Archive for Reflection

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Some great debates at RethinkingICT today. Certainly some thought provoking presentations. My head certainly hurt by the end of it, and in many ways I wasn’t that much clearer about where we should be going or even want to be going with ICT (if that’s what it remains to be called!). So many ideas, so many differing views, all at least seemingly held together by the desire of best practice glue with atoms of children’s best interests interwoven. But where does one go from here?

It’s all very well to say go forth, share and shout. But about what? A good lesson? A good series of lessons? An exciting product, software, web 2.0 tool I’ve found? Who decides what ‘good’ is? Where is the criteria by which that should be judged? I’m not really a shouter. I’m not a hoarder or particularly precious about what I do either. I love collaborative practice. But I also want some direction. I want to know that my practice is based on a sound core set of values/skills/competences. I want to be able to put my learners on a progressive pathway which includes some signposts for both of us to measure ourselves against.

I didn’t sense that really came out today.

The best piece of clarity I had was amongst the bagels in Waitrose afterwards, where I met a fellow lurking delegate. An English teacher (not ICT) whose background includes a far stronger base of experience than mine. She reflected how during the day she had observed the hammering out of similar ideas which the English profession have been doing for years.

As we berate the standard of ICT being taught by a potentially fabulous Maths teacher, they cry in frustration at how a brilliant Science teacher doesn’t bother to point out or correct incorrect punctuation. As we grapple with what the different parts of ICT should be called, contain and how they should be best taught – similar conversations have been had by the English specialists.

English (or Literacy) is divided into parts – all integral to a successful whole – grammar, handwriting, various genres of writing, speaking and listening, and critical analysis skills. We teach these elements but put our own stamp on it, use stimuli that enthuse and engage the learners in our own classes, use the core skills in a progressive manner to underpin the more exciting layers we put on top. Surely the same applies to any renewed ICT programme? I don’t want a prescriptive off-the-shelf solution (I know no-one was suggesting that) but I do want some sort of pedagogically sound framework on which to hang my personalised teaching and learning.

As a new ICT Coordinator, with a near-nonexistent curriculum and teachers still holding on to teaching powerpoint for grim death – what can I take away from today and use immediately? @ShelliBB reminded me of the importance of giving the children ownership for their digital future and I will relook at my Digital Leader program with renewed vigor, @mrlockyer engagingly reminded us that we all live in a REAL world – analogue is a present that should be enjoyed now and not solely through a digital lense. And @TheHeadsOffice showed me that at the heart of great change is often a simple idea that works – and I will even in the dying days of this academic year try and get some pupils engaged with the 100 word Challenge.

As for some sort of framework, the closest I saw today to something that fits the purpose for our school is the Digital Studies model ( courtesy of @sharland, @infernaldepart and @teachesict, but it’s something I need to look into in more detail. I will also look through NAACE, Ian Addison’s ( and Matt Lovegrove’s ( planning ideas – and no doubt spend the summer armed with a wall and post-it notes.

I do know that any framework at the core of the curriculum I will use needs to be adaptable to the environment into which it is placed, whether that be a highly motivated digitally supportive school, or a more traditional and electronically challenged one. It needs to be simple and deliverable in bite-sized chunks so as not to overwhelm the tech-reluctant teacher. Strong enough to be bulked out and fluid enough to adapt with changing technology.

I’m not lazy by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t feel qualified to create from scratch, or even confident enough propose something so key to far more experienced practitioners. However I am more than happy to play my part, but I would prefer that to be adding to the muscle that holds the skeleton up rather than rebuilding the actual skeleton. Think if it more like the rehabilitating physiotherapist tailoring the exercises to the individual rather than the surgeon rebuilding a shattered body.

Too much to ask then – for some other intelligent bods, more experienced me, to design some pedagogically sound coat hooks on which I can help learners hang wizard cloaks (magic ones – but not made solely of the dust that comes out of the back of ipads!)???


Big thanks to Louisa Farrow, Head of English and Director of Studies at Winchester House for the interesting chat.
Oh and to Chris Leach for organising a brilliant event.


I am prompted to write as a result of watching twitter discussions about Gove’s announcement relating to the new curriculum, more specifically the intention to include more grammar in the teaching of literacy. The purpose isn’t to debate about what is wrong or right about it (although I do have some views) but what it prompted me to shake the cobwebs off this blog was to reflect on how my teaching has changed over the last couple of years, notably my literacy teaching.

When we learn to drive our parents did not just throw us the keys at our 18 year old selves (or 15 in NZ as it was then) and say ‘get on with it’, nor did they breeze over the basics and rely on us to teach ourselves the rest. As competent drivers we aim for automaticity – to use pedals, gears, indicators, move forward, backward, park – all fluently without having to detract our concentration by over focusing on one as we negotiate our journeys. But in order to get to that stage we needed to learn how to use each element, understand how each is linked, practice maneuvering and then transfer those skills into different situations and then practice even more until it feel natural. Understanding how writing ‘works’ feels no different.

Fundamentally at the beginning of this academic year I decided that I needed to be a driving instructor – I know how to drive (have yet to actually tackle the task with my still-15 year old daughter), but I also know how knowing the basics well can create a good end result. My basics were – to know my class (successful teaching is based on building good relationships – another blog post I think), use rigorous AfL (to identify the gaps), provide effective feedback and take a ‘get the foundations’ right approach. Then once these things were comfortably in place we could start to tackle driving down some more exciting scenarios. My end result was an expectation that children could use the elements and skills independently to create exciting and readable texts

We teach with a full creative curriculum approach, re-jigging some topics around and adding new ones. This year meant we also needed to re-look at the literacy units we were going to cover. Last year we sped through units, gratuitously at times and embarrassing to admit – I knowI left a trail of misunderstanding in the wake. It was time to slow down, take a more flexible approach and focus on getting things right before moving on. Added to that was both our whole school focus on grammar and sentence construction and a big push on phonics, a result of gaps found in whole school literacy assessments.

Admittedly I started with what I liked teaching (passion is infectious) ensuring that we covered the 3 different areas (fiction, non-fiction and poetry), I also took into account of the skills associated with each and prioritised on what would be ‘useful’ to my young learners on their life journey (eg: letter writing, being critically literate digitally) then I ‘matched’ these to topics I knew we were going to cover eg: Writing Playscripts in the term we did our production – purpose to write the final scene = stunning end result that the children created .

I have taken a structured approach to grammar, single focus but differentiating up to four ways and pushing on those who require it. It has not been a new focus per week, we’ve moved on when ready. I’ve dragged resources from where I can, surprisingly a lot of old ‘schemes’ the school had gathering dust (which I think I probably worked on in a publishing life) have been useful. Not to follow religiously, but as a starting point for activities. We revisit what we have learnt frequently, cross-curricularly and in Guided Reading (see below). My class can now identify different types of language, and give examples of each, last year they couldn’t. If possible, once a week I try to ensure a cross-curricular learning objective is grammar based.

Looking at the spelling in my class, I took a brave jump backwards and we went back to Phase 4 Letters and Sounds. Speaking of driving, this was for me a bit like suddenly being asked to drive an articulated truck! I have never taught KS1 – my phonics knowledge was limited to say the least. 6 months later (one focused lesson per week, linked to spelling, plus extra activities throughout) – we are all the better for it. My class use pure sounds for independently segmenting new words, in both writing and spelling, and are more accurate as a result. Revisiting the basics and building back up with alternative spellings (my goodness – HOW complicated is the English language!) has given them a stronger knowledge base from which to draw upon, understanding how these things fit together has enabled great peer tuition as I hear more able pupils asking questions of less able as they help them spell tricky words.

I have tied all my Literacy Units into Guided Reading sessions ensuring that there is a mixture of adult led and independent silent-reading, writing, grammar and phonics activities – all related to the unit, completed each week. This is now a well-oiled carousel activity that the children set our each day. It has been hard to resource at times, as I have wanted the reading materials to cover both specific AFs as well as link to the Literacy Unit. Invariably I have resorted to extracts, but I think the ability to re-cap features of texts as well as discuss them in more detail in small groups has enabled all children to consolidate a variety of literacy skills and has been invaluable to all. With 33 children in my class it has helped assess and scoop up misconceptions where necessary and almost feels like I have doubled my literacy time. All the activities I have used (mixture of digital and traditional resources) is probably worth another post sometime.

