A letter to my NQT self

 

Dear Mark,

You’re looking forward to your first year of teaching and so you should be – you’ve worked hard to get to this point. The prospect of having your own class is exciting and terrifying, but mostly exciting.

I’m writing to you five years later and guess what, everything is going to be ok. There are challenges ahead and you’re going to learn so much about your chosen profession, even in the first couple of days. You’re not going to learn everything about the job this year, this is also ok. You won’t know everything about the job in five years, in fact, keep the right mind-set and you’ll be learning throughout your career.

As you are starting your NQT year after the first half term of Autumn, you’ll teach one class through to the summer with 17 children and you’ll welcome a new class of 21 children the following September. Both classes will be very different and you’ll find them both to be a valuable learning experience in your first year.

Behaviour management, you didn’t do an awful lot on this at Uni did you? So you’re bound to struggle a bit, it takes a while for a teacher to ‘establish’ their behaviour management style so be patient and don’t give up. Be calm, collected, kind, fair and trusting, keep this up and you’ll get there. Maintain standards, especially on the playground, remember, your new class will be watching you! Smile and keep smiling – you don’t need to be stern or grumpy to manage behaviour, you don’t want children to be afraid or to distance themselves from you.

During your NQT year your head will come into the staffroom to announce that ‘they’re coming tomorrow’. Yes, Ofsted will be visiting. Don’t panic, just be yourself, as hard as it sounds, pretend they’re not there. You’ll discuss your lessons with them, take their advice and learn from it. Don’t overthink what they’ve said and If they say something you don’t like, stick up for yourself, argue your point but not in an overconfident way – tell them your point of view. Five years in the future you won’t get any feedback from the lessons that Ofsted observe. After your first Ofsted inspection you’ll be told that the school ‘Requires improvement’ and will need to be visited by a HMI a month or so later. The next few months will be challenging, very challenging but the school will soon be back on track. This will be a difficult time but push through.

Listen to other members of staff and don’t be afraid to ask for their advice. Speak to teachers from other schools, visit schools outside your ‘bubble’ to see how they do things. Join twitter for the same reason – it’s CPD on your terms.

Planning will take ages to write, especially in the first few months. It won’t always be like this. It gets easier and you’ll find (eventually) that you don’t need to do as much planning. Your priorities will change when Ofsted say that they don’t want to see lesson plans but a well-planned lesson. Resources will become the most important part of your planning. Use your PPA time wisely.

One of the most important things you must remember is to have a life outside of school. Keep up your music and carry on with your amateur productions. Do something separate from school to take your mind off things. At the beginning of your career you’ll start to think that there is no end to the amount of work you have to do but keep going because you will soon find a good work/life balance. Don’t expect this to happen in the first year, with experience you will get into a routine that suits you.

Finally, be positive and keep smiling. Don’t overwork yourself.

“You can do anything but not everything”

Good luck!

Mark

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10 ways to get children ‘Writing for Pleasure’

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while. Like many teachers, I’ve used the phrase ‘Reading for Pleasure’ an awful lot in recent years, it’s often mentioned in staff meetings and we’re always encouraging children to pick up a book in the hope that they will do it automatically without being prompted by an adult. It’s quite an easy ‘approach’ to implement in schools, they all have access to books and most classrooms have a designated reading area used to promote the wonderful world of literature.

‘Writing for Pleasure’ is not something we hear much about, the term certainly isn’t used as much as ‘Reading for Pleasure’. My question is, Why? Well, in my opinion there are a number of reasons that ‘Writing for Pleasure’ falls under the radar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are people out there who are encouraging this, it’s just not as high on the agenda in schools.

Writing is one of my favourite lessons to teach, I always make it exciting by using film, drama and books to inspire writers. I’ve just completed my long term overview for English and I’ve had to make sure that I’ve included all the genres of writing that my Year 2 class need to write in order for me to make a fair assessment of their work. Maths, English, Reading and Science all need to be assessed, much of the work that we do in class is in preparation for tests and assessment. Exam Factories – another phrase used more than ‘Writing for Pleasure’. For me, it’s not all about assessment but this is my first year as a Year 2 teacher so I’ll know a little bit more about the pressure by the end of next year. It’s no wonder that ‘Writing for Pleasure’ is difficult to fit into our curriculum when the pressure to write diary entries, non-chronological reports, biographies, etc is so high. We’ve got to show that we are teaching a range of styles, another box to tick. I am certainly not suggesting that we can’t make writing different genres a pleasurable experience but it does narrow our curriculum.

