Category Archives: Literacy

Roald Dahl Books – here’s what I’m thinking

Bedtime stories have had a distinctly Roald Dahl theme this year. My son and I have been working our way through his catalogue of  children’s books and it’s been wonderful revisiting these magical stories from my own childhood. It’s great to be able to share these classics with such rich characters, plots and memories.

Fantastic Mr Fox

Brief. Exciting. But, how is Mr Fox the hero of this story? He steals from the farmers (who are spun to be evil, extreme, disgusting characters) with no sign of remorse. His actions lead to his family’s lives being put in danger and all the other animals going without food for a long period of time. He does put that bit right in the end, with a bit more of the good old stealing.

All of that said, I enjoyed the book, as did my son, and thus began a journey of discovery into the world of Roald Dahl.

The BFG

Sweet, lovely, fantasy tale of a girl who hangs out with a giant and they end up saving the world with a little help from the Queen of England. Great stuff.

The nature of bedtime stories is that they tend to happen towards the end of the day and this made reading the book a bit tricky. I was tired and the BFG himself speaks in a most peculiarly grammatically confused manner.  Reading his dialogue was hard work and I’m not entirely sure it made all that much sense to be honest.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Awesome. Exactly what I remembered it to be. An absolute classic.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Awful. A couple of random, unconnected stories about a space hotel and some shrinking grandparents. The difficult follow up book was a poor relation. A singular blot on Dahl’s landscape.

Matilda

My son’s favourite Roald Dahl book. We found ourselves really rooting for Matilda and Miss Honey. But it’s the less positive characters which make this book so special. Matilda’s parents and Miss Trunchbull are so ridiculous, horrendous and mean the reader is glad when they get their comeuppance. The film version went down very well also.

James and the Giant Peach

A classic tale of boy whose parents die having to live with his evil aunties, a giant peach grows in their garden, boy goes inside the peach, meets a bunch of giant insects and arachnids and they all go off on an adventure together. I really enjoyed the characters in this one, but it was longer than I remembered which is probably not a good sign!

Danny the Champion of the World

My mum will tell you that when I was growing up I loved this book, I read it and listened to it on cassette on numerous occasions. The truth is, the first time I read the book was this year, to my son. My mum is thinking of my brother, I’ve told her this and she maintains that she is correct. She is not. The good news is that my brother was correct to enjoy this book, it’s now my favourite Roald Dahl book. A touching story of a father and son breaking the law together for larks and to beat ‘the man’. I love the warmth and affection in the story in the relationship between Danny and his father. It makes me long for his childhood of simple pleasures and wish for it for my own children.

George’s Marvellous Medicine

Evil grandma gets what’s coming to her when her grandson makes his own medicine using ANYTHING he can get his hands on (including poison). I obviously can’t condone poisoning ones grandparents, but part of the skill of Dahl’s writing is that he makes it ok as she is such a ghastly character. I really enjoyed the character of Mr Killy Kranky, his house gets destroyed, his mother-in-law has been poisoned by his reckless son, she subsequently disappears – but all the while he is focused on the potential business opportunities. Great stuff.

The Twits

Funny. Gruesome. Silly. The Twits are a disgusting couple who don’t like each other very much, but hate everyone and everything else in the world even more. As with Matilda, these characters are so horrible, you don’t mind that they come to a rather unfortunate (if well deserved) end. The animal cruelty aspect, and subsequent revenge of said animals, makes the reader feel particularly strongly against the Twits and glad of their demise.

The Magic Finger

Another new one on me. As this is a short story, you don’t get the same character development and description as you do in his other books. The main character (and possessor of the magic finger) doesn’t even get a name, she is simply known as the girl. It’s a fun book  with the morality of hunting for pleasure at the heart of it. This makes it a rich teaching resource for class discussion, and the ending lends itself well to writing a story similar to that which has just been read.

The Great Mouse Plot

A short, autobiographical story, about Dahl’s school days. As such, it’s rather different to his other stories, and not one my sone or I will remember fondly for years to come. Interesting to look at if you’re teaching about life in Britain in the 20th century. A good comparison between now and the days of the cane.

The Witches

My 5 year old son always chooses which book we read next and he had been putting this one off. The idea of it seemed to worry him a bit. He had no need to worry. Some of the themes have the potential to scare younger children, but, most of it didn’t bother him at all, or the boy in the story for that matter. When the boy is turned into a mouse by a room full of witches, he seems pretty cool with it all. A great lesson in making the most of a bad lot, and a fun adventure story.

We’ve still got a few more to read in our collection (Esio Trot, The Giraffe, Pelly and Me, The Enormous Crocodile and Boy), and probably a few more we need to buy. I will add my thoughts on these as and when we read them. My son and I have thoroughly enjoyed our adventures with Roald Dahl and recommend to begin that journey yourself – no matter how old you are.