My younger brother taught me to drive, but then of course my parents insisted that I practiced by going out with them as well. This year I have re-jigged my use of my TA, especially in literacy. I have used her in a far more rotational capacity, predominantly supporting an identified set of children with whom extra time and focus will yield more results (cynically closing the gap to achieve my pay-related PM target results). The knock on effect is that my SEN children have made more progress, I would assume due to a number of factors – from being in class more, listening to good examples, working in mixed ability pairs and being forced by circumstances to work more independently, not to mention having high expectations set by me. End result is a win-win all around.

Lastly, setting personal targets is probably the final key point that has focused children’s writing. To date, I have set these myself as a result of identifying gaps or next steps, although children self check and identify evidence themselves, highlighting and allowing me to ‘sign off’ (or not!). However I think the next step for all of us is to move children towards identifying and setting these themselves.

To culminate, our latest topic – A Diamond Queen – focused on each of the decades and gave us an opportunity to recap such a variety of literacy skills. As we had visitors in each week, the children have written letters, both to ask questions and thank them, they have written scripts for telephone and latterly skype conversations as well as 70s TV programmes, written newspaper reports (1953 coronation), created information texts on particular decades and written Jubilee Poems. It has been thrilling to see them love the historical elements of the topic and be able to reuse the skills they have been taught throughout the year.

The effort of refocusing on the basics and then giving children relevant contexts to apply them has yielded results. We alternate Big Writes with Independent Assessed Writing in a book which goes through the school with the child, evidence so far this year is showing minimum of 4pts for almost all children, with some exceptional blinders! One of my SENs has made 8pts. More than levels – all understand the mechanics of the units we have covered so far, most could tell you what they need to do to improve their writing, and everyone has found a form of literacy throughout the year at which they have excelled.

So to reflect – I’ve probably done what most far more experienced teachers have been doing for years. A tweet by @LouiW summed it up for me today. “Surely it’s like everything? Take the best, use in your own way?” I guess I’ve created my own style of driving tuition based on a view of what a good end result looks like and by providing a good grounding of the basics along the way. So far it seems to have worked.

I know I can still improve – I’ve already got a few ideas up my sleeve for next year!

Now I just need to learn to change my own flat tyres without ringing the AA!


This week I tried using Mario Kart on the Wii to help my class apply the features of creating tension and a build up in their writing. It was predominantly a Speaking and Listening lesson, but they grasped what I was trying to get them to do really well so I gave them 20 minutes writing time at the end to write 3 short paragraphs including the features we had identified. Some of their work can be found below.

We started by playing a few rounds of the game, practising using the pause button to swap between drivers. They needed to be able to do this efficiently as I was going to be stopping and starting them a lot!. I only used one controller (on purpose) and the 10 minutes or so doing this got the general excitement out of their systems and we could move on to with a little more focus.

We then recapped how writers create tension in their writing, created a list of SC and then applied these to three parts of the Mario game; sitting on the start line, leaving the start line and describing an incident such as a crash. I created a “magpie” sheet for them, with 3 columns (setting/feelings/powerful verbs) on one side  and a boxed up version of a build up on the other. So as we played, and stopped very frequently we collected lots of words and phrases using a mixture of whole class sharing and paired discussion. It took a good 25 minutes to get about a third of a way around the first lap (which was all I had intended to do) before I free-played to the end of the race changing drivers frequently. I then modelled putting the collected words and phrases into the boxed writing frame to reinforce the idea of using paragraphs to organise writing.  At this point we watched the replay of the race we had just done in order to have a final grasp at any other language we might want to use and the children used their notes to practice orally creating an exciting commentary before we wrote down our final piece.

