Your planning is done. Your pencil pots are immaculate. Your walls look like a centrefold from House and Garden. Now what? What are you actually going to do with those 30 children when they walk into your room for the first time? Here are my tips to a great first day (bonus: a lot of these save you time, too!)
1. See what they do
2. Engage them right from the start
I incorporated a bit of rule-making in mine. I did an activity inspired by the Bill of Rights. I gave each child 2 strips of paper. They wrote a rule or right on each (I talked to them briefly about positive wording, e.g. “listen to others” rather than “don’t shout out”). Next, they came together to discuss them. They had to narrow them down to 5 rules out of their 8. They could combine them rather than discarding them if they wished. Finally, they rank them in order of importance and stick them onto a large paper (see the pic at the top). I love this as a first activity because you can see how they interact, if there are any bossy ones!
Next lesson, we did Maths. I introduced times tables speed tests and we did our first one. This takes a while the first time. After that, we had a go at learning a Numberock song about time.
After break, we read The Dot and did some Vashti-inspired art work.
We ended the day with a book tasting: I put several books out on each table. We discussed ways of choosing a book (looking at the cover, reading the first page, checking that you can understand it). The children went round in friendship pairs and chose a book for paired reading.
As you can see, we did a full day of lessons. They were busy, engaged and therefore better behaved.
3. Chat and Watch
Instead of a 'getting to know you activity', in which you actually learn very little, make sure that your lessons allow for time to watch them and to chat to them. Taking the day described above as an example, when they were doing their Bill of Rights activity, I watched and listened. I took in how they were interacting with each other. When they were doing their artwork, I spent 5 minutes at each table and just chatted to them informally. You'll find out loads more this way that if you ask them to write about their summer (cringe) or to write 2 truths and a lie etc.
4. Pile on the Praise
Make sure you praise them as much as possible. Especially if you're having to deal with some behaviour management issues. The praise will counteract it. I also target those children that I've been warned off. Try to make it as sincere as possible (no sing-song voices). This is part of the fresh start for some of them. Another tip here, try not to over-focus on those children you're not expecting to have the best behaviour. They notice. They're used to being the centre of attention, for better or worse, and it may surprise them to blend in for a while.
So, there you have it. My 4 top tips to an awesome start. Let me know in the comments below if you have any tips or if you try out any of these ideas and don't forget to share this with anyone you think may be interested!
I resisted Class Dojo for a while. I wasn't really looking for any behaviour management help and I was a little wary of how public it is to the rest of the class. What made me try it? To be honest, pure curiosity. Everyone was talking about it and I couldn't really form an opinion without trying it. Now, I love it! There are different ways to use the features and to implement it into your classroom, so here's my guide to how I use it. It really works for me!
This is very important to me, I NEVER TAKE OFF POINTS. Ever. I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement. I've worked at schools with very challenging children filling classes of 33 and still wouldn't take off points. There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that the positive action is not negated by a negative action. They still did the positive thing. The second reason is that it is public. Positives should be public, negative should be private. I've tried and tested this and overall, behaviour improves every time.
What do I give points for?
On Dojo, you can choose the reasons for the points. Our school has 7 Cs the children work towards (collaboration, communication, commitment, confidence etc). They're a little like the 8 Personal Goals in the IPC. Mine are tied to those. Each time they demonstrate a skill, they get a point. I also have one for demonstrating Growth Mindset and sometimes add them for specific goals, eg. reading.
How do I manage the practicalities of giving the points?
I have the Dojo website up on the IWB most of the time. Either I give the points then, or let the children go up and put on their own. They love that!
What is the 'point' of the points?
I've heard lots of ideas on this one, the most popular seeming to be some kind of Dojo shop in school where children spend points. I don't believe in 'prizes' in the classroom. The reward in my class is very simple and very highly sought after: each week I post the 'winner' on the class story page. That's it! The parents all get to see who has earned the most points and I give a little insight into what they earned them for. They love it! Each week, I reset the points.
Team / Group Points
You can organise the children into teams or groups and award points to the whole team. Any given like this give each child a point and one for the team. Each week, we see which team has the most points and they are 'team of the week' the following week. Again, this has quite minimal benefit, but that doesn't seem to matter, which is kind of nice really. Team of the week might get to sit on the table when we read stories, customise their monster on Dojo, line up for lunch first, sit on a cushion... it really varies from class to class. I usually discuss it with them at the start of the year. Again, I reset the points each week.
Whole Class Points
There is a 'whole class' tally on the main page, which keeps track of the points accumulated overall. However, I don't use this. I have a 'student' (fake) whose name is Class. When the children do something well as a class, that fake student gets a point. This one I don't reset each week (you can 'select all' to reset them, then just untick this one). When they have 50, the children get to choose a treat. We've had lots of things, from pyjama parties to 'crafternoons'. At the moment, they're about 8 points away from their treat, which will be Muggle Quidditch! (I think I'm more excited than they are!!).
I asked parents for permission to post photographs of their children on the class story. All but one agreed and the one who didn't was happy for her child's work, hands, voice, back of head etc. to go on there. For group photos or those where she is in the background, I can easily pixelate her using an app. It is such a lovely way to keep parents in the loop. Parents can like and comment on pictures. I'm sure that some people will not be able to use this feature without it causing issues, but you can turn comments off if you like. I've never had an issue with it so far. There is also a School Story, on which you can post things of interest to all parents. What's nice is that you can also post to just a single child's story. I don't use this that often because I like to share with the class, but sometimes the children do presentations and you can put a short video of it on their story. The may not want this sharing with the whole class full of parents, but it's nice for theirs to see. Note: at the moment, you can only post one picture per post, so I use collage apps like Layout sometimes to post multiple pics at once.
Notices and requests
It's handy to be able to post reminders about non-uniform days, swimming kits etc. You can also post notices about homework, show auditions and anything else useful. Last week, I had a mini brainwave and it worked really well!! I realised that I can post requests and the parents can all see what the other responses are. For example, if you're having a class party and you don't want 30 bags of Doritos, you can post what you'd like and ask the parents to comment with what they are bringing to avoid duplicates. I used it for Science experiment bits last week and it worked a treat! (See pic).
Surprising Extra Features
When I signed up, I hadn't realised that Class Dojo has lots of other features too! There are some really useful tools, like a random student selector, a group maker and a noise metre (although the latter always suggests my class are screaming, even if the room is empty!). There is also music for focus or activity, which is great for when you just need something immediately without faffing around. I also love the still-developing Big Ideas section. This has some lovely videos and guided activities on Growth Mindset, Mindfulness, Perseverance, Empathy and Gratitude. My class LOVE the mindfulness section. We use the meditation and movement really often and it's a great start or end to our day.
I completely surprised myself. I love it! I am moving schools (and countries) in August and was delighted to find that my new school use it as a whole school. They've already added me to their account and it's great to be able to really get a flavour of the place already. I am looking forward to continuing to use it next year and would be very disappointed if I worked somewhere where they didn't want us to.
I'd love to hear your experiences of Class Dojo and any tips you have for making a success of it. Comment below or on Facebook.
1. Don't over-resource
Beautiful resources can really help to hook in your little learners and make their work feel special. However, be very careful not to over-resource your lessons. We've all been there - you're planning your next week's lessons, have a great idea for some awesome project and before you know it, you have spent hours making worksheets and guides for every step of the process. DON'T! Firstly, you don't have time. I don't care who you are or how efficient and organised you are, I guarantee that you have better things to do. Secondly, it doesn't always help. So, my absolute number one top tip is to think before you make! Ask yourself: will this improve learning? Will it be useful? Can the children do this without a worksheet? This leads into a little frustration of mine: I can't tell you how many times I've inherited a class of KS2 children that can't set their work out neatly on a page and are terrified by a blank sheet of paper. It does them a world of good to learn these skills and to begin to make their own choices about how to present their work. I'm not saying that you should never make a nice resource - take a look at my other posts and you'll see how much I love to make something special for their lessons - but consider what is worth your time. Spend your time wisely, preferably on things that can be re-used, and don't be afraid to download other people's resources. As long as you check them and adapt them to your class, there is no shame in using another teacher's ideas and activities - that's why we have blogs like these and resource-sharing websites: teachers helping out teachers.
