All posts by James

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!

This is the original version of ‘Ready, Respectful and Safe’, I will update it with the children singing once the recording is complete.

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.

Reasons to write

When do you write? Other than work related? If I’m honest, the answer is not too often. The same applies to the children in school. When I asked the children in my class the same questions, I was pleasantly surprised by the number who said they enjoyed writing stories away from school, but still, it got me wondering when else can children find opportunities to write.

So I made a list.

I shared that list with some children and their parents at parents evening. The idea is to give them some real life reasons for writing so that they have a real reason to practise and develop their skills. The children enjoy the autonomy of writing what they want. In school we often tell the children what to write in terms of genre, topic, audience, purpose, etc. This is just a list of reasons, the children have the freedom to decide which ones they want to do, what they write about and how many times they do it. There is no requirement for the children to bring in or show me the writing they produce. Just practise.

Any other ideas for writing opportunities to add to the list will be gratefully received.

I didn’t just give the list to everyone for two reasons. If it was given to everyone, then I felt it would have been done by the same children who diligently do as they are asked. This is not a problem in itself, any writing is good, right? But I really wanted it to be a challenge that only a few children had so they felt it was special, placing greater value on the writing opportunities for them. I was also worried that the individual ownership and autonomy over the audience and creative process might be diluted if everyone was doing it. We’ll see how that turns out.

Next step

During my research for this list I asked eduTwitter to offer any reasons for writing to add. One deputy head teacher and literacy specialist, Claire Tunnicliffe, shared a great idea about finding out when and where people use writing. Research local businesses and then write to them asking them when and why they use writing. I’ll give this a go next term when we are doing a local area study. Keep it real y’all.

IN-HOUSE OUTDOOR LEARNING

This post has been co-written by myself and Bex Connor, an experienced primary teacher who has worked in all primary year groups and is currently teaching a mixed early years/year 1 class and leading Literacy, Science and Outdoor Learning.

For the last 5 years children at our school have been taking part in Forest Schools activities. Different classes would spend either a whole morning or afternoon session on a Wednesday in a wood near to the school doing all sorts of lovely, engaging and exciting activities, helping them learn new skills and develop teamwork and resilience, amongst other things. Over the year each class would get 3 half terms worth of Forest School-ing. It was great. It was something the children looked forward to. It was something current and prospective parents liked about our school. It was very expensive.

Learning outside is important to our school ethos and the benefits of outdoor education are many and well documented so we didn’t want to stop altogether but we are a small school, with a small budget and we had to come up with another plan.

So with a heavy heart we ended our partnership with Forest Schools and took control of our own outdoor education. And thus, Welly Wednesdays was born. Money still needs to be spent, but a fraction of the amount that was being spent previously, and it’s being spent on our school grounds and developing our own team rather than going to a 3rd party. This means it is sustainable and securing excellent outdoor learning opportunities for children at our school for generations to come.

The other benefit of going ‘in-house’ is giving the teachers autonomy over the planning and delivery of the sessions. Our children are still able to build on practical skills they are taught week on week, but now what they are learning is much more closely linked to our own bespoke curriculum while also ensuring coverage of the national curriculum. In the few months Welly Wednesdays have been taught, we have covered areas of English, maths, DT, science, PE, art, music and geography. Ofsted noted in a November 2018 inspection, ‘Pupils enjoy a broad and balanced curriculum which takes advantage of the school’s rural setting.’

Funding wise we have used some of our Sports Premium funding to train staff as it: increases their confidence, knowledge and skills; engages all pupils in regular physical activity which supports a healthy lifestyle; and increases the profile of Outdoor Adventurous Activities across the school. We’ve also been able to take advantage of a few grants to help us with specific building projects – like making a fence and getting some solar powered lighting for our round house. Our school office (like most schools) receives emails on a semi-regular basis letting us know about various grants and funding opportunities. These are normally for specific reasons and to go towards projects, rather than just offering money for you to spend as you please. However, if you have projects in mind and can evidence how the money will be spent supporting an ongoing scheme, you might just find that no one else had the time to fill in the form and you win your school a bit of extra funding to support your vision. The trick is to make sure that initial email gets forwarded to the right member of staff, preferably one who loves a good form.

We are still developing how we plan and deliver the sessions, but the beauty of having different teachers planning their own sessions, means that the experience is very different for the children as they move through the school.

EYFS sessions are largely about discovery. They focus their learning around a book (e.g. ‘Superworm’) and each week they receive a hook, such as a letter. This letter sets out some of the activities the children may access during the session and also inspires them to write back when they return to the classroom. The benefit of not following the Forest Schools ethos so closely is that the learning can cover the NC more closely. Therefore, EYFS and KS1 have been able to cover seasons, weather and similarities and patterns in the environment. A sample week for EYFS would look like this:

Hook – A large dragonfly made out of pallets and a letter from ‘Superworm’. The letter introduces a Hero Insect – the Dragonfly. This becomes the focus of the week.

Activities – 1. Create a dragonfly using leaves, petals, seeds on the ground. There is an opportunity here to discuss classification of insects and their similarities. 2. Digging in the garden. 3. Sowing seeds in the polytunnel. 4. Creating a bug hotel. 5. A mindfulness area – a selection of books, breathing activites led by an adult, cloud gazing and tree hugging.

In KS2 we’ve been teaching children important life skills. As we continue to develop our outdoor learning provision, we plan to have a curriculum which builds on these skills each year so by the time a child has been with us from Reception to Year 6 they will be to achieve a number of tasks using a great range of skills.

We are very much in the trial stage of our Welly Wednesdays and are trying to get the balance right between covering the curriculum and allowing the children the freedom to explore our environment.

We are blessed with beautiful school grounds, with a range of different areas to take part in a range of different tasks and activities – vegetable patches, a pond, a tree ring, a field, a round house, a green house. While I recognise we are in a fortunate position, I also think that most of what we’ve done can be replicated elsewhere with a bit of imagination. However large or small your school grounds, it’s important to make the most of them and using them to help deliver a broad and balanced curriculum, bespoke to your area and your children’s needs.

More Than Wallpaper

‘More than just wallpaper’, is my aim for displays in my school. They should be interesting, they should be interactive and they should serve a purpose. The point of this blog post is to collect together all of the pictures I’ve come across in person or online that meet those criteria. I’ve previously shared my ideas for creating a number rich environment around school, these are for any and all subject. I hope the following are useful in someway and would be delighted if anyone reading this was to share more pictures of interesting and interactive displays with me through the hashtag #morethanwallpaper.