Four Stages of Competence by @Mroberts90Matt

Recently, I have gotten back into reading a little more. Maybe it is because it is half term. Maybe it is because I have been engaging with some truly inspirational teachers through the Primary Education Voices podcast, a lot of whom have extolled the virtues of reading in the primary classroom and as primary practitioners. Maybe it is because I’ve had some glowing comments about a book proposal which, whether or not it makes the light of day, has inspired me to learn from others and drink deeper from sources of knowledge. Whatever it is, I have been enjoying getting more into this important past time.

Ironically, the spark that ignited the thought process behind this blog post was not a book about education but rather a book about my faith. If you were to look at my bookshelf you would find a blend of educational books, books for children (mainly UKS2 end) and books about my Christian faith. I love dipping in and out of these worlds but there are wonderful moments when the Venn Diagram between the three overlap in harmonious moments. In this case, I was reading a book which made reference to research shared by Dr Robert Kegan who, in a 2003 conference, spoke about the four stages of competence as a suggested learning model. This model was developed in the 1970’s by Noel Burch and has been referred to and used by other publications, such as Alice Hansen (2012).

For those unfamiliar with the four stages, they outline a proposed process of psychological states involved in progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill. Now, the author of the faith book I was reading used this model to explain how to integrate patterns of peace into our life. He wrote, as an example, about how he was unconsciously unable to control his worries. They were waves of emotion that he rode through, white-knuckling to be able to eventually survive with as little collateral damage as possible. It was detrimental to his feeling of inner peace. However, over time, practice and engagement in activities to build a toolkit to manage this, he worked through the four stages of competence in applying these strategies to help until eventually he uses them without even thinking about it.

Clearly there were wider implementations to this model than thinking about patterns for finding inner peace – although that would certainly be a useful application for many people I am sure. As a Maths Lead and someone whose vast majority of middle leadership revolved around directing a team to grow the excellence of teaching and learning of Maths in a three form entry school, my initial thought went to Maths skills. Someone being able to compare fractions, find the lowest common multiple or multiply and divide numbers by powers of ten has to go through a process of mastery. However, this model is not just limited to Maths and as such as I talk through these models I will attempt to frame them in processes that occur in other curriculum areas also. This exercise of thinking through the four models of competence has helped me to structure my thinking around primary education and how as primary colleagues we have a role to identify at which stage our children are at and to where we need to get them next.

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

At this stage, the individual is not aware of their inability to use the specified skill. It is using the phrase that you are unaware of what you don’t know. The challenge with this stage is that if you do not know what you do not know, how do you know you need to know more about it? This for me is what puts approaches such as direct instruction and knowledge-based teaching at a forefront for me. During my initial teacher training, I was often painted a picture that if you were a teacher that did not work with a child-led curriculum and told children what they needed to know then you were working in the past. Whilst using enquiry questions and sparking children’s creativity in how they conduct, research and present their learning is important, this first stage for me underlines why there must be a strong element of the teacher doing their job as the ‘expert’ in the room (or at least, more of an expert than the 30-odd young children in front of them).

This process of leading with direct instruction and giving children knowledge was outlined perfectly by Bryony Turford in Episode 20 of Primary Education Voices for me (https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episode/e126buc). One of her Primary Three was about enabling enquiry-based learning but when we began discussing it, she was very clear on how the scientific concepts HAD to be taught directly first by the teacher. How you do this can be very creative – it does not mean sticking a Powerpoint Presentation up and reading through the slides. It could be done through storytelling, sharing interactive models and the teacher guiding them through exploration, sharing experience and explaining the inner workings behind the experience – a vast number of ways. However, if the children were simply given the tools for an investigation and were told to go and find out about it, the learning of key concepts would be minimal.

A child who doesn’t know that what a percentage is could not possibly be asked to find 10% of a number. A child who is not aware how to embed clauses will be unlikely to add extra information within crafting a sentence in their story as they do not know how to compose that into their text. It is our role as a teacher to highlight to them to vast possibilities as they make their way through their education.

One excellent way of bringing things to their awareness, to help them know that they can become competent at doing, is to show examples of excellence out in the wider world. Giving children exposure of types of musical theatre, quality books that unlock our imaginations and showing children how they can be digital creators of content, not just digital consumers, shows them what is possible. This, for me personally, is very easy to overcome. The next step for them is finding out how to become competent at doing those things…

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

Along the journey of education, children should be prepared to experience moments where they are shown a possibility but how there is a gap between that possibility and the reality of where they are right now. Sometimes that gap can seem like a crack, sometimes it can seem like a chasm. As educators, our role is to provide the support and scaffolding to help them reach across that gap from being aware of their ‘incompetence’ (sounds like a harsh term but it is the term used in the model) and helping them to be competent in that skill.

For those who teach Year 6, you will be recently have become hauntingly familiar with the task that is helping them to gain mastery in using a long division method. The discussion about whether using this formal method is even necessary will not be held here. However, it paints a very good picture of what I am trying to illustrate. When given a division with two digits, the vast majority of my class stated that they were not able to do this. They were consciously aware that it was possible, but they were unable to do this. As such, my role as the teacher was to support them first in understanding how to prepare themselves effectively for this task (knowing their multiplication tables, being able to calculate multiples of a two digit number, such as 16 and so on) and then guide them through the process of the long division method.

This process involved perhaps first giving them some worked examples that they could review and discuss what steps were taking place. Then, they were given a question which I completed on the board and they followed along with on their mini-whiteboards. Then, I gave them a chance to complete the question and I gave them the multiples of the divisor. Then, they were to complete questions where they knew the multiples of the divisor with less effort (i.e. 11, 12 and 15). Then, they were given worked problems where they had to identify an error I had made. Then, they were given questions which had the problems couched in a problem to solve. Then, they had questions where they had harder multiples to work with. Then they went through the above process again. Then, they had questions where there were no remainders by the end of the question and so on.

This process took a number of learning sessions (or ‘lessons’) and if it was felt that less than 80% of the class had moved to the next stage of competence in one of the above steps then further purposeful practices were given on that step with support if required. Mistakes become a feature in this stage but with the right ethos they are seen as stepping stones on the journey towards competence. Another vital element of this stage is helping the children gain an understanding on the value of this knowledge or skill. With the long division method process described above, the child will be far less likely in applying themselves fully to this process if they do not see the mathematical and logical strength they will achieve if they learn to apply this knowledge.

Of course, the process given above is just one example of a a plethora of teaching approaches that could have been described. It just exemplifies how we as the teacher have the duty to put structures and purposeful practice in place to guide children through on a journey from conscious incompetence through to the next stage in the model…

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

Somewhere along the learning episode (whatever the subject) development in that skill will occur. This rate of competence will be different for different learners in different contexts. However, over continued deep engagement with the content and quality teaching and learning children will gain competence in the skill or retaining the knowledge. However, just because a child can complete a set of questions or form a structured paragraph one time, under supported conditions, it does not mean they have embedded the learning that needs to take place. It certainly requires their focused attention at this stage. Just because a child can share what they know about hunter-gathering during the Stone Age, it does not yet mean that they can draw meaning from that knowledge or use it to make relevant comparisons or craft a narrative about how human life changed into the Bronze Age. They require further exposure to wider content and more opportunities to engage with that knowledge.

The same can be said about mathematical methods and concepts. Returning back to our long division example, once the children had started to gain accuracy in the application of these skills, we may have been tempted to move onto the next step in our unit. However, this can be a major mistake and lose the excellent progress that the children have made. Consolidation of the use the long divison method will then be necessary if they are to be able to leave into their next phase of education to gain further mastery. The problem we have is, of course, that we do not have time to be continuously practising things we have learnt when there are other things in the curriculum to teach.

This stage is where using teaching techniques such as spacing and retrieval practice, perhaps through low stakes quizzing, become a vital part of our educational diet in our classrooms. I could go into detail on these but for my sanity and yours I’ll just direct you to two blog posts I created on these below:

Diagnostic Questions in the Primary Classroom: https://mroberts1990.wordpress.com/2021/04/07/diagnostic-questions-in-the-primary-classroom-by-mroberts90matt/

Retrieval Practice: https://mroberts1990.wordpress.com/2021/06/03/retrieval-practice-by-mroberts90matt/

As further time and practice moves on with retaining and accessing this knowledge and utilising these skills, the child becomes more able to apply these with less heavy conscious effort…

Stage 4: Unconsciously Competent

This is naturally the goal we have for our children – for them to have the fluency, understanding, knowledge etc to be able to complete these tasks with less requirement from their working memory. As children begin to reach this stage, they then become more able to take on further challenges and apply the knowledge and skills to a wider variety of contexts as it requires less conscious effort in order to apply the skill. This almost becomes second nature and means they are ready for the next stage in the process with this skill or concept.

Stage 4 is also the stage where they become more confident to teach the skill or knowledge to others. In my process of teaching long division, one of my favourite final activities is to use an iPad to empower the children to create their own long division tutorial. They record the screen and the sound as they a division calculation using the long division method and explain what process they are going through. This uses the powerful principle that talk unlocks further learning potential but also help the child to internalise further the skills needed to solve a question like that so they can do it with less working memory needed in future encounters, opening up more working memory to handle other aspects of the problem they are given.

Of course, reaching this stage does not mean they are perfect and of course, further practice will be required in order to stay at Stage 4 as, with my piano playing for example, I am probably more at a Consciously Competent stage rather than an Unconsciously Competent level that I reached in my peak playing and practising years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Competence_Hierarchy_adapted_from_Noel_Burch_by_Igor_Kokcharov.svg

In terms of further thoughts on this or further questions – I am intrigued by perhaps what spectrum there is within each stage. Perhaps how far back can a person go if they do not consolidate and practise the skill or reinforce the knowledge they attain to. I imagine for example once a person leaves Stage 1 they can never go back really because from that moment on they are ‘conscious’ of those possibilities with that knowledge or skill…anyway, just some wonderings I have. Of course, the model is not perfect, it is after all a structured model to try and define something that is not structured or formulaic at all – the messy process of learning. However, as mentioned, it has been useful for me to lay out what my role is in this process of helping our children acquire the important knowledge and skills that we do

Further Reading:

Adams, L. (2021) ‘Learning a New Skill is Easier Said than Done’ https://www.gordontraining.com/free-workplace-articles/learning-a-new-skill-is-easier-said-than-done/

Hansen, A. (2012) ‘Reflective Learning and Teaching in Primary Schools’ SAGE Publications, London.

Retrieval Practice by @Mroberts90Matt

Development in the understanding of how the mind works and how to improve retention in learning has come a long way over the years. I remember when completing my Initial Teacher Training that one of the objectives was about knowing how children learnt and applying teaching strategies to improve learning in this way. I always remember achieving very well in this area because I simply did good teaching and learning habits but if anyone were to actually quiz me on how children learnt I wouldn’t have the foggiest – and I don’t think that those quizzing me would either. Today, I think I know a little more but as with many things the more I have learnt the more I realise that I don’t actually know.

Cognitive development and processes are a very complex beast and I am no expert in this area but in my delve into educational research it is very hard not to run across terms such as working memory and cognitive overload. I have done a little digging into these areas but I am no where near the level of some educators whom I marvel at for their knowledge and explanations of these areas. This is partly why I began my podcast, Primary Education Voices, so I (and the hundreds of other teachers who listen) could learn from highly-recommended practitioners and be given some practical ways to implement tried-and-tested approaches into my practice.

One of these discussions was with Ceridwen Eccles (Teacherglitter) and we have a brilliant, sparkling conversation about a number of topics including her route into primary education, using picture books for the development of PSHE and integrating the arts into the wider curriculum. The full episode can be listened to for free here: https://anchor.fm/dashboard/episode/e10v5j7

During our conversation, Ceridwen spoke wonderfully on the importance of retrieval practice and how to embed it across the curriculum. Retrieval practice is a technique which taps into children making more consistent use of their long-term memory to help them solve more complex questioning and bring vital number facts to the forefront much quicker in order to do this. Many people who champion this technique cite research which shows how humans forget things as time progresses. One of the more often quoted individuals who have shown this is Ebbinghaus. His research was focused on memory over time. The theory was that humans start losing the memory of learned knowledge over time, in a matter of days or weeks, unless the learned knowledge is consciously reviewed time and again. For many, this may seem like common-sense but he attempted to quantitively demonstrate this. Many of you may have heard about his ‘forgetting curve’ which looks something like this:

ebbinghaus
Source: https://intelalearning.wordpress.com/2018/07/19/learning-myth-1-ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve/

There is a problem or two with this research. Firstly, the sample size that Ebbinghaus used in 1885 was a grand total of one, himself. Also, it was based on him memorising a series of three letter nonsense syllables (e.g. JOP), hardly a practical example of things we have to remember in everyday life. This makes it problematic to categorically state that, for example, in 31 days people only remember 21% of something that they learnt 31 days previously. Memory and learning are far more complex than that and are influenced by a number of factors, including the person’s interest in the subject, the way in which the content was delivered and the natural ability of the individual learner.

However, whilst we may look at this curve with a hint of caution, I think it visually represents an important phenomenon that we as teachers have to contend with – the longer it is since a pupil has engaged with learning content, if it is not consolidated or practised then more will be forgotten. Just think about your class that learn a topic in Maths – say, measurement – for two weeks and then at the end of the term can’t remember how many centimetres are in a metre, despite you modelling it well and providing purposeful practice over those two weeks.

As well, there has been a recent study which attempted to replicate the research of Ebbinghaus and found success in producing similar results to his curve – you can read more about that here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0120644

So, what is the solution? As suggested, learning has to be revisited and consolidated to improve the long-term memory retaining it. Doing so not only helps the learner remember it for longer but also reduces the decline of the forgetting curve as demonstrated below:

forgetting curve
Source: https://www.psychestudy.com/cognitive/memory/ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve

Retrieval practice is a wonderful way of doing this. It encourages children to recall information, knowledge and skills they learnt previously for questions posed to them. This can be done in a variety of ways and across the curriculum. Ceridwen provides a number of great examples on how you can do this right across the curriculum: Reading, Vocab, Science and even the arts.

