Aim for the Moon! You might just hit a star.

I completed a SCITT course in the 2015 – 2016 academic year and was extremely lucky, not only to have an outstanding provider but also outstanding schools and mentors to work with. (I’m not only talking about O-grades there either!)

It wasn’t long after I begun my training that I started to hear the most disturbing language. Straight away it put my teeth on edge and straight away I absolutely disagreed with this kind of language being used in education. I couldn’t believe that this was a ‘thing’ and that people openly talked about this like it was OK.

What on earth am I talking about?

Children’s ‘abilities’.

“My lowers are going to do this.”

“My middlies will find that hard.”

“I’m going to give this challenge to my highers.”

“Any ideas of an activity I can give my lowers?”

Even typing that makes me cringe.

How on earth can a teacher have a pre-determined view of a child’s ability I asked myself? I pondered this for a while during my course but the more I heard it, the more I absolutely did not agree to it nor would be a part of it!

I can only compare it to my previous experience, that being in the world of physiotherapy.

Now, never would I have read a patient’s notes and thought, “Right, the previous physiotherapist told me not to bother trying to help this person learn to walk again because they couldn’t do it last week, so, you know what, I’m not even going to bother, I’m just going to work on sitting balance.”

No! Of course not! You go into that treatment room aiming for the moon. That patient will absolutely get back to full function and you treat them as if they have all the potential in the world (because, you know, they do!)

If they can’t quite manage to stand, you don’t abandon and think they never will. You think, right, they can’t quite stand today so we will x, y and z first, but you always aim for standing.

This is my approach in teaching. I absolutely believe every child can achieve (and will if they are given the time and opportunity to!) I often think of children’s brains as having little locks all over them. Some children are lucky and have locks that any keys can and will unlock that area of learning for them. They are the ‘quick graspers’ for want of a better term!

Then there are children that have much more specific locks. Where the teacher needs to find that very specific key that unlocks that learning for that child. I believe that every child can learn anything. We just have to find the key. I often think that perhaps these children are our deeper thinkers. That can’t and don’t just accept a concept on face value. That need to investigate it, play with it, practise it before they ‘get it’. I was a ‘quick grasper’ as a child and it wasn’t until I learnt about pedagogy that I realised how superficial some of my knowledge was. My ‘number sense’ in maths, for example, was woeful – I had just learnt all the ‘tricks’. Perhaps it’s the children that just take a bit longer (NOT who are lower ability!) that have a much deeper understanding of concepts once they unlock that learning? I like to think so. (Now whether our current education system is set up to cater for these children is a whole other blog post but that’s for another day!)

So, in my classroom, I don’t ‘group’. We don’t talk about being clever. We work hard and we try our best because we know that effort will give us results. I expect every child to achieve and, do you know what, they do!

There are no ‘glass ceilings’ on my children. There are no ‘special challenges’ for any children. We all complete the same task, but, just as I did when I was a physiotherapist, I know how to modify and adapt the task so that it is accessible and appropriate to all.

I am an avid overthinker. I need to understand the ‘whys’ before I can fully grasp an idea or concept. I spent a long time feeling like my thoughts on the above were wrong or misplaced because I was new to teaching and trying to apply previous experience into a new career that didn’t match.

Happily, mainly through the world of Twitter (and wise mentors and tutors), I have discovered the most amazing teachers who have absolutely given me confidence in my approach. That when I refuse to ‘differentiate 5 ways’ that that is OK. When I give my whole class the same task in maths, that that is fine. That we can all read the same text in reading lessons… I can go on and on!

We have the power to develop the next generation of doctors, engineers, scientists, journalists, performers, artists, parents and just general human beings. I want every child to leave me with a sense of self belief that they can and they will achieve, not that they are not clever because they always have to sit on the ‘circle’ table and complete the ‘mild’ chilli challenges. (Surely ‘mild’ is spicy to some anyway!)

 

 

 

The Digestive System

Before I was a teacher, I was actually a physiotherapist. As long as I can remember, I was fascinated with how the human body worked so my absolute favourite thing to teach is anything even slightly related to Human Biology!

In Year 4, we learnt about the digestive system and what better way than to do it practically!

This is not a new idea at all and I’ve seen lots of great versions online. We used what Jonathan had for breakfast: a jam sandwich and 2 Weetabix!

Here’s what I used for each stage of the digestive system:

Incisors – bite and cut up the food – scissors.

Molars – grind food into smaller pieces – a potato masher (and who are we kidding – our hands!!)

Saliva – water.

Oesophagus – we made a clear tube out of a laminating pouch and poured our food from our ‘mouth’ (jug) into our ‘stomach’.

Stomach – zippy bag.

We added digestive juices and bile (OJ and coke!) and started to churn the stomach contents up until it was a gloopy mess!

Small intestine – tights – we poured the stomach contents into the tights and saw all the ‘nutrients’ drip into our body (bowl).

Large intestine – absorbent towel – we took the tights and rolled them in the towel so that the water was absorbed.

