A focus on Reading

It seems a long while since I dashed off my rant about the reading tests. Rereading it reminded me of how angry we all were after day 1 of this year’s Sats. When the results came in, reading had gone down as we had expected. So this year’s focus is on reading. Not reading to pass a test in May (although I hope that they will) but a focus on becoming readers who enjoy reading for its own sake and happily spend their time reading a wide range of books. I am very conscious this year that I didn’t really do enough to promote reading in the classroom which is ridiculous considering that I read at every available opportunity.

This decision was then reinforced by several discussions on Twitter as many other people have also been thinking and acting on this issue. I read many blog posts including those by @mrsPTeach  and @fod3 which really helped me to sort out my ideas.  James Clements’ report on Reading for Pleasure on the OUP website was very useful as well as the Herts for Learning blog. I have also begun reading The Book Whisperer by Doralyn Miller which has already inspired me to change some of what I do

My book corner display is initially based on Roald Dahl for his 100th birthday but gradually I want that to change so that the display board becomes a place for the children to read recommendations of books from their friends as well as information about new books that have been added to the book selection. Hopefully it will become a useful point of reference for the children rather than just being a static display.

roald dahl

I usually begin by getting the children to go and choose their books a table at a time in a nice orderly fashion. After reading the first chapter of The Book Whisperer, I am changing that and having a version of her ‘book frenzy’. I’m going to get all my book boxes out of the book corner and put them on the tables and have the entire class choosing at once. Hopefully this will generate some discussion and enthusiasm for reading on the first day.

Once a week, we’re also going to have DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read) when I will read as well. I’m going to be reading books out of my book corner that I haven’t read yet to hopefully provide a role model as well as enabling me to talk sensibly about what is actually on my classroom bookshelves. I have a list of books that I am going to work my way through.

I also want to try and read more extracts from books to generate interest among the children. We always have our class novel but I think that I need to give them a taste of a wider range of books than just the four or five that we manage to read during the year

Those are my initial ideas. None of them are my own, they are all borrowed from other people but I hope that they will help to generate enthusiasm and interest in books. The biggest thing is going to be my input though. My pupils will not develop enthusiasm if I don’t have it. I need to do a much better job at promoting reading and helping all of my Year 6 pupils find books that they can enjoy.



Reading Furore

What a morning! Today saw the first of this year’s Sats tests and to be honest, I wasn’t that worried. My pupils have made great progress with reading this year. Their enthusiasm and interest has grown and their understanding and ability to infer from a text has really developed. We have done the sample paper and not done too badly and done lots of other similar types of questions over the past few months.

My feeling of general optimism lasted for about 10 minutes after the test began. The texts looked all right, not too densely printed so that the pupils weren’t put off by huge amounts to read but then I began to look at the answer booklet.

How on earth can anyone seriously think that was a valid test of an entire cohort of Year 6 pupils? Many of the questions were pitched at a level well above the understanding of an average child and the language being tested was unrealistic. There seemed to be a lot less single mark questions that could be answered fairly straightforwardly too.

What really annoys me though is the damage that the government have done to my children’s feelings about reading. All year, I have encouraged them to read and introduced them to texts that they enjoy. I have worked hard to get them to view reading as something enjoyable that they are all good at.

That has been totally destroyed for many of my children this morning. Reading will now become something that they have failed at and the memory of their struggle and upset will overshadow the pleasure that they found earlier during this year.

Nicky Morgan and Nick Gibb should be ashamed of themselves for presiding over such an unsuitable test for assessing the reading ability of 10 and 11 year olds. There has to be a better way and it needs to be found before next May.


Daily pictures in March

March was quite a difficult month to try and take a photo everyday. I’m not sure why especially since it seemed to be getting easier in February. Part of the difficulty was due to workload and not really having anything noticeable to take photos of. School exercise books aren’t especially photogenic although they do feature on a couple of photos.

I have found that I have been noticing the light a lot more. I can really see why the impressionists such as Monet loved to paint the same subject at different times. The light makes such a lot of difference. A lot of my photos feature sunlight and reflections.

Here are some of my favourites from last month. The whole collection is on Flickr


Anyone who does look at the whole month will notice that I am a photo short. I know that I did take at least one photograph everyday but Mar 15th seems to have disappeared completely.

Mar 11th
Cobweb on the school gate at 7:15am
Mar 28th Watermead Park
Clouds through branches at Watermead Park

Hidden Swing

I love this photo of my children’s old swing seen through the trees at the bottom of the garden.

Mar 19th

This is my saddest picture of the year so far. It’s the last picture of our beautiful tabby cat Charlie. She was 14 and died later that morning. It was two weeks ago but I still expect to see her everyday.

I’m not stressed ……..honest

2015-09-25 16.10.23

Apparently April is Stress Awareness month and it is also probably the most stressful month of the year for many teachers. This is the month when we really try to cram in as much information as possible into our pupils ready for national testing in May so it feels very appropriate.

Teaching is becoming more and more stressful as the years go by. Every year there are new pressures on top of what already seemed like a full load. A year ago, I felt almost at the point of giving up my job completely as the stress was becoming too much. A supportive head and husband helped me through it but I have been determined that I was not going let myself feel that way again.

This year, I think that the stresses on teachers are even greater for many reasons that have been well documented elsewhere. However, although I feel hugely pressured and things have kept me awake at night, it hasn’t been as bad as last year. So what has been different?

Exercise has helped, especially walking. I live in a fairly built up area but there are a couple of walks that almost feel as though you’re in the countryside with streams and fields. Walking by water always makes me feel better.

I have also tried to build in time away from home with my husband. If I’m not at home then I can’t go onto my laptop and look at my planning again. Being somewhere completely different helps my mind to switch off properly. It’s also lovely to see new places or just walk by the sea.

However, think that a big part of the reason is that I have been more aware of the symptoms and therefore in a better position to deal with things. Last year, by the time I realised what was probably wrong with me, it was almost too late. This year, I have made a conscious effort to step off the hamster wheel when I felt that things were getting on top of me. It might be just for a short while such as going out for a walk at lunch time in the sunshine or maybe ditching the grammar exercise in their books in favour of a lesson done on whiteboards that won’t generate any more marking. Being aware of what is happening to you is really important. Stress builds up gradually and the effect can be catastrophic. I got away quite lightly but don’t ever want to feel like that again.

I don’t think that the stress in our profession is going to get better any time soon and so we need to get better at handling it. Hopefully Stress Awareness Month will help us to do that.

Grammar Test Blues

I really, really dislike the Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not campaigning for a Sats boycott. KS2 tests in whatever format are here to stay but the GP&S test is wrong on so many levels.

First of all, why on earth do the children need to remember the names of grammar terms? Surely what is important is being able to use grammar effectively in their own writing? Talking to colleagues who teach English up to A level and they are amazed at the demands of the Year 6 curriculum and cannot see the need for it. In my experience, my children use the past progressive and past perfect effectively in their writing but sadly can’t always remember the names correctly in a test situation.

This need to revert back to grammatical structures and rules of the 1950s for children at school in the 21st century seems to be total madness and unproductive to say the least. Because I am having to spend so much time learning the names of grammar rules, I have less time to teach them how to write well. How can that possibly be seen as a good thing?

The aspect of the GP&S tests that really annoys me though is the mark scheme. Unlike the Maths or Reading papers, the Grammar test is not interested in what the children can do; it is trying to catch them out. If you look at any questions on the Reading or Maths papers where the children have to give 4 or 5 answers, then these are 2 mark questions and the children will receive 1 mark for getting most of the questions right. Not so on the Grammar paper. Many of the questions have multiple elements, sometimes as many as 6 things needing to be found and all of these questions are worth just one mark. If a child misses a single one eg forgets to circle London in question 26 of the sample paper, then they receive no recognition at all for the fact that they really do understand the use of capital letters.

The paper states that the pupils have 45 minutes to do 36 questions but in reality there over double that number but very few marks available for them. This to my mind is simply wrong. If a child is able to create new words using suffixes in 4 out of 5 cases, then they surely have a good grasp of what they are doing and should be given credit for what they know. The Grammar paper should use the same format as the Reading and Maths papers and let children receive marks for the things that they get correct rather than one error cancelling out several correct answers which is the case in many of the grammar questions at present.

A day off for a good cause


Primary school should be about more than sats and stats! After History day last month, Friday was our annual charity day. Every year in March, we devote a Friday morning to raising money for charity. When it is Red Nose Day, that is our good cause. In the alternate years, we raise money for the school’s chosen charities.

The morning begins with a talent show assembly. Each class holds auditions during the week and the best acts get to appear on stage (for a small fee). The acts range from foundation stage singing en masse, jokes (funny and not so funny, strange, surreal sketches to singing and dance acts.

After that, the juniors go out and strip their classrooms of tables and chairs and turn the playgrounds into a giant bring and buy sale. It is all entirely their own work. All the teachers have to do is provide sellotape and prayers for a day that is dry and not too windy.


We had a huge variety of stalls and competitions this year. As well as the usual cakes for sale and guessing the number of sweets in jar, we had a hula hoop competition and a wet sponge throwing stall.


Foundation stage and the infants come to spend their money and the teachers stock up on books and wet play games as well as break any diet intentions by buying too many cakes.

This year the sun came out and we had a fantastic morning. I was impressed both by the ingenuity of some of the stalls as well as the generosity of many of our parents who had donated contents of stalls, prizes or helped their children to bake cakes.

This year, we raised a record amount of £875 which I think is £100 more than last year. That is almost of secondary importance though to the other things that the children get out of the morning. A morning free from Maths and English being just a tiny part of the benefits.

Maths Recall

This was originally begun as a Maths Blog when I had to keep a reflective journal as part of my MaST course several years ago so I decided that it was more than time for another Maths post.

One of the problems with Maths especially for Year 6, is helping your pupils keep all the plates spinning in the air at the same time. I have found my daily 5 a day practice to be really useful in keeping concepts and methods fresh in pupils’ minds as you are teaching them something different
See blog post here    https://devoil.wordpress.com/2015/02/

Another idea which I spotted today on Twitter was this

march 2016

This was from the excellent JustMaths (@just_maths ) and is to provide a bit of maths for Year 11 pupils everyday as they prepare for their exams. I am a great believer in not reinventing the wheel and so am going to create my own version of it for my Year 6 class to use in the Easter holidays. Hopefully the idea of doing just one Maths question a day won’t be too offputting and will help to keep methods fresh over the short break. It is interesting that I could easily use some of the same questions shown above which is indicative of how much more is being asked of our Year pupils this year.

I will post the Year 6 holiday version here when I have created it.