Sunday, 5 September 2021

My mathematical scope and sequence

 In my last post I talked about a structured approach to maths. Unable to find anything that met my needs I launched into creating my very own scope and sequence.  Now as usual I am no expert, but I am great at researching, trialing and finding out what does and does not work for our learners.

It has been a lot of hard work, but an absolute pleasure to be able to use it as I was writing it to make sure that it would work in a normal classroom environment, or one like mine, largely based on play.


This year the children starting in our class were not developmentally ready for agency...this was a first for me.  I also discovered that number sense was a challenge for many and a basic understanding of our number system had not yet been developed at an early level.  They had a lot of 'rote' learning...counting and recognising numerals, but didn't understand that these symbols carried a meaning.  Numerosity was not a strength, they did not understand the meaning of numerals or have a sense that they indicated an amount.

As I have been on a Structured literacy journey, it seemed only logical to think about creating something similar for maths.  Something that children could work through systematically for a period of time before Agency kicked off and something that gave consistency, repetition, and consolidation.

Little was I to know that what unfolded was a massive body of work for me, researching and finding the best bits that I believe encompass the building blocks of mathematics in the first few years.  Bringing these together to align with NZ teaching to form big ideas that in turn form a scope and.a sequence along with putting things in simple language that can be used as I can statements.  These I Can statements can be used for assessment which I really like.

From these big ideas I then wrote 60 sessions, which built on one another but also revisited prior learning regularly...they build up gradually, working through understanding of numbers up to ten and then beyond, always aligning with the woodin patterns and then gradually introducing other ways to express number.   Place value understanding and mathematical vocab development are key to this sequence.  I wanted to ensure materials, visual strategies and mathematical discussion featured strongly within the sessions as we know these are key areas of quality mathematical teaching.  Each session is also very journey over the last few years has really revealed just how explicit our teaching needs to be.  Woven into the sessions are number talks, which I have found build mathematical capacity and understanding hugely for children.  Within the sessions a variety of materials can be used, I find numicon to be a really useful resource, but it is not crucial to delivering the sessions.

Funnily enough tuning into the Number Blocks (who have their own scope and sequence) really helped me with this and all sessions can be used in conjunction with a Number Blocks episode if wanted.

Professionally I have always found maths was an area that lacked consistency of teaching.  I always found myself touching on this and touching on that and certainly doing my best, but never systematically building on understandings and taking time to consolidate understandings as structured literacy does for reading and spelling.  I imagined if I had this issue, then many other teachers probably did too.

I also wanted to stay true to my fundamental belief in play and create something that would complement what we were already doing and not contradict it.

The scope of the teaching is aimed at foundational understandings for the first three years.  Taking children to Stage 3 - 4 understandings.  The sequence itself that is written into sessions is broken into 60 sessions.  These 60 sessions are written in a way that describes largely what is being said and done, visual materials used are all included in the pack. and linked to each session.   

Some sessions are quite brief and others are more detailed, meaning a session may take a week or so to deliver. Some sessions also warrant lots of repetition. In our class we break every session into bite sized moments over the day and therefore it does take us about a week to get through, meaning we may not finish the whole sequence of sessions in the first year. 

I am really loving the fact that in a team teaching situation this scope and sequence now gives us great consistency in what we are doing and planning has been done for us.  

My thinking would be that Agency would then come after this, so implemented in Year 2.

However I also feel there is great flexibility.  This scope and sequence could even be used with small groups of learners perhaps in Year 2 and 3 that have struggled to get away with maths, because the woodin patterns have been created and are used for children with dyscalculia or specific math difficulties.  What I have found, is these patterns give these children something concrete to hang their hat on, they use these patterns to visually represent their problem solving, even when not required.

Problem solving also features within the sequence and kicks in after the first few sessions and can be gradually scaffolded according to your classes needs.  I am still loving using puppets to deliver problems. I give some ideas on how to do this within the resource, along with how to conduct the number talks.

It also would be entirely possible to launch agency from session 20 onwards and have professor deliver it as Professional development for the agents.

I am looking forward to continuing to work with this scope and sequence, no doubt over time I will make tweaks and changes based on what works and what needs work :)

As always feel free to email me if you need any help: 

Scope and Sequence Here

It is available on TPT, if you have any issues with the zip download, get in touch and I will sort it out for you.

