Why is poetry key in a classroom?

I have had this blog post in my drafts for such a long time as it’s such a work in progress, but it feels right to publish it now as we enter a new academic year.

Poetry can sometimes be shoehorned into a classroom as an afterthought, often in the last week of term when it is realised the children haven’t written any yet. This often results in very guided and structured poems instead of the creative pieces that could be produced.

For me, poetry is absolutely central to what I do in my classroom. Here’s why:

Why is poetry central in my classroom?

  1. Poetry is super rich in vocabulary. I cannot express enough how much glorious vocabulary can be found in even the simplest of poems. By exposing children to poems daily, you are also exposing them to the richest pool of words. If you unpick that vocabulary, you are handing them the most delicious plate of words imaginable!
  2. Poetic devices. It is difficult for children to master poetic devices if they are only exposed to poems during a rushed poetry unit at the end of a term. If they listen to a range of poems daily, they build up an excellent understanding of different devices which make their own poetry writing much more effective and creative.
  3. Poems are fun! This possibly should have been the first reason I stated, but if you have ever read a class full of children a silly poem, you will know how much fun and laughter it creates. Poems are written to be read aloud and enjoyed.
  4. Reading fluency. Poems are great for working on fluency. Children can practise speed, volume, tone, expression and experiment with different effects created by how they read a poem.
  5. There are no rules! Some children find writing hard. There is so much to think about and they often find it anything but an enjoyable experience. Poetry is amazing in its own right, but it can also be a way in for reluctant writers. The fact that there are no rules for poetry – they can be single words, they can rhyme or not rhyme, they can be written backwards, punctuation missed, etc. means that for some children, there is a lot of freedom in writing poetry. It can be a great way to build confidence in a writer.
  6. Play on language. Children can be silly with writing poems. They can giggle and snigger. They can play with language, which often makes them better at other types of writing. It’s a great way to emphasise the review and editing process of writing. Why is this word better? What effect does this word have over this word?
  7. Creativity and understanding. Poetry can be a way for children to be creative. It can also be another way of them showing their understanding of the world. A child writing a poem about something they know about or have learned about can be a great way at seeing their understanding or even misconceptions.
  8. Emotional intelligence. I have used poetry throughout different times in my life to help me express or process different emotions. It can be a powerful tool for children too. The explosion of ‘Instagram’ quotes, which are often extracts of poetry further show how powerful poetry can be to read and write to help regulate different emotions. For some children, reading and / or writing poetry can help them through difficult times and can give you an insight into how they are feeling.

Quick wins to add more poetry to your classroom:

  • Read more! There are always the odd minutes where you have a bit of time to read a poem. My children beg me at every opportunity to grab a poem book and read some. In my class we have two main ways of choosing a poem: children choose one of our books, then they can either say STOP as I flick through all the pages so it’s a random selection or they can choose a page number (they quickly learn where their favourites are!) Often, they learn these poems by heart too so you can work on speaking and listening and performance objectives 😉 I’m all for quick wins!
  • Have poetry books in your class library. I have a large selection of children’s poetry books and they are some of the most popular books. The children love them and will mimic the choosing process above with each other and read each other poems which is a delight.
  • Use poetry in lessons. Unpick them in reading lessons, R.E. lessons, P.S.H.E. lessons. Discuss the language, the devices, the vocabulary. Use songs too. It is always amazing how much better children sing hymns and songs after you have explained some of the vocabulary / language within them. (The same with prayers!)
  • Curate a class poetry collection. Take pride in EVERY poem that the children write. I always have a scrap book that the children add to throughout the year. They write poems at home, at lunchtime, during wet play. There are no rules – they can be written on anything, and they all get added. We do regular poetry recitals too where children have the option to share and celebrate their poems with each other.
  • Ensure poetry choices are diverse. Just as it is vital for children to see themselves and others in books and in their curriculum, they need to have the same diversity in the poems they read. Don’t just have white, male poets.

