Teachers' Tales

Updating the literacy curriculum: A head teacher’s story


by Julia Hudson
on November 4, 2015

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Today’s post is from a former head teacher who brought Pobble into their classroom, who has asked not to be named out of respect for student privacy.

Is there an astonishing potion you can give your pupils which will suddenly awaken their desire to enthusiastically write a non-chronological report or balanced argument?

Or perhaps a cloak of invisibility that you can wear to effectively monitor and assess the inner workings of a classroom?

 

Enough Harry Potter magic (though hey, whatever it takes to inspire reading)—as a head teacher, as much as you’d like it to be different, the answer to all of the questions above is unfortunately “No.”Sitting in your swivel chair, thinking of ways to improve classroom writing practice can easily become an intensive task.

With my first headship upon me, and a mountain to climb to raise attainment, I didn’t have a lot of time.  I developed some goals and worked with those around me to make quick changes and improvements, but we also needed a way to effect a longer-term impact on teaching methods and pupil perceptions. Despite best intentions (or perhaps because of them), schools often end up overcomplicating bureaucratic processes, making it harder as an individual educator to push through a new initiative. In the back of my mind, I knew what was really needed was something simple, that my faculty could implement across the school and customise to the needs of their individual students.

ipad and notebook

At the time, I was also trying to prioritise a Year 3 class who were (to use a wonderful governmental catchphrase) the classic case of a ‘coasting cohort’: bright, lively, delightful to teach but struggling to make any real progress in their writing.  Even the more able pupils were showing a worrying lack of tangible improvement.

A difficult situation was made even harder by the fact that the teaching of writing had not been a priority in school before my arrival.  Resources were old and out of date, teachers had not accessed high quality CPD for a long time and most importantly, there was a tangible air of uncertainty about effective ways to teach writing.  And it will not come as a shock to learn that teachers who have been long-neglected by management not only struggle with finding engaging lessons and methods, but also any associated IT and planning resources.

It was after much searching on Twitter, Google and under the old dusty book in the corner of the room that I heard a colleague talk about Pobble for the first time. I wasn’t familiar with it, but the idea of incentivising students by publishing their work was really just an updated version of what every teacher already knows–positive reinforcement and displaying great work go a long way with a reluctant learner.

classroom wall

Since we didn’t need additional software or training to use Pobble, I was able to circumvent some of the anticipated protests of my team; meanwhile, the notion of digital publishing proved a successful motivator for students, rather than simply tacking an essay to the wall. At their age, the Internet and its promise of connectivity is still novel, but because the teachers ringfence access to the platform, interacting with it can remain a treat for out students.

The notion of digital publishing proved a successful motivator for students, rather than simply tacking an essay to the wall. At their age, the Internet and its promise of connectivity is still novel.

The key to all of this? Simplicity. Feedback from all stakeholders in school was positive, but the real bonus was seeing the joy on the faces of pupils as they engaged in writing for a purpose, to satisfy a potential reader rather than simply satisfying the requirements of an assignment.  In truth though, it was the teachers who really benefitted from Pobble.  The in-person CPD from the team (who are all former classroom teachers) was a reliable safety net, and the resources on the website like Pobble 365 gave my team the confidence to embrace a more creative approach to literacy. And since the work is all hand-written, rather than typed, it’s straightforward to use with our younger students and doesn’t supplant teaching handwriting.

So after searching high and low for a way to improve writing, it was in the most obvious of ways that I found an answer: children love seeing their work on display.  We’ve known this since the invention of the classroom wall; sometimes all we need is a nudge to remind us how simple–and effective-a motivator this can be.

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