Thursday, 29 November 2012

EYFS - Turning a face slap into a question.

A new school year has well and truly started, and my 2 classes of 26 children are settling in nicely...

No more tears at drop off...tussles over favourite toys diminishing...friendships developing.

Initial assessments done...an Ofsted visit successfully completed.

Lots of niggling issues in my head...why hasn't the new EYFS Framework reduced my paperwork?...why am I now doing more assessments than ever?...do I really have to start singing Christmas songs now!

But one issue in smacking me in the face at the moment....literally.

We have a language issue. Ofsted noted it, and my Development Matters assessments show the children to be an average of 9 months behind. To find out more I tested the children using the BPVS Standardised vocab test, and discovered they are a year behind on average.

The problem is clear on an average day in class. Many children use gesture to support communication, and that's a good thing. However, the way children demand attention seems to be getting a little out of hand. Getting your sleeves pulled, your shoulders tapped, and even your feet trodden on is all part of the job. But when they start actually grabbing your chin and turning your head to face them, or even slapping your face with a giggle you know you've got a problem! Basic manners and etiquette can be taught, and we are getting there slowly, but I think this hints at a deeper problem.

Keen to look more deeply into the issue and bearing in mind Ofsted's March 2012 report on 'Raising Standards in Literacy' (Which suggests that Nurseries and Primary Reception Classes should develop structured programs to develop communication skills), I set up some workshops...

I ran 2 small workshops with family groups of children (from Nursery to Year 6), to see how older siblings help their younger ones learn language. I observed them helping their Nursery siblings to read books, write their names, and during 'small world' play. It's hardly a professional
research project, but it revealed two key points :-

1/. The family groups with poorer language skills interact mainly with 'directive' language, whereas the family groups with good language skills use questioning effectively.

2/. The family groups with good language skills used context and 'real life experience' when interacting. e.g "Do you remember Tilly when we stayed at the farm?...she was a
sheep." The other groups don't seem to have a bank of real life experiences to use as context.

Hence I'm now focusing on developing questioning skills in Nursery, as this provides a starting point for a learning conversation that many of the children do not have.

You could say that my vision of success has moved from... 

A child that knows what all the farm animals are called.

To...

A child that knows they don't know what they are called, but has the confidence and language skills to ask.

Teaching always involves striking a balance between the passing on of knowledge and the development of skills, but I wonder if we lean a little too far towards passing on knowledge in Early Years? We often complain that parents are introducing their children to school without basic object based vocabulary such as animal names, shapes, or even colours. We should fill in these gaps, but by doing so are we using up valuable time that could be spent dealing with the bigger language problem?

And as for giving them more real life experience....you want me to take fifty two 3 and 4 year old's to a farm?...not this term!

Monday, 19 March 2012

The lost poo.

We all love a bit of toilet humour, but it doesn't often happen for real...

I suspected that one of my 3 year olds needed a nappy change, so had a quick peek down the back of his nappy to confirm the source of the aroma. I took his hand and lead him into the changing area, but was distracted by a phone call before I could get started. My TA kindly took over.

The phone call ended and I moved back towards the changing area. My TA came out and stood in the doorway...

'It's alright...force alarm, must have been wind.'

'Err no, I saw it actually.'

'Saw what?'

'You know, a poo.'

'No...there was nothing there.'

This was the point at which I realised two things...
1. The poo was missing.
2. It couldn't have been far away, because I could smell it.

The look on my TA's face indicated that she had come to the same conclusions.  Our eyes moved downwards to track the source of the aroma, and there it was...the poo...neatly poised on the end of her shoe.


Sunday, 26 February 2012

Getting what you want when you're 3!

I recently had an intake of 3 year old's in my class, which has taken us back to basics in some areas...snack time in particular...

I'm a great advocate for having a communal snack time in Nursery.  It's a good opportunity for the children to learn social and communication skills, and to help develop a sense of community through adult lead discussions.

Turn taking is one of the first social skills that comes into focus...

No matter how many times you explain how the process works, the temptation is far too great when you're 3.  The temptation to get off your seat and go and help yourself to a juicy apple and a carton of milk.  My TA's and I have developed a 'zonal defence' system that ensures all the runners are intercepted and returned to their seats with a minimum of fuss.  It takes about 3 days for the runners to learn that their attempts are futile.

