Archive for Personal thoughts

Today I slowed the rollercoaster using a pinch of bravery and a dose of gut instinct.

I changed the order of the day around (TT only works 4 days a week, so have sneaky opportunity to do so). Picked apart Abacus plan the night before and prepared for my maths lesson, making a few quick Notebook slides to ensure it moved logically (for me at least!). It worked – 15 minutes on the carpet with plenty of TPS and then a hands-on activity for my MAG, everyone achieved and I even managed a decent plenary.

We shifted all the furniture and made a circle of chairs and had a P4C session using Say Hello by Jack and Michael Foreman (superbly simple book with layers of richness to be unearthed under the surface), a question on loneliness ended up as a discussion about homelessness – am always surprised how these sessions work themselves around! Still not everyone taking part, but its only the 3rd time.

But the biggest success was feeling that some hands on creative learning was required to help understand the concepts of habitats and start to contemplate food chains. Dare I even admit – there wasn’t even really a plan. I just knew I wanted to pass this all back to the children and see what they could come up with. The potential for chaos and disaster felt huge!

But I took a leaf out of the early years book – and raided all their resources!! Year 4 was filled with tough spots, trays, plastic bugs, animals and even some fake snow! After a short session modelling and talking using snow and arctic animals. I just gave each house group (mixed ability) a selection of creatures and laid out all the other resources at the front of the classroom…. and let them go for it.

Creativeness ensued. Everyone worked collaboratively. Every child was engaged. No one fell out. Not one child came to me and moaned about another child’s behaviour.

When children came up to me saying “We need water for a river” the answer they got was  – “we are in a school, what could you use? – its up to you.” They went and found blue paper and cut a river and a pond, others went outside to gather more bits they felt they needed. Another group went around and raided all the pot plants and created a jungle. I listened in on conversations about how certain creatures couldn’t live there ‘because it can’t eat’, we stood on chairs to get “birds eye” views of our habitats and understand the purpose of camouflage. Adjustments were made. Learning happened. And when we had tidied up, they didn’t want to stop – they wanted to know about food chains and how they are drawn. Result!! – next weeks lesson has an interest already!! I can feel the post-its, skipping ropes and seal-acting skills coming out before we start to record anything!

I am starting to let children use the ipad during carpet sessions to find out stuff we don’t know – and want to know now! …it’s working but that’s another post! But we all learnt that badgers are omnivores and eat hedgehogs as well as roots and berries.

Whilst I didn’t ‘teach’ and I gave the children a reasonable amount of freedom. I did circulate, question and take photos! Next time, I would rather like to take a leaf of Oliver Quinlan’s thought book and really step back and ‘just’ observe. I wonder what else I’d notice?

But roll on a few more creative days like that!

Not quite sure which theme park my roller coaster belongs to. Mostly it seems to have been steady undulations, tiredness and a sense of overwhelming lack of knowledge forming the dips, with the odd high from a child’s comment, piece of work or the marking actually done before I’ve left for the day.

I’m pretty exhausted, my mouth is full of ulcers, I rarely work less than 15 hours a day, I don’t think I’ve finished a cup of tea since the beginning of September and my posterior definitely hasn’t placed itself on a seat in the staffroom… is this the point where the but comes in with a glowing positive statement about how I love the job anyway and I wouldn’t change a thing?

The rollercoaster appears to have shifted theme parks.  The primary gradients aren’t caused by emotions of the NQT life – those I can deal with, but it is the uncontrollable speed of the learning (or lack of) ride that my class and I seem to be on that is distressing me at the moment.

I am discovering the pitfalls of Abacus and team teaching amongst other things. I’ve realised I need to compromise. I have lowered my expectations of myself, and what I can achieve but I am reluctant to lower my expectations of the children. Therein lies my biggest issue.

