Friday, 15 December 2017

Strategies to ensure everyone can participate

This is my last blog post of the year.  My last day of school is the 20th, so my brain has not quite signed off yet.  Before I take a break for the holidays I wanted to do a blog post that specifically addresses a question I often get....

How do you ensure all children can participate and are learning?

Firstly, let me start by saying that this was my burning question when I started maths PLD.  With the change to mixed ability groups and a problem solving focus I genuinely questioned how this process could be effective for those children that seemingly sit on the fringes and don't seem to be getting involved.

As I had already started using Number Agents, I simply moulded what I was currently doing around this new idea of teaching that I was being presented with.  I can tell you though that I entirely expected to discard these strategies once our PLD was over and go back to how I had always done things.

However as time went by I began to see the benefits, I began to see the progress and slowly come to realise that everyone was engaging at their own level,without me foisting on them knowledge that they were not ready for, just because I thought the should be.

So back to the question, how do I ensure all children can participate and are learning?

1)Mixed ability groups when problem solving.  I teach whole class through agency, or rather the professor does, but when it comes to problem solving, I use mixed ability.  Initially children do find this difficult, and it is important to give this time.  With certain scaffolds they do all begin to engage and share as they are able to.  Firstly when presented with the problem, we talk about it out loud, what is it asking us to do?  Children then have a go at solving this independently, but for those who struggle with this, we teach them two ways of working to start with, drawing the problem, or using materials.  These two ways of working help them to engage at a level appropriate to them.  When they have had a chance individually, they share as a group.  This can be difficult as you will always have your dominant ones, but the idea is to teach them how to explain their thinking through the talk moves.  They learn to challenge each other when they do not agree, and show each other the strategies that they have used.  It sometimes is hard to sit back at this stage, but they truly learn a lot from each other.  We are lucky enough to have two of us, so we do also roam and scaffold at this time.  I like to video certain strategies and use our apple tv to reflect on them.

2)Visual activities, or high ceiling/low floor problems.  I invented the three headed dragon this year to present problems that were a little more hands on and visual.  These problems saw children engage at their own level and they could all participate.  These problems were also a great opportunity to incorporate strand learning.

3) Dot talks and visual images.  These have been incredible for building number sense.  I have noticed an absolute change in understanding since we started concentrating on these regularly.

4) Agent talk moves.  This was an area I had huge doubt about when I started, but it turns out this is an area where I have had the most success.  Basically it is about creating a common language for sharing and questioning.  I teach children to say I think..because .  I agree... I disagree.... I would like to challenge you on that.  I like to video children explaining strategies and these are a great tool for reflection later.

5)Building mathematical language. One of the biggest hurdles for children that struggle is their mathematical language  In the classroom we often do not have a common language and this prevents children from accessing maths.  Establishing a common language through our villains and our secret files really helps.  Taking things slowly and ensuring everyone understands what is being asked of them is key.

6)Grouping and doubling.  These are skills that come later when you are working on numeracy stages, but I have found it very useful to introduce these concepts early on as it gives children a good solid strategy to fall back on.  We focused on doubling and halving...of course clearly ensuring children knew what was going on by using materials etc.  We also focused on dot talks and visual images that helped children to see things in groups, this led them nicely to the need to skip count and understand the purpose for this.  This worked so well I will introduce a grouping villain.

7)Slow down in the beginning.  Really spend time on the problem solving and ensure children understand the process, don't be in a hurry.

8) Repetition, come back to similar scenarios and problems in different ways again and again.  Come back to problems or visual images more than once, let them span several sessions if necessary.  Children will build on their understandings in this way.

9) My discovery this year is that children will develop knowledge as and where it is needed.  We do not need to be explicitly delivering this, the more authentic the problems and activities we are using, the more likely it is that the knowledge will just develop.  This seems simplistic, but I have found this to be very true.

My teachers pay teachers store includes many of the resources I have talked about in my posts this year.

I hope that my blog posts have been helpful this year.  I am no expert, I am certainly not a maths guru, but I have made discoveries that I like to share with others.  My passion is teaching and learning.

I will start posting again next year as I prepare for my new agency, just as I did this year, I will blog as I go, so you can follow my agency journey.  This may be useful to you if you are planning on setting up a new agency.

Friday, 8 December 2017

An open letter to me, the teacher of seven years ago...

