Involving parents in their child's learning isn't something that always comes easily. Sometimes you can feel like you're doing everything possible but you just don't think you're getting it right.
We have a section on our website where we've placed some of the ideas that we have used in the past - check it out here! One of our ongoing thoughts has been the way we record our Learning Journeys. Currently we use a ring binder and every piece of 'work', photos, observations and other evidence is placed into the folder in chronological order. We like this way of working as it minimises the amount of organising, cutting and sticking, filing etc. Moving to an online Learning Journey, such as Tapestry, would give us the opportunity to give carers at home access to their child's learning - being able to view and comment or even add to their child's learning.
However, as with everything there's always things to consider. And for us it was the cost. One of the things you're paying for is the data management - linking to the Foundation Stage Profile, making judgements, producing percentages etc. We already have a whole school system for this and we obviously don't want to duplicate this job.
So was there another way? Well I think I've found something. And it came from a slightly unexpected source! Our school as just moved over to trialing 'Class Dojo'. This is a class based system for rewarding students for positive behaviour.
Our school is testing it as a replacement for 'team points' or 'house points'. However, for us in Reception, we didn't want to take this on. I felt especially strongly about embedding positive behaviour for intrinsic reasons and not for extrinsic rewards.
However, while discussing and talking about Class Dojo I made a discovery. We already knew that Class Dojo had been expanded to incorporate other useful class resources, such as timers, music, random children generators and even teaching sessions around mindfulness and making mistakes. But I also found a new section. Student stories and class stories.
Basically class stories are photos and videos that you can add to, to show what you are doing during class. For example you might take a picture of some work that you have been attempting or some artwork that the children have created. Student stories are individual versions where children can add photos and videos of their work. A little like Facebook you can add comments (everything goes to the teacher before being posted) and because you can give parents access, they can take a part in their child's learning. Check out this video to give you a better idea.
Does anyone else use Class Dojo? How is it going? So far I've had a little play and added the children to my class. And that's it. But I'll let you know how it goes!
So week 1 of the new term has been and gone and successful home visits have almost finished. The tiredness feeling has crept back (thank goodness for a weekend to recharge!) and the summer holidays feel like a lifetime ago however it's been a great week!
I've been blessed with some lovely moments over the last few days such as taking precious bundles of children from their parents with their shiny shoes and crisp new uniforms, welcoming also a new intake of nursery children (most only just turned 2) and lots of laughs! You saw me earlier in the week sharing a post about my dressing up experience where one of my little girls presented me with a flamenco dress asking to put it on, only for me to soon realise that it was in actual fact ME that the dress was to go on!!! 😝 not one to shy away from a challenge, I put it on...well over my head and that's as far as it would go.
We had future artists or rather graffiti experts in the form of a 2 year old make her mark on one of the display boards in my room and that is how it will stay as I am a great believer in allowing the children to express theirselves and showcase their talents- I really quite like it!
Having the opportunity to stand back and observe the children this week form friendships, discover new spaces and resources as well as follow instructions and share their knowledge has been simply magical!
We sometimes underestimate the talents of 4 years olds!
Exciting things in the pipeline this term is celebrating International Dot Day/week, Batman day, plus we have teamed up with a local Care home which we shall visit to play some games, have parachute fun, story telling sessions and an afternoon tea to name but a few. We can't wait!
It's important during these first few weeks to build up positive relationships with the parents and families. I shall be holding drop-ins next week to catch up with the parents regarding the first few days of school plus having an information session regarding house-keeping, routines, phonics and key celebrations and experiences over the next term. What do you all do to have positive parental involvement?
So it's the end of the first week (and I'm happily exhausted)! It being the weekend, my mind has turned to the jobs I've still got to finish. One of them is my class self-registration - I've left it because with the children not being in full time yet I convinced myself it was one job I could put off for a while! Every time it came to making the new class registration I couldn't help but wonder if it was worth the time and effort?!
For the last few years my class self-registration has been done through names, printed onto Velcro and the children move them onto a board when they arrive. This worked and there was nothing wrong with it but it had been the same for the last couple of years and I fancied a change - maybe something a little more exciting or creative.
While trying to decide what to use, my team and I chatted about what had worked and why. One of the obvious benefits of having just the child's name was that the children came to recognise their name and by the end of the year all of the children could recognise their own name, We also chatted about how we had encouraged the children to use their self-registration cards to help them when they were writing their names on their work etc. This also worked really well and meant that by the end of the year, all of the children were writing their own name - although some were a bit more wibbly wobbly than others! We considered not having names but we felt that this was a missed opportunity and decided that whatever system we created would have their name on it somewhere.
