Thursday, April 3, 2014

You're getting warmer

Do you remember when you were a child playing the game 'warmer, colder'? The one where you would have to work out what someone was thinking about by asking questions and all they could say was, "you're
getting warmer/colder".
For children this is an easy game to play and for many, one which engages them for a long time, way beyond our ability to find the game fun, or to be able to come up with new ideas for them to 'find'.  

As adults, we forget just how plastic a child's brain is and we also forget how simply they think.

In teaching it is this 'simplistic' approach and their ability to enjoy the game of getting warmer, getting colder that we exploit when it comes to learning.
I am not sure if you are aware, but when a child reads, they will happily skip over words they do not know and use the remaining words in the sentence to make sense of that unfamiliar word. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong, but over a period of time and more exposure to the word, they get the meaning correct, they win the game of 'hotter and colder'.
This happens with verbal and non-verbal reasoning, they can get cope with being wrong, they can cope with not getting the whole answer straight away, they can cope with being hotter or colder, but as they do it more and as they make their minds up what it really means, they find they 'get it' most of the time.
No doubt you have seen this with the second set of tests they have done by the increase in their marks. Many have increased their original marks by between 5% and 35%, very few have decreased and if they have, they realise they are 'getting colder' and their brains must try a different tack.
I have had many parents saying they have found the questions hard, and yes, parents will, because we as adults no longer have that plasticity to manipulate in this way. If you looked at our verbal and non-verbal questions (the ones used as diagnostic tests by some employers), you will note some types are still there but most have changed. We change, and as we get older and funnel our ways of thinking into what has worked for us in our 'hotter/colder' game, we are not able to see the alternatives any more, we have run out of option finding, we no longer play that game.
That is a bit dramatic, let us say we no longer have that level of plasticity and therefore have only limited levels of the game left to us.
We find the questions hard and in so doing show our children that its OK to be wrong, its OK not to get everything right and by asking the right people for help is also OK.

Children believe adults are 'gods' who can do no wrong and know everything. Let me say at this point, we are not Spock.

But they think we are!! By telling them, you don't know allows them the room to say, I don't know yet either, but be careful of one trap waiting for us........the one where they believe, "well if they can't do it how can I ever do it?" or the other delightful one, "well if they can't do it them that justifies me not being able to and therefore I don't have to....."
Remember, they think we are Gods until they get to their mid teens, its only when they realise we are not and are human that things start shall I put it...change.

So, how can you work through this and get maximum from it for your child?

Become almost conspiratorial; admit you don't know and laugh, enjoy the experience of not knowing. Get them to start the game, "well what do you think?" and work together to try and come up with an answer together. Make it a game again. Then show me the question and see if you're right. I tell you, the buzz you will get if you are right is equal to theirs and the shared delight will draw you closer together.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Calling all Year Fours.....

Time is fast approaching for parents to be thinking about finding a tutor for next year if they want to go for the 11+ examination. 

[PS. I am already full so if you have made it onto my books then great, I look forward to speaking with you in June]
What can you do in the meantime and how can you start their journey so it is fun and pleasant? It is so easy to go to W.H.Smiths and buy a few books and get your child to work through these, but which ones, this is the tricky part? Which will be the best suited and which will benefit them the most?
There are so many books out there, it can be a bit like saturation overload, as publishers and writers flood the market with numerous books which are pretty much all the same. The presentation is different, the use of colour, pictures, format and style all lend themselves to what appears to be a different book but is just a different approach to the same content.
Looking at the shelves in Smiths, there are their own books, as well as CGP, Letts, Schofield and Simms and many more, but picking the right one is more preference of style.
The Smith's own are well laid out, reasonably priced and have work books which can be done page by
page. They are appealing to work from and may children who have used them have found them good to work through. I have not used them so cannot make a personal judgement as yet.
CGP are a staple of most schools and are written by teachers. They have a pedigree I am aware of and have created a series of well written if a little dense texts which again have workbooks and resource books. For some children the amount on the page maybe too much for them. If you decide to go for these books then think about this factor. Some people prefer a lot more white on the page to think through. I would recommend their Homework Series and the one designed for year 4 is very good indeed.