Bridging the reading gap

I have been writing reports and holding parent’s evening of late. I have found myself saying and writing the same sort of things about reading. ‘They would benefit from reading more at home.’ Or words to that effect.

As teachers, particularly in Primary schools, we know reading is important in accessing an awful lot of the curriculum. Building confidence, understanding and enjoyment in learning for the children. It’s also really obvious which children have been read with from an early age. Obvious because they can, you know, read well.

Teachers across all phases and schools all over the country, and probably the World, plan special reading interventions, groups and one to ones for reluctant or struggling readers. These help. A bit. In some cases quite a lot. But, really, some children have got an awful lot of catching up to do. So how do we solve this problem and raise literacy standards? We must encourage all parents to read with their children.

I would like to see a national campaign to make the many benefits of reading with children clear to everyone. Some campaigns are already happening. They just need to be happening, louder.

What can they do? (Nicky Morgan, the DfE, Government in general)

If I had any sway with Nicky Morgan or at the DfE I’d like to see…

  • Glossy, heart-warming adverts on TV showing the simple joy of a bedtime story.
  • Segments on talk radio and daytime television. Politicians being interviewed about reading.
  • Libraries promoted in supermarkets.
  • Books given out on maternity wards and at community centres. Investing heavily in and expanding BookStart.
  • Teachers going to antenatal classes to preach about reading.
  • Oh and stop bloomin’ closing libraries!!!

As a parent myself I find cuddling up on the sofa and reading with my children to be a highlight of my day. In turn, my children associate books with quality time with their parents. They associate books with love.

We should do all can to make this experience possible for all parents. Give parents the confidence and the books to make reading an important and enjoyable part of their relationship with their children.

I understand, those parents who themselves have struggled with their literacy skills may well be reluctant and embarrassed to share their vulnerability with their children. Maybe begin with picture books, something awesome like Tuesday, and discuss what on Earth might be going on. What can be more powerful and inspiring for a child than learning and sharing with their parents?

What can we do? (teachers, people who care about education, parents, humans)

  • Collect and donate books to charities to redistribute to increase children’s book ownership.
  • Hold parents reading workshops.
  • Share the simple message #ReadWithYourKids.
  • Visit parents groups in the early stages of a child’s life and share the message about the power of reading.
  • Share the books that you and your children enjoy.

This is not about class or social standing or wealth. Children’s books can be really cheap. Bundles from carboot sales, jumble sales or charity shops can be an affordable way to fill a book shelf and instil a love of books and reading from a young age. It’s all about sharing some precious time with your children and giving them a very precious gift.

Podcasting with Spreaker

People communicate in many different ways and in the modern World it seems that new avenues of communication are being created all of the time. As a teacher, I think it’s important to make as many of these avenues available to our children as possible to allow them to choose the way they wish to express themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s music, mfl, coding or anything else, what’s important is that they are able to say what they want to say, and make their voices heard.

I have always had an interest in radio and was lucky enough to attend a college and university which both had student radio stations. Growing up, my Dad also spent many years hosting a show on a local radio station, so I have long had an affinity with the medium.

Since becoming a Primary School teacher I have wondered how I might use radio in the classroom. I have made radio adverts during persuasive writing modules and written scripts before, but it’s all been rather hypothetical as we didn’t have the hardware.

I have looked at a few school radio station providers (namely School Radio and  Anderton Tiger Group) and they offer some fantastic equipment which is very child friendly, of a professional standard and even rather sexy! Like I say, I’m into radio.

However, I had a few problems with these options. The main problem, and if I’m honest, the real problem, was the cost. It’s very hard to justify that sort of expense when it’s unclear how much it will be used and how much impact it will have on results. Practically speaking, the equipment takes up space, quite a bit of it, so you’d need a room to house and use it in. We don’t have much free space. Also, given the money spent, it could/should take up valuable curriculum time. So I kept on looking…

Then, Rachel Jones was speaking about interesting stuff at TeachMeet Pompey, and she happened to mention Spreaker.

spreaker

Spreaker ticks a lot of boxes for me. It’s a FREE on-line podcasting app. It’s available on iOS and Chromebooks (as well as others) so we can use it on all of our school devices. As it’s on-line, it takes up no room and as it’s free, we can use it as much or little as we need without feeling like we’re wasting precious and limited resources.

It is fairly straight forward to use and importantly can be shared easily.  We had our first go today. I borrowed a couple of Year 6 children and talked them through the plan. They wrote a script and had a couple of run through practices before asking our Head to come in for an interview. This seemed a suitable topic for our first episode as he is leaving us at the end of term, so it was a chance for some of the children to ask him some questions. We added a simple effect at the beginning and got on with it. Once recorded we uploaded it to the school website and then played it in assembly.

