#StorytimeAssembly

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The idea for Storytime assembly came about when I was looking for a way to give staff a bit of extra-time every week. I’ve always been passionate about the importance of story and children being read to, so it started as a natural progression from that.

There was a purely selfish element to starting it on my part, I missed reading stories to children, I missed the joy, the art of reading a story to a group of children. It’s always been one of things that I could do well. I made an active decision that it would be about sharing stories and to not let it be overwhelmed by the messages from those stories. (generally, that is the case, but you can’t ignore the lessons great stories tell us).

In the first year I had all the children together, EY all the way Year 6. Whilst it was great it was also a bit limiting. I had to make active choices about texts that all could access.

I just picked stories, there was no real rhyme or reason to it, they were just stories I liked. Sometimes that was not always the best choice, reading for 230 pupils is different to reading to a class. I learnt very quickly that some stories worked much better than others. I also found that authors worked better for me in an assembly context. (I’ll share some of those later)

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Each week I would bring new stories or poems and read, and it was great I did however find my-self returning to stories and books. Some stories began to adapt for the assembly. Revisiting  became part of the structure of the session, returning to stories I often found children joining in and the telling became communal rather than solitary, some stories naturally lent themselves to performance and children now often come and take parts in the story-telling, being characters and helping our youngest children understand the story.

The assembly began to develop its own structure, we would revisit an older story, share a new, have a performance story and share poems. Keep focussed on the joy of the story and the almost tactile relationship between the teller and the audience.

I have a box for Storytime assembly books in my office (mainly so I can find them I have a lot of books in my office). I do read them, and I do practice the storytelling. There is an art to it. Knowing the books well allows yow to craft the telling.

I was lucky enough to get to do a Storytime assembly at #PrimaryRocks last year. There is a video somewhere.

This year I do two assemblies one for Early Years/Key stage 1 and one for Key Stage 2. This has allowed me to adapt the content for Key Stage 2, we now have an ongoing narrative/chapter story where we recap on the story. It means I can also share my love of Paul Jennings stories. We still however have picture books and shared performance, I’ve continued to try to keep the ‘something old, something, new’ mantra.

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Ultimately, it’s a joy for me, the children get to hear brilliant stories. I don’t have any evidence that it develops children’s learning, but genuinely I can’t think of a better way to give teachers and extra block of time above and beyond their PPA every week.

 

Story time assembly tips.

  • Pick books you like…it shows. Trudging through a book that you really don’t like will only transmit to your class that you don’t really like it. You are the teacher the choice is yours. I get that world cups of books can be motivating I would just say make sure you’re happy with the books you’re offering as a choice.
  • Knowing the book well helps you read it well. Knowing the story, the characters the key moments allows to share the story more effectively. Knowing the book allows you to become the controller of the story and how it plays out. It also helps you know where the sticking points might be. 
  • t is a performance, reading aloud is a thing that we need to practice. It takes time to get good at it.  Start with some great short stories or some brilliant poetry build your repertoire and confidence. (Paul Jennings was always my go to. I’m still a dab hand at Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake)
  • Go under the ‘spell.’ Allow your book to flow and get lost in it together. Get lost in the power of the story. Those moments when children are literally hanging on your every word waiting for the reveal are just amazing
  • Remember the audience, there is an element of pantomime to reading to a hall full of children.
  • Think about the structure of the assembly, the balance of texts, don’t be afraid of repetition and familiarity.
  • ENJOY!!! Have a blast!!!

 

This is a small list of books and authors; I’m just going to highlight the books that really work for me and form my core #StorytimeAssembly choices. They are mainly chosen because of how they work with an audience.

 

‘That Rabbit belongs to Emily Brown’ by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton

Just my favourite read aloud ever… I do voices

‘Read the Book Lemmings’ and ‘Horrible Bear’ by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah O’Hara

‘Dandy’ by Ame Dyckman and Charles Santoso

Amy’s books have a brilliant read aloud rhythm and are fantastically funny (she really knows how to write a joke). The art is equally simple and arresting that helps it work with an audience. Read the book is possibly the best book for shared performance.