Schofield and Sims offer a wide range of books and best found on the net as the range is so large few stores carry many of their publications. One of the best they produce is their Problem Solving set of books; year 4 would require book 2, whilst year 5 is book 3 and year 6 is book 4. I have used book 3 with some

year 4 students but they tend to be the very bright ones as some of the concepts are way above what is being taught in schools. I favour these because they make the child think and use maths rather than just practice the skills. There are two other books I would suggest you buy and these are the Schofield and Sim books on Verbal and non-Verbal Reasoning, these two are some of the best I have seen and pupils find them easy to use.

Bond do a range of book specifically designed for the study of 11+ and they are very good. For year 4 students I would suggest these as really good resources and get them to work through the age related books which cover the maths and verbal reasoning; these two areas seem to be the main areas of testing and any practice here will support their overall learning. Once in year 5 then I would suggest the '10 Minute Test
booklets' in all four areas. The repetitive practice of say, one test a day, would do them well and get them into the habit of regular school work, which will help them once they are in the secondary school/grammar.
Go for the "9 - 10 years" set as this is a good level to work at and if they are true grammar material they will find this within their capabilities [with a little help form time to time].
But which do I go for? OK the best way to answer this is for me to imagine I was preparing my own child,
My shopping list would be;
  • Bond;10 minute tests in maths and English
  • Schofield and Sim; Verbal Reasoning and non-Verbal Reasoning
  • Schofield and Sim; Problem Solving 3 (although designed for year 5, I would expect my child to be able to do that, as mine would be ahead of the year group)
"But they get homework from school? How can they do this as well?"
School work always takes priority and that is an unwritten rule. However, there will be days when they have nothing and some school do not set much work after February half term.
There are as many websites as there are books and these can be a mine field to negotiate. I have a few I would recommend, but I will save that to another article.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Where should my child be around about now?

One of the most common questions at the moment is, where should we be, in terms of percentage marks, with the practice test papers? And my answer in each case is, exactly where they have achieved at the moment. It sounds an odd response but when pupils first do some of these practice tests and experience the questions, the timing of the test papers and the sheer expectation of knowledge from the questions, many will find the experience daunting and a little bit frightening.
For some, it is the first time they realise how much they have to do and to learn. This will effect them in one of two ways, they will either rise up and go for it or they will shrink back and get tearful and worried.
In an article I wrote some time ago I referred to the time when they will go through 'the crisis of confidence' because reality of what the 11+ entails has dawned on them; it is only after this that we can re-build and then watch the grades increase as their self reliance, self belief and acceptance improves and carries them through.
Stressful for parents, because they want to support and nurture.
The best way to support them is to allow them space to have the crisis and tell me so we can then move the learning to the next stage.
They are not 'frightened' or 'terrified' or any of the words they may use to express how they feel; they are just shocked and worried you may feel they are letting you down - often their only true fear. The best way to support and nurture is to let them know you love them regardless and wont 'tell them off' in the way they feel you might. Its a strange time for them but they have to go through this stress to realise your love and support is as you say unconditional and that their marks wont mean you will 'send them away', 'shout and scream' or 'hate them' all of which I have heard over the years from children terrified of their parent's reactions to things.
They could use their tears to manipulate you into helping them do the test and again this is something to resist. A crying child tugs at the heart strings and you are so desperate to make them feel better, you end up 'taking the stress away', that is, by doing the test with them/for them. Resist!
This is hard love that will give them the independence they will need.
So, they are all in the right place right now, and after the crisis the levels they are at present will become a distant memory and they will improve each time they do a test.
Where should they be in the end? as a rough bench mark;
Skinners and TGGS would equate to 95% in all four areas
Weald and TBG would equate to 75% and above in all four areas
top sets at secondary 65% to 75% in all four areas

