Parent-School Connection Project

One of the main barriers to learning is low parental engagement, with high work loads it’s often very difficult for busy class teachers to routinely connect with homes. With this in mind, I embarked upon a project to improve how our school involve parents in the everyday classroom experience. This post is a reflection upon the outcomes of it as well as the future. I sought the views of teachers, parents and students in an effort to identify the genuine impact of the project and whether we are tackling the problem.

Our teachers and pupils needed something fresh to get them all on board and so I trialled Class Dojo, which I had used the year before just for my class. After seeing a positive impact on a classroom scale, I was confident that by training others it could become a vital tool for engaging parents and improving behaviour. Now this isn’t a blog to sell a product, it is to outline the positive outcomes that can adapted through any means (not just this app) and pitfalls to bear in mind that I came across throughout the project:

// VLE aspect

Previously, our school had a list of documents and information that were required to be uploaded to the VLE each week. This app allows us to uphold this promise (and more!) Teachers can upload real time pictures, much like with a class twitter in which I previously invested my time at a previous school. Documents can be pinged home very easily. The interface is easy to use. Many teachers and TAs can access all classes.

Pitfalls: a) We can’t have a year group page so we have to copy and paste posts across to individual classes. b) I was also worried that some teachers would invest more time into it than others, which might cause issues as we have siblings in the year group.

In reality: a) There’s a School Story option which I need to explore further….Because we were trialling this as a year group, we have focussed solely on our class stories, branching out recently to my children teaching other classes and year groups how to use the student story. b) Due to it being such an easy system, it’s used by teachers and TAs alike at least daily, but issues were raised in feedback from parents.

Feedback from teacher feedback Google Form:

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// Behaviour

This is a useful tool for catching children being good. It has a positive ‘ding’ that can be heard from the device used and/or the big screen. There’s nothing like that noise for children to become even more visibly active in their learning. It is also less disruptive allowing the teacher to teach, rather than creating a big song and dance every time you catch someone being good (although there is obviously still the place for this!) The points the children earn are reset to zero each week so they start the week afresh ready to aim to beat their best score. This focus and awareness of their own behaviour has made a distinct difference with the majority of the children.

Pitfalls: I worried that expectations would be lowered if the basics such as being on task were being ‘rewarded’ with points.

In reality: all it is doing is giving points to things you’d verbally praise anyway. It helps the children who struggle with the basics as the conversation occurs around these standard expectations more frequently. Catching the children who always do the right thing and recognising the behaviour that we expect rather than giving a platform for those who misbehave was also highlighted as important by Paul Dix at Primary Rocks this month.

// Children

Obviously all the aforementioned has an impact on the children, but another aspect of it that we love is their Student Story. Children HAVE to upload something they’re proud of each day to their personal story. This helps them think about what is quality and what is not their best. Their parents talk about their learning with them at home and they know there’s an audience to whatever they choose.

Pitfalls: Children won’t be proud of any of their efforts that day and it’ll have a negative impact.

In reality: If they realise that they aren’t proud of anything, which is very rare, they write a short little reflection and aim for the next day. I’ve had it twice and both times I’ve sat with them and had that conversation, looked through their learning and discussed aims together.

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// Parents

The communication from parents has been the absolute key to behaviour changes. Most of all because the parents we need to speak to most are inevitably the hardest to get hold of. This goes straight to their pocket and they are far more connected with how their child is behaving on a day-to-day basis and not just being contacted when something amazing or something bad occurs. Lots of children have a target number of points to achieve in the day and the parents then only give them their walking home from school sweets/visit to the park if they’ve achieved this. This solidarity between home and school is imperative for children who struggle. For those who are just generally excellent, their parents get to see this reflected in their child’s report and know that they aren’t being forgotten for the sake of *those* children who require so much of a teacher’s time.

Quotes from parent feedback Google Form:

  • “It’s allowed parents to monitor and celebrate their child’s learning/achievements”
  • “I find Class Dojo a very useful way to keep up to date with my child’s school day which then encourages conversation about his day when he gets home. As a working parent i also really appreciate the ability to contact the class teacher if I have any concerns or wish to pass on anything happening at home.”
  • “I think this is a brilliant tool and one that [my son] and I discuss on pretty much a daily basis. I can easily log in from work and can get a true indication of the type of day he’s had and how well he has engaged with the class and his learning.”
  • “It seems that some teachers award more Dojos than others, understandably, but some kind of common criteria would be useful as it is creating unnecessary competition/conflict between our siblings. Other than that, fabulous!!”

The ability to directly message parents and vice versa has been incredible for keeping on top of minutae – ‘Bob has had a rough night’s sleep, he might need a bit of TLC this morning’, ‘Fred’s rabbit died – just so you’re aware’ which makes my life easier to be pre-warned and allows the parents to rest easy! On the other hand, pre-warning parents about incidents at school that might affect their child after school helps them prepare to provide child with best/most appropriate welcome and routine for home.

Pitfalls: a) Others were concerned that this direct link to parents would have a negative impact on our well-being and work load. When I sent out the letters, parents were informed that the expectation was for us to be active during working hours and not during evenings, weekends or holidays.

In reality: not one teacher that uses it doesn’t log on and check outside of these hours. Why? Because it is easier for our workload to send quick messages such as: ‘remember it’s non-uniform day tomorrow’ message; upload a picture of our spelling focus words for children to bump into outside of school; or send a more detailed message to an individual parent from our sofa with dinner rather than making numerous phone calls after 6 at school which is fairly normal. They think it helps with their workload despite it technically being an addition because its overall impact is incredible.

Unprecedented pitfalls:

Quotes from parent feedback Google Form:

  • “We love it! At first there was some inconsistency between classes for the number of Dojos being awarded. My daughter’s teacher in year one would often not give any out for a few days and my youngest couldn’t understand when my eldest would get lots but it has improved now, I guess the teachers needed time to get used to it.
    I hope the school keeps this system”
  • “When teachers embrace the concept it is very useful and a welcome insight into the children’s day. However when the two year groups engagement differs vastly the resulting low self esteem from the child who apparently did not achieve any motivational points is very upsetting and the whole system can lose its impact (and tbh I stopped looking). Admittedly Dojo merely records the evidence it is given but the comparisons were there nonetheless.
    (I can also appreciate that the demands on a teachers’ time are vast and this system takes effort? )
    The ability to message the teacher from an app however is a great time saver.”

From the feedback received from parents, I realised that teachers awarding the behaviour points differently had an impact on home life where siblings were involved. I believe that no matter the system, some teachers will give out more stickers/stamps/merits etc than others. Also, classes will require different uses and respond differently. I feel this will need to be addressed both with children through developing their growth mindset and having personal targets and not comparing with their siblings at home and also with parents to help them not focus on this negatively with the children at home and not compare them. This would be the next stage of the project.

// Teachers

Again, all the aforementioned have a direct impact on teachers, but the best thing for me is the positivity. What a fantastic way of forcing oneself to notice the good! Constantly aiming to catch children doing the right thing has made me a much more positive whirlwind in the classroom: it’s contagious and develops a real cycle of positivity amongst the majority. It hasn’t meant that my expectations have lowered, far from it. I’m also still firm, but fair. That doesn’t mean I can’t embrace the monsters!

Having seen the impact of this app on the teachers, children and parents, it is now being rolled out across the school and policies are being developed for this approach. Further INSETS will be provided for me to share basics, but also celebrate other teachers’ ideas with how to use it. More staff support will be inputted, especially when it comes to new parents with many a question.

Pitfalls: I’m hoping we can still upload pictures of the children’s smiling faces and not just their learning, which is one possible aspect to be banned. I’m hoping teachers will be given the autonomy of when and how they use it and a didactic list of ‘must do’s’ isn’t imposed. Why? Because there’s nothing like a list of rules to stump creativity and to nurture rule-breakers…

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// Biggest win of the project?

*That* teacher who always says no to new ideas, is negative about change and HATES technology is now the biggest fan and I’ve even delegated the role of supporting KS1 to her. Happy days.

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Primary Rocks 2017

Another year, another fantastic opportunity to see my online, ever-increasing network of primary teachers, leaders and those studying to join us in the profession.

The team worked hard throughout the year to pick up on feedback from last time and we think it kicked off even better than last year. I can’t figure out if we’re still flying high from the quality speakers, sponsors and attendees or now having mega PrimaryRocks withdrawal symptoms.

There are  a few great blog posts out about the day, so I will keep mine to a brief list format (of course):

// Paul Dix:

He revved us all up by speaking a lot of sense about noticing good behaviours – ‘the above and beyond’. When looking around the room, I saw lots of nodding heads. To summarise his presentation: Set the standard, whether that be by shaking hands or whatever suits you and your style. Praise in public, especially the above and beyond and privately discuss behaviours which are not appropriate. Don’t immortalise those who ‘take the shortcut’ through bad behaviour choices.

// Session 1:

From reading the #primaryrocks thread, Rhoda, Tim and Stephen seemed to have a similar message about reading entwined in their session:

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Julian, as always, had a chocca session of tech for the classroom. Sarah shared some great AfL that she’s using in the classroom. And we had an olympian, Peter Bakare, in our midst sharing about how his grit and resilience got him to where he is today.

// Ice Cream:

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Sprinkles, sherbet, sauce and flake. That’s all. Ta Literacy shed!

