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Thursday, 27 June 2019

SexEd Up?

It's that magical time of year.  Writing moderations are done; you have taken up semi-permanent residence in the hall to rehearse your production (it'll be fine - it always is); your Year 6 children are in full 'We've outgrown this place' mode.  It's time to have...


THE TALK!




SRE (Sex and Relationship Education), despite recent media hype, is not yet mandatory in UK primary schools (it will be from September 2020).  Nevertheless, most schools have a policy to discuss puberty and relationships with their Year 6 children around this time of year. 

I have held this discussion with over 300 children over the course of the last ten years.  I have fielded questions from the deeply concerning to the immensely humorous.  I have held single- and mixed-sex talks.  I have had that awkward chat with more than one parent persuading them that withdrawing their child would not be in their best interests.  I've led the talk in faith and secular schools.  It has always been rewarding, easy and fun.  It is nothing to be scared of!

Before I get into my tips, it is worth remembering that there is not a lot that will come as a surprise to them, having covered mammalian reproduction already in science.  It is also worth remembering that the children live in a world where information is not difficult to come across.  And let's be clear, by 'information', I mean the children finding their own answers to those tricky questions.

It is a sad fact but the internet has made it super easy for primary-aged children to access explicit material.  According to a BBC article on the subject:


"About 53% of 11- to 16-year-olds 
have seen explicit material online."

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36527681


More specifically, it reported that 28% of 11- to 12-year-olds have seen pornographic images.  True, not all of them have actively sought it out but some have (11%, apparently).  This is troublesome for so many reasons including, but not limited to: desensitisation, negative body image, misunderstanding what sex is, issues around consent, peer pressure to conform, and so it goes on.  It's really quite depressing and uncomfortable for even a grown adult to research.

With that introductory pre-amble out of the way, here are my top tips for having THE TALK with Year 6 children.



1.
Keep it light!

The children are going to be nervous, embarrassed and excited.  Heck, you may be all those things as well.  Embrace it.  Let them giggle.  You will giggle.  In my experience, you will outright big-belly laugh at some of the gems they come up with.  It's okay.  It is a serious subject but that means it is vital that it be a safe environment.

If you are worried about some children going too far, begin by explaining that they are having THE TALK because their parents and the school believe they are mature enough to.  Explain that mature people know when to giggle and when to calm down.  

They want to be involved.  They'll measure up.  That being said, give them an exit strategy.  I've said on more than one occasion: "If you think you need to take a bit of time out, then sensibly leave the room for a couple of seconds.  You won't be judged. Don't disturb anyone and come back in when you're ready."  Some children need that.  Works wonders!


2.
You'll need scrap paper.

This is essential.  The children are far more likely to ask questions if they can write them down.  There are a few ways to do this.  The easiest one for you as a teacher is to provide a tray for each group or row (let's not get into that debate here!).  When the children have written their question (anonymously), they fold it and put it in the tray and your TA (if you're lucky enough to have one) regularly collects them up.

Another way, and a good way to get the ball rolling, is to have them each write a question, all up their paper and throw it at you.  You WILL get children writing more than one question just to throw more things at you.  You WILL end up with the same question several times.  You WILL have inappropriate questions (more on that later).  You WILL end up with blank pieces of paper.  All of this is fine.  It breaks the tension and gets the children used to writing down questions.

If your school is very tech-savvy, you can create a JamBoard (www.jamboard.google.com) and share it with the class so they can add their question directly to the IWB.  I think this is overkill though (and I love me some tech).  The analogue, personal approach is far better for the topic.

3.
Have another adult.

This is so important.  Ideally, have a second adult who is the opposite gender - even if you have split the groups into male and female - there will be questions asked that can be answered better, or at least reinforced by a second adult.

That second adult will also help to back you up when it comes to fielding inappropriate questions.

