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! 😊


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!)


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.


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).

Kefi for the Kids

Health and Wellbeing: This blog post is written as a reflection on a lecture about keeping our students active, fit and healthy.

Diet? What’s that word? Remind me again.

Children should never hear those four letters blended together in the perimeters of a classroom – unless it’s for The Times National Spelling Bee (for tiny-tots, surely!) Eating sensibly ought to replace the commonplace calorie counting. However, healthy eating is no mean feat when the processed-food list is growing at an unprecedented rate since the boycott of rationing. The detrimental impact of sugar, not just on our dental health, but attention span has been flagged to us many times. This tiny, little granule is drilling cavities in our systems, yet none of us appear to have speed-dialled 9-9-9. No gnawing aches, it seems to be.

If we were to really stretch our brains outside their plasterboard skulls, we could start regarding this addictive molecule as one of sand’s long-lost cousins. Transport yourself back to the afternoons when the sun invited you to the beach, the hub of sandcastle construction. Oh, happy days. Pure bliss. The joinery involved in creating bucket ‘masterpieces’ almost edged me on to apply for an apprenticeship in the trade profession! CVs (of well-thought out, genius scribbles) were devastatingly considered Japanese to any Scotsman. Plan: failed. However, experience sharpened my chisel (again.) Sand wasn’t that amusing when the remainder of your day was occupied by exterminating those grains tickling your toes, almost like ice pleasures in ‘burning’ dogs’ paws. Sugar acts as its double. This sweet rush we seek (as if it’s enlightenment) is a local anaesthetic. Numbs out surface thoughts in your mind, it does. That’s until the mighty grains are ‘resuscitated’… and our decrepit bodies are left scrambling to clear up the mess. Build a sand-castle whenever sugar cuts your line of thought short. Why? It magnificently magnifies the dots, the dots of those life-changing connections. These simple links could transform your final ‘picture’.

Since everyone concludes that life is better in colour, we would be very wise ‘owls’ to clean our palettes of the blacks and whites. The nation doesn’t have to be spotless, nevertheless. For most people, a radical food overhaul would pull the bristles out of their only brush – and there puts an end to their ‘painting’ too. The aim of altering our food consumption habits is also comparable to an attempt in recreating the Mona Lisa, for some. Simplicity is golden. Changes to our plates should be gradual because many top figures have proven that this is how success operates. So, where do we start – and who with? Babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, the twenty-dreamers, thirty-doers, middle-aged and elderly… what a mouthful: they all need educating. Today.

Scientific experts from ‘The Sugar Crash’ documentary alluded to the reality that what we put on our forks as children in fact is cut by our knifes as adults. Slightly scarily, grown-ups exert as much influence on food-intake as that of the children themselves. These findings have undoubtedly provoked me to reconsider my approach in teaching my (soon-to-be) students about health eating. Delivering a series of lessons in which pupils “understand that [their] body needs energy to function and that this comes from the food [they] eat” will rarely result in a desirable outcome if their guardians don’t appreciate this too (based on the CfE E & O HWB 1-27a). A whole school approach sets the scaffolding for implementing positives adjustments. To lay the bricks requires the cement of an equally encouraging home situation. Guarantees for that are limited, especially considering the probability of receiving all the class’ permission slips back the next day is seldom above zero. A universal learning intention sounds like the payment to such a bill; though no-one ever pays with the same change. It’s futile reinforcing knowledge to guardians with impeccable lifestyles (they’re probably wearing invisible ear muffs) yet others may delight in advice and support. Differentiation – in the content and our teaching-style – is the staple in this scutter of a Health and Wellbeing improvement ‘recipe.’

The ingredients: there are many. Teachers, alongside numerous other professionals, are the aliments that could boil together to make a ‘broth’ – without too many ideas spoiling it, of course! Sourcing the method will only be feasible by taking advantage of social media. Those (generally) time-sucking online platforms can be invaluable. Tweeting, hooting and whoo-ing about effective health approaches would help put our hidden owls to bed earlier! Many minutes can fly away into those vast black holes if we constantly ignore other people’s suggestions. My Google tiger had recently built up quite an appetite, so to speak. R became synonymous with ravenous. A pounce upon Search equated to the human thrill of passing Go in Monopoly. In fact, it’s outrageous that I wasn’t more elated. Two-hundred (and counting) free ideas are teachers’ version of winning a million pounds. I would estimate that as being fourth-fifths more joyful than collecting your two-hundred pounds. (Kids, fractions aren’t exclusively for dishing up Dominos.)

The endorphins that waltz around our brains are of paramount importance to our wellbeing too. After firing up those muscle fibres, we are left in a calm-state (no, not from subsequently feeling less guilty about that cheese-dripping margherita pizza last night.) Physical education is a subject that some teachers majorly focus on -or hate. Just as we have zoomed in on the crumbs lying on our plate, teachers are collaborating on ways to motivate pupils to engage in exercise daily. The British Heart Foundation published a report in 2015 with the following recommendation:

“All children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day.” (The British Heart Foundation, 2015.)

Extensive. Effort. Demanded. But, so does: assessing; marking; and planning. Telling a child to run around the lush playing fields for an hour could welcome many sneers and scowls; pretend they’re smiles! All students, at some point, squealed and screamed (with excitement) in the playground as their ‘tigs’ became tags. Why has it reached the stage that we never question our reluctant students? Carefully converse with any pupil only exercising their finger limbs exhaustively. Tread with caution, however, as this is not small talk. I know. Those sitting-out, or ‘resting benches could have easily moulded to me. Gyms didn’t support radiators, however. (Totalling up the number of sports lessons that little me wasted would give rise to a cracker of a statistics lesson.) Back then, the notion of participating in sports drove me mad; I was as wound up as marathon runner with a pulled hamstring. How the days have turned… my calendar boxes are bursting with running events. Blame it on Carol Dweck.

Low outputs rise inputs: no exercise, more hunger. The United Kingdom needs to keep moving – in the right direction (and closer to Europe, preferably!) Sugar is travelling too close to home; it’s time we lock our doors for good. That would be the best pest control when any diet tries to intrude. Exercise and proper nutrition are as integral as attending school. In my practice, kids will leave the classroom suitably fatigued. Guardians, parents and grand-parents should see kids’ eyes sparkling with that zest for life. That kefi.  But when it’s bed-time, it’s bed-time! Curling up with the duvet after a day of commendable choices is the ribbon to the medal. Reward yourself with a run in the morning; the chocolate bars can practice some patience.

Kefi: This is a Greek word with no direct translation (in English). It is essentially the ability to persevere through the storm and see the all-anticipated rainbow. Someone who is upbeat and has a positive outlook in life could be referred to as having that kefiI haven’t actually travelled to Greece, but learnt this word from reading ‘To the Island’ by Meaghan Delahunt.

Due acknowledgments for this blog post: