High expectations for all? It might not be as straightforward as we think.

“The visions we present to our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.”

Carl Sagan (1995)

For some time now, schools (particularly those in deprived areas) have recognised the importance of helping to children to shape positive dreams for the future – raising aspirations; working closely with agencies to show pupils the possibilities that exist for further education and in the world of employment.

However, it might be individual teachers’ expectations that have a greater impact on pupil outcomes. Much research has been carried out into the effect of teacher expectations on pupil outcomes, with the term ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ first coined by Robert K. Merton in 1948.

The Rosenthal and Jacobsen study (1968) explored the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy in the classroom. The study (known as the Pygmalion effect) led the teachers involved to believe that a group of children with differing IQ were particularly gifted. The teachers’ high expectations led to improved performance by all the children in this group, including the children with lower IQ.

The Pygmalion effect (or self-fulfilling prophecy) in action:

The opposite, the Golem effect (where teachers have low expectations of pupils that then becomes internalised with low attainment as a result) has also been found to be true, although this has not been researched to the same degree.

Studies have however, shown that low teacher expectations are not arbitrary and frequently focus on the following groups:

  • pupils from socially disadvantaged families [i]
  • ethnic minority pupils [ii]
  • pupils with SEND [iv]

In addition, a study by Schuchardt and Dunkake (2014) found that our feedback to children might be pre-determined by this bias, with those children we have low expectations of receiving feedback about behaviour more often than feedback related to their performance.

Teacher bias can be the elephant in the room – after all who wants to acknowledge that they may be biased – but it is well worth looking at in order to ensure we have high expectations and the best outcomes for all pupils.

This short guide on mitigating unconscious bias in teaching and learning is a useful starting point.

Another quick check is to ask a teaching assistant (if you are lucky enough to have one) to note how often you interact with certain groups at different times, e.g. girls in maths, and to note down whether the feedback is around behaviour or performance.

[i] de Boer et al., 2010Lorenz, Gentrup, Kristen, Stanat, & Kogan, 2016Ready & Wright, 2011Timmermans, de Boer, & van der Werf, 2016Timmermans, Kuyper, & van der Werf, 2015van Matre, Valentine, & Cooper, 2000

[ii] Holder & Kessels, 2017Lorenz et al., 2016McKown & Weinstein, 2008Meissel, Meyer, Yao, & Rubie-Davies, 2017Morris, 2005Ready & Wright, 2011

[iii] Hinnant et al., 2009Holder & Kessels, 2017Lorenz et al., 2016Meissel et al., 2017Ready & Wright, 2011Riegle-Crumb & Humphries, 2012Rubie-Davies & Peterson, 2016

[iv] Hurwitz, Elliott, & Braden, 2007Jenkins & Demaray, 2016Shifrer, 20132016

It’s time to rip off the plaster

I’ve been teaching for over 20 years and have seen a lot of fads come and go in that time. This thread yesterday by @missdcox has brought some of them sharply into focus.

Those of us in education are so used to being asked to jump through hoops that often we know at the time are stupid, and yet we do it. Why?

The simple answer is because we care deeply about the children and communities we serve . Teachers will go to extraordinary lengths to try and do best by the children in their care – the current remote learning situation is testament to that.

Something that I was introduced to during my training and has always stuck with me is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. First posited in 1943 (later revised by Maslow to be less rigid in terms of the order of the needs) and still referred to by educationalists today, this model could hardly be described as a fad.

Maslow’s theory makes a lot of sense – it is only once our basic needs are satisfied that we are able to flourish.

Having spent my career working in disadvantaged areas and seen the impact on children from families with low socio-economic status, I feel I have seen Maslow’s theory in action – hypervigilance (as a result of trauma or hectic lifestyle) makes it extremely difficult for children to focus on learning, and therefore has a negative impact on attainment.

At this point, I should make it clear that I am certainly not suggesting that all children living in poverty are exposed to trauma but the frequency of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has been measured in England, and was found to be highest in areas with high rates of child poverty. You can read the findings here.

