Friday, 26 February 2016

Mystery Skype with the Family

I've know about Mystery Skype for some time and it's been one of those things I've wanted to do and not got round to (until now). I'd contacted other teachers, via Twitter, and tried to arrange times, but often - for various reasons - it didn't work out.

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A Friday recently, I was in school and I knew that before lunch we would have about half an hour of spare time. So, I got my phone out and via the wonders of Whatsapp, contacted my sister (in Sydney). One hour later, we were Mystery Skyping my sister, sat in her apartment in Australia trying to guess where in the world she was. We asked questions. She replied either 'yes' or 'no' and eventually we worked out her location. She then showed us the clock in her room, the harbour, the lit up bridge and the dark outside, lots of dark - oh and a thermometer for temperature comparison. A fantastic half an hour that captivated my class. I intend to carry out my Skype link ups as Mystery Skypes (with other classes and friends & family) and as general chats or information sharing/gathering. 

Got a friend or relative in another country? Mystery Skype them! 

Friday, 19 February 2016

'We Make Use of...' AR

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The main impacts of Accelerated Reader have been engaging children in reading (or reading more), reading at the correct level and tracking what children read and how frequently.

Looking back, my previous tracking and knowledge of children's independent reading was not good enough. I'm now far more aware of what's going on with the independent reading of the thirty children in my class.

Initially, the children take a vocabulary test. This test provides the children a level at which to select books from. Each time the children read a book they complete a quiz on that book. As a result of the quiz, children earn points towards their target. Each child's target is based upon reading for a certain length of time each day (20 minutes in our case) and their reading ability. This, through comprehension questions, indicates (to some extent) their understanding of that book. The use of levels, target setting and certificates has inspired many children to read more than they had previously.

Certificates are presented in class, year group assemblies or whole school assembly depending on the certificate. In addition to the ones within AR, we also created some of our own.

As with many online platforms, it continues to develop and add new features. There is a wealth of data within the site to look at the school, year groups, classes and individual children's abilities, gaps, progress and so on.

Note: We have written this post as a result of using this website in our classrooms. We have not been asked or paid to write. We are often approached to write posts, but have and will continue to only write about what we have done in our classrooms. We're two full-time class teachers choosing to blog about our experiences.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Parent Comments on Home Learning

A few years ago, we started setting some home learning activities that didn't require a written outcome (baking, estimating, reciting a poem and so on). As part of this, we asked for a parental comment - to confirm the learning had taken place.

However, many of the responses, from parents, became so useful that we now include this on all home learning activities. There are many 'good' and 'all done', but also positives, negatives and many 'child needs more help withs'. All of which are vital to find out. 

Monday, 15 February 2016

Baby in the Classroom

At our school, parents (and other relatives) are invited to join their child for lunch. We have up to ten parents per day, in the hall, eating with their children. If you don't already, maybe you should give it a go. Anyway, as a result of that, we, as teachers, have brought our own young children into school to eat with us.

A few weeks ago, my thirteen moth old daughter and wife were due to join my for lunch. I asked them to come in an hour early and we had a lesson with my class before lunch. Here's what we did:

The children sat in a circle, with my daughter in the middle.

We waved to her and she waved back. We all said hello in turn and she followed the sound.

We passed a ball to her and she passed it back.

We pulled her train around the circle for her to follow.

Of course, we played peek-a-bo. Both her and the class loved that.

We sang 'Twinkle Twinkle' to her.

We said 'Ta', 'Baby' and 'No' for her to copy.

The children asked questions and generally interacted with her.

Why did I choose to do this? In my Year Five class of 30 pupils, only two of them have a sibling of a similar age. Some are from single child families; others the youngest child. The ones who do have younger siblings are similar in age. It gave them chance see and interact with a one year old baby. Many of the class appreciated this and they don't get the opportunity to in their extended families. In addition, my daughter thoroughly enjoyed her time in the limelight! 