// Session 2:

While Phil took us on an immersive trip to the Brazilian rainforest where we found a skeleton and had to decide whether or not to find the skeleton’s ‘Heather’, there were other active and soapy sessions from Innovative Enterprise and a slightly wetter active session from Mike Watson all about bringing the indoors out. Tim Taylor was using his audience (participants) to help build their own immersive environment while our very own Gaz Needle ran an impromtu session about his journey to headset. Sean Harford was putting things straight for a lot of people about what Ofsted actually want and held a Q&A session, where we realised the concern is actually more with expectations from LAs at the moment – baby steps!

// Session 3:

Yet more active (wet) learning from the lovely, Bryn while top ideas about exclusion and SEN were shared from Jackie. Chris Dyson had his audience under his spell with people piled around on the floor listening about positivity in education. Sinead was sharing her passion for the English curriculum and how focus upon assessment has resulted in us missing the shift from old to new. Along the corridor, Allana shared her pearls of wisdom about getting into primary leadership. Meanwhile, the primary heads entertained us whilst discussing leadership vs leadershit and their evident bromance/comedy duo act alongside their on-point voting system kept us all ears.

// Michael Tidd:

Tidd speaks sense. He’s coming back to Sussex so all I hope is that he’ll keep talking sense down here for those who can make the decisions about marking and feedback. Just like Dix’s opener, Michael had the audience nodding along. Good food for the soul PLUS I am all revved up to suggest changes to our policy.

// Primary Beers:

What’s not to like (apart from the lack of Guinness or decent beer on tap!) Really nice to chat those who I hadn’t managed to catch properly during the day and chat some shop and some definitely not shop.

// Primary Rockers:

Without wanting to sound too gushing, all I know is that these bunch are amazing creatures: always there for each other on our ridiculously long thread either to support, slate or just send a gif or 10. Here’s to next year!

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PTEREDACTALE

I’m a sucker for word play.

But this Pompey-based and humble brewery ‘Staggeringly Good’ has also brewed me a delicious red ale.

// Yummy strawberry-esq hoppy taste

// Roasty after taste

// CAMRA say it’s a real ale

// Did I mention the dinosaur?

Gameifying Grammar

1 Year Ago:

This year we’ve had a real focus on writing, as I’m sure many of us have. During two assemblies a week, class teachers are ‘advised’ to run intervention groups with weaker writers or just those who are so far off their target that you want to cry: the ‘red’ data children.

My Tuesday group is a ‘middle to low ability way off target group’ (rolls off the tongue nicely). They couldn’t remember the word classes, they started most of their sentences with ‘I’ or ‘The’, full-stops were their only friends, ‘and’ and ‘then’ littered their work, their vocabulary choices were simple and they generally found writing a laborious chore. My what a difference two terms has made!

With this group, I started with a lot of games. They got on so well that we still do, but the amount of time spent writing has increased for the games has increased.

Here are a few games that we play:

//POST-IT RACES!

I didn’t realise how much fun and how popular this would be and so it frequently appears across the curriculum. All that’s needed is a stack of post-it notes and a timer of sorts – the more visual the better. I use my VCOP challenge cards or just pick a wow word that they have to use in a sentence, set the timer and off the go. Forfeits for no CLs (only because I know this group can cope). The myth that I ate a post-it note with no CL on is a falsehood…

// DICE!

I bought blank dice – best purchase ever. We come up with different connectives/bits of punctuation/types of openers that they have to use. They take turns to roll the dice (or more than one to up the stakes!) the timer is set and off they (or we, if I’m feeling competitive) go! We vote for winner and theirs is stuck on working wall as a good example.

// CONSEQUENCES!

A different fun/odd picture is given to each child. The group will write about each picture, but a different section in each e.g. different parts of the story or news report. Write, fold, pass, write etc. When it gets back to the first person, they have to go through and fix spelling/punctuation/tense so it flows. Ends up with an interesting piece of writing and they’re good at being critical friends when it affects their story!

// SIMON (JEFF *GROAN*) SAYS…!

They have to come up with adverbial phrases/metaphors to add detail about how something is said. I gather the post-its they’ve written these on and read them out with or without ‘Jeff says…’ and they act them out. Then do it again…simple and juvenile and we all love it.

// ACTIVE-ITIES

They’re a sporty bunch so balls and general running around comes in naturally, especially for learning the vocabulary for SPAG tests e.g. synonyms/antonyms. We label the corners A-D and I or they (using a thesaurus) assign each corner a word, one of which is an antonym for tired. They have to run to right one.

For this group, these work. They’re a loud bunch of boys for whom sitting and doing constant past papers wouldn’t work. Thursday’s group runs entirely differently with maybe one or two games to get them started/finished.

The main thing is, these boys groan when they have to go to assembly, they laugh and enjoy the group and they go out of their way to write for the mini competitions. They now see writing as a challenge, but of the fun rather than the laborious kind.