The idea of ‘Reading for Pleasure’ is that children pick up a book independently – the aim of a ‘Writing for Pleasure’ approach would surely be to encourage children to pick up a pencil and write. Time is another issue, when do we have the time to let children write what they like? Not very often, if you manage to fit this into your timetable, let me know.

One of my aims for September is to encourage writing for pleasure, I’m going to put together a writing area in the classroom – this is something my class actually requested during our transition session.

So, here are a few ways I’m going to encourage and promote writing. Some ideas are quite specific, others allow a bit more freedom.

  1. Writing Space –  Create a ‘Writing area’ in the classroom, a space that children can dip in and out of. Don’t expect them to write a novel but offer it as a space that children can go and write whatever they like – free writing. Have a book or journal available so children can return to a piece of writing that they want to complete.
  2. Sport Commentary – I know a lot of teachers already do this. If children have access to a safe sports website with videos (Sky Sports or BBC Sport) they could write their own commentary based on their favourite sport – give children the choice. Sport clips are often only a few minutes long so a short commentary won’t take too long to write, plus you’re not giving them a whole game/match to write about. Children may want to record this on a voice recorder before writing.
  3. Individual journal – As well as using this blog, I use a number of different journals to write in. I write down ideas, short stories and the odd humorous poem. Small journals and notebooks are reasonably cheap, buy one for each child to use over the year. They can take them home or leave them in school – it’s theirs! They can take ownership of it. Encourage them to share their writing with friends and family.
  4. Once upon a Picture/Literacy Shed – I’ve already got both of these sites saved on my favourites bar. Let children explore the sites and choose an image or film to write about giving children the choice, not the teacher.
  5. Dear Diary – This could link to the personal journal but children could also choose to write this on a separate sheet, there are plenty of diary templates out there. If children have had a particularly good day, encourage them to write about it to keep for themselves or share with others. Blogs are also very popular for this sort of writing in school.
  6. Draw/Write – Some children need visual aids to help inspire writing. Most children love drawing too – great! Give children the opportunity to draw a character, place or story before writing. Children are then creating their own stimulus for writing, providing their own inspiration. Children could draw a story map with annotations – it’s still writing.
  7.  Comic Life – Again, lots of teachers have already heard about this app and have used it numerous times in lessons. I know some of my Year 5 children have loved making up their own stories without me choosing a scenario for them. Children like the freedom to write and create what they want.
  8. Postcard Home – I love the idea of praise postcards and I remember getting one or two when I was in secondary school. Some parents don’t know what their child has done at school. Similar to the diary idea, encourage children to write a postcard to their parents/guardian, telling them about something that has happened at school – something that has excited them. Buy a few stamps and post, give children a reason for writing.
  9. Write a story in 5 minutes – Sorry Ofsted and DfE, you won’t like this one. Forget SPAG for just 5 minutes. Set children the challenge of writing a story in 5 minutes, no checking, just writing. Pure writing, putting imagination and creativity at the centre of the task. If you really want them to, get them to check it later.
  10. Pick a genre – Some children like structure. Provide children with cards/posters explaining each genre of writing, they can choose a style and write whatever they like within a ‘controlled’ piece of work (a few pointers along the way). Obviously, some children need prompts like this to know where to go with their work – a map I suppose.

There you are, my ideas, take them or leave them.

I’m certainly going to give them a go in September. I’d love to hear what others are doing to promote Writing for Pleasure in their own schools. I’ve spoken to a number of teachers recently from lots of different school who all say something along the lines of “Writing is still a problem”. I want to make more of writing next year, I want children to enjoy it and pick up a pencil without me nagging. Let’s see how it goes.

Mini Wimbledon – Tennis, Strawberries and Deuce

Over the last couple of years I’ve always insisted that I teach a unit of tennis during a certain two weeks in July. Even those who aren’t interested in tennis know about the Wimbledon fortnight, it’s hard to avoid. I’m not at all sporty but I really enjoy watching tennis. I feel much more confident teaching tennis than other sports – I know where to go with it. My aim is to get as many children interested in tennis as possible, it’s an interest of mine that I want to pass on.