In my role as a Maths Lead of course I wanted to find a way to apply this in my class for Maths and find ways to integrate it in my school. Currently, we are relaunching a concept of ‘Early Bird Maths’ in our school which is simply every classroom for the first 15mins of the day as the children enter. It is outside the allotted Maths lesson for the day and it provides a practice of key skills for this subject. I became keen to develop a way that teachers could apply this in a purposeful manner to support the retrieval of previously learnt content. Ceridwen spoke about using questions that are based on ‘Last Lesson, Last Week, Last Year’ and so on. So, I created a very simple outline/structure that teachers could use. The one I share below is a Y6 example:

Early Bird Maths Y6 Example with Retrieval Practice

One thing that this approach ensures is that content across the curriculum is reviewed and revisited because if this is done consistently then all content is addressed as you go through the year. There is also a larger focus on Arithmetic questions on the right hand side as from our Question Level Analysis (QLA) from Spring Assessments after Lockdown 3.0 we found that Arithmetic was a real area of need in our school. You may decide to do a times tables challenge or other number facts in that area.

I have shared my example as well as the blank version on TES here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/-12537225

Let me know if you find it of any use!

Diagnostic Questions in the Primary Classroom by @Mroberts90Matt

During the first lockdown in Spring 2020 I had a little more time on my hands. I had gathered quite a little collection of books I wanted to read through and so I began to pick my way through this mound of professional development and got stuck into the wonderful book by Craig Barton – How I Wish I’d Taught Maths.

There are a variety of excellent ideas and approaches in this books that can be implemented across primary and secondary age ranges. One blog post (that I can muster in the time I have) cannot outline all of them. However, one particular section that blew me away was the chapter on Diagnostic Questions. In this, Barton outlines the power in using carefully selected and devised multiple choice questions to identify learning gaps. These multiple choice questions have to be created specifically with key misconceptions in mind rather than randomly generated. To help, Craig Barton has created the Diagnostic Questions website where literally thousands of tried and tested questions are free and available to any person. I read this book all the way through during lockdown and I literally spent a sleepless couple of nights with my mind buzzing with ideas! I couldn’t wait to try them out in the classroom.

This is a fantastic resource and well worth drawing deeply from. The only problem for primary practitioners is that these diagnostic questions are primed for remote use – teachers can sign students up with their own log in, set tasks involving these questions and receive instant, analytical feedback. All this is brilliant but with primary pupils this may be a little more tricky to navigate, particularly those younger than Upper Key Stage 2. Such access would then require support from home which in itself if not impossible but it does reduce the impact as some households would find this more challenging – either with parental understanding of how to access and sign their children up or with time that parents have to focus time on this, particularly when sending a piece of paper home may be much more simpler for these younger age groups.

However, after a few months of plotting and preparing ways to use these invaluable questions I have found a couple of ways to use them which have had a real impact in being able identify key gaps in learning in the classroom – something which the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly requiring the need for more than ever – and also as a retrieval practice resource to enhance retention of key learning concepts.

Where to find them and how to access the bank of questions for use

The first thing to know really would be how to get to the actual questions. They are brilliant but being honest if you’re not setting up the questions to set virtually it is not the easiest site or bank of resources to work through. If you go to the main Diagnostic Questions website you will find options to ‘set’ these questions and you can only see one question at a time. What I wanted was the option to see the entire bank of questions for my year group altogether in one place. This is possible but you need to know where to find them. When you go to the Diagnostic Questions website (https://diagnosticquestions.com/Home/Questions) ignore the fancy home page and click ‘Scheme of Work’ at the top, then click ‘Get Access Now’ for Eedi.

This will take you to the site where you can actually find the banks of excellent Diagnostic Questions. You’ll need to create a free account but once you’ve done that you’re in!

You’ll then need to click ‘Set Work’ and then ‘Collections’ and there you are – hundreds of questions from Year 1 all the way up to Year 6 and way beyond! I will point out at this stage that they are based on the White Rose Schemes of Learning in the way they are categorised. (This is what I hope will take you to the exact page but you will need to have registered first for it to work – https://app.eedi.com/158318/collections)

From there it is easy. All the questions are banked into year groups and then ‘Number’, ‘Geometry’ and then alphabetically so it will be fairly simple to find the concept you want to teach and there are two sets of questions with each concept. On closer inspection you will notice that ‘Set A’ (or Quiz A as they are called) look almost identical to the questions in Quiz B. You’ll then realise they are not but they are the exact same question but with the numbers changed (more on the genius of this later…)

So, now you have found this incredible free resource how can it best be used? These are not to be used as general activities in class although they would be useful as a task for your more able children if you ask them to identify what went wrong with the three incorrect answers. I will outline below two ways I have integrated them into the primary classroom and see if you fancy trying them out however I’m sure given some time you’ll find some other ways…

A resource for informal assessment

One great way to use these powerful questions is as a hook into the lesson. These questions are easily snipped from your screen and can be pasted onto an IWB slide or a PPT (whatever your preference) and shown to the class.

From that point you have a few options:

Mini-whiteboards
You could ask the class to write the letter they think to be the right answer on their mini-whiteboards. Simple, straightforward, no tech or fuss. One downside to this is you get the inevitable few in Primary Education (and beyond I’m sure) who will have a sneaky look at their partner’s answer which of course will impact on your informal assessment.

Fingers
We often forget how our children have very useful resources at their fingertips (pun totally intended) which can be used to indicate an answer. As you may notice, these Diagnostic Questions have multiple choice options: A, B, C or D. So simply assign a number of fingers a letter (1 finger = A, 2 fingers = B and so on). This requires even less resources than mini-whiteboards and is less clear to other children around who may be looking for answers from others, but is more obvious to any children behind, potentially influencing their responses.

Plickers
This is by and far my favourite. It does require more prep time and the teacher to have their own iPad with the Plickers app – but if you can do that then this is the way to go. Basically you print and laminate a QR-code-style image for each child which they can keep in their table tray or some other accessible place. You can visit here for the website and create a free account. Once you do this – create a set of questions and away you go. All you have to do in front of the class is select the questions you are asking, the iPad camera goes on and you point it at their raised images. They select their answer by rotating the code the correct way for the answer they want to give, which is shown on the code itself. What you get then is an instant response and graph indicating who got the answers wrong and therefore who you can focus on during the session.

I know that may sound complex to some but once it is all set up and the class have done it a few times, they love it and it becomes second nature. Well worth doing – arguably more so for KS2.

Whatever method you use to collect the responses, these are really useful at the start of the lesson to identify which children need more support to begin with. As Barton suggests, I use two to just narrow the likelihood they have just made a lucky guess.

The DQs are also a great tool for an exit question – imagine having 55% of your class getting the initial questions correct and then at the end 80% get the exit question correct! You can’t argue with the numbers! Maybe it’s the Maths Lead in me but that is a wonderful tool for formative assessment!

Retrieval PracticeLow Stakes Quiz

This is probably my favourite use for these wonderful Diagnostic Questions.

Educational research laid out in Barton’s book from other sources suggest that long term learning is affected over time. In other words, if learning is not referred back to and practised then it will diminish. Specifically, three to four weeks is the window in which if a concept is not revised then the most learning and retention will be lost. This is why so many teachers pull their hair out at end-of-half-term assessments. The learning they had worked so hard to embed early in the half term will have been affected greatly.