4.
Let them ask anything.

I always make it a point to tell the children that they can ask anything.  Anything at all.  Their questions should never be taboo.  The flipside to that is that you can only answer questions that relate to the subject.  That subject is relationships and puberty.  If a question falls beyond that remit, you apologise; you say that it is an interesting question; you say that you can't answer it here but maybe they can bring it up with their parents.  Remember, all the questions are anonymous (even though you will usually know exactly who write what) so try not to look directly at the child when you are saying this.

And you will get inappropriate questions.  Some will be deliberately disruptive (I've had opened a piece of paper that asked: How many times have you had sex?) and some will be innocent (Why do some people have sex in bums?).  If it's not about puberty, you don't have to answer it.  But don't shame it either.

If you're interested, I fielded both of these questions with the following responses: This is a question that I'm not going to read because it's not about what we're discussing here.  So if your question wasn't answered in front of everyone but you really want an answer, come and see me afterwards.  The silly questioners will not come and see you afterwards.

5.
Ask them how many names they know for genitals. 

This is a great one to start with as it breaks the ice and, frankly, it is just plain funny.  It also means that you get to make the whole thing dull by closing this episode saying that, since you are the teacher and this is a lesson, you will be using the scientific terms, penis and vagina, exclusively.  Then watch them squirm as they realise they've just heard their teacher say 'penis' and 'vagina.'  It's hilarious.

Side note: be careful how you word things.  I once had a very pedantic girl in my class who asked how I was going to give sensible answers if I was going to use 'penis' and 'vagina' exclusively.  She very kindly informed me that I would at least need some verbs as well.  At least I had learned something during those SPaG lessons.

6.
Be prepared for it to take more than one afternoon.

To do this properly, you cannot rush.  Take your time; field every question.  At this stage in the year, you've earned it (so have they!).  Just make sure that you explain that, while they as Year 6 children, have been cleared to discuss these things, there are younger children in the playground who have not.  Remind them that part of being mature enough to have THE TALK is knowing when not to discuss it.

Don't get excited, it's just dolphins.

Honestly, I could go on and on about this.  But I'll keep it to six things.  If you have more, please leave them in the comments below.  Likewise, if you think I've missed something, please '@' me on Twitter (@Mr_M_Musings) or leave a comment below.  

I'm not calling this a definitive list at all.  This is simply my experience of THE TALK.  I'd be fascinated to hear your own experiences.  Thanks for reading!



mrmorristeacher@gmail.com       @Mr_M_Musings          www.mrmsmusings.com

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Hey! Have you read... Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors?

Welcome to a Book Review!

Picture from mathgear.co.uk/products

**The First Ever Maths Book to be a No.1 Bestseller**

'Wonderful ... superb' Daily Mail


I was watching YouTube a few weeks ago and I happened upon a video of Matt Parker's RICL entitled: What Happens When Maths Goes Wrong?  I have watched a few of Matt's videos before (check out his Stand-Up Maths channel; you won't regret it) but had never really put a name to the face.  This was an example of 'oh, that guy!'

I won't get into the video beyond saying that it is worth a watch if you have an hour spare.  I'll link to it below.  No, this post is about the book that was launched to coincide with this lecture - Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors.

First off, this book is intended to be read by those of us not proficient in the deeper level of mathematics.  I'm sure that you would still get a kick out of it if you know Euclid's Elements word-perfectly, but that, alas, is not me, so I can't speak to that.  What I can do is reassure everyone that the maths contained in this book is anecdotal only; there is no need to reach for a calculator.

Rather, this book is a collection of stories from across the history of, as the title suggests, mistakes made in the field of maths.  It ranges from simple division mistakes (resulting in quite a spurious assertion made against Obamacare) to quite drastic errors resulting in life-threatening situations.

Without getting into spoilers, the book should take about a week to get through, so it's not that hard going.  Most of the time will be taken up with you reading paragraphs aloud to anyone in the room willing to listen.  My poor wife was the victim of many 'can-I-just-read-you-one-more-bit...?' instances.  But the book is that entertaining!  It's written in in the same light-hearted tone that Parker uses in his videos and you can hear his slight Australian twang emanating from the page.

