Times table practice

As things currently stand, it’s looking as though the times table check/test might be the only test ever where you need to get 100% correct in order to pass! Even the theory part of the driving test allows you to get some wrong and still pass. The phonics check (an untimed test) requires only 80% to achieve a pass.

Typing an answer, rather than saying it, makes it harder – just one slip of the finger, or struggling to find the digit on the keyboard will cost you the test.

Hopefully, following consultation there might be a rethink. For now though, I for one feel that I need to do more than I did this year so I have put together a series of PPTs to enable practise and recall of tables. You can find them here.

The order I teach tables in is:

10, 5, 2, 4, 8, 3, 6, 12, 9, 11, 7

The PPTs are organised in this order.

Spelling assessment and tracking

My first ever blog was about spelling. You can read it here if you so desire. Spelling, or rather the importance of spelling in terms of assessment, has changed again since then. However, we still need to assess and track spelling. I developed a whole school system for assessing and tracking spelling which you can download here. There are two versions so please read the explanation first. I wrote a blog explaining how I teach spelling, which you can see here.

Y4 maths knowledge organisers

This year, in spring term, I started making maths KOs for Y4. I then went back and completed the ones for autumn term. It was pretty fiddly at times but I’ve enjoyed making them and have had great success with them in the class.

This year, I have used them on the board as a teaching tool and the children have glued them in their books at the start of each topic and refer back to them if they get ‘stuck’. This has really improved their level of independence.

Next year, I plan to still use them as a teaching tool but am going to print them all off and make a booklet that children can access as needed.

If you would like to see/download them you can access them here.

I hope you find them as useful as I do. I’m going to start to on Y3 next so watch this space!

PS – if you spot an error please let me know (@LTeacher123) as I’m terrible at proofreading my own work!

Who even am I?

I recently received some feedback, from someone I have a lot of respect for, that I was not naturally creative. I was a little offended at first, although that was not the intention of the statement – quite the opposite in fact – it was meant that my logical and organised approach would nicely complement a colleague who was more artistic. I ended up being creative, I was told, through careful planning.

“Hang on!” I thought… I worked as a freelance drama advisory teacher for five years and also with Creative Partnerships. My degree was in drama and the title of my MA was ‘by Creative Practice’.

This led me to wonder about creativity and what it means. I would agree that if I was given a blank canvass and asked to paint a picture from my imagination I would struggle, but given a blank piece of paper I can conjure up inventive and exciting lessons (yes I do sometimes give in to ‘fun’) and projects.

I then remembered a seminal moment in my teaching career that occurred about 12 years ago. I was working part-time in a school not too far from where I am now. I was drama lead (or co-ordinator as it was called in those days) and ran an after-school drama club.

The headteacher, long since retired, once admonished me for my poor time management skills, saying that I was typical of those ‘arty creative types’. I honestly can’t remember what had happened for him to say that but it irked me so much that I informed him of what I actually had to manage: a home and family (with a child with SEND that we were just starting to get diagnosed so lots of visits to various clinics), a part-time lecturing job in addition to the 0.6 contract I had at his school and I was completing my MA part-time too.

I left his office feeling satisfied that I had defended myself but questioned where this ‘arty creative type/hopelessly organised’ impression I was giving left me and my career. I made changes. I stopped wearing the numerous chunky rings and earrings, I dressed more professionally and in my next school I dropped drama, instead leading PSHE.

My reputation in this next school was someone who was driven and as a problem solver. I was a go-to person for lots of things outside of my subject. Overnight it seemed people’s perceptions of me had changed.

I was only at that school for about 18 months before I moved to become English lead in another school. Things could not have been more different. I went from being Golden Girl to someone who couldn’t do anything right. I had a lot of difficulties during my time at the school, including devastating events in my personal life that had a knock-on effect on my health. I needed to call the union in for support at one point. It was a dark time in my life but eventually I built up my confidence enough to apply for a job elsewhere – this time with a TLR.

So, I moved to my current school where I was quickly promoted to Phase Leader and have received many glowing comments in my performance management. Here I am perceived as ultra-organised, an expert in my subject and someone who can make things happen.

I am the same person, yet I have been perceived very differently in these schools. Maybe I have changed rather than it simply being an act. I’m not sure. I think I’ve always been organised at work – when you’re juggling lots of different roles you must be. When I was working freelance, I’d sometimes be in three different places in one day, so I had to be ultra-organised.

Do we ever truly know who we are or how people perceive us? On that note I’m off to continue this existential crisis in private!



Reading really does rock!

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend #RRGoesToUni – a Reading Rocks conference held at Liverpool John Moores’ University. The atmosphere was electric as @janeconsidine presented her keynote speech at the start of the day. One of the points she raised was junior children’s favourite reads. A discussion ensued on Twitter (not for the first time) about whether these books were acceptable choices.