Monday, February 10, 2014

Retrieving all I know

When starting a story, it is so easy just to write, to produce the stream of unconsciousness that I have already talked about. The number of children who say, “I’m ok, I can do this without planning,” or, “I find it easier without planning it first.”
What they are really saying is, ‘I have got in the habit of just writing and got away with it up until now and no-one has stopped me, so why should I change a habit I have developed? What is the incentive for me?’
The incentive is better stories, better writing and better grades, but that is something the child may not appreciate until others in their class is doing just that and they are being left behind. What I am hoping is they will start to see the standards of writing I am showing here and realise others ARE planning and creating pieces of work of higher levels.
So here is one of just such a story, written after working with Dad on thinking through the process of ‘all I know’. The piece was from the comprehension, A Japanese Family, and is the ‘ideas for writing section’.
His Dad and he went for a walk and thought about all he knew about the country, Japan, being poor and having little food or belongings; having to work all the hours of sunlight and how this would change his life if he had to live it. He was thinking about the situation and creating a set of images which he could relate to and utilised everything he knew. After planning, he then produced this piece. Not only will you hear his knowledge coming through but you will also see he has used the comprehension itself to lead him and give him ideas.
Hello, my name is Akikro and I am the eldest child in my Japanese family. I hate my life, but I have to do all this hard work. My dream is to make more money and to do whatever I want. I have hobbies, such as sport, but I never get to do any of that and I feel sad about it. This is my life and I have to deal with it.
In the morning, at 6.30am my entire family have to get up, burdened with completing the household chores. At 7.30am I have to take my sister to school, but we don’t look forward to it because its just one classroom full of dust. Even the paint is peeling off the walls. It is very hard to concentrate. No playtime, just maths and literacy. After five hours of hard school work, I take my sister home. I feel sorry for her; she is so young and does so much work.
When we get home I ask my Grandma if she has improved the land for better crops, but all she says is, “I have made some wholesome food for you, but that’s all.”
After I have put on my wellies, I go outside to help my Dad fishing. All I like about fishing is throwing the line, I don’t like taking the hook out of the fish’s mouth, but I am determined to get over it. We don’t have any companions or allies to help us fish, so it’s just me and Dad.
When I go to bed, I dream about becoming a better fisherman, ‘to improve the quality of my life’.
So that’s my day, and guess
What the next day, I just do it
All over again!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Results are In

6 Winners

5 Runners Up

Tempting Fate has been read, reviewed and judged and there are five clear winners, all creating not only a well written piece, but also took the title into account and made it the focus of their short story.
Well done to all the winners, and equally well done to those who were a close second. Prizes await, but who will be claiming them, only by attending will you find that out.
To all of you who took part, well done, all of you are getting much higher levels in your writing now, and that is always a pleasure to see.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Using a plan

Following on from the blog about planning and how five headings can give you the paragraphs, whilst the subsequent five bullet points can give you the content of those paragraphs, I received this short story about Psyche and Venus, in response to the final question in their comprehension homework.

