Category Archives: Spelling

How Our School Implemented a Growth Mindset

The snowflake generation is a phrase that was mentioned to me over coffee by a friend recently, ‘a generation that just melts,’ they said, ‘any sign of a problem and they are done’. When I was introducing growth mindset to the school, it was at the time this would have perfectly described a large group of children. The mere mention of writing a report brought a few to tears, an open-ended maths problem increased the need to empty the bladder for lots.

Before I began the process, I noticed groups of children who wanted the success instantly and the concept of hard work or grit was completely alien. However, I also knew a couple of displays about how the brain worked wasn’t going to resonate with these deep-seated thoughts, and it wasn’t just the pupils. The concept of accepting that something is hard and it’s ok, the very nature of resilience and working positively to achieve something was also not embedded in the thoughts of the staff.

Many colleagues ask me how to get this ethos in a school – the answer is it takes work and relentlessness; you have to continually lead it and model it and never let it go! As a team we worked hard on mistakes and learning from them. In assembly we looked at mistakes, identifying them and learning from them.

Blog 1.png

All adults around the school made mistakes and didn’t giggle or try to cover them up– instead they celebrated them and made them a teaching point. Even our office staff were encouraged to identify them and talk about them in front of the children! In each classroom, a mistake mountain was introduced; a place to celebrate mistakes. There was a massive shift in language from all the adults; they were enthusiastic about identifying their mistakes and very keen to show them off!

Blog 2

In the beginning, children were incredibly dubious to have their mistake displayed for others to learn from. They were very possessive over the eraser, the thought of not having one made some of them come out in a nervous sweat. After a few weeks of this particular growth mindset thread, they were not worried and wanted to identify mistakes rather than cover them up! The curriculum is child-led in the main which allows for investigation and more importantly, mistakes. We are continually giving children the opportunity to make them and learn from them, and this in turn builds their resilience.

Writing is the area people talk to me about the most, an area which requires resilience by the bucketload! Once children are established with the concept of mistake making, it makes it easier to embed a marking policy.

The marking policy means that all mistakes are identified and we don’t shy away from it – we face it. Every one is picked up and children are given time to learn from this – this is important learning time and is valued by everyone. In the younger year groups, no backwards k is let go or the odd escapee capital letter in a sentence, they are highlighted in yellow and children are expected to amend it.Blog 3

As a school, the children and adults identified the attributes of a learning hero – everyone loves a superhero cape! The main points were perseverance, hard work and after this period of transition – mistakes! The children really think now that learning from your mistakes makes you a learning hero. This is impact and should be celebrated. Every half term a group of learning heroes are nominated by staff and children. We also nominate adults, children need to know that just because you can drive a car doesn’t mean you stop making mistakes – we all do it and they need to see all people around them learning from them.

Anyone who can identify a mistake and learn from it is a hero in my eyes! Give our children the tools to do it!

Blog 5      Blog 4

As a HT I make mistakes every day – I share most of them with my team and learn from most of them – be an ambassador for it. I made the mistake of forgetting my rollers were in when I stopped for petrol on the way home from a school WW2 dress up day! We all make them – embrace it. Happy mistake making!

Blog 6    9781472955067  

Nikki Willis is a Headteacher and lead on Teaching and Learning. She is also an Early Years teacher and a trainer for Brentwood Collaborative Partnership schools. Her latest book Growth Mindset is out now. Follow her on Twitter at @chooselearning and Instagram Hellolearning.

 

Advertisements

Back to School English Planning – for Mastery

For many primary school teachers, planning sequences of English lessons – and specifically writing lessons – is one of the toughest jobs on the to-do list; not just in advance of the new term but all year round. Why is this? Perhaps it’s because there is so much to think about when planning for writing, including spelling, handwriting, grammar and vocabulary as well as writing for purpose – all of which are under constant scrutiny by senior leadership teams, not least because achieving and maintaining strong writing outcomes is a constant challenge for many schools.

Where do you start? Good learning is based on practice – but not just any practice. Repeatedly practicing bad habits, which I did on the golf course for years, can actually make you worse. Expertise writer Anders Ericsson says we need a very purposeful and focused ‘deliberate practice’ which is “all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer-term goal”.

I suggest that our long-term aim for developing writers in primary school is mastery learning that can be applied to a wide range of contexts with independence and fluency. The baby steps are the curriculum skills children are expected to acquire in each year group. Not just age-related expectations but also the skills that underpin them. Of course, children have different starting points in any given year group. There are skills that should be in place that simply aren’t, and focused practice on these is an important part of their journey.

So, the baby steps to be taken are a mixture of skills addressed through whole-class teaching, and those that individual children need to practise in their writing to remove barriers to their own progress. This means teachers need to be very organized on two fronts: a) sequencing units of learning so that they follow a logical skills progression, and b) ensuring children are always aware of their own next steps (through personal targets). Learning that lasts needs to build incrementally on what children already know and understand, and so the sequence of learning needs to be driven by skills and not, for example, by genre or texts shared in a random order. To make maximum progress during this sequence, each child not only needs to work on the whole-class objective but also to take ownership of personal targets: they need be aware of what successful writing looks like for them in any given task and act on precise feedback as they practise.

Effective writing is, of course, more than the sum of its parts. Skills shouldn’t be taught in isolation but as the means to producing the sort of writing that people want to read. We need children to want to write and have something to say. The skill demanded of teachers is to create an engaging context for writing, often using quality texts, and getting children thinking and talking about ideas and themes that are somehow relevant to their own lives or at least interesting. If we want children to learn more deeply then we have to get them to think more deeply and the ideal vehicle for depth of thought is talk.

Those first minutes, when staring at a blank planning template awaiting inspiration, are hugely important. The first decisions you make will likely frame the sort of teaching and learning diet your class will receive. To avoid getting bogged down in all the detail, or re-using plans that don’t quite do what you need anymore, I suggest getting systematic. Use the following planning pyramid to drive those early decisions:

Mike Blog Pic 1.png

Make the corners of this pyramid work and, as you get used to it, you will find that you can quickly get a skeleton unit plan together. Allow the next skills in a logical progression to drive the process, and then think about context. What could your chosen text or other stimulus get your children thinking and talking about? What writing outcome(s) could provide the perfect vehicle for the ideas generated and practise of the focus skills?

I believe that teaching that puts children on a road to mastery needs to focus on the process rather than outcomes. My recipe for getting children to where we want them to 9781472949899.jpgbe as writers has some key ingredients. I call these the F STEPS: Feedback, Skills, Talk & Thought, Engagement, Practice, and Sequence. Find out more in my new book, Teaching for Mastery in Writing.

 

Mike Cain is deputy headteacher at St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School, in St Helens, Merseyside. He was a newspaper journalist and corporate communications specialist for 12 years before becoming a primary school teacher.

Top Tips for Living Well and Teaching Well

I’m an English teacher and, put simply, I believe I have the best job in the world. I cannot believe I get paid for what I do. Does that mean the job is easy? Of course not.

I began working in schools in 2009; I’ve been teaching for 8 years. I’ve worked in 3 very different schools and in that time have held many different roles: teaching assistant; behaviour manager; teacher of English; teacher of law, second in English; head of house; lead practitioner; extended SLT, and I’m currently Director of Learning, English at a state school in London. Through experience I can tell you that all of these roles present their own challenges yet provide wonderful job satisfaction. One thing they all have in common is that your job is never done; there will always be something else to do, and if you let it, it can quite easily take all of your time. And I used to let them do just that. I would regularly clock up 65 hours of work a week. Obviously, this wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle so I decided to make some changes which I think may be of use to others.

Prevent work emails coming through your phone. This one decision helped enormously. It meant that I wasn’t tempted to contact colleagues, or worse still, parents, in the evenings. Your working hours should be the only time when emails are being read and sent. I’m happy to report this is now the case for me.

Leave your work at work. I very rarely work at home. Instead, I prepare my working week at work. It means that the minute I leave the school gates, I am free to spend my time as I wish.

Have a mini-weekend. The aim with this is to leave work as early as possible once a week and spend your time doing something you love: go out for dinner, exercise, go to the theatre. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, just do it. You’ll feel refreshed the next day for it.

Prepare your weekly lunches. This has had a huge impact on my diet. I eat so much healthier than I ever have and it doesn’t take long to prepare it all.

Say no if you want to. This is a tough one, but it’s important to realise that if you want to feel like you are doing a job well, you can’t take on everything at once. If you feel like more and more work is being added to your main role, ask if something can be taken away before you accept another task. Take control of your workload and be okay with saying no.