Another interesting, albeit small, study asked the question ‘Does one’s environment impact the ability to imagine greater things or strive toward higher levels of achievement?’ The study explored the impact of socio-economic status on children’s aspirations through the lens of Maslow’s model. The US study took part in four schools from different areas and asked children to write about their dreams for the world. It found that children in the more affluent area tended to write about altruistic acts: giving money to the needy, helping others, and improving the environment and the world. Children in the disadvantaged area in need of basic survival (food, shelter and safety) had limited aspirations, writing about basic needs being fulfilled.

The study can be found here for a fee.

The authors finish with:

Through opportunities and experiences, children’s attitudes, goals, and vision for the future are shaped. They must learn to live in the environment in which they currently find themselves while gaining experiences that will empower them for the future. Education must give children the opportunities and experiences that will help them develop those skills and dream of a better future for themselves and for the world.” 

Sounds a lot like cultural capital doesn’t it? I’m pretty keen on that as I wrote here.

Really, what I’m keen on is trying to narrow the gap that exists between the haves and the have nots. During the pandemic, that gap has grown into a gaping chasm. The number of families applying for free school meals is growing at an alarming rate, with an estimated 1 million families signing up for the first time.

The government’s response? Well, without making this political (although everything is political) I’ll just leave this here.

Rather than concern for the increased number of children now living in poverty/low income, there seems to be hysteria about ‘catching-up’ when schools fully reopen. I’m not denying that there have been significant disruptions to education but implying that children will catch up by extending the school day, is misguided to say the least.

What is needed now is a long-term recovery plan, involving multi-agency collaboration, with education no longer being used as a political pawn. If we accept Maslow’s theory and the implications on future life outcomes of children who have experienced ACEs – children who have moved frequently, children who have lived in poverty and have not known where the next meal is coming from – we must put things in place in society that supports those who need it. We don’t even have to do much in the way of planning as proposals already exist.

A quick read of this survey into prisoner crime reduction, clearly shows that without such support and intervention, children and young people in need are far more likely to end up in jail. I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that high numbers of prisoners were once excluded from school and/or have poor literacy and oracy skills.

This pandemic has thrown many more families into poverty. We have seen just how much many of our families are reliant on support from schools and free school meals, but schools alone can only do so much. School budgets have been slashed over the last six years with devastating consequences. Many of the agencies schools work with – CAMHS, social care services, educational psychology, school nurses etc. have also faced budget cuts. The waiting lists for referrals were huge before the pandemic; goodness only knows what they will be like after. If schools are being hailed as the solution to all society’s ills, then they (and the agencies they work with) must be funded accordingly.

Yes, it will be expensive but it is an investment in our future and in the long term will reduce costs – fewer people developing substance abuse or chronic health conditions, fewer referrals to social care, fewer prisoners etc.

It’s time to rip off the sticking plaster and replace it with a full package that supports those in need. Only once children and their family’s basic needs are met can they look to self-actualization; and surely that is our goal as a society?

This is not what I signed up for!

“This is not what I signed up for” – extract from a text message to my husband earlier this week.

Our jobs, as teachers, has changed beyond all recognition in the last few weeks. We’re used to wearing many hats – teacher, first aider, social worker, mediator, counsellor etc. but the current way we are working is completely alien to us. Ask a roomful of teachers what teaching is about, and I guarantee ‘relationships’ will be the resounding answer. Keeping those relationships going during lockdown and remote learning is tricky.

Trickier still, are the practicalities of remote learning, with many primary schools running a rota with some teachers at home delivering online learning and other staff in school to oversee the online learning for keyworker and vulnerable children. Many schools and households are finding that their internet service cannot cope with the additional demand. Teachers are complaining of sore backs and eyes from being hunched over computers all day every day. And what if you share a house with others who are working from home? There is a finite amount of space in each home and not everyone has an office or study; in fact I would be labelled as ‘vulnerable’ if I followed the DfE’s guidance, as I don’t have a quiet place to work.

The absolute chaos caused by the return to school in January only to be told later that day that schools would in fact be closed (to non-keyworker or vulnerable children) with immediate effect, was a less than desirable start to a term. A term which for school leaders had already started shortly after Christmas, having only come up track and trace duty on Christmas Eve.

Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, further upset the profession by announcing just two days later, that parents who felt suitable remote education was not being provided should complain to Ofsted – a statement which allegedly Ofsted had no prior knowledge of. A staggering 5,000 emails of support for schools and complaints about the performance of the DfE were received by Ofsted within just 48 hours.

Recent surveys have found that almost half of parents feel that primary schools are expecting more work than in the first lockdown and feel far more stressed about home learning this time round. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why schools might be expecting more.

In an attempt to clarify expectations, Ofsted announced that is was an ‘unhelpful myth’ that live lessons were the best way to deliver remote learning. Just days later, Gavin Williamson undermined this stating that we should encourage as much live teaching as possible as it was ‘the best’ way of delivering lessons.

Live lessons of course are only viable if every child has a device and internet access at the time the lessons go out – something pretty tricky in large families and in disadvantaged areas where cost implications often rule this impossible.

In some schools where live lessons do happen, SLT have already started doing drop-ins, something Ofsted have recently announced they will also be doing during their virtual inspections. One might be forgiven for thinking that this additional pressure is unhelpful and unwarranted during this extremely challenging time.

Primary teacher, Sophie Bartlett, asks a pertinent question, “If teaching regularly involved having each child’s parent standing in the classroom watching, I wonder how many people would want to do the job?” – essentially describing the current everyday situation for many teachers delivering live or recorded lessons.

For many teachers, however, the bridge too far has been the sudden bombardment of apps and programs used for online learning. I am one of those teachers – a digital immigrant as opposed to a digital native (terms coined by Marc Prensky back in 2001, and now in the Oxford English Dictionary).

As a digital immigrant, I have been slowly feeling my way along the ever-expanding technology highway, and when I say slowly, I mean it having only got my first smart phone in 2016!

However, I’m not a technophobe, but I will admit to being completely stunned by 3-D printing – possibly more by the way in which it was just casually accepted with barely a murmur. Come on, it’s straight out of sci-fi!

In the last 12 months, I have started using several apps and websites I’d never heard a year ago, for example Zoom suddenly became the word on everyone’s lips in the first lockdown.

This still makes me laugh although now ‘zoom’ has become just as ordinary as ‘text’ or ‘email’.

It seems I am not alone. In a recent Twitter poll, 65% of teachers said they had never had training in the apps/programs they are currently using for online teaching. Yet, despite this, only 36% claimed they did not feel confident. Are they my digital immigrant counterparts? How can we be supported?

To be honest, it’s not even just understanding how to use the apps that’s the biggest problem in many instances; it is little things like having to sign in again with one of numerous passwords because I’ve moved to the living room and am using my small laptop on my lap. Little things, but it’s often the little things mounting up that breaks you.

The constant notifications on numerous devices from different channels:

  • email
  • WhatsApp
  • text
  • Seesaw
  • social media

It’s widely recognised that this hyper communication can cause tremendous stress and for many FOMO means that every time that ping goes off, they have to look. The lines between home and work are often been blurred for teachers, but now many are working from home there are no lines, no parameters or end to the working day.

This is not what we signed up for. None of it. Yet, we have risen to the challenge (with less than 24 hours to prepare) like only teachers could. No, it isn’t perfect. Yes, there will be tweaks – hopefully building in some screen free time for staff as well as pupils.

The way the teaching profession has risen above the numerous obstacles, navigated the U-turns and kept the children at the heart of everything, has been breath taking and I am proud to be a small part of it.

However,  I worry about the future. I have already seen a far higher number of head teacher posts advertised in my area and have heard from colleagues around the country that it is true in their area too. Teacher retention prior to the pandemic was a cause for concern. Are special measures now required to keep teachers and school leaders in the profession?

KOs – what are they good for?

Whether we agree with it or not, the Ofsted definition of learning is: knowing more and remembering more.

There is a certainly a case for this definition, as I believe we begin to develop a love of learning when we make connections, and this happens when we remember something we know (or have experienced) that is linked to the current learning.