Why should I care?

Not only is it a very entertaining read; it is filled with examples of maths being applied in real-world situations.  As Parker points out several times, maths is everywhere. He even asserts that civilization would not have evolved had it not been for mathematics.

Enter that child who says 'I don't care about [insert difficult maths topic here]; I'm never going to use it.  You will find an example where it has been used.

Much more importantly though, for all those children who beat themselves up for making a mistake, or worse, refuse to even take the risk in the first place, this book serves as a celebration of mistakes.  That, I think, more than anything is the most important take-home for children.  If learning is a journey, then it is one over a very deep and dangerous lake of knowledge.  Mistakes are the stepping stones across that lake.  For children to know that mistakes are things that adults make as well is so important.

This book does not shy away from how difficult some areas of maths can be.  For that matter, it doesn't shy away from how easy it is to complicate simple maths to the point of obfuscation (forgive a little pretension: I love the word 'obfuscation').  Again though, I think it is important for children to be told that sometimes, things are difficult.  Parker highlights this and quotes himself towards the end of the book:
Mathematicians aren’t people who find maths easy; they’re people who enjoy how hard it is.
Where can I get a copy?

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors is available now from all good books shops both in the real world and online.  You can also get it direct from www.mathsgear.co.uk, where you will find links to more of Matt's stuff, including merchandise from the brilliant Festival of the Spoken Nerd.  Or you can just click the link below:




RICL video from YouTube


Carl Headley-Morris  - @Mr_M_Musings mrmorristeacher@gmail.com

Monday, 17 June 2019

Get Down with the Sickness

One of the things I like most about teaching is the opportunity to swap and share ideas and philosophies with other members of staff.  We have all lived wonderfully varied lives and the experiences of our colleagues can often provide more beneficial nuggets of CPD than most staff meetings.

This post is about one such nugget.  Spoilers - it gets a bit grim...



Picture the scene:  It is about halfway through the first Autumn Term and I am settling into my role at a new school.  The weather has turned, rather quickly, from the gentle, still-sunny days of September to a rather brutal October onslaught of torrential rain and cruel wind.  Every other child in my class has a cold and, being the generous little carrier monkeys that they are, they have given it to me.

However, I am a teacher and, despite my wife's logical protestations, I go into work.

A brief pause in the narrative for some audience participation.

Hands up if you have ever heard yourself say some variant of the following:

You don't understand; I have to go in.  The children need me to be there.  We're starting/finishing a big/important/exciting piece of work/new topic.  I wish I could stay home, but I just can't.

We've all said it.  Generally, it is teacher-talk for 'I haven't planned my week nearly well enough to leave work for a supply teacher.'  So, feeling like Death interning at the Customer Services department of a local council office, we drag ourselves to school.  Breaking the 'if they're sick, please keep them at home so that other people don't catch it' rule we offer many a parent.  We are the teacher; we must teach!




Back to the story...

I had dragged myself into school and I must have looked "proper rough" because the first thing my (very lovely) year-group partner said to me was, "Carl, you look terrible.  You should go home."

I gave the usual protestations but she interrupted me with some of the best advice I have ever received from a colleague:

"Carl, on the way home tonight you could get hit by a bus and die.  Your class would have a teacher in the morning.  You are wonderful but you are replaceable."

 Now, I'm an Aries, so the thought of the world continuing to spin without me is very difficult to grasp, but she was absolutely right.  I'm not saying that the children wouldn't miss me but the school would replace me.  They'd have to.  And if they could replace me permanently, then they could cover me for a day.  I would love to say that I took my freshly Tyler Durden-ed self to the Head's office there and then to announce that I was ill and was going home.  I didn't (of course I didn't!).  I crawled through the rest of the day and said that I would not be in the next day.

