Knowledge organisers and how we might use them

Michael Tidd’s latest blog post about knowledge organisers is very interesting. I haven’t heard of these before and, like him, I am not a hundred percent convinced that they should/could be used in primary schools. They seem to be used mostly in secondary schools where there is  a strong knowledge-based curriculum. However, I can think of two ways in which they might be used in Primary English:

  1. Teachers could create a knowledge organiser around a grammatical element that the class are learning about. I am thinking here more about KS2 rather than KS1.  As a developmental activity for teams to complete, it would be an excellent tool to bring together understandings and identify areas where there is a need for further staff development. We are, in effect, just re-organising the grammar curriculum but it goes much further than that. I have had a go at creating a knowledge organiser for clauses for Yr6. The benefits of this are that it could be used for revision, sent home for parents to refer to (you may need a parents evening to introduce it and the subject knowledge) and to direct and mark key learning points in a sequence of sessions. It covers all the work from Yr1 where and is introduced right up to Yr6 and this means that gaps can be filled. It would be fascinating to see and compare the chart that they Yr3, Yr4 and Yr5 teachers created for their year groups in the same area. This would go along way to developing consistency of understanding of key elements of learning in grammr. You can see the organiser here. It was struggle to get this all on one A4 sheet – thank goodness for font size 10!
  2. When I looked at the example on Michael’s blog my immediate thought was that it was what children needed to complete when researching and gathering information to write an invent, non-fiction  piece of writing.  Children could be given a blank chart towards the start of the sequence which they could then use at home and during lessons to collect the information they will need to write effectively.  My first worry about the way its use as described by Michael is that if the whole class uses the same one it over-scaffolds writing, ending up with 30 pieces of similar writing. This would be alright at the innovate stage of writing because there you would be showing the class how to use the organiser to support their writing. However, for an assessed piece of writing, I don’t think it meets the spirit of independence as described in the Moderation Guidance documents. But, if children created their own organiser to write about their content of their choice then I think that would meet the idea of independence.

I have found one primary school who have shared their curriculum with parents using knowledge organisers. I particularly like those that include essential vocabulary as it seems to me that we need a much greater emphasis on developing depth and breadth of understanding in this area. Interestingly they don’t have (or haven’t shared) the organisers for their English curriculum.

What do you think about knowledge organisers?

10 things I really liked in 2009

happynewyearI have now been blogging for 13 months – I forgot the blog birthday.  Strange how online life mirrors real life ; ) I thought for the end of 2009 I would pick out 10 things that I discovered and that have become a part of me, some of which I have blogged about and some not.  When I say I discovered it is of course thanks to all the people in my PLN that discovered them for me!

1. Talk for writing and here – this is a strange one but it is a way of teaching writing that helps children to embed language patterns and use them in their own writing.  I have worked with a lot of teachers and quite a few children in my eight years of being a literacy consultant and this is the one idea that has had the most impact on children and their writing. The other reason that I like it so much is that it is based on skills and processes that writers use and is not a mechanistic attempt to simplify writing for teachers or children.   I am looking forward to seeing how it develops amongst our team and with teachers and children in 2010.

2. There will be several books in this list but one of my favourites that has had a lot of use towards the end of the year and will do so next year is Think of an Eel .  This is a non-fiction text told through two voices; one which I would call a literary non-fiction voice and one which is a more formal report voice. Word order and choice is poetic, sentence construction is varied and paced to fit the life cycle of an eel and the illustrations are watery and also reflect the sentences and life cycle.  This is definitely a text that teaches.

3. 2009 introduced me to etherpad which then disappeared.  It enabled groups of people to write together synchronously or asynchronously and was so usable in the classroom.  It has been  reborn in several  forms of which I use two, Netherpad (which wouldn’t open when I wrote this post so I hope it hasn’t disappeared as well) and PiratePad.

4. Comic creators – the boys writing project that we have run this year has meant that I have had to move into areas of reading and writing where I am not very experienced.  Comics.   The best software to create comics is Comic Life because you can use your own images.  However, if you can’t afford to buy software (and this doesn’t cost much) then the following are great; Super Action Comic Hero , Dr Who Comic Maker , Read Write Think comic creator and Captain Underpants .  Plenty to choose from.

5. One book which has influenced my thinking about how we teach the reading and writing of fiction is The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. I am fascinated by the underlying patterns of story and now when I read can’t help but try and decide which of his seven plots are used.  They help children to see the generic patterns behind story whether in print or as images and can be used in their own writing.  I am not the only one interested in this.

6. I have found diigo to be an invaluable way of reading and commenting on texts online, particularly when doing this as part of a group study.  I have to say that it went beyond my expectations.

7. Storybook creators – I love these sites that allow children to create their own books.  They range from those that allow a lot of choices to those that don’t but all offer something to young writers.  Some of my favourites are; Picture Book Maker, Spot the Dog and Storybird (this is my all time favourite but is blocked by our filters even on my computer – lucky you if you can get it).

8. My Flip Video Camcorder .  More and more schools are getting these as easy to use video cameras to have available in the classroom.  They should be there for children to use a a tool to record learning just as pens and pencils are.  I bought one because I found some of the other cameras in classrooms limiting.  I use it all the time.  It comes with editing software but I prefer to download the film and use MovieMaker to edit.  Very easy to use.

