Month: January 2015

Why I love highlighters!

This is a response to Alex Quigley’s excellent post Why I hate highlighers! which I encourage you to read.

Mindlessly colouring in text does nothing to help you remember the words you are daubing in fluorescent ink. I think that we can all agree on that. Mr Quigley sets out an argument to challenge the unexamined use of highlighters. Here, I want to explain how I use highlighting in primary, and argue for it’s efficacy. Hopefully, this will also give secondary teachers an insight into the literacy/English work done by primary school teachers.

This week I’ll be teaching children to write a newspaper report. The learning will roughly follow this structure:

  1. Introduce children to the text type.
  2. Agree on the purpose of the text.
  3. Investigate which techniques help the text to be effective in terms of achieving its purpose.
  4. Gather relevant information associated with the particular text type.
  5. Organise this information ensuring techniques discussed in (3) are utilised.
  6. Write the text type using (1) – (5).
  7. Assess the text type against those features agreed during (3).

No doubts there are problems with such a structure, and I would be grateful to anyone who can point out the more glaring flaws. But the beauty of such an approach is that it can be more or less taken off the shelf and used to tackle any of the text types we write in KS2, whether that be a narrative, non-chronological report, diary entry, set of instructions, etc.

Let’s focus on the text type at hand, though; writing a newspaper report. I’ll begin by showing a model exemplar of this text type. We’ll read it together and decide the purpose of the text type. For a newspaper report, we’ll agree that the purpose is to inform an audience of recent news. We are writing to inform.

How does the newspaper report we are looking at do that successfully? I would give children a few minutes, in pairs, to jot down anything they feel makes the text successful regarding its purpose. Then I’ll collate these features on the board. Hopefully we’ll end up with something along the lines of:

  • Short, effective headline to draw the reader in
  • Factual information (answers the 5 Ws)
  • Organised into paragraphs, with clear opening sentences
  • Quotes
  • Ends with rhetorical questions
  • Uses the passive voice

(If you are unsure which features make a particular text type succesfful, I would encourage you to register with Lend Me Your Literacy and click ‘Resources’ – ‘Genre tick list’.)

This list can later become the ‘success criteria’, or ‘toolkit’, which children will be assessed against. I jot them all onto a piece of flip-chart paper and stick it on the Literacy display for the rest of the week. You’ll notice, too, that as the list goes on the features become more sophisticated. You might expect your more able students to include all features, with your more vulnerable learners focussing on the first three features.

Now, for the highlighters!

I should note that at primary we don’t have the fancy budgets for highlighters, so I dish out coloured pencils. Get the children to jot down this toolkit, and shade each feature in a different colour.

Now, they should return to the model exemplar and colour any examples of the toolkit using the relevant colour. Voila!

After they write their own text, you could get the children to colour code their own writing (or each others) using the same technique. Are there any colours missing? Do any colours dominate? Which colours do you need to add in to improve your work?

When you come to mark the work, you can also refer to the colour coded toolkit, or highlight the children’s work using the relevant colours to show them which features they have effectively included.

I am currently falling way short of using this approach in a consistent manner. But I will endeavour to do so from now on and, if at primary we teach children to use colour coding in this manner, it is my hope that Mr Quigley will eventually end up writing a post entitled Why I love highlighters!


Wearing a suit in primary: slick, silly or supercilious?

We often talk about the pros and cons of student uniform. It’s one of the few areas of education where I’m just below a shrug on the opinion scale.

But what about teachers?

One evening a few months ago I went out to see some friends. I was wearing a pair of dark jeans and a faded red t-shirt, with some red trainers.

“Wow, have you had time to go home and get changed?” They asked.

I hadn’t been home to get changed.

My friends were a little taken aback. Firstly, that I was allowed to wear such casual clothes, and secondly that I chose to. Now I admit, it’s pretty rare that I wear jeans and t-shirt to school. Usually its a pair of chinos and a shirt. The last time I wore a suit was at a parents evening, and most of my students looked at me weirdly and asked me what I was wearing.