The point is this: as teachers, we are important; not essential.  Too often we feel like the world will explode if we take a sick day.  It won't.  Or we feel this immense guilt because little Rebecca doesn't react well to strange adults and if she reacts badly then the whole class will be disrupted.  She might; it will be managed without you.

As teachers, we have decided to enter a profession where we give more than we get.  To do that effectively, we have to be at our best (or at least 85% or above).  You can't do that if you're ill.  And let's not forget the myriad other duties you have to perform.  Teaching is draining both mentally and physically.  At the risk of repeating myself, you have to be healthy to do it.



I know that some management teams have a habit of making you feel like you are breaking some sort of law when you call in sick.  Often the paperwork on the subject becomes very demanding: You must call, NOT text, before 7am... and I understand why.  Schools have to be able to book supply cover and the good ones, the really good ones are booked out by 8am.  It also makes sense that you have to call and not text.  In fact, looking beyond the implied strictness, it is a very reasonable request.  Plus, our contracts allow for a certain amount of sick days (usually between 6 and 8) in any given year.  On top of this, when you do make the phone call, you're often told to get well and let the school know if you'll be in the next day.  

Most importantly though, the world doesn't end.  Just like it didn't end when you went on that CPD course you were excited about (not for the CPD, for the lava-hot coffee and those biscuits that come in packs of two).  Just like it hadn't ended during all those years you weren't a member of the school, and just like it won't end after you leave that school for another (or for something totally different - more on that in posts-yet-to-come).

I know that school funding is being cut and supply budgets are not what they were but they do still exist.  Anyway, at the risk of sounding blunt, as a teacher, the budget is not your concern.  Your concern is your class and their progress.  They will progress better with a teacher who is not mainlining pure Lemsip and stuffing their nostrils with tissues.  

Take a day; get better.  If you feel really guilty, you can text your TA at lunchtime.

Carl Headley-Morris  - @Mr_M_Musings mrmorristeacher@gmail.com

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Mark My Words...

I was recently lucky enough to attend a webinar (if you can, in fact, attend a webinar) delivered by Craig Neville.  It was a very good way to spend around an hour of my evening so I thought I would share my take-home with you lovely people.

First of all, I would like to publically thank Craig for his presentation, which was very close to my own philosophy on marking and helped me to once again feel like a sane person in the face of many awkward conversations I have had in SLT meetings in various schools through the years.


Essentially, the discussion centered around the four pillars of what marking in schools should be:


  • Consistent
  • Meaningful
  • Manageable
  • Motivating

It is so important to remember that not everything needs to be marked.  We've all taught lessons that were either a) purely an exercise in applying a taught skill - a sandbox, if you will, in which the children can hone their newly acquired skills without fear of retribution, or b) a complete trainwreck where nothing went well, the children came away even more confused and we curse the ground for not swallowing us whole. These lessons NEED NOT BE MARKED! What would be the benefit?

Note, however, these lessons (especially the trainwreck ones) should be evaluated and revisited. The children's work should be looked at (before burning to remove all evidence - we must, after all, remain flawless in our professionalism) and lessons should be learned (by us, if not the children). But marking them would be a waste of ink. More importantly, it would be a waste of time.

So don't mark those ones.

If you've made it this far, well done! Aren't you brilliant? You have succeeded in reading to this point! Don't you feel special? All warm and glowy? No? Well that's okay because it was also discussed that marking purely for motivation is a bit of a waste of time as well. I'm not saying (nor was Craig) that the occasional 'Well Done!' is unwarranted. There are those children who have tried and struggled and have finally managed to succeed; those children deserve recognition... but would it not be more meaningful to verbally reward them? I know, I know, children read their comments and we give them time to act on them (don't we? Be honest!) but verbal praise in front of peers can often be more meaningful.

Of course, the other end of motivational marking is the dreaded 'you have to write something to prove that you've looked at the book' situation. To this, I argue that the next lesson should be evidence that you've looked at the books. The mere fact that the children are making progress is evidence that you've looked at the books. Discussing with the children about what you found when you looked at the book should be evidence that you've looked at the bloody books!