Within an hour we’d gone from no script to published on-line and played to the whole school.

I realise it’s not always that simple and Spreaker has a far greater capability than we’ve used today, but it’s got me thinking and planning for the new year. School Radio Station here we come.

ICT across the curriculum

Following my previous blog post about using ICT in Literacy this post aims to cover the whole primary curriculum! Now, this is far too broad an area to put into one post, also there are far better informed bloggers and tweeters than me with websites which are designed to offer far more ideas. However I will simply share a few of my favourite websites, apps, tools and devices which can be used across a range of subjects. This has come about as part of a training session I ran for some Schools Direct students.

Padlet

Padlet is an on-line pin board. It’s free and perfect for collaborative learning  across a range of subjects. You can simply share the URL with your class and they can all add thoughts, research, links, photos, etc to share with the class.

Alternatively, the children can use it as a very simple website of their own allowing them to build on-line research pages, like a mood-board or montage for DT ideas.

Here is an example writing Alan Peat’s De-De sentences.

Socrative

Socrative is a FREE web based service which allows you to write quizzes which can be shared with your class. The results are then collated into a spread sheet for you to get instant feedback. Brilliant for AfL, and lots of fun. You can also find Socrative quizzes which have already been made by other teachers.

Once I shared this with the students I was training, one of them then shared something similar they had been using with me. Kahoot is also free and web based but is even more visually appealing and simple to use.

Skitch

Skitch can be used to label pictures, websites, maps and PDFs on iOS and Android devices. @IanAddison has written a rather useful guide to using Skitch on his blog, so check it out.

YAKiT Kids

Children and adults alike will love playing with YAKit on the iPad. It allows you to add an animated mouth to absolutely anything and record speech to make it come to life. Great fun and a brilliant way to encourage those less confident in speaking to the class. Fantastic for practising short dialogues also as you can have two objects speaking in the same scene.

P.E.

Get the children to film themselves and view it back to accelerate progress. We’ve long since used peer assessment to help children understand their strengths and weaknesses. Getting them to film themselves and watch the results has really helped my class, particularly in dance and gymnastics. This can be applied across the curriculum, as being able to see where we are going wrong enables you to put it right.

And finally a really great idea I got from @leah_moo is to use ‘Just Dance’ to teach dance routines, as PE warm ups or as a little light relief. To get you in the mood, here is the Macarena, hundreds more are available, many can be linked to topics and most are more current than this example!

The Power of the Pen

This is a tale about finding the right motivation for your children and enjoying the results. Pen licenses are not a new idea, but I have been staggered by the affect they have had on my class.

I was getting frustrated that the writing in handwriting books was not being applied across the all of the writing the children were doing. Some children tried to present their work neatly all of the time, but most got lazy, sloppy and tended to rush their work at times. That was until I told them they would be given a fountain pen if they were able to show consistently neat work, and by jingo, it worked.

The impact was instant. All of the class upped their game. This impact was increased further when the first 3 pens were given out and they became a prized and highly sort after possession.

Handwriting 1 Handwriting 2

Pen licenses gave a really quick fix to a niggling problem and allows us to focus of other areas of writing to improve upon. The knock on effect is that the children are also taking more care about their spelling and use of punctuation.

The pens themselves are fairly cheap, plastic fountain pens and given out in assembly by the Head to add to the sense of achievement.

Handwriting Pen

A multimedia approach to literacy

I was asked to talk some School Direct students about ‘A multimedia approach to Literacy’. This blog post is the result.

The Literacy Shed contains a collection short animated films with teaching suggestions. These can be used as a wonderful stimulus for writing in a wide range of genres. http://www.literacyshed.com/ .

Writing fake text message conversations is a lovely way to introduce dialogue for story writing and play scripts. http://ifaketext.com/

@Fascinatingpics and @abandoned_pics are two twitter pages that offer some interesting pictures that can used as writing prompts. Superb for scene description. Other great writing prompts can be found on this Literacy Shed blog by @redgirob

 http://www.literacyshedblog.com/blog/story-starters 

Use x-ray goggles to ‘hack’ or at least adapt any website to say what you want. https://goggles.webmaker.org/  The example below is one we used in school during book week to help  draw the children in. Be warned it can lead to confusing conversations with both children and parents. Also, as you are only pasting over the top of the web page so any links and comments will relate to the original story.

http://blake-lobb.makes.org/goggles/usernames-remix-of-usernames-remix-of-bbc-news-schools-must-do-more-to-help-disadvantaged-pupils

If you wish to let the children in on the scam it can be a wonderful way of getting them to write their own news stories.