Looking forward to continuing to share my journey.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

A structured approach to maths?

 So, I  have done a few posts in my facebook math group alluding to the fact that for a range of reasons I have had to alter the way I teach maths this year. 

 In the past I would have launched quickly into agency and Professor would have managed the knowledge and strategy development.  Unfortunately (or fortunately for my learning purposes) my class this year are on the whole developmentally lower than usual and their number sense is not what we would normally call a starting point.  

Let me explain firstly that this isn't deficit thinking, it is me acknowledging that the best approach for the class currently in front of me isn't the dramatic/imagined world I usually present.  It wouldn't be the best use of my teaching time and developmentally they need maximum playing and emotional needs must come first.

Running parallel to this discovery has been my learning in structured literacy, which led to me thinking more about how we can have a more structured approach to maths.  The narrow system we currently have has always bothered me...we just don't dig deep enough to truly understand why a child may be having difficulty.

Structured literacy has shown me how much I could be missing or taking for is the same for mathematics, there is a lot we take for granted.

Therefore rather than ploughing on doing what I have always done, I decided to do some more research into the big ideas of mathematics, the building blocks and how these all slot together to ensure children make progress.  

My starting point was to find out my about dyscalculia journey with structured literacy showed me that an understanding how children that struggle with literacy need to learn to read and write, so my thinking here was I needed to do the same with maths.  This led me to Chris Woodin from Woodin maths. his vertical pathway is full of useful stepping stones.

I also found the early years page here amazing and have used each area to brainstorm stepping stones that relate to the first four stages of our numeracy framework

I also love Number blocks!  They are sequenced so incredibly well and if you have not used them with your class, you really should, but do it in order as they follow their own scope and sequence.

In conjunction with this has been the work of Jo Boaler (who is an absolute legend!) Her mathematical mindsets in K curriculum have a huge amount to offer.

I now have a set of indicators within the big ideas that break down the key skills and assists me with planning and assessing.  I am already loving it, but it has a long way to go.  

What I have discovered is that it is possible to take a more structured approach to maths.  Just like literacy it needs to be explicit and follow a scope and sequence that allows us to identify clearly any specific strengths and needs.   When followed in a structured way, we also get a great insight to a child that may be having difficulty, earlier, rather than later.

This term I started with purely the deep understandings within the woodin math patterns.  Working hard to foster the early big ideas in maths and strengthen understanding of our number system.  It has seemed very slow, very explicit and very deliberate, but it is really working!  As part of that repeated patterning has been really important,  exploring the parts of a whole and developing our ability to notice and discuss.  I see patterning to maths, as phonological awareness is to reading and spelling. 

Number understanding across the whole class has really progressed, it was just what they needed.  

We have slowly worked away, building a deep sense of each numeral with a particular focus on cardinality, counting, comparison and composition,  deeply understanding what the numeral means, representing in visual form etc, just like we would explore the alphabetic code in a sequence.  As the term has gone on we have started to solve number story narratives, using the woodin patterns to help us.  We've also started to look at a group and explore how it can form part of a bigger group, we have then started to explore number talks taking whole to part and exploring how the group can be represented in different ways.

We've got a long way to go and I am excited to learn more about the scope and sequence so that I can come up with something that works for all, no matter what understandings they start school with.  A scope and sequence that overcomes the current narrow outcomes and measures we have in place for maths.

So will we start Agency next term?  No, we are not quite there yet...but I will be planning a mantle that takes 10-12 weeks over Term 2 and 3 so that we can have the benefit of what we are currently doing, but still the amazing engagement that Number Agency brings.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

It is not an either this....or is truly the best of everything!

 I think the title sums this up, this is a blog post I have been wanting to write for a while.  As a teacher absolutely committed to play, people are often surprised that I also advocate for children having a strong foundation in number and literacy.  

I guess many think that if my class is play-based then this just does not fit with explicit teaching.  In fact this could not be further from the truth.  It is through developing an understanding of play, the role it plays in learning and the importance of providing a developmentally appropriate approach that led me in my pursuit of truly providing for the individual.  I am the first to acknowledge that I am certainly not at the end of my journey and in some aspects, this is just the beginning.

