How to use The Writing Revolution in a primary classroom

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written some blog posts which have been published on other sites. I’m quite proud of these and would like to keep them all in one place so I can find them again, hence my replicating them here on my blog. I haven’t copied and pasted the entire article as it does belong to the original site, despite being written by me, so please do continue to read it there if you find it of interest!

This one was written for Teach Primary in April 2019.

Teaching writing in Y6, I have learned many things about children: they have brilliant imaginations; they are capable of understanding complex concepts; once they learn about that semi-colon, they love using it just about anywhere; and many of them have no idea what a sentence is.

This can present itself in many forms, from the struggling writer who has no understanding of where to use a full stop, to the more competent writer who, despite writing proficiently (for the most part) at length, still unknowingly uses fragments and run-on sentences.

There are many things we could blame for this – for starters, the curriculum, which is so rammed with content that it puts the pressure on teachers to just steamroller through, no matter how hard the party line of “they must not move on to new learning until they’ve mastered the old stuff” is drilled into us.

We’ve all tried desperately to teach that child, who still doesn’t understand nouns, about the subjunctive (“If I WERE, if I WERE!”).

We could blame Ofsted (it’s always easy to blame Ofsted) for apparently (according to some school leaders) creating a certain expectation of the ever-increasing quantity of writing that should be in children’s books through their primary school years (just to be clear, I’ve never seen evidence of this apparent expectation in any sort of official documentation).

But rather than working out who to blame, it’s far more productive – and satisfying – to find a solution.

I just want my class to stop writing how they speak! Look no further than The Writing Revolution (TWR) by Judith C Hochman and Natalie Wexler (Josey-Bass, £24.99), a book which “provides a clear method of instruction that you can use no matter what subject or grade level you teach… by focusing on specific techniques that match their [the children’s] needs” (as per the book’s blurb).

Despite being published in the US and being seemingly more applicable to secondary school teachers, TWR’s explicit method of teaching has proved invaluable in my primary school English lessons.

Each activity in the book is pitched for both “Level 1” (primary age equivalent) and “Level 2” (secondary age equivalent) students.

While the first half of the text is relevant for the primary phase, the first chapter in particular has now become the basis of all my writing lessons – Sentences: The Basic Building Blocks of Writing.

‘What Makes a Sentence a Sentence’ (p26 in TWR)? As many of you will know from experience, in children’s English books, quantity is often valued over quality.

TWR looks to challenge this by focusing regularly on sentence work. It advocates practising the skills embedded in content, so any examples I use in English lessons will be based around a topic in another area of the curriculum.

In order to write proficiently, children must understand the concept of a sentence. To achieve this, they are introduced to fragments – a group of words which are not a grammatically correct sentence. TWR suggests the following activities, which have now, on rotation, become my English ‘starters’ every day:

1 | Identifying fragments orally

Children can often instinctively hear fragments: for example, “built a wooden horse”.

When asked what’s missing, they will be able to tell you that we don’t know who built a wooden horse (the Greeks: our topic is the Trojan horse – note that every activity benefits from being embedded in content with which the children are familiar).

With Y6, we can tell them that the subject of the sentence is missing – here, we only have the verb and the object. They can then verbally add to the fragment to make it a grammatically complete sentence.

Continue reading this post here.

A beginner’s guide to curriculum development at primary school

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written some blog posts which have been published on other sites. I’m quite proud of these and would like to keep them all in one place so I can find them again, hence my replicating them here on my blog. I haven’t copied and pasted the entire article as it does belong to the original site, despite being written by me, so please do continue to read it there if you find it of interest!

This one was written for Third Space Learning in April 2019.

“‘You can always Google it’ is the most dangerous myth in education today.” – Dylan Wiliam


A few disclaimers before we start:

  • In no way do I profess to be a curriculum expert
  • In no way do I profess to be a cognitive science expert
  • In no way do I profess to be a teaching expert
  • In every way do I profess to be a fan of Clare Sealy and Andrew Percival’s work on the curriculum, the influence of cognitive science on its development, and the new style of delivering the curriculum that will inevitably follow (for me, anyway!)