COMMENTS

Great ideas. Thank you for sharing this. I agree that games like this can really engage particular children who love more hands on, practical activities. Grammar could potentially be a very dull area to teach, though activities like these will definitely get them on board. I love Pie C’s Grammar for Writing and the Alan Peat sentence app to support sessions like these. I will definitely be taking on board some of yours as well now! Thanks again!

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Great fun. Magpied. #hooter

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Such a brilliant set of ideas- thank you so much for sharing. I designed a set of tasks a while ago with a Crystal Maze theme, mainly to ease my own hatred of teaching grammar! These are brilliant- thanks again.

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@jenna – Yes, grammar can be dull so these kind of games come to me on the hoof as I begin to get bored. Good thing about this is I have a bank of ideas to play with and keep adding to 🙂 Yes – Grammar for Writing is great. Haven’t see the app – will check it out, thanks!

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@mrlockyer – still don’t get #hooter. I agree – good fun for all the family!

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@saysmiss – crystal maze sounds really fun! Swapsies?!

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@leahmoo definitely! Twitter to swap emails?x

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Sounds like loads of fun!

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Fantastic range of ideas! Love it!

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@leahmoo brilliant ideas – think I will be giving them a go. We find with our intervention groups that the kids get sick of being pulled out of class so I have also started additional groups (little early morning groups) across our year group – this means that if they put up tons of barriers to the additional adults running intervention as a result of being pulled from the main class I can swoop them up and make sure they have a secondary session. They would love these ‘games’ with an adult so I think that’s a win win situation! 🙂 Thank you! OK blank dice… time to go shopping…. 😉 x

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Hi, great ideas! Thank you
If you can’t find blank dice and have SMART notebook software, you can search for a dice In the Gallery section (looks like a picture) and then can edit with your own 6 ideas. You can even use 6 of your own pictures if you prefer. It can be set up to list what you has been chosen and no repeats, should you want that feature.

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@leahmoo once again you’ve regenerated my work! Thanks- we are not ‘allowed’ to takw our kids out of Worship, but if you ask me it is THE idea time to work on these things! SPaG games here I come!

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@samwilliams good smart notebook tip!

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I love all these idea! What a practical and engaging post. Thank you @leahmoo

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Showed my children this post! We now have a ‘really robust writers revenge’ group during our assembly time. Day 1 alliteration , hence the name- wish I could post a photo in comments! Will blog later on this- comment from one,” this is actually really fun”.

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Stolen. Cheers!

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Love these ideas – I’m looking for ways to improve some of my ‘boring boys’ non-movers and think these ideas will go down a treat! A friend also mentioned ‘Connective Cricket’, where you have the start of a sentence or 2 random pictures, where each number is a different conjunction and you roll the dice and they have to complete the sentence. Off to investigate the Smart dice!

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Wonderful, lovely the Smart Dice and grammar /story consequences. Brilliant! Thank you @leahmoo!

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@braunteaches – ours are only allowed out of singing assembly and thursday (random) assembly! Loved seeing your Robust Writers’ work on twitter 🙂

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@nicd – thanks Nicola!

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@lauren – love the connective cricket; will definitely be using that one on Tuesday!

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@cupacoco Thanks for lovely comment!

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My colleagues used to play ‘Grammar Time’ to the music of ‘Hammer Time’ and had an inflatable guitar like this one: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Henbrandt-X99-306-Inflatable-Hammer/dp/B002BWCYU4

I think they used it to play Mallet’s Mallet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUfv-tAfXn4

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@brunoreddy Amazing! That’ll liven SATs revision up!

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Me

“Real Learning”

1 Year Ago:

I have been pondering about what ‘Real Learning’ means to me as a teacher for the last few days. What resonated with me the most, due to the fact that I’ve been an out-of-the-class teacher for these days, is how much it matters what real learning means to me, Leah, as a human being, not just as an educator.

This four day residential has provided me with time to really analyse and question what real learning looks/sounds/feels like and this was probably influenced greatly by two books I’ve read recently (David and Goliath and Mindset).

What does it look like?

I’ve read that you can’t ‘see’ learning and I understand the theory behind that. You can see the hints that learning is taking place and this is what I’ve seen this week:

// children completely and utterly engrossed in something: in ‘flow’. Whether that was putting up a tent and trying to figure out what wasn’t working; or trying to make their den more sturdy to protect the bunnies (it was a bunny hotel…); or figuring out how best to throw the blade of grass to make a noise – the list honestly goes on and on.

// the excitement when they achieve something and they just HAVE to share it with someone and/or teach them how to do it ‘flick your wrist and aim for the person you’re throwing at…’ (Frisbee-ing…)

What does it sound like?

// sometimes, complete silence as they beaver away.

// or the opposite – eager chatter wanting to share, or discussions trying to change, improve or discover.

// shrieks of delight or the more masculine yesssss as they achieve a step.

What does it feel like?