2. Don't over-mark
Your time is precious. I am far from work-shy and completely understand the value of effective, timely feedback, but my time is limited and precious. So, this tip has 2 points:
a) When you plan your lessons for the coming week, think about how much marking you are giving yourself. If you have planned for the children to plan and write an extended piece in English, you know that you will need to be marking each day in order to feedback and help them to improve with each lesson. So, that week in Maths, aim for activities that you won't have to spend much time marking. Look for arithmetic that they can self-mark - this is not lazy, it is actually BETTER TEACHING! The children get instant feedback, can self-assess after seeing how they've done (we so often ask them to self-assess when they don't know if they're doing it right!) and you can address misconceptions immediately. All you have to do then is take a quick scan through to get a feel for what has been learnt. You could also look for more practical and team activities and games. The same applies to all of your subjects - take a good look at your week overall and make sure that you haven't planned lots of lessons that each need lots of marking.
b) You don't have to mark everything in-depth! Targeted feedback, linked to the learning objective and their next steps, is great and can really improve learning, but consider this: if they don't read it, it's not helpful!! If you have spent the time marking, build looking at it into the next lesson. Ask them to tell their partner what they did well and what their next step is. Also, remember that you don't have to 'deeply' mark every piece. Sometimes, it's fine to just focus on one point. For example, with longer writing pieces, I often just look for their next step. For Topic work, sometimes you want to ask them questions to extend their thinking and push the learning on, but you can't do that every time! Sometimes, a check and a tick is all it needs. Always remember: you are marking to feed back to the children and help them to learn more. You are NOT marking for your head teacher, the parents, or inspectors. If your teaching and marking has purpose and are helpful to the children, it will show.
3. Plan your whole week together
This one links to the ones above. Look at your whole week together, not just a subject at a time. The first things that I do when planning a week, is fill in a timetable overview. This is a piece of planning that I'm not 'required' to do, but it is the most useful thing that I do. Here's an example:
This helps me to 'see my week'. With this, I can see:
4. Be Flexible
Allow yourself to be flexible - don't be too tied by your lesson plans. I'm not going to lie, I hardly ever stick to my lesson plans! There are several reasons for this and, in my opinion, they are all worthwhile:
1) I spot something that needs fixing - we've all been there: you make a link to prior learning only to find that they haven't got the foundation knowledge or skills that you hoped they had. In this case, there is no purpose pushing on as if they have, just because it's in your plan. Fill the gap first!
2) They're bored - I plan what I think is exciting and fun, but they don't feel it. Change it! I have even been known to ask them 'how shall we make this more fun? What do you think would be a fun way to learn / practise this?'
3) I'm bored - sometimes I'm going through my planning in the morning with my TA and I'll just say 'well, I'm not in the mood for that - let's do something else!' I don't mean that I don't teach the objective or play party games instead, just that I spice it up a bit. Often, my TA will have an idea, or talking through it with her gives me an idea.
4) Big events - big things happen. Children notice. This could be a world event, such as a terrorist attack or natural disaster, and the children will be distracted by it. Don't tell them not to think about them - they will and should. Show them a children's news report, such as Newsround and ask them how they feel about it, how it will impact them and, if relevant, what we can do in response (fundraising, prayer, supporting each other). Sometimes, there will be a big event in the life of a child. This could be good or bad. Generally, I'd address bad things privately - if they are upset about something, I try to find a time early on in the day to have a chat with them and check that they are okay. If it's a good thing, I guarantee that they will not settle until they have told everyone!! They want to share their excitement, especially with you, and that's fine! Let them tell the class that they have a new puppy or a baby sister or a new rocket-shaped bed. They will tell people anyway and this way, they feel that you are celebrating with them and they won't be disrupting the class by miming it out across the room!
5) They have an idea or interest - the children will often show a keen interest in a particular aspect of a lesson or will ask a question that takes learning in a great but unexpected direction. I know that we have objectives to cover and targets to hit, but children will learn better if they are interested and engaged. Wherever you possibly can, try to follow their interests.
The weekly timetable plan helps with flexibility - you can easily see how a change will impact your week and where you can jiggle things around to fit in. Don't carry on with a lesson that is not working - sticking to a plan is not conducive to good teaching.
5. Let them laugh if it's funny!
This one is short but sweet: let them laugh! We need to teach children to be resilient if they are unintentionally the source of the humour - if you are the 'butt of the joke', 'the clutz', 'the one who made the ill-advised comment', it is far better to learn to laugh it off than to cry and feel picked-on because the others are laughing. Plus, hidden laughing behind hands and sniggering feels mean. If everyone is laughing with the teacher and it's all out loud, it's not some hidden embarrassment. You have to apply the same philosophy to yourself - I have done all sorts of embarassing things in front of my class! Falling down, walking into things, saying the wrong word - it's funny! I maintain that it is not cheeky to laugh as long as they know when to stop.
