Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Writing in the early years - what should we be trying to achieve?

Inspired by this ...have a listen, it is very interesting.

Writing...a complex way to communicate with many pieces to the puzzle that I think often go overlooked.  I have previously shared some ideas on writing that can be linked to here.

What I wanted to think about today, for myself, as much as anyone reading this, is the parts of the jigsaw that have to be in place for a child to become successful at communicating in the written form.  Too often I think writing is thought of as this stand alone area, taught in isolation and without purpose. 

Firstly let me say this, children learn best through play, it is my belief that particularly in Year 1 - 2 their experience of school should be through play.  The most important part of learning for these children is social and emotional, if we fail to get this right, we can be part of creating huge problems later on.   We only have to look at our depressing stats around mental health in young people to know that something is going wrong.  Should we accept complete responsibility for that, of course not, but by placing stress on a child from a young age to do something their brain is not capable of doing yet, we are contributing to those statistics, as confronting as that may be, it is the truth. 

Have we done it knowingly, of course not.  Do we know better now?  Yes, so it is time to stop and it is time to put the overwhelming research into practice, because to not do so would be completely ignorant. 
If that means ignoring ERO, ignoring our Education Ministry, so be is the children that matter, and we are the ones who have the power to make a difference for them.

 From Year 3 onwards play continues to be very important, but if we can get it right in the first couple of years, we have done a huge service to the child and their later development as a well rounded, happy, secure person.

I've blogged about literacy development before.  That post can be found here, and many of my previous posts talk about my what I think about developmental readiness.  My diagrams on brain development in the classroom and literacy development are very relevant to this post.

Today I wanted to  blog specifically about writing...however as we know, writing is a broad term and it is all about communication.  Children don't learn to write in isolation and the teaching of writing can can attempt to do just that! Writing is far more than just the mechanics and the product.

Writing is not something that exists as abstract genres, which we teach on rotation, writing is about having a message, something to say.  Many write for pleasure and others write for purpose, some write for both.  When was the last time you sat down and decided it was time you wrote an instructional text.  Children will develop an understanding of different types of writing, not because we spend three weeks focusing on it, but because for  for the message they need to convey, this type of writing is necessary.  When it is necessary, when they are interested, then they will learn about it and be receptive to us teaching them more.

Ultimately "writing is the painting of the voice" - Voltaire

The thought that in many new entrant rooms across our country, children are forced to write from day one (and yes I also was guilty of this) makes me incredibly sad.  These children sit in classrooms, where they are not yet able to speak clearly, yet they are expected to write a message, to learn their name, to even have an understanding of what they are being required to do.  It all seems so absurd to me now that I've travelled this path into play.

There is nothing wrong with invitations to write, experiences based around storytelling, but the expectation that all children at five will magically walk in the door ready to sit and spend an extended time recording a message is quite ridiculous.  We sit down as a class, we talk about messages, we storytell, we expose children to a wide variety of rich and wonderful language through play, but when it comes to actually writing, if they are not ready, they are not ready and no amount of the teacher requiring them to write will make them ready.  In fact it will put them off and later on, they will become our reluctant writers.  As Nathan Wallis says, all they learn from being pushed into this learning is that they can't do it and therefore they are dumb.

And so to go with the diagrams above, what do I think are the crucial parts of the jigsaw puzzle to get children started out as writers when they are ready.  These are my thoughts.

I have shared this before, but it is a really useful tool for 'assessing' the product so that we can better engage developmentally.  Children will make marks during play in a variety of ways and this little assessment can be used to assess anything they produce through doesn't have to be a piece of writing on paper and it doesn't need to happen inside four walls of a classroom.

It is our job as teachers of the youngest learners to know that we do them no favours by foisting the mechanics of writing on them before they are developmentally ready.  However we can assist them by slowly putting the jigsaw puzzle together so that writing becomes a natural and enjoyable process that has everyday purpose in their lives. 

Play is the way and the sooner we realise that, the better off we all will be.  Play has purpose, through purpose comes authentic learning and learner voice and from there everything falls into place!

How would you feel if you were forced to write and you had nothing to say?

Friday, 28 December 2018

Invitations, Provocations and Backward Planning

Last year my primary inquiry was around provocations, I wanted to work on the way I used these in my class to deepen the play and discovery. What I discovered quite quickly is that first I actually needed to understand what a provocation is.

My understanding going into 2018 was that an invitation was specific, it invited children to play/discover in a specific way. A provocation was open ended, it allowed children to interact with a set provocation however their fancy took them.
After trying to set a few provocations, I quickly discovered that perhaps my definition was flawed and the way I was attempting to provoke simply wasn't going to work in the way I wanted to. What I discovered is encapsulated in the statement below.

Once you have taken the time to observe and reflect, it’s time to act on your thinking. After observation and reflection, you will be deciding whether you want to plan a response or if you need to find out more. One way to make that decision is to provide a provocation or a set of invitations for the children and then watch for the response (Stacey, Emergent Curriculum, 2009).

Although my provocations were well intended I wasn't actually tuning into the play to create them. I wasn't using them as a process of noticing, reflecting, recognising and responding, I was just setting what I thought were lovely provocations, but they held little interest for the children because that wasn't where their play was taking them. I was seeing fabulous things online and thinking I could recreate these in my classroom, the truth is, if it hadn't come from the children, it wasn't actually worth doing, no matter how interesting I thought it was the children simply were not interested.

Quite logically this discovery around provocations led me to further develop my understandings around planning, which I had been struggling with a little. Backward planning was born.

Before I go further I want to attempt to offer my definition of invitation and provocation as I find the are often offered up as the same thing and used interchangeably.

From various readings I like the idea that the environment we provide is an invitation. An invitation into play. For me an invitation is not based on anything I have noticed in the play and am therefore responding to, an invitation is based on what I know about the children, the age group, the way they like to play and designed to invite further play. To encourage curiosity, discovery, wonderings, various types of play, that may then reveal (or not) further interests and urges that I may be able to provoke further. The teacher may then choose to use the play and interests they see as a result to provoke further. This might be a simple "what if" could even be as basic as simple action or movement, a change in body language, an inclination, or as deliberate as a conversation.

When I think of invitations I think of intention. There is an intention by providing the invitation to inspire/encourage play in a certain way. I often use these specifically for writing, with the best example being our Spider Sabrina, who started out as just a web on the wall (pictured below), it was the children themselves that decided it was a web...if they had not done this, it would have evolved into something else this 'web' did eventually include a spider that would send us messages. The messages were my intention, but it was the children that allowed me to do this by sharing their knowledge of the book Charlotte's Web.

My intention here was to encourage talk, to provide a bit of magic that may or may not evoke a response from the children. The great interest in Sabrina, led me to do some provocation around spiders, which then evolved into insects and other living creatures. Had the children not at all been interested in the spider, I would have left it at that.

I really like this article around provocations and invitations.

The point I have got to with understanding invitations and provocations is to think of invitations as a way to spark play. As a teacher we then notice the interests being sparked from this invitation and provoke further, perhaps by providing several different invitations around this same interest. For me an invitation would only evolve further to guide further provocation if the children show interest or reveal to me certain understandings or questions. I will continue to provide provocations through photo, video, discussion, simple questioning, play, specific invitations until that interest dries up...we will then move on.  This may be the length of a day, a week, or even over a month.  Sometimes the interest may be fleeting and come to an end within an hour.

Within any classroom there may of course be several different provocations going on at once and this is the balancing act of the teacher. When to provoke further, and when to just leave them to it.

I like one teachers definition, taking straight from the article.

“an invitation is the spark, a provocation fans the fire”.

These quotes that resonate with me.

The materials we choose to bring into our classrooms reveal the choices we have made about knowledge and what we think is important to know. How children are invited to use the materials indicates the role they shall have in their learning. Materials are the text of early childhood classrooms. Unlike books filled with facts and printed with words, materials are more like outlines. They offer openings and pathways by and through which children may enter the world of knowledge. Materials become the tools with which children give form to and express their understanding of the world and the meanings they have constructed” (Cuffaro, Experimenting with the World, 1995).