// I can’t speak on behalf of the children and when I asked them, the inevitable ‘epic’ was their response. After further discussion, one girl, who had taken the whole hour and a half walk just to get a ‘parp’ out of a blade of grass was thrilled and said ‘I’ve spent SO long doing this and it paid off, I’m going to show Mrs so and so! Can we practise more on the way home?’ To me, this suggests that she felt chuffed to have worked hard and felt eager to learn more to make it better.

// For me, it feels like nothing else. Hearing and seeing these displays of enthusiasm for small things that I’ve taught them or they’ve taught themselves/each other is incredible to witness. Knowing that not only can they blow grass whistles (great), but they have demonstrated the curiosity which is needed in life to want to acquire a new skill – I wasn’t forcing them to do it, I just started playing!

These are ‘real’ skills that they’ve learned, but the ‘real learning’ was the processes that they’ve gone through to acquire these skills (even if they’ve not quite got there yet): perseverance, resilience, curiosity, enthusiasm etc – all the key words used in school, but never as truly demonstrated than outside of it; oh, the irony!

Our team discussed over lunch preparation the different attitudes to learning new things that the children have displayed out here compared to in the classroom:

// they weren’t scared to ask their friend how they make their frisbee ‘do that’. Yet, would they do the same in maths?

// they enjoyed sharing the experience with their teachers – I’ve never felt so popular!! I’ve asked them to show me how to do things too (I’m definitely not a born cartwheeler, but I kept trying!) Yet, how many times do we get some child at the end of the lesson say ‘I didn’t get it’ – so why didn’t you aask?!

They were actively seeking out learning experiences, without us providing them with learning objectives nor success criteria.

So now I (we?) have half term to ponder some more. How am I going to change this? How are we, as a class and a year group, going to get this real, genuine learning happening? Learning that is devoured and independently sought out as much as it has been these last few days. Is it really just a matter of changing their and our mindsets or is there more that we can do within our planning/structure at school?

Excuse the tired ramblings; my mind is abuzz with thoughts wriggling about all over the place!

COMMENTS

Jo DebensJo Debens@jodebens1 year ago

Really nice post Leah. Thanks for sharing. I like the analogy of not being afraid to ask for help with something cool like frisbee yet being wary of asking in a ‘proper’ lesson. It’s a shame those barriers exist and fears of looking silly. Guess we have to figure out how to make it cool to ask in school.
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Claire BracherClaire Bracher@missb1 year ago

@leahmoo this is great – really thoughtful… I am still having a think @jodebens about mine… like that its made me do that… back shortly…
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Stephen LockyerStephen Lockyer@mrlockyer1 year ago

I’ve been on three trips in the past two weeks with my class, and it’s really highlighted to me how artificial learning in a classroom is at times. Great story Moo.
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[Retired Colleague][Retired Colleague][Retired Colleague]1 year ago

Re read this over a coffee rather than a a pint of whiskey. Like this story a lot. I guess the question is, how can we make young people as enthusiastic about maths as they are in throwing a disk? And how can we get parents to provide the teaching whilst we provide the outdoor fun?

I’m a massive believer in the power of outdoor learning, it’s what saved me. It’s time to put my (as in the governments) money where my mouth is.

The final question is, how do we embed outdoor learning as an everyday entitlement?

‘Going to the mountains is going home’ John Muir

MeLeah Sharp@leahmoo1 year ago

@jodebens – completely! It was the only downer of the trip, but at least it’s a constructive discovery that we can try to fix!
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MeLeah Sharp@leahmoo1 year ago

@mrlockyer – oh the life of SLT 😉 you’re so lucky getting to form those outside of classroom relationships across the school! I almost think residentials should be at the beginning of the year rather than/as well as at the end!
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MeLeah Sharp@leahmoo1 year ago

@daviderogers – exactly!! How can that curiosity and drive come from children about things they arent necessarily interested in learning about? Or have we just got the whole system wrong?! Should we be forcing children to learn division or should we be providing them with experiences where they want and need to learn it e.g. Creating dens with sticks – they might then inquire about best way to work out how to share them between two (or something…)
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Stephen LockyerStephen Lockyer@mrlockyer1 year ago

Nothing to do with being SLT – they were all with my class!
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MeLeah Sharp@leahmoo1 year ago

That’s just my jealousy for our SLT seeping out @mrlockyer – they’re lucky!!
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Jenna LucasJenna Lucas@jenna1 year ago

I really like this post, @leahmoo. From what you’ve described, it’s as though the children have learnt so much, without even realising they are learning! I always find that residential trips are brilliant for team building and bringing children together, as well as offering many children experiences they might not otherwise have (I took a Y5 class on a residential trip to Studland- 45 minutes from school- and one boy described it being ‘way better than England!’). Spending 24/7 with the children also provides a real insight into their characters. I agree with @daviderogers in that we really need to find more opportunities for learning to take place outside of the classroom. Yet, we also need to look at overcoming those barriers you mentioned that take place within.
A brilliant post. Thank you!
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[Retired Colleague][Retired Colleague][Retired Colleague]1 year ago

Great story. We have set ourselves the challenge of moving children away from I don’t like maths, I don’t like reading etc… to I like maths I like reading because the challenge is there, the challenge of learning. Our benchmark is 65% and we’ve set our sights on 80% by learning to learn sessions weekly, 33 themed assemblies and taking learning outdoors to enable children to make connections in their learning. We also do a daily mile where the children walk/run at least a mile every day within a 20 minute slot around the school grounds.
[Retired Colleague][Retired Colleague][Retired Colleague]1 year ago

As an aside if we capture the learning outdoors and help them make connections between what they learn outdoors and how they learn it ( more importantly) they can apply these skills anywhere, anytime. We call it turning our school inside out ( through outdoor learning.)
Abigail MannAbigail Mann@abster1 year ago

Like this @leahmoo I love residentials. You get to learn so much more about the students and build great relationships too. I’m a big fan of taking them outdoors to learn too. It was a long standing joke in my old school – if the weather was good, I’d be out with the PE staff teaching English on the field to my classes. Sometimes, I’d be out there in the cold too reading Stone Cold (about homelessness) and trying to get them to understand empathy.
I think mindset is relevant. When they walk into a classroom they know they are there to learn. Whereas when they are outside, it suddenly seems more fun. Perhaps they don’t realise it’s learning when they’re outside?
Nice story 🙂
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Lesley BurnettLesley Burnett@lesley1 year ago

I am passionate about outdoor learning too plus the way pupils seem to learn more/differently.
I will be on the Welsh coast early July blowing grass trumpets -hopefully in sunshine but more likely in the wind and rain!
I love it as there seems to be so much time to talk with the children. I’ll ask them why they like outdoor learning so much and see if I can get their perspective.
Managed some outdoor learning firing off 58 plastic water bottle rockets as supply in Y3 this week. Incredible learning including a human bar graph which led to the comment. “I love maths when I can be inside it”
Great post.
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A Letter to Leah in September

7 Months ago from Staffrm:

Dear Leah,

Happy September!

I’m just writing to make sure You approach this year right as I know you found your first six months before the holiday bloody hard.

You suffered the massive personal loss of your Granda and professionally you felt like you had hit rock bottom.

You moved school mid year and focussed on your rather tricky class, whilst trying to balance your new leadership role and never felt like you did the latter any justice.

You asked for ideas from your PLN online, but when it was still not getting there, you went quiet.

You saw injustice and a lack of support and worked yourself silly trying to rectify it on your own.

You worked hard to whip (figuratively) your class into shape, who had 4 different teachers in their first term. It was mentally, physically and emotionally hard, yet still you kept schtum because ‘There are probably harder classes out there. This is probably nothing compared to what other twitter colleagues have had to deal with. I’ll look weak.’

Your standard response to well-meaning friends enquiring about your job was ‘Hard, but I’m learning lots!’

You hated the thought (but dwelled on it a lot) that you’d made the wrong move. You gave up writing and attended only a few CPD events, but not with the same gusto.

Well, luckily for you, the well-rested and more freckly you, has had a revelation.

I know you already have more fire in your belly after ending the year feeling like you’d done your class justice, having settled into the school as an adult and feeling prepared for next year. Good for you. But not enough. You need to get yourself prepared for when that fire dulls. Which it will. It’s the rollercoaster of teaching!

Instead of fighting to keep it alight desperately, blowing at the dusty embers from your hands and knees, get your head up and look for some kindling:

//Unlike last year where you felt you had nothing worthwhile to share, seek out the little things that are working. With hindsight, there were many in those last six months.

//Demand more support from SLT both for yourself and others. Their support will add a spark in one form or another!!

//Use the events you plan and attend and squeeze all you can out of them. Attending isn’t enough to light the embers.

//Get back into #chats on Twitter: ask questions again; agree and get excited through further discussions; disagree because actually you have some alright ideas and beliefs. Fan the flames!

//Keep stoking the flame with these things you love: Find those great learning links outside of the classroom; get involved with working groups; and let yourself enjoy planning CPD events.

//Squeeze more time with family and friends who are out of the school loop to have a break. Get those feet up in front of the flames.

Keep working hard to maintain the fire in your belly for the children’s learning (and yours!)

