How to Increase Poor Behaviour in Schools

Oversized classes

Clear research has shown that the ability of the teacher to teach reduces in relationship to the increase in the size of the class. This of course is an obvious correlation. Indeed, it has been suggested that teacher’s effectiveness increases rapidly as the class sizes go below 20.

Questions to ask are how then do teachers in schools with high pp percentages manage to both control and teach large classes? Particularly considering the increase in the numbers of children with SEMH. The evidence for this may be seen in the significant increase in exclusions in primary schools.

Reduced support services

Over the last 10 years there has been a significant drop in the support services available to schools in relation to children with SEMH.

  1. The increased cost of advice from the schools’ psychological service, coming out of an already squeezed school budget
  2. The admitted failure of both PCAMHS and CAMHS to respond significantly to school’s need for advice with more severe SEMH children, and the lack of long-term commitment to those pupils
  3. The reduction of teacher outreach services (BSS) for teachers and schools struggling with the more profound cases of mental instability and behavioural dysfunction
  4. Lack of quality social support services for schools struggling to manage severe pastoral problems
  5. The inconsistency of the hub system, often creating more problems than they solve

Inadequate analysis of behaviour

  1. Lack of appropriate tools for objective measurement of behaviour patterns of children and groups
  2. Lack of clear and reliable record keeping of incidents

Ineffective Insets on behaviour management

  1. Lack of available knowledge in the school to enable differentiation of presenting behavioural symptoms displayed in the school setting
  2. The virtual absence of appropriate targeted in-service training, on the management of children and carers presenting significant mental health problems.

Inadequate curriculum content

With a narrowed curriculum driven by league tables etc., schools now reduce the amount of time given to the more creative subjects. As a consequence, the more difficult children miss out on areas they may be more competent in, compared with more academic subjects, resulting in poor academic self-image. Research shows clearly that this poor academic self-image correlates strongly with poor pupil behaviour.

Insufficient differentiation

  1. With increased class sizes, differentiation is more complex and as SEMH pupils are often below average, they rarely succeed in the more academic subjects
  2. Differentiation can sometimes mean differentiation by outcome; creating a sense of failure reinforcing poor academic self-image

Insensitivity to pupils’ social dynamics

  1. Because of their behaviour, SEMH children are more likely to be isolated, or form dysfunctional negative groupings. As a consequence, their lack of inclusion causes significant difficulties for the teacher to manage
  2. Paradoxically, outside the classroom, these children have a very high self-image, but when that is exposed to the learning environment the pupil is conflicted, which challenges their self-image and consequently creates significant difficulties

Inconsistent behaviour management in school

  1. If there is inconsistency in adult’s responses to both good and bad behaviour, these sensitive fragile children are confused and consequently their behaviour becomes erratic.
  2. This is particularly evident in areas of free association and movement around the school where rules of conduct are not consistently applied by all managing adults.
  3. Research has shown that clear leadership built on sound and clear ownership by all staff regarding behaviour management significantly reduces behaviour problems.

In this field, so often the child is defined as the problem. However, this may not always be the case. Schools and individual teachers should constantly reassess the success or otherwise of their performance and strategies. Always keep in mind that the school experience of these very unfortunate children may be in sharp contrast to their environment out of school.

I would warn against punitive methods, because only through consistent co-ordinated positive reinforcement will many of these kids see the light of approval, giving them an opportunity to re-assess their own value, and take ownership of their own behaviour.

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Roy Howarth started his teaching career in London working in comprehensive education, remand homes and a 50-bed school for profoundly disturbed adolescents. He was then Headteacher at Northern House Special School in Oxford for over 20 years and now works in primary schools as a general advisor on both class management and behaviour management plans for individual pupils.

For 100 strategies to improve behaviour, Roy’s new book 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Supporting Pupils with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Difficulties is out now!

 

 

 

A Well-Balanced Acting and Drama Lesson: 6 activities for you to try today!

“Here is the book that every drama teacher should have on their shelf” –  Sylvia Young, OBE

For a lesson that is an hour in length, you should be using about four to seven exercises.

For a well-balanced lesson, the teacher should take exercises from at least three or four different chapters. A well-balanced lesson might include one exercise from Chapter 1, ‘Relaxation and Focus’, one exercise from Chapter 2, ‘Voice’, one exercise from Chapter 3, ‘Movement’, one exercise from Chapter 4, ‘Unblocking Performers’ and two exercises from Chapter 6, ‘Objectives’.


Chapter 1: Relaxation and Focus

1.1 Releasing tension while lying down

A simple relaxation exercise in which students relax each body part, one body part at a time, while lying down.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Concentration, awareness, focus, relaxation and mindfulness.

Participants: This exercise can be done alone or in a group.

Time: 10–40 minutes (depending on the age group).

You’ll need: A warm room with a comfortable floor for students to lie on. If the room is cold, students should wear coats and/or use blankets to keep warm. If the floor is hard, students should lie on yoga mats or blankets.

How to: Ask the students to lie on the floor with their eyes closed. If the actor starts to feel sleepy during this exercise, they should open their eyes and try to bring the energy back into the body without moving; if they really need to, they can wiggle their toes or fingers to try and wake up.