So, there you have it. My top tips to an enjoyable year. Enjoying your job is SOOO important: for you, for your class, for your colleagues, for your partner - for everyone. With the new school year upon us, if you only make one resolution, make it to do everything you can to enjoy yourself. Enjoy your class, enjoy your lessons and you'll be a wonderful teacher!
So, this week I have been trying something new.
At my school, we use the Maths No Problem scheme. For those of you who haven’t come across it, this is a Singapore Maths scheme that uses equipment, textbooks and workbooks. The lessons start with an ‘In Focus’ task, in which the children discuss approaches to a problem and then share their ideas.
To prepare for this, I have recently started giving the children ten minutes with the textbook at the end of each day. They ‘pre-study’ the lesson. They just take some time to look at it. They think about it. They can discuss it with their partner. Many of them flick back to the previous day’s lesson and begin to make links between their learning. Today, one pair even asked me if they could grab the equipment to start to make tenths and hundredths.
Only a few days in, this is already proving to be a very useful ten minutes. When I start the Maths lesson the next day, many of the children already have ideas or questions about the topic. They have begun to think about the Maths involved.
It is also encouraging independence. The children are learning to be less reliant. They are using study skills and reading skills along with the visuals in the book. I think that as we go on, I will be able to accelerate through some of the lessons, allowing more time for using the Maths Journals, which are used for deepening understanding, explaining different methods and reasoning.
My tips on how to implement this
(...so far! I'm sure that I'll have far more to add to this once I've been doing it for a while!)
Plans to expand!
So, obviously time is an issue here, but I'd like to roll this out across more of the curriculum. My plan is to give them some notes to study before some topics. We have LearnPads, so I'm going to put some presentations, notes and maybe even video clips (we have headphones!) on there about grammar topics, Science units etc. It's very similar to what we did for revision before the exams, but kind of in reverse. I think it might have a bigger impact than revising, but we'll see.
If you've done anything like this, please do comment and let me know any ideas or tips! Thanks!
Don't forget to comment and share if you like this or have anything to add (or if you spot one of my frequent typos!).
We've all been there: you share the WALT. You do the input where you carefully demonstrate and explain the learning. Of course, you don't just talk at the children anymore: you use mini-whiteboards to check understanding and you've asked them to talk to their partner at least twice. You then explain the activity (or activities, with 3-way differentiation) in enough detail that they don't ask you 48 questions before they start. Then you set them off on their task. Then they ask you 48 questions. By the time they actually start, the lesson is almost over so the activity is really rushed and there's no time for reflection or sharing. The result: they've done a bit of learning, but had no chance to secure their knowledge or explore the concept further. Plus, they're probably bored. All that planning was a waste.
But how can we avoid this?
As you'll guess from my page title, I like to talk. A lot. So I've spent a significant amount of time battling this problem and I've come up with 5 go-to ways to avoid it!
1. Start with an investigation
This one is easy really. Don't 'teach' them anything. Let them learn it.
For example, next week we are learning about speech marks. They're a pain in the bum to teach and there are so many rules! So, I'm just going to begin the lesson with the question How do we use speech marks? Then, I'm going to give the children some books and let them come up with a set of rules (presented however they like - see point 2). Then at the end, we'll come back and discuss.
There are some real benefits to this:
2. Allow choice of presentation - this means NO WORKSHEETS!
Teachers hate this: giving the children free-reign?? How will I mark it? They might be messy!
IT DOESN'T MATTER! Just teach them the concept, then give them a quick overview of the activity and off they go.
Example: sorting regular and irregular verbs.
They don't need a sheet for this, that you have to make, print, trim and they have to glue in. They also don't need you to tell them to draw a table or Venn diagram. Neither do they need you to show them 5 different ways they could present this. Just tell them to organise the words into regular and irregular. I give only 2 criteria: it must be neat and clear. That's it. You want to see if they know the difference between regular and irregular verbs. Some will do a table, others will fold their page in half, some will write regular verbs in blue and irregular verbs in orange. So you can spend the time teaching them what regular and irregular verbs are but not waste time on the activity instructions.
