Making the Most of the Situation

It’s always important to get transition from one class to another right, but this year has thrown up some unique challenges that we are working to overcome. In recent weeks we have seen increasing numbers of children come back to school to join our Years R, 1 and 6 bubbles, as well as growing numbers joining bubbles for the children of key workers and those in vulnerable groups.

It’s been great to have more children in school, but at the same time we’ve been very conscious of those who don’t qualify to return for one reason or another. We have been trying to orchestrate ways to see them, while also following the evolving guidelines to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Reintegration Days

As a small rural school, we are lucky enough to have large grounds. We’ve been able to make use of our setting to invite children in from years 2,3,4 and 5 for reintegration sessions. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the children come in for 90 minute sessions, where they get to spend time with their friends, take part in a Forest School style activity and play some PE games. Running 2x 90 minute sessions a week for the last 4 weeks of term, means these children are getting 12 hours in school before the summer holiday. The response has been wonderful, giving the children something positive to look forward to and the parents a small break from home learning! Coupled with the priority groups and year group bubbles, we now have over 90% of our children in school at some point during the week.

Summer Send Off

Another opportunity we have planned to get families on to the school site is our Summer Send Off. This is a PTA event, sort of like a miniature Summer Fayre. Year groups are invited to arrive at staggered times to meet their new teacher and pick up a summer resources pack. School uniforms will be available, as many children will have outgrown theirs and there will be a stall of free books that have been donated in recent weeks. Socially distanced games have been devised to be enjoyed, including Play Your Cards Right and a Penalty Shoot Out. It’s also important to us to support local and parent-owned businesses that may have been struggling during the lockdown. We’ve invited a few along to promote their businesses, make a few sales and drum-up some future trade.

Welcoming our new families

In more normal times we would welcome our new families through a series of events at this time of year to help prepare our new Year R class for September. Most of these events have been pushed back until after the summer holiday when we are planning to carefully integrate our new pupils over a few weeks. However, we were keen to make contact before we broke up for the summer to answer questions, allay fears and welcome them to our school community. So we invited parents and children to attend one of two sessions in our grounds to run through the school day, introduce the team and begin to orientate the children to their new surroundings.

Transition Videos

Each class team has produced a ‘Welcome to…’ video. In them, the teacher and TA introduce themselves, give a little teaser of their topic for September and set a challenge or two for the children to work on over the summer. The teachers have also produced summer resources packs containing ideas for practising some key skills, tasks designed to prepare the children for their new classes and #TheSidlesham101.

The Big Summer Dance

Thinking longer term, we wanted to plan something for when we all (finally) get back together. The idea is that we will do a massive dance on the school field in September. We looked at a few dance tutorial videos, but nothing seemed quite right, so we made our own. We chose ‘We Go Together’ from Grease as our music and made the videos below!

Step by step guide to our dance
The full routine

Singing Assemblies

Since the lockdown started in March, I’ve been making singing assemblies at home for our children who are in school or learning from home. The idea was to give them a bit of normality, see a familiar face and have a bit of a laugh. My own children started helping out quite a bit and that helped us not to take it too seriously and hopefully avoid it becoming too cringey.

The singing assemblies have been put together in a YouTube playlist to be shared and enjoyed at our school and beyond.

As the weeks went by, more and more children requested an increasingly eclectic variety of songs and the performances included more and more costumes and props.

Dragon Stories

Every year we take World Book Day and turn it in to book fortnight. It’s usually a two week long, whole-school event that aims to encourage reading a variety of different books. This year two dragon eggs have been found at our school and it’s given us a chance to look at stories featuring dragons. It turns out there are an awful lot of them. This is kind of the point. Loads of different types of books that can be enjoyed from EYFS to year 6, which is great for making comparisons and writing for a range of purposes.

Over the different classes, teachers used a range of dragon books to inspire, compare, contrast and enjoy, but we also read a different dragon book in a special assembly at the end of each day. This was an opportunity to enjoy some stories, but also lead to discussion around the evidence that dragon in the featured story may be the dragon that laid two eggs at our school.

Twitter was very helpful when it came to recommending dragon books and I made a list of all the suggestions.

A link to a massive collect of children’s books featuring dragons.

Another fun thing we did was make use of X-ray goggles to make a fake news page about the dragon egg finding.

Then we found some massive footprints…

Next a few bits of dragon poo turned up which contained chicken bones to prove our dragon was a carnivore.

Finally, the dragon came back to collect its eggs and we were fortunate enough to get some footage of the moment it arrived…

Pass The Pigs

The summer holiday is the perfect time to stop rushing around and start spending quality time with my own children. When we get bored after the first week and/or the weather takes a turn for the worse, we start playing games. Card games are simple and a deck of fits easily into luggage if you are travelling, but so does Pass the Pigs!

Pass the Pigs is a family favourite and has many develpmental benefits when playing the game with children. It helps with maths, but also with learning resilience and perseverance.

The aim of the game is to score the most points by rolling a pair of pigs. Your score is calculated depending on the position the pigs land in. The first educational benefit is simple addition. The children need to add up the score of the two pigs they have rolled, then they must add it to their total score. It’s a good bit of mental addition practice. But that’s not the best bit.

The best bit is the losing. As you play the game you accrue points, but you can also lose your points. All of them. If your two pigs are touching (making bacon) or you roll a double sider with one dot up and one dot down, your score goes back to zero. What I’ve found to be particularly valuable are the converstations I’ve been having with the children when they do lose their points.

To start with there were a few tantrums and then not wanting to play EVER AGAIN! Then they would play if the were in a team with an adult. This gave us the opportunity to model our reactions to losing points. It’s ok to be disappionted. But we’re trying to teach proportional responses. Eventually they were happy to play on their own, with/against the rest of the family. Great fun ensuses. WARNING – avoid playing the game if your small child is too tired, it’s easy to go back to square one!

There is immense pleasure to be found in rolling a leaning jowler or a double razorback. But that pleasure is heightened by the jeopardy involved. I like the fact that you can be winning the whole way through the game, only to lose all of your points at the last moment. Equally, you can be floundering in single figures and surprisingly be the last player with any points.

The, rarely seen, double leaning jowler. The top score in Pass the Pigs.

Ready, Respectful and Safe song

I’ve always been a bit wary of playing my guitar in school as it feels like it can get a bit cringey and David Brent when you inflict your music on other people. Conversely, I also think it’s important to share your passions with the children and music is such a powerful and enjoyable form of expression I do try to include it where I can.

As part of my role of music lead, this year we will be recording a school album. We have done this before, but this time we will be recording and producing it ourselves, any profit will be returned to the school and can be reinvested in music education for our children. Each class will sing a their own songs as well as some whole school songs and a couple solos.

This seemed like the perfect opportunity to write and record our own school song! So I got writing. We have 3 simple school rules of being, ‘Ready, Respectful and Safe’ so that became the theme of the song. The idea is to explore the meanings of these words a bit more and to be used as a reference point throughout school when talking to children.

You may not be surprised to know that these 3 rules were inspired by the excellent book ‘When the Adults Change Everything Changes‘, by Paul Dix. Simplifying to these 3 school rules has had a really positive impact for both children and adults in our school. Previously we had 7 learning behaviours and 7 learning values and no one could really remember what they all were or what they meant. Ready, respectful and safe seems to cover everything and is simple enough to remember, especially with a catchy song!

Ready, Respectful and Safe by Sidlesham Primary School

To find the lyrics here and feel free to use them to make your own Ready, Respectful and Safe song for your school. Although a credit would be appreciated and if your making money out of it, I’d like a cut!

Assembly Books

This year I will be reading books in assemblies once a week. Sharing stories, discussing what we can learn from them and encouraging reading for pleasure. The books will be selected because of their suitability to the Primary age group and the time of year and their ability to make the readers reflect and enjoy. Headteacher and children’s book enthusiast Simon Smith pointed me in the direction of the hashtag #assemblybooks which has been a great source of research and inspriation for the books I plan to read every week.

The Squirrels who Squabbled – by Rachel Bright and Jim Field

A great story about the importance of friendship and teamwork. When the two squirrles eventually work together they find life much more enjoyable and they are much more successful. The book also touches on themes of laziness and greediness.

There’s Room For Everyone – Anahita Teymorian

At first I was reminded of the ‘Jar of Life‘ story, where the jar appears to be full, but more and more things are added to it. But this story goes deeper into the futility of war in a very child friendly way. There is room for everyone in this world and we should all get along. I particularly enjoyed the message from the author at the back of the book where she gives the reasons that she wrote the book and how angry she got when she watched the news. For assembly it is useful to be able to develop the discussion around the text by hearing directly from the author.

