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Nursery to P1 transition process

“The current interpretation defines education transition as the change children make from one place, stage, style or subject over time. For children, educational transitions are characterised by the intense and accelerated developmental demands that they encounter as they move from one learning and teaching setting to another.” (Moyles, 2008, p229). Transition is an exciting time for families, with children moving into primary school, they move to being a “big” boy or girl. Families trust us with their most precious possessions, their children. We are gifted a great honour to look after their children, to help them and join their parents in watching them grow.

The Education Scotland document on transition states that “parent participation is vital” and “relationships are key”. It is this that we must remember when designing and implementing the transition process. Which is no mean feat when faced with such a range of nursery options; children as of August may choose to arrange their 16 hours in anyway which suits them, mornings, afternoons, full days. When trying to arrange to meet the needs of every child in transition this is can very challenging. In a setting like mine, a rural school with no nursery, our intake can include many different settings, which adds further to the complications. Yet, within all this we must strive to keep relationships at the centre of the transition; and remember that transition is a process and not merely an event.

Education Scotland suggests we aim to create “pedagogical meeting places between pre-school and primary school” which understand and build on the nature and importance of early learning experiences and learning to ensure meaningful progression can take place. Certainly the projects I can shared on the Pedagoo Perth event have had a pedagogical meeting place which ensured that it not only benefitted the children transitioning into the class but also ensured progression for the children already in the class.

In term 1 of this academic year my class planned, organised and ran Rhyme Time sessions for the community. All P1 children and families for August 2016 were invited by invitation; and the community were invited through newsletters and posters around the locality.

The class planned 6 sessions over term 1, each with a theme, and each week changing the roles they took on during the Rhyme Time session.

The school benefitted by raising its profile within the community, and providing opportunities for parents and families to visit the school.

The class benefitted because they further developed their knowledge and understanding of syllables, rhythm and rhyme. It helped the children become secure in their knowledge of rhyming and popular nursery rhymes in a safe way – as we all had to rehearse for the day! It helped the children deepen their learning as they were teaching their skills to others. It gave the children a purpose to their learning and an immediate goal for their reading and literacy skills. All children took part in reading the story across the 6 weeks, including the primary 1 children, who had been in school 3 weeks by the first rhyme time session. The children even created their own rhyming songs to the tune of well-known nursery rhymes because one week’s theme proved tricky to find a range of songs to fill the session. Therefore this was a seemingly low risk activity yet had a great yield in terms of learning, confidence and leadership.

It helped the children transitioning into P1 next year because they have met their future classmates over a sustained period of time. Their first meetings were in a familiar, non-threatening environment with their parents, with the same routine each time and using songs, stories and rhymes they knew. The nursery the children attend use rhyme time songs and games already in their practice, so it ensured continuity in their learning.

My favourite moment of the Rhyme Time was at the end of a session, which ran to the end of a school day; the Rhyme Time parents and children had remained in the hall to chat as I got my class ready to go home. The P1-3 children ran outside and were immediately joined by the Rhyme Time children and took off up the playground. The parents stopped and chatted to some parents at the school gate, some parents were helping chop our willow dome. As I looked around all the children were running the length of the grass, from toddler to P7, dragging bits of willow dome to the compost heap. It was a true community. The parents were all chatting together watching the children playing together.

Previously we have used joint projects with Balbeggie P1, as we both receive children from the same nursery and partner providers, Education Scotland emphasises the importance of shared planning in the transition process, “shared planning, for example by developing a shared theme/project…could enable dialogue and a shared understanding of roles and progression.” (Education Scotland p11). We decided to do a mini-topic which we could focus on over two transition days and work on in class with our current classes. We chose Hansel and Gretel as a fairy-tale basis and both had a trail of breadcrumbs leading to a letter from the witch- who had mended her ways and was ever so sorry. But sadly needed a house as Hansel and Gretel had eaten hers! The children worked in vertical pairings to build a new house for the witch, using outdoor materials. We tried to do this as an outdoor learning activity but anyone who has been to Collace will know it is always windy, which was frustrating for the children whose marvellous creations were constantly being blown over- so we took the outdoors indoor!

