Little, you are ever so greater than big!

Warning… this is rather reflective and pretty (kind of) personal!

Sometimes one bad thing seems to come knocking at the door – and then many things happen. It’s best not to discuss these, as we all have our own hills to climb. But, sometimes amazing things occur too. After the past few months, the end of today brought joy: my Grandpa finally received his driving license back again. Sounds something tiny yet it meant the world to him. And, after a few scares for other reasons, it was a great relief for him to have his car… his home. He would take me to placement (yes, just five minutes away) and we would watch the sun head off to sleep together. It brought happiness like nothing else could have; he has taught me everything. Well, almost. About what? About life. And he is a gem – just like we all have people close to us! It’s great to hear he can be back on the road. It really is.
Our phone call made me think… how could I translate the things he has taught me into my classroom? The simple wisdom of everyday actions can go far. Some of the personality ‘qualities’ he tried to tell me about were love, peace, patience (all of which bring joy). And never giving up… that’s something else too! I was thinking about the mistakes I’ve made and how he has always led me back on track. For instance, prioritising work over studying – and thinking grades are everything! Oh… and skipping lectures. I keep doing that because the Earth has been moving rather fast lately. But, his joy brought a smile to my face. It was perfect timing (or felt like it!) Anyhow, what I need to write about is how his teachings can be brought into my classroom practice!

1. Never lift anything heavier than a pencil. This is ironic because I love carrying a Bergen (super fun to overcome the weight). Yet it’s true: if you don’t understand the theory, the other things are difficult to slot together. This is simply: how do we ensure our students have a deep desire to learn? Well, we find out their interests. Simple question post it notes or flying comments: “ooo, what do you want to know?” That would go a long way. Everyone wants to know a little more about something – they just might not tell you!

2. We each have our own horse and track to ride! I always wanted to be better at English. Always! Maths and me are friends – but English required hours of slog and in fact, I memorised my essays for the exam! Yet, he reminded me that we are each made for something different … and that’s what makes the world exciting. In the classroom, we should have a time in the day where someone can explain something they know to a group/the class. We can all learn from one another: a golden rule, that is!

3. Perspective is essential…That’s a tricky one, but I never understood it until lately. I don’t drink alcohol or fizzy drinks for personal medical reasons… and parties annoyed me! But, I remember meeting a girl who had a food allergy to everything apart from rice and potatoes! When my Grandpa reiterated  to me that someone is always worse off, my brain clocked that water and tea is perfect! At school, students will be frustrated when others have that designer bag or that ‘A’ grade: but I will stop them and ask them to fill in a flower of all the things they do have. Being grateful is an essential thought process (of which I still must practice DAILY!) So, here’s to making classroom flowers of thanks… perhaps I see a daisy chain coming!

4. Have patience and  just work hard. Stories of his war experiences are humbling. He was a child then, but they had so little. Yet, you must try and be content. They worked long hours and days were arduous! But, he said that giving yourself a day off duties worked magic! Every Saturday or Sunday, you deserve a rest. That is of upmost importance. Likewise, kids need an afternoon off every week (or even merely an hour) to relax and unwind. Even if they haven’t been ‘at their best,’ their brain still needs that time to go “ahhhhhhhh, I can chill now!”

These are merely a few wisdom points that he has given me – and there are many more. Yet, those are up there in the priority list as our classrooms should be like ‘the real world.’ I don’t wish for my students to live in a safety blanket or for their parents/guardians to cushion them up. If we let them fail then give them the advice and tools for coming back as lions, they will do find in Secondary School. That said, we are our students’ safety net, perhaps! It is important that everyday and practical advice is given to them. The small things add up to a massive change – and after all, we all want to be our best selves alongside our pupils.

However, please bear in mind that there will be days when kids can’t concentrate. You’ve had them; I’ve had them. Yet, well, if we take some time out and have a positive mantra and do all the little things, we will make it over the hill! Yes, there are fluffy and crispy golden clouds! (It’s an oxymoron, don’t worry!0 And finishing with my last quote for the semester, my Grandpa always says: You cannot rewrite time, but you can write the future. Every bell is a reminder that students can build themsleves a positive future. Doesn’t just sharpening the pencil show that?

Hope is Here

I arrived late for the lecture today after handing back my kit for my fundraising job. As much as I genuinely love the work – and will hopefully do some of it again in the future – having three jobs and university lectures was taking it’s tole. And studies come first: they are priority. A recent assignment was a wake-up call. I did ‘achieve’ a very low grade recently and it’s tempting to think negatively, but well that’s never wise. I remember receiving the picture book contract at a confusing time, so I always remember hope is close. It’s indeed possible to improve my grades – somehow, there is a way. And thankfully, the content of today’s university ‘lesson’ reminded me of that.

There was discussion about reading/writing as essential tools for moving forward. Creating stories as humans has always been our way of expressing ourselves, finding meaning. (University of Nottingham, no date). Writing requires time and we all seem to run out of that. But, it also needs you to be on your own – and just think. J.K. Rowling says: “Develop a fondness for solitude if you can, because writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world.” I never aspire to be J.K. Rowling as money means little on your last day on Earth, but her way of working resonates very closely with me. Being alone and in a coffee shop is the most peaceful place on Earth – or a forest.

Back to the lecture, we were talking about how experience and choosing different paths leads you to various destinations. I think it’s very true that we are in control of our outcome. I remember being in S6 and studying at home was not the best place: I decided to head to coffee shops after my work shift before admiring the nature when walking home. After walking two hours each way, I thought: How can I make this trudge a positive? Let’s take up running and try a marathon (I had done a 5k before). Super, was it because I developed a love for the simple things. Oh and the best part was admiring the stars when it was dark … and my phone ran out of charge! Silly Claire! After a run here and there, I decided to try the Army and then well, the mouse character who learns from a tiger came along. Everything linked together in some way.