There never seems to be enough time! We lurch from one lesson to another, constantly building up a pile of unfinished work. I always feel one step behind my team teacher. The standards of presentation and quality are an added issue – but there is no time planned in to spend a lesson teaching and practicing the expectations. There doesn’t seem time to breathe, let alone stop and smell some enjoyment. We haven’t found time to read our class book or do any sharing for a week. I feel like I am losing a grip on all the things I love and want to share about learning, reading, thinking, exploring and instead am chasing a curriculum that isn’t taking into account that we are human, let alone individuals.

As soon as the lightbulbs of understanding just start to flicker, we move on. Half my class didn’t understand division after 2 days, but I was told we need to move on, we will visit it again for 2 more days later in the year. A third of my class don’t know their number bonds to 10 – so how can we securely start to understand number pairs to 100 or 1000? Why can’t I slow down (or even better – get off!) and find some creative ways to secure the basics before tackling more complex concepts. I’m a visual hands on learner, but find the Abacus process very dry. Even the books are hard for many children to access. Why can’t we spend one lesson a week making something that will aid our learning?  I have incorporated 10 minutes most afternoon for maths activities which are mostly hands on. They are great when we do them, but I haven’t had the time to set them up properly in a ‘tumbleboard’ fashion.

I was gutted this week to be moved on from a literacy unit after reading, talking, acting and drawing – to a point that I felt we could write, only to be told that we needed to move onto another unit so we could ‘time’ our first of the month assessment writing correctly!

Our topic is dry – I’m bored with it. The children have written three comparisons and watched a dull video. I want to draw a line and start again. Lets go back to picture books – why can’t I try Made in China as a starting point. Lets all pack a bag and pretend we are going to China (we’ll need to research to know what sort of things to bring!), lets follow the paper butterflies journey, lets document our findings in a travel scrapbook. We can work out how much money we will need, different groups can go and explore different attractions then we’ll ‘meet’ to discuss, we can share a celebration meal. I know I am capable of more but I’m not enjoying the shackles I find myself bound with at the moment. Frustration abounds.

It’s a game. Not just the learning game in class, but a game in the corridors as well. I’m struggling with the time, the desire to be creative, but not stand on toes, the balance between enthusing children, trying new things and getting the basics right in a traditional manner. I want to be accountable to my children and their learning, not always to the policies of ‘we’ve always done it that way’.

And I really want to learn how to help children learn – not how to ‘teach’. Another post.

I wonder at what point ones brain just spontaneously combusts?

I guess I will end with the message I got from a parent this week – and cling onto some thread that I must be doing something right, even though it feels like I’ve hardly started on the things I want to do.

“Don’t know what you’ve done but A came home last night, picked up a pencil and wrote an A4 sheet …… We were amazed. He has done more in the last couple of weeks than all of last year. Thank you.”

The first week is over already – albeit 2 days! I’ve really enjoyed it – in fact I’ve loved it! The strangest (and best) thing has been not to have been watched or observed or have the presence of another teacher in the room – it has given me a sense of freedom. I don’t have to stick to the lesson plan I devised if I suddenly think there is a better way. Nor will I have to discuss in detail afterwards the things I will need to do to improve it for next time (not that it stops me thinking about it!) I think in essence I am settling into being ‘me’ the teacher rather than what I think I should be or what the observer thinks I should be!

My highlights of Friday were – seemingly many!

Laughing with the children – whoever said don’t smile until Christmas (or rather I learnt on a recent #ukedchat that it was perfectly ok to do so!) So mix a few balls, a parachute, 27 children and a shiny hall floor – result is giggling including the teacher! I gave the children the opportunity to choose a game they knew, they chose ‘Sharks’ and informed me of the rules. I flinched at the thought of children being dragged by other children under the parachute (health and safety!) but decided to run the risk with a trial game and after giving my non-participating broken legged child the opportunity to pick the lifeguards and shark we were off. Well brave was the child who tried to drag me under! But it was great to see all children engaged and enjoying something! And hilarious to see children who were sitting around the edge of the parachute suddenly disappear!

