Category Archives: Literacy Ideas and Experiences

Initial Thoughts on Whole Class Guided Reading @Mroberts90Matt

So, a few days into a new journey for me. Guided reading at my school setting has been quite transient over the past few years I’ve been teaching there. I will list the various ways it has been implemented and consider the pros and cons of each. Over the 2 1/2 years I have tried three different styles of delivering Guided Reading and to hear anyone’s thoughts on the various styles would be much appreciated!

1 hour focus session a week

This was a style of Guided Reading I had never seen before and I doubt I will ever see again. Simply put, this style entails splitting the whole class into 4/5 groups once a week for an hour. Within that hour, all the TAs available in that Phase Group were pooled together so that each group would have a focus for a whole hour. So let’s have a look at this…unique style:

+Far more time to explore a text with a supporting adult
+More time to try and integrate more drama-based activities to enhance understanding of text
– Not every child is read with by the class teacher, only one group
– Only one GR session a week per child
– Highly reliant on all additional adults being available
– Requires a lot of different learning spaces to make most of benefits

Carousel Guided Reading

This is the regular version of Guided Reading. The Dairy Milk, the Ready Salted, the Kit Kat classic if you will. Wherever you’ve seen Guided Reading, this is probably the style you’ve seen implemented. Put simply, the class are split once again into around 5 groups and each day for 20-30 mins (depending on how long it takes your kids to actually figure out where they’re sitting and which daily activity they’re on) each group is undertaking a different activity and complete all of them in a week. Once again, benefits and negatives include:

+ An opportunity for a variety of challenges
+ Chn (in theory) become more independent
+ Teacher gets to work with everyone at some point in focused reading once a week
– Differentiation is a nightmare
– Chn from other groups will interrupt you when in discussion with focus group
– Due to different texts in each group, some do not access higher level texts
– Depending on the age and independence of your age group, setting up and settling can be tedious

Whole Class Guided Reading

This is the new craze that seems to be sweeping the Twitterverse. Quite a few Literacy leads (including my own) are raving about whole class guided reading. This is the reason why I am going to be trying it out this half term. The premise as far as I understand it is the class are introduced to the text/chapter/section all together (perhaps with a hook) to engage. Then they all read independently and the teacher moves to work with a focus group during the next section whilst the rest answer a variety of questions on the section they are working on and this lasts over 2-4 days depending on the Year Group. Once again, benefits and negatives are:

+All engage with higher level vocab from a higher level text
+Opportunity for all chn to access deeper thinking through peer discussion
+Less workload in terms of differentiation
+All chn receive some level of input from class teacher every day
+Less need for ‘set-up’ time
-Perhaps less of a chance for a variety of activities (but depends on how it’s implemented)
-Harder to integrate speaking and listening activities which the teacher can monitor and assess with it being a whole class task

By by non-exhaustive thinking, Whole Class Guided Reading should be the more effective method but many will have their opinions and other benefits and negatives to add (or maybe take away). Half our staff are trialling Carousel with One Text for All and half are trialling Whole Class with One Text for All. I had set up my carousel really effectively so I was a little reluctant but we were meant to trial as a Year Group and my Year 6 partner is the English Lead so I had little choice! However the class seem to be enjoying it so far!

Temple Run in Writing by @Mroberts90Matt

Once again, another attempt to get onto the blogging bandwagon – however, we are into the midst of the Easter Holidays and I am fully aware of the fact that when we get back into the run-up to SATs, this will fall flat on it’s face again…

Just a quick post to share another idea. This was not my original idea but it’s one that created a lot of enthusiasm for writing so why not?

In January we began our Topic on the Mayas and so I was contemplating ways to link our writing into the Meso-American civilisation. Ancient temples, mysterious lands, ancient artefacts, varied landscapes…I then thought of this:untitled

Of course, when I mentioned that we were going to use Temple Run as a stimulus for writing the children were hooked immediately! Then I showed them news stories about how film makers were looking into creating a ‘Temple Run Movie’ (see as one example of a possible example). Instantaneously this created discussion, talk, communication – How? What? When? They expressed that it would be a boring film because all the game involved was a man running away from a monster…

We used post it notes children to consider some questions: Who is the man running away? What is the creature in pursuit? Why is the creature chasing the man with the idol? Why is the idol so important/valuable? Where is this Temple? What traps did the adventurer have to avoid? When did the creature start to chase the man – before or after he grabbed the idol?

After these discussions, in pairs, the children used a six block storyboard to assist them in building a story, using the ideas that had been generated with peer-assessing along the way. There was only one condition: there had to be two boxes that involved traps in the Maya Temple which could build suspense in their story.

