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The Critique Gallery
Critique Gallery - Student Guidance

This is my first blog post for the Pedagoo team, as I mentioned in my #Nurture1314 post I’d really like to get into blogging so I’m starting as I mean to go on.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to attend David Didau’s Whole School Literacy course – having just been appointed Literacy Co-ordinator it was a perfect place to start! Didau’s course gave me so many different ideas that I could try out in my lessons and also feed back to the staff at my school from a literacy perspective. What struck me most was that these ideas weren’t just for literacy, these were fantastic teaching and learning ideas that ALSO supported my students’ literacy. After the course I decided to work on several ideas that I was introduced to during the course, one of those was ‘The Critique Gallery’.

I’m sure most will agree that peer assessment is a regular feature in our lessons, it helps develop our students’ confidence in knowing what is right and what is wrong and determining what they need to do to improve; I think subconsciously it helps them to absorb the lesson objectives better too. Didau’s ideas confirmed my growing suspicions that peer assessment in my lessons was becoming a bit dry and unexciting; it’s highly likely that if I’m getting bored of doing something then my students will be too – I’m a technology teacher, I like to mix things up often! The Critique Gallery was a perfect ‘refresh’ to peer assessment and has had an excellent impact on the quality of student to student feedback.

How does it work?

The Critique Gallery is like a giant peer assessment. It is a longer exercise than a typical peer to peer assessment, students move around the classroom taking time to read through their peer’s work and provide constructive feedback (I usually devote about 15 minutes of the lesson to do it properly). Clear boundaries and expectations need to be set out by the teacher (more on that shortly…), especially when laying the foundations of this new activity, after all the feedback needs to be constructive so that our students can improve. Students use lesson objectives/success criteria (just like they would a normal peer assessment) to give feedback on other student’s work; they give this feedback a number of different times as they move around the room.

What’s so good about Critique Gallery?

Firstly it encourages ALL students to engage, they are up and out of their seats moving around the room; sometimes something as simple as moving around/a slight change of scenery can improve a student’s productivity or engagement. Students have the opportunity to see more than just their partner’s work, if like me you have seating plans then your students are sat next to the same faces day in day out…therefore seeing the SAME quality of work day in day out, for some this is great but for others not. The Critique Gallery allows students to see all levels and abilities and make judgments for themselves about the feedback they want to give. It helps quiet the inevitable “Miss, I don’t know what to write…” especially if done as a mini review during the lesson. This activity also frees you up to wander around the classroom to support students that you know will struggle with this activity, it allows you to carefully question them as to what is good about the work and what needs to be developed further, in turn improving the quality of feedback that they give to other students.

How do I make this happen?

I think it’s great when students have a record of the feedback that they have received all in one place instead of scrawled over their work, I’m OCD – I’m sure my students don’t care!! When doing a critique style activity direction needs to be given to students to ensure that the feedback they are giving is productive and useful i.e. NOT “write neater” or “finish it” (don’t get dispirited though, you’ll always end up with one, I know I do!). Full credit to David Didau here as I use his pointers for students when doing the critique, I go through these points with my students each time we do a critique activity just to remind them of my expectations and then we’re ready to get started.

My final thought on this…I was astounded to hear that 80% of feedback given to students is student to student feedback – as teachers we HAVE to ensure that we model excellent feedback so that our students are doing it right.


0530 on a Saturday morning is difficult, cold and after another long night of the ashes, very miserable. However, I was off to a Pedagoo event, packed with exciting speakers, thoughtful teachers, inspiring individuals and I was pretty confident that my chosen Saturday CPD event was going to be brilliant. It was…

The first thing that blew me away (after registering with the very welcoming pupils of the school) was the amazing building. It was bright, clean, tidy and very much the type of modern building I come to expect when I go ‘somewhere nice’. Just as our children know when they are being shortchanged as regards use of windows XP on old PC’s, they know it when they walk into a dingy building which is in desperate need of a paint job. Michael Gove said that the building and environment of a school makes no difference. I drive past these buildings at Fettes and Stewart’s Melville on the way to my school every day. Clearly, environment makes a difference.

The other thing about the building I loved was the use of images of Joseph Swan children working, often with ideas about how they work, or slogans/quotations about respect, reading etc behind them. That is something I will try and create in the next couple of weeks if energies allow as it looks so good and inspires.

Whilst having my complimentary tea and danish pastry (which would contravene the bring your own tea and biscuits policy of many councils) I set about reading my welcome pack. I loved the Happy Mondays leaflet which contained loads of great, ready to use, ideas for enhancing and reinforcing learning in the classroom. The Happy Mondays reference is because the teachers at Joseph Swan receive and e-mail every Monday, with a new idea or resource in it from their SMT. I love that idea!

