“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.

 

F3.large

 

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

array

Which then becomes an array…

array1

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.

 

Sharing…

bar model 1                                           bar model 2

 

Grouping…

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.

numbertrack

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:

Untitled

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.

piechart

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/

 

 

 

Science reading list

Over the last week, I have enjoyed putting together a suggested reading list for history and geography and books to share with a class for every year group (the latter can be found here). Yesterday, I began the task of doing the same for science. It’s fair to say it was not as enjoyable!

Nowadays more than ever, there are loads of amazing books for children but there are less so for some topics in science. Yes I’m talking physics.

I wanted to have a list of ‘proper’ books rather than those perfunctory ones that line the shelves of science cupboards around the country. It was easy for some topics, e.g. evolution, plants, animals including humans etc. but not so for topics light electricity.

Anyway, I’ve managed as best I could and have uploaded editable versions here. Like the year group lists there was originally a logo in the top left which I have removed – just in case you’re wondering why the title is not correctly formatted!

Enjoy and if you find any ‘better’ books for some topics please let me know!!

* disclaimer – I have not read ALL of these books

Great books for sharing…

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to make a list of great books for sharing with a class for every year group in my school. I didn’t want to include books we already use for English and foundation subjects so there are some really great books not included in these documents.

Like any recommended reading list there will be books that you wouldn’t pick or ones that are missing so I’ve uploaded them as word documents for you to edit as you choose.

Whilst it’s predominantly fiction, there’s some poetry and non-fiction too. Picture books are included for all year groups – obvs! Some have few words so ‘read’ means share/discuss etc.

Originally the school logo was in the top left hand corner so I’ve removed that. Please feel free to add your own school’s logo if you wish.

You can find the documents here. Happy reading!

Cultural capital matters

There’s some really thought-provoking tweets and blogs on Twitter this morning around the topic of cultural capital. Lots of discussion about the name itself but more importantly about what its intention is.

The question “Isn’t the whole ‘cultural capital’ thing one big middle-class crusade?” was posed here in response to an article that highlights criticism from OFSTED in regards to schools that have a three year GCSE route – the argument being that many pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds need longer to successfully complete GCSEs and that these qualifications are often the only thing these pupils can bring to the table at interview.

There’s a lot to unpick here and I’m not based in a secondary school so don’t feel informed enough to explore the GCSE element but am really interested in the idea that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds often have little in the way of knowledge of the wider world and so are further disadvantaged when it comes to attaining a job.

I work in a primary school in a disadvantaged area and have certainly experienced a lack of knowledge of the wider world impacting negatively on the outcomes of pupils, particularly Pupil Premium pupils. A few years ago, one of the Y2 SATs reading papers had a section about swimming lessons. Only one child in my class had swimming lessons and many had never been to a swimming pool I found out afterwards. I was quite shocked at the time that this potentially lifesaving skill wasn’t prioritised over expensive gadgets such as X Box etc.

When I later read about the effect of prior knowledge on reading comprehension I knew we had to do something about it as a school. We had already begun redesigning our curriculum and had decided to put educational trips and visitors at the core of the curriculum, as the majority of our children had very limited life experiences. Now I suggested we take it a step further and build in ‘experiences’ or short pre-teaching sessions before whole class reading lessons to enable children to understand and access the text better. This followed a session that I’d seen Ashley Booth deliver at a conference where he shared his experiences of planning in these pre-read sessions. I wouldn’t call these pre-teaching sessions teaching cultural capital though, just good teaching – identifying gaps in essential knowledge and filling them in order to make it easier to access the learning.

What is cultural capital then?

Penny Rabiger quotes Pierre Bourdieu’s definition in her great blog about cultural capital:

“The cultural knowledge that serves as currency that helps us navigate culture and alters our experiences and the opportunities available to us”

This absolutely resonates with me. As an educator, I’ve spent my career trying to open the eyes of the children I teach, to the fact that there are so many opportunities open to them if they’d only show an interest.

Oprah Winfrey talks about a choice she made as a child one day when she was watching her grandmother hanging out clothes and the washing line and telling her she’d have to learn how to do it. Winfrey says she knew at that moment that her life would not be the same as her grandmother’s.