When we get caught up in the enjoyment of an activity, I’m not convinced that we are actually learning much – although I realise this is a highly contentious point. This is not to say that learning has to be boring – far from it in fact. In my experience, when children are making connections they are excited and really engaged in the learning – there is a buzz in the room, with questions being asked etc. Some of the best examples I’ve seen of this have been during brilliant drama lessons, where the children are expertly led through a series of ‘discoveries’.

Now having possibly alienated the hard core skills led practitioners, as well as the die-hard anti-discovery learning practitioners, I shall continue. For those of you who are still here…

As Ofsted have defined learning as ‘knowing more and remembering more’ and phrases like ‘sticky knowledge’ are being used, teachers (as they always do) are looking for that silver bullet – that answer to their prayers, and knowledge organisers have been touted as a possible solution.

Knowledge organisers are now commonplace in many schools but, like so often the case when implemented without really considering the value, are not always used most effectively.

Why use knowledge organisers?

The teaching profession is very generous and often freely shares resources. Like many others, I share the knowledge organisers I have made here and you can also buy them. However, a big part of the purpose of a knowledge organiser is that it acts as a planning tool. It focuses the teacher on the key knowledge for the topic. That said, we’ve had quite a long time to construct our curriculum now and in many cases the work has already been planned, so are knowledge organisers a waste of time?

In short, no. Knowledge organisers (KOs) are useful as a study guide. I think of them almost as a module handbook but instead of being told what the course covers, KOs outline the key knowledge to be learnt. Over the course of a topic, children will be taught far more than the contents of the KO, but they set out the key facts the children need to remember. Children need to be trained in how to effectively use KOs – more on this later.

KOs are also a useful way of communicating the key facts for each topic with parents. Again, parents need to be trained in how to use them at home. This is something we have not managed to do yet in my school, as the focus was first to create the KOs and get them used in class and then covid struck and effectively de-railed our plans last year. It is an important part of the process though if you want to get the most out of KOs.

What should knowledge organisers look like?

There are lots of different examples of KOs and there’s no hard and fast rule, but to be effective they must be clear and must not be cluttered/too much information. They should be one side of A4 (although I did make an exception for my Stone Age to Iron Age given that it covers about 2 ½ million years!) The idea is that the key knowledge has been clearly organised in a way that is easy to read and take in. Pictures and tables can be useful.

How can knowledge organisers be used?

Once you’ve decided on the content for the ‘knowing more’ part and have taught that, the next step is the ‘remembering more’ part. Retrieval practice comes into play here.

Retrieval practice (as the name suggests) is about revisiting prior learning to refresh your memory and thereby commit it to your long-term memory. If learning is considered as a change in the long-term memory then forgetting must be accepted as a part of learning. New concepts need to be revisited several times before they are learnt or ‘remembered’.

Ebbinghaus (1885) – Forgetting curve and review cycle

This revisiting does not have to be teacher led however, and KOs can play an important role in this.

Ideas for using KOs for retrieval practice:

To get the most from KOs the children need to be trained in how to use them:

  • Children can simply re-read the KO but concentrating on one part at a time is most effective, e.g. you could look at the vocabulary section – perhaps make flashcards with the word on one side and the definition on the other – see Leitner System – this link takes you to a great explanation by @jon_hutchinson_ who has also written many blogs about KOs.
  • Parts of the KO can be blanked out and children can fill in the blanks.

Again, it would be advisable to work on one part of the KO at a time, so could be presented in smaller sections to avoid cognitive overload.

  • Knowledge strips are another idea, shared here by @VentureInto_Sci

Depending on the age/ability of the children, you may want to try setting some retrieval questions first before using knowledge strips. This will give children the opportunity to practise using the KO for retrieval. It will also model the sort of questions they should create when making the knowledge strips.

Using the Viking KO above as an example (although they would have a non-blanked out version for this activity):

  1. Where did the Vikings come from?
  2. How did the Vikings travel to Britain?
  3. Why did they come?
  4. What year marks the beginning of the raids?
  5. What are runes?

I would encourage the children to write their answers in full sentences and re-read the question to check they’ve answered correctly.

  • The children writing their own KO is another idea for retrieval practice, as well as a good assessment opportunity.
  • Using the KO as a base for a Kahoot quiz (see also Quizizz and QuizShed) is another great retrieval practice/assessment opportunity. We have already started doing this in some subjects and our next step is to roll this out across other subjects.

This sketchnote shared here by @Impact Wales also suggests this and some other ideas for independent retrieval practice.

  • In terms of KOs helping to develop independence, I’ve had great success with using them in maths. Depending on the topic, they sometimes act as a worked example (for procedural knowledge) or as a source of information, e.g. there are 24 hours in a day etc.

For further reading on retrieval practice per se (as there is more to it than JUST using KOs) you could do worse than having a look at Ashley’s blog here. It’s pretty good but don’t tell him I said that or he’ll get big headed.

“The highest result of education is tolerance” – Helen Keller

I’ve been on Twitter for just over 3 years now and have found it to be the most wonderful place for ideas, help and have even made real life friends through Twitter. However, there is a dark side and one that I noticed quite quickly after joining (not long before the summer holidays) and one that I first wrote about in my first blog on 1st August 2017. I didn’t share that blog in the end, but this part in particular still resonates with me:

“Maybe it’s all the reminiscing of old school hymns and the lyrics ‘Living in perfect harmony’ that have brought this to the fore, but I do worry that sometimes we, as teachers, are not as kind to one another as we could be. We get enough stick from the media, Ofsted, parents etc. – can’t we be more supportive of each other?“

I think this was the summer when there were a lot of unkind remarks about people creating fancy reading areas. Every holiday it’s something: displays, silent corridors, booths, toilets, lists and most ridiculously Windowgate – if you missed that one you were lucky believe me.

The latest disagreement is masks and whether they should be worn in schools. Given the current situation this is of importance not just in schools but in society generally. We all have a duty to protect the more vulnerable and as Covid-19 is not restricted to the elderly, the BAME population or people with underlying health conditions it is not actually known who is more vulnerable – some people seem to be more genetically prone to a severe response to the virus. Therefore, we need to treat everybody as vulnerable.

Wearing masks has become common place in busy places such as shops and the government recently (at the last minute for schools who opened this week) sort of half followed in the footsteps of Scotland and said masks must be worn in corridors and communal areas in secondary schools – in towns and cities where local lockdowns are in action. Headteachers in other areas are free to decide themselves about whether to enforce masks in communal areas. Boris Johnson said masks in classrooms were “nonsensical” however.

There has been a lot of mixed messages around wearing masks from the government, and there is currently very little evidence worldwide of the effectiveness of wearing masks for longer periods of time, e.g. in lessons. This table comes from a report into social distancing and makes for grim reading. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it would seem that low occupancy is the key to the most effective prevention of spread.




Meanwhile, back in edu-Twitter the ‘debate’ rages. A lot of the comments I’ve seen on Twitter have been opposed to the idea that pupils wearing masks might lead to behavioural issues. Rather than accept the professional judgement made by fellow teachers, who know their pupils and their settings, some outlandish statements have been made.

This is the part I struggle to understand. Some colleagues seem happier to believe that other teachers are lying or underestimating young people. Maybe their experience of secondary school was more idyllic than my own. I went to secondary school, in a rural setting, where behaviour on occasion was not good. I’m sure many of us can remember occasions where pupils pushed boundaries, e.g. hummed when the teacher turned their back. Imagine pupils wearing masks in the classroom and the opportunities for disruption that might bring. Is not accepting what fellow teachers are saying could be a possibility akin to saying, “Well they behave for me”? Would a more helpful response be finding out more about the problem through discussion as a way of finding ways of dealing with it?

As an advocate of oracy in the classroom, I am often horrified at the lack of engagement in discussion in our sector. The problem is that often the topic evokes an emotional response, e.g. booths – I personally find the idea of booths abhorrent but I’ve never worked in a setting where they are deemed necessary. I’ve heard of cases where they were in place but have been scrapped successfully, Parklands Primary in Leeds is an example.