Leah

COMMENTS

David RogersDavid Rogers@davidrogers7 months ago

As you know j do enjoy a campfire analogy this is a great story. Honest and reflective. Five more weeks to restore and restoke and then come out fighting. I also moved mid year once and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Thanks for writing
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Jenna LucasJenna Lucas@jenna7 months ago

Love this post, Leah. Personal, honest and beautifully written. Always here for you…just shout
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Graham AndreGraham Andre@gandre7 months ago

Leah, an amazing very personal post and I am sure one that will resonate with so many people. Please never let it get like the last 6 months again, because you know if it does the #primaryrocks crew will hunt you down 🙂 xxx
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MeLeah Sharp@leahmoo7 months ago

Thanks @jenna and @gandre – I have definitely learned to not keep quiet! I don’t want to be hunted down by my fellow primary rockers! X
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Jill BerryJill Berry@jillberry7 months ago

Really powerful stuff, Leah. Hope you do manage to have an energising summer break and that next term is a positive one for you. Please don’t go quiet! Asking for help is a sign of strength, and there are many people out there who care about you and want to help. Even if they have never met you!

Just love: “Instead of fighting to keep it alight desperately, blowing at the dusty embers from your hands and knees, get your head up and look for some kindling”…..

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Kerry MacfarlaneKerry Macfarlane@kab21mac7 months ago

Really enjoyed this post @leahmoo Thanks for sharing. You’ve reminded me to take some time this summer to reflect on last year and make some decisions and plans about how to keep the fire well stoked for next year. ☺️
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Me

A reminder in this rollercoaster time.

Times are a’changing at my school. Teachers are a’TES-ing. Children are a’pushing the boundaries.

A new head will bring change and people will like it or they won’t. They’ll lump it or they’ll leave. That’s fine and kind of the point!

However, people struggling with change, especially the unknown changes (including restructuring on the horizon) is making for a stressful environment to deal with. This makes an already stressful and emotional job harder.  Therefore, I am spending a few minutes writing a list to remind myself about why I go in every day. Keeping my eyes on the right prize, so to speak.

// The children.

Well, that was easy.

So now the harder reminders to myself:

// Stop listing/listening to the things that are hard with staff: that just breeds stress and discontent.

// Stop spending all evenings and weekends working on things that don’t have a direct impact on the list above: that makes for a tired  (and now greying) teacher for the children that matter.

// Stop blindly accepting things that will increase workload: discuss and offer solutions.

 

Boosting PP writers in Primary

 

All children should be given equal chances to do the best that they can in our classes – agreed. This is why teachers are often asked to focus on key groups (depending on schools, their cohorts and their latest Ofsted reports). Indeed, eliminating the well documented learning gap goes to the heart of why some of us decide to work in the school in which we do. There can be little argument that there is a moral purpose behind helping those classified as Pupil Premium. This group is one that my school are currently focussed upon as it is clear that their progress in writing is less than that of non-PP and they are a group who generally might not have the same exposure to experiences outside of school. This group have a complex range of needs and are a mixed ability group of learners but, with a few simple adaptations and some not-so-simple-but-worth-it ideas, children who are at a disadvantage in life will be catered for as equally as others.

I’d like to add, that I’m not a big fan of grouping children, but actually when it comes to analysing data and providing the best learning we can for all children, I believe it is vital to be aware of these categories and the patterns that may exist. Equally, I have children who are not technically  ‘pupil premium’ and won’t be because of a matter of pennies earned by their working-four-jobs parents. These children fall into the same learning gap as our PP children in many areas, some in fact moreso. Due to this issue with the grouping system, I have a slightly larger unofficial ‘PP group’ as I include these peripheral pupils in each of the following:

Feedback first

I stole this from a secondary colleague as it just makes sense: Top of the pile/first in your queue (however you give feedback is fine by me), you’re fresh as a daisy, feedback will be clear and these books will be first to be handed out so they have most time to edit and improve their writing.

Peer pair

They have a buddy who is not necessarily the person they sit next to, with whom they can go to for help with ideas at the beginning and when editing throughout.

Lack of ideas can be a real mental block for anyone. When writing a narrative for example, lack of exposure to different plot lines from which to inspire their own story is a hindrance. Thus they go to their buddy with their story mountain to discuss what could happen and if their idea makes sense.

 

Parent partnership

There are easy ways to ensure parents are involved with school. For some, this isn’t a problem PP or no PP. There are things we do as a school: newsletters, assemblies and parents evenings. When these aren’t being used by PP parents they need tweaked. How does parental engagement help children’s writing you ask? Well, their parents become more interested generally. Why would the children want their writing photographed for the blog if no-one was looking at it? Why would the children enter the competition to design the disco poster if they knew they wouldn’t be going? Why would the children want to write something for the class assembly if their parents can never go? Why would they work their hardest if their parents have no contact with us to find this out? Here are a couple of simple fixes:

  1. Parents have reminders about parents evenings: blog, messages, at the door, in the school bag.
  2. Parents evening slots are created/juggled/extended – often we aren’t in their working hours. Meeting over the phone is not unusual and I’ve recently done this during the mum’s break at the hospital.
  3. Videos and pictures of children during class assemblies
  4. Pictures of newsletters and letters so they actually get home

(4.5. Getting parents in to help set up email while colleague plays with 4 kids, so all letters are emailed so can’t get lost and why not Class Dojo while you’re at it?!)

