Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Essential Books for Primary/Elementary School

Over the last ten years or so I have become aware of how the fashions and fads that are new initiatives have diluted many strong traditional aspects of schooling. Going back further and the classroom was alive and rich in the depth of study through the use of class readers. This was the place of some of the very best cross curricular work. Texts used year after year led to revised effective programs that taught good literacy skills whilst allowing grammar to be taught in a context. To this end, my thoughts have turned regularly to what kind of books I would like to see embedded across a school and its curriculum.

A selection of Roald Dahl books from/including: The Fantastic Mr Fox, BFG, James and The Giant Peach, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, The Twits, Matilda, The Witches, The Magic Finger...

Beowulf - there are so many different versions but this one by Brian Pattern is accessible for children as young as seven.

Clockwork by Philip Pullman
Jabberwocky by CS Lewis
Poetry by Roger McGough

The Sound Collector by Roger McGough

The Listeners by Walter De La Mare

I know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

Goodnight Moon by Mary Wise Brown

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morporgo

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

The Mixed up Chameleon by Eric Carle

Oh Fabjous Day Collected by Sandy Brownjohn

Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown

The Guard Dog by Dick King Smith
The Hodgeheg by Dick King Smith

The Rattle Bag edited by SeamusHeaney and Ted Hughes

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Where's Wally? (various) 

Magazines and Comics - as many as possible in as many places as possible

Charlotte's Web by EB White

Percy the Park Keeper by Nick Butterworth

The Iron Man by Ted Hughes

Traditional Tales including: Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Little Red Riding Hood, The Gingerbread Man,Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling - These need to be revisited many times so that children internalise their structures and devices. For six to eight year old children use with alternative versions such as Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs or Goldilocks by Allen Ahlberg.

Myths and Legends including: Theseus and the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus,

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
Anything by Michael Rosen
Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson

Silly Verse for Kids by Spike Milligan


Five Children and It by E Nesbit
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

Lots by Julia Donaldson like The Gruffalo and The Snail and The Whale.

Holes, There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom by Louis Sachar

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 This is far from a comprehensive list and I have realised that it will need to be developed and refined over time. These texts should be incorporated through a number of platforms within the school including:
  • class reader
  • guided reader
  • shared reader
  • class library
  • school library
  • recommendations list
  • holiday reading list
  • extended reading list
  • home reader

Friday, August 31, 2012

Staying Safe in ICT (ICT New Curriculum - First Unit)

There are two main disciplines of school based ICT:
  1. Technology as a tool for enhancing education
  2. Computer Science
Our school is moving away from ICT as a completely discrete subject with a computer science bias to focus more on the sue of ICT as tool for enhancing teaching and learning. The two disciplines will always overlap as in the first unit of learning of the year which always needs to be Health and Safety in ICT.

Here are my Programs of Work for Year 5 and Year 6

The MTP is a simpler format than previous years planning as we plan cross curricular themes. It is designed to be able to be integrated into cross curricular planning.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Twitter for Teachers

Social Media as a Learning Tool

This is rapidly becoming the number one essential tool in learning and development in education. Its main features are:
·         Top innovative leaders in the field of education use it
·         It organises the internet and blog-a-sphere into accessible and manageable chunks
·         It gives access to the latest developments in educational thinking
·         It gives you a voice
·         It communicates with your community

A beginner’s guide

Follow these simple steps to become a tweep and start tweeting

Sign up gives you a very simple sign up page. The important aspect of this is the username. This guide is about using twitter for professional purposes. To do this separate your professional twitter persona from your private and social life twitter persona. i.e. have two accounts.

Let’s explore the webpage you are faced with.

Search bar – the most useful of the tools at your fingertips. Use it to search for people, hashtags or educational words.
@connect – any time there is anything to do with you posted by other people e.g. mentions or follows
#Discover – trends, current goings on, who to follow
Tweets – number of messages you have sent out
Following – the number of people you follow
Followers – the number of people following you (quite unimportant)

Let’s follow someone

Search for mcdermottrich. (type it in the search bar)
Next to the name you will find the follow button. Once you press this you are following this person. If you later decide that you don’t want to follow this person, you can click unfollow. Once you are following them, their tweets will appear on your homepage.

Find more people to follow.
On mcdermottrich’s profile you will see the word following. Click this now and it will give you a list of the people he is following. It is a list of tweeps who make educational tweets. Choose at least five of these and click follow. You will now be following about six people. You will find that your home page is starting to fill up with tweets.

But this aint useful!

You will find that good educational tweeps tweet about excellent blog articles and reference resources. By clicking on the links supplied you will soon find many useful things. Build up the number of people you follow (and the amount of tweets that you see) by clicking on the following of the people you already follow.


These are used to organise tweets so they go to particular audiences. A hashtag is a hash followed by a label. Often it is a brief acronym rather than a full word. Let’s look at a hashtag to get us started.

Type #edchat in the search bar.

This hashtag is commenly added to educational tweets therefore it organises a selection of educational tweets. #ukedchat is the UK based hashtag in a similar vein.

Taking things further

Downloading Tweetdeck or adding it onto your Google Chrome browser will bring Twitter further to life as you can add several streams such as particular people you follow or even better – the best hashtags or searches.

Start retweeting the tweets you see that are the best.

When you find a really useful website, tweet about it.

Start a blog. Write about your everyday experiences in the classroom. Tweet your posts.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Primary/Elementary Poetry and ICT = Creativity and Collaboration

Try using this poem in class. First as a paired discussion activity then moving on to creating an illustrated video with children reading the poem. See ideas at the bottom.

Miss Lotte

That Miss Lotte who was nuts;
I mean completely round the bend.
She’d wear socks on her hands
And wave them at her friends.
She’d put her dress on backwards
And odd shoes on each foot.
It was definitely more than loose,
A screw was missing from her nut.

That Miss Lotte who was loopy;
I mean completely round the twist.
She said she new double dutch
And could converse with the fish.
She ate her dinner in the bath
And drank the water from the loo.
While all around her said, she was
Completely crackers and cuckoo.

That Miss Lotte who was balmy;
I mean gaga, crazy and mad.
Told the children they could riot
In the lessons that they had.
Said they should dance on the table,
Shout out and have a laugh.
But they stood open mouthed and knowing
She was noodle brained and daft.

That Miss Lotte who is bog-eyed
Is jam-headed and mungo-jerried,
Over the rainbow, out of her mind,
Tap-doo-lally and wholly wellied.
She is actually very kind.
Although not her only feature:
That Miss Lotte who is bananas,
Is the world’s greatest teacher.

Ideas for Teaching 
  1. Identify the words that rhyme. use them to look at phonemes with the same sounds but different spellings e.g. foot and nut
  2. Draw a picture for each verse (have children work in pairs or threes to do this.)
  3. ICT Idea - Have the children illustrate parts of the poem using a simple art program. Something as easy as Paint will do this. (Tip - get the children to draw with a thick paint brush and block colour the picture for a comic strip effect) I like which is a photo editor.
  4. ICT idea 2 - Let the children record themselves reading/speaking the poem (use simple sound recorder on PC or audioboo or something similar)
  5. ICT idea 3 - combine the above ideas - use Windows Movie-Maker or another free alternative. My choice would be Videopad . Please not that with Video pad - you install it first and then uninstall it to revert from pro to the free version. (Further alternatives here.) Add the sound recording of the reading and the pictures that illustrate the poem. Give it a title and credits and publish to the web.
  6.  Make a list of the words for mad/crazy from the poem.
  7. Make up your own words for crazy. Try finishing these phrases. (if you get stuck add food types in the spaces)
  • Mad as a ...
  • ... - headed
  • ... - brained 
      8.  Write their own own crazy teacher/child poem using the following structure

           Write two lines using made up words for crazy (two made up words per line for the better students)
          Write four lines of crazy things they do
          Write two lines using made up words for crazy

Friday, April 27, 2012

Formative Assessment in ICT Part 2 (3 Phase Rubric Use)

This post builds upon the previous post: Formative Assessment in ICT. Following the implementation of a new framework in the top two years of the primary school, and training based around building websites, webpages and using and making a blog, I knew that I needed to introduce Formative Assessment to bring the whole thing to life. This became especially important as the ICT suites in the school were set up in rows and therefore the environment imposes very traditional (read here old fashioned) methods of delivery onto the teacher. The other relevant item is that my other duties including managing the end of year reports system and setting up the timetables for the following year started to dominate my timetable.

With full timetables and training calendar, I decided upon a couple of shorter sessions in the mornings before school starts. With our early morning starts (the school day starts at 7) and teacher’s multiple commitments after school that mean that that time is taken up, the morning briefing session are the only spaces we can find. I used one twenty minute session to refresh the basics of building a webpage with a layout that fits the non-fiction genres of the two year groups (non-chronological reports in Y6 and newspapers in Y5). For the second session I focused on Formative Assessment. In particular the use of rubrics to structure a number of sessions focused upon building a webpage.

To support the planning I had created two rubrics for a building a webpage which combined success criteria from both the English framework and the  new ICT framework. In my introduction I made the point that rubrics are a tool that can be used at different stages of the learning process. The building of a webpage is a cross-curricular mini-project. It may take anything from two lessons to a couple of weeks to complete. It can be used in the introduction to the work, in the middle to assess progress and set next step targets and then, finally, as a summative evaluation tool. I have worked with the rubrics in all three ways.

How the rubrics are used is as important as when they are used. Let’s take the example of their use in the introduction. The classic method would be to display a rubric on the interactive whiteboard for all to share. Then the teacher could read through each part and explain its meaning and importance. This could work but not necessarily engage all the children in the room. Year six is particularly hard to reach at times; between the bubbling of emotions because of puberty, the clicks of special bonds of friends in the room and the minds turned towards the thoughts of going to the high school. How to engage? The answer is in group work; Vygotsky highlighted the important part socialisation plays in the construction of learning. Getting the children into groups and discussing the rubric, with a scaffold for the talk, will create better engagement. The children should be in groups of three or four. Ask the children to identify the criteria that they all know how to do. Further ask them to circle three to four things that they don’t know how to do. (It doesn’t matter that they might know it all; by asking for three to four things it removes worry from children who are further behind).  This sharing with a focus of what to look for will engage children within each group and across the classroom. It can be followed up by a brief feedback session and revision of the parts the children don’t know how to do.

Group work was discussed in this post here. Giving the children roles also facilitates better group work.  An appointed leader, a reporter and a reader would be good roles for the above.

Using the rubric in the middle part of the project enables the children to self-evaluate their own progress. I keep the structure simple: Give out one rubric per group and the children then visit each website and judge what has been achieved and what that student’s next target is. Again I like the group to record the targets in the footer of the rubric. This gives the necessary scaffolding to the exercise so it is completed correctly.

The rubric can be used successfully at the end as a final summative assessment tool. This is particularly powerful in the hands of the children as it empowers them with the understanding of what excellent practice in the particular project area is and leaves each with a target. I found through trial and error that the method of use has to be slightly different in the final phase of assessment. Children can be trusted to make judgements about their peers standard of work, particularly if you are using a rubric with different standards. Children are not able to distinguish between their close friends and the quality of their work so a more impartial system has to be set up. Over the course of one hour I asked the children to open up the website on each computer. I also placed one rubric in front of each computer and a further piece of paper to record the level. I then stood all the children up and rotated them one row (approximately four seats) around the suite. The children then sat down and judged the website against the rubric. Each child would use a pencil and mark the rubric to make a judgement about the overall best fit. Approximately seven minutes later I asked the children to record a level on the piece of paper and then to stand up. And then a second time I rotated the children around the room and the children repeated the exercise. Over the course of one hour I did this four times. For the plenary session the children returned to their own seat. Each child inspected the pare with the four levels recorded and considered whether the judgements of the common majority were a fair reflection of their website. Children then wrote their name on the paper (not before as this could have prejudiced judgements) and then lined up to hand it in to me. Children then commented to me whether they were happy with the evaluation/agreed with its decision or didn’t agree. The two comments formed two different piles. I would commit myself to speak specifically to anybody who hadn’t been happy with the decisions when I reviewed all the assessments.

As I went through the assessments for the two hundred and fifty children in year five and six, I found that there were less than 5% that were incorrect. The majority of the children agreed with each other and the overall common assessment was correct.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning and Teaching: Reflection 1 (Learning)

I am currently part of a working party developing the Learning and Teaching Policy across our International School. The school goes from the Pre-School (age 3-4) up to year 13 (age 18+). We have surveyed the teachers across the school for their opinions on teaching and learning and we are looking at some example policies. Further to this we are thinking about the key features that fit our school ethos: "A caring and learning community, respecting diversity and celebrating achievement." I am doing some background reading and this reflection is a composition of this. The books I am using are 'Active Learning through Formative Assessment' by Shirley Clarke and 'The Intelligent School' by MacGilchrist, Myers and Reed.