Students need to try and bring their energy inwards, reclaiming it from others and different spaces, bringing their circle of attention in. Ask the students to notice the breath: is it slow, fast, steady, scattered? Is the breath in the chest, stomach or pelvic area? If it’s up in the chest, or even the throat, bring the breath down so that it’s lower in the body. The stomach, not the chest, should move up and down with each in- and out-breath.

Once the breath is stable, the actor can start relaxing each part of the body, one part at a time. They can start with softening the muscles in the forehead and then the eyebrows, the eyelids, the temples, the cheeks, the lips, the jaw, the tongue and any other parts of the face. It is important to spend a long time on the face as it’s one of the main areas people hold tension.

Once the actor has relaxed every part of the face, they can make very gentle ‘blah blah’ sounds, being careful to keep the tongue relaxed, as well as the face, as the sound is released. Once the actor has finished relaxing the face, they can move onto the body. Ask the students to start with the neck, allowing it to sink into the floor. Then they should drop the shoulders, noticing where the shoulders are in contact with the floor. Ask students to try and increase the contact with the floor by loosening into the ground: imagine the upper part of the body is melting into the floor. Next ask students to bring the attention to the hands, letting the fingers, thumbs, palms and wrists melt into the ground. Talk then through working the attention up into the arms, releasing the tension from the forearm, elbow and upper arm. Now ask them to work the attention down the body, releasing the mid back and lower back, relaxing the abdominal muscles and then moving onto the lower body.

Explain that people vary – some tend to carry most of their tension in the lower body, others in the upper body and others in isolated areas such as the eyelids or jaw. Ask students to reflect on where they hold their tension.

For the relaxation of the lower body, the actor can start by wiggling their toes and then relax the toes, the feet, the calf muscles, quad muscles, hamstrings, pelvis and buttocks. Once every part of the body has been relaxed, ask the actor to imagine energy flowing in through the feet, up the legs, through the hips, up into the upper body and face. Allow this energy to move freely through the body with no blockages of tension. Allow a good few minutes for this sensation to arise, and when it is time to stand up, make sure the students really take their time; firstly you don’t want them to get dizzy. But secondly it’s important to keep the relaxation that was just achieved in the body while standing up.

Variation: It’s also possible to do this exercise standing up with the back against a wall, or standing with no support or sitting down. If practising this exercise standing up, it’s important to keep the feet hip-width apart.

Tip: Students shouldn’t rush this exercise but take their time as they relax every part of the body. Anxieties and thoughts should be left outside of the rehearsal space.

The aim: For the actor to become more aware of their body and face, exploring where it is they are prone to holding tension and then releasing this.


Chapter 2: Voice

2.2 Diction and tongue-twisters

Vocal exercises to help students with speech and projection.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Voice, diction, speech and projection. Participants: This exercise can be done alone or in a group.

Time: 5–15 minutes.

You’ll need: A space for students to stand in a circle.

How to: Ask students to stand in a circle and to check their posture. The feet should be hip-width apart and the spine pulled up gently from the tip of the head. Start the warm-up by asking the students to open their mouths really wide and then quickly scrunch their lips up into a really tight prune shape. Repeat opening and closing the mouth like this three or four times. Now ask the students to place their hands on their diaphragms. With the in-breath the diaphragm pushes out the hand and with the out-breath the diaphragm contracts. Ask the students to think of their diaphragm as a balloon: with the in-breath the balloon blows up, filling with air, and with the out-breath the air is released, making the balloon shrink. After a few of these deep breaths in and out, ask the students to make a humming sound on the out-breath. Breathe in together to the count of three, expanding the diaphragm, and breathe out on a hum to the count of six. Explain to the students that they should choose one note and that sound should come from deep down in the pelvic area. This humming noise should vibrate the torso and lips; if it’s not doing so, ask the students to hum a little louder and deeper.

Now explain to the students that diction is very important, particularly in theatre work. Good diction will help the audience to hear and understand the actor. I find that diction is particularly a problem with younger students. For good diction, explain that consonants need to be pronounced very clearly at the beginning and end of each word. The 21 consonant letters in the English alphabet are b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, x, z and usually w and y. Say a consonant, for example, ‘b, b, b, b’, and then ask the students to say it with you, ‘b, b, b, b’. Do this for at least five or six constants, or go through all of them if the class is older and focused. Now do the same for some constant sounds such as ch, sh and th. Now move onto some words that start and end in a consonant, asking students to really emphasize pronouncing the letters. Some examples include bed, sack, hat, tall, Bob, fizz, frozen and Jack.

After this group warm-up, give the group some tongue-twisters to work on; these can be said as a group altogether or in smaller groups. Once the group knows each other well, you can ask students to say a tongue-twister on their own in front of the group; however, they must never be forced to do this.

Tongue-twisters:

Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry.
Red lorry, yellow lorry. …

She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore.
She sells sea shells on the sea shore. …

Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran. …

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. …

Toy boat.
Toy boat.
Toy boat.
Toy boat. …

A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot.
A proper copper coffee pot. …

Unique New York.
Unique New York.
Unique New York.
Unique New York. …

A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug.
A big black bear ate a big black bug. …

Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.
Eleven benevolent elephants.

Variation: You can ask the students to invent some of their own tongue-twisters.