9781472949790.jpg

Make light work of planning. Reuse old lessons. Tweak what you can. Yes, there may have been lots of changes recently, but there’s no need to start from scratch. Work collaboratively with colleagues. Share what you can. There are so many online sharing drives out there; I am indebted to the likes of Freya O’Dell (@fod3) and the #TeamEnglish community who regularly share their resources. I’m still not brave enough to share my own resources, but I’m building up to it!

If you haven’t already done so, stop the madness that is marking. Challenge school leaders who are insisting on a marking policy that has little impact on student progress yet significantly impacts teacher time. Use live marking/feedback. Share whole class feedback. Have mocks externally marked (I’m planning this one for next year).

I’m currently working in a school that considers the wellbeing of its staff important and I’ve never been happier as a teacher. That’s partly due to the wonderful staff and students I work with but also down to an understanding on my part that, as much as I love it, it’s just a job. I go home happy to have made a difference however big or small, but know that there is a life outside of the school gates that is also pretty awesome. And because of that, I’m a better teacher than I’ve ever been.

If you’re struggling with your own workload, maybe it’s time to reflect on what you could change to make things better? It’s worth noting that if it’s the school that’s making you unhappy, leave. Not all schools are the same. Great schools do exist. I work at one.

These are just a few of my tips aimed at making teaching a truly sustainable profession. For more help and guidance, Live Well, Teach Well has over 90 practical ideas to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance and stay positive and focused throughout the school year.

 

Abbie Mann’s debut book is out now!

 

Igniting Dylan’s Writing

Dylan doesn’t like writing. His teacher makes him write and then he has to go back and correct mistakes. So, he tries to write as little as possible. He can’t wait to be “finished”. And she makes him “do spellings”. This is difficult for Dylan because he doesn’t talk or read much at home, so he doesn’t encounter as many words as his peers. He doesn’t know what half the words mean, anyway. His latest piece of writing is about 18th Century smugglers, whatever that means. There’s a smuggler museum in his home town of Hastings but Dylan has never been. In fact, he’s never been to the beach, even though it’s only 3 miles away. So, his writing about smugglers lacks context and understanding. Dylan is like many pupils, who associate writing with failure, doing corrections and feeling pretty miserable about themselves.

Dylan is burdened with all sorts of labels at his school, but perhaps the best label would be that he is an able pupil who, at this stage, hasn’t had the same opportunities as his label-free friends. In my experience as a teacher, consultant, headteacher and writing moderator, there are plenty of Dylans out there. If we’re not careful, their experience of writing in the formative years will restrict their progress and overall prospects. Which is inexcusable – because the Dylans of the world have the same potential as anyone in their class.

What does Dylan need? He needs his teacher to look at things a different way. Rather than getting Dylan to launch headlong into writing and then take a soul-destroying look back at things he’s done wrong, the teacher needs to deliver teaching sequences which support Dylan to build up a piece of writing, layer upon layer, with the skills of writing, reading, spelling, talking and listening embedded within. Dylan, like any pupil, needs to make mistakes (or how will he learn anything new?) but he needs to make them as part of a journey through word-level activities, into reading tasks, through drafting “messy” writing by exploring different writing choices, into edited and polished writing – which he can review proudly.

I’ve been working with Dylans for many years and have used my experience to create a sequence containing all the key ingredients for brilliant writing – the WRITER sequence. My new book – Igniting Children’s Writing contains 50 tried-and-tested activities, organised into the sequence, to get pupils thinking brilliantly about their writing.

Take Dylan’s Smugglers piece. Imagine if, over a couple of weeks, he experienced the following sequence:

Work on Words: Dylan gets to read paintings of smugglers, explore maps and talk about the history of smuggling in Hastings. He doesn’t realise it, but by talking about what smugglers wore, their dastardly deeds and where they did them, Dylan is practising all sorts of grammar and encountering new vocabulary. He might even get to go to the Smuggler Museum – and see the sea! The words he’s encountering are displayed on the wall, so he’s already learning to spell them correctly.

Read as a Writer: The class starts to read Moonfleet. Key passages are studied closely and Dylan gets to use different reading skills, such as skimming and scanning for key information and terminology, or thinking about what he learns from the characters based on the things they say and how they speak. He loves the quizzes that the teacher sets after they listen to a scene from the audiobook.

