Picturebooks – Choosing is tricky… 10 Picturebooks for Year 3. #picturebookpage

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No rant on this one…

Just an explanation. To choose the books I have looked to vary theme, content and style, I have tried to include aspects of diversity in the text choices, though I will be the first to admit this is not an area I have enormous knowledge about, there are others such as @rebeccaLucas  and @mat_at_brookes who are much more knowledgeable than me. i’d also recommend reading the Reflecting Realities report from the CLPE.

You may feel the books would work better in other year groups, that is fine.  On reviewing the lists I would say most books in 5/6 are interchangeable between year groups and I would say the same for 3/4. Hope it helps …Simon

1) Voices In The Park by Anthony Browne

A book that could actually be used in any year group. Four different voices tell their own versions of the same walk in the park. The radically different perspectives give a fascinating depth to this simple story which explores many of the author’s key themes, such as alienation, friendship and the bizarre amid the mundane. Wonderfully playful  art expands the viewpoints and voices. Utter classic.

2) The Day the War Came by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb

A moving, poetic narrative and child-friendly illustrations follow the heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful journey of a little girl who is forced to become a refugee.

“The day war came there were flowers on the windowsill and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.”

Imagine if, on an ordinary day, after a morning of studying tadpoles and drawing birds at school, war came to your town and turned it to rubble. Imagine if you lost everything and everyone, and you had to make a dangerous journey all alone. Imagine that there was no welcome at the end, and no room for you to even take a seat at school. And then a child, just like you, gave you something ordinary but so very, very precious. In lyrical, deeply affecting language, Nicola Davies’s text combines with Rebecca Cobb’s expressive illustrations to evoke the experience of a child who sees war take away all that she knows. Powerful and moving.

3 ) After the Fall by Dan Santat

Everyone knows that when Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. But what happened after?

Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat’s poignant tale follows Humpty Dumpty, an avid bird watcher whose favorite place to be is high up on the city wall—that is, until after his famous fall. Now terrified of heights, Humpty can longer do many of the things he loves most.

Will he summon the courage to face his fear?

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) is a masterful picture book that will remind readers of all ages that Life begins when you get back up.

4) Pandora by Victoria Turnbull

Pandora lives alone, in a world of broken things. A world that is is transformed by care and love. Epic widescrean art envelops the reader, firstly depicting the loneliness  of the main character and ultimately the love.

It is a wonderfully illustrated celebration of connection and renewal.

5) The Rythmn of the Rain by Grahame Barker Smith

What at first appears to be an amazingly illustrated version of the Water cycle, is actually so much more and ultimately connects us with the cyclical mature of life. Just stunning. You could spend hours lost in the illustrations.

6) Street beneath my Feet by Charlotte Guillian and Yuval Zommer

This double-sided foldout book takes you on a fascinating journey deep underground. One side of the foldout shows the ground beneath the city, whilst the other side of the foldout shows the ground beneath the countryside. The scenes in the book, by the widely acclaimed illustrator Yuval Zommer, are continuous, so contrasting underground sections, from tunnels and pipes to burrowing creatures, layers of rock to the planet’s molten core, run seamlessly into the next. Mixing urban and rural settings, as well as Geology, Archaeology and Natural History, The Street Beneath My Feet offers children the opportunity to explore their world in a detailed learning experience. And its fold-out,  style, which extends to 2.5 metres in length, is great fun to spread out on the floor and really get involved! It’s a real WOW! book.

Coming soon…

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7) Jumanji Chris Van Allsburg

Left on their own for an afternoon, two bored and restless children find more excitement than they bargained for in a mysterious and mystical jungle-adventure board game. Amazing illustrations that withsatnd countless explorations

“Mr. Van Allsburg’s illustrations have a beautiful simplicity of de-sign, balance, texture, and a subtle intelligence beyond the call of illustration.”

Bonus books...I would also add Zathura if your doing somethig Space-based (just as good) or at Christmas The Polar Express is hard to top.

 

8) Tell me A Dragon by Jackie Morris

Everyone has their very own dragon, and this book describes many different varieties of the beast, showing in words and stunning pictures exactly why their owners find them so entrancing. If this doesn’t get your children writing and creating then nothing will. Sublime.

9) I’ll Take You To Mrs Cole! by Nigel Gray and Michael Foreman

Whenever he is naughty, a young boy’s mother threatens him with Mrs Cole, who appears to be a disreputable character living nearby in total chaos. One day he runs away from home and finds himself outside Mrs Cole’s house. She invites him in and he discovers that Mrs Cole’s noisy, kindly house is welcoming and warm and far from being frightening. A brilliant book about prejudice  and the demons we create in our heads.

Tip…Cover up the front cover as it ruins the suspense that the playful text and art build up.

10) Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson

A stirring, dramatic story of a slave who mails himself to freedom by a Jane Addams Peace Award-winning author and a Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist.

Henry Brown doesn’t know how old he is. Nobody keeps records of slaves’ birthdays. All the time he dreams about freedom, but that dream seems farther away than ever when he is torn from his family and put to work in a warehouse. Henry grows up and marries, but he is again devastated when his family is sold at the slave market. Then one day, as he lifts a crate at the warehouse, he knows exactly what he must do: He will mail himself to the North. After an arduous journey in the crate, Henry finally has a birthday — his first day of freedom.