Teachers endeavour to continually provoke children’s natural propensities to search for meanings, to pose questions of themselves and others, and to interpret the phenomena of their own lives. (Cooper, The Hundred Languages of Children, 2012).

So plain and simply a provocation comes from the children, it is part of the cycle of noticing, reflecting, recognising and responding. It will morph and change as guided by the children and within any classroom there is clearly an agreement between the adults and children that this is something we want to discover and learn more about.

From that understanding, backward planning was born. This year I had the courage to completely ditch any forward planning, other than my ingredients of play (you will need to click on the photo to enlarge.) That includes any timetable. Guided by the week before and my plan below I would set priorities for the week, but when and how these happened were fluid.

I would then, in my teaching/learning scrapbook keep a mind map of where the learning actually went. Tuning into interests, recognising the learning, noting these down and responding as was appropriate. Writing down what we had done, after we had done it. Usually the mind map is in handwritten scrawl, but this one below is neat and tidy so you can see what I mean.

To go along with this, we keep a class scrapbook where we document our learning in photos, captions, drawings etc. This is a document I refer back to constantly throughout the day.

We also share our learning on seesaw, so there is loads of documentation of the learning.

What I really want to try in 2019 is creating a mind map for each child. Having their name or photo in the middle and then documenting their interests, urges, social emotional learning and other areas of learning around the outside. I think this will create a very real and valid picture of the child as an individual and be a great discussion starter with whānau.

So as I end this blog post, I still feel a little vague on invitations vs provocations, but have come to terms that it doesn't really matter.

Very loosely and not assuming to be correct I offer this definition:

Invitations are the environment we provide, what we choose to put in this environment and provocations are what we do based on the interests and urges we see through children playing in that environment.

What I am clear on is this...nothing I do in the environment should ever say that there is one way to play with or interact with this invitation, it is not my job to tell, it is my job to notice, reflect, recognise and respond. To allow learning to be a mutual agreement between the children as peers and with myself, to truly allow it to be a mutually beneficial journey with no prescribed destination but lovely gorgeous places to explore along the way.

I hope everyone is enjoying their well deserved holidays!

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Reading - my discoveries this year

Reading in a classroom based on play has been one of my professional inquiries over the past few years.  This year, we have made a few tweaks here and there, but what has most dramatically changed, is my understanding of how the brain learns to read.

The seven minute video below is a good summary of what I have been working on this year, the understanding that the brain has to rewire itself for reading is crucial I believe for all teachers.  Key also is the fact that spoken language is integral to later success and that in reading the brain is always translating one letter at a time, even though it gets better and better at this with practice. 

Basically the brain is linking the visual, to the sound and initially this is a slow and very deliberate process.  Adding on here to what I know about brain development, it is a process that happens effectively and efficiently if we wait to engage with reading until a child is developmentally ready.

From my new understandings I developed this framework for literacy development in my class.

This diagram shows clearly how I guide the acquisition of reading skills long before we ever engage in formally 'teaching' children to read.

We have had enormous success with helping children to develop a readiness for reading this year, but it is really important to note that to do this, we must put our old teaching brain to the side as some of our children, even after a year at school are not yet formally reading with us, and that is absolutely appropriate for that child.  Hugely important to note here is that when children do start formally reading with us, they understand what they are doing, are interested and because of the strong emphasis on phonetic awareness, have the skills to be able to solve unknown words.  Given time and patience, they don't really need us at all.  We are free to help them develop strategies that will assist this process.

The more practice a child has at this, the faster their brain gets and then the more able we are to build from an excellent vocab to develop comprehension.  Kind, patient help at home becomes even more important...with the most important word here being 'patient.'

What has most changed is the way I interact with the reader, engaging with readers that are ready has allowed me to develop my own awareness of just how much of the work I was doing before.  When I cast my mind back to those emergent-red-yellow groups where I used to have my voice 'just' in front of children, like I was trained to do way back when....pausing to teach strategies etc, I realise that many children were little more than parroting me....later on, further up the school, they were more inclined to sit back and let someone else in the group solve the word for them.  Their brain wasn't doing what it needed to do to wire itself to read successfully.  I now let the child read, I wait, as long as it takes for them to solve the word, prompting with the stretching of sounds if really needed and re-reading the text just in case the sense has been lost.  We share the reading, in this process a few pages is hard work for the brain, I am quite happy to share the reading process.

