Category Archives: General News

Who needs observing?

Many EYFS practitioners will have thought to themselves ‘hmm, who do I need to observe’ or have often said to themselves ‘right, today I need to focus on…’ it’s an ongoing challenge I have felt to ensure that each child has the evidence to support your judgements and assessments on them, in my experience especially when they are moving up to Year 1. As an LA EYFS moderator I have often said ‘there is no set amount of evidence needed’ however as a practitioner myself I do like to still have hard evidence to back my judgments, like many others I am sure this is the case, especially if powers above want reassurance of your judgments.

Throughout my career I have trialled different ways and systems to ensure that I have collected evidence equally for each of the children in my class and have shared and ran the ideas with other teachers in my phase. These included tracking sheets, triangle sheets and basically did nothing but create more and more paperwork, which lets be honest, we can all live without. 

The system I have introduced this year has immediately had a positive impact upon my phase. The idea first came about when my school wanted to have consistent working walls throughout the school and wanted to see consistency in our classes. However with my children not able to see our board because of the height (thus why we have number lines and sounds under windows and at table level) I discovered they could be put to better use. 

Above you will see one of my display boards in my class. I have split it into 22 rectangles and given each child their own rectangle with an A5 clipboard (this could also be done with plastic wallets or paper folders) . The idea is simple, whenever a child initiated observation is completed on a child it is simply placed in their rectangle on their board (the rectangles also have a picture drawn by the children of themselves and a photograph taken). 

This way at any point in the week practitioners can see who needs observing or focussing during our child initiated time (plan do review). 

Anyone in the unit can observe a child and then it is blogged (see previous blogging post) by their class teacher. This system is now used throughout our phase with both nursery classes and our other reception class and straight away staff can see the benefits. 

I view my wall obviously daily, however on a Wednesday evening review who has been observed and then share with my staff who needs to be focussed on over the next couple of days. Just at a glance you can see where the gaps are.

Such a simple idea but one that really works! 



During the 6 weeks holiday I had the pleasure of travelling to Amsterdam to attend the Apple Distinguished Educator’s Institute for the Class of 2015. During this time I met some amazing people and shared and saw lots of good practice. Whilst I was in Amsterdam I numerous talented and skilled staff, one of which was @nicholaspokes, a primary head from Ireland. Nichola introduced me to the computing app ‘Kodable’ (free). This app helps with the early stages of teaching computing and introducing the children to the concepts of algorithms, programming and the terminology that is used.



Kodable contains a variety of levels that are accessible for the children and aid and further their progress (some are in app purchases).


The children are presented with a course that the alien/creature has to venture through. Using the directional arrows at the top of the screen they have to programme and direct the creature to tell him where to go. To begin with the children will be given clues and the arrows will change size as a visual aid and support for the children. This is an option that can be changed whether you are in lesson mode of free play mode. Once the children have completed the course and algorithm for the creature by selecting the play button at the top of the screen the alien will begin to move and follow to algorithm in place.

If successful, the child will move onto the next level, if not successful then the child will stay and be asked to try again.


I loved this app and straight away thought it would be good for the later part of EYFS and especially good for the beginning part of KS1. As we were off school I didn’t have the option to try and work with this app and try it in our school, however I do plan to :). Instead I popped down to visit my little cousin who has just left Reception and I know he has had some experience of Beetbots in his previous Reception class, so I know he has some awareness (basic) or programming.

My little cousin responded to it very well. He had never seen the game before but knew that he had to “get the blue alien to the other side without him stopping”. He said “it’s a bit like the bee at school, we have to count the squares for the bee to go”, so immediately he created that link  to his previous learning. My cousin then went ahead and made the link between where the alien had to go first and which arrow it would be. To start with he would only do one step at a time and then press play to see his alien move, however, he realised quickly on his own that the alien had to get from one end of the screen to the other independently, forcing him to think ‘stop’ ‘then go up’ then ‘stop’ which are the basic principles and early stages of computing that the children have to think about before they eve go on to variables and doing such things such as ‘turn’ or ‘wait 3 seconds’.

A simple yet brilliant app to help with early programming in the KS1 classroom.


