As I reflect back over my pre visit placement week, I am thrilled how it went. My school is warm and welcoming and I am working with a teacher who has similar values to myself. I thoroughly enjoyed working with individuals and groups, and I taught 2 class lessons – both of which went well.
I was lucky enough to receive lots of encouragement, advice, and support on many aspects of my teaching so far, however the one piece of positive feedback that meant the most to me was:
You have a nice way with the children and they seem to respond to you well.
The reason that this is so important to me is my firm brief in the value of relationships. I feel that these are crucial and if positive relationships are not formed then a teacher cannot be truly successful. For me, relationships come before the learning. This is related to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where feelings of safety and security, and feelings of belonging are essential before the individual can reach their full potential (for an overview of Maslow’s hierarchy see https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html).
Some of the ways in which I have tried to build relationships with the pupils over my first week include:
Learning and using their names quickly,
Circulating and making the effort to spend time interacting with every individual,
Smiling and being warm,
Finding out about their interests (through general conversation where appropriate as well as through my ‘getting to know you lesson’- see below),
Telling them a little about myself (again through my getting to know you lesson).
Some of these methods are recommended in this article which notes the importance of positive teacher-student relationships in terms of learning and behaviour management.
Getting to Know You
During my first placement, I didn’t teach a ‘getting to know you lesson’, and regretted it because I felt that I had missed an opportunity to find out a bit about what made the children tick. On this placement I hope to be able to use some of the interests of the children to engage them in their learning.
I began my lesson with a large box (which I had lovingly covered with a patchwork of wrapping paper scraps). Inside the box was a few different items which were clues to tell the class something about me, for example I had a rolling pin which suggested that I like to bake. The children were very quick to work out my clues, but appeared to enjoy the task none-the-less. I used shoulder partner talk and lolly-sticks to avoid shouting out and to avoid the same children putting their hands up.
After this activity I told the class that they were going to tell me a bit about themselves using ice creams! I demonstrated the activity on the board and set them to task. They all created wonderful ‘ice-creams’ with pictures and words on each scoop.
I was very pleased with how the activity turned out and also the enthusiasm that the children showed when completing their work! I had asked for a minimum of 3 scoops but some children completed many more, with one ice-cream ending up 20 scoops tall!
I have made a note of some of the interests, hobbies, and other information that the children shared in the hope that I can use them at a later date.
My lesson, as well as my efforts throughout the week, have allowed me to start to meet some of the Standards for Registration. These include:
1.2.1 I demonstrate openness, honesty, courage and wisdom.
1.3.2 I provide and ensure a safe and secure environment for all learners within a caring and compassionate ethos and with an understanding of wellbeing.
1.3.3 I demonstrate a commitment to motivating and inspiring learners, acknowledging their social and economic context, individuality and specific learning needs and taking into consideration barriers to learning.
During this semester, I am being encouraged to think about my personal philosophy of teaching. Within my first ever post, I wrote a short paragraph about the type of teacher I’d like to become – here’s what I wrote:
What kind of teacher do I want to become?
During my time working in early years settings, I have come to understand the importance of strong bonds and relationships between adults and children. I have found that the best practitioners are those who are open, honest and have a true interest in what the children and their families have to say. I hope to bring these skills to my work within the classroom and to become the kind of teacher who allows every pupil to feel valued and listened to.
My work within the nature nursery has opened my eyes to the many benefits of outdoor learning, from greater concentration and focus to creative skills and health and wellbeing. This is an area which I have found a great passion for and would like to continue as I begin working with older children.
Finally, I feel that I am an enthusiastic and positive individual and I would like to become the type of teacher who other staff can approach for support, ideas and guidance where possible. Within a School setting, no teacher is an individual and everyone is working with a common goal which is to provide children with the greatest possible experiences and opportunities throughout their education. I hope that in the future I can be a valuable member of any team that I am a part of.
I still strongly believe in the importance of relationships. I feel that the best learning takes place when pupils feel valued, safe, encouraged, and supported. This relates to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, where children need to have the strong foundations of their physical and emotional needs being met before their can progress on to achieving their full potential.
I also continue to value outdoor learning, however I have now developed this in that I strongly feel that pupils should be provided with a range and variety of learning experiences and activities. This is because every pupils is an individual with their own needs, interests, and preferences, and by providing different types of activities a teacher can help to support these.
I believe that children learn best through being actively involved in their learning. There is a quote which floats about the internet which sums up my feelings on this:
Tell me and I forget,
Teach me and I remember,
Involve me and I learn
(This quote has been attributed to various different people including Benjamin Franklin).
I have attempted to write an updated teaching philosophy:
I believe that learning is a lifelong process which is as much about the journey as it is about the end goal.
My role as a teacher is to provide learning environments and experiences that will motivate, inspire, and challenge pupils. I hope to provide my pupils with a safe and secure classroom environment where all learning and attempts at learning are valued, and that mistakes are seen as a positive (even by the teacher!) I also aim to value each child’s individuality (in personality, interests, and learning needs) by providing a variety of learning experiences and activities ranging from written work in jotters, to ‘risky’ outdoor play.
I hope to be able to provide my pupils with the skills that the need to succeed within education, and also throughout their lives. This includes problem solving skills, critical thinking, and the ability to question information. I also hope to promote resilience by allowing children to ‘fail’ and make mistakes, as well as try things out for themselves and take risks.
My role as a teacher will vary from leading the learning and playing a very active role, to stepping back and playing a supportive role while scaffolding children’s discovery. I will also aim to be a positive role model for my pupils; getting excited by learning and engaging with the activities and experiences where appropriate.
Some of my further beliefs about teaching and learning:
There’s nothing wrong with a noisy classroom, as long as it is productive noise,
Children need opportunities to talk to support their thinking,
Children also need opportunities to work with others, in mixed ability groups (even across age/ class groups)
I fully expect that this philosophy will be updated and changed again many times as I continue through my training and teaching career. This is because teachers should never stagnate, and must consider new evidence, strategies, theories, and methods. That being said, there are aspects of my philosophy which have developed over years of experience of working with children, and some that are linked with my personality, and therefore these are unlikely to change.
I am a huge fan of outdoor learning! I think my passion has mostly stemmed from my experiences working in a nature nursery, where I saw many of the benefits of the outdoor environment for my children. Unfortunately, I see much less outdoor learning taking place in school.
Outdoor Learning as a purposeful and planned experience in the outdoors. It’s a broad term that includes discovery, experimentation, learning about and connecting to the natural world, and engaging in outdoor sports and adventure activities.
To expand on this, I see outdoor learning as making the most of natural surroundings and resources, it is certainly NOT picking up your worksheets/ puzzles from indoors and taking them out into the garden! Sadly, this is something hat I have seen all too often, from well-meaning practitioners who are not sure about what outdoor learning really is. That’s not to say that there’s no value in taking your indoor learning activities outside – if it’s a nice day and the children will benefit from getting out of the classroom, I completely agree with picking up your books or whatnot and making the most of the sunshine, but it’s important to recognise the difference between this (learning outdoors) to actual outdoor learning.
That brings me to another bugbear of mine – those teachers or practitioners that refuse to take children outdoors if it’s a bit rainy, a bit cold, or a bit muddy! My favourite saying is “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!” (a quote which has been attributed to various different authors). This aversion to taking children outdoors appears to be quite common at this time of year, and I wrote a little about it on my Early Years blog – “Now that the weather’s turning cold”. On the other hand though, health and safety must be a concern. At the nursery where I used to work, the one type of weather that would keep us indoors was high winds, due to the numerous trees around us and the danger of falling branches. Other than that, rain or shine, we were outdoors!
Health and safety is an important consideration when taking learning outside of the classroom. Firstly, ratios must be adhered to. The NSPCC provides the following recommendations for adult: child ratios within the school grounds:
4 – 8 years
1 adult to 6 children
9 – 12 years
1 adult to 8 children
13 – 18 years
1 adult to 10 children
And the Scottish Government state that during excursions with children and young people under the age of 18, the ratios should be:
1 adult to 15-20 group members for excursions where the element of risk to be encountered is similar to that normally encountered in daily life, e.g. excursions to sites of historic interest, most field work, local walks etc
Additionally, the requirements of any children with additional support needs, the general behaviour of a class, and the perceived level of risk of the activity must also be carefully considered when taking children away from school premises. For safeguarding purposes, it is also recommended that there are always 2 adults present.
Before taking children to a site for outdoor learning, a risk assessment should be carried out. This means that the teacher should visit the location and note down any of the potential dangers (including during the travel there and back), and the measures that will be taken to prevent/ reduce these dangers. Within the wonderful book ‘Dirty Teaching’ by Juliet Robertson, it is suggested that risk assessments can also be conducted with the children. This allows them to take ownership of their own safety.
Outdoor learning can provide brilliant opportunities for ‘Risky Play’. This is the type of play that is exciting, pushes boundaries, and has the potential for injury. It is through this type of play that children learn to manage risk, and also learn resilience. While adults can sometimes be anxious about allowing children to engage in this type of play, Play Scotland states that children often associate their risky play with positive emotions such as fun, thrilling, and pride.
