Ten things I’ve learnt about teaching…

This is a reworked version of a blog I posted 2 years ago in a different place at the end of my 3rd year… 2 years have since passed but a lot of what I wrote rings true still so I thought I would edit it slightly and repost it on my new blog dedicated to all things education…

Being a teacher is strange, I think that’s the one word I would use to describe it. It’s a whirlwind of emotion every single day. In just this week alone I have felt happy, sad, angry, confused, exhausted, delirious, embarrassed, proud, hungover, lonely, crazy, frustrated, jealous, elated and relieved just to name a few! And yes I am an emotional person, but when I chat to other teachers I realise I’m not alone.

Which leads me on to why I am posting this blog. I have learnt ten things over the past 5 years that have helped me survive…

1. Lessons don’t always work.

You can plan your lesson to the nth degree, have printed and laminated the best resources, have thought out every sentence stem you are going to implement, created 5 differentiated pieces of work stretching your more ables and supporting the lowers and thought your kids would be amazed and engaged for the entire morning to have your class descend into complete chaos and not get the first task you have set them… But do you know what… Stop, breathe and change it…. There’s literally no point in carrying on. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and that is ok!

2. Don’t be afraid to try something new. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with new ideas, new displays, new seating plans, new ways of learning… one year I turned my classroom into a cave and got rid of all my classroom tables (my year 1 class worked on he floor on clipboards) and do you know what… It worked!  Try talk partners you think are a crazy idea, let children sit where they want, ask a controversial question to provoke thought… just don’t be afraid to step away from the ‘normal’.

3. Take the time to chat to colleagues. 

It is the best way to reflect and improve. I have learnt so much from the people I work with this year. I am lucky enough to work in an all-through school which means I work with the secondary teachers too…. And the discussions that have taken place in corridors, cpd sessions, during Friday night staff basketball and in the pub have been invaluable and have really made me think about myself as an educator.

4. Leave the classroom at lunchtime.

Yes you need to set up,  Maybe you weren’t quite as organised as you thought this morning and you could start on the 30 books that need to be marked from your last lesson. But seriously…. Just leave your room. Even if that’s just for 20 minutes while you eat your sandwich or controversial take a walk to the local park…..Chat to your colleagues, rant about how your lesson didn’t quite go to plan or maybe even just chat about the latest episode of OITNB… Believe me you will feel better for the afternoon.

5. Stand your ground.

It is important to stand up for the things you truly believe in and consistency is key. Whether it’s with a child, a colleague or a parent… As horrible as it is at the time I promise you they will respect you in the long run.

6. But know when to back down.

No one likes someone who thinks they are right all the time, even when they are wrong. Take time to listen to the other person and think through what you are going to say.

7. Say sorry. 

Which can be the hardest thing to do (at risk of quoting Elton John). School is a stressful place. Sometimes we say and do things in the heat of the moment that makes you look pretty mean. But it takes a big person to stand back, reflect and say sorry.

8. Leave work early. 

Crazy thought I know, but it works. I’m not saying you can leave early every night but make a day where you do. Set yourself a time to leave and whatever needs doing past that time can wait. Go home and see the family, go to the gym, go and sit in Starbucks with a book, but whatever you do… Just leave and take some time for yourself. Your class will thank you for it.

9. Take the time to listen. 

Really listen… To the children you teach, the other teachers in the staff room and to be parents who just want to share their worries. Give them your full attention, don’t offer advice, don’t tell them what you would do, don’t turn the conversation back to you… Just listen. It does wonders for relationship building and they might just be there for you when you really need it.

10. Let it go….

Of course I quoted frozen… I’m a primary school teacher after all. But it’s so true. Sometimes you just have to let it go. Some things are just out of your control, whether you don’t know fully what’s going on, you’ve been asked to do something you don’t want to really do or someone’s let you down again…. Breathe and let it go!

And to everyone out there who’s a teacher, knows a teacher or lives with a teacher…. Yes sometimes we may seem a bit crazy but it’s because we care!

