Should children do it themselves?

The debate I found myself in today was about painting.
The other trainee teacher was telling me about an activity in her Year 1 class in which the teacher had drawn pictures of animals for the children to paint. This was all done for a display.

I was asking why the children weren’t allowed to draw the pictures themselves and she said it was because the teacher thought they wouldn’t be able to.
I do not agree. I think children should be given the scaffolding to develop their own skills… give them photographs, expose them to other art, show videos, let them play with small world characters…  all this can be done in the classroom if necessary and will give them the understanding of what the painting could look like. Encourage children to re-do work if they decide it’s necessary, therefore promoting a growth mindset. Otherwise, what does the activity actually teach children? Is painting someone elses interpretation of a lion really a worthwhile exercise?  Maybe I’m wrong. I just think we would miss so many learning opportunities.

I am under no illusion that this is easy. I know time is limited, but we have to get away from thinking the children cannot do things themselves. Because this reinforcement will just convince them that they cannot do it! What kind of teaching is that?!


Where do the training sessions fit in?

Learning about phonics and guided reading last week was interesting and it felt like we were given a lot of information, but implementing what we learn isn’t necessarily going to happen straight away.

For one thing, the schemes may be conflicting, for example we were taught about phonics and the trainer repeatedly refered to the Letters and Sounds (L&S)strategy of teaching.

The school I am in use Read, Write Inc. (RWI).

So the trainer last week explained that we should use letter names with L&S eg Ay, Bee, See as soon as possible, so you’d say “the letter Ay makes the phoneme ‘a'”.
Wheras in RWI we are not introducing letter names until children are very secure with the sounds and with blending and segmenting.
There were other clear differences too.

It is good to get to grips with both schemes as I don’t know what they’ll be using in the school where I end up working (fingers crossed I get a job!).

Additionally though, even if we wanted to, we can’t go in to a class and change everything when we are only there on placement.

So I’m wondering if we should just box things up and keep them for next year.

My current placement teacher is keen to hear what was said in my training sessions so maybe there will be elements we can use, but my life just feels a bit disjointed. I look forwards to being able to one day feel confident saying “yes I love that idea, that’s how we will do it!”

Early Years Passion

When your passion for the early years makes someone else on your course change pathways is it right or wrong to see this as a positive thing?

I am doing the Early Years School Direct PGCE. Listening to my fellow student describe how the reception children were struggling with tidying up I wanted to help, so I was quick to suggest she try singing… something to a tune like Frere Jacque “are you tidying, are you tidying, let me see, let me see, put it in the box, put it in the box, nice neat work, nice neat work”… just make it up as you go along. I don’t think she was convinced. But she was going to give it a go.

Then at lunch time she questioned whether water play was necessary and what the children were getting out of playing.
At this point I got on my soap box and listed lots of different learning opportunities from a child playing with lego. Someone else suggested how the children could take ownership by being provided with a mop and bucket in the water area. Usually this kind of response reassures people that it’s all ok.

Less than half an hour later she was on the phone to our programme leader and had transfered to the primary programme!
She realised she would be happier teaching children at desks, teaching in the more traditional sense of the word.

I am glad she came to this conclusion now and not 6 months on. I do wonder whether I could have supported her down the early years pathway but deep down I have worked in early years long enough to know you either love the approach or you hate it.

She is a going to make a fantastic teacher so I am sure she will have the passion for primary teaching that I have for early years.

End of week 2 as a School Direct Student

I was beginning to feel very at ease in my surroundings at my new placement school and then I had to stay away for 5 days!

A day at the training centre, 2 at uni and 2 for the weekend (which obviously I wouldn’t be without!)


So wednesday was a training day all around behaviour. My prior thoughts on this were that I’ve done loads of behaviour management training but in reality this was different. It felt more psychological which is right up my street. The current term is “behaviour for learning”. This I believe, suggests that the children take more responsibility wheras behaviour management sounds very adult directed. I will now find myself saying ‘I need you to…. thank you” rather than “please could you…”
Still polite but more direct.
Choices (albeit choice between the teachers choice of options) and genuine, specific praise were certainly the key.

We had safeguarding training as a twighlight session along with the staff of one of our alliance schools. This was thorough and informative.


This was to become the theme of our 2 days in uni. It will be the topic of our first assignment which is due in on 4th January.
I am considering the specific area of Baseline Assessment in the reception class as I hope this will develop my understanding of this new development in schools so that when I attend interviews I know what I’m talking about!

Where do I belong?
Whilst leaving uni on the second day there I had a sudden feeling of “not belonging”. I had initially felt like part of the EYFS team at my placement school, then after being re-acquainted with my fellow trainees I felt like we were all in this boat together. Finally at uni I am in a new group of people from a variety of alliances. It’s like getting 3 new jobs at once!