But most importantly, others helped me along the way… just as J.K. Rowling’s quote encourages me that solitude and coffee is indeed normal! People always teach you something, in some sort of way. I am philosophical – as you probably gather – and like to link one thing with another. People’s actions help you in discrete ways. For instance, it was my boss at my first ever workplace who ran marathons and inspired me (alongside my old P.E. teacher). Another important person is my Great Uncle. In our last conversation, he told me: “Join the Army, smile in the cold and travel to Antarctica.” I’ve done two… perhaps the third will find its way one day. He turned into the mouse creature that is in my picture book and is still alive in my mind. As Mary Poppins goes: “Nothing is gone forever, only out of place.” For three years, I missed him greatly: but my uncle is back in place. Alive again – and for good.

I can’t say too much about the picture book story but it relates to all my experiences. The mouse falls in love with the stars and discovers that no matter where you are, there is always light. During my fundraising shifts, the yellow glow of the streetlamps would guide me through the cold! The lecture today on reading reminded me to keep reading and keep writing. It was thanks to my AoS that I began to really love writing (blogs are ace). So, it is thanks to this lecture that I could leave the lovely people at sales and focus on these assignments properly. I worry about grades, but that’s not the purpose of education: intelligence is intelligence. It’s about trying out best. I may have the first D of my life but I have a choice, as Kluger and DeNisi’s (1996) research points out:

I can …. alter my behaviour, alter my goal, quit my dream or disregard feedback.

The easiest option would be to say that I will never improve, but everything is possible – somehow. And, so today it was time to take on the feedback and think positively. I did not officially fail (yay, I passed) and there is always a way up. Birds show you that.
You see, running taught me that you just need to keep moving forward. It is all to easy to blame others for failure, but the responsibility is on me. I didn’t achieve the F in my first third-year assignment so I ought to be happy. I know that I am not the quickest learner – from other activities – but persistence does pay off. Without the hours training to run, I woudn’t have developed a desire to submit my story and accept many rejections. My students need to learn that there is an answer if you keep believing. But, how does that translate into the classroom?

I believe that the most important aspect of teaching is to lead by example and show your students that the way you treat others is more important than intelligence. If you are kind, then someone may just be hopeful. And after all, it is hope that leads to studying and better grades. We cannot change our IQ, but we can alter our perspective. Pay is important, but sometimes the richest people are the rudest. I spent one night at someone’s door who had just come back from a funeral. The person wasn’t the wealthiest (and told us that) but made my night for smiling and not shutting our discussion down. It’s silly but I want to show kids that if you treat others right, nothing else matters. We have to power ourselves through life – independence is key – but humans ultimately rely on each other. If you keep positive, others will too. Isn’t that the most important aspect of teaching? Hope. Hope for not money – but a kinder world. And hope to be the best you as a person.

Back again to the lecture… if you want a story of your life, it’s about how you treat others. Possessions matter to a certain degree, but I desire for my students to be grateful with what you have. Let’ s move forward with a smile – and read, write with positivity. I have hope to improve my grade because the lecture was inspiring. It reminded me to write down ‘I can do it’ when I’m unsure about my essay. There is nothing worse than giving up believing, because after all, positivity is all we have in the world – and the stars of course.

References

Kluger, A.N. and DeNisi, A.S. (1996) ‘The Effects of Feedback Interventions on Performance: A Historical Review, a Meta-Analysis, and a Preliminary Feedback Intervention Theory’, Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), pp. 254-284. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.119.2.254

University of Nottingham (no date) Studying Effectively: Why do we write? Available at: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/studyingeffectively/studying/writer/whywrite/index.aspx (Accessed: 14 November 2019)

It’s not meetings… it’s CIRCLE TIME!

I always like a quick reflection here and there. And I always do love a few Christmas decorations here and there. But, you see, it’s only the 11th of November – lots more days left – and we are already seeing Starbucks sell your coffee because… ‘you really want that Christmas tree cup.’ I was rather thankful today. The morning shopper in me picked up a £1.50 ultra cute (in my opinion) reusable cup without the trees today – and it still half does have that Christmas feel. Yes, it’s an enjoyable trick starting each morning with ‘ooo what’s good about day.’ It makes my heart love the day despite the weather.

I didn’t just learn that off myself… running taught me a lot… but it was thanks to my course mate, Katie, who passed on: Growing Up Wild. It’s like a modern teaching bible. There are several clever ideas about cultivating a happiness the classroom – starting the day by being grateful is one that I love. Another is the idea of listening to music and singing. Indeed, singing. We had an input recently on teaching music using the Kodaly Method, in which children develop their musical awareness through active singing. Active, is it because you are using a ball or sometimes even a cuddly toy! I would love to teach Early Years – especially after the Nursery placement – so the idea of having a toy and music together seems ideal. Well, perfect… until you realise that my voice is not on the ‘do, me, so’ scale at all. Perhaps, find it on the radio of ‘these are not so good singers!’

But, I will not give up because I know that nursery rhymes and tunes are comforting to kids (and even adults). And, so is something else… who doesn’t love that circle time? Do you know adults have their own circle time? Yes. I’m being serious. Really serious: they’re called ‘MEETINGS.’ Practically, my mind just bores itself and refuses to enter the flow fun track (state of optimal and optimistic performance) when that word is used. The other day, we sat in a (guess the shape…jokes!) circle – and had a lovely conversation. The rules were simple: be nice, be open and be share-sensible. We passed round a pom-pom called ‘Max’ – and it allowed every single student to reach their maximum level of peacefulness. It fostered a ‘we are all in this together….’ Atmosphere. Fantastic.

I am away to read up more about Circle Time now. After my nursery week, it was evident how vital theory is in the teacher’s life. I was blown away (don’t stress… no snowstorms just yet) with how almost perfectly the lessons and reading fits with our practice. And, you know what, it changed me perspective of teaching – and academic research. We recently had a lecture with other avenues in Education. And, no I do not want to leave the classroom: but the idea of eventually doing a big research project is starting to interest me. I need to be with the kids (and outdoors) but at the same time, it would be lovely to find out more about forest nurseries and the theory behind it. I always like endurance events… so somehow that must transfer to reading. Visualising everything helps me greatly. Massively. Magically. I might start drawing smiley stars or happy trees every time I finish a chapter. Yes. I do have too many sharpies for a pencil case to home. (Sorry, highlighter!)

