Friday, 30 November 2018

10 Favourite Christmas Activities for Young Learners

Christmas is my absolute favourite time of year to work in school, I just love it! The atmosphere, songs, activities and excitement make it so much fun! While the run up to Christmas in Beijing isn't quite as exciting, there are still lots of Christmas activities taking place so I'm sharing 10 of my favourites today.

Letters to Santa - A pretty obvious one but I love to write letters to Santa with the children. I usually begin the session. I always begin the session with a personalised video from Santa which gets the children really excited and motivated. I then have some toy catalogues that children can cut up or look at for inspiration when writing their letters. 

I often read the story A Letter to Santa or The Jolly Christmas Postman with the children when writing letters. You can buy them with the link at the bottom of this post.

When they have finished I like to take children on a trip to the local postbox to post their own letters to Santa which creates an experience in itself and makes it much more real for the students.

The Snowman Sensory Play - I love to watch The Snowman with my class. Working in an International School there is a huge number of EAL students and the lack of words in The Snowman makes it accessible to all students. I then set up a sensory area of fake mould-able snow for children to make their own snowmen and role-play the story of The Snowman, or make up their own versions if they prefer. It's easy to link in maths by counting out buttons as well as developing vocabulary.
Dear Santa - I love the story of Dear Santa by Rod Campbell. It's one of those nice activities that keeps children on task at the end of term but is a lovely activity to do. The story is along the same lines as Dear Zoo, with Santa sending lots of wonderful things. It's a great story to get kid's imagination really working and produce some excellent creative writing.
Image by GFT Wood
Christmas Tree Ornaments - I love to make a Christmas Tree ornament with children. Not just one where they can decorate them during free-choice, but an adult-directed ornament that is really special. When I was younger I used to bring a Christmas Tree ornament home every year and hang it on the tree and I think there is something so special about that.

Santa's Workshop - Another obvious but great activity is to set up Santa's Workshop in the classroom. There is so much learning that comes from this activity, from shapes, writing gift tags, communication, role-play and so much more. It also builds so much excitement in the classroom.

Advent Calendars - Making advent calendars is a great maths activity for children and can be easily differentiated for the year group that you're teaching. You could simple ask children to write numbers on the doors or they could write number problems that equal the door number to make the task more challenging. It can be quite a time-consuming activity, so you need to be willing to give a few lessons to it.
Image from The Imagination Tree
Playdough Christmas Trees - I'm a huge playdough fan and always try to have some available in my classroom. At Christmas I like to make screen peppermint playdough and let children make Christmas Trees with it. I think incorporate maths by asking children to select a number card and put the correct amount of decorations on the tree. For more able children I give them number problems to calculate to find out how many decorations to put onto their tree. I sometimes use air-drying clay too so the children have a finished product to take home.
Image by Mavis Butterfield
Christmas Bird Treats - Christmas is a great time to teach about caring for and giving to others. I like to make Christmas themed bird seed with children and let them hand them outside  to feed the birds during the winter. The kids love to do it and it's great to get them thinking about caring for living things. You can get this recipe here.
Image by Cathy James
Gingerbread Men - Isn't the smell of gingerbread the best? I love to make gingerbread men with the kids and let them decorate them. We usually make an extra one to leave for Santa too. If you don't want to make the gingerbread men, they can always decorate shop bought versions, but making them is part of the learning process.
Image by Emma Owl
Christmas Cards - I like to make lovely Christmas cards for the children to take home to their parents or guardians. Children love to give their loved ones gifts and many parents may not get a card without the one from school. It's also a great memory for parents to keep throughout the years. I usually do them as an adult-directed activity.

What are your favourite Christmas activities to do in the classroom?


Friday, 23 November 2018

5 Biggest Challenges of Leadership (And Solutions)

Leadership is tough! You expect it to be tough, it's why you get paid more to do the job, but there are some aspects of the role that are much tougher than others.

Thinking for Everybody - As a leader, all responsibility for what happens within your department rests upon your shoulders. If you have a strong team things should generally run smoothly, but if you lead a weaker team,  you will find yourself having to think for all of the people on your team to ensure that your department runs as it should. If you don't, you find yourself left with lots of pieces to pick up and often some unnecessary dramas to resolve. But worst of all for a leader, is the exhaustion of thinking for everybody.

Solution: Train your staff to think and do for themselves. This initially takes time as you train your staff up to the high quality that you expect and you will need a lot of patience as you explain each system and expectation to them and model  it to your standard, however, once your staff are thinking for themselves, your job will become so much easier!

Make your staff accountable! If you brush their errors under the carpet, they will never be held accountable, but also won't learn. You don't want to punish them or make them feel bad for their mistakes, but you do need to make them answerable and identify what strategies they are going to put in place to ensure the errors don't happen again.

Providing staff with information and deadlines in advance and having this displayed in a common place, such as the staff room will allow teachers to organise their own time and check  for key information when they need to, meaning you will not need to think for them as you have provided them with the information and where to find it at a time they are ready to.
Staying Up-to-date - A leader should always be on top of the latest developments in education. The thing is, education is always changing and new ideas and systems are constantly being introduced. It can become difficult to stay on top of  the latest pedagogy, but it is your job to.

Solution: Appoint great Middle Leaders and allow them the responsibility to develop their area of responsibility. If you don't have the budget for this, many teachers will be willing to do it for the experience in exchange for time back. By giving them your trust and the responsibility to develop their subject area, they will remain on top of new developments. This means that they will feedback their ideas to you once they have fully carried out their research, meaning you don't have to. Of course, a good leader would always do a little!

Equally, if you hear about a new development, you can delegate this to your Middle Leaders to  research and implement.
Leading Change - Change can be a tricky thing! Change is usually good, but there are times where change can go horribly wrong too. The most difficult thing is getting everybody on board though, particularly those that are happy to float along. This can cause negativity which isn't beneficial for anybody. As a leader it is your job to inspire everybody on the team to move forward with changes positively - a difficult job!

Solution: Taking it slow is the first step in leading change. It's important not to steamroll staff by changing too much at once. Begin with small, easy to make changes before moving onto the bigger changes. Ensure staff are well aware of any changes that are going to take place in advance so they have time to prepare and adjust to them.

Get your staff on board! One of the key reasons why staff are not on board with change is because they haven't been involved in the planning process and don't understand the reason for the change. Include staff in the School Improvement Plan so their voices are heard and they understand the direction the school is moving in. If they understand and are involved in all of this, they are much more likely to be positive about changes.

Trial it first! Before you make all of your team change to a new idea or system, make sure you have trialled it first so you have clear evidence of its success. A sure fire way to lose  the confidence of your staff is to make them go through change for you to realise that the change doesn't work and they need to revert back to an old system. It will also mean you can instil confidence in your staff with the evidence of your trial.

Spot your team doing a great job! Be present with the changes taking place and be on hand to offer support to your team. Let them know when they are doing a great job!
Challenging Conversations - Challenging conversations are never pleasant and they are an essential part of the leadership role. Sometimes people takes these conversations on the chin and accept their errors, but sometimes people can become angry or upset as a result which makes it very difficult to resolve and move forward. This was always something I found the most difficult in my role as a leader.

Solution: Swallow the frog! Don't waste time over-analysing or thinking too much about the conversation you need to have because it becomes harder and harder the longer you wait.

Make sure you have a clear plan of what you need to say, backed up with evidence. You need to be prepared for the various directions the conversation may take and it's easy to forget key points. Make sure you know what you need to say and you cover all of your points.

Listen and be sympathetic, but remain firm too. We are all human and people make mistakes, but as a leader it is your job to hold people accountable for their mistakes and ensure they don't happen again. You also need to be aware of the areas they may need further support in and have a clear plan of action that is agreed on in the meeting.

Once the issue has been discussed and you have a plan of action in place, move on. Don't hold it against team members and ensure they they achieve the goals you have set.
Time for You - And the most important one, time for yourself! Nobody is any good without having a good work-life balance in order to relax and do things they enjoy. As a leader you work hard, damn hard! Often you take work home with you, attend events  after school, meetings, working late - all of these things cut into your very important time! If you keep it up long term, it really will get to you!

Solution: Naturally, managing your time effectively is important. Prioritise the tasks that are the most important, organise your time and get them done. Don't waste time over-thinking a task, just make a start on it and you can always edit it later.

Delegate jobs to you team. Yes, you're a leader but that doesn't mean you have to do every job, it simply means that you have to oversee every job. Utilise the skills of your team members to ensure your school runs smoothly.

Finally, accept that you are only human and you can't do it all, all of the time! As long as your're doing your very best by your school, your children, your staff and yourself - that is enough!

Do you have any tips on ways to overcome these 5 challenges?

Friday, 16 November 2018

8 Workshop Ideas for Parents of EYFS Children

Working in partnership with parents of Early Years children is an essential element of a successful learning journey for young children. In EYFS we build the foundation of children's learning and it's so important that we get it right. We can't get it right alone though, parents need to get it right too!

There are many parents out there that need support or want to help their children but aren't sure how to. As practitioners, it is not only our job to educate children, but to also educate parents to support them in meeting their children's needs.

