Phonics Week

Monday

Today we were in Year 1, with a teacher who was an NQT last year. It’s always inspiring to meet people that have recently  completed the challenges I have in front of me…it is possible! She answered any questions we had and explained how she teaches phonics, when they do their sessions and what phonics schemes she uses. After a very daunting phonics lecture last week it was so reassuring to hear that we won’t ever need to tell the children what a triphthong is (don’t ask).

She has one pupil in her class who is Romanian, and doesn’t yet speak any english. I immediately felt for this little girl who looked completely lost, despite the efforts of her pupils and teachers. The teacher was given no extra support for her, so was making do as best as she could. To make matters worse, where she is from she wouldn’t have started school until she was 7. Because of this the little girl was not only unable to speak the English, but was also not able to do things that we may expect a children of 5 to do. I’ve been asking myself what I would do if this were my class? Quite frankly, I have no idea, and that terrifies me. I need to have something in place in case I every have an EAL pupil in my class. I felt awful not being able to communicate with her, and I hope it isn’t long before she feels at home here.

Tuesday

Today was jam packed with intervention after intervention. We got to see lots of small phonics lessons and I’m starting to understand the pace now. The lessons are short and the pace is quick with lost lots of small activities packed in. We’ve also learnt a little bit more about the phases today. We have already covered this in seminars, but seeing it all in schools makes it much more relevant to us.

I think I need to start collecting phonics resources and games to build up my own phonics bible, complete with information about the phases. All the teachers and TAs I’ve seen so far have been prepared and inventive with their resources.

Also today I’ve found out that I’ll be doing my first main placement at this school with year 5! I am thrilled. I feel extremely lucky to have already visited the school and started to learnt the layout and meet the staff, this should make for a much easier first day with my main placement rolls around.

Wednesday

Today was much the same as yesterday, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m still enjoying seeing the small sessions and noting the format and structure. The big revelation today was that we will be teaching our own phonics session tomorrow or Friday. I had seen this on our timetable, but had assumed that at this stage in our training we’d be given the planning…nope! We will be revisiting the learning from the sessions on Monday, Tuesday and today, so we’ll be consolidating work done phonemes/graphemes J V and W. Thankfully we do have something to go on. I’m not sure I could cope with planning and delivering something from scratch at this stage.

20 minutes is suddenly seeming like a very long time! Quite frankly I’m terrified, but I’m quite pleased that I’m being forced to dive head first into teaching early on. The sooner the better. I’ve got a long way to go this year, so I’ve got no time to hang around.

Wish me luck!

Thursday

Today I found out that I will be doing my teaching tomorrow (one more day to prepare hooray!) Therefor the person I am on placement with had her turn to teach today. It is always fantastic seeing other people teach, and proves a great time to magpie ideas and reflect. It does make me more nervous about my session though. Seeing a different approach to something can make you question yourself, but I know that I just need to give my plan a go and see what happens.

We also got to have a rummage around in the phonics resources today. Wow! Box after box of different ideas to adapt and use in our practice. Here are a few things we liked:

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One thing that has become clear is that some of the simplest resources are the most useful (i.e. dice, or foam letters). It’s all about the creativity of the teacher!

We finished today by asking the English Subject Lead at the school a few questions. She raised a very interesting point about how spelling is taught in schools today. She has found that a large portion of children she is teaching struggle with spelling due to the local accent, and poor vocabulary. Children are simply having to spell words that they haven’t used before, or cannot sound out due to their pronunciation. This issue has definitely made me question whether rote learning is best when it comes to spelling, or is does this fail to provide children with the tools to tackle unfamiliar words in the future?

Friday

The children were all incredibly hyped up today as it is the last day of half term, and was non uniform day. What a good day to teach my first phonics lesson. All day I was very nervous but clung to the knowledge that even if this lesson failed completely, at least it would be a good learning experience!

I decided to keep the session simple and model what I had seen teachers do, rather then bring in too many creative ideas. I wanted to get the teaching part of it right, and make sure I was hitting the learning objective, rather then worry about making my session exciting and engaging…hopefully my delivery would achieve engagement (that was the plan anyway).

So I started my asking the children to help me remember what phonemes they had been looking at this week. We practiced the pronunciation with the children copying me, and then practiced our air writing. We wrote on the ceiling, floor, on our hands and on our partners shoulder. This was something I had seen done in another school and was keen to try it out myself. The children seemed very engaged by it, and especially liked the frantic rubbing out of the imaginary letters before the head teacher came (something else I had seen done). However I don’t think I’ve got enough experience yet to know if air writing actually benefits children’s handwriting.