While trying to work out what we were going to use, I asked our lovely Ace family (that's YOU out there!) and had some fab ideas!
Emma uses their interactive white board. They create images with children's names in and once they are in, they press their name and it disappears or flies up! The pictures are changed topically throughout the year!
"I have a dinner plate and a lunchbox and the children register by moving their name on the IWB to the type of lunch they are having. I also have another one with emotions on it."
There are some lovely whiteboard self-registration resources are available from Communication4all and also from twinkl.
Tishy Lishy also sent us a picture of her new self-registration method. Check it out!
Helen uses a similar idea...
"I have stuck their names on pieces of Duplo before and had a base. The children add their names to create a different construction each morning!"
"We've done stones but also stuck a mini photo of the child underneath if they are unable to confidently recognise their name. It also allowed other children to check who hasn't put their name in the basket and find them."
"We are called Friendly Frogs Nursery and each child has a photo on a frog. The children have to find the first lily pad which have numbers 1-26 on."
"My new class are the Elephants and they all have their names on an elephant Velcro'd onto the wall. When they come in they find their name and put their elephant in a basket before starting their early morning activities."
I link mine to British values with democracy. The children have an angelfish with their name on (we are angelfish class) and they vote for a story. The one with the most votes we read before home time.
SO..... after seeing this post on Facebook by Alistair @ ABCDoes:
I was hit by inspiration. Or a crazy idea... What if we asked the children to decorate a peg and then when they come in they find their peg and place it into a holder? And we'll stick their name through the peg bit so that they can learn to recognise and spell their name...
My plan is to get the children to decorate their peg next week. On the worktop I'm going to have 30 spaces with a peg holder stuck in each one. Underneath there will be number shape pictures and then a space for the children to write the digit.
I'll edit this blog post to let you know how it turned out!
It's nearly the end of the summer holidays. So naturally our thoughts have turned to our new cohorts. We're excited by the thought of starting again - new children, giving new ideas, a new energy, leading to new experiences. And obviously, this means getting your setting ready. But where do you start? If you're an NQT or you're moving rooms/schools then this could mean a new start. And if not, then you have an existing environment to consider.
For us, we start with the children coming up. Throughout the year, from the very beginning, we shape the setting around the needs and interests of the children. Obviously this isn't possible over the Summer holidays so what can you do? Well, how about those transition forms? We read through the transition forms so that we can get to know the children. If there is a particular activity or area that some of the children enjoy, then perhaps recreating this means that the children will settle more quickly. We will look for where the children might have lower attainment, for example Speaking and Listening. Then we will think about how we can change the environment to support and develop this area.
So when Mark went into school this week - this is what the classroom looked like....
Tempted as he was to ride around on the floor buffer, instead he thought he had better be a little bit more constructive. He couldn't move the furniture as the floor wasn't finished being cleaned so he got on with some displays....
The cohort has shown a need to ensure lots of opportunities for speaking and listening. Mark used a display box from Ikea and added a puffer fish that he found in the Science cupboard. It's sure to start up some conversations! He plans on changing the item in the box regularly - perhaps even letting the children bring in their own talking point items!
Another change to Mark's classroom has come in the shape of this mark making station. The roll of lining paper is simply loosely trapped between the unit and the table, allowing the children to pull more through when they need to! Over the year this will evolve to reflect the needs of the cohort but to being with we'll be talking about 'Ourselves' so it seemed like a good idea to get them drawing!
Mark has also moved his reading area so has created a 'woodland' themed book 'corner'. There is also a woodland backdrop to go up - pictures to follow soon!
It's not the 'perfect' classroom but then - what is? What it will be is a reflection of the interests combined with the needs of the children (using a combination of transition data and observations). And if that is exactly what it should be.
Why not share your classroom pics to inspire fellow Ace family members?!
Have a fab start to the new year!
Anita and Mark x
So it's the holidays! Phew! And always a time to reflect upon the previous year and make plans for the next. Although, that is of course after taking time for yourself. We know that for us, we don't want to and/or can't stop work completely - the holidays are a good time to focus on Ace Early Years. But for some the holidays are a time to forget about work for a while.
Whichever way you like it - don't be hard on yourself. And don't think less of others who do it a bit differently. Some people are always working - thinking, planning, organising. Maybe they like to keep busy and can't stop for too long. Or maybe they have to stop thinking about work for their own well-being and they will be unfollowing work Facebook pages. You can always check out our #Aceresolution page to read about being kind to yourself (though lots of the quotes/ideas are about term time).
