Why you should do assemblies differently!

Think back to when you were at school….. What were assemblies were like?

Rows upon rows of children all facing the all-mighty teacher that had happened to sign up to that assembly. Imparting knowledge they had learnt from google/book they had read that morning when they remembered while in the shower it was their turn to do assembly just an hour later. Touch and go with how many children were actually listening and how many suddenly had a real interest in the Velcro on their shoes, flicking the bit of hair of the child in front or catching up on the sleep they missed the night before. 

I remember doing my first assembly in my last school as an NQT, looking over the room of 300ish children and I would guess that about 30-50 were interested in what I had to say… and even then I am probably been optimistic!

So why is it that if  you were to walk into many schools in the UK this is exactly what still happens? Surely it’d be better to get rid of the assemblies and have extra learning time? I mean at School 21 we have at least 2 hours of assemblies a week, before you even start considering the class assemblies and P4C lessons that take place… what a waste of time right? 


Take a good look at the photo above (This photo was taken in the assembly I facilitated 2 weeks ago)… What do you notice? There’s no rows and children are talking to each other. You might also notice I used the word facilitate. As teachers we facilitate learning all the time so why should assemblies be any different? In my opinion they shouldn’t!

So what’s different about what actually happens in assemblies here?

Well you will notice children are in circles- this allows children to share ideas more effectively. Talk partners, trios and thumbs in discussions are just a few talk protocols that are used in assemblies. Topics are chosen very carefully to develop well-being and to develop the whole child and are built upon throughout the week; Key stage assembly, year group strong circle and P4C lessons. Talking points and questions are used a lot to generate discussion between groups and to provoke opinion. Children are given roles to stimulate discussion; they might be asked to summarise, challenge or clarify thinking. Sentence stems are used as readily as they are in lessons. We’re not afraid to get children moving about, to be controversial to provoke deeper thinking, to stand back and not be the one to talk the most; in fact in the most recent assembly I did the balance was 80:20 with children talking 80% of the time. 

And what’s the point in all of this?

At School 21 assemblies are elevated to the same importance as lessons. They are planned to push thinking, they allow exploration of ideas and they give a safe space for children to discuss how they feel. Assemblies provide new thinking for children. Thinking back to the traditional assembly in rows and that first assembly I did (not facilitated I may add), so many children used that time as a brain break, their thinking was not challenged and their input was not valued! 

If we as educators want our children to be the change in the world, how can they be if we don’t give them all the tools they need… assemblies are perfect for doing this and I strongly urge you to step out of your comfort zone and try a new way of thinking with assemblies… I promise you’ll be amazed by the results!

(Please feel free to contact me if you would like ideas on how to transform your assemblies)

Posted in Assemblies, culture, Humanity, Oracy, Pioneer, Pupil voice, Reflection, Teacher life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Questionnaires with children…

As part of my research project in CPD I wanted to collect the opinions of my children on times table rock stars (TTRS). I have done questionnaires this year already with children and the time and effort it took to collate the data was enormous. With this in the back of my head I was worried about how much work I was taking on… That was until I remembered google forms.

I have used google forms in the past for staff surveys but always wondered how it would work with children; do they need a google log in, how would I get them to access it, would they understand what to do. But faced with the prospect of having to read and analyse paper copies I thought it was worth the try.

I created my questionnaire on the google forms site with ease with a mix of question types. I was able to set that the question had to be answered and I could tailor it to what I needed. My next worry was that I didn’t want the children to have to log in; the whole point of this was to make my life easier not harder. But google forms has a setting where they do not require sign in, so as long as the child has the link they can access it…

To make it even easier I copied the link into http://www.qrstuff.com so the children just had to scan the code using a qr reader on their iPad. The children accessed it with no issues (especially as they had used the codes before) and they were away… with the promise of time on TTRS once they were done (sometimes a little bribery goes a long way!)

Once they were done I timidly opened the google forms to see whether it had worked…

Not only had it worked, but google forms did all the faff for me… I had bar charts, pie charts and individual answers all recorded for me with no extra effort needed. It even exports to excel…

So if you have any research to conduct be it with staff, parents or children… use google forms and make your to do list just that little bit shorter!

