Another Fine Mess

1st June 2016

Well assessment at Key stage 1 and 2 is going well isn’t it?
As far as I can see, all attempts to address the issues of life beyond levels have merely become a life with new and (different) levels.
The SATS tests were new, and depressingly similar, and children managed to exhibit the same variety of strange behaviours that they always did. Of course, EAL pupils managed to add in the extra misinterpretation that only living with several languages can offer.


What Price Outstanding?

31st May 2016

Recently I encountered a charming young man. He is eleven years old.
His parent and sibling have fled a situation of desperate peril. Like so many, they have NRPF (no recourse to public funds), which means life is eked out on meagre scraps we choose to offer. London is expensive so they inhabit one room.

Some of you have noticed his age and will predict the next bit of awfulness. He is in Year 6. He does not speak English. He has been traumatised.He has been out of school since last summer.


Sustained Shared Unthinking - the Case Against Maths Sets

28th November 2015

We are, as a profession, optimistic. Otherwise we couldn’t carry on. Sometimes this leads to a triumph of hope over experience. Painfully.

In a lesson on angles I decided to throw in a quick number challenge, as in dividing a right angle and asking, “What’s half of 90?”
Didier: Easy it's 99.
Me: Try again, it needs to be smaller.


Even or Odd: the Case for Maths Sets

27th November 2015

We set for maths and I have the pleasure of working with eight children who have failed to grasp things over the course of their educational careers.  I explained to them at the start that we could all ask any questions, that it was important that they understood all the work we did and it was their responsibility to ask.



Well clearly blogs are like the 73 bus. You wait ages then three come along at once!
I have not posted in a while. Why? Well partly because I more and more felt I was stating the bleedin’ obvious. Partly because there seem to be more educational blogs than there are teachers. However, some lovely people contacted me to say they found “Joined In Thinking” helpful. So inspired by my colleagues and my pupils, I am recommencing.  Hopefully every Friday, but maybe not Christmas Day or New Years Day. Here goes:

To Set or not to Set? That is the question.

26th November 2015

It is a question I have pondered for the last two decades. Are maths sets for year 6 a good idea? Instinctively I say no, but there does seem to be evidence that there is an opportunity to fine tune and fill gaps that benefits pupils. There is always the anxiety of where to put new children; good mathematicians must be in higher sets even if the language needs adjusting or illustrating.  Where you have teachers with the skills to adapt, and access to dictionaries, progress can be rapid.

Look More, Listen More

8th May 2015

What makes classrooms effective learning environments for EAL learners, especially beginners? This is a question that has cudgelled my brain, for my whole career.

We know, and can recite: a language rich environment, purposeful interaction, visual prompts, modelling, rephrasing, repetition, headlining of content, orientation, high expectations, positive attitudes to diversity and an inclusive ethos. But... it still remains the case that some classrooms and some teachers create more rapid progress than others.

I have the privilege of watching lots of teachers and EAL learners at work. Through this I am developing a hypothesis......

Be More Saxon

24th April 2015

There was a small news item the other week that caught my eye. Someone analysed the DNA of a number of people from longstanding “area-based” families, that is to say people with all four grandparents originating from the same place. From this it was deduced that the invasion with the biggest long-term impact on the English populace was not the Romans, the Vikings nor the Normans, but the Saxons.
The Vikings and Romans came and raided. They built things and left some words and place-names, but very little tangible DNA continued in the English population. The Normans left even less DNA, despite being our most famous invaders, though they did give us Magna Carta and a lot more words. But the Saxons, hardly mentioned, left DNA which is still clearly present in modern Brits.
What on Earth has this to do with EAL, I hear you ask? Well it seems to me the Saxons may be the best blue print for EAL teachers.....


A Framework that seems to work

20th March 2015

A whole month since the last blog : sorry.  School’s been a bit “interesting”, but enough of that.

I have been mulling over a new (to me) framework for learners. I was talking to wonderful Simon Wrigley at a Teachers As Writers meeting a fortnight ago and he shared his theory on the writing process:

You need:

confidence > participation> practice or experimentation >reflection>
to succeed on a writing task.....

