Reading has no destination. It is the art of transposing graphemes into words, these words to sentences. Reading is a intentional amble through which we can begin much self-discovery.  

Reading is a great leveller. It cares not for culture or background, race or sexual preference. At its best, reading crosses all social barriers: it can raise the lowly to any high. Reading highlights the mistakes of the past; providing glimpses of future Utopias.

Reading is fundamental for teaching writing, and speaking, and everything that remains. But we’ve cluttered it with question stems and assessment criteria. Hints, tips and shortcuts are replacing the awe and wonder of written word. The teaching of reading reduced to a progress measure .

Let’s not lose sight of why we go to so much trouble of teaching reading: a great leveller in an unjust society. Reading is not a destination but can begin to smooth the road. If taught well, by engulfing children with a love of reading, then it can remove the debris ahead.


A Spelling Game: Last letter, not me!

‘Last letter, not me’ is based on the maths strategy game ’21’ – where pupils can count up to three consecutive numbers with the aim to them avoiding being the poor soul who utters the dreaded words ‘twenty-one’.

For the purposes of illustration, I am going to use the word ACCOMMODATE.

Begin by displaying the word on the board and check the pupils’ understanding of the word. Clarify its word type and model how we can put the word into context. The next step is to discuss any mnemonics or words with similar spelling patterns or rules. After such regular instruction, pupils will inevitably begin this stage of the investigation independently.

eg: Mnemonic for ACCOMMODATE = 2 Caravans and 2 Motels.


And so to the game itself. Pupils stand…

For the first two rounds keep the word displayed.

Pupils can say up to three consecutive letters at a time before the next person goes. The pupil who is lumbered with the last letter (E) is out. They must sit down with and reminisce of better times. So, a game would look (sound) something like this:

Pupil 1 – AC

Pupil 2 – COM

Pupil 3 – M

Pupil 4 – O

Pupil 5 – D

Pupil 6 – AT

Pupil 7 –

Teacher – Pupil 7 who are eliminated. And repeat.

After two rounds of the word being displayed, the word is now hidden/removed and the game is played from memory. This time any hesitation (beyond a reasonable thinking time period) is punished by way of elimination.

Not only do the pupils secure their understanding of the spelling (yes, they do), they also begin devising tactics to keep their mates in and so on and so forth. It has been a smash hit with my class and given spelling greater kudos.

Following the game or in a subsequent lesson we also look at words from the same family and their word class:



ACCOMMODATED (verb – past tense)

Often we display these in a mindmap in one colour, synonyms in another colour, and where relevant antonyms in another colour.




A writing resource: The ‘Before and After’ writing frame. 

The premise of this approach to narrative writing, was born from a quick game I play with my Year 6 class. After several attempts at trying to demonstrate how to build a narrative from a single event, I tried to get them to flash forward and flash back – what were the events leading up to the event? What were the consequences?  (I use an image taken from an animation or the Pobble365 resource – which provides free images, daily.)

The impact of this approach was  immediate. The pupils could share a range of opinions that led to this single event, and then – through group or paired discussion – they select the most dramatic and significant events that take place after the event. Often these opinions are shared as a class which then led to shared and paired writing.

Over time, the frame became more structured and looked a little like this:

Initially discuss the prompt with the pupils and gather as much information about this single moment as possible. Then proceed to discuss and decide on the events before and after the prompt.

Tell me what happened…

10 minutes before

10 minutes after

1 hour before

1 hour after

6 hours before

6 hours after

1 day before

1 day after

1 year before

1 year after

It goes without saying that these timings can be adapted and changed as required. I have also found it productive – particularly for lower ability children – to provide more precise timings. 
I ask pupils to work independently initially, forming and weaving together each of the elements. Once finished, I ask the pupils to work in pairs to discuss and refine their ideas.

See an example below:

Once the frame has been produced the pupils draft a piece of writing based on their frame: elaborating where appropriate and, for the more able, selecting which times events are important in the overall effectiveness of the narrative.

Over the past two years I have used this as both a whole class teaching strategy and in small groups for intervention. The impact: pupils have a greater understanding of how they can develop a narrative to build up to an event and subsequent consequences; they have increased chronological awareness of significant events within a narrative.