There will be so many more reasons why I feel poetry is more important than an afterthought writing unit and you can see why it’s taken so long to write.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on poetry and how you will or do make it more prevalent in your classroom.

Disabled? Or disabled by society?

As some of you are aware, I was a physiotherapist for about 10 years before I became a teacher and a massive part of my role was working with adults and children after injury or illness to regain function and independence.

Often, full function and independence would be regained and life would return to their normal, but sometimes the illness or injury would result in an altered sense of normal for that person.

In a world where we seem to be bombarded from a young age about what ‘normal’ is, it is very difficult for someone who doesn’t fit that prototype to feel like they fit in. There is a lot of talk (rightly so) about colour and ethnicity at the moment and the right of children and adults to see themselves represented in the world around them. This is not just important, it is vital and it is just as important for children and adult with disabilities to see themselves represented in our world too.

When working as a physiotherapist, it became clear that our whole world is set up for people who can walk, see, hear and speak, etc. without any assistance and if you do need assistance with any of these things, there can be huge barriers to life and function. It always made me think that if we lived in a world where we didn’t have steps or narrow aisles in shops or where there were more hearing loops or aids for the visually impaired, etc. would disability even exist? I spent a lot of my time helping people overcome barriers to their function because of the systems around them, rather than because they couldn’t do it in their own way. In other words, often it was the attitudes and barriers of the ableist society we live in that disabled people, not their own ‘dis’abilities.

Take someone who has had to have an amputation, for example. Many amputees can regain mobility and use crutches or a wheelchair to mobilise. They can transfer from different surfaces independently, sometimes using a sliding board, sometimes without any equipment at all. They are completely independent. However, put them into our world which is set up for a weird prototype of ‘normal’ mobility and often, they are no longer independent. They may struggle to access shops or homes if there are steps to access, they can’t often carry a basket or push a trolley if they need to use crutches and there are often not appropriate trolleys or baskets that would help them so straight away, they are unable to access these places and complete these tasks independently. Not because they are unable to, but because our world has decided that they do not mobilise in a ‘normal’ way.

I don’t talk about this often but I was a young carer and was brought up in a family where wheelchairs and equipment were ‘normal’. It also meant that from a young age I was aware of the fact that disabled people were constantly made to feel a nuisance. I would place a bet that anyone who has ever taken someone out in a wheelchair has experienced the frustrated sighs of others if you ‘get in the way’ or are too slow or if you block the aisle because your chair is too wide for the shop. Comments along the lines of  ‘what a stupid idea to bring THAT in here’ as if you could just leave your chair by the door and walk in are a common occurrence. It can become such a traumatic experience for some people that they don’t feel they want to go out alone or feel like they are an inconvenience and so are reluctant to go out even with others.

We take our ability to move ‘normally’ for granted but for someone who doesn’t fit in to this stereotype of normal function, the world can feel a very lonely place. I feel really passionate about ensuring every child sees themselves represented in their world and about every child seeing different representations to themselves in their world so we can deconstruct this image of how a prototype human looks, sounds or acts.

And this is why it is vital that we represent everyone in our curriculum and the books that our children read. It isn’t acceptable that we create a manufactured prototype of what a human looks like – whether that be colour, religion, shape, ability, gender… Every child needs to see that there is no such thing as a normal human. Everyone is normal and everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in the world they live in.

Last year, I visited the most magical school in Liverpool, Springwood Heath, and it made me really emotional. There are children there with disabilities, children who use walking frames, wheelchairs, crutches, children who have feeding tubes, catheters, hearing aids, children who have autism, Down Syndrome, visual impairments and they are all educated together in an inclusive learning environment. The children play together because they are surrounded by the modelled ethos that we are all different, but we are all normal. Seeing the children all playing together on the playground, regardless of their different needs was one of the most amazing experiences I have had as a teacher and it just goes to show what can be achieved.

