Well, the students have all left uni now and despite popular belief I am not on holiday from May until September but busy with planning and preparation, research, visiting and working with schools, and getting back into blogging on this site. I am currently enjoying a week working in school alongside teachers on a variety of STEM activities including investigating skittles, creating an eco-classroom and investigating bridges and bug hotels. As well as this, it would appear that many NQT’s are actually heading out into school to work alongside their new classes. These transition hours/days/weeks are very important but there is always that discussion what you should actually do within this time. This seemed to be a perfect opportunity for me to give you some idea which I have done in the past and what I think are the important elements of a transition day.
It seems strange to be starting a new school year in June/July but the transition time often starts then. This is the time that the children will meet their new teacher for the first time within the confines of the classroom in a learning environment. Being part of a the senior leadership team, it was often the case that the children would have seen me before they started in my class either in assembly or playground/lunchtime duty. This interaction could have been from a distance or when positive praise had been give or, if the child had not met the expectations of the school, a more authoritative interaction where sanctions had been applied. I always think it is important to reassure the children that we do, as teachers, have several different roles and our interaction with the children changes depending on this role. I was never someone who would subscribe to interacting with the children before they entered my class by giving a warning before they even entered through the door in September, mainly because I wanted each and every child to recognise that the start of the new year heralded a start of a new slate and the previous one, as far as I was concerned, was wiped clean, ready for a new part of a journey to be created. Starting a new year can be very stressful for the children and I think the transition time is a valuable time for you to build up positive relationships with the children and to start to celebrate the new year and set out what they can possible to be able to achieve throughout the year.
How would you describe yourself? – I am probably the least creative person on this planet and so, as I share with you some of my ideas about transition, feel free to think of exciting and creative ways to actually deliver these. I actually use this next activity at university when I meet a new group of students in their first Academic Tutorial meeting with me. It requires some modelling to be effective and if possible, within the classroom, another adult. In order to teach children effectively, I think it is very important to ‘know the child’. This first activity actually encourages the children to think of three words which they would actually use to describe themselves and three words which other people would use. This is where the modelling comes in. Initially I would put a picture of myself on the board and a picture of how I think other people view me – the latter is normally like a James Bond type – super spy! I would then ask the children to think of words to describe me – not my physical appearance, but how I teach and what they have heard I am like as a teacher through the school grape vine. If I was a completely new teacher, I would ask them what they think I will be like as a teacher. This allows you to put the children at ease with certain aspects of your practice and start to set expectations. I would often get children saying I was ‘strict’. This was fine, but I would make them aware that this didn’t mean I was cross and shouted all the time, but more that when I said things I was consistent and expected it to happen. If I asked them to do something I did expect it to happen but also when I said they had done well, I also meant it. I would also include the teaching assistant in this activity so they could feed in words which we might want to include that might not be volunteered within the discussion. This activity also allowed me to start to develop an open discussion learning environment within the classroom. After these words had been explored, they were reduced to three and then I would say three words which I would use to describe myself. Sometimes these would be expanded to short phrases, but words are a lot better. Then it would be the children’s turn to complete the process but in reverse. The would first decide on the three words which described themselves and then, through talking with an adult or a talk partner, decide on three words which describe how other people see them with an emphasis always being on the positive. If these are recorded then this can be an initial display ready for your classroom for the start of September. I would also use this as a basis of a PSHE activity which I ran throughout the year when a person’s name would be drawn from a box and that person would leave the room and the class would decide on three positive words to describe them which my teaching assistant would place on a certificate and give to the child to take home. I said person, rather than child, on purpose because both the teaching assistant and my own name were in the box!
In one year time! – I have actually recorded a video which is available on YouTube to myself to look at in ten years time from the original recording date. I’m trying not to look at it, mainly because I am quite worried how much older and greyer I will probably look now compared to then. Within this video I actually say what I hoped to achieve in ten years from the original date of recording. I am actually a great believer in setting targets and visiting them frequently since I think this helps us progress in all aspects of life. The second activity which I liked to complete with the ‘new class’ was something related to the idea of setting targets. The concept of this was to ask the children to think about this time next year and to think about what they hoped to achieve by then. They had to think about three ‘targets’ and they would want to aim for and achieve during their time in the class. These could be related to anything but one had to be something academic and one not. Often they would be focused on things like learn my time tables or produce neater handwriting and it was important to interrogate these more and try to get the children to explore how they would achieve this – for example – I will try to write slower or I want to be have my handwriting firmly attached to the line. The targets in this form has some ‘hint’ at the strategies the children would be implementing in order to achieve these. Again these could be displayed somewhere as a good starting point for the new year, although it is at this point that I feel I have to stress that targets are only the starting point of this process and time is always needed to reengage with these in order to ensure that things are moving forward. Oh, and while the children are setting themselves target, don’t forget to model the process and set yourself some – you didn’t think you were going to get away with it did you!
Over coming barriers – The final activity which I would engage with on the transition day/morning, was one which was never written down but was explored verbally with the class at their desks or even better on the carpet/in the school hall. Even though we all want the best things to happen in the year, there are things which are barriers to us and the children achieving these. These should never be seen as excuses but should be seen as barriers which can be climbed over and/or knocked down. Actually talking about these can put them more into perspective and people can present strategies how they can be overcome. I remember once, sat talking about things which might stop us achieving our targets and one child had said that they wanted to write better stories. When we had discussed this further in the previous activity, we had focused in on this and had decided that using more adventurous vocabulary would have been a better target. When we were discussing the barriers to our targets in this session, I over heard the same child talking to their partner and saying that the biggest difficulty would be that he was bad at spelling and that was why he couldn’t use the words. And the solution to this barrier? His talk partner quite simply asked said to him, don’t worry about that, I’ll help you. It was so nice to see that the supportive classroom environment which I was aiming to be created had already started to sprout both roots and shoots. Often, during this discussion, it is up to you to talk about strategies and ways which the children can help themselves and each other. You could record this in some way, although for me, the most important aspect of this activity is the discussion and the reassurance.
And that’s it! three of my activities from transition day/morning. Many people might suggest writing stories or completing mathematical problems but for me the important aspect of the transition time is to leave the children with a positive feeling for the forthcoming year and to start to create a learning environment which is supportive and open and which all the learners, including the members of staff, will thrive and develop.
Do you have any transition activities which you would like to share? if you do then please add them in the comments below it would be great to hear how other people engage with this process. So, until next time, have fun everyone and I’ll catch you later and, until then, consider yourself waffled!