8 things teachers can do to prepare for a new half term

It has been a long time since I last posted! Call it writers’ block, but there has been so much going on. New school this year, and recently engaged, so I’ve been busy getting to grips with new systems and wedding planning! As half term holiday draws to a close, I find myself getting excited about getting back to work (this never happens!). For all those teachers, new or old, who find the last few days of a holiday break a bit overwhelming like me, I thought I’d compile a list of helpful things to remember/do before your alarm starts blaring at sunrise tomorrow!

8 things to do before you go back to school

  1. Enjoy an hour for you – have a hot bath, curl up with a good book, watch your favourite film, just do something that has nothing to do with school. This is particularly important if you’ve spent the half term week off chasing around after other people! This is YOUR time. Mentally prepare yourself for the new half term in a way that appeals to you.
  2. Prep your meals – I’m not a big food prepper, really, but I find that sorting my lunches ahead of the week really helps with stress levels in the morning. I just make sure I have enough bagels and fruit for grabbing in the morning, but this would be a good time to sort a tasty pasta salad or soup to lift your spirits when you hit a slump in the week.
  3. Try not to check your emails – I am THE WORST for this. You’ve gone all week not checking them, you can go another day. The last thing you want is to read about a problem that you can’t fix until Monday and you’ll then have to lie awake obsessing over.
  4. Pack your bag – your name badge/ID, favourite marking pens (does anyone have those?!), laptop, any books you brought home. The last thing you want is to forget something important on your first day back when you want to hit the ground running!
  5. Set your alarm – right now! Who has decided to leave setting their alarm for the week until they’re about to go to bed and then forgotten? Do it now, and it’s done.
  6. Organise a nice treat to enjoy during the day tomorrow – that first morning can be a killer, can’t it! You’re out of the morning routine and by midday you might be on your knees begging for 3.30. Cue yourself up a sweet treat, diet be damned. Or maybe pick yourself up a nice latte on your way in. This doesn’t have to become a habit. Treat yourself, it’s your first day back!
  7. If you really must, remind yourself of your planning – by this point you have probably already done everything you need to do for Monday in terms of planning. Either have faith, or make yourself feel extra prepared by reminding yourself of your core lesson plans for tomorrow.
  8. Get a good night’s sleep – it doesn’t have to be an early night, but go to bed with a good book, or a milky drink, and just relax. You’ve got this! The children will be really excited to see you and each other, and to share their week. It’ll be a great day, so you don’t need to spend all night worrying about whether or not you marked Tommy’s book properly, or if you remembered to include plenaries on your maths plan.

I hope these steps are helpful to some! I’ll be curling up at 9pm tonight with my new book that I have promised myself I will read every night this week for some me time. Have a fantastic first week back – it’ll be Christmas before you know it!



Starting our Digital Leader journey

Things have been crazy, mad busy at school already this year. Getting the school ready for the ICT Mark assessment means I currently have my fingers in a lot of proverbial pies (and actual Raspberry Pis!).

One of our projects at the moment is getting a Digital Leader group up and running. This is something I’ve been really keen on ever since I’d seen a lot of chat and posts about it on Twitter (#DLchat) and from the blogosphere (namely Sway Grantham and Chris Sharples). After posting a few cries for help on Twitter and Google+, I managed to collate a wealth of helpful information about the Digital Leader network, and what other schools are doing with their groups.

I decided that a Digital Leader programme at our school is going to be all about empowering the children to take ownership of ICT and the Computing Curriculum. The DLs appointed will be given responsibility over maintaining the laptop/iPad trolleys for a start, making sure that they are put away properly at the end of the day, or deleting unwanted files from the Camera Roll. Having seen some fantastic examples, the DLs will also have control over their own blog (with myself being the all-seeing eye, of course!). I also intend to hold weekly lunchtime meetings for us to discuss ideas, review software and make tutorials for teachers and pupils to use in lessons.

Once we’re fully established, I feel the children would really benefit from a rota that allocates them to classrooms during Computing lessons. Here they can be ‘booked out’ to come and assist teachers during afternoon sessions. I’m also expecting the DLs to be my Pi-oneers as well once we have those up and running (watch this space for updates!).