Perfectly Norman – by Tom Percival

A lovely book that encourages children not to hide their light under a bushel, but to be proud of what makes them special and the things they enjoy. When you let your light shine and are proud of who you are, you will give others the confidence to do the same. Life’s is for living.

On A Magical Do-Nothing Day – by Beatrice Alemagna

A great reminder to ditch the digital devices and get outside to experience the world around you. The girl at the centre of the story is stuck in the same old cabin, in the same old forest, in the same old rain while dad is back in the city and mum writing on the computer. She is encouraged to go and do someting by her mum and she reluctently goes outside where she finds nothing much to do apart from loads of exploring of the pond and stones and soil and seeds and plants etc…

Could be good for an assembly before a school holiday, during an internet safety week or to encourade a bit of cultural capital if you like. It certainly goes well with our Sidlesham 101.

The Sea Saw – by Tom Percival

This is the story of a toy bear who is lost at the beach by a little girl called Sofia. The bear goes on an epic journey to get back to Sofia, all the while being guided and protected by the sea. Eventually the bear is discovered in a stream by a little girl who turns out to be Sofia’s granddaughter. All rather lovely, and the moral of the story is, ‘nothing is ever truly lost if you keep it in your heart.’

The Dot – by Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti thinks she cant draw. He teacher thinks she can and encourages her just to try. To start. To make a mark. From the simple beginning of a dot and with some carefully nurtured support from her teacher, Vashti develops a passion for art and becames ‘a really great artist’, who is able to encourage others to take the plunge themselves. The Dot has a great message for pupils and teachers alike, encouraging pupils to be brave learners and take risks in their work to find their own style and enjoyment. It’s the role of the teacher in the story that I really enjoy though, she cares for the child and really values their work, making a special fuss of what they have done encouraging them to greater achievements.

Bedtime Stories

The joy of books

One of the best things about being a parent (and teacher for that matter) is sharing books with children. My children and I particularly enjoy bedtime stories where we have uninterupted time together exploring fantasy lands with fantasitical characters. I’ve written before about reading recommendations for short stories at bedtime, with suggests from a great range of teachers and parents.

The purpose of this blog is for me to have a place to share some of the longer, chapter books we’ve been reading at bedtimes, and add to it over time.

July 2019 – The Paninis of Pompeii by Andy Stanton

This is the first in a new series of books by Andy Stanton who is the author of the Mr Gum books. There is a lot more to it than the Mr Gum books and it’s more of a collection of short stories set in a ancient Pompeii. It would kind of work if you’re looking at the Ancient Roman Empire in class, but you’d have to get the children to work out which bits were historically accurate and which bits were artistic license and pure comedy value.

Like Stanton’s previous work, this book is chocked full of very silly humour (the main character is literally a fart merchant) and some fantastically named excentiric characters including Barkus Wooferinicum the family dog and a personal favourite Atrium Jamiroquai Tannicus. We look forward to the next installment in the Paninis series.

June 2019 – The Story of Matthew Buzzington by Andy Stanton

This story is great if you want to address bullying issues in class. Matthew Buzzington and his little sister move to the Big City and start at a new school. Starting at a new school can be tough at the best of times, but when you think you can turn into a fly and tell people that on a few occassions it doesn’t help you make friends. The trouble is that he fails to turn into a fly so is widley mocked. However, one thing leads to another and Matthew goes on quite the journey with the bully and his little sister.

While there are certainly funny parts to the book, it’s a departure from the usual silliness of Stanton’s books. Very much worth a read though and unlike most of his other work, this book has an important message too.

May 2019 – The Monkey Pirates by Mark Skelton

If you like Mr Gum books then the humour in this one will be right up your street. Emily Jane, the main protagonist, is a girl who goes on a time travelling adventure with a bunch of monkey pirates in a wardrobe. She’s on a round-about mission to find her long-lost Uncle Bartholomew. She may well under up finding him. But she’s not really sure. My son and I both thoroughly recommend this book because it made us chuckle on many occassions.

Previous reads…

Over the years we’ve read a lot of books. Many of the picture books are listed here. We’ve read a few of David Walliams books, a few Daisy and the trouble with… by Kes Grey books and most of the Roald Dahl books.

Taskmaster in school

Last November I wrote a blog post about how we’d been inspired by the TV show Taskmaster to run a week of problem solving tasks in my school to encourage team work and positive communication. Since then one thing has lead to another and I’ve been asked by many teachers on Twitter about running Taskmaster events in schools. This post is an update on the previous one offering some insight into why and when to run Taskmaster in school.