What has worked well this year?

1) Decodable texts.  These were a breakthrough for us. We have been using books from Liz Kane Literacy.  They have been excellent at building strong foundations and developing independence in using the code.  They have also helped to build our own understandings of the teaching of phonics.  This led me to think about our older children with code issues and I found these books.  These have been breakthrough for us, children love them and wow they are just wonderful!  Engaging, intriguing, perfect!  We have now purchased a superhero series and an alien series in the project x range.  All decodable.  We have gone through to import these and they have been super helpful, I really recommend them!

2) Individual reading as an when children are ready.  We read one on one, twice a week with children, this has proved to be more than enough.

3) Shared reading of big books and chapter books.  Our current chapter book is Amelia Jane, comprehension has come along in leaps and bounds since I started routinely reading a chapter each day to them.  They can paint the picture in their head, comprehend what is happening and predict what will happen.  They laugh  at the story and the characters very much come alive for them.

4) Interest books, each day children spend time browsing books that interest them, there is no burden on them to be able to read it, but they get a huge amount of pleasure from sharing with their friends...oral language off the hook!

5)Rich discussion in a play based class has made such a wonderful different to vocab and comprehension.  Talking about my world, allows me to understand my world.

6) Not taking things for granted.  Occasionally in books children will encounter words that we think they should understand, but they actually don't.  Simply asking them 'do you know what that means...' allows us to feed in just in time vocab.

7)Telling - children work so hard to learn to read and write when they are ready and interested, if they ask me how to write something, or what a word says, I tell them.   I know that with the mindsets we are establishing, they will have tried hard to work it out before they come and ask me.

8) Developmental goals- the have continued to be very effective for us this year. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

Number Agents - Where the magic happens!

"If you are wondering where agency came came from my imagination and a wonderful childhood memory.  As a much younger sibling with older brothers I spent a lot of time playing on my own.  I invented worlds where I was the hero, defeating villains.  This world has stayed with me for all these years, I wanted to give that wonderful gift to the children in my class and so far it has been nothing but positive."

Well we have just concluded another year in agency, another year in this magnificent world of our imaginations, that just happens to be mathematical.  Agency has morphed and changed a little this year, as it does every year, it changes according to the needs of our children, and where their minds take it.  They fill in the gaps, like a pick a path book, we never quite know our destination, but there is real joy in the journey.  Every year I get more confident, I try new things, some work, some don't but I always learn something.

I have to admit, my children moved me to shed a slight tear this year, as their sadness at closing the portal and saying goodbye to this world that they truly adore, was hard to say the least.  A few really struggled and there were hugs all round...who would have thought maths could move us that way!

From the outside this world looks like it is about puppets, a fanciful, playful time, where completely out of my comfort zone at all times, I transform from character to character, turning each maths session into a narrative, through the beginning, weaving through tensions, coming to a big finish and ending happily ever after.

But is this world all about the puppets, not it isn't.  In fact, when I started out, the puppets were not even a glint in my eye, the villains were still images, that the children brought to life themselves through drama.  It worked just as well this way.  So what is it, about this world, about this approach that is just THAT special.  As the creator of this approach, even I am blown away by the effect it has on children and how they see themselves as learners.

Perhaps it would be useful here, just to reflect back on a year ago, where I was just as blown away, isn't it amazing that every year I can totally amaze myself all over again?

This is a blog post, written on the 1st of December 2017

Many of the ingredients from 2017 have just continued to grow in 2018.  The visual images once again played a huge role, as did the talk moves, very ably lead by Cowgirl Calculation.

In fact the more I just allow myself to embrace this way of teaching, to embrace play, the more able I have become to think like a child again, a lot of the most exciting things that happen in agency come to me right before they happen, just as they would if we were all just involved in dramatic play.

So what is it about this world that make it so successful, what are the key components?

