Sunday, 21 September 2014

Next Steps in EYFS...doesn't need to be a cottage industry!

I've used a few different methods to create, record and communicate 'Next Steps' in EYFS, both paper based and electronic (using various APP's on an iPad). They have all been hugely time consuming, requiring an awful lot of work to keep them up to date or to create 'snapshots' every term or so. To be honest, the effort put in did not justify the limited impact on learning.

I decided there must be a better way to do it, and after trialling 'Next Step Trees' for two terms I very much think there is...

I created four 'Next Step Trees' which very simply show what a child can do and what their next steps are. There is one for the Prime Areas, and one each for Number, Reading and Writing. I took the statements from Development Matters/ELG's and re-wrote them using parent friendly language, focussing on those that require teaching input. I've never seen the point in giving a child a purely developmental next step!

You could edit these to create trees for other learning areas, but I think four is enough and that for better or worse, they fit with DfE and Ofsted priorities.

All you need to update them is a few stickers, and the only writing required is the date. They have saved hours and hours of admin time and proved far more effective than I imagined...

Parents/Cares like them, and can view them whenever they drop off or pick up their child.

Children love collecting the stickers and enjoy proudly showing new ones to their parents.

They generate learning discussions with the children.

They form the basis of discussions at parent's evenings.

They can be handed on to Year 1 as an assessment record, or can be kept 'live' for those who have not yet reached the ELG's.

I laminate them back to back and keep them in wall pockets for easy access by the children and their parents.

Here they are for downloading in Word format. You can edit and add in your logo etc as required...I hope you find them useful!

Download Prime Area Tree

Download Number Tree

Download Reading Tree

Download Writing Tree

The Edgazette

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Number Progression from EYFS to Year 2 (New Curriculum)

Following my post on the new National Curriculum for Maths 2014, I have developed a progression document that ties the number part of the new curriculum in with Development Matters and the Early Learning Goal (ELG). The document is working nicely in my school, with every child from Nursery to Year 2 having their progress measured using it.

An added benefit is that awareness and subject knowledge amongst staff (including TA's) has risen greatly, with the next steps for each child becoming obvious. We are also beginning to build a bank of learning resources cross-referenced using the codes in the document.

The goal is for any adult to be able to sit down with any child (with their progression document), know exactly what they can already do, see their next steps and have resources readily available to support those next steps. Simple really!

The progression is split into 4 strands as follows :-

Recognising & Writing Numbers
Value & Calculation

This may seem overly complicated at first, but it makes 'learning barriers' transparent, e.g. a child who is not progressing in calculation may actually have a counting issue, or mis-understanding a key piece of maths language may underly a general lack of progression.

I have stopped at Year 2 because it represents a key transition point. A child who is a secure in the Year 2 curriculum will have a good understanding of our number system (including place value), and will be able to carry out mental calculations with small numbers. They are then ready to be introduced to written methods...a whole new story!

Please please please don't introduce children to formal written methods until they reach this point. Doing so can leave them with an incomplete or poor mental maths ability that may not get fixed...ever. Have you ever tried teaching column addition to a child who still uses their fingers to add 6 and 2?..they're just not ready yet. How many of us are brave enough to stop though...and go back to the basics for a term first? (or even for a year if necessary). Hopefully the document below can help make it easier to judge when children should progress.

The document is best printed on a single A3 sheet (portrait)...


The Edgazette

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Is your class library a Tesco experience?

Our class library is probably similar to most in Early Years and Key Stage 1. It has a range of to old...good to bad...

I have been watching the children using the book corner this week. What I saw happening worried me. I noticed that the children discarded the majority of the books they picked up. A few favourites were always taken, but the majority of books ended up on the floor or untouched. These favourites were often carried round like trophies, as just having them seemed to bring pleasure.

The behaviour fell into three categories...

1/. Not visiting the book corner at all.

2/. Hoarding the favourites. 

3/. Staying in the corner for a few minutes...browsing, but not engaging.

Category 3 is the one that worried me the most. I viewed them as browsers who weren't really interested in reading. That was until I recognised the look of sad frustration on one boys face when he moved on. I realised that I feel the same when I browse the books in a supermarket...

Very little worth reading in my opinion. Mostly discounted 'nearly made it' books that the publishers need to clear stocks of.

I have a browse most times I visit a supermarket. I know I enjoy reading, yet there's always the nagging feeling that I 'should' be reading. Not being able to find something to read in a supermarket just adds to this nagging feeling. The boy must have felt the same.