In this BBC Radio broadcast Sian Williams explores resilience and the science behind it. Resilience describes the ability to ‘bounce back’ from difficulties. Some of the points raised in this documentary include:
it is important that individuals recognise and appreciate their feelings. Allowing yourself to recognise that you are feeling sad or scared can help your brain to recover,
it is important that individuals are taught strategies to support them in dealing with future adversities,
resilience should be taught from a young age,
From a personal perspective, I feel that it is important that a teacher has good levels of resilience, as it is a job where we will likely be faced with many challenges and difficulties. A lack of resilience could lead to teachers suffering with mental health issues such as stress and anxiety, and could also cause some to decide to leave the profession all together. This is something that I need to be aware of within myself, as I have suffered with anxiety in the past and I have a habit of taking criticism personally.
With regard to the pupils in my future class, I feel that it is critical that I give the children chances talk about their feelings and emotions in various circumstances. I also agree with allowing children to ‘fail’ or ‘get it wrong’, as this provides opportunities for growth and learning. I am personally against the rise of the ‘everyone gets a medal at sports day’ culture that I have seen in some settings, as I feel that this is not reflective of real life. In the real world, there will be situations where you do not win or succeed. What is important is the way that we deal with this, learn from it, and move on.
As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I hope to spend this year working on developing into my own kind of teacher, rather than simply imitating my ‘host’ teacher. That is not to say that I wont use the elements of good practice that I observe, or wont follow the advice and guidance of my teacher, but it means that I will also try to approach teaching in my own way.
I also recently attended an input where we considered some of the early pioneers of education. During this input, I was encouraged to consider what my fundamental beliefs are about childhood, child development, and the role of education in this. My ideas of childhood are influenced by my own experiences as a child, and my own work and
observations of young children. These are some of my strongest beliefs about childhood:
Children are naturally curious, inquisitive, and eager to learn,
The Early Years have a HUGE impact on children’s personal and academic lives,
Children flourish from spending time outdoors in nature,
The best way that young children learn is through play (a combination of planned and spontaneous).
I am a big fan of the theorist Froebel (1782-1852), who believed that “play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in the child’s soul.” This statement echoes my feelings that play is essential and children MUST be given time to play, but unlike Froebel’s structured play approach, I feel that they should be able to play it in their own way. Here is more information about Froebel and his approach.
*EDIT* Following today’s input, where we continued to look at the early pioneers of education, I discovered that my previous experience and ideas of the Montessori approach are misguided, and that I actually agree with many of her ideas. Previously, I had seen an example of ‘montessori’ as children picking pre-designed and adult created drawers, with resources that were designed to develop a skill (for example opening and closing buckles, poppers, zips, etc). I found this to be very limiting and extremely structured. What I now understand is that the Montessori approach emphasises the importance of a well designed environment and that children should be able to play and explore without too much adult intervention. These are elements that I wholeheartedly agree with.
In my opinion, school does not currently tap into the most effective ways for children to learn and develop. I feel that children are too quickly pushed into the ‘sit down and get on with your work’ model, particularly when they begin school in p1! Of course, some schools/ classes may have different approaches, perhaps allowing a little more time for play, but ultimately they are bound by the overall system (traditional and results driven). I feel that the lower end of primary school should be arranged more like nursery, where children’s interests are sensitively followed and their learning is self-directed through play, while being skillfully scaffolded by qualified adults.
The idea of children beginning ‘formal school’ too soon in the UK is one that has been discussed in the news, and is the focus of the Upstart Scotland Campaign.
So, on the back of all of this, I’ve been thinking about what kind of teacher I want to be. This list is influenced by my experiences in Early Years, my reflections on my first year, and learning from life placements, my personality, and my overall beliefs about what makes an effective educator:
One who gets excited about lessons,
One who attempts to get children actively involved in their learning,
One that does not rely on worksheets and textbooks,
One that tries new things,
One that gets outdoors,
One that embraces technology but isn’t dependent on it,
One that sings!,
One that has a sense of humour and is fun (as much as is appropriate),
One that uses children’s interests and passions in their learning,
One that takes the time to build meaningful relationships with all of my children.
While I know that this list may grow/change during the rest of my course, and as I get into my teaching career, I feel it is a helpful starting point for my professional identity.
I can hardly believe it! 3rd year is almost here, and this is the point where all my hard work starts to count towards my final qualification!
My first 2 years at university have been brilliant so far, and I have learned so much – not only about the course content, but also about myself. I’ve discovered that I really enjoy learning, and (for the most part) I find assignments to be positively challenging.
1.Continue to get involved in extra activities and opportunities (beginning with being a ‘buddy’ for the new MA1’s.)
2.Continue to work hard to achieve the grades that I want.
3.Approach my Science elective with a positive attitude and open mind (despite being a little nervous about it as science is far from my favourite subject!)
4.READ! Read and read and read and read some more. I was beginning to get better at this during MA1 but feel that I can manage my time better to ensure plenty of time for extended reading. I particularly want to read more journals and academic writing.
5.Find a Learning from Life placement which will be challenging with plenty of transferable skills.
1. I feel that I have achieved my first target, as I have attended 2 #Pedagoo events and am looking to work with a few course-mates to perhaps arrange an event of our own at the uni.
There have been some barriers to this goal; Although I signed up to be a buddy, and attended the first meeting session, I have not found any opportunity to work with or support the first year students.
Another barrier is that I moved house, from Dundee to Fife, in November. This move has made it more difficult to attend extra-curricular activities such as the Christmas choir. Now that I am more settled and have worked out travel arrangements, I hope that I will be able to get involved again.
2. I have continued to work hard and have mostly achieved the grades that I aim for. There was only one assignment which resulted in a lower grade than I’d hoped, but after discussing this with the marker, I was satisfied thatI had been ‘on the verge’ of my preferred grade, and I could see how I could improve my work in the future.
3. I am not sure whether I achieved this goal. I attempted to embrace my science elective, but found it very difficult. I felt that the content and delivery was slightly more aimed at those who had more of a science background than myself (I haven’t done science since high school – and that was 14 years ago!) Never the less, I worked hard and was able to pass the assignment.
4. I have definitely begun to read more around all of my subjects, using the ‘big picture’ documents to guide me towards academic journals and other additional reading. Despite this, I feel that I could continue to improve this, and I have begun to read even wider, including literature which is not necessarily on the reading list or directly related to my modules, but which I feel will support me as a teacher.
5. Now this is a goal which I can confidently say I have achieved! I was thrilled to find a learning from life placement which was interesting, challenging, and incredibly rewarding.
Goals for MA3
Become my own kind of teacher. In other words, I want to be the kind of teacher that I want to be! In my first placement I very much imitated my mentor teacher – due to anxiety about the year group, and about teaching in general. Now that I have had more experience, and have built up my professional knowledge in a variety of areas, I feel that I am more able to approach teaching in my own way (See my next post where I consider what this means).
It also helps that my MA3 placement is in the ‘Early Years’ area of primary, which is the age group that I am most comfortable with. In order to achieve this goal, I need to really think about the kind of teacher that I am going to be – but that is a topic for another post!
Be more experimental. I recently read a blog which gave advice to student teachers. One of the pieces of advice was to try things out and be experimental, as now is the time to give things a go! This has struck a chord with me, and also links with my first point. I don’t want to be a ‘worksheet’ teacher. I really want to connect with my class and give them experiences (and learning) that will engage, inspire, and stay with them.
Keep on reading! I have begun to keep a record of literature that I have read/ want to read for my own professional development. This is not necessarily reading which is directly linked to the course, assignments, modules, or lectures, rather it may be books recommended by teachers on twitter, or blogs that I come across during my general browsing.
One of the highlights was having the opportunity to watch and be a part of the Spring Concert on Wednesday evening. It was really great to see the talent and hard work of these young people as the various groups played a range of music – from classical pieces to contemporary pop.
Although I only played a very minor role (re-arranging chairs between sets – and doing it rather badly if I’m honest), I enjoyed being a part of the event.
During the week I have continued to be involved in Kodaly, African drumming, Samba band, Orchestra, Brass band, and Wind band. I have also been thinking about how I could use some of the methods and resources from these sessions in my own teaching. One activity which I particularly liked involved the written notation for rhythms (stick notation).
These notations can look like this (please excuse my poorly imitated versions):
In this activity, children were asked to play the rhythm on the flashcard, being careful not to play the rhythm of “don’t play this one back” (a familiar game). This involved the skills of reading and identifying the rhythms, as well as being able to play them.
After observing this lesson, I began thinking about the connections between music and maths. Musicians use maths all of the time when counting beats in a bar, and working out how long a note lasts for e.g. a minim or crotchet.
One possible activity on this topic could be to use the rhythm patterns (as shown above), and allowing the children to choose which rhythms they would use to fit into a bar. Bars could be varied in length, but would probably start with 4 beats.
For example, the children could create something like this:
This pattern would sound like this (played on my clarinet using just one repeated note):
An extension of this would be to create something more complicated also using semibreves, quavers and rests.
This activity can be seen on the following video (from around 0:04:30):
This activity could be extended as the children add the note heads to their rhythms, creating their own melodies.
Another way which music notation makes meaningful connections with maths is through fractions and times tables, i.e. if there are 4 beats in the bar, how can it be divided? How many lots of “tea” would fit or how many “coffee”s? I think that it’s important to apply maths in as many different ways as possible, so that children can grasp and understand it. Using music can help to add an element of fun to this learning (and maybe avoid the dreaded worksheets!)
I have spoken to a few teachers on my placement about this subject, and have found that some of them (even more experienced teachers) lack confidence and would prefer a specialist to lead this learning. I wondered whether this is a common feeling, and therefore have decided to open these questions up to a larger audience via social media. I created a simple survey with questions are based on those used in the Hallam study. These questions include:
How confident do you feel about teaching music?
How important is music to children’s learning?
Do you consider yourself to be musical? and
Do you think that music should be taught by a specialist?
I have never used this type of software, or conducted a survey in this way, so this will be an interesting learning experience for me. I hope that the responses will give me a greater understanding of how current primary teachers feel about the subject of music.
As I do not have experience with conducting a professional survey, I have ensured that all responses to my survey are completely anonymous and the results will not be posted, rather they will simply be used to inform my own professional understanding.
Hallam, S., Burnard, P., Robertson, A., Saleh, C., Davies, V., Rogers, L., and Kokatsaki, D. (2009) ‘Trainee primary-school teachers’ perceptions of their effectiveness in teaching music’ in Music Education Research, 11(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14613800902924508
I can’t believe that’s my first week of placement over already! What a brilliant week it has been!
Here are some of the experiences that I have been involved in:
During the Kodaly sessions, I saw p1 children learning about the foundation elements of music, including rhythm, pitch, and tempo. This learning happens in a fun, active, and play based way, which reminds me of the circle games that I might use with my pre-school children at nursery. An example of this was when children were learning about tempo: they made 2 trains (standing in a line with their hands on the person-in-front’s shoulders), with one being the fast train, and one being the slow train. As they moved around the room, each train had a chant:
Engine, engine, coloured green,
The fastest train I’ve ever seen!
Engine, engine, coloured black
going slowly down the track!
The children were also required to use the additional skill of walking their feet in time to the beat of their chant. This helped them to recognise that the tempo of their chant related to the speed that they were moving.
I feel that I can definitely bring this style of learning into my own teaching and look forward to using this in my Early Years placement.
These sessions allowed children to learn and practise different rhythms and patterns. They did this through call-and-response, a ‘Simon says’ type game, and drumming along to backing tracks.
I loved how these activities seemed so simple, however involved many different skills; listening, remembering, motor skills, and creating different sounds using the parts of the drum. Children had also learned about the history of these drums, speaking about where they were from and what they would have been used for in the past.
Children learned a few simple chords which allowed them to play along with some songs. They practised the fingering for these chords and looked at how to strum these in time with the song (which is linked to reading music). These lessons were also linked with learning that was taking place outside of music lessons, for example, some children had been learning about fairy tales and folklore, and therefore were learning the songs: 3 Billy Goats Gruff, and The Ugly Duckling.
I was very impressed at how well the children were able to create the chords (placing their fingers in the correct places on the strings and frets) and strum in time to the songs! Many children even managed to read the words and sing along at the same time. This activity is helping them to develop many skills, including those used in sight reading music.
Orchestra and Wind Band
I was a bit nervous about these classes, as I was asked to bring my clarinet along and play with the children. While I CAN play, I’ve never been hugely confident in my ability, so this pushed me out of my comfort zone. That being said, I’m really glad that I did, because having my instrument allowed me to make a connection with some pupils (fellow clarinet players) and I feel that it helped children to respect me as someone who ‘knows what they’re talking about’.
In these lessons, pupils were practising their fingering and formation of notes, as well as timing and being able to listen to those around them. One way which they did this was through a ‘Hocket‘ style activity, where children were split into 5 groups (of mixed instruments) and given one note each. The conductor would then point to the groups, indicating that it was their turn to play. In this way, the children could play some simple tunes (e.g. Mary had a little lamb), and some even had the chance to be the conductor and create their own tunes by pointing to the different groups.
This was such a simple activity, but was great fun. It also allowed the children to practise a note that they may not be confident with, without the added problem of changing between notes. I can see how this activity could be used in a future music lesson, as it could be used with any instruments – from chime bars, to xylophones, to recorders…
Rock Band is a fantastic project that I saw taking place with 2 p6 classes. It involved children learning instruments that may be used a band, such as guitars (electric, acoustic, and bass), drums, keyboards, and their singing voices. They had been learning music from different decades, starting with Elvis’ ‘Hound Dog’, then The Beatles ‘Love me do’, and now moving on to Bob Marley ‘3 Little Birds’.
During a previous week, the classes had been videoed, allowing them to review their work and decide on 2 stars and a wish. The children were told that they would be making more videos so that they could set up their own ‘Rock School’ Youtube channel. This sparked a lot of excitement, and the children could hardly wait to start designing their channel logo.
I was really impressed with how enthusiastic and engaged the children were with this project. I think this this is partly because the children were given a choice in which instruments that they wanted to learn (which had led to some beginning formal music tuition in their chosen instrument). I also feel that these children were enjoying learning songs that they could recognise, rather than classical music, or music simply designed for learning.
I would love to be involved in a project like this in my future teaching career, however I would need the support of another teacher (or teachers) who had some musical ability in the keyboard and the drums as my own musical knowledge doesn’t stretch that far.
On Thursday, I saw 2 classes as they ran through their final rehearsals for their big show on Saturday – The Rite of Spring, which is taking place at the Caird Hall. These dances had themes connected with nature (the sun and global warming, and trees and deforestation). Every child had a part to play, with some taking on solos and more complex routines. Not being a dancer myself, it was great to see the variety of simple movements, and how these came together to create a lovely complete dance. I was also interested to see how the children’s own ideas were incorporated into the dance, giving them some ownership and pride over their work.
The dance teacher had a great rapport with the children, oozing enthusiasm and praise and I feel that this inspired the children to work harder as they wanted to impress him. He was also willing to dance along with the children – filling in for any who were absent, or just demonstrating new movements. This reminded me of the importance of putting my own self-consciousness to one side and being willing to get involved in the learning, as this can support the children.
I was hoping to attend the show this evening, but unfortunately will not be able to make it. However, from what I saw at the rehearsals, I know that it will be a wonderful event!
Oh, and I was also involved in the opening ceremony of the brand new Sidlaw View Primary School! The children put on a fantastic musical performance and it was wonderful to see such a range of talents.
As you can see, this week has been very busy!
I’ve had the chance to see lots of different aspects of the Aspire project, and work with many different children from p1 to p6, in a variety of different schools. This is a completely new way of working for me, and brings some challenges. One of these challenges is that it is difficult to get to know the children very well, especially as a music session may last for as little as 40 minutes, and that may be the only time during the week that I worked with a class. Despite this challenge I was impressed at the way that the Aspire teachers interacted with the pupils and had built positive relationships. This is something that I will continue to work on as my placement continues and hopefully my timetable will not change very much, meaning that I will be working with the same classes from week to week.
This week, I have also had the chance to speak to some of the teachers in the different schools. All teachers that I spoke to seem to have a positive view of the Aspire music project, and of the experiences that are offered to the children. One teacher reinforced the idea that many teachers do not feel confident to teach music (as discussed in my previous post) and stated that she was very pleased that the children had the opportunity to learn with the Aspire team who had the specialist knowledge that she did not.
Next week I hope to take on an even more active role in all of the music sessions. Now that I have an understanding of what goes on in each of the different lessons, I hope that I can help through team-teaching and acting as a support teacher for children who are struggling. I hope to also have the opportunity to lead some sessions, particularly the Kodaly classes.
I will also speak to the Aspire teachers about how they plan their lessons and links to the curriculum. I am interested in how the learning that takes place in these sessions could be linked into cross curricular learning, and how it can support other areas of the Curriculum for Excellence. I would also like to find out how (if?) the Aspire teachers record and assess the learning that takes place in their sessions.
This song pretty much sums up my memory of learning a modern foreign language (MFL) at primary school. We learned it until we were blue in the face, and then sang it in an assembly to the rest of the school. I’m sure we did learn a few other basics (Bonjour, ca va, au revoir) but it is interesting to note that this learning didn’t take place until I was in year 6 (in England – the final year of Primary) and was taught by a specialist teacher.
Of course, it’s been a long time since I was at primary school (oof that makes me feel old) and approaches to education are ever changing. In Scotland, there is now the 1 + 2 approach which aims to ensure that children have the opportunity to learn a modern language from p1 (Education Scotland, Undated). This is slightly different in England, where languages are required to be taught in key stages 2-3 (ages 7-14) (Long and Bolton, 2016). The reason for beginning language studies at these earlier ages may be due to research which suggests that:
…an early start can result in early achievements such as improved communication skills, positive attitudes towards languages and cultures and heightened metalinguistic and metacognitive awareness… (Kirsch, 2012)
Primary teachers are expected to deliver lessons on modern languages, just as they are for all other areas of the curriculum. That being said, during my time on placement as well as the time I spent volunteering in a p2 class, I saw very little teaching in this area. This may be in part, because entry to teacher training degrees does not require a modern language qualification, and many people have not used those skills since they left school themselves. Not that I suggesting that I believe that candidates SHOULD have a higher modern language qualification (as that would mean rejecting many who could go on to be amazing teachers).
But for those of us that are perhaps a bit rusty/ lacking in confidence, we must work extra hard to undertake our own professional learning and development in order to provide the highest quality education to the children.
In order to support us in this professional development, the university is providing some MFL workshops. I am attending the French and Spanish workshops as I have studied French in the past (previously mentioned primary school and then a disastrous attempt at secondary school) and hope that this will give me a starting point to build upon.
Our first workshop session began with this video:
This grabbed my attention and immediately took me back to my time in nursery, where the children loved this song (the English version) and there were times when it was played on repeat. I really like the idea of using this as an attention grabber/ lesson starter as it is fun and a bit silly, and likely to get the children talking. They may also be able to make connections if they have heard the English version.
Throughout the workshop, Carrie demonstrated and had us participate in various active learning strategies. One of these was to watch and then repeat an action and french word (for example, Carrie would wave her hand while saying ‘Bonjour’ and then the class was expected to do the same). I felt that this activity was effective as there was lots of repetition, and the action added meaning to the word. The act of responding as a whole class, or even in table groups removed the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ and encouraged everyone to participate. There were also ways that this activity could be extended such as adding a ‘Simon Says’ competitive element.
At the end of the session, we were asked to devise an activity to reinforce talking and listening skills.
A simple activity which I feel I could use to develop these skills is to bring some simple instructional language into PE.
The teacher would likely begin by being the instructor, but children could also have turns to call out the words; reinforcing speaking skills. To check comprehension, the teacher could have the children shout out the meaning as they do the action. Once the children become confident, the teacher could also swap between giving the instruction in French or in English.
The workshop helped me to recognise that there are some big gaps in my knowledge. In order to continue to develop my own modern language skills I have begun using the website Duolingo. This teaches through various methods such as:
matching the picture and the meaning,
listening to words and phrases in the modern language and translating them into English,
And opportunities to test pronunciation using your computer’s microphone.
I don’t think that I will ever become a fantastically fluent French speaker, however I aim to learn enough to allow me to be confident when providing examples or modelling pronunciation to my class.
Kirch, C. (2012) Teaching Foreign Languages in the Primary School. London: Continuum. p4
I love a good story! Whether it’s in a book, a TV show, a movie or even a friend telling me about their weekend – stories are what keep me interested. How boring life would be if we just told each other the straight facts.
Over the last couple of weeks, our lectures and workshops have involved looking at all kinds of children’s literature, and thinking about how we might use these to support children’s language development (talking and listening, reading and writing.) Continuing with this, I have decided to look at a picture book in more depth and explore some of the ways that I might use it within the classroom.
The book I have chosen is: “I’m the Best” by Lucy Cousins
As you may be able to tell – this book is aimed at younger children (early years or early primary.) It is very eye catching and appealing as it uses bright colours and bold illustrations as well as simple text which describes what is happening in each picture.
Before reading the book, I would spend some time with the children, talking about the front cover – identifying the key features such as the title and the author. I would also ask them if they could guess what the story is going to be about, supporting them in looking for the clues. I may also ask the children to think of things that they are ‘the best’ at.
After that, it’s time to begin reading. This story is about Dog and his friends. Dog is good at identifying the things that he can do well, but he continually boasts that he is ‘the best’!
While reading, I would encourage the children to join in with the repeated phrases (“I won. I’m the best.”) I would also ask the children to look at the expressions on the faces of the characters and think about how they might be feeling. Why do they think that they are feeling that way? Do they think that Dog is being a good friend?
As a reader, I would ensure to use intonation and expression in my voice to exaggerate and emphasise the meaning behind the text.
At the half way point in the book, the story changes. The other animals decide to show the dog that he isn’t the best at everything and that they are the best at certain things. Before moving on to this second half of the story I would ask the children to predict what they think might happen next. Doing this can support children’s logical reasoning skills. It may also help them to think about what they may do in that situation.
As we continue, I would again ask the children to think about how the characters are feeling. What has changed from before?
Don’t worry – the book has a happy ending! Dog is feeling sad that he isn’t the best at all of the things that he thought he was, but his friends reassure him that he is the best at being their friend and they point out the things that make Dog special.
Feelings and the language of emotions can be difficult for children to master, which is one of the reasons why I really like this book. It is obvious how the character is feeling (through the illustration) and at the turning point in the middle of the book, the characters express that they are feeling sad. The conversations between the children and the teacher, as they read this story could also help to develop the children’s vocabulary and language skills in this area. Learning the language of feelings can help children to manage their emotions, or approach someone if they are needing support. These are critical life skills.
I feel that this book would also be a great starting point for discussion about how everyone is different and special in their own ways. This could link into activities to do with the Growth Mindset (Dweck 2012.) The children could be asked to identify something that they believe they are good at, and something that they would like to improve.
Another direction would be to use this book to support learning about social skills and how to be a good friend to others. A lovely activity (which I have seen on Pinterest) could be to encourage the children to write down/ say something about another person that they do well.
Following story time, I would provide opportunities for the children to explore and extend the story by themselves. I would create a ‘story table’ with puppets or props from the story so that the children can role play or play out the story in a small world setting. I would also display some of the pictures from the book in the art/ creative area so that the children may be inspired to create their own illustrations. A ‘word wall’ could also be created to display the new vocalbulary that children have learned. These new words may not necessarily come straight out of the book (as it uses fairly simple language) but also from the discussions that have arisen.
I would ensure that the story book was readily available for the children in the reading area and I would also re-visit the story multiple times, so that the children become familiar with it and can begin to think of new questions or comments.
One of the key points that I’ve picked up from our Language lectures is that it is absolutely VITAL to instil a love of reading into our children and to continue to nurture this as the children grow and develop. I am a keen reader at home and I have always loved story times in nurseries. I hope to bring this love into my teaching with primary school children.
It is at story time that the teacher’s enthusiasm for books is transmitted regularly to children. – Ann Browne (1996)
During my teaching placement I was able to see how much the children enjoyed and responded to the class novel, however this was just ‘fitted in’ when there was a free 10 minutes. As a teacher, I hope to be able to devote appropriate time and space to stories – showing my children how much I value reading and a good book.
After a seemingly endless summer, it’s almost time for me to get stuck into second year!
With that in mind, I thought that this is a good time for me to reflect on the last year, and think about what I want to achieve and get from MA2.
Thinking back (MA1)
My first year at university was an absolutely fantastic experience. I met lots of new people and started to find my feet in the new academic setting. I worked hard to complete essays and assignments, read about all sorts of theories and strategies, attended lectures and shared via social media. Despite all of that, I think that the most challenging and rewarding experience of the whole year was my first teaching placement.
It’s impossible to know what to expect when you go into a school as a student teacher. What will the school be like? What kind of resources will they have? Will my teacher be supportive? Will I get on with the class? Am I ready for this?? I was additionally nervous because I was going into a P5 class – a big step from my comfort zone in the Early Years. Luckily, during my observation weeks I quickly found that my class teacher was incredibly patient and supportive, and the class (though a bit hyper and excitable) were a fantastic bunch of children.
So… What went well?
Aspects of this first placement that I felt were successful include:
Building relationships with the pupils:
My placement school placed high importance on supporting the whole child while considering their individual situations and needs. During placement, I really enjoyed spending time with each child finding out about what they enjoy and their current abilities. I attempted to use the little details that I found out in conversations and lessons; ensuring that the children knew that I had listened to them (for example, asking a child how they got on at their first Karate lesson the night before).
As I got to know the children, I also began to think about ways in which I could support them during teaching and learning. As well as more formal differentiation and support strategies, I also thought about the children who were perhaps a little shy to contribute their ideas, and so planned more opportunities for partner talk or thinking time to support them.
Working with others:
During my placement, I had the opportunity to work with many talented and passionate individuals. I worked closely with my class teacher, discussing all aspects of my practice as well as the children’s needs and development. I also worked with other teachers in the school and witnessed how the team works together to support each other. An example of this were the staff in the nurture room, who worked closely with some children in the school. I observed my class teacher speaking and sharing with these staff regularly in order to support the pupils in the best way possible. I witnessed staff sharing teaching ideas and providing guidance to each other, and I became part of this – sharing the resources which I had put together for a lesson with another class.
I was inspired by the commitment of all staff within the school. Almost every teacher was involved in some sort of extra curricular club – either at lunch time or after school. I tried to become a part of this by helping at art club on a Wednesday at lunch time, attempting to plan a few simple activities. If the placement had been longer then I would have liked to become more involved in this, planning more interesting and exciting activities which could be completed over a few weeks.
Planning engaging and interesting lessons:
This was perhaps my favourite part of the whole experience. I thoroughly enjoyed planning for lessons which would grab the children’s interests and engage them with various learning activities. I worked hard to prepare resources and experiences which involved practical, active learning, discussion, investigation and times for group/pair/individual work.
My favourite lesson was entitled ‘Character Detectives’ and was developed from an idea which I’d come across online. This lesson involved the children working in their tables groups to decipher clues to provide them with information about a character. Each table had a box with items inside such as fake text messages, family photographs, plane tickets, junk food wrappers… Once the children had looked at all of their clues and discussed together the meaning behind each one, they were then required to write a paragraph about that character. I felt that this lesson was very successful as the children were engaged and had lots of imaginative and creative ideas. I had made sure to place the focus of the lesson onto the discussion parts, as I have read that the best creative writing happens when children have had the time to talk through their ideas.
Delivering this lesson has given me some insight into the type of classroom that I hope to have in the future. I want to encourage the type of environment where children can share and explore ideas together, being creative and supportive of each other.
Areas for development
There were many challenges for me during this first placement. I felt that there was a lot to learn and at times it felt a little overwhelming. I quickly learned to start using my time wisely and making the most of any free moment at school.
Timing and Pacing:
I knew that this would be a challenge when I began this placement, as I am used to working in
nursery settings where children have the whole day to work on activities and skills. In a primary school however, this is not the case – and lessons occur in very short blocks! I found that I regularly had to change my plans, particularly my plenaries due to a lack of time at the end of the lesson. This also affected my pacing in terms of the ‘teaching’ sections of my lessons, and I found that an over-awareness of time caused me to rush.
I tried a few different methods to address this issue such as writing key times onto my plan and online timers, however this continues to be an area that I will work in in future placements. I hope that through experience, I will be able to better judge how long each part of the lesson will take.
Classroom and behaviour management:
Every class in every school has different behaviour challenges to deal with and my placement class was no different. There were a few challenging characters, but mostly the class were just a little excitable and hyper.
I worked hard throughout my time in the class to develop my ability to manage behaviour, using the strategies in place at the school. Some of the methods which I found effective were non-verbal gestures and cues, warnings and positive praise. My class teacher advised me to develop my use of tone of voice to make it very clear when I am being serious/ stern.
Throughout my placement, I was supported, advised and encouraged by my class teacher and my university tutor. I feel that I learned so much which I can take away and use to positively influence my next teaching placement.
Looking forward (MA2)
I have set the following goals for MA2:
Continue to get involved in extra activities and opportunities (beginning with being a ‘buddy’ for the new MA1’s.)
Continue to work hard to achieve the grades that I want.
Approach my Science elective with a positive attitude and open mind (despite being a little nervous about it as science is far from my favourite subject!)
READ! Read and read and read and read some more. I was beginning to get better at this during MA1 but feel that I can manage my time better to ensure plenty of time for extended reading. I particularly want to read more journals and academic writing.
Find a Learning from Life placement which will be challenging with plenty of transferable skills.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be asked to host #ScotEdChat. This is an hour long Twitter discussion, where teachers and other professionals can share their thoughts and ideas on a given topic. Our topic was the use of blogging and social media in a professional context.
(Click the image to read the ‘Storify’ log of the evening’s tweets).
#ScotEdChat was a brilliant experience with a lively chat. Many people participated by Tweeting about their own experiences with social media and blogs, both personally and professionally.
Following the chat, I’ve been thinking about the value of social media and online digital spaces for the purpose of shared professional practice. The Standards for Registration (GTCS) note the importance of sharing and collaboration. This can be seen in Professional Values and Personal Commitment:
Engaging with all aspects of professional practice and working collegiately with all members of our educational communities with enthusiasm, adaptability and constructive criticality.
Committing to lifelong enquiry, learning, professional development and leadership as core aspects of professionalism and collaborative practice.
and also in 3.4.2. Professional Reflection and Communication:
Adopt an enquiring approach to their professional practice and engage in professional enquiry and professional dialogue.
As a student teacher, I feel that any support, advice, guidance and ideas which I can gather from experienced professionals is invaluable. Of course, these can come from my lecturers and teachers in my placement schools; but why not extend my knowledge even further by discussing pedagogy with teachers and experts around the country or even around the world? That’s where Social Media comes in.
There are numerous different forms of Social Media which a teacher may wish to become involved in:
Facebook is a site where users create a profile and can share statuses, photos, videos, links etc with other users.
Pros: As you probably know, Facebook is hugely popular and widely used. In 2013, 28.9 million UK users accessed the social network (statistica.com) and this number is projected to continue to grow. Facebook includes groups which can be public or private. Some teachers choose to share ideas for activities as well as teaching advice through these groups. Here is a list of some teaching Facebook groups.
Cons: While many people like to use Facebook for personal use. There are concerns about privacy on the site and it is vital that teachers take precautions to protect themselves online.
Yammer is accessible to anyone with a glow login. This means that it can be used by teachers, professionals and pupils alike. It is a space where individuals can share posts and links; enabling collaboration as well as discussion.
Pros: ‘Public’ posts are still only viewable by other glow users. This may be appealing to those who are not comfortable sharing with everyone on sites such as Twitter. Yammer also includes groups and hashtags so that posts can be directed to specific audiences. One major advantage of Yammer is that it can be a place for pupils to connect and share.
Cons: Although it is growing, Yammer is still relatively small. This means that there is currently less sharing than on larger sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter is a place where you can follow other professionals, creating a ‘feed’ of their posts. You can also share short, 140 character, updates including text, links or media.
This is my personal favourite social media site to use on a professional basis. As an Early Years Practitioner, I have engaged with thousands of like minded individuals and have found twitter to be an invaluable resource. As a student teacher, I am continually discovering useful articles which others have shared.
Pros: Twitter is a popular website for teaching professionals to connect and share. Hashtags are used to collect ‘tweets’ together (for example: all tweets with the hashtag #uodedu appear in one search/ list) and this is the way in which twitter chats are organised. With millions of users, Twitter allows individuals to easily connect with practitioners all around the globe.
Cons: Twitter can be a little hard to get into – with chats being fast paced, as well as many people using short-hand (due to the 140 character limit) and specific lingo. It can appear daunting for new users.
One of the wonderful things about social media is the accessibility. Around 76% of adults in the UK own a smartphone (deloitte.co.uk, 2015) which means that they can access the internet (and social media sites) almost 24/7. Whereas in the past, a teacher may have had to wait until the next day to ask the advice of a colleague, they can now post a question onto Twitter/ Yammer/ Facebook etc and often receive an answer very quickly.
Another positive aspect of professional sharing and connecting in this way is the support which teachers can offer each other. It is no secret that teaching is a difficult profession, but having a large support network of like-minded individuals can help to reassure and encourage.
Professionals in the education sector are required to undertake continual professional learning such as attending training courses or professional reading. I have also seen professionals in the Early Years sector using Twitter chats as CPD – keeping records of the conversations using Storify and then recording their own reflections. I feel that this could be a valuable additional resource for teachers.
Finally, becoming involved in social media can allow teachers to keep up to date with current issues, legislation and changes to the curriculum. As students; even if we do not yet feel in a position to comment on these issues/ changes; it is essential that we remain informed while beginning to develop our own professional opinions.
It must be noted that not everyone is convinced about using social media as a tool for professional development. Pregio (2011) writes that “perception and usage of social media varies wildly, and due to the inherently fluid and malleable nature of the platforms themselves we are still in the process of assessing all their possibilities.”
During #scotedchat, it was mentioned that some people do not feel comfortable putting their own opinions and perspectives out there. HERE is a wonderful blog post from Susan Ward, who discusses the fear and unpleasantness associated with negative comments, feedback and even bullying over the internet. This anxiety is an idea that many of my fellow students have explored when discussing feedback on our ePortfolios. I can fully sympathise with this as I often worry about what others think of me, and whether I am ‘good enough’. However, I feel that in order to develop and grow as professionals, it is important that engage with important issues. During another chat, last night, this issue was again raised and the common consensus was that very often there is no RIGHT answer or 100% correct way of doing things.
As teachers, it is our responsibility to prepare pupils for life and the wider world of work. In today’s society, this increasingly involves the use of digital technologies as well as social media. I believe that, In order for us as teachers to be able to engage and support students, it is essential that we have an understanding of the tools ourselves. While I am confident with some aspects of these, I know that there is much more that I can learn. In my next post, I will explore some of the uses of digital and online resources in primary schools. I look forward to discovering more of the Office tools through Glow, while reflecting upon how I may use these resources to further teaching and learning in the classroom.
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to teaching! Throughout planning, implementation and reflection, it is essential for a primary teacher to recognize that every pupil is an individual. This means that there are numerous learning approaches and preferences throughout any class.
In 1987, Niel Flemming devised categories of learning in order to encourage teachers and students to think about different learning styles. This is known as the VARK model.
VARK stands for:
Visual: learners who have a preference for images or visual representations of information,
Auditory: learners who prefer to listen to information (for example in lectures) or perhaps use music to aid learning,
Read/Write: learners get the most out of reading texts and writing information
Kinesthetic: learners prefer practical, hands on experiences.
If you would like to find out your learning style; there are many online tests available. I used THIS test which revealed that I have a multimodal learning style with a preference for the read/write and visual approaches.
While I agree with this result to some extent, I feel that my preferences depend on the type of learning that I am involved in. For example; if I am trying to learn facts and figures for a test, then I prefer to read and write, however if I am learning how to bake a cake or sculpt a model, I would choose visual and kinesthetic methods.
There has been much debate around the validity of learning styles. One of the main criticisms is that there is no empirical evidence that the use of learning styles improves student performance within education. In fact, it has even been suggested that focus on learning styles may have a detrimental impact (Venable, 2011.) Lafferty and Burley (2009) argue strongly against the use of learning styles, stating that “Learning styles are subject dependent, they are teacher dependent, they are temperature dependent, they are emotion dependent etc. In fact they are dependent on so many things, that they are on a continuum and therefore not measurable, and do not exist.” This supports my own feelings about my learning and therefore, as a teacher, I would avoid grouping pupils due to their perceived VARK preference.
On the other hand, I feel that learning styles are a helpful concept to know, as they encourage teachers to reflect upon the ways in which they deliver lessons. This relates back to my “one size fits all” comment; as a teacher who only presents information in a didactic way is not appropriately supporting those pupils who may learn best in a practical way. It may also be beneficial for students to be able to recognize which learning styles work for them. Flemming and Baume (2006) point out that “any inventory that encourages a learner to think about the way that he or she learns is a useful step towards understanding, and hence improving, learning.”
As a primary teacher, I will strive to deliver lessons which provide opportunities for all different styles of learning (albeit not necessarily all at the same time!) I hope to avoid the mindset that these styles are fixed but rather to encourage children to continually explore the different approaches to their learning.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit… not as much as I should!
Following an RME input, we were set the task of writing down our previous knowledge about the main world religions with an aim to identifying any gaps in our understanding.
There are 6 major religions around the world. These are:
Christianity (2.1 billion)
Judaism (14 million)
Islam (1.3 billion)
Hinduism (900 million)
Buddhism (376 million)
Sikhism (23 million)
(numbers taken from google.com, accessed 07/02/16)
My partner on this task and I were both brought up in Christian households, therefore the ‘Christianity’ column was fairly easy to fill. We did recognise, however, that a lot of our knowledge may not have come from school, but rather through Sunday school, Church, or family.
We then began to jot down anything we knew about the other 5 religions, quickly realising that there were plenty of gaps. While we knew of certain names, events or practices, we often struggled to place them under the correct heading. One of the main examples of this is ‘Ramadan’ which we ended up writing in between some of the headings.
As we wrote our notes, we both found that snippets of information that we had learned at school (or elsewhere) came back to us, for example, I can remember being taught the story of Rama and Sita at Divali time.
Here is our first attempt:
As you can see, we had some knowledge of many world religions. However if asked to elaborate on the names or stories; we would struggle!
We then conducted some reading and research into the main figures and ideas of the religions. Particularly the ones that we were less confident about.
I found this to be a really useful exercise as, not only did it highlight the areas which I will need to do some extra work, but it also made me think about some of my preconceptions.
It is essential that teachers has a deep understanding of religion and can address any prejudices or misconceptions. I touched on this in my previous post following the Paris attacks in November of last year (read the post here.)
Following this activity, I will continue to build on my own understanding of the major world religions. I know that my placement class will be focusing on Sikhism at the time that I will be working with them and therefore I plan to concentrate on my understanding of this religion.
Earlier this week, I attended the launch of the Upstart Scotland campaign. This is a campaign aimed at raising the starting age of children into schools to 7 years; following the example of many high achieving countries such as Poland, Estonia and Finland.
Currently, children in Scotland start school at age 4-5. It is suggested that this early starting age could be having negative impacts on our children, not only academically, but also in their overall wellbeing. In answer to this, Upstart Scotland proposes that a kindergarten stage should be introduced, delaying formal education and extending the amount of time that children can spend just being children.
The Upstart launch consisted of talks by 2, fascinating and very knowledgeable women. Sue Palmer is the founder of the movement. She is also a literacy specialist and focuses on early education and play. Dr Suzanne Zeedyk is a developmental psychology specialist from within the University of Dundee.
Both speakers placed great emphasis on the importance of play. Now, I am a big advocate of play of all kinds and I always get excited when people recognise its value and worth. Throughout the evening, it was mentioned that we should not have to JUSTIFY play, as if it were an indulgence. Here here! Following this, a point was made that at first I agreed with, but on further reflection I just can’t get my head around:
Why does it always have to be LEARNING THROUGH play?
(Please don’t quote me on the exact wording, but this was the idea.) The suggestion was that play should just be allowed to be play, without the learning emphasis.
The reason for my initial agreement is that, yes, I do feel that children should be given the time, space and freedom to play without adults intervening or guiding in order to meet outcomes.
However, when I was thinking it over at home, I realised that:
Play IS Learning!
In my opinion, there simply is no such thing as playing without learning. As hard as I tried, I could not think of an example of play where no learning was taking place.
Take splashing in puddles for example, on first glance this might appear to be pure play, without any purpose or learning. Then take a minute to think. The child is learning to control their body so that they can land in the puddle. They are learning that if they jump or stamp then the water will splash. They are perhaps learning to take turns, if someone else is splashing in the same puddle. They are learning that if they splash in a puddle wearing their trainers, then they get wet feet, however if they wear their wellies then they can stay dry… You may not be able to map all of these against the curriculum, but learning is certainly taking place.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m sure that Sue and Suzanne would agree with me, and that the point was aimed at ‘play based learning’, which is a very different thing. Play based learning is usually planned experiences with a planned outcome. It is adult lead and has the clear goal of learning a skill or consolidating knowledge. This is the type of play which appears more often within schools rather than free play which is intrinsically led and spontaneous with no obvious goal.
Personally, I cannot see a problem with the phrase ‘Learning through play’ because that is what children are doing all of the time. In fact, I believe that this is what the Upstart campaign is all about! By raising the starting age of formal school, we are giving children more time to investigate their world, explore and establish relationships, develop innate motivation and wonder. We are giving them more time to learn through play.
For more information about the Upstart Scotland Campaign please visit:
There’s no denying that there have been many changes between the classrooms of the past, and the ones of today. One really important change is the increased recognition of the importance of TALK. The didactic methods of teacher speaking and children listening are being challenged to make room for investigation, enquiry, discussion and descovery.
One of my fellow students recently published a post about classroom set up. Her post highlights the idea that we are now creating environments which aim to enable talk. This is a long way from the individual desks and solitary study of the past. (See the above mentioned post here)
This approach to teaching and learning has many benefits. Discussions, whether they are whole class, small group or within pairs can help to engage students by allowing the to feel involved in their own learning. Classroom talk and discussion can also allow the teacher to notice and address mistakes and misunderstandings.
There are also challenges that may arise while encouraging talk in the classroom. It is possible that a few students dominate the discussion, while others sit back and do not take part. It may also be the case that students do not listen to one another, rather, they are keen to have their say even if it is not relevant to the previous points being made.
If a teacher is to use talk and discussion effectively within their class, it is vital that rules and boundaries are put in place. In order for these rules to work, the children should be involved in creating them. Rules should be discussed and should be expressed in language which the children can understand. In this way, the rules will be more meaningful and children will be more likely to follow them.
Rules should also be displayed around the classroom and the children should be reminded of them regularly.
Below is a lovely video from Education Scotland, where children are thinking together about how to contribute to a discussion.
Some rules that I will encourage in my classroom are:
Wait for your turn – If children struggle with this then I may use a visual clue. An example of this which I have used with pre-school children is a ‘talking stick’. The person holding the stick is the only person that may talk. Once they have finished then the stick is passed to another.
Respect others – this means actively listening to the speaker and not talking while someone else is.
Think – When contributing; children should ask themselves: is it helpful? Is it relevant?
Further rules may be added, according to the needs of the class, however I would try to avoid having any more than 5 rules, as a big list is daunting and not accessible for children.
Following my placement block, I would like to revisit this issue. I will observe any ‘class rules’ that are in place within my class and how the teacher reinforces these. I will also observe how class discussion is used and the amount of group talk, pair talk, whole class talk and individual work that takes place.
Throughout these posts, I noticed many aspects which I felt add clarity and depth, as well as making the posts engaging to the reader. These include:
Speaking about initial feelings/ past experiences to show growth and development,
Showing enthusiasm and passion for a topic,
Providing links to further reading or resources,
Adding references and quotes,
Showing connections to the curriculum,
Making the posts visual and attractive through use of pictures and videos,
Using a combination of terminology and academic language as well as accessible, every day language,
Speaking about how new understanding and knowledge will impact on future practice,
and identifying areas that they must continue to develop
I hope that these are all elements that I include within my own posts. I aim to use my ePortfolio as evidence of my personal and professional growth, as well as for sharing interesting discoveries and my own ‘eureka’ moments.
As with many people, my personal feelings towards maths are mostly negative. I continually struggle to get past the mental block where I shut down, claiming “I can’t do it!”
Throughout school my experiences of maths were not overly negative, but neither were they particularly positive. I remember having to memorise times tables (something that I still struggle with to this day), being put on the spot and feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t grasp concepts right away.
Within my family; inability to do maths has become a bit of a running joke. My Dad tells a very amusing story about sitting (or, more accurately; not sitting) his maths O level. While my parents encouraged me to try hard at maths, and helped me with homework and revision, I feel that their own negative impressions of maths fed into my own.
I left school with a C grade at GCSE, and the resolution to avoid maths as much as possible!
This all changed when I decided that I was going to make the move into primary teaching. No longer could I bury my head in the sand, and I realised that maths was an area that would require particular focus and hard work. Returning to maths at college was something of a revelation to me. Things were beginning to fall into place and the “I can’t do it” voice was fading away. This was largely due to the fact that my maths teacher was brilliant. Not only was she very supportive and encouraging, she also took the time to explain each concept clearly and thoroughly. That is the kind of teacher that I want to be.
I was very proud to be able to achieve an A grade (Band 1) at Int 2 maths last year.
Despite this success; when I think about maths now my initial reaction is still “I can’t do it!”
During this week’s Introductory lecture, we discussed maths anxiety and the very common negative attitudes towards maths. It was pointed out that innumeracy appears to be socially acceptable within the UK. Few people would admit “I just can’t read” in the way that many laugh off their lack of maths ability. This flippant attitude needs to be challenged and changed as maths skills make up a huge part of our lives, from planning our time and schedules, to organising our finances.
Following the lecture, I have begun to read ‘Mathematics Explained for Primary School Teachers’ by Haylock. The first few chapters discuss the negative attitudes towards the subject and the anxieties that student teachers experience as they begin to teach maths to children. It also covers the wider concepts that make up our maths curriculum.
One of the points that stood out to me is that we must allow the children to question, investigate and explore maths. This leads to understanding which is 100 times more valuable than simply learning by rote (following a procedure which may only work on that specific problem.)
The book has also, already challenged some of my pre-conceived ideas. For example, Haylock writes about equivalents and how they apply to times tables. For example; 7 x 8 is equivalent to 7 x 4 (28), doubled. While I knew this to be the case, it was pushed to the back of my brain because I felt that I should just know that 7 x 8 = 56. In maths, there are many different routes to finding the answer. My internal dialogue of ‘should‘ is unhelpful and may be the cause of some of my anxiety.
In order to build my confidence with maths, I must engage with it on a regular basis. I have been using the Online Maths Assessment tool which is provided through the university, however I find the process of receiving a score to be daunting and off-putting, so am also approaching my maths revision in other ways:
I have been reading and reviewing my previous maths notes
I have ordered the workbook that may be used alongside Haylock’s book, which I will work through in order to deepen my understanding and strengthen any areas of weakness.
The impact on teacher anxiety surrounding maths is discussed in this article. It points out that anxieties could mean that teachers spend less time with their pupils working on maths. They may also stick rigidly to rules, and teach by rote, due to lack of deeper understanding. This will almost definitely have a detrimental impact on the pupils’ learning and will likely influence their own opinions of the subject.
I do not think that I will ever be 100% confident in my maths ability; however, if I wish to be a successful teacher, it is vital that I learn to approach the subject with understanding and with a positive frame of mind.
None of us live in a bubble. This means that when I become a teacher, I must be prepared for the fact that my pupils will probably have access to the internet, social media and the news; and therefore will be exposed to the terrible and frightening incidents which take place globally.
This week, I came across AN ARTICLE (from the guardian) which talks about the way that primary teachers have broached the subject of the recent Paris attacks with their children. I was interested to find that both had used different approaches and methods, but the key messages and learning were the same.
The first teacher did not necessarily plan to bring the Paris attacks into her learning for the day; however when a child spoke about it, she recognized the opportunity to address some fears and, even more importantly, some misconceptions:
“I asked the children who they thought Isis were and why they had attacked France,” she says. “Sadly some children said they acted in this way because they were Muslims; that Paris was ‘just the start’ and that Isis was planning to poison our food and water.” (The Guardian, 19th Nov 2015)
It is really disturbing to find that children are struggling with such horrible ideas, and if these are not addressed then negative attitudes towards others may continue to grow into prejudice, discrimination and racism.
The article continues to talk about another teacher who wanted to cover the aspects that he felt to be essential, without being specific to the real-life incident. This teacher spent time with his children; learning about the various different religions and discovering what they are about:
Instead, they talked about the origins of children’s names and how many come from Christianity, Judaism and Islam. They then discussed what these religions all represent: love and peace. “We talked about the value of respecting other people and respecting where they are from. We had a really positive discussion,” he says. (The Guardian, 19th Nov 2015)
I think that both of these teachers show integrity and strength by taking it upon themselves to bring the atrocities of the Paris attacks into their teaching in one way or another when it may have been easier to avoid the topic altogether. I know that I would be very nervous about saying something which could offend or upset. Knowing this has made me realize that it is critical that teachers are well informed and mindful of everything that they are telling the children.
Despite being located in England, the lessons of these teachers clearly uphold the principles of the Curriculum for Excellence. One of the four capacities of the curriculum is for children to become Responsible Citizens; involving an understanding and acceptance of the beliefs and cultures of others. The principles and practice section of the Religious and Moral Education section of the curriculum also states that:
Through developing awareness and appreciation of the value of each individual in a diverse society, religious and moral education engenders responsible attitudes to other people. This awareness and appreciation will assist in counteracting prejudice and intolerance as children and young people consider issues such as sectarianism and discrimination more broadly. (Education Scotland)
Overall, I have learned that if I want to be a good teacher, it is important that I can approach and discuss difficult topics. I must be able to consider the impact of my own and my pupil’s attitudes while being aware of the negative portrayal of others through sources such as the media or even sometimes from family. I will strive to create an open and honest classroom culture where children feel safe and able to ask questions and discuss their anxieties, but will also encourage acceptance and respect; reinforcing that everyone is an individual.
I was shocked to stumble across this article on the TES website. It applies to English Primary Schools but I feel that it is typical of the blame and shame attitude of today’s society.
The article describes how some teachers have been sending home ‘fat letters’ to inform the parents that their child is overweight. However (surprise surprise) this has not been found to be effective and health officials are now calling for it to be stopped.
Now, I’m not arguing that obesity is not an issue within the UK, the statistics clearly show that a large percentage of our children are overweight and this is a real concern for their health. My issue is that, of all the letters that were sent out;
Half (51 per cent) understood its purpose, while 20 per cent had received information as a result of the programme that had been useful in helping their child lose weight. (TES reporter, ‘Fat Letters’, Nov 2015)
This means that half of the families who received this letter did not even know why they were being contacted and even less were prompted to take action from it. In a way, this relates to my earlier post about feedback. It seems to me that these letters are likely to cause feelings of embarrassment, shame and guilt however, the statistics above suggest that they fail to provide the necessary information or guidance to allow the parents and child to tackle the problem.
The article also makes suggestions about more effective ways to approach the obesity issue, including healthy food vouchers and more access to after school clubs.
I feel that although steps have been taken including a focus on ‘Health and Wellbeing’ in Scotland, it is still vital that we as educators place higher importance on teaching children and families about healthy lifestyles and providing opportunities for children to be involved in healthy, active activities. In my opinion, the development out outdoor learning experiences is an extremely valuable tool in fostering a love and enjoyment out exercise. This is embraced within many early years settings however opportunities are less within primary schools. This may be due to time restraints of lack of outdoor environments that are considered suitable.
I hope to be able to encourage and promote this style of learning as I begin my teaching. I have been reading a wonderful book entitled ‘Dirty Teaching’ which is a practical guide to taking your school lessons outside – packed full of really useful advice as well as ways to approach challenges that may arise. I hope that my passion and enthusiasm for outdoor learning will be a positive influence to the children as well as with the teachers and staff that I will be working with.
Using some of my previous reflections and came up with the following words which I feel pertain to what it means to be a professional teacher:
In order to further develop my understanding, I then watched a program about another type of professional, to see if the qualities that I associate with being a teacher also apply. I chose to watch ‘One born every minute’, focusing on the work of the midwives and health professionals.
Throughout this show, the level of professionalism from all staff involved was highly noticeable. I could see how all of the words from my word cloud also applied to the professionals on the show. The program gave some wonderful examples of the health professionals giving informed advice for example regarding epidurals and natural/ pool births. They were also calm and confident despite working in stressful situations, as well as being kind and caring while giving reassurance to the woman and her family.