Children then “sold” their houses to their nursery friends, in their own P1 setting attending a transition day at the other school, via a GLOW meet. The children showed off their houses like an estate agent. This gave the children a common experience to share when back in their nursery setting, “Creative teachers, it seems, are those who provide the kinds of contexts, opportunities and space for learning that are familiar to children during the last year of the Foundation Stage. For young children, transition to the classes of such teachers in Year 1 will be much smoother as a result of this kind of practice.” (Bruce, 2008, p179). Again this benefitted the children already in the class as we developed persuasive writing from this and used the initial experience for other learning experiences over the next few weeks. I would take this further if we did this again and use it over a full term, including more curricular areas such as maths and social studies; adding one or two more transition afternoons where we could GLOW meet and share our learning, “settings are encouraged to capitalise on the use of technology including online resources and support. Examples of opportunities for communication for children, parents and practitioners include…GLOW discussions, document uploads or engaging in GLOW meets…”

Last year we were lucky enough to take part in the Memory Box project run by a local dementia charity. It looks at memory and how important it is to us and our sense of self, thus creating a context in which adults could get to know children and what is important to them, “The most significant element in children’s learning at school is the teacher, or other skilled adults… the authenticity of such roles must depend on the authenticity of the learning context or enquiry.” (Bruce, 2008, p179). It encourages children to talk about their memories and creates opportunities to create shared memories. We used this as an opportunity to include nursery children in this project throughout the term. I visited the nursery and showed some of the memories my class had and worked with the children individually to create a memory book of all their nursery memories. My class created a box of memories with their parents, including pictures, photos and objects which all held special meaning to them. All perspective P1 pupils for the following academic year were invited alongside their parents to create a memory box in our memory sharing afternoon.

In fact perspective P1 pupils and their families were invited to many school events during the schools year; not only the Christmas play, carol service and sports day but charity events the pupil council were running such as Monster March where children (and parents) invented a monster for a local children’s charity.

As much as transition “is a process-not an event.” (Education Scotland, p11) certain events do become important in families’ calendars. Every year we hold a new P1 visit afternoon in the summer term where we traditionally focus on outdoor learning and a range of number and literacy based activities, this approach is based on active learning and play based strategies, Education Scotland document on transition states “Active learning should continue to be developed and supported in order to ensure transitions are as positive as they can be”.

As the Education Scotland document states, it is important for “meaningful progression to take place”; so as far as possible I plan these activities to progress into the first 2 weeks of school in August. For example this year I knew we would be doing a minibeast project in term 1 and would be focussing on poetry in literacy. Therefore we created a poetree as a class and used paired writing techniques to create simple poems, something which we built on in the first few weeks of school to create shared and paired writing haikus and other poetry. “There are two main strands to the transition to school: “settling in” to the schools in terms of getting to know people and the environment, and learning about learning in school. Continuity is the key to both these elements.” (Moyles, 2008, p229)

Similarly, many of the games in the P1 welcome packs which we give out on the open afternoon are also used in homework at the start of term to ensure some progression and continuity for children. This also gives us a chance to share expectations of learning with parents. Parents are invited to attend the last ½ hour of the welcome afternoon, where I share the P1 welcome packs, explain the games and show how these will be built on in the homework for term 1.

“Parent participation is vital in ensuring progression across the early level. It is important to support parents in developing realistic and positive expectations of what happens in primary 1, including supporting an understanding of active approaches to learning. This will in turn impact positively on children’s expectations of the transition.” (Education Scotland p10)

Part of our tradition of our welcome pack we also create a talking photo album and ask the children to add to it; this again involves the children in the class welcoming their new classmates and being involved in the process in a way which benefits both the new P1 children and the current class.