Guided Reading: Malala Yousafzai’s Speech at the UN Youth Assembly

I have taken an extract from Malala Yousafzai’s speech, at the UN Youth Assembly, to create several lessons aimed at mid-high Level 5 readers in Year 6 with an attempt to move them towards ‘Greater Depth’. 

This is lesson one and focuses on: AF5 – Pupils will work towards clear explanations regarding particular uses of words and phrases.

I begin by providing pupils with the extract from Malala’s speech at the UN Youth Assembly. See below:
Dear brothers and sisters, do remember one thing. Malala day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights. There are hundreds of Human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for human rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goals of education, peace and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them.
So here I stand… one girl among many.
I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys.
I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.
Those who have fought for their rights:
Their right to live in peace.
Their right to be treated with dignity.
Their right to equality of opportunity.
Their right to be educated.
Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.

Initially I ask them to read through independently, then ask for any thoughts or comments –
What is this text type an example of? Can you support your answer with evidence from the text…

Who said this and what are the key messages coming through from the text?

In order to allow children to fully understand the speech and its purpose I will provide them with newspaper clippings/headlines etc.

At this point I ask the pupils, using a highlighter, to identify where Malala makes a direct link between herself and the listener and the rhetoric used to engage the reader. In essence the pupils should quickly link the repeated use of ‘every’ , ‘hundreds of…’ and ‘thousands of…’

We then discuss as a group as to how these techniques connect the listener (reader) to the speech and the power this provides Malala with – at this point you could draw comparisons to Obama’s inauguration speech – I will be saving this for an follow-up, independent lesson.
1. In this extract, how does Malala’s use of language ensure she connects directly with the reader?
• Use of every… hundreds of… thousands of…
• Reference to the line: I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys.
• The repeated use of pronouns ‘their’ at the start of the short sentences.
• Using the phrase: ‘Dear Friends’
I model an answer for the pupils suggest the four areas they should focus on – although this is clearly guiding them, the purpose here is to teach them how to scan and use the text to support their answer. This is not assessment!

After collecting answers from the group, we then proceed to highlight where these examples have been used and discuss the frequency of them.

We then move onto further analysis of a particular sentence. I like to use: I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.

This is where the group get the opportunity to ‘explode’ a sentence. At this point we look at each and every word in greater detail. For example: Look at ‘I’ and discuss the impact on the reader (this is first person and so based on a personal experience making the rest of the phrase more powerful; heartfelt and honest; opening herself up to the reader/audience)
Look at ‘raise up’ and discuss impact (putting herself on a pedestal; accountable…)

I then leave the group to continue with the rest of the sentence and ask them to make notes on A3 paper. At this point I simple observe and may make initial assessments against the following criteria:
He/she provides some detailed explanation, with appropriate terminology, of how language is used.
He/she draws together his/her comments on how the writers’ language choices contribute to the overall effect on the reader.

At this point, I like to show the group a clip of the section they have just analysed:

As a follow-up activity, I ask the pupils to create ‘Word Faces’. Using a drawn outline of Malala the pupils select specific coloured pencils to write the key phrases from the speech as discussed in the session.

Before I meet with the group again I provide them with an extract from Barack Obama’s inauguration speech and ask them to answer a similar question to the Q1. How does Barack Obama connect with the audience? Which techniques can you identify? You must support your answers with evidence from the text. 

I am not suggesting this is perfect (far from it), but the pupils I have used it with in the past are quickly engaged by the real-life nature of the speech and often research Malala further, which is no bad thing.

A Broken Seesaw? : The Work-Life Balance

“Mate, I’d love your job; you start at 9, finish at 3.” I rarely discuss my job with non-teaching friends,the roll of the eyes, the elongated sigh and disguised yawn are enough to deflate any man’s ego. After several years, they have yet to see the implications and demands the role of a teacher have on the individual (and the family), outside the designated teaching hours. “And we pay your wages…”

Before I truly begin, a nod to @JamesTheo blog post on the same subject – it is much more salient than this attempt. See here:

Daylight saving time, the formal introduction to 5 months of perpetual darkness; endless nights which sew seemlessly together. Alas, the jingle bells will be chiming in next-to-no time. Aside from the extra hour in bed, the rolling back of the clocks bring the inevitable encroachment of night into day. And so, what impact on my job as teacher? Well, put simply, exposure to sunlight is saved for PE, break time and weekends. 