So many ideas! I had to get the ball rolling ASAP. The plan for implementation became:

  1. Get staff on side with it – this was easy! The concept of having some extra hands when using laptops etc yielded big appeal!
  2. Publicise – a few posters and an assembly was all it took to get the children well and truly excited. As a junior school, the scheme was only open to Years 5 & 6.
  3. Applications – paper versions and online versions on the VLE means the application process is widely accessible. Parents were also encouraged via the school newsletter to help with applications at home. A realistic date was set and stuck to.
  4. Interviews – A 45minute task on Kodu followed by a 5minute chat with a judging panel (myself and the HT). The task was really interesting to stand back and watch. I definitely recommend it. Hardly any pairs finished the task completely but it was brilliant to see them working together. One child, who had more experience with the program, let their partner do most of the driving, They explained to me that, to help their partner understand the program, they used elements from Scratch to teach them. Brilliant! The 5min talk served little purpose, in hindsight, other than to add some kudos to the process, though it was nice to spend time chatting with each of the applicants!
  5. Final selection – No set quota, and positions awarded to the children who deserve the position. Shiny badge included! We really couldn’t decide between any of the candidates, so all 10 were offered a position. My DL team was born!

UPDATE: In total, we had over 40 applications, which was more than I’d anticipated. Interestingly most of these were girls (go Ada!). We have since split into two groups – the Online Team and the Tech Team, and they are all feeling like we’re a legitimate organisation with these new roles. The Online team has a main editor who calls the shots, and they deal with out VLE and, eventually, will sort out the online blog. Tech do all of the maintenance derailed above, plus the lesson help rota.

When school starts up again for the second half of term, we will fly into these roles straight away. I cannot wait to see what sort of projects the children come up with, and I will of course update this blog with updates as we progress. If you’d like to know more, please do let me know via the contact form on this blog.

Uncovering the secrets of effective feedback (well, trying to!)

After a stellar summer travelling China, I’ve come back down to Earth with a bit of a bump, and reality rears its ugly head once more. A new school year has begun and I, like many others in teaching, have been busy beavering away with a new year group and a new classroom! It is very much back to early starts, coffee by the bucket load and, of course, all the marking. There has been so much to do without unpacking and organising the room. I can’t believe how much stuff I’ve amassed already. 

Now I’m in Year 6 (gosh, don’t they write a lot!) I’m trying to make the process of marking and feedback as quick, easy and meaningful as possible. It’s so easy to let things slip when there’s so much to mark and I want this year to encourage my children to be critical and independent learners, especially as they prepare for secondary school. 

I’m building in plenty of opportunities in lessons for pupil self and peer assessment, using success criteria checklists or other types of prompts. I’ve also found marking alongside the child very effective for helping students understand what I’m looking for. Today I tried a game of Success Criteria Bingo which was very handy for seeing how many children already grasp the features that go with our current writing genre. We will use this form to mark against under the visualiser as a class tomorrow. As I am beginning to embed AfL strategies in the classroom, I am finding some new limits to my experience! 

One problem I tend to have is coming up with feed-forward tasks when I’m marking. I feel like the ones I come up with are so uninspiring! After hours of searching online, I’ve not been able to find any examples or ideas to steal either. If only they gave us a list when I was training! So this blog post is, in part, a request for help and advice, but also an opportunity for me to start my own bank of examples to make marking that little bit quicker! 

As and when I find/dream up new feedback tasks, I’ll tack them on to this list. They can then be put into a document for your downloading pleasure, once I have enough of them. In the meantime, watch this space…

NB: These are just examples! Feel free to change numbers, unit of measurements etc. 
Feedback tasks


  • Write your own word problem that requires…to answer it. (e.g long division)
  • How many m in 5km? 
  • Why is this calculation wrong?
  • Write a sentence explaining what you have learnt in this lesson. 
  • What would you do differently tomorrow?


  • What other words can you use here instead of ‘angry’?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?
  • Write a sentence explaining what you have learnt in this lesson. 
  • Write a summary of what will happen next in the story. 
  • Punctuate this sentence correctly. 
  • Use the connective ‘until’ in a sentence below. 


