An International Perspective on Mantle of the Expert

For two years, teachers from Woodrow First School have worked in Palestine, teaching in kindergartens and elementary schools during the Easter Holidays as part of a teacher exchange program. This is arranged and facilitated with the tremendous support of the AM Qattan foundation ( – visionary thinkers and fabulous people.

Dina Abdel Karim worked as one of the translation team this year with our staff and was kind enough to send us her own reflections on the work.


Reflection: Mantle of the Expert

I always believed my childhood was perfect. I’ve never thought it was missing anything until I was given the opportunity to work in kindergartens. Suddenly, I was jealous. The kids I worked with were having fun, a word I never could relate to with any of my school experiences. Working on Mantle of the Expert as an interpreter with British and local Palestinian kindergarten teachers was refreshing, exciting, and very educational. As an adult, I was mind blown by the kids’ knowledge and creativity. Although I worked for a short period of time, I was fortunate to observe the implementation of four projects carried out by four different teachers. Each project was unique and inspiring. Each project taught me an important lesson.

For the first project, the teacher put together an expert team of farmers. Students, with their teacher’s assistance, set up the farm by drawing it on a huge roll of paper on the floor and divided it into sections. The students designed the farm to contain houses for animals of different sizes, a playground, a clinic, a fence, a gate, a well and pipes. All the students were active in creating the farm. One of the students laid on a piece of paper while others drew his figure to design the uniform. Later on, each student drew and coloured their own uniforms and checked whether they got all pieces of clothes farmers need: overalls, caps, masks, gloves, and boots. In turn, students approached the model of uniform and made sure that they are not missing any piece. Then, they acted getting dressed and wore the uniform.

The tension began to build when the students entered their classroom after the break to find something at the gate. It was a map. They recognised all the features on the map. “Look, there is a message written here.” The teacher got the students attention to wonder about the folded part of the map. “What does it say?” the teacher asked. The students were struggling a little to pronounce the word, but one of them said: “help”. Many footprints were found on the map, to which the students thought that some animals might need their help. The map was hanged on the wall and the teacher and her students got ready to take a walk to discover the area. Students were divided into three groups and each group made the journey, leaving their farm to explore the mysterious area.

“This road leads to nowhere” one student said. “There is a stop sign, we shouldn’t go there” another student objected. “Maybe it’s dangerous to go from this road, let’s go back to the main street” another student suggested. Standing in the middle of the classroom, the students acted walking and stopped to notice the features on the map; the school, the houses and the bridge. “Is it safe to walk on this bridge,” the teacher asked. Some students said “yes,” while others replied with “no”. “This bridge might be dangerous, our safety is important, we need to cross the bridge without getting hurt” the teacher said to which the students gave solutions in excitement:

–          Let’s cross it one by one.

–          We must make sure the screws are tightened.

–          We have to walk one step at a time.

–          Boats, we can use boats to cross to the other side.

The students tightened the screws on the wooden blocks, and one by one they slowly and carefully crossed to the other side and continued their journey. Their exchanges reveal quite a bit about the significance of the exercise:

T: look, there is a tunnel. Did you go through a tunnel before? S: Yes, on the way to Ramallah. T: How is it like? Can you see everything in the tunnel? S: No, it’s dark. T: I wonder if we have tools that will help us see better there. S: Flashlights. T: Did you all bring your flashlights with you? S: Yes, we did. T: Did you make sure they’re working? Do you have new batteries? S: Yes, we do. T: Okay, let’s get ready. Turn on your flashlights and let’s walk through the tunnel. (Students got the flashlights out of their pockets, switched them on, and started walking) T: What do you see? S: A dead dog. T: How do you think the dog died? S: A car driver hit it and kept driving. (The students got out of the tunnel, turned off their flashlights, and put them in their pockets.)