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

A study into Times Table Rock Stars…

In my previous posts I discussed the CPD module we were taking part in this term (read more in previous blogs here and here). As the term is coming to a close I have completed the research and written it up ready to present to other staff in the final CPD meet this week.

I thought I would share my research publicly to show what a dramatic improvement TTRS has had on the retention and speed of recall of multiplication tables 1×1 through to 12×12.

I hope you enjoy reading the final results:


What effect does a computer/app based programme have on multiplication retention and recall in year 3 students?

Evidence for action:

In February 2017 the government announced plans to reintroduce times table tests to the end of KS2 SATs tests. Recall of both multiplication and division facts by students is often laboured, leading to children struggling to apply facts to solve more complex problems (Wong and Evans, 2007). Learning multiplication and division facts by rote can often be ‘boring’ to children which can lead to low retention in students.

Computer games have often been suggested as useful educational tools (Egenfeldt-Nielson 2005). Not only are computer games motivational for children (Garris, Ahlers and Driskeel, 2002), they provide immediate feedback so children are instantly aware of mistakes they are making. Further to this, as games allow children to make mistakes and try again in a risk free environment they are more likely to explore and experiment, ultimately increasing the time they spend practicing (Gee, 2005; Kirriemuir, 2002).

Research conducted by Herold (2013) suggested that interactive learning of multiplication was more successful than computer or paper based practice whereas research by Bauer (2013) found that the group who used the computer based programme showed the greatest growth in comparison to flash cards and paper practice. With this in mind a mixture of paper and computer based practice and testing was used in this research.

Evaluation methods:

Times table rock stars (www.ttrockstars.com) is a paper, computer and app based programme that supports children in the learning of multiplication and division facts; it is used by a growing number of primary schools in the UK and is highly rated.  I decided that all children in the class would be using the same and there would be no control group- this decision was based on ethical grounds.

A baseline test was conducted before the 4-week trial. It featured all multiplication facts from 1 x 1 through to 12 x 12; both the time taken to complete and correct answers was recorded.

During this four week trial, children ‘played’ on the app in school 3 times a week and took the paper test once a week. They also had access to the app at home.

At the end of the 4-week trial children were then re-tested with time and answers again recorded and compared against the baseline scores.

Surveys were also conducted using google forms to ask children what they thought of the app.


Results from the baseline tests:

  • 38% of children increased amount of correct answers and time
  • 51% of children improved overall time to complete with no effect on correct answers
  • 67% of children improved overall time to complete
  • 29% of children did not increase time but improved overall correct answers

Some children who improved their time did make more errors. Many of those children who improved speed but made more errors commented on the pressure they felt on themselves to complete the test as quickly as they could and felt they made mistakes they shouldn’t have.

Results from student survey:

  • 91% strongly agreed that they enjoyed using times table rockstars
  • 74% strongly agreed or agreed that they enjoyed doing the paper tests
  • 78% strongly agreed or agreed that they think times table rock stars has improved their recall
  • 71% strongly agreed or agreed it has made their recall quicker
  • Home use of the app was varied:
    • 2% use it everyday
    • 2% use it 2-3 times a week
    • 2% use it at weekends
    • 5% never use it at home


From this study it is clear that TTRS has had a huge impact on the retention and speed of multiplication recall. There has also been a noticeable change in lessons where children are drawing on known facts to solve more complex problems.

A further impact is the motivation on boys learning their multiplication facts. The competitive element of the app has allowed friendly competition between peers and has driven an increase in practice. This said, it needs to be considered that not all children are accessing the app at home and a further study could look at the difference in speed and accuracy in relation to use of the app.

From this study, it is clear that TTRS should continue to be used into the next academic year. In order to not only continue but drive motivation, a number of workshops and events around TTRS will be planned into the calendar year and a survey will be conducted further in the year to look at motivation and enjoyment levels to ensure it is still having an impact.

Posted in CPD, Maths, Pupil voice, Research, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!

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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!!

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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!

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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 , , , | 1 Comment