Category Archives: 2 Prof. Knowledge & Understanding

Fun with “Fonics”

Early literacy development has always been a passion of mine. I was an extremely avid reader as a young child and throughout my primary education and I always hoped to inspire this enthusiasm for literature within my classroom. However since my learning from life and early years placements, I have found that this overall interest has become more focused on the development of phonological awareness – so much so, I will be writing my thesis around this topic. Despite little engagement with my blog this academic year, I thought I would use my e-portfolio as a means of recording my current understanding of my academic reading as well as sharing some activities I have observed/ used that enhance phonological development.

Phonological awareness is the ability to identify, recall and use sounds within language. This skill is developed during phonics lessons, where children are taught the relationship between printed letters and symbols and their corresponding sounds in spoken language (Jolliffe and Waugh, 2015). However there are a number of approaches to teaching phonics such as analytic phonics, embedded phonics, analogy phonics and phonics-through-spelling – and these conflicting methods cause much educational debate (Graaff et al, 2009).

In Scotland, phonological awareness is developed using a systematic synthetic phonics approach (Johnston and Watson, 2005). Synthetic phonics involves the teaching of letter sounds and then learning to blend these sounds to construct words (Johnston and Watson, 2005). This is taught systematically due to the complex nature of English language and its phonetic irregularities (Solity and Vousden, 2009). In Scottish schools this approach is mostly supported by council funded phonics schemes, such as Read, Write Inc. or Jolly Phonics.

There is a wealth of research that demonstrates the successes of systematic synthetic phonics programmes in improving outcomes for Scottish pupils. However, there are a number of psycholinguists, who are in favour of a whole language approach to early literacy development, and consequently raise a number of important issues surrounding phonics schemes. Firstly, Solity and Vousden (2009, p471) argue that, “the emphasis on teaching sight vocabulary and phonics skills is seen to be potentially seriously damaging for children by changing the nature of reading from understanding, appreciating and evaluating what is read, to memorising phonics rules and decoding.” To exemplify this, research conducted by Strauss and Altwerger (2007, cited by Gooch and Lambirth, 2010, p4) demonstrated that pupils, who achieved high scores in phonics testing, had a lower ability to comprehend reading texts than pupils who scored ‘poorly’ in the phonics screening.

Furthermore a number of authors (Gooch and Lambirth, 2010; Goodman and Smith, 1971 cited by Solity and Vousden, 2009, p471) express concern around the nature of reading schemes that do not offer rich, engaging texts. However as highlighted by the National Reading Panel, systematic phonics instruction should be combined with other reading instruction to establish a well-balanced reading curriculum.

From my experiences, I can say that a well-balanced reading curriculum is not always achieved and it is often easy for practitioners to follow phonics/reading schemes too rigorously. During placements I have been swept along the phonics schemes, happily following pre-planned lessons to minimise my workload and I became blind to the associated disengaged faces and subsequent behaviour challenges. Only on reflection have I realised the importance of becoming resilient and using autonomy to judge the appropriateness of following schemes and when to stray from pre-planned activities. Of course these schemes are extremely beneficial and give practitioners guidance however, since learning more about the components of synthetic phonics I have identified some activities that I believe are more engaging and interactive than some I have observed within phonics programmes.

Phonics Fans 

Phonics fans are a simple yet effective way to teach phonics skills interactively and serve as a fantastic assessment tool for teachers. Like number fans, the templates can be cut, laminated and held together by split rings to be used in a variety of ways.

To enhance decoding and listening skills choose a simple CVC word and say it aloud for the children to hear. Ask the children to use their fingers to “pinch the sounds” in their head. For example the word dog would be d-o-g. Then ask children to show you the initial/vowel/end sound in the word or alternatively spell the whole word using the fans. This activity could be used as a whole class warm up along side daily speed sounds training, or as a collaborative activity within phonics partners.

Phonics Finger Twister

Fun ‘twist’ on a well-known game, finger twister can be used to practice segmenting and blending of phonetically regular words or tricky, sight word vocabulary. Using the template, type a CVC/sight word onto each circle on the spinner board then print onto A3 and laminate. Alternatively you could laminate the page and use a whiteboard pen to write the words if you want to change the vocabulary on a regular basis.

Place a paper clip on the centre of the board as a spinner and ask the pupil to read the word that the clip lands on. If answered correctly, the pupil places their finger on a circle of that same colour on the “finger board”.

Finger Twister – Spinner Board made by UoD_HJWard

Finger Twister – Finger Board made by UoD_HJWard

Listening Stations

I appreciate that not every school is fortunate enough to have iPads but for those who are this activity could be really beneficial to incorporate into teaching – so long as pupils were taught to use the technology responsibly. On the voice recordings tool on the iPad, record yourself saying different words with long pauses in between. For example, “Number 1. Dog *Wait 5 seconds* Dog *Wait 5 seconds* Number 2….” Etc. Ask pupils to write the words they hear using the phonetic spelling in their literacy jotters.

Although this is a traditional dictation activity, pupils will find the iPads exciting and it would also be great as a literacy station during guided reading. Headphone splitters can be bought for cheap online and school headphones are generally available in the ICT suites.

Roll a Word Board Game

Using the board game template below, type a phonetically regular/ sight word into each box in the grid. Pupils will roll two dice and find the corresponding tile on the grid. If they say the word correctly, they place a counter on the board. This game works best in groups of two or three, with each player using a different coloured set of counters. The winner of the game is the play with the most counters on the board.

Roll a Word Board Game made by UoD_HJWard

Spin a Word

This is a really good activity to practice segmenting and blending and identifying nonsense words. Pupils spin a paperclip to find a ‘word family’ to add to the letters below. Once they have written the letters, pupils blend the sounds together and circle the word if it is a real word. For extra brownie points, see if pupils can use the real words in a sentence.

Spin a Word Game made by UoD_HJWard

What a lot of nonsense! Circle Time Activity

This is a phonics-based alternative to pass the parcel that practices phonological skills and identifying nonsense words. In a box have a range of laminated phonetically regular and sight vocabulary words alongside some nonsense words. Arrange pupils so they are sat in a circle and in the centre of the circle place two hula-hoops – one for real words and one for nonsense words. Play music and ask pupils to pass the box around. Pause the music after some time and ask the pupil holding the box to choose a word and read it to the class. The pupil must then decide if it is a nonsense word or a real word and place it in the corresponding hoop. For added comprehension ask the person on their left or right if they can use the real word in a sentence.

Phonics Splat

Laminate a range of phonics words/sight words and blue tak them to the board (it may be helpful to use these as flashcards initially to get pupils familiar with the vocabulary being used). Ask two pupils to come up to the board and give them a fly splatter – for added fun – and shout out a word that is stuck to the board. The pupils must ‘splat’ for the correct word and whoever does it the quickest wins.

I really like these minibeast sight words from Twinkl Resources and they fit in with the ‘splatting’ theme!

These are just a few of many exciting activities that can be incorporated into phonics lessons. Pinterest has a wealth of them and you can follow my phonics board here. From what I have read so far about phonics for my thesis, I have learnt that it is crucial to ensure that all activities are varied and you don’t get stuck into a routine with your phonics teaching. Furthermore make sure that pupils are getting exposure to a range of different texts beyond their reading scheme!!

Do you have any activities you like to use for phonics? Please share in the comments below.

References

Gooch, K. and Lambirth, A. (2010) Teaching Early Reading and Phonics. London: SAGE Publications.

Graaff, S., Bosman, A., Hasselman, F. and Verhoeven, L. (2009) “Benefits of systematic phonics instruction”, Scientific Studies of Reading, 13(4), pp.318-333.

Johnston, R. and Watson, J. (2005) The Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment: A 7 Year Longitudinal Study. Available at: http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/36496/0023582.pdf [Accessed: 06.03.17]

Jolliffe, W., Waugh, D. and Carrs, A. (2015) Teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics in Primary Schools. 2nd ed. London: SAGE Publications.

Solity, J. and Vousden, J. (2009) “Real books vs. reading schemes: a new perspective from instructional psychology”, Educational Psychology, 29(4), pp.469-511.

Teacher Competence and Autonomous Language-Lovin’ Learners

This year, as my elective module, I have chosen to study Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) pedagogy. As I have already mentioned in a previous blog post, I am passionate about learning languages and therefore the push of MFL in Scottish Primary Education fills me with joy and excitement. But I know this is not the case for everyone. The 1 + 2 policy, which I believe, is fantastic in theory; does have many practical flaws. These are highlighted in the Reports and Recommendations (Scottish Government Languages Working Group, 2012) and include:

  • Engaging citizens to participate in MFL teaching and learning, including pupils, parents and other members of the community, due to an over-reliance of English speakers;
  • Finances causing a barrier to resourcing – while funds have been poured into the implementation of the policy over recent years; will this financial support remain consistent?
  • Not all Scottish children speak English as their mother tongue, so how does this affect their learning – are they 1+2+3?
  • The 1+2 does not offer a set framework, nor have the Experiences and Outcomes been altered to accommodate the policy, consequently local authorities are developing their own frameworks – how are we monitoring effective and consistent practice across Scotland?

While these are all significant issues that should be addressed, I believe the most concerning of them all is finding experienced teachers who are competent to teach more than one MFL to a higher level than previously expected. Teacher Education expects students to enter University with a minimum of a B at Higher English and a qualification in Standard Grade Mathematics (or equivalent). There, at present, is no expectation for students to have acquired a qualification in a MFL, or any of the other curricular areas for that matter. Why? Possibly because it would put MFL in a hierarchical status above the other curricular areas – that could cause considerable tension. Why should MFL be a requirement when Science or Social Sciences are not?

Never the less, I think it is an area of Teacher Education that needs to be addressed. Perhaps by making it compulsory for students to study a module in beginners French, Spanish, Italian, German, Chinese, etc.… etc. However that then raises another issue with the policy – say for example, a linguistically competent trainee teacher, who studied French as their compulsory module, is placed in a school whose L1 is German, their learning experiences in that module then become pointless, in terms of teaching at that school. So how do we choose which language to study in order to be well prepared for teaching placement?

The truth is that teachers will have to study the language of the school – the knowledge about language, intercultural understanding, literacy, oracy and vocabulary. However, as presented to us in a recent lecture, teaching learners how to learn a language, known as strategy instruction, will make pupils more autonomous in their MFL and as a result, alleviate some of the pressure of teachers having to know everything about the language.

Strategy instruction is the teaching of language learning strategies with the belief that strategies should be taught as “declarative knowledge in order to become proceduralised” (Kirsch, 2012). Language learning strategies include, and are not limited to:

  • Using reference books
  • Studying artefacts
  • Using computers and digital technology
  • Formalised studying
  • Memorising
  • Practising
  • Inferring meaning (eg. Using knowledge of cognates)
  • Playing
  • Singing
  • Watching television (Kirsch, 2012)

Much research has been done on language learning strategies and the autonomous language learner and how this approach enhances positive attitudes towards language learning. Until the middle of the 1980s, MFL was mainly concerned with grammar and translation. The O Level examination consisted of translation, to and from the target language, dictation and a writing piece. By the end of the 80s, communicative language teaching was becoming a more prominent feature in classrooms across Europe and focused more on the social aspects of language learning – speaking and listening. By 1985, when the GCSE was introduced, MFL in Britain was mainly centred around the four literacy skills. However the Nuffield Inquiry (2000) highlighted that 9/10 children stop learning languages at 16 due to a lack of motivation and other faculty issues. Consequently researchers began to look into methods to combat the concerns surrounding communicative language teaching and language learner strategy research was at the forefront of this movement (Grenfell, 2007).

So what does this mean for us?

While yes, our role as teachers is to teach all aspects of MFL to our pupils, it should also be our goal to instil a love of language learning in our pupils and develop their autonomy through language learner strategies. In order to do this effectively, we should embed strategies into our lessons, develop metacognitive strategies and promote independent thinking (Kirsch, 2012). The classroom culture should foster autonomy and tasks should have language learning strategies at the centre with the goal that these strategies will eventually become more concrete techniques.

For example, we could challenge pupils to find new words in the dictionary, so long as they have been taught how to use bilingual reference texts. Songs and rhymes are effective strategies so pupils could produce their own song to learn vocabulary or grammatical concepts so it is relevant to them. Pupils could challenge each other through mini quizzes and games to practice and study their vocabulary.

How would you embed language learner strategies into your practice? What other learner strategies exist outwith MFL or are transferable across curricular areas?

L4L Placement: Reflection

Following what seemed like a never-ending pile of paperwork for my placement portfolio and an unfortunate trip to A&E, I have had little time to write a blog post that I felt did my placement justice. My intention was to blog throughout my time at the school however I was so busy that I needed time to collect my thoughts before combusting on the web! Consequently I gave myself a little bit of down time following my Viva before blogging about what I can only describe as the most rewarding but challenging experience of my teacher training to date.

I have already blogged about my experience in the pastoral team where my main responsibilities included ELSA sessions and promoting health and wellbeing throughout the school. With this in mind, I aim to describe my time in the different classes I was lucky to work in and how this experience has influenced my professional attitude.

 

Week One

Throughout the four weeks, following the Easter holiday, I worked in four different classes that allowed me to experience a range of different needs. During the first week, I was placed in a KS2 classroom where pupils had severe learning difficulties or profound and multiple learning difficulties. None of the children were verbal and they each had a very unique way of communicating.

Communication became a very strong focus throughout my placement as I found myself becoming more and more confident using non-verbal communication and sensory stimuli to motivate pupils to engage in communication. Initially I felt apprehensive as I did not know if I would be able to understand or be understood by pupils and meet their needs however after observation and getting as involved as I could, I was able to respond to the children confidently.

Most pupils communicated making small noises and murmurs and their body language indicated their emotions. For example, one pupil vocalised and smiled when he liked something or agreed with a member of staff and remained still and silent if he disagreed or disliked something that was being communicated to him. However not all pupils understood intentionality, that is when a person communicates either vocally or physically, with intention to provoke a response. I did a lot of one-one work with a pupil at this stage whilst other activities were being conducted with other pupils. An example of an activity I conducted to introduce the concept of intentionality was through massage. I tried a range of massage techniques on her hands in order to gain an idea of what she liked and disliked. Following every technique, I placed my hands in front of her hands at a distance and waited for a response. Eventually she realised that in order for me to continue the massage she must place her hands in my hands before I begun once again. Once she had realised this, I removed my hands and placed them in front of her, she then reached out to grasp my hands. This process demonstrated her the beginning of her understanding of the intentional communication.

Language acquisition has always been a topic of psychology that I have had a lot of interest in. Consequently, the development of intentionality and seeing for myself the progression of language acquisition in children with speech, language and communication delay was really fascinating. Throughout the placement I continued to observe different methods of communication and by the end of the four weeks I had been involved in Makaton, eye gazing, the pictorial exchange communication system (PECS) and AAC technology associated with eye gaze and PECS.

Week Two

The second week, possibly the most challenging of the four, was in an autism provision classroom. Once again, all communication needs were very different however all pupils used the pictorial exchange communication system to enhance their communication. PECS is a form of AAC and is made up of a range a symbols and words that allow the communicator to form complex phrases. PECS supports speech, but does not replace it. Once the symbols have been aligned on the PECS board, the pupils point to the various symbols and verbalise these to form a spoken sentence.

Although communication was a huge part of this classroom, due to the nature of the class I found myself observing behaviour and responses to the learning environment more than communication. I intend to write a separate post on autism provision later when I have had more time to research the associated behaviours and meeting their needs. I found that one week was not long enough to fully understand the pupils and respond appropriately and consequently I aim to find work experience in another autism provision unit to build on my understanding further. Despite this, I feel like I would know how to aid a pupil with a diagnosis of ASC in a mainstream classroom a lot more confidently by providing a high level of structure and low stimulus environment.

Week Three

During the penultimate week I was placed in an EYFS class. The EYFS environment was highly influenced by the likes of the Froebel and Reggio Emilia philosophy. There are certainly aspects of this practice I would consider using within my early years placement next year however there were also a number of factors that I would perhaps alter in order to enhance the play based learning. Consequently I will blog about this and how it impacted upon my educational philosophy in a future post.

Week Four

Similar to week one, my final week was with a KS1 PMLD classroom. Once again the pupils were non-verbal and as they were younger, their communication was a lot less advanced to those in the previous week.

Developing intentionality and cause and effect were key learning outcomes throughout the week. Switches were used frequently in activities to show the consequence of actions, known as cause and effect. An activity that demonstrated the development of intentionality within this class was baking treacle tarts. Pupils operated the switch in order to use the blender held by a member of staff. When they pressed and maintained the hold, the blender would turn on and when the pupil let go it would stop. Sensory stimuli are key to encouraging communication and participation in switch use. The teacher’s role is to facilitate opportunities for the use of switching or symbols throughout the day using a range of strategies.

Impact on my personal and professional attitudes

My learning for life placement has had a considerable impact on my educational philosophy and also my personal attitudes towards SEN teaching. I began the placement thinking that it would be beneficial to learn about the different SEN and how pupil’s individual needs are facilitated in a learning environment in order to apply this to a mainstream setting where I intend to teach. As a result of this placement I have developed a passion for the SEN setting and the rewarding nature of teaching and learning pupils with PMLD and SLD. Consequently I am now considering specialising in SEN following my probation year when I begin my Masters degree with the intent on teaching in an enhanced provision unit.

It is very hard to pinpoint one key aspect that I feel my placement has addressed and enhanced due to the diversity I experienced. As a result I revisited my placement proposal to see how the placement addressed my expectations of the placement and identified key learning that I will research in the next few months.

Firstly by exploring special needs education through observation, professional dialogue and academic reading I have developed my understanding of the needs of the pupils and the impact this has on curriculum content, communication and assessing academic progress etc. Communication has been the biggest focus for me throughout the placement as I was amazed by the variety of AAC that I had not even heard of before. I was able to communicate to all pupils in the classes regardless of whether they were verbal or non-verbal and was able to meet their needs accordingly. Following my placement I intend to do a course in Makaton signing and research more into PECS and Switching through academic reading.

I have looked into how the National Curriculum differs to the Federation’s ‘Learning Challenge curriculum’ and how this was created to develop an understanding of the processes of curriculum design and developing contexts for learning over the course of the 6 weeks. The major difference was that the child was very much at the centre of the learning and through topical learning each individual’s developmental needs were catered for. Planning and learning outcomes are different for every child and are decided during the annual review, an interagency meeting to discuss pupil progress. Consequently a baking lesson for one child may be focusing on their use of switching and developing an understanding of cause and effect whereas another may be focusing on their ability to reach an object. This means that teachers need to be flexible with lesson plans and understand the best ways to motivate pupils in order to meet their intended outcomes.

I have worked closely alongside the different professionals in order to gain a better understanding of their roles in promoting the well-being of every child and how interdisciplinary practice is achieved in the learning community. The experience has enhanced my understanding of interdisciplinary working and consolidated learning from the 2CM8 module. I have seen the importance of information sharing and experienced some of the boundaries that may be faced, regardless of the integrated facilities.

Another thing I have gained from the placement that I had not identified in my proposal is my ability to nurture. Although I believe I was a very caring teacher, I was always very cautious to be overly nurturing with pupils due to policies that need to be adhered to. In an SEN school, providing a nurturing environment is the teacher’s pivotal role and consequently I had to remove this barrier immediately. Pupils need to be welcomed with a warm, friendly personality in order to feel comfortable. Touch is important to evoke responses from children and develop their communication and therefore should be given with professional judgement. Teachers need to understand the needs of the child immediately and respond to these appropriately. Although the boundaries are different in a mainstream school, I will definitely be more comfortable being nurturing with a child in my future placements.

Following my placement, I will:

  • Begin a course over the duration of the summer holidays in Makaton signing and research other AAC methods through academic reading.
  • Consider ways in which I could support pupil’s emotional wellbeing and develop a nurturing environment.
  • Research best practice in SEN schools through academic reading and journals and build on the learning I gained during my mini ROTR tasks.
  • Continue to work on facilitating effective interdisciplinary practice during future placements, particularly with parents.

LFL Placement: What am I ‘Learning from Life’?

“What? Why? That doesn’t make sense when you’re training to become a Scottish Primary Teacher?” – A common response when I explain to my friends and family that my second year placement cannot be within a Scottish primary school. At first I shared a similar opinion, studying Languages and Science and Mathematics modules, then going to a workplace where we couldn’t reflect upon our learning in a practical setting seemed like a waste of time. However as we have progressed throughout the year, and the placement is becoming closer, this idea has changed dramatically and I cannot seem to contain my excitement about the amazing opportunity I am about to experience.

The University of Dundee is unique for having the Learning from Life module. The placement aims to broaden the horizons of student teachers whilst developing transferable skills for teaching and learning. Indeed the 2015-2016 Handbook states,

“This module aims to:

  • enable students to integrate and extend their knowledge and transferable skills in educational work through practical application in a workplace setting;
  • complement and extend students’ knowledge and skills developed in Educational Studies and Pedagogical Studies;
  • provide opportunities for making connections between teaching and learning in different educational settings and working collaboratively;
  • help prepare students for effective transition into the workplace;
  • build confidence in key skills.”

Over the next two months I am hoping to use my blog as a reflective tool for placement in addition to my portfolio. Therefore it seemed appropriate, now that all of my assignments have been completed, to explain the content of my placement and justify why I chose the setting. I must add that due to the nature of my placement, the content that I am allowed to publish online is restricted therefore I cannot mention names of the school or staff.

I will be travelling down to England to work in a Children’s Centre for 6 weeks. The Children’s Centre combines the local community primary school and a primary special school and also houses nursing, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language in one integrated building. I am fortunate to be working across all of the areas mentioned above and I will discuss the outline of my placement later in this post.

 Additional Support Needs (ASN) is an aspect of education that is not covered, in-depth, within the MA Education course at Dundee University. Within a recent Interagency module, we covered the area slightly but the aim of the module was primarily to discuss how all agencies work collaboratively to improve outcomes for children. I found it of paramount importance to learn about ASN prior to graduation so I could gain an understanding of the individual need and strategies to support the child.

I had contact to the school through family who live in the surrounding area, and I am very lucky to be staying with family for the duration of the placement. The setting seems like to perfect place to learn about ASN and also gain an understanding of how the different professionals work collaboratively in the integrated building. I think it is important for me to see interagency working in action as it will enhance my understanding of the Interagency module content.

 When contacting the school, I provided the Head Teacher with my proposal form that included my aims for the placement. I specifically looked through the GTCS Standards for Provisional Registration when identifying these aims to highlight aspects that I felt had not been addressed in much depth. My aims are:

  • “Exploring special needs education through observation, professional dialogue and academic reading [which] will enhance my understanding of the needs of the pupils and the impact this has on curriculum content, communication and assessing academic progress etc. (SPR, 2.1.1; 2.1.2). Within my placement I would also like to gain experience teaching in a special needs classroom in order to continue developing my teaching and incorporating my new knowledge into planning.
  • Through the assimilation of the two schools I will learn how to facilitate inclusive learning by liaising with the specialist teaching team and the community school teaching team. I am intrigued to investigate how the National Curriculum differs to the Federation’s ‘Learning Challenge curriculum’ and how this was created to develop an understanding of the processes of curriculum design and developing contexts for learning. (SPR, 2.1.1; 2.1.3)
  • Several professions work on-site at … including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and social work. I would like the opportunity to work closely alongside the different professionals in order to gain a better understanding of their roles in promoting the well-being of every child and how interdisciplinary practice is achieved in the learning community. (SPR, 2.2.2; 3.1.5)”

In November I went to visit the school to see the building, meet the staff and pupils and discuss the plan for my placement with the Head Teacher. I was astounded at the facilities available within the building and the layout of the school. In addition to classrooms specified to the childrens’ needs and areas for various shared activities, the schools share a multi-sensory theatre with bubble tubes, vibrating wall pads, projectors and a soft play area neighbouring it. There is a sports hall with physiotherapy facilities such as a heated pool. I am keen to see how these are used in practice and how they enhance the learning and teaching experiences for children. However the ethos of the school was the one aspect of the Children’s Centre that left the biggest mark. There is a really strong sense of community that exists within the pupils, staff and volunteers in the centre and I was able to see that in an hour walking around the school!

As mentioned previously I will be working across the different areas of the school. This is the plan of my placement:Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 10.24.02

My Next Steps…

With all this in mind I will now begin to construct my portfolio. For each area I intend to complete a daily ROTR task, similar to first year placement. ROTR tasks include Reading, Observation, Talking and Reflecting on a specific subject. Therefore I must carefully select a topic for each day and consider discussion points and questions; highlight areas for observation and begin exploring academic literature.

In addition to ROTR, weekly reflections, and blog posts, I am hoping to do a research project over the duration of the week surrounding the safeguarding of children and critically analysing the difference between Every Child Matters and Getting It Right for Every Child. I think this will be beneficial for me as it will require me to gain an in-depth understanding of both policies and raise an awareness of potential facilitators and barriers to safeguarding children.

 I am looking forward to sharing my experiences on my blog. Please feel free to comment – any suggestions for resources or reflection points would be appreciated!!

Building Financial Resilience: Is it our responsibility?

In a recent Mathematics and Science input, we were very fortunate to be visited by guest lecturer Brenda Rochead who works for the Scottish Financial Education Group. The input focused on how we can raise financially capable children in a society rife with poverty and undesirable financial situations through education starting in the early years. Her input, along with a related workshop, really challenged my views on financial education and children’s capacity to learn about finances and I wanted to record my new ideas within this post.

Personally I would say I handle my finances reasonably well. I have a part-time job while I study at University to fund living costs, I treat myself occasionally and socialise regularly and I try to save money when I am able to do so, however I do wonder how my financial status and attitude would differ had I been taught about money when I was at school. The 5-14 curriculum that I was taught under, did incorporate what I would now refer to as, “money education”. I was able to identify a variety of coins and notes; I could count the correct coins to pay for items; I was able to calculate change however if you asked me to read a bank statement or describe credit, even as a young adult, I’d find it incredibly challenging. Prior to the input with Brenda, my teaching strategies regarding financial education would have reflected similar approaches used while I was at primary school – for example, manipulating coins during role-play in a shop scenario and calculating the appropriate change. However following the input this attitude was completely changed. Although this is an essential skill, I believe we are limiting our pupils to this and almost creating a ‘purchasing ethos’ where money only concerns buying. Instead I believe we should be building financial resilience within our pupils introducing them to real life scenarios, developing life skills and preparing them for their unpredictable financial future.

So how do we build financial resilience within our youngest pupils? As highlighted by Brenda during the input, we should be addressing skills, knowledge, attitude, motivation and opportunities. By skills I refer to financial literacy – the understanding of how money works in the world: how we are able to make or earn money; how we manage money and how we can turn this into more through investment. With this in mind we should be teaching our pupils how to read bank statements to develop an awareness of spending and saving; discuss employment and develop entrepreneurial skills; introduce skills such as taking money out of an ATM machine and the necessary safety precautions or how to use online banking etc. The additional knowledge children should acquire through financial education includes, but is not limited to, the dangers in the financial world such as debts and online safety and where you are able to receive help should you find yourself in an undesirable situation. Furthermore we should be promoting a ‘need vs. want’ attitude when it comes to spending money and encouraging pupils to save money for later in life when they will need it most.

In early and first level, Curriculum for Excellence highlights the importance of manipulating money and the word “used” is very apparent within the experiences and outcomes. Without the addition of building financial resilience within the early years, we risk exposing our children to the “purchasing attitude” I mentioned earlier. Within second level, we begin to see the phrases “manage money”, “understand risks”, “budgeting” and “profit”. However I believe we should be exploring these earlier on in schools to encourage pupils to think further than how much it will cost to buy a Freddo after school!

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.14.22

CfE Experiences and Outcomes – Number, Money and Measure

Raising financially capable pupils is not just apparent within the Numeracy and Mathematics curricular areas. For example, the Health and Wellbeing experiences and outcomes touch on emotional and mental wellbeing which correlates directly with the pressure of finances. However the need for more emphasis of finance within CfE is apparent and Learning and Teaching Scotland released a document in 2010, that highlights the rationale for embedding more structure of this particular subject into the curriculum. “The philosophy and practice underpinning Curriculum for Excellence offers many opportunities for children and young people to experience financial education. Financial education will provide a relevant context to develop knowledgeable, skilful and enterprising children and young people who can take increasing responsibility for their own lives and plan for their future (p9).” By encouraging pupils to think about managing their money, we are creating responsible citizens and effective contributors to society, two of the four capacities highlighted in CfE.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 14.16.06

CfE Experiences and Outcomes – Mental, Emotional, Social and Physical Wellbeing

Within their document, Learning and Teaching Scotland highlight a number of ways children can be involved in financial education. These include having a whole school credit union, running a money week and getting involved in fundraising (See the full document here). However like the CfE experiences and outcomes, I see this as an upper stage activity, where although the early and first level pupils could be involved, the responsibility would primarily fall to those in P6/P7.

So how can our EY pupils get involved in financial education? Play is an important part of EY learning and provides plenty opportunities for children to explore money beyond the traditional British Stirling coin set. Creating a Bureau de Change Role Play area would be a fantastic opportunity for pupils to explore different currencies and learn how to convert money. Alternatively a Travel Agent area would be a perfect opportunity to look at deals when travelling abroad and how to save money for trips on holiday.

Children often observe their parents when they are stood at an ATM machine or talking to accountants in the Bank so they could use this experience and act out these scenarios. Using a box or screen, the children could create an ATM and perform the necessary actions to take money out whilst another pupil counts the correct money. This would also allow for discussion about safety when at the bank or ATM.

Taking your personal receipts for the pupils to explore would be an engaging activity for the pupils – they’d love to see what your bought for your tea on Monday Night and they would be able to observe the format of a receipt and identify offers within the print!

With all this considered, the most important things I gained from Brenda’s input was to think outside the box regarding learning activities and aim to stretch my pupils understanding of money beyond purchasing niceties. As teachers we want to ensure that our pupils are as prepared as they can be for society, so why are we limiting their experiences and their mind-set?

How would you teach your pupils to become financially resilient? What other skills to pupils need to manage their money? What other learning activities would be beneficial to enhance their understanding of how money works? See my financial education pinterest board for some ideas on EY financial education.

References:

Learning and Teaching Scotland (2010) Financial Education: Developing skills for learning, life and work. Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/developing_skills_web_tcm4-639212.pdf [Accessed: 28/01/16]

Scottish Government (2009) Curriculum for Excellence, Experiences and outcomes for all curriculum areas Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/all_experiences_outcomes_tcm4-539562.pdf

 

Let’s Make Space for Outdoor Learning

Outdoor learning was never a big focus throughout my primary years despite the large field and beautiful Moray Coast on which the school was situated. It was never a topic that was negotiated within our classes and I remember looking out of the window on numerous occasions wishing I was running around in the fresh air near the salty waves rather than stuck in a sweaty, over crowded classroom. Now on reflection I consider the numerous educational experiences that could be gained by exploring the area I grew up in and how important I consider outdoor learning to be.

The topic of outdoor learning has come to my attention recently for a number of reasons. During our second year Education Studies module, we explored the nature of the Swedish education system in which outdoor play is a prominent feature. However having a more significant impact was the knowledge I acquired listening to a recent interview on the radio regarding pupil health and the growth of technology in early years children. For both of these reasons I really wanted to write about the advantages of stepping out of the classroom comfort zone.

The Swedish education system is one of the most talked about in the world and early childhood education and care in Sweden is known to offer exemplar practice. This is due to the combination of pedagogical approaches and unique organization that contribute to its high ranking in the literacy table worldwide. A significant part of Swedish pre-school education is outdoor learning and the pedagogical ideology of Froebel’s Kindergarten. Froebel was a German educationalist and his Kindergarten system grew internationally as an educational model. His kindergarten system consisted of gifts and occupations. The play materials were called gifts and the learning activities were occupations. His system allowed children to compare, test, and explore. His philosophy also consisted of the principles – free self-activity, creativity, social participation, and motor expression. Outdoor activity provides plenty of opportunities for children to explore and develop the values described in the Swedish curriculum document.

I do not believe that CfE emphasizes the opportunities outdoor learning can provide enough, as this is not a regular occurrence in the practice I have observed. However Scottish Government outline the purpose of outdoor learning when they state, “Well-constructed and well-planned outdoor learning helps develop the skills of enquiry, critical thinking and reflection necessary for our children and young people to meet the social, economic and environmental challenges of life in the 21st century. Outdoor learning connects children and young people with the natural world, with our built heritage and our culture and society, and encourages lifelong involvement and activity in Scotland’s outdoors” (Education Scotland, p7)

While outdoor learning is advantageous for our education, it is also important for our children’s health. Over the past few years, research has proven that children are becoming deficient in essential vitamins, especially vitamin D. “Vitamin D is a fat-soluble compound essential for bone growth and mineralisation during childhood. It is produced in the skin following exposure to ultraviolet B light with a small amount occurring naturally in foods such as oily fish, eggs and meat. Without vitamin D the body is unable to effectively process the minerals calcium and phosphorous; essential for bone growth and maturation during childhood” (BBC, 2011). Coincidentally the increase in child technology use has also increased during this period and therefore children are not going outside and exploring like in previous years. Vitamin D deficiency is responsible for bone related illnesses such as rickets, which has also recently increased, and also asthma and depression. Therefore it goes without saying that we should be encouraging our pupils to be out in the fresh air when the weather permits it to prevent these illnesses and promote health and wellbeing.

So how can we make the most out of the outdoors?

Outdoor learning is a useful tool for teachers in many different areas. Firstly, the environment provides many opportunities for cross-curricular links. In my local community (Morayshire) there are a multitude of experiences I could provide my pupils with that would make learning more engaging. Burghead, a small fishing village, 5 minutes away from my own primary school, has a rich historical background of Pictish and Viking eras and was home the Burghead Pictish fort of which the remains are kept in the local visitor centre and the Elgin Museum. Using this environment to explore the history of the Pics would be an engaging activity and could create potential literacy and art activities. The location of the Moray Firth would also offer many opportunities for learning in subjects such as science, exploring the nature and wildlife or the local oil industry, expressive arts, using the picturesque views to spark imagination and also social subjects such as geography and modern studies.

http://hopemanhistory.org/1989-hopeman-from-the-air

Image taken from http://hopemanhistory.org/1989-hopeman-from-the-air

Those who live in towns or cities could use their environment as a means of enhancing literacy in the early years by taking pupils on an “environmental print walk”. Whitehead (2007, p54) argues that the first text children experience as emergent readers is the print that surrounds them in their everyday lives including advertisements, packaging, road signs and symbols, and these are known as ‘environmental print’. Therefore taking pupils on a walk around the streets will provide opportunities to observe print in an engaging way.

Although these are only some of the many ways you can manipulate the outdoors to suit your pupil’s educational needs, I believe it demonstrates the importance of incorporating it into regular practice. With this considered I will aim to utilise the environment as much as possible during my future placements and with my own class to enhance educational experiences and promote health and wellbeing within my classroom.

What opportunities can you identify within your local community that would enhance learning? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages of outdoor learning?

References:

Education Scotland (n.d) Outdoor Learning: Practical Guidance, Ideas and Support for Teachers and Practitioners in Scotland. Available at: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/OutdoorLearningSupport_tcm4-675958.pdf [Accessed 28/11/15]

Hopemanhistory.org (n.d) 1989 – Hopeman from the air – Hopeman History. Available at: http://hopemanhistory.org/1989-hopeman-from-the-air [Accessed 28/11/15]

Reed, J. (2011) Children are at risk of getting rickets, says doctor. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12357382 [Accessed 28/12/15]

Whitehead, M. (2007) Developing Language and Literacy with Young Children. London: Paul Chapman Publishers.

Learning and Memory

So now exams are over and the Christmas holidays have begun, what better time to start blogging again. I’m annoyed at myself for my lack of posts last semester however with work and the constant reminder that we had an exam looming, updating my blog was pushed right to the back of my mind. With that said, I learned a lot during this semester which I aim to reflect upon in my future, and more regular posts.

Within 2CM5, our Education Studies module, we studied three topics of psychology – Attribution theory, Intelligence and Memory. I found the topic of Memory to have the most influence on my understanding and also educational psychology so found myself reading more and more into this field. Learning and memory, and the relationship between these, is a topic of psychology that has been researched for several decades. Spregner (1999) stated, “The only evidence we have of learning is memory” and this demonstrates that the two subjects go hand in hand. Recent research has identified that poor memory is linked to poor academic attainment and therefore it is of significant importance for teachers to be able to apply their knowledge of memory to intervene effectively to raise attainment.

Ebbinghaus was one of the first theorists who considered human memory. He started a tradition of research that became the dominant paradigm for the study in this field. Later, in 1968, Atkinson and Shiffrin proposed a new model of memory that reflected the ideology of Ebbinghaus. The terms short-term and long-term memory had been discussed throughout this period, however Atkinson and Shiffrin “crystallized these ideas into a precise theory” (Anderson, 2000). Short-term memory was created as new information was retrieved from the environment and through rehearsal it could either be entered into the long-term memory or disposed of. Although this theory has been proven to have some flaws, Atkinson and Shiffrin provided a basis for our understanding of memory today.

The terms short-term memory and long-term memory are still present today however and these will be discussed as two separate entities. Short-term memory refers to the situations in which an individual has to store material. Short-term memory is also linked to working memory, as the individual applies or manipulates the stored material, within a short period of time. Gathercole (2008) describes working memory as “a mental workspace or jotting pad that is used to store important information in the course of our everyday lives.” Working memory is a system of interlinked memory components that are located in different parts of the brain – verbal and visuo-spatial, which exist as short-term memory components, and the central executive that controls focus and is involved in the higher-level mental processes required to manipulate material for working memory. The amount of information that can be held in working memory for even a short period of time is strictly limited and if this limit is exceeded, we will forget at least some of what we are trying to remember. There is a personal limit to working memory, with each individual having a relatively fixed capacity. Forgetting information from working memory is very different from forgetting, for example, where you parked your car. In this case you can mentally retraced your steps to aid memory however when information in the working memory is lost, it is gone for good. The loss of material within the working memory, known as working memory failure, has a detrimental impact on education and this will be discussed later in this post.

Long-term memory is the memory of past experiences and knowledge gained over long periods of time. According to Gathercole (2008) there are four types of long-term memory – episodic memory, autobiographical, semantic and procedural memory. Episodic memory stores memories for specific events in the recent past – it is best at retaining the most important or notable features of events. Unless discussed or reflected upon, these mundane routinely tasks are generally forgotten unless they were a non-routine event that may be stored in a more permanent system – autobiographical memory. Autobiographical memory stores two main kinds of information – personal facts and the nature of major lifetime periods. Autobiographic memory also retains memory of significant and sometimes emotional experiences from our life. The stored knowledge, or facts, that we have acquired about the world is held in semantic memory. The final type of memory, procedural memory, is skills or actions that have been learnt through practice and become automatic.

Research developed by Dr Susan Pickering using the Working Memory Test Battery for Children demonstrated that it is working memory capacity in general that limits children’s abilities to learn. The reason that this occurs is due to the overloading of the working memory which will impair learning as the child is either forced to guess, a strategy that will more than likely lead to errors, or abandon the task before it is completed. Assessment of children’s working memory abilities very early in their school career provides a highly effective way of identifying individuals who are at risk of making poor academic progress. “Early identification is important, as it allows the opportunity for prompt intervention that can minimise the adverse consequences of poor working memory capacity on learning” (Gathercole, 2008). Recent research proved that only 25% of teachers picked up early warning signs of Working Memory failure, which would inevitably have detrimental consequences. Assessments such as the AWMA test are available to assess children’s working memory however Elliott and Gathercole (2008) created seven principles to aid children with poor working memory that will in turn allow, “learning to take place within a rich network of support that compensates for poor working memory capacity”.

Recognition

Firstly they highlight the need for teachers to recognise working memory failures. Warning signs that the working memory load should be reduced include incomplete recall, failure to follow instructions, place-keeping errors and task abandonment.

Monitoring and Evaluating

Furthermore the teacher should monitor the child by assessing warning signs discussed previously and by communicating with the child using questioning and prompts – “What are you going to do next?” The practitioner should evaluate the working demands of learning activities such as the length, content and level of challenge of the task. Consider how much you are asking/expecting the child to remember such as a set of lengthy instructions or unrelated lists and break these into chunks to aid the child.

Reduction and Repetition

If necessary the teacher should reduce the working memory load. Ways in which the teacher can do this include reducing the amount of material to be stored, increasing meaningfulness and familiarity, re-structuring multi-step tasks into separate steps and provide memory aids. The teacher should be prepared to repeat instructions.

Memory Aids

Finally the teacher should encourage the use of memory aids and develop the child’s own personal strategies for managing their working memory. Memory aids include number lines, teacher notes/instructions on the whiteboard, wall charts and well thought out classroom displays. However children should be able to practice using these tools with minimal working memory load before they apply the skill on more demanding tasks.

On reflection I wish I had read more about this in first year prior to my placement. Naively I expected the children to remember all of my instructions and provided them with activities that exceeded all pupils’ working memories. In future practice I will always write step-by-step instructions on the whiteboard, provide memory aids such as number squares or words lists and ensure displays aid learning.

Have a look at my Working Memory Pinterest board where I will be pinning materials that I think are useful for Working Memory. How would you assess and combat poor working memory? Have you seen any good strategies during placement to aid memory?

References and Additional Reading:

Anderson, J. (2000) Learning and Memory: An Integrated Approach. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley

Gathercole, S. & Alloway, T. (2007) Understanding Working Memory: A Classroom Guide. Available at: https://www.york.ac.uk/res/wml/Classroom%20guide.pdf [Accessed: 21/12/15]

Gathercole, S. (2008) Working Memory and Learning: A practical guide for Teachers. London: SAGE Publications

Alloway, T. (n.d) Alloway’s Guide to Working Memory. Available at: http://junglememory.com/ckeditor_assets/attachments/67/JM-Booklet-3.pdf