The Loss…(#PicturebooksAboutLoss)

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 steppingstone 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.

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.

Picture books can offer us a powerful way in to supporting young people with their feelings and emotions. The following books all deal with loss and grief and would be an amazing resource for helping young people (and some grown-ups) understand and discuss their feelings and emotions.

The following books all explore grief and loss and would be perfect for helping children explore these emotions…

The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their award-winning garden, which grows big and beautiful. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickles and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos.

But beauty grows in the darkest of places, and when a twisting vine turns into an immense pumpkin, Evan is drawn out of his misery and back to the county fair, where friendships—old and new—await.

This is a book that I’ve not managed to read without crying. It totally captures, the mixture of sadness and anger that comes with losing someone we love. Just a wonderful brave, honest picturebook.

Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubac

Mrs. Badger, an avid collector and naturalist, takes a weekly journey up to Sugarloaf Peak, greeting her friends on the way and sharing her discoveries with them. One day she meets Lulu, a very small cat, who wants to go with her to the top of the mountain. On the way, Lulu learns to take care of the natural world, help those in need, and listen to her intuition. Rich in wisdom and beautifully illustrated, Up the Mountain Path offers a profound story full of lessons about love, generosity, and following one’s heart.

A beautiful, thoughtful and profound book, that explores friendship and loss. The story stays with you long after you have closed its pages. A wonderful exploration of the impact we have on others and their lives just by being us.

What Happens Next? By Shinsuke Yoshitake

What Happens Next? follows a child’s hilarious, wildly inventive train of thought following the death of his grandfather and the discovery of his journal, in which his grandfather had jotted his thoughts about life after death and the ideal heaven.

As a huge fan of Yoshitake, (his books are one of my must buys.) They are always playful, thought-provoking and imbued with an enormous sense of humour and joy. This book perfectly captures the inquisitiveness of children and the questions the want the answers to when they have lost someone they love. Perfect for sharing and discussing.

Finns Feather by Rachel Noble and Zoey Abbot

Finn knows his brother is gone. But he also knows that Hamish sent the beautiful white feather on his doorstep.

Finn runs to shows his mother the feather from Hamish, but she only gives him a big hug. In school, Finn’s teacher responds similarly. Why isn’t anyone as excited as he is? Finn sits quietly, cradling the beautiful, amazing feather. “Why did Hamish give it to you?” asks his friend, Lucas. “Maybe he wanted to say hi?” wonders Finn. “Maybe,” Lucas says, “Hamish wanted you to have fun with it.”

Finn’s Feather is a story about resilience and memory―about a child, his brother, and a friend who meets him where he is.

Just a beautiful story about loss from a child’s perspective. Gentle and heart-warming in equal measure. This book has a rosy glow of love all over it.

The Funeral by Matt James

Norma and her parents are going to her great-uncle Frank’s funeral, and Norma is more excited than sad. She is looking forward to playing with her favorite cousin, Ray, but when she arrives at the church, she is confronted with rituals and ideas that have never occurred to her before. While not all questions can be answered, when the day is over Norma is certain of one thing — Uncle Frank would have enjoyed his funeral.

This sensitive and life-affirming story will lead young readers to ask their own questions about life, death and how we remember those who have gone before us.

This is one of the most truly honest depictions of how children may deal with grief and loss and how that is often so different to how we as adults deal with it. This is fantastic for helping children understand the rituals and ideas associated with funerals. It’s also great for helping adults understand that sometimes children just cant stop being children.

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

There was a cat
who lived alone.
Until the day
a new cat came . . .

And so a story of friendship begins, following two cats through their days, months, and years until one day, the older cat has to go. And he doesn’t come back.

This is a poignant story, told in measured text and bold black-and-white illustrations about life and the act of moving on

A simple story about friendship, time and loss. The wonderfully simple design makes the story ring out and the loss more poignant. A beautiful book.

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic and Oliver Tallec

A little boy responds to his mother’s death in a genuine, deeply moving story leavened by glimmers of humor and captivating illustrations.