Rectum – cup – we cut the tights open and squeezed the now more solid, brown ‘faeces’ into our ‘rectum’ (cup). The important thing about the rectum cup is that it needs a hole in the bottom. (You’ll see why in a minute!)

Now for my favourite part – the anus! To make the anus, we took a second cup and, over a bowl of water, for that authentic toilet bowl splash, we push the second cup down into the first cup so that the faces pushed out the hole (anus!)

What a glorious moment that was! I wish I could share with you the videos as the squeals of delight from the children (and, of course, me!) were just brilliant! The plops were magnificent!

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I even made some custom aprons for myself and the TAs so that we could show the children throughout where we were in the system.

As well as our science learning, we also used this to write the most spectacular narratives from the point of view from a piece of food travelling through the digestive system!

 

Really made me smile!

 

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The Day The Crayons Quit (and wrecked the classroom!)

I love this book! I used it last year in Year 4 when the tables and chairs quit and I think it will be one of those books that I just use year on year!

This lesson was adapted from an amazing idea I saw on Facebook (I can’t find the orignal source to credit so please do let me know if you know who it was!)

This was the first time the children had been exposed to this book and what an entrance it made!

We came into the classroom one morning, only to discover that it had been taken over by some very sad and angry looking giant crayons!

The children, in pairs, walked around with a clipboard answering the questions prompts to see whether we could work out what on earth had happened. Each pair then joined up with another pair to make a group of four to share their ideas.

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There are almost infinite writing outcomes you could have with a book like this but we wrote diary entries about what the crayons had been up to whilst away. (Grey Crayon had been to the zoo to check whether the grey animals were really that big. Green Crayon had gone to the Sun to check once and for all what colour it actually was. Unfortunately, Green got a bit too close to the Sun and melted). Some wonderfully creative ideas from Year 2!

We also wrote letters to the crayons from Duncan, persuading them to come back.

I think my favourite piece of work was the children writing letters from other classroom objects to explain why they had quit too. Glue was fed up of having his head squashed by the lid, Ruler was fed up of always being forgotten and being made to look at wiggly lines and Felt Tip was fed up of losing its ‘hat’ all the time!

A book for every year group! How have / would you use it?

All Aboard The Polar Express!

Just before Christmas, Year 2 had a very exciting opportunity to travel on The Polar Express!

We had spotted some tracks on the carpet about a week before and wondered what might come along them. One day, Year 2 were sitting in the library with Miss C’s sidekick Mrs H. reading some books when in I ran with exciting news for the children: The Polar Express had just pulled in!

Of course, Jonathan was all over this and was dressed up as a conductor. (He was also wearing his shark costume from our toys topic fun!) He was stood at the door checking our tickets.

Once inside, the children found a train! All aboard! The conductor shouted and we took our seats. (YouTube have some great footage of real snowy train journeys that I used). Along the way we saw snowy mountains, howling wolves and lights in the distance which turned out to be the North Pole!

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We even had ‘hot chocolate’ fudge served to the famous song from the film.

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When we reached the North Pole, the train came to a standstill and we all got off to explore. We even made footprints in some crunchy snow (great timing of the real snow about a week before! I collected a load and kept it in my freezer!) Back on the train and we saw Santa and his elves!

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Much fun was had by all and we generated lots of lovely language to describe all of the things we had seen, tasted, smelt, touched and heard. The Polar Express book is filled with similes so we included lots of these and wrote some brilliant recounts of our trip!

I think my favourite simile was, ‘The lights of the North Pole twinkled in the sky like the first firework on Bonfire Night.’ Just wonderful!

A Tomb is Discovered in the Year 4 Classroom!

Another favourite of mine from last year was our ‘Ancient Egyptian’ topic. Again, the children really engaged with it! We wrote instructions on how to mummify objects, basing it on what we learnt about mummifying tomatoes. (Great fun! We linked this with maths by weighing the tomatoes at various points throughout the mummification process and plotting these on a graph before setting up ‘The Tomb of the Damned Tomatoes’ in the corner of the room!)

An exciting moment during this topic was when we found a tomb in our classroom! Who knew? Of course, as we had been studying Carter and thinking about how historians use artifacts they find during archaeological digs, we were the perfect candidates to explore the tomb!

We carefully unsealed the entrance of the tomb and peered in with a torch!

Then, 2 by 2, we carefully explored the tomb, taking photographs of artefacts we found along the way.

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We found lots of objects and photos that we carefully analysed and tried to decipher what they might have been used for but perhaps the most mysterious thing we found was a sarcophagus!

A team of four carefully removed the sarcophagus from the tomb so that we could examine it more carefully. It was sealed tight. Several children noticed that there were some hieroglyphs on the top of the sarcophagus. Luckily, we were experts in deciphering these so we worked out what it said …

HERE LIES …… JONATHAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh my goodness! The screams of delight as we dared dreamed that our long lost friend, Jonathan, who had not been seen since being chased away from the rainforest, could, in fact, be inside the tomb!

We carefully opened the sarcophagus up and HOORAY!!! Reunited at last!

