Placement WKS 9, 10 & 11: The End

I’ve been an absolutely useless blogger these past 3 weeks. I can’t express how busy I’ve been, but now that this placement has finished I can finally give an update on how it ended. Hooray!

So, rather then go into too much detail and have this be extremely long, here are a few key moments from the end of my first placement…

  • I had my final meeting with my visiting tutor. She gave me an outstanding for that lesson and graded me good overall. I was completely thrilled.
  • I FINALLY finished evidencing…although I didn’t manage to tie all the loose ends. I have plenty for this placement, but I have definitely learnt that there will always be more I could/should be doing.
  • I taught a series of lessons on rapping. I’ll let you think about how that may have gone…
  • I worked until 11pm every night, and was in work before 8am every morning (and my to list was NEVER finished)
  • I taught my first PE lesson. This terrified me but I did it!
  • I dyed my hair, much to the excitement of the year 5’s “Can you dye it blue before the end of term Miss?!”
  • I had a ferocious cough that resulted in one sick day and one day of teaching through embarrassing coughing fits.
  • I sat in on parents evening and learnt that it really isn’t all that scary…if you’re prepared.
  • I started to feel like I finally understand the paperwork that I have been completing for this placement…so I’m now confident that placement 2 will be better and more organised.
  • I bought a baby giant african land snail. I’m going to grow him up into a fantastic pet for my future classroom.
  • I agreed with my mentor that I need to work on differentiation in my lessons, particularly for EAL children, and teaching Maths. My subject knowledge is strong (I didn’t believe it either, but apparently so) but I struggle with the pedagogy.
  • And finally… I said goodbye to 30 fantastic young people who I will truly miss. My class¬†were (and still are) hilarious, extremely intelligent and so inquisitive. I feel very lucky to have taught all of them…I think I may be a KS2 teacher ūüôā

I finished this placement with a really clear understanding of where I am and how I need to progress now, which is a fantastic feeling. I feel like I have progressed so quickly during these last 12 weeks that often my understanding of what I needed to do was more developed than my ability to put that into practice. This just makes me more excited for my next placement where I can get on top of everything quicker, and spend more time working on those standards that I’m lacking in. In general though I’m thrilled I came away with a solid “good” throughout my practice. I think that’s a great place to be in now, and I can work from that¬†towards an outstanding in my second placement (hopefully)

This weekend I’m enjoying some romance with my other half (who hasn’t really seen me properly for weeks) and I’m getting back into the swing of uni work. I have about a week and a half to finish my first assignment. I had the best intentions of doing this early, but placement took over and now I am facing a week of living in the library.

So around 5 months into my PGCE, things are going well! So far so good. Now to pass this assignment, and apply for a job…

Katie

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Placement Week One

Placement has officially begun. I’m one week in and so far I’m surviving…

This week I’ve¬† mainly been observing and working with small groups to allow me to settle in and get to the know the class (I’m with a fantastic year 5 class). This has been incredibly beneficial but settling in slowly has been difficult for me to get my head round. I’m a worrier by nature and the 4 folders full of paper work that needs to be completed¬†are already weighing on my mind. I’ve been reassured it will all come together, but I can’t help but panic that I won’t be doing enough, and I’ll not find out until the end of my placement! I know this is irrational, and I’m hoping as I get familiar with what’s required I’ll start to relax a little bit more. My mentor has been fantastic at putting me at ease though.

During my observations this week I’ve already seen so many things that I know I want to implement in the future, like working walls. I’m a creative person, and used to naively believe that my classroom would be full of beautiful, elaborate displays to wow the children. However now my opinion on displays has completely changed. What is the point of everything looking pretty if it doesn’t aid the children’s learning? In my class I’ve seen some fantastic working displays where the teacher ¬†has been adding to them throughout the term, following on with what the children are doing in their lesson. There are also interactive displays which the children can use day to day during lessons.¬† One I particularly liked was a thesaurus wall where the children could come up and take a laminated synonym for words like big, old or small. The class teacher explained that this would help children who are less likely to use thesauruses.

Another great idea I’ve seen is challenges on the working walls. The children come in at the start of the day and choose to either read, or complete a challenge. If they get it right and can explain their process they receive a raffle ticket (the class reward system. Tickets are drawn on a Friday for prizes) There is always a crowd around the maths and literacy challenge in the morning, and by ensuring the children are explaining their thinking¬†the teacher can challenge and develop their understanding of the problem at hand.

Differentiation. This is a scary word that this week has seemed a lot easier to tackle. The class I’m in has no table names (something I hadn’t seen before) and the children are only seated by ability for maths and English. For the rest of the sessions they sit in seats they chose at the beginning of the year. Because of this there is no clear ‘lowers’ table or ‘highers’ table…something I am loving. It may be because I’m new to the class, but I get the sense that the group has a good sense of equality and community, with no one singled out as the low achiever, or the trouble maker. Hopefully this continues!

