Growth Mindset – Practise What You Preach

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After spending the best part of two years really ensuring my classroom is a positive, ‘can-do’ environment with the influx of ‘Growth Mindset’ blogs all over the place, it’s clear that the power of language is intrinsically vital to any successful classroom.

I’ve spent the past two weeks speaking to parents about how we need to be building upon their children’s self-confidence and esteem in order to achieve more throughout the year. They seem to really understand this and take the whole concept (which isn’t new!) on board. So many parents were saying comments like ‘I was never very good at maths at school and that’s probably why my child is finding it more difficult’ or ‘they seem to listen to you and not to us when we’re going over homework’. Sound familiar? Straight away, the seed is planted in the children’s mind and the barriers to learning come down. We know that everyone has to remain as positive as is possible and be resilient when learning new things; making mistakes in order to learn.

However, after long hard days at work, paperwork galore, meetings upon meetings stacking up the diary & the usual pressures of work, do we ever stop and think of having a growth mind set ourselves? When I get home from work, I check Twitter for all the latest blogs, pedagogical ideas and general tweets that like-minded individuals have shared. Too often, there is a negative vibe because people are not happy with current affairs of education and with the day to day stresses of life. Do we ever think about transferring our perfected positive language from the classroom and practise what we preach in own lives? We came into the job as educators to inspire, nurture & ensure children are the best they can be, but do we ever think about having a healthy mind set to be the best we can be?

Recently, I had a fantastic email from our deputy head which made me feel great! 30 minutes later in a parent meeting, I doubted everything I was doing and this set the tone for the next couple of days. Ranting & raving to family members and friends, why was I ever doubting what I’d spent my whole life working towards? As teachers, I think it’s safe to say that we tend to focus on one negative comment instead of the 100 positive ones we’ve had. It’s natural to feel guarded & defensive yet we forget the bigger picture.

Now, I’m not being naïve. I know there are many reasons why this does not always happen and it’s easy to say we’ll try harder but I guess for the rest of the year, I want to be mindful of my own mindset and I’d love to log on to Twitter and see people being more positive themselves. Let’s, all of us, practise what we preach!

Comfort Zone

Do we dare to live outside our comfort zone enough?

As I have been sitting here through the holidays, beginning to do some work so that I’m not far behind when the first few weeks of school life overwhelms, I realised that in one way I was keeping myself within a healthy comfort zone because I was being organised (something that I love to be) yet I was also pushing myself out of my comfort zone because the work I was doing didn’t come naturally to me. This got me thinking.

Over the last couple of years, education has really emphasised the need to ‘challenge’ all of its pupils. This isn’t new. Surely that’s what every teacher tries to do for every pupil so that they are constantly pushing the boundaries of learning new skills, techniques and knowledge? However, should we consider the fact that challenging pupils may not actually be pushing them out of their comfort zones? For me, children need some kind of teaching of independent skills in order to become independent learners. In order for this to happen, children need safe and secure learning environments.

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I saw a quote that reads ‘great things never came from comfort zones’. A very powerful notion that I haven’t stopped thinking about recently. If every time we plan with this in mind, surely this will ensure that learners are being pushed, are being trusted to find things out for themselves and therefore promoting independence and ownership. If children are regularly kept within their comfort zones, a place where they feel happy and safe to poodle along, are they really learning?

I’ll never forget a lesson observation a couple of years ago where I had all the hallmarks a decent lesson should (come on, I’m sure you all know the imaginary tick list we’ve all been drilled to think about) when in feedback, the lead observer said ‘one pupil was really stuck. He sat there thinking for a long time’. My heart sank. I thought that this was going to be a negative because I had let him go for far too long. I was wrong. The observer went on to say that ‘this showed that he was out of his comfort zone and was trying different things to get to the right answer – this challenge is what all pupils need’. I have never forgot it. I know that it is scary letting children sit there thinking, without support, ‘I’m finding this a little too challenging’ but I firmly believe we should try it more often, if not every day. OK, so we don’t want learners to be so far out of their comfort zones that they never learn anything but it emphasises the growth mind set ethos, the positive can-do attitude and the need for developing independent, problem solving skills.

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Why have you got a picture of the winter sport curling I hear you ask? This is what I imagine a comfort zone to look like. We push ourselves towards the inner ring which represents the place we find most uncomforting. If we manage to get inside this zone, this is where most learning occurs. If we find ourselves on the outer rings or even worse (god forbid) not in the rings at all, then learning has become lost, stagnant and is limiting.

From now on, I will pledge not just to challenge pupils but to push them firmly out of their comfort zones. This in itself will push me out of my comfort zone and take risks.

I hope this will resonate with many of you and that we can all foster a love of giving not just our pupils but ourselves, a chance to live outside of our comfort zone. Take a risk – try it. I dare you.

Consistency

Consistency
I don’t know about you but this academic year has brought more changes and things to try than any other before it. It’s only now, during the early days of the summer break (happy holidays by the way) that we really have time to reflect upon the year in its entirety. I tend to get bored so easily so I think about school probably even more than usual!
With a new curriculum and life after levels, this year has been an incredibly challenging one yet I’m sure most of us have tried to embrace it and see the positives (if there are any!) What I’ve noticed, especially being a twitter lover, is that there are so many new ideas to try in the classroom. I always love trying new things in order to vary the learning of my pupils and also to keep me on my toes. However, I couldn’t help but realise that because there are always so many new things to try (most of them great) that there is never enough time to embed them properly and get rid of what doesn’t work.
Has anyone also noticed that there are so many acronyms these days that it’s hard to remember what stands for what? I’ve just completed my 5th year of teaching, have been given increasing amounts of responsibility, CPD and confidence that I really shouldn’t complain. Though it has got me thinking if whether my ‘try as many things as possible’ has had a greater impact or whether it just makes me feel good because I know I’m trying hard to give my pupils every opportunity to succeed.
One of my aims for the next academic year, despite beginning to develop the immersive, problem based learning approach to learning (which means the way I teach may have to change to some degree) is that I want to limit the amount of ideas I try and use them more consistently in order to get the best out of the children to ensure they are fully engaged yet sufficiently challenged at the same time. It’s always refreshing to bounce new ideas off with my colleagues and show them new things to try from Twitter but I want to be more selective about what I think could work well.
What new initiatives or ideas for pedagogy have you tried or rehashed this year? Which ones have stuck and which have you found to be more sparkle than shine? I’d love to hear from you.

Amazing costumes!

Wow! The costumes today for St Hilary’s late World Book Day were fantastic! I was so impressed with the effort everyone put in. Thank you for your continued support in this area. My Peter Pan outfit (or shall I say Robin Hood because the costume was far too short and I decided that green tights may be a little dodgy in a primary school!) was supposed to match the style of writing for our Big Write! The children did a great job of writing a diary entrant based on a day as Peter Pan.

In English we’ve started to learn all about performance poetry which has been a good laugh because we’ve started off by learning a dinosaur rap off by heart which we will be performing for Mrs Sandow & Mrs Gardner’s classes before the end of term. We’ve learnt to try and keep a rhythm whilst performing in groups and as a whole class as well as how to use expression, facial & body movements to better performances. We will continue to read and write performance poetry next week.

During Maths, we’ve been using our knowledge of x tables. This showed just how much (or little) the children could recall them and is something we’re definitely going to have to focus on throughout the rest of Year 4. We’ve learnt how to multiply 3 numbers by each other e.g. 4 x 5 x 6. We’ve also began to understand what factor pairs are. These are 2 numbers that multiply together to create a number e.g. the factor pairs of 12 are: 1 x 12, 2 x 6, 3 x 4. We shall investigate with these further next term. Next week, we will be learning all about co-ordinates, plotting missing points of polygons and learning how to translate from one place to another. All good fun!

The children have extended their knowledge of how to program a game using Scratch. Their games are beginning to take shape so we’ll be able to finish them off soon. It was interesting to see different children helping others when they stuck – it’s what learning is all about! They could definitely teach us all a thing or two!

What’s a synagogue? It’s the Jewish holy place of worship. We have learnt lots of new words and phrases to identify the features of the interior of these beautiful buildings. Why not ask your children if they can remember any of the features such as where the holy book (Torah) are kept safe, what words do they have on front of it? What is the symbol of Judaism? R.E is important to learn at this age because they can then understand how to live in a diverse world and begin to recognise the different faiths that people in our society have.

There is no star P.E player this week as we didn’t do any lessons in this area but rest assured, we will be doing indoor & outdoor P.E next week. Monday morning we will be doing some gymnastics in the hall to see if they can remember the routine we learnt at the Penzance Gymnastics Club. Demelza Beard and Keiran McCabe have been chosen to represent Year 4 in the Penwith Gymnastics competition on Friday – how exciting! We wish them all the luck in the world.