Sometimes the nagging gets the better of me though, and I dive in! This has lead to the purchase of books that I was never hugely interested in, and never got past the first chapter of...the ones the children discarded on the floor.

The above experience leaves me feeling a little despondent about reading, and if I'm honest it makes me feel a bit dim, like I'm not bright enough to enjoy books that others obviously do.

Then I thought about the books that I have really enjoyed reading, the ones that stir up feelings and memories when you see the spine on the bookshelf. I could recall buying many of them...a comment from a fellow browser, a recommendation from an assistant, five minutes spent reading the opening pages...

It was then that I realised my class library needs to more like a Waterstones than a Tesco. Not bigger, just better. Whether old or new, every book needs to be one of the best. Even an average book is going to risk putting a child off reading, either for that day, or week, or even worse for ever.

I then saw my class library as something that was more likely to put children off reading than inspire them to get started...

Chuck the average books out!...old and tatty is fine, just as long as it's good.

We have a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that has tears, mud stains and even pages missing. The children still carry it round, read through it, share it with a friend, and sometimes argue over it. It's tatty because it's good, very good. In fact it's a highly desirable thing to have.

So next time there's no budget for new books, all is not lost. You may do just as well by throwing out the bad and average ones. Just think twice before binning the one that's missing a few pages and patched up with sellotape...

The Edgazette

Sunday, 16 March 2014

New Primary Maths Curriculum 2014 - Epic fail or finally coming of age?

There's now less than half an academic year left before we're all supposed to be teaching to the new National Curriculum 2014.

If you're anything like me, you're part of an academy and have hidden behind the "Well we don't have to implement it." excuse for a while. That's the excuse that followed the "Well it's been so long coming, is it really going to happen?" one.

It seems it really is happening, and if you're an academy you're going to need to back up "We've decided not to implement it." with something majorly your own custom designed expert curriculum tailored to your own children...not going to happen is it.

You may have looked at the IPC (International Primary Curriculum)...I did.  The first page of my google search threw up all sorts of scary things..."the many many problems with IPC, no resources available, woefully thin planning, expensive".  I dare say it's actually very good, but the amount of work involved in implementing it must be massive.

So then, might be best to have a look at the new national curriculum...

I have been working with the maths part of the new curriculum for a while now, and I have to say I really like it. More than that, I think it is going to improve learning and reduce workload. I read it, and I could understand it. My national curriculum joke, "I understand all the words, but when you put them together they make no sense", has been forced into retirement.

I shall now explain why I am so positive about it...

The new vocabulary...

The above words are taken from the introduction section of the document. It is concisely written, there is no waffle, every word counts.

Maths is described as "essential to everyday life" and important for "understanding the world", with children needing the ability to "reason mathematically". All very sensible and practical, but there is a new flavour being introduced...

We are to instill a "sense of enjoyment and curiosity", and support children in appreciating the "beauty and power of mathematics".  I like this.  I'm no mathematician, but the idea of exploring the beauty and power of mathematics sounds almost enjoyable, possibly even inspiring. I would have associated phrases like this with a university prospectus.

In fact I googled "the beauty and power of mathematics" on yahoo, and was drawn to a degree level course in America. I took the following bullet points from the synopsis...

  • Symmetry (regular solids, tilings, Escher, ruler-and-compass, origami)
  • Fibonacci numbers and Golden Ratio
  • Optimal design (soap bubble maths, minimal networks)
  • Mathematical soul capturing (the maths of juggling and lacing shoes)
  • Visualising the 4th dimension
  • The shape of space (Mobius bands, Klein bottles, "pacman" spaces)
  • Infinity.

Enjoyment, beauty & power...teach maths using pacman?

I have little idea what the maths involved is, but I do actually want to find out. The idea of teaching maths through origami, the Golden Ratio, soap bubbles, juggling, pacman and infinity sounds so much more interesting than the endless shopping activities, shape walks and 'weighing stuff for a holiday suitcase' that we do. Imagine not having to bribe kids with merits and stickers to fill a page up with calculations, or to measure and weigh every last pencil in the classroom.

The new vocabulary the DfE have provided seems appropriate when imagining these beautiful and powerful activities; sophisticated, inter-connected, pictorial representation, concrete objects, grasp.

This is all beginning to feel rather grown up, in a way that I think children will appreciate. In fact, even the areas of learning are coming of age...

Geometry replaces 'Shape, Space and Measure'.

Statistics replaces 'Data Handling'.