I am also seeing children being able to select their own challenges, rather then be given different work to do. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but from what I have seen, this can be very effective. For example the children were working on retelling a classic story (Robin Hood) in a comic strip style. All children were working on the same template and to differentiate the teacher told the whole class certain grammatical techniques she would like them to try and include. It was not stated that this challenge was only meant for certain children, so anyone could attempt it. Obviously certain children would not try this in their work, and thus they were able to differentiate themselves, with adults encouraging individuals, based on their attainment level. I really like the idea of children being able to choose their own challenge and take ownership of their learning. I’ve seen very little of this, but what I have experienced has been very positive.

I’m already feeling the stress and fatigue of placement (which I’m sure is showing in this rambly blog post) I’ve been so lucky with the school I’ve been placed in, but there is still so much to get my head!. Next week I have my first meeting with my mentor, I’ll be meeting with my visiting tutor and may even be teaching one afternoon. I have a feeling each week is going to bring new, daunting challenges…I just hope I can keep up.

Katie

Leading by Example

One of my biggest classroom fears has always been behaviour leadership and management. I’m a self confessed push over at times, and have even been told by a year 6 student in the past that “if you’re going to have a class of your own, then you can’t be so nice!”. That’s not to say that¬†classrooms descend into anarchy in my presence, but I certainly know that my current behaviour skills leave a lot to be desired.

We’ve now had our seminar on behaviour leadership and thankfully I already feel much better. We’ve been given some very useful advice, tackled misconceptions about shouting¬†and tried our hand at responding to given scenarios. I now feel like I have an armoury of top behaviour leaderships tips that I can pull out on placement…and will hopefully work!

  • A calm voice is often more effective (and more chilling) then a loud one. Children are likely to hear shouting at home. Don’t add to that!
  • Pick your battles! Being in control doesn’t mean that you squash every ounce of negative behaviour in your classroom. Sometimes an all guns blazing approach just creates more problems. Get to know your pupils and asses whether something is worth dealing with.
  • Have respect for your pupils. Starting with a trusting relationship will show them you care and don’t assume the worst in them. This will (hopefully) encourage a positive relationship between yourself and your pupils and in turn create a better classroom atmosphere.
  • Never stop listening. Before allowing low level disruptions to annoy you, think about why that child may be behaving in that way.
  • Give them a choice. We’ve all heard of those ultimatums disguised as choices “do this or else you’ll miss your break time. It’s your choice!” Well that is not a good way to deal with an issue. It’s negative, aggressive and leaves you with no other options if they still refuse. Give your pupils a real choice if they feel they can’t work in their current situation. Allow them to read a book in another class or move seats. Sometimes being listened to and understood is all they need.
  • Be consistent. If you allow children to call out one minute and then not the next you cannot expect consistent behaviour from them. Set clear expectations and stick to them from the get go.

I know it’s easier to write these ideas down then it is to actually put them into practice, but everyone has to start somewhere! I now have one week left until I start my first placement. One week does not feel like enough time at all, but placement is coming whether I’m ready or not!

Wish me luck.

Katie

 

My future self

Until this point everything has felt manageable. I’d even go as far to say easier then I anticipated, or was warned at least. That was until this week. The wall is now in sight and we are all aware of its inevitability. The only way¬†I know to¬†cope with the mountain of work we are now facing is to remember that it has been done before. I’m sure countless people have had this same feeling of dread and have come out the other side. One week at time is definitely the only way we’ll get through!

Yesterday began with that¬†feeling of¬†being overwhelmed. I was at a point where¬†I didn’t really know if I was ahead or behind with my work anymore. That was until I had a tutorial. We were all talking about our coping strategies, how we were feeling…you know how it works. Then one person chimed in with such an insightful way to look at things. She said…

“I’m not stressed because I know my future self will deal”.

Sometimes¬†you hear something¬†that just turns your whole way of thinking on it’s head. I don’t think I give my future self enough credit because I spend my time planning for every eventuality and making sure I’m ahead. I’m not sure what I think will happen or what disaster I’m planning to avoid, but I’m certainly not a “It will be alright on the night” kind of person. But, this did put my stress into perspective. I will deal too. If my past self is anything to go by, my future self will be able to tackle whatever is thrown at her.

This realisation doesn’t mean that I’ll be slacking because my future self will pick up the pieces at some point. I still need to continue doing what I’m doing and making sure everything is put in place for the future, but I don’t need to know how I’ll¬†achieve everything. I don’t need to know how one day I’ll tackle organising a Christmas play, or plan for every individual in my class, or even how I’ll cope with that one child who will inevitably test my patience and behaviour leadership skills beyond belief. My future self will just deal with it.

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Katie

 

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 ūüôā

 

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!