Sitting at home last Sunday, attempting to manufacture an engaging way to teach Prime numbers and wading through Y6 writing levels criteria, I decided I’d take a break for an hour and trot off with my 10 month old daughter for a spin on the seesaw and swings. Seesaws, what a wonderful analogy: one side may weigh heavy, but ultimately it seeks equilibrium.

Anyway, off we trotted through our leafy Mancunian suburbia – via a shady brew at the local Cafe Nero (welcome to Tory Britain). As we neared the seldom used seesaw, thoughts emerged:

‘Should I have brought a bottle?’ 

‘I’m pretty sure I should have put a coat on her.’

‘Look at her, not a care in the world.’

‘This is ace, I should do this more often.’

‘At least once a week.’

‘Every other week at least.’

‘Definitely during the holidays.’

‘Do I really need to teach Prime Factorisation?’

‘What is Prime Factorisation?’

‘I should crack on with that block planning this week.’

‘We will just have a quick go on the swings.’

‘Probably should have brought that marking home.’

‘How do all these people find time at the weekends?’

‘I’ll sort maths, then guided reading.’

‘Another 5 then we will leave.’

‘It’s definitely my assembly this week.’

‘She loves this seesaw, God help her if I sit on the other end.’

‘Will I get time to sort stuff out for Parents’ Evening?’

And then the killer, the thought that has resonated since:

‘I really don’t have time for this.’

I may well (by some) be seen as a decent teacher, but it was time for some self-assessment as a Dad. James Theo’s recent blog post motioned to eradicate the unnecessary ‘small tasks’. I couldn’t agree more, but in an age of PRP, ever-growing scrutiny, changes to assessment, evidencing the evidently endless evidence and bureaucratic business, we are well and truly up against it. 

I sat and contemplated (something I don’t have time for either) about ways in which to resolve the issue. What is the answer to guilt-free Daddy:Daughter time? Honestly, I don’t have a clue. The DfE and NUT can issue any number of surveys and logs as they wish, but we know the problem, we just don’t know how to solve it (but please, by all means complete the survey). At one point I contemplated time-tabling when I wouldn’t touch work, not think about it. This in itself is scandalous. I’d love to avoid cliché and poignancy, but ultimately my daughter deserved an outstanding Dad as much as my class deserve an outstanding teacher. 

Time management will never be my forte; if it’s not due imminently, it’s probably going to have to wait. However, the general consensus around at the amount of work, is that teachers need to produce an infinite amount of work in order to complete an average week at school, and it is relentless. Young teachers are stretched ever further and yet, amid a growing bank of evidence that teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate, we seem slow to resolve the growing issues. 

5 minute plans are well and good, but they require the same thinking time and power to complete as any normal lesson plan. If all we had to do was: plan (in a reasonable and personal manner) – teach (the verb from which the noun grew) – feedback (to a point), then surely we would all be more effective practitioners in the role for which we were designed. This quote from James Theo, delivers it more eloquently that I could: “In reality, it is a series of isolated and seemingly proportionate tasks which, when looked at individually, seem innocuous enough.”
Oh so very true, as a profession we are under constant pressure to invent and reinvent / complete; refine; deliver / assess, report and evidence.

Reform is a long process, but it is one teachers must drive if workload is to be truly reduced. Without reform, we will exist in a time where night and day cannot be differentiated. Arriving at school before 7:30? Probably dark. Leaving after 5:30? Dark. Teaching: the direct route to vitamin D deficiency.

In order for a seesaw to be effective, and work as intended, it must offer balance: both of work, and life.


Rows, rows, rows your boat?

Swimming through a tidal wave; running against the grain; wading through treacle.      

Late on Saturday, an innocuous tweet from @heymisssmith read: Primary teachers! Rows? Rubbish right?