One other aspect I would like to research is the benefit of ‘weight training’ on kids’ academic performance. I recently started lifting (baby weights) at the gym as myself needs to become accustomed to carrying heavy things outdoors! And… I found it helps me to focus. The mental effort required to push through the pain barrier with weights is the same when in the ‘ultra-focus zone.’ Whenever I struggle to concentrate – and my mind drifts to sleepy, feather, padded land – I use the same mindset. Crazy? Perhaps. However, it wonderfully works. Is it that super-flow zone, then? Like Rainbow Road (anyone else play that race track game)? I think it could be. It really could. Anyhow, it’s time to focus on another thing, an urgent thing.

Guess what? Guess what? Do listen up! Placement is tomorrow- yessss!

Basically, I am sooooooooo super excited for tomorrow on placement – and to colourfully see how theory translates into ( what should be) effective classroom practice.  Gratitude mornings will be the first point on my teaching agenda… not that you teach it. You model it. I need to Lead by Example and do the simple things that make our hearts smile. And so, I will finish each week with a Circle Time too. Morning: individual thank you. ‘Evening’: altogether thank you so much (because it’s been a whole day!) Furthermore, if I don’t like (ah no!) formal meetings… then why not simply have relaxed conversations and chats by the ‘board fireplace’ in the classroom. (That’s even for behaviour management). I’ll need to ask my teaching mentor about that!

Eek. I cannot wait. Last thing: is tea allowed for teachers AND students? Yes, I can even get away with the treat of tea in Starbucks once a week thanks to the new mug. But… my pupils aren’t allowed it (fair enough for the young ones). I tutored  a child who was ever so delighted when we had a cup of tea together! Simplicities are luxuries.   Can we just introduce brew to the classroom? Please? And then, well, weekends call for a hot chocolate in real Starbuck- don’t they?! Yes, our one of our lecturers suggested having a drink there to relax. And it works. Perhaps… that’s the time I can then let my mind wander into sunshine, cloud land. That’s my new ‘comfy-focus zone.’

Did you say ‘let’s read?’ Oh… I’d love to!

Reading week is here. (Almost.) And that reminds me of letters, words and sentences: are they the raw essentials for a book?

I think letters create words. I wonder if words can act as sentences alone? I see that most sentences need a verb. That’s how we all started learning English – and essentially, university reading week is the same mental process.

“I think this will structure my argument. I wonder if anyone else has written the same thing! I see that I need more evidence!” (Dundee University students, since essay writing existed.) So, what do students do?

We research more. We write more. And then we, the primary teachers, discover Paddington Bear on shelves – and decide that the thousands of black and white words in the other book have had their day. Done with, they are. Done and gone.No-one – not you, not your friend, not your long-removed cousin – would dispute that the real, right reason for reading is to meet this friendly fellow. Learn your ABCs for Paddington. He’s the bear who jumps in puddles, splashes up bubbles and stands with his sandwich in the huddle. Cute, is he. But, really he is a character that many children and adults alike can connect with. The little quirks give us deeper meaning: meaning that is invaluable for developing a love of literacy.

Reading stories: I can’t remember the official ‘start date’ of my love reading. It’s not brain-noteworthy like the first lecture at university – or tip-toed into the classroom in Primary One! Enjoying books is a gradual transition from a challenge (at first) to a mind-bubble bath. A busy day at the academic section of the library always reminds me why it is SO important that we ensure children delight in relaxing with a book at night. It not only leads to university (in weeks, months and years later) but is important for our own happiness… and life satisfaction. The National Literacy Trust (2018, p.4) research supports this: “64.3% of those who have higher levels of mental wellbeing consider themselves to be above average readers, compared with 46% of those who have low levels of mental wellbeing.” Isn’t it abhorrent to think that children who struggle with reading most likely have low-levels of confidence in our areas of their life?

It clouds my brain with rain, thunder and lightning.

You understand, kids’ books are rainbows. They teach you something. And, of course, fill your heart with something. That something is another perspective:

“What day is it? asked Pooh.”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favourite day,” said Pooh.

Perhaps, I have a soft-spot for Pooh Bear? My twin is twenty: this optimistic bear travels everywhere with her! But, really that’s just a damn-silly and sentimental reason! The characters from One-Hundred Acre Woods each have their own personality – and we can explore this in the classroom. Common bonds create friendship: characters in stories can be pals with characters (or so, I believe!) This allows children to explore their emotions in a safe space – and learn about the ways of the world. (Eades, 2008.) After all, don’t we all do extra-curricular activities to find out more about ourselves? Discover new things and push ourselves to that uncomfortable yet super-focused zone… that’s hobbies for you. Reading is not just a classroom activity – but a hobby, a safe-space and a home wherever you are.

What if you’re in university? Earlier on (when I didn’t jump into child land) I mentioned that I am spending this week researching academic work to complete my assignments. Previously, this week never matched the ‘excitement’ criteria of my diary. What…why? No lectures: no flying a kite whilst dancing! Simply, it was never as fun as being in a dancing teaching class – but I’m pleased to say… officially… that this week has earned a smiley face stamp! It’s nice to have time, before placement, to stick myself in the planning folder – and dig for more diamond literacy facts and theories. Moreover, I’m trying to change my perspective on summative assignments. Instead of seeing them as ‘if you don’t achieve this…’ the proteins in my brain-cells will be pumped to their best and accept that’s all that can be done.’ Sport is already thought of in that light, so my brain needs to change for grading. A change is positive. A positive change wins the… you know… happy bracket and colon! On that note, are you up for an amusing game?

Thought so.

Here it is, boys and girls – oh, I do love classroom classes! It’s just the best when you’re sat on the carpet playing Sam Smith’s Suitcase… hint hint… that’s the one your away to find out about! It seemed fitting to leave it at the end of this blog. A suitcase is involved and well, we properly started off our literacy chat with Paddington Bear. The rules are not complex, thanks to the Mandwell (1972). Heads up, I’ve re-worded some of it as we teach children not to always copy text – and I’ve already put several quotes in this blog post!