As teachers, we wouldn’t accept children shouting down an idea they didn’t agree with, we would model good discussion techniques and perhaps provide sentence stems, such as “I’m not sure about X, could you explain more…” or “I really disagree with Y because…” and in retort, “I understand why you might disagree with Y but did you know…” Very little of this behaviour, that we would expect from our pupils, is modelled in our ‘professional’ interactions with colleagues.

I’m not against disagreement at all, in fact I believe it’s healthy to discuss disagreements, but what concerns me is the way that Twitter seems divided and we get shots across the bow, but at what cost? If you accuse a teacher of child abuse because their school policy is to walk silently in the corridor, not only have you lost the argument, but you’ve made yourself look unprofessional. Teachers often moan about being under fire from media/parents/OFSTED/government/the general public – often with good reason – but with this kind point scoring approach to debate we’re actually handing them the ammunition.

Listening to each other is key – really listening (not just waiting for your turn to speak) and asking questions to clarify… wait a minute – sounds a bit like SLANT one of the methods teachers have recently been accused of abusing children with (it’s not abusive in my opinion). Please listen to one another and if you don’t agree with someone that’s fine – you can agree to disagree – be tolerant.

Tolerance: willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them


Do sweat the small stuff

Headteachers, deputies, union reps and heath and safety officers around the country have recently had to scrutinise every aspect of school life in minute detail – and rightly so. Do we scrutinise what we teach in the same way? Should we? It’s not as if it’s life and death… except for disadvantaged children, the clarity of the education they receive is vital to their success in life.

Lack of clarity leads to misconceptions. Misconceptions that are not addressed lead to further barriers and ultimately to disaffected learners. Disadvantaged children are less likely to have misconceptions addressed as they often lack support at home and rely entirely on it being picked up in school, and with the best will in the world sometimes children slip through the net.

Best to avoid misconceptions from occurring in the first place then – which brings us back to scrutinising what we teach and ensuring we have clarity.

I’m currently writing knowledge organisers for every small step from the White Rose Maths planning. It has really made me question some of the vocabulary that we use when teaching maths and the models that we present children with.

I’ll start with one my bugbears – commutativity in multiplication. Imagine presenting 3 x 2 to a child in the early stages of learning how to multiply. I would want them to know that this is 2 lots of 3 not 3 lots of 2.

“Why does it matter? They get the same answer”

Yes, but they’d also get the same answer doing 3 + 3 or 2 + 2 + 2, or even 5 + 1 etc. I want them to know that these all get the same answer, but I also want them to understand how they are different.

3 x 2 = 2 lots of 3


Which then becomes an array…


Later a bar model…

bar model

These models or visual representations look different for 2 x 3 (although arrive at the same answer) so we should be modelling that to children – pointing out how they are different yet give you the same answer. Saying it doesn’t matter as you get the same answer is not clear. 2 + 2 + 2 gives you the same answer as 3 x 2 yet they are clearly very different.

What happens when we move onto division? It’s very important that children have a secure knowledge of multiplication and been presented with very clear models. If children been given the message that it doesn’t matter, they are less likely to have those clear models which could cause problems with division.



bar model 1                                           bar model 2



numberline 1


If you present 2 x 3 as being 3 groups of 2 and 3 x 2 as being 2 groups of 3 you make it easier for children to make the link when they move onto grouping. Ambiguity around how many lots or groups of is unhelpful at this stage.

We wouldn’t tell a child ‘rayn’ was correct. If they hadn’t been exposed to /ai/ yet we’d say it was a great try. If they had been exposed to /ai/ we’d show them the correct spelling. They both sound the same but it does matter. It matters particularly later on when children are spelling more complex words. Mathematically, 3 x 2 means 3 multiplied by 2, so 2 lots of 3. It matters.

Clear vocabulary particularly when first teaching a topic, is absolutely vital to a child’s understanding. Whilst writing the knowledge organisers, particularly for other year groups where I’m not so familiar with the curriculum, I’ve really had to consider the impact of vocabulary.

One example is when teaching subtraction for the first time in year 1. The term ‘counting backwards’ is used in the WRM planning yet also in the planning children were presented with backwards number tracks, e.g.


Counting backwards, i.e. left, would mean we were adding rather than subtracting. Of course, children used to reading right to left would not see that but that is a different matter.