It worked well. Children could use their natural excitement and enthusiasm for the medium (and game) to apply literary features easily. The fact it is easy to swerve, bump and crash gives a ready made action packed disaster to build up to. My LAG created their own notes and we combined these into a very successful group piece with me only scribing. I copied this and stuck it in their book and asked them to continue for 10 minutes and the evidence of good independent follow on writing showed most of them had grasped the LO well.

We are moving on to use Myst next week to apply the same features to create a slower more descriptive detailed version of a build up.

Here are some examples of our writing.

Mario Kart Build Up (mp3)

I was waiting on the start line for the race to begin. My heart was pumping like the pistons on a train. I was getting nervous as the lights turned green. The crowd cheered as I zoomed to the first corner.
At the corner I dodged the cars to stay in the race. As I tried to dodge another car it went shooting into my path. SMASH! We hit wheels. Sparks flew everywhere. We both slowed down.
The kart was aiming to go around a corner up went up a steep hill and BANG! I hit the side near the crowd.
Edward V

I was waiting on the start line for the race to start. My heart was thumping. I was hot with sweat. The three seconds felt like hours.
Then we were off! Zooming around the first corner. Feeling fine so far.
I was coming to a tail speed bump, getting closer and closer. I went higher and higher to impress the crowd. Then I bumped on top. I lost control. BANG! I drove into the barrier.
Beatrice R

Filed Under (Reflection) by on 23-06-2011 and tagged ,

Today I had a great maths lesson.

It felt good at the time. 30 children all engaged, learning new things, consolidating previously learned concepts and sharing their learning and helping others for an hour – and we then ran over an extra 6 minutes without a fuss! They worked so hard I was proud of them all (and there are some characters – it’s a lower set Year 4 maths class!)

So what made it successful? – on reflection it wasn’t the lesson itself (that wasn’t particularly innovative or exciting) but the realisation that the format gave me a toe-dip into something I had regarded as the holy grail of teaching this year – was!

All year I have been struggling to capture assessment data on my maths class without feeling the need to formally assess them (we do APP* for every child and by assessment I also mean collecting the evidence for this). Don’t get me wrong – I use AFL daily, my marking is logged against objectives, I can look through my mark book and quickly assess who has ‘got’ something and who hasn’t, this marking informs my planning and I’m lucky that I have a small amount of ‘extra’ TA time that I use to either pre-teach or ‘scoop’ up misconceptions in small groups.

But something has constantly bothered me about how my AFL mark book relates to my APP file and whether the former, and even the latter really give a true representation of what children are independently capable of. My colour-coded AFL marks are mostly a result of taught lessons, supported group work and in my view never a pure example of independent understanding. I often do not teach a concept for more than a week before moving on, opportunities for revisiting them in a already crowded timetable – are fewer. So finding the opportunities to secure three examples of independent evidence to ‘highlight’ an AF has felt near on impossible.

So for me, my lesson today gave me a format whereby I was able to work with every child in the class, informally collect evidence relating to 6 different maths concepts/objectives and enable children to enjoy and learn from the experience was somewhat of a eureka moment!

The format. A carousel of 6 different activities. Two adult-led – one teaching a new concept and one adult supporting a more ‘tricky’ activity. Mixed ability groups, with a child ‘maths leader’ in each that would offer help in independent activities if required. 8 minutes on each activity – a mixture of hands-on tasks and basic concepts. All bar one, with a recorded element.

The positives. Engaged children showing responsibility for their own, and others, learning. Children moving on in their learning, but also consolidating concepts they already know. Moving from activity to activity and ‘collecting’ their own evidence kept children focused. The opportunity for me as a teacher (and also my TA – who commented afterwards that they had loved the lesson) to work with every child within a single lesson was brilliant.

