Tag Archives: Writing

A Phonics Q&A with Sally and Sarah Featherstone

How do you integrate phonics practice into your daily teaching and learning routine, making sure children maximise phonics practice in a fun and engaging atmosphere? I.e. not lecture style or monotone.

Sally: It’s important children understand that phonics is relevant so I agree that it is fundamental to integrate it into the day’s learning. Try to put a phonics activity in the provision which, if possible, practises the sounds you’ve learned that week (sound sorting, magnetic letters and phoneme frames etc.) You could choose books for story time which feature the sound you’ve looked at that day. Plan phonics based activities for your teacher led sessions so that you can refer back to the phonics session, and ALWAYS send the children off from phonics or literacy teaching saying: ‘Today we have been learning about xxxx. See if you can find xxx in our classroom today and bring me what you find!’ At the end of the day make time to look at the phonics table as see what they’ve found.

Sarah: “I think this all depends on what kind of teacher you are. Nowhere does it say that children have to sit down for phonics, or write in a phonics lesson!

The Letters and Sounds scheme works by using a daily discrete 25 minute phonics session. This works because it is a little and often. This stops working if the children see it as ‘phonics time’ and don’t carry their learning through to all other areas of learning, so I have mixed feelings about it!

I try wherever possible to teach phonics through games. I teach the children how to play seven different phonics games – the best ones are the games where the rules and what you do remain the same, and the items you use vary according to the sound. This means you can ask children at the end of the phonics lesson ‘What game shall we play tomorrow?’ and they can choose – all you have to do is adapt it to the sound you are teaching the next day. Sometimes you can’t avoid having children write or sit down, but wherever possible I try to plan so that children don’t do either of these.

The fantastic thing about teaching children the games is that you can put the equipment in the provision and they know what to do and can revisit and consolidate. There are lots of great ideas for games in the Bloomsbury Early Years site, and in the range of Little Books.”

How do you ensure parents understand progression in teaching phonics so that they can use similar strategies at home to those used in school?

Sally: I think the best answer is to be open, give them the information, preferably in small amounts, about what exactly you are teaching each week and just one or two ideas of how they can help – perhaps something on the school website, or even on your classroom door?

Sarah: “I agree with Sally. Using the classroom door or notice board is a great way to keep parents informed – or pointing out your letter of the day display so parents can check as they drop children off.

Phonics is tricky for parents because, in order to best help, you need to make sure they are using pure sounds, which is hard! So, over time, I have made the decision to do the following with my parents:

  • I always invite them in once a half term for a phonics morning. I put out activities and games, and I invite them to watch me teach a phonics lesson. After that our phonics lead runs a workshop with parents that want to stay which teaches them how best to help with phonics at home. They can then ask questions they may have or ask for advice.
  • I always find that there is never enough time to practise High Frequency Words so I give parents a sheet at around the autumn half term that gives them fun games to play to help learn sight reading of HFWs (pairs, using the words as passwords on doors around the house, etc.) I then send home the next set of words regularly with children. You can also do this with phoneme grapheme correspondence by sending home letter cards each week (print them on a sheet they can cut out at home) or asking parents to practise letter names and capitals (which they often feel happier about doing).”

What has been your most magical Phonics learning moment?

Sally: Seeing children independently use and apply something you have taught them is why we all teach isn’t it! When I was in the classroom there was much more space in the curriculum for the emergent writing phase to develop. Seeing that writing feature more and more sounds they have learned until there are whole words you can read is magical. I also love the phonetic attempts children make in trying to spell unknown words – often they make more sense than the conventional spelling!

Sarah: “There are too many to mention really – I won’t tell you about the time I asked my Y1 class if they could think of any words that rhyme with anchor…!

It’s so rewarding when they respond to what you have put out for them – when children run up to you with a clipboard full of things they’ve found outside with the letter ‘s’ in for example. I love when the light bulb comes on and children realise they can read! I have a bell in my classroom that we ring when someone has a light bulb moment, and the surprise on their faces when they realise they’ve read a word and heard the word in the sounds they’ve made, then the pleasure on their face when you ring the bell and the whole class stops and cheers them. There’s nothing like it!”

What activities do you use to help children who struggle with blending and segmenting?