I start the fortnight with pictures of previous Wimbledon tournaments, I talk about the players and we keep up to date with the latest results via Newsround and First News. Twinkl also provide a comprehension each year so I made good use of that.

So, the hook has been set…now it’s time for a game or two…or 25+.

After a term of teaching tennis, I organise a tournament like the championships at Wimbledon. As we don’t have the luxury of a roof like on centre court, I kept checking the weather to see which day would be best. I intended on spending a whole morning outside playing tennis so I had to pick the right day.

Wednesday it was. My class had no idea.

I set an early alarm and headed for Tesco to buy strawberries, cream, plastic cups, bowls and traditional Robinsons fruit juice…no Pimm’s in sight. It was a warm morning, I set up the courts with our new nets (luckily delivered the night before) and we were ready for a morning at Wimbledon. Year 5 children were the first to arrive on the playground and they knew straight away that we were having a ‘Mini-Wimbledon’ competition. The rumour spread so I didn’t even get chance to explain what we were doing that morning – the excitement had begun.

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I asked my class if they wanted to play mixed or boys/girls games. They decided on boys/girls games so that they would have a final for both. We played through the first, second and third rounds. Then it was time for a break with strawberries and cream. The kids loved it and were so excited to see who would win the tournament. Those who had been knocked out were desperate to be ball boys or girls and they did a fantastic job. We had quite a few long matches, every single child was able to score points, they are such a good group of players. I was worried I might have to sacrifice my afternoon PPA session to complete the tournament…and I would have!

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Eventually, we reached the finals. To help build the excitement further I invited the whole school to come outside to watch the last two matches. A few of my decisions as umpire were questioned and I soon realised how difficult the job is. A few children requested hawk-eye, sadly the school budget didn’t allow for such technology.

There was plenty of cheering when the winners were declared and it was such a great atmosphere – proper Wimbledon weather too. Teacher points scored.

Children love role play and I’m a strong believer that it can be used way beyond EYFS. They love getting into ‘character’, even when it’s not specifically a Drama based lesson/activity. I love creating learning situations based on something real. Not one of them said “It’s fake, a set up, I’m not doing it” they were all completely engaged in the situation. As a teacher, you also need to be ‘in the zone’, you need to do a bit of acting and, in this case, believe that you are actually taking part in one of the biggest tennis competitions in the world. Children would reach the end of a match and would shake hands unprompted, they were all completely in the moment. It was a fantastic morning of sport.

We presented the certificates the following day and the children were still buzzing about it.

There are four days left, it’s not too late to have a go at your own Mini-Wimbledon.

Enjoy the final. Come on Federer!

Moving to Year 2

I haven’t been able to talk about this on twitter but I can finally say – I’m moving to Year 2.

After five years teaching Year 5, I’m making the move to KS1. I started in Year 5 as an NQT and I’ve loved teaching this year group. I love the Y5 topics, the age group and the fact that children at this age know so much. Until this year I hadn’t really thought about other year groups, I was comfortable in Year 5 but I started to think that a change was something to consider.

I wanted to experience something new. I had an idea that there was going to be a reshuffle in school so I expressed an interest in KS1. After a few meetings with staff, we were told that we would be moving classes and I was told that I would be moving to Year 2. Going from Y5 to Y2 is going to be a challenge but an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone.

A few challenges ahead:

  • Getting back into Phonics
  • Pitching teaching at the right level
  • SATs
  • Mastery in maths at a younger level (Basic skills to mastery)
  • Teaching reading and writing (from scratch in some cases)

What am I looking forward to?

  • CHRISTMAS!!
  • Reading…and enjoying a host of newly found character voices.
  • Role play and Drama (not that I didn’t do this in Year 5)
  • Teaching writing, hoping to develop a love for writing at a young age.
  • Phonics – Although getting back into it will be a challenge, I’ve always enjoyed teaching it.
  • Creating an exciting learning environment for KS1 children

I’ve spoken to friends who have taught in Year 2 and they have all had a brilliant experience. I’m going to visit other Year 2 teachers over the next few weeks to help gather ideas and talk about expectations. Year 2 teachers out there, any advice would help!

There’s one thing I’m not too sure about, I may need specific advice on this…Fashion advice. I’ve always worn a tie in Year 5. Do I ditch the tie or keep it? Does it make a difference? Should I be even questioning this? Will it get in the way??? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Mark

#PrimaryReadingList2017

PrimaryReading.pngFor a while now I’ve been trying to find out what other Year 5 teachers read to their pupils. Teachers of twitter often post pictures and short reviews of the books they’ve been reading in class and I always find the recommendations useful. Teachers very rarely pass a bookshop without picking up a book, in my case they’re quite often for school but I do treat myself now and then. Teachers love books and have the enthusiasm to pass on that love for reading.

One of the best posts I’ve seen on twitter in the last couple of months was from Ashley Booth (@MrBoothY6) who complied a list called ‘100 books to read before you leave Y6’. A brilliant idea and I’ve noticed that a number of teachers have gone on to create displays based on the list. A fantastic way to inspire teachers and ultimately children.

There are a number of lists out there suggesting the books children should read and when they should read them. Quite a lot of these lists aren’t written by teachers and most of the time they’re out of date. I’d like to find out the texts that teachers are choosing to read in their classrooms in 2017. Books used for guided reading, ‘end of the day’ books or books used in English/Literacy lessons. I know we can’t restrict books to one age group – I’ll always enjoy the Gruffalo – I’m interested in the texts that other teachers are using, I’m frightened I might have missed an opportunity. Rather than just finding out about books for Year 5 children, I thought it was worth asking teachers from Nursery to Year 6.

So, I’ve created a short form for teachers to fill so that I can collate a list of books used in each year group:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfHW8fuNJBvEj2wPcMcJSGjzXVOikP5FLMPcB4prISLR6rHqA/viewform?usp=sf_link

I would love to have as many responses as possible to create a helpful list. Once the results have been collected I’ll share them. Thanks in advance and spread the word!

Mark

@PrimaryMark

Why is half term so important?

A number of people often jokingly say to me “Oh, you’re on holiday again aren’t you? I’d love the holidays you teachers get”. Yes, the holidays are great, especially the six weeks in summer. I wonder how many teachers out there actually spend the whole six weeks relaxing? How many teachers spend seven or fourteen days completely work free during half term? Not many, I’m sure.

I’ve got to be honest it’s only very recently that I have taken full advantage of the holidays. I spent the equivalent of 1 day working over the Christmas holidays in December 2016. Compared to the last couple of years this is an achievement. In the past I’ve spent around five or more days working over Christmas and three or four days in half terms preparing for the next six or seven weeks of work ahead. Working during the holidays was becoming really frustrating, I wasn’t getting a break and the quality of my work probably wasn’t that good – the motivation had gone, I was tired. Holiday needed.

December 2016

Before I finished for the Christmas holidays I put in a few extra hours after school and continued working in my classroom until about 6-7pm. Long days at school are tiring but it was all in aid of reducing my Christmas workload. Displays were up, my room was tidy, plans were printed and resources were organised for the first day back in January. I normally left curriculum plans, maps and long term planning for the holidays but I’d managed to get them all typed up and printed. Looking back, I don’t know why I haven’t been so organised in the past but you know what it’s like in that last week of term with the Christmas party, show and carol service, you go home as soon as possible and just need a break. I’ve changed my ways. I needed to win back my holidays.

One of the other reasons I’ve worked so much during the holidays is guilt – sad, I know. During term time I’m at school no later than 7:30am and I leave around 5:00pm, if there’s something I need to do that night I get it done, often using another hour or two at home. Teaching is one of the few professions that has a start and finishing time that is completely ignored by those in the job. It’s almost impossible to get everything done in the hours we’re contracted to work so we end up working at home at night or in the holidays. There have been times when I’ve been at home during half term and I’ve felt that I need to do some work, I find myself saying “There must be something I can be doing” (I do go out of the house by the way, I visit places, friends, family, etc. I’m talking about those one or two days in the holidays where I’m at home). Anyway, the thing is, there IS always something that you can be doing, you could work all the way through the summer holidays if you really wanted to.  This isn’t healthy nor is it ‘right’.

Christmas holidays should be a time for relaxing, spending time with family and friends, catching up on Corrie and watching episode after episode of Wallace and Gromit on GOLD. I restricted myself to one day of work and felt so much better for it. I worked for two morning over Christmas and went back to school fresh faced and ready to go. Not working over Christmas did me the world of good.

Fast forward…

Today is the Sunday before Spring 2. I’ve spent the last week skiing in Austria and seriously don’t know how I’m going to get through the next week without an Apple Strudel. Perhaps, I’ll put in a word with our cook at school. I’ve had a great week on ‘holiday’ (If anyone ever tells you they’re going on a ski holiday, they are not going on holiday. Skiing is not a holiday, it’s a 24/7 workout. You get a bed at the end of each day to recover and be ready for the next day – I love it though).

I haven’t done any work since the Friday we broke up. Again, I made sure my classroom was ready for Spring 2 and that all my paper work was up to date. I’m organised and haven’t needed to do any work.  I’ve rested and I feel ready to go back, most importantly, I’m looking forward to going back to school. I’m motivated and prepared – a much better feeling than at the end of previous holidays and half terms where I’ve had work hanging over me.

Half term holidays are important. Have a break, recharge, leave the guilt behind and don’t make any excuses.

Countdown. Cyclists. Community.

I was in Manchester earlier this week catching up with Swifty (one of my mates from Uni). We didn’t go with any plans but came back with plenty of stories to tell. We eventually ended up heading to Media City, Salford to watch ‘Countdown’. I’ve always been interested in TV and I like to find out what happens behind the scenes – how it works, etc. It doesn’t really matter which programme it is. We found out where we needed to be and then we sat outside in ‘The Plazza’, while we waited Laura Trott and Jason Kenny happened to walk by. We said a quick hello and managed to get a picture with them, they were both really friendly. We couldn’t believe our luck. I’ll be showing off this picture for a while yet.

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Me, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny and Swifty

Anyway, we went into the studio where Countdown was filmed and the warm-up act came on to the set and told us how the afternoon would work. He kept referring to two members of the audience, which at this point we assumed he knew. “Everybody is welcome; we’re a family here” he said. It turns out that he did know the men, as did the rest of the regular presenters from the show. The two men explained that they were unable to work; one of them was visually impaired and had a guide dog with him, the other man sat at the front in his wheelchair. We eventually found out that the two men were regular audience members, they actually watch the show being filmed rather than watching it at home. They know the presenters and the presenters know them. In fact one of the presenters had treats for the guide dog, so did many members of the crew. From my point of view the two gentlemen were part of the team, part of the furniture if you like.

I didn’t expect to find such a ‘community’ in a TV studio. The hosts, crew and warm-up act were so welcoming and friendly towards the audience, especially the two men – I wish I knew their names. I guess this is why they have been going to see the show for so many years, they’ve felt welcomed and a sense of belonging. Something we all need.

When we join clubs or go to community events we expect and hope to be ‘part of a group’, a group with something in common – a shared interest. I’m sure it’s not as easy for some people to feel part of a group or community but it only takes a few people to change that. To help someone find where they belong.

August Baby

I remember getting my SATs results in Year 6; I wasn’t an especially academic pupil in primary school. I just wanted to learn about music, listen to stories and make things from cardboard boxes. My results, as I remember, were poor; I had tried my best as I always did at school. I was never made to feel rubbish or inadequate and I was never told that I was a lower ability pupil. I ambled along in my own little world – not a bad place to visit as I often do. I moved up to secondary school and carried on, still only interested in Music, fact books and making things. Soon subjects like Drama, Design and Technology, ICT and German would be added to my timetable and my interest in these subjects was growing.

When I was in infant school – a very long time ago now – my headmistress once said to my Mum and Dad “He will always be a little bit behind, he’s small, quiet and much younger than some of the other children. Mark will catch up one day”. It’s common knowledge that a lot of August born children sometimes do fall behind but this doesn’t apply to every child. Research suggests that August babies are just not ready to go to school at the same time as their peers and that they are less confident because others are months ahead of them. My headmistress was right, I was quiet (in school) and perhaps I wasn’t as confident as the other children, from what I remember I wasn’t a particularly good reader, maths wasn’t my thing either and I also had a bit of a lisp because I pronounced s like th – thanks to Mark Wilson for sorting that out!