How would I adapt? From my collection of recorded sheets (which I haven’t marked and won’t – but have recorded on a single sheet against the objective for each task) I would include a standard format for self-assessment on each. I would continue to include a range of activities pitched at different levels, but ensure I include some practice activities that build confidence. The mixed ability groups work well, as I can see how children helping each other reinforced their own understanding, but I may include the occasional session where the activities may enable those of slightly lower ability to be the math leaders. As we set for maths, my team teacher and I could use the format with our own classes, or to enable children who hover on the borderline of both groups to transfer and try working with the other class. Changing the activities would ensure that whilst children may become familiar with the format they won’t get bored with the lesson itself. I have noted that mental calculation is a real weakness in my class – I could use the format to have a carousel of mental activities with my ‘maths leaders’ sharing these, checking answers would allow their maths skills to be used. The format would also allow me to use more ICT within maths lessons. We used the ipods today, but I can see how working in these small rotating groups would allow me to use our computers or Wii for maths related activities. I can also see how the maths help videos (I made and loaded onto ipods) we have used in lessons this week would also help in the independent tasks. So there is plenty of scope for extension and adaptation.

On reflection of writing this, I understand that as talking and help was allowed in the groups, that it still doesn’t give me a true assessment of independent ability. However I can see how using this format on a regular basis does give children the ability to practice and revisit previously taught concepts so that when true independence is required they may be more able to achieve this. In turn, the format does give me as a teacher the ability to work with every child in my class on the same objective as well as pick up a wider range of misconceptions more regularly.

I can see potential with it, and would be really interested to see whether used on a regular basis it would have a positive impact on children’s maths confidence and skills as well as my ability as a teacher to have a increased understanding of the ability of every child in my class.


*My personal view is that completing APP for every child in it’s current form, is an unwieldly time-consuming waste of time, time that I could be more productively spending elsewhere.


Today I read through the evaluations the children had written about our last termly project/learning.

One comment struck me particularly. It was in response to the question “What would you do differently?” the answer: It wasn’t fun (he’d crossed out boring) because we didn’t move around enough.

More surprisingly this comment came from a very able child who will interact well with whatever type of lesson I lead. It had never occurred to me that

Surely all classroom time has to involve a fair proportion of sitting? And I think I’m pretty good at finding inspiring lesson ideas and involving as much hands on learning as possible. I try whenever possible to stick to a 10minute carpet rule. So it got me reflecting as to what I might have done ‘wrong’ and could do improve or do differently next time. How can I include children’s views more in my planning? I always ask them what they know and what they would like to know – and cover off the areas within the topic. But I don’t ask them HOW they want to learn.

I need to think of ways to do that and continue to find even more solutions that engage and deviate from the carpet, stand and teach, independent work, plenary pattern.


Today I had a frustrating afternoon.

We had another science investigation to do involving magnets and compasses. My lovely Wednesday team teacher and I had crash tested the equipment and basics of investigation earlier and the plan was to let groups of children loose with the instructions and all the equipment and see what happened. Her lesson was done before luch and feedback from her was great, children had enjoyed the challenge and worked well through the instructions to achieve the objective.

My turn. I did a limited input, focussing more on expectations and roles within group work than the actual task and gave 3 responsibilities to each group, (more to stop the natural leaders taking over the task that to structure it formally). One of the roles included a recorder and I gave the children free use of the camera, flip video and microphones.

Very quickly I had children coming to me saying they didn’t understand. I sent them back to their groups to see if they could solve any the problem and continued to observe my class. After another 10 minutes I was losing the engagement of more children, so I collected them together and we read through the instructions as a class. Easy – they understood it, when explained (2 min explanation) and were then happy to go off and copy and continue.

Why did they find the task so difficult? The language wasn’t hard, it was laid out in fairly simple steps. Most had looked at the pictures and then tried to interpret what to do from those, many had given up as it didn’t all come together quickly enough for them. Had the children taken exception to some children being given roles and other not?

Reflecting, I think it would have been better to work in 3’s rather than tables of 5. There wasn’t quite enough hands on for the larger group. Interestingly – ‘recording’ for most children meant writing it all down. It took prompting to remind them they could use other methods. Watching the videos back, I can see children need more practice with that. Its a skill to talk in front of a microphone. ALthough they do seem to always see it as a performance rather than a fly on the wall type of recording. Maybe I need to think more carefully about my questioning. I am angry at myself that my frustration came out to them in the tone of my voice. I genuinely had thought after all the group work we do do, that they would have had less of a problem with it.  I need to re-read bits of Kagan and get more of a hang of it.

Thank goodness for Brainpop who gave us the opportunity for a great plenary!

Well I’m not sure I did too well at blogging in the first 3 months. Time (lack of) was a big factor, but I think I also became afraid of posting, thinking it had to be notable and worthy of sharing on twitter, and that kind of froze my confidence!

However I really regretted not having kept up a stream of regular posts when I came to fill out my first NQT assessment point forms in December. I realised that had I maintained regular posts the blog would have acted as a fantastic evidence file of all I had achieved and done so far. (Mental note to self – must also set up a more efficient system of checking C-standards off before next week!)

2011 is going to be my year of confidence – finding it again and believing in it so it will stay! It has been a shock to realise that the events of the last few years have silently eroded confidence and self-belief as well as a bubbly outgoing personality away.  Odd it took teaching, as well as the steep curve of learning to work as a part of a team to bring the realisation to light, but hopefully it will be the making of rebuilding it as well.

Part of the reason I took a break from twitter, and am still in two minds about it. I needed to focus on real people and rebuild real relationships both at school and with friends outside. Maybe there is a balance to be had. I certainly learn a lot via the PLN I created.

I think perhaps if I do rejoin, I will as ‘me’ (photo included) as somehow subconsciously @apimarynqt (whilst it is of course true) has too many slightly negative connotations that don’t represent who I truly am. I think what I am trying to say is that whilst I have huge amounts of stuff to learn as a teacher, I’m not some young graduate with little other experience and don’t want to be perceived that way. Maybe believing in myself needs to start with accepting exactly who I am. And without being big-headed, I am intelligent and talented in various ways, its a foundation I need to be proud of and build onto.

But intelligence aside – this blog isn’t really going to be the highbrow outlet for any emergent research theories. This is for the regular small stuff as well as the mini triumphs of tribulations of my classroom. Of course I will feel pleased if people still want to read it and make comments, but it’s primary aim is a selfish one – its my evidence record of what I have done and learnt as an NQT.

So here’s to 2011 and a confident 9 months of the remaining academic year!

Oliver Quinlan wrote a really interesting post this week that resonated with me. All about how we perceive ourselves as teachers in comparison to our colleagues. Read it here.

I think as teachers (reflective ones anyway) we are always first to be hard on ourselves and are the first to chastise ourselves when things go wrong. I have certainly never in my life felt less self confident and more inadequate than I have at times over the last 3 months.

It has made me think, firstly about my own priorities (another blog post) but also about attempting to stem the flow of inadequacy. Twitter, for all it’s helpfulness, can at times, appear to act like a breeding ground for it. There are so many people doing such amazing things; being cutting edge, inspiring great learning and guiding the children in their care to achieve, as well as seeming to be able to stay on top of the more mundane aspects of teaching – not to mention maintain a balanced personal life! Holy Grail!

But stepping back, I have to realise I’ve only been doing this job since September. Trying to measure up now is like trying to compare yourself to an older sibling – in age at least its a comparison that one will never win – catching up is impossible! Likewise for me to try and compare myself to an experienced teacher is a set up for failure – for every hour, week, year that they have taught, and continue to teach, I will always be a finite amount of time behind. It’s a game of catch up I cannot win.

Comparison is like stepping onto a treadmill that will never stop. I cannot let my head play that game. Just because I am new to the job, doesn’t mean I need to have inadequate as part of my job description. I need to accept that I can’t measure up or catch up to experience. This doesn’t mean I lower my own expectations of myself, but do accept that I cannot expect to achieve knowledge and wisdom without experience. I cannot gain experience without the time and the practice. Practicing means making mistakes, but also learning to enjoy the successes.

This year (and probably a few more!) is my internship, my gaining of experience. Despite hard work I do have the right to feel proud of my small achievements. I need to restart posting my small successes on my blog. These successes are my own, and I shouldn’t belittle them because others appear to be doing greater things.