Our children are the next generation of guardians of our planet and it is our duty as educators to ensure that they grow up without a warped sense of some people having more power because of they way they look or function. We need to make changes and we need to make changes now.

Look at your classroom. Do you have representations of different types of people? People in wheelchairs? Amputees? People with hearing aids? People with medical devices? We have got to make sure that children grow up knowing that there are many different types of people in our world and just because they may be different to them, they are still ‘normal’.

It shouldn’t just be a case of ‘oh I have a child with a medical device with me next year, I better make sure I add some pictures to my lesson powerpoints of someone with that device and find some books with a character with it too.’ Don’t get me wrong, that is a great start, but just like with diversity relating to colour, it should just be a thing that every person is reflected in everything we do or show.

At the start of every year, I ask my children to draw a healthy person. So far, absolutely no children have ever drawn a picture of anyone who isn’t standing on two legs with no medical devices at all. I repeat this task at the end of the year and the representation of different types of people in these drawings always make me proud because over the year I do my absolute damndest to show my children that disability doesn’t mean you are not healthy. You are just different, as we all are.

In the words of one of my favourite artists, Picasso:

‘There is only one way to look at things until someone shows us how to look at them with different eyes.’

Representation of disabilities in children’s books and the curriculum is fairly scarce (and actually, often, you just want characters to be there like they are in real life and not made to be the token hero for the sake of it.) Books are an excellent way to help build empathy in children and the more books with a representation of characters with disabilities or medical devices in them that children have access to, the better we can ensure that all people, no matter their differences, are accepted and we can get rid of this ridiculous notion of ‘normal’.

Scope have some booklists available here: https://www.scope.org.uk/advice-and-support/storybooks-featuring-disabled-children/

There are some book lists here: https://www.mrsdscorner.com/60disabilitybooksforkids/

There are some really interesting points here https://booksforlittles.com/disability-normalization/ about the importance of careful selection of books with disabled characters so that stereotypes (e.g. burden, helplessness) are not reinforced unintentionally. There are also some great book recs too.

Representative toys are available. I love https://www.toylikeme.org/ and they also run workshops for schools.

Looking at our curriculum, do we include people with disabilities? There are so many inspiring people, who just happen to have a disability, including Stephen Hawking, Nick Vujicic, Frida Kahlo, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Esther Vergeer, Jack Carroll, Adelaide Knight, Noor Inayat Khan, Edith Cooper, Eva Gore-Booth… How many disabled people do we include and teach our children about?

I’d love to hear about how you are creating a fully inclusive learning environment and some of the texts or figures that you include.

 

 

When the end is just the beginning…

**This blog may contain triggers and discusses the issues experienced following domestic abuse**

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. I think that it is an American thing and every year I wonder whether I should post about it or not. Then I think about how I try to teach my children how important it is to have a voice and use it so I thought I would show people that no one finds it easy and there’s nothing wrong with finding things tough once you leave. In a lot of ways, leaving is just the start of the journey.

I get messages on a regular basis from women who are in unhealthy relationships, have just left or want to leave the relationship and the underlying tone of the messages is often one of feeling foolish or humiliated.  ‘Victims’ of DA are made to feel ashamed and often like they are stupid for getting themselves into that situation. When they do leave, they feel like they should ‘get over it’ and feel failures when ‘normal’ life is hard to regain.

DA is around us all the time. We don’t always see it. We don’t always notice that someone is suffering from it, perpetrating it or is affected by it in a different way. DA doesn’t just affect the core people involved: it affects their children, their parents, their families, their friends and colleagues.

According to Women’s Aid, over a quarter of women will experience some form of abuse from a partner from the age of 18 and that is just the cases that are reported. Of course, men can experience abusive relationships too, but it is recognised as a gendered crime by ONS (2017).