EYFS covers so many aspects, some educational and many that go way beyond education and they must all be covered to meet children's needs. With that in mind, here are some great workshops that your school could offer to parents.

If you would like to offer any of these sessions, please  click the links to get a ready to use (editable) PowerPoint presentation.

Positive Behaviour Management - Managing behaviour of children is easy if you know how. As teachers we are trained how to do this, however, parents are just expected to know. Why would they? Behaviour management can make or break a relationship, a family, a parent and a child. If parents can get this right, many other things will fall into place so this is a great place to start  the workshops.

Get the ready to use PowerPoint presentation on my TES Store or TPT Store
Great Bedtime Routines - This is another thing that some parents struggle with but having a good bedtime routine can have such a big impact on everything! A good routine will lead to a lot less stress and arguing and it's also a special time for parents to spend with their children in order to give them that quality time that they need. Getting a good sleep will mean that children are much more able to focus at school too.

Get the ready to use PowerPoint presentation on my TES Store or TPT Store.

Practical Ideas to Support Phonics - Phonics can be an alien concept to some parents as many have never experienced or even heard of it. However, as teacher we know how incredibly important it is. Often parents try to support children at home but teach them in a different way to what we do at school and it can be hard to un-teach errors. It's much more beneficial to give parents the correct strategies to use to ensure children get the best support. 

Get the ready to use PowerPoint presentation on my TES Store or TPT Store

Practical Ideas to Support Maths - Maths in Early Years is a bit of a minefield, but there's nothing worse than parents making children sit down and write numbers simply because they don't know  any other ways to help them. There are so many easy and fun ways to incorporate maths into every day activities and fun games so giving parents the tools to do this will be very helpful but also much more fun for the children.

Get the ready to use PowerPoint presentation on my TES Store or TPT Store

Practical Ideas to Support Fine Motor Development - I have found that many young children have difficulties with fine motor development, particularly boys. It's important that they are encouraged to do tasks independently, like fastening their coat and shoes in order to develop their fine motor skills, however, for those that do have difficulties there are many more things that can be used at school and at home to help them. Fine Motor development is a Prime Area of the EYFS Curriculum and its important that children get all of the support they can to prepare them for writing, as well as many other tasks.

Get the ready to use PowerPoint presentation on my TES Store or TPT Store

How to Play with Your Child - It's so sad that many parents don't know how to play with their children. It's not that they are bad parents or they don't dedicate time to their child, it's simply that they don't know how to play. Playing with children creates those precious moments that children remember and help to build a strong relationship. So much learning can come from 'just playing' and it would be great to see more parents playing and following children's interests more.

Get the ready to use PowerPoint presentation on my TES Store or TPT Store
Practical Ideas for Outdoor Play - Outdoor play is often undervalued but yet it's so important. Children who may struggle to learn or behaviour indoors, often thrive outside Being outside opens up a whole new world of learning and skills to develop and children who don't get to experience this miss out on a whole lot. It's very easy for parents to make outdoor experiences valuable with a few tips offered by teachers.

Get the ready to use PowerPoint presentation on my TES Store or TPT Store

Tips to Give Your Child the Best Reading Experience - Teachers out there will know that if you want a while class of children to be quiet, read them a story and you've got their attention straight away! Stories can be an incredible experience for children and they can get so much from them but there are lots of simple ways to make story-time great and we need to give parents the skills to do that.

Get the ready to use PowerPoint presentation on my TES Store or TPT Store

If you've delivered these workshops to parents, I'd love to know how they went and any feedback parents gave you. 

If there are any other workshops you would be interested in me discussing,  please let me know in the comments.


Friday, 9 November 2018

5 Simple Ways to Make Displays Child-Centred

How many of you have spent hours making beautiful displays in your classroom for your children to not even notice them? I've definitely been guilty of that! I think it's the perfectionist in us; child-made displays never look quite as good as beautifully cut, straight displays that we can create, but they are so much more purposeful and effective.

One of the targets I set myself this year was to ensure my displays were much more child-centred, and it's been quite a hard thing to do as I often find that I stop myself from automatically creating displays that my children could play a part in, but it's fantastic to see how much the children use the displays to support their learning now.

In order to do this you need to shake that teacher perfection and change your view on displays. You need to embrace the ragged lines and scribbly colouring, the spelling errors and mismatched colours. You need to hand over control to the children, which can be a hard thing for any teacher to do. On the plus side though, you get to create your displays during the school day, so you get to go home early that day! There's always a silver lining...