Well done to Luke Rawlins & Luca Partridge who have worked really hard in lessons this week J

We really hope you enjoy your mother’s day cards this year – the children really took pride in them. Mrs Randall & Miss Meacham came up with the idea so we hope you like them. You all deserve to have a fantastic day on Sunday as you are all absolutely brilliant! Make sure you have an hour to yourself – that’s my orders! 😉

See you all next week,

Mr Larter

The light-bulb effect

You know those things, no matter how small, that make you happy? For me it’s the smell of coffee and freshly baked bread? This short post is about the feeling for me in the classroom – it’s one that lasts longer than a smell because I know deep down, it’s something that could make a difference to someone else.

So…into week 4 of the new academic year; wading through all the marking, planning, assessment, meetings – the list goes on!

What I have to keep telling myself is that the children are learning and for the most part, in a fun way. However, do you ever get the feeling that it just isn’t happening? After a long, hard day…over 80 odd books to mark and prep to do for the next day; sometimes it gets a little too much.

UNTIL, my friends, in a lesson you thought some children may struggle with but you keep the expectations high – BOOM! The moment when you see the penny drop on a child’s face is absolutely priceless. What we all came into the profession for. It’s what I call the light-bulb effect! Every time it happens, I feel so elated! We try to make all our lessons engaging, fun, lively…we make our lessons challenging, thought provoking, stimulating. The light-bulb effect doesn’t always rear it’s beautiful head because for the most part, children get it.

I know that many believe this should happen all the time, and internally, I’m sure it does. However, it’s the quieter children that sometimes escape the radar but when you help them – 1-1, when you see the mist lift. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.

When you’re bogged down with a never ending paper trail – always remember who you’re doing the job for. That effect can last longer than the flick of a switch!

Post-It notes – A teacher’s best friend!

As I have been doing my planning this week (haven’t we all?), I had a bit of a light-bulb effect with post it notes and realised just how versatile they really are! They’re bright, portable and useful for virtually every lesson in someway or another! The best thing is – they’re cheap! I love them using them, particularly in starters and plenaries. Most of the ideas, activities or tasks below are transferable to other subjects too. I’m sure this type of post has been blogged before but it’s a useful refresher anyhow!

Here are my top 15 ideas for the use of post it notes in no particular order:

1. ‘Guess me’ (Shapes or numbers). Now I’m sure most of you have played this with a cigarette paper in the pub so it may sound familiar. Get your class to partner up, ask them to write a type of shape or number on a post it note and stick it on their partners head without them seeing it. They then have to ask questions about what is on the post it, which can really extend their vocabulary. It’s fantastic for developing children’s knowledge of properties of different mathematical concepts. 

2. ‘Bar Chart‘ – I’ve always done this in class, especially useful in lower KS2. Create an axis on the whiteboard, ask the class a question such as ‘What is your favourite type of pet?’ and children use post it notes to create bars on a chart. Really visual and great to refer to throughout a lesson.

3. ‘Inverse‘ – This especially works well when solving calculations. Write numbers individually on post it notes and put mathematical symbols ( + – = ) on them too. Children really understand what inverse means by physically moving the post it notes around. Children can be challenge by using lots of different symbols or colour code the post it notes to make it clearer for pupils who are struggling.

   

4. ‘Add, Edit, replace, extend‘ When children write sentences, let them put individual words on post it notes. Then other children (or themselves) can collaborate and add, edit, replace and extend sentences by moving post it around or adding new post it notes to up level sentences. This also works well when explaining complex sentences more clearly…moving words around can really develop children’s understanding.

5. ‘Peer assessment‘ Such a powerful tool! Children peer assess each other using post it notes. Post it notes are useful for when you want the piece of work to go on display and you don’t want other children’s writing on it.

6. ‘Where in the world?‘ Using a blank map of the world, children can try to identify different countries, earthquakes, volcanoes, rivers…anything geographical based! It’s a good discussion point for when working in separate groups or as a whole class starter etc.

7. ‘What are you thinking?‘ When reading a text as a class, the type of activity in the picture below is perfect to get different opinions!

8. ‘Order’ Get the children to order numbers, history dates, parts of a story – anything that needs to be ordered, post it notes are useful for! I’ve done this for things like the 10 commandments in Judaism – children were asked to put them in order of importance. Fantastic discussions!

9. ‘Working Walls’ – Probably the most common way of utilising post it notes are for children adding answers, thoughts and ideas on working walls. This helps to identify any misconceptions that arise from lessons!

10. ‘Labelling’ – children can order different parts of a flower or scientific diagram.

11. ‘Questions‘ Children can write questions on post it notes and link it to a piece of artwork or historical figure. They’re useful for developing inquisitive minds, adding speech bubbles to drama freeze frames and so on.

12. Venn Diagrams – Using two large hoops,and two criteria, children to add numbers or shapes into the correct section! 

13. ‘Thought maps’ – Fab for children’s thoughts, questions & knowledge on any given topic. Always useful to do at the beginning of a topic and at the end to establish progress much like a KWFL grid.

