Saturday, 19 December 2015

We've made it to the holidays!

Woohoo!  It's the holidays.  

After my first term back to work as a teacher I am remembering the feeling of relief when you wake up in the morning realising that you've made it.  A lot of people look at teaching and think it's an easy option - you get so much more holiday than everybody else and the kids are only at school from 9-3.30 right?  It's true.  We are pretty lucky.  What the public don't necessarily see though are the hours of preparation, marking, assessment, record keeping, report writing and creating resources which means that many teachers work well into their evenings, weekends and holidays.  Or that when the kids are at school you are never really "on a break" as you're preparing for the next lesson, running clubs, on playground duty or interrupted by a knock on the staffroom door - and that interacting non-stop all day with thirty seven-year-olds can be pretty intensive.  I'm not looking for any sympathy here, it's probably the most rewarding and wonderful job there is, I'm just explaining why teachers start exulting, cheering and whooping, before dropping onto their sofas for a sleep, when the end of term arrives.

It's also pretty exhausting for the children.  Bug has just reached the end of her first term at school too.  Aged four, she has found the last couple of weeks stretched her a little thin.  Christmas fair, school play, school disco, swimming lessons, Mummy's school play, with the addition of Breakfast Club and After School Clubs to fit in with my work has meant that she's been asleep almost before her head's hit the pillow this week and is now full of cold.

So waking up this morning and knowing that it's the holidays has felt pretty good for all of us.  Even Hubby gets to join in, as he also now has a week off work - so we're all in "beginning of holiday" mode together.  Today's tasks involve Christmas cards, wrapping gifts, last minute gift shopping, housework, haircuts and bathing the dog - all of which can be done with no real urgency.  Thank goodness!

I've also reached a milestone.  I was pretty disappointed not to get the permanent teaching jobs I applied for at the school where I've been teaching this term (on a one-term contract).  I know they liked me and my teaching, but my job application and interview did not do me justice.  The headteacher gave me a lot of really good feedback, and was able to give me some great advice and support writing my next job applications - so I did get a job from that one.  I'm starting at a new school in January, this time teaching Reception Class for two terms.  It's going to be interesting as I will be team teaching for the first few weeks, before the current teacher goes on maternity leave.  I'm also intrigued by the classroom set up, as the school has rapidly grown, and their building expansion hasn't yet kept pace, so there will be two classes (with all the Teachers and Teaching Assistants) in one classroom until the new room is built.  Watch this space for an update!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Bug's Bucket List

My 4 year old daughter has made a "Bucket List".  For anybody who's never heard the term, a Bucket List is a list of things you want to make sure that you do before you kick-the-bucket / die.

Fear not, my little bundle of crazy is in perfect health, but bucket lists cropped up in conversation a few weeks ago, and she's obviously been mulling over what she wants to do in life.  Her list is below, it gives a real insight into her wishes and dreams at this age, and is totally gorgeous:

  • have my own hotel;
  • see a bear in the wild (not a polar bear);
  • have a baby;
  • climb right to the top of a cliff, from the bottom, with a ladder;
  • go to Africa;
  • go to Australia;
  • see a volcano;
  • have my own pond;
  • have my own cooker and freezer;
  • make my own proper (pottery) bowl;
  • learn to play the guitar properly;
  • learn to play the piano properly;
  • learn how to do a cartwheel;
  • marry someone.
I asked her if it was private or if it was okay to share.  She told me it was private but that I could put it on Facebook!  Umm... okay then!

I urge you to write your own bucket list and to get your children to write one too.  It's not at all morbid, just a chance to put your dreams on paper so that you can aim to gradually achieve them.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Managing Behaviour For Learning

I'm doing an on-line course called "Managing Behaviour for Learning" provided by the National Science Learning Network and led by Paul Dix, of Pivotal Education.  It's a five week course with an average expected time commitment of about three hours per week, and you can do it in your own time.  Although we're now at the end of Week 2, I've been busy this week with a job application and writing some articles, so I'm only at the end of the content for Week 1, but can catch up as soon as I have the time.

One of the suggestions is that you keep notes, or a record of your thoughts and aims as you go through the course, which can be recorded in a digital scrap-book, in a notebook or in a blog if you have one.  I do, so here's where I've got up to with Week 1.

The first task had us watch a video of Paul Dix reflecting on his worst ever, most chaotic lesson and the impact it had on the students.  We were invited to reflect on our own worst and most chaotic lesson and how we dealt with it and what we then did.  Almost all the reflections on the discussion forum were about moments where teachers felt out of control.  In mine, I actually left the classroom and stood outside the door while I counted to twenty.  I was then able to go back in and calmly sort out the class of ten-year-olds who had been fighting and brewing mutiny.