How Ofsted And The Curriculum Are Linked

In September 2018, Amanda Spielman discussed Ofsted’s findings from their recent curriculum research, curriculum design and their new education inspection framework, which you can read more about here in Third Space’s breakdown of the 2019 Draft Ofsted Inspection Framework.

She states that:

“too many teachers and leaders have not been trained to think deeply about what they want their pupils to learn and how they are going to teach it… Ultimately, the curriculum is the yardstick for what school leaders want their pupils to know and to be able to do by the time they leave school. It is therefore imperative that the new inspection framework has curriculum as a central focus.”

In Ofsted’s curriculum research, three types of approach towards curriculum development in education, and their design (as characterised below by Spielman, 2018) were identified: knowledge-led, knowledge-engaged and skills-led. Below we will discuss each one in more detail.

A knowledge-led curriculum:

  • is the mastery of a body of subject-specific knowledge defined by the school;
  • generally considers skills to be an outcome of the curriculum, not its purpose;
  • focuses on in-depth understanding of fewer topic areas rather than surface-level understanding of more content;
  • uses developments in cognitive psychology and theories of working memory as guides for curriculum design.

A knowledge-engaged curriculum:

  • is less reliant on curriculum theory but still maintains knowledge as a focus;
  • believes that knowledge underpins and enables the application of skill;
  • has a slightly stronger emphasis on cross-curricular teaching than in a knowledge-led curriculum in order to make the curriculum relevant and meaningful to pupils, and for putting knowledge into context.

“Most of the curriculum leaders from the knowledge-led and knowledge-engaged schools stressed the importance of the subject as a discipline. They provided pupils with subject-specific vocabulary and knowledge that allowed them to build links and enhance their learning across other subjects.” (Spielman, 2018)

A skills-led curriculum:

  • is designed around skills, learning behaviours and ‘generic knowledge’ such as resilience, a growth mind-set and perseverance;
  • has these skills as explicit intentions rather than by-products of the curriculum, or developed through extracurricular activities;
  • places limited value on knowledge within the content of the curriculum. “Knowledge was often seen as just disconnected facts.”

“Nearly all the curriculum experts we spoke to considered their local context and pupil needs when building their curriculum… The experts tended to talk about giving their pupils the knowledge or skills that were lacking from their home environments as a core principle for their curriculum and tailored their approach accordingly. Many of the leaders in these schools saw a knowledge-led approach as the vehicle to address social disadvantage.” (Spielman, 2018)

Developing A Curriculum For Long-Term Learning: Sharing The Genius Of Clare Sealy And Andrew Percival

Spielman concluded her findings with the following statement:

“Without doubt, schools need to have a strong relationship with knowledge, particularly around what they want their pupils to know and know how to do. However, school leaders should recognise and understand that this does not mean that the curriculum should be formed from isolated chunks of knowledge, identified as necessary for passing a test.

A rich web of knowledge is what provides the capacity for pupils to learn even more and develop their understanding. This does not preclude the importance of skill. Knowledge and skill are intrinsically linked: skill is a performance built on what a person knows.”

On Friday 1st March, I attended a (now high in-demand!) training session run by Clare Sealy (a primary head-teacher in Bethnal Green – @ClareSealy) and Andrew Percival (a deputy head leading on curriculum – @primarypercival) all about curriculum development.

Although it was emphasised that there is no ‘Ofsted-approved’ curriculum (Spielman says that Ofsted “need to assess a school’s curriculum in a way that is valid, fair and reliable, and that recognises the importance of schools’ autonomy to choose their own curriculum approaches”), Sealy and Percival focused on how to build a curriculum that prioritised improving children’s long-term memories, supported by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark’s theory that “if nothing has been changed in long-term memory, nothing has been learned”.

Clare Sealy has written all about cognitive load and long-term memory in a primary school context, so if you would like to learn more about it you can do so here.

The cognitive science theories behind this approach are fascinating, but I can not do them justice here.

I am here to share what I’ve learnt about a knowledge-led/-engaged/-focused/-rich (pick your poison) curriculum and why I’m so excited to start developing one in my school.

However, perhaps once you’ve read my ramblings (and hopefully been infected with my enthusiasm – or at least been made mildly curious!), I strongly advise – no, implore – you to read both Clare and Andrew’s blogs for a more coherent, evidenced and intellectual account of their ideas around curriculum development.