I have always been a great believer in promoting best learning behaviours in children; I'm just not convinced that spending time writing them a note informing them that they have done what they were expected to have done is all that beneficial.

I guess, in a nutshell, I'm saying that if the marking is motivating it should also mean something. So let's have no more policies that include 'Well done's or stickers for expected outcomes.

It can take upwards of two hours to mark just one day of English and Maths work in 30 books. Ofsted says: Marking should not create unnecessary workload. So what's happening? Why do we do it? We do it because it's in the marking policy, which Ofsted also says should be followed consistently through the school. Great, thanks, Ofsted. Useful advice. there. What happens if your marking policy insists of triple-layer-feedback marking for every piece of work? Which some do (I've worked in a few schools that have insane ideas on how much time we have to mark books. Even to the point where I was advised by the Head to 'just take it home and do it while you watch TV tonight'!).

The problem with these seemingly contradictory guidelines is that school management write the policies, while front-line staff have to follow them. I was in a staff meeting once that had been called as (and I wish I was kidding) an 'emergency reaction to abysmal marking and feedback practices.' Seriously. As a staff, we were to retroactively go back through every book (core and foundation subjects) and ensure that every piece of work was marked and had an appropriate comment in the form of a question for the children to answer. This was, after all, policy.

Imagine the horror when I suggested that we, as a staff, go through the books and the policy and see if there were things that no longer apply. I suggested that, if the children were still making progress, despite not partaking in what amounted to a penpal relationship with the teacher, then surely the marking we were doing was fine? Furthermore, I had the cheek to suggest that the marking policy be updated (it was written in the early 2000's) to reflect the most recent, relevant ideas, and that we should focus more on effective feedback that simply making the books look pretty (oh yes, it was one of those schools that insists on several different colour codes that the children never learn). My ideas were not met with enthusiasm by SLT.

Okay, so what? What do we do about it?

I'm glad you asked. Below are some ideas about how to better manage the marking workload for teachers. Some are my ideas, some are Craig's ideas, some I have taken from Pinterest (if you're a teacher and you don't regularly search Pinterest for marking idea, what are you doing? Well, marking books, I guess. Nevermind, as you were...). Please feel free to steal them and pass them off as your own in your next staff meeting!

1.
Don't mark it all yourself.

Everyone in the classroom is responsible for the children's progress. Ergo, everyone should be responsible for marking and providing feedback. This includes teachers, TAs and children. I don't see the point in a maths lesson that does not build in 10 minutes to mark the work. It is the quickest way for children to see if they have understood the lesson and can completely change lessons that follow, or groups that need to be formed.

Further to this, have three book piles for the children to deposit their books into as they leave the room. One for 'I get it all; I don't need help.' One for 'I think I need a bit of support.' And one for 'I am totally lost. Please help!'

I have heard protestations of damaging children's self-esteem if they are encouraged to admit that they need help but this is nonsense. Children know when they need help and the majority don't mind asking for it. The ones that may be a little self-conscious, in my experience, simply put their book in the middle pile. If they do put it in the 'I don't need help pile' then you just move it when you check through.

And yes, you do still have to check the books. But this is merely a check. You are no longer marking. It takes around 10 minutes to check (and I mean thoroughly check) 30 books and adjust your next lesson accordingly.

2.
Have an entry ticket.

I have used this to great effect. Essentially, I use my success criteria for the lesson to think of three AfL questions. One should be for those who have excelled and need to be stretched; one of those who have understood and need to independently apply that understanding; and one for those who have not grasped the concept. I write these questions on the whiteboard and give them a shape code (I use corners to denote the level of understanding. The more corners, the deeper the understanding. So, triangles for those who didn't get it; squares for those who need to show application and circles [infinite corners] for those who excelled).

Next, it is a simple case of going through the books and drawing the shape. I tended to add a nice wavy bubble to show the children where I wanted to see their answer. The beauty of this approach is that you can still give very focussed feedback to those children for whom it would actually make a difference. You can also draw more than one shape.