Challenging for Year 3 but a wonderfully told, powerful story.

Year 4…

Picturebooks – more than just a pretty picture? -10 picturebooks for Year 4 #picturebookpage

Year 5…

Find the space to talk… 10 picturebooks for Year 5 #picturebookpage

Year 6…

Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage

 

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Picturebooks – more than just a pretty picture? -10 picturebooks for Year 4 #picturebookpage

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‘ You cannot write for children… They’re much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.’

‘I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can’t do that. I’m in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person.’

 

‘There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.’

I don’t write for children. I write and someone says it’s for children.’

Maurice Sendak.
OK I admit I’m a bit of a stuck record, but I really do love picture books.

Wonderful, amazing, creative, challenging, funny, heart-breaking, tragic, unbelievable,  fabulous picture books. They are not just a vital stepping stone into higher level reading. They are the missing link. They can develop in all Learners the ability to explore, notice, question, predict, summarise, theorise and analyse. Mary Roche writes wonderfully on this in her book ‘Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picturebooks’

Picture book are often dismissed as being for younger children. They’re not! They are written off as easy. They’re not! There are some stunning picture books out there. Many offer us more than first appears. Many require us to bring in our own cultural understanding to truly make meaning of them.  People who dismiss them more often than not haven’t put the time in to understand and explore them.

So the aim of this post is to show  why I think picture books are blummin’ ace. The chosen books for Year 4 do all these things and more. Don’t miss a trick.

  1. They elicit emotion. (often in my case tears)
  2. They confuse and challenge
  3. They broach difficult issues in wonderful ways
  4. They open doors to other cultures.
  5. They provide leaps of imagination
  6. They are wild and playful
  7. They are quiet and thoughtful
  8. They require the reader to fill in the gaps

 

 

1 Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd Stanton

Arthur is not your typical hero. Norse myths, and wild adventure collide in this top-notch picturebook. So much to discover and explore. A fantastic fantastical story coupled with vivid detailed art gives us a book to savour. I blogged about how you might use it here.Digging Deeper… Reading with Picturebooks

 

Bonus book- Marcy and the Riddle of the Sphinx If  you’re studying the Egyptians this would be a great place to start. Another cracking book by Joe Todd Stanton

2 Flotsam by David Weisner

“A bright, science-minded boy goes to the beach equipped to collect and examine flotsam–anything floating that has been washed ashore. Bottles, lost toys, small objects of every description are among his usual finds. But there’s no way he could have prepared for one particular discovery: a barnacle-encrusted underwater camera, with its own secrets to share . . . and to keep.”

Wiesner’s amazing picturebook reveals the magical possibilities of ordinary things. In this Caldecott Medal winner, a day at the beach is the springboard into a wildly imaginative exploration of the mysteries of the deep, and of the qualities that enable us to witness these wonders and delight in them. An amazing book for leaping into art, science and poetry.

3 The Whale by Ethan and Vita Murrow

The Murrows’ create  a spectacular almost wordless (There are some rather great newspaper page snippets.) adventure is brought to life with stunning graphite drawings that convey the drama and haunting beauty of the ocean and capture the majesty of the awe-inspiring whale.  We get a story of wonder that comes full circle as we realise the children have seen the same whale their grandparents did.

4 Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman

“Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.”

In this beautifully illustrated picture book, we explore the story of four female African-American mathematicians at NASA, known as “colored computers,” and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career. Shetterly does a brilliant job of condensing her novel without losing any of the impact of the story. It would make a great starting point to explore Space exploration  in the context of modern history.

5 Mirror by Jeannie Baker

An innovative, two-in-one picture book follows a parallel day in the life of two families: one in a Western city and one in a North African village.

Somewhere in Sydney, Australia, a boy and his family wake up, eat breakfast, and head out for a busy day of shopping. Meanwhile, in a small village in Morocco, a boy and his family go through their own morning routines and set out to a bustling market. In this ingenious, wordless picture book, readers are invited to compare, page by page, the activities and surroundings of children in two different cultures. Their lives may at first seem quite un-alike, but a closer look reveals that there are many things, some unexpected, that connect them as well. Designed to be read side by side — one from the left and the other from the right —these intriguing stories are told entirely through richly detailed collage illustrations.

6 Zoo by Anthony Browne

A book that definitely divides opinions, but an amazing thought-provoking book none-the-less. Zoo is sublimely illustrated and all the more powerful for it.  Do I like the book, probably not. Do I think it should be read and talked about, definitely yes.

7 Leon and the place between by Angela McAllister and Grahame Barker Smith

Leon and his brothers and sister go to a magic show, but this is no ordinary show and Abdul Kazam is no ordinary magician. Take a journey right through the die-cut pages of this book into the Place Between, where magic becomes truly real. Angela McAllister has conjured a spellbinding story that unfolds in the mysterious world of Grahame Baker-Smith’s stunning illustrations. Truly a stunning book.

8 Greenling by Levi Pinfold

“What is this growing on Barleycorn land, and is it intended for Barleycorn hands?”

Mr. and Mrs. Barleycorn live a quiet life, alone and forgotten by the world. But something is growing on Barleycorn land, something that Mr. Barleycorn decides it would be best to take. And with this, for better or worse, he brings the outside…inside.

Mr. Barleycorn picks a green baby growing on his land, unleashing the incredible power of nature. When zucchinis flower in the kitchen and carrots sprout out of their television, Mr. Barleycorn’s wife insists that the Greenling has to go. But the bounty and beauty of nature have a strange power — the power to bring a whole community together. Pinfold’s stunning art creates an other-timely place, drawing echoes of depression era America. In this place he weaves a tale where nature heals all.

9 Wolves by Emily Gravett

Subversive and more than a little dark. Gravett creates an almost perfect picture book. A non-fiction text leads us through the story while the pictures carry the narrative and let us inside the story. Very much as  we did in Rosie’s Walk, we  always know more than the protagonist. This both creates tension and humour. The way the readers are played with at the end of the book just shows an author at the top of their creative game.

 

10 Mrs Noah’s Pockets by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew

“At last all were gathered inside the ark. It heaved with animals, large and small. Mrs Noah wore a brand-new coat, with a hood and a cape – and very deep pockets. Lots of pockets.”

When Mr Noah builds the ark, he makes two lists – one for all the animals who will come on board and one for those troublesome creatures he will leave behind. Meanwhile, Mrs Noah gets out her sewing machine and makes a coat with very deep pockets. Lots of pockets. Mayhew’s stunning illustrations compliment a story of mild subversion and inner strength. Mrs Noah is my new hero.

Year 3 coming soon…

see also…

10 picturebooks for Year 5

10 picturebooks for Year 6

 

Find the space to talk… 10 picturebooks for Year 5 #picturebookpage

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Using Picturebooks only works if you give children the room to talk and discuss. With that in mind I have some key questions.

KEY QUESTION 1 What knowledge would help the children explore the book better?

KEY QUESTION 2 Do you give children room to ask questions about what they are reading?

KEY QUESTION 3 Do you know the book well enough to dig deeper into it with the children?

Having  a range of techniques to dig in is really helpful as well… Here are a couple I use regularly. I’ll add some more to the posts for other year groups.

1)  Chambers ‘Tell me Grid’ is really useful for the initial exploration into a picture but also they are great for revisiting later in the process.

 

TELL me

2) Freeze-framing and thought-tracking. Simple but highly effective technique in exploring the difference between thought and word.

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Anyway here are the books…

10 brilliant picturebooks for Year 5

 

1 The Journey by Francesca Sanna

Just one of the most brilliant picturebooks. It completely earns all the plaudits it has recieved. The book carries haunting echoes of the current refugee crisis, it explores the unimaginable decisions made as a family leave their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war. This book will stay with you long after the last page is turned. I have previously blogged on this one

Bookblog No4 The Journey by Francesca Sanna

There is also a great teaching pack from Amnesty UK exploring_the_journey_together

2 Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

In turns surreal, scary, bizarre and brilliant. Gaiman and McKean are a dream team here.  It is in turns exhuberant, wild, intense and striking. A great book for exploring fears and the idea that grown-ups don’t listen to children.

3 Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again.

4 The River by Allesandro Sanna

Surprising, original, and gorgeous, The River is a book about the seasons and the different kinds of experiences and stories that each season brings. Almost entirely wordless, The River presents each of the four seasons as its own chapter and story. A few sentences at the start of each chapter set the stage and provide clues for following each story. Beginning in autumn and ending in summer, The River is about our connection to place, as well as about the connections between geography, setting, and the stories we tell. The River is also about the flow of time, which flows like the river, and carries us. Just profound and beautiful. It is a stunner.

5 Shackletons Journey by William Grill

William Grill brings us a detailed visual narrative of Shackleton’s epic journey to Antarctica. Grill  cataloges of every  detail of the expedition and in doing so creates a truly human story.. He manages to evoke the atmosphere and intrepid excitement that would have surrounded the expedition with his impeccably researched, detailed and atmospheric drawings. This is an exciting, book which provides a true experience and reminds us that it is the people, not the journey, that truly matter.

We did some amazing work with this book this year. This letter of application gave us a different angle and led to work about the suffragette movement as well.

 

6 How to Live Forever by Colin Thompson

Thoughful and thought-provoking at the same time. Deliciously complex artwork that begs to be explored again and again, full of puns and references, it’s devine. The story is set in a fantastical library  and a quest fro the missing, mystical  book ‘How to live Forever’  it explores what we do if we were given the chance to live forever.

The artwork is so good we have it on our library door.

7 Way Home by Libby Hathorn and Gregory Rodgers

Exploring the idea of homeless,  Way Home provides a gritty evocation of life on the streets, darkly realistic visuals, in which the lights of cars or the glitter of showroom windows serve only to emphasize the shadows and grime of the pathways.  In the centre of this is a tale of care as Shane and his kitten must traverse the terrifying city. Tucking the cat inside his jacket, he maneuvers past a variety of dangers-bullies, traffic, a snarling dog-until they at last reach his home, itself no more than a corner in another alley.   A harsh, stark but redemptive picturebook.

8 House held up by Trees by Ted Kooser and Jon Klassen

A story that is just about the passing of time and how ultimately nature will reclaim all as a house is abandoned and time does its thing.  Kooser’s poetic story is accompanied by quiet, wistfully beautiful illustrations from Jon Klassen. This is a thoughtful and sophisticated picture book about the passage of time and the power of nature. This led to us looking at the reality of nature reclaiming

 

Would also add a bonus book that would work brilliantly alongside it…

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A House that Once Was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith that beautifully explores memories that places hold.

9 Radiant Child (The story of Young Artist Jean Michel Basquiat) by Javaka Steptoe

Stunning, stylish picturebook biography of Jean Michel Basquiat. It doesn’t shy away from the troubled story but eequally it celebrates the creativity and bravery at the core of it. Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful. Just a stunning book.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

No picturebook would be complete or believable if this book were not part of it. The Arrival is a stunning achievement. Completely wordless but weaving a complex narrative about migration through its stunning artwork. It is an absolute masterpiece.

 

I know there are lots of other books people would include please share them here or on twitter I’d love to hear your suggestions.

 

Try a little Tenderness (7 steps to being a Compassionate Leader)

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“It’s not just sentimental, no, no, no
She has her grief and care, yeah yeah yeah
But the soft words, they are spoke so gentle, yeah
It makes it easier, easier to bear, yeah”

                                                                                                         Otis Reading

I posted a tweet today then I went out with my boys. We had some swinging in trees to do. I came back to find that my rather old and outdated phone was in some kind of meltdown.

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I’ll be honest it was meant to be in response to this tweet from @FloraBarton I had just had a tagging failure. It happens I am getting on a bit.

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I have received loads of responses to the tweet, some talk about how brilliant their Heads and SLT are and how they have created a climate that treats people as people and supports them when it’s needed. Others meanwhile have shared horror stories similar to mine, where school is put before life and the priorities are completely wrong. I was shocked by the number of people who have been shown a complete lack of compassion.

Now don’t get me wrong I know how difficult it can be when people are off. Filling those gaps, covering those classes can drive you to distraction. That doesn’t mean we should lose sight of the people who need that time and the reasons they need it. The first thing I want to say is that it is just a job. A great job, an important job but ultimately just a job. We should never put it before life, and we should never expect our teachers to do that either. As leaders we need to remember that. At the end of the day as Vic Goddard put it just now…

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Personally I have always been the kind of person who commits fully to the place they work in. I will be there on the Bingo nights. I’ll be the person who takes children to sports events on a Saturday. Residentials..count me in. That’s the nature of me I suppose. Not everybody can be that person or is that person. Sometimes I probably should have been more selfish. However when the incident with my son occurred I became a different person in that school, my goodwill was lost, If I’m honest there is no way I could have taught on that day anyway. My relationship with that head and the respect I had for them was forever damaged by her actions.

At the end of the day people come in to teach, we all know school is often more but I would totally say it’s an unfair expectation to expect the same commitment from everyone. At different points we can offer more or less of ourselves to the place where we work and that is OK.

Equally Leadership needs to be compassionate. It needs to give back and it needs to trust. I have spoken with a number of teachers who feel completely un-trusted. For me trust is key and most of the time is always paid back. If you are compassionate and support them I guarantee at some point they will repay it back to you.

7 tips for Leaders

  1. Know your staff and what going on with them.
  2. Listen.
  3. Put yourself in their shoes, (step back and ask the question  “What if that were me?”)
  4. Don’t just take but give back. (we give days in lieu for residential stays…I am the person who gets in class and covers it.)
  5. Let them know that their life and family is important. (performances, sports days, graduations etc. these things only happen once, be flexible, let staff know their life is valued. There should only be one answer to the question “Can I go…?)
  6. Step outside the inconvenience and be human
  7. Value their lives as much as you do the lives of the children in your school (As a head they are really your class)

Anyway back to my important bit…

 

Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage

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I firmly believe that if we can truly get reading cracked in our primary schools we will go a long way in getting other subjects cracked as well. I would love to say we can get kids to love reading but I know that for some that will never be the case however much we try.  As a minimum we should aim that all the children in our schools can read but the aspiration must surely be that we try to get children to enjoy it as well.

If we want  to create readers in our school we need

  •    Talk with children about books. (we need to be careful that we don’t see reading as comprehension… its way more than that)
  •    read to children everyday. (Its great, you don’t really have to plan it, pick something that challenges)
  •   Provide a language rich environment
  •   Explicitly teach vocabulary in the context of great books (If we want children to understand words then the context is king)
  •   Enable children to learn a range of stories, poems and rhymes. (this starts right down in our Early Years, knowledge of language patterns and structures)
  •   Use a variety of strategies to explore texts including drama. (Make room to dig in and explore a book)
  •   Access to books. (Giving children a voice in the choice is important as well)
  •   Provide a full reading curriculum.
  • Teacher Readers/ Teachers who are knowledgeable about book. (If we know books we can perhaps find that gateway book for a child or expand their reading horizons) or in other words “The better we know the  books we are using.The more effectively we will be able to help children explore them.”

Why should picturebooks part of that?

I firmly believe that picturebooks should form a part of that full reading curriculum. The key bit about picturebooks is the talk we generate with them. Creating time to explore /discuss/ challenge our interpretations and helps us understand that there are many ways to interpret a text. The discussion part is one of the key elements in creating enjoyment around books. Finding there is more that one answer or interpretation can be a profound revelation for children.

as Margaret Meek (1988) says

“Compare the textual variety of children’s picture books with that of reading schemes. You will see how the interactions made possible by skilled artists and writers far outweigh what can be learned from books made up by those who offer readers no excitement, no challenge, no real help… What texts teach is a process of discovery for readers, not a programme of instruction for teachers.”

