Saturday, 21 January 2012

Adapting to Change

I've been absent from blogging for a month or two for a variety of reasons, but at the moment it's my final placement that's keeping me busy. That being said, it's also giving me an awful lot I'd like to write about and I guess reflecting on the week in a blog would be a handy addition to my more formal weekly review, so why not share what I've learned this week?

I wasn't blogging this time last year, but I'd just come hot off a very successful 8-week placement in a Year 6 class that I enjoyed immensely. I found teaching Year 6 to be something that I felt really suited me. They would understand my use and balance of humour in my teaching  for a start, which made me feel much more comfortable in front of them, in turn removing that 'fear' that children seem to have a sixth sense for and take advantage of. Not only that, but I got a sense that I had really pushed them on in a short space of time by giving  detailed written feedback on their writing and giving them plenty of time to respond to it through their writing or through conversations. I advanced my skills in assessment from almost non-existent to being able to identify the level of a piece of writing to within a sublevel without the aid of the APP grids, and used APP for maths extensively in the last few weeks of practice.

I think this is where the difficulty in balancing out my practice arises, however. I'd become accustomed to the year group - the assessment, the behaviour, the expectations, the teaching style - and while I feel I made immense progress in my professional development, it was only when I looked back at it recently that I'd made progress in a specific area of the profession, for a specific group. I'm not saying my progress was useless, far from it, but the teaching style and  I had developed and felt comfortable with was going to have to change.

So I began my placement in a mixed Year 1/2 class with some trepidation. I say some trepidation, I was genuinely scared. Although I'd had two previous placements in Y1/2, I just wasn't feeling confident (and for those of you that don't know me - that's unusual!) because I knew I'd almost have to start again from scratch. Regardless of how confident I felt, I wanted to get over it and hit the ground running. The more I teach, the more I realise how much there is still to learn. I'm reminded of Rumsfeld's 'known unknowns' speech, but the more I know what I don't know, the more I want to know, you know?

Credit: Jason Bresnehan
The most obvious difference I've come across is just how practical everything has to be and that's something that, although I'm beginning to improve, I am still very much getting used to. The children need something to grab their attention because they don't have developed enough cognitive skills to be able to simply sit there and listen, watch or observe. They need to DO, they need to see things BEING DONE. Words and numbers are relatively abstract concepts at this stage in comparison to my previous experience and my teaching needs to change to reflect this. Early on in my teaching this placement, I have found myself being frustrated by lots of minor behaviour issues, not paying attention, talking, fidgeting, etc. The important thing for my development here is that (mostly) it's not their fault, it's mine. I look back at an activity and think  that instead of showing them on the board, why don't I get them to do it? Why don't I get them to BE the numbers and move them around? Why don't I get one of them to BE the crocodile that eats the bigger number? The more practical I have made an activity, the better I find they respond and engage with not only the learning, but with my teaching too.

Credit: Shawnee State University
The second difference I've noticed is the assessment, which I'm going to have to spend a lot of time getting used to. As I mentioned earlier, I got to grips with APP for literacy and maths where I was assessing lots of written evidence. In key stage one, written evidence is a lot more difficult to produce and so a lot more of the assessment is weighted observationally and through discussion. It's something that is overwhelming me at the moment, but I'm sure as my experience grows I'll look back and think otherwise.

I think experience is a key word here. So far, my experience is limited and in order to be a better teacher, I need more experience, but particularly I need more varied experience. My opinion in the last week or two has changed dramatically from being fearful of the key stage to being excited about learning more. I've realised that in order to become the most complete teacher I can be, I need to fill in as many of the gaps, the 'known unknowns', as possible.

In order to further this, my class teacher organised for me to spend some time in the nursery and reception classes. I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to learn more about where my children had come from in order to teach them more effectively, but I did not realise just how different it was. It seems that teachers are not the only ones that have to adapt - the transition process looks quite jarring if taken in the context of the spring term, before the reception class are preparing for transition and after the year ones have had their transition term. 

I won't go in to too much detail on what I saw, as I wrote a fair old block of a blog post back in May, but what I took away was that I really think that I should go and do some research on the EYFS. How children cope from the free-play, free-choice activities of the early years setting to the more teacher-lead activities in KS1 could be an interesting point to draw upon for my own teaching. Perhaps I might find success in re-introducing more choice into the lessons? The sticking point would be the fact I've got a mixed class - How would the year twos respond? Perhaps I could offer each yeargroup the choice of activity by ability? So many ideas, so many questions, but as yet, so little experience. It's at this point I'm very glad that I can count @trainieteacher and @kforeilly as not just friends, but colleagues too - They've both spent the last 4 years learning about and experiencing EYFS first hand so doubtless I'll be able to draw on them and the community I now feel a part of to help me out. 

If you've managed to read through my wall of text without getting bored, by all means leave a comment - I'd love some suggestions of ideas I could try to help me out!


  1. Nice blog post JC. I am actually the opposite to you, felt like I was in my element last time in Year 1, now I'm in Year 5 and finding it much more difficult, though enjoying not having to make so many resources. I'm pretty sure you're not alone, we all have areas that we feel better in that others! You'll be fine!! Leah

  2. It's funny how personal preference makes such a difference. I'm definitely changing my opinion of KS1 and the early years. I've always known it's hard to teach, but maybe because I've developed so much since the last time I experienced it, it's only now that I can see what the teachers get out. The simple things can really make an impact. A child being able to complete a piece of work independently yesterday made my week for example!

  3. Wow you're being very open minded, its great to see that someone from the BEd course has realised that the ECS students do more than just play with playdough!;D Working with young children can be really rewarding, I find myself watching them all the time; just taking in what they do and how they do it. This does not mean assessment, this is just general observations on what the children are interested in. If we really know the children then then we have realistic expectations in their learning. For example during this week (during pet week) I have noticed that all the children seemed to like pretending to be dogs and being led around the room. From these observations we created an activity that involves making dog collars using beads. The children did not even know that they were practicing their fine motor skills and were creating a repetitive patterns. I had four year old boys sat down for hours doing this.
    My advice is to just watch the children, take the opportunity during lunch/break duty to see what your children are interested in. Another idea is to just ask the children, I'm sure they will give you lots of ideas!
    Keep us posted in what you get up to!

  4. I'm sorry, I forgot to mention how easy you all have it down in the playpens watching kids mess around with water and sand! Seriously, it's a real misconception that you have it easy. I think that assessment through observation is so much harder than assessment through writing. For one, you have no physical record of what happened to recall and draw on, unless you manage to record every minute of what every child does. Secondly, observation is so subjective. Two people could observe the same child doing the same thing and draw two different things from it.

    One thing I forgot while I was writing was the difference in HOW things are observed too. It makes so much more sense in the EYFS to observe a child and then see what they hit on the assessment foci rather than observe a child for a specific focus and almost ignore everything else. You get a more complete picture through the EYFS observation, but maybe that's countered by the physical records of the upper key stages? I'd like to make things have more of an EYFS spin, but if this is what life will continue to be like for the children as they progress through the years, is it counter-productive for me to try an approach they've been 'weaned' out of? Would that not make progress harder in later years when it becomes even less practical?