I then followed this by a game of trash and treasure words, telling the children I was going to try and catch them out. I segmented the word and had the children blend it, before asking them to tell me whether it was an alien/trash word and there for needed to be placed in our bin, or a treasure word. The children were very good at this, and in hindsight I think I could have challenged the class more. However, it’s difficult to do this without the prior knowledge of the class, or much experience.

Finally I had the children write their own sentence  on their whiteboards, using the treasure words we had found. I modelled a sentence on the board, purposefully making a mistake (no capital letter) allowing the children to pull me up on it. This was something I watched the class teacher do throughout the week and it seemed like a fantastic idea of encouraging children to question what they see, and to understand that our writing is always a work in progress that we can check and improve. I was hoping my sentence writing with them was going to be my way of challenging my higher attainers, however I think I could have done this better by setting some of them the challenge of using a connective/time connective.

Overall I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. It wasn’t ground breaking but I planned it, stood up and delivered it and managed to get what I had wanted from the class. I think for a first attempt that is something to be proud of 🙂

 

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Planning to Fail?

After weeks of learning about theory, creative ideas and subject knowledge we can avoid it no longer…it’s time for lesson planning. As daunting as this seemed, I was looking forward to hopefully coming away feeling like this was something I could do. Lesson planning is such a large part of teaching (and a very important part) that I wanted to feel as though I could tackle it (maybe). After this week I certainly have an all new respect for teachers. I don’t think non-teachers fully understand what goes into planning, especially for a trainee when you need to plan much more thoroughly.

We were all given the book ‘Something Else’ by Kathryn Cave, and asked in pairs to plan a PHSE lesson for the age group of our choice. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but when you are a nervous, inexperienced PGCE student it’s terrifying. Although this seemed like a simple book at first, there are actually so many different angles you could use for a lesson. We had to ensure we didn’t over complicate our plan by trying to include more then one key idea.

After much deliberation we decided to plan an upper KS2 lesson, focussing on cultural diversity. This would be the first in a series of lessons and we would start by looking at the differences in what we eat, compared to another country. The two main characters in the book look very different and eat different lunches, so we thought this would be a nice link. In our minds it just made sense that the book would be read at the start of the lesson, providing a platform for discussion around the topic and leading into the activities. It wasn’t until our tutor questioned whether having the book at the beginning of the lesson actually brought anything to it that we realised it really didn’t.

We rearranged our plan so that the book could be read at the end, allowing the class to come together and use their knowledge learnt to question what the animals may have been eating for lunch, because of their differences in appearance. Instead we started with a hook to grab the children’s attention. We would begin with 3 brown paper bags (just like the lunch bags in the story) and ask the children to guess what’s inside, before revealing 3 different food items. They children would use their senses to inspect the new foods, before we revealed that these were all breakfast food. Hopefully (allergies permitting) they could even taste the foods to help them compare the experience to their own breakfast.

We decided the bulk of our lesson would then be the children researching the typical meals of a country in pairs. Depending on the class we could keep this quite structured by giving them a country, or we could allow them to choose their own. This research could then be used to create work in the next lesson (i.e a poster comparing the differences between our food and the food in France).

This lesson plan is still a long way off being ‘done’, if there is such a thing at this stage. My partner and I will be coming together to look at where we can add in assessment throughout, and think about how we will handle the transition times during the lesson (moving from one activity to another). However for a first go we felt pretty proud. It certainly isn’t the best, but it links with the book and all ties in together fairly logically. Definitely a mini success.

Considering this took us the best part of a day, lesson planning is still a very daunting prospect. I’m trying to believe the tutors when they tell us that it will get easier, but right now that feels like a long way off. I think our uncertainty means we over question everything, resulting in it taking twice as long.

Next week we’re all back in school for a week looking at phonics learning!

Katie

Special School Experience: Art, Signing, and Harvest

Monday

Today I was with the Puffin class, who are a group of 10 year 4 pupils. We began by doing some work about what items we would find in our house, and which room we would find them in. This was interesting as there really wasn’t a right or wrong answer for lots things (maybe you do have a television in your kitchen) but it was a good task for developing speaking and listening skills. We then went into PE where the children’s personalities began to shine when given that freedom to run, jump and travel around the hall. This was fantastic to see, and it gave me a chance to get to know them all better.

The school uses a very visual approach when communicating with children. Symbols for their visual timetables, to show what they’re doing next. Although symbols are used in mainstream schools, these had a slightly different design and I believe this is commonly used for children with autism.