When the boy in this story wakes to find that his mother has died, he is overwhelmed with sadness, anger, and fear that he will forget her. He shuts all the windows to keep in his mother’s familiar smell and scratches open the cut on his knee to remember her comforting voice. He doesn’t know how to speak to his dad anymore, and when Grandma visits and throws open the windows, it’s more than the boy can take—until his grandmother shows him another way to feel that his mom’s love is near. With tenderness, touches of humor, and unflinching emotional truth, Charlotte Moundlic captures the loneliness of grief through the eyes of a child, rendered with sympathy and charm in Olivier Tallec’s expressive illustrations.

The Scar is a beautiful, poignant book and so very sad. It deals with death in a very honest and realistic way that is accessible for children but makes no promises, and is all the better for it. My heart ached for this little boy who would never see his mother again. But as all scars do, he eventually begins to heal.
The text is superbly skilled and hits just the right note as do the illustrations.

Rabbityness by Jo Empson

Rabbit enjoys doing rabbity things, but he also loves un-rabbity things! When Rabbit suddenly disappears, no one knows where he has gone. His friends are desolate. But, as it turns out, Rabbit has left behind some very special gifts for them, to help them discover their own unrabbity talents!

This is a stunning debut picture book by author/illustrator Jo Empson. Rabbityness celebrates individuality, encourages the creativity in everyone and positively introduces children to dealing with loss of any kind.

Just a glorious celebration of a life well-lived and the impact we can have on others. Poignant and joyous in equal measure. A true celebration of life.

Mum’s jumper by Jayde Perkins

If mum has gone, how do you carry on?
Missing her feels like a dark cloud that follows you around, or like swimming to a shore that never comes nearer.
But memories are like a jumper that you can cuddle and wear. And Mum’s Jumper might be a way to keep her close.
A simple, heartfelt and ultimately uplifting book for anyone coping with loss.

This book has no silver linings. doesn’t pretend but instead is a simple eloquent exploration of loss, hanging onto memories and ultimately moving on. Who said picturebooks were for children. This is perfect for all ages.

Grandpa by John Burningham

Adorable Grandpa nurses his granddaughter’s dolls, mistakes her strawberry-flavoured pretend ice cream for chocolate, and falls in with her imaginary plans to captain a ship to Africa. It is a friendship that children who read this book will long remember.

A beautiful portrayal of the grandparent child relationship and the hole that leaves when its gone. Simple and touching.

Duck, Death 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

Strange and surreal, this must be one of the most unique picture books ever.
It is lonely and melancholy  but kind and very gentle. Out of all the books on this list this is the one that has made me stop and think about the life we live and the choices we make. A true work of genius.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Once there was a girl whose life was filled with all the wonder of the world around her. Then one day something occurred that caused the girl to take her heart and put it in a safe place.

However, after that it seemed that more things were empty than before. Would she know when and how to get her heart back?

A beautiful exploration of how we protect ourselves from being hurt, but also how that can stop us truly remembering the joy as well. Locking emotions away will sometimes we lose more than we gain.

Cry Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved and Charlotte Pardi

Aware their grandmother is gravely ill, four siblings make a pact to keep death from taking her away. But Death does arrive all the same, as it must. He comes gently, naturally. And he comes with enough time to share a story with the children that helps them to realize the value of loss to life and the importance of being able to say goodbye.

A beautifully told, wonderfully realised, story about celebrating a life well lived and being able to let go.

Fox and Goldfish by Nils Pieters

Fox knows that Goldfish is very unwell. Before it s too late, he takes his friend on an epic adventure beyond the fishbowl. Together they take a splash in the ocean, go for a bike ride in the Grand Canyon, admire Mount Fuji, explore the jungle, go skiing and even make it to the moon. Then time has come for Fox to let go of Goldfish. At least he s shown him the entire world. Some things like friendship, farewells, and the beauty of the world are almost beyond words.

A vibrant, joyous celebration of life and friendship that makes its final moments all the more powerful. Almost wordless yet the opening and closing sentences are all the more powerful for that. Just wonderful.

Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies

After the phenomenal success of The Storm Whale and On Sudden Hill, this new book by Benji Davies deals with the emotional topic of losing a grandparent. Subtly told, this beautifully illustrated book tackles a difficult subject with great sensitivity and depth.

Beautifully illustrated this is a fantastic book to share with younger children to help them understand the loss of a grandparent.  The relationship in the book is one to truly be treasured.

The End of Something Wonderful: A practical guide to a Backard Funeral by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic and George Ermos

With gentle humor and quirkiness, this sympathetic book demonstrates how to say goodbye to a beloved pet and give it a proper sendoff.

Off-the wall and more than a little quirky, this book is totally my kind of book. It approaches the loss of a loved pet with a dash of daftness, and a generous dolloping of love. I blummin’ love this book for it’s sensitivity and humour.

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

The tale of a dependable, reliable and helpful badger who realises that his old age will soon lead to death. His friends learn to come to terms with his death in an enchanting tale. With full colour illustrations throughout.

This has stood the test of time for a reason. Badger’s Parting Gift is a timeless story of the imapct we leave on those around us and how we live on through their memories. A classic.

The Gift by Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan

In a quiet town, of a sort not found nowadays, lives a beautiful young girl. One summer day, she visits the woods with her mother and father. While her parents prepare the picnic, she seeks out buttercups and daisies for a flower necklace. As she does so, a wish forms in her mind–and to her surprise, a silver-haired woman appears, ready to grant it.

A story of celebration for a life well-lived and the impact that life has on those we leave behind.  Ryan’s artwork is beautifully intricate and compliments Duffy’s poetic words perfectly.

Waiting For Wolf by Sandra Dieckmann

Stunning picture book about grief and learning to accept that death is part of life. Absolutely love the illustrations and I totally felt all the emotions poor little fox was feeling when he realised his best friend Wolf was not coming back. Beautiful

Beautiful, beautiful book, both inside and out. A book of friendship and the howling despair of loss that ultimately gives way to treasured memories. Perfect for exploring loss with children.

If All The World Were… by Joseph Coelho and Allison Colpays

A moving, poetic picture book about a young girl’s love for her granddad and how she copes when his grandad dies, written by poet and playwright Joe Coelho. This powerful and ultimately uplifting text is the ideal way to introduce children to the concept of death and dying, particularly those who have lost a grandparent.

Joseph Coelho’s delicate poetic story is beautifully complimented by Allison Colpay’s tender autumnal artwork to create a powerful emotional picturebook that treasures the time we’ve had.

Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler and Sarah Jacobs

A timeless fable of the journey from grief to acceptance that will touch every reader: Rabbit isn’t sure he’ll ever be brave enough to go on an adventure. He’s a homebody who lives in a quiet field of wheat he dreams of leaving every night. His world is enlarged by his friend Dog and Dog’s tales of motorbike adventures. But one day, Dog is gone, and with him, go the stories Rabbit loves so much. Dare Rabbit pick up the motorbike and live his own story?

• A touching tale for those confronting loss and those who are eager to explore and experience the world around them
• Rabbit’s bravery in the face of sadness will console, nurture, and inspire young readers

A book about the life we live and the impact that can have on other. A book about bravery and the choices we make. Deeply profound and moving.

My Father’s Arms are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde and Oyvind Torsetter

It’s quieter than it’s ever been. Unable to sleep, a young boy climbs into his father’s arms. Feeling the warmth and closeness of his father, he begins to ask questions about the birds, the foxes, and whether his mom will ever wake up. They go outside under the starry sky. Loss and love are as present as the white spruces, while the father’s clear answers and assurances calm his worried son. Here we feel the cycles of life and life’s continuity, even in the face of absence and loss, so strongly and clearly that we know at the end that everything will, somehow, be all right.

Probably of all the books above this one is the one that affected me the most. A heart-wrenching exploration of loss and depression. It explores the relationship between a father and son after loss. Stunning

Sad Book by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake

With unmitigated honesty, a touch of humor, and sensitive illustrations by Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen explores the experience of sadness in a way that resonates with us all.

Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.

Sad things happen to everyone, and sometimes people feel sad for no reason at all. What makes Michael Rosen sad is thinking about his son, Eddie, who died suddenly at the age of eighteen. In this book the author writes about his sadness, how it affects him, and some of the things he does to cope with it—like telling himself that everyone has sad stuff (not just him) and trying every day to do something he can be proud of. Expressively illustrated by the extraordinary Quentin Blake, this is a very personal story that speaks to everyone, from children to parents to grandparents, teachers to grief counselors. Whether or not you have known what it’s like to feel deeply sad, the truth of this book will surely touch you.

A brilliant, powerful exploration of grief and depression. This is starkly honest and immensely powerful. It is a hard read but sings out with a truth. Very rarely does a children’s writer so openly shows themselves to their readers. A stunning book.

…This is all I’ve done so far I’ll continue to add to this as and when time allows. (There are at quite a few books I’ve not covered yet)

The Emptiness

As I wander round this shell of a building, each day is a struggle to comprehend the now, to see something nurtured and grown, stripped back. Just an empty carapace. This isn’t “our” school

A school isn’t a building. Great schools are alive. They are vibrant. There is an energy, a togetherness, a common focus, a love and dare I say it a community. Children are the blood the runs through the veins of a school, without them it is withered lifeless husk.

What the last six weeks has shown, is how much a school really does. We have held our communities together, we have supported those of most need, we have been there again and again. The work isn’t just about education, in fact in many cases the education has been secondary to the real issues. School have in the greatest sense of the word been bothered. It’s not just about the home –schooling offer. I have delivered food parcels, talked with parents to help them find solutions, managed staff anxieties and supported them(I’ve seen some ridiculous demands on some staff).  and a thousand other jobs I never thought I’d have to do. I can honestly say I haven’t stopped.

I’ve been lucky to have had the support of an amazing group of headteachers and an incredibly pro-active trust that have supported every step of the way. Equally our staff have been amazing, both those who’ve been in and those who’ve tirelessly worked from home.

When the head of Ofsted states that schools would have been found wanting, I think all it really shows is that she hasn’t a clue what we’ve done. When she talked about parents needing Ofsted because there will be no exam results to judge school’s on, I would guarantee that this crisis has perhaps allowed parents to really see the school their child goes to for the first time. I would say now is the time for Ofsted to support schools, not promote themselves as some ‘Sword of Damocles’ wielding arbiter of false value. I look at the schools and heads I work with and not one has let their children or their families down, not one school isn’t striving to do what they’re doing better every single day.

I said to my staff that the aim was that when we open everybody will walk back in that door. My staff are not expendable they are the beating heart of this place. We want to be open, there is not a headteacher in the land that doesn’t want the children back in their school, but we have to do in a way that is as safe as we can make it. 

What that will look like is anybody’s guess, there will not be a normal for some time.

We won’t be able to start where we left off, there will be hundreds of stories and needs. Every school’s return to normality will be different. Genuinely who is anybody to judge whether that is right or wrong, what I do know is that school leaders and their staff will strive to make the right choices for their families, children, communities, but it won’t be led by the science it will be led by the heart.

The New Normal…

 

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These are strange times indeed. I’m sure somewhere on my job contract buried in the small print there is a clause that covers the last few weeks, I haven’t found it, however.

It felt like a good time to stop and breathe, in fact this is the first moment I’ve had to stop and breathe. It’s been great to pause today, I’ve listened to a lot of Bruce Springsteen (I’m working my way through all his albums…currently on Live 75-85), I’ve read quite a bit. I’ve sat and thought quite a lot.

I stepped away from twitter today, as there was much that was frustrating me.

In education we have had very little time and guidance to create this new normal, parents have had very little time to adjust to this. First thing I have to say is it’s not the same, it can’t and won’t be the same.

We all have a wealth of new pressures on us, parents, teachers, children, everybody. Fundamentally our roles as schools and educators has changed.

