Monthly Archives: August 2010

(Every) Photo (tells a) Story

About three years ago we started looking at a central storage space on our server for the many photos that were being taken daily across the school by children and staff.   Each class has their own folder which makes it easy to grab a few photos to put together a photostory.   We use photostory for many things at schools, from Headteacher’s reports to governors, to assemblies and pupil’s projects. It is one of the many free  web tools that as a school we make great use of.

Photostory is a windows download that enables you to make slide shows, using your own music and text.   You can manipulate transitions and timings.   There are many other such programmes out there (animoto, photo peach, slide rocket etc…) but photostory is the one that really took off at Hawes Side.

As Head, I use photostory for two key reasons.   At the end of each term I collect together photos from over the past months, showing a range of the things that have been going on in and out of school.   I ask staff if there are key things I need to include, I check I have a good representation of each year group and then I put together a photostory with appropriate soundtrack to share with children and staff at our final assembly of the term.   We then make that photostory available to parents via the school blog.

I also use photostory for my Headteacher’s report to the governors.   They seem to prefer this to a lengthy written report!   I play the photostory showing them what’s been happening in school over the term and punctuate this with detailed commentary on any areas that need further explanation.   It also proves to be a good vehicle to prompt governors’ questions about what’s been going on in and around the place that they might have missed.

Classes make good use of photostory to motivate children, share ideas with them and to review topics.   The children use photostory at home to complete homework tasks.   A recent example was a Y4 pupil making a photostory at home to explain 3D shapes.   Other great examples this year have included photostories about Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela for a famous people topic.

We ran photostory workshops for parents this year also.   They loved being in school working with their children on the laptops!   Lots of family photos were used to create some fantastic family photostories.   It also means that the parents will get involved in school projects with the children now they know how they can help.

I’m sure there’s a lot more we can do with photostory and I know that this coming year I’ll be amazed, as always, by what the children and staff come up with.


Getting the balance right

In a meeting with our teaching and learning group last year, we discussed how much time in lessons is spent actively involved in independent learning as opposed to teacher directed.

We decided that at some stages (beginnings of topics etc) and in some lessons, a strong teaching input was needed. At most other times however, it was felt students benefited from being more actively involved in their learning.

To gauge how much time in lessons was generally teacher led/student passive and how much time students were active we decided to chart a lesson. Using a simple time chart (a sheet of paper with a horizontal time line through the middle. Above the line, teacher led, below the line, student active) the children tracked the lesson with a pencil going above and below the horizontal timeline minute by minute as appropriate.

The results showed that much more time than necessary was being spent with the teacher talking, not enough time was being given over to the active learning.

What did all of this tell us? Well firstly it surprised the teacher how much they spoke. It made it clear to them that student engagement didn’t rely on them in a didactic role and that we often overestimate how much we need to say before real, authentic learning can begin.

This experiment would work equally well if a teacher were to film their own lesson and play it back in private using a similar time chart. What it does is help teachers recognise whether or not they have got the balance right between teacher led and student centered learning. It can be a very useful took in shaping classroom practice.


Thinking about thinking

A while ago a headteacher colleague and myself attended a course on thinking skills. We were keen to develop these in our schools and came up with the following plan.

We set aside a joint inset day for both schools to work together the following year. We identified two key staff in each of our schools to attend training prior to our joint inset. Following the course we released the four teachers to work together, to talk through what they had found out and decide on approaches to try in their own classrooms. Along with us they planned the joint inset day for the beginning of the following year based on their own experiences of using thinking skills in the classroom and what they had learnt from their training.

For the training day itself we hired a local venue convenient for staff from both schools. We wanted the day to feel like a professional experience and give everyone an opportunity to engage in quality surroundings, in recognition of how importantly we viewed this training.

As headteachers, my colleague and I introduced the day. We introduced the staff who would be leading the sessions and handed over to them to talk about thinking skills in the classroom, how they had used key strategies, what had worked and what hadn’t etc. Their own experiences of implementation gave them a credibility with their peers and this was very important. If you’re being encouraged to try something new it is best to hear from someone who has already been there.

Throughout the day we tried out a range of practical ideas in groups. We tried De Bono’s thinking hats and thinking keys amongst others, discussing where and how they might be used to support learners. Schools were mixed and staff talked with each other about experiences beyond the day. Something we actively encouraged. It was the beginning of a local PLN!

At the end of the day staff were asked to decide on a strategy they would take away from the sessions and use in their own class. Contacts were exchanged and a follow up twilight was planned for the next term to share experiences.

The staff who led the training were delighted to have been given the opportunity. It was a chance for them to develop professionally beyond their class or school and lead their peers in a key area supported by their headteachers. The local authority also asked us if the teachers could lead sessions in other schools. Something they did with enthusiasm. It was a great CPD opportunity in many ways.