I’ve just Googled ‘August babies’ and the internet is jam packed with headlines like:

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Oh heck.

I had always said, even when I was in Year 2, that I wanted to be a teacher. I loved school, I loved my teachers and I just wanted to be like them. I had a chalkboard at home that I used after school and my sister would be my teaching assistant, I’d stand at the front of my bedroom teaching what my teachers taught me only a couple of hours earlier. My sister was less than impressed; it must have done something for her though because she is a teaching assistant now.

At secondary school I just sauntered along, quite happily, again I enjoyed getting to know the teachers – I still keep in touch with a few of them today. I certainly wasn’t getting the results that I would need to go on and be a teacher. I remember the career lessons we had at school, we had to pick something that we wanted to do and a computer would tells us the skills and qualifications we would need. I was quite relaxed about it all though because I was a good few years away from getting any qualifications. This wasn’t the case, my GCSE exams were nearer than I thought.

I was always under the impression that teachers needed to know everything, that they should be a walking, talking, singing, dancing encyclopedia and that they were amazing human beings that never got questions wrong. I thought teachers were the sort of people that would watch the Weakest Link (weekdays after Newsround at 5:30 on BBC 1 – bring back early 2000s TV) and would never fail to answer a question correctly. I sometimes couldn’t get my spellings right and my maths skills were never completely up to scratch. How could I be a teacher?

By the time I got into Year 10 I’d been doing a lot of am-dram productions outside of school and I loved it, I started to think about acting as a career because I had started to loose hope on the teaching front. I had chosen my four GCSE options, Music, Drama, German and ICT. I picked the subjects that I enjoyed, not necessarily the subjects that were going to help me get a job – Mum and Dad agreed that this was the best way to do it. Do what you enjoy!

I focused so much on my Drama work; it was now my favourite and strongest subject. A career in acting. I’d have to move away, I’d need to fight off a lot of competition and I’d always be surrounded by people who were trying to be better than everybody else – could I handle this? Probably not, too wet and not the argumentative sort. At the time, YouTube had more or less just launched. Videos of cats playing pianos and children biting their siblings’ fingers started to appear more and more often. Yes, they were funny but I was more interested in videos of interviews with actors and actresses, old recordings of ‘Parkinson’. Honestly, I must have spent hours watching interviews with David Jason, Rowan Atkinson, Julie Walters, Judi Dench, Michael Cain, etc. They all had similar things to say and they all talked about the struggles of getting into acting. Well, known actors all have something in common, at some point in their lives they have been in the right place at the right time – they were lucky. I didn’t think luck was on my side. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself but I just didn’t think I would make the cut. Besides, I can’t really dance so musicals would be off the cards and I wouldn’t have been popular on Strictly. Stick to am-dram and enjoy it as a hobby. Do it part-time.

So, I’d considered acting and the answer was no. Underneath this idea of becoming a famous actor, there was a little Year 2 inside me that was still saying ‘I want to be a teacher when I grow up’. What did I have to do? Work my ass off!!

I got my first ‘A’ in Drama. Actually, it was the equivalent of an A because we did a B-TEC in Performing Arts alongside our GCSE award. My GCSE results weren’t particularly amazing but at least I didn’t break my own tradition. I still managed to get into 6th form to study the A-levels I had chosen. Now I was seriously close to finishing school and choosing a career. I was still trying to think of alternatives to teaching because I still didn’t believe that I’d be able to do it, I needed something to fall back on.

I should mention that throughout my school days my parents and teachers were all incredibly encouraging and always wanted the best for me but at the end of the day, it wasn’t their name on the exam paper or the coursework that I would be handing in. They all wanted me to get into teaching and they supported me in everyway they could. On A-level results day 7 years ago, it was still touch and go. I’d tried to predict my results but couldn’t, I had no idea what was going to be printed on that slip of paper. A few hours later I received a confirmation of acceptance email from University. I was off to Hogwarts…I can dream can’t I?

Skip to 2016.

What I know now:

  • I will never know everything, nobody ever will, thank goodness for Google.
  • I got more A and B grades at University than ever before (not bragging here)
  • I’m an August baby that caught up.