The leader of Sam Smith’s Suitcase is the teacher… at least for the first game! This person is responsible for asking the children what they want to bring with them. The student must bring an item that is the same letter as their first name… hence why your teaching name acts like an author’s pen name in a sense!

Teacher: “My name is Sam Smith. I’m going to take a trip and take along a suitcase. I’ll take some of you with me – but only if you take the right thing with you. Remember, I’m going to take a suitcase.”

Incorrect Response: “My name is Jane and I’m bringing a ribbon with me.”
Whereas the correct response has the object and proper noun with the same first letter.

Correct Response: “My name is Tim and I’m bring a tie with me.”

What will you bring? If your name Bella or Bryan…I know what you’ll bring…a book! 😊

References

Eades, J. (2006) Classroom Tales: Using Storytelling to Build Emotional, Social and Academic Skills Across the Primary Curriculum. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Mandwell, M. (1972) 101 Best Educational Games.  New York: Sterling Pub. Co.

National Literacy Trust (2018) Mental wellbeing, reading and writing. Available at: https://literacytrust.org.uk/research-services/research-reports/mental-wellbeing-reading-and-writing/ (Accessed: 11 October 2019).

The Telegraph (2016) 40 Quotes about Life (for an Optimist) Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/40-quotes-about-life-for-an-optimist/aa-milne/ (Accessed: 13 October 2019).

 

The Lovely Lorax – and My Plan!

I started writing a piece about planning over the weekend – and ironically, lost it. Great organisation, Claire! Anyhow, the weekend was successful in making notes about medium-term planning. I’ve done a few lesson plans here and there: but not yet, a medium-term one. What is that, exactly? Well, I had not a single (and I mean it) clue apart from ‘what we’re doing for more than one lesson.’ So, thanks to the help of a video posted online – cheers, Youtube for facilitating my learning with a cup of tea and blanket – and the Medwell and Simpson’s book on placement, the ink flowed from my brain to paper to here. And , now, you will see a few notes about planning. You will. (Oh dear, doesn’t that sound like Blue Peter’s craft show?!)
– Medium-term planning looks at the teaching of more than one curricular area: yay, I can begin cross-curricular teaching for good now!

– If you are prepping for a whole class lesson, differentiation must be considered. To facilitate a successful learning environment, the pupils’ individual needs must be catered for as much as appropriate and possible.

– Lesson outlines are included in a medium-term plan – and these are not lesson plans! Yes, I will repeat that: not individual steps of what should ideally happen every ten minutes or so. That’s exclusive to lessons plans.

– And last, but not least… such an overused saying but I do love it… is skill development. Teachers need to give thought as to how to improve students’ skillset so that they can do activities on their own.

As the Scottish Government (2010) puts it: students should leave school as successful learners who can “think independently” and “link and apply different kinds of learning in new situations.”

On the linking part, it’s time to put theory into practice (the best part, undoubtedly). No arguments, please. We have recently been looking at how a picture book can be used for a million, zillion, billion activities: adore them, should we. I know it’s kind of very popular, but that doesn’t matter… because we have been challenged to come up with our own ideas of activities to do with children. I was never sure on Dr. Seuss, however a reading session at the library proved me wrong. Indeed, it did. I. absolutely. Love the Lorax. Maybe it’s just to do with the fact the truffula trees are basically like Earth’s candy floss. Yeah?

For maths, the Lorax is ultra-exciting for the primary one age group. (And some adults too… you surely agree on that!) On a quick diversion, the book is about how we must strive to care for our planet and those around us – and remember that too much money can be the root of evil. The story, for me, introduces children to money-handling, shape/pattern and even measurement!

On the end of a rope
he lets you down a tin pail
and you have to toss in fifteen pence
and a nail
and the shell of a great-great-great-
grandfather snail.

Children could have a sensory station (with the objects laid out for them to play imaginary games with). I have listed some questions which could perhaps form the basis of a lesson (or small group activity) along with the appropriate CfE outcome.

– How long is the rope? Is it as tall as one of us? MNU 0-01A
– What is a pail used for – and could we use it to keep our toy ducks in? MNU 0-11A
– Which shapes make up a nail and a shell?    MTH 0-16A                                          – Do snails move quickly? Is speed important? (This is when… of course… you talk about the Tortoise and the Hare.) MNU 1-10C

Obviously, maths is not the only subject in which the Lorax can be brought to life. A spelling challenge could be set up: students could have to sound out the words. The different sounds could be the seeds… and the end result, a truffula tree! The end goal would be to make their own truffula tree pencil: basically put a pom-pop and cover the pencil is glitter glue/fancy tape. Nothing too complex… so perhaps an individual art tasks which allows them to be independent right from the beginning of their school days.

The book is not just limited to the Early Years, however! Nope… you could examine the philosophy themes in the book with the older stages. Or, more so, a close-reading lesson. Superb use of symbolism can be found in the book along with wise word choice! For example, the Lorax never shouts or argues – whereas the Once-ler who is greedy always yells, never listens and forever talks back! And, if you’re even more keen, look at deforestation and its impact on our dear Earth. (Must say now… well done Greta Thunberg!)

Above is a few of the ideas that came into my head whilst considering medium-term planning using a picture book. I’ll leave you with the description of the Lorax… just in the event you desperately need a brain break to doodle!

He was shortish. And oldish.
And brownish. And mossy.
And spoke with a voice
That was sharpish and bossy.

(P.S. I hope you made him look ultra-fluffy and cute!)

References

Education Scotland (2017) Benchmarks: Numeracy and Mathematics. Available at: https://education.gov.scot/improvement/documents/numeracyandmathematicsbenchmarks.pdf(Accessed: 8 October 2019)

Medwell, J. and Simpson, F. (2008) Successful Teaching Placement in Scotland: Primary and Early Years. Exeter: Learning Matters.