Next they move on to the 'I want one' stage...

Despite the routine of milk and fruit being passed around the table, it seems likely when you're 3, that standing up and excitedly shouting ' I want one' will get you an apple more quickly.  Of course it doesn't work, and the shouts are ignored by adults until the fruit bowl is within reach.  This leads to the introduction of the concepts 'please' and 'thank you'.  Some children already use these concepts effectively to get what they want, some get too excited and forget them, and some...well actually one in particular...

'I want one'

'I'm sure you do. How do you ask for one nicely?'

'I want an apple.'

'How do we get things that we want?'

'I want an apple.  Do I have to count.  1.....2.....'


Seems modelling behaviour is a very effective strategy!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Getting stuck with stickers in Nursery!

There are some things that I just can't seem to nail in Nursery...things that ought to be easy...things that all teachers do without trouble...things that I used to manage perfectly well in Year 3...things like lining the class up in pairs...or calling out the register...and using stickers as rewards.

I made my first attempt at using stickers in week one...

I decided to use stickers to motivate the class at tidy-up time...didn't put much thought into it...didn't need to did I?...can't be difficult.

'Everyone who tidies up will get a sticker!'. The class cheers.

No problem, easy. All I had to do now was remember who did a good job. I wrote about ten names on a post-it note. Less than half the class...better than previous days, but not great...that was why I needed to use stickers though!...they'll learn.

We all sat down on the carpet once the room was tidy, and I started...

'Who thinks they should get a sticker then?'

Every hand goes up...'Me, me, me, I do' etc.

'Ok, let's settle down. What did we have to do to get a sticker?'

Blank faces and silence.

'Tidy up'...at last, one child managed to remember. This triggered the memory for a few more, but most looked baffled. Fine, let's carry on...

'Ok, well I have a list here of the people who did a great job.  They're going to get a sticker!'

Everybody cheers, and there's plenty of chatter..'Yessss...I'm getting a sticker, i did it, i did it' etc.

Sensing that things were going slightly pear shaped, I added...

'Don't worry if you don't get a sticker, because you can get one tomorrow by doing really good tidying up!'

Sorted...let's get on with it.

I decide to make a small ceremony out of it. I call out the first name and enthusiastically beckon the child to come forward. She stands up and comes to the front.  I call the second name, but the first one wants their sticker right now...they're trying to grab it from the sheet of stickers I'm holding. I decide that's ok and give them the sticker.

By this time half the class is standing up and moving towards the front for a sticker. I start regaining control...aided by the second child who is pushing some of the others back saying 'it's my turn'.  I settle the second child down, and gently remind the class that not everyone will get one, and manage to get them sitting down again. Alarm bells are ringing in my head, but I've come too far to stop now!

I call the second child out again and give the sticker. All's going well again. I decide to speed things up whilst I'm ahead, and begin calling out the rest of the names. By the time I get to the fifth name most of the class are on their feet and moving towards the front again. Some are jumping up and down with excitement. Some are coming directly towards me, at speed, with outstretched arms...

I recall my first experience of trying to do the register by calling names out...a random mixture of complete silence and yesses from children who may or may not have the name that I called out. The process ended up with a list of ticked names that bore no relation whatsoever to who was actually in the class that day! This was a similar experience, except that this time they had a goal...a shiny gold sticker.

Within a few seconds the situation was indeed pear shaped...children grabbing at the sticker sheet...children grabbing at stickers already on someone else's jumper...'it's mine'...'I want one'...'give it back'...and then the tears started...tears because they didn't have a sticker...tears because someone else had their sticker...tears because their sticker didn't stick any more.

Some of the tears lasted until hometime, but that wasn't very long. It had seemed a good idea to have the ceremony just before we put our coats on, to leave on a high!...seeing the parents beginning to queue outside led me to reflect that this probably hadn't been a good idea.

Nothing stops tears like a sticker. Especially when you're in a hurry. So there we were, everyone had a sticker...some had theirs for tidying up...some had theirs because they'd stolen it from someone else...and some had one to stop them crying. I'd lost track of who and why, but they all went home happy. Stickers had been devalued. I needed a new plan for tidy-up time...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Counting to 100 and understanding place value

Most children get the hang of counting to ten without too much trouble. It's usually learned through a mixture of nursery rhymes, games, playing with objects and lots of practice!  Many parents do a great job in getting their children to this point before they start attending nursery school.

