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.

 

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.

10% Braver

Obviously, I’m very brave in day-to-day life. Every day, apart from New Years day, I manage to step out of the door ready to tackle life head on, despite my noggin which sprouts (a lot of) ginger hair. Brave. However, I’ve been reading the #10%braver posts and it only clicked this week that I too could get my foot on the ladder up to this club!

We’ve gained a new head since January and change is afoot. Being how I am, this is a difficult concept, especially the unknown change. Even worse, the whispered-in-corridor change. Just. Tell. Me.

Over the last year, since I joined the school, I’ve had frustration brewing in the pit of my belly regarding work/life balance. Now, with a new head, I had more unanswered questions cropping up and more ‘changes’ being muttered, texted and essentially moaned about. More to my frustration, I found myself being drawn into this and whinging. Now, I’m no stranger to whinging in life, but I’ve always managed to keep it professional.

Here’s what I did (in a list!):

// Realised I either needed to say something, or put up and shut up…

// …so I booked an appointment with the head

// Picked up my laptop and started hastily making the basics of a script for what I might say (because I’m not brave enough so as to go without well-thought out ideas, heaven forbid.)

// Sent it to trusted ‘out of school’ friends and mum, of course.

// Went in very positively.

// Raised my qualms, alongside some ideas for solutions – I am one half of #TMSolutions after all.

// Listened to her ideas (whilst trying not to forget my script)

// Suggested pros and cons

// Had my mind put at ease that stuff would happen with time

// Came away with a new role

// Kicked myself for forgetting something

// Now digesting what was said and will no doubt process for a while, over a beer.

 

 

 

 

16/17 – Do What You Love

5 favourite things from 2016

(because all good things come in fives. Well, one thing: Boyzone)

  1. Music

As you can probably tell from the first line, music isn’t my strong point. I can’t tell you any genre that I like in particular. My response is generally ‘whatever sounds good’. Pathetic? Maybe. Cop out? Perhaps. To me, this reflects how I feel about education and my life as a whole. If I think something will work in my class, I’ll try it. If it does- bingo. If it doesn’t, I’ll tweak it or bin it. In life, I’ll do the same thing.

  1. Beer 

this was consumed at many teaching events I went to and I had many an interesting discussion over an ale or two. I started with meeting some of my northern PLN at BETT 2016 continued in March at the first Primary rocks and finished at TMSolutions. During these conversations, I made links, started projects and stole many an idea to try myself. Beer also took me around the world – trying new beers in new places: on top of mountains; in different seas; beaches; on edges of cliffs and of course a hot tub.

  1. Coffee

As part of my reflections from my previous tricky class, I continue to have a coffee machine in my room. This means that I can follow up on sweating the small stuff with minutes here and there in my classroom at break time, without the fear of not having my very decent favourite mug of the black stuff. I don’t need it so much now that the children know I will be there waiting, but it’s handy when I hold an after school meeting in my room!

  1. Cows

I started the year well by ensuring we got out on a long walk every Sunday. Generally to somewhere with no signal so we could properly escape. School work could wait and so could the rest of the world. Also we tended to come across a pub lunch and cows and I got to wear my wellies. I feel indestructible in wellies – puddles are no match for me!

  1. Water

I did the 10 day water challenge towards the end of the year and it highlighted a couple of things:

  • The simple challenges can be incredibly rewarding
  • Small changes can have massive impacts
  • Teachers are in fact allowed to go to the toilet during the day. The world doesn’t collapse and my body says a polite thank you.

 

Ultimately, I learned to: try new things and feel confident enough to chuck them if they weren’t appropriate; chat to new people; find solutions that work; temporarily escape the workload; and set mini challenges for myself.

 

3 magical things for 2017

(because magic things come in 3s.)

  1. Smiles

From all those around me. With a bit of a crappy year, I think I’ve become a bit selfish when it comes to everyone. So:

  • Family: see them. Talk to them. A whatsapp group was made this year towards the death of my Granda and it’s helped us all connect. Now we tend to use it to remind each other of stories, let each other know if granny is needing some more TLC and to wind each other up (you see where I get it from now).
  • Friends: prioritise. I struggled with distance this year, yet had time to schlep up to the north/Toulouse for teaching stuff (which were amazing), but…priorities.
  • Children: no, I don’t need to be liked by them to get a smile. I need to keep providing meaningful learning experiences and keep one eye out for ideas to adapt to use with them.
  • Colleagues: share with them. Magpie from them. Keep the conversations going. Yes, it’s amazing to talk to those from across the country/world about what they do, but actually talking to those who know the children and our ethos is more important.
  • Strangers: share a smile or some appreciation. Not a creepy smile and not a sorry when it ain’t my fault. Normal human social interactions that seem to be disappearing.
  1. Stars

Nothing makes me gawk more than the stars on a clear night in the countryside (and I have a mean app for that). I need to keep getting outside: walks, sleeping, chatting. More stars because there are fewer distractions in terms of lights (any Planet Earth II viewers know the traumatising cost of too many lights for little turtles!) I need to shed some of the external distractions with education too and really focus on what matters: the teachers I work with and the children we teach. I need to stop comparing myself to the amazing teachers I talk to daily in the twittersphere – I am less experienced and need to focus getting that before pushing myself.

  1. Rainbows

Keep positive. 2017 may well bring torrential showers, cascading rainstorms, calamitous thunder and worse. However, I need to remember to whip out my brolly and search for the rainbow. Whether it be a small lightbulb moment from a child, an early morning conversation over coffee, nailing a sprint, an after work vent and laugh, a supportive tweet or even remembering there’s a beer leftover in the fridge. 7 a week. Minimum.

Oh and a really big hope and wish: a dog. Fingers crossed for me please.

Ultimately, I want to focus on those near and dear to me, try and set an example to anyone I come across, find the balance of looking out and in and keep on the look out for the positives, especially when everything seems rubbish.

I will most definitely continue to do what I love AND find more things to love doing.