1) The hooking in.  You can watch a bit more about this on my youtube channel, this stage is crucial as it allows children the time to really believe in this world.

2)The narrative...each session follows a common pattern, the entering into the world through an agreed ritual, the just in time learning with professor, the hands on or visual element, the great excitement when a client rings in with a problem, the added tension of the siren going off to signal a breach of the portal as a villain comes in to challenge us, the rush to work together to solve the problem, the fun in talking about our answers and the joy in defeating the villain with our solution, followed by the satisfaction of sorting out the clients problem, the ritual of ending.  All fitted into 40 - 50 minutes.

3) The emotional connection to the characters.  The need to do right by our clients, and the absolute urge to defeat our foes.

4) The added plot twists thrown in throughout the year, stolen brain gain, emergency recon missions, new villains, the kidnapping of professor or lead agent.  The suggestion of a plan or two in the wind.  The appearance of another portal, a recon agent gone rogue, a bomb planted...this is only limited by the imagination.

5) The fact that we are all on the same level, head agent is in charge, not us, we are simply a responsible team, recognised for our problem solving capabilities.  We are not alone, we are one of many teams around NZ and are very aware of the existence of other agencies.

6)The key...when we close agency, we all keep a key in our pocket, a key that can open the door again, this leaves the possibility there that we once again may be agents in some other form and that the world has not gone for good.

7) The is just that, fun!  It is playful, it is memorable!

8) The challenge...never easy, we have to work to grow our brains like a muscle, always needing to be one step ahead!

9) The relationships, perhaps the most important thing, the children love the goodies and the baddies...they truly care about them and respect them!  They actually listen far better to Cowgirl and Professor then they ever do to me out of role.

10)Most learning is done out loud through song, visually and with materials.  There is little burden on children to write and there is not a worksheet in sight!

11) Expert positioning, we are already experts, it feels good and children are much more inclined to have a go and take responsible risks when positioned in this way.

12) In the words of one of my children "the villains do what they say"  eg Subtraction Shark poses subtraction problems, Knight Adder adds, The Grouping Goblin groups...etc there is no great mystery.  Children quickly cotton on to these different functions and develop excellent strategies when allowed the scope to do so.

13) And as with most things in teaching, the real key is is your enthusiasm for this world that will really ignite the learning.  Like anything, if you are just going through the motions, hoping for this to work for you, it wont.

As an aside, mathematical results are awesome using this approach, but the biggest benefit is to mindset, no more maths anxiety in sight!  We have to remember that children are not data and childhood is not a learning difficulty.

I love teaching this way, the children love learning this way, and I can not wait until next year!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Some things I have learned so far.

This is our fourth year growing into play.  This is the richest journey I have ever been on in my professional career.  This journey has unfolded naturally without the need to be forced, time has allowed me the opportunity to reflect, respond and change as needed. 

My one concern at the moment is that with the growing popularity of play, teachers will jump on board, without a why, thinking they need to put everything in place at once, rushing in without taking the time to let the process guide them, and in turn finding the journey is not as successful as they believe it should be, in turn they will blame play and return to the old way of doing things.

I know and trust that my journey still has a lot to teach me, but wanted to share some of the things I have learned so far.

1) You have to have a why, a reason to start this whole journey, and it can't be because others are doing it and it seems like a good idea.  Our initial why was the limited oral language children were coming in with and the apparent rise of 'learning difficulties.'  Our why now has morphed into developmental readiness.  This why needs to be clearly evident when lovely people like ERO visit, if you are the best person to speak about that why, be part of that meeting, don't count on others to be able to articulate it for you.

2)Clearly have the bones of what you are trying to do in your head and on paper from the start.  What dispositions are you after?  Are you using elements of Te Whariki?  What are the values you want to develop?  How will you guide social and emotional skills?  These are the elements that will help to shape where you find your place in the programme.  Where and how will you take the opportunity to 'coach' these things?  What is it you want for your children?

3)Trust, this is crucial, you need to take time to develop trust in yourself and trust in the children, without trust, this approach will be quite restricted.