MY first session of the day was in the Reading Room (and what an amazing space that is…) with David Hodgson. David talked about how we learn and how we can use techniques in the classroom to help children learn and remember how they learned things. As a primary teacher I get asked lots of questions from the children and my most frequent answer to them is good question. I don’t believe in throwing the knowledge confetti about for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not convinced the children will remember it whilst they walk back to their desks and secondly I (or A.N.Other teacher) will not always be there for them when they have a question or want to learn something. The things we did in his session were all practical examples of an NLP approach, and I was so impressed I bought his book for my Kindle this morning. He used this pupil feelings graphic in his session too which I find a useful tool to have by my desk in the class room. Something David said which rang a bell was that we should ensure our children ‘Have a get out clause for children when they don’t learn’. This is vital, so often our children get way more stressed than we ever do about a wrong answer. We need them to take risks, get it wrong, change it and get it wrong again, smiling all the time! That is a successful learner right there.

The next session was with Rachel Orr who is HT at Holy Trinity Rosehill Her workshop was about developing writing through Primary Learning and specifically using Pie Corbett’s talk for writing work. I had worked on a Pie Corbett workshop for writing day before (January 2007??) and it was amazing. I’ve bought a few of his books and love his approach to writing. There is a lot of material on the internet too to supplement his written work. I also liked the punctuation sounds and actions which children are to use when they are talking and can then reinforce the assessment process in class. Rachel has used Pie’s work in two differing schools now and shared with us examples of the successes her young writers had, and these examples cal be seen on her school blogs. Rachel gave us a disk with loads of fantastic resources on, many her own work (the learning keys are a great idea!).

During lunch I met some great folk including @spiceweasel77 who is doing some brilliantly exciting things with his class!

After lunch it was on to Hywel Roberts session. Hywel spoke passionately and humourously about creating contexts in the curriculum, allowing the children to view the learning they are given through their own filters and engaging children in their learning. I made loads of notes during Hywel’s session and later tweeted many of them. Here’s the quotations I tweeted:

‘It’s our job to get the World thinking.’

‘We need to dig learning holes for our children to fall into.’

‘we are the people who make sense of the curriculum we are given. ‘

‘Have a what’s great 2 mins at the start of staff meetings’

‘we need to induct our kids into learning’

‘all of these things are just doing the job we’ve been asked to do. That we’re paid for. ‘

I’ve got Hywel’s book and it’s a great read. I need to do more of this in my classes. It’s great stuff. I was incredibly impressed with Hywel and the way he works in schools.

Finally, my last session was about using enquiry based learning in maths. Stephanie Thirtle took this session, she is a maths teacher at Joseph Swan. (I’d love The Girl to have her as a maths teacher, lessons would be so interesting!)
We did some enquiry based openers which really got us thinking and she talked about the approach of letting the children work things out for themselves, rather than an I teach then you do model. I love the work things out idea and think the way she’s bringing it to maths in a high school works really well. Much of the rationale for enquiry based learning was on her presentation and clearly showed examples of enquiry based learning which we could use as one-off lessons or develop for a maths topic. Such things investigating square numbers, straight line graphs using algebra, and one which P7 will be seeing soon – 12 Days of Christmas maths.
Her room displays were wonderful and I snapped many of them on my phone and you can see them here. I particularly liked that ways she put maths into context making it real for the children.
That chimed so well with the session from Hywel previously.

I came away with my head full of wonderful ideas and a bag full of goodies!
So, what next…well before Christmas I will make some posters of children and their ideas about learning to go up in school and I will also make some musical posters for the music room.

After Christmas I will take loads more of these ideas and run with them. It’ll be different, fun and learning will happen.

NationalModeration.co.uk – a new(ish) approach to assessment moderation

As requested by @fkelly , I’ve decided to throw a quick post together about www.nationalmoderation.co.uk – a service I created to allow Scottish teachers to share their own unit assessments for the new National Qualifications.

Essentially the creation of this website was spurred by one glaringly obvious reality – the unit assessments provided by the SQA are simply not up to scratch, and as a consequence everybody is creating their own material and hoping that it meets the standards. Ón the face of it, this may be no bad thing – if we create our own unit assessments then we can tailor them to our own courses and our own pupils, and surely that is good idea?

To give an example, I have consciously themed my entire National 5 English course around the concept of ‘Coping with Conflict’, selecting texts which can be woven together across the whole year (‘Spiritual Damage’, ‘War Photographer’, ‘The Man I Killed’ and ‘Bold Girls’) – now that I am no longer forced to use a few set NABs I have also created reading assessments which follow this theme, thus enhancing the pupils’ overall understanding of what we are studying this year (at least this is the idea).

Several months ago, however, I realised that if EVERYONE does the same thing then there will be hundreds – perhaps thousands – of unit assessments being created across the country and many of us will be replicating the work that colleagues are doing (or have already done). Frankly, we all work too hard as it is to be reinventing the wheel hundreds of times over, so a system for sharing material is essential.

Of course, Education Scotland and the SQA are providing something along these lines, but there are two reasons why I believe it would be helpful for a service which is independent of these bodies. Firstly, the websites of these organisations (especially Education Scotland) are – to be kind – not particularly user friendly, and I (like many others) don’t have the time or the willpower to fight my way through Glow to find material on a regular basis; secondly, I firmly believe that the only way for us to ever really become confident in the development and delivery of our own materials is for us to move beyond a dependence on official bodies to confirm that every little thing is up to scratch.

If – or, depending on your philosophical view of the amount of fluid in a glass, when – Curriculum for Excellence fulfills its potential it will be because of the incredible work of teachers, not Education Scotland, the SQA or the Education Secretary, and I hope that NationalModeration might play a small part in that development.

Basically, it works like this: teachers upload their unit assessments, other teachers moderate them by leaving comments, alterations are made as required and, eventually, gradually, standards become clearer and are met across the country.

At present the site only has English assessments but it would be great if other subjects could begin contributing materials as well (I’ll create however many subject specific pages are required in this instance). In order to sign up you must be teacher in a Scottish school (and verify this, usually by means of an official email address) – this means that the material can be kept secure, allowing us to continue to use it in our classes as our official unit assessments.

If you think that the site would be of any help to you as you continue to develop your approach to the new qualifications please do sign up – the more people are involved the more effective our approach will be.

A Light That Never Goes Out
September 15, 2013

Cross-posted from http://justtryingtobebetter.net/

This may or may not have happened.

He handed me his first piece of writing homework and, of course, it was illegible. ‘I’m not good at writing’, he’d told me. We’d been working on lists: Things I lost by the time I was ten or Things I’d been given by the time I was ten. He wanted to tell me about his hamster. He’d stayed behind to tell me all about it: how he lost it in his garden and feels sad about it; how he’d look after it more if he still had it. I told him to write it all down at home.

Being ‘not good at writing’ wasn’t a surprise. The notes I’d been passed from the ASN team told me that. He would feel better if he was given a laptop to write his work, something his previous teacher echoed. He had great ideas but there’s no point in him writing it in his class book as you won’t be able to read it. Better to type it up. He’ll feel better about it and you won’t need to struggle to decipher his handwriting. And I thought to myself, ‘No. It’s time to stop this nonsense.’

He’s twelve and the most important thing he has learned so far in seven years of school is, ‘I’m not good at writing.’ And that’s not good enough, is it? We might dress that fact up by giving him a nice laptop to do his work. We might constantly remind him that his ideas are great and he can express himself very well at times. Perhaps that’s fine when you are twelve. His work nicely typed up, perhaps pinned on the class notice board. His teacher might tell the other pupils to read his work because it was one of the best in the class.

But what happens when he gets to fifteen, sixteen, twenty, twenty five? Who is there to tell him that his ideas are great; when he realises that his inability to write legibly will exclude him from any number of things that others can do? So when we condemn some children to a life of illiteracy because it is difficult – not for him, although it is, but for a system which can’t find the time to help him with his problems- we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility when he enters society after he leaves us. ‘I’m not good at writing’ does not sound quite so cute from an adult who has been through twelve or thirteen of formal schooling, does it?

I spent perhaps five times as long deciphering his handwriting that night as anyone else’s in the class. I returned class books and explained the feedback process and that everyone had their own improvements to make. Then I sat down next to the boy who told me ‘I’m not good at writing’. I asked him why that was. He said it was something he’d never been able to do. I sat with him and looked him in the eye and told him that I would do everything I could for him to get better at writing. He wrote out one sentence in large rounded letters. He looked at me and smiled.

Remember, this may or may not have happened.

Citizen Journalists An Update!

100% Student produced

This is one example of year 8 students ‘Freedom Newspaper’.  See my previous post about how I used project based learning and the 6A’s to plan the project for year 8 Humanities.  Students have also developed in their application of critique by giving each other warm and cool feedback (being Kind, Specific and Helpful) for their individual articles and their final newspapers.  This has enabled the students to revise and redraft their newspaper.  Each student had to contribute an article and the newspaper had to be 100% their original work.  SOLE’s and other questioning techniques were used in the planning stage and a student editor was appointed to oversee the project overall and make final editorial decisions.  Overall, the outcome has been successful, with many other good quality newspapers being produced across the faculty in comparison to the previous year.  Students will now be asked to reflect as learners, how the newspaper challenge has worked for them and a group using Claxtons 4R’s. The newspapers will now be displayed in the local community in cafes etc to give the work further authenticity.