Five years are over already – I can’t believe it. What ever party you support, I’m sure many people will be looking back on the last five years with the same thoughts as me. Where has the time gone?

Five years ago I wasn’t teaching. I had just met my wonderful partner, I was finding a new job towards the end of my Masters, I was preparing for a life changing trip to Asia. Half a decade on, I’ve eaten Pad Thai on a riverboat, I’ve worked in media, got a dog, bought a house and changed my career. I’ve even found a new passion for computing and tech I didn’t really even know I had! Moving to teaching was and is the best decision I’ve ever made. Workload and pitfalls aside, it is rewarding, fulfilling and always challenging. I live to get up in the morning and go to work and that is a huge thing to come out of this past five years, politics be damned!

For me, today has been all about looking back on the last few years and thinking about the ups and downs. It’s obviously not all been smooth sailing, life isn’t like that. So what went well, what didn’t? What is in my control to change? Is it all about putting an x on that ballot paper?

Teaching gives us the opportunity to do more than that. We have a daily opportunity to affect the lives of our students, their confidence and self-worth. We can give them inspiration for their future paths, encourage them to question and reflect, be good role models, show them how to find excitement in life and learning. What a huge responsibility. This may sound self-important to some, but it is so much more about understanding the potential our roles in the classroom can have, rather than simply dismissing our days as “just another job.” There are many articles in the press about failing schools, ‘whining’ teachers, Ofsted horrors, it’s so easy to lose sight of why we started the job in the first place. Even myself, a mere few years in, have at times thought “Am I up to this?”

Whatever the outcome is tomorrow, I intend to start the next five years with my best foot forward. Battle through the marking, put up with the box ticking, grin and bear the jokes about school holidays, because it is so so worth it, whatever is thrown at us. After all, teaching is a privilege, not a chore. The ‘bad bits’ really aren’t that bad. Let’s put an emphasis on creating exciting and engaging lessons, getting to grips with new technology, having fun with our students! 

That’s my cheesy, soapbox moment over, anyway. I’ll read this back when I feel a bit low and remind myself about why I’m doing this. I hope it’s a helpful read for others as well. 

That’s enough serious talk. Happy Election Day everyone and have a wonderful five years!

Using QR codes for display

In a recent attempt to engage children more with our topic display, I’ve given using QR codes a go. I found the idea a while ago on Mr P’s marvellous ICT blog (my bible at the moment) and thought I’d give it a go. I was amazed by the results!


Many of the children had seen these codes around but had no idea what they were, and had just let them fade into their periphery. They were amazed at the way these codes could bring up websites or text, for example, as if by magic!

We chose some of our favourite websites about our topic and created QR codes for them and now they are proudly displayed on our topic board. These have proved so helpful for quick reference during various projects, as well as providing useful tasks for children as extension tasks. During our last open afternoon, the children were desperate to show their parents these ‘magic codes’, and many parents have now had to download QR scanner apps onto their phones for future use!

Now that I’ve trialled QR codes with classroom displays, my brain is swimming with the potential for further projects. What previously struck me as a fairly useless ad gimic is now proving to be a real hit in terms of pupil engagement. They love them! At our recent school trip to the zoo, the children were spotting the QR codes in between rushing to see the meerkats and elephants.

I’m feverishly gathering inspiration from various sources online. Top ideas for future projects at the moment are:

  • A learning scavenger hunt with each code revealing another clue – could be perfect for consolidating learning at the end of a topic
  • Creating a guided tour of the school for visitors – perhaps just on the displays to help explain the process/story behind the work
  • Prompts in maths – maybe code on table could reveal success criteria/method so chn can look if their stuck but ignore it for extra challenge
  • Literacy books – could reveal definitions of word classes etc at back of book if they need it? Or connectives word banks?

Where to start? As it is the end of term next week, I love the idea of organising a scavenger hunt to consolidate the learning at the end of our current topic. I better get cracking on the clues!

Signing off x

My newfound iPad organisation…

Today I’ve been busy preparing spreadsheets for my class facts and figures. I am utterly fed up of looking at messy handwritten notes and lugging around a huge planner all the time, so have decided to keep all of my levels etc on my school iPad. Obviously once my school moves away from levels it’ll need changing, but right now I am extremely happy with my new, streamlined life. Hopefully, my days of misreading my scrawl in progress meetings will now be a thing of the past!