Symbols used for visual timetables

Symbols used for visual timetables

Later on, after lunch, we took the children on a walk to the local supermarket where we identified items we would need for a cooking lesson and bought them. The school takes the children out on a regular basis, usually on trips relating to their learning, but sometimes makes visits to places that parents find difficult or a cause for anxiety. Having an autistic nephew I can say that supermarkets were not an easy place for us to visit, so to see these pupils with a range of abilities working excellently and happily in a busy Tesco really made my day. Life skills are extremely important for these children, so the fact that the school is preparing them for daunting real world experiences is amazing. The deputy head told us how they had conquered the dentist, the hairdressers and cafes with groups of pupils. It reminded me that education is about preparing pupils for life after school. Sometimes that fact can get lost amongst the league tables and test results.

One thing that definitely hit home today is how unique every child is. This is so much more apparent in a special school, but it is certainly true everywhere. With this realisation comes the understanding that what progress looks like to me, may not be progress to everyone. Hearing about children that have dramatically improved their behaviour and overcome issues with classroom anxiety is fantastic, and it really highlights that education is not all about test results and levelling.

Tuesday

Today I spent the day with a class of wonderful year 6’s. I had an absolutely fantastic day cooking, dancing, acting and creating art with them. They all seem to have an infectiously positive attitude and are happy to greet strangers into their classroom.

We studied Guiseppe Archimboldo in art, and created our own portraits using fruit and vegetables.

We studied Guiseppe Archimboldo in art, and created our own portraits using fruit and vegetables.

This school has a community approach to their learning, with children working in groups across the school for certain subjects. This does create the feeling of a whole school community, with everyone knowing everyone. It is quite different from the school structure I am used to, but seems to work very well for these pupils.

Today there very quite a lot of adults in the room (1 teacher and 3 TAs, not including me, for a class of 11) Because of this I took more of a backseat approach today and did a lot of observing. I wanted to do what was best for the children, and although I’m used to getting stuck in, if they all have enough support I didn’t want to muscle in, especially with some children having very complexed behavioural problems. However this proved an excellent opportunity. I was able to really observe the differences in each of the children, and how their routines are adapted to them. Everything was taken into consideration from seat in the classroom (some children had a wiggle seat to help them focus on sitting) to method of communication (some children prefer to sign).

A wiggle seat...I'm not sure if this is the proper name!

A wiggle seat…I’m not sure if this is the proper name!

It’s hitting home how difficult it is to be in a school all day and then come home to a mountain of course work. I’m getting through but it’s making me aware of what I have to face when I start my first placement. There is no time for procrastination!

Wednesday

We have reached the half way mark and everything is still going well! I have started to realise the power of sign language. I have met some children that only sign, and others that seem to prefer to sign but do speak. Maybe it’s their first language, or they find it easier to communicate in that way. Either way I have now picked up some basic words, and am finding myself being much more active with my hands when speaking to children (yes I’m now one of those people that talk with their hands).

I think this can only be a good thing, as it is forcing me to be more precise and clear with my instructions, and I aware of the language I am using to ensure I am not being confusing. I know with autism especially complicated instructions can be difficult to interpret. I’m not entirely sure yet whether sign language has a place in mainstream school, but it is certainly something I am interested in learning more about. Best practice in a special school is best practice everywhere after all!

Here are some words that I have encountered and learnt this week: 

This week has shown me how simple changes to how we communicate to children can dramatically improve their ability to understand what you’re saying or asking them to do. Communication needs to be ever changing. It isn’t just speaking, and as teachers we should not expect children to adapt to our way of communicating.

Thursday

All of a sudden the end is near! Despite feeling sad to leave so many amazing children behind (it definitely feels like I’ve known them all longer then 4 days) I am leaving with only positivity, having gotten so much out of this week.

Today I sat in on a maths lesson for the upper school, lowest attainment group. It was fascinating to finally see an aspect of our maths seminars put into practise…learning to count. The children were learning to touch items when counting, and that each item gets one label. We take so many things for granted that we already know. Counting seems easy to us, but it is actually a real skill. So many pieces of knowledge go into being able to count confidently. It was interesting to see how the children were grasping the concept, but then struggled when instruments were introduced. They used a stick to chime out given quantities on a chime bar.

Once you’ve gotten to know these amazing little individuals, you realise how progress for them is an achievement, even if it isn’t considered ‘normal’ for their age. Progress is very personal, and learning needs to be tailored to the needs of each child to achieve this. Yes this is definitely easier said then done, but what I’ve learnt this week is that we cannot be confined by what we expect a lesson to be, or what we expect progress to be. We need to be guided by the children, to allow us to tailor their learning to them, challenging them, engaging them and allowing them to reach their next step.

Friday

Today has been manic, but a perfect way to end a fantastic week. I have been with a wonderful year 6 class again today, and we began by rehearsing for the harvest assembly. We ran through seating positions, directions and lines…I even learnt a motto in Kirundi (that’s the language spoken in Burundi, an African country that the children have been learning about) It was fantastic to see everyone take part, and even non verbal children performed their lines with the help of iPads.