So, if you have access to a small child and would like to spend some time with them in your classroom, I'd recommend it.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

'We Make Use of...' 100WC

We've been aware of the 100 Word Challenge since 2011. In the past, we've used the prompt occasionally in class and commented upon children's writing shared via the 100 Word site. And, in 2012, Julia, the creator of the challenge, even attended a TeachMeet that we organised. 

This year, through the Night Zookeeper website, we've started to use the 100 Word Challenge on a weekly basis. We've made time each week to complete the challenge and to comment upon other children's work. We've seen it be hugely beneficial to the children and had an impact on many of their writing abilities. Generally, in our English lessons, the children need to demonstrate their ability to follow a certain text type in a certain way (there are success criteria and learning objectives to meet). The 100 Word Challenge is different: write a response to the prompt in your own way, how you like... 

Some children have written entries as good as their normal every-day writing; others have been really enthused by it and created writing better than they do at other times. Once the children have completed their 100 Word entry, they visit other class' entries and read the children's work. After they've read it, they leave comments for that child. Thus, widening their experience of writing and being critical of their peers. 

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All-in-all, it's been a wonderful addition to our classroom practice. As we use Night Zookeeper, we've also made use of the Star Writing each week. Although the 100WC can be carried out through the Night Zookeeper website, any blog site can be used and Julia has recently started offering blogs hosted on (Contact her for details).

Should you wish to pop by and read our writing or leave us a comment or two, our Night Zookeeper writing can be found &

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Tools for Productivity

A few online tools and tools that can be downloaded, all for free, that we use regularly. We've shared their use previously, but here they are all together in one post...

Easily create mosaics with images on your computer. Allows images of an event or children's work to be shared in an interesting way.

We've used this site mostly to convert video formats (to allow editing via iMovie or Movie Maker, uploading to iPod/iPad or for use in SMART Notebook), but it is also useful for converting between .docx & .pdf and different image types.
Does exactly what it says on the tin. Need a copy of a blog post or website to read away from an electronic device? Get a copy in an easier to print format. Got an online article linked to planning that you'd like to make available offline? Use this to make a .pdf copy.

Got an image that you want to display, only larger? Put it through Posterazor and get a print out of the picture, enlarged, that can be put together and stuck up.

This tool is one of the first we turn on each morning and the last to get turned off at night. We run numerous Twitter accounts and this enables us to post from them and follow their notifications. In addition, various columns can be set up to search for words, phrases (one for your school name can be an interesting addition) and hashtags.

As *Mac users, this tool has occasionally been useful for running .exe (Windows) files on OSX.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Monday, 1 February 2016

Reading to The Class (Picture Books)

I've never been much of a reader. Don't know why. Just the way I am I suppose. However, I do enjoy being read to (bloomin' love being read to) and enjoy reading a book out loud for others to share in the enjoyment of. This is another post where my classroom practice has been altered by by daughter. My daughter is now just over a year old and, in the past year, I've rediscovered the library and picture books. She quite enjoys books and I enjoy reading to her at bedtime. There are some beautiful, interesting and amusing picture books. 

In the past, we've written about picture books being a useful tool in Key Stage Two. What I've done so far in the spring term is change my approach to reading to my class. In the past, I read 'longer' books: Tove Jansson, Dhal, Blyton etc... These have mostly been successful, but often, I'd start a book and not manage to get it finished or we'd lose track of events. I've taken into school some of the books I read my daughter, I've chosen picture books from the school library and even had one brought in by the children. The result has been that we've started and finished a story in two or three days. 

What do I want to get out of a story? Children enjoying it. Learning about plot. Seeing vocabulary and punctuation choices. Getting ideas for their own writing. We've got all of these so far!

Notable stand outs so far...

Mr. Wuffles! - David Wiesner

Horton Hears a Who - Dr. Seuss

This Moose Belongs to Me - Oliver Jeffers

I'll still read some longer books too (that's important), and Five on a Treasure Island will be one of them, but I'll get in lots of picture books in between.