Investigate Writing Choices Together: Dylan hates grammar worksheets (These still have their place, of course – the bin) but now he’s working with pairs and groups to think about the grammar choices a good writer makes. He joins in with some shared writing to practise some of the grammar, which he helps to present to the class.

Try-Out individual Choices: The teacher catches Dylan reading the next chapter of Moonfleet before school. He’s had a good few days and feels ready to draft out his only piece of writing: he’s decided to write a “drop in” scene, featuring an encounter with the ghost of Colonel John “Blackbeard” Mohune. Dylan is hooked by the story of the King’s diamond, which, legend has it, was stolen by Blackbeard. Dylan uses a thinking map to plan his scene and includes key words and phrases. He’s thought of topic sentences of each of his paragraphs. He writes a draft – a first attempt. He’s given the ghost “a burnished, gold locket, which contains the hurriedly-scrawled location of the diamond”. He likes that.

Edit, Perform and Publish: Dylan can’t be finished yet, because everyone in the class has only produced a draft. His partner and the teacher give Dylan some feedback and he’s ready to edit and improve. He tries writing some of his sentences differently. He changes some words. He takes other words out completely because they’re not needed. Because the class is putting together a Smuggler Writing Collection, he makes some final changes and “writes up” in his best handwriting, within the Smuggler border he’s drawn in Art – with maps and lockets and the ghost of Blackbeard.

Review Key Learning: Although he won’t admit it, Dylan is pleased with his writing and he’s asked to review what helped him to write well. He decides that using the Spellzone display, and planning the paragraphs, were the most helpful.

Dylan still says he doesn’t like writing, but secretly, he’s starting to feel the buzz of success and creative pride. He hopes that Mum will see his writing on Parents’ Evening. And he can’t wait to see where that Ghost has hidden the diamond.9781472951588 (1).jpg

Mark McCaughan is an experienced senior leader and local authority consultant. He has taken on whole-school, subject and pastoral leadership throughout three ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted inspections and is currently supporting schools where performance was low in the Reading SATs and using the activities provided in Igniting Children’s Writing to great effect.

Mark loves supporting schools to get pupils thinking brilliantly and can be contacted at mark@mcmlearning.co.uk.

Managing Homework For You and Your Pupils: The Checklist

Many teachers struggle to manage homework. Many teachers would like to see it banned altogether, in fact, so would many parents! Homework has always been a subject of debate. Does it have any significant impact on children’s learning, or it an expected ‘hassle’ that increases teacher workload and tensions among families? As a teacher and parent, I don’t mind the extra work of arranging homework or supporting my children at home, when I can see its value. When homework builds upon the learning in the classroom, or helps to prepare for upcoming lessons, it can be of real value but it worth remembering these points:

  • Work WITH parents

Communication is key, as is a well-established routine. Right from the word go, share with your parents how much homework will be set, when it will be set, and when it is due. Many schools have a homework policy- as a class teacher, make sure you are familiar with this and are following the guidelines to ensure consistency across the school.

  • ..kids will be kids!

Every week, without fail, there will be someone who will lose their sheet! If your pupils have a homework book, it is worth any sheets being stuck in. Even better, update your class page with a copy of the week’s homework task. This allows parents/older pupils to easily access their homework, meaning you are not bothered when the child/parent is panicking at the last minute!

  • Provide a WAGOLL (What a good one looks like)

Things regularly change in education and often, the strategies used nowadays will baffle the parents. Recently, a friend of mine with a Year 1 child had no idea what it meant to ‘dot/underline the sound buttons’ of alien words. Providing an example of what the homework should look like, with an explanation can save families hours of time and avoid tensions when it is clear that the child was correct, after all! This particularly applies to many maths strategies.

  • Consider the workload (for you and your pupils)

Planning ahead is important here. Weeks vary in the teacher calendar. If you can see you have double parents’ evenings or an assessment week coming up, be careful not to set homework that will require marking- this is the last thing you need. Children also have busy lives, and similarly, when they have evening concerts or school trips, they will be tired. Homework activities that focus on pupils’ wellbeing are particularly useful during busy times. Chapter 1 of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework focuses on pupil wellbeing activities.

  • Use homework to prepare for upcoming lessons

Share with your pupils and parents information about upcoming lessons and how they can prepare. This might involve finding out some information, asking questions or planning an idea. Once back in the classroom, the children can discuss these, meaning even those who forgot get the chance to hear from others before the lesson starts.