The exchange demonstrates how the exercise provided students with the opportunity to collaborate together and think things through together as a team. “Look, we reached our destination,” the teacher said “we shouldn’t get closer; we don’t know what we’ll find there.” “We can’t see well from here, what do we need to explore that area when we are far away?” the teacher asked. “Binoculars,” the students answered. The teacher asked them to describe what they saw through the binoculars and the students’ imagination ran wild. The students saw different kinds of animals; chickens, roosters, dogs, donkeys, lions, tigers, and elephants.

After going back to their farm, the students were presented with a video. Two of the teachers took the roles of two animals in different states; one was happy and playing while the other was sad and standing still. A remote control was used to pause the video and the students interacted with animals by asking them questions. A student hit the play button and the video continued, at that point one animal was eating and the other animal had no food. The hungry animal snatched the sandwich and ran away, but at the end it felt guilty and shared the sandwich. The students understood that the animals were unhappy and they did not have enough food. So, they decided to talk to the farmer. The students drew the farmer on a piece of paper and the teacher hanged that drawing on a shelf, giving her a space to stand behind the drawing and take the role of the farmer. “Farmer, why are the animals unhappy?” one student asked. “Because I don’t have enough food in my store to feed them all,” the farmer replied. “Farmer, why did you lock the animals in the farm?” another student asked to which the farmer replied “because I worry they might leave the farm and get lost.” “Farmer, why are the animals unhappy?” another student asked. “Because I’m old and can’t take care of my animals or play with them,” the farmer answered. The students gave many suggestions to help the farmer; giving him money, buying food and water for the animals, going to the other farm and assist the farmer, bringing the animals to their farm and take care of them. This activity allowed the students to practice problem-solving techniques as a group.

When the students and teachers were discussing the two options; going to the other farm or bringing the animals to their farm, the majority of students seemed to support the second option. Before making a vote, the students were divided into two groups and in two corners each teacher asked the students to give reasons to support her option, then the groups were switched. So, each student gave a reason to support the two options.

“We don’t have enough space.” “Our animals might not want to share their toys and houses with them.” “The roads are dangerous, the animals might get hurt.” “They are used to their homes.” “If we leave our farm, who will take care of our animals?” “If they leave their home, they’ll be unhappy like the Syrian kids.” “My father is in prison, he’d be better if he was with us at home. The animals should stay in their farm.”

Hence, the students were able to reflect, subconsciously, about their own private lives and connect their realities with that of the animals. They were able to relate every day issues in their own lives with the game they were engaging in class in regards to the managements of the farm. When they finally were asked to make a decision and choose a side, most of the students decided to go to the other farm and help the animals.

The second project has a farm as well, but with a different problem. All the animals are laying on the ground and the students should determine whether the animals are dead, sick, or sleeping. The students were asked to draw the animals and describe them. “The rooster is dead, because its comb is brown,” one student said, an info none of the teachers have known before. “My goat is sleeping,” another student said “you can hear its heartbeat.” “My dog is sick, it needs medicine,” another student told us. “We need to take care of the animals and separate them,” the teacher suggested. “It’s not healthy to leave the dead animals like this, what should we do?” the teacher wondered. “We must burry them,” the students replied.” “Do you think it’s okay to leave the sleepy animals with the sick ones?” the teacher asked. “No,” the students answered “They’ll get sick, too.” So, the students separated the sick animals from the healthy ones and decided to take care of them. Beside the drawing of their animals they drew all the tools needed to treat them; needles, pills, and stethoscopes. They also wrote specific prescriptions and decided how many pills the animals should take, at what times, and for how long. This exercise presented the students with themes of life, death and illness. Again here, they were able to relate their every day lives with solutions to the problems at hand.

The animals were treated successfully, but the farmers encountered a new problem. The Mayor received many complaints from the villagers stating that the animals are making a lot of noise at night, which scares their little children. One of the teachers took the role of a dream expert and met the students to explain this phenomenon. “The animals are having bad dreams at night,” the expert revealed “they get scared and that’s why they make noise.” “Have you heard about dreamcatchers?” the teacher asked. “No,” the students replied.