Tip: Listen and learn from news readers, theatre actors, good public speakers (and fingers-crossed drama teachers!) to hear how they use their voices to communicate clearly.

The aim: To help students to speak with good diction.


Chapter 3: Movement

3.2 Elbow to elbow
A simple physical warm-up exercise.
Age: 8 plus.
Skills: Movement, energy, spatial awareness and group awareness.
Participants: Needs to be done in a group of five or more.

Time: 5–10 minutes. You’ll need: A room big enough for students to walk around in at a fast pace.

How to: The students walk around the room at a brisk speed, making sure they don’t bump into anyone or anything. Encourage the students to use up all of the space in the room and to change direction frequently. The teacher will call out a body part. Let’s say ‘elbow’ to start with, and the students run towards someone and touch their elbow to someone else’s elbow. This doesn’t have to be done in pairs; there can be groups of three or more touching elbows, although you will find the group will naturally gravitate into pairs. After everyone has found an elbow to touch their elbow with, the teacher calls ‘go’ and the students walk around the room again. After a few moments, the teacher calls out another body part – hand, for example – and the students race to touch their hand to someone else’s hand. Good body parts to call include knee, hand, thumb, foot, shoulder, back, little finger, wrist and ankle. Be careful not to call out any inappropriate body parts.

Tip: Don’t let anyone feel left out in this game. If someone is hovering around feeling like they can’t join a pair who are already touching elbows, encourage them to go over and make a three. This game is about inclusion, not exclusion.

The aim: To warm students up physically.


Chapter 4: Unblocking Performers

4.4 Yes, let’s!

A fast-paced group improvisation exercise.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Listening, spontaneity, imagination and improvisation.

Participants: This exercise needs to be practised in a group of five or more.

Time: 5–10 minutes.

You’ll need: A space big enough for students to walk around in.

How to: Ask the students to stand in a space in the room and then initiate an

action by saying something like ‘Let’s bake a cake.’ Ask the class to reply with

‘Yes, let’s!’ and then they will all pretend to bake a cake. The students can

shout out any idea they like; nothing is too crazy. Perhaps someone might

call out:

‘Let’s wash a lion!’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will wash a lion.

Then someone might call, ‘Let’s all be aeroplanes.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will pretend to be aeroplanes. The game continues like this.

Theming: This game can be themed. Let’s imagine that you are leading a fairytale workshop. In this case, the game could be played as above, but instead

of the suggestions being random, they are suggestions which meet the theme

fairy tales. For example, someone might say, ‘Let’s all climb a beanstalk.’ The

class is to reply with ‘Yes, let’s!’ and then they will all pretend to climb a

beanstalk. The students can shout out any idea they like; nothing is too crazy,

but ask them to keep to the fairy-tale theme. Perhaps someone else might

call out:

‘Let’s blow down the little pig’s house.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will blow down the little pig’s house.

Then someone might call, ‘Let’s clean the fireplace.’

‘Yes, let’s!’ the class will call out.

And everyone will pretend to clean the fireplace. The game continues like this.

Tip: For younger students or/and groups that are lively, it’s a good idea for the

teacher to stop the class with a signal for silence and then ask students to put

their hands up if they have a suggestion for the next ‘Yes, let’s!’ idea. This way

the student calling the idea will be heard and a mixture of students will get to

make suggestions. Encourage the quieter members of the group to contribute

ideas too.

The aim: For all improvisation ideas to be accepted and acted on with the aim of

loosening up students and creating a space where they feel safe to improvise in


Chapter 6: Objectives

6.5 Objectives with props

A fun verbal reasoning exercise where students try to convince the group why they need an object the most.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Communicative skills, verbal reasoning, persuasion, lateral thinking and intuition. Participants: For a group of five or more.

Time: 10–15 minutes.

You’ll need: Anything between five and twenty props laid down in the centre of a circle of students. These props can be absolutely anything, but a variety is good. For example, a helmet, wooden spoon, scarf, mask, teddy bear, candle, coat, thermometer, headphones and yoga mat.

How to: The class sit in a circle, and in the centre of the circle, there is a collection of props. As explained above, this can be a collection of random objects. One student will then go to the centre of the circle, pick up one of these objects and explain to the circle of students around them why they really need that object. The person explaining needs to imagine that the class doesn’t want them to have the object. The actor has to try really hard to talk the group into letting them have the object. For example, if Chen were in the centre of the circle and she picked up a doll, she would need to convince the class to let her have this doll. She can think of any made-up reason she likes. Perhaps she could explain that she really needs it for her little sister as her sister is in hospital and the doll will cheer her up. Or Chen might explain that this is her long-lost doll from childhood and she lost it on holiday when she was four. It’s Chen’s objective to make the class say yes she can have the object. Once Chen has finished her story, the class can respond with yes or no.

Students can make the stories as elaborate as they like; if Chen were feeling adventurous, she could say the doll belongs to an enchanted empress and that if the class doesn’t let Chen have it, she can take it back to the rightful owner and the empress will cast a terrible spell on the group!

Tip: Encourage students to make eye contact with the people in the circle as a means to get what they want.

The aim: For students to think laterally and improve their persuasion skills.


6.4 Group improvisation with objectives

In groups, students create a short improvisation where each character has a strong objective.