This works for lots of different activities. Most, in fact.
In addition to reducing your input time, this strategy also has 3 other key benefits:
3. Limit differentiation by activity
I VERY rarely set different activities or different sheets (I don't like sheets much) for different children. I don't like capping their learning, I don't like singling children out. I don't like spending my evenings thinking of 3 different ways to do an activity.
It takes forever to explain all the different activities and answer questions about each.
I tend to differentiate by support, expectation, outcome, questioning, peer support. Saves a ton of explanation time and your 'talking time' can be focussed on actually teaching the concept.
4. Just display instructions
Another very simple one. Don't talk at all. Display the instructions for a task and let them go. You can answer questions and troubleshoot as they go, but encourage them to have a go first. This relies on them being secure in the knowledge that they won't 'get in trouble' for doing it wrong - an atmosphere you need to foster over time. This one works best if they either have prior knowledge or if they are doing an investigation (see point 1).
Another option here is to display the task and instructions but don't ask them to start. Ask them to discuss it with their team and decide what to do. Then they could ask a couple of questions before getting going.
So, there you have it: my top tips to being a slightly less talkative teacher! I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!
I've said it so many times: "If only I'd known...!" So, here are the things I wish I'd been told when I started out as a young teacher, who thought enthusiasm meant colour printing and laminating everything that stayed still for 3 minutes, being prepared meant filling my classroom display boards before the children even set foot in the room and knowing what I was doing meant knowing what everyone else was going on about!
#1: Ask what the acronyms mean
You will be bamboozled with them at first: People love to drop them into conversation (sometimes deliberately, I'm sure) and you feel like an idiot for not knowing what they mean. Don't! They change constantly (case-in-point, SEN / SEND / SENDB), you won't have heard of half of them anyway and sometimes they're just completely made up!
#2: TAs will help you way more than judge you
"Don't worry! There'll be a TA with you for your whole first day to help you out." ARGH!! That is sooo much worse! So someone who's experienced, knows the school and has seen lots of teachers will be in there watching me make a mess of everything and silently (I hope) judging my every move?! Seriously, though, they know the kids, they know the routines, they are your biggest source of help. Still scary, though!
#3: Shave your legs
Some of the children will spend a lot of time looking at your ankles. Some of them will stroke them.
#4: You can teach
You've done your training. You've been observed a lot. Trust me, someone would have let you know by now if you were rubbish. That being said...
#5: You'll change
One day, you will look back and cringe at some of the things you did/said/thought as an NQT. But then, they said that about shoulder pads and they still rock.
#6: Tell them your name
Takes the fun out of it a bit, but my first name is not a secret or a dirty word. I just let them know that it's not seen as polite to use it. (Don't get me started on that one...)
#7: Stop making worksheets
Come on, people. From Year 3 upwards, 99% of lessons should be worksheet-free. They need to learn how to start on a blank piece of paper. That way, I'll never have to repeat the experience of asking a 9-year-old to draw a table, only to find them sketching their dining furniture!
#8: They're not too old
My Year 6s still loved their class minion teddy and sock monkeys. They also loved being read to (and no, not just because they could sit there and not doing anything! They didn't even want to go home if we were at a good part!). Let them be kids.
#9: Class decor is not a competition
Usually. Although, if it was, I'd better win. Just saying.
#10: Hide the felt tips!
No matter what you say, how clear you are, how many reasons you give (it'll soak through, they're too thick for the detail...), someone will definitely use felt-tip pens in every lesson! Just give them out when they are appropriate.
#11: Don't take mackerel for lunch
The other staff will hate you. They may even hang your lunch from the top-most rung of the climbing frame. Plus, no-one wants the children to ask them why they smell of fish.
#12: Let the walls display the children's work, not yours
I still struggle with this! Go nuts on your reading area, hook them in with a cool door, but let the bulk of the classroom either help or celebrate them.
#13: Stop laminating!!!
How do you make sure you are prepared? Why, laminate everything you see, of course! No. Just no. Unless it's going to be handled a lot and definitely used again, stop it! Wastes time, money and the reflection can make things hard to see.
You MUST have things you'd have loved to say to your NQT self! Comment them below - I'd love to read them!
Hi! I'm Mrs P: passionate primary school teacher!