This kind of collaborative venture is not only hugely beneficial, as it enables a few schools to focus on specific areas of interest to them, but also important in today’s climate where funding and LA support is diminishing. Building networks, big or small, local or global is the way for schools to move forward in uncertain times. I know the staff involved in this project would fully support this view.


Gathering Momentum

As we near the beginning of a new school year and thoughts turn to the first few inset days that will usher in the autumn term, I am reminded of a CPD day from my first headship that was thoroughly enjoyed by staff, despite initial reservations.

The summer reading project.

My deputy and I were keen to involve staff in a quality inset day at the beginning of the school year. We wanted all teachers to feel a real sense of being an active part of the day rather than passive recipients. We believed this would give them more ownership over the experience and make the day more rewarding.

Before finishing for the summer break we bought everyone a carefully chosen book. The books were on areas of education we knew the teachers were interested in or wanted to develop in their classrooms. We sacrificed an earlier training day giving staff free time with the summer reading in mind. We asked each teacher to read their book over the six weeks and prepare a presentation for the first day back in school after the holidays. Despite some initial misgivings from one or two staff the response was fantastic. The presentations showed that everyone had really risen to the challenge. They talked passionately about what they had read and how they were going to try new ideas in their classroom as a result.

Individual teachers got a lot from their own presentations but just as much from hearing their colleagues talk with enthusiasm about their summer read. The quality and relevance of the day made it a huge success and one that enabled us to start the year on a real high.

Many thanks to @whatedsaid for prompting my memory with her post: Teachers teaching teachers! http://bit.ly/cPuVjv


From a whisper to a scream – the rise of technology in school

A bit of a novelty!

I entered the primary teaching profession in the early 90s. I remember my first class having a computer. An Acorn computer! The school also had some BBC computers, one or two children used them for special programmes that could be purchased on floppy discs. I remember buying one such programme to help children with dyslexia. The computers were not part of the furniture yet, they were a bit of a novelty and their potential limited to a small number of children.

A few programmes, a few users

That pattern of use continued in my first few schools. One or two computers might be in a class (or on the corridor) with a small number of programmes being used by a small number of children. I remember buying my first computer to find out what they could do, my 3 year old son spent endless hours on James Pond – now there was a game! The situation seemed to change towards the end of the 90s and I can remember arriving at my new school as Deputy Head and seeing an IT suite being installed. This was the future!

‘Add on’ rather than ‘integrated’

At St Peter‘s we not only had an IT suite (with approximately 15 computers) but some classes also had a bank of four computers to support learning. The popular programmes of the time were starspell and maths wizard. We also used textease to develop children’s skills with simple cutting and pasting, changing font sizes etc…Heady times! I don’t recall anything too adventurous happening and if the programmes crashed we’d have to wait for the technician to make his weekly visit to school to put things right. We’re not talking about an indispensable tool here! Children would be timetabled to use the class computers and to use the IT suite (half the class would go and develop their ‘skills’ while the other half stayed in class) the whole experience was ‘add on’ rather than ‘integrated’.

The rise of the interactive whiteboard

My move into headship coincided with the epiphany that was the interactive whiteboard! Suddenly a new tool had arrived that everyone in the class could benefit from. Initially one or two classes had IWBs and we would timetable those classes out to everyone. Eventually we were able to fund IWBs in every class which made life much easier and timetabling less of a chore!

Down with IT Suites!

As I moved onto my second headship IT suites were just about to be demonised! ICT was now beginning to be seen as integral to the curriculum as a whole, as something to permeate learning across the board rather than as a discrete subject with its own equivalent to the science lab. Hawes Side had must have been one of the last schools to have an IT suite built before they went out of fashion!

Mobile solutions – from discrete to integrated learning

The move to mobile learning helped move IT into common parlance around the school. It isn’t a lesson taken twice a week in the IT suite, it is readily available at all times to support learning. The rise in the number of laptops around the school and lap trolleys to move class sets from one place to another has provided an further opportunity to support the children’s learning with technology.

The growing number of laptops and netbooks has recently been complimented by the introduction of handheld devices. Like many other schools, we have begun to use itouches with the children bringing the learning experience closer to home. The children are happy and excited to use the itouches, they quickly understand its capabilities and readily push their learning with them.

VC and the rise of Web 2.0

The use of video conferencing has also grown over the last few years with the children and staff now considering its possibilities to enhance the learning experience when planning a new topic.  The rise of web 2.0 has opened up more possibilities than you could shake a stick at, it has given schools the opportunity to move learning from the local to the global, to help develop learners for a changing world, to make a difference in a world of difference.   It is a challenge that the best teachers readily respond to.