Mindful magic…

It can be easy to wish time away in school – how quickly the academic year passes – but how much goes unnoticed…

Paying more attention to the present, to your own thoughts and to the world around you, being ‘in the moment’ – can really help to improve your mental well-being.  This is the practice of being mindful.

As teachers we need to work hard to make time for our own mindfulness, but it is also essential that we teach our children this life skill.

There are a few incredibly practical approaches that can very easily be added to your daily teaching.  I have found ‘100 Ideas for Primary Teachers – Mindfulness in the Classroom’ by Tammie Prince essential for dipping into for inspiration.

 

Personally my favourites are:

‘Deep breathing’  – (I have been known to fall asleep whilst doing this!), which is ridiculously easy and can be used in any stressful situation in life.  This consists of breathing in for the count of five, pausing and breathing out for the count of 8 and repeating as necessary (it is brilliant for calming down an angry child!).

‘Body Writing’ – (something I particularly enjoyed as a child) where children in pairs write on each other’s backs – the sense of touch comforts and adds a sense of being in the moment as the child concentrates to decipher the word.

Including these practices can help improve yours and your pupils’ mental health – something to strive for as we start a new year!

 

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60 seconds for fluency…

As previously discussed on my blog, fluency is a key area of focus this year – particularly in Year 2 and Year 6 – to ensure that our pupils can access the end of key stage reading tests – too much effort spent trying to decode a text means there is little brainpower left to comprehend.

Twinkl have asked me to review their resources, giving me a subscription so I can access their site with ease and pick out things I think are most useful and I came across just the thing to help to develop fluency.  All views are my own and I will only recommend using things that will (in my humble opinion) have a positive impact on children’s learning.

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I believe that the greatest impact occurs when we to use fluency development strategies little and often (see my previous blog for more details – https://theliteracyleader.com/2017/12/18/fluency-for-comprehension/), but the potential downside of that is the implication for time taken to create or source resources on a regular basis….and that is when I found the super useful 60-second reads on Twinkl.

These are really useful for both measuring fluency, as each text extract is age appropriate, but also for fluency development using choral, cloze, echo or partner reading on a daily basis. As some of the text do come as alternative versions without a word count they lend themselves to fluency development.

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They are organised into KS1, LKS2 and UKS2 and are themed – some of the extracts could link to topics for example, Ancient Egypt, Fantasy, WW2….this works particularly well for EAL learners as it gives a context to the vocabulary read.

I have used them as warm-ups in guided reading sessions as they each come with content domain focused questions too.  Each content domain also links a to a specific  character. These characters can be referred to when questioning at any point across the curriculum, ensuring reading comprehension is taught beyond guided reading or English lessons – remember little and often!!

There are plenty of the 60-second reads to be downloaded and used in a variety of different ways for a variety of abilities – saving an inordinate amount of time in resource prep, allowing you to focus on learning.  Make your return to school in January a stress free one!

 

 

Fluency for comprehension.

How to develop fluency daily in class.

Fluency is the ability to read a text quickly, accurately , and with intonation. It is vital as without it children are unable to comprehend what they are reading – too much mental energy goes in to reading each word, sometimes still painstakingly sounding them out, for there to be much understanding.

After a lack of success last year in our KS2 Reading SAT I decided to investigate things further…QLA pointed out inference, as always, and a lack of answers beyond question 30.  There were many reasons why some of the children couldn’t plough through the text – EAL, SEN, etc but for others it wasn’t clear.  I decided the key was to measure fluency…

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We tested the Year 5 pupils and found that the majority of them had fluency scores well below what would be needed to comfortably access the SATs test next year.  This meant that we needed to ensure that fluency was developed daily in all year groups.

Already, in this relatively short space of time, children have increased in confidence, stamina and expression and can accurately read more words per minute. There are a few easy approaches that we that we use:

  • Choral reading – The children read with the teacher who models expression.  This can be used during English lessons, guided reading, story time or at anytime across the curriculum when texts are shared.
  • Cloze reading – The teacher reads a text and misses out words which are then read aloud by the class.  This approach is great for ensure children focus on the text.  They need to follow it closely with ruler or finger so they can quickly read the missing word. A word of warning is that fluency can be ruined if too many words are left for the children to read – remember the key to success is fantastic modelling of fluency by the adult.
  • Echo reading – The teacher reads a short section e.g. sentence, with lots of expression and the children repeat it. Sometimes it is necessary to break down more complex sentences into clauses or smaller sections so children can remember and repeat effectively with expression.
  • Paired reading – In pairs pupils read to one another.  It often works best when more able readers are paired with weaker readers and use elements of echo reading.  Middle ability pupils often work well reading together.
  • Reader’s Theatre – The children work in groups on a dramatic ‘radio’ reading of a text extract.  This works brilliantly for class assemblies.
  • Poetry recital – Pupils learn a poem by heart.  They then perform these either in groups or alone.  We learn a minimum of one per term.  Again this is great for class assemblies.

