Report writing

Each year I buy several ring leaf record cards (one for each school and year group) like these from Wilkinsons. At the beginning of the year I label each card with the name, photo and class/year group of each pupil, and throughout the year I jot little notes down about their progress: participation, pronunciation, accuracy of written work etc. It doesn’t take much time to write a quick line on the card while marking work, or to add a sentence at the end of a lesson.  I obviously don’t write on every card every day – just when there is something particular I want to add, such as the fact that they’ve shown particular interest in a topic, started answering more questions etc.

I find this useful at parents’ evenings when I can refer to the card to make sure I don’t forget anything important. When you watch the children grow and progress week by week, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the confident child who is always first to volunteer for role plays was too shy to say their own name at the beginning of the year – especially when you are teaching more than one class in more than one school. I don’t have to spend time writing notes especially for the occasion because I’ve been doing it bit by bit during the year and I’ve had a really positive reaction from parents, who love the personalisation.

It’s also a blessing at this time of year when it’s time to write reports because everything I want to say is right there at my fingertips – a whole year’s worth of progress all on one card.  There’s no need to choose from banks of statements, or copy and paste sentences from reports of children who are similar, with the risk of forgetting to change the name. It’s quicker to just write individual, completely personalised reports from the notes in my hand.

How to Learn Children’s Names in September

It’s that time of year again, when teachers are thinking about their new classes, hoping they won’t have too many with the same name, and wondering how they will ever learn all the names if they aren’t all the same.

Seasoned teachers know that there’s nothing really to worry about and that they will learn everyone’s name this year – just as they do every year. NQTs and those about to embark on teacher training courses might be feeling a little more daunted. This is how I do it:

I tell a story along the lines of The Enormous Turnip but about a person who got their hat stuck on their head because it was too small – and I take a flamboyant hat along to use as a prop. I’m a languages teacher, so I do this in French, but it will work in English too.

I call out the children one by one, and each time I retell the story I repeat the names of all the children in the line as well as those who are still watching. Eg: Jack B, Chloe, Izzy, Jade S and Jack C pulled and pulled and pulled, but the hat was still stuck. Dale, Hassan, Jack H, Jade  W, Millie, Ahmina etc were all laughing at them, so they called Hassan up to help.

Everyone joins in with the story, so even those sitting down waiting their turn to join in are repeating the words to the story and calling out the names (useful if you have a blank as there are 29 other children saying each other’s names!).

It’s quite time-consuming – you need to set aside a good 15-20 minutes – but by the time you have called the last person up , the hat has come off and everyone has pretended to fall over, you’ve repeated everyone’s name so many times that you know you’ll never ever forget them!

For me, it’s worth investing the time because I usually teach several classes in several schools so by the end of the first week I need to have learnt well over 300 names!  If you want to give it a go, bear in mind that it needs a lot of space so you will either need to clear all the tables away or better still book the hall! It’s a good opportunity to reinforce behaviour too, with plenty of praise for the children sensibly waiting their turn.

If you don’t have the time or the space to spare, or you don’t like the sound of this, I’ve also found a couple of other blog posts with some different ideas for you to try: https://jamesstubbs.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/learning-names/  and  http://teacherpop.org/2016/07/6-surefire-ways-remember-students-names/

If you have any other ideas for how to remember names, please do share them in the comments.

Teach Like You Mean It!

I often see Facebook posts from trainee teachers and NQTs asking how to make particular subjects “exciting”, or looking for a hook to draw them in.

While I agree it’s important that children enjoy learning, I also think it’s important to remember that being exciting is not necessarily the same as being engaging. As the teacher in the classroom, we are the main ingredient in engaging the children and we are more than just the sum of the activities we choose.

I always remember one particular lesson I taught as a trainee teacher. It was Y9 French, and the topic was boring. I racked my brains trying to think of a way to spice it up, to make it more exciting. I couldn’t come up with anything and nor could my mentor. This was before Facebook was as big as it is now, so I couldn’t ask around in any of the teaching groups to get advice from hundreds of teachers around the country. I knew I was doomed. If I thought this topic was boring, there was no way I was going to convince 30 Year 9s otherwise and I was dreading the lesson. The closer it got, the more I was dreading it.

Eventually the time of the lesson arrived. With a sinking feeling in my heart I walked to the door to greet my class. Plastering a smile on my face, I uttered my first words: “Come in. Settle down quickly. I can’t wait to get started – I’ve been looking forward to today’s lesson all week.”

The change in the class was immediately visible. They picked up their heads, slumped shoulders perked up and they sat ready to listen to see what was going to be so good about this lesson. It actually turned into one of the best lessons I taught during my training year. The pupils were engaged. They worked hard and asked pertinent questions. They learnt something new and because they were so willing to commit to the learning process, we also cleared up a couple of misconceptions they already had. My mentor was delighted and I got a really good grading for that lesson. It was then I realised that it was my attitude that made all the difference.

Many years later I was given the topic of electricity to teach in science to year four. It was a topic I’d never taught before, and it was one I’d never really enjoyed learning about at school, so I really wasn’t looking forward to it. So I did what I always do in such situations. I smiled brightly and told them how much fun we were going to have learning about electricity. This became one of my (and their) favourite subjects that year. The children worked so hard and enjoyed it so much that we finished everything on the curriculum ahead of time. We were then able to explore other areas which they chose themselves: how electricity is generated and how it travels from the power station to people’s homes, how a battery works, how the ISS gets its power, and even how a Faraday cage works.

I didn’t have a snazzy title for the topic. I didn’t have a great “hook”. I didn’t even have lots of expensive and exciting resources. What I did have was the ability to fake it until it became true. My advice now to NQTs and trainee teachers is, “Don’t stress about hooks and titles and worrying about whether or not they will find it exciting. Instead, just tell them how much fun it’s going to be – and then teach like you really mean it!

How to Study Smart: 20 Scientific Ways to Learn Faster – Daniel Wong

Most of us have to learn something new at some point in our lives. Thankfully my GCSE, A level and BA days are behind me, but I still like to do short courses and if ever a fairy godmother dropped a fortune in my lap I’d love to do a Masters in the future.

These tips, which I found on the Open2Study Facebook page are for everyone who still has exams to pass. I especially like the one about taking notes with pen and paper, because I always feel more creative with a pen in my hand than a keyboard at my fingertips.

How to Study Smart: 20 Scientific Ways to Learn Faster – Daniel Wong.

Christmas Wishes

As you all know by now, instead of sending Christmas cards, Ian and I prefer to use the money we would have spent on cards and stamps to help others in some way.

You may remember that last year we paid for John and Eddie, a homeless man and his dog, to spend a few nights in a hostel over the Christmas period and bought him a couple of presents to unwrap. Thanks to the generosity of family and friends who also contributed, John was able to stay in the hostel for over a week which entitled him to extra support from the hostel. We haven’t seen him for several months now, but the last time we did speak to him, the hostel were helping him to find accommodation of his own and to claim some benefits. We’re both hoping that the fact we don’t see him anymore means that he is finally off the streets and enjoying life.

This year we have decided to donate to the National Deaf Children’s Society. I’ve been working in a school for deaf children for a couple of years now and so have see first hand the difficulties deaf people face and the importance of the support or organisations such as this one.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Sally-Jayne and Ian