Designing and implementing transitions for 3 years now has certainly helped me transition into a better p1 teacher; although I would say there is still a long way to go in my transition process. I would certainly like to capitalise on our successes so far and hope to hold more rhyme time sessions in term 1 next academic year.

Using transition projects or themes which could run for a term such as the memory box would be beneficial for the future and is something I would like to further develop; again building on the success of the Hansel and Gretel GLOW transition. Although this does come with some practical difficulties in trying to match the learning needs of the children in at least 3 settings and finding a suitable project.

The Rhyme Time has taught me how important it is to include the children in my current class in the process; and so I would like to include them in running another enterprise project next term possibly involving our story sacks. Perhaps creating a story sack library and loaning them to perspective P1 parents.

This term our project is a book study on a selected few of Beatrix Potter’s stories; the children will create their own animal storybook as a gift for each of the perspective primary 1 pupils as well as a story CD of the children reading some of the stories.

Playing with Poetry in the Primary Classroom

A beautiful image from Gerry Cambridge's "Nothing But Heather"

This post can also be read at Raymond Soltysek’s blog,   http://raymondsoltysek.wordpress.com/, and at his website, soltysek.com

Last Friday, I spent the day working with groups of PGDE Primary students on poetry in the classroom;  I had a lot of fun, and discussing creative writing pedagogy with Primary teachers was really enlightening for me.

I start from the premise that we kind of get poetry wrong in schools.  Pupils’ experiences of it tends to be either for construction (“let’s all write an acrostic poem together”) or deconstruction (“let’s all highlight all the similes in the poem”), or a combination of both that, for example, uses deconstruction to elicit construction (“let’s all analyse the genre markers of the haiku, and then write one ourselves”).   And while all of these types of activity are valuable and indeed essential to understanding poetry, it is, for me, quite a limited and sterile experience: poetry is something we do something with, something that generates work. Students – even English graduates looking to be English teachers – come with a great deal of anxiety about poetry, and that is, they say, down to their experiences of poetry at school.

And yet, why do we read poetry?  Well, for enjoyment, of course.  And I don’t think there’s enough of that, so we started each session with the students browsing through some poetry anthologies and magazines to find something they liked to read to the rest of their group.  Then put it aside, because the worst thing we could do is to analyse it to death for the next three hours.

Having warmed up our poetry reading, we then warmed up our poetry writing with a quick poetry word wheel  exercise, a simple resource of three concentric discs containing an adjective,  a noun and a verb that provides a three word stimulus for a short poem.  With “scientist”, “kind” and “eats”, I came up with

“Working late, the scientist
Fills his lab with sparks,
eats Chinese food from a takeaway carton.
Kind of tangy.”

For some unaccountable reason, I’m quite proud of that.  However, some of the students’ responses were lovely:  Heather, using “big”, “girl and “swims”, wrote

“The girl swims slowly
Big arcing movements of her arms
Pulling her towards a warmer kind of peace.”

Catriona, using “empty”, “animal” and “hopes” thought of:

“The dawn stretches empty over rooftops
Below an animal limps across the road
A dog? A cat? A fox?
The sullen hopes of a city life are waking”

Poetry is stripped out of the curriculum, studied almost as a separate entity.  I’m a great believer that the poetic sensibility should be embedded and integrated much more into the day to day work of the classroom, and that a poem is as much a way of recording knowledge as a report or a close reading test or a storyboard.  To illustrate this, we spent some time looking at poems from Gerry Cambridge’s gorgeous poetry / photography / natural history collection “Nothing But Heather”.  Cambridge’s poetry is gorgeous, but what is so striking about “Nothing But Heather” is the informative quality of the text.  I remember looking at one of my favourites, “Chrysomelid Beetle Pollinating a Wild Orchid”, with a Fifth Year pupil, and she said she learned more about plant fertilisation from that poem than she learned in 5 weeks in Higher Biology.   All the students particularly liked “Shore Crab”, which they could easily see themselves using with their classes:  you can hear a musical version of it here, with Cambridge proving his Rennaisance Man credentials by playing a mean moothie.