In my session on Saturday, I talked about getting reluctant readers reading. You can download my PPT here. Most of the images within have hyperlinks that will lead you to further reading.

In my opinion, the ‘getting children reading’ job for primary teachers is three-fold:

1) teach them the initial code so that they decode and blend to access texts independently

2) during the first stage and continuously, we should be creating a reading rich environment with quality texts and daily reading aloud to help foster a love of reading

3) develop children as readers through exploration of a whole range of texts

At no point should we make a child feel that their choice of reading material is somehow inferior. I personally wouldn’t choose to read a David Walliams’ book or a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, but I would never tell a child they shouldn’t be reading it. My heart sinks when I hear that children have been told they’re too old for a book or they should be reading ‘better’ books.

How do we help children to develop a love of reading? We model it.

Ian Hunt @Springwoodht does an amazing job of creating a reading rich environment in his school through engaging in the Patron of Reading programme, inviting an author into school each half term and continuously investing in high quality texts.

Simon Smith @smithsmm is (almost obsessively) passionate about picture books and this seeps through into every part of his school where reading is the number one priority.

Karl Duke @KarlDuke8 puts books at the heart of his school’s curriculum, with carefully chosen texts underpinning cross-curricular work.

If you are interested in developing reading for pleasure in your school, your first port of call should be the Open University’s Reading for Pleasure website. Teresa Cremin is striving to create reading teachers. We must read children’s books in order to know them. It is our responsibility to find ‘the’ book that turns a child into a reader.

“It was totally worth it!”

In January, my team and I embarked on a project that involved what I’d describe as guided research. Yesterday the project culminated in an exhibition curated by the children and attended by several guests, including the Mayor and Mayoress of Wirral and Frank Fields MP, as well as members of our school community.

The beginning of the project was fairly unremarkable; a series of four lessons introducing the topic – a local history/geography study entitled ‘Welcome to Wirral’. We shared the knowledge organiser with the children before exploring the geographical features of Wirral. The next three lessons explored the history of Wirral, the leisure pursuits and waterways in Wirral and finally, a brief introduction to the Industrial Revolution and the impact on Wirral.


Following the introductory lessons, the children were encouraged to choose one of the themes to explore further through their own research. Three research teams were formed with each team responsible for finding and collating information on their given theme.

Within the research teams, five departments were made: research (although all children initially were responsible for this), marketing, editing, publishing and HR. Each department needed a manager and children were invited to apply to be a manager. Applicants completed a form outlining their strengths and why they felt they would be well suited to the role applied for. Candidates were shortlisted and we had intended to interview but time constraints meant that we assigned roles in an arbitrary fashion.

The human resources departments were established in order to promote self-regulation. Early on, two of the children in my team’s HR department commented on how time consuming it was to deal with petty squabbles! In my team, we quickly made a new department – the IT department. A few tech savvy children transferred into the new department and were on hand to deal with problems as they arose. I also trained them in using PowerPoint, including adding hyperlinks, and we soon had a number of interactive quizzes created.

Educational visits play a big part in my school’s curriculum, and this topic was no exception. The first visit was to our local library, where we were given a tour of the reference library and heard about how researchers use a range of resources, including microfiche. We had planned to let the children have a go at using this but unfortunately the machine wasn’t working on the day of our visit. The visit to the library had been well planned between ourselves and the librarians. We’d met up prior to the visit to discuss the project and we’d shared the KO and the three areas of research: transport and industry, history and leisure and waterways. A selection of resources relating to these areas were put out for us on the day of our visit.

The next trip was to the Priory, the oldest building in Merseyside. This was designed to enthuse the children about their local area. The final visit, towards the end of the project, was to the Williamson Art Gallery and was in preparation for the children to curate an exhibition to showcase their research. Our guide showed the children several collections and discussed the choices that had been made when putting the display together.

Each week we had a couple of afternoons to work in research groups which had been formed following the children choosing the area of research they were most interested, which had worked out as roughly three equal groups. The plan was that each Friday afternoon, after some time to practise, the children would return to their classes and present their findings to children from other groups. In this way we would be giving children the opportunity to develop oracy skills as well as making sure that children learnt about the other areas of research as well.

As well as opportunities to develop oracy, reading and writing, we also planned links with art and DT, in the form of a large mixed media/collage map of Wirral and the construction of pulley systems (linked to the cranes at Cammell Laird – a major Wirral based industry). The end products formed a part of the exhibition.

The vast majority of the children were enthusiastic about the project, although some found the more independent way of working difficult and needed considerable direction. The first test of their commitment came when we had organised to participate in a local heritage fair on a Saturday. We selected a number of children to talk about the project at the fair, however only about half of those chosen returned permission slips and we were forced to cancel.