Anita and I like to spend some of our holiday time together. And although it might be 'work' we love it because we make each other laugh so much! And laughter makes you feel better. It's science. Honest! That's why we made some of our 'Ace Quotes' into a video - to make people laugh!
So we spent some of our holiday giving the website a little spruce up. We have given it a more 'visual' feel - hope you like it! We'll also add a couple of new sections - keep your eyes peeled for the new tech page, for example!
And whatever you do - thank you. Thanks for your support. We don't aim to be the best. We don't aim to give THE answers. But if we help you find an answer, then brilliant. And if we can all have a laugh along the way then even better!
Love Mark and Anita x
Adding it up!
We began our planning by using our 'Feeding Forward' planning in combination with our assessments (on our computerised tracking system). We could see that we should look at doing some more adding work and so planned our maths Objective Led Plan accordingly.
We have planned to usually have our maths focus in the afternoon and so began by using our theme of dinosaurs during a whole class input...
We now talked about how many we had altogether, using different vocabulary to support the children's understanding. Some of the children already knew the terms 'add' and 'equals' and this naturally moved our conversation on...
Adding with dinosaurs. And just about anything else they could get their hands on...!
We clearly did something right (perhaps it was the jazz hands) because when the adults explained what their adult led input was the children were engaged and excited to have a go!
The next day we looked at using an egg box 10 frame to visualise 5+5.
This inspired lots of children to write number sentences!
During the continuous provision we made observations to inform the Objective Led Plan - photos, post-it notes and comments on the plan itself. However we try to focus on the interactions we have with the children. We are the best resources in the classroom and it's our interactions that made the difference with this adding! Each day we briefly reflected on our session and what we wanted to focus on the next day. We have been thrilled by the progress of the children so far!
Once upon a time...
2 Ace teachers began to plan a theme for the following half term. And as they talked together about the previous half term we realised that many of the children had showed an interest in dinosaurs. Some of the children had brought dinosaur books into school to show and there had been lots of 'monster-trap' collaborative play. During our recent Parents' Evenings several parents had mentioned that their children loved dinosaurs - especially those sometimes tricky to engage boys! Well, who couldn't see that dinosaurs would be a fab topic?! At Ace Early Years we might start a topic with something engaging but we won't worry if the children lead us in another direction. So we looked for dinosaur related ideas and soon settled on a dinosaur cave in the classroom...
In the half term holidays we spent time making a dino cave, as well as resourcing the classroom with artefacts, books and resources that would interest the children. We couldn't wait but we weren't quite ready yet...
Time for a change...
We had recently been lucky enough to have EYFS speaker (and all-round happiness champion) Shonette Bason-Wood come to visit our school and spend time with us, and several other reception teachers.
We covered many things during the day and it gave us food for thought - especially when it comes to our timetable.
We've said many times that we constantly evaluate our provision and that includes our timetable. We want to make sure it reflects the current needs of our children and we realised that there were tweaks that we could make to incorporate more physical activity with music - something that would keep our day fun but also allow the children to explore trickier concepts without being very formal. We also wanted to tighten up when we were exploring literacy and maths concepts to ensure we had good coverage. Here's our current timetable - although even over the course of a week it's changed again!
Broadly speaking we start with Super Sentences (check out Ace TV below), which has now progressed to the children having a sentence starter only.
Afterwards we have Dough Disco - which is high-energy, fine-motor control finger 'dancing' to some banging tunes! We love it and so do the kids! After our fingers are all warmed up we do some handwriting practise. We're only at 9.15 by the end of this session!
The following session is literacy based around a book - and this week has been 'Dinosaurs Love Underpants'! We use our Objective Led Planning to help our on going assessment during this time. Some of the adults come up with a fun activity which they promote to the children before continuous provision. The adult led activities are designed from our Objective Led Plan - check out the video below for more information.
The children 'plan' which activity they are going to in their heads - we find this helps to maximise the number of children undertaking an adult-led activity first. We ask some of the children to tell us what their 'plan' is. The children move into continuous provision and may or may not choose to come to an adult led activity. The children may choose to follow their own interests, perhaps interacting with enhancements that we have added during the week. Once an adult led activity loses its appeal the adult will take the Objective Led Planning sheet and observe children in whatever they are doing.
At the end of the session we spend time talking together to review what we have all been doing. This promotes oracy but we intend to develop this into a written activity as and when our children are ready.
Check out our next blog to see what actually happened....!