Oprah

Thank you to @pitchup_nurture for sharing this quote, by Oprah Winfrey, in the thread this morning. I think it will be one that I return to again and again.

The idea of all of my pupils taking responsibility for themselves and their learning, showing an interest – developing botheredness (to coin Hywel Roberts’ phrase) – is an elusive goal. I get so frustrated sometimes, with many of the children I teach who just sit in lessons without really engaging. Some will shrug when asked a question as though it has nothing to do with them. It’s not uncommon for me to go on a big rant about how this is their opportunity and how they’re just letting it slip through their fingers. I explain to them how school is a two-way thing – that I can do my best to teach them but if they’re not bothered about learning it’s not going to happen. I talk about how learning is in layers and reflect on what they learnt in infants and how each year the work we do gets a bit harder and explain that if they have gaps in their learning it makes it more difficult to learn later. I sometimes go on to explain that if they have gaps in their learning when they go to secondary school it’s going to make it difficult to pass their exams and that in turn will make it difficult to get a job; and explain how money, although not guaranteed to make you happy, gives you options.

Although education might not be valued by many of our school community, having money is certainly valued by our parents – where having the latest mobile phone or expensive clothes demonstrates your status in the community. However, I teach in an area where shop lifting, drug dealing and other illegal ways of getting an income are rife – this is part of the cultural capital of many of our children. If you come from this background where money is attainable without a job are you likely to view education as important if you’re told that it will help you to get a job? Probably not. How can we reach those children? Is wanting to reach those children part of a middle-class crusade?

I was talking about my frustration in the staffroom only this week and our NQT said “Maybe ranting isn’t the best way” and she’s right of course. Showing children that there is another way is part of a huge piece of work that needs to be done on a whole school level and involves all stakeholders. In my opinion, it’s no use getting an agency in once a year to do a session with the children about their futures and ticking the ‘raising aspirations’ box. We must work continuously with parents and children to show them that learning is a life-long journey and can actually be enjoyable as well as open up opportunities – rather than just something you put up with at school. Reading for pleasure is key to this as it offers an insight into so many other possibilities but that is another blog!

People get hung up on what we should teach children as ‘cultural capital’ but perhaps what is more interesting than what should we be teaching is why should we teach it? Some people argue that it can’t be taught but I disagree. I see cultural capital as experiences and knowledge that in some households occur naturally anyway, for example watching an orchestra perform live, visiting a castle, learning about great playwrights like Shakespeare, taking part in debates.

It all sounds a bit middle class doesn’t it and I suppose it is. Is it a middle-class crusade then? Possibly. Will it completely level the playing field? Of course not but it’s a start. As teachers we should be trying to provide as many situations as possible for children to experience the opportunities available to them. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds often don’t experience these opportunities outside of school. I would like to change that. Why should going to the opera or the ballet be reserved solely for the elite?

I believe all children have the right to these experiences. All children should be taught the knowledge but more importantly the attitude that makes them more employable. And this should happen not because OFSTED have said it should but because it’s the right thing to do. Oh, and it also has an impact on educational outcomes.

 

Jack of all trades, master of none

I’ve just finished teaching the Stone Age to Iron Age with Y3/4. It’s safe to say we loved it! In fact, when one child went to meet Sir David Attenborough and missed a lesson, another said what a shame it was that they’d missed it!

The children in the two parallel classes enjoyed it but didn’t love it in the same way. Is that because I’m a superior teacher to their teachers? No, but I did have superior knowledge about this topic. I was the person who researched and planned the unit of work. I spent days – very enjoyable days – researching and planning whilst my colleagues did the same with other areas of the curriculum.

My knowledge and enthusiasm during these lessons was clear and brought the children along for the ride. The thing is, I won’t teach this unit of work for another two years now. I will have forgotten some of what I learnt this time round and will have to spend some time revising before teaching it again.

This is where our secondary colleagues have an advantage as they reteach the same units of work (presumably adapted accordingly to suit different classes) many times. Secondary teachers have another advantage, in that they are teaching one or two subjects that often they studied at A Level or for their degree, and therefore have an in-depth subject knowledge.