I spoke to colleagues, both in school and on Twitter, and some felt it didn’t matter as the children got it. Some felt it did matter (especially colleagues who taught older children) as it could lead to misconceptions. Children might be able to do the trick at a simple level but roll on a few years and they’re expected to have an understanding of ascending and descending and it soon becomes apparent that they don’t have a secure understanding.

I decided against using the term ‘counting backwards’ for the knowledge organisers, as I felt it related more to the direction and less to the process of subtraction. I opted instead for ‘counting back’ – a small but important difference.

This is the crux of the matter – words matter. Being precise with our words matter. Failing to do so may lead to misconceptions. Unaddressed misconceptions lead to failure.

Narrowing the gap/diminishing the differences or whatever it’s called nowadays!

***UPDATE*** Y1 – Y4 now complete and can be found via links included in this blog (Y1 can be found here). I have also sorted them into topics to make it easier to track back when needed. This can be accessed here. Y5 and 6 to follow.

When we return to school in any capacity of ‘normal’ we’ll be looking to fill in the gaps children have in their learning. They will have missed a sizeable chunk and in subjects like maths, that is going to have big implications.

I decided to make maths KOs for Y2 to support my Y3 colleagues who will undoubtedly be revisiting previously taught maths before moving onto Y3 maths, as well as having to address the missed part of the curriculum. The autumn term Y2 KOs can be found here – more to follow. Y3 KOs can be found here. Y4 KOs can be found here.

We’ve been using knowledge organisers for maths in my phase for a couple of years now and I find them really useful for a number of reasons.

  1. great to focus on essential learning in any small step
  2. good reminder of key vocabulary
  3. useful for children in terms of developing independence – worked examples are given for them to return to as many times as needed

I had thought about giving them to parents too as many lack confidence to support at home as maths is taught differently nowadays to when they were taught. However, in terms of consistency that wouldn’t be great across the school as Y3/4 are currently the only year groups using them.

I’m now thinking I’ll write KOs for each year group starting with Y2, then Y1 and Y5. Once I’ve finished those I’ll get around to writing them for Y6. It’s a big job but I like to keep busy!

Should we shy away from good books?

I’ve just uploaded a new VIPERS resource (complete with pre-teaching PPT). You can find that and the others I’ve uploaded here. For further explanation of VIPERS you can read me earlier blog here or cut out the middle man and go straight to the source here.

I don’t normally feel the need to justify my choice of text for VIPERS, but with this one I do and it’s because it is somewhat controversial.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, is problematic for many people firstly because the term ‘Indian’ is used rather than ‘Native American’. That’s easily solved with a class discussion about where the term originated and why we no longer use it – this is referred to in the pre-teach PPT.

There are other objections based on the fact that the Native American in the story is actually a toy that comes to life. The author deals with this well, in my opinion, with the main character – Omri – realising that this Native American is actually a real person not just a toy. He feels the enormity of the responsibility for looking after him in a world full of danger to such a tiny person.

The book brings up the topic of scalping in a very sensitive way, with Omri discovering that Native Americans weren’t the only ones who did this and were in fact encouraged to do it by the French and British during the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763).

Omri learns other things about Native American, Little Bull and about his Iroquois culture. I think if read alongside books such as this:


and as part of a topic exploring the rich culture of different Native American tribes, it can inform and expand children’s knowledge.

Rather than simply writing this book off as it is ‘no longer culturally acceptable’ I would urge people to read the book with an open mind. It’s a good book that children enjoy.

This blog goes into much more detail about why this book (and the series) rather than glorifying the expansion west and the ultimate destruction of the indigenous population, actually offers an insight into this dark history.

I will use these VIPERS as part of a unit of work for English alongside the humanities topic (geography focus) I recently wrote about North America. You can find that and the accompanying resources here.

Planning a unit of work

The first time I tried to explain my thinking process for planning to a trainee I found it rather difficult. I mumbled something about starting at the end and working towards that end goal – which I suppose is what we all do – but somewhere along the way what I wanted the children to know, to understand and to be able to do got lost in the plethora of activities I planned. For me, teaching was always about the doing.