We ensure a variety of these approaches are used daily.  The children love them and engage much more positively with reading lessons.

These approaches work just as effectively with new to English, EAL or SEN pupils as they have opportunities to hear brilliant reading and can join in as they feel comfortable, without the fear of everyone listening to them alone.

It is vital that we build class story into our busy days as this is a fantastic opportunity for children to hear fluency modelled and where possible have copies of the books so children can follow as the teacher reads or even have a go at reading aloud themselves.

Audio books are a great way to expose your child to complex language, expressive reading, and amazing stories. Listening to audio books also gives them the valuable experience of using their own imaginations to visualize the people and to play their ‘mind movie’.  It seemed to fall out of fashion to have ‘listening centres’ in classrooms, but the are hugely important – children can even record themselves reading aloud to be listened to by other class members.

A final point for thought….if a child struggles to read accurately and quickly then silent reading, DEAR (drop everything and read) or ERIC (everybody reading in class) will not help them to develop fluency.  This does not mean don’t read silently in class, just consider why you are doing it….

The perils of greater depth…

During our most recent Year 6 cross-trust moderation there was one common sticking point….one little statement on the ‘interim’ framework that even those of us who have been teaching for longer than they care to remember (where did 20 years go – wasn’t that long ago I was the cool-kid on the block?!) struggled to find evidence of or even know how to effectively plan for it:

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Luckily, I work with some amazing teachers where the true joy of collaborative working is experienced regularly and fabulous ideas and resources were pooled and shared.  I will share some of the more useful approaches below as I am pretty sure many more of you are struggling too…!

Firstly, if you have the financial means, a subscription to ‘Grammarsaurus’ is invaluable. New resources are added regularly and they often tackle meaty EGPS issues in child-friendly, easily accessible ways.

https://grammarsaurus.co.uk/portal/category/key-stage-two/ks2-writing/

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One of the most inspiring CPD events you can attend is any run by Alan Peat.  The man is a font of knowledge plus he is extremely interesting and a brilliant teller of stories.  He is running events which focus on writing at greater depth…

http://www.alanpeat.com/conferences/

He is also well worth a follow on twitter or Facebook as he has shared super ideas on shifts in formality…

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Remember it is about managing several shifts within one piece of writing and also across a range of texts…

Here are some features to identify in reading and use in writing:

  • the subjunctive – I wish I were… If I were you…
  • passive constructions – It is widely believed that…
  • use of ‘one’ – One should consider…
  • technical vocab
  • Nominalisation – The arrival of the VIP caused much excitement. (use nouns rather than verbs or adjectives)
  • Abstract nouns – Darkness crept in
  • Stack your verbs – I propose to change….I demand to see
  • Avoid contractions
  • Avoid slang
  • Use colons to add detail to an independent clause (use it to summarise or detail why)

Opportunities in writing:

  • Newspaper Reports can provide great opportunities for these shifts.  Formal statements can set the tone for the report which can then be contrasted against the informality of a direct quotation from a witness.
  • Diaries are another useful text type for shifts.  Reflection can add an element of formality to an otherwise personal, chatty and immediate piece of writing.
  • In letter writing personal reflection can also add formality and contrast.
  • In narrative the contrast between informal direct speech from characters and the narrators more formal tone can be effective.

I am sure more ideas and inspiration will occur to me, feel free to share your thoughts below.

 

 

Fabulous books to inspire…

I have started collecting together some of my absolutely favourite books for children and young adults.  I admit I am obsessed and so I imagine this collection will continue to grow and grow…

I have found that most of these books are brilliant at inspiring creative writing, but also (and more importantly in my opinion) as an introduction to damn good stories and fabulous authors.