When Grandpa tries to engage little Lucy in a conversation about what she's learning at school, it's likely to be more productive if he can recognise the subjects. An employer is likely to be impressed when interviewing someone who can remember enjoying 'statistics' when they were at Primary School.

Alongside this new flavour, there is greater clarity regarding the process of teaching maths. The key words seem to be; concept, representation, fluency, concrete, memorise, reason, recall, derive, apply, solve, practise. I see it working like this...

The process of teaching maths...

Following the constructivist theory, all outer elements need to be in place and inter-connected in order to embed learning. In accordance with the aims of the new curriculum, the purpose is to be able to reason and solve. The third aim of the new curriculum is to be fluent.

The difference should become apparent in the children's books. We might see photo's recording a few days where children explore and gain an understanding of a new concept. An example would be 'finding the difference', for which children could compare various objects (not the usual inanimate classroom about real people, real cars, real flowers etc). Their descriptions and comparisons could be steered over time from the more obvious colour, purpose and size, towards the more mathematical 34cm taller and 25g heavier). This could result in the children creating their own pictorial representation of 'difference' that they can go back to when practising and applying.

There should also be acceptance of regular lessons based on 'I can memorise key number facts' or similar. Nothing recorded in the books, but maybe a cross school ICT based scheme that engages children and measures their progress and recall. There are plenty on the market. Most allow the children to login at home. We can think of it as homework, but the quality of up to date educational websites and Apps means that the line between (home)work and play is blurred for them. As the document says, "An emphasis on practise at an early stage will aid fluency".

Differentiation & Streaming...

The DfE have provided some guidance on the thorny subject of setting, streaming and differentiation. It's perhaps a little subtle, but the key phrases are...

The expectation is that the majority of pupils will move through the programmes of study at broadly the same pace.

Pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through being offered rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content.

Those who are not sufficiently fluent with earlier material should consolidate their understanding, including through additional practice, before moving on. 

To my mind, this guidance leans towards suggesting maths is taught in mixed ability classes. If teaching in streams or sets, then I think it suggests that content should be lined up to ensure that children can move flexibly and at short notice. With lower ability children in mind, it seems to be a firm rejection of the 'coverage' last!

Note to self: re-title 'extension' worksheets 'rich and sophisticated problems'.

Support materials...

The DfE have also been kind enough to include an appendix with "Examples of formal written methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division". This looks very much like the sort of 'Maths Progression' document that poor subject co-ordinators feel they should spend hours and hours agreeing and producing.

The new flavour here seems to be simplification and standardisation. Grandpa will recognise all the methods in this appendix! More on this soon...

For now, here's a link to a fantastically detailed breakdown of the changes by subject and year group (produced by Michael Tidd)...New Curriculum? What new curriculum?

Finally, the DfE website links to some very useful videos produced by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Maths (NCETM). They have 60 short videos giving examples and ideas for implementing the new curriculum and are well worth a look...they even have their own youtube's an example...


Oh yes, I almost forgot! After all this positivity, there is one problem. It's a big problem actually, but to be fair, not a problem with the new curriculum itself. There is no assessment framework. The levelling system has gone.

The DfE has kindly left it up to schools to decide what to do. The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has been looking at the issue since it was announced by Michael Gove in June 2013. So far, they have decided that it would be a good idea if all schools did the same thing, and that until they can work out what that same thing is, we should all use the current levelling system. The levelling system that, at least as far as maths is concerned, is incompatible with the new curriculum. Epic fail

Switching back to positivity, I have done something about this. It only covers Number in Key Stage 1, but it's a start...

I have produced an 'EYFS/KS1 Number Progression' sheet that can be used to assess children in a similar vein to APP.  The sheet can be used to record the progress of children from the pre-school year in Nursery through to the end of Key Stage 1, and to inform their next steps. This is particularly useful for staff in year 1, who have to cope with children working below the level of the national curriculum.

I originally produced the document to clear up the very confusing overlap between Level 1 and the Early Learning Goals/Development Matters. I'm very glad to report that the new curriculum feeds on very nicely from the Early Learning Goals used in EYFS.

Here it is (best printed on A3)...EYFS/KS1 Number Progression

The Edgazette

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Tiny Bob's Adventurous Counting - My first book!

'Tiny Bob's Adventurous Counting' is my first ever book!

It's a very interactive book on Apple's iBooks store, and can be used on any iPad or Mac computer...


Here's the book blurb...

First and foremost, this book is a story and an adventure. An adventure involving a plane, a crocodile, a rocket, a dragon, a Princess, maybe some treasure and possibly even a mole…and some other stuff too. Oh, and there’s absolutely NO KISSING…actually that bit might not be true.

Written by a practising school teacher, Tiny Bob’s Adventurous Counting supports children in developing early maths skills. Animated video clips and interactive activities bring the story to life, and ensure that a child can access the book independently.

Here are some things people have said about this book…

“He’s always made mountains out of mole hills…he’ll never change.”  Tiny Bob’s Mum.

“I taught him to count properly…important life skill. Bagged him a Princess in the end, didn’t it!”  Tiny Bob’s Dad.

“I just don’t believe it. There’s no way she’s a Princess. She hasn’t even got a crown, and I don’t like her trousers.”  Tiny Bob’s sister.

“We used to count stuff every day…cars, teddies, buttons, balls…sometimes even bad smells…he was good at that…counting I mean.”  Mr Mole, Tiny Bob’s first teacher.

An interactive book for children aged 3-7.

Here's an example video animation...

And here are some example screenshots...

Available on Apple's iBooks store...


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Two Innovative FREE Online Games to Support Maths in EYFS/KS1

Having struggled to find any maths games that children go back to again and again, I have created two myself that I hope will make a difference...

I have focussed on recognising numerals, matching them with quantities, and ordering...skills that take plenty of practise!

The games use very simple on screen controls, allowing them to be accessed independently by children from the age of 3 upwards. This also means they work very well on a whiteboard, with no need to use a keyboard...great for demonstration and shared learning.

The first is Number Parachutes...

In this game children use colour, sound and quantity to support them in matching the parachuting number plates with the correct numerals.

The second is Number Capsules...

In this game children use colour, quantity and sound as clues to support them in dragging the moving number plates into the correct order, and match them with the correct numerals.

My own class have been willing 'testers' during the development process (their feedback is very honest!), and they continue to access the games on a daily basis, showing considerable progress. I am currently developing multi-level versions using numbers to 20.

Please give them a try...I'd love to hear how other children get on with them.

Here's a link to the Game Menu.

Both games draw on themes and characters used in my new iBook...Tiny Bob's Adventurous Counting...

The Edgazette

Friday, 7 February 2014

#tmsussex - The Counting Wheel

My presentation from the Teach Meet ( on twitter) in Southwater, West Sussex on 6th Feb 2014...

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Does a lack of mental maths ‘ability’ stem from poor counting?

Poor mental maths ‘ability’ (I say ability, but I suspect it has more to do with education), seems to have become endemic in England.  It’s often talked about in the press, and is so prevalent in my generation that people even brag about it. “I’m rubbish at maths, always have been” is not an unusual comment. I’ve never heard a similar brag about not being able to read!

Each generation seems impressed by their predecessors mental abilities, and equally unimpressed by its successors abilities to calculate in their heads. It is socially acceptable to be poor at maths. As a maths specialist with experience from Nursery to Year 6, I believe the underlying cause is poor counting. This belief obviously needs some justification…

A key transition occurs in maths education at Level 2b. It is the point at which children are assessed to be ‘mentally proficient’ and ready to progress to written methods. Children are targeted with achieving this at the end of Key Stage 1 (Year 2). The fact that this transition occurs at the end of a Key Stage is significant.  There’s always pressure to progress, but Key Stage 2 adds it in a new flavour…the need to show written evidence of children’s work.

The pressure to get children using written methods as they enter Year 3 is high, whether the children are ‘ready’ or not.  The problem is exacerbated by there being a relatively low flow of teachers between Key Stage 1 and 2, leading to a lack of understanding as to how key the Level 2b transition point is. In fact the Key Stages often exist in separate schools!

You can spot the children affected by this issue. They’re the ones who add 7 and 3 on their fingers when using column addition to add 27 and 13, or when given a choice, solve 12+8 by counting. They exist all the way up to Year 6 and no doubt beyond. They may be able to use written methods as a process, but will have very little idea whether the answer they arrive at is sensible or not.

In the year I spent as a Numbers Count specialist I got to work with these children…the ones who get ‘stuck’ below Level 3. You will also see these symptoms in some children throughout Level 3, and on into Level 4. These are the children who manage to use process and method to bypass their lack of skill in mental calculation (I was, and to some extent still am, one of these children!) It is useful to draw an analogy between using written methods and Sat Nav…


They both work extremely well and are very efficient. The problem comes when they fail. A broken Sat Nav, or one giving incorrect instructions, can leave you stranded in unfamiliar territory. With no map or map reading skills you really are stuck. Similarly, written calculation methods rely on perfect operation and are prone to errors when aligning columns and placing decimal points etc. If the user has no mental estimate of the answer they are striving for they can stray considerably from the correct route, and more importantly, fail to recognise whether they have arrived at their destination at all!

There has been much toing and froing in the press between Michael Gove and others concerning the balance between understanding concepts, learning facts and using methods. Concepts are fundamental in maths, and the learning (by rote!) of number facts and times tables can accelerate children’s development immensely. The concepts have to be firmly in place first though!  However, the use of methods is arguably less important. Given the time, opportunity and motivation, young children who have good mental calculation skills can devise their own written methods. They will be very similar to established methods, differing only in layout, but they can still invent them. This is the constructavist approach to learning…well worth a google search if you’re not familiar with it.

The children I have worked with who were ‘stuck’ below Level 3 had very ‘bumpy profiles’. Their level of understanding and skill varied greatly across the four basic number operations, place value, language, and problem solving. However, they all had one thing in common…they all had problems counting.

The sorts of issues these children have are as follows :-

Errors counting between 10 to 20….teen/ty confusion…e.g. twelve, thirteen, forty, fifty.
Not being able to count between given numbers (e.g. count from 4 to 9) without starting from 1.
Not being able to count backwards, particularly between given numbers, e.g. 29 to 23.
Getting stuck at tens boundaries, e.g. 27, 28, 29..err…50?
Not being able to recognise patterns e.g. 100, 90, 80…..?  75, 65, 55….?
If you aren’t able to operate with numbers at this level, are you ready for written methods?

To get an insight into how these children feel, consider the following…

First, let’s replace numbers with letters, e.g A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4…etc
Now we can all count from A to Z…we’ve practised that many times!
Can you count from F to M?…did you go back to A first, or were you able to start from F?
How about counting backwards from S to L?…personally, I would have to write it down.
What’s the answer to B + C = ?…didn’t just know it? Could work it out easily enough though?
Ok then, how about Q + L – G = ?, or even D x G = ?

How much time and practise would you need before you were fluent enough to answer these questions within a second or 2?

So when you see that child adding 7 and 3 on their fingers…what do they need to help them progress? I hope it’s now easy to see how children can get to Year 6 and beyond without progressing to Level 3, and also how children at Level 3 and 4 can struggle with mental calculations.

There’s no ‘quick fix’ to get these children back on track…it really is a case of going back to basics and practising…it can be fun if plenty of concrete resources and ‘real life’ scenarios are used. Having said that, I have come across one resource that works very effectively indeed…the ‘Counting Wheel’.


My blog post 'Counting Guide for EYFS/KS1' explains how to use the wheel, along with downloadable resources.

My post 'Counting to 100 and understanding place value' explains how Numicon can be used to the same effect.

The Edgazette

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Making 'Dough Disco' Count in EYFS

I recently came across Shonette Bason's rather wacky 'Dough Disco' idea for developing fine motor skills. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to give it a go...I tried to convince my TA's to lead it, but they told me I had no self-respect left to lose and should therefore do it myself!

After a few sessions I started to get the hang of it, and the children enjoy it so much they ask for it on a daily basis. We have a new motto in Nursery...'If your fingers aren't aching, you're not trying hard enough'...not to be taken out of context!

If you haven't heard of it before, here's Shonette demonstrating...

We like to start off with a slowish Ed Sheeran song, and then increase the pace and energy to Jessie J's Laserlight (the chorus is a good opportunity to rest the fingers and jump/bounce around for a bit).

Initially the children found it difficult to use individual fingers, especially in a given order, but the development of strength and coordination is rapid. I noticed a spin-off benefit in that the children were also getting better at showing numbers using their fingers in our maths sessions.

This gave me the idea of adding counting into our dough disco sessions. It has worked very well indeed...adding rhythm and physical activity seems to really help the children with their counting. We now count using numbers up to 50, counting forwards and backwards between given numbers.

Counting along to music leads you towards using multiples of 4 in order to keep with the rhythm, e.g. let's count forwards from 4 to 12. This means we're always crossing 10's boundaries, which is a good thing to practise.

I'm tempted to try using the tango so we can count between multiples of 3.  I could even 'dust off' my 1980's progressive rock album collection, with all it's weird and wonderful time signatures, and practise counting between multiples of 5 or more.  See...I've still got some self respect left!

The Edgazette
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