  • Prepare a bank of useful activities

Keep hold of homework tasks you set, as chances are they will come in useful the following year. It is also worth sharing with the parents a list of activities they can easily undertake on a regular basis. Idea 23 ‘Recall’ (100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework) provides a list of quick-fire recall games that parents can play with their children to support mental maths. These ideas can again be shared on the class webpage, or sent home as a booklet, for parents to refer to. If these games are also played regularly in school, the children are familiar with them, making it easier to play at home.

  • What is the point?

All too often, teachers rush around at the last minute, photocopying some worksheet for the children’s homework. But it worth considering the purpose of your homework tasks. How does it support/reinforce what is happening in your classroom? Is it an appropriate level for the children? Will it add hugely to your workload?

 

6 , 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers Homework.jpg

Jenna Lucas has been a primary school teacher for 12 years, originally in Bristol and now in Bournemouth. In her teaching career she has taught Early Years through to year 6 and led English as well as teaching and learning in the curriculum in her own school and in others in a coaching and mentoring role.

100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Homework is Jenna’s first book for Bloomsbury Education and is available now.

You can follow her on Twitter @JennaLucas81

 

Visit our 100 Ideas page to see the full range of titles in the series for Early Years, Primary and Secondary Teachers

The what, why and how of teaching spelling, starting with phonics

Kate Robinson explains the rationale behind her new book, A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling:

When a child struggles to spell, the ripples of impact are far-reaching. For readers of such a child’s writing, deciphering can be arduous. For the child themselves, the experience of writing can be stressful and debilitating. This was certainly my experience as a young child who found it hard to spell.  Every thought strains towards remembering or guessing spellings, or towards adapting language choices. It becomes hard to hold onto meaning if you are constantly grappling with how to spell each word. Fluency is stifled and self-confidence takes a battering.

When we help children to spell, we are helping them towards a complete freedom of written expression with which their full intellectual capacity can be unleashed. In a world where personal, social and political power are so closely linked to communication, this freedom, or lack of it, can have immense consequences for individuals.

When the right approaches are offered, most children can become successful, confident spellers. Yet even the best spelling programmes currently available lack the full range of focused, stimulating approaches that many class groups need, leaving some children unengaged and floundering. With A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling, I want to address this by enabling teachers to offer a more finely tuned, responsive and dynamic range of approaches.

Introducing and building on the very latest research, A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling offers multi-sensory, fun and engaging strategies, games and activities that address a broad spectrum of barriers to spelling. You’ll find ball games, card games, treasure hunts, movement, craft, drawing and writing games. These games and activities help children to build phonic skills as a key strategy for spelling. They also develop a wealth of further strategies including recall through association, word analysis, visual techniques and fine and gross motor movements.

A Creative Approach to Teaching Spelling allows you to quickly and easily enhance established programmes. Alternatively, it will enable you to develop responsive, engaging spelling programmes of your own that meet the specific needs of the individuals and groups of children that you are working with.

Finding the right way to help a child to spell can change their life forever.

9781472930118

Spelling for Literacy. Andrew Brodie

Andrew Brodie author photoOver the past year I’ve had to face a major challenge in updating the very popular Spelling for Literacy series.

The original series was published in 2001 and consisted of five books: one for Years One and Two combined, then one for each year group in Key Stage Two. The five books contained over three thousand words altogether, grouped in sets according to phonic blends or specific spelling patterns. Selection of words for the forty sets in each book was based on lists that were available at the time – high frequency words and words contained in the National Literacy Strategy Spelling Bank and in the National Curriculum as it existed then.

The latest version of the National Curriculum again specifies lists of words but also shows clear statutory requirements regarding phonics and the spellings that represent particular sounds. As well as these it provides non-statutory example words together with spelling rules and guidance, including exceptions to the rules!

In looking at the original Spelling for Literacy books alongside the latest version of the National Curriculum I was pleased to find a reasonably good match. But it was only reasonably good rather than perfect and my task became clear: I had to ensure that Spelling for Literacy was updated so that teachers could have the confidence of knowing that it would cover the requirements completely.

To reflect the increased demands on pupils’ learning of spelling, there are now six titles in the new Spelling for Literacy series. Here is a quick look at the new editions: