Monthly Archives: August 2012

Reading Display – Book Talk

Early last academic year I read ‘Tell Me’ by Aidan Chambers. My short summary of the book would perhaps do it a disservice, but the basic premise is to do with the skill of questioning that “anticipates conversational dialogue” as opposed to the often threatening ‘why’. Chambers proposes the ‘tell me’ prefix along with a few specific questions to stimulate book talk. I’ve used Chambers’ book a the inspiration for my classroom reading area and display.

I have printed some of Chambers’ questions and intend to encourage children to use them when responding to what they’ve read, particularly in their reading records, which they are expected to complete daily. The question prompts will also be used to get children to contribute to another part of the display, the twitter feed about the class text that we’ll be reading.


I’ll use the twitter feed to record children’s thoughts on key events as the novel unfolds.

Chambers’ book talk principle have led to great improvements in reading comprehension in my class. KS2 SATs are not the best measure of impact but 53% level 5 readers in a deprived area is down in part to the approaches outlined in Chambers’ book.

Hopefully we can continue to develop the teaching of reading comprehension, with this book area / display playing an important part.


Filed under Display, Reading

I don’t know what to write!

You’ve set your class off writing. Most are happily writing away. Some are still using whatever there is in your classroom to borrow or develop an idea. But what about the child who still doesn’t know what to write? Clearly there could be many reasons for this but we’ll stick to something we can control – the child doesn’t know what to write so perhaps that bit where you teach them how to write wasn’t done as well as it could have been.

I’m very wary of those ‘off the peg’ fads that some schools buy into and get all their teachers to do because the course was great or the resources looked nice. What has worked well for me over the last year is to make sure that we have a writers’ toolkit for the type of writing being studied. Shirley Clarke, author of Effective Learning Through Formative Assessment and an authority on this kind of thing would call the writers’ toolkit ‘success criteria’. Here’s how it has worked for me:

  • Reading. The requirement that children read before writing does not need elaboration. Importantly, I select extracts of the same genre, some well written, others not, that all do the same job, just differently.
  • Analysing. The key prompt is ‘What did the writer do there?’ In the following extract the writer ‘says what the animal eats’: Lions are carnivorous mammals that feed on impala.
  • Creating the writers’ toolkit. As children say ‘what the writer did’, they’re written on flipchart paper ready for later. The key throughout this is to help children to see that the writers’ toolkit is not a ticklist. none of the extracts that they are given will have every point. They choose. The heading of this particular writers’ toolkit would be: To inform the reader about an animal, you could…
  • Gathering ideas. Having examined a selection of extracts, it would be missing a trick to ignore the great ideas that would be in them. Whatever your system, be it a ‘Save it’ box on a flipchart; word walls; or self help logs, this is the point at which to collect examples. Record them somewhere so children caccess them easily.
  • Modeling writing behaviour. Everything so far has been laying foundations. Here, you show them what to do. When you model writing, make it explicit that you are looking at the writers’ toolkit so that you know what you COULD write. Make it clear that you are looking at the ideas from when you read the extracts. If you do it, they’ll do it.

It takes time to get most children to the stage where they know what to write. It’s time worth investing though as the resultant writing from the children will be of a greater quality.


Filed under Writing

CPD – An alternative to lectures

Many schools reconvene at the beginning of the autumn term with at least one INSET day. The focus of these days will be to address something on the school improvement plan, led by SLT or if you’re really lucky, an external provider. These quite often take the form of lectures. Maybe a couple of workshops. Then it’s off to your own classroom to tackle the extra 101 tasks that have come up; notes from the day carefully filed and never again to see the light of day.

Surely the goal of these INSET days, and of course weekly staff training meetings, must be to improve the effectiveness of teaching.  The common model of lecturing with little or no follow up work will not lead to sustained better teaching. It is for this reason that I will be changing the INSET sessions for which I am responsible this year.  I have been lucky enough to take part in a research project run by the National Literacy Trust and the model for teacher development, initially from Dylan William, was as follows:

  • Brief instruction from an expert
  • Chance for teachers to try out strategies and develop with a colleague
  • Further meeting to discuss what happened and impact on teaching
  • Refinement of strategies

This term, I’ll be giving this a go for some INSET on maths and English. First up: the teaching of place value.

I intend to give some brief instruction on how to do the above aspects of teaching place value. It will be short! Teachers will then be expected to try out and modify the ideas in their classrooms, working with year group partners, ready to discuss impact on groups of children two weeks later.

In this staff meeting, teachers will discuss their own findings, with the end goal of refining ideas and strategies for teaching place value.  These refined ideas will be taught as revision sessions and as mental maths parts of lessons soon after the discussion.

I’m hoping that this model of CPD will prove a better way of making teaching more effective. I’ll blog about what happens after each INSET…

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Filed under CPD, Maths

Place Value – The Foundations of Mathematical Understanding

As the summer holidays draw to a close, primary teachers across the UK will turn their thoughts towards planning the first unit of work for their new class.  For many teachers, this will be a unit of work on place value – but how effectively will it be taught?  Ofsted’s recent report (Mathematics – Made to Measure – states that children who are working below age related expectations at the end of Key Stage 1 often have misconceptions around place value, which can linger throughout their time in Key Stage 2.

Too often, the first piece of work in children’s maths books is a list of partitioned numbers.  Repetitive.  Shallow.  All correct. Effective teaching requires skilled task design that reveals information about the child’s understanding.  Of course, children need to be explicitly taught how to partition numbers.  They need to practise it.  They need to be taught to read and write numbers.  They need to practise that too.  Some children will need to spend more time practising than others.  It is at this point that some teachers move on to the next unit citing one of two reasons:

  • The children understand place value.  Time to move on.
  • I have so much to cover that if I don’t move on now I’ll never get to probability!

But this is the crucial point of a unit work.  What’s the point of place value?  To calculate?  To order and round numbers? Or simply to appreciate the patterns and intrigue that numbers possess?   The teacher must delve deeper into children’s understanding by creating tasks that require, reasoning, explanation and the forging of links between different areas of mathematics. The repetitive, partitioning stuff can be done quickly, on whiteboards for many children.  They will get it.  Teaching children to reason along with tasks that require explanation sheds further light upon misconceptions as opposed to shallow tasks where misconceptions can lurk unspotted, ready to undermine most future maths learning.

So let’s have explanations; photos of children playing mathematical games; evidence of application of place value in calculating; and open ended problem solving instead of example after example of partitioned numbers on those first few pristine pages of maths books.

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Filed under Maths