ABC Does..From Mark Maker to Writer

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 19.28.58After following him on twitter (@abcdoes), discovering his blog, then buying his books the next step for me was to see this man at one of his conferences and WOW he was brilliant. The alarm was set, train ticket was booked and iPad was packed ready for what I anticipated to be the biggest note taking session of my life. However, after sleeping in, missing my train and then having my battery die on my iPad, I was not off to a great start! Arriving two minutes into conference I crept in and still managed to get a front row seat!

The main messages and key points that were being made throughout the day were engagement and attainment. The misconception and the skill of being able to identify between a child being engaged in a low level activity and a child being engaged in an activity that moved their learning on.

To begin we started looking at the different types of provision (basic, continuous, enhanced, adult etc)  which for me confirmed that the practice that was taking place in my classroom was correct 🙂 Highlighting and reminding practitioners that we must audit the skills children can do in each area to ensure that they are being used to their full potential. Alistair also spoke about how to plan effectively for continuous provision, which was something I took great interest in. This part of the day allowed to me reflect on my own practice and highlighted that it was now something I wanted to change.

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Alistair referred to the different types of learning styles (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic) and the importance of high level engagement to ensure that the children in your class made the best possible progress they could.

We covered the different types of stimulus that could engage and support the writing in the classroom e.g. films, children’s direct interests, challenge tubes etc and then went on to the physical development aspect of the course, which for me was undoubtably one of the most interesting parts! Better than the snack times, which provided divine sweet treats such as these.

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Becoming aware of the different types of pivots and the development of children’s muscles and joints was an eye opener and for me something I now need to look at in my nursery and Reception class to ensure that we are catering for the different types of children and their physical needs. Ideas were passed on such as funky fingers and dough gym, so these were some of the things the Nursery teacher and I wanted to look into when we go back to school. One thing that is happening straight away is the taking away of chairs at the malleable table. Children work so much better and develop and strengthen their physical skills more when standing up. FACT of the day that was!

A segment on the day was also focused on left handed writers and how we can aid them and their writing in our settings. Many obvious points were made, yet ones I personally did not realise such as them having to write against the page unlike us right hand people and them having to over cross their arms when putting in a finger space :o. Engagement of boys was spoken about, again, with great ideas and thoughts on how to get them writing in a fun way. Its been discovered that boys love writing on the move so giving them clipboard and opportunities around the room to write instead of pushing them to a ‘writing area’ will produce a lot more writing from them.

Alistar then looked into and talked about print in our learning environment, the use, purpose and relevance of it, again so useful as it made me reflect on my setting and what could be done without (e.g. ‘sand area’ banners).

We then had the talk on jedi writing, which I had been looking forward to all day! Ideas were given and shared to encourage handwriting and letter formation for children at each stage of writing (emergent, symbolic etc).

Overall, this was a great course. It was so refreshing to attend some early years training with a confident and knowledgable speaker! I will for sure be going to watch him again!


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Conversation Station


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When I started my career I developed an unhealthy obsession with data and tracking my children in each area of learning to an crazy degree. To an extent that impressed and shocked my moderators who moderated my judgements at the end of my NQT year and justified my judgements against each of the 17 ELGs.

After looking and analysing my data during the year I noticed that there was a hole in my communication language area of learning within the children’s data. Instantly I had a panic as these ELGs had to be met in order to achieve the Good Level Of Development, so I had to put my thinking cap on. How could I encourage independent speaking and listening?? Conversation station.

With a bed canopy from Ikea, a lips cushion, I was all set. The children loved this and did use it during their independent learning time. After a few weeks new items were added to continue with the interest such as puppets, microphones etc, and the children still got a lot from it. My evidence for CL increased and again supported my judgements which were made at the end of the year.

My TA and I modelled to the children how it could be used, however, like everything, the children took their own spin on it but still used it efficiently.


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When starting at Rivers Primary Academy, one of the first questions I asked my new Head was whether I could introduce blogging to the school. As some may know, blogging was something I learnt and loved during my NQT at Leamore Primary. The school had set this up before I arrived and something I loved to do for my class.

At Leamore, and now Rivers, each class has their own class blog set up which is accessible to anyone around the world! Photographs, videos and animations are set up and placed on the blog so that parents or anyone who is interested in our school can view and see what the children of Rivers Primary Academy have been up to.

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Teachers try to update their blog weekly, however, if you are a keen bean like myself they are updated more so.