Posted in CPD, Pupil voice, Research, Teacher life, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Using song in story telling…

We are currently doing a project with the enquiry question ‘How can we tell stories like the Egyptians?’ As part of this we are currently learning the story of Isis and Ra. Listen below to the song version of the story. The song is to the tune of fever and was written by myself using the story. It is a great way to deepen a story and I highly recommend giving it a go. If I can write a song…you definitely can!!

Posted in Craftsman, Oracy, Project Based Learning, Storytelling, Teacher life | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Embedding oracy across the curriculum…

We all talk….. but how much do we really say.

As teachers talk is a fundamental part of all our lessons: tell me the answer, what is..?, talk to your partners. Surely that’s great, that’s what we were told to do. Get your children to turn to their partner and answer the question. So what are are the children getting out of this?

Since working at school 21 I am encouraged to question my practice and be truly reflective on how purposeful the things we just do really are. So talk and oracy are areas I am working on this year as part of my professional development and performance management this year. 

I blogged previously on using a stimulus in p4c, but I really wanted to experiment with incorporating all the great oracy techniques I was teaching the children discreetly in these P4C sessions across the curriculum…. so today we used the techniques in maths. 

The content

This lesson was all about symmetry. It was to be the first time we had covered it this year and the children had limited knowledge from the previous year. I decided from the offset that there was going to be no recording in books and all their learning would take place through practical exploration and discussion. By the end of the lesson all children were going to be able to find lines of symmetry in a variety of shapes (I hoped).
The structure and how it allowed for talk to take place

The lesson followed the maths mastery 6-part lesson:

  •  A do now related to previous learning on angles and lines- think, pair, share system where children were able to construct own ideas before being influenced by others.
  • New learning introducing symmetry- This was a series of images which featured symmetry and non-symmetry opening up discussion as to what symmetry truly was. As the facilitator of the lessons I explored all possibilities and remained neutral to all ideas. It was great to hear the children using their ability to challenge and build on ideas without having to intervene, merely chose who spoke next. Once we came to a shared agreement on what symmetry was we moved on.
  • The talk task allowed children to explore practically with shapes and mirrors. One partner was to fold the paper where they thought the line of symmetry was and partner B was to check with a mirror deciding whether their partner was correct. This opened up a new discussion that symmetry lines could be of more than one for each shape.
  • In the develop learning section we revisited misconceptions of finding lines of symmetry. It was interesting when a shape with no line of symmetry…. One child in particular was insistent that there was a line of symmetry. To the point where he came up to model saying I needed to just join the corners:

What made me the proudest in this moment that he felt he could have the voice to challenge me, as his teacher, and attempt to prove his point… An inquisitive mathematician in the making!

  • In the main part of the lesson we moved on to a concept cartoon for the children to discuss:

Not only this but the children ha to formulate their discussion using a chair and the roles that we used in previous oracy lessons. To start with this was fairly alien to the children as this was a tool they only used in P4C, but they soon got into it and were challenging, building on and summarising each other’s ideas… in MATHS!!!

So what next?

 Today proved to me that these techniques work perfectly alongside the curriculum. My next target is to begin to embed the tools into talk tasks across the week allowing children more authentic opportunities to develop their ability to challenge, build on and summarise the ideas of others against their own. My hope is that they then begin to show these skills unprompted in a variety of lessons across the curriculum….

Watch this space!

Posted in Craftsman, Maths, Oracy, Performance management, Reflection | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Deciding on a research area for CPD…

A new term…. A new CPD module…

This term we have two choices for CPD: to improve or to deepen our practice. I have chosen the latter and am therefore in the process of deciding on and planning a research project to work on and write up this term.

As part of the Teaching Leaders programme I am involved in I am having to conduct research as well so I am looking to link the two together… this has led me to the area of ‘progression in maths’.