Thanks Mat for the quote.

Or as better people than I have suggested about picturebooks…

  • “They provide a swift democracy, a shared world and experience that can mitigate and compensate for varying levels of experience of the world.” Martin Galway.
  • “There is an accessibility to picture books that the written word cannot offer,” Matt Tobin.
  • They are an amazing resource to enable children to “make meaning through thinking and discussion“ Mary Roche

Key to this therefore we need to see the illustrator as an author and therefore understand that there is intent in the way an image is presented this is a vital part of the process.

Key Questions

  • Why has the illustrator put that there?

  • What do they want us to think at this point?

  • How does the word and image work together?

With that in mind I’ve been sharing amazing picturebooks on twitter using the hashtag #picturebookpage. Firstly to help people see the huge variety and brilliance of books out there but also to hopefully help people see that they are not just for younger children but are a resource that can kick start our reading and exploration at any age.

Not sure I’ve achieved that but I think I’ve cost people lots of money.

So the aim of this #picturebookpage blog is to provide some picturebooks that may help in Year 6. I don’t normally do lists but these would be a great start point for Y6 picturebooks. Some here would work with younger, thematically however I believe that greater nuanced conversation would happen with older children around these books.

1 The Water-tower by Gary Crew and Steven Woolman.

In the finest tradition of Sci-fi b-movies, a fantastic body-snatcher-esque tale, with an ending that is completely open to interpretation. Just brilliant. A gateway book for the fab sci-fi. I’d follow it with The Boy in The Tower by Polly Ho-Yen or the Stepford-esque Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan or if I were feeling daring I’d dig out the John Wyndham.

2 The Lizsts by Kyo Maclear and Julia Sarda

A delightfully quirky, stylish picture book about a most unusual family – think The Royal Tenenbaums meets The Addams Family – and their growing list obsession. The devil truly is in the detail.

3 The Wall by Peter Sis

A fantastic picturebook biography in which Sis through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, shows what life was like for a child growing up behind the iron curtain. Fantastic for comparing to our life.

4 The Island by Armin Greder

Poignant and chilling, this allegory is an astonishing, powerful, and timely story about refugees, xenophobia, racism, multiculturalism, social politics, and human rights. Challenging and hard-hitting. Use with caution

5 Small Things by Mel Tregonning

Fantastic, powerful wordless picturebook exploring depression and mental-health. Small Things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with worries but who learns that help is always close by.  AS a starting point for discussion on challenging issues there aren’t many better.

6 Enormous Smallness A Story of E.E.Cummings by Matthew Burgess and Kris Li Giacomo

Delightful Nonfiction picture book about the poet E.E. cummings. Here E.E.’s life is presented in a way that will make children curious about him and will lead them to play with words and ask plenty of questions as well. Could be used with younger children. We found the most impact was in getting older children to really play with language.

7 Can I build Another Me by Shinsuke Yoshitake

A truly profound picturebook that dares to explore big, philosophical concepts in an hilarious and inventive way, it explores notions of existentialism, individuality, selfhood and life experience. Amazing book.

8 Varmints by Helen Ward and Marc Craste

The most overlooked threat in the world is that of the loss of peace and quiet. The Varmints come and build their city where once was grass. Before they realise what they have done, there is nothing but a huge dark city. Can someone find the time and space to stop, think and plant seeds of change? A wonderful book about the environment  and the challenge we have in preserving it. There is a rather lovely animation as well.

9 Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

This beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of Canadian history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a Cape Breton mining town. Cyclical patterns, lack of aspiration lead to a stunning picturebook about how our communities create barriers. Here’s a blog I did earlier.

Book blog No 5. Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith.

10 Death, Duck and the Tulip by Wolf ErlBruch

In a strangely heart-warming story, a duck strikes up an unlikely friendship with Death. Death, Duck and the Tulip will intrigue, haunt and enchant readers of all ages. Simple, unusual, warm and witty, this book deals with a difficult subject in a way that is elegant, straightforward, and thought-provoking. Amazing discussions come from this book. Beautiful and profound

I will add another 10 soon… Hope it helps.

Book blog No 5. Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

Town-Is-By-the-Sea-by-Joanne-Schwartz-and-Sydney-Smith

‘From my house, I can see the sea. It goes like this — house, road, grassy cliff, sea. And town spreads out, this way and that.’

This is one of those books that from the moment you see it you know it is something special. Whilst set in  a coal mining community in Nova Scotia in the 1950’s for me working as a headteacher in a coastal town this book sang to me instantly.  From the opening cover image dominated by the sea where the boy is facing back into the book we immediately know that this is a tale of reminiscence and inevitability. It’s a book of patterns  and repeats.

As the boy talks about his father mining we get  a clarity around him feeling trapped in this place ‘One day it will be my turn. I’m a miner’s son. In my town, that’s the way it is.’

We are presented with a tale that will repeat again and again. It’s a story of small worlds and limited hopes and aspirations, of being trapped in a repeating cycle.

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There’s a minimalistic quality to this boy’s recount of a normal summer day, words are sparsely used but carefully crafted. The world is expansive yet contained, wide vistas lead to limited locations. The sea both offers the door to the wider world but also the barrier to stepping through it. It is a book about nothing and everything. It’s a book of hope and hopelessness.

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Light and dark is powerfully used in the illustration. There is a stark contrast between the two worlds and this sings out through Smith’s evocative artwork.

As we explore the boy’s day, one element comes to dominate and that is his thoughts of his father mining under the sea. The repeated phrase ‘And deep down under that sea, my father is digging for coal.’ ties us into his thoughts and fears. This is wonderfully juxtaposed in the images.

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These pages are  dominated by an oppressive blackness that carries extraordinary weight to them whilst our miners are almost just a footnote on the page.

That the book is any day and everyday is both harsh and comforting at the same time. The book steers away from sentimentality and instead just says this is what it is. The humdrum normality of this life and this place.

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There is a moment that sings out as we are left waiting at the end after a collapse in the mine. The use of light and shadow to show that passing of time is practically perfect and leaves you nervous to turn the page. Schwartz and Smith have created a timeless book

I’m using this with a greater depth writing group in Year 6 next week. I can’t wait to see where they take it and what they do with it. I know the discussions will be amazing.

It was my favourite picturebook of last year and it is just sublime IMO.

A beautiful quiet, sensitive and profound picturebook with real heart.   (9+)

(A great class explore for Year 4 and up. With care could be used with younger children )

Themes :- Community,  family, aspiration/predetermination, hope/hopelessness, fear , voices and viewpoints.

Below is a trailer which evokes the story beautifully

Carrot vs Stick…Fight!!! (Steps to better Performance Management)

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Lets be clear Performance Management by its very name has negative connotations. The process has been used by some schools to save money…to stop people moving through pay progression. In school this has more often than not been tied to data and progress measures, a very blunt tool to explore a teacher’s work. Equally it in many schools it has been based on mistrust, on a perception (That stemmed from messages from DfE and Ofsted)   that all teachers are lazy and do the minimum. Well I fundamentally don’t believe that. Personally I believe that the teachers in our school (and most teachers to be fair)  want to do the best job they can. If you believe that then you have to look at Performance management/development as a potential tool to improve the job we do in school rather than a thing to beat people up with.

What is clear is that currently in general this is not how people feel about performance management in their schools. (I did a quick twitter poll… I know…) but the results were quite stark.

PM teacher view

4/5ths of those who responded said they didn’t value the procedures in their school. If staff don’t believe in the process they won’t effectively engage with it.

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Again more than 4/5ths  said that their performance management did not help improve their work in the classroom. Now I don’t know about other school leaders but I for me the biggest way to improve what happens in a school is by developing and improving the teaching in the classrooms. I think with performance management we are missing a trick if it doesn’t engage staff in exploring their work and how they can do it better.

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84% also said that they had data targets as part of the performance management. This was mainly around the percentage of children making expected progress or attaining and expected point.

I  however think setting data targets whatever they are as part of  PM creates a few issues. What PM did do in my experience was create false data. (Pretty sure lots of us have been on the receiving end of data where children were not where the other  teacher they were. )

That’s not to say we don’t have targets in our school…we do. We however treat progress and attainment as a collective. As a head I have as much responsibility if not more for the progress in our classrooms. Having data targets as part of PM did not make teachers any more  responsible for the progress in their class, equally it doesn’t improve outcomes. We have honest data in our school we talk about the children all the time, teachers pro-actively try to ensure the provision is right for the children…honesty however allows us to put the right resources in the right place and use what we have more effectively.

PM and data was used as a stick to beat people with, it was and has been used to stop people progressing up the pay-spine equally it was intrinsically linked by the government with capability. We cannot however blame the DfE and Ofsted for how some SLTs have decided to implement this. I was horrified on twitter yesterday with some of the targets people were being set including one where a teacher was set a class attendence target.

The DfE in their model policy set it out as follows.

The objectives set for each teacher, will be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound and will be appropriate to the teacher’s role and level of experience.

The objectives set for each teacher will, if achieved, contribute to the school’s
plans for improving the school’s educational provision and performance and
improving the education of pupils at that school

If some of the targets being set currently are beyond achievable you have to question why that is. Essentially Performance management has been used by some as a tool to check up on what people are doing rather than supporting people in developing their practice.

Dr Gary Jones from the University of Bristol summarises in his review of Performance Related Pay in schools…see link
  • Performance related pay is not suited to complex tasks such as teaching
  • Performance related pay may reduce intrinsic motivation
  • The impact of performance related on pupils’ results is just above zero
  • Male teachers tend to respond more positively to PRP than their female counterparts
  • The introduction of PRP may lead to female teachers reducing the number of hours taught
  • More experienced teachers are more likely to display negative reactions to PRP compared to early career teachers
  • Job satisfaction is by far the biggest predictor of teachers’ intention to stay in the profession

So where does that leave us? Well I think school leaders need to ask themselves some questions about what they want Performance Management to do. If we want it to improve performance we need to break the link between improvement conversations and pay. If the process is about improving the capacity of our staff rather than measuring them then we need to change the focus…

Here are my 10 steps to changing the Performance Management approach in schools so the focus is on improvement…

1) Empower teachers to drive their own development.  Giving employees more and more autonomy, while providing the right tools and resources, will empower employees to push their own limits.

2) Plan effectively for improvement. Get the CPD right, invest the necessary time into growing them. Think about each person and their needs and how you can support their improvement  (It’s personal)

3) Listen. Never skip the “why”. People are not machines, they are driven by ambitions, desires and thoughts. Not having a clear perspective on their actions and the related impact affects their performance in a negative way.