Considering the last few days of the half term had been spent discussing my rows with children (the greatful advocates), parents (the nodding approvers) and colleagues (the professional cynics) my response was swift and unapologetic. On the whole, for me, with this cohort, rows have been a box-office smash-hit. The reasons for their success is simple: a) the ergonomics of our classroom suit such a set up, the room is long and narrow; b) after lengthy consultation with the clients, they preferred to face the board – I’ll reiterate this now: it was them, not me that decided this; c) they like group work but on the whole love independence, something I fear is absent in a primary school. 

I’ve begun to dig a little deeper on the matter and page 1 of Google: ‘Primary classroom seating arrangements,’ highlighted a blog by David Didau @learningspy. Forgive me for any misinterpretation, but the over arching message was that rows are bad: the archaic, evil behemoth of seating arrangements, groups are good: the Fairy Godmother casting their magical wand of progress over children and their collaborative learning. So I’ll eradicate row myth #1: Rows do not eliminate group work. I could argue they explicitly highlight to the children when effective group work is taking place, but I won’t open that can of worms. Instead I’ll highlight the simple phrase to indicate group work. “Row 1 and 3 turn your chairs around.”  Ta-da! 10 seconds later I have groups of four, or 8, or 12. Sorted. Sometimes, we even push the tables of row 1 & 2; 3 & 4 together. There we have it, super rows/super groups. 

Phil Beadle offers a pearler of a quote (stolen from David’s blog):
“Having your desks set out in groups is the right way to organise your classroom. Period. No discussion. No arguing. Having the tables in groups allows you to set them grouped speaking and listening activities that are the way they learn most effectively. Having your table in groups lets them learn from each other. And having your tables in groups is a spatially symbolic move away from the Dickensian notion of the teacher standing at the front talking cobblers about really hard sums all day, every day.”
Yes, of course, group work is impossible if you dare sit children in rows; rows are of the dark ages and should left there?! I think everyone has moved on from the idea that rows hark back to 1830’s Lancastarian mill town education where the notion of group work is to be simply baulked at.

Want the children to behave? Sit them in a row, that’ll teach them? After my initial tweet, I read into the opinions of others and time and time again they referred to rows being good to help with behaviour management. Where to even begin? The decision to use rows in my classroom has never been based on an issue with behaviour management. This short term solution, for me, is a total ‘sweeping under the carpet’ of a much wider problem. Someone even suggested this could help inexperienced teachers. No. It can’t, and nor should it, be the basis of a decision on seating arrangements. Instead these teachers should be supported to set clear and explicit ground rules. Whether in rows or groups or horseshoes or spirals is irrelevant. I’m not suggesting that seating pupils in rows won’t eliminate some low level disruption, but it shouldn’t be the basis of a seating arrangement. Row myth #2: Rows should not be used as a stick to solve issues with behaviour.  

“All the world’s a stage.” 
I don’t sing (too often) nor dance around my classroom. I despise the notion of being a guide or a sage, however, one final pro row point is that the pupils enjoying looking forward. A substantial amount of information regarding their learning is present on the whiteboard. Whether it be a nod to the learning objective, a glance at the success criteria or a reminder of key words, in my lessons most of the scaffolding is illuminated on our all singing and dancing touch screen (*cough*). Facing forward allows them to look up and review what it is they’re working toward, without much effort. I asked them: “What is it about rows that you like?” On the whole their responses indicated that they could access information in the classroom with greater ease. It is certainly not about them facing forward to face me at all times, in fact I find myself moving around the classroom with much greater frequency (without colliding with a rogue table). So, and finally, row myth #3: I’m no Robert Redford, facing all children forward is not about them focusing on the teacher. 

I am, by no means, stating that rows or the Holy Grail of seating arrangements. Woe betide me to tell anyone how they should set up their classroom. However, rows are not the antithesis of the modern classroom; they are not a hark back to Victorian schooling. Use them with caution, do not punish pupils and use them to ‘fix’ issues with behaviour management. 

Primary teachers! Rows? Rubbish right?   Wrong

“Having your desks set out in groups is the right way to organise your classroom. Period. No discussion. No arguing.” Apologies