Using this approach, I have marked 30 books in a little over 5 minutes.

3.
Let the children do the work!

One for English now. I visited a school as part of a collaborative English Learning Hub (aren't we good at creating important-sounding names for ourselves?) and I looked through some books that were seemingly unmarked. I checked all the way back to September; not a jotting... save for some dots in the margin. Intrigued, I asked what the deal was.

"For every error, we mark the line with a dot. Two dots; two errors. It's up to the children to discuss, with their learning partners, what that error could be."

How genius is that? The dots related both to generic GPS errors and to the overall learning intention (both of which were highlighted during the lesson). The school didn't sweat the small stuff - if the focus was expanded noun phrases, then wayward commas were overlooked - and the children learned a lot from finding and fixing each other's mistakes.

But what about those wayward commas? Well, they became the focus either of a future lesson or of a quick recap the next day. Progression feedback was also delivered verbally the next day. Marking time for a class of 30: around 10 minutes.

Below is a table outlining various other methods for cutting the workload.

Again, thanks to Craig Neville for his brilliant webinar.  If this post has raised a smile or even piqued an interest, please visit his blog over at https://craigneville.com/2016/10/18/first-blog-post/ and tell him that I sent you!

Please also give this post a like; add a comment below; let me know if it was helpful... I'm new to this whole blogging thing so any feedback is good feedback!

Thanks!


Teacher
Student
Instead of...Teacher marks all the work
Provide answers/SC
Children use colour pen to mark according to SC
Writing annotation in the body of the work and giving an overall comment
Only write annotation in the body of the work
Writes an overall review highlighting two strengths and one area for improvement
Writing extensive comments
Only give one strength and two improvements (or, just improvements)
Works on the issue in dedicated class time (or finding their own strengths)
DIRT (Dedicated Improvement/Reflection Time)
Writing ‘well done, you have…’ to all good aspects of work
Double tick work that is correct (single, double, triple ticks - agree with school and students what each of these mean)
Comment on why double ticks have been given
Teacher marks the whole essay
Only mark certain elements or certain parts according to objectives
Highlight the areas they want closely marked
Teacher marks the same mistake over and over in every student’s book
Prepare a starter activity in which students relearn something
After completing starter, re-check work
Marking every question in detail that a student has completed
Highlight all the areas that would achieve marks/correct
Correct/review non-highlighted elements  
Writing in detail what students have done well
Only write what needs to be improved
Act on the improvements
Teacher marks an exam paper and provides students with a percentage
Provide students with mark scheme
Mark their own exam papers.
Teacher marks a whole piece of work
Mark half the piece of work and provides detailed feedback
Complete marking, bearing in mind the feedback provided
Teacher provides feedback and students act on feedback in every assessment
Ask student to write their previous target at the top of their new piece of work
Acts on target in piece of work providing them with more support

Carl Headley-Morris  - @Mr_M_Musings mrmorristeacher@gmail.com

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Mr M thinks the SATs are broken. Is he right (Y/N)? Explain your answer below:



I am not alone in thinking that the Year 6 tests are broken.  You only have to do a quick Twitter search at this time of year to find many a frustrated teacher posting, liking and commenting on the subject.  There are fewer people suggesting alternatives, though.  I read a lot of 'the SATs should be scrapped' and 'the tests are unfair'.  And now we have Corbyn promising to abolish them (to be replaced with...?  He's a little quieter on that front.).

Well, I was always told to provide a solution if I've spotted a problem.  I think I have one.

First, I need to point out that I don't think the Maths papers are a problem.  I am a big fan of the replacement of Mental Maths with Arithmetic.  If properly taught throughout Key Stage 2, children should not have any problems scoring highly on this paper at all.  The reasoning papers seem to have been fairly balanced since their introduction a few years ago, too.  I like that one paper leans more heavily on practical application and the other on more theoretical maths (as theoretical as 11-year-olds can get, at least).  So I think Maths has been fixed.  Good job there.