Professionalism in this situation is absolutely vital, as the clients (the mother and the baby) are extremely vulnerable. They are relying completely on the knowledge and expertise of the health professionals around them to bring the baby into the world safely. This is a very stressful and frightening time where issues and complications can arise, and it is essential that staff are able to make decisions quickly.
A recognisable dress code is in place for health professionals. This is partly for the sake of health and safety, but it also helps the clients to quickly identify the individuals who are helping them (particularly as the mother is unlikely to be spending time reading name badges while she is in the grips of labour!)
Part of the show that struck a chord with me was when one of the midwives mentioned the importance of being able to ‘have a laugh’. There was a lovely moment where we saw the midwives having fun with each other in the staff room; dancing and laughing together. This reminded me that despite our responsibilities, it is impossible to be serious 100% of the time. More importantly; we SHOULDN’T try to be serious 100% of the time! We all have personalities and lives outside of our jobs that are just as valid as our work is. Personally, I would rather have a midwife who has a bit individuality than a perfect ‘robot’, despite the fact that a robot may have all of the information and can do the same job. This is a message that I will take with me while training to be a teacher; allowing myself to have a few quirks as long as they do not impact on my ability to be a professional.
If I were to develop a degree which would train health professionals, I would place high importance on practical learning while observing experienced and highly qualified staff at work. I would also involve a large portion of reading and research, as it is important to understand the theory behind the practice. I think that a large amount of real-life experience adds depth and reality to the situations that the students read about, and means that students are also able to see the personal qualities that are vital to succeeding within this role.
For me, this is also the case for students who are training to become teachers. Reading, research and lectures provide key information, however it is the classroom experience which solidifies the understanding and moulds us into future educators.
Feedback can be one of the most valuable tools throughout education. That is, if it is done properly! As wonderful as it is to be given a good grade for a piece of work; without feedback pointing to what exactly you did well, the grade has no impact on your future work. On the other hand, if you had issues while carrying out a task; appropriate feedback can help you to realise your mistakes and build on your weaknesses so that you are more likely to succeed next time.
While mulling this over in my head, I watched this TED talk about feedback for teachers. Its focus is on America but has key messages which are international:
The key points that I took from this video are:
No-one can become truly skilled at their role without feedback from others
the best performing countries have formal feedback systems
successful systems involve younger teachers getting a chance to watch master teachers at work
Self evaluation is also a useful form of feedback, as seen in the demonstration of a teacher recording herself in classroom and using it to reflect
The idea of some teachers receiving one word feedback (“Satisfactory”) ties in with my earlier thoughts about a grade being meaningless without explanation. In order for us as teachers to develop and improve, we need to be: encouraged, through identification of our strengths and appreciation of our efforts and also challenged, through suggestions of improvements or introduction to new ways of approaching a problem.
I have been involved in giving and receiving feedback in the past, particularly through my job as Deputy Manager in a nursery. I took part in peer observations, which, unfortunately in my experience, did not work very well. This was because staff were unwilling to be objective and constructively critical about their friends and therefore rarely suggested any areas for improvement, making the observations a pointless exercise. Apart from observations, I also held numerous appraisals and reviews where I was responsible for giving feedback about a member of staff’s work. I often adopted the ‘praise sandwich’ technique where I began with encouragement and identification of the individual’s strengths, then discussed some areas for development and how we could work together to support this. Finally, I finished with more praise and encouragement. I found this to be a reasonably successful technique as staff appeared to leave the meetings feeling positive and motivated.
What does feedback look like within the classroom?
Feedback is not only essential for us as adults, but also for children throughout their learning in schools. Children can be given feedback from their teachers, their parents, and from other pupils and peers. HERE is a lovely post about different forms of peer assessment within the primary classroom. I will be interested to see different approaches and methods in action when I go out onto placement and am excited to use some of these within my own teaching.
One feedback system that I have seen in action is “2 stars and a Wish” where students are told 2 things that are good about a piece of work and one area for development. This system was briefly discussed at one of my inputs and I must admit that I am slightly torn about it. Whereas I appreciate that feedback is vital for pupils, and I like the fact that the 2 stars mean that there is more positive than negative comments; I still feel that teachers need to be very careful. Should there always be areas to improve? is it enough to recognise the accomplishment of one of the previous improvements? I think that the teacher must be very aware of the individual pupil’s personality and needs, as it could result in a child feeling that they are never good enough and potentially giving up.
How do I feel about giving and receiving feedback?
Following an input about peer reviews and feedback, we were asked to comment on our fellow students’ eportfolio posts, ensuring to give constructive praise and criticism which was directly linked with the success criteria. I found giving feedback to be quite challenging. I am very aware that in writing, a comment that was intended to be helpful can come across as critical and so I was careful in my phrasing.
I have not yet received any feedback from other students for this task, however I have had comments from others on some of my earlier posts. I am always excited to see comments as it makes me feel that someone has made a connection with me and my topic. They can also help me to improve the content of my posts in future, for example one comment (from Derek on ‘School Uniforms’) noted that I could include sources for additional reading. I had not thought to do this before but now I try to include links where possible so that any readers can find the information and make up their own mind about issues.
I understand that feedback will be a huge part of my journey to becoming a teacher, and it is a skill which I must continue to work on. In the past I have been guilty of taking criticism slightly personally and having an emotional response. This is not helpful and could actually have a detrimental impact on my personal and professional development. Completing this exercise has helped me to recognise this potential barrier and I hope that gaining this awareness will help me in the future.
There is a wonderful quote from Professor John Hattie which states: “The biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching” (cited on Teaching Scotland, 2014). To me, this says that a successful teacher is one who does not stagnate, rather is continuing to grow and develop within their own professional skills. It may be easy to think that once a student has completed their teacher training (whether that be a 4 year degree or an intense PDGE year), then they have learned all that they need to know and must simply go out into the workplace and put their learning into practice. However the reality is quite the opposite, and a teacher must be committed to undertaking continual, career long learning.
This career long learning, ties in with the concept of being an enquiring practitioner. An enquiring practitioner is one who is engaged in the process of continual reading, research and professional learning which has a profound impact on their work. It involves reflection and evaluation of ideas, concepts and theories and consideration of what has worked or not worked when put into practice. There is a challenge to all teachers to be autonomous and rather than accepting all information and advice given to you from ‘the powers that be’, take it upon yourself to find out WHY you are working a certain way.
The below diagram illustrates the many different aspects of being an enquiring practitioner:
This diagram reminded me once again of the many roles and responsibilities of a teacher and made me consider the importance of selecting the right individuals for the job. There is no room for a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude when it comes to the future of our children!
Enquiry can take place either personally; when a teacher reflects upon their own practice, or collaboratively; where a group work together to investigate a question or problem, bringing their findings and ideas together to create a pool of shared knowledge and a deeper understanding for all involved.
There is a clear connection between practitioner enquiry and CLPL (career long professional learning) as it states on the Education Scotland website: “Career-long professional learning is based on the concept of teachers as enquiring practitioners who engage in deep, rigorous, high impact professional learning…Teachers recognise the need for professional learning to impact on professional practice, the quality of learning and teaching and school improvement” (Education Scotland, Undated). This reinforces the idea that a teacher needs to remain up to date and relevant through continual training and learning.
There are numerous benefits of working as an enquiring practitioner, the most important being that having a wealth of knowledge and shared experience will allow the teacher to provide the highest quality experience and learning for their pupils. Collaborative research and investigation can also help to open new doors for teachers, into areas that they may not have explored before. This can help to maintain enthusiasm and motivation, without becoming ‘stuck in a rut’ of the same routines and practices day-in and day-out.
Despite the many positive aspects, enquiry based working is not without its challenges. One of
these challenges could be that a teacher is not confident in trying new ideas or sharing their findings with their colleagues for fear of being questioned or challenged. This means that their teaching practice may not progress and develop. Another challenge is that “enquiry tends to be ‘situationally unqiue'” (Stoll, 2003 Cited on gtcs.org.uk, Undated). This means that the findings may only apply to one individual situation and it may be difficult to generalise. On the other hand; the skills that are involved in enquiry are general and can begin to develop the teacher into a confident and autonomous individual.
As a student teacher, I feel that my understanding of what it is to be an enquiring practitioner will be a great advantage to me as I can begin to foster the skills and attitudes at this early stage. I have previously been involved in continual learning through my work within nurseries (as CLPL is a requirement of registration with the SSSC). Sadly however, I did not find this a very positive experience because often I was sent on training courses that were not particularly relevant to me. I also found that often the other course attendees were there simply because practitioners were required to be present for a certain number of hours per year, rather than because they are motivated and passionate about their own development. I was always disappointed in the limited amount of training possibilities and was not encouraged to take part in my own, individual learning.
I personally find continual learning and enquiry to be both exciting and challenging. I look forward to working alongside other, like-minded individuals in an environment of mutual passion and interest in the subject at hand. I feel that an attitude of enquiry will spur me to be open to new approaches and ideas while preventing me from ever becoming too ‘comfortable’.