This journey has also made me very well aware that levels and stages are a man made constraint placed upon learning and that age should not be a guide for how we engage with children.  A construct put in place to make children fit nicely into boxes.

Age is used as such a strong argument from every side of education, those that feel the need to wait and those that feel the need to accelerate.  The truth however is that it is not age that means anything at all, it is developmental readiness and child-led interest.  These two indicators are what we should be using to determine what it is or is not we choose to have children engage with.

As professionals we need a deep understanding of learning if we are to be able to do this.

Let's start at the beginning, because that is a very good place to start.  When referring to structured literacy, I don't think that there is any play-based advocate that would argue against a high quality oral language environment.  Phonological awareness is developed out loud, the building blocks of structured literacy come to pass in an environment that is strongly based on oral language and auditory processing, but also that understands how children learn to identify and manipulate sounds.  This is something children are doing innately from the time they are born and there is absolutely nothing inappropriate about encouraging specific phonological development in a classroom, in fact it is a whole lot of fun.  This hour glass figure is a great visual for literacy acquisition and everything in orange can be done in a class based on play in a fun and engaging way.

***Structured literacy is not 'phonics' it is the name for the body of work sometimes called the Science of Reading and is all about how the brain learns to read...not some brains...all brains!  It is all about explicit teaching.

This diagram below is my own, it is not quite as specific as the diagram above, but shows you what aspects can clearly be developed through play.  It is not perfect and is always a work in process based on my learning journey.

Working with these areas of phonological understanding also allow us to capture useful information, which may allow us to engage sooner rather than later if a child has a specific difficulty, that is not developmental in nature.  

So how is this done?  Well as a class we dedicate short periods throughout the day to engage in explicit, fun activities that develop these skills, while the rest of the time, children get to engage in wonderful interest led play, inside and outside of the classroom.

Children all have individual developmental goals, which I have shared many times before and are linked at the top of this blog.  We have now tied part of these goals to the code, to ensure we are following a structured approach to literacy.  When the children show developmental readiness and (totally key) an interest in learning more, we start to engage with these aspects individually.

There is no age and stage relationship here, we are guided by the child.  Some are six when they start to work individually with us, some younger, but the common factor is this, they are ready and interested.  This is similar to Finland, interest for more learning is absolute key.  If a child takes time to be ready and interested, they should be allowed that time.  

If we take away the age factor as a determiner and start to just engage individually with the child, we will be meeting their needs, regardless.  

Number is run in a similar way with agency, it is all about the development of number sense through fun, using patters, materials and ensure children have a strong understanding of the concept of the whole and its parts.  Explicit teaching of these aspects in a fun way, that is playful in nature is they key.

Explicit teaching of these early understandings in both number and literacy can and do co-exist naturally in our play based environment.  

When we interact with children in a developmentally appropriate way, according to their individual needs, we start to see that their is no such thing as level and stage, just a learning journey that is best assisted by professionals that know enough about learning to do so.

There is no one or the other, no this or that, just a culture of learning and play that brings the best out in everyone and provides for the many needs of our diverse learners.  

No cookie cutter approach, no one size fits all, just a kete of strategies and approaches that as teachers we continue to develop over time.

I have just uploaded a pdf of all the activities we use for phonological - phonemic awareness linked with our individual goals.  This can be found here Phonological ideas for the everyday classroom it is on TPT.

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Recently Asked Questions About Play

 Thank you to those that replied to my post on facebook about any burning questions they have about play.  I have endeavoured to answer them below.  Perhaps these answers will be helpful to others reading this.  I have to add once again, that I am not an expert, my understandings have been developed over the last six or more years as a teaching principal in a new entrant - Year two class.

1) I'm still trialing the best way to share/document all the fabulous play experience our children are creating for themselves. Our teachers use photos and short stories on dojo (good for parents), class learning stories books (lovely but lots of work) and class displays (constantly changing). Ideas on a way to document and share with parents, other teachers and the children themselves would be much appreciated

Quite honestly this has been my biggest area of learning and challenge.  To truly ensure play is a powerful mode of teaching and learning, we need  to have time to notice, reflect and respond.  Time to appreciate what children are actively doing, time to listen and time to really see those dispositions that are coming through as part of the process.  