Enter low stakes quizzing. The idea of this resource is to integrate a short 5-10min quiz on a concept that was taught 3-4 weeks ago to keep that practise sharp. This is an example of one I created in Autumn for Year 6:

As you can see, this is a mixture of some multiple choice questions and short answer questions which have been collated from Diagnostic Questions, WR and my own questions. Sometimes I draw from Classroom Secrets as well. I give this to my class on a Friday at the start of the Maths lesson (to highlight the importance of doing it), they go through the answers and record it at the back of their book. The children then take it home to revise any questions they weren’t sure on and then, Monday morning, they receive a second quiz. Take a look at the corresponding quiz below from the Monday morning:

Very similar right? This is what I use the ‘Quiz B’ for on the Diagnostic Questions website. It helps me create a brand new quiz that is based on the questions from Part I so that the questions are the same but just with different numbers. With this, children who even struggle with Maths can be confident that if they practice those questions for their homework then they will make progress and that is success in a Maths lesson that they really need. Motivation is built on success (as much research shows). The children then record their ‘Score B’ in the back of the book and that’s it. I may dip back occasionally to see how it is going but this is for their eyes.

The impact of low-stakes quizzing is widely backed and being able to remind children and cognitively challenge on a concept they learnt three weeks ago is so important as that is usually about the time that long-term learning needs to be embedded. These are just one way of doing this that has worked for me.

Conclusion

You may well see these banks of questions, from Year 1 and beyond, and see ways in which you can implement them – an exit ticket, a discussion question, a hook and so on – they are extremely versatile and too important to not use in a Primary setting. Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on using these going forward!

Primary Education Voices: Episode 1 – Gaz Needle

So, having recorded 10 inspirational episodes of @PrimEduVoices thus far, I can’t help but be blown away not just by the knowledge and skills of incredible Primary colleagues in the country but also by how diverse and yet still so interesting and applicable their comments, ideas and philosophies were. In doing this, I felt inspired to write a snapshot of these brilliant conversations and see if fellow Primary colleagues were interested in having these ideas and discussions recorded in the written word.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the key takeaways from the inaugural conversation with Gaz Needle, a headteacher in Manchester who is also a co-founder of the highly popular #PrimaryRocks twitter chat every Monday evening at 8pm.

What inspired you to become involved in Primary Education?

Primary school teaching was not something that was an ambition that Gaz had. He did like school growing up but it was only towards the end of his education this awareness came. After a brief and disastrous foray into Design and Technology to pursue a career in teaching it, Gaz then went on to study a different area in English – but he was required to go into a primary school to complete his university degree. He met an inspirational teacher there who got him involved and from there (with one life-sized paper Roman later) Gaz carried on this journey which felt completely right for him.

What is you funniest story from Primary Education?

Picture the scene: sports day, sun blazing down and Mr Needle is leading his pack of young children showing them around the events and modelling – like all excellent teachers do – how to complete the activities on offer. The long jump was next and, not wanting to show a half-hearted attempt, put everything into his jump. Olympic standard. He stuck the landing and…well, let’s just say his trousers gave a half-hearted attempt. Unfortunately, as Gaz didn’t have his spare pair of trousers in the car like most teachers, he rushed home to correct the situation.

Primary Three #1: Persevere/Try Your Hardest/Never Give Up

Gaz began with outlining a key principle that he thinks as teachers we need to remember. Teaching is a tough job, with the expectations, deadlines and the fact we work with a group of people who can be as unpredictable as the weather in Manchester that we mentioned at the beginning of the chat! Children are notoriously wonderful but tricky to manage – why else do people use the adage ‘never work with children’? They are the entire focus of our profession.

When considering this, Gaz gave the advice that when teachers do go through inevitably challenging times, they should persevere. In the live #PrimaryRocks sessions (which I am yet to enjoy personally but have heard wonderful things!) Gaz recounted numerous teachers who came to him and thanked his team for their work putting on these life-changing events, citing that they were very close to leaving the profession until they attended this event. When reflecting on this conversation I had to wonder: what was it about #PrimaryRocks Live that changed the minds of these wavering teachers?

It can seem very difficult to persevere when you have to face day after day of exhausting educating and maybe you have a senior leadership team who are not proactive in seeking to improve wellbeing or offer support when the struggle becomes real. However, perhaps returning to the reason you began teaching in the first place could help you hang on in there. Perhaps connected with inspirational colleagues through Twitter or podcasts (like Primary Education Voices) could give you a little boost. Perhaps thinking back to the positive and happy moments you have experienced could remind you about why it is worth not giving up during this turbulent time you are going through.

Upon reflection I had to draw a conclusion it was a number of factors: a sense of solidarity with like-minded professionals, great ideas shared from enthusiastic colleagues that they would be excited to take back to their classroom and simply just a buzz about primary education that they may not find in school on a wet and dreary Monday morning. In other words, life was breathed into their motivation and those difficult days were able to be viewed through a lens of perspective.

Gaz quite rightly says we need great teachers to stay in this noble profession, and if you are reading a book about teaching then you are certainly a great, reflective practitioner. If you need support but you do not think you can find it where you are based, reach out to these great practitioners you will find in these blogs. I am positive, despite the time pressures they have, they will take the time to give you some motivation – I personally experienced this when they gave of their valuable to sit and have a natter with me, this guy who they had never met with whom the only thing they had in common was their profession, and we both came away invigorated. We need you.

Primary Three #2: Keyboard Shortcuts

After that heavy opening, Gaz then went on to describe one of the secrets of managing his workload, the way he reduces the time that working on that laptop for hours on end – keyboard shortcuts. Now, when Gaz sent me this as one of his Primary Three I had to chuckle. It’s that sort of quirky but powerful idea that I am all here for. If you add up all the time teachers spend on their laptop creating lessons plans, devising resources, completing paperwork and inputting data it would be a pretty impressive tally. However, Gaz identifies how we can shave seconds off those times, and believe me – those seconds will turn into significant amounts of time, over time.

Gaz kindly shared his top keyboard shortcuts which give him full control over the interface of his device so take a look and, as with all things primary education practice, maybe pick one or two that you would find useful and start embedding them in your keyboard use daily. I personally love the ‘Windows -> Right/Left’ which allows you to have two windows open either side very easily!

Some of these you will use already, others you will not – I am quietly confident that the vast majority of teachers will not necessarily have used or internalised all of these shortcuts. If you can get to know a couple more than you do already, watch the time be saved.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a more quirky and obscure ‘teaching resource’ but it is a serious one to consider. Time is a precious commodity as primary school teachers and any time saved will be valuable. These keyboard shortcuts will not solve the workload issue but they can help you individually work smarter, not harder and complete tasks that bit sooner, freeing you up to enjoy your time a little more.

Primary Three #3: Instil a Love of Reading

The final choice in Gaz Needle’s Primary Three was the importance of instilling a love of reading. You would be hard pressed to find a teacher who did not think that this was important. However, we had a great chat about how we promote this love of reading. One issue we talked about was the benefit of whole school events like World Book Day. This is a debate that rears up every time the first week of March comes along. You have those on one side of the camp saying they love World Book Day and how it really sets the school up for another calendar year of enjoying reading whereas others state their dislike of it and how often, that dislike is stemmed in the feeling that this is a token gesture, a tick box for a school to show they support reading, but it is not enough to instil a real love of reading. Ultimately, Gaz and I agreed that World Book Day is well worth the effort – it does promote a love of reading but it is not enough to instil a love of reading on its own.