Age: 8 plus.

Skills: Improvisation, teamwork, creating a character and communicative skills. Participants: This needs to be practised in groups of three or four.

Time: 20–25 minutes. You’ll need: A space big enough for students to rehearse.

How to: Ask the students to get into groups of three or four. Explain that they are going to create a 5-minute improvisation. In this improvisation, each character must have one want, and this want can be anything: to go to the moon, to have an ice cream, to be a world-famous skate boarder. Once each actor has thought up an objective; ask the group to agree on a setting for their improvisation. A public space works best, such as a park bench, doctor’s waiting room, art gallery, airport or bus stop.

Give the students about 10 minutes to practise an improvisation with those three or four characters together with their strong objectives in a public space. Once the 10 minutes is up, ask the students to show the improvisation to the rest of the class, and the audience can try and guess the characters’ objectives.

Tip: Each actor should only play one objective. Simple objectives are acceptable; sometimes it’s the simple ones that are the most effective. Something like ‘wants to do their coat up (but the zip’s broken)’ is enough.

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The aim: For students to create a group improvisation where objectives take centre stage and to show students that objectives are a great way to create conflict and action within a scene.

 

This is an extract from Samantha Marsden’s new book 100 Acting Exercises for 8-18 Year Olds. It is available to buy now.

Samantha Marsden studied method acting at The Method Studio in London. She worked as a freelance drama teacher for eleven years at theatre companies, youth theatres, private schools, state schools, special schools and weekend theatre schools. In 2012, she set up her own youth theatre, which quickly grew into one of the largest regional youth theatres in the country. Follow her on Twitter @SamMarsdenDrama

 

The Power of Telling Our Stories

I was thirty-eight years old when I first visited San Francisco.

Walking against the evening rush-hour we came to rest at a bookstore; my partner Mike submerged himself in historical texts, but my gaze was caught by an untidy pile marked ‘young readers.’

I uncovered a book cover featuring two men seated in a wooden boat; a young boy pictured in front of them feeding two white water birds; the cover read ‘Daddy’s Roommate-written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite.’

Intrigued I began to read…about a boy living between his mother and his father separately. Father had a new roommate (Frank) and together they undertook regular activities: working, sleeping, eating and occasionally having disagreements. Father and Frank took the boy to the beach, zoo and baseball. Later in the book, the boy asked Mother about Father and Frank; Mother explained that they were ‘gay’- simply another form of love. The book ended with the boy’s acknowledgement that since all of his parents were happy, he was happy too.

My tears came suddenly and relentlessly; fortunately Mike spotted it.

‘Are you ok?’ he enquired.

‘I’m thirty-eight years old and for the first time in my life I have read a book that, had I read it as a child, it might have made me feel like I belonged in this world’. I blubbed messily.

At primary school, despite knowing that I fancied Benny (not Frida) from the pop group Abba and Sean Connery (not Ursula Andress) in the film ‘Dr No’, I (like many others), was provided with not a single book at school or at home that helped me understand identity.

My transit through state education was punctuated with homophobia, bullying and beatings, so sustained and overwhelming that my story very nearly ended at the age of seventeen.

Diverse human children must experience diverse stories and role models to feel welcomed, validated, celebrated and natural, yet it took thirty-eight years to see my own experience of life on Earth reflected in any children’s books.

May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, an opportunity to explore identities histories, experiences and suffering of those who identify as LBGT+ and to stand as allies in the ongoing struggle against hate.

Ten years of facilitating LGBT+ inclusion in schools has shown me that prejudice-related bullying can be targeted at anyone who is perceived as ‘different’. We are all naturally diverse and therefore all potential targets.

In 2009 my primary school uncovered (via pupil data) that 75% of our children were experiencing bullying related to LGBT+ identities, whether or not they identified as LGBT+.

As a school leader I had a simple choice; ignore the data and be negligent or be pro-active.

9781472961501.jpgUnable to source relevant training at primary level I devised an LGBT+ inclusion teacher training programme, delivering it to over one hundred staff. I also sourced books for our classrooms about diverse identities, including ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ the very same book that had once moved me to tears.

 

Shaun Dellenty is an independent education trainer and inspirational keynote speaker who has been working to positively prevent LGBT+ and identity-based prejudice in the UK education system since 2009. His debut book, Celebrating Difference, publishes on 30th May.

Saved by a Writer from the Past, or How I Learned to Love Widsith the Poet

Whenever I write a new story, I often seem to reach a point where inspiration dries up and I get stuck. It’s almost as if a voice in my head says over and over again, ‘Why are you writing this rubbish? And what makes you think you’re any good at writing stories anyway?’ I like to think it’s an essential part of the creative process, the temporary triumph of the self-doubt that surrounds any attempt to create something. Get through this, I tell myself, and everything will be fine. But that doesn’t always make it any easier to deal with.

The dreaded moment came early with Winter of the Wolves, my latest Flashback. I had already written two Flashbacks – Revolt Against the Romans, the story of Caractacus’s rebellion in first-century Roman Britain, and Attack of the Vikings, a tale of action and adventure set in the west of Scotland in the Viking Age. I also had a good idea for the new book. It was going to be about the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, seen through the eyes of a young boy, an orphan who is taken in by a chief of the Angles. I was keen to make the Beowulf story part of the plot too. I’m a huge fan of the poem, and I wanted to come up with a suggestion for how it might have been brought to these shores.