First, I’m quite lucky that my school are flexible with our clothing. There are, of course, limits, but practicality trumps formality. I’ll a reasonable amount of time bending down, crouching or sitting on the floor on any given day. I’m aware that secondary schools are more likely to have a dress code for teachers, with business dress the expectation.batman

Business dress, incidentally, was the expectation during my teacher training. During school visits, I soon became aware that my suit and tie was drawing suspicious looks. I broached the subject with a gentle looking teacher in a staff room. “Are your going for the head teacher job or what?” she replied, “there’s no need.”

So for my first year of teaching I left the suit for weddings and court appointments. I did try and make sure my shirt was ironed on observation days, or at least held under the hand dryer and palmed down.

This year, I toyed with the idea of starting to wear a suit. I’m teaching older children and thought that they should get used to seeing a teacher in smart dress. There is also a vague notion in my head about aspiration, and showing children that not all people that wear suits are faceless city-dwellers. Lastly, and this is probably what underlay the non-judgemental surprise of my friends, it seems like a lack of respect. For the children, the job, and yourself.

I enunciate, articulate and stretch my vocabulary when I teach. I dress up my language. Why shouldn’t I also dress up myself?

Wearing a suit sends a message. I take care in everything that I do.

On the other hand, I don’t want people to think that I want to be headteacher, partly because I really don’t, but mostly because primary school is largely about relationships, and if formal dress alienates you from colleagues and students then your job of teaching the children things will be harder. And that’s what I’m there to do.

So you decide. Suits in primary school? Slick, silly, or supercilious?


Pity me. No, seriously: pity me.

It’s 23:24 on New Year’s Eve and I’m currently at a party, but have taken myself off to a quiet corner to report on a conversation I just had in real life.

What, I hear my loyal and intelligent readers ask, could have prompted such an impromptu post?

It was a conversation I had.

As a teacher it is so easy to become trapped in a bubble, conversing only with other teachers, and often teachers who share the same sort of values and particular weltauschauung concerning education and everything related to that bizarre little world.

So I’m at a party and have taken the opportunity to talk to real people with real jobs. The rest of this post will simply report, verbatim, a conversation I just had. I’ll let you analyse it, I am but merely a neutral reporter. I have no judgement, but think it’s worth sharing how some view the profession.

“Hi, how’s it going?”
“Fine thanks, I’m Jon.”
“Nice to meet you Jon, what do you do?”
“I’m a teacher.”
“Oh my god I’d love to be a teacher. All those holidays. It sounds amazing.”
I take a deep breath and smile politely. “Yeah it’s great, what do you do?”
“Oh I’m in HR. It’s kind of boring, you know [rolls her eyes]. It’s complicated. A lot of stress but it’s cool. What do you teach?”
“I teach primary. I teach year six.”
“Oh my god. That is SO…CUTE. I bet they’re adorable. I’ve got a nephew who’s eight and he’s hilarious.”
“Ah that’s nice, I’m sure you’re a great auntie.”
“Yeah. I think that I would’ve liked to do teaching. But I wanted to try and really have a go at life first. I mean, obviously all of the holidays are great, but I wanted to try and really do a proper career. I feel like I’d rather do a proper job and, even if I fail, and have to go into teaching, at least I tried.”
[clenching my teeth, slightly] “That sounds like a good plan, so do you enjoy what you do?”
“It’s really complicated. Like, it’s business stuff, I’m in meetings all the time working different deals. That’s when I wish I was just playing with kids.”
“I mean, no offence, but it seems like people who do teaching just sort of fall into it. Like, they didn’t want to do it but they had no other option. You know what I mean?”
“I’m not really sure I do.”
“Ok I don’t wanna offend you or anything, but I just think teaching is like really easy holidays. And no offence but like it’s for people who sort of fell into it. I mean, it’s easy isn’t it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“REALLY?! Why?”
“Well lots of reasons. You have to be responsible for 30 children for 6 hours solid-”
“Yeah but they’re little kids!”
“Right, but behaviour can be an issue, so you have to manage that.”
“Hm, I could maybe understand that with secondary school. But in primary they just do what you say.”
“I’m not sure that’s true, behaviour management in primary can be very tough.”
She flicks a sarcastic smile at me.
“And of course you’re responsible for their learning, that means making sure each child is being appropriately supported or challenged, constantly. It’s a complex business.”
“I might do it one day. Like, if I want a break and get stressed with me job to much. And the holidays are so amazing. It’s like 6 weeks in the summer right? I’d love that.”
“Absolutely. You should do it.”