Looking at the difference between teachers who get out of control and those who are in control you find four key traits:
CONSISTENCY - being fair all the time.
PERSISTENCE - keeping going even when the kids are ignoring you
FOLLOW UP - if behaviour has been poor, while you might ignore it at the time so that the lesson can continue or so that a confrontational situation is avoided, always follow up later at a more suitable time.
CERTAINTY - if you have threatened a sanction you must always deliver it if merited.

Next we carried out a self-audit of how we interact with students.  From this I think that the areas I need to work on are making expectation or rules clear from the outset, and on being more consistent with behaviour management.  Sometimes I let a bit of calling out slip by, which can escalate quickly into happening all the time - then I get more firm, wheras if I had been consistently not allowing it, and praising those who don't it wouldn't escalate.

The next part of the course was about the fight or flight response in students.  How a confrontation situation will often put a student into this high stress response where their rational brain is actually shut off for a moment.  It's important, while being firm with rules, to de-escalate confrontation situations and allow a student time to calm down so that they can engage their rational brain again.  After this I resolved to try more and more positive and pro-active behaviour management techniques.  That's what I always try to do anyway, but sometimes when you are tired, or try to squeeze too much into a lesson, it can be easy to forget.

Next there was a video talking about a particular teacher who allowed himself to get out of control - he actually became a figure of ridicule.  Teachers who shout (I think it's okay to raise your voice occasionally) are viewed as out of control.  It's worth asking yourself whether you would shout at a child in the same way if their parent was in the room - if not, should you be doing it in class?  If you behave and respond to the children in an emotional and unpredictable way then the children spend time trying to press your buttons for entertainment, or to guess what mood you are going to be in today.  They don't feel secure and ready for learning.

It's important that we model good emotional management:  "I am beginning to get cross, so I'm going back to my desk to count to ten, then I will come back to you and we can have a calm conversation."

Manage behaviour by being very clear what behaviour we want to see.  Be empathetic.  Praise in public, discipline privately (or quietly, think about Safeguarding).  When you have to intervene make sure it's the behaviour that we criticise - not the child.

Sometimes negative behaviour is attention seeking behaviour, or behaviour designed to rouse our emotions and press our buttons because it makes a child feel in control.  Keep control of your emotions in this situation, mechanically follow your behaviour management procedure (have a plan that you can follow easily) and save your emotional responses for when you are excited about great behaviour or work.

An example procedure when a child is not doing what they should is to:

  • imagine their parent on your shoulder (so you remain calm and positive)
  • state the problem "I can see that you are having trouble getting started"
  • quell any defensive reaction or confrontation by immediately reminding them of something they did well and what they should be doing, "last week you managed to finish the whole piece of work, and I was able to give you a gold star.  I know that you can settle to do some good work.  Once you have written the date and title, if you are unsure what to do, Patrick (helpful kid on the table who will be mostly finished by then) will be able to recap the instructions for you."
The next task was a problem page.  There were three letters from teachers who were having problems with aspects of behaviour management, and we had to choose one and respond to it.  The letter that I chose was about unprofessional staff-room talk.  In the staff-room the teachers were labelling a child based on their family background and were making generalisations about their behaviour.  In my response I suggested that, depending on the relationship with those particular members of staff I would either talk to them about whether or not this was appropriate, or I would ask for this issue to be discussed at a staff-meeting (without naming names) to underline how inappropriate, unfair and unhelpful such talk can be.

Finally, we watched a video clip of a teacher responding to some poor behaviour in her class, and commented what we thought she should have done differently.  That's where I'm up to so far.  Basically, we can't necessarily control what our pupils do in class, but we can control what we do, and if we make the right choices, then the likelihood of the pupils making the right choices is vastly improved.

It's striking me that there is plenty of transference here between behaviour management in the classroom and at home.  I can't make my son get dressed in the morning (technically I still can, I'm bigger and stronger than he is, but that's not a route I want to go down), but I can control my own emotional response to it, so that I don't end up going to work a ranting wobbling mess!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Christmas is coming!

Yesterday on Facebook I saw a post from a friend saying that his wife had the Christmas cake in the oven, and we get to the sudden realisation that Christmas must be coming. 

I remember as a child that Christmas was not allowed to begin (i.e. talking about it, shopping for it, getting excited about it) until after Dad's birthday (20th November), which held back the craziness nicely.  We have a similar rule here chez Inkspots - Hubby's birthday is the 29th November.