4)Learning, how does it look and how does it happen?  I have learned some much about the brain and how it develops.  It is crucial in a play based class that you are aware of developmental needs and how you can use these to engage with each child in your class.

5)Time, it is important not to try to change too much at once, take time with everything, it has been important for me that I have had time to reflect on what I am seeing and respond to these.  I have changed so much of what we do, but don't believe at any stage I have been wrong, I just didn't know better yet.

6)You can not run a class based on play and developmental needs and still hang on to the old way of forcing learning.  This needs to change.  A play-based/developmental approach is at cross purposes with a programme that forces academic learning and testing in the way it has been done in the past.

7)Children are individuals and need to be treated with respect given to their needs.  One of the gift a class based on play gives us is the opportunity to really see children, but we must allow us to take the time to do so.

8)The curriculum comes from the children, trust that it will.  In fact I have never discovered so much with my children, I don't plan for this, but it is up to me to notice it and work out a way to respond if appropriate.  It is up to me to see how the prescribed 'curriculum' has been falling out of our days, not the concern of the children who naturally see everything as connected.

9)Oral language is off the hook in a play based classroom, if you are looking for a way to improve confidence and ability to speak, play based is an absolutely perfect way to do this. 

10)Eventually there is a need to ditch weekly planning and the timetable, this will happen naturally and as if feels right.   Backward planning is where it is at.

11)  There is no need to spend loads of money on resources, in fact we have ended up ditching many of ours.  If you want to purchase items, take time to watch the interests and urges first.  Open ended items are the absolute best.

12) Mess is good, pack up at the end of the day.

13)Reading, writing and maths can still be part of your day, these just may look a little different.  For us we use storytelling for writing, number agents for maths and reading is individual if and when they are ready.

14) Get ready for that old teacher on your shoulder to have a field day every time you see the actual age of children and compare it to their so called reading level.  This voice will dim with time, but it will always be there.  Take it from me, progress will be there, but it will look different.  Measures of reading, writing and maths may be more relevant from Year 4 on.

15) Children will naturally deepen play, you don't need to do it.  There is no need for beautiful provocations, take time to provoke or invite when you are responding to an interest.

16) You may have wonderful ideas for a provocation, and the children may not take the bait...don't worry, just shelve that idea.

17)Children love a 'sense of a mysterious other' and it is a great way to provoke writing.  Use magic at every opportunity.

18) Every day won't be a wonderful leap through the daisies, this approach is hard work, I have never worked harder, I go home brain dead and some days wouldn't make the pages of facebook.  The great days outweigh the difficult ones. 

19) Eventually you will be able to ditch any rewards you have been using in a traditional classroom.  We have phased this out this year.  Children simply don't need them.

20) Allow yourself good chunks of time to reflect, honestly look at your programme, if something is not working, why isn't it...what can you change?

Play has transformed our classroom and continues to transform our school.  We have learned to see children from a point of competence, to see them as creative, imaginative and able...this lens has helped us to change the way we see children and in turn, change the way we interact with them.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Bringing in student voice

I promised a wee while back to share a bit about how student voice can be used to assist planning and a middle primary class.  Here it is:)

This is not my work, but is shared generously by a teacher from my school.  She has been on a journey with using student voice and from that journey play-based has been a natural path, this post however is just about how she uses student voice, taken straight from her planning with her permission.

Student Voice - Planning
Years 2, 3 & 4 class

This is the collaborative classroom culture and student voice approach that continues to grow and morph on my learning journey.  It is ever changing and evolving!  I have not specifically included play based learning, Mantle of the Expert, positive behaviour, etc.

Feeling confident enough to take responsible risks and knowing that your voice is heard, and it matters, is pretty powerful.  Inextricably linked to this is the ability to care for yourself, others and property.  Our focus in room 5 is that “we focus on caring, teaching and learning” (we have no other rules).  If there is caring, respect and trust can be formed, and kindness, empathy, valuing ourselves and others, and valuing property grows.  Imagine a class like this!  It makes for an exciting and happy year together!