Having a heavy load of documentation completely negates this time and so it is a real balance that we need to find.

First I have had to ask myself - who are we doing it for?  If it is simply to prove that 'learning' is happening, then slash it.  We initially tried to write learning stories for each child twice a term...this was just unmanageable.  It just simply didn't work, we still had individuals to work with on their goals be it developmental or reading, and even though there were two, sometimes three of us in the class at a time, it simply didn't work.  Our ultimate goal is quality time with individuals and groups and quality time to observe play....if documentation gets in the way of this, it is unworkable.  

So we have settled on this and it is working for us...

*Sharing of photos with short captions of the daily play on seesaw (taken and reflected on as we are observing play, or at the end of the day if we don't get time.). Parents like this and it is quick.  Sometimes we share a class focus.

*Using the class journal (in video above) to capture the play and focus our class discussions.  This can be photographed to be shared with whānau on seesaw, and is a celebration of play for the children.

*Using seesaw to report to parents on their child's developmental goal or reading/maths/writing goal if appropriate to that child a few times a term.  This is usually a quick voice over, or a video of us working with the child so the parent knows how they can help.  

- and that is largely it for documenting the play, it is what we have settled on and works within classroom realities.  We simply don't have time to write full on learning stories and to be quite honest the learning journal shown above and the quick items on seesaw are far more useful.  

2) I have timetabled an hour each day from 11.30 - 12.30 to be my classes (NE) "Outside School". Not quite sure how it is going to work, but there will be stories, free play, music, noticing things (which I hope will lead into insects, creepy crawlies, habitats etc), key competencies. I would value any ideas that you have tried or any suggestions that you (or anyone else ) has. We don't have a huge bush area, but we do have some lovely big trees, and a vegetable garden. I thought I might get the kids to bring a change of clothes on a Monday and keep at school all week so we don't have to worry about getting school clothes dirty. I can easily take home and wash if needs be.

I love this idea.  If anyone else is starting to think about getting into play, allotting a scheduled time each week is a really good way to do it.  In fact it is what we did when we first started out.

What I would do here is take away any teacher led activities and just let them be outside the first. time....if you have access to any open ended 'junk' items, put these out.  Blankets etc are great.  Our children love dress up (adult clothes and shoes from the op shop are great) Take photos each time and have a discussion time after/before each session and reflect on these photos and the play that is going on.  It will generate more ideas for children.  Let them decide what they want to do can lead a little through questioning, but do it after you've watched what they do.  If you take photos of what they notice, then that is a great opportunity for further discussion.  The video of the learning journal in the above question may be helpful, I am thinking you could have a whole scrapbook dedicated to your outside classroom.  Children are likely to have the idea of planting/tending to a garden...just go with it and provide them the items they might need.  The music is a great idea and maybe some P.E equipment initially for those that struggle to self-direct their own play initially.  

This video may help you give you an idea of what I mean.  Because our children are allowed outside all of the time in their week they don't tend to get the hammers and spades out at this time, but tools are also an option to provide your children with.

Something else worth trying if you can is to link up with an older class.  Every class in our school has a tuakana/teina class.  We have two as we get quite big.  Our Year 6 children LOVE this time and enjoy the junk bits and pieces even more than ours at times.  Once you are settled into your outdoor class, you may like to see if a senior class will buddy up with you.

3 )Single cell intermediate classroom, is it possible for play based learning to exist?

Yes absolutely.  But we have to remember that play looks different at different ages and stages.  There will still be children in this age group that developmentally need the same play as our Year 1-2 children.  Trauma effected children, or children with attachment disorder will need the opportunity to play in a way that allows them to feel safe and provides for their emotional and social needs.  What most surprised us about our older children is their love of items we thought were to 'babyish' for them.  Items like dress ups (particularly adult clothes, not themed dress ups) are very popular with our older boys.   Dolls and construction items like lego, mobilo, blocks etc are also really popular. Here are some ideas of what I would do...but first make sure your class culture allows this to happen (you need one of acceptance, respect, empathy and this needs to come first so that children are not teased for their choices.)

