Category Archives: Social Media

Developing a love of reading

Aidan Chambers’ book ‘The Reading Environment’ talks of ‘The Reading Circle’. Here’s how I’ve tried to develop this in the classroom, hopefully encouraging a class of readers at the same time.

The Reading Circle, from Aidan Chambers’ book ‘The Reading Environment’ (1996)

Selection

Know your books (bookstock and availability)

I’ve been buying lots of books over the last seven/eight months and have read lots of blogs written by teachers and book reviewers in order to try and develop a wider knowledge of suitable books for my year 6 children. While I’ve always loved and promoted books like Skellig, Wonder and Holes, I wanted my children to become familiar with a wider range of authors, which is what they’re currently doing.

They now know about newer authors like Polly Ho-Yen, Lara Williamson, Peter Bunzl, Lisa Thompson and Kiran Millwood Hargrave. They are learning about more established authors such as Elizabeth Laird, David Almond and Kate DiCamillo. They are out at the weekend buying or borrowing books, then rushing in to tell their friends, or me. This is probably the best feeling there is as a teacher – to know you have influenced or encouraged them to pick up and buy a book.

And to do this, I have needed to show that I am enthusiastic, knowledgeable and interested. People like Simon Smith, Rhoda Wilson, Ashley Booth and Mathew Tobin have helped enormously with this as they regularly engage in book-talk, sharing recommendations, ideas and enthusiasm online.

Share books (accessibility)

I know lots of teachers do this, but I also know that lots of teachers wouldn’t ever want to – I think it is important. My class borrow books from me all the time, and through word of mouth certain books are seldom on my bookshelf. That’s what I want.

Whenever I finish a book, I share my review with the children and put it on my lending shelf. By the end of the day it has usually gone.

My personal bookshelf, which children go to and borrow from regularly

We have now opened our junior library at school so hopefully the children will have a greater range of books to choose from.

Response

Engage with authors (formal talk and book gossip)

There are so many ways to get in touch with authors these days that it would seem silly not to. Twitter is the most obvious route, with authors keen to hear from their readers and able to give quick replies. Lara Williamson contacted the class via Twitter then sent them a personalised email; M.G. Leonard responded to a tweet by leaving a lovely comment on our blog; and Frank Cottrell Boyce sent us a letter that included a fake £20 note from the set of Millions. 

These authors didn’t need to take the time to reply to our class but the fact that they did really engaged the children – here were real-life authors talking to us, thanking us and asking us questions.  This is such an easy thing for a teacher to do and the children’s reactions are priceless.

Discuss (book gossip)

It sounds obvious, but talking to the children about the books they are reading has such a massive impact. Whenever I see them reading, or with a book, I ask them what it is, how they’re finding it, whether they’d recommend it etc. They’re probably sick of me doing so, but they are doing it themselves now – sharing recommendations, asking to borrow each other’s books and even telling me when a particular author has a new book out.

Reading

Read together (time to read)

Linked to the point above, because of their confidence in reading, the children love to read together. When we have reading time, either at the start of the day or when it is timetabled, some children choose to read silently on their own, some read with a partner (almost acting the stories out), and other children listen to one of their peers read parts of their books to them. Seeing the children involved in their books is a powerful and rewarding thing. 

Read aloud (hearing it done and doing it for yourself)

As a class, we’ve read 6 books this year, which doesn’t sound many but isn’t bad going considering we have had SATs to prepare for and a squeezed timetable at the best of times. We read every day – the children voice some of the characters, and they create accents and personalities for the characters we come across. The children are involved. As Chambers suggests, they are hearing it done, doing it for themselves and having time to read.

There were two reading-related articles in the Guardian this weekend, both of which surmised that stories are being devalued and almost forgotten in our current education system.

The Secret Teacher

Ditch the grammar and teach storytelling instead

Reading is a wonderful thing to share with a class, and it should be promoted by a teacher as often as possible. Chambers’ Reading Circle is a simple, straightforward model to follow and has helped my class to develop as readers, hopefully for a much longer time than I’ll be teaching them.

Guided Reading with Skype

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Since October, on the back of a shared interest in guided reading, Sway Humphries and I have been using Skype with some of our children as an extension to guided reading. We spend half an hour each week Skype-ing one another about a shared read.

The sessions with our groups works a bit like guided reading, but I feel it has more of a ‘book-club’ approach that Pie Corbett recommends. There is little time for actual reading as the children have so much they want to say and ask. We try to (two groups of 5/6) encourage them to ask their own questions and give their own opinions with as little prompting from Sway and myself as possible. Some of the discussion, once the children find their voices and overcome their nerves, has been excellent.

It has all been very lovely, but what impact has it had on these groups?

Sway emailed me some interesting data regarding reading scores for her group of children, looking at the average point scores (APS) for her class.

  October 2013 February 2014
Whole class 25.63 27.75
Skype group 24.2 27.8

As you can see, the group of children Sway had chosen to take part in Skype sessions were behind the rest of the class (in terms of average scores) and have since made huge progress, even to the point of being slightly above average.

With this in mind, I tried to take a detailed look at my own class too.

  September 2013 December 2013
Whole class 23.31 24.35
Skype group 25 27

The difference between mine and Sway’s groups are fairly clear – my children were above average at the start of the year, and continue to be in that same bracket now. However, their progress is near-enough double any of the other guided reading groups (none of whom had used Skype). In fact, the Skype group out-performed the ‘top’ guided reading group by some distance too.

Of course, the children in each group will obviously benefit from having an extra half-hour session each week (and hopefully from having input from two teachers!). But how else could they be benefiting?

As I mentioned earlier, confidence really grows as the children get to know one another and become more comfortable talking into a camera. Listening skills are easy to see improving as children constantly refer back to points made by another child. Hopefully, a love of reading is inspired as the children discover how other people might interpret the same book.

So what next?

We are trialling the use of Edmodo to encourage discussion between sessions, and we have changed our groups. I can’t speak for Sway, but I have chosen a group who were highlighted as having not made required/desired progress in the hope that the extended discussions Skype allows helps them to move on, while still enjoying their reading. Fingers crossed that the above data was not a one-off – I will be keeping a close eye on it.

Watch this space!

Image courtesy of Jurgen Appelo

Making the world smaller

On Tuesday 12th November, our school are holding an ICT Day – or should that be Computing, or Digital Studies?

I’m aiming to have Digital Leaders running small workshops, photography sessions, music making and blogging. Can you help?

Some of our classes haven’t really taken off with blogging in the 6 months that they’ve had them. Staff changes, fear of technology, timetable demands…there are many reasons, but the fact is that some of our staff children don’t understand how the world can be made smaller through the power of blogging.

So, can you please help?

Below is a form to ‘sign up’ for some form of blogging interaction on the 12th.

Commenting – simple, easy to manage, much appreciated. Any blogging teacher knows of the excitement a new flag can create!

Live Writing – I’ve not used CoverItLive before but am going to give it a go, I have seen it used successfully. There is also a similar option called Rumble Talk. The writing itself can be on whatever suits!

Questionnaires – filling in questionnaires for the children would help them gain meaningful data for Maths or topic.

Skype (topic) – our topics are as follows – FS2 – Celebrations Around the World; KS1 – Great Fire of London; LKS2 – Space; UKS2 – British Culture since 1945 (music, fashion, dance etc.). A shared discussion, or if anyone knows of any experts, would be brilliant.

Mystery Skype – explained in this blog post

 

Any other suggestions warmly welcomed!

Thank you for your help…I will repay you somehow.

Promoting blogging in the classroom

I have a bit of a blogging problem. At the turn of the year, I vowed to continue my class blog, this blog, a blog about music, one to write with, and one to keep track of recipes I’ve tried. Yes, that’s right, recipes. I eventually decided on just a music one.

I also have wanted to set up more blogs at school; sports achievements, individual for SEN children, gifted writers…maybe even a governor’s blog. Who knows?

As well as this, my children must be sick of me talking about it. But the message is sinking in. Since we started our most recent round of Quadblogging (January 7th), our blog has received over 1000 visits, as well as over 80 posts from the children and hundreds of comments from all over the world. The children are now seeing the power of the blog – a global audience. We have had comments from the fantastic 100 Word Challenge team; teachers from elsewhere in the UK; lecturers in Primary Education; parents, siblings, cousins from far-flung lands…The children love seeing the different countries we have through our map, and were especially excited when we had 5 different countries on at once.

One of our Quadblogging partners, Laura Taylor, has created a simple but effective display to highlight how many visitors their blog gets, so I did what every good teacher does and copied magpied it. Thanks Laura! See her blog here. We still need to add a couple of bits – newest country, total visits etc, but it is a reminder to the children that their work is valued all over the world.

Still a work in progress...

We have also started to tweet about our learning at the end of each lesson (please follow us!) This idea is another of my own somebody else’s; this time, Simon McLoughlin, whose you can find here. The children are really into this, having had replies from other schools and teachers. It also allows them to think about what they have actually achieved during the day, and enables parents to see what we have been up to. I have adapted Simon’s display slightly.

Sentence starters to get the children thinking

Finally, we have also started a ‘Blogger of the Week’ league table. I decided to start this to appeal to the more competitive children, especially as we had the same children blogging, all but 2 of whom were girls. This still remains an issue, but the boys are starting to fight back!

We agreed a points system for a quality comment, post or entry into the 100 Word Challenge, as well as a bonus point for attending our weekly lunch-time blogging club. The winner gets to spin the wheel and wins a prize. Nobody has won the ‘choose your own lesson’ yet…

As you can see, the points have been amended in order to encourage more participation. Last week only 9 of my 33 children had zero points. These are small steps, but I feel they are definitely making a difference. You can download the spinner here and adapt it should you wish (it is by no means perfect). Please let me know if you do.

The children are now very aware of the fact we have a global audience, and they are really keen to impress. My next step is to get them blogging during lessons to show their learning ‘live’ – at the moment a lot of their posts are after the event. Or about their pets.

Turning towards Twitter…

In a much earlier post, I wondered out loud why schools and educators are using Twitter to enhance their own practice and their children’s learning experience. Many of the teachers in our school are becoming happier with using Twitter to find and share ideas, read educator’s blogs on different aspects in which that they are interested, or simply to locate new resources. What I wanted to try next involved persuading the headteacher that Twitter is a positive vehicle for our school as a whole, not just for its employees in their own time.

Towards the end of last half term, our year 6 children went on a residential to Condover Hall, and we used this as in ideal opportunity to use Twitter to show how it can be used positively. Borrowing the idea from David Andrews (@dmandrews15), we set up a Twitter account for parents to follow and then linked the account to Posterous. This meant that the tweets would be received by parents as and when they were sent, whereas the Posterous account would keep it as a blog for the children to see once they got back home.

Despite initial problems with Condover’s wifi, we were able to post photographs of the children taking part in their adventurous activities, as well as updating parents with general news, such as our arrival and departure. When we returned, parents and staff commented that using social media in this way was a really positive thing to do, especially for those for whom it was their first time without their children. In total, we had 34 followers (around 8/9 were school staff), and plenty of our tweets were favourited as well.

So why was this important for our school? Well, it has persuaded our headteacher to continue with the Twitter account for school, which means we can communicate with our parents with more immediacy. Hopefully this will help with our general communication, which has been improving recently through our text-message service, as well as staff being ‘encouraged’ to update the school website with more frequency.

We have also been given permission for the blogging classes to have their own Twitter account as well. So far, one has been set up (@StJosephsY5), meaning new posts are automatically tweeted to followers, and the class can communicate directly with other classes around the world. There are already plans for a Twitter Q&A with author Sally Grindley.

Twitter is not the be-all and end-all, but it is certainly an open and free resource which we would be foolish to ignore. There are so many helpful people using Twitter who are more than willing to help children, teachers and schools alike; all it takes is to go for it.

I’d love to hear from any schools who have used Twitter for a while to communicate with parents, particularly if you have had any issues. How did you deal with them?

Twitter? Why bother?

twittercup

I was a real Twitter cynic to begin with. I didn’t understand it, didn’t see the point, and didn’t know why people kept shouting into the cybersphere in the hope someone, somewhere, might shout back.

I can’t remember why I joined, but started following sports writers, musicians and local live venues. It was only when I travelled to see my friend Laura that I began to understand its power, and I am now pretty much addicted.

From an education standpoint, Twitter can be your biggest resource base. Follow the right people, and they will leave a little trail of breadcrumbs, leading you to other interesting and like-minded folk. Become brave enough to tweet yourself, and teachers from across the land will help you out by leaving you links, visiting your class blogs or simply answering a question. I have mainly been following those in the know in ICT, Literacy and PE, but who you follow is obviously up to you and your own interests. It is what you make of it.

Laura originally recommended following David Mitchell (@DeputyMitchell) and Ian Addison (@ianaddison), which I duly did, and from there it has grown and grown. I was able to find out more about what other schools were doing from David’s and Ian’s school and personal blogs, as well as branching out a little further. From here, I found wonderful websites (the Literacy Shed and ICT Magic to name but two) and started reading blogs about developments in education that interest me personally. I even experienced first-hand the community spirit that Twitter teachers have, as I asked any teachers to comment on their use of ICT in their school so I could present it to my headteacher. I received several replies from teachers I had never met, teachers who gave up their time in order to help somebody else. In addition, I had direct messages inviting me to visit schools, and even one generous offer to come into my school to present for free.

If I was cynical at first, then now I am converted, and trying to bang the Twitter drum in my own school. Most teachers are now on there, and lots have been sending each other links to articles, events and websites for other teachers to use. Our headteacher even gave in to the pressure and is taking baby-steps as we speak. We will hopefully be tweeting from the classroom once we begin blogging.

In a time when cutbacks are made to local authorities and in-school training is being reduced, then Twitter is the perfect platform for developing yourself on both a personal and a professional level. Find out more, be brave and go for it. You will surprise yourself – I did.

Recommended tweeters (mainly from an ICT perspective):

@ianaddison – Ian Addison, all-round ICT guru
@DeputyMitchell – David Mitchell, blogging enthusiast and founder of Quadblogging
@ICTMagic – constant tweets of brilliant online resources
@redgierob – Rob Smith, creator of The Literacy Shed
@ukedchat – education discussions every Thursday using the hashtag #ukedchat
@ebd35 – Mary Farmer, another ICT guru
@syded06 – for anything regarding iPads in classrooms
@toots2106 – helpful advice and discussion on ICT
@dughall – again, as above, very helpful and knows his stuff!
@timrylands – regular tweets on what could be used in class
@TheHeadsOffice – founder of the 100 Word Challenge

There are many more – find out for yourselves (and let me know!)

The social media conundrum

This blog is seeking a bit of help and advice.

Our school has recently had its first incident on Facebook where a pupil had been caught out being rather derogatory about some of his classmates. Further investigation found many of our children also on Twitter, using unlocked accounts and posting photographs freely. This brought about staffroom conversation about the rights of children, the decision making of parents and the roles of teachers.

My personal point of view is that we should be teaching children about social networking. All of the children are aware of such websites from as young as year 2, perhaps younger if they have older siblings. They know what they are for, they know how they work. I asked my own class (year 4) whether they were signed up to Facebook and/or Twitter; about 25% were. As teachers, this is something we need to address. We should be discussing the potential dangers of Facebook, modelling how to use Twitter safely and going further than just the same old messages of ‘this website is not for you’.

Once staff were made aware of the boy’s actions on Facebook, the children were spoken to, local police have been invited in to discuss issues with (only) the year 6 children, and discussions were held about what to do next.

Legally, any child under 13 on Facebook can be reported and have their account deleted (Twitter is a little more vague with its policies). Is this something teachers should have the power to do? Or would that incur the wrath of parents? Should we hold meetings with parents? Maybe, if only to explain to them what we will be teaching about with regards to social media, and/or to discuss any new home-school policies or agreements. But whatever the outcome, at the core is the fact that we should be teaching about it.

This is the polar opposite of what our local authority, and by proxy some staff, think we should be doing. Facebook and Twitter, and, for that matter, many blogging sites, are blocked in school. I have asked people in higher positions than myself to have them unblocked, but I’ve been told no. When asked why, the answers are vague. Maybe it is just a lack of knowledge about certain sites, and how they work. Perhaps it is a fear of the new and unknown. It may be because they are influenced by media hype about social media, some of which is rightly reported but often exaggerated.

As the the Eddie Izzard sketch goes, we can be divided into two groups – techno-fear, and techno-joy. Regardless of teacher’s own personal opinions on social media, our own fears should be put on hold. Our children will use social media, whether we tell them to or not. Surely then, it is only right we show them how  to do it safely?

Any advice from people who have helped introduce teaching about social media in schools would be greatly received, especially if you had to persuade the cynics!