Look, it’s all shiny and smart!

If, like me, you fancy bringing your markbook into the 21st century, please feel free to download the templates below for maths, reading and writing. I’d recommend setting a password for these files just in case your beloved tablet falls into the wrong hands!

The pie chart is intended to show proportions of each fine grade in your class, and the Reports tab allows you to see each child individually. The ‘Progress’ tab is currently set up to work out sub-levels progress between KS1 and Autumn levels, as that’s out starting point in Year 3, but this  can be easily changed to reflect your own set up.

The spreadsheets are for use with the iWork Numbers app, but I have attached them as .xlsx below. If you would like them in .numbers format, message me using the About page contact form and I will forward them on to you. Being a bit of a n00b in terms of formulae (it’s been a long time since I regularly used media budget spreadsheets in a former life!), I’ve not quite ironed out the finer details on these sheets so any advice on how to improve them would be greatly appreciated!

Writing level template

Reading level template

Maths levels template

iPads in my classroom

I love my iPad – such an obvious thing to say as a teacher, as I know so many people are using them in their daily practice. I have my own personal one, but have also been issued one by my school to use in class. I use them for everything at home; shopping, note-taking, scheduling, banking, research, planning, organisation, writing, listening, watching. But why don’t I have such a range of school uses? It’s such a great resource, so how do I use it more?

At my school we have a bank of iPads to share with other classes and they are not always readily available so I have been increasingly looking for ways I can use my own single iPad effectively in the classroom. Here are some of the ways I’m using it at the moment (beyond web browsing!):


1) The first use, which you’ve probably all heard of, has been as a visualiser. I’ve recently found Alan Peat’s iVisualiser to be the best way of doing this. I love how you can annotate photos of children’s work easily, and I use AirServer to show this on the IWB. The highlighter tool is helpful for enforcing our pink and green marking policy. The children can also come up to the front and underline areas for improvement or of success. Before this app, I was awkwardly using the camera function, though the children loved it when they’d accidentally get caught in the crossfire and end up projected on the whiteboard!


2) Another way is to help facilitate the writing process. Some children can find it helpful to use the app to draw their ideas before writing. Why not use paper? Using an app like ShowMe means children can draw slides of pictures, developing their sense of story structure, and these can then be shown to the class via AirServer – my trusted ally! I’ve found this is doubly effective when it has followed storyboard activities, with children arranging parts of a story and then using the iPad to sequence their own.

Apparently ShowMe also provides the opportunity to view other slideshows that people have created and uploaded. I haven’t looked through the options yet but this may be a helpful function for small group activities or extension tasks for high abilities.


3) Another quick use of my iPad in lessons is as a dictionary or thesaurus. If a child uses a word like ‘nice’, for instance, I might hand them the iPad and ask them to look up the word and then find alternatives.  Cue AirServer again where the screen is projected on the IWB for the rest of the class to use! Likewise if we come across a word in reading that we don’t understand. We bring it up on the iPad and show the others the meaning. I often use the Dictionary.com app for this (free version, see above). We would talk first about the words that would better fit their sentence.

Before the weekend I heard Alan Peat at one of his workshops mention a website where you can use synonyms in the classroom. Visual Thesaurus is a subscription service that creates maps of synonyms for any word you search for.  Alan Peat suggests getting the child to do this, and then print it out. You can then highlight several of the most appropriate words and staple it alongside their writing. I’ll definitely see if I can start doing this in the classroom, I hear they offer a 14 day free trial!


4) MyScript Calculator is another good app I like to use in maths for whole class discussion. If we are looking at mental maths calculations, children using this app to write a number sentence with their finger on the iPad and see it turn into typed numbers. You can then choose whether to automatically solve or reveal when you click. This app is helpful for keeping up engagement when we are going through  answers, but it would be helpful if it worked for column addition and other non-linear calculations!

This isn’t a huge list so you can see I need some inspiration! I have a few apps that I sometimes use on a 1:1 basis but nothing that is firmly embedded in my practice. I will keep scouring the Internet for ideas and trying them out. Ideas welcome!

– Miss T