4) Don’t forget the big picture. Remind people how each of their actions influence the overall big picture. Link them with your School Improvement Plan so that you get a clear perspective. Think about how individuals development can impact on others practice.

5) Set goals. Start with the end in mind. This goes for both an employees’ career path as well as the School’s Plan. Working without clear goals that can be easily tracked and evaluated is a recipe for disaster when it comes to employee performance. Set individual performance milestones as well as general team milestones and make a habit out of checking them regularly.

6) Be clear about you feedback. People need to be aware of what they should keep doing well, and clear-cut questions and suggestions on what they can improve. Over emphasising the negative is a cl;ear way to damage engagement with the process.

7) Give it value. Invest in it, time, resources Even how and when you hold the meetings.

8) Think about what measurable and achievable look like. Spurious data targets do nothing but damage. Be realistic, open and honest. By being honest, both yourself and the employee treat each other with respect and see each other as working for everyone’s benefit.

9) Keep the focus on developing the staff.  If teachers get better at the ‘work’ the other stuff will follow.

10) Light a fire. I have never been a big fan of the term ‘inspire’. However, the level of motivation that your teacher leaves the meeting with shows how well your performance review went.

So here are the questions if you’re a school leader…

What do you want performance mangagement to do in your school?

Is it focussed on measuring staff or developing them?

What impact do you want to see? More importantly what impact do the staff want to see?

CATCH 22 (With SEND and EHCPs you can’t win for trying)

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catch-22
katʃtwɛntɪˈtuː/
noun
noun: catch-22; plural noun: catch-22s; noun: catch twenty-two; plural noun: catch twenty-twos
  • a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions.

This week has been a frustrating one, a hair-pulling, head-scratching, teeth-gnashing frustrating GRRRRRRR!!!!

My SENCo and I met with a SEND advisor from the local authority, most of the discussion was around a child in school. The crux of the discussion was we weren’t doing enough for the child to warrant an EHCP, not whether the child did or did not need one but the fact that we weren’t doing enough to show we were spending £10000 supporting this child. Equally we were told we need to evidence this over 2 cycles. Again not whether the child needs support but whether we as a school were spending the money.

For us this boils down to it simply being a capacity issue. We are a single form entry primary school. We currently have twelve children with EHCPs in school. (Anyone with an inkling of understanding will know that the funding does not match the  spend). We are isolated geographically which means parents choose to keep their children in our school rather than access specialist provision and who can blame them. Other schools locally say they can’t meet need and the children are guided our way.  This means we struggle for capacity…we know what the child needs but don’t have the capacity to fulfil those needs because we can’t fulfil the needs and evidence we have spent £10000 we can’t get the child assessed for an EHCP. A complete perfect CATCH-22 situation. What is worse is that as an inclusive school it feels as if we are being punished for being inclusive. Is it legal…I don’t know but I’m sure as hell gonna find out.

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Every-time you feel like you’re getting there the powers that be move the line, the criteria for assessment is constantly changing becoming harder and harder to get across that line.  Our trust have been amazing at supporting us with the pressure this creates. We would have given up long before now without their unfaltering help.

A tweet thread this weekend showed that our issues are just the tip of a very big iceberg. That doesn’t make it feel better just makes me realise the battle is going to be a lot tougher. Shouting on our own won’t solve this however, we all need to shout loudly and keep shouting.

I wrote an article a year ago for the TES. I would it’s got easier but I’d be lying.

 

Inclusion TES article

Extracts…

In our town, we have a reputation for being the school that deals with special educational needs and disability. We are a one-form entry primary school with 10 high-needs pupils below the age of seven. We have 14 high-needs pupils in school altogether. A significant number of these children come from outside our school catchment.

When a parent comes to our door and asks whether we can accommodate a pupil’s needs, we bend over backwards to do so. And parents knock on our door a lot. The nearest specialist provisions are an hour’s drive away.

Unsurprisingly, no parent wants to send their child on that journey in a taxi at the age of five. Neither should they. So they come to us.

Many of the children are not yet on an education, health and care plan (EHCP). This is mainly because, in our local authority, getting a plan for such young children can be incredibly difficult. The pupils’ needs cover a huge range, including Down’s syndrome, autism, Rett syndrome, visual impairment, hearing impairment, foetal alcohol syndrome, and a range of communication, speech and language difficulties.

What irks is that we are left on our own to develop this, both in terms of finance and local support. On the latter, there is no viable alternative for these children in our town.

In the primary sector, more and more schools seem to be saying that they can’t meet pupils’ needs. Some of our pupils are with us because the parents were told that their nearest school “couldn’t meet the need”.

Accessing funding is challenging, as getting an EHCP is challenging. Sometimes I just wish the people making the decisions would come and see the children in school. The system seems set up to put barriers in the way of us getting the funding the children need.

That said, I know full well we can’t hit all the specific needs of some of our pupils, however much we try. In some cases a truly specialist provision is required. Equally, as the children get older and the gap widens, addressing specific needs can become increasingly challenging

If this sounds like a moan, you could not be further from the truth: that we are an inclusive school is a source of huge pride. The benefits for us far outweigh the costs. To watch the pupils playing together is a huge confirmation of the positives of being inclusive. Our children are tolerant and understanding of others’ needs; they are supportive and caring.