Psyche's father had just left her room when suddenly, Psyche heard a blood curdling scream echoing through the corridors. She leapt out of bed, only to find her father dead on the floor. He had been murdered.
High in the sky and a long way off, the goddess Venus laughed with delight at the sight of Psyche's face. She would definitely win this time.
Two weeks later, Psyche was playing in the garden with one of her sisters. She was playing hide-and-seek. When it was her turn to 'seek', it was as soon as she turned her back, she heard another scream. She ran to her sister who was dead on the floor.
Two more weeks later, she was petting her dog, when another scream occurred in the next room. In that room, her second sister lay dead on the floor. Psyche's eyes filled with tears.
Venus' evil laugh grew louder at the sight of Psyche. She thought to herself, 'if all this doesn't work then it is me who is not beautiful.'
Venus was right. Soon after her second sister's death, Psyche's hair lost its shine, her teeth lost their sparkle and her lips lost their ruby colouring and nobody ever thought she was beautiful again.
So, what is the structure here? What are each of the main headings and where are the bullet points?
If we look at the story, Mia has used,
  1. Death of her father
  2. Venus gloating
  3. Psyche's sister dying
  4. Second sister dying
  5. Venus gloating more
  6. Loss of Psyche's beauty
So in fact, Mia used 6 boxes, creating six paragraphs and the continuity of the story can be seen in the way the boxes, or paragraphs, follow on, one after the other.
Looking at the six paragraph titles, what were her bullet points?
  •  death of father
    • father says good night
    • scream from the corridor
    • rushes out to find father dead
  • Venus gloating
    • high in sky laughing
    • knew she would win
  • Psyche's sister dying
    • playing hide and seek
    • Psyche covers eyes
    • screaming
    • death of sister
..and so on. Although this is a de-construction of the story, one can see how a plan such as the one outlined before can be used to create a very good plan of what to write. Eventually, the student will be able to do this in their heads, but to start with, give them guidance;
  1. Thinking of the story, what five major events are going to happen?
  2. For each of those events, what is going to happen in each one?
  3. What order would it be best to write these events? [give them paragraph numbers]
  4. What good words could you use to show off your skills?
  5. How are you going to introduce some speech? Where would be good? What are they going to say?
  6. Let's think of connectives, which of these could we use and where [I will give you another set as soon as I have typed out the chart]
As you can see, by asking them these sort of questions they can structure what they are going to do and then the writing of it becomes a lot more painless.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Taking the writing further

When children start to string ideas together, it tends to be more a stream of consciousness rather than a considered project. When it streams, it is either one very long sentence (the unconscious mind doesn't have punctuation) or many short, stilted ones where the object of the story or topic is repeated over and over again.
An example of this would be;

"Jack went into the garden to play. When Jack got to the garden he saw his football and kicked it about. After thirty minutes Jack stopped kicking his football. Jack came inside and had his tea."

the repeat being on the boy's name.
Or we could have had;

"Jack went into the garden and in the garden he found his football so he started kicking his football about and he kicked his football for thirty minutes before he came back inside and had his tea."

the stream of consciousness. In both cases I am presuming we have used capital letters and full stops adequately, but that too can be an issue.
Then there are the pupils who agonise over what they are going to write because they don't want to write something they think will be unworthy. I know of some students who will spend days thinking of the idea and after maybe a few days of tears, worries, and mum almost screaming, "Please, just sit down and write it!" They produce something of exceptional quality.
So how do we break through?

It's all in the planning

When they first start planning, it will be a nightmare, but as they get used to it, and as time proves how successful it is, the process becomes easier and in the end they will complete it in their heads. Take for example the Blog I recently posted, Phrasing the ideas, that student planned his writing, but it was all done in his head and the final tidying of the piece was completed as he wrote. This is what we are aiming for, but to start with it takes time and practise.


Setting up the plan

once the title, or the subject of the piece is decided upon, the next stage is to get a series of basic ideas down on paper. Create 5 boxes big enough to get 5 bullet points in each and a title saying what each is about. Then come up with 5 different stages in the story. Here's and example;
Dara catching and riding the dragon
  • going to find a dragon
    •  climbing into the mountains
    • hate heights, hate looking down
    • hear a horrific noise and get frightened so I hide
    • see a huge, beautiful dragon land just a few metres from me
    • recognise the type of dragon
  • finding and catching the dragon
    • dragon sees me and snorts
    • I give it some food with a sleeping potion in it
    • dragon eats and drifts to sleep
    • put saddle and bridle on it and wait
    • dragon wakes up and is shocked
  • having a problem riding it
    • dragon takes off and loops about
    • hang on with all my might
    • terrified by being high up
    • close my eyes and nearly fall off
    • grab his neck and scream
  • getting organised and riding into the sky
    • dragon realises I am frightened
    • is a female dragon, thinks I am a baby dragon
    • is nicer to me and is careful
    • start to understand
    • fly into the sky and enjoy it
  • showing those who teased me I have done it.
    • fly over the school 
    • see boys on playing fields
    • swoop down
    • frighten them
    • they see its me and can't believe it
.....and now the plan is done, the story is all but written. The more they practise this the easier it gets and in the end they will find they are doing this sort of planning in their heads.