When the night is dark, and the moon is bright,

all kinds of dreams; good and bad will fly.

You can’t control them or chose which dream you’ll have.

You want the good dreams, but the bad dreams are fast.

So you must make a dreamcatcher and hang it above your head.

It will catch all the dreams in the net.

The bad dreams will freeze,

while the good dreams will slide through the feathers,

giving you a good night sleep.

After the dreamcatcher story, all students wanted to make a dreamcatcher for their animals. Using a plastic plate, ball of wool, scissors, tape, wheat, and a paper puncher, the teacher was able to create a simple yet beautiful dreamcatcher. “First you make small cuts around the plastic plate, stick a string through one cut and put it in another making a web, tape the strings on the back, use the paper puncher to make three holes; one on the top for the string that will help you hang the dreamcatcher above your bed on the wall, and two on the bottom that have strings attached with wheat that will let the good dreams slide down.” After the teacher gave detailed instruction on how to make a dreamcatcher, the students collected all the items they needed and preceded in creating their own dreamcatcher. They were so proud and happy with their dreamcatcher that they wanted to take them home.

As for the third and fourth projects, the main theme and problem was the strange disappearance of the sun. The third project had an expert team of professional photographers. They had many activities outside the classroom; they took a walk in the village, took photos of nature, used magnifying glasses and a microscope in a near clinic to comprehend how our eyes and lenses work. The students built a big model of a professional camera on a tripod and cut the shape of camera on small cards and placed their own photos on the lenses. The tension was built when the students received a message from a penguin that lived in Antarctica asking for help. Alongside the teachers, the students created the icy area through taping an unevenly shape in middle of the classroom, drawing ice rocks, snow mountains, penguins, fish, and lakes. “Antarctica is really cold and you need special outfits and tools,” the teacher said. “We’ll bring coats,” “we’ll get warm boots,” “we’ll bring scarfs and hats,” “gloves,” “long socks,” the students said. “It’s going to be a long journey,” the teacher added “we’ll be hungry.” “We’ll bring food and water,” the students stated. Later on, the students drew the clothes they need, food, and equipment and they acted getting dressed and packing everything they need.

Teacher: “It’s going to be a really long journey, how will we go there fast?”

Students: “We’ll fly in a plane.”

Teacher: “Do you have tickets?

Students: “We’ll buy them.”

Teacher: “You must be careful. Did you check the time of the flight? If you are late, the plane will leave without you.”

Students: “We’ll be there on time.”

(The students give their tickets at the gate, enter the plane, and sit in their seats.)

Teacher in a role of pilot and said in a loud manly voice: “Dear passengers, it’s time for the plane to take off. Fasten your seatbelts and turn off your phones.”

(All the students fastened their seatbelts and turned off their phones.)

Teacher: “This is going to be a long journey, you won’t be sitting still, some of you might talk, read, eat, drink, or even sleep.” Hearing this, the students did different activities in the plane.When the students finally reached their destination, the teacher gave them an important information, “penguins get scared. You must be five meters away from them.” Some of the students suggested getting disguised as penguins or polar bears to get closer to the penguins and help them. This exercise showcased the sensitivity of the students towards the elements they were observing. They had to put themselves in the animals skin and try to see how they can get close to it without make it feel afraid.

In the fourth project, the teacher created an expert team of astronauts. The tension was built during a still image activity in which the students talked to an unhappy star. The star lost her friends and asked the astronauts to find them for her. Because their rocket was hit by a meteor, the astronauts needed to build a new one. They taped the shape of the rocket on the floor and divided it into different sections; control room, kitchen, bedroom, and restroom. On small pieces of paper, each student drew different items and placed them on the correct section; food, water, glasses and plates in the kitchen, beds in the bedroom, soap and toilet paper in the restroom and so on.

Teacher: “What else do we need in space?”

Students: “We are ready.”

Teacher: “When you land on the moon you won’t be able to breathe.”

Students: “We’ll bring oxygen.”

Teacher: “Yes, each one of you will need his and her own oxygen supply.”

Students: “We are ready, let’s go and find the stars.”

Teacher: “Before we leave we must wear our astronaut suits, helmets and oxygen supplies. We must help each other in wearing the oxygen supplies.”

(The students wore their suits and helped each other carry the oxygen supply)

Teacher: “Are you all ready, did you wear your helmets also?”

A student: “No, I forgot my helmet.”

Teacher: “We’ll have to wait then, go find it.”

The student: “I found it, I found it.”

Before the launch, the teacher explained to the students that a loud sound will happen and that the power of the launch will push their seats a bit to the back. The kids found that exciting. “You see this button?” the teacher asked, “when we hit the rocket will take off, but we must press the button together after we finish the countdown. “Five, four, three, two, one.” The students pressed the button, made the launching sound and they acted being pulled back by the pressure.

Teacher: “I’m sleepy, but I have a problem.”

Students: “What is it?”

Teacher: “I can’t sleep on the bed, I keep floating.”

Students: “Lay on the bed, put your head on the pillow and you’ll sleep.”

Teacher: “We are in the space now. The gravity will keep us floating in the rocket.”

Students: “We can sleep while floating.”

Teacher: “No, what if you hit something, you’ll get hurt. I have an idea, let’s put all the beds on the wall and when we want to sleep, we’ll use a belt to keep us on the bed.”

(The astronauts got tired and decided to sleep. They lined against the walls where their beds are placed and used the seatbelts to keep them from floating.)

Later on, a teacher made the sound of a smash. “Something hit us,” the teacher said “look through the windows, what do you see?”

“It was a meteor.”

“We hit the sun.”

“An alien spaceship hit us.”

At that point the students started drawing what they saw through the window and described the accident to their teachers. This project was special because a trip to space is not borrowed from their daily life routines. They were able to unleash their creativity to have an unordinary experience.

For me, watching the implementation of these projects was unforgettable, not only because I love kids, but because I witnessed them loving school and all the activities they had. Each day of that week, I was excited to wake up early in the morning to go see the kids and be part of their projects. There were many funny moments. I don’t usually sit on my knees on the floor, but I did it like the other teachers and students. After 30 minutes, the British teacher stood up and walked towards the students drawings on the wall, but I couldn’t follow her, pins and needles were hitting my legs, an embarrassing moment in my career. Another embarrassing moment was when instead of saying rocket in Arabic, I said spaceship and I was corrected by a little kid. To me, they meant the same thing, but spaceship seemed more peaceful. When I think of rockets, I think of weapons of mass destruction. For the children though, they did not want to allow an outsider to make changes to their creation, they were protective of their work.

Those projects made me realize that we are born with so much creativity and potentials. We are born intelligent. The experiences we have through our lives have the power to either let us meet our potentials or kill them. Before starting this project, one of the students used to hate school and couldn’t wait to go home. She did not want to participate and was always quiet. Through this project she was always active and excited about what will she do next. Another student was violent at the beginning, but through this project, he became less aggressive. Through Drama and problem solving all the students were active and interested in the different activities. No one was sitting alone and quiet. All of the students had opinions and they shared them even when they heard what they wanted to say or ask uttered by somebody else. By using drama, the teachers were able to create a stress-free, fun environment. Planning the activities was not easy. The teachers set up a plan for each day, but it was flexible, children’s opinions mattered and in many times, teachers didn’t follow their plans. The videos, still images, and the different tones the teacher used were able to catch the students’ attention each time. Using drama is fun. It should be used in other grades as well; it may help the students change their negative view of school. We can’t force students to learn, it is a waste of time, and a waste of two lives; the student’s and the teacher’s. Instead, we should push forward activities that provide a venue to work the students’ intellect, body and soul by allowing them to relate their real lives with school work.




Want to know why I believe teaching is still an amazing job?