The session this week focused on narrowing down ideas to 3 for our research. I narrowed mine down to times table retention, language decoding/operation choice and embedding maths across curriculum.
After recently trialling Times Table Rockstars in the previous term, this is going to be my focus for research. 

My next task is to find any research focusing on apps/websites that improve multiplication retention…

Posted in CPD, Maths, Pioneer, Reflection, Research | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Transition into leadership…

A colleague of mine asked if they could interview me for their dissertation on feedback culture… and whilst I hope I helped them, it also helped me to reflect on just how far I’ve come in my journey over the past four years… 
Leadership is a strange thing and to truly be a leader is not only hard to define but also hard to become.

The interview today was on feedback, both giving and receiving. It made me realise that giving feedback isn’t easy… It isn’t something you can just do… To do it well you need to observe, do, tweak, practice and then do it again! Working with people and managing emotions is a minefield… Jumbled together with your own feelings and who knows what happens…
It was only today I realised the transition I have gone through over the past couple of years… One of self discovery and realisation. I blogged previously on perception being reality and back then as a naive recently qualified teacher I thought it was ok to say how I really felt, that talking about what went on was the way to gain friends and be part of the crowd and I guess, back then, sat in the pub ranting, it was…
But something that dawned on me today is that I now distance myself from this, I think before I speak, I wonder what my words will do to my integrity and whether my words will seem truthful and honest out of the pub and back in the workplace. I carefully think over what I would think if I was listening to myself as my colleagues do and what effect that has in my professional world. 

Being a leader makes it difficult to let go in front of colleagues, and yes I am a massive control freak, but there is a balance. I now know that I won’t be liked all the time as a leader, sometimes it is my job to make difficult decisions that people won’t like. Yet in those moments where I see others develop from the feedback I gave, the moments where something in their thinking clicks because of a question I asked and the moments where a colleague says how far they have seen me develop I realise it’s worth that hard work! And yes I’m not there yet, and to be honest I’m not sure anyone is ever completely there, but I’m on my way…
So what does this mean for me… Of course I still go to the pub on a Friday night but I always remind myself of the moment I felt judged for something I didn’t even really feel because of course… Perception is reality!

Posted in Humanity, Integrity, Reflection, Teacher life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

CPD with purpose

I have spoken before about CPD and how often in schools it produces nothing but moans and groans about its pointlessness. 

At School 21 we have CPD for 2 hours every Wednesday evening and to many of my teacher friends in other schools this seems excessive and a ridiculous waste of time. It is only then that I realise that actually we do something different…

So this leads me on to our CPD this term…
At the beginning of the Spring term we were told that the outcome of our CPD sessions would be a Teach Meet on Oracy in the classroom and that every teacher would be expected to present for a minimum of 2 minutes. This was met with a room full of worry and anxiety about what they had to do, when would there be time and the thought of presenting in front of not only peers but teachers from other schools. 

Our Wednesday sessions were split between Oracy and reading sessions and this all contributed to the case study research that was taking place in the classroom. Some teachers worked alone and others worked together to try new things. We regularly chatted in CPD sessions about how it was going and what the next steps were and everyone worked towards the final presentation.

As part of the logistic team I went about advertising the Teach Meet, collecting raffle prizes and working with Amy to ensure everything was ready on the day. The term flew by and when the day of the Teach Meet arrived there was an excited, yet nervous energy buzzing around the room… It was show time!

All I can say is wow!!! The night of presentations took everyone in the room on a journey of discovery through every year group in the primary school. There were protocols for talk, roles for discussion, tips for getting children to work together, rally coaching and even advice for creating a’choose your own’ adventure story (anyone my age will remember with fondness the excitement of getting a new goosebumps book that allowed you to choose what happened next by turning to page 7 or 14)

And by the end of the night when best practice had been shared, the snacks had all gone and the chairs were being tidied away there was this new buzz of conversations between all the teachers of how they were going to use what they had heard in the presentations in their classrooms. 

So I guess what’s the point of making a purpose to CPD, well I guess the tweets from visitors to our Teach Meet sum it up:

Posted in CPD, Craftsman, Oracy, Reflection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment