identified need, skill development and interest. That's if my acting head who is sadly lacking in creativity and vision were to leave his office and come to ask...
Have you tried this approach beyond nursery, I would love to know?

 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

finding totals....

The littlest littles are quite proficient with number to 10. We are currently consolidating different ways of making each number. I have seen lots of laminated domino 'car park cards' online where a domino is found for each total and parked in the corresponding 'slot' but I like my activities to be multi functional.

First the littles were given a large set of numerals from 0 to 10 which they had to read, organise in order and orientate the correct way ready for their dominoes. They then worked in pairs, great for discussion and peer assessment, to sort their dominoes according to totals. Whilst they worked independently I observed and listened to them closely.

This pair have matched totals accurately but found it difficult to organise their numerals...

A very logical pair here. I love the way that they are discussing the double six carefully and coming up with ways to create a number 12 to match it to....
Another means of organisation....
I love the variety in their responses, the opportunities for discussion, the tactile, practical nature of the experience. All would have been missed if they had been provided with a table top laminated parking lot. Lots of the rich learning around sequencing and orientating numerals would have been missed too.
I have printed the photos and they are now in jotters alongside each child's description of the experience. This gives another dimension to my assessment as they describe the focus of their learning which can reveal it is not always what you think it is!

 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

... what makes a good teacher ...

I have had a final placement teaching student working to gradually take over teaching in my class for the past 7 weeks, hence the long absence from here.

 

Today was my last afternoon with her and the class before she leaves tomorrow and mindful that she will have a class of her own in August I decided to ask the littles to share their thoughts on what makes a good teacher. We would usually say thank you and goodbye, we will miss you and all of those sentiments but I thought their ideas may be more useful, may have more of a lasting impact (always the teacher:)

 

So in no particular order a good teacher is...

kind

helpful

sets challenges but not too challenging

caring

listens to children

cheerful

laughs a lot

lets children do the things they enjoy

clever, knows how to help us answer our questions

not too much about rules.

 

I can't wait to take back over on Friday morning, reconfigure my room on Friday afternoon and spend next week focused on redefining our team and planning for the last 5 weeks of term, they really are a great class.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

the bfg...

We are officially in the middle of a nonfiction text focus in class but I took this week's World Book Day as a good reason to briefly visit my all time favourite text 'The BFG' by Roald Dahl. There is nOtHing that isn't wonderful about this book.

 

I have used it many times over the years, focused on lots of different aspects of the story depending on my intended learning. Here are the opportunities that I provided this time, just a very short focus over 3 days using a combination of reading from the text and watching film clips found online. I used the first 20 or so pages of the text leaving lots still to explore should I revisit with this group of littles in the next couple of years.

First of all I covered the cover of the book so nothing visible and read the introduction to the giant's character. We then pulled all of the descriptive phrases out and the littles used them as prompts to draw the character that they had heard about. I was delighted with their drawings...

We then read on to discover the new setting of the cave. At this point the youngest littles drew pictures of the giants that they imagined lived in Giant Country whilst the olders completed a Missing Person poster sent out for Sophie....
Having read a little further the older littles completed this task where they had to work in pairs to discuss and record what a character was like on the outside...
and on the inside...
A great activity that produced superb conversation and debate.
We finished today by writing our own story introductions imagining that we were Sophie but inventing our own giant, all beginning 'I woke up and...'
A really fun 3 days of literacy sessions. Play this afternoon centred on dramatic reinactments of princesses being stolen from their beds. I hope that there are no nightmares tonight!

 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

big steps...

I had to take a few photos today when I looked around our room and watched my youngest littles blending, reading and writing. It is such a privilege to teach little people and see them make tentative attempts at recognising single letters and then suddenly big leaps to becoming confident with different words.
The concentration as they worked...
The discussion as they alighted upon each word...
Even after years in the classroom I still find it absolutely magical.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

holding on to the reason why...

You can see from my recent post that the past few months haven't been too inspiring in my school. I have come to realise during this holiday week that I must now hold on to why I pour my energy into class. I must refocus on the achievements and revelations that unfold before me everyday whilst freezing out the silliness being pushed my way through the temporary management situation.

 

With that in mind my favourite capture from the last few weeks...

It says 'Winter. Water turns to ice when it is cold.' Four months ago this little knew nothing of the alphabet, letter/ sound correspondance, sentence making or cursive letter formation and this writing is an independent response to the question 'what signs are telling us that it is winter?'. Pretty awesome I think and the only real reason that I am in this teaching lark.
Posts of magical moments to follow whilst I rediscover my sparkle....

 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

exploring shape...

Shape is one of my favourite areas of Maths to teach as it seems so relevant, open ended and practical in class. The littles have enjoyed time exploring 2D and 3D shape with the materials we have in school. Lots of time first for exploratory play and then a move to more structured and guided activities.

It made me smile to hear the change in the language of shape being used as time passed, 'can you pass that one' gradually changing to 'can you pass that cylinder'. After prompt questions were modelled 'why did you choose a cube there' etc the littles soon began describing and explaining their shapes and structures as they worked. Games like 'guess my shape' and 'secret picture making' facilitated lots of discussion which I listened carefully to and used for great assessment to feed into plans.

My favourite shapes are simple and natural coloured....

Exploring faces through printing...
A rather complex game of secret picture making - this picture is being described to a partner sitting behind a screen for them to copy with their matching set of shapes, linking the language of shape, size and position...
This opportunity was new to me. Very simply cocktail sticks and plasticine were provided. Open ended exploration to begin with gave us lots of hedgehogs and letters and then we moved to being able to make some super cubes and cuboids, stars and pyramids. Cheap and disposable, challenging and engaging.
 