As usual I did plenty of research and came up with an outline. I wrote a decent chapter one, moved on to chapter two… and then found myself grinding to a halt. The words stopped coming, the characters wouldn’t speak or do anything interesting, the story refused to come to life. But I didn’t panic. I’d been in the same position many times before, and so I tried the things that have helped in the past – taking a break, reading my notes again, thinking about the characters from a different angle. Doing more research also sometimes helps – it might be that I haven’t immersed myself in the period enough.

That’s what did the trick this time. With Beowulf in mind, I looked up lots of other Anglo-Saxon poetry, and came across a poem I’d forgotten about. In The Traveller’s Song we meet Widsith, an Anglo-Saxon poet of the sixth century, and he tells us of all the royal courts he’s visited, and the important kings and chiefs and warriors he has impressed with his poems and songs. Widsith is a great character – he’s vain and boastful, and the poem reads like a glorious promotional leaflet aimed at getting him more work. At any rate, it really spoke to me across the centuries, perhaps because I’m a freelance writer too. I’ve certainly met a few writers like Widsith, and I have a feeling he never got stuck.

So I put Widsith into my story as an old blind scop – that’s the Anglo-Saxon word for a poet – who becomes a friend and mentor to my central character, Oslaf. Poets were greatly respected in early Anglo-Saxon culture, as praise-singers for warrior chiefs, but also as guardians of the tribe’s history. Widsith quickly became a very important figure in Oslaf’s story, and to a large extent the plot only works because of him. While I was writing the story I kind of felt that Widsith was looking after me too. It was almost as if I had a co-writer  I could turn to – ‘What do you think of this bit, Widsith?’ I put a quote from his poem at the beginning of the book, but really his name should be on the title page as well.

The rest of the story came fairly easily after that, although for me that means inching ahead at a rate of about 500 words a day. But you get a feel for how well a story is 9781472953780.jpgprogressing, and I knew this one was going to be all right. I’m not usually boastful about  what I do, but I’ve decided to emulate Widsith and say that I think Winter of the Wolves is one of the best stories I’ve written. I certainly enjoyed writing it enormously, and I think the cover (by Illustrator Rob Ball) is brilliant. If you want to find out more about Widsith there’s an excellent Wikipedia article about his poem. I’m thinking of starting a Widsith Fan Club – after all, I really do owe him a favour!

 

Tony Bradman is an award-winning author who has been involved in children’s books for 35 years. His latest novel, Winter of the Wolves, is out now!

Beautifully Bilingual

I am lucky enough to have grown up within a large extended family rich in language and culture. My father was born in Portsmouth, Southsea with a ‘traditional’ mother and father in the sense that they sat down every Sunday for a roast lunch and forced my dad to attend church even though they never actually went themselves! My mother was born in Nairobi, Kenya and came to England where she met my dad at university and the story goes (as my dad likes to tell it) that my mum was something of a mysterious Indian beauty amongst the students and by the time my dad realised she wasn’t a rich, Hindu princess, they had already married!

My sister and I spent a lot of our school holidays either at my Nanima’s house playing with my cousins or at an Indian wedding, which seem to happen every other week! Hindu weddings are beautiful! Full of music, colour and dancing. And whilst I loved every minute of it, I barely understood anything that was happening as it was all spoken in Hindi, Guajarati or Urdu. As my Nanima also barely spoke any English and my mum herself spoke five different languages, it was decided that I should attend Saturday school and learn to speak, read and write Gujarati. I suddenly found myself in a new environment where I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying or read the workbooks or make friends, as most of the other children either spoke to each other in Gujarati or Hindi. I went home to my parents so upset to be out of my comfort zone that after a few meagre weeks, I eventually quit – something I continue to look back on regretfully.

Urdu

(Me (in the blue dress) and my beautifully bilingual family at my sisters English/Hindu wedding)

When I give training about teaching children with English with an additional language, I like teachers to experience first-hand what it is like for children new to English by asking them to follow simple instructions given in another language. The feedback is always ‘enlightening’. Imagine yourself in a new country, where you don’t know the spoken or the written language, the culture, the routines, the traditions. How would you navigate? How would you know where the toilets are? Or how to ask for help? This is what it is like for all children with EAL. On top of that, they would be dealing with getting used to having left their old familiar school, home, friends and possible family members – that’s a lot for any adult to deal with, let alone a child.

My advice to teachers is this: do your research! If you know you are about to have a new pupil, try and meet them and their parents beforehand (home visits are great for this). However, as we all know, sometimes you don’t have time to do this and a child suddenly appears in your class first thing Monday morning with no warning or information. So, make the time! Arrange to meet parents as soon as possible, consider that they might need an interpreter too. Find out basic information about the child; how do you pronounce their name? How much English do they understand? What do they like doing? Do they have any dietary requirements? Where are they from? (In Thailand, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body and so you should never touch their heads and in some Asian, African and Latin American countries it is deemed disrespectful to look a member of authority such as a teacher, in the eyes). Are they religious? How do you say key survival words or phrases such as toilet, lunch, home, sit, stand, coat on etc?

It is also important to make sure that children with EAL aren’t categorised as being in a low ability group or SEN group (although it is useful to find out from parents if they are concerned about their child’s development or speech in their home language). Many teachers can often mistake a child with EAL’s ‘silent’ phase as being SEN when actually they are simply watching, listening and observing.

An aspect of planning that I often see in schools is where teachers differentiate for ‘SEN/EAL’ – that’s not to say that you might use similar resources e.g. visual aids, but for many children with SEN they need lessons that are broken down in manageable steps and need to take in consideration sensory and physical needs. When working with children that are new to English, you should be thinking about pre-teaching key vocabulary in the form of games and fun activities, repetition, gestures, buddying up with another child or adult that may be able to translate.

My mum was one of the first EAL consultants in Croydon and she would go into schools and support teachers through training, observations and in-class support. Unfortunately today, due to our ever increasing cuts in all things related to the public sector, specialist consultants are few and far between. The feedback I often get from NQTs is that supporting children with EAL is barely covered in teacher training despite this being an area that the majority of new teachers struggle with.

I wanted to create a resource for Early Years teachers that was easy to access and not too ‘wordy’, understanding that teachers’ time is limited. I always loved the ‘50 Fantastic Ideas’ series because it let me dip in and out for new ideas and the activities were usually easy to resource and fun to do. So, I decided to write 50 Fantastic Ideas for Children with EAL. I tried to design the games and activities so that you would use them not as a stand-alone intervention for children with EAL because, as we all know, our time is stretched, but instead you can use them with a whole class or in small groups with children that might need encouragement to build relationships, to enhance their speech, to help with 9781472952639.jpgconfidence and to develop respect and knowledge of other cultures and customs. I recently hosted a network meeting for teachers in Southwark on how to support children with EAL in the class. Afterwards, one of the EYFS consultants said it was one of the highest attended meetings they had held which proves that it continues to be an area where even the most experienced teachers want help in. I hope that my book goes a little towards easing this need.

 

Natasha Wood has worked in the Early Years for nine years and has built a great breadth of knowledge in child development and play. Her latest book, 50 Fantastic Ideas for Children with EAL, is out now!

Why the Golden Horsemen Came Riding

Growing up, I knew almost nothing about Baghdad and the Middle East except that an author there had written the 1001 Nights, or the Arabian Nights as my Year 4 teacher used to call it. It’s a wonderful anthology of fairytales that has filled the heads of many a child with the notion of flying carpets, thieves hidden in wooden barrels, genies and magic lamps. I received the Bancroft Classics edition for my eighth birthday, which I re-read endlessly. No author was credited with the work on the front cover but I hardly noticed. I devoured the Sinbad films on telly too, especially the Ray Harryhousen versions which had incredible special effects. But of the real Baghdad, I remained mostly ignorant.

In my teenage years, the Middle East started to feature on the news, but nearly always shown in a bad light. Uprisings and terror attacks flickered across the television screens. News reports showed tanks lumbering across deserts, flat-roofed houses being blown up, grim-faced youths hijacking planes. Not surprisingly I never connected those images with the magical lands of ‘Open Sesame’ and delicious lakoum.

Fast forward a few decades and I am doing an author visit at a school in Bradford where I lived for over ten years. Most of the children were of Pakistani and Indian origin. It was a warm day and we were eating our lunch out in the playground. We got to talking about our most cherished wishes. One boy said in a broad Yorkshire accent, ‘my biggest wish is to go truffle hunting with my father in the Afghan mountains.’

It turned out the boy’s father was Afghani. Trapped in the fraught and long-winded process of sorting out his immigration paperwork, he still lived in Afghanistan. The son visited once a year but never during the truffle hunting season.  It was a Eureka moment for me. It brought images of a magical Middle East flooding back into my head. Not the clichéd magic of genies and flying carpets, but the enchantment of real life still tied to the land and the seasons.

I started reading up on life in Middle Eastern countries, now and in the past and I fell for its charm all over again. Baghdad especially drew my interest. Based around the ‘beyt al Hikma’, meaning ‘house of knowledge’, a world-famous library built in the 9th century, it established itself as a world leader in the arts, science and innovation.

As I started sharing my discoveries in my talks to schools, I learnt that most children, even those of Muslim heritage, were unaware of Baghdad’s glorious heyday, of its massive contribution to the worlds of science, mathematics, medicine, poetry and translation. Without its scholars and their mentors, including the powerful caliphs who built the libraries and schools, much of the writings of the ancient world would now be lost forever.

9781472955999.jpgToday the Golden Age of Islam is part of the National Curriculum in KS2. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore the real history of a culture we in the West so often overlook. My book The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad was written to accompany the subject. Like my other works for Bloomsbury Education, it’s a rollicking adventure but it is also packed with information and insight into the culture and the period. I hope you all enjoy it.

 

The Golden Horsemen of Baghdad is bestselling historical fiction author Saviour Pirotta’s latest novel. Out now!

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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

 

Poetry in Unexpected Places

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, back in 2016, there was a collective gasp from the literary establishment. While some critics leapt to the defence of the Nobel committee’s decision, others devoted reams of newsprint to the inevitable question: ‘Can song lyrics be poetry?’