BUT WHY?

Ultimately, a major role of schools is to prepare children to be employees of the future. Key skills required by employers, and developed through Taskmaster in school, are communication, teamwork, resilience, problem solving and decision making. In an increasingly automated world, interpersonal skills are becoming more valued as explained by Belarusian American entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk who says, Emotional intelligence is about to become the single most important trade’.

The beauty of the random and varied nature of the tasks means that you can tailor the tasks to the needs of your class or your school. We needed to work on our children communicating more positively with each other, so it became all about team work and leaving no one behind when completing a task. So, if you’ve got a sports focus at the moment do more of the physical outdoor tasks. If your school development plan requires you to focus on writing, do more of the writing tasks. Yes, it’s that simple.

Another benefit is that Taskmaster is a real leveller. It doesn’t simply celebrate the same, more academically or physically able children, but rewards perseverance, lateral thinking and all the other things mentioned above.

BUT WHEN?

Wherever you like. It’s your school. But below are a few examples of when other teachers have used it in schools.

TASKMASTER AFTER SCHOOL CLUB. Darren Eales has been running a Taskmaster Club for some time now and has had a remarkable response. Where after school clubs at his school usually have an uptake of around 20 pupils, 80 children responded to the Taskmaster letter below and he’s had to limit numbers and allow different children to attend each half term.

Darren Eales Taskmaster Club letter source:
https://twitter.com/DarrenEales/status/1068772833558446080

Darren has kindly shared a load of resources in a Taskmaster Dropbox where you will find his Taskmaster after school club start up kit- Including over 30 tasks (borrowed from Taskmaster book) adapted for group tasks in schools and a simple ppt and scorecard etc.

TASKMASTER LUNCHTIME CLUB. Secondary maths teacher, Jay Sandhu runs a lunchtime club in his school and is even going to the length of having a bust of is head made as a prize for the victors. He is particularly keen on using Taskmaster as a leveller and enjoys making his top set mathematicians sweat over random tasks.

THINKING DAY. Just as everything stops for Sports Day in most Primary Schools, everything becomes Taskmaster during Thinking Day at Megan Savage‘s school. As an accredited ‘Thinking School’ they are known for encouraging thinking and how to organise thinking by using thinking maps, thinking hats and habits of the mind. This is celebrated during a whole school Thinking Day. The tasks are designed by Megan but run and scored by a group of year 6 children.

ANTI-BULLYING WEEK. In my school we were looking for ways to encourage the children to communicate more positively during Anti-Bullying Week. Being a big fan of the show I planned fours days of activities based on Taskmaster to get the children to work together and communicate well for the benefit of their whole team. I wrote about what we did in the previous Taskmaster in the Classroom blog post where you will find resources including loads of possible tasks you could attempt in school.

END OF TERM FUN. The last day of term can often involve tidying up, watching a film, playing games or a party, but for Ian Addison‘s class it was a day of Taskmaster fun. He has written about what his class got up to on his blog. I certainly believe that Taskmaster Day is considerably more productive and valuable in school than watching a film.

TRANSITION. Transition day in July or the first week back in September would also be an ideal time to introduce Taskmaster to your class. It’s a great way to see how different groups of children work together and approach these challenges in a fun and engaging way.

EVERY MONDAY. During term time, every Monday, @ClassTaskmaster set tasks for schools, classes, clubs, tutor groups, pupils, teachers, etc all over the country to be completed before the deadline using the hashtag #ClassTaskmaster. Test yourself against the rest to see if you and your team are the best. Winners announced at the end of each half term.

OVER TO YOU…

If you are planning to do Taskmaster events in your school I’d love to hear about them. Use the hashtag #SchoolTaskmaster and tweet me about it @JamesBlakeLobb. All of the teachers mentioned in this blog post are on Twitter and happy to be contacted with questions about what they did to make Taskmaster a success in their schools.

If you do your own Taskmaster activities in school, why not use this video from Alex Horne to introduce it? The password is schooltaskmaster. Enjoy.

Meeting Greg, Alex and the other Taskmaster teachers
At The One Show with Angelica, Matt and the Taskmaster teachers

Reading For Pleasure

There are strong links between reading for pleasure and educational outcomes . As well as the research evidence available on the matter, all teachers can read a piece of writing from children of any age and tell if they read widely or not. But how do we promote reading for pleasures in our schools? This post sets out of few of the measures we have put in place in our school, they are mostly simple and easy to replicate. Not all original ideas by any means, but our own interpretations and evolutions of ideas seen on social media, during visits to other schools and through other CPD.