Dear me of seven years ago,

Firstly, before I cause you offense, let me start by saying, you are a brilliant teacher, fun, caring and creative.  The children in your class are lucky to have you and are achieving remarkable results.

But what if I told you that what you are doing could be even better?
What if I told you that by doing this you would be happier and your children would beyond happy, happy is not really the right word, they will be content, secure, confident and open to new ideas?  What if I told you that by listening to me, your whole view of success for children would change, your whole definition of learning would change?

If I told you this, would you change what you are doing right now?

I'm not completely sure you are ready to listen to me, I mean why would you, there isn't a problem to solve, you run a safe, happy classroom and a safe happy school, children leave your school often working far beyond where they need to be academically, surely there is not a reason to change.

But just before you dismiss this letter, I ask you one thing, have you noticed anxiety on the rise?  Have you noticed a growing change in mental health...I know you have, so please read on.

 I am going to offer my advice even if you don't want it right now,  bet you are happy to read that hasn't changed.  In fact, I am happy to say that is part of my character that has truly developed....yes sorry, I have turned into quite the oversharer.

So let me leap right in, sit back, grab a coffee (hey might be a good idea to start laying off on that if you can) and be prepared to be challenged, confronted and probably, knowing you as well as I do, initially quite miffed.

I want you to think about maths first, you teach it well don't you?  So here is where I am going to get confronting, because actually, no you don't.  I'll let that statement settle for a moment, because I can already sense your blood boiling.

The way you teach maths currently is narrow, you see maths as subject rather than the language it truly is.  Maths is beautiful and needs to be taught in an authentic way.  Stop with the over developing of knowledge, thinking that this knowledge will help them later with their strategies.  Children are developing this knowledge, yes, but they have no idea of how to apply it.

At the moment you are showing them far too often that in maths there is always one answer.  This could not be any further from the truth.  You need to be allowing knowledge to be a necessity and to develop through authentic situations.

Open your mind to problem solving, open your mind to visual images, open your mind to math talk.  Look for the maths in the world around you, it is everywhere.

What is that I hear you say?  Your children won't be able to do that?  Maths talk is beyond them? Well I am happy to confirm that if you stick with it, they will be able to do it, and better than that, the maths language and understanding that will develop will blow your mind and really make a difference to those you see as 'struggling' right now.

 While I am on a roll, can I tell you to stop breaking maths down into narrow steps like somehow they develop their knowledge sequentially and in isolation....going over and over one part of the knowledge is not going to assist them to see where it fits.  They will see where it all fits if you present it to them visually and in creative ways and particularly allow them time to see it, over and over again in many different ways.

Stop teaching them in levelled groups, they learn so much from each other.
Stop using worksheets, they learn nothing from these.
Start using games that challenge them to develop number sense and while this may be a little threatening for now..,.perhaps you could consider whole class teaching?

Stop, just stop using that task board...if they need something to do while you are busy, let them play!

This one you might like...stop over the time you save in planning, work on your own professional understandings, I recommend you read up on number sense.  I really recommend the work of Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck, take time to read their books, allow the messages time to sink in...these two are very important to the teacher you will become.

This will seem very confronting to you, but stop segregating strand and number, maths is maths and children need to see how this all fits.
Spending three weeks on geometry, then three weeks on measurement is about as far away from real application of maths as it can get.
Start looking for maths in their play (yep I know you don't do that a lot yet, but that is the next part of this letter.)

Lastly on this point, but certainly not least...some children will never image by default....don't hold them back, for goodness sake let them use their fingers and give them time....stop implying through what they do that to be right, they need to be fast, this is damaging.  Oh and for goodness sake stop saying that you are not a maths person!!!  It is ok that you still use your fingers too!

Hey maybe you might even give some time to think about how you could come up with a completely different approach that will bring maths to life for these children?  I know you've got the creativity to make this happen....and when you do, don't forget to share it with others.

Ok, I know, I know, you are ready to virtually trash this letter and delete it permanently, but just take a few deep breaths, this letter is about to get even better and probably for you, even more confronting.

So, in terms of the children, have you noticed how much some of them struggle to sit still, how they are reluctant to write, and seem a little like robots completing your reading responses according to your set criteria?
Have you noticed that all their pictures look the same?
Have you noticed those poor children with limited fine motor skills, struggling away with their writing.
 Have you noticed how the struggle to take risks and hate to be wrong?
Have you noticed yourself rewarding children for complying with specific sets of behaviours?
Have you thought about how it feels for those that do not receive that big sticker on their work?  Have you thought about how much time you waste marking their writing?
Have you thought about how it makes them feel when you put your pen marks on their work?
Have you thought about how they feel when they have done they best and you correct it?
Have you thought about how many of the children seem to have difficulty getting started with learning?
Have you noticed that children struggle to use their initiative and wait for you to tell them what to do?
Have you noticed all those children with the urge to spin and roll and asked yourself why you redirect their behaviour?

I see a few of my questions have hit a nerve and caused you to pause.  Good.  I want you to confront what you are doing head on and ask why.

Go find out about the work of Nathan Wallis, think about the brains you are developing, and how this works in with what you should be doing.   Visit an ECE, watch the children learning, why does this learning look so different from what is happening in your classroom?

Just for a few days, let them play, yeah yeah I hear you say it.  No I don't mean choosing time, I mean play.
No direction from you, open the door, let them outside, watch them change before your very eyes over the week, over two weeks, over a month.
Look for the play in the learning, take photos of it, talk about it with them.
Listen to their interests.

 I challenge you to do this, sit down and reflect on what they have been doing, what you are noticing.  Start weaving self-directed play into every day and see how it slowly takes over so naturally.

Stop directing them, start relaxing, let them be children.  Don't keep them on the mat, forcing learning down their throat for lengths of time, let them go and watch them actively seek out their learning.

Trust me, it will be truly beautiful to watch them follow their urges.

While I am at it, and just before I sign off...I know you are exploring increasing devices in the room...don't.   Get rid of them, it will destroy their social skills.  In fact consider getting rid of all devices in the first few years, they simply don't need them.

Right if you have got this far, well done.  I write this letter out of absolute love of what I am doing now, and a deep regret that I didn't reach this place earlier, perhaps you can help me with that.

Kind regards,

The you of seven years from now xxoo

PS - I know National Standards are the bane of your life at the moment, and they will continue to be, but eventually they will be gone.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The power of the imagined

Anyone that has been reading my blog posts knows that I am a massive fan of Mantle of the Expert.  Website here for those interested in finding out more.

The thing I love about Mantle as it is play, drama and inquiry all rolled into one.  Our school have been using this approach for a while now and have had brilliant results. If you are looking to transform inquiry, this might be the answer for you.

Today Room One were part of four worlds in one...did it phase them....not one bit. 

First we were posed as party planners.  All I did to get them into this world was use the words "Is it ok if we imagine that we are a party planning company?"  The children of course say yes and off we went.  Straight into the drama and play of being the company approached to plan a party for the Number Agents.  Our company had various divisions and the children self-directed this process.  Some running workshops on creating paper cut outs, others teaching children to blow up balloons.  They were all completely engaged and the excitement and engagement was palpable. 

Once the room was all set up, we moved out of this company, simply by standing up, turning around once and sitting down.  I said to them that once they sat down they were part of a cleaning company.  A job came through to our i-pads, and we were given the job of cleaning up the party planners mess.

Once this was all over, children got changed into their 'flash clothes' and turned into Number Agents, who enjoyed getting their awards, presents, dancing and most importantly of course, food and drink.

The agents were chuffed that the Professor and Cowgirl came in to celebrate with them.  If there was ever any doubt in your mind about the power of this imagined world for children, the reaction to these characters and the smiles on faces would dispel these.  They believe in this world, it is authentic for them and so in turn their mathematical understandings are deep.  They are connected to this world and I bet it will be something they remember for a long time to come.  Professor and Cowgirl were like celebrity guests and the please for photos and high fives were absolutely heart warming.

What a brilliant day we had!  What a brilliant year we have had!

This video gives you a glimpse into our day.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Another year and it just keeps getting better

Wow, I find it hard to believe that I sit here reflecting on a full year of Number Agents, almost done and dusted (other than our office party.)

This year saw some changes in agency as I approached it as a full blown Mantle and added some bells and whistles.  The world has been so much better developed this year with puppets taking the role of villains and the Professor and Cowgirl Calculation taking a hero role to assist us in our development.  It is fun to look back at this post reflecting on two weeks in and see that I was already seeing these benefits at the beginning of the year.