Primary teachers must teach every area of the curriculum and be a Jack of all trades, master of none. Or must they? In my phase, my colleagues and I have two afternoons a week where the children rotate between three short lessons – each taught by a different teacher. The benefits of this is that the children get PE taught by the PE lead, RE taught by the RE lead, music taught by a music specialist. However, they also get computing and French taught by me so it’s not perfect!

Is this the way forward? I recently saw outstanding artwork from a school in Wirral where a secondary trained art teacher delivers the art curriculum. The children are rightly proud of their accomplishments. For some time, many schools have had service level agreements for ‘specialist’ subjects. Some people argue this is deskilling teachers as they aren’t teaching such a wide range of subjects, but are we truly skilful in all subjects? Is it possible?

Given the deep dives being conducted with the new Ofsted framework should the primary sector be seeking to develop teachers who are masters of a few subjects rather than Jack of all trades? Or should we continue to favour developing close relationships with our class? Answers on a postcard please…

Jack

The need for speed

A couple of years ago, on Clare Sealy’s recommendation, I started reading Daniel T. Willingham’s brilliant, but rather unfortunately named, book ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’ (if you haven’t read it yet, you should). His simple explanation about how we draw on on prior knowledge to help us understand new information struck a chord.

I then went on to read about what is known as ‘The Baseball Experiment’. You can read about it here and in more detail here. The findings of this research was that poor readers who knew a lot about baseball performed far better at a reading comprehension about baseball than good readers with little knowledge of baseball, suggesting that prior knowledge has a big impact on our ability to comprehend what we read.

I teach in a very deprived area in Merseyside. Many of our children have a huge deficit in life experiences (prior knowledge) as they don’t visit places outside of school. Although we do our best to address this, by ensuring every topic has an educational visit, many of our children still have a huge gap in general knowledge and also vocabulary compared to peers from less deprived areas.

This social inequality and its negative impact on children’s performance in Y6 reading SATs (amongst other things) is hardly a revelation, but what I did realise last school year is that we were further disadvantaging our children. We used PM Benchmark to assess children’s understanding as well as their ability to read a text fluently. If a child did not show suitable understanding of the text they were not allowed to read at that level – even though they were able to read it fluently. 

It seems so obvious now that this is ridiculous but we were labouring under the idea that we could teach comprehension and that we must help children to develop their comprehension skills by keeping them at a level they could read easily so that didn’t distract them. Once you realise that you can’t teach comprehension – only test technique – this idea of holding a child back is ridiculous. So we quickly stopped. Now children can read any (age suitable) book they are able to read fluently. This began the drive to develop fluency.

We do whole class reading in my school. It has been very successful but the focus is mostly on understanding the vocabulary and the text rather than on fluency. We do a lot of book talk in these lessons and examine questions about the text. Fluency was still an issue.

In the summer term, I led a staff meeting for TAs where we looked in depth at reading fluency and why it was important. We used several exercises from The Megabook of Fluency which is the absolute Bible of developing fluency as far as I’m concerned.

51iWg541RgL._SX381_BO1,204,203,200_

In a staff meeting with teachers, we talked about using the simple view of reading grid to identify the children who were the first priorities for intervention to develop fluency. As part of our work on developing fluency, it was also agreed that reading speed and developing reading stamina were important. I said that I would go away and put together an assessment for assessing reading speed, during the summer holidays.

It was a bit of a headache because I wanted to match it to book bands and PM Benchmark levels so that we could standardise the texts being chosen. I based it on the 50th percentile of Hasbrouck and Tindal’s words correct per minute oral reading fluency norms that can be found here.

The problem was that I needed the end of Year 2 words per minute (WPM) to be 90 so I had to rejig that a bit. The other problem was that PM Benchmark only goes up to level 30 which I think is Sapphire book band. There is also no Silver and Emerald (we’ve created them to give further breadth) so I’ve been a bit creative with that too. However, if everyone is using this standardised method it should work for our school.

There was a fair amount of interest on Twitter tonight when I asked if people had a sheet with recommended WPM per year group so I’ve uploaded the sheet I made here for people to use. I hope it’s useful.

We will target particular children at first, to work on developing reading stamina and a quicker reading time. We will use the appropriate PM Benchmark text identified in the assessment guide to assess how many words are read correctly in one minute. This will be monitored. As a whole class, we will also work on this using Twinkl’s 60 second reads amongst other things.