Sarah: You don’t say whether this is aural blending or reading that they are finding tricky. These strategies will work with both. Often, we are encouraged to start blending and segmenting with CVC words. If a child is very good at hearing sounds, this might not be a problem for them, but don’t forget the magic of the two letter blend. Teaching a CV or VC word like ‘at’ is a good place to start and this can be done with a whole class, small group, or one to one. Once children have the knack of blending two letter words confidently (it, on, up, in, an, is) then you can introduce a new initial letter and it is easier for the children to blend as they can say c-at, b-at, m-at etc. If the child is ready for reading and this is the blending they are struggling with, then I would use a phoneme frame with the two letter blend in one box as if it were a digraph and the initial sound in the first box. This will encourage the children to recognise the known chunk of the word and this makes it easier for them to blend. A great tool for this is to use magnetic letters. You can then tape or glue gun together the two letter words and encourage the children to choose a letter to be the initial letter, and blend the word they have made. They can be real or nonsense words and this activity, once they are familiar with it, can go in the provision for them to practise.

What things can I observe and notice that will help me to know whether children are learning and engaged with their phonics?

Sally: If they are noticing print in the environment or choosing to look at books, then they are aware of the printed word, and you can then observe to see if they are using any of the strategies you have taught. If they are, then they are learning!

Sarah: You can assess them – that’s the easiest way to tell! You will see the sounds you are teaching appearing in their writing, or when you talk to them or observe them at play.

What do you observe and notice about children who are ready to move on to grapheme phoneme correspondence?

Sarah: Once children are noticing print in the environment and can write their name, understanding the link between the squiggles they are writing and the fact this represents their name, they are ready to start phase 2 of letters and sounds. HOWEVER, teachers often start this before children can confidently aurally blend. This is like giving someone a handful of screws, but no screwdriver! Children should be coming into Reception able to confidently aurally blend. Make sure you communicate with staff from your nursery providers to make sure they understand this expectation. Then if children can’t blend, you can put extra measures in place, but at least most of your class will already have that skill.

Question 7: Have you ever used or seen a really successful provocation that has had strong links to phonics? What made it engaging?

Sally: I have seen ‘phonic baskets’ used effectively. These are baskets of objects which share the same initial sound or digraph. There are lots of ideas for items to include in the Little Book of Phonics.

Sarah: “Ohhh! Lots!

  • A fishing game using magnetic fishing rods and letters with paper clips on. The children fish for a sound and if they can identify it, they get to keep it. The one with most wins.
  • Racing to get to a letter or word.
  • Writing a message to the mermaid – a tray of sand and shells with letters written on. The children wrote words using the letters and left them for the mermaid to read – she left them a message to read the next morning.
  • Cut out paper always works a treat. If your small world is a zoo, then animal shapes to write on and practise writing the animal names, bats to write on in the superhero small world, leaves to write on in the outdoors, etc. Always leave a provocation that gives children a reason to write – e.g. put an alien toy in the zoo and leave the provocation ‘Can you label the animals in the zoo so the alien knows what they are?’”

Have you observed any brilliant moments where children have taken their phonics learning and incorporated it into their Child Initiated learning? What did you use to support that happening?

Sally: I think the key is to have writing opportunities everywhere in the classroom. Clipboards are great for outside and sending children on sound hunts is great. It’s important to make sure that when they feel the will to write, the equipment is there and is inviting! Then the key is to put things in the environment that engage and excite them. Children will often naturally want to write about things they are interested in.

Sarah: I remember being really disappointed when I was told that a child, who was finally making progress, was going on holiday for three weeks in the spring term. I chatted to her about her holiday and what she would be doing and said, ‘You could really help Mum and Dad by writing a list of what you want to take with you…’ thinking to myself that she probably wouldn’t. She spent the whole afternoon writing an A4 page long list of all the things she would take (swimn coshtyum). I asked if I could photocopy it, but she was so proud of it, she didn’t want to let it out of her sight, so she wrote me one I could keep! Without copying! That demonstrates what a difference context, relevance and the child’s interests can make to motivation!

How do you incorporate your phonics into your classroom areas (outdoor and indoor – displays and areas)?

Sally: “Try having a phonics table so that children can display things they can hear that sound in. You can change the sound each day or have the same one for a few days. Make the area attractive and ask children to make a label to go with their object, and at the end of the day, review what’s on there, read labels and reward with stickers (or whatever your reward system is). If children get recognition for their efforts, they will respond and their confidence will grow.

  • Try interactive displays using magnetic letters, matching HF or CVC words, or sounds.
  • Use your listening station for games like identifying animal sounds or read along stories.
  • Display the children’s writing!
  • Leave whatever resources you have used in that day’s phonics lessons in the provision for the children to use.”

Sarah: “My number one tip with writing in the environment is to not undervalue drawing. Children draw what matters to them. Encouraging and valuing their pictures and modelling drawing a story is powerful. As the children realise (especially boys) that drawing a story is as valid as writing one, and that you will scribe the story that goes with their drawings, they get more confident about making marks on paper and themselves having a relevance (agency). From that it is a short step to labelling their drawings, and then a hop to captions. Before you know it, they will write their story and illustrate it rather than the other way round!

My other top tip is to remember how powerful their name is. It is important to them and has relevance. It is the first word they will learn to read and write. Once they can read and write their name, they will know all those sounds without you having tried! They will be motivated to read and write their friend’s names, and then they can use them to write cards, and invitations, to label drawings, to hand out letters etc. Names are hugely powerful and I would have their names on display EVERYWHERE! Blue tack them to walls wherever you have a space, then they will be able to go and get their name (or their friend’s) to help them write on their work, write to others etc. They will then start to spot those letters in other words. It’s like magic!”

How do you differentiate phonics to make them accessible for students of all abilities?

Sarah: “I have taught in schools where phonics is streamed and the children split into smaller groups working on the same phase, and in schools where there is whole class phonics. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I would argue though, that with whichever method you have taught in schools where phonics is streamed and the children split into smaller groups working on the same phase, and in schools where there is whole class phonics. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to both. I would argue though, that with whichever method your school uses, you will still have to differentiate within the group you are teaching. Here are some ideas:

  • Use games, particularly ones where you can ask lots of questions of the children. Then think before-hand about how you can ask questions that challenge the ones that have ‘got it’ and some simpler questions that get the less confident children to have a go, to tell you what they know and to feel successful. You can vary the amount of assistance you give them in answering, and in equipment you might give them to support them.
  • Make sure the lower ability children are nearer to you and feel supported by you.
  • If you are teaching whole class, make sure that independent groups are doing something they know how to do, so that they feel confident.
  • Give more time to less able children to answer, write, read, respond, and extend your more able children by asking supplementary questions.
  • Always ask yourself before any lesson ‘what will I do if they find this too easy, what will I do if they find this too hard’ – Your answers are your differentiation
  • Always support EAL children with visuals, and where possible, real things to support their language. If you are sounding out shell, show them a real shell, not a picture.
  • Try not to use the interactive whiteboard if you can – it allows children to zone out too easily and you will be looking at the board, and not at them.”

How often should you practise phonics for maximum benefit?

Sarah: “Teaching phonics  – I would teach daily, and religiously! Try not to sacrifice it to assemblies, play practise, dress up or charity days – the only exception I would allow is for trips. Even if you squash it into your story time, try to make phonics opportunities every day.

Practising phonics – I would try to grab any opportunity you can to use phonics throughout the day. Here are some ideas:

  • Let them go to get their coats one at a time by sounding out their names.
  • When you are reading anything to them, sound out words in sentences for them to blend or point out high frequency words.
  • When you are shared reading, make sure you make mistakes, or get stuck so that they can help you.
  • When you spot the sound you have learned that day – in a book or in the classroom – stop everyone and point it out – encourage children to bring you any example they find (and reward them! Stop everyone and big them up!)
  • Same as you would with number, shape, anything, use every opportunity to expose them to phonics.”

How would you advise we keep up the phonics momentum in years 3/4?

Sarah: “The screening check is a nightmare really because lots of schools think once it is done, there is no need for further phonics, and this causes so many problems for the children who aren’t fluent readers, or confident in their strategies.

  • I would make an area in your classroom that is devoted to SPAG and phonics. Get the children involved in making it exciting and contributing to it. Have word games in it for children to play (Yes! Play!)
  • Have competitions for any new words you come across in books – how would you spell it? Use post it notes and get them to try. Stick them on the wall and praise their strategies and confidence to have a go.
  • Use segmenting and blending in routines so they are still exposed to hearing harder words segmented. Sound their names out as they line up, go to wash hands, come and fetch their work, etc.
  • Play with words – make up some nonsense words and use them in some nonsense poems. They will enjoy it and their confidence will grow.
  • Make sure you share reading something on the board or in a big book every day – use this as a teaching opportunity and spot challenging phonics or spellings that they are consistently finding difficult.

Most important of all, I would say that any child who has not passed the screening check in year two is probably one of the children for whom synthetic phonics isn’t working. I could read before I started school, but I didn’t learn using phonics – I learned by reading whole words, and by recognising chunks in words – root words. By years three and four, it is appropriate to try some alternative strategies and you can teach these to all children as they will help with unfamiliar words.”

Sally and Sarah Featherstone have worked together on several fantastic books. Discover them all on our website.

The Little Book of Maths Songs & Games The Little Book of Writing The Little Book of Phonics

Playing Shops: How Abie Longstaff wrote Cavegirl

There are six children in my family. I was the oldest and the bossiest, so I coordinated endless games to amuse my younger sisters. We stole Mum and Dads’ clothes for dress-ups; we pulled all the cushions off the sofa to make a gymnastics team; we even used the old wooden hostess trolley to sail away to sea.

sisters
Abbie and her sisters

One of our favourite styles of game was shops! There’s something about buying and selling that really appeals to children. I think it’s because it’s a basic form of transaction; one that’s easy to understand. Someone has an object to sell, the other offers to buy it. So as children, my sisters and I made pretend shops that sold sweets, or books or toys to one another. I saw this game continue in my own children – they loved making yard sales: setting up a little stall on the street to sell old toys or DVDs for pennies, helping at the school fair with second uniform or biscuit sales.

With my first books, The Fairytale Hairdresser series, I created a world of shops, where the Big Bad Wolf is an optician (‘all the better to see you with’), Little Bo Peep has a wool shop; and the Tooth Fairy is a dentist. My main character, Kittie Lacey, has a salon. The books celebrate entrepreneurship and creativity. This theme is evidently close to my heart because my chapter books, The Magic Potions Shop, also feature a shop! It’s funny how the things you loved as a child are brought out in the stories you write. On school visits I often tell children that the games they play, and the books they read will influence the kind of writer they’ll become, and I guess I’m proof of that.

With this new book, Cavegirl, I’ve taken the idea of buying and selling back to Neolithic times – the late Stone Age. The Neolithic period (very roughly 8000 to 3000 BC) was an era of change. Societies had begun to develop; communities living in fixed shelters, farming crops and keeping livestock.  Clothing was made of animal skins, and stone was fashioned into tools or weapons. Settling in one place allowed time for creativity, in the form of pottery, cave paintings and jewellery. On a trip to the UAE to see schools, I was lucky enough to visit the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which displays ancient artefacts from the Stone and Bronze ages, including arrowheads, axes, tools and fireplaces excavated in the surrounding area. Some of the region used to be underwater, and I was even taken to see ancient seashells embedded in the Desert Mountains.

ancient sea
Ancient shells in the desert rock

The trip really inspired me to set a story in this period.

In those days, a barter system was in operation; goods such as weapons, pottery and copper were traded. Trade is the most basic form of commerce – one that children practise every time they swap a sticker or a trading card.

In Cavegirl, I wanted to play with the game of buy and sell in its purest form, but I wanted to add in entrepreneurship and creativity. I wanted my character to adapt the object she swaps, enhancing its value each time. In this way she moves up the ladder of trade, aiming to purchase the perfect birthday present for Mum. Only – it doesn’t all go to plan.Cavegirl

Abie Longstaff is the eldest of six children and grew up in Australia, Hong Kong and France. She knows all about squabbling, chaos and bossing younger sisters around so she logically began her career as a barrister. She started writing when her children were born and lives in Hove with her family. Abie writes for children from picture books to older fiction and is best known for the Fairytale Hairdresser series. Her latest book Cavegirl is out now!

‘IF’ For Teachers by Joshua Seigal

“I was inspired to write this poem during a workshop I ran for students, in which we looked at Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem ‘If’. I asked them to have a go at writing their own versions of the poem, based on their ideas about what constitutes an effective leader. I decided to give it a go too, and this is the result. Enjoy!”

If you can keep your voice when all about you
Are using theirs to bellow over you;
If you can dish out rules when all kids flout you
But see the humour in their flouting too;
If you can care and not get tired of caring
Or, being dissed, maintain a steady poise,
Or, being sworn at, not give way to swearing,
And see the stillness in amongst the noise;

If you can plan but not make plans your mistress;
If you can chill and have a nice weekend;
If you can still take care of all your business
And not let children drive you round the bend;
If you can bare to see the gifts you’ve given
Received by ingrates with a sullen grunt,
Or feel the fuel diminish, but stay driven
And smile when the Head is being a…difficult person to work with;

If you can make an ally of a parent
And both look out for what you think is best
For Little Johnny when he has been errant
And hasn’t done his work or passed his test;
If you can force your brain and heart and sinew
To teach the things that Ofsted says you should,
And so make sure the governors don’t bin you
And that the school maintains its place as ‘Good’;

If you can talk with yobs and keep composure
Or plug away when they don’t give a damn;
If you can act when there’s been ‘a disclosure’
And not display the news on Instagram;
If you can keep calm while you have to wing it
With sixty minutes worth of ‘drama games’,
Yours is the class, and everything that’s in it
And – which is more – you might not go insane.

capture-2

 

For more content from Joshua, follow him on Twitter or visit his website.

 

Andrew Brodie’s Top Ten Summer Holiday Tips!

Andrew Brodie is a popular and trusted name amongst teachers and parents. He has been producing best-selling educational books since 1992, is still very much involved in education and has a wealth of experience as a head teacher and in coaching children to pass the national tests.

Parents frequently ask me how they can help their child during the long summer holidays.  Here are my ten top tips.

brodie1

  • Enjoy the great outdoors. Talk about what you see: trees, flowers, birds – if you’re not sure what they are look them up together in books or using the internet.  Give points for different species: 10 points for a blackbird, 20 points for a swan, a thousand points for a golden eagle!  Who can gain most points in a day?
  • Plan your days out together. This gives another opportunity for researching information.  Where would you like to go? What would you like to do?  The National Trust for example has plenty of wide, open spaces to explore, houses packed with history and, quite often, exciting play areas.
  • Work out costs. What price is entrance to a park for adults and for children?  What is the total cost for your family?  How much will be left over out of your bbrodie2udget of £20, £50 or £100?
  • Go to places that cost nothing! Beaches, woods, hills are nearly all free!
  • Plan your journeys using public transport. Where can you catch a train or bus?  Where will the train or bus take you? How far will you have to walk?  What will be the total cost of the journey?
  • Plan your journeys by car. Look at maps, road atlases or the internet.  Which route will you take?  Which towns will you pass through or go near?  Which counties will you travel through?  How long should the journey take?
  • Encourage your child to read for a short while every day. This should NEVER be a chore!  Enjoy reading stories together or finding out new facts from non-fiction materials.
  • Suggest that your brodie3child writes something every day. Again, try to avoid this being a chore by only expecting a very small amount: for example, suggest one sentence to summarise the day or one sentence to describe the best bit!  Without pressure, your child may decide to write more.
  • Prepare meals together, taking the opportunity to measure out ingredients using grams for weights and millilitres for liquids.
  • Keep up the multiplication tables practice but keep the activity short. Your child may enjoy the challenge of reciting a particular table in less than brodie5one minute, or thirty seconds, or even faster.

 

Of course, you will have lots of other ideas for activities that
suit your own family life.  Above all, make sure that you all enjoy the summer.

Check out the Andrew Brodie book series here

More information on Andrew Brodie’s Apps can be found here 

For even more summer holiday ideas see our Pinterest Board

 

Bye Bye Billy – Creating Characters in Poetry

By Roger Stevens, poet and co-author of ‘It’s Not My Fault’

The summer holidays are here at last. And I expect you will all be outside enjoying the sunshine, running about in the fields chasing cows or investigating rocky pools at the seaside and hiding crabs in Grandpa’s shoes. Anyway, they are all the things I loved doing when I was at school. The only problem in the long summer school holiday was when my friends went away, to Spain or somewhere exotic like Bognor, and I was still at home. Then I had no one to play with. So I invented an imaginary friend. My imaginary friend was called Billy. He was very different from me. I was very good when I was a child and I never did ANYTHING naughty and I NEVER got in to trouble. But Billy was always getting up to mischief.

Bye Bye Billy

Roger Stevens

Billy left my bedroom in a mess
Billy hid the front door key
Billy posted Mum’s credit cards through the floorboards in the hall
Billy ate the last jam doughnut
Billy broke the window with his ball
Billy forgot to turn off the hot tap
Billy put the marbles in Grandpa’s shoe
Billy broke Dad’s ruler seeing how far it would bend
But now I’m twelve and Billy’s gone
I’ll miss my imaginary friend

The poem’s from our new book, It’s Not My Fault. It makes a good model poem. You could try it with your own children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren or neighbour’s children (when they get bored playing on their i-devices) – or with your class, back at school.

First, start with a few character details. When I do this in a class, often as a prelude to writing a story, I ask a series of questions and encourage the children to write the answers quickly, without thinking about them too much. Is your friend a he or a she? How old is your friend? Is your friend big, small, short or tall? Is your friend blond or dark? What hobbies does your friend have? Is your friend a human? What is his/her name?

Next, I ask the children to make a list of all the things that they would LIKE to do – but are not allowed. This works well either as a class activity, or in small groups, as one idea can spin off another idea. Encourage the children to be as naughty and outrageous as possible; although you will probably need to discourage violent or rude ideas. Tell them you are looking for “clever” ideas rather than simply introducing the word “poo” into the list whenever possible for cheap laughs. They could talk about things that actually happened in their own families.

Now choose the best of the ideas and write them in a list. Look at the list and rearrange the events in the best order. It might end with the most outrageous thing, for example.

My poem ends with the narrator growing up, and Billy leaving. And so you might discuss ways for them to end their poem. Finally, check for spelling and read the poem out loud. It should have a nice flow and sound to it.

And in the meantime, enjoy the sunshine, and chasing the cows. Have a great summer.

Not my fault.jpg

Peter Worley | Why use stories for doing philosophy with children?

First of all stories engage. When a teller tells a story well the audience visualize the story so that it seems to happen before them. If you want children to think, first of all they must be engaged.

Secondly, stories enable children to grasp complex ideas very naturally, where in the abstract, they would be lost. Tell the story of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ from The Odyssey and children can follow the complexities of ethical dilemmas that would be nigh on impossible for them in the abstract.9781441118141 Once Upon an If

Thirdly, stories can be used to activate the children as moral agents. You can stop the story at the crisis point, the difficult decision or the conflict, and instead of simply reading on, you could ask the class questions: ‘What do you think [the character] should do?’, ‘What do you think [the character] will do?’, ‘What would you do?’ and ‘What do you think you should do?’, or ‘What would you do if you were she?’ and so on. All of these questions are importantly different.

But best of all, stories can be used as rehearsal for life. Here’s an approach to using stories that I call ‘the Hokey Kokey’ approach (‘Hokey Pokey’ outside the UK). In other words, ‘it goes in, out and in again’. By ‘in’ I mean ‘concrete’ or ‘in the story’, and by ‘out’ I mean ‘abstract’ or ‘out of the story’. It is taken from Once Upon an If (pages 65-68) and is inspired by ‘Socratic method’, the techniques used by Socrates – and documented by Plato – in the marketplace of Athens two and a half thousand years ago.

The Hokey Kokey approach:

  1. Take a key concept suitable for philosophical enquiry, such as bravery (a favourite of Socrates) or heroism.
  2. Take a story where the concept features centrally, such as the Odyssey (for both bravery and heroism).
  3. Find an appropriate section or passage that tests the concepts in question. Or you might want to consider the story as a whole.
  4. Ask a simple but conceptually appropriate question using the following structure ‘Is X F?, for example, ‘Is Odysseus a hero?’ (This question is concrete or ‘in the story’.)
  5. Run an enquiry around this question.
  6. Then ask what is sometimes known as a ‘Socratic question’ to do with the central concept under consideration following this structure ‘What is F?’ In this case: ‘What is heroism?’ or ‘What is a hero?’ for younger children. (This question is abstract or ‘out of the story’.)
  7. Run an enquiry around this question.
  8. Now for the key bit! Make sure that, once you have explored the abstract Socratic Question, you return to the concrete question to ‘test’ what has been said in the abstract (at steps 6 and 7). This uses a strategy I call ‘iffing’ and it follows this structure: ‘If F is p, q, r… then is X F?’ In this case: ‘If a hero is someone who is never frightened then is Odysseus a hero?’ (This question returns to the concrete in order to test what has been said in the abstract.)
  9. Explore and examine the implications that follow from step 8. The class will need to examine whether there are any instances in the passage or story where Odysseus was frightened and then consider whether this means he’s a hero or not. Sometimes the class will revise whether the character is in fact F (in this case, whether Odysseus is in fact ‘a hero’), on other occasions, they will revise what F is: for example, someone might say during this part, ‘Odysseus is a hero but sometimes even heroes are frightened, so I don’t think a hero is never frightened. Perhaps it’s acting bravely while he’s frightened that makes him a hero.’

For younger children, try using this method – also around the concept of heroism – with Max Velthuijs’ Frog Is a Hero (published by Andersen Press).

The If Odyssey

National Storytelling Week:

For using the Odyssey to do philosophy, see the award-winning book, The If Odyssey, especially ‘Appendix 1: The Hero’ for a list of specific passages in the Odyssey to test Odysseus’ heroism where you could use the Hokey Kokey method.

Though not all, many of the sessions in my books lend themselves to the Hokey Kokey method. As it is National Storytelling Week, the following stories in the ERA-nominated Once Upon an If all have task questions that will work with the Hokey Kokey method:

  • The Patience of Trees (key concept: freedom)
  • The Promise Slippers (key concept: promise-keeping)
  • The Six Wise Men (key concept: thing)
  • The Fair Well (key concept: fairness)
  • The Water People (key concept: death)
  • Honest Said (key concept: knowledge)
  • The Fire Stick (key concepts: magic and science)
  • The Island (key concept: knowledge)
  • The Valley of The Diamonds (key concept: wealth)

What is it like to have dyslexia? An interview.

This week it is Dyslexia Awareness Week and the theme this year is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’. I’m a commissioning editor in the education team here at Bloomsbury and part of my job is creating books for children who struggle with reading. I spend quite a lot of time talking and thinking about what children and teenagers with dyslexia or other reading difficulties might like, what might grab their attention, what makes reading hard for them and what could encourage them to keep trying even though they find it hard.

But I (and I suspect most people who work in publishing) wasn’t one of those children who struggle with reading so I thought that in Dyslexia Awareness Week it might be good to hear from one of those people (instead of me)!

My nephew, Sam, is a typical 10-year-old boy. He has been better than me at all sports since he was about 4, he’ll be taller than I am in a frighteningly short time, and he is one of the kindest people I know. He is also quite severely dyslexic so I asked him some questions about what that’s like for him.

What can you remember when you first found out you were dyslexic?
I struggled at school and so I had a test to see if I was dyslexic. I felt stressed and didn’t know what to think of myself.

What did it make you think or feel?
I was scared that people would notice that I was different, but I got used to it. People don’t worry about it, so neither do I.

Do you think there are some good things about being dyslexic?
It’s hard for me to tell what I get from dyslexia and what is just me. My dyslexia is part of who I am.

Are there things that you find particularly hard at school?
If I’m set a long piece of writing I struggle with my spellings and I struggle when I am under pressure.

What do you think you might like to do when you are a grown up?
When I grow up I would like to be an engineer because I like maths and science or I would also like to play sports professionally.

What are your favourite books and stories?
The Harry Potter series, Diana Wynne Jones’s series about Chrestomanci, and the Percy Jackson books. (Sam’s mum and dad would have read these to him – they are too long and hard for him to manage without support)

My sister (Sam’s mum) told me that it is impossible to tell which of Sam’s many excellent qualities are because of his dyslexia and I think that’s right. As Sam says, “My dyslexia is part of who I am.”

This Dyslexia Awareness Week it is important that we keep in mind the needs of people who have dyslexia. I hope that we can work together to make amazing stories accessible (in whatever form that may need to be) for children and teenagers with dyslexia, as well as making sure teachers have the right training and resources in place to support them. Ultimately, I hope that all young people with dyslexia can grow up to become engineers or sportsmen or whatever else they want to be!

Visit our website to see some of our High/Low fiction for struggling or reluctant readers.

Early Mark Making. Alistair Bryce-Clegg

Author photo Alistair Bryce-CleggThere is so much more to writing than a pencil or a pen, but often we feel under pressure to make sure that children have a mark-making implement entwined between their chubby fingers at all times – just in case we miss an opportunity to mark make or write!

Mark making is something that comes naturally to us as human beings. Even young children, from the first, most humble squiggle love to leave a mark! They might be mark making with their finger in leftover bean juice on a highchair tray or picking up a stick and trailing it through sand or mud. Either way they are not on a self-initiated mission to correctly complete the cursive alphabet – they are just enjoying the process of mark making. (In my case I really did enjoy the process of mark making on all of the skirting boards in my parent’s bedroom with a variety of my mother’s lipsticks! Needless to say they weren’t pleased – I was only expressing myself through the medium of mark making for goodness sake!)

13. PVA in a builder's tray

There is so much more that children need to experience before they even think about turning their marks into writing.

The first and most important skill that children need to be equipped with to be successful writers is the ability to talk. All that writing is, is talk that comes out of the end of their pencil rather than their mouth. So, if you cannot talk it, you cannot write it (unless you are copying!). Often too much time is spent on the ‘how’ of writing and not nearly enough time on the ‘what’. Children need lots and lots of opportunities to talk and to experience that talk in a variety of ways. The more talk that they can engage in then the more language they will come across. The more familiar language that they have in their heads then the more diverse their writing will be.

Deconstructed role play

You can have the most beautifully formed handwriting in the world, but if you have nothing to write about then that is where you will get stuck. This brings us on nicely to another important element of early mark making and writing – the ‘physical’ bit. You are not born being able to write – it is a skill that you have to practise and develop over time.

Different children develop their ability to manipulate their mark-making tools at different times. It is REALLY important that we don’t push children too hard, too soon and in the wrong direction as that can put them off for good (especially boys, who tend to develop their physical dexterity a little later).

Soil tray

Of course, when we crawled out of the primeval ooze many millions of years ago, we didn’t have an immediate need to write a ‘to do’ list. We were too busy evolving. So, writing is not an innate basic human instinct. To enable us to evolve we developed our ability to gather food and create and manipulate tools. It is these physical developments that we now use to manipulate our ‘writing’ tools. As our muscles grow and develop, so does our level of dexterity. We start off as very young children with lots of gross motor physical movement and gradually, with practise, refinement and growth, that gross motor movement becomes fine motor movement. We are then able to use the joints within our arms and fingers and the muscles and tendons within our hands to allow us to grip and move with far greater dexterity.

As adults supporting early mark makers it is vital that we recognise each stage of a child’s physical development and make sure that not only have they got lots of opportunities to make the appropriate type of marks, but also that the environment that we create is full of other resources that will help them to consolidate their skills and develop them further.

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Most children start their mark-making journey by using a palm grip (nice and tight) and they tend to have a large range of movement that comes from their shoulder. I would refer to these children as ‘shoulder pivoters’. If you know that you have got some children that are pivoting from the shoulder and making large scale gross motor movements, then you need to put in place lots of large mark-making spaces where children can really consolidate their pivot before moving on.

If we can give our children lots to talk about and plenty of opportunities to talk, combined with lots of activities and appropriate spaces to help them to develop their pivot and grip – we will have a recipe for lots of successful and happy writers. We might save a few lipsticks and skirting boards while we are at it!

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More information about mark making and writing development is available in Alistair’s book Getting Ready to Write and for some more practical ideas for your mark makers try 50 Fantastic ideas for Mark Making.

Alistair is a popular Early Years consultant and ex-headteacher dedicated to helping settings enhance their EYFS practice. He works with individuals, settings and local authorities both nationally and internationally. His latest books in the 50 Fantastic Ideas series are designed to inspire children on the road to writing.

Follow Alistair @ABCDoes
Read Alistair’s blog, ABC Does

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