  1. Read to the children. Hearing reading modelled is important for children to understand sentence structure, pronunciation, intonation, inflexion, fluency, and most of all, it makes the text enjoyable. Reading a whole class text everyday helps introduce the children to a wide range of authors and genres. We often choose high quality texts in line with our topics, but also we chooses books purely because we enjoy them. By sharing the covers on the doors of our classrooms we are further raising the profile of reading and encouraging discussions about books.

2. Recommend books. Adults and children alike are encouraged to share the books that bring them joy in some way. We recommend books by reading them, as in point 1, but we also share book recommendations through our weekly newsletter to parents and display these in our school library. Even more valuable though is when children recommend books to their peers. This happens through discussions in class but we also have stands around school that children put books on when they are empty to advertise books that they have enjoyed.

3. Radical Reading. I’ve seen similar displays in schools with the name #ExtremeReading, but we went for #RadicalReading because my Head really, really likes alliteration. We’ve just launched this in school, promoting reading, anywhere and everywhere. Although be warned, some radical reading on social media is reading of a radical nature, so it’s not all good.

4. Have well stocked book shelves. Each class has a dedicated reading area complete with a range of books. We recently had a generous donation from our PTA to update our in class collections. This was a great chance to discuss books with the class and they talked with passion about series and authors I’d not heard of. This gave us a chance to refresh our collection and made the new books sort after and valued. If you’re not fortunate enough to have any money available for new books in your school you could try the Foyle Foundation who provide grants for school libraries of between £1K and £10K.

5 Find time to read. During free reading time the teachers are encouraged to read as well. It’s always tempting to trim that sheet you need for the geography lesson or try and mark those last 5 maths books, but if the teacher demonstrates that they value reading, the children will place greater value on it. Also, allow time to discuss what you have been reading for a few minutes after this. Talk books, value books, recommend books.

We also have weekly reading time in our houses, where children from across the school meet up read to each other. It’s lovely to see them all sharing their books and a great confidence booster for everyone.

6. Find and use the good stuff. We’ve got a display at the back of our classroom where the children add awesome words, phrases and sentences as and when they come across them during their reading. Before sticking the post-it note on the wall they share what they have found with the class. I have plans to try and put them all together and see if we can write a story out of them that makes sense and is full of wonderful description. We’ll see how that goes!

7. Make books available for everyone. Outside of our Head’s office, just after you enter the school, you will come across some chairs and a basket or great books. So if you’re ever visiting our school you’ll have the chance to discover a new book and, if you’re kept waiting, you will get to enjoy a bit of reading. This basket is particularly well used when children are getting changed for PE. The ones who get changed the quickest, get to share a book with their friends for a minute or two. It’s great just to have books on hand, available, visible and valued.

8 Talk about books. We happen to have a radio station in our school and used it during World Book Day to give children the opportunity to talk to each other about their favourite books. We all plan to use it for children to read their own stories as well as stories they like. This way they can pass on their passions to others in school and further afield. I realise that most schools don’t have the luxury of a radio station, but most can make use of technology to record and publish reviews, interviews and story telling by making use of free apps.

An example of our World Book Day reviews of our favourite books

BEDTIME STORIES

A few years ago I wrote a post/rant extolling the virtues of reading with your children from an early age. To that end, I’ve been discussing bedtime stories with colleagues at work recently. Which ones were favourites and which they had less fond memories of.

The link below is a list of bedtime stories recommended by a range of educationalist from a range of experiences and backgrounds. All are also parents who have selected these books that they hold dear and have cherished memories of. The list contains details of the author, person recommending, review and link to buy. If you think there is a glaring omission from the list, get in touch and I’ll add it.

Bedtime Stories recommended by parents and educationalist.

As your kids get older, you’ll move on to chapter books. There are many great ones out there but my absolute favourites are the Mr Gum series from Andy Stanton. They are simply sublimely silly. I’ve also got some thoughts on Roald Dahl books if you care to read more.

Finally…

To finish, a rather personal rant. You may have seen a very popular book called, ‘Where The Wild Things Are’. While I love the artwork in this book, I just can’t bring myself to recommend it due to it’s remarkable lack of full stops. Perhaps it shouldn’t bother me, but it does.