Getting Better and Better

21st February 2015

How do you know that your pupils are making progress? You would think this question is at the core of our profession, the very essence of teaching. But, sadly, it seems not. As the year creaks on and the targets set so cheerfully in September now look like mirages, as we realise that we have eight weeks until the SATs tests, we lose sight of any progress that isn’t easily pinned down and annotated....

That’s Me That Is

16th January 2015

At school we have taken advantage of the curriculum overhaul to add a global dimension to our curriculum. This is probably long overdue and many people are finding the resourcing hard work. Where we are moving forward the effects are quite startling. Children engage more, learn more and try harder when they feel the text, or science, or history or maths relates to them....

More of those magic grid things

17th October 2014

As I said last time, the process of construction of substitution tables makes you more aware of language and how it is being used. I have still not kept a bank of readymade ones because the creation is part of my planning for the group. I thought I could demonstrate by discussing a few I have created in the last fortnight...

One of those magic grid things

10th October 2014

We added more new pupils this week, and the staff and fellow pupils are rising to the challenge in a way that makes me feel quite humble.
Last year I ran training for the teachers at school, the training covered early stage EAL learners. Now, as every Keystage 2 teacher has a new arrival in their class, some teachers are dusting off their notes. One teacher asked me,
“Can you help? I need to make one of those magic grid things.” ....

Room for one more on top

3rd October 2014

The last seven days have absolutely stretched our school to the limit. They’ve also given this EAL teacher to a sensation of being on a very fast moving roundabout. We have added 6 children, who have never been to school in the UK, to our roll. On top of the 4 admitted earlier this term.This doesn’t sound like much as I write it down, but the reality is ...

Give and Take

29th September 2014

The “Matthew Effect” is well documented in sociology and economics.
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.
Matthew 25:29, King James Version.

Or  - “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Sadly, it also occurs in terms of academic success...


The Power of Three

19th September 2014

Triangles Part 3

Maslow identified the importance of safety, both physical and emotional, but we also need to build a sense of self worth, of adding value to the community our students have joined.

For our New Arrivals it easy to cast them as “people who can’t,” rather than “people who can.”  In order to succeed students need to know that they are successful and to be perceived by other students as successful....

The Power of Three

2nd May 2014

Triangles Part 2

"none shall push aside another, none shall let another fall.”

From Pete Seeger’s lyrics for Ode to Joy

These lines always seem to me to encapsulate the perfect society and the exact culture we should strive for in our classrooms and schools. It is also the culture that will support inclusion.

So, following on from last time, physically safe we can achieve, but emotionally safe, how shall we do this?...


The Power of Three

6th March 2014

The power of three – Triangles Part 1

Despite all the fashionable fads and whims in education some ideas endure through it all. If they do it is because they make sense and have a resonance for teachers in their practice. Maslow’s pyramid is one such enduring idea. It has shaped my work for the best part of three decades, and should always be at the forefront of the EAL teacher’s mind....

Grouping and Sharing

11th November 2013

Where in your classroom is your new arrival going to sit? As an EAL teacher, this is, I think, my biggest battle. Intuitively teachers and teaching assistants feel that the table where there is most support is best. This is very rarely so....



This Year's Crop

5th November 2013

The life of an EAL teacher is predictable only in its unpredictability. As the new school year settles into its own rhythm, and children and teachers find their feet, that’s when everything gets upended. October always brings a swathe of new admissions, but you can never predict who, or when, or how old, or where from. So you carry on until they arrive....


Social glue

June 7th 2013

"If you want a child to learn make sure he has a friend"

Johnson and Johnson

Children need to feel part of this new community, that is your classroom and your school. We want them to have as many positive interactions as possible every day. But, because we have so little shared language we all find it hard....


May 24th 2013

“ I may be silent but I’m thinking. I may not talk But don’t mistake me for a wall”

Tsubjo Shigeji

The “silent phase” is well documented, and has an almost hallowed status in some quarters. Many teachers have read or heard about this stage that beginners to English go through.

I had a very aggrieved teacher say to me, “Why is he trying to talk? He should still be in the silent phase.”

It’s a funny old fish, the silent phase....

Well Begun is Half Done

May 20th 2013

I was talking today to Nancy who is now in year 6 and a very skilled user of English and Thai. Throughout KS1, however, people were concerned about her use of language.

She remembered her first day at school in Reception...