Fact is education isn’t our most important job now. First and foremost, our role is about supporting our families to manage their way through this, helping them create rhythms and patterns, helping them find a home balance about what will happen in their homes for what could be quite some time. We have a key role in helping families find their way through this. We also have a key role in ensuring the children are safe.  We are in a honeymoon period now parents are more likely to engage with us, and there is a first flush of enthusiasm about doing this from many. For some this will last from many others this will diminish. As teachers and school leaders we need to remember that it’s not all about us.

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I’ve seen schools trying to run a full timetable, I’ve seen parents stressed, many of whom will have to be working from home while having their children there and children stressed by the demands. I then think of the teachers who may be home with their children and trying to create this plethora of stuff. I’ve seen teachers produce full timetables of internet links to learning videos and saying children must do this (some of these are great however, Joe Wicks has broken me though). I’ve seen demands on teachers to mark and feedback submitted work exponentially increasing their workload. (I now know what exponential means). We need to let go. We can’t control it all.

As time goes on, we need to help families find a healthy balance. In primary, that’s probably a bit of Maths, a bit of writing and some reading every day, (I’d say lots of reading but I’m a bit obsessed) anything more than that and we will create something impossible. We’re planning a more project-based approach for after Easter as way of keeping children motivated and engaged with the work. The key point of the learning is parents spending time and talking with their kids. Cook together, listen to music, draw, do a jigsaw, do some gardening, make the beds etc. Creating home patterns and rhythms is the key bit. We don’t know what will be going on behind those doors, we don’t know the pressures those families are facing, just in the last week I’ve had parents concerned about money, and food and a hundred other things.  One thing we should not be doing is making this harder for families. Equally we should not be creating an impossible job for our staff.

This isn’t school, it can’t be school…there are going to be so many more issues to deal with when the children return into our buildings. Firstly, how do we help these children become used to being with other children again and feeling safe in our care.

People have talked about the “Gap” fact is whether we like it or not the gap between children will grow. I’d love to say it won’t, but the gap will be exacerbated, we have children without internet apart from a data package on Mum or Dad’s phone (Constant video lesson watching probably used that up by Tuesday). We have children, with no tablets or computers at home. The wonders of internet teaching will zoom past these children, how do we make sure we don’t forget about these children.

This weekend is a time to step back breathe and re-evaluate what it is we’re doing and how it helps our families and our communities.

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To paraphrase Professor Ian Malcolm “Your teachers were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Anyway back to the book and the Springsteen marathon. Stay Safe

 

 

 

The Silence… (sat in no-mans land)

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For a couple of weeks now war has waged on twitter. Since The right honourable Gav, dropped his silence bomb, people have planted their flag in the ground and nailed their colours to the post.

This has been exacerbated by an Ofsted report that dismissed a strict behaviour regime due to objections by pupils and parents. We have high profile tweeters sniping  others about it if they don’t agree with them and even a robust response from the Tsar himself criticising Ofsted and the way behaviour was reported. I have to say in this case I agreed with Mr Bennett with his point about schools doing what they need to do. It is sadly, a hopeless, futile war where neither side will give ground and stop to consider the others view.

It is a landscape full of hyperbole, both sides portraying the other as wrong and spinning webs of propaganda to support their argument.

Silence on the corridors = compliance, control and robot children

Talking on the corridors = Chaos and supporting bullying

Exclusions = The greatest evil or the greatest weapon (depending on your side)

All children are Naughty/angelic delete depending on your viewpoint.

 

…and on and on it goes

Isolation booths, restorative practices, warm-strict etc…. Grenades hurled by both sides, good or evil depending on your stance.

This battle has waged and will continue to wage. There is no winning.  So now the mortal enemies stand either side of no man’s land staring across into the ravaged landscape, sniping from their bunkers and ever more it will be.

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Except that some of us are caught up on the barbed wire singing quietly into the night or cowering in shell like craters whispering our thoughts.

We are the middle. Generally, they are people doing the job on a day to day basis rather than the ones telling people how to do the job from the safety of their war-rooms miles from the front.