So poetry, much more than simply being a form, also informs.  We looked at typical Primary school topics, and brainstormed a wordbank.  For example, with Vikings, we came up with:

Long ships       Sails             Shields                 Mead               Sagas

Hats with horns            Horned helmets              Swords             battle-axes      Pigtails

Ginger beards             Storm              Fjords              Fiery funerals

Gruel               Seas                             France – Normandy

A technique I’ve used often with older poetry writers is close redrafting:  you can read more about it in “Wind Them Up and Let Them Go: The Primacy of Stimulus in the Classroom”, an article I did for Writing in Education magazine a few years back.  You can download a copy from the University of Strathclyde by clicking the link.

Basically, when we assess prose, we tend to mark it holistically, taking in an extended piece of writing and assessing it with broad brushstrokes such as “vary your sentence structure” or “avoid repetition”.  It’s my feeling that this kind of assessment is inappropriate for poetry, since here the aim is to condense, distil.  As a result, we need to do away with prepositions, conjunctions, articles, all the chaff that makes a piece of prose flow, because those are not the words that signify meaning to the poet.

So, we get the pupils to write three simple sentences from their word bank – something like

Viking long ships sailed through stormy seas from their homes in the fjords to invade Scotland.  They arrived on beaches in the north and battled the locals with their swords and axes.  They told stories they called sagas about these events.

Now, looking at this as prose, we’d probably never comment on the fact that the phrase “in their” is repeated, or that the word “they” is used three times, because we feel they are somehow  “essential”.  The poetic way, though,  is to get rid of all those little words in red  to strip us to the words that really mean something, the words that communicate the core idea.  With a little beating and shaping, we can begin to mould something that looks like poetry:

“Viking long ships
Through stormy seas
From fjord homes
Invading Scotland
Swords and axes
For locals
On beaches
Sagas to be told.”

I’ve worked with teenage boys who love this way of building poetry, bit by bit, three sentence prose chunks developed into verses.  Working with groups in a Primary classroom, you could have your very own Viking saga in less than  half an hour.

So the poem becomes not a poem on its own, something seemingly independent of the rest of the curriculum, but becomes a quick, relatively easy way of providing another source of evidence of pupils’ understanding of a topic.  In addition, unlike the passivity of a close reading, it demonstrates individuals’ ability to make choices about the language  which means most to them from a  topic, and their ability to manipulate that language to express something that is genuinely an individual response.  Light bulbs seemed to be going on in the groups, thankfully.  Now, the poetic way of handling language simply became another literacy skill in the arsenal.

And what poetry also does is combine the objective with the subjective.  We looked at simple items that might be found on a  nature walk – a dead autumn leaf, a pebble, a scrap of wool caught on a barbed wire fence – and brainstormed it with a simple “Objective  / Subjective” column.  After sharing and developing, the task was to write a short poem that contained at least  two informative details and two emotional details.  With a picture of a bird’s skull, I came up with:

“A fragile piece
Of weather bleached calcium
It’s tiny brain cavity
Empty sockets
And beak
All that is left
Of what it once was
A feathered, flighted beauty,
Built for tearing flesh.”

Again, many of the students outdid me.  Matthew wrote about a broken egg-shell:

“On the ground
broken, discarded
A small cracked egg
lies on its own
once a house
to a new walk of life.
Or is it now dead?
A defenceless lunch for creatures passing by.”

