New Beginnings

This year I have started a new school for the first time since I began my first teaching job. Although only having been at my previous school for 2 years, I learned and experienced a wide range of things which has began to mould me into the teacher I wish to become. From here I have began with reflection and the change of environment allows me to be selective with things I wish to continue and those that I would like to start fresh.

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Displays – usable learning opportunities

One of the ideas I am definitely going to continue is making displays interactive. Yes I will have some which are solely for the purpose of displaying children’s work (as you should to celebrate achievement) but mostly they will have a usable purpose.

Old favourites:

  • Volcanic vocabulary – near the reading corner to add to with inspiration from books. A wall where vocabulary expansion is encouraged and words can be referred to within lessons.
  • Definitions of word classes/language features, sentence openers, connectives etc. – the children need to learn to be independent. When asking them to check their work and improve examples around the room mean they can easily make changes without agonising over finding another way to start a sentence.
  • Feelings board – sometimes children come to school not in the right mind to learn due to elements beyond our control. The feelings board encourages children to move their photo to how they are feeling so that if there is an issue I can try and talk to a child and help them before it effects their learning. Other children can also use it to look out for each other.
  • World map and blogging – lots of classrooms have maps, lots of people never look at them. The map in my classroom is a working feature. Whenever we contact another country, either through Skype, Twitter, Blogging or an international project, we mark where they were on the map. This constant reference improves their knowledge of world geography as well as inspiring us to make a range of connections.
  • Class monitors – a place for me to remember who I assigned what to, the children to be proud of their responsibility in class and a visual reminder to those who sometimes forget their jobs!

New concepts:

  • Have you achieved the LO? – on my door I have 2 sets of posters with green, yellow and red faces ranging from happy, to straight faced, to sad for both Literacy and Numeracy. Each child then has their photo and blue tac and at the end of the lesson can move their face to where they feel they are. This then works as a quick visual assessment tool for me between lessons when I may not have checked in with each child.
  • Tweeting Learning – this is something that has before been a part of my classroom practice but not a display. The idea of displaying our tweets was mostly prompted by Teacher’s Pet having a display resource for it. At appropriate times children can write tweets on paper about their learning and I then choose a selection to type up for Twitter so that parents can see. This year, in addition to this, the tweet is displayed on the wall in the classroom for the children to see as well.

Monitors and independence

I have always felt that developing children’s independence within the classroom is crucial, no matter what age you teach (of course, the range of independent activities will vary) but especially in upper key stage 2. Within the classroom this means making things accessible, giving the children responsibilities and sharing expectations of using each learning opportunity to its fullest.

Old favourites:

  • Accessibility – what are the children likely to need to access? Stationery, paper, books, thesauruses, dictionaries etc. in my opinion, all of these things should be easily accessible to the children. They do not have to ask to get things as long as the timing is appropriate (e.g. I’m not talking to the class) and time wasting is monitored. If children can’t manage this for themselves, then the option is revoked for an allotted time.
  • Monitors – in my class I have just under 20 monitors for various things which works in two ways, 1) the children learn the responsibility of a role when the class is relying on you to support everyone else, 2) it means I can focus my time on less mundane things. Examples of my monitors range from beginning of the day jobs such as date monitors (so I do not write it up each day), timetable monitors, to end of the day monitors like chair monitors and classroom monitors who check the classroom is sorted at the end of the day, through to class helpers responsible for handing out/collecting sheets within lessons. Each child must have at least one job throughout the year but are randomly picked to choose their job on a first come, first served basis. Each job is a commitment from that child for half a term.
  • Toilet/Water breaks – one of my pet hates is when we have just gotten in from break or lunch and I have a string of children who want to go to the toilet or get a drink. Excluding medical problems, this is due to them not wanting to use their break or lunch time to do these things and instead wasting lesson time. They need to learn to organise themselves to have time to play and do the things they need to and my method is if they need to do one of these things (as obviously I’m not going to make them wet themselves) they have to give me 3 minutes of leaning time in their break. This makes children think about how much they really need to go and can prove valuable for checking in with certain children and using the 3 mins for 1:1 work.
  • ‘Free’ time – in teaching, particularly Primary, there are always times when you are held up whether it’s with dealing with incidents at playtime, a technical issue, or something else. Often during these times children will sit and chat, at a loss for what to do, or you may tell them to get a reading book out. I train my children to use any free time to practise consolidate and work on things they know they find tricky. After an initial start of rewarding those children who made that choice freely, I tend to find they naturally fill their time doing these things now.

New concepts:

  • Guided Reading – this year I’ve been trying to reinvent Guided Reading in the hope of sparking a continued love of reading and books rather than a dreaded guided reading session. Like a lot of schools/teachers, each day I hear a different group read and we discuss a text whilst the rest of the class have other things to do. This leaves the children with 4 sessions where they are not working with me, within this time they have independent reading (reaching a predetermined page to discuss with the group), a ‘magpie’ dictionary/vocab exercise and a text activity (a list of around 40 of which they choose one to work on a week). I do not specify when each thing has to have been completed, I just collect books in on a Friday (so text activities must be completed by then) and the children must be in the correct place for continuing reading/discussing vocab when they come and read with me in their timetabled slot. Again this has been a learning curve for them which they are rising to.


Building community

Old favourite:

  • Circles – as part of my previous school’s behaviour policy, using the principles of Restorative Practice, the children begin the day with a ‘check in’ circle and end the day with a ‘check out’ circle. The idea behind this is that spending time together as a class will allow you to develop a sense of community which will encourage children not to be mean or do unkind acts as they don’t want to let down the community. Beginning the day with a check in circle, with a question as simple as ‘How are you feeling today?’ where each child must say something (although they can pass and it come back to them) allows you firstly to make sure you’ve heard from each member of your class, but also for everyone to find out things they didn’t know about fellow classmates. From here it opens the windows for new opportunities for talk and new friendships to form.

New concept:

  • Learning Partners – my new school has a policy where each week the children sit with a new learning partner who they will work with, discuss things with and, well, learn with for he next week. On a Monday we use lolly sticks to select pairs and then place them in the room as we see fit. As this is an established procedure in my school the children are used to it and it is a normal part of routine. So far I think it’s a fabulous way of building community within the class as children work with a range of children, and abilities, that they may not have worked with before and it increase the sense of everyone contributing as you don’t want to let this new learning partner down.

Starting a new school has opened my eyes to a lot of new ways of doing things and allows me to reconsider the effectiveness of procedures I already have in place. I have a few more posts up my sleeve about new projects I intend to try in the classroom so watch this space.

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