Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Boy/Girl Friendships in Primary School

Image result for images of boy girl friendships

For this blog, I am going to 'piggyback' on a discussion Ms Gallen, Head of the Lower Phase had with our younger students after noticing some inappropriate behaviours and perceptions around boys and girls being friends with each other. This blog is based on her email to parents and judging from  the many positive emails she received back, this was something parents found really useful to have guidelines on. Of course, this discussion is not just for our younger students. It is something our children whatever their age, need support with. 

Image result for images of boy girl friendships
The discussion was initiated because we had noticed a growing number of students being overly concerned about who had a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ , who ‘loves’ who, who is 'kissing' who, and a number of students teasing other students about having opposite gender friends. We wanted to make it clear to our students that it was perfectly 'ok' to have a friend of the opposite gender without any romantic connotations- which at primary school is not appropriate anyway.

Specifically that:  
  • We all can have many different types of friends, older than us, younger than us, boys or girls
  • It would be sad/boring if children/people only ever had friends of the same gender. Children and adults have friends of both genders all throughout their lives
  • Having a friend of the opposite gender does not mean they are a ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ in the same way that some grownups have people who they will spend time with or sometimes live with or marry
  • Children in primary school are not grownups/adults and opposite gender friends are are just that -’friends’- and are great to have.
  • We all have people in our lives who we love and many family members -mums, dads, aunts, siblings. It is ok to really like/love some of our friends too, girls or boys .
  • We can hug friends but we do not ever need to kiss friends on the mouth as that is not appropriate.
  • Teasing someone about having opposite gender friends is unkind and makes them feel uncomfortable/sad about their friendship - it is not ok to do this.
  • Older siblings or well meaning adults sometimes tease children in this way eg. asking "do you have a boyfriend?"- quite a few children reported older siblings doing this, including here at school. We suggested that they could remind them that they are 5 years old and this person is their ‘friend’ or that they are just being ‘silly’.  

It is important that as parents, we support our children in the friends they choose and do not, even as a joke, make them feel that opposite gender friends are anything but normal and certainly are socially acceptable. Here are two links for you to read....but both are of interest for teachers as well - especially as the first article has a nice section called "Tips for Bringing Boys and Girls Together" that is aimed at teachers and supports inclusion, contact, collaboration, and cooperation in a school setting - there are points for all age groups even though it's an early childhood article.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

What is 'literacy'?


noun  lit·er·a·cy  \ˈli-t(ə-)rə-sē\

Simple Definition of literacy

Popularity: Top 30% of words
  • : the ability to read and write
  • : knowledge that relates to a specified subject

This is what the dictionary meaning of literacy means, and the first part is probably what most of us traditionally view as 'literacy'. In fact when I was a teacher with my own classroom, I didn't teach reading and writing as two distinct subjects, I taught 'literacy', and this is how it appeared on my timetable. That was my entire concept of what literacy was!

Of course, that was some time ago, well before personal (actually, even shared)devices.  Now days, it is becoming more common to extend this concept and speak about 'multiple literacies'. So this may include concepts such as media literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy and environmental literacy. One important one for us here at Bradbury and of which I have spoken about before, is mathematical literacy, which is quite different to pure maths and takes our students way beyond algorithms. We believe that this literacy is as important as the dominant literacies of reading and writing. 

So then, what is a definition of 'literacy' that includes the concept of multiple literacies? Elliott Eisner suggests that it is a way of 'conveying meaning through and recovering meaning from the form of representation in which it appears' (p 353, 1997). I like this definition. Although already fairly old, I think it captures what we mean here at Bradbury when we speak about  literacy- in whatever form we are referring to.

Just for those who are interested, I came across this diagramatic representation of mathematical literacy recently, which I enjoyed dissecting. You will see that it adds two more 'literacies':Quantitative literacy and spacial literacy.