 

 

A long absence...

I really lost my voice there for a few weeks. A combination of a long horrible illness which I hope is slowly lifting and the unrelenting dull ache of a temporary boss who has managed in a few short months to suck every ounce of enjoyment out of the job I love.

I can honestly say in the last five years at least I have never felt so uninspired to go into school. I am not interested in whether all of the labels are the same font or whether we can get our monthly photocopying bill down by a few pounds, I don't care for people in management who think so much of themselves and so little of those around them. I put my energy into teaching because it's about people, connections, inspiring and growing together - very different priorities to the ones currently being heralded as those that matter most.

I am trying my best to close my ears and hold what matters most close to me but it's rEaLLy tricky. Perhaps I return here today because the temporary duration of their post is now past half way and we are all counting months until it finishes - the end is in sight.

We are at the beginning of February break. A week to refresh and replenish is my plan. I hope to return and post a little about what we have been up to, me and the littles.

 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

a Christmas round up from class...

The month of December flew by in class.

My focus for all things Christmas was of course firstly on the nativity story as we retold this through the performance of the Donkey Seller for parents and families. Phew many, many rehearsals, singalongs, learning about an audience and how to perform sometimes for the first time on stage. It all came good in the end though, many proud parents and even more importantly all of the littles had achieved something for themselves whether that was acting, speaking, singing or just focusing through the performance on stage. They were proud and excited to know that lots of hard work had rewarded them.

Christmas is the only time of year where my class generally produce quite adult led artwork to take home, alongside any individually led creations. We made reindeer cards, cracker cards, hanging snowmen for trees, jigsaws from cards, model stables and advent wreaths...
 
The advent wreaths came from holly wreaths that we were making being transformed after some learning about advent wreaths that the littles were particularly taken with.

We also had an advent bag taken home each day by a different little with one of my favourite seasonal stories by a local author and a hastily crocheted matching character. This went well with families and ensured at least one bedtime story during a busy few weeks at home.

We had lots of little nativity scenes and seasonal opportunities in class but definitely took things a bit slower this year as we worked on our nativity performance and the end of a long 9 week term.

It seems so long ago now!

Happy New Year.

 

 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

the alphabet...

Now that my youngest littles have worked through matching each letter shape to a single sound and learned now to form each letter in writing they are consolidating and learning about letter names and alphabetical order.

 

I have found from previous experience that it is best to leave letter names out of things until we get to this stage. The littles tend to come in singing the letter names at the beginning of the year and hold onto them like glue, really confusing letter names and the sounds they make, getting in a real tangle. The littles who are ready of course take it all in their stride, but for the more vulnerable learners or the ones just on the edge of readiness in a system that doesn't quite acknowledge this fully I have simplified to get the best possible outcomes.

Yesterday we had super fun working in pairs to order different alphabet sets that we have been working with. We used picture cards, alphabet stones...

Great assessment here of someone muddling g and y...

We used our wonderful woven letters, which are large and tactile and have a smell of bamboo...
We used mirrored letters...
The materials provoked great interaction and engagement. It was interesting to see which materials individuals gravitated towards and how they went about the task. We have other options but ran out of time. I can't wait to pick up where we have left off with this....
What materials would you recommend?

 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

how do you feel today?...

I have a simple little opportunity beginning in class. Using face shaped mats and coloured doughs the littles are invited to create a face showing a feeling/emotion.

 

My intention is to target individuals who have limited language in terms of describing feelings and emotions, the littles who are either happy or sad - never anything else. It is also to help the littles who need opportunity to 'read' emotions in facial expressions with greater ease, this way I can be quite explicit in my teaching of this but in a play situation. Lastly for now it is intended to give the littles in class experiencing challenging times a space to process feelings surrounding events.


In the coming weeks I shall expand the opportunity to follow engagement and meet differing needs. Vocabulary will be added, images of the faces the littles are creating will be added and slips of paper encouraging the littles to record the names of the emotions themselves. I am also planning to add photos of the littles showing different emotions for us to mould. Where else it will go - we will see. All learning and explorations will be pulled together into a homemade 'how do you feel today' book, similar to the one currently on display.
As always increasing use of playdough also does wonders for elbows, wrist rotation, finger dexterity and finger pressure but those are happy benefits of this opportunity and not centre stage.

This feels like the simplest idea that will grow and grow over coming weeks, I can't wait to see where it takes us...

 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

what matters most...

Here's what I love about being a teacher....

Out in the playground two children begin collecting leaves..."look at these" they call to me, "they are beautiful colours". I challenge them to find as many different shapes and colours as they can during morning break.

Around and about they go, collecting, dismissing, discussing and sorting....

A busy step is chosen to display their finds and everyone is encouraged to walk around the leaves on their way past. One of the children decides to stay guard whilst they take turns collecting... I see this unfold but do not interfere. They have found their own way around a problem that works just fine for them.

Soon they come to find me, the older children have arrived and are trampling on the leaves before they can be stopped, a box for collecting is requested and found and on they go....

The leaves are brought indoors and as we are busy, busy, busy with other areas of learning they are left to dry and turn brown. Lovely moments, lots of discovery, excitment, cooperation and joyful discussion...nothing recorded - hell no - no cup of coffee for me during morning break either but just a reminder of why I am there, what it is really is all about...