Monthly Archives: February 2014

Now That’s Primary Blogging Volume Six

The weekly mix tape of primary and primary-related posts. Please retweet / blog and help to share much of what is current and brilliant in primary education:

1. To Grade or Not to Grade, via @Mishwood1:

2. The need for a coherent narrative in topic planning, via @ethinking:

3. Flipped planning, also courtesy of @ethinking:

4. Curriculum Design, courtesy of @michaelt1979: and hidden feedback:

5. Breaking out of boxes through topic-based learning, via @ChrisChivers2:

6. Teaching the concept of a sentence, courtesy of @MrsPTeach:

7. Some of the problems associated with topic planning, courtesy of @imagineinquiry:

8. More on cross-curricular / topic teaching from @misshorsfall:

9. @nancygedge on not making or accepting excuses:

10. In praise of TAs, courtesy of @diankenny:

11. Spacing, interleaving and retrieval practice in primary maths, from @MrNickHart:


Pity the Poor Parsnip Packer

Soon we will be held tight in the five-fingered clutch of a whole working week. As much as that is dreaded, my gloom at the thought of an impending return to work is always tempered by the thoughts of what could have been.

When first I graduated, I meandered through a succession of truly awful jobs: accidental death insurance salesman; city-centre sandwich-board wearer; and a rock-bottom pre-Christmas parsnip-packing stint. None allowed me to be creative; none gave any satisfaction; none created any sense of identity or belonging.

Teaching has brought with it all of those things and more. That is why, despite OFSTED, despite the workload, despite everything else we all sometimes moan about, I am not complaining about going back to school next week; it could be far worse, I could be packing parsnips.

Now That’s Primary Blogging Volume Five

Another week, another volume of primary-related posts. Please let us know of anything you have written or read that you would like to have included in future volumes via @prawnseye or

1. Using dramatic imagination to develop writing, via @primaryblogger1.

2. Developing Talk for Writing techniques, courtesy of @nicoladarling78:

3. Advice on Universal Free School Meals, via @ajjolley:

4. Feeling failure and facing the future, via @PeepingPearson:

5. The Triple Salvo method of teaching vocabulary, via @prawnseye:

6. The pedagogical broth that overflows from the melting pot of primary schools, courtesy of @ClassroomTruths:

7. Why teaching is an amazing job, via @lizzie_h18:

8. The Mathematics of Writing, via @prawnseye:

9. Navigating the Sea of Pedagogy, courtesy of @diankenny:

10. Reading for pleasure, courtesy of @stephenconnor7:

11. Finding enjoyment through guided reading, via @colinhezwoz:

12. Nobody Puts my Baby in a Corner- children are children, from @nancygedge:

13. @MissHorsfall on the differences between primary and secondary blogging:

The Triple Salvo – not a Winter Olympic ice-dancing move…

In the relatively short time I have been
blogging and using Twitter, I have been fascinated, helped and enraged by the manifold posts I have read on writing; I have even been moved to write two of my own.

Although I am not an English specialist, I am a linguist by background (first degree in Scandinavian Studies since you’re asking), with a particular interest in the teaching of writing in primary schools. To that end, I am intrigued that relatively little (unless I am missing posts, which is entirely possible) is written about those aspects of children’s learning and development which success in writing is dependent: speaking, listening and reading. This post is an attempt to loosely articulate my thoughts on a teaching method I have employed for some time: the horribly pretentious sounding ‘triple salvo’.

Perhaps this is me, but isn’t an incredible part of teaching hearing children employ language in ways that surprise you, in ways that make you laugh at the audacity of their use, in ways that make you hunt down colleagues just to share what X has said or written?

When I started teaching, I resolved to enhance the vocabulary of every child I taught. To tell the truth, I didn’t know if I was capable of doing any more than that; I still don’t think there is anything more important we can do.

And so on to the so-called ‘triple salvo’ (a name which to see in writing is making me wince). As a product of nothing more than my own desire to play with words, I began to develop a theory of using ‘hierarchies’ of three words and / or phrases as I spoke to my classes: to borrow a much-derided term, a ‘must, could and should’ of vocabulary. This is much simpler than I may have made it sound. For (a not-very-high-quality) example, if I needed a show of hands I would ask the children to ‘hold your hands aloft; raise your hands; put your hands up if…’ and found that whilst at the first attempt ‘hold your hands aloft’ led to confusion, the clarification provided by
the following two instructions of ‘raise your hands’ and ‘put your hands up’ meant that in a very short period of time I was able to remove the scaffold they provided and use the ‘higher order’ language as a matter of course.

In my teaching now, I use this strategy daily; it offers almost unlimited opportunities to teach new vocabulary and phrases in every area of the curriculum: huge gains for very little input. Of course, as oral language patterns and structures becomes embedded so they reveal themselves in writing and the impact of working on a ‘triple salvo’ of verbs, adjectives, adverbs is often immediate and sustained.

So, please endeavour, attempt, try to use the triple salvo or, at the very least, let me know of a less ridiculous name for it.

Now That’s Primary Blogging Volume Four

So here is Volume Four, a few more posts than normal included on account of half-term. Please send this on and help to spread the brilliance that exists amongst primary bloggers!