I am one such person, I have views on all these things, and they have changed and adapted as school has changed. I’m six years down the line here

 

When I walked into my current school behaviour was some of the worst I had seen in a primary school, the chief issue was behaviour. It was challenging and this was impacting on the wellbeing of staff and pupils alike. A new behaviour policy was devised and quickly embedded. Patterns of behaviour were analysed, and minor but high-impact changes were made, we restructured lunchtimes, for example, so all year groups were not on break together. Meanwhile, I made sure I was visible in school, and visibly supporting behaviour. I also spoke to parents and we put the onus on them helping us to get it right.

There were sanctions, there were rewards, we removed children from their classes (Most often to time spent with me. If children are disrupting learning of others, they should be removed IMO) We had clear systems and we stuck to them, as head I backed the staff to the hilt. We excluded; we even called the police.

We set rules and we held the line, corridors were silent, it was reset. It was not the end of the line though. We taught children about behaviour, we were rigorous to the expectations and we stuck to it. All the time we were building relationships and trust. In primary relationships are key, but if there aren’t clear expectation and boundaries you don’t ever give them the chance to flourish.  My teachers are fierce and demanding in the best way. We coined the term #FierceKindness way before warm/strict became a rebrand. We never saw it as end though. It was a moment, as behaviour improved the policy adapted, corridors were silent for about a term, now they are calm and orderly, class behaviour is focussed, children most of the time want to learn. We have some children that need extra. Sometimes behaviour is uncommunicated need, sometimes its children testing boundaries and making poor choices. The behaviour policy is still there, it’s very rarely used now in the way we had to use it. We equally work hard with those children who struggle.

‘The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. What marks it out as being beyond good is how considerate pupils are towards each other and how they remind each other of how to behave without having to be prompted by adults. This does not just happen by chance. Teachers have worked hard to create an ethos in the classroom where mutual respect, tolerance and cooperation are very much the order of the day.’ Ofsted 2016

Ask anybody who’s visited (that includes Mary Myatt) and they’ll tell you it’s a calm, orderly school, with enthusiastic children who want to learn.

The fact is each school should be able to choose what happens in their school and what those rules and routines are. For me too many rules mean that you are creating a battleground, for others I appreciate it’s a communication about values and expectations. (that’s why I’ve never challenged my son’s school on a behaviour policy that frankly I thought was a bit silly, equally I was careful not to say that to my son)

Ultimately it comes down to what our expectations of young people are. I think they can be brilliant, creative, caring, generous, hard-working and will with the right support make the right choices. I trust and believe in children in my school and they repay that in spades.

So, the question is what is it that we want from behaviour in our schools. Personally, I want children who have responsibility for their actions and choices and make them in a secure moral framework. Therefore, if we look at our behaviour systems, we should question what they achieve. Discipline without responsibility will need constant vigilance. Discipline driven by pupils’ own morals is almost self-regulating. Behaviour policies aren’t static, and the aim should be more than compliance.

When children get stuff wrong and they will because lets be honest we all do, do we just punish and expect them to not do it again (it will work for some, my son hates being in trouble he’s spent the last four years terrified he’d get into trouble for the tiniest infraction) or do we do the thing we are good at and teach the children.

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We need a behaviour “Christmas Truce” where we all step into no-mans land shake hands (or just fist-bump now) and listen to each other. I think we’d find that most of us are not as far away from each other as twitter makes us believe.

#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.

Lip Service (All surface, No depth)

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I see lots of stuff about curriculum, in fact since the introduction of the EIF (new Ofsted framework) it feels like this is all that we see.

Much of it is shiny, and beautifully designed (it must’ve taken hours). Aesthetically pleasing but with the depth of a thimble.

Knowledge organisers in some places sit at the core as the be-all and end-all of the learning rather than the foundation layer for developing knowledge and understanding.

Quizzing is the new assessment, recall of the facts is all.

Ofsted suggests “Knowing more words makes you smarter” and a thousand vocabulary lists are printed, laminated and sent home before the sentence is even finished.

The current simple view of education seems to be that this will make the difference.

Don’t get me wrong I think curriculum is the answer to practically every question, but I think getting a curriculum right is an on-going complex process. Ask anybody who’s really put in the hours in getting curriculum right for their school and they’ll tell it’s blummin’ tricky.  I truly believe the hours spent developing ‘The What’ are worth every minute.

Engagement is an educational swear-word associated with poor lesson design and poor learning. I’d argue it sits at the core of great learning. I suggest engaged pupils truly remember what they do, we just need to make sure they remember the stuff they need.

Meanwhile we seem intent on stripping ‘The How’ of teaching back to its barest bones. Ignoring the power of good teachers and creating a model that all can deliver. (Maybe that’s what you have to do when you can’t get enough teachers of the quality you want).

Genuinely I feel for young teachers, there is no time to learn. If I were to look back on my formative years in the classroom, they were literally littered with mistakes. I however was lucky, I worked with great people who helped me develop. Do we give the next generation the time to be good. I see lots cast on the scrap-heap without a second glance. There is no time for losers. Be good or be gone. Have we forgotten our responsibility to develop the next generation?

Behaviour is regularly seen as a massive issue in schools. Yet we seem to have forgotten to teach children why and how they should behave. Equally we seem to not bother teaching teachers about classroom management.  Instead we create systems where we wield sanctions like a ‘cane of Damocles’ and all children are expected to behave.  Those who for whatever reason can’t quite reach this halcyon standard are discarded for the ‘Greater Good.’

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‘Think of the 29’ is the clarion call. I don’t disagree that we should remove disruptive children if they are stopping others learning, in-fact I completely believe we should. I also believe we have a responsibility to the 1. How are those children supported…taught. Sadly it seems that some are happy for there to be a few educational casualties cast by the wayside as societal detritus for the benefit of the many. A decision that will come back to haunt those communities forever more.

We seem to have lost our role. Schools should be sat at the heart of a community, increasingly the community is kept at arms length. For all the government’s talk of parents having a greater voice in education, increasingly in this age the voice of the true stakeholders has been mightily diminished.

In our thrust for ‘education’ we seem to be forgetting the role of ‘Schooling’ and the role of Schools.

 

Bedtime Library books…a starter list.

Here’s a starter list of brilliant bedtime books, I’m sure you can think of loads more. They’re  not necessarily books to use in a classroom (though lots are brilliant for use in the classroom)  but they are all fantastic to read and share.

I want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen (I’d recommend all the hat books and the shape books with Mac Barnett as well, just brilliant)

Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah O’Hara (Ame is one of my favorite got picturebook authors for read aloud brilliance)

Stanley’s Stick by Jon Hegley and Neal Layton

Grumpy Frog by Ed Vere (Huge fan of Ed Vere all his books are wonderful to read and share)

Is There a Dog In This book by Viviane Schwartz (Another read aloud superstar)

Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak

The Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards and Hannah Shaw

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schaeffer(Always reliable brilliant to read aloud, most of Julia’s book are fantastic bedtime reads)

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd

King Baby by Kate Beaton

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

The Last Noo-noo by Jill Murphy

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood and Don Wood

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Hansel and Gretel by Bethan Woolvin

Not Now Bernard by David McKee

Wild by Emily Huighes

Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski

Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

The Bad Seed by Jory John and Pete Oswald

On Summer Hill by Linda Sarah and Benji Davis

The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (in fact any of Benji’s books)

Sun by Sam Usher (all his season books are great)

This is not a picturebook by Sergo Ruzzier

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stern

My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson

The Night Pirates by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright

Oi Frog by Kes Gray and Jim Field

The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and Katz Cowley

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

This Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton (I’ve read this book at bedtime more than any other in the world ever!)

Traction Man By Mini Grey (Mini is another bedtime read superstar)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

We’re Going on A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Shaeffer

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

Peace at Last by Jill Murphy

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

Oh No George! By Chris Haughton (in fact any Chris Haugton books)

 

Enjoy!!!

 

Please comment with other suggestions