As some of you know, I was in an abusive relationship for most of my twenties. A lot of people assume that leaving is the biggest challenge, and of course that is a momentous achievement when, a lot of the time, you are made to feel like you simply cannot function outside of that dynamic.

The truth is, I don’t think my biggest challenge was leaving him. I think the biggest challenges are what I face every day, trying to ignore the seeds of doubt he planted in my mind.

So, for all those people that message me and tell me I inspire them as I’m this happy, sassy, confident girl, here’s the raw truth.

When someone makes you feel so worthless and so useless, you begin to live life like you are invisible. You try to make as little impression on life as you can. It feels like living without leaving any footprints. You feel like you are an annoyance and you almost feel like you should apologise for your very presence in this world.

I feel like I have spent most of my life since leaving him doing just that. Not really living, just quietly there. Trying to make as little impression on life (or anyone else’s) as possible.

I never had a normal twenties filled with testing social boundaries, of flirting, of exploring life and the world and of getting to know myself. Instead, I was trapped in a game I didn’t want to play and was never privy to the rules. As a result, I constantly worried that I didn’t know how to function in this social world. I did what I thought would keep me safe: I kept myself isolated. I pushed people away. I built walls around my heart so high that no one could even get close.

Then I lost me Mam. She was my safe place: my sanctuary. The one who reassured me it was okay to just be me.

There’s a saying about how a bird doesn’t need to have belief in the branch it sits on because it has faith in its own wings. My Mam was my branch. When she broke, I didn’t have any strength in my wings.

The truth is, life is a constant battle of ignoring those voices in your head. I constantly question my judgement. I’m supposedly an intelligent person and I got myself into that situation. Will I have better judgement if I meet someone else? Do I not read people properly? What if they aren’t trustworthy? What if they make me feel like he did? I honestly don’t think I’m strong enough to get through that again. Was it my fault? Did I irritate him that much? Was I so hard to love that I made him treat me like I was worth nothing? Do I deserve someone who is kind? Who cares if I get home safely? Who wants to know about my day?

I tell my friends all the time that they deserve to find someone who bloody worships the ground they walk on and treats them as such. A relationship is a partnership: a joint enterprise. A two-way support system that challenges you both to be the best versions of yourselves. But what happens if you don’t feel like you are worthy of that kind of affection?

I envy people who throw themselves into love so easily. That trust. That open themselves up. The very thought of that kind of emotional attachment terrifies me. You hope one day you just meet someone who likes you enough to put in the effort to keeping showing you that you are enough and that they care. But I honestly don’t know if that will ever happen for me.

So for those women who message me, thinking I have my sh*t together… guess what, I really don’t! And I think it’s important to share the struggles so other people know it’s completely normal to not be okay.

Surround yourself with supportive people. I am so lucky to have a fabulous support network who every day snub out one of the dark negative thoughts in my mind by lighting a supportive one. Who genuinely make me feel like, yes, it is okay to be me.

Don’t be hard on yourself. Leaving someone is a massive achievement. It will take time to process it all. Give yourself a break and a big pat on the back every now and then. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You don’t know what they are hiding behind the sparkle and glam of their ‘public’ lives.

Be brave. Push yourself out of your comfort zones, whatever they may be. Leave some mofo footprints on life 😉

And remember, yes, leaving is momentous. Leaving is tough. Leaving is a massive achievement. But in so many ways, it is not the end of the journey, but the start of one.

IMG_5492

Pleasure and stamina … oooo-er!

As mentioned, in my previous posts, it is vital for teachers to understand the processes that underpin reading and teach them to children explicitly.

Reading can be thought of as reading for pleasure and reading for meaning. Of course, it is vital to instil a love of reading in children and I am very much a believer of children being empowered to be in control of their own RfP (with, of course, the guidance to signpost authors or books, etc.) In general, I allow my children to read what they like if it is for pleasure. There are so many ideas to build a love of reading in children online so I am not going to go too deeply into it.