Many teachers in the EYFS and teachers across the school, will probably agree in one challenge…getting boys to write. Whether the boys are 4 or 14 years old, they just find it hard to engage and do not want to do it. I find great enjoyment in finding new ways in the Early Years to get the boys to write. I have previously written about successful methods to get my children (mainly boys) writing, and then recently have found another success. 🙂

Luckily for me it linked directly with another passion of mine, iPads. I have used an app to engage children in different environments and settings and what was originally intended to discuss different people’s lifestyles and homes sparked an idea that would also get my children writing.



The app is called Sphere, and is very similar to google maps, in that it gives the children a variety of places across the world and allows them to do a 360 tour of the environment from one spot. The app contains places and are categorised such as landmarks, places to live, air, land and sea etc. Once the children select an category they choose an image they wish to explore, once selected that destination opens. As the children hold the iPad or device in their hand as they move it the screen and view moves too, as it would in real life. Children can look up and down, move around from left to right and see what they would if they were standing in their chosen destination in person. The camera moves as if it were the human eye, as you can imagine, there were a lot a ‘wows’ and ‘oooohs’ when this was shown on Apple TV, from children as well as support staff 😉


How did it get them writing? 

Once the children were familiar with the app and how to use it and discovered that you could also move the camera or ‘magic eye’ with your finger on the screen too they were using the app and speaking to their friends about what they could see and how ‘wow’ it was, this is when I dropped in the magic word ‘mommy’.

“I bet your mom would like to know about that!”

“Wow, your mom would like to know about that big blue sea”

“Do you think your mommy has seen that?”

And from that stemmed the next part…”You should tell your mom…oh, but what if you forget?”…the child(ren) would then reply “We can write it down and draw her a picture”.

The smug face then appears from the staff.


Children were then willingly choosing a ‘special place’ to write about it (what it looks like, where it is, who lives there) drawing a picture underneath and then going home to show their mommy about it. A perfect opportunity for the child to write, practise their tricky words, letter formations, sentences etc.

An overall great find that my children loved.

Fairy Tale App

Over the last few weeks my children have completed work on ‘The Gingerbread Man’ ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Goldilocks’ etc, however, because we have done so much work on different traditional tales and ‘Once upon a time…’ stories, I thought it would be good for the children to have a go at writing their own traditional tale. For this to happen they needed their own character, this is where the ‘Moca Boca Fairy Tale’ app comes in.


Children each get to choose their own fairy tale character, they design him/her, dress him/her and customise their character’s clothes (also a good opportunity to talk about length, colour, patterns etc). Once the children did this they took a photograph of their character in our classroom environment and then wrote about him/her and his physical appearance.

Boys loved this just as much as the girls as they then naturally went on to speak about what the character was doing in the classroom. Children were eager to write about their physical appearance (what they were wearing and why) as well as talking about their name and their home life. Children had this enthusiasm because of that ownership of the character, it was their own piece of work and it was eventually going to become their own story. The ideas were amazing and the imagination from the children was magic.

Once the children had designed and written briefly about their character their next task was to create a story about him/her. Children were fantastic at this, they took different photographs of their character around the classroom different position with different objects and then wrote step by step what was taking place. The high frequency words and sentences that were written were incredible.



‘I Wonder’ bags

There are many articles, blogs posts and theories that identify that boys just don’t like writing and as mentioned in previous posts of mine, something I take an interest in. I enjoy constantly thinking of new ways or magpie ideas from other professionals to help my boys write. My latest idea is cheap, easy to set up and mobile…’I Wonder’ bags.
This was something I introduced to the children to help their small imaginative play originally, helping children put story lines into their play rather than just ‘rarrrrring’ with dinosaurs. I presented the children with a gift bag and simply questioned them ‘I wonder what is in my bag’?. The children spoke to their talk partners about it and we shared answers amongst the group. I then revealed an object from the bag, again, posing the question ‘I wonder why there was a tiger in my bag?’. Children would have time to speak to their partners and again, we would share the answers. I would then reveal a second item ‘I wonder why there is an egg in the bag with the tiger?’, again the children would have the opportunity to speak and share their ideas with their talk partner and then the class. Within the bag would be 4-5 items, all different and this pattern and questioning took place throughout, until eventually the class and I had created a short story.
The bag I started with the children had a tiger, giraffe, ladybird an egg and an apple. We had many stories come alive, including the egg being looked after by the ladybird and giraffe from the tiger and they used the apple to distract him, to the tiger looking after it because the ladybird wanted to steal it. The stories were amazing, and the beauty of it is that there is no right or wrong answer so everyone wants to get involved.
‘I wonder’ bags develop the imagination of the children, especially the boys. I then wanted to take it a step further and use it to aid their writing as well, so they became features around our class. The bags are filled in daily with different toys, objects, heroes etc, and naturally the boys love them. They write their story first or write down key words from their story before they act it out. Clipboards and or mini whiteboards are left inside the gift bag too, therefore giving the children the option to move around with their bag/story.


