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).

 

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:

 

Rudolph, I’ve got a letter for you (and Santa too, of course)!

Before you immerse yourself in these words for a few minutes, you will be all the wiser from knowing that this blog post is my Christmas Eve letter to Santa (and Rudolph). Don’t worry, I’m old enough to realise that Santa is a fictional character, but the magic can still exist- right?! Merry Christmas for 2018! Have a lovely time (and be sure to save some mince pies for our jolly old fellow, Mr. Claus.)


Dear Rudolph,

Even though your nose resembles blinding scarlet laser pens, my heart still bursts with love for you. Love is a thrown-away word nowadays but Rudolph, I am not prancing around here. Your co-worker, Cupid, would forecast that we’re never been destined for a relationship- and I presume the stars shine in that direction too. However, my dear friend, my attraction to you continues to live on, unlike romantic relationships which are as delicate as the intricacy of snowflakes. Your festive vibes encapsulate me from some of humanity’s ill spirits. It is your story, the true lived tale of bullying, that puts you on the highest pedestal for me – me, and the teaching community at large.

Vital information has just whizzed around the circuits of my brain… these words… must be of very little value to you. That’s unless I’m mistaken, and reindeers secretly have a Google Translate to decipher our human-talk by. Santa may be able to lend you a hand with that one afterwards but I’m afraid the rest of this letter will be addressed to your friendly, red-hat, long-bearded master. Don’t stomp your hooves until the snow flings in every direction with fury; blame my people’s government for their failure in bringing up a multi (animal) lingual nation. Now then, pass this letter over to Mr. Claus if you may. (Your Tesco’s Finest carrot is already at my fire-place- as ever, royalty deserves nothing less.)

Ho, ho, ho, Santa: sorry to eat into your precious time although this letter will cheer you up just as a bucket-load of mince pies do. It is with ounces of delight that I can assist you with your naughty and nice lists this year: Rudolph, your ‘best-man,’ deserves a permanent (not fixed or temporary) post in your good books. The upmarket, front-row position on your sleigh may comfort his ego, but remember it is imperative that we tingle your companion’s heart strings. Put an end to your omniscient persona, Santa, and give my fellow the right recognition. Undoubtedly, you treat every single one of your reindeers the same – it’s standard practice – yet your heart must ache ever so more upon musing of the troubles of his past. Must I (painfully) recall those ‘oh so fun’ games when your (now) sleigh captain was belittled like six-foot ‘monsters’ boss around three- feet elves? No, I guessed not. Rant over: it’s time to harmoniously sing his praises – call for the choir… that’s if the eminent Michael Bublé is on strike.

Hold on a second- apologies are well and truly due. Now my fast and furious (seventy-mile per hour) hurricane attitude has settled to a breezy blizzard, I can write with sense – and not blanket everything in lethal, icy remarks. My thoughts led to me to a slippery slope when I addressed you quite forcefully in the previous paragraph, however I now am admitting to my wrongdoings. It’s just thinking of such an empathetic person like you – who is most comparable to the Christmas Big Friendly Giant – raises the hairs on my goose bumps to the point you’d think they meticulously practised yoga every day of their life. That’s not an understatement, believe me. Whilst on the topic of forgiveness, it’s fitting to mention that I’m partaking in the joys of greeting children queuing to meet you. You may not have hired me in Lapland (Claire calls for a man-size box of tissues) but Aberdeen needs me. ‘Elfing’ is truly a privilege that you have endowed me with; I can only but seize the chance to share my adoration for Rudolph and… take an #elfie.

Hurry on the days when society deems it acceptable, presentable and respectable to attire joker hats with jingle bells and slipper-soft shoes!

I’ve deviated off on a tangent again, Santa. Let’s toast our glasses to the fact I’m not your GPS navigation… swiftly back on track, if we may. Please do me of the honour of allowing myself to properly explain my feelings towards your wingman. Rudolph, he’s a strong piece of meat: I’m not a vegetarian, but equally I’d never even consume a slither of reindeer-meat. That’s a high-court crime, especially for someone who is meant to be Rudolph’s guardian! With hefty muscles- peaked to perfection for his annual present-delivery endurance marathon- comes determination, and that is what we need to install in our children. Instant gratification is as common as plastic money notes. Should we ever wonder why our kids are ‘besties’ with sheets of illuminated-glass? In with the old Tamagotchi; out with the new Siri. (Oh, that’s a deliberate ‘mistake’ in my phrasing.)

Mental stamina is not developed enough amongst the majority of our young people these modern days. Sir, with your magical work, we could help share the story of Rudolph’s battles and give our students a lecture about the grit that they all so need to carry with them throughout their lives. Wish lists of happiness feeders are driving you out of pocket – and the elves…well, their array of talents are spectacularly wasted with the infinitely increasing output of gadgets ongoing. As a student teacher – and part-time Lapland aspiring elf- I’d hope it wouldn’t be deemed ‘immature’ and too out of place for me to remark that parents must continue bringing up their children with time-limits on their gadget usage. Despite Rudolph being in a turmoil of teasing from his red nose, he danced and pranced through the traditional party games – and won over every cell beating in your unmeasurable heart. Our cherished fluffy Christmas ‘horse’ flies around with the magic of (almost) everlasting happiness, all whilst demonstrating to our young ones that being unique is as special and worthy as the rare pennies living on the ground. He’s a man…with just a slightly alternative twig-like hairstyle. A man needs no gadgets; the classic board games are the ultimate deal (if you’re also not forgetting about the gel for anything like antler-hair of course!)

Dear me… my inner-elf has outshone itself again. These festive characters really like to bounce around to the sound of their jingle bells (and blether away until their cheeks inflate like mini red-balloons). Aren’t elves just secretly human versions of Rudolph? Seriously speaking, that’s my Christmas wish for you, Santa. Give me the chance to be an elf from Monday to Sunday. (Yes, I’m enrolling for the atypical seven-day job- uh huh, not the nine-to-five Monday to Friday.) If I’m blessed with my elf-tunic and plane tickets to Lapland, I’ll know my teaching will improve vastly. My students will learn the key to healthy happiness- and maybe the odd few will become your minions too (or as English-lovers joke, your subordinate-clauses). It’s a wicked myth that people fall to the trick of believing that you are born as an elf: W.Huittt and J.Hummell (1999) are behaviour theorists who would one-hundred percent support elf-school as they define learning as “the relatively permanent change in behaviour brought about as a result of experience or practice.” We can all be elves, can’t we?

I guess you’ll reveal the truth tomorrow, Santa.

That’s me for Christmas 2017,

Lots of love from Claire Xx (The 18-year old girl who should really be an elf, especially since she has left out your all-time favourite of a beer and a mince pie!)


This PowerPoint (which is available online) was of assistance to me in the writing of this blog post. The quote by W.Huitt and J.Hummel (1999) is found on the second slide.