Not quite that easy though.  Here are the things that thrust Christmas earlier onto our conscience:
  • THE SHOPS.  Yes, the Christmas things came out as soon as the Back to School things went away, shoulder to shoulder with Halloween delights.  Now that Halloween is out of the way they can go at Christmas with gusto!
  • MAIL ORDER.  Many of us now do the bulk of our Christmas shopping on-line, preferring an evening with the laptop and a glass of wine to the hot shops/ cold outdoors crush of pre-Christmas shopping (except maybe as a one-off to buy a couple of things and smugly sample the Gluwein at a Christmas market while raising your eyebrows at the antics of the non-mail-order shoppers).
  • CRAFTING.  Anybody who plans to make gifts for Christmas, table decorations, Advent calendars and so on will should already be well underway with their endeavours to have any hope of getting it all done in time.
  • SCHOOL.  If you're a parent you may well be aware that the children are already practising Christmas songs (that's me doing that!) and the Christmas play - all that starts straight after half term.  If your school is one of the many that sells Christmas cards designed by the children themselves, then your child will have designed their card weeks ago and you'll probably already have had to submit your order.  Teachers are right now planning what Christmas delights they will be making to send home with the children so that they can squeeze it all in with the Christmas play, carol concerts and maybe even a bit of reading and writing. 
  • FAMILY PLANS.  I've had the message from one sister asking for ideas for the children's gifts, to which I have duly responded, keeping a few ideas back for when my in-laws ask the same question nearer December, and one or two for me too.  We've made our plans of when we are visiting each part of the family over the Christmas period and where we'll be on Christmas Day, and have also got another invitation to reply to.
So far I've got as far as: 
  • preparing the Christmas songs to inflict on the children at school, 
  • contributed to the ideas for the Christmas production at school, 
  • planning the school PTA Christmas fair,
  • making a list of what I am going to gift each member of my family, highlighting things that need making,
  • planning our Christmas, including trying to work out when the best time will be to go to the supermarket... too early and the food will go off while we're away visiting the in-laws, leave it until we get back and it's OMG CHRISTMAS EVE AT THE SUPERMARKET!
I still need to:
  • plan what and when I'm going to cook or bake,
  • actually do something to help with the Christmas fair.
  • Sing the Christmas songs with the children at school so that we don't deafen the old folks at the residential home we are visiting at the beginning of December.
  • make stuff on my list,
  • buy stuff on my list,
  • write Christmas cards, and oh... everything else.... jingle, jingle... Christmas is a-coming!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The teaching of Handwriting

I'm currently teaching handwriting to two different classes, Year 3/4 and Year 5/6.  Not quite satisfied that I was doing this in the best way I did a little research and came up with the post that follows.  I'm now planning my handwriting lessons for the rest of term, and am much more confident that the children will actually be improving their handwriting.

The Teaching of Handwriting – A progressive approach
The purpose of teaching handwriting is to enable children to communicate effectively in writing.  Their writing will be legible (easy to read), fluent (they can write reasonably quickly with a good flow) and comfortably (children who have not learned to handwrite properly or who employ poor posture often find writing painful as they become quite stiff).
The teaching of handwriting is often provided as a whole class activity, with children assiduously copying letters, joins or words from the board and repeating.  It is true that handwriting can only be achieved by regular practice.  It is also true, however, that children enter school with differing handwriting readiness.  Their motor skills both gross and fine are at different stages, and therefore their readiness to pick up a pencil and begin making marks and then letters will all be at different stages.  It is as important with handwriting as it is with reading that we take each child from their own starting point and provide the relevant practice to enable them to achieve success and to progress at their own pace.  Here then is a progression chart for handwriting (the first two stages are concurrent).  In your class, whatever the age group, assess the handwriting skills level of each child, group those on a similar level together for handwriting work, and provide the relevant activities to enable them to progress to the next level.  While in some classes the children may all be at a similar level, in others it will become clear that there are children attempting to join their handwriting who have still not mastered letter formation, or who are not yet forming their letters in a uniform size.  In younger classes you may have some children who still do not have the physical readiness for writing, and who are not yet ready for letter formation, certainly not trying to write on lined paper.  In handwriting lessons, while the copying and practice is very important, it is equally important for the Teacher or a Teaching Assistant to give direction and feedback on letter formation, sitting position, evenness of script, achieving smooth flow, and pencil grip.
Contrary to popular opinion, the advent of the tablet, the smart phone and the computer has not replaced the need for fluent, neat handwriting and this life skill needs to be taught with care and attention.  Children leaving primary school must be able to write without thinking about it, so that they can concentrate on the content of their writing.  Research also demonstrates that children with neat handwriting tend to feel better about their writing and are more motivated to write, and are also better at spelling.  Every child should be supported to develop good handwriting.