You’d be forgiven for thinking teaching; with the madness surrounding data, Ofsted, performance related pay, behaviour policies, lesson observations and so on and so on, is a miserable profession to be in. It can be of course. But if you’re lucky enough to be part of those magical moments where the children in your care shine you’ll remember why, despite all that, it is also the best job in the world.

Luke Abbott has been working in school this week and was joined today by Iona Towler Evans, one of our governors. Both are amazing teachers who support us to use drama based inquiry with our children. Late last year a number of us learned a little about “Chamber Theatre” and were keen to try it with our classes. Yesterday the Y4 teachers planned how we might introduce it.

To learn more about the technique read Luke’s blog

We decided to use the traditional rhyme “London’s Burning” as the text to base our learning on. Luke and Iona sought agreement from the children to use the morning as a research session in which they would film our work and gather feedback on chamber theatre i.e. whether they thought it was something of benefit to their learning.

We began with a picture of the fire of London on the whiteboard and the task to write powerful sentences in response to it.

Although this was a literacy based activity the inquiry questions flowed immediately. There was recognition too from some of the event and links to other knowledge of the past. A discussion then on how pictures can be a stimulus for writing moved into an exploration of how a text can lead to the creation of pictures – in drama this can be through chamber theatre.
Whilst writing the rhyme in front of the children they started to suggest who might say those words. There was an interesting conversation about the lack of speech marks and about punctuation and repetition before they were raring to go off to make their own images using drama and the words in the rhyme.  Key features of chamber theatre were introduced: using only the words in the text, exploring word order, repetition and importantly consideration of the narrator – point of view or whose story it is.
When listening to and joining in conversations about the work it was clear to see the children making inferences, speculating, reasoning, testing out knowledge and understanding of history, science and art. They worked together brilliantly being considerate and supportive of one another. Everyone was on task and I believe they were all challenged and learning.
A group wanted to share their work with everyone. They had made a still image based on the picture from earlier [you might know something similar as a freeze frame] and added spoken words of London’s Burning to it. This was an opportunity to move the learning forward; I wonder how it would change if there was movement. Another group had a moving image to share. Again we collaborated to improve it; the narrator became fire and the use of sign was introduced into the work – tissue paper for fire. We moved away from the picture to a deeper exploration of the theme; a spirit became the narrator, a child on the floor represented London…
We continued discussing, challenging, refining until it was nearly lunchtime! It was important to share the pictures from everyone and weren’t we impressed when we watched them! From a four line rhyme the outcomes included:
  • a battle of fire against water represented with movement and different coloured papers
  • a group using only 2 of the lines and creating a dynamic piece of movement
  • a dance style image with streamer like fire and a powerful ending where the two people dropped to the ground whilst protecting their house
  • an impression of London looking like a plan view on fire and words accompanied by a drum beat described as danger or a panicked heartbeat
  • a slither of different colour amongst the fire [signed with paper] which represented a beloved dog  – and an attempt to save him from the fire
  • a contrast in speed whilst saying the words to amplify the tension
  • a pair of children singing the rhyme whilst the fire raged nearby

Each was a moment to be proud of and hadn’t we come a long way during the morning in terms of curriculum and drama skills.

The children want to do this again and we will. We plan to use Ring o Roses and The Pied Piper in our work linked to a mystery virus and homelessness. Seeing such an impact on the children was magical and we are so grateful to Luke and Iona for supporting us through this.

Now we hold on to what happened today as a reason why we teach and we continue to learn and do the best for our children.

Sharing stories of learning: a staff meeting with a difference!

So what does Mantle of the Expert look like across our school? 

We all visited each classroom talking about the learning in our Mantles. It was a brilliant chance to build a whole school picture for everyone, to share ideas and to ask questions.

What was striking about the classrooms was how stories were told in words pictures and 3-D work. (symbolic, iconic and expressive). Hearing from class teachers how they were using Mantle of the Expert was enlightening as we rarely get the opportunity to wander around school together as a staff and  ask about what is happening in each room. Moderating in this way allows all of us as a staff to look at the progression across the schooI.  eg The science teaching from the earliest years, where children consider insulation, melting and freezing – through to year 4 where children are creating models of their own viruses.

