Had a great week 'down south' last week and met some truly inspiring people. My southern tour kicked off with a celebration day of the project work that I have been doing with Hampshire LA looking at making great practice even better, not necessarily by changing it, but perhaps just looking at it from a different angle.
Everyone I am working with is a Leading Foundation Stage Practitioner (LFSP) for the borough, so they have lots of experience in their field and also support a number of other settings alongside the Local Authority.
I have been working with Amey and the team at Little 1's day nursery, Helen and her team at Noah's Ark pack away pre-school, Jodie and her parallel Reception class and staff at Crofton Hammond Infant School and Tim and his parallel Reception class and team at St Thomas Moore's Primary.
On my initial visit I did some observations and general poking about and then had a period of discussion with each of the LSFP's. This session became known as the 'ABC headache' session as apparantly I managed to give them all one by the time I left! It was through the 'headache' process that we identified a key area(s) of focus for the project and created and action plan.
Each practitioner then worked on that plan in their setting. I went back for a follow up visit and then we brought it all together at the celebration day with each of the gang giving a 'warts and all' presentation of their journey so far.
I thought it would be really interesting to share some of the things that we did. So, I am starting with Tim's presentation.
When you walk into Tim's classroom it has certainly got the 'WOW' factor. He is a man with an eye for display. There was lots going on around his room which was very well coordinated, but the one thing that struck me about it was that although Tim clearly had a really good understanding of his children's needs and achieved a high level of engagement with all of the children in his class there was little evidence of this in his environment. Much of the display was computer generated from a selection of download sites. What I wanted Tim to do was to keep the 'feel' of his room but personalise it far more to his children to heighten their interest and raise engagement which would then impact on attainment.
Once I was long gone after my initial visit then Tim fed back to his team lots of the things that we had discussed. Although they were positive on the whole it is quite understandable that there were some questions about what it was all about and why a school that got good results needed to change their practice.
I think one of the key findings of this bit of the project was that it is important to try and find a mechanism to involve the whole team in some sort of discussion on the first visit so that everyone has the opportunity to discuss the points for development. I know this is not always possible due to time and finding bodies/funding to allow release, but it should definitely be high on the priority list.
Even though Tim managed to do a great deal in a very short space of time he was very sensible about the size of the initial changes he was going to make. Although he was tempted to take loads down and start again, he focused on a couple of key areas where he thought a personalised display would have the most impact. This also gave the rest of his team a chance to get their heads around what he was trying to achieve and to see its impact for themselves.
Tim had taken the concept of a personalised alphabet and run with it! The child's picture was the starting point if their name started with that sound (not just letter) and then the children also made a collection of other objects that also started with that sound.
Where there is no child in the class whose name starts with that sound then the children choose something that is of interest to them like Dora.
When Tim showed this slide to the conference he made it clear that although it was a good start, he still wasn't happy with it. In his school the Reception children HAVE to learn cursive script – hence the cursive writing. Now, cursive writing is confusing enough when you are just learning initial letter shapes, never mind when you then display it on an angle! So next time he has vowed there will be no wonky letters! With photographs, illustrations and alphabet all going on it makes for one very packed display so alongside his lack of wonky letters he is going to make the ones that are on display far more visible for the early learner.
Like with everything, it has been a learning journey for Tim as well as the children. It was really useful for the delegates to see and hear the bits of the process he wanted to change as well as the bits he felt he had got right.
Underneath the alphabet he has created a vertical mark making space where children are encouraged to use their phonic knowledge to make marks and write. I have to say, when I was there it was a VERY popular part of the provision.
In the parallel Reception class to Tim the team had created a personalised number line with the children. Due to the current lay out of the room this had to be strung from the ceiling for the time being but that will not be it's permanent home. As soon as space is made available it is moving to child height for maximum impact.
To encourage the use of the outdoor equipment and other areas of the clasroom the team had cut photogrpahs out from the catalogue that the equipment was ordered from. Tim replaced these with photos of children in the setting using the equipment instead.
Around his workshop area Tim has a 'Wall of Pride' where a piece of work would be chosen from each child to be displayed. Now the children are in charge of their own space and choose themselves what they want to display, even being responsible for mounting their own work.
Staff have started to annotate the spaces with what the child said about their work (speech bubble) and what the team think/are going to do next (thought bubble).
It was a really eclectic gallery of models, paintings and drawings. You could get a great idea of children's interests and quality of adult judgements just by looking at the wall.
Tim pointed out that at the moment all of the background sheets are either luminous orange, green or yellow which does significantly detract from the child's creation. So, for next time – a more neutral background will be put up!
When Tim and I were first ever discussing the idea of personalising his learning environment, I showed him a photograph of a piece of display that I had seen Vanessa at St Philips Cof E Primary in Salford use with great success to engage parents .
Vanessa's idea was that she took a 'learning story' and wrote it out like a story that would be really easy for non educationalists to access. Then alongside the 'story' she wrote about the skills that the child would have coverd during the activity and what the practitioners were going to do next to take that forward. This is one of Vanessa's
These Learning Stories can also be copied and used in children's learning journeys.
This is Tim's version of the 'Learning Story'. As the subject in question is a real animal, as opposed to a fictional one, he has presented it with lots of the features of a non-fiction text
Next post I will show you how Tim and I worked together to develop the role of the adult in the setting and look at a different way of planning for impact during adult directed activities and adult focus during continuous provision.
You did a brilliant job Tim. Thanks for letting me post your slides!