Achieving maximum engagement at Nethermains Primary School

Paula O’Hare and Caroline Cane

Paula O’Hare and Caroline Cane are Primary 1 teachers at Nethermains Primary School in Denny, Falkirk. Between them they have ten years teaching experience. Paula and Caroline both completed their probationary teaching periods at Nethermains.

Paula has worked with both North Lanarkshire and Falkirk Council at a variety of stages. She also lived in Dubai for three years, where she taught within Early Years at an Arabic school. She has experience in both the Curriculum for Excellence and the British Curriculum. Paula takes on the responsibility of display co-ordinator within the school. Caroline completed six months of supply work before her probationary period and is fluent in Spanish. She is extremely passionate about integrating languages into the classroom and has particularly found the 1 + 2 initiative introduced by Education Scotland, an integral part of her day to day teaching. Caroline takes on the responsibility of Spanish coordinator within the school.

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Originally published on 29th January 2016 Originally published on 29th January 2016

1+2 Approach (Primary Language Learning)

In Primary 1, we have been actively involved in integrating the 1+2 approach into our everyday classroom environment. We have two class mascots called Etienne (French elephant) and Jorge (Spanish giraffe), who represent the two languages which are taught. These mascots have proven to be an excellent resource to the class. The children have to look after the mascots during the day; showing them care and respect and allowing them to be part of their learning experience. On a Friday, the children are given the opportunity to take the boys home. The adventures of Etienne and Jorge are recorded via Twitter or through our adventure journals, which are put inside the boy’s travel bags.

Our children and their parents have thoroughly enjoyed this experience, which not only gives the child the responsibility of care, but also allows them to practise French and Spanish in their home environment with their adult.

French, taught by Mademoiselle O’Hare, is used intermittently throughout the day; colours of lunch bands, numbers, days of the week, eventually leading on to simple classroom instruction. Spanish is taught by La Señora Cane separately after lunchtime in fifteen minute slots. The topics vary throughout the week and are integrated into the classroom and school routine.

Active Literacy

We provide the children with a variety of hands-on and creative activities to expand Active Literacy within the class. New sounds are taught through exciting songs, actions, handwriting tasks, sound bags, playdough mats, rainbow writing, magnetic boards and chalkies (letters, words, or even numbers that are written in chalk on the ground and the children make the letter using cubes or pasta). As you can see, Etienne and Jorge love to get involved in our learning, and the children love teaching them English! The children are very confident in reciprocal teaching using the active literacy programme, and this skill is transferred to their at home activities well.

On a Friday, the children experience what we call Free Play Friday, which consists of table top activities relating to the learning of the current week. For example, specific sounds, handwriting and reading books which the children can work on independently. This is an ideal opportunity to consolidate the children’s learning from that week, and also encourages independence allowing us to observe the children in this environment.

We have integrated a Thinking Reading Approach extensively in our class (often linked to topic and non-fiction texts), and find it has had a very positive impact on the understanding and engagement of the children. Children are more aware of the aspects of different genre, including texts, films and adverts, and are beginning to use metalinguistics to enhance their knowledge of new sounds and words. We have also linked a thinking reader approach to our FoCaL programme (‘Focusing on Communication and Learning’ - speech and language therapy) which looks at fun with narrative as well as exploring texts in fun and engaging ways.

Big Maths and Numeracy

The Little Big Maths/Big Maths methodology has had an extremely positive impact on the mental agility of the class. They are continuously developing addition skills through active tasks and the engaging characters of Big Maths. These resources provide progression at a glance, as well as in detail and the children have responded very well to this showing great confidence in transferring their skills across other areas of the curriculum. The children are encouraged to solve problems using an ‘it’s nothing new’ concept. For example, they know that if 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 + 2 = 4, so they can then use this knowledge to work out that 1p + 1p would equal 2p, and 2p + 2p equals 4p.

Interdisciplinary Learning (People Who Help Us)

This term, we have been learning about ‘People Who Help Us’. Last year in Primary 1, we felt this worked extremely well and really engaged the children through a storyline approach, so we decided to go ahead with the same structure this year. The children are emailed weekly by Mayor Smith of Nethermains. After some horrendous weather, Nethermains High Street was damaged and the children were set the task to rebuild the street. The street has become our main wall display and continues to be built on throughout the term. Mayor Smith has set out various tasks for them to complete; these tasks are linked to all areas of the curriculum, allowing the children to brush up on different skills such as money recognition so that they were able to work in Nethermains High Street.

Twitter Involvement

Twitter has been our super tool this year. We have used it as our canvas of learning; the children share their learning journey and development and their parents are able to see what has been going on during the day. Children are extremely aware of Twitter, and often say that their parents have sat and spoke to them about their day using this as a medium. Twitter is beyond valuable in the aspect of effective communication with parents and parental involvement, as well as home-school links. We have developed a very positive relationship with our parents through Twitter, and have received extremely positive feedback from both parents and colleagues from other council areas.

Classroom Displays

In Primary 1 we use displays to extend our learning. They are used as a tool not only for sharing our learning journey, but also to engage and extend said learning. We ensure our displays are interactive and relevant to what we are learning and are regularly changed to inspire and excite the children. We strive to ensure they demonstrate progression and show examples of attainment across all areas of the curriculum.

Weather Watchers

We regularly update our BBC Weather Watchers account, which allows the children to take the lead on their own learning. The children have been engaged in this activity, especially with the weather being as changeable as it has been in recent weeks! The class are given the opportunity to create a weather report as well as upload a ‘real time’ picture. We encourage the children to take responsibility for this. Their learning is linked to technology and literacy allowing them to take the picture themselves as well as describe the weather in detail.

Open Afternoons

We regularly invite our parents into class to showcase our learning within different areas of the curriculum. We recently held an open afternoon within literacy and numeracy. Mrs Cane focussed on active literacy and explained to parents what happens on a daily basis within class. She also shared varying ways to support children at home and help extend their learning. Miss O’Hare focussed on numeracy and Big Maths, and also explained the framework and methodology behind the project, as well as providing support materials and practical ideas to use at home. The parents were able to come into class afterwards to witness the children’s learning in action and adopt a hands-on approach; sharing their child’s achievement within both areas.

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