It is also a useful time to borrow ideas that could be implemented in future work. We felt unanimously that this should happen on a termly basis.

Here are the highlights:

Year 4- autumn term museum curators developing a roman exhibition. Spring term investigative journalists working for the BBC to report the truth about a mystery virus.

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Year 3 – autumn term photographers exploring world wide stories. Spring term working for the British Museum to share the lost stores of Titanic survivors.

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Year 2 – autumn term rescuers working in Canada. Spring term architects designing a new fire station.

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Year 1 – autumn term animal rescuers. Spring term story detectives.

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Nurture group – autumn term chefs.

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Year R – autumn term toy makers. Spring term travel agents for a snowman!

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Year N – autumn term toy town. Spring term problem solving with the snowman.

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Sustainable use of Pupil Premium

On Friday we welcomed Marc Rowland from the National Education Trust to Woodrow. He spent the morning with @rkieran in classrooms, as well as in discussion around the work we are doing in school on our curriculum and on using the Pupil Premium. What follows is a reflection on the morning from the headteacher.

Marc Rowland was good enough to say on twitter “Thanks to you, staff and your confident, articulate pupils for sharing your superb school. I’ll be in touch. Have a great weekend.”

He also spent time in the staff room acknowledging the levels of oracy in the school – rarely seen in schools. He felt the use of the Pupil Premium to help develop a curriculum where children had the opportunity to speak with each other, where they take their work seriously and where they have a great pride in their work and their school was evident across our school.  He added that there is a real drive in the school to give our children the best.

We also discussed the value of high quality use of the Pupil Premium: whereby it has to be seen as a long term investment in the children and the school – especially one in high levels of deprivation. It is alarmingly clear that key children will ‘miss out’ in education if they do not access resources which the pupil premium provides. These children are the ones on the wrong side of the deprivation indicators – and we have a duty to provide for these children to the same extent as those who can, do and have accessed the Pupil Premium.

Our use of funding: training, in school CPD, resources, is all appropriate and well placed – and is more sustainable and will provide greater long term improvement in aspiration and achievement for a community than a bolt on for a single child.

The very best schools must demonstrate to others that the pupil premium is making a difference to the community too and importantly – sharing that too.

It was interesting to discuss the work of the National Education trust which
developed from an initial grant of £16,000 to one which provides effectivetraining, highly effective research and is sponsoring in school improvements. The Trust has a string of advocate schools across the country leading practice and offering something unique.

And in the classrooms:

Taking a visitor around our school is always a pleasure. You always know what to expect in terms of ‘what’s going on’. Not because I have an indepth understanding of every plan but I do know the consistency with respect to social health, enthusiasm and cheer. I know the children will be working hard; and I know they will want to talk about their work and what they can do and what will be next. What I don’t know is what they will be doing. For me it is depressing that in some schools we have curriculum where children at 4 have a long term plan ahead of them that we know what they will be doing when they are 11.

It is easy to spout OFSTED style language which describes children who:

•           Show very high levels of engagement, courtesy, collaboration and cooperation

•           Show excellent, enthusiastic attitudes to learning, enabling lessons to proceed without  interruption

•           All pupils arrive punctually to lessons

•           Are highly adept at managing their own behaviour in the classroom

And a teacher who:

•           Demonstrates excellent subject knowledge.

•           Demonstrates consistent and high expectations of pupils

•           Evokes high levels of enthusiasm for, participation in and commitment to learning.

•           Ensures consistently high behaviour

•           Promotes resilience, confidence and independence of pupils when tackling challenging activities

But what about the children who were questioning an adult in role about her feelings when the titanic was sinking – using the confidence to activate her to speak; or the children who suspended disbelief without any concern to discuss the death of a virologist they had just created via a speaker phone. The self same class were craftily spun in and out of role with ease and a change in tone – (it was all about the if world and the is world); the large group of children who worked on a piece of modelled writing as if it were a text message from somebody to be discovered; and the class who spoke with massive levels of enthusiasm about the need to understand the problems of lightning before they could address the fire that had happened; or the groups of children who were creating the moment the fire struck the house (with the associated layers of meaning crafted into the work so it was much more than just role play); the reception children who knew that swimming a width was not just an aspiration – but is expected; the Nursery children who had no problems following  instructions but developing independence so they could choose the tasks which will support their development. It was encouraging to hear the imagination in action as groups of children created artefacts and reconstructed their history. Or the class who were involved in explaining that a one line four is half of a one line two.

To develop oracy skills across a school demands a commitment from teachers and a desire from children. The knowledge is being developed, rather than imparted; it is something to behold.  The variety of teaching approaches ensures that the children at Woodrow are building something that cannot always be measured in Ofsted jargon or numbers and sub-levels. It is much richer than that.

Woodrow loves writing!

Today we were lucky to be able to spend time looking at writing across the school. This is some of what we noticed…

In Year 2 children know their Mantle story very well and this helps their sentences flow. They also use picture cues. They have visited the local fire station and are working as fire fighters; narrative writing was linked to the story they are creating together weaving in the science curriculum along the way. Children were supported to improve their sentences at the point of writing through discussion with an adult. Others were including speech. When writing in pairs they noticed missing capital letters in their partner’s sentences and corrected them together. Children were working on improving the teacher’s writing – replacing then, improving nouns, checking punctuation etc. They talked about the story bags helping them to know where they are in their writing and word cards helping with spelling of tricky words.

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In Y1 children were identifying ways to improve their writing with an adult; highlighting words to look at. Some children were rehearsing on a whiteboard before completing a certificate linked to their Mantle work. The children are detectives and were writing for a definite purpose. Some were looking at the features of a letter and how they should be ordered and laid out. A group talked about, “our time connective words” and how they make sentences bigger. The use of deliberate mistakes was moving children on with their learning. A misconception was being directly addressed at the point of writing; drawing everyone together to work on it with support.

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In Nursery a discussion centred around the difference between writing and pictures and using different writing tools. It was snowing and the writing work linked directly to this. Ella made weather word cards independently and wrote fiybee for Phoebe. Other children were developing fine motor control and mark making skills. Some of course to full advantage of the weather and went outside to enjoy the snow; developing language and talk for writing.

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In Reception labels were being written for stickle brick models to be displayed on the model table. Finger spaces were being reinforced and a child was supported to use the phoneme wall. Another child was guided to form a letter correctly by practising the letter in the air first. Pencil grip is reinforced with pinch pinch pinch. Letter formation cards were enabling children to focus on correct formation in a 1:1 situation. Other children were using the IWB to practice letter formation. There were plenty of opportunities for free writing and mark making. When writing about a weather picture children were confident to talk about capital letters, full stops and finger spaces. There were constant reminders of tall letters, sitting letters on the line etc. The pride in their writing was obvious to see.

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In Y3 there were lots of instructions for making a lego lifeboat. Plans and pictures supported the writing of content which was linked to Mantle work as a salvage team working on the wreck of the Titanic. Each child has a target pencil; Georgia could talk about which of her targets was relevant to the instruction writing. She also talked about how modelled writing shows what is expected. Some children were supported with a writing frame and others had to think about layout. Children talked about BOYS and AA sentences making writing sound better. Some wonderful pictures of ship wreck related settings were being used as a stimulus. Re reading writing about the Titanic with an adult reinforced the importance of making meaning. Other children were working on editing a piece together with an adult.

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In Y4 there was an array of bossy verbs about Spain; there was focussed sentence level work leading up to an advert and the possible use of green screen technology! Geography and science was woven into the writing. Discussion on AA sentences explained how they add more detail to a sentence. Children talked confidently about how short sentences make you go wow. Exclamation marks help with this. The purpose of the writing was clear. Adults were moving on learning at the point of writing.