I was also able to use drama a whole heap more and quickly found that children became confident taking the role of clients.  More recently they took an active part in communicating with our recon agent 556.  The more they became a part of the drama, the more they connected to agency.

Another change for me, from a teaching perspective, was to throw away a large degree of the overview planning I was doing and deeply focus on Number Sense and integrating strand through the problems and particularly the character of The Three Headed Colour Changing Dragon.  This video is  an example of one of the problems.

This is my Number Sense mind here

My planning became much more mind map based like this, and I found it to be very successful.

Another huge addition to Number Agency has been dot talks and other use of visual images.   The video below shows a dot talk, it is pretty basic, but I have been working hard to develop this skill over Term 3 and 4.  The images are examples of the type that I have been using.

I have found visual images to have made a remarkable difference to children's flexibility with number and ability to see groups in different ways.  Remarkably these visual images have really benefited children in terms of being able to understand the true meaning of the digit or numeral that they write down.  Number bonds that would previously been hard are now something that comes quite naturally.  Using these images has also had a huge impact on maths language and a great spin off into oral language capacity.

The other thing that has come out of visual images is an increased capacity for children to see groups and to start to develop the concept of 'groups of.'  I had not intended to extend agents into this type of thinking, but it happened naturally.  I became easier for them to see problems in this way and in turn skip counting etc began to make much more sense to them.  It has something I have just gone with, those that are ready, have run with it, those that are not, continue to use other strategies.

This spin off into grouping has seen me begin to think about a new villain to join agency...still working on the name.

A piece of knowledge I have found to be absolutely crucial to my agents is doubling and halving.  We have used this knowledge a lot in agency and I think it has been a huge factor in their increased flexibility with number.

We use this song frequently as a warm up.

When I was first introduced to Number Talks in 2016 I thought my five year olds would find this quite hard...I was very happy to be proved wrong.  They are now able to state what they notice, if they agree, if they disagree and able to challenge each other's thinking.

These number talks (or agent talks) as we often call them have been something that have truly strengthened their understandings.  We all know that talking about our learning and it has had the same effect for our agents.

Materials have continued to play a very important part in agency, I think materials are crucial in building number sense and think that we are far too quick to take them away.

I am overwhelmed by the success of agency this year and it has fitted seamlessly into our play-based environment which has also been another area of great positivity this year.  Loads of mathematics also comes out of this play-based environment.

Children make a strong emotional connection to agency.  This connection seems to ensure they are in a great mindset to make the most of everything they are learning.  They are open and eager to learn.  Mathematics is fun, they are successful, they absolutely love it.  The feedback from parents has been humbling, children step into the world of agency, and are immersed, they talk about it at home, they share what they are doing.  Although the world is imagined, it has great importance to them.

I can not wait to start again next year and look forward to some of this years agents helping our new agents to develop their understandings.  

At the moment the villains are in prison, but we know that Head Villain is clever and has threatened to escape and once again wreak havoc for our clients....I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.  I will once again share my journey right from the planning stage next year, for those starting out :)

I am so glad to have started this journey and this year to share it with others.   I hope that more people will try this way of delivering mathematics next year.  It truly is worth it.  I am happy to help out where I can and can be emailed at

Leslee Allen

Friday, 24 November 2017

Writing, what should we really be looking for?

Well I am sitting here amongst 23 learning journals trying to write reports.  With my annual reporting and strategic planning up on my computer screen that I am now officially half way through, as well as planning for 2018 and thinking about our upcoming planning day and Empty Classroom day.

However invading my mind over the last few days has been this blog post, rather than continue to push it to the side, I have decided to just get it out.

Writing, wow, there has been some real learning in this area for me this year.  Which in fact I didn't even realise until last week.  My complete perception of what a child that is ready to write has changed, in fact my thinking has done a complete flip.

I used to love it when children came in already able to write some words, letters and perhaps even put a basic "I went to..." story together.  In fact I would breathe a sigh of relief because I was confident that I could get those children to where I wanted them by the end of they year.  I now realise I had it all wrong.

What I have realised is that children that enter like this have been given a very prescribed view of what writing is about, they are simply regurgitating a pattern that they have been praised for over and over again and in fact have just learned they symbols of writing, but not really the whole point of writing.

