Superhero Connectives

Today I wanted to focus not on the quantity of writing my students produced, but on the quality. I’m only too aware that for some of my students, getting the work done quickly is their primary objective. There are times when that is fantastic, but I like to have a balance.

So there are days I take the pressure of quantity away and we work on building our sentences one word at a time. We explore new words, look in thesaurus’ and generally learn to enjoy language. Today was one of those days. I wanted to work on using and understanding more complex connectives, so that students would become more familiar with them and more likely to use them in their written work.

I’d had a delivery of some very exciting Lego-like (but much cheaper) Superheroes, each one individually wrapped. So it seemed like the perfect time to be exacting about my standards! Students walked into the room to find 10 un-built superheroes on their tables along with post-it notes (yes they’re creeping into my lessons again) and individually written ‘wow’ connectives. The excitement in the room was palpable. My students couldn’t believe their luck! The deal: choose a character from the pile, write one amazing sentence using one of our connectives, then build the character. Next, choose another character, write an amazing sentence about them and a further one combining both of your characters, then build your character, and so on. Never have I seen them look as happy about a literacy lesson!

The sentences were incredible, in fact some of the best they’ve ever written. But that wasn’t the real magic. The magic was the confidence with which they wrote, the willingness with which they engaged with new language, and the conversations that surrounded their writing. It was a lesson I won’t forget in a hurry.

Tangible things to look at can really help with creativity. They are a ready made base to hang ideas from. They take the stress away and add the excitement factor. So what are you waiting for? Get raiding your cupboards – find your wow factor! Your students can write incredible sentences, you just have to start one word at a time.

As for me, whilst Superhero excitement is here, I’m already thinking about how to incorporate them into my next few lessons…

Be A Princess; Use A Writing Frame

I stood in my classroom this morning, and as I looked around, I could have heard a pin drop. All my students were busy writing their stories and we were temporarily redundant. It’s those rare moments where everyone is 100% engaged and 100% on task that remind me how far they have all come.

But it wasn’t always like that. At the start of this year none of my KS3 group were confident writers, in fact one of them hadn’t put pen to paper for over four years. Now, although we have the odd grumble about extended written tasks, every one of them is comfortable writing a side of A4 without any real difficulty. Marking their work, gives me a pleasure like no other. They are now proficient writers; they can all write in full sentences, they can all develop their own ideas and they can all transfer those ideas to paper.

We often just expect students to put pen to paper and write, but the reality is it doesn’t happen just like that. We have to create ideas. We have to explore them together, play with them, laugh at them. We have to make our students want to write. We have to make them feel like they have something to say. We have to tell stories.

Many students with ASD have gaps in their education, sometimes because they’ve spent time out of school, sometimes because they’ve missed lessons due to interventions and sometimes because they’ve sat in lessons but been focussing on the way wind is moving in the trees or the sound of the teachers voice without hearing the words coming out. So we need to be inventive. We need to create experiences that help our students fill in those gaps.

I am thankful that my team are fantastic and versatile actors – in fact if I’m not careful I may lose them to the West End! This term, they’ve been Princesses, they’ve been dragon slayers, they’ve been Greek Gods, they’ve been mythical creatures; they’ve even been the voice of smelly socks. All of course, completely without warning, at the drop of a hat, to provide an array of ideas and create interest.

So ideas sorted, we need to create a structure, a safety net to work from. We use writing frames a lot. In the beginning we cut out one segment of the frame at a time, so that the students didn’t see a whole piece of writing in front of them but instead saw a manageable 10cm by 3cm box with a question or sentence starter (Have a look at how we wrote about Sherbet Lemons). Each box was completed separately, until when finished we presented the students with their ‘whole’ piece of work complete with their gold galleon to spend in our Diagon Alley reward shop. Over time we’ve built that up and now our students are all confident enough to be presented with a full writing frame, and depending on the task and the time of day some are capable of completing them independently.

Extended creative writing tasks are tricky, but students with ASD can accomplish them and accomplish them well. It’s up to us to provide them with an environment which inspires them to write and a structure which enables them to feel safe doing so. Why not try being a Princess tomorrow? Or a dragon? Or even an apple? Step outside the box, have some fun. If you have fun, I bet your students will too!

No Way I’ve Already Done It!

Tomorrow is Monday morning; lesson one I teach my KS4 students – all of whom before 9.30 if I’m totally honest, would far rather be at home in bed than in my lesson. They will be grumpy, and anything and everything that is wrong with their world will be my fault. It’s ok – I won’t take it personally – as soon as the clock hits 9.30 they will become the lovely human beings I know them to be, and I will be forgiven for inflicting endless misery upon them.