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What a fabulous moment!! Speculation soon began on what on earth Jonathan had been up to and how he managed to find himself in our tomb but mostly we were just relieved to have our good friend home!

The children wrote newspaper reports based on the exciting findings in our classroom!

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Let us know what you think of our work!

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‘Over in the Jungle’ Poetry Work

Linked into our ‘rainforest’ topic, I decided to use the poem ‘Over in the Jungle’ by Marianne Berkes. If you haven’t seen this book, you really must check it out. The illustrations are out of this world!

The poem is a counting poem so we decided we would write our own versions to then present to the Reception class.

After performing the original poem and looking into its structure, we were ready to brainstorm some rhyming words!

I divided the class into 3 ‘teams’ of ten and gave each team member a number from 1-10. (I gave the trickier rhymes to children I thought were up for the challenge!) Anyone who finished early improved their poem to ensure it mimicked the original exactly and then wrote stanzas for different numbers.

The poems were brilliant! Everyone then joined up with their teams so that as a class we had 3 complete counting poems to perform to Reception.

We checked out some performances of poetry online and tried to make a toolkit of techniques we could use when we performed our poems.

What do you think of our fabulous work?

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The classroom rainforest.

This was one of my absolute favourite topics to teach!

Our official termly topic was ‘Fairtrade – Brazil’ but when I talked to my class about it, they were totally fascinated by the Amazon Rainforest so it was a ‘no-brainer’ that our learning would be mainly built around this.

My amazing external mentor from my SCITT course had told me about how she had created a display of work with her mixed year 5 / 6 class a few years back and had ripped it down to highlight to them a little how it would feel for your home to be destroyed due to deforestation. She then used this as a stimulus for writing.

Our unit of work started with us creating our rainforest. The children spent two days researching and creating animals and plants that would live in the Amazon Rainforest. We then used all their work to create the most epic looking display ever!

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Jonathan (see an earlier post if you have no idea who he is!) was, of course, part of the learning and was dressed by the children as a Tribe member / explorer!

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We LOVED our rainforest so when the sad day came for it to be torn down, it really had a big effect on us all.

The morning began with our classroom being taped up and Mr S, the caretaker, having to go in ahead of us to check it was safe.

The children, who had to register in the hall, hypothesised about what could have happened. Was there a water leak? Had there been a burglary? Had someone stolen Jonathan? When Mr S. came to let us know that it was now safe for us to go in, we cautiously made our way down to our classroom.

Never could we have guessed the horror that awaited us!

A letter was found from Mr P. Max, head of PepsiCo. explaining that our rainforest had to be cut down to make room for a palm oil plantation! We were infuriated! But worse was yet to come…

In the middle of the floor, a hat lay all only. It was Jonathan’s hat …He was gone!

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From this dramatic unit of work, the children wrote persuasive letters to Mr P. Max to outline the importance of switching over to sustainable sources of palm oil. The letters were amazing because the children felt like they had personally lost something.

We sent the letters off and awaited a response form PepsiCo!

The children were so engaged by the disappearance of Jonathan that here is where I make a confession!

(I wasn’t actually planning on his disappearance being a big deal! I had originally planned for him to return after the weekend. However, mainly due to the fact that most of the children spent their lunch breaks to make ‘lost’ posters for the school, I decided to jump on this!)

The disappearance of Jonathan became a major event in the world of Year 4!

Every class should have a Jonathan!

What is a Jonathan? I hear you ask.

Now, my Jonathan happened purely by chance and never could I have guessed how much of an impact he would have on my learners.

Picture this: I was a month in to my NQT year in a gorgeous Year 4 class. It was at that point in the year where the original, ‘Yay! I am finally in complete control of my own class!’ excitement is starting to mix with, ‘Oh s**t! I am in complete control of my class!’ panic.

I had previously worked as a respiratory physiotherapist and had got to the point in my career where I felt pretty confident and I was well regarded amongst other therapists so it was a complete shock to suddenly be in a position where I had very little experience and felt completely out of my depth.

One day I was wandering around Morrisons (other supermarkets are available!) and I came across an aisle of reduced Halloween paraphernalia. That’s when I saw him! Jonathan!

Jonathan is an approximately 2 foot skeleton singing into a microphone. Maybe it was the security blanket of him being a skeleton and a reminder of my physio days but I decided to buy him. I had no idea what I would do with him. I had no idea where I would put him. But I knew I had to have him.

The name Jonathan came from my much loved English tutor on my SCITT course. Many a lunchtime chat would we have about my absolute lack of understanding about ‘abilities’ in education (that’s a whole other post!) So Jonathan he became!

What has this got to do with teaching? I hear you ask.

Jonathan has become the 31st member of my classes. Little did I know about how important this skeleton would become to the children in my class and how much he would stimulate their learning.

I will share some specifics, of course, but Jonathan has been a great way for the children to practise feedback, use reasoning skills, empathise with others.

I can’t imagine teaching without a Jonathan and would love to hear about any ‘characters’ that others use in their teaching.

Every class should, absolutely, have a ‘Jonathan’.

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