To guide my thinking I am considering a number of questions. At our first meeting we discussed the questions:
  • How effective is the way I teach in maximizing my students learning.
  • How well have the students progressed in my lesson?
  • Can I do something different that will improve my students learning?
I am leaving the last question as I will reflect upon that when I consider the teaching aspect of Learning and Teaching. As Learning is the student focus and ultimately the students are at the top of the list of purposes for the school (though not the only purpose referring back to the school ethos above).

I see the first two as being connected or similar. How effective relates to assessing the learning of the students and students progress also relates to assessing the students learning. Shirley Clarke sees the answer to these questions as formative assessment techniques that the student is in control of or that the student own. Active learning involving understanding what is trying to be learnt and what are the different markers of success. If the students understand this then they can reflect (individually, in peers or even whole class) on their learning and establish progress or the effectiveness of the lesson.

Clarke establishes learning as an active process and is something that can be improved. Learners can become better learners and in the process become more intelligent. This goes against the common grain that intelligence is fixed and can not be affected and students are either good or bad learners. Clarke draws upon the research and theories of Carol Dweck. Dweck has produced thirty years of studies to show that what is important is whether we see ability as fixed or something that can grow. The Intelligent School identifies two orientations called the learning orientation and performance orientation. The Learning Orientation is the one that reflects Dweck's Ability Growth.

This has led me to add three more questions to the above ones:
  • How can I help the students become better learners?
  • How will/were the students learn(ing) in my lesson?
  • What is learning?
Learning can grow, be made better, can improve or a learner can learn how to learn. What are the different aspects of learning? Guy Claxton in Building Learning Powers identifies these four learning dispositions with a range of attached competencies:

Absorption, managing distractions, noticing and perseverance
Questioning, making links, imagining, reasoning, and capitalizing

Planning, revising, distilling and meta-learning
Interdependence, collaboration, empathy and listening, imitation

Clarke links all these areas clearly with the various aspects of formative assessment. Learning has formative assessment as an inherent part of it. The Intelligent School by MacGilchrist et al. also identifies learning as an active process which has review as in integral part of it. The Intelligent School identifies this as meta-learning and that learners need opportunity to reflect upon:
  • their goals for learning;
  • the strategies they are using to learn;
  • how they feel about their learning;
  • what the outcomes of their learning are.
MacGilchrist also acknowledges the classic educational theorists in Piaget, Vytgotsky and Bruner. In doing so they identify other key elements that are part of effective learning:
  • constructivist (children use prior knowledge to make meaning of currently learning
  • social (learning is improved by interaction with peers and teacher)
  • learners learn at different rates
Other factors identified include:
Intelligence. Intelligence can be improved. There are a number of different types of intelligences as best exemplified by the Howard Gardner model. Intelligence is still predominantly seen by many in the UK as a fixed attribute. Obviously some of us have a greater aptitude for some of the intelligences than other. This is often akin to the commonly phrased Gifted and Talented.

Neuroscience contributes the importance of keeping the brain healthy for learning. Further most recent research has highlighted the huge importance of speaking and listening. This must be pushed as an important part of the learning environment.

The nature of learners namely that, learners come in different shapes and sizes and there are differences in learning between girls and boys.

In conclusion it is important to be up to date in understanding the nature of learning as some of the most powerful research has been done in the last twenty five years. Learning involves careful consideration for the context but also knowing how to learn. Further learners need to actively make sense of what has been learnt through review and reflection.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New ICT Curriculum

Today has seen the emergence of my new curriculum. It is the first draft of the curriculum in a form close to what it will look like when finished. This curriculum is a response to the archaic QCA planning in existence in many schools that use the English National Curriculum as its basis. I work at an International School and inherited an ICT curriculum and department in the primary school that was in a minimal state. Four years down the line I have  tried a number of innovative uses of ICT, and alongside a redesign of the curriculum into one that is cross curricular in its delivery, I have put together an ICT curriculum that more closely mirrors technology as it is used today. Further the curriculum looks to the future. Skills that will become the common threads of future English curriculum are here: collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, communication and creativity.

The Curriculum Map can be found here. 

The next stages will be to use this document to create some year group defined maps that will share the learning across the school. Further I will then match up the assessment rubrics that I have been working on and how they can be used. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Formative Assessment in ICT

Having recently embarked upon the use of rubrics in ICT, I have come to recognise the true power of formative assessment. Sharing rubrics with children whilst teaching them the skill subsets that will allow them to produce high quality pieces of work has shown that using assessment as learning not only has an immense impact on learning but can also save the teacher a lot of time planning for differentiation.

A rubric is a grid of statements of differing levels of competency. The teacher or in this case the children can match up their work with the statements and then take the overall picture to show what level they are working at.  Furthermore, children can see which statements they have rated themselves weak at and are then able to set them selves targets for their learning.

As I used the rubrics this week I started to hear the same target from many of my year 5 children. "I need to add more links to my website." This informed me of where I needed to take my teaching the following week.

To get to this stage I started by looking at the attainment levels for ICT. I looked a the differences between level 3, level 4 and level 5. What I immediately realised was that the statements didn't tackle the concepts I was dealing with in blogging, building websites and collaboration. What I did then was to deconstruct the attainment statements. Through this deconstruction I could see the fundamental differences between these three levels. Level 3 inherently deals with being able to complete or use ICT concepts as directed by the teacher. Level 4 is the standard level of proficiency for carrying out ICT work. Children can use search engines, complete excel formula, create graphs, write a sequence of instructions or use a MS office program without constant direction or guidance. Level 5 involved a greater sophistication and understanding of the same things. The student was able to use their skills and apply them to different situations. The work they produced showed an understanding of the audience and demonstrated the skills used to their maximum potential.

Having stripped these three levels of attainment down to their bare bones I was able to start to build rubrics for each of the new elements of ICT planning using my new insights into the attainment levels. My first attempts successfully split the attainment into aspects and then further into three standards of attainment - level 3, level 4 and level 5. I used these with my year six children for a while. At the same time I had been teaching the Year Five children from the opposite direction by slowly building up their skills. I came to a halt with these children and realised I needed to share attainment ideas with them. This time though I set it as a class task. I identified the different skills we had been working on for building their website: adding pictures, adding text, using columns, adding pages, adding a blog and the quality of the writing on the website. From these headings I asked the children to work in pairs and discuss with their partner what would be at the level, below the level and above the level for each of these aspects. The children folded a piece of paper three ways and produced columns of statements under the headings: working below the level expected, working at the level expected and working above the level expected. We collated the results as a class and I used these to create a child friendly version of the rubric I had started with.

I have used rubrics in the middle of topics and they helped the children to understand what was required. Further, I have used them at the end of the topic as a peer assessment tool. The children worked in groups or individually to make judgments about the other children's websites. After the children had done this and quite accurately assessed their peers websites they could also identify what they themselves needed to do next with their own website. Assessment AS learning!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Leap of Faith: New ICT Curriculum

There's a scene in an old Indiana Jones Movie (many of you will be saying - Indiana Jones old?) called The Last Crusade when Indy comes to a chasm and is asked to step out and trust that he will be held up on faith alone. He figures out that there is an actual bridge there to step onto but still has to step out onto the appearance of nothing. I feel at that point currently at school.

I, like the vast majority of English National Curriculum ICT teachers around the world, have long known that the QCA based scheme of work and the derivatives there of, was outdated and  out of touch with today's technologies and innovations. Web 2.0 is a well worn phrase but has not not had more than a passing mention in the Cambridge GCSE syllabus. Netbooks and many different hand held devices from PSPs, Nintendos, tablets to smart phones and mp3 players.

Over the two and a half years I have used a variety of websites and blogs to learn about and update my own ICT knowledge. I started way back with the ground breaking Cool Tools for Schools. This alone was able to give structure to my explorations and directed me towards tools that were so useful and accessible. More recently I have become an avid twitterer and have followed and taken note of John Mclear, Claire Lotriet, Julie Skinner, Simfin, Dean Shareski, Phil Bagge, Simon Haughton and Ian Addison alongside many others. In particular Ian's curriculum at the end which made me recognise that I had put into place the majority of ingredients that I needed.

For the last four years I have been teaching ICT knowing that it was stale and not where I wanted to be but I also didn't have that clear picture. Now as the ingredients have come together and more importantly as the cloud ware has been made available free of charge or with a really reasonable minimal charge, my curriculum has started to take shape. I still will retain its core areas of data handling, finding out and collecting and presenting information, but I will add more digital media that will open up and invigorate the rest of the curriculum that it will connect with.

Here is the new curriculum overview.

Maybe this is not a leap of faith at all. In actual fact the bridge that will take the teachers to a better curriculum is there. Watch this space.