Term one’s focus is on creating this culture.  This happens moment by moment, day by day - always consistent.  Through Play Based Learning others help others and time is given to encourage, coach, have fun and explore.  We take time to notice and reflect as our culture grows.  (I use Seesaw to capture moments to help us with this.)  This term I use to do a lot of observing and relationship building.  Important attachments for specific children are targeted (Joseph Driessen - BSc TTC MEdAdmin).

Student voice is powerful.  We work together every day.  I may lead in some areas but not all the time.  Planning is just one area where students voice is heard. In term one we create a skeletal framework for our weekly planning (which of course can change). During term one we make time to notice how we feel, at different times of the day to check when we generally feel the most ready to focus on our teaching and learning.  Morning is usually the best and so we plan our reading, writing and numeracy in the first one or two blocks.  All other things to do are planned around this (unless we need to change it for some reason).  Planning time is very short as we only focus on specific things we need to plan for the next week. (we plan on Friday). 

Please note:  The curriculum areas below are only skimmed over. They are not in-depth.   

Writing: Genre is usually chosen on Tuesday or during the week, as things unfold. Children put their ideas to the rest of the class and I may suggest a genre that we may not have covered for a while or if I think it would fit in well with what we have been doing.  Then we vote.  The most vote wins.  An example of student voice happened just before the end of term 3.  I was being observed by another teacher and thought a recount, narrative or something like that would be good, but the children had a different idea.  I had recently read, “One fish, Two fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” by Dr Seuss and they loved the idea of making up words and rhyming and they wanted to do that.  So after I put my case forward, we had a vote.  Guess who won?  So that day the teacher observed writing from a Dr Seuss perspective! 

Reading:  The children I get are all usually ready to learn and so I do group them.  The children who are at an independent reading age (including comprehension) are in the independent group.  These children choose what they study (within an area they collectively agree - say animals) and then present their learning to the class in whatever presentation they want.  They then become the teacher and the class (including me) become the learners.  Sometimes if a reading group is reading something that another child is interested in they come down and listen and join our group.  This is also where I may find ‘urges and intrigue’ that the class as a whole wants to find more about.  This is where I may leave reading groups for a day or so - or a week (except for those I need to target - with their permission) and we work together on gaining knowledge and understanding of this subject.

Numeracy:  The children rely on me most times to help to guide their next steps.  When I notice a common thread (say a lot of the numeracy detective groups are grouping numbers and counting in 5’s, I may say, “I have noticed that there are some of you counting in groups of 5’s.  That is what multiplication is (and then I would show them what they are doing).  Who would like to start learning about this operation?”  Children also inspire me with ideas about word problems we could use.  If children ask if we can do something else we discuss this together.

Children also ask me during the week to write in our planner for Friday something they want to teach the class.   Some things we have been taught are making a stone from aluminium, french knitting, slime and origami.  On Friday morning they present to the class what they would like to teach and show them an example.  If it is voted through we look at our plan for next week on the tv screen and decide where this can fit.  I have put in things that are going to happen that next week already so it saves time.  Children recheck each day and comment add or change.  Two copies are then made.  One for the children (that goes on the whiteboard by the Menu) and one for me.  I use my plan more in-depth.

Ronda Rowlands


I have been wonderfully impressed by the culture established in this class.  Children are a real mix of ages and abilities but they operate very much like a supportive family group.  I have been lucky enough to observe Ronda working on the timetable with her class on a Friday and it is a super collaborative process.  One thing is always evident, children want and choose to challenge themselves.  When given the choice they don't opt for the known or the easy, they opt for the challenge.  They understand their collective strengths and appreciate their differences.  They get a sense that they are all learners (including the teacher) and that they can all be teachers, how rewarding is that!  There is a real culture of trust and respect in this room that I think really has to be seen and understood.  Children are capable, they appreciate challenge and where they are placed in an environment that also appreciates their need to play and follow their own interests and urges, they flourish.  The reason we keep such a multi-level split in this area of the school is to allow us to provide for developmental readiness, it works incredibly well.

A huge thank you to Ronda for always inspiring me with her abilities as a teacher, her willingness to embrace change when it is for the good of our children, and for always putting children at the heart of what she does.  A caring, kind, giving individual who brings this into every corner of her classroom.