Welcome Home!
Arriving home from uni I was greeted by my 7 year old before I even got in the house. She very animatedly told me that her brother had fallen and bust his nose. Oh and I was ready to relax….She too needed my attention, we had cuddles on the sofa whilst she recounted the girlish events of a day on juniors… the fallings out, the she said this, I said that… oh the joys of little girls!

Friday night research
With my husband out with his friends and the children in bed, rather than taking the opportunity to catch up on the soaps like I usually would, this week I was very sensible and dug out the laptop. I did have “Educating Cardiff” on as I downloaded lots of journals in preparation for my assignment writing. I refuse to still be doing this at Christmas.

New Friends
As my son talked about the new friends he had made at school this week, I told him about mine too. I might not quite fit in to one circle of people yet but I have definitely started to bond and click with a few people, either professionally or socially.

Here’s to a relaxing weekend after a very busy second week.

Start of Term

So much has happened over the last 9 days. I could sum it up as follows…

We need food!
Being there for my own children
Behaviour for learning
Where do I belong?
Welcome Home!
Friday night research
New Friends

And maybe I need to start blogging in little snippets, bullet points or notes… maybe that would be easier to maintain. A little more detail might be helpful though in terms of my own reflection, because when I’m looking at this as an NQT I want to remember some key points.
So I’ll start with considering the first few points, up to and including the children starting at my placement school.

Last thursday and friday were spent organising the classroom because new resources and furniture had arrived, much of this related to the 2 year old places now being offered at the school. Teamwork is key and is clearly there in abundance at my placement school.
So I spent the end of term at my previous school organising the environment for this term, and the beginning of this term doing the same! This made me consider when I would do this myself. There are benefits to both. Do it in July and you know you’re prepared, you can finish aspects off in summer when there are no children if you need more time. But do it in Sep and the reasons behind your classroom design will be fresh in your memory and clear to prople like me who are new to the school.

Alongside this the class teacher met with every single parent and child who would start the following week. This took two whole days but was a worthwhile exercise in getting to know the families. It is the first time I’ve seen it done this way and it works really well because the information you receive from parents is up to date and the children don’t have to wait all summer to return to school (a point that my own son actually commented on when he said “I’ve been twice and they still won’t let me start!!)

September is the party month for us. Many of my daughters friends have birthdays so in anticipation of this I had already purchased some of their presents over the summer. Note to self…get them ALL next year. The first party this year included a sleep over so this gave us quality time with our son and reminded us that life is so much simpler with only one child in the house. I actually finished my book. It’s a good job because I can’t see me finding time to read from now on.

We need food!
Finding time to buy the groceries. When is it best to do this? Should we do more online shopping? Possibly but we’ve recently started using Aldi more and find their products so much cheaper and many are actually better than branded items. It looks like I’ll be fitting Aldi in at the weekend for tge 2nd week running which is highly frustrating so I might try to aim for thursdays after training / school instead.

Being there for my own children
Monday was a big day for us. My son started school and my daughter moved into juniors.  My son loved it. He has been waiting for this day for years and is more than ready. It will be interesting to watch his journey through reception as I also embark on my own!
My daughter is also happy with her new class, but she was the more anxious. It is worth remembering this as a training teacher because it’s easy to think the younger child would be more unsettled. My daughter was anxious about where to put her belongings and as her best friend has moved schools I think she is trying to establish where she sits in the social circles at school.

The children started at my placement school. Woo hoo!!
The 1st day we o ly had children who are new to the school, of which we have 9. The 2nd day included the children who previously attended the school nursery so this increased the numbers to 26. There should be 2 more but these never materialised. A common occurence in an area with lots of movement if families. The group seemed to bond really well and I felt like over the two days I began to form good professional relationships with the children. A high priorty was given to PSE development, allowing children to explore their new environment through play whilst also establishing routines early. A high percentage speak english as an additional language but despite this, many of them do already have a good understanding of English, very possibly due to attending nursery and maybe showing how nursery supports children with “school readiness”.

I need to take a break now so I’ll comment on the other points in my next post.

5% of children cannot read. Not on my shift.

Today I learnt that 5% of children leave primary school unable to read.
5% also leave high school unable to read.
Therefore showing that if they slip through the net at primary they will never learn to read 😥
5% is 5% too many.
To some it may sound like a small number. In real terms, 5% equates to 29,000 children.

We should appreciate the problem: English speaking children have a lot to learn.
In Spain they have the same alphabet as us: the same amount of letters.
However they have 24 speech sounds, we have 44.
But the really shocking figure is this: they have 29 graphemes (the sounds written down). We have over 150.
Wow! What a comparison. We really should congratulate ourselves for mastering this complex code!

So today my placement school trained it’s staff in Ruth Miskins “Read, Write, Inc”, a programme which claims that when implemented properly, no child will slip through the net.