It was a real bonus seeing the children, especially the boys access this resource because they do not see it is a writing task. It is incredibly popular as you can imagine if the bag is a Spider-Man bag with a superhero inside or a Pirate bag with dinosaurs inside. It is structuring their play, assisting their speaking skills and aiding their writing, it just ticks every box.
The bags are cheap, toys are already in my setting, it was collecting the toys and encouraging them to make their own story. A great resource for independent writing and one I would recommend to any setting.



EYFS Conference

On Friday 20th November I was lucky enough to attend the EYFS conference in Birmingham town. I treated myself to an extra 15 minutes in bed and then had to suffer, what I can only describe as a human smarties tube ride on the train to Birmingham.
When booking the course I had to choose three sessions to attend. I chose ‘Cognitive Development’, ‘Outstanding Leadership’ and ‘Closing the Achievement Gap’.
We had a brief introduction with Pam Mundy (an international EYFS consultant) who shed some light on the new EYFS OFSTED grading… EYFS teachers across the room were scribbling like crazy at this point. She then went on to speak about government and the current issues that are having impact on us. I became more enlightened on the Two Year old situation and then about the funding we will have for nursery children soon too.

Being an OFSTED inspector herself, Pam did a great job at putting us at ease. An open discussion took place on OFSTED and what we fear when we get the phone call. She identified that sometimes we do something because ‘it’s what OFSTED wants’ rather than’ it’s what our children need’.
By the end of her talk, I left the room feeling confident in what I do for my children and could justify why I do what I do and talk about the impact it has had on my phase and class.
We then moved onto our chosen sessions, my first was cognitive development. This session was my favourite of them all… It reminded me of why I wanted to be a teacher, I love to see children learn!
We spoke about the processes that children go trough when they learn something, what chemical reactions take place when something new is learnt etc. It was truly inspiring! We were shown a series of photographs of children playing/taking part in an activity in an EYFS setting … The question given was ‘what is happening here?’. To the naked eye, it would seem the children were playing… WRONG… The children were all partaking and engaged in high level learning. It was just brilliant to see!
It left me wondering, are my lessons, activities and provisions (indoor and outdoor) stimulating my children like the children I saw on those photographs? ? Something for me to look out for Monday!


This week, the Literacy Coordinator (@cannfern) and I held a questioning workshop for fellow Walsall teachers who were looking at new ways to develop questioning in the primary classroom. Holding this workshop with Fern ensuredthat there was coverage and a range of ideas/strategies that could be used from EYFS upto KS2.
As this was the first training session to be held at Rivers, we had to make sure the content and resources were appropriate and relevant for our audience.

Each visitor received a copy of the content and ideas Fern and I were taking about during the session.
Fern kicked off our session with a large focus on Bloom’s taxonomy and how she uses her ‘Bloomin Hot Questions’ in her classroom.
We discussed the different types of questioning we use in the classroom, starting with knowledge, comprehension up to analysis. For reflective practitioners it is interesting to see which questions we use the most in our class and allowed us to question (pardon the punn) whether we are stretching or holding our children back because of the types questions we ask them.


Fern demonstrated and allowed visitors to explore the sentence stems and question prompts she uses to stretch her children. Again, giving the opportunity to think whether or not other teachers use different question styles to gather children’s understanding of their learning and thinking.

I then decided to show my face and pop up! Being in EYFS, for me I had to share my practice on how I use different strategies to encourage my children to ask relevant questions as well as answer them. As I shared with the teachers in the room, it is a necessity for us to get our children to speak in full sentences. As we have shared with parents, children are very happy to answer with one or two word answers, therefore, my methods that I shared encourage children to answer in a full sentence with wider vocabulary.
Teachers were informed about the catwalks reception use, signed sealed delivered, basketball etc. All off which can be found on the plenary tag of my blog.
We thoroughly enjoyed delivering the training session and had GREAT feedback which can be found on our website (

Boys writing

I mentioned in a previous post how my pirate topic has really helped the boys with their writing/mark making in my class. Weeks later and the dedication and motivation is still present.

We have done activities related to pirates in my class that my boys have really been drawn to (map making, ship designing, etc), today’s lesson took it totally to a new level.
After returning from assembly the class discovered the treasure we were looking after for Pirate Pat had been stolen. The class were instantly concerned, especially when they saw Joey our class puppet thrown across the floor. After a brief discussion we decided to look and ask others to help us look for the criminal (who we’d decided was Pirate Tas, Pirate Pat’s enemy). The boys were on it!

We made wanted posters, missing flyers, designed models and statues of Pirate Tas and labelled them, the boys could not get enough of writing. I had got them engaged and focused!
It reminded me of when I went to an @abcdoes mark maker to writer course. Yeah boys like to be involved and do things they like and are interested in, but they HATE writing about it, well not this morning.
My boys were so focused and emotionally involved and passionate they all felt obliged to contribute to the search of Pirate Tas.

This pleased me , it reinforced and reminded me, we can get the little soldiers to write and mark make, but it truly does have to be something they feel deeply passionate about. Having poor Joey thrown across the floor and having some treasure stole WE were looking after obviously triggered some emotions that pushed them to write and mark make.


Boys making cake

It is never a tricky task to get my boys outside during plan-do-review (child initiated), even when it’s raining. I normally find the same group sitting by the welly step taking their shoes off and putting some wellies on. I do however find it a rarity to see them engaged in a role play scenario for a long period of time if the game isn’t based on monster, ninja turtles or Spider-Man. This morning this all changed. I had a group of boys who were in the mud kitchen for the entire plan-do-review session.

The boys were all playing together and shared the same narrative and roles in their play, as I said above it was great to see this outside of a superhero context. They were using vocabulary to do with number, capacity, weight and were doing great speaking and listening. The boys created their own procedures and rules and showed great problem solving skills. The children used different pans for different jobs, different trays for serving suggestions etc. The children were clear and confident in what they were doing and making and this was evident in the questions other children and myself were asking.
They were boys on a mission.
Ready steady cook!

Pirate writing


As many EYFS practitioners will know (and probably teachers in all key stages too) getting boys to write is a major challenge ! Down in Reception I try to find ways to encourage and develop boy’s interest in writing and mark making in their independent, child initiated and adult led learning. Pinching some ideas from wider reading and other EYFS practitioners & consultants (eg @abcdoes) I like to trial and assess new systems and ideas in my classroom. One idea that has worked particularly well is pirate writing.



This week in reception our learning has focused on and around Pirates, starting with an introduction and meet and greet with a toy pirate in our class, Pirate Pat. Pirate Pat then went on a little trip and sent us photographs of his voyage, until his ship was damaged and he went missing. As an adult led activity we focused on what might have happened to Pirate Pat and where we thought he was. We had lots of independent learning opportunities that encouraged mark making and writing too… Pirate style! Children had the opportunity to go on a sound hunt outdoors (with eye patches and telescopes), design and build their own ship with the construction outside, create a treasure map or make a missing poster to help look for Pirate Pat. I had boys choosing to write!!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes.


The children had to use their knowledge from letters and sounds to help with their labelling, even if it was just with their initial sound. The map making was a particular success with children commenting on their different marks, a real successful activity for the less confident writers. Boys have been coming and asking the TA and myself for more pirate paper to write on… Isn’t it wonderful what a soggy tea bag can do!

This lesson was also observed by my head and literacy coordinator who rated in outstanding! 🙂

Overall, this lesson made me happy for many different reasons. Well done boys!