20th August 2016:

I’m preparing to teach my fifth class. There are two or three children that I’ll teach in September that are August babies, what do I do? I think back to what my parents and teachers did with me – encouraged. I wonder how far through school I’d have got if circumstances were different, if I hadn’t had that encouragement. Teachers do not need to be walking encyclopedias. We don’t need to know everything there is to know and we don’t need degrees coming out of our ears but what we should all have is the ability and the time to encourage others, especially those that perhaps need a little more time to grow and develop.

For the record, August is a great time to have a birthday because I can always guarantee a day off.

Desert Island Discs in the Classroom

I love playing music in the classroom. My speakers are amazing and I love to blast out a bit of music at lunch. Every now and then a little head pops through the door and asks what the music is that’s playing. I don’t listen to a particular style of music so it’s different everyday, quite often I just pick a playlist from Spotify and play that. If I have music playing as my class are coming in I often get asked questions like “Is that the music from…?”, “Who’s singing that?” and “Is that Adele?” etc. Music is everywhere, we hear it in the streets, in cars, restaurants and shops – we can’t escape it, it’s something we can all relate to and talk about.

I’m not a BBC Radio 4 listener, I flick between Radio 2 and Magic but it’s normally Chris Evans in a morning and Simon Mayo on the way home. There is one Radio 4 programme that I’ve occasionally listened to on the iPlayer – Desert Island Discs. Since 1942 actors, actresses, writers, musicians and a whole host of other ‘castaways’ as they’re called, have taken part in the programme. Guests are asked about their life and career, it’s a bit like the talk show that Michael Parkinson presented but with music. Castaways are asked to choose tracks that relate to a moment in their life, sometimes they just play their favourite piece of music. The idea is that they would take these tracks with them if they were cast away on a desert island. You can find out a lot about a person by the music they choose to play.

This got me thinking.

I decided that I was going to use the Desert Island Disc format in the classroom. Last September I asked my new class to think really carefully about three songs that meant something to them. I told them that I was going to interview them over the first few weeks of term and ask them to talk about the music that they had chosen. I spent around 10 minutes on each interview, I did’t play each track in full because it would take too much time but I made sure that children had enough time to explain their choices.

Sometimes I feel as if we don’t get to properly know children in our class until it’s too late. Before we know it July approaches and pupils are ready to move up to their next class. We have so much to cover that our timetables often don’t allow much time for  PSHE, Circle time and Citizenship – subjects/activities that help us understand more about our pupils, subjects that ‘allow’ them to talk about themselves.

The first few interviews went well, they would take place first thing in the morning or just before we started reading our class book at the end of the day. Children loved listening to each other talk about the tracks they had chosen and they found out things about their classmates that they didn’t know. Children kept asking when it was their turn but unfortunately we didn’t get through everyone – time didn’t allow. This September I am determined to get through everyone. It’s a simple and effective transition activity that lasts a few weeks in the first term.

I ask children to select three songs:

  1. The first song or tune they remember
  2. A song that means something to them
  3. Their favourite song in the charts – pupils often have more knowledge of this than I do!

I ask questions about their choices:

  • What made you choose a song like this?
  • Why does this song appeal to you?
  • When did you first come across this song?
  • How does this song link to something in your life? A time? A place? An event?
  • What do you like about this musician?
  • How does the song make you feel when you listen to it?
  • Does the song make you feel happy? sad? emotional?

As well as using the activity to get to know your class it also covers the ‘music appreciation’ strand of the curriculum. You’ll probably find that children pick music from a range of genres and that they are able to evaluate the music they have chosen clearly. There’s a reason that children have picked each track, our job is to get them to explain their choices.

“Pupils should be taught to appreciate and understand a wide range of high-quality live and recorded music drawn from different traditions and from great composers and musicians”

National Curriculum for Music KS1 and KS2. Source: www.gov.uk

The radio presenter in me loves this activity and it’s actually good fun for teachers and pupils. Give it a go, play around with the format and let me know how you get on. Have a listen to Desert Island Discs with Ant and Dec if you need more inspiration:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03mckqs

And finally…my choices:

  1. First song I remember – Theme from Playdays – I liked the jazzy Clarinet
  2. A song that means something to me – Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)  – End of Uni song
  3. Castle on the Hill – Ed Sheeran

What would you choose? Why?

#primarydiscs