The children then began a lesson on WWII. This has been an ongoing topic for them, and today the focus was rationing. iPads were then used again for two of the children that have trouble communicating. By using an app called Prologuo2Go the teacher was able to program key words in relating to the subject, and then the pupils could give their answer by pressing the correct symbol. This was a simple addition to the lesson but changed the children from bystanders to active participators. Just because some children have nothing to say certainly does not mean they have nothing to communicate to you! It was like watching a totally different child.

prologuo2go app

prologuo2go app

The enthusiasm of these teachers is admirable and completely infectious. They all know their pupils so well and are aware of the smallest change in their behaviour that may indicate an issue or upset. It is hard to put into words just how inspirational this week has been.

One thing that has surprised me is how much I have enjoyed using sign language. I’ve picked up quite a few words in the short time I’ve been at the school, and I now think I may look into doing a part time course in it to gain a low level certificate. Some children seem to really benefit from having that method of communication, and I think as a teacher it is important to be flexible to the needs of our children. Maybe one day sign language will come in handy in my classroom!

PGCE Week 3

It’s nearing the end of our first three weeks as PGCE students. Someone told me yesterday that this year we only have 12 weeks at university, so we have already completed a quarter of this time! This fact is terrifying... I can only hope that during my placements I start to feel like I know what I’m doing, because I’m not sure 12 weeks of lectures will do the trick.

Our life is currently jam packed with curriculum studies, where we essentially learn about subjects. How we teach them, why we teach them and how to link them. It has been incredibly insightful so far and I am starting to feel very excited for when I can put some of this knowledge to good use.

Story Boxes

This was a fantastic concept we discussed in English. Our lecturer (or rather the technicians) had put together a number of beautifully decorated shoeboxes, filled with objects relating to stories. This abled us to get very hands on with the story and retell it using the props (whilst elaborating and adding a little creativity of course) This is a fantastic way of getting children thinking and using their imagination. I can imagine this being an excellent tool for KS1 when asking children to retell a story, or remembering what order the events go in. Much better then cutting out little paper rectangles with a small depiction of a scene on, and then sticking them into the correct order. You could even develop this by exploring what happened if you took one prop/character away. What would happen if the story wasn’t set in their homely forest box, but in an arctic tundra box? How would the story change?

Another aspect to story boxes is that you can just go wild and make up your own. We were given a blue shoe box filled with various under the sea props, and asked to make up our own story in groups. I think this would be an excellent way to inspire children before starting a creative writing piece. This would help children generate ideas, and inspired. It also ties with drama and performance.

So now I just need to get my hands on a dozen shoeboxes and I’m set. I’d say it was a good opportunity to buy more shoes if I wasn’t on a student’s budget (all unwanted shoeboxes send them my way!)

Addition and Subtraction

In case you’d wondered Maths is still blowing my mind. This week we have looked at addition and learnt about the different types (aggregation and augmentation). Although this knowledge isn’t useful for children, it will help me as a teacher to break down addition and find out what language the children are comfortable with. For example if one seems to be struggling, it may be questions phrased in an augmentation style that are tripping them up.

See below 24 +35 using arrow cards and the partitioning method.

24 + 35 = IMG_20150929_115843

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On that note it is shocking how many different ways we adults can phrase 6+4=. Add, make, and, sum, together. All of these words can be used to mean the same thing, and that is very confusing!

Another revelation I’ve had is that Maths isn’t a series of different processes we have to learn it’s more like a big picture. Every part of Maths is linked to the others, and therefor everything needs to be taught in a systematic, conceptual way. Without the base knowledge required before moving on, children can very easily get left behind, through no fault of their own.

For example subtraction and addition have always seemed quite separate to me. Of course I understand the link between the two, but as a child there was less cross over…“today class, we are learning to subtract!” It was all very categorised and compartmented. But if we start to introduce the notion of subtracting being the inverse of addition as we go along, then when children reach that stage in their learning, it isn’t an alien concept. They should understand the link much more clearly and therefor be able to visualise the problem.

Placement

Next week I am on my first (mini) placement. Technically it’s school based training, but either way I’m spending a week in a local special school. I’ve never before spent much time in a special school, so I am so excited to see what I can learn and how I can relate that to mainstream primary education. I do have a nephew who is on the autistic spectrum and attends a similar school, but as much as I’ve always been aware of his schooling and how it works for him, I’ve only ever seen it from a parental perspective.

It is also a chance to break out my teacher trousers and smart looking jumpers, and that is exciting in itself (I think I need to get out more)

I hope you’ve all had a good week!

Katie