He began with the importance of outlining to all involved in the classroom that whatever they want to achieve, it all begins with a solid understanding of reading. It doesn’t matter what the children we teach want to do, an ability to read will unlock doors. Gaz outlined some careers that wouldn’t typically be associated with reading – including footballers who would need to read to be able to locate a credible agent to read contracts for them! Reading is interwoven into our day-to-day live.

However, Gaz then went on to extol the virtues of reading for pleasure. For him it is such a relieving experience which can open worlds beyond our imagination and yet, stories within these worlds that deal with real-life dilemmas that we come up against in our own. One top tip that he shared is to try and select authors occasionally who have been a little more prolific and written multiple books or who have written a series so if some children get hooked on a story, then they have further places to explore with that same style of author. I’m sure many of you have had the wonderful experience of seeing a few children in your class get their very own copy of the book you are studying so they can rush ahead and digest the narrative you are exploring together. What a feeling it is to know you have sparked an imagination by being a gatekeeper to these multiple worlds!

The process of reading from Early Years all through to Year 6 is a miraculous process. Gaz explained his wonder at how children progress through these stages and he stated that to be able to read is a right. It is not a gift. Throughout Primary Education we must be focused on developing that love of reading from the beginning. He shares that one of his most important tools in the kit for teachers to get children loving reading is to be expressive and lose all self-awareness when we read to them. Have fun with it. And if you aren’t enjoying the reading of it, put it down and get a different story. You are the teacher and have the power within your classroom to change the flow to continue to find those magical moments that will spark an interest in reading.

Who do you recommend for a future interview?

Gaz really struggled over this question, as many educators have done to be fair, and could have listed many. He managed to narrow them down to these two:

Graham Andre – @grahamandre

An educator with a fascinating story about how he got into Primary Education and shares so many wonderful ideas and resources in the Education world

Nina Jackson – @musicmind

Gaz selected Nina due to remembering a talk she gave at #PrimaryRocksLive and how inspirational she was and how she can make many people smile very easily.

What is the best thing about Primary Education?

It had to be the penny-dropping, lightbulb-illuminating moments for Gaz. Primary educators live for those ah-ha moments and that is one of the best things in his opinion.

Thank you Gaz for your incredibly generous offering of your time and the brilliant ideas and experiences you shared. I loved our chat and hope that anyone reading this does these two things:

  1. Share it with someone
  2. Subscribe to the Primary Education Voices podcast

These will really help raise these wonderful voices and generate more discussion in various ways about Primary Education. You can follow Gaz here: @gazneedle and don’t forget to join #PrimaryRocks at 8pm on a Monday evening!

Primary Education Voices: A Teacher Voice Podcast by @Mroberts90Matt

So, I’ve been enjoying getting back into creating content about Primary Education. I’m limiting myself to one blog a month but even then that is hard going for me. I don’t know – I just guess I don’t like sitting and typing about things that much. Ironic considering I have written a 250 page book (not about Primary Education) but I find it much more compelling to speak with others. I think this is why Twitter holds much more appeal to me because there is a sense of discussion and dialogue more so than on a blog. I experienced this when I was also blogging on a personal capacity about my faith. Loved the concept, struggled to find the time to sit and write. So, I begun a little daily podcast about my faith and found this to be really meaningful.

Over the past couple of months I have begun more active on #edutwitter and in the blogging world of Primary Education. This will be because I started in a new role as a KS2 Lead and SLT member. I felt I needed to be challenged more and was able to finally make this step, despite a pesky worldwide pandemic! Hoping this desire to engage with Primary Education will continue more with this.

However, this time I noticed something. After a year and a bit of really getting into podcasts I thought, why don’t I combine two things that I love – the Primary Education-based chats on #edutwitter and podcasts? I couldn’t find anything like this and so…Primary Education Voices has been born.

I hope to have a chat with some truly inspiring primary education-based practitioners from Twitter. They could be headteachers, teachers, TAs, support staff – work in mainstream, special education and so on. We will hear a bit about them and what inspired them to be in primary education and then find out what their Primary Three are.

The Primary Three is a little clever word play – the three ‘primary’ things they are passionate about, three things about ‘primary’ education that they think are important and ‘primary’ and ‘three’ are a little half-rhyme which doesn’t hurt 😉

I find it much easier to find 30-45mins in a given week then allot a certain amount of time each week to write part of a blog post, I’ve been practising making podcasts for over a year now (in which I’ve interview a few people already) so it was a no brainer really. Do stick with me though – I hope to publish one episode each week on a Monday morning at 6am for your morning commute but after all I am a full time senior leader in a primary school so I will do my best to keep up!

All I ask is that you tune in and share this exciting project with others. Subscribe, rate and share the podcast and let’s hear more from the inspiring primary education twitterers that we engage with each week!

Hope you enjoy!

Covid-19: The Chance to Reform Performance Management by @Mroberts90Matt

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things. We have become much more proficient with video conferencing software, we will think twice when we go to the local bowling alley (seriously, that was pointed out to me last week and I don’t think I’ll ever go bowling again) and we will be less reluctant to visit our in-laws, or any one for that matter!

Schools have also adjusted during this time. I wrote a piece in the TES about how one example of a change that may be considered by school leaders which is how parents’ evenings may be made virtual on a more permanent basis for many reasons listed in the article here. Adversity is often the mother of invention and it has forced school leaders to find innovative solutions and new ways of working to effectively deliver a school curriculum and provide an active community for pupils, staff and parents.

One thing that I have been thinking about recently is performance management. Due to the disruption to two school years, school leaders are having to reconsider how to effectively manage performance without fully utilising pupil progress data. With many pupils being completely out of school for the entire Summer Term in 2019-20 and, at the time of writing, the majority being out of school for most of the Spring Term in 2020-21, many would consider it unfeasible to use this data to judge whether teachers have reached pupil progress targets for the year. In some cases, performance related pay has become the norm and now COVID-19 is forcing institutions that use this form of performance management to think a little differently.

Naturally, many schools have reacted in different ways. Before proposing a potential way forward for this year (and potentially a paradigm shift moving forward) I first would like to consider options that should be disregarded straight away.

X Recording live lessons for perfomance management purposes X

So, I first became aware of this practice when attending an online training session on digital safeguarding and the principle of recording live lessons was discussed. Our facilitator listed how live lesson recordings should not be used, including for performance management purposes.

I was stunned.

In order for them to outline this (and for the NASUWT to publish guidance listing this as practice that shouldn’t be agreed) I presumed that some may have gone through this experience. I asked around and indeed did hear this has been happening!

I’m uncertain what is to be gained from this practice. Considering that teaching online is a skill in its infancy in many senses, I wonder first of all what is deemed ‘best practice’ in these schools to determine how well their teachers are performing if even organisations like the EEF and the DfE agree that there is no one solution or criteria to know what creates the best results for teaching and learning in a remote setting at this stage. Indeed, these bodies of research still debate whether live lessons are in fact the best solution for every context and circumstance.