*Have an hour or two where you just provide them with loads of various items....junk, bits and pieces, art equipment,  tools, wood, dolls, dress ups, construction items - let them go for it and see what they do.  Based on what they do, you could provide more of that. Potion making also works at this age, they love making all sorts of gloop.  Taking photos and compiling a scrapbook of what they get up to will motivate further exploration and be great for discussion.  Older children (like their younger counterparts) also love small collections, tiny toys like Sylvanian families and other items are super popular.

*Process art - art is a fabulous vehicle for play....pop out some art equipment, perhaps provide them with some ideas and let them go for it.

*Challenges - open ended challenges (what can you make with this bunch of stuff?). Great for team work and for taking photos for reflection.

*Mantle of the Expert - this is a playful dramatic approach to teaching and well worth looking into.

*Not exactly play, but something else that works well is learn a skill, teach a skill.  Children take turns teaching a skill they have to the others, they bring all of the equipment they need and run the whole session, this also provides great motivation for further play.

- where possible, whatever you do, don't plan for it, provide for it and reflect on what has happened later.

4) Tracking individual learning for a NE Y1 age group that is driven by the children and without being competitive?

We have done a huge amount of work in this area over the last few years.  There are some key factors that need to be in place for this to happen.  

Firstly anything that is done needs to be developmentally appropriate.

Secondly, new entrant assessments on entry need to go.  Six week assessments need to go and ideally six year nets also need to go as a standardised assessment.  

Ideally reading recovery also needs to go.

Everything we do is individual and that is the key.  It is based on individual need and progress, there is no standard rate of achievement and children are allowed to progress at their own rate.  This allows us not to age and stage is just all up to the individual need.

The key to what we do are these goals:

We have these handouts to go with the goals that are changed and modified over time.  Shared with parents via seesaw as relevant to the individual child.

At each step parents receive information on their child's goal, sometimes a video to demonstrate how to help (if needed) and then feedback along the way via seesaw according to how their child is going.  

We check in with children once a fortnight on their goal so that they are actively involved in the process.

In terms of number, we check in once or twice a term with children in terms of their knowledge and again feed back to parents on where they are at and their next steps.  Again we may send home a video to demonstrate how they can help, particularly if we notice children having difficulty with subitizing. (recognising the whole.)

All of the information we glean, based on goals, or what we see in the classroom is recorded in their individual learning journal (scrapbook) so that progress can be celebrated over time.

These diagrams I have created over time, guide our practice with children.

5) Do you do standardised assessment? Do you take reading and maths groups? What does a typical day look like? What do the parents think / say?

Also the answer to the question above may also be helpful to show you what we do.  

We only use assessment if it is useful.   

We only teach reading as children are ready developmentally and according to the goals in the question above.  We read individually with children when they are ready, using decodable books and a structured literacy approach.  We share progress with parents via seesaw and other ideas of how they can help...sometimes videos to show them how they can help.

Maths is whole class through my Number Agent approach.  Mixed ability problem solving and hands on materials based learning.  Children also explore concepts on their own through play.

No day is really the same, but we do have a bit of a rhythm to our day.

*Children start with inside play for 10-15 minutes to settle.
*About 9.15 we have a class meeting time, share our intention, talk about what's on top and what we are planning as our big ideas for the day.  We may look at our learning journal and reflect on any learning that has gone on the day before etc.
*About 9.30 children play, in our outside.
Between this time and 11am we may come to the mat once or twice to explore a social emotional concept, reflect on play or conduct a phonics session...just depends on our focus ares for the week.

Also during this time we will be observing and then also working with individuals either on developmental goals or reading.

A bit of a last word that I made for another group of principals that I think sums up what we need to do if we really want to have a pedagogy of play...please feel free to contact me if you have any other questions, through my facebook page or at we also welcome visitors to our Whangarei school if you are up our way or want to make a trip to see us.

After morning tea 11.20 - we generally have number agency for 30 -35 minutes, then play.

After lunch at 1.30 we generally follow the same rhythm as they morning.

Parents are very supportive of play.  We have been on this journey for six years now, our first cohort of full time 'players' have just left the school.  Initially we shared a lot of research and showed off the learning in the play through seesaw etc.  Now families are aware of our pedagogy when they come to our school and many enrol because of it.'

It is not all cupcakes and rainbows, but it is very worthy work!

Saturday, 9 January 2021

What I Have Learned About Play

 The past six or so years for me has been a massive journey and I thought it was time that I put down in a blog some of the most important things I have learned.  Hopefully this will be helpful to those starting out on their journey.  