However, getting to grips with what happens beyond ten is another matter, and full of pitfalls.  Those with good memories can do well when taught by rote, but what about the children who don't learn well using this method? Some children aren't prepared to learn this way, and are looking for a purpose or an understanding before committing valuable memory space.  How often do children who don't join in counting by rote sessions get labelled as 'a bit dim', or 'slow at maths'?

The vast majority of them are perfectly capable of memorising other things, such as how to get through the levels on their favourite iPod touch game, or the words to a catchy pop song.  Even those who learn the number order successfully by rote can be left with misconceptions, or without any real understanding of how our number system works.

During the year I spent as an Every Child Counts maths specialist I gained a good understanding of how to help children learn, or even better discover, the number system.  These ideas worked very well with Year 2 children who had fallen behind, and are working very well with my current Nursery class...

I like to bring place value into consideration as early as possible.  The first step here is to know that the units form a repeating, or circular, pattern...

Arranging Numicon in this circular pattern and pointing to each piece in turn when practicing counting, sets-up the starting point for place value nicely.

Children might tell you that it's a counting circle, or even ask why it goes from 10 back to 1?  These are signs that they are ready to progress.

There's no harm in progressing to the next stage now anyway, even if they are not secure in remembering all of the number labels 1-10.







You simply pick up another 10 and use it to point to the Numicon as you go round the circle again, saying the numbers as you go...eleven, twelve, thirteen...

Eleven...or should it be tenty one?
The children will get the hang of the pattern way before they can remember the number names, and that can lead to good things a little later on!
















However, saying the numbers beyond ten brings us to a major 'road block' in understanding how the number system works...

The number labels between 10 and 20 are simply stupid (in my humble opinion).  Whoever came up with them is responsible for holding back the maths learning progression of pretty much everyone who speaks English, and for confusing some for life...either that or I've missed something!?

If only it was tenty one, tenty two, tenty three, tenty four etc....

It's even worse than that though...when listening and speaking, the teen numbers are easily confused with the tens...

Thirteen can sound very similar to thirty, and seventeen very similar to seventy etc.

Try listening very carefully to children counting in this range...are they really saying all the teen numbers correctly?  Teen/ten confusion is very common, and often remains undiagnosed.

Eighteen...or should it be tenty eight?
Hang on though, did he say eighty?
I'm quite happy to gloss over the number names for 11-19 at this stage in favour of establishing the number pattern beyond...

Pick up another 10 and we're off round the circle again...

Twenty one, twenty two, twenty three...

Most children will be joining in with you by now.  You've just taught them twenty, and they can see what's happening with the units.

There's no need to explain what you're doing.  You've created an excellent model of the number system for them, and it's easy to follow and join in.

Pick up another ten, and before you know it you've led them all the way to 99!




It's a bold statement to make, but the children will have gained a solid grounding in place value before they can count securely to 20, or even 10 in some cases!

At this point it's really useful to start counting in tens.  Ever noticed a child struggling at a tens boundary?

37, 38, 39, err....

They understand the repeating units pattern, but need to learn that 40 comes after 39, and 50 after 49 etc.  It can seem really odd focusing on counting in tens when you've only just introduced the idea of 11, but once a child has that grounding in place value it really does help.  The children can see the point in learning the tens when you use the circular model, and of course you're leading them towards 100 and beyond!

It's still going to take lots of practice before all the children are secure, but this method pays dividends beyond.  Remember to practice with and without Numicon, as some children can become reliant on seeing the circular model when counting (a Numdrum is another excellent resource to use).

Oh yes, and now you can go back and help them learn 11-19 by rote...they'll probably tell you that the number names are stupid though!  To help iron out any teen/ty confusion you can put pictures of tea cups (as in tea/ty) next to the tens on a number line, and pictures of teenagers next to the teen numbers.

Finally, next time you hear someone from Key Stage 2 in the staffroom complaining that their children 'just don't get place value'...

I'd like you to remember tenty one, tenty two, tenty three...