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Across the Key Stages there was an overwhelmingly positive attitude to writing from all children. We saw challenge, engagement, inspiration and learning ; no ceiling!

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The writing environment was a mixture of finished pieces, modelled writing, work in progress, examples of key features and plenty of supportive prompts which the children were using.

A great morning!

Paintings by Year 4

Paintings by Year 4

Vercingetorix, a Celtic Chieftan, laid down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar. We looked closely at his hands and then painted how we thought they may be shown when he was imprisoned. We used our own hands as models. We improved our first drawings with help from feedback in the same way Austin improved his butterfly picture.

So how do you plan how to work with a story?

The final session of the two day workshop with Cecily O’Neil (organised by Iona Towler Evans, David Allen and Kate Katafiasz) focussed on planning how to work with a story. First of all think “What’s it all about?” and then “How can we all be involved?” (as stories usually have one or two main people)

So, Rapunzel – perhaps we could be witches, castle workers or local people looking for Rapunzel. Cecily started talking from within a meeting of witches; leading to her saying that she had a problem. “I don’t know what to do about it… You probably can’t help…” She talked about her daughter, the tower, how Rapunzel wants to go out but the world isn’t safe for her etc. A theme of parenting was emerging and Cecily reinforced that we should think past the traditional ending of the story.
We created images of Rapunzel and the witch in the tower – voicing their words from different viewpoints i.e. a controlling mother/ a difficult teenager! As witches a suggestion was made to frighten Rapunzel so that she wouldn’t want to leave the safety of the tower. The witches hid ready to frighten Rapunzel “I don’t want to frighten her to death! Let’s just practice”. Cecily encouraged us to build in rituals where we can e.g. a leaving which slows down things to build tension and give time for thinking.
She then narrated the impact of our actions. Rapunzel couldn’t sleep now. So more advice was needed… The possibilities could build from there. Social laws could be reinforced – we live by the consequences in the safety of the drama. It was really useful to see how we could “start in the middle” (with a link to Shakespeare being made here) and develop a theme with ample opportunities for writing and the curriculum.

We ended the weekend with suggestions for starting points in planning:

A proclamation

  • “All children over the age of 10 must give in their xbox immediately to be recycled.” How would you feel if you had to give up your xbox? Well something like this actually happened. It all started far away… Build the story of xboxes have an essential part necessary for aid in a developing country. Create the campaign to persuade children and their parents.
  • “All elbows and knees must be covered when leaving the house.” Once upon a time there was a place where… What sort of place is this? Create the society with the children. “An awful thing happened to me – I forgot and went out…”
  • “Laughing is punishable by death.” You’ve probably heard about the Princess who couldn’t laugh. So the King made a proclamation…Create scenes and look at the people. Perhaps have symbols to use instead of laughing. The Princess meets a prince who can’t cry…

A warning or threat – it should come with a bit of a promise or twist!

  • “Stay off my land” Why does the farmer not want to let us pass? Invent a bargain. Once we’ve made a promise not to cross his land what happens if we break it? We could be capturing man eating plants as scientists. We would have to make traps. Who is willing to be the bait? Can it be calmed or sent to sleep? “The night before they were ready to go… they drew lots…”
  • “Take your caravans and find another town to annoy.” We could be journalists so that the issue not the “fight” is explored. For example a child or a precious object could be left behind

A challenge

  • “Mystery virus hits holiday island”

An invitation

  • Come to have tea – think Cinderella

A promise

  • Think Macbeth

An omen

  • Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on a spinning needle when she is 18

A trial

  • Who’s to blame? Set it up informally – rather than a full court!

Always think about who you and the children are going to be, what tasks there will be, what encouters and who with. The resolution is the least important aspect. Think curriculum, above all think learning.

All of this on a Sunday afternoon!

Thanks to everyone involved for an inspiring weekend. Cecily O’Neil we look forward to your return!