  1. Free non-uniform day ideas sent to all parents via Class Dojo (notifications on phone)
  2. Simple messages home about getting eyes tested, changing their lunches or even reminders about discos.

Teacher time

There are little slots in the day when I make sure I see all PP children:

// At the door in the morning, after break and after lunch: this is for all children, but essential to welcome them back into our space leaving everything else at the door ready to learn.

// Preliminary mini plenaries: During any writing, I’ll gather these children and we’ll then have a look at a couple under the visualiser to assess together. This small group has had expectations modelled again and can go and edit and continue writing knowing they’re on track.

// After lunch, during handwriting, I will ensure I go and look at each of theirs and have a little tête-à-tête about what and how they’re writing.

Experiences

I have just finished the co-planning of a 6 week writing project for the PP pupils (including our peripheral PP) across the year group. It’s a lesson a week, but requires daily writing in their very own special book. It involves collaboration with a high school in Brighton and their Y8/11 pupils using us as a revision and pupil-leadership programme. Each week there will be communication between the two sets of pupils, including a field trip one week. This communication and the learning that comes from it will be the inspiration and encouragement for writing for a variety of purposes. Not only that, but their audience will widen to older children and their teachers as well as the unknown audience of a geocache. If there were a learning goal, it would be ‘to develop an enthusiasm for writing through a series of collaborative geography focussed lessons’. Updates will be available just before Easter hols!

Keeping these PP children at the back of our minds ensures they don’t get lost in the day to day hubbub and get opportunities similar to their peers. Indeed, if we don’t accelerate the learning of these pupils; give them the cultural capital that they will need in order to negotiate secondary school and address their deficiencies in writing, reading and maths, who will? We could leave it for the next year group/key stage/ school to worry about, or we could nip it in the bud now.

 

Seconds app

This app is a great way of doing HIIT when short of time and resources. All I need is my phone and little weights.

I used it all summer whilst away in various places. The best thing is that I don’t have to keep looking at my phone to see how much time is left or what exercise is coming up next. Having recently done the 30 day core challenge, I appreciate the app more as I had to keep flicking between exercise page and timer. This app allows for hands free exercise due to its text to speech function. This means he/she reads exercise and counts down from 3. I added emojis for my own entertainment and he reads those too!

I spent twenty minutes programming in my Body Coach DVD and can now do his HIIT sessions wherever I happen to be so long as I have my phone!

It’s steep at £3.99, but well worth it to fit in with me and my day!

Google docs

A couple of years ago, I had never really thought about Google Docs prior to becoming friends with people, who seemed to use it all the time. The more I sent/received, the more I realised that it could be used with children in the class. Thus began my begging the network manager. Now, two years later, I’m about to begin the journey again with my new school.

Here are a few ways I used

// 1

We had Microsoft Surface tablets which, annoyingly, meant that the children can’t save any work they complete – they end up having to email it to me to save into their documents (what a waste of learning time and my break time!) Now, they just log onto their Google docs and can access them wherever they like. Now we have iPads, so I’m hoping to solve this same problem by introducing Google Docs to children asap.

// 2

We have two long-term projects at the moment in Geography and Computing and the children have a group doc that they can all add to in real time. They invite me in so that I can make comments along the way and check on how they’re progressing through their work and if everyone is pulling their weight.  Some have even worked at home and added to their projects, which was impossible for them prior to the introduction of Google docs. When they do presentations or similar, the children might use Slides and work live together or they’ll use Prezi and have the link to it in their docs so that I can access it.

Example of a group brainstorming ideas for their app creation:

// 3

I sent out forms about various things, gathering opinions about things around the school and in my classroom and requesting their feedback about teaching and learning. On the whole, they weren’t overly honest to begin with, but we have gone through it and they have learnt that it is for me only to help them. It’s interesting and something which I will continue.

Since then, I have sent out forms to teachers organising the Christmas do (very important)  and parents about trips.

// 4

For Computing, the children self assess against the success criteria, include a screen shot of where they’re up to and then I assess them/give feedback for next lesson. It is a quick and easy way to see a snapshot of how the all thirty of them have dealt with expectations that lesson and then I can alter the next lesson accordingly. It also means that when they arrive at the ICT suite they can get straight on while I talk to those who may have silently struggled.

// 5

Organising the digital leaders who are across 4 year groups. The jobs are posted, they log in on the morning when they’re on duty to see what needs done over the course of the day. They also have a typing competition document, which they update with names and scores with the class they go into. They aren’t pretty or exciting, but my goodness does it make my life a lot easier!

// 6
Something to add for new school – a system to book the ipads/halls/library etc rather than sending a child or TA to check the central folder.