9. The power of animation to allow children to show their understanding of texts.  This is partly due to the project, Persistence of Vision, that we are involved in.  We are particularly focused on the links between animation and poetry. Our outcomes are to try and record what we think progression in animation looks like in primary schools and to develop a professional development package that can be used byanyone interested in taking animation further.  We are working with Oscar Stringer and using I Can Animate software and the powerful yet affordable Hue webcams as our equipment.  I have to own up to having a bright pink Hue webcam.

10.  and finally to all the people that I am connected to through twitter, blogging, LinkedIn,Facebook and online learning a big thank you for all your ideas and resources that you have shared.  It is because of you that I can write a post like this.

Happy New Year.

Nudging Towards Use

christmastreeI have just read a reveiw (scroll down the page after clicking to see the review) of the book Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein and I think it was what I was trying to do today when introducing online collaborative tools to my colleagues.  By showing how I use them and the difference they make to my work I was nudging them towards making a decision to use them in their work.

‘For a nudge to be successful it needs to be ‘anchored’. You are unlikely to choose well when you don’t know what the decision will ‘look like’ or what the benefits of that decision will be. It is hard to overstate the impact of peer pressure – we nudge each other all the time – and social influences are very powerful.’

I showed bookmarking, blogging and Voice Thread; two ideas that we can use in our own work and one that we can use with children (although I know that children can use bookmarking and blogging as well).  One of the tools that attracted a lot of  attention was the bookmarking and in particular diigo for its tools to highlight and comment on texts.  There are several areas of our work where reading and critiquing are important aspects and this would be a tool that would facilitate it.

And if you were wondering what it is in the photo, this is the christmas tree that my team made out of newspaper and masking tape in the afternoon.  It was required to stand on its own and to have an angel on top.  Although we fulfilled the criteria, ours was not the most aesthetically pleasing, looking a tad scruffy.

Online Collaboration

This week I will be working with a group of consultants, literacy and maths, thinking about online collaboration before we have our christmas meal.  They don’t just want the ‘how do you do it’ but want some of the ‘why do you do it?’ particularly where twitter is involved I suspect.

butwhy I want to share some of the things that I use regularly; bookmarking – delicious and diigo, blogging to include twitter and then google docs.  The thing is, I use these things so often that they are part of my every day working and I haven’t thought about why I use them for  a long time.   I just take them for granted.

Why use bookmarking?

  • share and see others’ websites which gives a far greater variety than I have the time or inclination to search for
  • allows us to share particular resources such as those for a course with tagging- quick and easy
  • I fnd my most frequently used bookmark icons on firefox the quickest and easiest way to access the sites I visit most frequently
  • highlighting text and commenting on documents that are being used for studying and even better when working in a group
  • bookmarks  available from any computer with online access

Why do I blog?

  • today I am using it to organise my thoughts and hoping that someone will comment and add ideas
  • sharing resources and ways of using them
  • discussing ideas
  • reflecting and learning
  • access to a people who are experts in their field and joining in their conversations

Why do I use google docs?

  • one of the easiest ways to collaborate real time in a variety of ways now that etherpad is no longer viable

The upshot of all this is to share and to learn with and from others.  They give me access to thoughts, ideas and resources that I don’t get from anywhere else.  And why do I want this? Because I want to be able to use tools that children may well be familiar with but in ways that they may not be using them.  To learn.

Why do you use collaborative tools?

But Why? Image from alternatePhotography

Other posts about collaboration

Boys Writing Project – lesson study CPD

We launched our boys writing project today.  It was a good morning where we explored some of the ideas that might be investigated in the classroom.


We are using the lesson study model of CPD for this project.  I first read about lessons study in a wonderful book, The Teaching Gap by James Stigler and James Hiebert.  The researchers compared maths teaching practices in Japan, Germany and America in order to look at teaching and how to improve it.  Part of their argument is that teaching is a cultural activity determined by our beliefs and habits and that these are stable and not easily changed particularly when the system is so complex.  And teaching is complex.  They also argue that in trying to accomplish too much we may well have sacrificed opportunities for small, cummulative improvements.

Japan however, gives great value to small improvements. Lesson study is based upon long-term, continuous improvement, maintains a focus on pupil learning, focuses on improving teaching in context and is collaborative.  Teachers who participate in lesson study see themselves as contributing to the development and knowledge about teaching as well as their own professional development.

We have slightly adapted the model to suit our cirucmstances but are uisng the plan, teach, observe and review structure of the Japanese model.

  • Plan – we are working in a  team of 3, 2 teachers and 1 consultant and together will plan a lesson. this lesson will be anchored within a teaching sequence.   We will be thinking about the barriers to learning for the boys and how we might overcome them.  Because we have all planned it, this lesson belongs to no-one thus taking the focus off any one teacher.  We may well have done some reading of research into boys writing  to inform us and provide some ideas to trial.
  • Teach – one of us will teach the lesson or part of a lesson.
  • Observe – the other two will observe the children, in this case boys, making notes about their behaviours, learning and difficulties
  • Review – finally we will discuss our observations of the learning in detail, what worked, what didn’t and why. Time will be then spent thinking about how what we now know will impact on the next lesson.
  • And finally teachers share what they have learnt.  We have set up a blog for teachers to discuss their learning with others in the project.  This is private at the moment because only 1 person out of the 30 people present has blogged before.  As confidence grows we will share some of the posts and learning on this blog.

We are looking for those small steps in learning and change in practice that are sustainable.  After all , I am sure you know the saying ‘When a butterfly flaps its wings in…..’