Click here for a video demonstration of the counting wheel.

The Edgazette

Monday, 23 January 2012

Constructing a mess in Nursery...and developing ownership.

There's a solitary player in my class, let's call him Brendon, who has just started to notice more of what's going on around him and play alongside others.  He's well behaved, and self conscious to the point of sometimes hiding his work.  Brendon's not overly keen on 'tidy-up time', having tried a few strategies to avoid participation...

His first was to hide underneath the indoor climbing frame and keep very quiet.  He became a victim of his own success...a number of other boys copied him and his cover was blown.

By this time I was experimenting with some ALPS (Accelerated Learning in Primary Schools) techniques.  Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run' is listed as an energising track, which can enthuse children during 'tidy-up time'.  Brendon likes this track.  In fact he likes it so much that he goes to the front of the classroom, rests one foot on top of the skirting board and plays air guitar whilst head banging.  I have no idea where he got this from, but it has become very popular with the boys who used to hide under the climbing frame with him!

Bruce Springsteen has now become more of a reward for good tidying up...Starlight by Muse is equally effective.

Tidying up outside is a whole different ball game.  Now I think about it, I suspect Brendon has outwitted me on this front.  Today is the only memory I have of him participating...

I didn't notice him until we had finished tidying up and the children were filing back indoors for snacktime.  He threw a container of crayons on the floor and set off round the path that circles our outside area.  Brendon doesn't do that sort of thing...he doesn't make a mess, in fact he makes a point of avoiding it (not just during tidy-up time).  He had the biggest smile on his face.



Everyone else had gone in, so I was quite happy to watch and let things develop.  He came round to a tidy set of crates and threw them in a pile.


There was no anger, and he still had the biggest smile.  Time to investigate...

'Looks like you're having fun Brendon, what are you up to?'

'I'm making something.'

'What are you making?'

'A mess!'...at this point he started tidying the crates.  It seemed he had 'got it out of his system'.

'It's nice to see you tidying up Brendon.'

'I'm doing it so I can make another mess.'...he threw the crates about again...no rage, just joy!

He ran off round the path, knocking chairs over as he went...I set off in the opposite direction to meet him.

'Did you enjoy that?'

'Yeah, I did it good.'

He was now walking beside me, back towards the chairs.  I stood one up, and he did the other two.

We moved to the crates and piled them up neatly.  There was no need for any words.  We both had the biggest smiles.



I'm not sure I'll ever fully understand what went on today.

Was it some sort of male bonding...breaking through the 'tidy-up time' battle to form an alliance?

Was he unshackling his self-consciousness to make a mess...just like everyone else?

Does he know what a mess actually is...is it something to be constructed and admired?

I'm inclined to think it had something to do with a growing confidence and an ownership of his world.  It was his space for those few minutes, to grow and develop in...and he took risks, safe in the knowledge that I would support him through it.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Learning to STOP in Nursery.

We've been learning about 'People who help us' this week, including Police Officers and Traffic Wardens.  I took the opportunity to link one of my classes favourite activities, riding the trikes, to one of the stranger learning steps in Development Matters.  The learning step to which I am referring comes under the heading of Physical Development, and is simply 'Are able to stop'.

There's no explanation as to which physical attribute it is that they are supposed to be able to stop, so I have assumed that it means stopping everything, at once, on request.  Rather like what you're supposed to do when a Police Officer says stop.

The activity went very well.  Lots of racing around of trikes, plenty of children dressed as Police Officers and a few Traffic Wardens.  I donned a Police hat and modeled how to command a speeding trike to stop.  The children soon got the hang of it, and I was able to stand back and observe who was able to stop.  I even tried a few loud shouts of 'Everyone STOP!'...very revealing, some children have very little awareness of what's going on beyond their immediate personal space.

With a little practice most got the hang of it, and the inevitable 'ignoring the law' type behaviour started to kick in...very amusing from a distance, and fascinating to see how the children dealt with conflict.  I often view my Nursery class as a micro-model of society and human behaviour.  The dynamics are very honest and bare, without the web of 'pretence' and 'sophistication' that you have to wade through to try and understand adult behaviour!

When I checked that one very bright girl could stop, she did so, but asked 'why?' I responded in role...