Activities to support progress
Developing core strength and stability, bilateral co-ordination, sensory perception, hand and finger dexterity – core strength and stability are required to develop posture and coordination; bilateral co-ordination allows the child to cross the body successfully; sensory perception allows the brain and fingers to communicate effectively about textures and pressures; hand and finger dexterity involves the ability to hold and manipulate objects of different sizes.
Curl-ups, balance along a ‘tight-rope’ line along the ground, walking up and down stairs.  ‘Simon says’ using left and right, rolling and catching and then gently throwing and catching a ball, touching left toes with right hand etc. Feely bag, tactile play, being able to press gently or hard into balls of playdough.  Picking up and holding small objects, two or three objects at a time.  Finger dancing.  Rolling and releasing dice.  Cutting things up with scissors, moving on to accurately cutting out shapes.
Mark Making (these two stages run concurrently as children will be beginning to make marks while still developing their physical readiness).
Provide tools in a wide range of thicknesses as the child is developing their dexterity, they will be able to choose thick or thin brushes, crayons and pencils.  Provide sand trays to trace in, large sheets of paper and paper with widely spaced lines or squares.  Provide vertical or sloped writing surfaces as well as horizontal.  Trace large scale shapes and patterns.
Pre-handwriting patterns.  These establish the correct pull and push movements for all the shapes which make up the letters.
Teach correct pencil grip (sometime between age 4 and 6), and establish a good table height and sitting position for writing.  Trace over shapes and patterns.  These can start at quite large scale and then gradually become smaller and finer.  Patterns will include waves, circles, vertical and horizontal lines and circles. 
Letter formation – letters should be taught in groups based on the shape, rather than in alphabetical order.  Once the letter shape and how to form it has been established the children move through these stages as their fine motor skills develop.
Tracing over and forming letters with plasticine or playdough, in sand or salt trays, with whipped cream, on large pieces of plain paper.  Lower case letters (plus capital for their name), then numbers, then upper case letters.
Tracing over and copying letters on widely spaced lines.
Tracing over and copying letters on narrower lines.
Letter joins – a child is ready to start joining their writing when they are consistently forming their letters correctly, positioning them correctly on the line and maintaining a uniform size
Teach and practice each of the four main join types one at a time.  Diagonal join e.g. a-i, a-r, u-n, i-r, i-g, m-a, a-d; upper horizontal join, e.g. o-u, o-v, v-i, w-i, w-o, o-n, o-x; lower join to tall letter, e.g. a-b, u-l, i-t, t-h, b-l, l-l, l-k, e-b; higher join to tall letter, e.g. o-l, r-t, o-b, r-k, w-l; special joins f-f, f-t.  Break letters z (before) and g, j, q, y, and x (after)
Join whole words together.  It can be helpful here for the children to practice handwriting with their spelling words, developing two skills in one.
Developing fluency and style – Children can be encouraged to slope their handwriting slightly and to develop their own handwriting style.
Copying poems or making neater copies of their work for presentation.
Some key points in handwriting:
·         Pencils must be sharp
·         Short pencils (below 8cm) should be discarded.
·         Sit up properly with chair upright (not rocking).
·         Writing surface can be tilted to the left (right handers) or right (left handers) but by no more than 45 degrees.  The non-dominant hand should be on the table in a supportive position.
·         A clutter free table is best.
·         Left handed children should always sit on the left side of the desk

Children can be taught to be self-critical and even pedantic with their handwriting.  When working with a group, expect them to copy EXACTLY, and nothing less, as this will avoid any poor habits being deemed as acceptable.  As long as the work is pitched correctly for their ability and motor control then they will be able to succeed and will look with pride on their improved writing.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

On being a working mum

Over the last six years I have had increasing admiration for my mum and dad, my sisters and all working parents out there.  

Hubby and I made the decision that I would be a stay-at-home-mum.  We wanted me to be there for the children in those early years.  It worked well.  I enjoyed being with the children, we played, went for walks, went swimming, made stuff, played with friends, baked and had a great time.  In the last year before they went to school they started attending pre-school, to build more structure into their day and get used to being with other children and adults.

Throughout all this I was watching my sisters.  My younger sister has taken maternity leave and gone right back to work full-time.  She's worked full-time continuously and her two children are now eight and six.  My elder sister has four children, currently aged 7 (almost 8!), five, three and six months.  She worked full time initially after the first baby, then on moving to Devon went part time, and continued working part time as babies number 2 and 3 were added to the family, and then started up her own freelance business from home, adding number 4 to the brood.  I have for some time thought these two were superwomen.  While I spent my days playing, making stuff and having a great time, they were out at work, but they still also managed to incorporate time for and with the children, the mountains of laundry, getting packed lunches sorted, and birthday cakes and birthday parties, juggling child-care, nurseries, sports days, looking after the children when they were poorly, filling in the slips at the bottom of letters.  I take my hat off to them.
Image result for supermum

I tried working from home myself for a while (as regular followers will know), while Bug was at pre-school two days each week.  I did okay.  I earned a little bit of money, but not enough to call a living.  There was too much else to do: PTA, voluntary stuff for the pre-school committee or the Scouts, walking the dog, getting the groceries, doing the laundry and housework and getting some exercise.

I'm now two weeks into my REAL WORKING MUM journey (even though I'm only working 2.5 days per week at the moment) back as a Primary School Teacher.  I'll pat myself on the back because I'm doing okay.  The children have clean and ironed uniform to wear.  They have packed lunches when they are supposed to and letters do seem to be getting signed and returned on time (so far).  We have dinner on the table each evening.  I'm also managing to keep up with my own workload of planning and marking that happens outside of school hours (as well as continuing with freelance writing commitments and a couple of craft orders on Etsy and Folksy).  I've forgotten the Forest School clothes once, and forgot to leave their booster seats for the person picking them up another time.  I've yet to see how I'm going to manage to leave school promptly at 4.45pm after a staff meeting, drive for 20 minutes, pick the children up, drive for 20 minutes (if the traffic into Hereford is clear!!!!), and get them changed for a 5.30pm swimming lesson.  This is going to take a minor miracle to achieve successfully week after week.  I do have a pile of letters next to me from school and Beavers waiting to be read, noted in the calendar, signed and returned.  I'm conscious that I haven't heard the readers at school that I'm supposed to hear on a Friday, and that I haven't put up my French display yet.
Image result for supermum
It hasn't always been perfect or easy these last few years as a Stay-at-Home-Mum, but I've had a ball, it has definitely been worth it and I wouldn't change it for the world.  

I was ready to go back to work, and I'm relishing the changes and challenges that come along with that.  I am beginning to feel again that I am about more than laundry, bum-wiping and baking, and to stimulate my grey cells with research, planning fun lessons and real grown-up conversations.  I'm planning to get up to full time after Christmas.

Combining the two is my next adventure, and to those of you superwomen (and men) out there who combine parenting with work without making a complete hash of it - I salute you.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Simple activities for small children - GLOOP

This is probably one of the simplest activities you can set up for your children, though it can get pretty messy.

C found the instructions in his book "50 Science Things to Make and Do", a Christmas gift from one of his aunties.
Product Details
All you need is a large bowl (washing up bowl is great), aprons, cornflour and a little food colouring (optional).

C followed the instructions to make the gloop himself.

Pour two cups of cornflour into the bowl (this was the messiest part in the inkspots house, somehow my children had forgotten how to pour and there was cornflour everywhere, but a dustpan and brush soon put this to rights).

Add a cup of water and a few drops of food colouring.

Mix together with hands.  

Once mixed gloop has some very odd characteristics.  It is made of long thin molecules particles which don't dissolve in water.  When you apply pressure or roll the gloop the particles join together and the gloop acts and feels like a solid.  When allowed to dribble or rest the particles slide over one another and the gloop acts and feels like a liquid.

The children remained engrossed in this weird liquid/solid material for almost an hour, squeezing it, punching it, pouring it, rolling it and then dribbling it through their fingers.

It did splatter across the table, but then goes back to solid form, making it pretty easy to sweep away afterwards.  At the end don't wash down the sink, as it may cause a blockage: either place in your kitchen bin, or allow to dry out to a fine powder, which can be used as a sensory material soil for toy diggers, or can later be rehydrated to make gloop again.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Recipe for a super family holiday

  • a lovely campsite (we enjoyed our stay at Camping and Caravan Club - St Davids)
  • sunshine (a bit of rain is acceptable and, let's face it, in a British climate inevitable)
  • a good tent
  • family
  • time off work and/or school
  • scenery and things to do.

Choose a destination with lovely scenery and activities for your type of holiday.  We chose beaches, cliffs and history.

Now arrive on site, set up your tent with a stunning West-facing view of the sunset.  If possible the best view on the campsite, and set up your home from home:

Go for lovely walks

Visit historic places

Take part in fun activities for the children

Play on the beach

Enjoy some pleasant refreshments.

Spend time with fantastic family.

And there you have it, a wonderful Summer holiday building memories.