Follow me on twitter or read my blog for future projects for example a ‘food campaign’ which is beginning shortly including hopefully students becoming Guerilla Gardeners.

SOLO Stations, Havisham and the Talking Cure


Beloved sweetheart bastard. Not a day since then
I haven’t wished him dead. Prayed for it
so hard I’ve dark green pebbles for eyes,
ropes on the back of my hands I could strangle with.

Spinster. I stink and remember. Whole days
in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall; the dress
yellowing, trembling if I open the wardrobe;
the slewed mirror, full-length, her, myself, who did this

to me? Puce curses that are sounds not words.
Some nights better, the lost body over me,
my fluent tongue in its mouth in its ear
then down till suddenly bite awake. Love’s

hate behind a white veil; a red balloon bursting
in my face. Bang. I stabbed at a wedding cake.
Give me a male corpse for a long slow honeymoon.
Don’t think it’s only the heart that b-b-b-breaks.

Carol Ann Duffy

Before I begin, I need to make it absolutely clear that I am not holding this sequence of lessons up as an example of ‘outstanding’ practice. Having said that, it certainly represents progress in terms of my own engagement with SOLO and I feel confident that not only did the pupils enjoy the lessons, they also learnt a good deal about the poem and, in some cases at least, overcame their fear of tackiling ‘difficult’ poetry independently.

I have been experimenting with SOLO taxonomy since September and my pupils have responded well. I have seen the positive impact of the approach reflected in the development of a shared pedagogical language; greater engagement and, above all, deeper learning. The following lesson was my third or fourth attempt at SOLO stations, an approach I picked up from Oops! Helping Children to Learn Accidentally’, I remain very much under the influence of the book’s author, Hywel Roberts. In Oops, Hywel talks about the importance of building anticipation and creating imaginary contexts for learning and I decided that this approach would help me engage my disaffected Y10s.

Lesson 1

In the first lesson I introduced the ‘Big Question’ which we would keep returning to during our preparation for the CA, namely ‘Is love a mental illness?’ This generated a good deal of very interesting discussion. Next, we talked about the role of psychoanalysts in treating mental illness by interpreting the dreams, behaviour and language of their patients. I called one of the pupils out to the front of the class. I had prepared him earlier and he related a dream in which he was in his home town and speaking in his mother tongue, but no one could understand a word he said – not even his family. We then discussed possible interpretations of his ‘dream’. Finally, I explained that in the following lesson they would be working with footage and a transcript of a patient and attempting to reach a diagnosis. The result was a satisfying sense of anticipation amongst the members of the class.

Lesson 2

At the beginning of the next lesson, I reminded the class of the ‘Big Question’ before screening a clip from David Lean’s adaptation of Great Expectations and, having asked the pupils to underline vocabulary that they were unsure of, I read the poem. Pupils fed back and I clarified terms like ‘spinster’ and ‘slewed.’ Next, I explained that they were to take on the role of psychoanalysts. They would work through a series of station/ tasks designed to help them focus with gradually increasing depth on the language and behaviour of ‘the patient’ as presented in the transcript/ poem. Once they had identified, listed, analysed and explained aspects of Mrs Havisham’s behaviour and language, the final outcome would be a ‘report’ on the patient. I briefly reminded them of our agreed protocols for SOLO stations and told them that, while they could begin at any station, the point was not to ‘progress’ as fast as they could through the levels, but to develop as deep an understanding of the patient’s plight as possible – this might necessitate returning to the unistructural and multistructural stations to gather more ‘knowledge’.

Pupils carried a psychoanalyst’s ‘notebook’ with them in order to record their ideas and assess their progress against SOLO self assessment rubrics which were tailored to each station. They then decided where they wanted to start based on their assessment of their current understanding. All of the stations were clearly identified, so that pupils could navigate the room with ease and as had been the case in previous attempts, those pupils who had been a little ambitious in their self assessment adjusted their starting points quickly.

There were two prestructural tables, which were strewn with confetti and images of Mrs Havisham from various adaptations and illustrations. There were also copies of the extract from Great Expectations and paper tissue boxes complete with strips of paper containing additional information regarding Mrs. Havisham (an idea I nicked from David Didau’s excellent blog) .There were also multistructural and relational tables. At one multistructural station, pupils worked with the text highlighting examples of oxymorons, similes, metaphors and onomatopoeia and exploring what they told us about Mrs Havisham’s state of mind. At one of the relational stations pupils worked with the blacked-out shape of the poem, exploring how that might connect with Mrs Havisham’s behaviour and use of language in the poem as a whole. Most importantly of all, each ‘station’ had an objective and an outcome and its own SOLO self assessment rubric. This meant that even if the task was geared towards gathering multistructural information, pupils could potentially achieve at an extended abstract level of thinking. For instance, in the case of a task that required pupils to ‘identify’ (unistructural) and ‘list’ (multistructural) the things that Mrs Havisham ‘did’, they could still develop an understanding of how her relative lack of activity – she sits and ‘stinks’; ‘caws’ at the walls and opens a wardrobe – could be connected with the powerlessness of women in a patriarchal, Victorian society (extended abstract). Unfortunately, not one of the little critters came up with that! Pupils understood that they were to take time out between stations to self assess, reflect and develop their ideas. You will perhaps have noticed that I have not referred to any extended abstract stations. That’s because there weren’t any. In attempt to slow things down, I had decided to save this final level for the third lesson in the sequence.

Lesson 3

In the third and final lesson, pupils worked in small groups with their notebooks, discussing and developing their ideas. I then supplied differentiated writing frames for the report and relational connectives for the main body of the text and extended abstract connectives for the diagnostic conclusion. Pupils had to refer to their notes in order to write about the background to Mrs Havisham’s breakdown, her behaviour and her language. In the conclusion, pupils drew on all of the information to develop a hypothesis or a diagnosis, using extended abstract connectives.

The Verdict

This was an improvement on my previous experiments with SOLO stations lessons. There was time for reflection and each station was differntiated using the SOLO self assessment rubric. As a result pupils were engaged and produced good work. However, the psychoanalytical ‘frame’ for the lesson meant that the final product did not read like literary criticism and could be seen as an unnecessary distraction. This may have been a flaw in my planning: after all, this was preparation towards Controlled Assessment. However, they enjoyed adopting the role of psychotherapists: the pace of work was productive and there was understanding; there was analysis and pupils were mostly able to pull it all together into something approaching a hypothesis or diagnosis, which explained the elements of the poem and the connectives seemed to work well.

If I’m honest, I think that the sequence was a little ‘busy’ – it certainly took a lot of preparation – and in future I will adopt a more pared down approach. I would also avoid using the psychoanalytical frame as an over-arching approach to analysis of thge poem. Although the pupils enjoyed it and the idea of reaching a diagnosis leant purpose to their reading, it was in the final analysis a distraction.


#Pedagoolondon: How Twitter Taught My Students to Write

March. A dark, cold Saturday morning. The careful customer service of British Rail. My first teachmeet. Pedagoo London.

The prospect of having been asked to present in amongst the heavyweights of the job was both flattering and exciting. Helene O’Shea is a master enabler, in her sharing of blogs, recommendation of colleagues to read and speak to and in her fabulous organisation of a networking and CPD event that had none of the passive aggressive teacher behaviours of other inset I have provided. What a pleasure it was to put real, three dimensional faces to the people who have supported me and shared with me and allowed me to build my progress and to say stupid things to them like, “everyone feels taller than I thought they would be”.

Kev Bartle talked us through the “Trojan Mouse” (Google it! Really!) and I attended sessions from Tait Coles, David Fawcett and the peerless David Didau and would have loved to have seen others, particularly Rachael Stevens and Lisa Jane Ashes. I left, and write this on a train home, missing the evening session which I trust will continue in the same veign as the day but perhaps slightly more, “fuelled”?

A fab day and something I’d do again and may even do closer to home with some of the Twitterers from the North West. A day of great ideas and practice. Building on the spirit of sharing I wanted to share a short summary of my session with links to the materials for people to use.

@AfLPie: How Twitter Taught My Students To Write

Pedagoo London 2nd March 2013 (pdf)

Link to Prezi

I’m fascinated by the idea of engagement and have written before about the idea of “Flow” as a useful facsimile for engagement so tend to start sessions like this with a pointless activity to engage and get brains and juices flowing. In this session it was to tear a hole in a piece of paper big enough to fit a person through. Some success was had but effectively we got to know each other a bit. I will be nicking David Didau’s idea of having the “flow” graph up in my teaching room to track with students how they’re feeling about their work at given points in the lesson.