Eisner, E. (1997) Cognition and Representation, A Way to Pursue The American Dream? : Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Standardised Assessment in Bradbury

Occasionally, I am asked about when we 'do assessments' on our students. My reply is that we do this everyday, in every question we ask our students, in every observation we make and in every conversation we have with them. Continuous assessment is the lifeblood of our practice. It is how we know what to teach next , at what level to pitch our lessons and how to personalise the learning so that it meets the individual needs of our students. We call this 'formative assessment' and it takes many guises. It is assessment for learning.

There is another type of assessment also. This is summative assessment and is an assessment of learning. The one main tool we use for this purpose in Years 4-6 is the International Schools Assessment (ISA)
The ISA is designed specifically for students  in international schools whose language of instruction is English. We use ISA to test our students in: 

*Mathematical Literacy; 
*Reading; and

The ISA defines Mathematical Literacy as being:"an individual's capacity to formulate, employ and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts. It includes reasoning mathematically and using mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and tools to describe, explain and predict phenomena. It assists individuals to recognise the role that mathematics plays in the world and to make the well-founded judgments and decisions needed by constructive, engaged and reflective citizens."
Image result for exam sitting elementary studentsImage result for mathematical problems in elementary school

Reading is defined as being the ability to understand, use and reflect on written texts, in order to achieve goals,  "develop one’s knowledge and potential and to participate in society".

The writing tasks look at two genres:

1. Narrative: For this task, the students are asked to write a story or a reflective piece. The stimulus is usually a picture. The same prompt is used for all year levels. 

Image result for exam sitting elementary students2. Exposition/Argument: This  task requires a piece of writing setting out ideas about a proposition. A few sentences or a short dialogue are provided as a prompt. Students can take an explanatory approach (exposition), a persuasive approach (argument), or they can combine the two approaches. (https://www.acer.edu.au/isa)

The ISA test is useful as it is not specific to a single curriculum and it tests core skills in mathematical literacy, reading, writing and the assessments are designed with the knowledge that more than half of the test takers have first languages other than English. The ISA includes writing tasks and open-ended questions to better show students’ thinking processes; and performance on the ISA can be related to international benchmarks;

As the ISA  provides diagnostic information that can be used at the school, class, or individual level; At Bradbury, we use the information received to  improve learning by:
Measure an individual students' achievement in order to reflect on and address strengths and weaknesses;
Monitor an individual's or group's progress over time;
Evaluate instructional programs against objective evidence of student performance, to diagnose gaps, and to measure growth in learning between year levels and longitudinally within one year level; and
Compare subgroup performance (for example, girls and boys; students from different language backgrounds) to see where there may be unexpected results and try to understand them.
An example of how we do this is a was our staff meeting on Monday afternoon. Staff were grouped in mixed year level/specialist teacher groups and given three sets of data: the mathematical literacy breakdown of performance in individual questions for the seven content and process areas  for Years 4-6. They were then asked to compare performance in each year group with that of the other two and look for trends, identifying areas of strength and areas where there was a common weakness. 

  By doing this, the expectation is that staff are then able to modify their teaching practice, ensuring that areas of strength are reinforced and areas of weakness are supported, as they have an understanding of how, across the three year levels, we are achieving. 

I also use the data to report to the Bradbury School Council, individual teachers use it to monitor progress and give information on individual performance and year groups use the data to analyse trends specific to their year group. The ISA is always a 'snapshot' of student performance on a given day, but it is useful to have externally referenced norms against which to judge our own levels of progress and achievement. On our website is a consolidated report to the Bradbury School Council showing our results as compared to other international schools.



Friday, 8 January 2016

Dealing with the death of a staff member

The passing of a staff member is something that affects all of the school, especially if it is someone who, on a daily basis interacted with staff and students from across the school. This week at Bradbury, we took time out to remember and acknowledge the death of our former librarian, who fought a long and courageous battle with cancer. Helping children to understand death is a very difficult topic for many of us, especially if the death is someone close to us and we are also dealing with our own grief.