The results were amazing. Unfortunately they are at school and I am not so I will have to upload some examples later – but I would strongly encourage using this idea (which again is not originally mine – see Lee Parkinson’s excellent blog for the original –

Teacher Voice Poll w/b 2nd March 2015

I posted a recent blog focusing on a strategy which has really helped improve a child’s handwriting in my class. It has led me to think about handwriting and the role it plays in education.

From Reception, we encourage children to make marks, write their name and more – that means from 4 years old we are educating children in the art of calligraphy (or, at least, the starting point of it). Children are encouraged to them move onto short writing tasks and their writing is assessed. Short letters, instructions and more are examined and created.

However, in a day where the average physically writes very little, if at all, is handwriting as high a priority as it had been in the past? What do you think?


photo credit: Embossed Children’s Poem Post Card, 1907 – Child with white cat via photopin (license)

Improving Handwriting by @Mroberts90Matt

wrI recently attended a NQT Conference led by @ActionDyslexia (Neil Mackay) where a number of ideas and thoughts were discussed surrounding children who have dyslexia, Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD and other needs. During the discussions, there was one child in my class who was on my mind. They have not been diagnosed as ‘dyslexic’ but there definitely are certain traits. In terms of her reading and inference ability they are great. But when it comes to forming their ideas onto paper they really struggle.

So what are the methods of getting children to improve their handwriting? Focussed handwriting practise? Getting the child to verbalise answers and then write it on a whiteboard for them to copy? Have the child type it onto a laptop then transcribe by hand? (This, of course, is motivated by the fact this child has to be able to write by hand – no matter how little they may actually handwrite when they leave school). Used a handwriting book that has the special extra line to identify how tall the lower case letters should be (they then write perfectly in that handwriting book but cannot transfer that onto regular lined paper)? I and other more experienced professionals had tried all these and more with this child – a little improvement occurred but not the needed amount. What’s more, even though she had progressed between Sept-Nov 2014, from December 2014-Feb 2015 it had gotten worse. This was a typical example of one of her better pieces of work recently:


Keep in mind this is a Year 6 child. Now, I know some may see this and say “I have Year 7’s, 8’s etc with worse handwriting than that!” It can be a huge problem, not just to people trying to mark this child’s work but, more importantly, to the child’s self-esteem. This particular child expressed that she knew her handwriting was not good and did not feel happy about not being able to produce similar quality work as her peers. Neil Mackay showed us NQT’s a ‘quick fix’ that can help children who struggle to form their writing. This is the same child using this method – please note that the last two sentences the child constructed completely by herself:

AfterThe highlighted lines serve simply as the handwriting book line which identifies the height of a lower case letter. While this clearly isn’t perfect – what an improvement! I was shocked! Then came the child’s reaction. She said how she felt good about what she was writing and she saw the difference compared to [turned to previous work and pointed out the differences]. What I love about this is that, not only has it allowed her writing to be more legible, but it’s a time effective method also, with little extra effort on her part. It took her an extra 5-10secs to place the highlighted line, and then she wrote. That’s it! She has been given the power to write her thoughts and ideas legibly!

What an experience – if you have any children in your class who struggle with any aspect of writing, I strongly suggest you try this out. It isn’t 100% certain to be effective, but it is likely.

[Level] Six of the Best? by @Mroberts90Matt

I recently went on my first course that wasn’t for NQT’s – Achieving Level 6 in Reading and Writing. Expecting to go with my mind blown with what would be expected of 10-11 year old children to reach Level 6 in those areas I was not disappointed. When we discussed the poem Dulce Et Decorum Est as a possible text for a Guided Reading session with Year 6 I was amazed. Not to mention, when looking through the ‘anthology’ that was provided as possible stimuli there were texts in there that I distinctly remembered looking at in my GCSE studies! I quickly realised it was little wonder why nationally the chasm between children achieving Maths Level 6 is consistently larger than those children who achieve Level 6 in Reading or Writing. As I left the course, wide-eyed, it became clear to me that we had work to do.

Level 6 – Why the sudden interest now?

When I was in Year 6 (2000-2001) I was almost put forward for the Level 6 Maths paper – I’ll point out that not being selected for that test has not hindered my life opportunities but more on that later – but I didn’t realise until recently that Level 6 was discontinued until fairly recently. I haven’t had the chance to do research into why Level 6 was brought back but I am fully aware of the arguments to suggest why it shouldn’t have been provided for in Primary Schools. These include:

1. The children going into Secondary with a Level 6 are NOT at a Level 6

Simply put, the children who are trained to jump through the hoops of Level 6 – reading, writing or Maths – do not have the breadth of knowledge of a Level 6 learner…they have just been taught the techniques and heavily-weighted in marks topics that come up in the Level 6 paper they sit. I am of the understanding this is the complaint that secondary educators had and rightly so.