Scottish Government (2010) Building the Curriculum 3: A Framework for Learning and Teaching, Available at: https://www2.gov.scot/Publications/2010/06/02152520/1(Accessed: 8 October 2019.

 

Teaching for Equity and Wellbeing: Lecture-related Post

 

(Sorry… the title today is rather uninspiring… so if you can think of one that’s utra-inspiring… feel free to inspire me!)

Reading. On. Poverty – and closing the attainment gap. Oh, and emotional and physical health in the classroom. It’s all weighty stuff because … as teachers… we do not possess the super-power of being able to sort out society alone. And, we aren’t that strong either. Perhaps it’s me still on those 4kg weights! Anyhow…! Thinking about health led me to consider what my responsibility is in the classroom: sadly it’s not as simple as telling our little ones not to eat apples like Snow White. Sadly not.

The Scottish Government (2019) see health and wellbeing as: [wait for it] … ensuring that pupils are able to make the most of their educational opportunities regardless of their background or financial circumstances and through promotion of attendance at school. So, this means that we ought to find a way around most problems, come to a reasonable solution. Interestingly: Mcleod and Mowat (2019) found that no large-funding or project will solve the poverty issues in education. Instead, incremental changes by everyone will result in a long-term systemic change in society. Isn’t it obvious, then, that teachers need to think of the everyday practical stuff. Start small: stop tall. The pencil after all is what’s needed to change the world – and of course, positive relationships. Let’s look at the list from the Department of Health and Social Care (2013) about … how our lanyards give us more power than making us into the mould of today’s teachers. (If you’re a ‘secret shopper’ from TurnItIn, don’t stress. I did ‘re-word-ify’ it!)

Practical Steps for a Practical Poverty-Beating Solution (DoHSC, 2013)

• Establish good relationships with your students’ parents/guardians;
• Ensure a child has a positive experience in at least one of the following:
– Their social circle – Academic work – Sporting goals
• Run breakfast clubs and after-school clubs;
• Focus on properly developing a child’s skillset;
• Establish a routine/structure (discipline must be fair);
• Set tasks for the child to do at home (to boost self-esteem).

Thinking back with my autobiographical lens (Brookfield, 2017) the highlight of my first-year placement (other than teaching) was running the after-school clubs. Honestly, it’s a real perk. To be able to do something you love and share your enthusiasm with the students always leaves you with glitter in your brain. However, more sparkle comes when pupils light the spark to a topic you previously disliked! Someone close to me told me:

How can you not be interested in something, if you know little or nothing about it.

Through spending time with children outside the classroom, you not only find out more about yourself – but also, positive relationships are built upon. (Brick laid. Cemented. Then another brick…voila Disney castle established!) Over my six weeks at the school, I witnessed the mending of half-broken friendships during a simple lunchtime pop-music session… the daisy chain was completed. Thinking ahead, I need to plan smartly to allow myself appropriate time to run such sessions – and to think about the tiny details that could affect students. A teacher’s response from an interview by Saul (2019) highlights the need for everything to be as accessible as possible:

We spoke to students why say they won’t go to free after-school football clubs because you can wear what you like, and so everybody is wearing the latest football kit. Some students have since said that for afterschool sports clubs, all children should only wear their p.e. kit.

Wow. Doesn’t that just show how the simplicity of uniform can have a ripple of an impact? Uniform is not a ‘maybe’ but a MUST. There are obviously a myriad more MUSTS out there too. But for now, it is a MUST that I leave the laptop and head for the paper to create a list: let me list the everyday things that could make the difference to student’s health and wellbeing! And then, yes, I can look at my upcoming assignment. Oh, lists are so satisfying when you can put a smiley face next to each item!

References for this Post:

Brook, S. (2017) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. 2nd edn. San-Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Department of Health and Social Care. (2012) Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays. Available at:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/255237/2901304_CMO_complete_low_res_accessible.pdf (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Macleod, G. and Mowat, J. (2019) Poverty, attainment and wellbeing: Making a difference to the lives of children and young people. Available at: https://www.scottishinsight.ac.uk/Portals/80/ReportsandEvaluation/Programme%20reports/Poverty%20Attainment%20and%20Wellbeing_Final%20Report.pdf (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Saul, H. (2019) ‘Nine simple things teachers can do to ensure the poorest students don’t get left behind’, INews, 6 September. Available at: https://inews.co.uk/news/education/nine-ways-teachers-and-schools-can-poverty-proof-their-classrooms-290621 (Accessed: 3 October 2019)

Scottish Government (2019) Schools: Health and wellbeing in schools. Available at: https://www.gov.scot/policies/schools/wellbeing-in-schools/ (Accessed: 3 October 2019).

Fractions! Did you just call for pizza – and a party?!

We have had a few inputs now on mathematics: and they have all been most useful in helping me to realise that imagination is maths and maths is imagination. Long way to say it; basically think to the limits of space. Endless? Yes. Claire needs to enter the classroom and not just see the earthly game of “ooo, where are the ticks and crosses on my worksheet?” Children need to be exclamation marks and rocket to the next planet of discovery. As Juliet Robertson (2011, 00.33) says: “Maths isn’t about a pencil and paper… it is about using numbers as a tool to understand the world around us. Our lecturers and Molina (2004) emphasise that children need to realise what the sum is about – and not just recite the steps required to reach the answer (conceptual – former vs. procedural – latter). The depth of understanding must be enough that the child can build their own marshmallow spaghetti tower to hold an egg… and not just to fit the ‘it’s a tower that stands.’ I appreciate that I need to understand how best to deliver subject knowledge in a way that caters for every student too, if my children want to leave as confident individuals. And, doesn’t such success start with consistence in the little habits? Here’s a bad stereotypical student habit: ordering the red and yellow triangles! That’s the pizza habit – that maths can actually solve my guilt with!