So what have I learned?


Everyone has different ideas and understandings and this really gets in the way of people starting out.  The jargon really gets in the way of teachers bringing play to their classroom.  I find the purists of play can in fact put people right off even trying, they just make everything sound too hard!

To clear this up, using games to teach maths and allowing children some input into how the game is played, is a playful mode of working.  But it is not play.  

Allowing children a choice of activities that are hands on or invitational is a playful way of working, but it is not play.

Putting the jigsaws and blocks out as a activity to do 'after the work' is a playful option, but it is not play.

Number Agents is based on a playful mode of working, but it is not play.

Play-based learning, learning through play, whatever you want to call it has to be based on the fact that it is un-adulterated.  Children have freedom to play how and where they want (to a degree that is safe in your environment) with what they want and they have freedom to quit.  Student Agency in play comes from children having full control over their play.  They are not choosing from activities, but making up the activities themselves and doing this for extended periods of time. 

A class genuinely based on authentic play that will really allow children to get the social, emotional and cognitive benefits that it has to offer is controlled by the children themselves, not by the adult.

You can not plan for play.  If we are to honour the individual through play, we can not then prescribe what will happen, before it even happens.  This is where backward planning comes in.

We don't have a timetable, just a list of items we would like to get to in the day.  These are based on the priorities we set for the term.  At the end of the day, we record what we actually did,

This blog post on backward planning is old, but it still gives you an idea of what this looks like and if planning is your question, then it is worth the read.

Don't try to do too much, decide on an approach that covers all the bases you need and go with that.  The beauty of play is lost on someone too busy to witness it.

Play is not mutually exclusive of other areas of learning, such as reading, writing and maths.  Some would have you believe that you specifically teach these things then you are not truly embracing play.  I believe this is hogwash.  I believe it is possible to shape a classroom on what honours the individual and their needs while honouring authentic play.  I believe that the building blocks of literacy and numeracy that need to be explicitly taught, what is important, is that we are engaging in a developmentally appropriate way.  In our class number sense (taught through agency as a whole group) and structured literacy are a vital part of what we do.  The majority of what is taught in our classroom is individual when it comes early reading, but we explicitly follow these goals to ensure we are using a developmentally appropriate approach.  This is a big area and requires its own blog post entirely.    What we need to remember is this, some children will pick up many concepts independently through play, in fact many children will learn the basics of reading and writing all on their own in a rich environment, but there are some children, who without specific teaching, will not do this, and we as educators have to be mindful of this.

Children don't need us hovering.  In fact, their play is much more rich when we are not close by.  Just because we didn't see it, does not undermine the richness of the learning that has taken place.  If there is one thing I have learned it is that we must trust children.  I have also learned that I can tune in to children's play without disturbing them and I do not need to be 'extending' the play by engaging in their discussions.  There is so much I can learn, by just listening in for a moment, or for observing for a short time.  I can take this learning back to class reflections to discuss further, but children do not need me to 'extend' them, they do that all by themselves.

Social and Emotional learning and teaching is the most important thing we can do.  It is important we weave strong aspects of this learning into our day and that we allow children extending time to play so they can practice these skills.  As teachers we should not be intervening in their arguments either.  This is where they learn to explore the perspectives of others, to compromise and negotiate.  We need to just stay out of it and know if and when we need to intervene to coach further.
We weave learning into our day through short animations, songs, books etc that we can discuss further as a class. 

If you are starting out, start slow.  Allow children a 'chunk' of the day to play without intervention and just observe.  Even if you have 30-40 minutes a day to start out that is better than nothing.  

Don't spend the earth on materials.  Children love a variety of bits and pieces to generate their own play.  Junk is a child's treasure and open ended items allow them to imagine and create their own worlds.  If it is possible to set up a junk shed that they whole school can use, this is a great way for everyone to see the power of play.  This was one of the ways we started our journey.  

Children need to play outside.  If you have an outside area that can be available for play, make use of it.  Our children play in and out during our play-based times and enjoy the flexibility to use the spaces as they wish.