Once again we returned to school really early. We knew from the inspection timetable that we would only have the HMI and one other inspector for today. Wednesday was Anita’s turn to be out of class so she went straight to the staffroom to work on finishing the data that we had been asked for. Ruth was in with Mark and they began to set the classroom up ready for the children. We checked over our planning and hand annotated our plan for the day following yesterday’s observations – once gain we wanted to keep things exactly as they always are. Our Head teacher (who is a trained Ofsted inspector) said that our inspector would seek us out during the day as he wanted to give us feedback. We also knew that the inspection team had spent time discussing our EYFS ‘grading’ and we were close to being given an outstanding. We couldn’t decide if this was extra pressure or not after being in Special Measures for so long!
As it turned out the inspectors didn’t return to the classroom at all! Our inspector kept popping in to speak to Anita to ask clarifying questions about the data. During the morning the inspector spoke to Anita and gave her feedback on the observations and overall EYFS grading. After he had finished Mark popped in and Anita asked the inspector to repeat the feedback to Mark. He was highly complementary about our practice and provision and praised the children and their independence, motivation and engagement. He praised our teaching and how we have a clear knowledge of early development and we enhance our provision accordingly. He told us that we had nearly all of the criteria for ‘outstanding’ but because of one thing he was unfortunately going to award us a good. Aaaaaaargh! He explained that he wanted to see even more detail in our use of data – specifically for supporting vulnerable learners to make rapid (and specific) progress. If we had written down that we wanted Child A to learn letter sounds ‘m,a,s,d,t,i,n’ by 24th October and then made mention of how we were supporting this, we would have been awarded an outstanding grading. Anita had asked if there was any way to prove that we do this already and then coincidentally Mark asked exactly the same thing but the inspector mentioned that it was too late for us to make changes in this way.
Anita met with the inspector and our assessment coordinator (Deputy Head) to talk through the data. We knew by then that the grading had been decided and in fact we were just providing headline data for the report. However, most of what Anita had spent HOURS calculating was not even looked at – even though it had been asked for…. Sigh! We knew that nobody would have an observation from either inspector this afternoon which was a relief. We finished the day and met most of the staff and governors to discuss our inspection. Staff knew that our grading was ‘good’, although this wasn’t technically official and we weren’t allowed to discuss this outside of the staffroom. The inspection finished with the HMI reporting back to the SLT and governors to summarise her findings and give final judgements. We all sat and waited for the team to return to the staffroom – cue cheers, tears and a visit to the pub! After 3 years of hard, hard work our efforts had paid off. Hurrah!
Our next blog will summarise our top tips for Ofsted under the new framework!
The inspection starts!
We arrived early, before the birds had even risen!!! This gave us time to ensure that the classroom was set up in a way that we were happy with and to also make sure that we had all the resources to hand. Our Inspection team had provided our Head with a detailed timetable of the day, so we knew that we would have an inspector in with us for most of the morning. However EYFS have a separate judgement on an OFSTED report, so we had expected to see inspectors throughout most of the process. Day 1 of the inspection coincided with Mark's PPA morning so Ruth was in during the morning.
The inspection team arrived at 8am and went straight into the Head's office where they were based for the duration. We met the inspection team (1 HMI and 2 inspectors) at 8.15 as they took a learning walk around the school. We continued to get ourselves ready for the children coming in at 8.45 - where the children came in to the same activities as they always did - we were determined to keep things the same so that inspectors would see how independent and resourceful our children are. They self registered and we moved into Continuous Provision (indoor and outdoor). We had 2 TAs inside overseeing the classrooms, as well as working with our 'vulnerable learners' on their letter sounds. The inspector arrived at 9.05 and immediately began to make notes. He walked around 1 of the classrooms (we are an open plan 'unit' consisting of 2 classrooms with no wall in between) and looked at the provision - displays, activities etc. Anita pounced straight away (we had said to each other that we were going to ensure that the inspection team saw every part of our provision - regardless if they asked or not!!)! She explained self-registration, how we then do the register and that we were moving into Continuous Provision. As Anita drew his attention to all of our planning Mark arrived in the classroom to also chip in! We talked through our planning process (very quickly, without taking a breath, because we knew that we only had a limited amount of time to prove ourselves!) and also our 'Wonder Walls', deconstructed role play, classroom layout and how children are at the heart of our provision. Anita invited the inspector to come outside to see the outdoor provision and to explain how everything had moved on since our last inspection and the reasons behind our enhancements.