'Because I am a Police Officer, and I want you too.'  She trundled off with a slightly puzzled look.

All seemed well until I was a few pages into a story at the end of the day. Admittedly I wasn't exactly putting my heart and soul into it, but I was somewhat surprised to hear a shout...

'STOP!' It was the bright girl.

'Excuse me young lady, what's the problem?'

'I want you to stop.'

'Why?'

'Because it's boring actually.'

Seems I should have explained rather more about what a Police Officer is, and the difference between the law and normal social behaviour.  After making a mental note to adjust next week's planning, I asked the whole class if they wanted me to stop. They mostly did, and they went back to their own activities...

'power to the people'...'democracy in action'...'speak up and change the world'...

I like to think they are developing an understanding of how societies work that will give them confidence to influence the world when they are older.

I'll blog soon about how the children have created their own structure and order within the classroom without a single rule from me...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

How a tower of tens can create infinite possibilities in Nursery...

A girl in my Nursery class created this today...

A tower of tens made with Numicon

'Wow that's great, can you tell me about it?'

'It's ten and ten and ten.'

'Oh yes I can see that now, how many is that altogether?'

 'I don't know, lots!'

I showed her a counting in tens number line and pointed...

'Ten, twenty, thirty...just like your tower.'

She looked towards the end of the number line...

'Wow, there's lots and lots of numbers then.'

'Yes there is...actually there's more than I can even think of....if we had enough numicon we could go on for ever and ever and ever...isn't it great!'

Pauses for thought...

'Yeah...is it snacktime now?'

Thinking about what infinity means drives me to food as well!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Taking pleasure in personal hygiene!!?...including toileting!

I've mentioned before that, apart from being an administrative nightmare, Development Matters is an excellent way of measuring and recording Nursery children's progress. It accurately describes the learning steps that most children follow from birth to approximately 6 years old.  As an example, I've included an excerpt from the Dispositions and Attitudes section under the subheading of self-care...

From 0 - 11 months
Anticipate food routines with interest.
Express discomfort, hunger or thirst. 

From 8 - 20 months
Begin to indicate own needs, for example, by pointing.
May like to use a comfort object. 

From 16 - 26 months
Show a desire to help with dress and hygiene routines.
Communicate preferences. 

From 22 - 36 month
Seek to do things for themselves, knowing that an adult is close by, ready to support and help if needed.
Become more aware that choices have consequences.

Those of you who have worked with children in these age ranges, or have children yourselves, will probably recognise these steps and agree that there would be some cause for concern if a child was not showing any evidence within a given age/development range.

I deliberately stopped short of showing you the final step in the 22-36 month range as I think it stands out from all the others, and is a little odd...

Take pleasure in personal hygiene including toileting.

It's worth remembering that you need to provide evidence (written note, photograph, sound recording or video) for each learning step!

Before Development Matters was published, some very clever person (or group of people) must have justified this statement to the Government for approval...or did they?...can you imagine the conversation?...'Do they really need to take pleasure in it?'...'How would you know?'...'Do they need to smile afterwards to prove it...or during it?'

I've always wondered if this was a sense of humour seeping through...after all, we Brits do like a bit of toilet humour.

I hadn't given much thought to this for a few weeks, but the penny finally dropped this afternoon.

I was sitting with a group of children playing lego and heard a girl singing very contently. There was an odd, slightly echoey tone to the sound and I had to move around to try and locate it...

I finally traced the sound to a 3 year old sitting and singing on the toilet...what more evidence could you possibly want for taking pleasure in going to the toilet?

Needless to say, my chosen method for recording the evidence was a written note!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Number Displays...is yours 'abstract' or 'real'?

All classrooms have a number display (actually I've seen 1 or 2 without!), but how many really help children learn about our number system and how it links to the real world?  Having spent last year as an Every Child Counts maths specialist in Year 2, I took the opportunity to use my newly developed skills to create a number display in Nursery...

The number symbols we use, e.g. 4, 5, 6 (both verbally and visually) are quite an abstract concept for children when they learn to count. They usually learn them through Nursery rhymes or by rote. You can recognise this in children who revert to 1 when counting objects...