Feel free to add to the padlet page as I am always looking for new books to add to my overflowing bookshelf!

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Reading ready in Year 2?

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Above is an extract from paper 2 of last year’s KS1 SAT….the ante was very much upped from previous years.  This then leads to the question of how can we prepare children for this assessment process without switching them off reading, but allowing them to feel prepared so that nothing will come as a horrible surprise??

AND the Year 2 teachers have to bear in mind the other measures that they can be moderated against in the interim framework…here is what an ‘expected’ child can do in reading…

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Quite a challenge it seems….

What can we use to support our teacher assessment for fluency, accuracy and understanding?  There are lots of everyday processes that can be used without planning activities to simply tick boxes…

  • Reading records books used in school – the expected colour of book banding would be gold, white or above.  Check that the phonic phases match and therefore the books being read are appropriate.

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  • Home/school reading record books – some schools may use Phonics Bug, Lexia or other online reading acivities which can be used at home and often produce reports on what has been read etc.
  • Running records – 90% accuracy per page is needed for children to be able to comprehend the text.  Here is an interesting article explaining how you can use any book as a running record: http://scholastic.ca/education/movingupwithliteracyplace/pdfs/grade4/runningrecords.pdfCaptureww
  • Standardised reading test – SWRT /Salford which will give a reading age, but will also highlight the words that they are struggling with
  • Guided reading book or reading journal – this will evidence understanding of a text
  • English book – as above this will show what an individual has understood from texts used as a class

To build up stamina and fluency individual reading needs to happen as often as possible, but the use of ERIC (everyone reading in class) can help children focus on a text independently as they will need to do in the test.  I generally do this twice a week from January onwards.

I often use text extracts from http://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk to get children used to reading an ‘unseen’ piece of writing, which also has age range recommendations with each extract so I can ensure that it is suitably challenging.

It is vital that the children have experience of answering questions by writing answers.  I like to build in examples from each content domain throughout the year.  I found some brilliantly useful question stems on this website http://primaryenglished.co.uk/ which I have used firstly with illustrations and films, building up to using mainly text extracts…

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Sea Dragon extract Y2

I use these during guided reading sessions, adding different question types as we get nearer to May.

Useful websites and links:

https://www.pobble365.com/

 

 

 

Fabulous films….

I have talked about this many times before – films are some of the most powerful resources you can use to engage children.  They are amazingly effective with those often harder to reach groups….boys, EAL, SEN.  I like to make collections of the films I have used that have worked across age ranges and I will share some of the best here.

I find film really useful at the start of an English unit of work to activate schema, encouraging children to bring their own experience to the text or genre that I will eventually share.  Sometimes I use clips of full length films, but often it is short animations that work best.

I use the snipping tool or my smartnotebook camera to capture still images and create tick sheets of key words and corresponding pictures for those with little English so they are beginning to understand and focus upon the essential vocabulary.  These pictures are also great to use to support the creative writing of those who have literacy difficulties, giving them prompts and structure for their work.

A brilliant film for assembly or a PHSCE session is ‘For the birds’, where a strange looking new bird tries to make friends with a a rather unkind flock with hilarious outcomes…

‘Defective Detective’ is great for inference.  The detective’s overactive imagination leads him to believe terrible crimes are being committed in the flat above him…

‘Dangle’ is a great film for discussing ‘What would you do?’ and for using prediction…’What is at the end of the red rope?’

‘La Luna’ is a beautiful animation from Pixar that introduces the idea of mythology and how early man believed the world worked.  This works well with Oliver Jeffers’ books ‘How to catch a star’ and ‘The way back home’ – ideal for a topic on stars or night time in KS1.

My absolute favourite (which I have done an entire blog post on already!) is ‘Francis’.  A dark and spooky tale only suitable for the oldest KS2 children, but is fabulous at looking for the signs an author gives you to build up tension, anticipation and dread….

Following the spooky theme is ‘Alma’, which is more suitable for the rest of KS2, where spooky dolls have eyes that seem to  follow you…..

‘Home Sweet Home’ is the bittersweet story of a house that longs to be elsewhere and his journey with friends across beautiful, yet rugged and host landscapes.  This lends itself to creative writing and stories of epic journeys…

I will finish this post on a non-fiction note…’Dragons – a fantasy made real’ is an amazing stimulus for information texts on dragons and links beautifully to the talk for writing work of Pie Corbett…