Monday, 30 May 2011

Jumpstart Literacy

Jumpstart Literacy by Pie Corbett is a fabulous book for anyone wanting to spice up their English lessons!

The best way I can describe the book is that it is full of easy to teach mental starters for English. At least that's certainly how I have begun to use it.

Activities described in the book are:

  • Jumpstarting spelling - activities for memorising and improving spelling.
  • Jumpstarting words - different word classes and playing with words.
  • Jumpstarting sentences - developing control, manipulating and inventing sentences.
  • Jumpstarting writing - establishing a creative frame of mind for imaginative writing.
  • Jumpstarting speaking, listening and drama - activities to develop confidence in verbal and physical expression.
  • Jumpstarting learning - strategies to establish a learning mood in any subject

An example is Odd Word = Story:
This is a story-starter game that shows children how stories can spring up from the most extraordinary places!
  • Spend a few minutes brainstorming a list of nouns with the children. Write these on the whole-class board, creating a 'word wall; of suggestions. Encourage them to make their list as varied as possible... it will make for more imaginative stories in the long run!
  • The children each select two nouns that do not seem to go together, e.g. horse and pumpkin or toothpaste and space, and then have a few minutes to begin a narrative linking the two together. Explain to them that this was precisely what C.S. Lewis did in his classic tale, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. A narrative might look something like this:
  • One morning, while an astronaut was busy brushing his teeth, he noticed how beautifully white they were looking. He was due to launch off into space that day, so he decided to take a rocket fill of toothpaste with him, so that he could make the stars sparkle even brighter! 
I love the simplicity of the ideas and the ways that they can grab attention and inspire learning. I always felt that one of the strengths of the original National Numeracy Strategy was the mental starter. It started lessons with a bang! The ideas in this book could start your lessons off with a bang too!

I think the ideas are suitable for Year Three and upwards.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Reflections on Lost

I'm currently re-watching my favourite TV series - Lost! It's really interesting how the 'black vs white' theme, which represented Jacob and the Man In Black, was actually clearly there right from the beginning. It's now been a year since the series ended. The trouble is, the more I watch the older episodes that more annoyed I get about the final series.

I obsessed about the series from the moment I started to watch it. I loved the way that mysteries were built and gradually explained. The whole thing was perfect... for five seasons. Then Season Six arrived. 

I felt cheated by the final season. Unconvincing answers were given to some questions, other questions were avoided altogether. The ridiculous sideways flashes were introduced. The final episode was brilliant and it was not the finale which annoyed me - really it was the whole of the final season.

Here are some of main annoyances:

  • What was the significance of Aaron? The baby seemed to be such a crucial part of the story of Claire and Kate yet he didn't even appear in the final series.
  • Why wasn't there a Claire flashback in the final series to tell us more about what made her crazy?
  • Why were viewers cheated about the season one finale? We were never told what The Others wanted with Walt and why they took him.
  • Why did Sayid spend all of his life in love with Nadia and then end up with Shannon in his after life?
  • Charles' Widmore's character was one of the most mysterious - yet he ended up being insignificant. In the grand scheme of things his freighter arriving actually had no bearing on what happened in the final series. That means we can write off the entire fourth season!
  • I get annoyed that one of my favourite characters, Ben, became a bit-part character in the final series. 
  • I loved learning about the Dharma Initiative in Season Five but the were never mentioned in the final series.
  • In Season Three they were building a runway for Ajira flight 316 - how did they know to do this?!
  • Why were all of the Dharma stations built?
  • How did nobody see the lighthouse? And why smash it up without ever telling us anything about it?
  • Where did the rest of the statue go to after it was knocked over?
  • I wish Eko's character had been explained more.
  • Danielle was on the island for 16 years and yet learned nothing about it. She didn't seem to know where anything was. Why?! It was such a shame that she was killed in Season Four.
If I could have written Season Six I would have had sideways flashes, but in my sideways flashes it would show what would happen if the plane never crashed. But somehow the characters would still have ended up on the island - meaning that it was always going to be their destiny.

I could go on as I have hundreds of these. I must stress that I still love the series, but I wish the writers had come up with something better than the purgatory idea in Season Six, and given a better role to Ben and Widmore.

Has anyone else got any thoughts about this?

Friday, 27 May 2011


I recently enjoyed reading Duncan Bannatyne's autobiography 'Anyone Can Do It'. There was an important message made about delegation which really applies to working in schools.