We must trust ourselves as professionals, we must be flexible, and we must give children the respect and trust that they deserve, at every stage retaining the beauty that is childhood.  #buildinghappybrains

Leslee Allen


Tuesday, 9 October 2018

The crucial role of attachment - for some children it is far more complicated!

I am not telling you anything new by saying relationships matter.  They matter more than anything else in the classroom, the relationship you have as a teacher with each one of those competent human beings in your room is crucial, what you say and do matters far more than what you teach.  Relationships are that important, they matter at each level of our system!

This is not rocket science, deep down as teachers we know this in our bones.  It is what makes teaching both so rewarding and so frustrating at the same time.

But I have never delved more deeply into the science of relationships and just how important they are until most of my staff went on a course about attachment theory with Joseph Driessen.

What they came back with from that day hit me like a truck and made so much sense that I sat up and wondered why I had never thought about it before.  It was like I had all the pieces of the puzzle, but was trying putting them together without any idea of what the picture needed to look like in the end. 

We have a strong focus on emotional learning at our place, developing social and emotional understandings through play, directly teaching empathy and kindness, and a push into valuing wellbeing over academic achievement.  It has become what we are about, who we are, our why.

I even identified emotional safety as the first priority in brain development and often talk about children 'reverting' or being unable to learn when they are feeling unsafe.  But I had not gone that one step further and explored attachment.  When I started reading about it, it made absolute sense to me. 

There have been so many children that befuddled me over the years, but once I looked at them through a different lens, attachment seemed to really make sense based on what I knew about them.

This is an interesting, yet short article that sheds some light on what I am talking about.

"Attachment theory is well known to professionals within health and social care, but is less understood by teachers. Teachers may misinterpret insecurely attached children’s behaviour as uncooperative, aggressive, demanding, impulsive, withdrawn, reactive or unpredictable. So it’s important for teachers to better understand this behaviour and some of its possible causes."

It is all so interesting to me, there are so many children who I have been puzzled by in my time, for all intents and purposes they show all of the ability to achieve, but often display odd, oppositional, disruptive, disconnected, negative behaviour.  For these children it never seems to matter how much you pour in in terms of extra support, and they certainly don't respond to consequences for behaviour, actually it often makes their behaviour worse.  I used to describe it as if they were putting up walls, protecting themselves, hurting us, before we could hurt them or let them down.  Low and behold I was pretty darn close with this definition.

This info is great, if not a little long, however so worth the read if you are struggling with children that just seem to be a puzzle.  

So what does this mean for us?

Well very simply it means continuing to focus on wellbeing and emotional learning as a school, but it also means working as a team to identify individuals that need us to be their attachment, supporting each other to be able to do this.   It means ensuring that we all learn about emotion coaching, and think at every step about how we interact with every child in our school.  It means helping children to understand and accept their emotions, and to know how to behave in these situations.

A very simple way we are trialling is just taking more time with a particular child we believe has issues around attachment and ensuring that every day we have had at least 3 or 4 positive interactions/conversations.

Trying to avoid the negative, we will be working on our understanding of emotional coaching and restorative practice.

Another simple way is teachers being able to keep children in their class for more than a year if they think they would benefit from this.  We all have them, the children that we struggle with for the first two to three terms and then suddenly, that connection happens, that attachment...and then we do it to them, we move them on and the teacher next year struggles in the same way we did.  At our place we are now nominating children that we think would benefit from a second year, taking to whånau and going from there.

The other strategy is to identify those children that we think are going to have difficulty attaching to a new teacher and taking deliberate opportunities for them to develop a relationship over term 4, this may mean swapping classes a few times in the term to give that teacher an opportunity to bond...or the new teacher making a real effort to interact with that child in the playground on a daily basis.

All so simple, but it could be groundbreaking for us.

Love this

I know it does not seem like rocket science, but if we are to put this understanding at the centre of everything we do, in every school, what a difference we could make.

Of course play-based learning and Mantle provides us with the perfect opportunity to promote wellbeing and attachment, another reason to embrace play-based learning!