2. It adds more workload/stress to the Primary staff involved

Speaking as a Year 6 teacher, I have some experience in this. Not only are primary school teachers expected to have children reach a Level 4/5, which in itself is a task that is no mean feat for ALL children, but also to then push the other end up to heights that some children don’t reach until the end of Year 9 is taking it (quite literally) to another level. Now, before the comments flow, I am ALL for pushing children to succeed to their potential and setting high expectations for learning – but Level 6 has now become a process where children who would not naturally achieve this ‘level’ (remembering that they aren’t REALLY a Level 6) are being pushed to reach that level…which brings me succinctly onto the final point…

3. It adds more stress to the child

This is what everything in education SHOULD be about – the child. I have a child in my Year 6 class who is working at a low Level 5 currently in Maths. She’ll be a solid Level 5, no doubt. However, the Level 6 culture has taken hold. At home, she is expected to have a tutor group each week and 2-3 hours of school work EVERY night. Whilst I praise children to the high heavens when they take their learning outside of the classroom, beyond homework and our class blog, this is too much. It is not healthy. These are children. The sad thing is, despite all this extra pressure at home to attain a Level 6…this child is making the amount of progress expected, not an accelerated rate. I am aware that this is not a sole example, but many other children are put under this pressure, particularly in their final year in primary school, which they should be savouring. Would this pressure be as intense if there was no Level 6, or at least less of an emphasis from the top-down about Level 6 attainers…I doubt it!


Six for Success?

Now, of course, after my little rant of Level 6 and the downfalls I see about it – I do see the benefits. It does remove a glass ceiling for (natural) high achievers in primary school, it does provide an outlet for AGT children to be challenged and, if the children truly are Level 6, it can provide a springboard to mastery in that subject later on in their secondary school life. These points cannot be ignored – but in my humble, NQT opinion, something HAS to change.


Next Steps for Six?

I wonder if there is some way to reduce the pressure (particularly on Headteachers) to boost the number of Level 6 attainers in schools. I do NOT think we should abolish Level 6 completely, yet I do think that there should be a much smaller emphasis placed upon it. Perhaps if children enter Year 6 as a solid Level 5 then maybe they should be guided toward that Level 6, rather than have children who are just behind being pushed up to make the numbers.


(Having said all this, levels are going out the window after this year so who knows what point this thought will have after 4 months time anyway…)!

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The Case for Reading to the Class by @Mroberts90Matt

As I filed into the classroom of the teacher who’d volunteered to share their space for our first staff meeting of 2015, I couldn’t help feel a little robbed of the time I was about to spend in there and how that time could have possibly been used to mark my children’s books, plan effective but exciting lessons or prepare top notch resources. Instead, as with every Tuesday, I am to sit and listen for an hour. Fortunately, as most staff meetings have done to be fair, this one was going to make me question my practice.

Our first staff meeting of the New Year was focused on the children’s reading journey throughout our school. There was a big focus on how the guided reading system was going to change. A discussion of our personal favourite books and books that have wowed the class of course ensued. But then, and quite as a byword, the topic of reading to the class was brought up. Now, in a Year 6 class with a million and one things to get through I could probably count the number of time I had read to the class on one hand (maybe two if I’m being generous).

With this new push, however, I am determined to give it a go – wish me luck…

Well, I’ve been successful thus far in making sure my class have 10 minutes a day where I read to them – and so far it’s proving to be an excellent time in the day.

The vast majority of the children look forward to our Class Read and when I pick the worst place possible to stop when we’re about to discovery something in the story (aren’t I mean?) there’s a collective call of exasperation as if I had almost opened an ancient treasure chest then slammed it shut! It really is a satisfying moment actually. The one period of time in the week where we have Quiet Reading time is a lot quieter and ‘readier’ than before the commencement of the Class Reading so that’s some instant feedback I suppose.

What was interesting was the process of choosing the book in question. I had contested inside myself as to whether I would chose the book, give the children options to chose from or completely open it up to them. In the end I decided to get each child to write one book down they would like to read as a class and committed that i would go along with what they chose as this was not a Reading Ability Booster exercise; it was to instill more joy in reading. The results were mainly three books:
1st Place – Tom Gates
2nd Place – Harry Potter
3rd Place – Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Secretly cursing that they had not chosen Harry Potter (one of my fondest moments in primary school was my Year 6 Teacher reading us Harry Potter as a class) I went with it. Out of the three, it’s the only one I hadn’t read, but I am enjoying it. Sure, it’s not a literary breakthrough in my opinion, but I am enjoying it. And that’s the whole purpose – JOY!