The thought then to put teachers, who may well still be getting to grips with the technology which one year ago they had probably never even heard of never mind utilised on a regular basis, through a situation where their career prospects could be impacted on as a result of what is observed in a virtual classroom is repulsive to me. Our profession has taken great strides to completely transform the way it works in the space of nine months. I remember at the beginning of the first lockdown how teachers were rushing around to get blank exercise books, create paper packs and frantically give out log in details for platforms some of which were not entirely fit for purpose. If you told me now that children completing their learning on the screen and receiving live lessons or pre-recorded videos of daily concepts would become the norm I would be very sceptical. When it comes to Edtech I have seen teachers have interest in it but then drop the thought very quickly when attempting it in general. However, the progress made by many has been inspirational to keep the education of our young people moving forward.

So why on earth would someone think it a good idea to base an assessment of a teacher’s performance on a lesson using technology they are only just grasping?

One argument is that it is a tool to share good practice. Yes ok, if it is a question of sharing good practice and the teacher is happy to then share it. I have said to a number of members of staff that if they want to watch me teach through my online platform they are more then welcome. However, this is not linked to my performance management and it should not be. If one day in this profession we accept a video camera being brought in with the senior leadership team to record our lesson observations and learning walks then I would understand this notion. But no.

X Assessment Weeks during remote learning X

This is another thing I’ve been noticing on the social media channels – some schools persisting with an Assessment Week at the end of this half term during school closures. I think the issues with this suggestion are quite plain to see but to outline a few…

I am pretty sure that there will be few schools with children’s engagement with their home learning tasks are all 100%. We have seen some great success with our new remote learning model which is graduated beautifully across the school with Early Years engaging with high-quality teaching input via pre-recorded videos and emailing in learning, Y1/2 having this and also accessing regular learning on Seesaw, Y3/4 looking to introduce live registration along with the quality teaching and Seesaw activities and Y5/6 doing all this with live lessons instead for half their content. But despite all of our efforts our school still has about 13% of the pupils on roll who are engaging with very little or no remote learning. So already we are at a 87% chance of all children completing these assessments. Let’s also remove the 14% who are engaging but on an inconsistent basis. So we will be getting back 73% of our pupil data to analyse.

Now we have our 73% of the school’s half term data…I think we can safely cut that down to at least 50% because I know a few of our children in my own class are engaging consistently but require great motivation to keep up. Stick a formal assessment in front of them in their home environment they are either going to switch off, melt down or just do something else as they complete it – perhaps using a calculator on their screen for Maths and we cannot trust that data.

Finally, I’m willing to slice the reliable data we receive from remote assessments down to a generous 30%, maybe 25% because if we are setting these assessments to be done in their own time, we all know that children at home will be under the process of being prompted by their parents and we have no control over well-meaning parents giving their child a prod in the right direction for some answers.

Suddenly, holding an assessment week during a period of remote learning looks pointless. Don’t do it.

X Holding teachers to previously set targets before disruption to education X

I am in a fairly unique position in that I have moved schools during this COVID-19 pandemic. I know others are in this position. I have also moved into senior leadership meaning that my performance management is dealt with with the Headteacher personally. During my induction meetings with him the discussion of performance management was brought up. We had a wonderful discussion about how this needed to be done in the right way and that I was welcome to bring targets from my previous school with me or devise some new targets and that these should be focused on realistic goals that are perhaps more relevant to the current climate rather than perhaps on pupil performance data. My previous Head was also very good at being aware of the need to set new targets in September that focused on developing remote learning rather than accelerating pupil data.

I have though heard horror stories from elsewhere. Staff are still being expected to produce the type of progress in their classes that they would struggle to achieve in a normal climate. The fact that their class was always in danger of being closed down for 10 days ignored and that this was a problem that was expected to just be sorted by the teacher by engaging their class in remote learning.

We have to realise that we can only do so much. We can provide live lessons, blended approaches, pre-recorded content, accessible activities and enriching opportunities all we want but no where in the DfE guidance does it state that parents by law have to enforce these learning tasks in the home. Beyond this stage it is out of the teacher’s control. Sure, I am all for devising now how do we begin to bridge that gaps with the children who have lost out on key learning during this time, but even when schools do return we will have to expect some year group/class bubbles will still need to isolate for the foreseeable future when there is a suspected case. It is far to uncertain to base teacher pay progression on data. If your school is still using progress data this year for performance management, please reconsider.

A Way Forward

In a strange way, with all the negative consequences a global pandemic brings, we have found better ways of working. I previously mentioned about parents’ evenings but I also think some other meetings could be considered being moved virtually in the future. I do miss getting the staff team together to develop and grow but other circumstances may allow it – or even drawing on expertise that may have been too far away will now become possible.

I think that we may be stumbling onto a new way forward with performance management. When this all ends we could go back to the way it’s been done recently with setting a pupil progress target for a certain group of children but I’ll be honest with you – every year I have set this target for this group in the September/October and not looked at it again until the following September. And guess what – I have always done the very best in my job as a professional and invariably there have been one or two in the group that haven’t made the required progress but the majority (which is what we always set as the goal) have made the accelerated progress needed. Why? Because I do my job.

Out of interest I posed this question to the #PrimaryRocks community:

I had some great responses from the wonderful group, all focusing on the need to have development experiences for staff, rather than numerical targets with little meaning on their own progress. A number even mentioned the resource that I will be sharing below as a possible way forward. I shared with them that we had an unprecedented opportunity to break the regular cycle and try something new to give meaningful performance-building goals for our staff.

Now, I still think we need performance management systems to ensure progression in a teacher’s skills and to, well, ‘manage performance’, but the focus of this can be so much more visionary. Introducing…

Professional Growth Performance Management

Now, as with most of my best ideas and practices, this was not one of my own. I was listening to the excellent ‘Naylor’s Natter’ podcast in February 2020 and he was interviewing Chris Moyse, an inspiring headteacher who has decided that they would ‘improve’ not ‘prove’ their staff. They devised a programme where the staff member if given time and space to thoroughly reflect through their skills, experience and practice after which they have an open discussion about areas in which they want to improve. The plans are made and because the goals are based on skills that the member of staff wants to develop, rather than a numerical figure, there are milestones which can be put into place very early on to help them map their journey through the year so it is not a one-off discussion at the start of each academic year.

For example, if a member of staff feels they want to improve their behaviour management strategies, plans can be made very quickly for them to observe teaching staff in the school for whom this is a relative strength. The line manager and the individual can research prospective training for the member of staff to go on and through the year they can have informal catch ups on how the strategy is developing. I don’t know about you but I would be much more willing to chat about what I’ve learnt during my research in developing a specific skill rather than a talk about whether a group of children in my class are making the progress they require.

Something that is then included in the Professional Growth Performance Management cycle is that at the end of the year all the teachers get to meet in their teams and share a short presentation about the journey they have been on. Sure this creates some sort of accountability which is required really in a ‘performance management’ cycle, but this to me sounds much more appealing then meeting my line manager at the end of the year to see if a group of children I picked out in September made the requried rate of progress (when, let’s face it, I’ve been having those discussions about all my class through the year anyway…). Instead, we get to meet the team, celebrate the year we’ve had, learn from each other’s successes and maybe even near misses. Get some food involved and it sounds like a lovely staff meeting to finish off the year!