So anyway rant over. I have let it out. I will however be contacting ipsea.org.uk/home to look to those constructive next step. Time to start shouting even louder.

Writing independently..The devil is in the detail

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What is independent writing? The requirement for independence in pupils writing sits firmly in the assessment framework, yet in truth I don’t think anybody has a true picture of what it means.

Getting writing right is a massive challenge.

I do however see a drive towards overly structured writing. I see structure strips,  models of what teachers want pupils to produce that essentially just tell pupils this is what we want you to write, I see ‘Slow writing’. All are really valid and important scaffolds in the development of writing. What  I see less and less of is the teacher and the children creating a toolkit for writing. I see less of the children writing independently. Structure strips are not independent. Excessive modelling is not independent. Slow writing is not independent. They are all great, nay vital in explicitly teaching writing but they are not independent. Stepping children beyond the scaffold is the one of the hardest things to do.

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So how do we get independent writers?

  1. Give them something to write about. (I have seen numerous children asked to write with nothing to say. I have read more atrocious ‘news’ reports than I care to mention)
  2. Give them the knowledge to write about it effectively. If it’s a story the time spent planning is key. If it’s a time-slip in World War 1. The time you spend learning about the conditions in the trenches is the bit that makes the writing sing. (the devil is in the detail)
  3. Create purpose. Give children a reason to write. (Audience’s for work are immensely powerful.)
  4. Underpin with lots of talking first, whatever the age range or ability, so that children have practiced the vocabulary, ideas and structures so they can fully understand the requirements.  sea
  5. Read really good books to them. Talk about really good books with them. Guided reading does not just benefit Reading. Models are vital, using great models allows children to understand the flow of writing.
  6. Teach grammar as a tool to improve writing, not a bolt on. Use examples when appropriate, don’t shoehorn it in. (Teacher knowledge and precision of writing forms tied into a well mapped grammar curriculum means grammar becomes part of writing and not an add-on.)
  7. Sometimes let them just go for it. A first draft is just that…let them splurge their ideas and get it down on paper.
  8. Don’t ban words. Sometimes sad is the right word, not melancholy, not lachrymose, not distraught, just sad …(Said is often the right word in my opinion. If what the characters say is right you don’t need to explain how it’s said)
  9. Practice. Rinse and repeat, give opportunities to revisit forms of writing they’ve done before. (Preferably with less structuring)
  10. Give them the chance to choose. If we’ve taught it, give children a choice in how they will respond. (One piece of truly independent writing after you’ve taught it will tell you more about them as writers and your teaching than 20 scaffold-ed pieces.)
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Menus of choice work brilliantly after you’ve taught all the stuff  (Before not so much)

So the real question is “Where does your writing teaching lead?”

Does it really lead to children being writers?

Only you can answer that.

Other writing blogposts

Independence day…How independent is independent writing?

Writing…Honestly, we need honesty.

Exclusion…between a rock and a hardplace.

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I’ve been stewing on the issue of exclusion for a while now and I just feel the need just get down my thoughts. Firstly I want to say that actions that put people’s safety at risk should never be tolerated also that people sharing horrific stories need to be listened to. As a head my job is to keep people safe and to create a space where all children can learn. To exclude should be the hardest decision a headteacher ever has to make. (though after the recent snow I’m not so sure)

The thing that bothers me is the lack of understanding with regards to the bigger picture. I don’t know whether this is a regional thing but in my experience the idea that exclusion gets a child the support they need is just idealistic piffle.

I know what the legalities say about LA providing provision on the 6th day I don’t however think the reality matches the rose-tinted perspective that some have. Equally the doing it for the good of the child argument is at best naive in my opinion. It may be the case in larger cities (though that is not my experience of it) where there is a provision or a space but in  many less built up areas there is little or nothing. The child is either moved on before exclusion or the child ends up out of school. Locally I am aware of a significant number of pupils whose education equates to one session a day or one day a week the rest of the time they are feral, when you exclude you are putting that child back in the chaotic place where much of that behaviour has stemmed from…nowhere to go and nothing to do and their downward spiral continues.

As a head if you know exclusion means this then whether you like it or not exclusion becomes an ethical nightmare, a moral quagmire. When you know that by excluding you are essentially stripping that child of any chance or hope then you think long and hard about that as an option.

Systemic pressures whether we like it or not add to this. Exclusion can be a quick way to turn around a school! All done for the greater good.

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Another option is the idea of a managed-move.  I have experienced it from both sides. I have sat as a classroom teacher as a child appears in my class, moved from one mainstream school to the next. They arrive with little or no information. Passed from pillar to post. Set up to fail in another environment. Occasionally you get it right, you make it work more often than not that is not the case.

In some cases  the child’s parents are encouraged to find another school, encouraged to try a fresh start by the school they are in, not official like but subtle encouragement. “Maybe we’re not the right school for you.” “I feel that maybe you would fit in better”  this often goes alongside veiled threats of sanctions and exclusion. Some are encouraged to home-school. That doesn’t count as an exclusion does it.

Whether we like it or not the current patterns of exclusion will ultimately have significant consequences not just for the young people involved but also for the communities they live in in the future. When you have had to make that decision come back and tell me I got it wrong.