Use random name generators available from classtools.net (http://www.classtools.net/) and primaryschoolict.com (http://www.primaryschoolict.com/) to select children at random in class. This helps the children in the class remain focused during the lesson and you don’t get the same children putting their hands up every time.

I also use the generator for sentence and word games. The example I’ve included below can be used with any writing, take a spin and ask the children to include whatever comes up in today’s writing.

One of my favourite tools at the moment is Padlet (https://padlet.com/). Padlet is an online bulletin board which is perfect for sharing ideas in the class to encourage collaborative learning. It’s free to join and simple to use.  I share the URL to my page with my class and then they can add their ideas so the whole class can see them and build on them. This Padlet page shows examples of some sentence my class were writing.

Mainly to support my lower ability writers, I use Keezy on the iPad to record and play back sentences. This allows them to listen back to what they want to write as many times as they wish. See my previous blog post for more information.

Most of the ideas shared so far are ways to stimulate literacy. These usually result in writing in books, but there are a few other ways for children to commit their ideas to the page digitally. eBooks can be a lovely way of getting children to write stories. There are loads on iPads and you can add your own pictures to many enabling you to write fiction and non-fiction. Zooburst and Storybird have been recommended to me by @ianaddison. Storybird is particularly beautiful but you need to use their (admittedly wonderful) artwork. This can be limiting or inspiring depending on your need.

Our class blog also gives the children another means of sharing their writing, with the bonus of offering a real audience and sense of purpose to their work. Quadblogging (http://quadblogging.net/) and the 100 Word Challenge (http://100wc.net/) help to broaden that audience.

No doubt as more websites, apps and tools spring to mind I will add to this post.

Using Keezy in the classroom

I first came across Keezy being used by Reggie Watts on Sky Atlantic’s Setlist. He uses the app to record beats and loop them before working his vocal magic over the top of them.

And this is a great demonstration of the musical possibilities.

This inspired me to begin exploring Keezy myself. At first I thought I might be able to work it into my own musical repertoire and then remembered I am a primary school teacher and not Ed Sheeran.

Then I wondered how I might use Keezy with the children in my school. It is visually very bright and stimulating as well as being very simple to use so I thought it would appeal to the children. I have a responsibility for leading music provision at school and as part of that role design learning journeys from which the class teachers plan their lessons. These learning journeys give a basic outline of objectives and an expected outcome. This term we are writing stories about travelling through the human body. Once the children have written their story they will pick a favourite section/passage/paragraph and read it into Keezy. They will then use the other 7 channels to record sound effects to accompany the story. They will also need to write a graphic score to show when each sound effect is needed.

During discussions with colleagues it occurred to me that Keezy could have many uses beyond music lessons, particularly in Literacy. Initially we thought it could be useful for less confident children to say sentences into the Keezy meaning they could play it back as many times as they needed while writing it down. The more I thought about it, the more uses sprang to mind. I have included a few below.

Music

  • Practising harmonies
  • Singing in rounds
  • Recording samples and creating original compositions
  • Recording sound effects and creating graphic scores to accompany stories

Literacy

  • Practising sentences – Record each sentence you want into Keezy before writing it and play it back as many times as you need
  • Extending sentences – Write a simple sentence (The bus was red) on the board and in groups the children take turns to pass the iPad around adding a word or two each time to improve and extend the sentence. Listen back and discuss to the outcomes as a class.
  • Building sentences – In groups the children say 2 verbs, 2 adjectives, 2 adverbs and 2 nouns into Keezy. Pick four at random and include them in sentences on mini-whiteboards.
  • Matching sentences – The teacher records compound or complex sentences into the app. Half the sentence into one of the coloured rectangles and half into another. The children then match the two halves to complete the sentence.

History

  • Some of my colleagues  recently used Keezy in their history lesson. They recorded four questions into the four tabs on the left hand side and the children had to find out the answer and record them into the tabs on the opposite side.
If you have any innovative uses for Keezy I would very much like to hear them and I can included them in updates on this page (naturally you will be credited for your genius).

Downloading

The catch was that I couldn’t actually get Keezy on my iPads in school leading to me asking @pasql (the co-founder of Keezy) what that was all about. He kindly informed me that…

Useful. However, it still didn’t work for me. The simplest way I found was to go onto Safari on my class iPads and google ‘Keezy’, click on the first link that comes up and download. The draw back with this was that as it wasn’t through the App Store I had to load it individually on to every iPad in the school! (thanks to @NeilHall21 for the help with that).

Keezy is great for all ages. My 18 month old son can even use it. He has recently been exploring the demo that come in the library and created some tunes that don’t sound too dissimilar to Aphex Twin.

So I see Keezy having educational uses from very early years right the way through reaching way beyond the music. It’s also FREE!

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