  

14. ‘Symmetry’ Give the children the chance to be creative and deepen their understanding of symmetry! The use of different shaped & coloured post it notes help here…

 

15. ‘Exit notes/slips’ Finally, as this is the last idea for use of post it notes, I thought it appropriate to end with it. Children can post it note what they have learnt in the lesson, day or week so it enables us, as teachers, to identify the stick-ability aspect of their learning – useful for understanding what went went (or not!)

So…what is your favourite idea for the use of post it notes above? How else have you used them in your lessons? Please share so we can all enhance our lessons for virtually no cost at all and for when making making resources is too time consuming!

 

Assessing the Primary Maths Curriculum

I read many blogs, documents and tweets with vested interest on how best to assess primary maths now that the new curriculum is about to come into force. As a maths leader, finding a way of showing progress now that the levels have gone, seems to be a minefield. For the time being, my school are sticking with APP and levels, despite some objectives of the new NC not being evident, and of course some moving around the year groups. There is no need to rush into new ways of recording assessment and many people have told me that LA’s are recommending the old way of assessment but surely this defeats the objective in the first place?

After reading @Learningladders5 excellent guidance booklet on their new assessment system, it is clear that there isn’t a definite way to assess a child’s progress or a ‘magic wand’ that will do the hard work for us. However, now that levels are gone, many assessment models, including the school online pupil tracker (SPTO), believe that a ‘Working Towards (WT), Mostly Achieved (MA), Achieved (A) and Exceeding (E) of objectives is the way to go. @Learningladders5 suggests that although children may forget knowledge months later, assessment needs to be done when teachers see it in the here and now. Surely we’d have to be very cautious as to giving any child exceeding, let alone ‘achieved’ then? There’s always that bone of contention when you look at objectives already achieved by children in previous years and you think ‘you’re having a laugh! They can’t do it now..’ and feel like banging your head against the brick wall. I guess we just have to assume this happens from every year group to year group and hopefully the children will pick it up over time anyway. 

My worry is how any of the new assessment systems will be able to compare to national expectations? When we’re in a state of teacher’s not feeling trusted to give professional judgements and pressure from Ofsted and league tables, how can we compare or assume an average? 

If we are to use the yearly objectives and in affect, start from scratch – do children working at a much higher level, work at higher year group objectives and if so, what happens when they reach year 6 and could potentially work above year 7? It’s fine to say ‘exceeding’ but can can they be stretched within this? What’s the major difference between achieved and exceeding anyway? Surely if they’ve achieved something, that’s enough?

I’d be interested to hear from any other maths leaders (or like minded people in the know) on this subject. Please do note that these thoughts are my own opinions. 

The importance of reflection..

I am beginning the first of – I hope – many posts on ‘reflection’.

My first thought in regards to this 10 letter word is back in the good old days of Uni when reflection, to me, meant to annotate plans with how lessons went (whether positive or constructive) and writing a weekly account of the highs and lows of teaching practice. If I’m completely honest, most of the time I knew in the back of my small, packed mind that the majority of it would never be looked at again as they were used as a tick box exercise to help achieve yet another standard! Gotta love ’em eh? At the time, I remember writing every detail down ensuring that anyone who read my evaluations would understand a word I was saying despite, probably never thinking about or looking back at them again.

However, now that I’m entering my 5th year of teaching and the summer holidays are already becoming a seemingly distant blur, I’ve never reflected on so much in my life. When I have time to unwind, relax and think about something different for a change, I am constantly thinking about what would look good in the classroom or what items in the shop would come in handy one day. Is this a bad thing? I beat myself up about it because holidays are supposed to be for a break. However, there should always be a balance and that is something I have definitely got better at over the past couple of years.

Whenever a bad lesson or day occurs, and I feel down because things could have gone so much better…there has always been someone there to help me see the positive aspects. If it wasn’t for the team at my school or my mum (got to love her!) then teaching would, like the summer holidays, seem like a distant memory. The more experienced I get, the more apparent it is that I should reflect on the positive things as well as the negative ones. After all the dwelling, it is obvious that this should be a natural process but in reality, it’s sometimes difficult to get your head out of the sand!

An experienced colleague of mine recently repeated what so many have said to me before but this time, it has stuck! The advice was this; take away 3 positive moments, feelings or events of the day and move forward with them.

Without reflection, we wouldn’t right out wrongs, become the people we are or remain in the job for long! Remember: There will ALWAYS be bad experiences but the good ones will ALWAYS outweigh them all.