The wonderful teacher I worked with at my previous school was passionate about this scheme and I am too.
I am excited to be part of it from the very beginning.

It was a lot to take in today. But the scheme is very prescriptive and I hope that as I start to use it to teach phonics, reading, writing and spelling it soon becomes second nature.

Listening to Sir John Jones. And preparing for school to begin.

Today was the 1st day of my School Direct Year.
It began with an inset day, however the health and safety training we were due to have was postponed due to the loss of the head teachers voice! So we had an hour or two to get classrooms sorted. Always a bonus for teachers to be given time like this I think.
In the foundation stage unit this involved emptying a shed, moving the shed to the other side of the outdoor area and re-filling it, and emptying the store cupboard. I sorted a load of jigsaw pieces and attempted to do a couple with one of the TA’s before realising there were pieces missing so we chucked the lot. At least it got my brain going!
This is what early years is like. All very time consuming.
We then had a brew and the teacher noted on the whiteboard in the EYFS kitchen how everyone liked their drinks making…I like things like this. Good organisation over the simplest of things. Makes a difference!
In the staff room I ascertained that there were no seating plans! I can breathe…and sit anywhere! I have read on teacher forums that sitting in someone’s chair can affect your whole placement!

So after a catch up in the staff room we went on to the venue where the afternoon inset was held. Being a Catholic School, first was mass. Quite a lengthy service and I can never sing quite high enough but I do like the way that mass is used on the 1st inset day to bring everyone together in their faith.

Then came lunch and finally the guest speaker.
This was a man called Sir John Jones. He was very inspirational and spoke with no notes whatsoever, remembering facts and figures spectacularly. He told us that by the age of 3, a child from a home with professionals as parents will have been exposed to 50 million words. A child from a family on benefits will have heard only 12 million. I love facts and figures like this and he told us many more. He also gave us little tips too. For instance he gave us 2 minutes to discuss some points he had made. Then music blasted out. Happy music. He said if we give the children this opportunity for discussion, 1 minute is not long enough, by 3 they are bored. So 2 is ideal. The music puts you in a good mood. Being in a good mood makes you more receptive to learning. It is little things such as this that I want to remember. Surely we need to do all we can to open children up to learning. Maybe I’ll get some feel good music to play in the car on the way to work every day so I start my day positively. And I’ll play it to my own children before breakfast club too. If I think about it, when a favourite song comes on my usual stations of Radio 2 or XFM before work, that feeling does stick with me for a while.

Another idea was SOS. I think this was short for Save One Student. Sir John Jones had been talking about the invisible child prior to this. These could be the neglected child, the disappointed (with school) child, the different child, there were many categories, but the average child struck a chord with me. These are definitely a group I see being missed.
Anyway, with SOS the theory is to select a child every half term who you will make a difference with. He suggested starting with the child who you got on with the least. Make real leaps forwards with that relationship in half a term and you will make a difference to their learning. I think I’ll try this.

I was really impressed when he started to talk about Growth Mindset. I have read a fair amount about the work done on this by Carol Dweck and do find it incredibly interesting. So to hear it being discussed with teachers I will work with was fantastic as at least now they’ll know what I’m referring to… ultimately I’d love to work in a school which adopted this method of teaching wholeheartedly.
Examples of this in practice were given by Sir John Jones, for example he talked about set 4 children being taught  by a teacher who thought she was teaching set 2 and who therefore got set 2 results from the pupils because her expectations were higher. He talked about classes working together to alter a piece of work so that it went from a level 4 to a level 6, or from a C grade to an A grade because they kept trying to change the work and improve.

Thinking the children are able to achieve and helping them to try again to make improvements to their work is the way I want to work. Commending them for working hard, persevering, trying again, taking their time. Rather than saying they are clever or talented.
In fact he talked about the mistake our society makes by referring to athletes and sports people as gifted or talented when we should actually be congratulating them on their effort, their determination, their commitment.

They have learnt to be amazing in their field because they see it, they want it, they believe it and they do it (again and again and again and again… it’s called practice).
Our children can do this too. All of them.

Finally he told us to slow down. To walk as though we are walking to the song “Moon River”!
To remember there is always a better way.
So in other words be open to change.
To know that children will be smart enough if I am good enough.

So much to take in. So much to remember.
I thanked Sir John Jones at the end of the conference because what he said and what he believes really reflects how I see the role of the teacher.
What a good way to start my teaching career.

All change

Preparing for the next year has been more of a psychological experience than a physical one so far. I will go from working part time, term time and having the luxury of spending every afternoon with my youngest child and being able to collect my eldest child from school every day to working full time and completing the PGCE. No more breaking my back pushing the bikes to school so they can ride back through the woods. No more chatting to other Mum’s and Dad’s outside the school gates. No more easy opportunities for their friends to come for tea after school or nursery. Probably worst of all: No more being the 1st one to hear stories from the days events.