Roll on when I can teach subjects like maths with confidence because teaching is even more of a joy when you do feel comfortable with the subject. As a former children’s book illustrator art is certainly a strength of mine! We drew self portraits and I used the visualiser at various points during the lesson to show the class how to draw eyes, add shadow and blend using a variety of pencil strengths and a finger. Results were great and as it is something children do in the first week every year it was so interesting to observe their improvement when marking!

Some of Super 7s self-portraits

And following on from our ‘rules session yesterday where we read the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and discussed rules and consequences, the only child who could tell me the meaning of consequence and give me an example was my ADD child who 12 months ago had no recollection of lashing out in the line or was able to comprehend the concept of consequences. The amazing power of Ritalin! (and no my teaching wasn’t that bad, because after they had been reminded the lightbulbs went on in the other 26 children and they were all keen to share examples)

I was far less impressed with the quality and amount of writing in their holiday recount ‘Big Write’. But that needs more thought before I decide what to do about that!

And you have to love reflective practice (another blog post coming!) but in my desire to pass responsibility for learning back to the children more often, I set them a mini investigation project for the evening. Surprisingly most did it (result to start with!). Children had taken one of two options and their task today was to share this information with the rest of their ‘house’ group. The aim was that all children would then have some knowledge on the topics without having to have researched them themselves. My revelation was too see that the children in my class were not used to working this way. There was very little sharing of information, bar reading from the sheets that had brought back. Some children were disengaged and one even clearly stated that ‘this is boring’ (I did have a conversation with her about this and asked how she felt that it could be ‘more exciting’). We only did one of the two exercises this way. I left the other one and on reflecting overnight, this is what I think I will do with the next one. I will model it clearly using a small group of students I think will actively participate. I will then allow them to use their jotters to jot down interesting words or facts as other students share. This is what I would do in a meeting or collaborative learning situation so isn’t this what I should be preparing my students for? We did discuss the exercise briefly afterwards and after me explaining how I don’t know a lot about some subjects and have to research before I share with them – they could see how I had given them the opportunity to be mini-teachers. Well see how part 2 goes next week!

I’ve had 28 visitors to the class blog on the first day and 16 on the following. I’ve only told my parents about it, so I’m really pleased with that. Must keep it up!

Right must now get on with the planning for next week…


Well inset day down… brain suitable overloaded with information … children are in tomorrow!

Classroom sort of ready and the excitement (and nerves) are building. My first full day as a real teacher! Last year it seemed a distant thought – but has very fast become a reality. Although not entirely sure it is that (the reality!). In my head I’ve planned hundreds of exciting lessons, yet when I sit down to do it for real – it takes forever! Ditto for the hundred exciting lessons I’ve taught in my head – they’ve all gone swimmingly, children have been engaged and learning all moved forward – the reality I know will be different. Note to self; mustn’t get frustrated or dwell on the ones that don’t go well, but must make notes, learn and move on!

So now that I’ve in a matter of ways spent most of the 6 weeks of my holiday getting ready for this – do I feel ready? What in hindsight would I do differently?

Yes, in many ways I feel ready. The MT planning is still not done, but these next two days are and I know by nature I will keep titivating the classroom given more time and it is time to stop doing that! Some of my MTP will be shaped by discussions I will have with the children over the next few days, and my focus for the next 7 teaching days is to get to know them, familiarise ourselves with routines and for everyone to settle in to belonging to the class. And I’m ready to do that.

But physically I’m not ready. I didn’t take enough of a break. The ulcers are lurking and I’m shattered – it feels like the end of term – not the beginning of a new one! Hard lesson to learn, in the excitement of a new job, my own classroom and desire to do best – I worked too hard over the summer! Next year I will go away to take myself away from the temptation of the computer and list of jobs and indulge in sun and reading. Another note to self: put a deposit on something so I am committed to doing it!

So – mustn’t let the tiredness detract from setting an exciting tone for the term. Bring it on!

Next post must be – list things I am going to focus on this year!