This was bitterly disappointing and a bit of a setback for staff. At this point, one member of staff who had had reservations about the project from the beginning due to its ‘free’ nature (but who had volunteered to attend the heritage fair) began to lose faith. On the day of the exhibition however this member of staff said to me “Forget everything I said. It was totally worth it”.

The exhibition itself was curated by the children (aged 7 to 9). They wrote an invitation which was emailed out to VIPs. They made decisions about where in the hall they wanted to place things. They pinned their work to display boards. On the day of the exhibition, they proudly greeted visitors and spoke with confidence about the work they’d done. The visitors were rightly impressed and said that the exhibition should be shared with the public – something we’d discussed with our local library at the start of the project.

The crowning glory for me though was when the parents came to see the exhibition. We typically have quite poor parental involvement in my school but over half the children had at least one member of their family there to support them. The children were proud, the parents were proud, and we were proud. It truly was a wonderful end to our project.


Rob Smith, of Literacy Shed fame, developed a brilliant acronym for teaching reading skills: VIPERS. If you haven’t already looked at his blog about VIPERS you really should and can find it here.

We have adopted VIPERS in my school and use it across the school for whole school reading lessons, as well as guided reading interventions and have even written some as discussion prompts for parents supporting reading at home.

Literacy Shed Plus have a huge selection of VIPERS questions from Y1 to Y6 and is well worth the subscription fee. If you find yourself still looking for more you are welcome to download and use these I have written for Y4.

New year, new… direction?

So, it’s the time of year that most of us succumb to the overwhelming urge to reflect on the events of this year and begin to think about our wishes for the coming year. That idea of a new year equating to a ‘new you’ leading to a range of New Year’s resolutions hastily being formed.

Whilst I’m not a subscriber to making resolutions for the new year, I am looking forward to working in a different way in foundation subjects in the new year.

We have a problem with participation ratio in my school, particularly in the afternoons. The ratio being so grossly skewed that the teachers often end up participating more than the children! In the past, we have tried to address this by creating lessons that involve a lot of ‘doing’.

My colleague and I are attempting to tackle this by creating a learning experience that gives the children an element of choice within a semi-structured schema. The challenge is to actively involve the children, so they are not passive bystanders, but also to challenge their thinking at the same time.

The topic is a local history and geography study and will incorporate computing, DT and art. We began by identifying the core knowledge we wanted the children to learn and produced a knowledge organiser.


Each child will have a copy of this knowledge organiser so that they can self-quiz throughout the topic and a low stakes quiz at the end will help to assess what the children have retained. The children will learn an awful lot more along the way, but as they will choose the direction to take their research in, there is no way for us to identify yet what that will be.

The plan is to introduce the topic with a short series of lessons where the children are taught this key knowledge. We will then have our WOW starter (which is usually employed at the start of the topic to harness interest, hence the name!) The WOW starter will see the children meet together for the first time in role as museum curators. The task will be outlined to them – to curate a museum exhibition celebrating the history and outlining the geography of Wirral.

From this point on when we meet together, we will be in role. At the start of the project, jobs for the children will be advertised. They will oversee five different departments, including HR who will be supported to manage the sort of situations that frequently arise when undertaking group research.

Teachers will take the role of Senior Curators and will act as the go-between for the fictional client and the curators. They will present the children with three areas to specialise in: ‘Transport and industry’, ‘Leisure and rivers’ and ‘History of Wirral’. We have identified these as separate themes but are expecting a certain amount of crossover between these areas of research.

In addition to using the internet to research, we have organised child friendly visits to the reference section of our local library, a visit to the oldest building in Merseyside and a visit to a local transport museum, with a focus on how the exhibits are displayed.

This project is something of a hybrid of knowledge rich and exploratory learning (cover your ears @ClareSealy), albeit directed, with a bit of Mantle of the expert thrown in for good measure. It’s the sort of mash up that would give most educators nightmares! Yes, it’s a risk but teaching and learning is about taking risks.

Although I’ve done something similar in the past on a couple of occasions, I’ve never done it on this scale. The logistics of planning the project so it would work for three classes of mixed year groups have been demanding to say the least! We decided it would be easiest to manage if we mix the classes into three groups based on their chosen area of research, although they might not all get their first choice to make this possible.

Every week throughout the project, the children will return to their classes present their findings through a formal presentation. To further challenge their thinking, they will be asked ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions and challenged to explain ‘what this means now’. It is hoped that by the end of the project these questions will mostly come from the children rather than the teachers.

The project will culminate with a temporary exhibition in the hall, curated by the children and will include their related DT and artwork. We’re hoping to invite the mayor to open the ‘museum’ exhibition and parents, librarians and local history groups will be invited to attend. Each class in the school will be given a time slot to visit the exhibition also.

I am really excited about the possibilities this project presents, particularly for developing oracy. We have already had an offer from the library to display the exhibition after the project is finished and I’m hopeful that partnerships for future projects involving a real purpose will arise as a result.