Sunday, 1 May 2016

How to use my poetry videos as starting points for writing

Here is the safest way to view my poetry videos, go to this site and scroll through them:

If you are a parent or teacher then obviously you don't have to 'do' anything with them other than watch them.

If you would like children to have a go at some writing in response to them, can I suggest that you do something like this:

(What follows is primarily in relation to free verse, freewheeling anecdotes and monologues. I'll do a separate blog on the rhyming poems)

These anecdote poems cover a range of emotions and events from the comic to the sad, angry to fun. For your own notes, you might want to think about what kinds of emotions and feelings you might be exploring with this kind of work.

In the class: suggest that 'we' could write "something like that". I know "something like that" is vague-sounding but it's also non-threatening and open-ended. This is important.

If you have a copy of the book the poem comes from, take a look at that too, as that turns what seems like a flow of speech into words on the page - the thing the children find the hardest.
It gives the children a chance to get to see how this stream of words looks on a page.

If you haven't got a copy of the book, say to the children that everything that Michael Rosen said on the video, he wrote down.
You can say, it's as if he talked with his pen and then speaks what he wrote.

So, you can say, how can we talk with our pens?

First step - is there anything Michael Rosen said that reminds us of anything that has happened to us?

Get the children to talk to each other sharing some stories and anecdotes sparked off by the poem/performance.

Share some of these in the whole class or group.

'Grab' one of these and get the child to tell the story again.

As the child talks, 'scribe' it in front of everyone on a board, or flipchart.

Try not to change anything that the child says.

Discuss whether this 'says' all that needs to be said, or whether there's anything that could be added or taken away that would make it more interesting?

If you have copies of any of my poems, you could put one up on the whiteboard to see how I lay out these out on the page. Is there anything there that might help? Perhaps, perhaps not. (No need to be rigid about this, or implying that this is how it must be done.)

Everyone then has a go at writing like this.

Keep sharing what people have written, projecting it up on the whiteboard, performing, starting a class blog, making booklets of 'Our Stories' or something like.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Letter to the DfE

This is circulating on Facebook. It's a letter from a teacher to the DfE

"Just a quick note to thank you for your reply to my letter concerning the assessment arrangements for KS2 this year. I had, after 6 weeks, given up on on receiving a reply from you, but I'm so glad it finally came. I will be using it next week with my Year 6 pupils to develop their evaluating & editing skills. I'm sure they will easily be able to spot the 5 punctuation and grammar errors, and, as this won't take too long, I can then ask them to use the interim teacher assessment criteria to judge the level of your letter. 

As 'correct use of full stops' must be achieved for a child to be deemed to be 'working TOWARDS the expected level', they'll probably judge this piece of writing to be below this standard and therefore not "performing in relation to the national expectations".
I am not disappointed by this letter, it has saved me planning one of my SPAG lessons, and has also confirmed my suspicions that the Department for Education is not capable of meeting the standards expected of primary school children. 

Oh, and just a tiny bit of advice, if you need to print a letter out over two pages, it looks more professional if both sheets of paper are the same quality and colour."

Nicky Morgan talks rubbish about creativity to head teachers today

Nicky Morgan throws down a challenge:

"What are the limits placed on a child's imagination when they cannot write down their ideas for others to read?"

This is the Gove theory that we can't be creative or inventive until we've done the 'basics'. Why is it a fallacy?

1. We are creative, imaginative and inventive from the day we are born. Yes, what we are creative 'with' is, as they say, 'contingent' - that's to say it depends on what materials or resources we have to be creative with. So as tiny infants we can be creative and inventive with clay, paint, coming up with ideas for things to play with, and we have to be creative in order to learn language - that is we play with alternatives and find out which words and constructions work.

2. Nicky Morgan is posing the idea that when this comes to one specific matter - 'writing' - first you have to learn how to write, then you can be creative. This supposes that we can't learn how to write by being creative! What an absurd and illogical idea. Anyone who has worked with young children has observed hundreds, if not thousands of occasions, when children have been inventive and creative and pushed at the frontiers of what they can (and can't do) with a pencil in their hand making words and sequences of words.

One example: children often ask me what is the bear thinking in the last picture of 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt'. I say, 'I don't know. What do you think?' Then they tell me. If I'm with a group in, say, Reception or Year 1 class, I get them to say these out loud and then, say, let's write these down. And the teachers will organise the children in such a way as to enable the better writers in the room (including adults) help those children who aren't able to write down their thoughts, and those who can write it, do. This will involve 'stretching' all the children into finding ways of writing down the thoughts they have just had - all of which involve 'creativity' because there are no words in the book to tell us immediately what the bear is thinking. However, the children have the resources of the book, their other reading (and listening) and their lives to answer the question that they themselves have posed. So, they are in control of the very question themselves.