1. Cohesion in the Teaching of Writing, via @michaelt1979:

2.Improving children’s writing, from @ChrisChivers2:

3. Debut blog on the demands and rewards of teaching, courtesy of @nicewens:

4. The problems associated with rewarding children’s behaviour, via @MooreLynne1:

5. Be true to yourself when you teach, via @HeyMissSmith:

6. Indicators of an outstanding lesson, via @MaryMyatt:

7. @HeyMissSmith again: this time, the problem with grading teachers:

8. Context-free writing- a strategy for increasing engagement, via @prawnseye:

9. From @Sue_Cowley, the rights and wrongs of baseline testing in Reception:

10. @nancygedge and how to go about getting the behaviour you want from children:

11. Promoting school and class Twitter accounts, via @RachelOrr:

12. The importance of resilience in learning, courtesy of @ChrisChivers2:

13. Lines we have all at least thought of using in the classroom, via @ClassroomTruths:

14. @InstinctiveMum on losing sight of why children are at school:

15. Getting children outside, via @ugglymuggly:

Context-free writing: a strategy to raise engagement

How many people (even if they don’t care to admit it) have bought a Take That album? But how many people would buy an album of Gary Barlow rapping?

Last week, an Inspector called. Amongst other things, she suggested we look at what we are doing to engage our children, and particularly boys, in writing. Here is a brief description of one of the strategies we have elected to develop.

Time-upon-time, I have seen children battle to write in a range of styles; who hasn’t? I would like to make clear now that I fully advocate the need to be able to write for different purposes. But my opening paragraph alludes to the fact that we all have strengths and sometimes we need to play to them.

Amongst our staff, there has been some discussion about whether expecting children to write in one style over another can stymy enthusiasm for, and achievement in, writing. Again, there is no suggestion that we should stop teaching things that they find difficult. That would be ridiculous. But there is increasing curiosity about what would happen should we harness children’s motivation for things that they are already good at.

As a consequence, after half-term, we will be experimenting with our first two week, context-free literacy unit in Year Three classes.

Rather than using a standard teaching sequence for writing to build towards a written outcome in a particular genre, the unit will not be based on a genre at all.

Instead, its focus will be on teaching three sentence level objectives: using ‘because’ as a conjunction in complex sentences; using adverbial phrases of time to start sentences; and using embedded clauses to add detail to writing.

Each of these facets of writing will be looked at in detail: through anlysis of high-quality examples; through teacher modelling; through shared and guided writing. So far, so familiar.

The planned difference in a ‘contest-free’ writing unit arrives only at its very conclusion: at the stage where children are ready to produce a significant written outcome. It is now that rsponsibility for their learning will be given to children; it is now that, instead of being asked to write a quest myth, a story in a familiar setting, a letter to an author, they will be allowed to choose their genre: take something that you want to write about and use it to show off everything you have spent the last two weeks learning about.

Will it work? We don’t yet know. Can Gary Barlow rap? Perhaps, but would you stop him from going back to singing for a confidence boost if he found it a struggle?

Now That’s Primary Blogging Three

And so another Friday arrives. Like the day itself, this post comes without fanfare, just the quiet announcement that contained within are some of the primary-related blogging highlights of the past week. Should you happen to read or write anything you would like shared in next week’s Volume Four then let us know via Twitter (@prawnseye) or email

1. Taking control of lesson observations, via @PrimaryHead1:

2. The limiting nature of Success Criteria for writing, via @prawnseye:

3. Opposing baseline tests in Reception, via @juliangrenier:

4. Being an NQT via @jade_thomas2011

5. @primarypete_ on resource sharing via #oneresource:

6. The need for children to spend more time playing outdoors, via @ugglymuggly:

6. Via @greyengine, using picture and story books in maths:

7. What does meaningful engagement look like? Via @HeyMissSmith

8. New curriculum FAQs, via @michaelt1979:

9. The importance of getting KS2 / 3 right via @JAMingay:

10. Primary teachers: too busy to blog? From @nancygedge:

11. Much good on Universal Free School Meals for infants, via @ajjolley:

Success Criteria: the Middlemen or Highwaymen of Writing?

“Success Criteria are middlemen, couriers between teaching and learning.”

Two weeks ago I bore witness to the actual utterance of this slightly ridiculous phrase.Since then there has been some discourse on Twitter about the damage that AfL can do to genuine learning. This is an attempt to add to that debate.

Some time before Christmas, I was observed teaching a Year Three class the delicate art of writing instructions. I did what I have done countless times previously in similar lessons developed, grown and improved over many years. When I later sat down to mark the writing, the children had done what I’d expected of them; their outcomes were of a high standard. Cutting out some of the detail of the feedback subsequently given, my observer explained that she felt that the children had achieved accidentally and not by design. The reason for this assertion? I had not provided ‘procedural’ Success Criteria before the writing commenced.

Since that meeting, I have sought to demonstrate (if only to myself) that although Success Criteria may be essential in gaining command and mastery of a style of writing, they are prohibitive once that level of expertise has been achieved.

This week, I have taught very similar lessons in a different Year Three class. In my quest to prove that procedural Success Criteria place limitations on achievement in writing, I asked the children to write two sets of instructions for the same activity: one following a set of Success Criteria, the second not.

The briefest of scans of the initial, Success Criteria-informed writing, revealed instructions which were functional but little more than that.

The second batch of writing was of a markedly different quality; it was less constrained and more natural by far; children had applied their knowledge of the text structure but also added elements of what they knew to be good writing per se.

Will I be using procedural Success Criteria in the future, lesson observation or not? Yes, but perhaps only in the early stages of immersion in a particular text type. My question is, are Success Criteria the Middlemen of Writing, the couriers between teaching and learning? Or are they the Highway Men of Writing, forcing us to abandon our jewels and riches?