It’ll be difficult to tell if this new practice in my classroom will generate better reading results in the future (although we did have quite a few pleasant surprises in last week’s Assessment Week) but what is noticeable is the children’s desire to read – whether it’s just a novelty or not remains to be seen…

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Teacher Voice Weekly Poll w/b 12th January 2015

Two weeks in a row!! Good start!!!

Last week’s results were not very conclusive as only two educators voted. The poll for writing LO’s is still open so please follow the link here to be forwarded there when you’re done here…


This week is focused on a blog post I want to publish this week and will hopefully find the time. Simply, it is about the teacher reading to the class, is it worth it, is there time and the best practice in which to do it. Therefore, as I feel this has been one of the biggest barriers for me, the question is focused on whether you have time to read to your class. Of course, there is the generic response “we should MAKE time” but as a reflex response, do you really have time? I suppose this is more focused to Primary teachers but if any Secondary colleagues wish to add their vote then by all means do so!

photo credit: <a href=””>GabrielaP93</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

The Joy of Writing by @Mroberts90Matt

Writing for a purpose has been put forward as a very important way of getting kids to write with enthusiasm (and therefore write better) for some time. Recently my Year 6 class have undertaken a few methods of writing for a purpose. More recently, I had the class prepare a short presentation (could use PowerPoint or other props) to groups of Year 4 pupils on what they had done so far in the academic year. The premise was that whichever group did best would get a prize. However, all the presentations worked out extremely well, such made it difficult to pick a winner.

Persuade Me!
Therefore, it seemed like the logical next step to get the children to persuade me themselves that they deserved the prize – they did so by each writing a letter to myself and the other Year 6 teacher, filled with flattery, reasons and exaggeration. The end result after watching a persuasive video, colour coding an outstanding example, building in their personal targets and a draft, was fantastic. See just one example here:


Next week the Year group are going to get a message from the Board of Research into Air Resistance where they’ll be told a team of scientists have been intrigued by the class’s recent science experiment and would like a scientific explanation paper giving detail on how they went about the experiment – I’m looking forward to that!

Slow Writing by @Mroberts90Matt

(Ironically it’s taken me a few days to actually sit down and write this post)!

One of the best things I’m finding about being on supply, particularly this two week stint I was requested personally for in one class, is that, given the school have confidence in me and I’m not expected to do all the workload of the regular class teacher, this has given me a great opportunity to try a few things out. It is also the first time I don’t have a mentor around which also feels a little liberating!

One approach I’ve had the opportunity to test drive is ‘Slow Writing‘. For those who aren’t aware, this is a website which randomly generates a certain condition for every sentence the children write. An example would be ‘Sentence Two must contain a simile’ or ‘Sentence Five must have some alliteration’ etc. The content was provided by David Didau and the resource was designed by David Riley.
Up to the point I decided to introduce this method of writing, the Year 3 class I’d been working with had studied a text, created freeze frames of the story, discussed different endings of narratives and designed their own ending to the story. My plan was for them to them write their ending. I felt this would be the perfect opportunity to try this out!

At first, as you might expect for their age and previous experiences of writing, there was a little confusion as this had not been witnessed before. However, very quickly, the entire class got the idea. They were to write their own ending but really think about the content of their writing. Each sentence had thought put into it as well as a good writing technique.

Points to consider
Downsides? I would pick out one. However, this downside will have emerged from my implementation of the approach and resource rather than a fault with the approach itself. So rather than a downside it’s a point to consider, and one I did anticipate and try to support. As I looked through the pieces of writing I found that some children, mainly those who struggled in writing, ended up writing an ending that did not make much sense. To counter this potential issue, I had asked the teaching assistant to support their writing process on their table. However, as is the case on most primary schools, something came up which meant she could not help. The children’s annual reports needed a comment from each child, which had not been done as the class teacher had been away for several weeks. So in this post I am unable to say whether this would have helped or not. Despite this, the children’s writing was probably still of a higher quality in terms of content, rather than cohesion.
Learner Reaction
Yet to be convinced? Let’s hear from the experts; the children themselves:
“It helped me have something good in every sentence.” – Year 3 child.
“Instead of zooming through, it gave me the time to think.” – Year 3 child.
“It was easy because it gave me ideas for good writing.” – Year 3 child. I was particularly pleased with the latter quote because it came from a child who is usually a struggle to get a writing activity from – they composed a great ending to the story we studied.

I think that Slow Writing is definitely an approach I will be looking to take into my own classroom. It will be necessary to provide learning experience around creating coherent, flowing writing first I think so that the criteria of the resource does not confuse some of the struggling writers – however it is important to note that it got them all willing and motivated to write in the first place!
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