 

‘Secret Sky Garden’ by Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers

Perfect for a bit of quiet beauty with a room full of people

 

‘Little Red’ by Bethan Woolvin

Great retelling of Red Riding Hood with a twist

 

‘Grumpy Frog’ By Ed Vere

Genius levels of funny

 

‘Not Now Bernard’, ‘Elmer’ by David Mckee

Just classics

 

‘Oh No! George!’, ‘Shhhh!’

‘Don’t worry Little Crab’ both by Chris Haughton.

Chris is a master of the simple repeating narrative making his books perfect for the join in and read aloud.

 

Would You rather?’ by John Burningham

There is not a better Question and answer response book ever, wild and just a bit anarchic. Perfect, for interaction with just a bit of gross out humour.

 

‘The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors’ by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

Perfect for parts and over the top performance. It’s an assembly fave.

 

‘Look Up’ by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola

This is a new favourite, great characters and a delightful story

 

‘Something Else’ by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell

Just a perfect story

 

‘Diary of a killer Cat’ by Anne Fine

A perfect short chapter read

 

(KS2) Loads of Paul Jennings short stories (favourites are, Exposer, Licked, Wunderpants, Strap Box Flyer, Only Gilt amongst many).

I have relied on Paul Jennings for the last 26 years… He has never let me down

 

Joan Aiken Short stories especially ‘A Necklace of Raindrops’

Just Genius.

 

Also a range of great poetry

Michael Rosen, Joseph Coelho, Allan Allburg, Paul Cookson, Rachel Rooney new this term is Matt Goodfellow.

The Purpose…Part 2

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In almost all curriculum posts I see a focus on the What of curriculum. What is it that children should learn, the phrase by Matthew Arnold ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ is oft quoted. Ofsted use it, Michael Gove used it. However, Arnold’s original quote was a little more nuanced.

The whole scope of this essay is to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which must concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.

Matthew Arnold ‘Culture and Anarchy’ 1848

The best that’s thought and said on all the matters that concern us gives it a different slant and perspective. IMO

We’ve spent a huge amount of time defining the WHAT for our school. Our starting point was the national curriculum but a curriculum that denies where we are and the history of the place, we live in is no curriculum at all. We’ve thought long and hard about the things we believe are important for children to learn in our school. We’ve thought about the ‘WHAT’ of each year and how it builds on the ‘WHAT’ of previous years. (This is something under constant review by our Curriculum team) What we were missing however was the WHY? We had a curriculum of learning without purpose. We created a curriculum that skimmed the surface, over-full, teaching lots of things without any purpose for knowing them. We had missed the WHY?

We used to start with a ‘hook.’ Sometimes it was a trip or a visit or some other showy thing to get the children interested. The initial enthusiasm wore off quickly. The buzz lost in a cavalcade of stuff without any reason to learn it. It had no impact and even less retention. Children did the Vikings, the Romans or Space. Facts were taught but not for a reason. Learning had no purpose. We taught everything in a hit and hope kind of way. It was curriculum by ‘Bugsy Malone Splurge Gun’

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We came to the realisation that for our curriculum we needed a purpose, a reason to learn. (I know people will say learning is a goal in and of itself and I would agree.) The purpose however allowed us to focus the curriculum, to do less but better, to really think about what children needed to learn.

We created purpose in two ways, first was the design of a key question that children were going to answer through the learning they did in the subject. This acted as a lens on the thing’s children would be taught. Question design is vital for us. If we got the question wrong, then the curriculum would become unfocused.  The core subject knowledge underpinning the learning would be the same regardless of the question (This is where Knowledge organisers fit for me creating the baseline of knowledge on which the deeper learning sits) but the choice then focuses that learning in to a certain area or aspect, creating opportunities for children to revisit, use and apply their learning.

In the Year 2 example below. The Question  ” Why was the fire of London so destructive?” was the curriculum driver and the learning focused to exploring and answering that question. We still make stuff, we encourage children to use that knowledge and apply. The fire below came after a significant amount of work exploring the factors. The fire helped children crystallise their understanding as is evident in the writing.

The other key aspect was to design clarity around an end-product. The creation of an end-product was very much inspired, stolen from the work of Ron Berger in his book ‘Ethic of Excellence’ an excellent book that has very much stuck with me since I read.

I believe that work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence. After students have had a taste of excellence, they’re never quite satisfied with less; they’re always hungry.

I want students whose work is strong and accurate and beautiful; [I want] students who are proud of what they do, proud of how they respect both themselves and others.

I believe that work of excellence is transformational. Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same.

Either way, my role as teacher is not as the sole judge of their work, but rather like that of a sports coach or play director: I am helping them to get their work ready for the public eye.  There is a reason to do the work well, and it’s not just because the teacher wants it that way.                                           

                                                                  Ron Berger Ethic of Excellence 2003

That could take many forms. Clarity around the product allowed us to clearly see the teaching sequence leading to that, both in terms of the knowledge and how we support children in achieving excellence. Sometimes it will be a piece of writing, a piece of art, a debate speech, a letter, a presentation. The product however reflects pupils learning and an application of their knowledge. Part of the teaching therefore is equally about how we support the pupil to create that product. This is still ongoing, allowing children to create work they are proud of, is a key part of the purpose. Effective use of modelling and precision teaching is equally as important. Teaching is the key. Expectation is part of it, pupil’s intrinsic motivation however is key.  Curriculum purpose (when we get it right, sometimes we don’t)  gives our children that in spades.

We’ve been working on this for a while, knowing stuff is one think being able to use it is another for us that’s the point.

Below is a snippet from our Ofsted last June. It’s a work in progress but when it works the impact is powerful.

One typical Year 5 pupil wrote a persuasive argument about the greatest scientific discovery that began: ‘Copernicus ‘theory of the solar system, Albert Einstein’s discovery of the speed of light and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution will be discussed. Upon evaluating the strengths of each discovery, an argument for the most significant will be presented. ‘This is typical of the high quality of writing that key stage 2 pupils produce across the wider curriculum.

Ofsted 2019

We’ve also been exploring how we get children to write in different subjects. This is helping to focus our writing.

Coming soon The Purpose…Part 3 (The Devil is in the Detail)

The Purpose…Part 1

 

 

The Purpose…Part 1

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Just going to say now I’m not a curriculum expert in the way many are. I do understand the need for structure and how a curriculum needs to build on previous learning. I also believe curriculum is more.

I completely agreed with Stuart Lock when he talked about conversations being focussed onto the core substance of the what we learn rather than the how, which has constantly dominated educational dialogue. I cautiously welcomed Ofsted’s focus onto the substance of a ‘good education’ and its new focus on the breadth of curriculum.

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The problem with How?

Thing is that we haven’t actually got away from the HOW at all. Conversation is now dominated by cognitive science, which while useful in helping us explore what works in our classroom doesn’t give us all the answers. Rosenshine has been turned into lesson observation tick-lists by desperate SLT’s trying to prove they’re doing the right thing. Again, Rosenshine is useful to help us think about the work but when it becomes a straight-jacket (and it is) then we are back in three-part lesson-territory. Research has its place, but teaching is more. Read as many books as you like, but there is and will always be that random element in our classroom (Children). Personally, I want teachers who are informed but not constrained by research. I want teachers who are responsive to the learning in their classrooms and can adapt that to meet the needs of the pupils in that lesson on that day. I want teachers with a broad toolkit of approaches which allow them to make the right choices. I want craftsmen and artisans rather than bricklayers (You do need to know how to lay the bricks though)

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Back to the What?

The phrase knowledge-rich is bandied about all the time. Ofsted will ‘Deep-dive’ your curriculum to see if it is just that. Many school curriculums have become full of knowledge, crammed with facts to remember, overstuffed and bulging.  Curriculums that are packed with knowledge but are often far from rich. That is not the case with all obviously, but the Ofsted framework has left many scrabbling to get something in place. In many cases curriculum has been boiled down to its constituent facts. Facts and more facts but no rhyme or reason for what the facts are and why we want children to know that stuff. Knowing facts has become the endpoint rather than the starting point. In some curriculums there is no purpose knowing stuff beyond knowing stuff. The Ofsted framework has exacerbated this. Its approach has been boiled down to a soundbite…

‘Learning is alteration in the long-term memory’

Whilst Ofsted I’m sure would expect this to be more than memorising facts. The fact is that is what it runs the risk of becoming. Interpretation is everything. The problem is the soundbites rule. They are in your face, you remember them but not the substantive thing on which they sit, so SLT’s desperately try to get kids to remember more stuff. Deep dives ask children what they remember and that becomes all that matters

‘Knowing more words makes you smarter’ – I’d add does its shite!

With that sentence pointless wordlists decorate our classrooms in a shower of Twinkl. Knowing more words and the context for them and then applying them effectively might just make you smarter. I know Floccinaucinihilipilification, I’ve still never managed to use it in a sentence where it actually makes sense…until now. It doesn’t make me smarter. Words without meaning and context are just words. (pretty sure Ofsted will have said this.) However, the soundbite creates consequences.

Knowledge Organisers have become end goals for learning rather than the start point. The curriculum on a page. The learning as a memory task. Quizzed and tested on. I don’t have an issue with KO’s but surely, they should be a launch-pad for learning, the starting point, the foundation upon which a great curriculum is built not some law of diminishing returns endpoint.

The curriculum has become an amorphous directionless familiar rather the regal creature of border caves.  Full of stuff but without purpose, direction or focus. I think we need to add another question to the ‘What?’ and the ‘How?’ and that is the ‘WHY?’

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Tell me WHY?

I’m not talking about ‘to get a job’ or the equally spurious ‘to give children a seat at the top table’ nonsense that gets spouted often as the reason. Genuinely both are pretty poor reasons for learning stuff.  Instead surely the purpose for knowing is to give children the ability to think. The more we know the more we can think and challenge and discuss. I would say learning is thinking more and knowledge gives us the key to do that. Developing a curriculum that allows children to use the knowledge is tricky. How do we create a curriculum that makes them use the stuff they learn and truly think? How do we create purpose in our curriculum?

What does the purpose look like I hear you ask…well that’s for another blog!

The Purpose…Part 2

The Unsustainable.

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I’m writing this because I’m really angry. I’m writing this because I feel desperately sorry for parents of children with significant SEND. I’m writing this for the unwanted children who are passed from pillar to post as school after school look the other way. We’ve had one such case this week. The parents had visited another local school and in no uncertain terms had been made to feel like their child was not welcome, that the school was not right for their son. Then somehow our school was mentioned and they were directed our way.

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 8 high needs pupils below the age of seven and 14 high-needs pupils altogether (Our percentage is way higher than the national average).  A significant number of these children come from outside our school catchment. Some of the children are not yet on an education, health and care plan (EHCP). The process to getting a health-care plan can be lengthy. In the meantime school just have to make do. 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. We’re a mainstream primary school, we don’t have a specialist provision, we’re not a specialist provision.

Problem is the nearest specialist provision sits 25 miles . 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.

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.

For the first time I’m stuck, SEND funding is woefully inadequate and has a significant impact on our school budget. The only support staff we now have in school are working with children with significant need. It’s unsustainable.

So when this family contacted our school, looking at how stretched we are both staff-wise and financially we realised that we can’t meet need. It breaks my heart to admit that. I’m proud that our school is inclusive. We are however at breaking point. I have no staff capacity and no money. There is no way I can meet need.

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What angers me is that some schools, just push these children away.

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” or even worse just be made to feel that the school doesn’t want their child. (often that is all it takes). Parents want to send their child to a school that wants them.

Financially supporting a child with high needs has become an increasing burden on schools. It shouldn’t be. The data impact for some schools is there motivation to  guide these children elsewhere.

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, that’s because it is.

However the fact that we are an inclusive school is a source of huge pride. . 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.

For us, inclusion isn’t a choice, but even if it was, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Sadly we’re now at breaking point, for the first time we genuinely can’t meet need.