Leaders must learn to empower their staff by delegating so that they can concentrate on the big picture.
"Being free to look to the future and work out how to grow is key to building a business: it's what a chief executive is there to do. If I had been consumed with how each manager was running their department, or had got personally involved in details like which bed linen we bought, I would never have been able to look for new sites, analyse the competition, negotiate new contracts or any of the other things that made us better and kept us competitive. If my thoughts were uncluttered by the minutiae of the business, then I was better able to see the bigger picture, to lead and problem solve."
If chief executive means headteacher then it means that a business will run most effectively if managers are given clear roles and responsibilities so that the headteacher can focus on impact, results and making sure that the school is the best at what it is good at.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Job application letters

I have read a lot of application letters recently. We had around 100 applications for a vacancy advertised.

Here are some dos and don'ts that I would suggest to anyone applying for a teaching vacancy - particularly if you are an NQT and are in the middle of the job application process.

I'd love to know if you have any further ideas to add to this list. Feel free to add a comment.
  • DO take care - spelling, grammar and presentation count when trying to make an impression.
  • DO say what makes you DIFFERENT. There could be 100 people applying for same job. What makes you different. Think of all the personal qualities, practices and experiences you have which others don't. Celebrate them in your letter.
  • DON'T say what you think schools want to hear. Schools aren't looking for a robot - they want to employ someone that stands out. In your application it is crucial that you don't say the same old things that every teacher does. All teachers use Every Child Matters - but why mention it in your letter unless you do something DIFFERENT to them? All teachers try to plan exciting lessons - but why are yours DIFFERENT?
  • DON'T USE TEACHER SPEAK! After working with many trainee teachers over the years I can spout sentences that relate to the QTS standards in my sleep. All trainee teachers can do this too and they will try to use it in their applications. Try to avoid it if you can. If everyone else is going to say it, what's the point? Say something that counts.
  • DO use real examples. I have read dozens of letters (full of teacher-speak) that say the same old things. "I use behaviour management strategies to create a productive, co-operative environment in my classroom." Well, doesn't everyone?! Back up whatever you can with a REAL example of something you have done.
  • DO make the effort - Never send out standard letters - they'll go straight in the bin. And don't be fooled - keeping it the same but changing the headteacher's name is very easy to notice. 
  • DO make your letter absolutely personal to the school. Refer to what you know about it and what you will could add to the school if you were successful.
  • DO go to visit the school - when you have a large number of candidates a quick way to eliminate potential candidates is to discount anyone who hasn't made contact with the school
  • DO stand out during a visit. This can be very easy if you are shown around on your own. But it is difficult if you're shown in a group. Ask pertinent questions. Show personality. Look interested. Don't be afraid. But take care that you don't say too much or be over-friendly.
  • DO select the points that you want to make in your letter in order of importance. What qualities is the school looking for? What makes you particularly special? These things need to go in first.
  • DO bear in mind the people who are reading the letters. There could be hundreds of pages of letters to read, and you can guarantee that letters that go on for more than two pages will not go down well.
  • DO include a picture in your letter, e.g. a display or classroom activity - a good way to make your letter stand out.
  • DO think about what you will offer the school - make reference to what you know about the school from the visit or the school's website. How could you add to these things?
  • DO remember that the job hunting process begins the moment you enter an ITT course - gain as much experience as you can during training - it all counts.
  • DO remember that sometimes it's not what you know, but who. Make an impression on your placement or get to know teachers through voluntary work or supply work. A word of warning, though - remember that the interview panel do not have give you a job automatically just because you are known to the school. Never assume that the job is yours.
  • DO acknowledge gap years and out of school experiences. Have you spent a year travelling? How has your experience affected you as a teacher/person? You've worked in a bank for the last few months whilst looking for jobs. How can this experience relate to the classroom? 
  • DON'T share everything on Facebook! This hasn't happened to anyone I know, but I have read  in newspapers that employers will sometimes check out candidates' Facebook profiles.
Doug Belshaw's book #getthatjob is well worth a read for further guidance about applying for teaching jobs.

You may also want to check out the PGCE Survival Guide.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

21st Century ICT Learning Part 2

Here is a list of resources and websites that we learned about on the 21st Century ICT course I attended. I have added details about where they could fit into the new curriculum.

Interactive online posters
  • Finding information
  • Creating multimedia
  • Creating music and sound
  • Creating text and pictures

Programming language
  • Giving instructions
  • Modelling
GoControl and Flowall
Control simulation software
  • Giving instructions
  • Modelling
Stickfigure animation
  • Creating multimedia, animation and video
  • Creating music and sound
  • Creating text and pictures
Primary Pad
For collaborative writing
  • Creating text and pictures
Presentation tool
  • Creating multimedia, animation and video
  • Creating text
Primary Wall
Collaborative sticky note wall
  • Creating text and pictures
  • Finding information
Creating games, quizzes and activities
  • Creating multimedia, animation and video
  • Creating music and sound
  • Creating text and pictures
  • Giving instructions
We also had a look at Purplemash which covers several areas of the curriculum.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Bad Day Toolbox

After reading this post at the SimpleProductivityBlog I have put together my own tool box to help me break out of a bad day.

Here is my list of things I can do to make myself feel better in the midst of a really bad day:

  • Watch my baby girl and wonder at how amazing life is
  • Go for a walk with my wife
  • Listen to my favourite music
  • Tidy up
  • Go for a run
  • Go for a beer with one of my friends or family
  • Watch a TV comedy programme
  • Help someone
  • Leave the building/room - take a change of scenery
  • Read a book
  • Eat some chocolate
  • Drink Lucozade (only in very extreme circumstances as I don't want to re-ignite my Luzocade addiction)

Baby's online profile

It would appear that I inadvertently opened up a small Twitter debate shortly after our baby was born. I had remember Doug Belshaw writing that he had registered a web domain for his children shortly after their births. I've always had in mind to do the same when our baby was born.

A few days after Lily was born I registered websites in her name using I believe it is important to give my child the opportunity to have a web domain in her name - in the future I'm certain that it will be vital for professionals to have an online presence (see - high hopes for her already!) In the meantime, I'm using Posterous to create a website (a private site which only family and friends can access). Her web address forwards to it.

I also registered her name as a private limited company using (High hopes once again!) I just wanted to be able to give her this option in the future.

I asked Doug what else he thought was worth registering. He recommended for registering social media.

The debate that my question triggered can be found here:

My own view is that I intend our daughter to be ICT savvy and have a real understanding of the potential of the internet and also of the dangers. I am ambitious for her and want to offer her any help I can. Registering web domains and social media profiles is only a small thing now that might just make a big difference in the future!

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Thursday, 5 May 2011


My class and I have fallen in love with 2Do It Yourself (2DIY) which is an incredible piece of software made by 2Simple Software. This is not new software, as it has been around for a few years now, but I have only just begun to use it!

This is a unique child-friendly yet incredibly powerful piece of software.

"Create your own interactive Flash resources, activities, games, puzzles, quizzes. With this software teachers and primary school children can create cross-curricular, personalised resources and use them on whiteboards, websites and even on Learning Platforms. There are plenty of opportunities for meaningful learning as children plan, design, create, publish and play."

The software could just as easily be used by teachers to create games and activities for their class as it is for children to use it to demonstrate their learning. It has cross-curricular potential and it could be used in all year groups!

I began using the software with my class by demonstrating the very basics about how to set up a matching pairs game. They were shown how to save their work, create pairs, use the drawing and typing tools and change the timings and sounds. Within 40 minutes they had learned lots of other things - adding music, recording sounds, changing the colours of the backs of cards, adding instructions, animating the instructions menu and more. I believe this is the beauty of the software - it is great for allowing the children to just 'have a go' and find out what they can do! There were a number of 'magic moments' around the ICT Suite as everything that was discovered had a wow factor!

Here are the tasks I have (currently) planned to set the children to try:

  • Make a times table matching pairs game
  • Create a map labelling activity for our junior building (ready for our Year Twos)
  • Put together a multiple choice quiz about Ancient Egyptian Gods and Goddesses
  • Create Venn and Carroll diagram activities to demonstrate what they have learned
  • Make a game about Isis collecting all of the pieces of Osiris' body
  • Design a catching game to catch all of the organs removed and placed in canopic jars during mummification

Websites and resources that could be useful if you are interested in using 2DIY are:

The games that our children have made can be found on our school website here.

Do you use 2DIY with your pupils?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Monthly Review: April 2011

Looking back, April now just seems like a blur. Our baby girl, Lily, was born on the 19th and since then life has been completely different!

Here are the highlights:


Lily Grace was born after a very long labour (my poor wife!) She has already turned our lives upside down. I know I'm biased, but she is the most beautiful baby ever! I can't believe that something so tiny can cause everything to change! How does one little person take up so much time? Any why is everything for a tiny baby so big?! 

Reducing work hours
Since Christmas I've gradually been reducing the hours that I've spent at work. I now arrive at school by 7.45am and leave at 5pm. It can be tricky to fit things in, but I'm trying to get smarter with my use of time. I must keep this up so that I can get home to see the baby!

ICT course
I attended the second part of my ICT course. It was really helpful and I have lots of ideas to share with staff. Unfortunately, due to other priorities, these will have to wait until the new school year whilst I trial them in my own class.

Updating e-Safety & Acceptable Use Policies
I wanted the new versions of these policies to be more specific about social networking - in particular by staff, and in the policies we offer recommendations and guidance to help colleagues to stay safe.