What Matthew was very clear about was that he had no idea when he came in that he would have been able to produce that in five minutes – and that is, I think, an extremely powerful message to keep giving children: five minutes ago, you had nothing.  This poem didn’t exist.  Now look at what you’ve done.  That message has been hugely motivating for my pupils over the years.  And it also encourages an increased quantity of writing: every student went out the door having done a lot, they had been busy, busy, busy.  In classrooms, pupils will drag their feet for weeks over a big set piece essay; with five or ten minute poetry exercises slotted in here and there into their everyday activities, they actually produce a great deal

A final stimulus exercise using Farrow and Ball’s ludicrous paint colour range – Dead Salmon?  Elephant’s Breath? – and some discussion about the possibilities of using the poetic form much more regularly in classrooms as a means of allowing children to respond to the topics they study wound up the sessions.  I think they all got the message; that rather than “doing poems” as a box tick for the curriculum, divorced from the reality of the rest of their learning, poetry can be an everyday way to respond to experience.  And in doing so, I reckon, that can only help develop a love of poetry that can last a long, long time.

*insert bad New Year ‘Rev’olutions pun here*

I love the idea of #pedagooresolutions and there are many that I could (and probably will) sign up to but I’m struggling a wee bit on a purely selfish and personal level.

The thing is, I work in several (does three count as several?) small, rural primary schools providing CCR and management cover for six classes, three p1-3s and three p4-7s. I do everything from RME to a bit of Gaelic in classes of no more than 18 munchkins. For the most part it’s a joy and a pleasure, read all about it, as they say, here. No two days area ever alike and the interactions with the children vary so much from one school to the next that I’m always kept on my toes.

But here’s the thing; it’s that very variety which can often be most challenging. I’m never in the same classroom, or even the same school, two days running. I’m the educational equivalent of a hermit crab; nowhere to leave my things, no opportunity to carry work over sometimes for another whole week. Cloud storage and Edmodo are my twin saviours of sanity: round here if I forget a resource it’s a long, slow drive home to get it!

I feel,  often, disconnected from the lives of  the three schools; at one in particular I’m not there from one week to the next and trying to catch up with colleagues can be something of a challenge. Planning meetings can either be few and far between or it’ll be a case of trying to fit in fourteen million things into a stolen half hour at the end of a day.

I’m not complaining, I’m not even 100% sure why I’m writing this post. What I do know is that being organised – not necessarily something that comes easily to me – is absolutely paramount. Having to be a jack of all trades – again something we primary teachers are well used to – is particularly tricky when you go days at a time without the opportunity to see, far less build a relationship or rapport with, the children. Nonetheless, the rewards are huge and the opportunities to try out the many and varied wonderful ideas that come from the Pedagoo community, such as Edmodo, one minute writing and more thoughts on science teaching than you could shake a stick at are certainly more than worthwhile.

I don’t for a moment purport to have any great ideas or be in any position to offer answers to the many conundrums presented by teaching across multiple multi-stage composites but I’m always willing to listen and learn and, if I *can* help or offer support at all then consider this ear loaned.

One Minute Writing
March 21, 2012

There are times when I have felt very demoralized when I read the children’s writing.  I teach Primary 4  in the north of Glasgow.  No matter how much input I give there are some children who simply do not like writing.

Recently I have started doing One Minute Writing.  It is a great way of using the odd 10minutes before breaks that can happen for a variety of reasons.

The first time I used this was after a fire drill and there was 10 minutes between getting back to class and the morning break.  The children were noisy and restless.

As their literacy jotters were on their desks I asked them to put the heading One Minute Writing and the date.  They were a bit bemused at starting what they thought was a writing lesson with so little time available.

When they had done this I explained that I would write a single word on the board and they would write about that word for exactly one minute.  A timer was set and I wrote the word “fire”.

They all looked wvery industrious. I was impressed. When the timer rang they out down their pencils and every child was keen to read what they had written.  I chose the ones who were usually reluctant to write and also reluctant to share their work with the class.

The results were like list poems.

One example:

Fire is dangerous

Fire can kill

Fire spreads quickly

Fire is hot

Fire can burn you

Keep safe from fire.


I honestly think that they write as much in the given minute as many of them would write in 30 minutes.

Now they ask when they can do One Minute Writing.

Why don’t you give it a try. Let me know how it works for you and your class.


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