In other words the children are learning literacy THROUGH being creative. That's the point.

This is in direct and total contrast to SPaG/GPS learning which determines a) what must be taught and learned b) treats the learner as having no control over the learning process c) has no other outcome than a right/wrong answer.

3. In short, Nicky Morgan you have shown yourself to be ignorant of a basic tenet of learning and creativity.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Letter to me from teacher about SPaG test

"It occurred to me that although there were 49 questions [50 if you include one question with two distinct parts (Q21)], many questions have several elements, all of which must be correct to be awarded the mark - and then some. The cruellest question in this regard is Q39. Not only do the children have to think of five suffixes, they then have to spell every new word correctly. That's ten elements for one mark. Just one letter out of place...and the whole question is a big fat zero, even though the child understands what suffixes are and how to combine them with nouns albeit with a silly (sincerily??) slip.

We counted nearly 80 separate elements in a '49 question' test for 50 marks."

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The test-crazy regime is based on treating our children as if they are machines.

This is about the teach-test regime where the tests are used to measure schools and not to help teachers to teach and children to learn. It's the input-output method (or theory) of measuring schools and it comes from technology, business and some science.

The input-output model of measuring performance works on the basis of measuring output as a way of measuring how good the input is.

Imagine, for example, a racing car test on petrol. In a test, you could change nothing apart from the type of petrol : same, car, same driver, same pressure on the accelerator, same amount of lubrication, same wear on the tyres but in one run you use one kind of petrol, in the next run you use another kind of petrol (same amount in the tank, each time), same weather, same track, same route. In these circumstances, you could measure the difference in performance and draw conclusions about which petrol is better.

The measure of performance would measure the input.

What is going on in education is based on this principle.

So, the Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation tests for Years 2 and 6, were brought in specifically because it was claimed that they give right and wrong answers. This means that on the basis of the performance of the children in these tests, the relative worth of the 'input' (ie teachers' teaching) could be measured. It's the input-output model.

So, why shouldn't we use this method?

One reason is because the output (the tests themselves) are unreliable. There are too many ambiguous features in the tests. Multiple choice can be done without any reference to knowledge (stick a pin in and you get a one in four chance of being right). Some things that are being marked as wrong, are in fact right.

The other reason - more importantly is that children are not cars. They are not machines. This is an argument about education itself.

We have to ask ourselves, what kind of person do we want to develop and grow within education? If we want children to be responsive, thinking, interpreting, inventive,  flexible people aware that what they say and do can affect materials, language and other people around them, then we shouldn't treat them as if they are empty receptacles waiting to be filled up and measured.

We will want them to express choice in what and how to learn; express ideas that can change things around them, things that they meet. We will want them to learn how to discuss things, to swap ideas between adults and children around them. We will want them to learn how to question things.

These are not add-on skills. They are not add-ons that you stick on in the sixth form or at college or in adult life. They can be part of how we enable children to investigate, choose and discuss.

Needless to say, this is much harder to measure in ways that the government wants. But if the way the government wants to measure teachers and schools is against the interests of our children, we should say so. If we think this input-output method is constraining our children's growth as thinking, choosing, reflecting, inventing, developing people, we should say so.

I think we can say that we reject the 'Top Gear' way of treating our children.

PGCE student writes about how trainee teachers are feeling

"I am halfway through a Primary PGCE at one of the UK's leading institutions. When asked recently what our short-term (5 year) plans were, only a third of my tutor group anticipated that they would still be in the profession. This is before they have even set foot in the classroom as an NQT. 

Teaching has become so degraded as a profession, with every element of it prescribed by government mandates, that new teachers feel inadequate from the outset. The expectations placed on us to perform within a system that often doesn't reflect the pedagogy we have learnt (as skilled professionals) or the experiences we have had in the classroom, leave many of us confused as to what exactly our role and purpose is. We are left with the choice to 'play the game' or to leave. 

When so much of the research indicates that a good, effective teacher has the biggest positive impact on learning, why is this exodus of teachers not treated with a greater sense of urgency? (of course, I already know the answer to this question.)"

Unqualified teachers in senior roles; principals on 2x head-teacher's salary...

(This comes from someone who visits schools constantly.)

"I've been into schools where senior roles (ie Head of House) are filled by staff without a teaching qualification, Principals are being paid 2 or 3 times a head teacher's salary, students who would previously be given extra support being permanently excluded for relatively minor incidents, and a lack of resources for anything non-academic (sex & relationships or drugs & alcohol for example). 

Good staff are leaving as teaching is no longer the career they signed up for. Sad, but completely avoidable results of this hideously misguided policy which already seems to be falling apart - after a lot less than the duration of a 125 year lease!"