So, here area few simple ways that I am making child-centred displays.
Photos and Interests - An incredibly easy way to make your displays more child-centred is to include photographs of children. Children love to look at photos of their themselves, their friends and family and by incorporating them into displays you will ensure they pay much more attention to your display.

It's also a great to include children's interest into displays in order to encourage them to use it more. Instead of heading to Twinkl to print out ready-made resources, talk to your children about how to incorporate their favourite cartoon characters or other interests they may have.

Check out how I have incorporated photos and interests into my phonics display.

Artwork - It's quick and easy for you to create a template for a display, but it's  much more effective to let the children do it. I've always been big on displaying children's work.  I try to use children's work as much as possible on all display boards as they are much more likely to notice and use them to learn, but also because it values their work more. Again, instead of using ready to print displays, get your children to make them.

See how I have incorporated children's artwork on our maths learning wall.

Interactive - I love to make displays interactive so that children can really get involved with them. It's easy to do this by adding questions, flaps to lift or games to play.

Check out my interactive phonics display.

Another great way to make displays interactive is to add a table of resources linked to the display. You can add artefacts or activities that children can explore to aid their learning and interact with the resources and information on display.

Learning Wall - Learning walls are a great resource to aid children's learning. They are updated with new information throughout the week or topic that reminds children about what they have been learning and provides them with useful information to support them with their future learning. They don't look particularly appealing to the eye but are one of the most useful displays you can have up. It's also a good idea to give children ownership of the learning wall so that they can add information that will truly benefit their learning.

Ensure you regularly draw children's attention to the learning wall so that they know where to find information to support them in their learning.

Children's Display Board - The best way to truly give children ownership of their learning space is to give them full control, and that includes  of the display boards. Create areas where children can display their own work. Display boards often consist of the work that teacher deem to be display-worthy, but who are we to decide that? If a child is truly proud of their work then why shouldn't they get to display it?

Alistair Bryce-Clegg has a fantastic book all about creating child-centred displays, which is filled with practical and easy to implement ideas. I highly recommend it! Click the image below to purchase the book.

I'd love to see how you make child-centred displays! Leave your links below :-)

Friday, 2 November 2018

How to Maximise Tapestry as an Assessment Tool

As an EYFS teacher, we all know that feeling of trying to split your time between each child, ensuring a good split of child-initiated and adult-directed learning while covering all areas of the classroom. The problem with this is that we are only one person and we're not superheros so we can only do what is within the powers of a normal human being.

We were finding it tough to get enough evidence of what our children could do until we made the switch to Tapestry Learning Journal and we haven't looked back since!  There are so many similar apps out there but Tapestry has worked the best for our school!

What is Tapestry?
As teachers, I'm sure you all know what Tapestry is. I will briefly explain for those who don't. It is an assessment application that allows you to document children's learning quickly and easily, communicate with parents and analyse data.

How We Utilised Tapestry
Schools use learning journal apps in different ways and it is completely dependent on the system that your school choose to adopt. We went all out with our use of Tapestry and it helped us to achieve great progress from our children.

Document Everything - Prior to introducing Tapestry, we used a different system and only documented 'wow' moments, which were described in detail. This was great for parents to see their children's wow moments and provided  a beautiful end of year memory book but wasn't great for assessment purposes.

When we introduce Tapestry we began to document as much learning as possible. We did this as both group and individual observations. The observations were factual, linked to objectives and the teacher text was minimal making them less time consuming for teachers, but the quantity of observations increased.

Level of Support - At the beginning of each observation,  we identified the level of support for each activity to support us in identifying whether the child was beginning, developing or achieving an objective. We did this using one of the below options:

AD - Adult directed
AI - Adult initiated
CI - Child initiated

Along with one of these  for each observation

I - Independent
AS - Adult supported

Identifying Gaps - Each week we reviewed the objectives achieved to identify the gaps in learning. This could be objectives that were not achieved for many children or specific children that you needed to target. This information was then used to plan adult directed activities and enhanced provision to target these gaps and minimise them.
Data Analysis - Each half term we used the data analysis tool to identify children making the most and least progress and curriculum areas which showed the most and least progress. From this information we created a plan of target areas or children in order to raise progress. This ensured we were constantly reviewing out practice and looking at what was working as well as what needed further improvement.

When we first began using Tapestry with such intensity, a lot of the team were concerns that it would be too time consuming, however, everybody quickly saw the benefits and within a term they were all sold!  Our end of year data improved drastically as a result of how we used Tapestry and I can't wait to see how it improves next year!

If you think Tapestry Learning Journal would benefit your school, you can get it below:
Android App

Get a free Q & A sheet to handout to parents on my TES Store.

What tools do you use to support assessment in the classroom?
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