My ‘Take-Aways’ From The Training – The Things You Need To Know About Curriculum Development

There were of course a number of things I took away from the training course, but here are some of the key highlights you should take note of before creating your own curriculum development process.

Knowledge Is GOOD

This is a short but sweet takeaway.

When creating a curriculum, keep the “Matthew effect” in mind.

This is that the (knowledge) rich get richer and the (knowledge) poor get poorer.

It’s a simple concept, but one that can often be forgotten about so make sure you note it down!

It’s Essential That Our Children Are Exposed To Broad Knowledge Through Our Curriculum

Daniel Willingham states that “reading tests are knowledge tests in disguise”.

See a study here where ‘good’ readers with very little baseball knowledge and ‘poor’ readers with substantial baseball knowledge both sat a reading assessment about baseball; the results show that the latter group performed more highly, prompting Willingham to conclude that “teaching content IS teaching reading” (2012).

Continue reading this post here.

How to teach long division (and actually enjoy it!)

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written some blog posts which have been published on other sites. I’m quite proud of these and would like to keep them all in one place so I can find them again, hence my replicating them here on my blog. I haven’t copied and pasted the entire article as it does belong to the original site, despite being written by me, so please do continue to read it there if you find it of interest!

This one was written for Third Space Learning in February 2019.

Long division: long and divisive, right? Wrong!

Long division is probably one of my favourite things to teach Year 6 in maths (I know, I know – but bear with me).

When children watch you do it, they think it looks complicated, difficult and unnecessary, and it almost instantly turns them off – until they realise how systematic and logical it is.

Long Division Plays An Important Role In The SATs

We all know that the arithmetic paper is the one in which we expect the children to score the highest marks, and often, those crucial marks are lost because of inaccuracies in the children’s answers.

In all three SATs papers that have been released so far under the new curriculum, there have been two ‘long division’ (dividing by a 2-digit number) questions – that’s 10% of the arithmetic paper marks.

It is therefore crucial that children are fluent in division and confident with the accuracy of their answers, and this means finding the right KS2 long division method for your class.

“Divide numbers up to 4 digits by a two-digit whole number using the formal written method of long division, and interpret remainders as whole number remainders, fractions, or by rounding, as appropriate for the context”.

The Mathematics Appendix 1: Examples of formal written methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division “sets out some examples of formal written methods for all four operations to illustrate the range of methods that could be taught”, as shown below for long division. (Note that it also says, “For division, some pupils may include a subtraction symbol when subtracting multiples of the divisor”.)

The first two methods depicted are what have often been called the ‘chunking’ method; the third method is the one we shall be investigating (my favourite!).

Long Division - Chunking vs new method

But Wait….That Long Division Method Looks Too Hard!

I admit, when I first started teaching Year 6, I shied away from the long division method for a long time.

I’d never understood it properly, yet always considered myself a competent mathematician, so didn’t really understand the need for it.

It wasn’t until I sat down and decided to teach myself the method that I realised how systematic it was, and how it really embedded what was happening in each step of the division process – something that would be really useful for those that struggle with mathematical concepts.

A short personal story to show you that this technique can work is that during Year 6 SATs last year, I was very conscious of one of my ‘boundary’ children – you know the ones – who really struggled with confidence and general understanding in maths.

I took a sneak peek at them completing a long division question in the arithmetic paper and watched them methodically work their way through it to achieve the correct answer. This was someone who didn’t know their times tables at the start of the year, and I could’ve burst with pride! It was a case of long division made easy for this primary pupil, all thanks to the method we will be looking at below!

But Doesn’t Long Division Take Too… Well… Long?

Okay, so the name of the method doesn’t really help in selling itself, but, once you’re fluent, it should take the same amount of time (if not less) than ‘short division’. See the examples below, dividing 45,041 by 73 using firstly the short division method and then the long division method.

Short Division Method For Primary School

Long Division Method For KS2

With short division, children still need to work out the remainders.

Many will need to do this via written subtraction anyway, and even if they can calculate them mentally, we all know how many mistakes are made by overconfident children when working at speed – especially when they refuse to write their workings-out!

If anything, the long division method took less time as I didn’t have to repeat myself by writing out the numbers again elsewhere on the page when calculating the remainders.

How Does This Method Of Long Division Work In The Primary Classroom?

Fear not! This is my tried and tested KS2 long division method of how to approach the topic with Year 6.

On average, it would take me around three days, but as we all know, this completely depends on the cohort, so I’ve broken the process down into ‘steps’ instead, to be spread across as many lessons as needed.

Using The Long Division Method: Step 1

Recap short division, ensuring children can talk through the process. Do they understand what’s happening at each step? For example, you could ask:

• What is the divisor?
• Why is it important to know multiples of the divisor?
• What is a remainder?
• How have you calculated the remainder?
• What happens if you get a remainder at the end of the question?
• How can you check your calculation is correct?

Once children are confident with short division, they can move onto long division.

Using The Long Division Method: Step 2

Dividing by 3 isn’t so scary, but dividing by 97 (as in 2018’s paper) is much more intimidating!

I’ll always start this lesson by asking children to list the first nine multiples of a ‘difficult’ number (such as 86) and watch them groan and do lots of column addition or counting on fingers or something else equally as inefficient. (Of course, there are occasionally those that can whizz through these – I know a few children who would quickly list multiples of 97 by adding 100 and subtracting 3 each time, but until we have a class full of children that can do that without prompting, this method will be worth it!)

Continue reading this post here, where you will also find some free long division resources.

5 things I knew at the end of my NQT year that I wish I’d known at the start

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written some blog posts which have been published on other sites. I’m quite proud of these and would like to keep them all in one place so I can find them again, hence my replicating them here on my blog. I haven’t copied and pasted the entire article as it does belong to the original site, despite being written by me, so please do continue to read it there if you find it of interest!

This one was written for Third Space Learning in March 2019.

You know when you walk away from a conversation mulling it over, and about five hours later you think of something you should’ve said but it’s too late? Then, afterwards you wish your current-self was there telling your past-self your new revelations?

Your NQT year is a little bit like that.

At the end of it (and even years later…) you reflect on what you’ve done, wishing you could have gone back to tell yourself all these things you know now. Some things are important to learn yourself, but sometimes it’s reassuring to be told by someone else and to learn from their mistakes.

So think of me as your future-self, telling you things that you will know by the end of your NQT year, but that I’m telling you now to save you some time…

NQT Advice Item 1: ‘Wow’ Lessons Are Unnecessary, And Actually Just Plain Wrong

We all know the feeling: you’ve just settled into your new school, and it’s time for your mentor to observe.

You pull out the document you were given at university with a list of things that make an ‘outstanding’ (or replace with any other hyperbolic adjective) trainee lesson, and you try to shoehorn them into yours, because that’s what you’ve been told is good.

Well, it turns out that this is one piece of NQT year advice that is just plain wrong.

Luckily, it seems that there are many ITT (Initial Teacher Training) providers that have realised this practice is not only poor, but potentially detrimental.

No observation lesson should ever be a ‘one-off’; observations should be a true reflection of your day-to-day practice – otherwise, how can the feedback be anything but futile?

Tasks that can be perceived as ‘exciting’ and ‘engaging’ for the children are often just a waste of learning time. Children get excited and engaged by the act of learning itself, not meaningless activities metaphorically rolled in glitter.

Before you plan an observation lesson, ask yourself:

• What do I want the children to learn?
• How will they learn it?
• How will I know they’ve learnt it?
• And finally:  Would I do these tasks/activities in my everyday teaching?

Once you’ve answered these questions and are happy with the conclusion you’ve come to for each, you’ll realise that those ‘Wow’ lessons really aren’t worth the time!

NQT Advice Item 2: Remember, Children Are Allowed To Dislike You

This is something I really struggled with at the start of my career. I really wanted the children to like me, but sometimes there was conflict between what I knew I should say or do, and what I wanted to say or do in order to stay on the children’s ‘good side’.

It is right that effective teaching and learning cannot occur in the classroom without positive relationships between student and teacher – however, having a ‘positive relationship’ doesn’t mean that the children will always like you.

You are the adult, and ultimately know what is best – if anyone breaks a school rule, then there needs to be a consequence for that. They will, of course, dislike that consequence, and maybe even dislike you for sanctioning it, but positive relationships aren’t only built on being ‘nice’;  they are built on mutual respect, consistent approaches to behaviour and setting boundaries.

