Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Starting school well

Image result for images of children learningWelcome back to the new academic year! It feels wonderful to be back, Bradbury has such a special feeling about it that just makes you happy to be here!

It has been a smooth start and it seems as though everyone has settled in well. It is now Week Six and I see a few tired faces around as the reality of the school day routine really gets established. Ensuring that your child is getting enough sleep is one of the most important things that you can do as a parent to support their learning. It means that they are alert; able to process new information and take on board new concepts and ideas more easily. If they don't get enough sleep, children can have difficulty in focusing their attention to specific tasks, can be irritable, have difficulty managing their emotions and become easily frustrated.
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What is enough sleep? It has been suggested that children aged 3-6 years old need 10-12 hours sleep per day. This means that children of this age will go to sleep typically between 7 and 9 pm and wake around 6-8 am. Children aged between 7-12 years need around 10-11 hours per day. At this age, because of social, school and family activities,  bedtimes do gradually get later and later, with most 12 year old children going to bed around 9 pm.

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We really notice the difference between children who are well rested and those that are not. We know that little bodies need repair, time to rest and time to heal. This is what happens when we sleep. So brains, heart and muscles are better equipped to cope with the rigors of school when they are well rested. The brain stores memories from the day so that they can be recalled later. This is a key part of learning. We can see that children who are well rested are better at paying attention to their learning, can recall facts quicker and are generally more alert and emotionally resilient than those who do not.

So, a good way to support your child's learning is for them to have a regular bedtime routine that allows them plenty of sleep. I suggest that you stick to a routine, even on weekends. Introduce a quiet wind down activity- reading a story is a great one. Ensure the bedroom is dark, cool, quiet and that it is screen free.

Lets try to ensure that Bradbury students are well rested students so that they can be even better learners!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Boy/Girl Friendships in Primary School

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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. 

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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. (

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.

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                                                                 Rest in peace Debbie.