If you lay 3 objects in front of a young child they will probably count 1, 2, 3 without difficulty. Add another object and some children will say 'there's 4 now'. Some will start counting all the objects again from scratch (reverting to 1). There's nothing wrong with this, it just demonstrates that they know the string of labels 1 to 4, but not well enough to remember what comes after 3 without starting from the beginning.  It also means they probably haven't yet made a link between the number 'labels' and the quantities that they represent.

I'm a big fan of Numicon (the coloured plastic shapes to the left of each number symbol in the pictures), and have been using it to support my class's early experiences with counting. Most of the class instantly recognise the Numicon pieces, can order them and understand their relative quantities. This has been achieved by encouraging the children to play with the Numicon pieces, and by spending about 10 minutes a week teaching them which verbal number symbol relates to which Numicon piece.


I use the wall display to practice counting by rote.  As you can see, the display includes Numicon pieces along with 'real life' objects to demonstrate the quantity (arranged in a pattern to help create a visual link with the Numicon). Here's an example of how I use it...

When practicing counting to five I start from a number of different places...

From 1 and point to each number symbol as we move up to 5.

Count all the objects displayed under the number 5.

Count the first 5 of the objects displayed under 8, etc etc.


This method has yielded excellent results in terms of counting, recognising quantities (subitising) and numeral recognition. However, the biggest benefit took me by surprise yesterday...

I held up the Numicon pieces for 2 and 3 together to form the same shape as 5, and asked the children what number it was?  I was expecting blank faces, but thought someone might count all the holes and realise it was 5...

The response was many excited shouts of '5'. There was no delay or counting, they knew it was 5 from the shape.  I asked 'how do you know?', and I got this response from a child...

You've got 2 and 3, and that's the same as 5.

So we're now embarking on a voyage of discovery into addition.  I will let you know how we get on...



The Edgazette

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Should I role-play fighting with my class?...even if I let someone else be Luke Skywalker!?

I find myself facing a dilemma after my first day back in Nursery...

Two boys were hiding from each other in the classroom and peeping out from various locations to take pretend shots at each other. They were using their hands as guns. Without pausing for thought I joined in and hid behind a chair to ambush one of them as they came past. I wasn't until I raised my arm to take aim that I suddenly thought 'hang on...what on earth are you doing!?...condoning gun violence!?'

My raised arm morphed from a machine gun into a tickle stick, and much laughter ensued as the game developed to include more and more of the class.

The dilemma I'm left with is whether it's ok for young children to role play fighting, particularly with weapons? Fighting comes in many forms and I've attempted to list the ones that I can think of in some sort of order of 'terribleness'...where would you draw a line of acceptability?

Role play scenario...

Two kittens playing with a mouse.

George and the Dragon.

Soldiers shooting robot alien attackers.

A fight scene from Karate Kid.

Superhero battles.

Darth Vader v Luke Skywalker in a light sabre battle (why does no-one ever want to be Yoda?)

Knights sword fighting.

A tustle between a criminal and a Police Officer.

A Roman hand to hand battle.

A drunken brawl as seen on TV.

A Police Officer shooting a terrorist.

A terrorist shooting a Police Officer.

Clearly any role-play that involves actual physical attack and harm has to be stopped, but surely role-playing something that's seen in the natural world or comes from a children's story book is acceptable?  But then what about role playing violent scenes from children's films...is it ok if they're  based on cartoons, or involve mythical of non-human characters?

Our topic this half term is 'People who help us'. Is it ok for the children to role-play Police Officers or Soldiers in shooting games?

What about re-enacting a fight scene from Eastenders, or a Roman battle scene from a text book?

If I condone superhero battles or shooting alien robots, is it ok to let the children spend a morning building 3D models of weapons before unleashing them on each other?

I've spent a little time researching this dilemma on the internet, and it seems that academic opinion is very much split. Conclusions on such role-play range from 'it helps children to investigate and experience some of the issues involved in a safe way', through to 'it encourages real violence'. Apparently some schools actually have policies on 'Valuing and managing weapon play'.

I don't quite feel ready to suggest such a policy to my headteacher (with 4 years as an Army Officer and only 1 term in Nursery on my CV, I fear this would be a career limiting move!), but I don't want to sweep the issue under the carpet either.

As ever, any comments, opinions or pointers towards relevant research are appreciated...
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