In the long term, this is much more important (and beneficial) than whether Johnny is annoyed at you for the rest of the day because you kept him in at break-time.

Continue reading this post here.

Why are SATs important? (info for parents)

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written some blog posts which have been published on other sites. I’m quite proud of these and would like to keep them all in one place so I can find them again, hence my replicating them here on my blog. I haven’t copied and pasted the entire article as it does belong to the original site, despite being written by me, so please do continue to read it there if you find it of interest!

This one was written for Matr in April 2019.

What is the purpose of SATs?

In England, the National Curriculum Assessments (or SATs) are taken by the children at the end of KS1 (Year 2) and KS2 (Year 6) in May every year.

They assess the children against the age-related expectations as set out by the National Curriculum. The KS1 SATs are internally marked (by the teachers) whilst the KS2 SATs are externally marked (they are sent away with results being returned to the school around 2 months after the tests are sat).

For children, the SATs are used to form target grades in secondary school. For schools, the SATs are used as one factor – amongst many – in judging a school’s effectiveness, and these are two of the reasons why KS2 SATs are considered important by some in the education world.

What do the SATs measure?

When asking the question “Why are KS2 SATs important?” one of the most crucial things to understand is what they actually measure.

The SATs are used to measure both the school’s and the individual child’s attainment and progress. Attainment is the summative grade or level that has been achieved, whereas progress is the difference in attainment between one point (in this case, KS1 SATs) to another. Both are important:

  • A child (or school) may have performed significantly above average at KS1 but only slightly above average at KS2, meaning that whilst the attainment is still good at KS2, the progress is poor;
  • In another instance, a child (or school) may have performed significantly below average at KS1 but only slightly below average at KS2, meaning that whilst the attainment may look poor, the progress is good.

In 2023, the KS1 SATs will become non-statutory and progress measures will be taken from the new Reception Baseline Assessment, which will be implemented in 2020.

The purpose of SATs is to measure the children’s attainment in maths, reading, and grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS). The children are tested on curriculum content from Years 3-6 across six test papers lasting under four hours in total.

They will achieve a ‘scaled score’ from 80 – 120, with a score of 100 or more meaning they have met the ‘expected standard’.

SATs scores explained for parents

A pupil’s scaled score is based on their raw score. The raw score is the total number of marks a pupil scores in a test, based on the number of questions they answered correctly.

Tests are developed each year to the same specification, however, because the questions are different, the difficulty of tests may vary each year. This means the raw scores pupils get in the tests need to be converted into scaled scores to ensure accurate comparisons of performance can be made over time.

 

Continue reading this post here.

8 things teachers should know about using Twitter for CPD

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written some blog posts which have been published on other sites. I’m quite proud of these and would like to keep them all in one place so I can find them again, hence my replicating them here on my blog. I haven’t copied and pasted the entire article as it does belong to the original site, despite being written by me, so please do continue to read it there if you find it of interest!

This one was written for Teach Primary in February 2018.

1 | Separate accounts

Twitter seemed pretty pointless to me when I first joined; I aimlessly followed a few random celebrities and tweeted every four or so days about my gourmet-style microwave dinner.

If you are going to use Twitter in a professional capacity, make a separate account from your personal one: when scrolling through edu-Twitter for some inspiration, nobody wants to see endless retweets of Game of Thrones memes.

2 | Join in on chats

Another easy way to get involved is joining in on Twitter ‘chats’. A popular one for primary teachers is #PrimaryRocks, which is held every Monday at 8pm. Follow the account @primaryrocks1 to find a list of four questions that will be discussed each week – a variety of topics are covered.

Lots of teachers get involved in this, so it’s a great way to get networking, learn new things and share your own ideas.

3 | Unlock your account

As long as your account is completely professional, there’s no reason for it to be private. If it is ‘unlocked’, more people can see your tweets. The more people you can connect with, the more you will get back from using Twitter.

When I first started, I was in an echo chamber; however, following and being followed by new people with different experiences and opinions to me has encouraged me to be particularly reflective and even change my stance on various edu-related issues.

Continue reading this post here.