Back in 2008, the renowned poet Simon Armitage had spoken for many when he confidently asserted that ‘songwriters are not poets’, going on to say that ‘songs are often bad poems. Take the music away and what you’re left with is often an awkward piece of creative writing full of lumpy syllables, cheesy rhymes, exhausted clichés and mixed metaphors’ (and this was in an article in which he professed his love for the Arctic Monkeys. Rather than saying that songs were bad per se, he was suggesting that we take them on their own merits).

It is true to say that few children are exposed to much of what many people would consider true ‘poetry’. ‘Poetry’ can so often be seen as something ‘difficult’, and certainly when I was at school a number of teachers analysed the joy out of it, so that what should have been an enriching experience became a dull one. Syllabuses these days focus less on dead white males than they used to, but nonetheless the notion of ‘poetry’ has, in some circles at least, retained that rather elitist veneer.

But what children are exposed to are songs and rhymes, ranging from skipping rhymes in the playground to the latest rap lyrics (and it is worth noting that Seamus Heaney, himself studied on many school courses, praised the ‘verbal energy’ of rap artist Eminem). Take one of the playground rhymes I learned as a child (chanted while throwing balls against a wall):

‘Please, Miss, my mother, Miss,
Forgot to tell you this, Miss,
That I, Miss, won’t, Miss,
Be in school tomorrow, Miss’.

Doggerel? Perhaps. And yet there’s a lot to learn from it. That repeated use of ‘Miss’, providing the verse with its rhythm. The ‘this, Miss’ – two rhyming words jostling against each other within a line, marking both a rhythmic change and one in the rhyme structure. Or how about the skipping rhyme:

‘On the mountain stands a lady,
Who she is I do not know.
All she wants is gold and silver
All she wants is a nice young man.
All right, [girl’s name], I’ll tell your mother,
Kissing [boy’s name] round the corner!
How many kisses did she give him?
Five, ten, fifteen, twenty…’

Not much poetry in there, you might think, and it’s true it wouldn’t win any prizes (not least because of the appalling sexism of ‘all she wants is a nice young man’, although in its defence we also sang ‘all he wants is a nice young girl’ on the few occasions when the boys joined in).  And yet the words have a strong beat, and the abrupt change in rhythm in the fourth line is one worth noting.

Or take the lyrics from Stormzy’s ‘Blinded by Your Grace’. I can’t pretend I know much about rap music – my main exposure comes from one of the characters in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty who is an aspiring rapper, and his lyrics are very clever (perhaps unsurprising given that they’re in fact written by a prize-winning novelist whose brother is himself a rapper). But here’s Stormzy with some blinding half-rhymes in Blinded by Your Grace:

On the main stage runnin’ ’round topless
I phone Flipz and I tell him that we got this
This is God’s plan, they can never stop this
Like wait right there, could you stop my verse?
You saved this kid and I’m not your first
It’s not by blood and it’s not by birth
But oh my God what a God I serve

Can we not, when learning poetry, note this and learn from this too? The ‘topless’ juxtaposed with ‘got this’ and ‘stop this’ in the next lines? That repeated use of ‘God’ that punctuates the final line that I’ve quoted?

Whether or not such examples are ‘poetry’, is, for me, something of a moot point. Rather than arguing over genre divisions, perhaps we are better off seeing the potential for poetic learning in so much of the ‘verbal energy’, to use Heaney’s phrase, which surrounds us on an everyday basis. Maybe what we should be doing is using children’s lived experiences – through songs, through rap, through rhymes – as a springboard from which to discover other uses of language (while at the same time not falling into the trap of making value judgements about which linguistics usages are ‘better’).

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Bob Dylan famously dithered over accepting the Nobel prize, in part because of his own doubts about whether he deserved it. Perhaps this could be summed up by the oft-quoted (and presumably anonymous) lines ‘I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it’.

But maybe all of us, even young children, can say the same.

‘I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it’.

Precisely.

 

Elli Woollard is a writer of picture books, young fiction and poetry. Her new poetry book for younger children, Perfectly Peculiar Pets, publishes on 21st March 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

 

Resilience Or ‘Bouncebackability’

I have been lucky enough to take the wonderful journey involved in writing a children’s non-fiction book in the areas of wellbeing and emotional health, several times. What I absolutely love about this process is the distillation of all I have researched and learnt over the years into a simply worded text (supported by illustrations). What’s Going On In My Head?, a book about positive mental health for young children, made me embark upon another such journey. I had to consider everything I knew about maintaining mental health – a key component of which is resilience – and put it into simple words.

Resilience is a word that’s been bandied about for a while now with the general understanding that it is one’s ability to deal with and ‘bounce back’ from life’s negative events. There is a fair amount of certainty that it is a good thing and it is so good in fact, we can’t have too much of it. However, even though the term is on most people’s radar, how to increase our resilience is a little more elusive. My book aims to make it less elusive so children can start thinking about and addressing the issues relevant to developing resilience.

In the book I have covered many of the well-known components that contribute to resilience, such as….

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…but I also made a few further reflections relating to resilience that I think are a little less obvious. They are as follows.

Self esteem

I was there at the start of the ‘self-esteem’ movement in schools. I remember running INSET training on the stuff in the early days of the national Curriculum. I would say most people’s understanding was quite primitive back then and more or less amounted to, ‘we must praise the children more.’ We have certainly moved on but I still think there is room for further fine tuning.

I think we focus too much on the positive. Yes, you heard right! I think that genuine self-worth comes from not only enjoying and celebrating our strengths and achievements, but also from the complete acceptance that there are things we are not naturally talented at. It doesn’t mean we can’t practise and get better at those things, but there will always be others who excel in some areas with considerably less effort. (It makes sense therefore that if we have become good at something through exceptional effort, this is indeed praiseworthy). We need children to know that being less than great at some things is absolutely fine.

Emotional literacy

I could go on about emotional literacy for hours. In fact, I do! But a message about emotions that I think we are often being too indirect about or not delivering at all, is that we really do need to stop believing the unrealistic idea that we are meant to be happy all of the time. It’s partly advert and social media culture that promotes this idea. We need to help children understand that negative emotions are to be expected, and as long as we are mentally healthy, they will soon be replaced by another equally transient emotion. Humans experience a huge range of emotions – both comfortable and uncomfortable – and this is how it is meant to be. Negative emotions need to be fully acknowledged, validated and accepted so we can then move on and develop healthy coping strategies for when we are experiencing them.

Coping strategies – rumination

 Rumination – a thought that is bothering us by going round and round in our heads, and our ability to prevent or moderate it can have a huge impact on our mental health. There is no doubt that some people are afflicted with a tendency to ruminate more than others. 9781472959232 (1).jpgHelping children, especially the more anxious ones, to recognise 1) what rumination is, 2) when they are doing it, and 3) what they can do to ‘park’ it, can help maintain positive mental health. What’s Going On Inside My Head? explores all these messages and what’s more, it says it in ‘Kidspeak’!

 

Molly Potter has taught in both mainstream and specialist provision primary schools as well as being a county PSHE advisor. Her new book, What’s Going On Inside My Head?publishes on 21st February 2019 and is available to pre-order now.

Re-Booting Rainbows

An interviewer once asked Roald Dahl: “How is it, when you’re writing for eight-year-olds, you can catch and hold their attention so completely?” Roald looked surprised at the question. “I am eight-years-old,” he explained.

Or whatever age was called for, apparently.

This ability to adjust so readily to a specific target-group is as handy for a children’s author as it is for a class teacher. After all, whatever our chosen destination, we’ll be arriving there alone if we don’t begin where the kids are.

Not that I envisaged any such problem with my story Rainbow Boots. I’d just been re-reading the Brer Rabbit stories of Joel Chandler Harris and was keen to write a ‘trickster’ story of my own. Already, in fact, an idea was forming in my mind. It would be about a kid called Denzil who’s so desperate to share in the latest craze for fancy, rainbow-coloured leisure boots that he’s prepared to lie, to cheat and even to con his best friend Nadeem to get hold of a pair. Clearly, a task for my long-ago top-junior persona if ever there was one!

What could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot as it turned out. Because, for some reason, my long-ago top-junior persona kept slipping the name of Len Shackleton into my mind. Len who, do you ask? Exactly! I’d barely given Len a thought since my fledgling days as a football fan. I’d read at a sitting his autobiography The Crown Prince of Soccer– a great title for a book about a player who was as famous for his jokes, on and off the pitch, as he was for his football skills. It was Len who back-heeled a penalty kick into the corner of the net having sent the goalie the wrong way. It was Len who often used a corner flag to make a return pass to himself and leave an opponent bamboozled. It was Len who once brought a match to a complete stop by putting his foot on the ball while he pretended to check his watch and comb his hair before he casually took a shot at goal (he scored, of course).

Now there was a trickster to reckon with!

Not that Len’s antics impressed everyone. Despite his brilliance, he won only five international caps for his country because “England play at Wembley not The London Palladium” as one of the England selectors snorted.

All lovely stuff for a story, yes. Pity it wasn’t the story I was trying to write. This was about a fashion victim not a celebrity soccer player. Having got all my ducks in a row – the characters, the primary school setting, the pace and shape of the story-line – the last thing I needed was a show-off like Len Shackleton kicking my tale into touch.

Wait, though.

Suddenly, out of the blue, another of Len’s flicks-and-tricks popped into my head. It was a routine trick so eye-catching it became one of his trademarks. When he left the dressing room after a match, he often entertained the fans who were waiting for his autograph by dropping a coin onto his instep, flicking it from one foot to the other, keepsie-upsie style, and finished off by flipping it into the top pocket of his club blazer. What a climax that would make! And what a way to point up the difference between a pair of boots that were strictly for decoration and those that were made for playing.

Hmm…

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Which is how, with a bit of careful re-writing on my part, a Len Shackleton figure,  under a different name, makes a guest appearance in Rainbow Boots after all. For me, it’s a reminder of how mysterious and unpredictable the writing process is. We should never forget that forward planning is fine up to a point. But we must always allow for an enlivening change of direction – not least if it springs from our own childhood experience. Wily old Roald didn’t need a reminder about this. He seems to have known it deep in his bones!

 

Chris Powling’s has written more than sixty books for children, and his new book Rainbow Boots publishes on 7th February.