That changed with the NC 2014, which I have only recently stopped referring to as the ‘new curriculum’. At first I was adamant that this was a private school education being pushed onto working class children and it just wouldn’t work but then a realisation dawned on me. Many of the children I have the pleasure of teaching have a knowledge deficit – that is they don’t have a wider knowledge of the world outside their immediate surroundings. By concentrating most of my energy on making the learning ‘engaging’ I was further compounding that problem. My thinking shifted and I began to view knowledge and experiences as they great leveller in education.

Fast forward a few years and I’m a total convert – knowledge is king, knowledge is all. Nowadays, I spend my planning time researching to develop my subject knowledge.


It is essential that the teacher has excellent subject knowledge (and I’m acknowledging the elephant in the room in that primary teachers have to be a Jack of all trades) if lessons are to be the best they can.

I’ve spent the last few days (?? not sure exactly how many as time is meaningless currently) obsessively reading and researching a new topic on North America.

Whilst I enjoy a lot of American culture, I had a very poor knowledge of American history and geography. I’d obviously heard of big cities like New York, Chicago, even Seattle but had very little idea where they were. What I knew of history came mostly from films like Gangs of New York, but I’ve always tried to keep our American cousins at bay across the Atlantic.

I think it’s partly because I’m worried that here in the UK we might lose our identity and one day soon we’ll all start saying things like a-loo-min-um and or-eg-uh-no. The children I teach already say things like ‘candy’ and ‘trash can’. I had a guided reading group a few years ago that didn’t know what a lorry was and when I showed them a picture one child said, “Oh you mean truck?” *sad face*

I also have to admit that the Americans I’ve met (only a few to be honest) have been somewhat overpowering and boisterous, but through my research I’ve come to realise that Americans can’t help being so enthusiastic about everything it’s in their DNA. “Go west, young man!” – that Manifest Destiny – the idea that they are superior and have the divine right to conquer all (of course the fact that white Americans are descended from Europeans – particularly the British with their track record of imperialism has not escaped me).

Ok, I’m exaggerating now and apologies to any Americans – if indeed you are still reading! The point is by researching North America I’ve come to understand more about the world as it is now. And that’s what we want for our children isn’t it – to be engaged, enthused, educated? At the end of a lesson I want the children I teach to carry on thinking about it – like a good film or book when it’s finished.

Mary Myatt says that the curriculum must be ‘high challenge, low threat’ and I absolutely agree. If our lessons don’t challenge the children’s thinking, don’t stretch their imaginations we are wasting our time.

“Memory is the residue of the thought” – Daniel Willingham.

Children will only think about something if they’re challenged. If we dumb down the curriculum because ‘they’re only children’ we are doing them a disservice. Obviously, I’m not expecting Reception children to be taught the theory of relativity (although I do have to try and briefly explain it to my Y3/4 class when we learn about Einstein – the scientist our class is named after) but even very young children have tremendous capacity to learn – just look at how much they learn in their first two years of life!

Human beings are curious by nature. Let’s stimulate that curiosity and encourage a desire to want to find out more. Increasing our knowledge is fun – when we know stuff, we can make connections with other stuff we learn. I’ve experienced it, that buzz when the children are hanging off you every word because they really want to know what happened to Doggerland.

So nowadays, when I’m planning a unit of work, I think about what I want the children to know, to understand, to be able to do at the end of the unit and that’s my focus. The ‘activities’ bit comes afterwards almost as an afterthought – a way of the children demonstrating what they’ve learnt – although by far the best way is to just talk to them!

I’ve really enjoyed planning this topic and am really pleased with the unit I’ve put together. You’re welcome to access it here. I will be adding the KO, recommended book list and quizzes soonish.

Just for the record, I have nothing but respect for America and its people. I might even visit one day (maybe drive Route 66) if I can just manage that flight!

P.S. if you’re wondering why there is not a huge amount of reference to the plight of Native Americans it’s because I plan to do an English topic alongside this where we’ll explore that in more detail.

I’m planning to teach Lesson 2 during Black History month.

The printable maps come from this useful website: https://online.seterra.com/en/