Hopefully I am not losing you with my thinking here as I am well aware that my mind is in a number of different places.

These children then enter a classroom like mine used to be and are again rewarded for being able to regurgitate this pattern.  Their view of writing is narrow and somewhat robotic.  In fact what I have noticed is that they don't understand at all that their writing conveys a message that they actually want to write about, when they come to draw a picture, the picture often has nothing to do with what they have written.  Children that are taught this is what writing is all about are the ones that will struggle to take risks, to step out of a comfort zone and ultimately just be able to express themselves through the written word.  They also often need a 'topic' or idea to write about...and guess what in my old life I used to give it to them :)

So what is writing?  Ultimately is is a way of scribing my thoughts through a system of symbols that others understand and could also be spoken out loud. This is the key, spoken out loud.  Oral language and the ability to come up with a message is the unlocking of and whole purpose of writing.

What I have found this year is that children need to be allowed to go through the stages of writing, drawing pictures, talking, scribing symbols and eventually learning the code.  They need to be allowed to explore this within an environment that is rich in talk and experiences that they self-direct and are interested in.  Time to just record symbols and pictures is pressure to scribe words, no teacher marks.

Slowly this year I have watched children that came in unable to hold a pencil begin to understand the code and transition through the writing stages on their own, with very little intervention on my part.  They see it, they hear it, they talk it and so in the end the can write it.

These children, that didn't come in with a definition of what writing is, and already able to 'write' are my best writers, their ideas reflect their interests, they are not narrowed by a sentence structure that I have taught them....the write how the speak and it is gorgeous, they don't leave out details because they 'can't' write them down.

For me this learning has further reinforced the absolute need for play to be the core of our curriculum.  I am sure we have all had children in the past who have said "I have nothing to write about"....well you know what, not one child has said that this year in my play-based room....they have many messages they want to convey, all of the time and because they follow their urges, many ideas to write about.

Of course there are many other ingredients that go into this, as indicated on my play-based learning ingredients mind map that I have shared on here.

What do I now hope walks through my classroom door?

What I want is a child who wants to play and has no preconceived ideas of  what writing is....who has been talked to a lot and allowed to explore their own interests and curiosities, who has been allowed to play outside, to use their imagination and get messy, who has been allowed to develop according to their own needs and in their own time and comes to school with their happiness kete full. 

That's what I hope for....I can take it from there in my play-based room quite happily.

And what if their kete is not full....well I will endeavor to find ways to fill that too!

Monday, 20 November 2017

What I Love About Visual Images

Before this year, I had dabbled with the use of maths eyes and always used a lot of subitizing activities within my sessions.  I also used a lot of ten frame work and lots of similar patterns for ten shown in different way.  I also have a few numicon resources that I use from time to time.

Dice and cards have also always been a big part of my programme, and continue to be so.

This year I have really got stuck into number talks.  In particular dot talks and using a range of other visual images.

Dot talks have proved to be amazing and I am really impressed with how this approach has really assisted children to develop flexibility with number.  In particular it has really helped them with the concept that there is not only one way to see or do things and often not one 'right' answer.

A concept I have really been hammering lately is that a number can be expressed in different ways but mean the same thing e.g. 11 + 1 is the same as saying 6 + 6 etc.

I think dot talks has really assisted children to develop this understanding and I am really seeing a deep sense of number coming through.

This is an example of a dot talk.  I have yet to film a session with a different visual image.

This is an example of one of the dot talks I use.

Flexibility with number is definitely becoming a strength.

Number sense is also a real strength this year and many of these things mentioned on this mindmap are coming shining through.

Great flexibility with number.  Understanding that 12-10-1 was the same as saying 12-11=

Agents are really displaying a brilliant understanding of grouping thanks to dot talks and use of other visual images.  Grouping is coming quite naturally and seems like a logical next step when solving problems.  This little one has only had half a term at school, she already has a lovely awareness of number, so visual images have built on this pre-knowledge.

It is visual images that have surprised me the most.  I use a range of these.  Some are quite obscure and require a lot of talk about what agents notice, others are more obvious and agents can quickly start to see and explain groupings.  Below are an example of a couple of these images.  Both are equally useful in developing understandings.

Something I wasn't expecting is the change I would notice in agents after using images like this regularly, along with dot talks.  The change has been in their ability to explain, to have a go and to not worry about having the right answer as they quickly see that there may be many different ways to see and explain things.  