By the time they reach high school, most children have experienced the death of a family member or friend; one in 20 face the death of a parent by age 16. As uncomfortable as it can be, our children need our support to work through what we, as adults know, is a part of a natural cycle.

As a school, we sat and decided how best to support our staff and students through this loss. We definitely knew that we wanted to acknowledge this passing in a positive and supportive way.
Firstly, we considered the family's wishes that books be donated to a library in her name. We had a list of our librarian's favourite books from her many blogs, so we decided that we would buy all of the ones that were not already in our library. We knew also that with her family,she  had enjoyed holidays in the Philippines, so a donation of books would also be made to a school library that is still feeling the effects of the devastating typhoon that destroyed so much a couple of years back. We will acknowledge this by inserting a book plate especially designed for this commemoration. A small and cozy corner of our library will be dedicated to these books for our students to enjoy.

Secondly, we wanted to acknowledge her passing as a whole school. We needed to do this sensitively and sensibly, so a Year 2-6  assembly was held. This was bright, fun, light and positive- just the way we think our librarian would have chosen it to be. I talked about all the things she loved- her family, books, blogging, travel and swing dancing. As many of the students had no idea of what swing dancing was, we watched a YouTube demonstration of 'In the Groove', which impressed everyone in regards to the talent it takes to master!

Finally our students were invited to write a letter to our librarian's son, who was also a student here, to her husband or to our librarian herself, which we will post to her family, along with pictures of our donated books in their special corner of the library.

Next week, staff will gather to share memories and toast in her honour and to her memory.

Image result for debbie Alvarez

                                                                 Rest in peace Debbie.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Admission interviews

A happy new year to all of our Bradbury families and to anyone else who may read my blog! I hope that this year is a wonderful one for you all.

Image result for principal interviewing parents
One thing that will make the new year a good one for many families, is to hear that their child has a place in our school. This is often a very stressful time for parents in Hong Kong as they know that traditionally, demand outweighs places available. With interviews for 2016/7 Year 1 admissions just around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to write a bit about this process to hopefully give some clarity and understanding about what we are looking for when we interview potential students.

Firstly, it is not an interview in the usual sense of the word and certainly not like a job interview! We need to see how your child interacts with other students, in order to gain an idea of their social development. Therefore,  Year 1 interviews are always done in small groups of around 8-10 students. This way we can observe behaviours like sharing, talking, playing 'with' rather than 'alongside', eye contact and so on.
Image result for children playing together in playgroupImage result for students in play groupsWe also ask your child to draw a picture and talk about it. In this way, we can listen to them speaking English and get an idea of their fluency. We may ask them to work through some other small assessments so that we can get a deeper understanding of their language ability.

When  we interview your child, we are looking for three things:

  • Will they be able to access the curriculum?
  • Do they have any special needs that may need support?
  • Are they ready for school?
This last one is really important, as, because our intake year is January to December, some of our children are very young and if they were born just a few days later, would be in the next year for admission. When you are just four years of age, this is really important because lots of physical, social and emotional development happens in that year. It also means that they may be in a class with children a year older. Because we want school to be a positive experience right from the get go, it is sometimes better to defer children who would benefit from another year in kindergarten. This is not the case every time of course, but it is a major consideration. So, if we recommend a deferral, it is always because we have your child's best interest at heart. They have not failed the interview or anything like that- they are just young!

We also interview parents- this is often my job and I really love it! It is a great opportunity to meet new parents, especially as so many of our children bus in. We have such a strong support base from our parents  and there are so many interesting people in our community, this is always  pleasurable .  Your child will not fail an interview because of you either! We will talk about things like your child's social and emotional development and ask you about if there are any family circumstances we need to be aware of,  or if your child has  any special needs that we need to know about? These all build a picture of your child for us. It is important that these questions are answered honestly, not in the way you think we want them answered!
                                                             Image result for principal talking to parents

It is all low key, friendly and informal which is in keeping with our ethos of school being a welcoming and friendly place for you and your child.