Some children who have endured trauma, or have specific needs such as ADHD may require more input than others.  Children that struggle with regulation may feel stressed by an environment where there are limited boundaries.  They will struggle a little with the total freedom and this may result in behaviours that hurt or disturb others.   This blog post explores this and is a good read for those that have a class of children that play seems to have 'not worked' for.  

You don't need to know everything before you start.  The children will teach you and as you explore play more as a mode of working, questions will arise.  That is how our journey has gone, we leapt in and over time have come up against queries or conundrums that have led us to find out more.  

You don't know what you don't know, but you won't know that you don't know until till you try!

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Worksheet free zone!

 My son recently completed a math 'test' was easy he said, but with forty questions to be completed in an hour, not achievable.  The results of this test will hardly be evidence of his understanding and perhaps evidence of his understanding would have better been gleaned by talking to him.  That is how I feel about worksheets!

I frequently hear of people that struggle to teach maths and are after the next great worksheet to guide their teaching.  Or the next manual, or workbook...put very simply and in my humble opinion, this is not teaching maths.

If I was to get rid of one thing from classrooms it would be worksheets.  They are used far too often, without real purpose and have limited cognitive impact.  In fact just navigating a worksheet for some children is more of an issue than the maths itself.

I yes I hear the wail from the corner...

"My children love worksheets, they are great for reinforcement."

 In some cases yes this may be true, for some children, worksheets may provide some practice that backs up the repeated teaching they have been having, but only if that repeated teaching has involved the quality use of materials, before it is hurriedly rushed to the abstract. 

 It is also a very real factor that some children love worksheets, but it is not likely to be those children we are aiming to help, it is likely to be the children already proficient in the skill, that don't need the reinforcement anyway.  It is also likely to include the safe-sitters that love to sit within the safe boundaries of a worksheets, rather than extending or challenging themselves.  They think of maths as a comfortable set of facts, and this is not the message we want to be sending.

So what is it we should be doing instead?

Well put pretty simply, we should be allowing children to experience a wide range of materials that they can manipulate and 'see' visually to allow them to deeply understand what they are doing.  Children deserve the right to use materials and explore maths visually before it is ever taken to the abstract.  They deserve the right to solve problems and form their own understandings based on the use of these materials, to make connections and establish patterns.  In my opinion we take children far too quickly to the abstract and should be using quality materials long past primary school.

Maths is a creative area of learning that is all around us and effects everything we do.  It should never be constrained to a list of facts on a worksheet.  In fact just like in other areas of learning children deserve to hypothesise together about maths and the patterns around them, investigate and make connections together, not on their own.  They deserve the right to use equipment to solve difficult problems and the time to do so, in fact problems can stretch over a week or two, or even more, being constantly built on with connections shared and debated.  

Children deserve the right to revisit concepts in various ways, to see maths as an open area of learning, rather than an area where the fastest to complete the worksheet with a set of answers that can be found in the back of the book is the 'winner.'  They deserve the right to understand that those answers can be expressed in various ways, lastly and probably most importantly they deserve the right to talk about maths and what they notice, to share their understandings and listen to the understandings of others.

Children deserve the right to develop a deep sense of number and they can not do that through a worksheet.  

If teachers are wanting follow up activities, why not have children set the problems for each other to complete, now that shows a real depth of understanding.

Maths is beautiful, I was never given that gift at school.  I was afraid of maths, scared of being wrong, always cheated with the answers in the back of the book and never understood how any of the equipment linked because I was taken to the abstract too fast and could not see the link.  In fact the very ironic thing is I was top in my multiplication tables...I however had no idea how to use them, or what they meant.

As a teacher I now understand what a creative, exciting area of learning maths is and I want to continually give this gift to the children I teach.

(NB - Please note, I am not saying that after lots and lots of rich teaching and learning a follow up paper task may not be useful it if it is a quality one, and strongly linked to what is being done, but I encourage you to always think about the usefulness of the activities you are presenting to children.  If are using them as a time filler or a busy activity...just don't!)

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Update - where are we up to in our literacy journey

 I felt it was a good idea to just put down on the page where we are currently up to in our play-based space with literacy development.

I feel like I have learned so much in the last two years, but particularly in the last year regarding literacy acquisition.

