Earlier today I was reflecting on how our planning evolves in response to the skills we want to teach, the interests of the children and pressures from whole school, the government etc.
Don't worry - I'm not going to go off on one about how the government shapes what we do in the classroom (that would be a MAJOR blog!) but I was thinking about our baseline. Since the children started in September we have been making observations of the children to supplement the transfer data we got from pre-schools and nurseries. We knew we wanted to get a good handle on the children's letter knowledge but hadn't quite worked out how we were going to go about it. I wanted to avoid just getting the children to come with an adult ("Put that Lego sword down before you have someone's eye out! Come and say some sounds with me. Wouldn't that be fun? What do you mean you'd rather be playing ninjas?!") and say sounds as we point to them. Where's the fun and engagement with that?! Sometimes you just can't dress up a learning opportunity to be attractive to everyone but surely we could do something...?!
What are the children interested in I hear you cry?! Lego - maybe we could write letters on bricks and get them to build something?! Babies - maybe we could make clothes for the babies with letters on them (sort of like a Mrs Weasley from Harry Potter, only I can't sew anything)! Dressing up - maybe the children could dress up and we could stick name badges to their dressing up clothes?! Okay - so we'll call those ideas 'Plan B' and we'll think about what story we are looking at next week.
Why on earth are you reading such a random story? Well that little story starts way back in July. You see, someone came up with the fab idea of inviting all of new children into school for a morning and to bring a parent. We invited a local artist to come along and spend time helping everyone to make their own monster. Their monster would go home with them over the summer and start school with them in September!
The workshops were really successful. We gave the families an introduction to school, got to know the children a little and had the chance to speak to the parents and ask them what kind of support we could offer them in the future. The children all began school in September and the monsters joined the classroom. We even took them when we felt brave enough to explore the rest of the school!
We knew that we were going to use the monsters to help the children explore different learning opportunities - for example to help understand emotions (they're going to be a representation of 'The Beast' that 'comes out' when we experience strong, negative emotions - an idea suggested from ClassDojo) before they went home again. We also realised that we had a book called 'The Day the Gogglynippers Escaped' which is about a boy called Diggle who helps find the Gogglynippers from McDoogle's Monster Farm after they get out. It's a funny book with some basic counting and a good dollop of poo to keep everyone entertained! Towards the end of the story Diggle attracts the last Gogglynipper by using smelly socks. Surely the children would like to catch monsters using smelly socks...?! So naturally we thought about making fishing rods with magnets and put paper clips onto monsters with letters on (from twinkl.com). Of course we attached socks to the fishing rods - it all made some kind of mad sense...!
The children were really keen to have a go - even though I knew they didn't know all of the sounds. What I hadn't anticipated was that with 2 children fishing at the same time some of them would help each other and I loved that accidental learning! And so it was that I found myself watching children fish for monster sounds with a smelly sock. All in a days work, eh?!
We are now well into the autumn term and our children are beginning to settle, make friends, stay all day and embrace the new environments and resources. Baseline assessments are going well and staff are loving observing the cohort of new children.
Something that has been very strong with my new class this year as opposed to other years is the interest in small world and construction. No matter what else is available, both girls and boys seem to always be drawn to these activities.
On reflection my classroom set up isn't quite right and although caters for this strong interest, it's not quite encompassing that passion! I know we all spend oodles of time getting our classrooms and outdoors areas ready before September not truly knowing the children that we shall be welcoming and sometimes it doesn't always 'feel' right! But it's ok to make those changes just like adapting your planning to meet the needs and interests, your environment should be treated the same too.
So it was the end of the week and also a Friday! myself and my team decided to stay on and .....blitz the classroom to reflect our cohort, tap into those interests and make a larger space/area to allow the children room to create, construct, design etc. We didn't care that we should be sat planning - we saw this as an integral part to feeding forward and meeting the needs of our children.
I have had my eye on the new 'Lego wall tape' for some time and in moving furniture around and opening up areas, I have a great section of wall that needs something.....cue my chance to bag myself some Lego tape!!!!
Not necessarily cheap but something different that I know the children will love and I get to use an unusual space for the children's creations! I found these on Amazon. Shhh don't tell the hubby how much!!! 🤣
The pack of Lego wall strips aren't exactly....generous but caused quite a stir today! The children loved the fact that they could build onto the wall- it's a little tricky at first to bond the strip and Lego pieces with only certain ways that they will connect but it's was a great problem solving activity. The main visitors today were the GIRLS!
The children loved the space that I had opened up too. Plus for the first time children opted to stay in rather than go outside.
I will certainly be looking to add Lego baseboards to the wall space to allow for a different way of modelling- the great thing is that the strips are compatible with all types of Lego to include the cheaper versions too!
I shall be adapting this space throughout the year to reflect interests and needs but all in all, I am thrilled with the space and area!
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.
Want to read about how my self-registration is getting on?! Click 'Read More' to find 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!