I also have no problem with the Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation paper.  I think this was needed as so many children I have encountered in Year 6 have struggled to tell me that a sentence needs a subject and a predicate (or even just 'a noun and a verb').  Again, if properly taught throughout Key Stage 2 (and 1 for that matter), SPaG should be an easy win.



My problem is, like many colleagues of mine, the Reading Comprehension paper.  Essentially, I do not like that this one-hour paper is a test of reading speed followed by a 'Guess-What-the-Examiners-Are-Thinking' exercise.  All too often I have had children suggest possible answers to past papers only to have to tell them that they would receive no points.  This is despite their answer being perfectly viable.  I get especially annoyed when it comes to poetry (blissfully a fairly rare occurrence).  How can the STA confidently demand objective answers to something that is, by its very nature, a subjective text?  It baffles me. 

On top of this, we have the classic complaint of the texts being out of touch with real children.  This year was a little better but overall the texts are all-but alien to the children. 

So what?  Do we just pander to the dumbing-down of children's literature?  Maybe have David Walliams write the contemporary texts and borrow something from Roald Dahl's back-catalogue for the classic (and deliberately more challenging) third piece?

Please God, no. 

I don't think we need to go to such extreme lengths.  I think we can keep the reading papers exactly the same.  Just as dry; just as alien.  There is a way to fix it.

Ready?  It's a crazy idea but it just might work...

Send the reading booklets out early.  


Yup.  Send every school in the country the reading booklets one month before the SATs are due to start.  Just the reading booklets, mind.  Not the questions (obviously).  That way, schools and staff have the opportunity to apply the Guided Reading techniques they have been practising for years.  No-one will know what the questions will be, so there is no chance of anyone getting an unfair advantage.  It will simply allow teachers to do their jobs: to teach children how to explore a text. 

Think of the excitement for the children - getting a 'sneak peek' at their big tests.  I guarantee their engagement will be palpable - sitting that Comprehension paper (that, by now, is truly a test of comprehension and not speed reading) with their anthology covered in their own notes, being able to answer some of the more 'find and copy' questions almost immediately from building so much familiarity with the texts; using the time they would have freed up to give deeper and more thought-out responses to the questions that begin with 'Why did...' or 'Explain how...'

It's also a lot more realistic.  Their next big, national tests are the GCSEs, for which they would have studied a couple of books for MONTHS!  Why do we expect children, only ~120 months old, to be able to excel in a blind book exam?  It's cruel.  So send out the booklets early.  Give them a chance.

Heck, only send out the first two texts.  Have the third, more challenging text be unseen if you feel you absolutely must keep some your secrets.  I'd have no problem with that.  It would be a good check to see which children actually achieve 'above expectations' instead of merely those who can read really quickly.

So that's my solution. 

Although I feel I should point out that these exams are supposed to be an end of Key Stage 2 assessment.  Too many Year 6 teachers are left to make a Hail Mary cavalry charge (if you'll forgive a mixed metaphor) in very little time.  I don't advocate end-of-year tests for every year group, but accurate, informal assessments need to be made and realistic, honest evaluations of progress need to be drawn and acted upon to fill gaps before the children get to the end game.  It's a thought for another time, but how many of us are compelled to give children grades that they really don't deserve due to pressure from SLT or governors?  How often have we heard 'their grades can't go down'?  Why not?  If the child's performance has dropped, isn't that really important to know about?  Shouldn't we be looking for those red flags in our data? 

Like I said, a thought for another time.  For now, just send those reading booklets a little earlier.  Give the kids a chance, eh?

Carl Headley-Morris  - @Mr_M_Musings      mrmorristeacher@gmail.com

Update on resources for home-learning!

Hello everyone!  I hope we are all okay and healthy.  If you, or anyone you know, is affected by COVID-19 then you have my sympathies and I...