The task of writing a letter to me to tell me you could beat me in a fight is just as silly an engagement task but it starts to delve a little further into the core of the session. Despite the flimsy or shallow nature of the task, participants have to include technical details and then share with the group. This question is in contrast to the typical exam question which treats kids like forty something accountants, perhaps despite the unfortunate assumed back slapping at the AQA when they came up with the classic, “describe the room you’re sitting in”. The video that follows is frivolous but helps to explain my motivation in trying to provide more engaging tasks for writing. I started to feel like the unfortunately unhinged individual in it.

The two tasks that follow are unashamedly nicked from TED talks I’ve watched over the years and are concerned with combatting “self editing”, that moment when, before you start something, you convince yourself of your inability to do it. Simply, thirty seconds to turn the “squiggle” into a recognisable picture of something and the thirty circle test requires you to turn as many of the circles into as many different things as you can in the time given. As mentioned before, you’re aiming for “flow”.

My work on writing begins with meeting a Lead Practitioner who had been working on writing journals. Places where students had the opportunity to write about whatever they wanted for a set amount of time every day. The quality, to an extent, doesn’t matter – it is the act of writing that matters. With mobile communication and social networks as prevalent as they are, our kids write more than ever but less than they ever did. What I mean by this is the actual kinaesthetic act of writing. Partly inspired by a programme that Phil Beadle took part in a few years ago around adult literacy I hit upon the idea of providing students with the chance to write every day. In the programme, Beadle asked a couple of the more “hard to reach” participants to simply draw waves across the page then zig zags and so on – building up this concept of the kinaesthetic act of writing. But getting kids to write every day is a bit of a hill to climb and could be dangerously Sisyphusian.

I had been working with “Thunks” and “Thinkers Keys” for a while and love the way that they inspire higher level, interpretative thought so I resolved to basically, and sometimes childishly, ask a silly question. (I’ve written about this before here)

There are as many examples as I have come up with so far here (Writing Warmups), amongst my favourites being “Write a letter to the Head to advise him/her why the punishment for stopping suddenly in a busy corridor should be a lunch in the face” and “Write an article for a local newspaper to argue that we pick ugly friends to make ourselves look better” (this one always causes some raised eyebrows and spirited discussion). The trick is to keep it small, maybe starting with A5 cards that can be collected together but also to keep the scale achievable (I now use the slim vocabulary books). Be careful to work out a way to mark or check over what is done. This should be somewhere for the kids to write and feel challenged and creative but realism and direction dictates that they need to be “marked” in some way.

I played around with using success criteria to stimulate more peer assessment and reflection but it almost took away from the intended “quickness” of the idea. Also, two students’ interpretations of what good looks like can be fairly diverse. So I started working with a broader scaffold for a reflective journal that worked well but hasn’t been revisited. Perhaps watch this space for that one!

The most recent and most significant breakthrough has been in joining Twitter. The advice and resources I have tapped into have been invaluable, particularly with respect to David Didau’s “slow” writing process. In combination with Alex Quigley’s ideas around DIRT and Zoe Elder’s series around marginal learning gains this made a significant difference to my students writing.

David describes the slow writing process perfectly on his blog. I began by simply taking David’s process directly and was amazed by the outcomes. I set about trying to use it in a variety of ways, but the most powerful aspect of the process, to me, is the double spacing. This communicates that the writing isn’t complete, that there will be a redraft or reflection or DIRT (Dedicated Improvement & Reflection Time). It reinforces that writing is as much a process as it is a product. Genius.

I began to combine this with the adage that I had developed with one class in particular: Quantity, Quality, Progress. Every time we write, we write as much as we can (Quantity), we make it as good as it can possibly be (Quality) and whatever we write has to be better than the last thing we wrote (Progress). It started to work. Before the January English Language exam, students were taking mobile phone pictures of the projection of the “slow” writing sentence progression.

I’m trying a few new ideas with it: adapting it for responding to an unseen poem, including the “A, B, C story” (each sentence must start with a word that starts with the next letter of the alphabetPoems prompts etc) and cut up into “slow” writing cards. The arguments against a formulaic approach to the unseen poem are good ones but it has stopped kids from staring at a blank page, terrified by making a mistake, unaware of how to move forward. I combined this with Rachael Steven’s take on Ron Berger’s critique system to support kids in offering “FSH” feedback – friendly – specific – helpful to support peer assessment and improvement.

The cards, available here (SLOW Writing Card) are loaded with more “high value” items like inclusion of semi colons so that, with random selection, kids are more likely to include those things. But also, moving forward, I want kids to make more conscious decisions about crafting based on which card is selected, either accepting it or rejecting it based on what they want their writing to “do”.