There are times to throw a party, celebrate and dive into a box of Dominos. Maybe student life? Perhaps (okay, true). But, a classroom also benefits from having pizza. Children like to socialise and discover things. So… why not ask them to budget for their own party and introduce fractions at the same time? I am back to developing confident, creative and conceptual-focused maths learners: remember the Scottish Government (2019) design principles are for children to have depth, relevance and choice in their learning. By holding a pizza party, a child can be introduced to the fairness of fractions as well as budgeting for their needs. Let me explain (whilst I distract my mind from its desire to seek out the nearest pizza shop). Perhaps I’ll use the technique that we were taught through a sweet story shared in our latest tutorial: count the objects around you! Whilst typing this up, you find myself counting all the flowers in my window view! Sadly, I’ve only found one. Dundee’s library has more leaves (better for symmetry, though!)

Fractions Call for Fairness

Our lecturer was talking about making everything exciting for young children: the same goes for teenagers – which I realised when taking a group of 16-18-year-old Italian teenagers around a fairy trail this Summer! They. Loved it – seriously. Walking can be fun (if you don’t particularly enjoy it) when you have small goals to work towards: so, fractions can work the same way too, I presume! Here it goes (my plan for a pizza party at the end!).
Pre-lesson Activity (Starter):
We introduce what fairness is about – f for fractions and f for fairness. In the end, fair and equal are almost synonyms (kind of!). This could be done using a cake. Oops, food again! Give one student a bigger piece than the other… and watch the chaos unfold or cake end up in your face! Not really.
Lesson One:
The students could then explore the meaning of a whole (perhaps look at percentages.) What exactly is the meaning of the denominator compared to the numerator. How do you show how much of something you have using fractions? Visual resources are more important than worksheet questions for a start. Why? Penner-Wilger et al. (2007) found that finger representation whilst counting will increase a child’s ability to estimate well and understand the number-system. The same idea could be applied to fractions: mental representation goes along way. Maybe that’s why it’s the old-story that a face-to-face conversation is better than an email?! Anyway…
Lesson Two:
Recap fractions and introduce the idea of budgeting: that’s the next stage. Depending on the level of knowledge and depth of understanding of the students, the pupils could explore the cost of pizzas using greater than/less than signs or even percentages! It would be important to also look at some questions on fractions at the end as a formative assessment – okay, well just so you know what to plan next to teach them.
Sequential Lessons and the End Goal
Obviously, you cannot plan weeks and weeks in advance as you are unable to predict the students’ learning progress. UNLESS: a crystal ball has been inserted into your brain. I remember, when on my first-year placement, the teacher saying that they never plan longer than a few weeks because: you must change your plans; AND therefore, your time is most likely into space (and you use up fuel!) However, the end goal should try and remain the same or be appropriately adapted to the pupils. Hello, differentiation!
For instance, some complete the budgeting and other students just focus on fractions. Still, by the end, the class should come together to hold a pizza celebration. That would show that (I think) that we use maths all the time – and that you can have a choice in your learning. And, could a community of enquiry be created all whilst doing this? Maybe!

Now, back to circle time. Well, reflection! Our recent maths lectures have really cemented the idea of discarding textbooks more and more – and trying to make as many things applicable to real-life where necessary. Obviously not everything can be done in that way… but a lot could. Juliet Robertson (2011) discussed having an outdoors master-chef cooking lesson, involving mud and measurement! That does sound like a rocket-fuelled idea – that even astronauts might want to explore. I’m getting excited for teaching maths. Even more exited than I was before. If we make the students realise the everyday value of actually knowing why we carry out a mathematical operation, then our we are on the right route. Ollerton (2004, p.81) does a rather good summary for me: “The ultimate prize is for students to recognise they are learning for their own benefit.” That’s a tad better than pizza, I’d say.

References for this Post:

Molina, C. (2014) ‘Teaching Mathematics Conceptually ‘, SEDL Insights, 1, pp. 1-8. Available at: http://www.sedl.org/insights/1-4/teaching_mathematics_conceptually.pdf (Accessed: 26 September 2019)

Ollerton, M. (2004) Creating Positive Classrooms London: Continuum.

Penner-Wilger, M. et al. (2007). “The foundations of numeracy: subitizing, finger gnosia, and finemotor ability,” in Proceedings of the 29th Annual Cognitive Science Society, pp. 520-525. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cc16/9648993eccb49088b511d37590f93e3fc1a2.pdf (Accessed: 27 September 2019)

Robertson, J. (2011) Messy Outdoor Maths. 31 March. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh_4SEUpSrA (Accessed: 27 September 2019).

Scottish Government (2019) Scotland’s Curriculum: How We Do It. Available at: https://scotlandscurriculum.scot/5/ (Accessed: 27 September 2019).

Health and Wellbeing: The Start of Lesson Planning

Blog Post Early Years

Above, you will see my first attempt (in ages) for lesson planning. Yes, it’s been a rather long time since the fingers have delicately hammered the keyboard to type up a lesson plan… and this is not exactly a full one! However – since learning from my first school placement last May – I have gone with the good old ‘keep things simple’ and started off with a PowerPoint.

For the slides, be warned. Really: be careful! The above link is full of magic and will erupt in glitter when you click on it (then unicorn emojis will fly out): I wish.

Sorry – but if you do desire to have a nosy, hover your mouse over the ‘Blog Post Early Years’ (above ‘above!) and voila, the attachment should pop up!

SO, Summer: LET’S MOVE FOWARD!

So, after learning about my learning placement (Lfl ’19) … I’ve decided to account myself to my learning more and uptake in the sport of writing a daily blog over summer. It’s not aiming to be a massive task, but something educationally amusing. A cocktail of words a day doesn’t do anyone any harm! It’s about time that I moved out of my comfort zone of posting occasionally – and made it into a real habit. A serious habit. A commitment (without the engagement ring of course!)