In the EYFS we also use our blogs to evidence the children’s learning. Again, something that was pioneered at Leamore by the deputy head teacher I had to set this up at Rivers too. The children’s are private and password protected so only the head, class teacher and Early Years Foundation Stage Practitioners and parents have access to them.

Parents have the option to leave comments on their children’s posts and we too have to opportunity (and allow the children) to comment back.

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Different schools and settings from around the world have made contact with us and we now have relationships and comment on their blogs too.

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The response and popularity of our blogs has really impressed the children and myself. I was honestly thinking that it would take a couple of years to get a name for our blogs, but I was proven wrong with the visits that were made to Reception’s blog.

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During my NQT this was a system the my old Deputy and I shared with other schools in Walsall and this year something I have done independently, through meets I have had at EYFS Coordinator’s meetings and other training courses. I have also shared with two cohorts of University Students who are training to be teachers.

The use of social networking sites has also assisted with the set up of the blogs. After asking permission, I set up a twitter page for our Primary School and shared our practice and ideas on there. Promoting the blogs and informing followers of the links to see what our children have been learning was somewhat an assistance getting more views and helped up profile our school and the practice, teaching and dedication within it.


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fiddly fox

Morfo is an app that is used by many schools now in different ways. Our PGCE student in Year 2 used it a couple of weeks ago and made Wayne Rooney ask the children to help with his shopping. The boys naturally were engrossed in this and the standard of work that was created was brilliant.

Morfo provides you with the opportunity to download and manipulate a face and the facial features on your selected image. Working best when the object is facing towards the camera, Morfo allows users to move and edit the features of the face (eyes, nose, mouth size and shape etc). Once you are happy with your face you can record a message, making it look like the picture you have chosen is speaking.

My class have had numerous experiences with Morfo, however, the most successful occasion with the most impact was during our Easter theme. We received a letter from the Easter Bunny asking us to look after his special golden egg when he went away to visit his friend the tooth fairy. He told us he would only be a couple of days, so Reception agreed to do it. However, we were also warned that his enemy, Fiddly Fox, might attempt to pinch the egg so we had to take special care of it. Surprise surprise the egg did go missing so we had to create wanted posters, write letters to our head and create police reports because of the golden egg going missing.

After days of the posters being up and the police getting back in contact saying they will keep and eye out for us, we received an e-mail from Fiddly Fox with an apologetic video attached. He apologised to the children and the Easter Bunny and said he would return the egg when we went home.

Having this impact on the children and then having some children writing letters back to Fiddly Fox during their child initiated time saying that he was forgiven and that he did the right thing was a major surprise. We got a lot of PSED objectives met during that week and a lot of writing, all from a 30sec video.

Welly Walks

A major focus has been placed on speaking and listening in the Early years and there was already a focus in my school anyway due to the area that the children come from. On entry into Nursery some children cannot even say or respond with one word answers, so sequencing a string of 2 or 3 words can become a problem.

We are lucky however that we have a great forest on a school ground with lots of potential and opportunity (Reception class are having forest school sessions outside next half term). However, this year we have been doing welly walks. These involve exactly what they sound like, every couple of week Reception children wack on their wellies and come rain or shine we do a welly walk and talk about the natural objects and surroundings.

Our welly walks can involve number hunts, shape hunts, list making of what we can see, leaf printing or just simple observations and discoveries of our natural surroundings in the forest. The children love these sessions and my TA and I get so much from it too.

The enjoyment and learning that takes place is phenomenal from such a simple and obvious idea. The vocabulary the children have and use and the awareness of the natural environment is very impressive. The walks have created discussions on our environment in comparison to other environments, different talks about the seasons and state of the objects in the forest and who/what else uses the forest.

Cave of Wonders

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With the end of the year coming up and my moderation date from the authority getting closer, I knew that I needed to get more independent writing from my children to support and backup my judgements. Trying to prove that my GLD will be 58% (a dramatic improvement on the school’s 0% last year) I was conscious the moderators would want to see some independent writing, thus the cave of wonders.

Previously, the space was used as our ‘investigation station’ which gave the children opportunity to discover and talk about natural found objects and objects that I thought would interest them (exotic fruits, shells, stones, crystals, magnets, bark, melted wax etc). Another main purpose was to get some vocabulary out of them, as speaking and listening was a priority for me at the beginning of the academic year, however, as the year went on the children lost interest in this space and I was aware it was becoming a wasted learning area, leading to the successful idea of ‘The Cave of Wonders’.  It took one hour and a half to revamp the area during the Easter holiday but I was confident about the potential it held.

When children came back after Easter they were in awe of the classroom revamp as I also created a read and response wall and changed our role play area to a space ship (3,2,1 blast off).

Every two days the children are aware that the object inside the cave will change, so far we have had gold spray painted bark, a message in a bottle, locked treasure chest, hair gel in a dish, mysterious pictures and the children have loved it. The amount of independent writing has definitely increased with the use of capital letter, fingerspaces and full stops too. I have been able to confirm that children can use high frequency words independently in their writing too such as he, she, we, me, the, some, like, was. The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland had nothing on my smile at this point.

PostBear Ted

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 22.35.27I have used PostBear Ted for two years now, one of the lessons he graced us with his presence awarded me with an Outstanding judgement for my maths lesson by our LA Maths Consultant / Advisor and by our school Maths Coordinator too. He was used for our introduction and both classes that I have used him with adored him.

Inside PBT’s bag are some little envelopes with numbers on, for the warm up we had to recognise and find the house that we needed to post the letter into. You can adapt where necessary, this year I not only had houses, but had flats and caravans to ensure my children had a familiar setting to relate to. We also took the opportunity to talk about one more and one less. We asked what number the letter would be posted to if PBT posted it to the house next door (before or after) to the correct one.

This was a lesson I delivered at the very beginning of the year and one that children still talk about to this day.

Pirate Pat



Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 22.22.17Pirate Pat was a brilliant resource that got so much vocabulary and writing out of my Reception class last year.

He was used when our topic was all about pirates. As an incentive to get the boys writing, he really did his job.

The children were shown a powerpoint of Pirate Pat in the positions you see him above. After each slide there was a brief discussion on what he was doing and what they think would happen next. My class had a great imagination however, getting it onto paper was like trying to get them to put lids back on felt tips.

As we were coming to the end of our slideshow, I told the children that my camera had broken and that they had to guess what Pirate Pat did next. After brief opportunity to talk to their partners, their answers were amazing! A lot better than what I had hoped.

Children didn’t want to wait until the adult led activity and my writing table was full of children (including the boys) writing about or to Pirate Pat.

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The little touches like making ‘pirate paper’ with them really helped and encouraged them too.

Pass the parcel

At 22, I still love the odd game of pass the parcel and having that excited (yet embarrassing) feeling of whether or not the parcel is going to stop on your lap. This is why I love the idea of pass the parcel plenary, an idea shared by a colleague and old uni friend.

Questioning is a key factor in our school at the moment and something that is on our head teacher’s radar, so as part of the PED champ team, we have to discover new and exciting ways that teachers can incorporate good questioning in their classroom. Pass the parcel plenary does just this.

Suitable for any age (again 22 over here), wrap a series of questions up (or for foundation stage adapt and use talking tins if children are unable to read) and when the music stops get the lucky child to open an answer their question. However, I do try to do this in a different way, for example ‘tell my why you have to make two groups when you double a number?’  As oppose to ‘What do you do when you double a number?’. Getting that explanation from the children again improves speaking and listening and typifies their true understanding of the topic they have been learning.

Cat walk plenary

After speaking to numerous teachers on courses, meetings, moderations etc about their lessons I often hear the same comments time and time again, that they feel their plenaries aren’t as strong or as successful as what they would like them to be. More often than none, by the end of the lesson practitioners often want to pack up and move on to the next part of the day. We have all been there, you totally lose track of time (unless you are being observed) and then all of a sudden its time for the next activity.

This was something that I myself was guilty of during my NQT year at times, so something I knew I needed to develop. This year however, after making sure my plenary has an equally important part in my lesson I have truly seen the benefits in my children’s learning and progress. Ive filled the gaps a lot quicker, put intervention in place and identified the children’s next steps in their learning.

I did however want to avoid the usual ‘stand up and share with the class what you have been learning about routine so I had to start brainstorming ideas on how I could excite the children into sharing their learning and identifying what they needed next.

My first brilliant discovery came from my previous deputy head, who told me about her catwalk plenaries when she was class based. Immediately I fell in love!

Choose a tune of any kind (my favourite at the moment is Crazy in Love by Beyonce). Split the children into two groups on the carpet and make a ‘cat walk’ for you selected student(s). Play the music and one at a time welcome to children to the end of the catwalk who will then explain what they have been learning about in the lesson and answer questions from you if/when you ask. This can be adapted and manipulated where appropriate, but personally the basic idea is great and really assists our speaking and listening in Reception.