Ruth and Anita stayed outside, observing and playing alongside the children, using the Objective Led Planning. After observing the provision outside, watching and making notes on how the adults were interacting with the children, the inspector asked Anita about 'vulnerable learners'. He went on to ask Anita if she had time to talk more about a particular Pupil Premium child so that he could track their progress across the year so far. Anita came back inside and sat at a table, talking about the particular child that she had highlighted outside. The inspector wanted to know the child's starting point, progress and what support we had put in place. He also asked for evidence to back up what we had been saying. Mark joined the table and the discussion expanded to include another PP child in his class. The Wonder Walls really proved their worth because we could lead the inspector to look at the individual spaces but also compare them with their peers. The children came back into the classroom to get changed for PE during the rest of the day. Anita's class went off to do PE with our school sports coach and Mark's class stayed with Ruth to do Core Learning Skills (PSHE), eat snack and do some music. The inspector went outside to see the children do some PE, returned to the Head's Office and then came back into the classroom to observe Ruth delivering Core Learning Skills - they were talking about feelings, using photos to identify feelings. The inspector left as that group moved to get their snack and we didn't see any inspectors for the rest of the morning. (They didn't come back to see phonics after break.) However one of the questions from the inspector was about the starting points of the current cohort and the progress made since. Unfortunately, because we had just moved to a new computerised assessment system, we weren't able to print off what we needed to straight away so Mark spent the rest of the morning wrestling data!
In the afternoon Mark's class went to PE with the sports coach and Anita did Core Learning Skills about feelings. The HMI inspector walked through the classroom, looked around the provision and eventually went outside to see the PE coach. She returned to observe Anita's session and left after 5 minutes. We were aware that the HMI visiting could mean that we were on the cusp of moving from one grading to another and this made us a little nervous! There was a timetabled meeting for the head of EYFS (Anita) and the inspector for after school, and we asked if Mark could attend too because we work together so closely.
To begin the meeting he asked us about our 'journey' since our last inspection. We talked for a VERY long time covering lots of subjects so that we felt confident that we had said everything we wanted to. This included how we had done lots of reading and research, visited other schools, professional development and of course we mentioned Ace Early Years! We then moved on to talk about the current cohort and the progress they had made. We used our data to support what we were saying - with Anita talking to the inspector and Mark using the laptop to interrogate the data in order to answer specific questions. The inspector had forms to fill in and wrote pages and pages of notes (letting us talk lots!) but also had a very clear idea of what evidence he wanted to gather and how it would be useful to see this (i.e. percentages!). During the meeting he asked questions about our previous cohort and because of our new data system we couldn't provide him with the data straight away. He was very understanding and asked if we could come back the next day with the breakdown of our data. Thank goodness we had paper copies of the key end-of-year data! We spent the evening calculating the progress made by specific groups (girls/boys/PP/summer born) across the year, including percentages that started below age-related expectations (ARE) and their progress to the end of year. We also calculated the percentage of children who were at ARE or above ARE and the progress that they had made. He basically wanted us to prove to him that we were making progress in all areas, were supporting vulnerable learners to make rapid progress and were pushing the more able too. It was 10 o'clock when we decided that we would call it a night and Anita would finish the data during her leadership PPA time the next day.
To be continued...
A long evening...!
We had the phone call from Ofsted on a Monday so after the children had gone home we grabbed a cuppa and settled ourselves! We spent an hour or so in the classroom. We did our own learning walk around our provision for 2 reasons:
After checking our environment we then sat and looked over our plans. We knew that we were NOT going to change our activities for Ofsted - we wanted them to see how we run day-to-day. Plus, our children would have grassed us up to the inspectors anyway! We tightened up on ensuring that the adults knew what their role was going to be during each session/part of the day and we ensured that all staff had copies of the planning. We also reminded ourselves of our plan to cover for a member of staff if they were required to spend 1:1 time with a particular child - something that had happened because of on-going behaviour.
Our next step was to sit and look over our 'Ofsted File'. Since our last Ofsted inspection we had been collecting all of the information that we would need for another inspection. This including data (previous cohort data, starting points, trends, comparisons to county level and national data) pupil progress meeting notes, our EYFS action plan, copies of planning, records of observations both in school and from other schools, training we've undertaken, etc. We made sure everything was in order and we knew where everything was. We then spent a long time making sure that our current data was ready. We updated our computer records to ensure that our most recent observations were recorded. We also 'interrogated' the data so that we were clear on progress across different groups and identified any gaps and made plans to tackle these. We knew our data well already as we use it every week to inform our planning but this was a tightening up and evidence finding exercise.
Luckily for us we work with a fab team and we arrived in the staffroom to find 4 steaming hot pizzas! Our fab (secret!) third member of Ace Early Years, Ruth, had popped back to school (because she doesn't work on a Monday) to keep everyone going!
To be continued...!