The discussion with my placement tutor has been sitting like the logs of a fire in my mind. Ready to be lit up! Just waiting, waiting… and well now? On fire, are they. I’ve understood the weakness which needs a more stable anchor in my personality: I like order a little too much; I love structure; I thrive when someone tells me what to do. Musing back to the days of study leave, a plan was created and the ‘chore’ of revising was undertaken at certain times. My brain, you see, is a bit odd sometimes: it will daydream if it is given no set timing or pressure. Annoying: but maybe that’s why my right and lefts still need to be written on my hand! Yes. I do that. Put me in the nursery – okay! What will move me out of my cot and into a full-size bed (academically, of course) is realising that you cannot wait for academic work to come to you. Don’t stay looking for educational food. Sometimes, well most of the time, you have to search. What better than using my TeachTodos university blog as an opportunity to explore new options? Let’s try. And be ready for failure too. A daily lesson plan and Early Years material post per day (when Wifi is accessible): that’s what myself shall do. That’s the new adventure.

YET WHY A BLOG?

During SQA days (uh-huh, I do kind of miss the ‘oooo it’s almost exams’ pressure a little) my brain adored the fact that you were told exactly which sentences to memorise. Really…truly…sincerely…and that homework was daily. Learn this, look up that. This blog has previously helped me to venture out into the real academic world, at least, where the notion of memorising to pass is long gone. Thinking? Ahh, yes myself does have a voice. Yet, speaking up can come with a price – and all the anxiety, fear and ‘what ifs?’ However, I love blogging. I just love this activity. So love it. (And I’m not just typing it because it’s part of my course). Why? It pushes you to put the past in a different light and cycle on in the correct gear.

When I started running years ago, I started the art of processing emotions and thinking positively through embracing the present (whilst pounding the streets). I see sport as the ‘resilience’ builder. But, missing something was I! Indeed. And, thanks to teaching… this blog has come along. And, another merci to my discussion (on LfL ’19) I will use my spare time to reflect and develop lesson plans. Writing learning intentions and success criteria is a matter of practice. On that same point, quite urgent practice is required! Hurry up to the desk, Claire.

And so, let me start off this daily reflection habit (to-be!) by considering one of my colleague’s posts, Blaze Lambert, who wrote a lovely piece about daydreaming. She speaks of daydreaming as “increasing curiosity” and building the (ever so encouraged) growth-mindset. But, time is put in the drain? Or so, some of humanity believe. Lauren Child – author of the famously popular ‘Charlie and Lola’ – argues that daydreaming allows our children “to develop a sense of personality” however modern day society does, indeed, consider the act of letting your mind wander in a more negative light. Escape boredom in class? Daydream. Stressed by something? Just daydream. Worried? Daydream of the perfect existence. There does exist the rather dangerous mental health condition, maladaptive daydream, in which people are more occupied by their made-up thoughts than what is happening in front of their eyes. However, allowing kids to be creative and play imaginative games? That’s essentially daydreaming. Or I uphold that stance. That’s what our screen monsters need. Sorry for the slightly derogatory word there: I’m not any better myself when my iPhone gives me the heads up for wasting the day on Facebook!

After all, daydreaming allows us to take in our surrounding and relax. Take in the moment for what it is – and pause. Like a peaceful stream: thoughts come and leave as the current of our brain moves up and down.  Is it that harmful to let our five-year old students to be engrossed in their own thoughts every now and again? Don’t we do it as adults occasionally? (You know when you’re so hungry and imagine that gigantic margarita with a handful of cheese… instead of focusing….!) As long as: the work is done, boxes are satisfied with their ticks, and kids develop a vibrant and eager learning spirit… a dose of staring into the tranquil sky is happily on the cards in my classroom. Yes. Bring out the colouring pencils and let the students’ minds wonder. Adults are apparently prescribed it as healthcare solutions nowadays! I’d rather see a smile with their heads in the clouds than a face consumed by extreme artifical bright light.

Oh… and… here’s a photo to start you in the #daydreamingland!

Let’s think about (ma)thinking, okay?

Mathematics? Oh so fearful of it…are you? Or… look… there’s a sum! And… the answer? Let me spend time sourcing it. Right now. Some people leave education with this desire to crawl under the table when 5,6,7 and all the other numbers approach them. Others, well others, carry maths in their head – and would prefer to speak in digits if possible. The myth (according to the results of a 2013 research study) of ‘I’m right brained so call me a problem solver’ vs. ‘I’m the more rational leftie’ means that children should no longer be brought up to consider themselves as naturally mathematical or a born linguistic. Indeed: we have talents, we have strengths, we have preferences. But – of course, there’s a ‘but’ – mathinking is vital if we are to efficiently carry out everyday tasks. From recipe reading to saving our red squirrels ‘in the animal superhero cape,’ the digits that surround us must be of comfort. And, most certainly not, be treated as those spheres in bubble wrap. Our toddlers, our children, our adolescents ought to grow up ready to fail. Then succeed. Then… realise… that mathinking is about the effort and determination and less about the green-tick solution. That’s confidence-fuelled mathinking… in my head.

Recently (in fact only a matter of less than 72 hours ago) MA2 – that’s moi included – received their final STEM input. Nope… not how to arrange flowers for Valentine’s Day  or for the Chelsea Flower Show. However, we did receive a Happy Valentine’s on the top of our sign-in sheet from a lecturer with the last name of Valentine! And, that was topped off by creating our own game involving mathematical concepts. (Smiley face!) Lots of discussions were held on how to take maths out of the textbook and away from standardised assessments. A connectionist-belief approach involving open conversations was found to be the most effective way: and well, a recent starter-activity on consecutive numbers confirmed that. Sometimes, our inputs involve being the children – or attempting what the primary students have to do but with a university student’s mind on. Once (a very long time ago… not really, but I like to pretend I’m a storyteller sometimes) we had to figure out a word-problem involving consecutive numbers. At first, we all panicked. By the end, however, it was ‘Happy Ever After’ and everyone was wearing fairy-tale gowns. How lovely. Let me tell the story without imaging that a bunch of five-year olds were sitting beside my seat – here it goes:

Many of us stared. We realised there was no prince-charming. We put our hand up.#

The teacher (very friendly) told us to keep persevering through the rubber hail and rain.

We succeeded in writing down an answer.

 

And that’s the ending for you.

The latter may be more like reality, if we are setting the picture straight and not at an 89 degrees angle! At first, many of us in the lecture room were not at all sure about how to attempt the problem-solving question. Deliberately, purposefully and cleverly was the question slide jammed packed with information – and the only picture remained to be a table of consecutive numbers in blue and white. For me, lots of writing was the ‘tying the shoes tight enough’ hurdle. But, for others… the fear of making a mistake prevented them from taking the leap of faith. What reminisced with me was the impact sides, pictures, diagrams (and all the visual jazz) can have on a student’s learning. During my first year placement, my teacher advised me to keep it simple! Yes.. nothing like the Mona Lisa or a Magic Eye picture… from Miss Smith. And almost a year later, the same point was made again. Kids prefer simplicity when learning (although I personally believe that the occasional rainbow cannot go a miss). That pot of gold still does exist… Somewhere Over the Rainbow! Jokes aside, it’s easy enough to alter the layout of questions for our students however… calming a raging maths anxiety monster in them may take more than a few kind words (or a ROY G. BIV smiley – acronym lovers… you’ll know what I mean!)

The past few lessons, lecturers (or whatever name they should be termed) have taught me something more than ‘cut away’ all that text. As a future educator, I really do hope that my pupils will be like mathematical bees. Buzz, buzz, buzz… isn’t that algorithm so full of pollen? Understandably, some children will have a dislike for certain areas of maths (like me and symmetry and learning R and L) but overall, the wonder of maths must be ignited in them. A fire (with infinite logs) for problem solving does not always come from the pupil. Nope. Instead, as Ofsted writes, it is about the maths spirit adopted in the classroom:

“[Teachers] made conscious efforts to FOSTER A SPIRIT OF ENQUIRY [deliberate capitalization from your blog-post author], developing pupils’ reasoning skills through approaches that saw problem-solving and investigation as integral to learning mathematics. They checked that everyone was challenged to think hard and they adapted how they were teaching to achieve this. As a result, their classrooms were vibrant places of learning.” (Ofsted, 2008, p.12).

Spirit of enquiry. That is it. How do we develop that? Well, there would be many theories including Askew et al 1997’s research which deems that teachers tend to lean towards a particular set of believes (either connectionist, discovery or transmission). Most effective practice flourishes from the first mentioned belief-set, in which the most effective teaching happens when students can appreciate that all areas in maths are, in some way, related to each other. For instance: fraction word-problems are sometimes better solved by involving decimal conversion. It’s that simple thing like… why buy fresh bread when you already have some in the freezer? Enabling students to use the skills they already have is also of priority in the teaching of maths. Connectionist-orientated teachers set aside time (maybe in a circular fashion if Early Years students melt their hearts) to talk. Just openly talk.

#Why do we solve it this way? Is there another mathematical route that we can take to reach our destination? What about a storyboard?

That leads me on another path to bringing up storyboards but before… I’ll let you know that I want to be a connectionist teacher. That’s a seed already sown – thanks Dundee University. (That phrase was most certainly not sarcastic bee the way).

Storyboards (in the past – okay!) reminded me of ‘how to stretch’ and satisfy the students whose brains make them wish to reach for the nearest paint pot and brush. They were a time-waster. Just show some grit and keep moving forward with the sum. Write the working out, Claire. (That what previously motivated me in maths). But, well, you live’n’learn and realise that 1 + 1 doesn’t always make a two. Sometimes, a window is the result!!! After hearing about the various strategies and understanding the purpose of drawing out the number sentences, storyboards are on my Pinterest. (Sorry, I’m one of THOSE teachers.) Uh-huh, daydreaming about my classroom (maths) displays can occasionally happen with moi. Back to the point now, it is important not to overlook resources that you didn’t enjoy as a child yourself. There’s no excuse for not using something in your classroom because it was futile to you as a learner. Open-mind please. Keep considering all the options, Miss Smith.

Maths, I’m admitting, has a soft-spot in my heart. Whenever I was stressed out about an essay, me would run to do maths. Yes, on occasions, scuttering down the stairs to the kitchen for my textbook… but well I loved when you just got the answer after trying hard. There was a tick or cross – and you knew the result. Maybe it was a sense of control in the subject? After all, sciences were my thing until long reports became involved. I have always been torn between the arts and maths, yet teachers need to be enthusiastic for them all. There is something good, something interesting, something positive in every subject: my own maths students who enter with a dislike for maths need to feel that way. Mathinking… thinking abstractly… can be done by everyone – not just males too. Hemree (1990) found that maths anxiety stems from previous failure in maths examinations and is more common among female students than male students. The gender gap in STEM subject is already evident and it is common knowledge that our generation is trying to remove the female electric fence that surrounds females in careers such as engineering. A survey (conducted for the United Kingdom WISE Campaign) highlighted that 89% of engineers were male in the workplace – and so carrying out a subtraction leaves us realising that only 11% were female. Only 11. As I see it, that is a gap that an elephant would struggle to sort out. It really is.

To finish off, it is clear that the style of teaching is all-important. As mentioned above, discussions are vital to student’s success in maths. However, we ought to consider our own underlying nervous system when we approach numbers? Do we shake? Our hands: do they turn red when seen by a thermal camera? Are we still (like I was) centred on achieving those ticks? Or… the process… do we strive when something makes us want to scribble or shred the paper into as many miniscule pieces as possible. According to Finlayson (2014) our own experiences can make us teach with a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ style or be flexible. Bee like a ballerina who is trying to bee a flower. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve failed many times in maths (and still use the trick to remember my left and rights)… but well it’s amusing to buzz around afterwards. That’s what I want my students to do so I ought to love a struggle myself. That’s what teaching is really: setting a true example. But, someone please, is there a faster way to stop mixing up left and rights? Maybe my students could teach me that. I’m up for a role reversal every so often!

References:

Finlayson, M. (2014) ‘Addressing math anxiety in the classroom’, Improving Schools, 17(1), pp. 99-115. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1365480214521457(Accessed: 18 February 2019).

Hemree, R. (1990) ‘The Nature, Effects, and Relief of Mathematics Anxiety’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 22(1), pp.33-46.

Nielson, J. (2013) ‘An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging’, PLoS ONE, 8(8). Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0071275