I cannot say that I have used this yet but considering COVID-19 is making us think a little differently around performance management, I think this is a perfect opportunity to consider shifting the paradigm on this important aspect of our professional development and change it from a crude system of data tracking to a more developmental and skill-improving venture. And I bet that a teacher engaged in really developing their talents and experiences will still produce great outcomes for pupils…

Remote Teaching or Remote Learning? by @Mroberts90Matt

2020 was a whirlwind of a year. It brought all sorts of global issues that impacted us on a profound personal level. We limped across the finish line of that year and entered 2021 with a renewed sense of optimism and hope for the future. Vaccines being rolled out for a pervasive pandemic gave us the light at the end of the dark and dreary tunnel. However, only days into this new year we were locked into yet another lockdown and the grim realisation hit us that we were not out of the woods yet – we were not even at the perimeter of it!

However, the noble teaching profession sprang into action. Plans were implemented, procedures were carried out – everyone had been preparing for this. But then, guidance from government officials contradicted messages from the government guidance, Ofsted were appointed as the body to report any complaints to (despite the head of Ofsted condemning this approach) and once again confusion reigned as to the best approach to move to full remote learning for all children in primary and secondary education.

Digital learning is no longer a supplementary form of education for all of us

Live lessons were touted as the future of remote education, then it was stated they are not the silver bullet in our remote teaching toolkit and even now some are questioning the efficacy of screen-based learning altogether. In all of this debate, I think we need a reset to remember that we are providing remote learning, not a showcase of what remote teaching would look like. Some principles from the EEF’s Rapid Evidence assessment can help give us some guiding principles as schools look to refine and publish their remote learning offer (something that should have been done by the 25th January 2021 on their website).

1 – Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered

It does not matter if you teach live, record yourself teaching, use high-quality videos from other sources or refer children to other materials that they can read and engage with offline. I am personally a big advocate of live lessons. They have boosted engagement with my new Year 6 class to levels never before seen and I personally like having control over the way the children engage with the input in the lesson depending on how their understanding develops. I really see the great value in it. However, I certainly recognise the need to not have these for every single lesson, particularly for younger children, and indeed for teaching staff. I am done after our daily lessons of Collective Worship, Maths and English on Zoom and have just enough energy to provide feedback on comment on the work they send back.

Every cohort and teacher will be different from others and there must be an opportunity to discover the right combination for both teacher and class to find what the best method for the quality of teaching is. Also, a blended approach may be more appropriate. It would be unthinkable, particularly in a primary context, to think that a child would sit in front of the screen passively with no interaction and learn for 4 hours with no input or direction. The processes and curriculum must be high quality, how that learning is delivered is less important.

2 – Ensuring access to to technology is key, particularly for disadvantaged pupils

Recent polls on the platform Teacher Tapp identified that one of the main concerns for children learning remotely was a lack of devices to be able to access this work, not so much the Internet access. This can be a problem as often work is set on digital devices such as Google Classroom and Seesaw. As such, schools are finding creative ways to overcome this problem without resorting to paper packs which, whilst they are far better than no resources being available, it does make following up with this learning and providing quality teaching more problematic.

One method that has been made more available, outside of providing devices delivered to the school, is using an Xbox One or PS4 to access web-based learning platforms through these devices on their television. For further information you can find directions here.

3 – Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes

This may be more problematic to provide in a safe and measured environment online. We all know the risks with social media and how children younger than 13 are not even permitted to access these sites so opening a wide platform for children to interact may bring its own issues.

Many of the research studies that pointed to peer interactions having a positive impact did mainly come from studies with older children. However, there is certainly room for providing this in a remote primary context. One clear way this can be achieved is by facilitating live lessons where children’s work can be shared and children can be invited to comment on their peer’s work like they would in school (with two stars and a wish or whatever criteria or coaching your class have been given).

In our school, our Y6 children took this to the next level and with parental permission set up Zoom Study Sessions with each other. They shared photos of these sessions and we were absolutely in awe of their motivation and dedication which was really reflected in the learning they showed and work they produced. Of course, children who are younger in Early Years and KS1 will struggle to access opportunities like this without active parental input and in a time where such input is limited with parents working from home and potentially having multiple children to focus on their remote learning this may be more challenging. However, with some creative thinking, opportunities could be developed.

4 – Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes

Interestingly, this is one skill that may be possible to really develop during this period of remote learning. As many children will be expected to complete tasks without a qualified teacher in the room, it is a moment where they have more time and expectation to think through their tasks a little more by themselves.

Of course, as a teacher you are not going to want to have your class take on tasks with no input whatsoever. Through the methods selected, whether you are live teaching or providing pre-recorded videos, you will want to provide some space where the children can take on the challenges independently. What we do in our live lessons is provide a 15-20min input but then have a large proportion of the time where the children are taking on their challenges and learning opportunities by themselves. However, the Zoom Room is kept open so any children who are struggling and have tried to work it through themselves know that the teacher is available to ask a question to. We can then refer them to a video or previous explanation that may unpack things a little more for them.

5 – Different approaches to remote learning suit different types of content and pupils

This I think is a really important point. As with quality lessons in school, not every lesson and subject is going to take the same form and structure. You would not walk into a Science lesson and expect it to draw on similar resources or be taught in a similar way to how an Art lesson is conducted. The same must be said about lessons and activities remotely. The reports we are hearing about SLT members observing remote lessons and rigid formats being given for remote lessons is, in my opinion, counterproductive and misguided. The fact is that whilst we have been here before in terms of having to teach remotely, we have never had this kind of remote education with the expectations it brings on us collectively before.

I am in agreement that we need to have these expectations – we cannot afford the gap in education we developed last time in Spring 2020. I think we need to have these expectations and they should drive progress still in our children’s learning. We must remember that we have not been in this position as a profession before with this remote learning environment with these higher expectations. So let’s cut each other a little more slack. If our Music provision looks a little different to how it would than if we were in school, let’s give some space. Teachers are professionals and are doing their very best to give the best for the children in their class.

Conclusion

Overall, it has been found that children can learn remotely. It is possible for them make progress at home. What we do not know yet is the methods that have the greatest impact in conditions like the ones we face because as mentioned this lockdown is different to the last. Let us pull together and continue to share the great practice that we are developing. One wonderful advantage we have is the technology we have access to. Just imagine for one moment what we would be doing if this pandemic hit us 20, even 10, years ago! We will not be getting it perfect, but share just one good idea today and you could help someone with an answer to a question they’ve been having. Focus on the learning being developed, not the teaching on show.

Why Zoom Parents’ Evenings are the way forward by @Mroberts90Matt

So I’m hoping to kickstart my blog writing and what better than to signpost you to an article I wrote for the TES recently about recent Parents’ Evenings that we conducted online during the COVID-19 pandemic! You can find the article here and here is the text below.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a game-changer in many ways. Schools have been forced to think differently about how events that usually take place can still go ahead with the impact still behind them. 

Parents’ evenings were included in this. It simply wasn’t possible for schools to consider allowing hundreds of households to intermingle in the corridors. And so many, including my school, looked to a virtual platform instead. 

There was great anxiety as the evening arrived but it turned out to be a revolutionary change.

Here’s why:

Ease and convenience for families

I am a parent, of two children, myself. That used to mean sorting childcare for both parents’ evenings, balancing timings with other family commitments, such as driving children to after-school clubs, providing a meal and making sure all other tasks were completed. 

With an online parents’ evening, the journey to school was removed and only took 10 minutes out of our evening in the comfort of our home. We had the same discussion that we would have had in person and I found that, because the environment was not a loud and bustling school hall, we could actually focus better.

More manageable time-keeping

As a teacher, the online parents’ evening was far easier to plan and time manage. Parents were less particular about what times would and wouldn’t suit because they didn’t have to plan the journey out.

The waiting-room function on our virtual platform meant that we could see which parents were waiting and when they arrived rather than having to crane our neck outside the classroom door. 

And we could easily check the time on the corner of the screen without social convention making us feel rude for checking our watch or looking at the clock on the wall. I even found I was able to call up the parents who did not connect via Zoom for their appointment because everything was much calmer, more composed and ran to time.

Simpler preparation

Preparing the school and the classroom for parents’ evening has always been an added pressure. Does the room look just right? Is the date right on the board?

How do we direct and guide parents who only step into the building twice a year to where they are meant to go? With a virtual event, all that was required was informing parents how to join the Zoom room. 

After that consideration, along with setting some online standards – which were well-publicised for home learning anyway – the planning for parents’ evening was smooth. 

I think this is something that senior leaders should strongly consider keeping for the future. 

There will, of course, be things that are missed from meeting parents in person. Parents would not be able to look at the children’s work (if your school makes that an option as they wait for their appointment), for example. However, it can be a problem that has multiple solutions as the threat of Covid-19 eases in the future. 

One thing is for sure, though. We may well have stumbled on a way of making some of the more frantic and busy evenings of the school term far less stressful.

photo credit: shixart1985 Woman with a classy watch working on her laptop. via photopin (license)

#MathsRocks Round Up! 03/09/18

Hey all! Hope you have had a wonderfully refreshing summer. Had a little break from publishing #MathsRocks posts but going to get back into it for a bit. Hoping to share some more wonderful Maths ideas at #MathsRocks but we are nothing without your brilliant sharing of ideas. So please share #MathsRocks and hopefully we’ll have some excellent things to share! Share, share, share!

1. Maths Working Wall

To kick off the new school year, we had to share this from @Primary5Teach and I can’t believe we haven’t included this yet!

These are just two examples of her excellent working walls. If each classroom had something like this, then wall space would be used usefully. It would be a good idea to at least look at the sections on these working walls and try and implement some in your learning areas. Nothing more to say really, the visual brilliance of these walls speak for themselves!

2. Resourceaholic

It just shows just how much is out there to make the teaching and learning of Maths that much easier! Here is a website with bundles (literally) of resources to make Maths more visual and engaging! Thanks to @mathsjem for sharing this one from @nikki_nzmartin.

There is actually more resources than the one mentioned from the site – which is called resourcaholic. It is primarily aimed at secondary maths but there are plenty of Primary Maths resources also.

Worth a look!

1

3. Who doesn’t love a GIF…

…well @HP_Saucerer has shared the perfect #MathsRocks equivalent!

Follow these links from @presentcorrect, @iainclaridge and Pi Slice:

http://pislices.ca/

Hope you have a great start to the year! Keep sharing on #MathsRocks!

What an Adventure by Watadventure by @Mroberts90Matt

I was given the opportunity to have a copy of a book to read over and see what I thought. I wasn’t really given any details about what the book was, only that it was targeted at Year 2/3. As I am going to be started a new phase of my Teaching Journey in Year 3, I thought it would be a great opportunity.
When this dropped through my letterbox I was instantly hooked:

watadventure-in-australia-cover

Aside from the intriguing characters on the front of the book, what also caught my eye was the title. An interesting play on words. So I did what only you would do when something catches your eye in this day and age – I Googled it.

What I found got me even more excited. It turned out that this group were on a new journey themselves and that this book was the first in what I hope will be a fantastic series of these characters travelling the world and bringing us along for the magical ride. However, there was even more to it than that…

This is where WatAdventure stand out from the rest. There are three main characters in this story: Sirius the dour but passionate dog who just wants the best sightseeing possible and Jiblets, the impulsive but lovable monkey who enjoys the thrill of a new adventure. The third main character in this story is Lola, the girl who to whom Sirius and Jiblets belong to as toys before the magic begins. However, she is not just a storybook character…Lola is actually a real person. She won a competition in designing a flag for the Watabus (the three friends transport on this exciting outing) and as she was selected, she won the opportunity to be part of this story. This was fascinating so I looked a little bit more into it – it turned out that WatAdventure produce personalised stories for children which ignite their interest in reading for pleasure. I am looking mainly at ‘WatAdventure in Australia’ but this was a brilliant idea and I’ll already be looking out for future developments at this cutting-edge publisher.

Back to Australia…

Illustration

I decided to read this to my two children – 5 and 3 years old. One is about to go into Year 2 so this was perfect. The first reaction I got when opening the cover was ‘Wowwww…’ – such is the quality of the illustration. I share an image from the WatAdventure Gallery below – there are plenty more at this site https://www.watadventure.com/gallery:

h2Woofsn9OknEGhxRln0VP94v133FAOxyd2ETrRd

The fact is that reading the story alone was captivating enough. In reality, we could have spent hours poring over the finer details of this book. We could have spent ten or more minutes pointing out the gadgetry wizardry in the Watabus, the thriving life in the Australian bush, the fascinating schools in the Great Barrier Reef or the bustling Bondi Beach. They say don’t judge a book by its cover – in this case you should make an exception.

Story

If the illustrations weren’t enough to grab the readers interest, then the writing of this story will. I read this to my children with delight. The flow of the narrative was exquisite. As I read, there was a rhythm to the words and the vocabulary used was outstanding. My wife actually commented on the words used and how much it stretched our children. With a storyteller, there is nothing wrong with this – in fact I say it should be encouraged. The vocabulary was thoughtfully selected enough to push the children but be accessible enough to keep the flow going. A real highlight. 

Characters

I loved the characters. Sirius and Jiblets were the standouts and I presume this was because they will be the focus of the series. From the first page in which they came to life, their character style was instantly recognisable. Jiblets would be the fun-loving companion whilst Sirius would be the ever-suffering, self-appointed tour guide. It made for great reading.

And if that wasn’t enough…

As the story closed, I was fully satisfied as a parent reading this book to my children. They were silent and captivated (a good sign!) and looked forward to closely looking at the illustrations and my 5 year old wanted to read it himself. But then we turned the final page…

An explosion on non-fictional information and great puzzles for the kids to look back over the pages of the book and search. This sold it for me. The re-readability of this book as the children go back over the story’s events and see where in Australia they took place make this a brilliant addition to any child’s bookshelf – I’d say certainly up to Year 4.

For Teachers

But the brilliance of this story doesn’t stop there. With each purchase of the book (which is a price that is certainly not extortionate) there comes with it:

  • Guided Reading questions
  • 3 comprehension lessons
  • 5 writing lessons

For a year group maybe looking at Aboriginal culture this would be an incredible addition to their curriculum.

I’m not being asked to sell this resource, but I know I’ll certainly be looking into this for our curriculum!