Some children who would quite likely have sat back in 'normal' maths sessions have shone and continue to do so, these are often your out of the box thinkers that may not have fitted into a traditional knowledge focused session.

The mixture of talk and the springboard of a visual image has transformed our agency and the agents in it.

What it!  This agent originally stated that there was 22 triangles.  Another agent challenged him and said that there were four triangles.  The built on each others understandings to come up with an answer they were both happy with.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Have we forgotten that children are still just children?

My journey into play based learning and my resulting learning (ongoing of course) about brain development has led me to this question.  In all our wisdom and push to provide for modern learners, have we forgotten that children are still just children?

We seem to be so desperate to jump on the next bandwagon, to shape our classrooms for the future, to teach these supposedly 'different' learners, who are so 'different' to how we were, in progressive ways.

There are businesses shaped around providing professional development and resources so we can provide for these supposed different learners....but what is it that has made them so different?

My thinking has now meandered to this point....children are no different to how we were....they are still just children....with the same developmental needs...the environment around them has shaped them in different ways, which leads them to engage or seek activities that are different to those we sought out, but is this necessarily a good thing, and is this benefiting anybody?

I think back to my childhood and it was of course very different.  I spent hour upon hour outside, riding bikes, horses, swimming in creeks, playing skipping games and elastics, using my imagination, climbing trees....just being a kid.  I had a social life, I frequently had friends over and didn't have a constant stream of after school actvities.  Back then very simple hand held devices were being introduced and I loved them, in fact just like children today, if my mother had allowed me to, I probably would have spent hours on these...but she didn't.  I also remember as a teen getting our first computer.  Basically all I used this for was learning basic code to make it do fun things....if it could of done more, I would have probably spent more time on it.  Of course the key here would have been, I wouldn't have been allowed to.

Children are still just like we were.  They spend time on devices because we allow it, probably not because it is their preference, but they are there, they are entertaining and intriguing...I would hasten to add probably a bit addictive and they have few other options.  Lives are busy, social lives have dwindled, outside play is a dying art.  Children need other children, whilst they can play alone, they enjoy the social nature of play...with friends they are much more likely to opt for the outdoors.

I have also had an interesting thought...are the young adults we are seeing with real wellbeing issues a result of us beginning to believe the hype that children are so different from how we were and treating them as if they were are different model of child, using approaches that pushed them through childhood and did not allow them the right to follow their appropriate developmental pathway?  If play is not present in the home, then I believe it is our absolute responsibility to provide for this fundamental need even more so at school.

And so I have come to a point in my thought process where I feel a little like the Lorax....but instead of the trees, I speak for our children, and they need us.

They need us desperately.

No, school should not be the cure of all ills, but in this case I think it needs to be.

We have taken all devices out of our room.  We have not had them for two years now and the children are 'different.'  They learn to socialise much more quickly, are not drawn to the shiny bauble that is that device and low and behold have learned to use their imagination.  I am not saying you have to do this, but we have and love it.  In fact most of our junior rooms up to year 3, are going this way.

Play needs to be put back at the centre of what we fact it needs to be what we aim for.  Children need to be encouraged to do all those things that they need to do developmentally to build that part of their brain securely.  If you have read my earlier blog posts you will know what I mean here, so I won't go on about this.

My children adore playing clapping games.  It took us a while to learn pat-a-cake, but it is now a firm favourite.  They are no different to how I was, or you were, they are children.

Play is elevated to the highest and most important thing we can be doing in our class of children (who have had 0-18months at school)  We talk about the power of it for their brain and hopefully this starts to spill over into home.

We get outside a LOT!  In fact some children spend more time outside then in on lovely fine days.

And you know what, those children are no different to how we were.  They thrive on our trust.  They thrive on the fact that we allow them to be in control.  They thrive on movement.  They thrive on social engagement.  The classroom we have now, I would have loved to be in as a child.  They don't seek the shiny baubles of devices, they seek out loose parts, just as I would have as a child.  They are not wriggly worms that require wobbly chairs just to fact behaviour issues are down to an all time low.  They LOVE mat time, because they know it will be short and they can return to their play.

As an advocate for play and for children I believe it is my role and hopefully yours as well if you are reading this, to advocate for play.  To spread the word about its importance.  To spread the word about the importance of childhood.  To encourage it back into homes, before it is lost for good.