Reading for meaning, however, is different. If we want children to become competent readers, we need to make sure the skills required to become one are modelled and taught.

One of the fundamental skills that children need is a stamina for reading and a resilience to keep reading even if it isn’t necessarily easy or hugely enjoyable in that moment. I want to help give children the skills of reading to learn.

Basically, if children don’t read for long enough, they may not get the full benefits from what they read.

Stamina was a huge issue encountered in my first year of the KS1 reading SATS. The children just lost interest.

So how could we build this in KS1? Again, I am no expert. I am just sharing what I do in my Y2 classroom in case it helps anyone else as a lot of resources online are aimed at KS2.

As well as building an ethos of re-reading books at home (see previous post), we have been trialling sustained silent reading in class in KS1.

The idea is that a regular slot is timetabled in for the children to silently read. It needs to be at least twice a week and last year, from Christmas onwards, in Year 2, we did this every day, straight after lunch.

We teach the children how to read. We teach the children what a good reader looks like. We might model this in this session, or in other areas (for example, when reading our class book and we gasp and giggle, I might point out that this is what a good reader does – expresses their emotions when reading, etc.)

We started off making it a bit of a game. We talked about what we thought a good reader did and we made a list of these things and had it viewable throughout each session. This is an example that the wonderful Year 1 class came up with.

good reader

Then, for short amounts of time to begin with (one or two minutes), the children would practise being a good reader whilst myself and my LSA walked around and made little distractions (tapping, asking a child a qu, whispering, etc.) We would celebrate and praise those children that were able to remain focused on their reading. The idea being, that they practise being able to read without being easily distracted.

Once the children were used to reading in a more focused way, we then built up the time gradually (by the end of the year, the class were able to read silently for 15-20 minutes and often groaned when it was time to put our books away!)

The role of the adults are vital in this silent reading time, It is not a time to kick back and think, “Phew, I can mark some books!” Early on, sometimes we would model good reading by reading ourselves at that time but the most effective use of adult time is getting around the children and talking to them in the moment about their reading. Depending on the child, this intervention can be personalised. This may be decoding work, it can be vocab checking, it can be fluency work, it can be inference work. It can be anything that that child needs you to help them with with their reading. Often, it was just discussing their books with them and building up a really good idea of them as a reader which helped me recommend more appropriate books to them.

By the end of the year, I can honestly say, that I felt like I knew each of my children as readers so much better than I ever had before and this timetabled silent reading time really helped.

Over a week, both my LSA and I could listen and talk to every child so that is at least twice a week each child has that time.

Another important aspect of the silent reading time is to sometimes get the children to respond in some way to their reading. This can be used to check if they are actually reading for meaning or check understanding or even to help keep them focused during the time. We are building stamina for a reason so it is important to sometimes get them to respond to what they have read.

Sometimes, I would put a task up on the board, e.g. think of a question you want to ask about what you have read, so that they have goals. Sometimes, I would ask them to draw a  picture of something they had read. Sometimes, we would have table discussions. For KS2, there are reading response journals that could be adapted for KS1.

One of my favourite ways of asking chn to respond (and is great in KS1) is to use a name grid. I used them all the time in science and English, but the course I went on (mentioned in my first reading post) reminded me that it would be great to use for reading response too!

Have squares with each child’s name in that are big enough to stick a post it note on. Then ask chn to create an individual response, they stick it on their name and, hey presto, you have a really quick way of scanning your class’s response to something.

Below is a picture from science (it’s great for asking children to make predictions!)

Science

When the children sat the end of KS1 assessments, there was no panicked looks at the length of the texts. There was no huffing and sighing. Admittedly, I felt the papers were SO much better this year in terms of length and number of texts, but I definitely feel I had set the children up so much better to be resilient readers (not just for the assessments, for their lifelong journey of readers to learn.)

Silent reading time has been a really important part of my teaching of reading for meaning this year and is definitely something I will continue to review and reflect on next year.

All on the same side – are we maximising the opportunities for children to practise reading at home?

Let’s talk banded reading books. When I was in Year 4, there wasn’t a huge mention of these by parents. The children changed their own books, but generally just read what they wanted and I didn’t spend much of my time even thinking about them.

Fast forward to Year 2 and suddenly I was being bombarded every day with parents worrying that their children were ready to move up, that they could read the book really easily, that they had already read that book…

It really made me think. Of course, they were concerned. They didn’t understand the process of children learning to become effective readers any more than I had before I trained. It made me realise what a wasted resource my parents were.

So I got them in. I explained that there were essentially two facets to reading: reading for pleasure and reading for meaning. Children can read what they like, I explained. If they pick Harry Potter off the shelf and the parents are happy with that, then they can read Harry Potter. Reading for pleasure is exactly that and the children can read whatever they want for fun.

Reading for meaning, however, is different. I explained that, essentially, the banded books sent home were their ‘practice’ books. The books they need to use to practise the reading strategies they were being taught in class.

I explained about building stamina and resistance, that children need to learn that to read for meaning, you have to read something more than once. What message are we sending the children if the parents are rolling their eyes when they see that “Miss C ‘hasn’t changed the book AGAIN!”? (I got a lot of guilty smirks at that moment!) That actually, if we reframe our response to ‘Oh brilliant! I wonder what more we can get out of this text?’ how much more are we building a reading resilience in our children?

I defined what I meant by ‘reading fluently’ and how if the children can read that book to fluency, that they would be able to understand it more. I gave the parents examples of questions to ask the children to check understanding. I explained what would be useful to me, as a teacher, for comments on their child’s reading. (If they wished to do that.)

I explained some strategies that they could use to help their child read more fluently – how to model reading aloud to them, echo, choral reading, reading a page each, etc.

In Year 2, I change my class’s banded books once a week so that they have the chance to practise reading skills effectively. The parents have been incredible and that’s been through teamwork and explaining a little more about reading and not just getting frustrated at them for all the comments about books (which initially, I admit, I did do!)

Nothing that was rocket science at all but the benefit to my children has been immense and the parents love feeling they are doing more than just getting their children to read a very dry, very boring (sorry!) colour banded book.

I would definitely recommend getting the parents involved if you haven’t already and maybe having a think about how the colour books are used in your class. Do we just change them whenever and have no expectations for what the children actually gain from them or do we try to maximise every opportunity these children might have (there will always be children who don’t have these chances at home for a multitude of reasons) to practise these skills?

None of this replaces what we do in school, just supports it.

You can find examples of questions to give parents on sites such as Twinkl or by googling. Someone shared some great ones based on gems not long ago on Twitter.

I will upload the PPT / info I gave to my parents at some point too if that helps anyone.

 

 

What is reading?

The first thing, as teachers, we have to do is fully understand what reading actually is.

It’s easy to think that just by giving children ‘reading comprehension’ after ‘reading comprehension’ that they will become better readers when this is really not the case.

A reading comprehension exercise is your absolute final endpoint in a lot of ways, particularly if each question has a different skill set that needs to be applied.

In order to successfully teach reading, we need to understand what the elements of effective reading are and make sure we explicitly teach these to our children. We should know the progression of these elements and why children need them taught well to become competent readers. As with everything I teach, the question I always ask myself is why? Why am I teaching the children this? You can usually track the progression of that element through to KS3/4 and beyond. One thing I love as a KS1 teacher is being the first to plant that little seed in  child’s mind.

Of course, what underpins the whole system of a good reader is a pleasure of reading and a stamina for reading.

There are so many amazing ideas on how teachers can inspire children to love reading online and I am constantly amazed at how my peers pass on a love of reading to their children. It is such a vital part of the whole ethos of hopefully creating effective readers.

In my first year of Year 2, I was so shocked when my lovely class sat down to complete Reading Paper 2 and … it was horrendous. There were THREE very dry, very chunky texts and my children just didn’t have the reading stamina or resilience to cope with it. I felt so sad that I hadn’t prepared them well enough for that. Many could ‘do the skills’. They simply did not have the resilience or the stamina to cope with so much text at once. As a result, this is something I have really worked on this year.

Of course, in order to read, children need to be able to decode and in KS1 this is a huge part of our reading education. However, I’m really passionate about one thing:

If the objective you are working on is not decoding, read the text to the children, even if they can’t decode it themselves.

Reading is not just about decoding and it is absolutely vital that we ensure we have high expectations for all children and we don’t ‘dumb down’ texts to fit decoding level when children need to be exposed to high quality texts to build reading skills.

Something that is so often missed is fluencyIf we can get children to read a text to a fluent level, we can free up so much of their ‘brain power’ for developing other reading strategies. If you haven’t done this, I implore you to give this a go! I promise you you will be amazed at the difference in children’s ability to think deeper about a text. Herts for Learning have completed great fluency projects and would be a great place to start.

Then we have the comprehension type strategies for reading: making sure we activate prior knowledge, how we teach children to read for meaning, teaching children how to gain an understanding of new vocabulary and, of course, inference.

In order to develop a greater understanding of what is read, children also need to be able to make plausible predictions, to generalise, to make links and to summarise texts. To do this children also need to be taught how to navigate a text efficiently.

Over the next few blog posts, I will try to detail how I teach these strategies to my children (appropriate to KS1, of course!) Like I said, I am not an expert, I reflect and change all the time, so be kind and this is just in response to people asking me about reading in KS1 as a lot online is based on KS2.

A massive issue I know we all have is time! Again, everyone needs to do what suits their schools and classes but just to give an idea of my Year 2 class, this is my rough timetable for a typical day.

8.45-9am Rolling registration / Early Morning Work

9-9.25am Reading

9.25-10.10am Maths

10.10-10.45am Assembly / Break

10.45-11.05 Phonics / Spellings

11.05-11.45 English

11.45-12 Story time

12-1 Lunch

1-1.15 SSRT (Sustained Silent Reading Time)

1.15-2 Lesson 1

2-2.45 Lesson 2

2.45-3 Maths Meeting

3-3.15 Home

I tend to cover decoding in phonics / spellings rather than in my reading lessons and also try to listen to a table of readers each day in SSRT which may focus on decoding for an individual reader but again, I adapt that for the needs of my class each year. Reading unlocks so much of the curriculum so there is a big percentage of our timetable given over to it. I appreciate that this may not be possible for other schools.

Over the next few posts, I will explain how I teach reading in my Year 2 class. Hopefully, it helps someone 🙂

 

The Teaching of Reading in KS1

Let’s talk reading.

We all know that reading unlocks so much learning for children and it is so important to get it right, however, there is so much information out there that can make it an absolute minefield to navigate through.

I am no expert. I think reading is my favourite thing to teach but I am still adapting what I do all the time.

We were extremely lucky in my training year to have the most incredible of English tutors and he set us up tremendously to have the know-how to start our teaching of English journey. His number one rule was basically ‘teach reading like you would any other lesson’. A clear objective, then modelled tasks into independent work. It’s very easy to over complicate reading but essentially, if you break it down into smaller steps then it is just like anything else we teach.

There are incredible reading resources online offered freely by inspirational professionals, including Mrs P. Teach (www.mrspteach.com), Ashley Booth (theteachingbooth.wordpress.com), Miss Wilson (misswilsonsays.wordpress.com) and Solomon Kingsnorth. These are an invaluable hive of advice and practical resources of where to begin.

I have also been incredibly lucky this year to have attended a reading course run by Rachel Pritchard (@raepritchard1) and Emma Bradshaw and the work that these teachers are doing to improve the teaching of reading in Essex is absolutely phenomenal.