I am however determined, as I am every Monday that lesson one will be a success, despite the fact that this Monday I (the evil teacher) will be inflicting the horror of all horror on them. We will be redrafting a piece of work.

Now I should add here that redrafting work, has – in the eyes of my students – to be the most pointless task ever invented. It is in their opinion simply a form of torture which teachers have invented in order to make them miserable. I mean what is the point of redoing something that you have already done, tried your best doing and are quite satisfied with?

Of course I could just say, never mind then let’s leave it at that. However, both they and I know that that isn’t going to happen. I’m far too stubborn for that. My KS4 students are wonderful, intelligent and creative, and more than capable of improving their work. However, that said – nor am I going to embark on a battle of wills first thing on a Monday morning.

Instead I’m going to go round the houses, they aren’t going to ‘redraft’ work, or at least not knowingly. Instead, they are going to complete four challenges – each of which asks them to look at a different element of their work. Those challenges will be handwritten and presented in an envelope which congratulates them on a fantastic piece of work. I need them to understand that 1) They have done a great job with their work, 2) I know that they’ve done a great job, 3) Even when we’ve done a great job, we can still challenge ourselves a little bit more.

One day, in the not too distant future – they will be ready for me to say to them, ‘OK guys let’s redraft this’, but first they need to understand that redrafting something doesn’t mean you got it wrong in the first place and second they need to have the building blocks in place to understand what redrafting work really means.

Ok and I forgot, one tiny other element – a Cadbury’s chocolate éclair – once they’ve completed their challenges they will enjoy their éclair whilst I thoroughly enjoy reading their excellent work!

If you would like to try this with your students here are some printable and editable challenges for you to get started with. Just don’t mention the dreaded ‘redrafting’ word!

Minecraft? Batman? Mortal Kombat? In Lessons? Why Not!

So much of differentiation isn’t about creating a resource, or planning a different lesson. I mean, sure you can do those things, and sometimes doing those things is a great thing to do. Realistically though you can differentiate for many students without doing those things every single lesson.

All you need to do is remember that students are people just like you; they have likes, they have dislikes, they get scared, they get sad and they get excited. You need to learn what makes them tick. Do they love dolls? Are they a Batman fanatic? Is minecraft their one and only true love?  Whatever their thing is, it pays to educate yourself. You don’t have to become a world-leading expert, just arm yourself with a little bit of knowledge, believe me it will pay off.

A quick chat on the way out of your room or in a corridor about a topic that interests a student, goes wonders towards making you interesting, and if you’re interesting you are worth working for. And well, if you’re going to make yourself interesting you may as well use it to your advantage! Do you want a story written by a Minecraft fan? Try suggesting they incorporate a character called Steve, or an Angry Wolf in there. Do you want a Science experiment carried out by a Mortal Kombat fan? How about, figuring out a way of making clean drinking water for Scorpian. It doesn’t matter what the interest is, with a little bit of creativity you can incorporate it into virtually any task. You get the lesson objective met, the student thinks they’ve spent the whole lesson doing something they want to do and therefore learns enthusiastically, it’s a win win situation – and best of all not an extra worksheet in sight.

After all, we all work better for someone we like, someone we respect, and someone who cares enough to find out a little about what makes us tick. Why should our students be any different?

Lego In The Classroom

Ok, Let’s face it, as teachers we love to play. In fact that’s probably one of the main reasons we’ve spent our life in school. It allows us to be Peter Pan. As my GCSE class frequently tell anyone who will listen; I do stand on tables, pretend to be a goat and have been known to be a princess. I mean let’s face it, in what other job would we get to have so much fun on a daily basis?

So when I read about Lego’s range of educational products last weekend, I have to say I was thoroughly excited.  Not having any budget left though, I turned not to those but to my daughter’s closet, where I raided her lego supply to spice up my lessons. So this week we’ve used lego as a starter both in maths and in English, and I have to stay it really worked, in maths we had 100% engagement from all students, and in English even my most reluctant writers managed to write a full side of A4.

In English, students (both in KS3 and KS4) built their lego models to give them a starting point for their story. I have never seen more excitement in my room, and the task involved zero preparation time, I literally picked up the box of lego and put it in my classroom.

In maths, my lego work involved slightly more preparation time because I prepared individual lego bags for students based on their own learning objectives (e.g. a bag of 12 one by two bricks for a student working on his two times table) – that said, the bags are now made, and I know I’ll use them again and again, so it was well worth it; especially when students arrive expecting to see a worksheet on their desk and instead saw a bag of lego. Maths has never been as much fun!

For more information about Lego’s exciting range of products check out https://education.lego.com/en-gb/lesi