Health Warning:

The tendency for lots of teachers to read what they find above and say, “yeah but…” is hereby acknowledged. The stuff I describe here worked for me, I enjoyed it and so have the kids and, luckily, it’s shown some real improvement in their writing. It’s a beginning though. It’s like any writing “frame”, you start with a sturdy scaffold and gradually remove it part by part until the habits it has hopefully sown the seeds of, begin to grow. Sorry to end on a mixed metaphor but it seemed appropriate.

Dedicated to Helene.

Cross-posted from Creative Teacher Support

What is our online global audience?

Since beginning our blogging journey, I am constantly trying to show the children the potential it can have on improving their writing. Giving the children an audience provides a purpose for their writing. They carefully consider their writing which provides them with a more focused approach which has a knock on effect to improve their writing.

It is sometimes hard for children to see how global their work can spread. Throwing numbers around doesn’t always enthuse the children to carry on blogging. Over the past week I have tried a little experiment to try and give the children a visual picture of the global audience available through sharing work online.

Just over a week ago, two classes from my school made their own versions of the latest internet meme – Harlem Shake. Here was our effort:

As much as the children loved making the video, there was a real purpose to it. Youtube provides in depth analysis of all the views the video recieves, from the demographics to the gender and platform used to watch it. I wanted to use these statistics to inspire the children to see how global our audience can be and further prove the benefits of blogging to showcase their writing.

First I downloaded the report from YouTube showing all the countries and the amount of views (3500 in a week.)

I then provided the children with a blank world map:

The children then used the app Globe to locate the countries and colour them in depending on the amount of views. The children had to think of their own key to show the amount of views. It was a fantastic exercise for children to further their geographical understanding of the world. It provided them with the rare opportunity to really study and investigate the location of different countries.

They were amazed to see how far and wide the video had reached. It completely inspired them, knowing that this is the potential audience for their writing and other work. I finished with this thought for the class:

If this is how many people watched you dance for 30 seconds imagine how many would read a story? 100 word challenge? or more?

The finished maps gave the children a clear visual picture to back up all my discussions about the potential of blogging. They were able to clearly see how much of the world saw our school! I am hoping this will then encourage the children to blog even more knowing their work can be read by thousands of people.

Most blogs have tools that will show maps of where visitors have come from, Clustrmaps for example. I chose to use the video as I hoped it would be able to give us a quick and concise picture of the potential audience by using a popular and current trend. The idea was to inspire the children to blog and I believe it has definitely served that purpose well. It also provided the children with a great opportunity to learn about different countries around the world.

Cross-posted from Mr P’s ICT Blog

Animation – doesn’t get more interdisciplinary than that!

I’m a huge fan of interdisciplinary learning. Making links between subjects makes sense to me. One of the things I love most about being a primary school teacher is seeing the inter-connectedness of things – the way links are made between what we learn about and our experiences: when we’ve learned and explored a new word which suddenly appears in many places; when we’re studying a project and stories in the news relate to it; when we begin to understand that we’re really not so different from one another, no matter what our backgrounds are. These aren’t just coincidences, it’s how the world works, and I see my job as a teacher as helping children to try to make sense of the world and to understand and enjoy our place in it.

It’s well recognised that simply asking children if they’re understanding and making these links isn’t always the most effective way to assess – that’s why Building the Curriculum 5 asks us to consider how to capture what our pupils say, write, make or do. We have to provide and teach children how to use tools to be able to do this though, and vocabulary will always be part of this. Many of us will be familiar with the child who says “I just can” or “I just can’t”. Building vocabulary is a huge part of my job, not just in teaching children to talk about their transferable skills (very big in my education authority just now) but also in terms of vocabulary to describe and understand emotions, to empathise and consider situations from different points of view.

I’m increasingly finding that animation is an incredibly compelling way for children to express themselves – to show their understanding, knowledge, and skills in a way that is challenging at whatever level they’re at. Filming a story is just a different way of telling a story than verbally, writing or drawing. It can involve all of these though, and I’ve found is most effective if it does. Working in co-operative groups allows the children to draw on their individual strengths, and collectively benefit. I’ve found that using a collage technique and animating it means that there are plenty of roles to be shared, and there will always be one that suits every child. The picture below shows some of the characters and backgrounds from my class who are currently making films on the subject of the Clydebank blitz during World War Two. The children shared out roles and some busied themselves with drawing if they wished, or searched online for images to print. Others set up the camera and experimented with the software before they all got together and shared what they’d done.

So other than covering lots of bases, why animate a story? I’ve found that the children are more readily willing to adapt and change their stories as they go along than it is with a written story, and in fact that they want to experiment with the order of scenes, and add in different angles and camera shots. (Not that I’m suggesting for a minute that animation is more beneficial than writing a story, because if they didn’t have experience of writing and understanding stories, they certainly couldn’t do this). As the children animate their characters, they consider how they are feeling and how they show this feeling in their movements and expressions. I’ve been hugely impressed with how children can be inventive with story lines: my current P7 class are using flashback, time travel and different narrative view points. I sometimes use storyboards, and sometimes don’t. Some of the most successful animated films I’ve worked on were made up as they went along! You can see one of these here.

Stop frame animation isn’t easy, it’s fiddly and takes effort and time – another reason why I like it! To persevere and get through all the process is worth it, because at the end there’s a film. Of course, the process is incredibly important too. As we film and edit, we encounter problems and have to address these. Some classes and groups I’ve worked with have had to spend some time looking at communication and conflict resolution skills. Before my current job, I taught excluded children and children at risk of exclusion to make animated films, and for them to see these films through to completion was a tremendous achievement, boosting self-esteem while allowing them to explore issues they were experiencing through their films.

This exploration of an issue or story through animation has been incredibly worthwhile. I think it’s very important that children have the freedom to explore this issue in a way that they want to. The learning intention for the film above was to make a film about choices. That was all. The group of 4 children decided to make it about good and bad choices, and what happened when you made them. Another group I worked with were told their learning intention was to make a film about friendship. You can see what they came up with here.

My current class are considering life before, during and after the Clydebank Blitz. They’re demonstrating their knowledge of historical sequence through the eyes of Clydebank residents while describing life during the war in terms of rationing, housing, daily life and coping with air raids.

So how did we do this? I know I said it was an effort and fiddle – it is – but it’s actually fairly straightforward. I use a computer, a webcam, I Can Animate and iMovie software. I’ve also made animated films entirely on an iPad using the same software. There are other ways too. I went on a short course to learn how to use the software. If you’re a teacher and know of anyone in your school with knowledge of animating, ask to watch them as they teach, or if they’d share their practise with some of the school team. If not, take a course. Anything I didn’t pick up on the course I’ve learned by using the help menus within the programs. If I can do this, any teacher can.

Animation is just an alternative way to tell a story, and there are many stories to be told. I really hope you’ll try this engaging way to help your pupils to tell theirs.

The “cursed” chest

My Y2/3 class are half way through our term-long topic on Ancient Egypt and I wanted to stimulate some great independent writing for assessment week as well as continue to engage children with the topic.

I found an old, brass-covered chest and arranged it in the classroom with signs saying, “Do not touch” and “Beware of the curse” so that the children would see it as they came in for morning registration. Some children regarded the chest with idle curiosity; some completely ignored it and a handful of children were absolutely fascinated by it.

I carried on with our usual morning routine, carefully avoiding touching or going too close to the “cursed” chest. Once everyone was settled, I began our first lesson, still carefully and ostentatiously avoiding coming into contact with the chest. I warned a couple of children to move away from it when they went too close but otherwise continued as if it were not there. Suddenly, I remembered that I needed to photocopy something for the lesson. Leaving my teaching assistant in charge, I dashed out of the room.

Whilst I was at the photocopier, the TA investigated the chest closely. She read the signs aloud and carefully inspected the chest, wondering aloud whether or not she should open it. Some children urged her to open it quickly, whilst others told her that it was cursed and that she should leave it alone.

Without too much persuasion, the TA opened the chest to find an old, stained note inside. She read it aloud to the children: it was a warning that the contents of the chest were cursed and that they should not open the fabric bag inside. Ignoring the warning, the TA opened the bag to find some old jewellery, some ancient-looking coins and some chocolate. She ate some of the chocolate herself and gave some to a child to eat.

I came back into the room and was horrified that they had opened the chest. I expressed great concern for the TA and the child who had eaten the chocolate, and hurried to put the contents of the chest back. In the meantime, I asked the TA to do a quick job for me outside the classroom, still concerned for her wellbeing. She returned a few moments later with a face full of red spots and feeling quite unwell.

By this time, the children were completely engaged in the role play. Even the child who had noticed that the handwritten notes looked suspiciously like my handwriting was entranced! The TA went to remove her spots, and we talked about why people might want to pretend that chests, or tombs, or other special things, were cursed.

This led on to finding out about Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb and the supposed curse on the contents. We watched archive footage of the two men from 1922 and read about the events surrounding the discovery. The children then paired off for some drama work, with one child in each pair pretending to be Howard Carter greeting Lord Carnarvon at the discovery site and explaining what he had found.

The activities took most of the morning. After lunch, the children quickly and eagerly settled down to their writing task: writing a letter in role as Howard Carter to a friend, explaining the discovery. Some really high-quality writing was produced, with not one child saying, “I don’t know what to write!”