Children are not some weird and mystical being, so different from us that they need different, new, expensive teaching approaches.  They are children with the same developmental, social, emotional needs as we once had as children.  They deserve the right to enjoy childhood and all of its joy to the absolute fullest.  The deserve the right to explore their world.

Let them play.

(We will be celebrating outside play on the 30th of November.  There is a link to this event on my Facebook page Number Agents.  On this day they whole school will self-direct their play outside.  This may be a great way to give play the kick start it needs in your school.)

Saturday, 11 November 2017

What is it we should be checking on along a child's journey in their first year at school and beyond?

Something that interests me is our obsession in education on assessing children, assessing them for their progress, but also assessing them for their knowledge gaps.  Then filling these gaps with focused teaching of the knowledge we believe will fill this gap.

Very rarely do we look beyond the knowledge that may be needed to fill this gap and think about why the child is having difficulty making our perceived 'expected' level of progress in the first place.

I have been just as guilty of this and used to cycle Number Agents through a two week cycle of knowledge focus so that I was 'covering' what I thought I needed to.

In writing I would focus in on that specific thing the child was not doing to try and ensure that on their next sample they showed me they could indeed do it.

And so it went on, I was constantly filling up gaps in the knowledge that in doing so I could 'accelerate' their progress to a level that would prove I had 'taught' them something.

The last 18 months have been transformative for me.  Challenging my own assumptions and being open to change and flexible enough to change has opened up a whole new viewpoint on learning.

Firstly I stopped seeing everything that was missing as a gap that needed to be filled.  I folded right back and did some learning about the brain.  The work of Nathan Wallis really resonated with me and the diagram of brain development was one that really helped to make it all make sense.  Nathan talked about the brain developing sequentially.  Like a house the floor needed to be put on along with the walls and then the roof, the roof being academic learning.

I went back to school after listening to him to be speak(or to be honest, home that very evening) and worked on a model that related to this that I could translate to the classroom.

I see that I will develop this further, but for now it helps me to summarise what I now aim to do for my children.  From this I made huge modifications to the goal sheets that we work through with children.  Rather than including academic goals early on, I created goals that would allow me to see fine and gross motor skill development.  Goals that would allow me to have more insight into the child in front of me and their individual development.

This sheet has already been modified several times and I am guessing that I will modify it many more times as I learn more.  

We have sheets that go along with each step and eye tracking and dominant eye is something I want to add to the fine motor section of the goals, for now, we note it down for our own reference.

For us now these developmental goals have become the way we help children to make progress that is relevant to their developmental stage.  Our programme has become very individualised.

Rather than thinking later on about a child that may have had a year and is not making the perceived amount of academic progress and then back tracking and trying to see if they have movement issues, we now ensure that this is in place first.  The reality is it may take a child a year or more to be ready for further academic learning beyond what happens through out play and I am absolutely 100% ok with this.  I now completely understand why many people believe the actual teaching of reading should be delayed till seven.

I think we need to be doing more of this:

Wow and I still remember doing this at five....:)

This article is brilliant for explaining why it is we need to be folding back and not pressuring children to do things they are not ready for.

I just don't believe that we (as an education system) comprehend how important it is to really understand the link between movement and learning in terms of the brain.  Our approach to the education of five year olds would certainly suggest that we don't.

While some children may be able to develop academic awareness and make appropriate progress without strong foundations in place, you can guarantee that later on some cracks will appear if we have not allowed them the time to simply develop and be ready.  Applying understandings, displaying initiative, transforming learning, resilience, bouncing back from difficulty, well developed social skills and management of risk are amongst the things I believe will become difficult for learners that are pushed into the academic arena before their brain is developmentally ready.  However this is an area that warrants further thought from me.

Instead of expecting five year olds to walk through the door and begin their 'academic' journey in terms of reading, writing and maths.  I believe we should allow them to walk into our rooms and just pick up where their brain is currently at.  As educators we need to find ways and means of doing this, we have 46 individuals in our two home rooms now, each one is working individually on their own journey, they are all different and all achieving well for them, we are not filling in any gaps, we are gradually building foundations for them to grow from.

We need to stop expecting children to do what they are not ready for.  

This does not only apply to five year olds, I believe there are many children sitting in our classrooms in their first few years at school that have weak foundations and really need to go back and solidify these foundations, I don't think it is ever too late!  Think about those boys that suddenly around year 3/4 start to appear in data as below, are reluctant writers, become behavior issues.  Could it be that simply by checking their foundations of development we could assist them to further engage with academic learning?  But what do we currently do, I would suggest that in most cases we just try to fill in the gaps, spend more time on this area, continue to force learning upon them that they are not able to engage with.

I have many examples now of children who, given the time to develop their foundations,  don't need anyone to help them fill in the gaps, their brains are ready to do that for themselves, given authentic learning situations they display remarkable progress when and as they are ready.  

Schools should be places of thinking, not fountains of knowledge.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Ingredients of my play-based room

Ingredients of my play-based room

I have updated the mindmap and here is the PDF

I have also updated my Term 4 planner and that is here in PDF

The other link people have found useful is my goal sheet that is based on the sequential development of the brain...current copy is here.

This is also our dispositions/habits sheet that I have developed and we will be using to drive our thinking and reflection around children's learning and growth.

I hope these are useful.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

What does a typical day of play-based learning look like for us?

First I want to preface this post with a disclaimer...I am not claiming that this is the only way to run a play-based room, I am not claiming to be an expert, I am simply sharing my experience so far.  Have I got everything right?  No probably not.   Am I still learning and developing my own pedagogy and understanding?  Yes absolutely!

Our days are never the same, but they do follow the same basic flow.  The one thing that is important to us, is the freedom to just go with the children's passions or interest if the urge so takes us :)

9.00 - 9.10am - We start the day with play.  The bell means to come inside, but not to stop playing.  As children are playing we wander round, greet them and do the roll.

9.10 ish - Our morning song will play from Wai Ako, this is the signal that children are to come to the mat, we generally sing two or three songs together.  Here we will do a what's on top, if we are looking at growth mindset, we may do something connected to that, if it is emotions, something on that, if something has come up at play based time, we will discuss that....or we may share something new in our learning story scrapbook.

9.25ish - Self Directed play  (one of us will be observing, one of us may be doing reading with a child)

10.10 - 11.00am - Number Agents (Maths through drama and play)

----Morning tea

11.20 - 12.00pm Self Directed Play (individual readers or check ins as required)

12.00pm - Writing through storytelling - incorporate phonics using whole words to explore sounds.  Sometimes we may just work on words and sounds without the storytelling.


1.25pm - Self-directed play (clean up after this session)

2.15pm - Reading together, browsing at interest books, choosing one to take home

2.35 - Shared Reading from a chapter book or similar

clean up and home at 2.55pm

We do not stick to times really and our timetable is pretty fluid, we have certain things we want to fit in during the day and we ensure we do this.  If a child's interest our urge takes us in a different direction, then we go with it.  We do try to build in a lot of reflection on the play using photos or videos we take.  At these times we will talk about the learning and dispositions we are noticing in the play.  We do use big books for shared reading, but we also read to them from chapter books or treasuries.  At the moment, the mr men little miss series are a favourite.

What does the play look like?

Well it varies and we are incredibly lucky to have two classrooms joined together, a courtyard, a mud kitchen, and a huge outside space.  We have a range of loose parts in the classrooms and the costumes are a big hit.  We also keep what we call 'invitations' out in our back room that we pull out occasionally.  These include boxes made up in themes.  We find the children are drawn to the type of play and mix with a range of children that have the same interests and urges as them.

It is amazing how many different types a play one child may engage in during a day and on the other hand how long certain play can be sustained.

The other thing that I have really noticed is the other benefits a play-based classroom has had for us and our children.  We have less tale telling, children are far more likely to solve their own problems and are noticeably more resilient.

Children get on better, they have better social skills and are more likely to work with a variety of children in a day so friendships are wider and much happier.

We deal with behaviour infrequently.  Because we are aiming our programme at specific developmental needs and operating on a very individualised level, children are engaged and motivated because we are not expecting tasks that are cognitively inappropriate for them.

Learning happens without pushing and children can make huge gains almost overnight.  As you focus in on their development you are more likely to see the actual gains they are making rather than the academic ones.  We know them so well, the relationships we have with each of them are far more powerful than ever before.

Can't wait to see where our play-based journey takes us next!