If you have followed my blog you will know that we have been on a journey with reading.  Embracing decodable books and individual reading a few years ago now.  The use of decodable books came about after a search for books that would cater for year 4 boys and their 'lower levels' but also inspire them to read.  To do that we discovered project x code by Oxford and we have not looked back!  

Project X made a real difference!  You can find them and the superhero series along with Alien adventures through:

Edify Ltd
Fiona van der Hor -

We use the Superhero series and the Alien adventures in our class along with the Little Learners from Liz Kane Literacy.

Decodable's are not cheap though, but we have topped up our supplies through SMART KIDS with some other titles.  I am really looking forward to the Ministry books soon to come out, however I am worried that they are not fully decodable.

You can read more about the beginnings of my journey in past blog posts.

Due to the success of Project X we introduced decodable books into new entrant room and since have worked hard to raise the money to spread these throughout the school.  I love decodable books so much, I wouldn't use anything else!

This was the video that really propelled me forward to find out more, to deeply understand how the brain really learns to read.

It is important to understand though that this is still done within a framework of developmentally appropriate teaching and play.  Children still work through developmental goals, but after working memory, we have woven a much more robust process around phonological and phonetic understandings (alphabetic principle.)

This has really come about because of my interest in how children actually learn to read and what I can  do as a classroom teacher for those that seem to have further barriers.  Work on phonological understandings has allowed me to develop simple interventions early if there appears to be something more going on for the child.  The individualised, fluid nature of our class allows me to do this.

So our developmental goal sheet (up to year 3) looks like this now:

As you can see this is informed by the code, if you are interested in this you can find out more at it truly is transforming practice across our whole school.

I am passionate about learning more about dyslexia and have always had the understanding that what we do for dyslexic children benefits all, however my past understandings around what dyslexia is and isn't have been skewed.  My past perception of dyslexia was that it was a visual problem and children would present with reversals and talk about the print bouncing off the page.

In fact, dyslexia is not about that at all and I urge you to follow Learning Matters if you want to find out more.

Through using the code (and we have only scratched the surface) I am able to embed  practice that benefits the whole class, and am developing my skills to work explicitly with individuals on exactly what it is that they need.  I feel like I really understand the process.

Decodable books have been a god send for us.  Each book builds on the last and allows me to systematically teach next steps.  Children are actually reading, not guessing and feeling empowered in doing so.  

The link to spelling has also been a lightbulb moment for me, understanding that encoding and decoding are intricately linked is vitally important.  I realised I had been allowing children to 'invent' spelling too long, without teaching specific spelling patterns that they needed to know before forming bad habits.  

Reading sessions with children are now catering for multi-sensory needs and linked to not only building and manipulating words, but also spelling sounds.  

I work on the principal of I do, we do, you do.  Lots of practice, lots of revisiting.

There is so much out there in terms of developing further that I admit to feeling quite overwhelmed at times, but I am so happy with the journey that we are on, and feel so much more confident in sharing next steps with our parents that are actually research based.

We don't do six year nets and we don't do reading recovery we have not had reading recovery for many years now.  These two approaches simply don't work for everyone.  We do use our developmental goals for next steps and reporting and we do use the code to support our next steps with reading.  We do use programmes like Stepsweb to benefit our year 3 and 4 learners who need extra support and we do use Nessie reading if needed as well.  We do use project x code which is decodable and we are spreading decodable books throughout the school.  We do communicate regularly with parents on next step goals that can directly assist progress and we are sharing information on how children learn to read with parents.  As a staff we want to be able to proficient enough with the Science of reading to ensure we are meeting the needs of our children in class, not relying on one to one interventions further down the track.  Our goal is to all have awareness that something is not right, early on.  We want to have a depth of understanding that allows us to gather useful information on that specific child and any barriers they have.  We want a culture that accepts dyslexia exists and a culture that understands that what we do for dyslexic children, benefits all.  We want to have empathy for these needs and be able to take informed action based on identified strengths.  Using seesaw we aim to ensure communication is clear and useful.  I am working on making videos for parents of myself working with their child, so they specifically know how they can help in easy bite size amounts.  

There is so much out there but...

Here are some go to videos that have really shaped my practice recently:

These are amazing!

The simple view of reading...a must watch!

And two must watch videos on orthographic mapping that started our whole staff thinking!

I know I have so much more to learn...but an excited to do so!