The question I get asked the most on Twitter is how I teach reading in KS1. Like I said, I am absolutely no expert at all but I thought I would take some time sharing what I do in Year 2 in case some of it is helpful to anyone else.

What I do is a fusion of my training, my reading and my own reflective practice. Lots of credit to the above mentioned resources!

Hope it’s useful!

My Teacher Thought I Was Smarter Than I was. So I Was.

One of the first things that really shocked me about teaching when I started training was how much some teachers go into a learning ‘cycle’ with an almost unconscious bias about their children’s ability to achieve the learning.

I don’t disagree that as teachers, we get to know our children really well over the time we teach them, but, unless someone is hiding a crystal ball or some mystical power that is yet to be made public, I really don’t see how someone can decide the ceiling of learning that a child may achieve in a lesson or sequence of lessons.

When I was a physiotherapist, we used to get handovers from different wards when a patient was transferred over to yours. Now, it was nothing to do with not respecting another professional, but I must admit, I completely ignored most of the ‘oh they can’t do this… and they’ll never … again’ because quite frankly, as a professional, if I didn’t believe that I couldn’t get that person back to their pre-morbid independence level, then what hope did they have? Of course, the reality is that not everyone left with the same levels of independence that they had before they were poorly but did I believe they could get back to that and did I pour my heart and soul into trying to help them regain it? Hell yes. If I didn’t believe that, then they would have no chance at all.

I feel the same as a teacher. Do I believe that every one of my children is capable at accessing the learning of my year group? Yes. I have to. Because if I don’t believe they can, how can I expect them to believe they can?

I’ve talked about it before, but I honestly believe that EVERY child is capable of learning. You just have to find the ‘key’ that unlocks that learning for them. Some children are lucky enough to have their learning locked by locks that can be opened easily by any ‘key’. (I think these would be Ofsted’s ‘Rapid Graspers’!) But some children have locks that can only be unlocked by a very specific key that can be hard to find. Again, I’ve said it before, but these children are perhaps the deepest of thinkers. The ones that need to fully understand a concept before they ‘get it’.

The brain is one of the most incredible organs in the body with such an under-researched capacity. We really need to believe that all children can and will learn if they are given the chances. I have seen CT scans of brains that have been damaged beyond belief. Where there is so much black on the scan that there is barely any brain actually left. Yet, go talk to the person and you would barely notice. The brain is plastic. It can remodel itself. It can build new pathways. It’s incredible. Given chances, children will learn.

It astounds me that it is sometimes considered standard practice to preempt what groups of children can and can’t do before the lesson. That certain groups of children are sometimes given different objectives, different tasks, different expectations. I strongly believe that, again, as a professional, we should know the progression of the skills we are teaching and know how to either support access to them or extend them. I also believe that this should be fluid and done within a lesson, when the learning is happening and when the teacher can see what each child needs.

Any demands for lessons to be differentiated ‘three ways’, any demands for different tasks for ‘lowers’, ‘middles’ or ‘highers’ or any criticism that a person looking through books can’t see ‘three clear levels of differentiation’ I will never understand.

All my children are individual. What do I hope people see when they look through my books? I hope they see that all children are given the same opportunities to achieve the learning, that the learning has been made accessible to each child through appropriate means for them and that each child has been challenged appropriately and effectively.

My Mam always used to despair at me and say that I was so tenacious: like a dog with a bone! In teaching, I’m proud of that. I’m glad I hold the belief that every child can achieve. I’m glad that I never give up that hope. I’m glad that I don’t lower the goalposts for children who perhaps need them raised the most.

On a training course today, we were told about a study (I will try to find out the details!) where teachers were told a number of children in their new class were gifted and/or talented for different subjects and when they revisited, many of the identified children had made accelerated progress and were above ARE. It was then revealed that the children had just been selected at random …

I believe my children can achieve. And guess what … they do. 🙂

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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