All these thoughts are really hard to digest and don’t sit well with my maternal instincts. So I have spent about 12 months coming to terms with all this. Because I do want to teach. And I do think I can make it work. I tell myself I have been lucky to have what I’ve had for so long. I tell myself I could be working full time with only 4 weeks annual leave. At least I get those extra holidays with my children even if I am working in part.

The other psychological thing I am doing is to relax! I have seen lots of posts about pre-course reading, however I am taking words of advice from someone who has lived the PGCE experience and I am therefore reading novels. Not novels that are related to teaching in any way. Just books I like the sound of. The point to this is that come September my life will no longer be my own. I won’t have time for reading for pleasure. So I am doing it now. My favourites from the last few months have been ‘The ice twins’ by S K Tremayne, ‘No second chance’ by Harlan Coben and ‘Still Alice’ by Lisa Genova.

There was a time when I did what others are doing and prepared for the course with some relevant reading. When I started my degree in 2010 I was pregnant, so in anticipation of study time lost when my baby arrived, when I went to Cornwall on holiday I read ‘Young Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development’ by Marion Dowling. This was a very worthwhile read but I now know how much I missed reading for pleasure over my degree years so I am making the most of this opportunity. I have even set up a facebook Book Club to share my passion with other like minded people.

Having said all this, I suppose becoming a trainee teacher is just in my blood, because I have very recently joined Twitter. This is great because I have started to build up a network of likeminded people and am loving the ease at which I am able to find links to blogs and interesting articles and documents. So despite not setting out to intentionally read education related materials I find I am doing just that!

And physically speaking, I have yet to buy a planner or diary of some type. I have files to buy too but this can wait! My husband and I have transformed the spare room into a light and airy office space. So no more working at the dining room table as I did for my degree. That looks to the outsider like the biggest transformation in our world. But I promise it’s my mindset, my acceptance of this new chapter I am about to step into.

The big days

It’s typical, and bear with me: the relevance will show…….The one day that I have a wedding to go to (that of my lovely friend who, like I intend to do, has gone from nursery practitioner to teacher) and my son was making noises throughout the early hours of the morning and preventing me from sleeping well. He then jumped straight out of bed at 7:45am. Yes this is far later than my school day start time of 6am, and not particularly early at all, but considering it is the school holidays it would be so nice to have a lie in when I will be out til the early hours of the morning, especially as I had only just got back to sleep after his disturbed sleep. Let’s hope tonight brings peace for all of us, for the 4 or 5 hours I’ll get. But before that I intend to have a good boogie with some old friends at the wedding of the year!

This brings me to the connection with being a teacher. You can guarantee that your children will impact like this on all the important days. Ofsted for example. Back in my days as a Deputy Nursery Manager my daughter got chicken pox when Ofsted were in. More recently when I was a TA and it was inspection time again but my son was poorly this time and we were up with a sick bucket! I’m sure my daughter had ear ache on an inspection day back in 2013 too. (I’ve been through so many inspections over the years). Luckily for us, my mother and father in law live around the corner and are very accomodating. But leaving your poorly child whilst you go to work is never easy.
It’s all part and parcel of managing home and work life but I do wonder why it’s always these big days when it all happens at once!

What made you smile today?

As a prospective PGCE student I have spent a lot of time reading through forums of current PGCE students, NQT’s and long standing teachers.

One piece of advice has really stuck with me. Amongst all the negativity and the stress, the marking, planning and assessments: someone reminded others that we should always remember why we do this job. Their advice was to take note of one moment each day that really makes you smile.

I tried this whilst I was a TA and liked it, I found that often it can be a really simple moment of a child noticing something or telling you something.

I decided to apply this to my day yesterday and I thought of one moment with each of my children.

Yesterday we visited a museum and art gallery. When viewing the art, my daughter asked “does it change?” Not understanding her question, I offered a few answers but could see the frustration in her expression as I wasn’t  saying the right thing and she wasn’t able to explain the question any further herself! She kind of switches off in situations like this where she feels misunderstood so I didn’t push things. Several minutes later as we had progressed from a piece of art done in the 1900’s to one done in 2010 the clouds disappeared and she looked much more relaxed. She had found the answer to her own question. She noticed the brighter colours and the modern clothes on the child in the picture and happily concluded that yes indeed, art had changed over the years. It made me smile to see her finding answers to her own questions and to see her clouds lift.

In the same museum my son met a ticinosuchus. A dinosour to you and me. He listened with interest to the recorded message telling him facts about the jurrasic world. Seeing the way his face lit up with sheer delight as he listened made me smile.

Simple moments. Moments that happen all the time. Moments that we can so easily miss.

Take a moment to reflect on what makes you smile as you go through the day today. And as you go through each day with the children you work with or people you care about.