Easy Ways To Help Your Child With Handwriting.

The national curriculum has put a greater emphasis on cursive handwriting. Children in year R are being taught how to write joined up and it’s worrying many parents because they don’t know how to help. I’ve collected some “gems” over the years and have used some of these resources with my daughter. This post gives you easy ays to help your child with hand writing.

What is cursive handwriting?

‘Cursive’ or ‘joined-up’ handwriting is any style of writing where letters are joined to make writing faster.

Make it Fun!

If we can make the physical process of writing – handwriting – enjoyable from the start, children are more likely to see themselves as ‘writers’. If the physical process is unpleasant then there is a danger that everything associated with it – spelling, writing stories will also be unpleasant.

Pre-writing Activities

Handwriting is a skill which takes time to learn, just like using a knife and fork or tying your shoelaces. So activities like colouring in, using scissors, anything involving the hands are beneficial.

The Dadlab Youtube channel has some great videos on practicing handwriting with children. This video is a Montessouri method where the child writes the letter in a tray of granulated sugar. It’s so easy to do and great fun.

If you do have a whiteboard, you can write and then get your child to rub out what you have written by tracing over it with a finger. I have done this at Kip McGrath and its so easy to do. Here is a short video.

For a more structured approach try pre-writing activities which involve tracing shapes and lines. I print these out and laminate them so that children can write over them with a dry wipe pen, rub out and write again. Senteacher.org has lots of printable resources you could use.

These worksheets from Activity Village are lovely.




Once your child has mastered simple worksheets, they can move onto pictures. The idea is to give plenty of opportunity to hold a pencil correctly and control the pencil.

 Try this lovely owl picture from the Scholastic website.


Then there’s these pre writing worksheets which don’t use dotted lines at all.


Back Chaining

Start with your child’s name. This technique is called “back-chaining”.

Write the whole name first, and then write it again underneath but leave off the very last letter for your child to complete. Then write it again, this time leaving off the last two letters and so on, until the whole name is written independently by your child. Doing it this way means there is always a correct model for the student to copy, and you are breaking down your child’s name into manageable chunks.

Back- Chaining a technique to help your child learn to write their name.

Starting Points

Starting points are very important- mark them with a dot or a star, and make sure your child is forming the letters in the right direction.

This worksheet from kidstv123.com marks the starting point with a star so the child knows where to start.


I make the children say what they see before they start writing so for example an “m” is a stick and tunnel and a tunnel.

a – round the roundabout and then straight down

b – it’s important to get this right as many children confuse their b’s and d’s. Talk about the letter as if you are describing a movement rather than a shape. Start at the top and go down the ladder. When you get to the bottom go up the ladder a little bit and then go round the roundabout. You may need to explain that the roundabout comes after the ladder.

c – is a curly caterpillar

d- same as the letter “b” but explain that the roundabout/ball comes before the ladder.

e – across the bridge, over the top and down and round.

l – long ladder

r – one-armed robot

Teach similarly formed letters in groups, rather than working alphabetically, so, for instance, “c” and “a” may be taught together as may h, m, n and r.

These workseets from the measured mom are an excellent way of writing numbers. They show clearly where the starting points are and each worksheets covers one number. The numbers are in different sizes too which also helps with pencil control.

Get your child to practice their name by making your own name writing worksheet. Just print the worksheet, and put it into a clear plastic pocket. Children can write on the clear plastic pocket and wipe clean easily if you use dry wipe markers.

To Trace or Not To Trace?

Tracing letters instead of writing from scratch is easier but I would only do that for children who have good pencil control. At Kip McGrath we prefer to start with tracing as it gives the children a template. Tracing improves fine motor skills and should be used initially. Stop tracing once your child can write all the letters of the alphabet confidently.

The following websites do some great tracing worksheets.

SEN Teacher Flash Card Printer – select a word list suitable for your child, select font size 4, select a dotted font and change to a plain border. Print, laminate and use.

Handwriting worksheets – particularly good for making cursive handwriting worksheets.

Soft Schools – easy to use and prints out the handwriting guide lines too.

Super Teacher Worksheets – child friendly worksheets generated, a few are free to try.

Donna Young has a whole section on handwriting resources and what I like abut this website is that they are arranged in order of difficulty.

The Science of Teaching Science

My weekly science lessons are the highlight of my week.  Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching on the other days but Tuesdays science class combines my two favourite things – teaching and science.  Students who need science tuition don’t know how to learn science and remember it.  To learn science there are three steps:

  1.  first need to understand it

  2. then apply it to questions or even real life examples

  3. then remember it

When I was at school my Biology teacher would dictate pages and pages of notes for the whole lesson.  Occasionally we had a practical lesson, but the best lessons were the ones where she would ask us to put our books away and ask questions.  We would spend the whole lesson taking turns to ask her questions related to the topics we had been studying. This method of teaching helped us to understand, apply and remember the topic.

My science lessons are student led, I have a lesson planned, but most times I walk in not knowing what I will end up teaching.  I encourage students to use scientific words when asking questions and when talking about science.  New students rarely contribute to class discussions and don’t understand how science matters to their lives.

A new student will ask “Miss, is it true that mobile phones can kill you if you use them too much?”

Whereas a regular student will ask “Miss, is it true that the microwave radiation emitted from a mobile phone can cause mutations and lead to cancer?”

Do you see the difference? This was a question which came up in a physics topic on the electromagnetic spectrum.  The discussion continued onto cancer to treatment of cancer to Ebola to vaccination to drug discovery to forensic science and so on.

I find that teaching science in this way helps the students to remember more as it relates to their lives.  It makes science less abstract and more interesting.

teaching science

My science lessons are every Tuesday from 4.30 to 5.30.  Call 01582 402225 to book your child in.

My Typical Day – Who, What, Where, When and Why

“What do you think I do all day?” I asked one of my GCSE English students.

“Miss I bet you’re having coffee with friends and catching up on Eastenders,” she said.

Lol I wish it was like that.  Another student said that I must have a day job somewhere.


I teach in the evenings so people assume that I must have another job during the day.  WRONG!  My business is a full-time job, and as a centre owner I have many duties.

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings

So first thing this morning, after the school run, I had a meeting at a local school with the inclusion co-ordinator.  A parent of one of the children I teach asked me to come along to the meeting as the child is struggling at school and the school would like my opinion.  The meeting was really productive because they were impressed by the report I had written and I gave them a detailed insight into how the child learns and the difficulties he faces.  They will be giving him extra support in school now and will monitor closely to see if it makes a difference.


Lesson Plans

Then comes the favourite part of my job, planning lessons.  However, this week I made exam revision packs for my GCSE students because they have mocks coming up.  At Kip McGrath we use our own resources but exam practice and exam technique are also essential.  We teach children simple things like working out how much time they should devote to each question depending on how many marks it’s worth, and we get them to learn to use mark schemes.  These skills they can take away and do at home too.  So I made up packs targeted at C/D grades C/B and A/A* grades in both english and maths.

Phone Calls

Chasing up missed calls takes up a lot of my time too, especially if I am talking to a parent who doesn’t know what we do and how we do it.  I’m on the ball when it comes to telling tales too! As soon as a child forgets homework or is not trying, I call the parents.  I always give the children a chance and a warning though, but they never believe me when I say I am going to call their parents – until it happens.  The calls I love to make are the ones where I have to tell a parent that their child has improved.  We test regularly at Kip McGrath and parents don’t always come in to get feedback so it is my job to make sure that the parent knows how well their child has done.

Business Stuff

About 20% of my day is spent on business activities.  I updated my Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts and then wrote an article to go in the Primary Times which is a magazine given to all primary school children in the town.


More Lesson Planning

After that I planned my science lesson which I teach on Tuesdays.  The class I have are terrible at long answer questions.  These questions are worth 6 marks and they just manage to get 2 or 3 marks.   I find it shocking that the children know so little, they don’t think that what they learn in science lessons applies to their lives.  The other day one of my students thought that test tube babies grew and developed in a test tube!

School Run!

After picking up my daughter from school I then go into the centre to teach.  This is when the fun starts.  There is no typical Kip child as I teach children from a variety of backgrounds and children who have a variety of needs.  I suppose the best way of showing you what a Kip child is like is to take a snapshot of the children I teach in a typical day.  For data protection purposes I have changed the names of the students.

Teaching – Yay!!!!

So on Wednesday s I teach:

Linda – Year 11, bubbly, sensitive and avoids maths

Linda has been coming to Kip McGrath since she was in primary school and is now in year 11.  I am helping her with her maths.  One of the areas where Linda needs help is her speed.  She rarely finishes an exam paper and likes to get it neat.  For that reason she believes that you should get it right first time and takes too long thinking about presentation and method.  I also believes this is her way of coping with the task.  This week we had a brilliant lesson on the circle theorem and she left with a beaming smile.  I texted after the lesson to give an update and mum said that Linda had told her all about it already.

Zachary year 1, recently moved to the UK and forgets easily

Zachary came into lesson today with a heart shape he had made out of play dough for me.  He is on our early reading programme and started 4 months ago barely knowing his alphabet.  I had to teach him from scratch.  He is now on book 10 of the early reading programme but is not ready to graduate onto our primary reading programme yet.  This week we did some work on the letter “e” as he forgets the sound it makes in words.  We also drilled some common CVC words like “mop, cat, mud, did, fan, bat” and I discovered that he has a limited vocabulary.  For example he didn’t know that a bat could also be an animal and that a mouse and a rat are similar.  Note to self: do some vocabulary building exercise with him, read non-fiction texts, talk about the books more and encourage him to use and remember one new word per lesson.

Hannah – year 8 with a reading age 3 years below her actual age

Hannah is a real success story.  She has been attending since April and had a real learning block when it came to reading.  She’s worked so hard and overcome her obstacles and is now a free reader.  At school the teachers are in total disbelief that she has made so much progress.  Today I did some creative writing with her and she did a humorous piece of writing on what she thinks I do all day – this is partly what inspired me to write this blog.  We also did some comprehension, but it was too easy for her, so after the first question I changed it to something more on her level.  What I love about Hannah is that now she’s proud of her work, every lesson she wants to show her mum her work and asks me to tell her mum about how hard she has worked.

Joe – year 4, gifted in all areas, needs to learn to focus

Joe’s mum brought him to me for an initial assessment when he was in year 1.  She had been to a parent’s evening at school and was told that he was struggling with reading.  She wanted him to have some extra help with this, and had heard about us through a friend.  His assessment results showed that he was above average in english and maths!  We were both confused!

Three years on and Joe has changed to a better school which meets his needs.  He is extremely intelligent and thrives on challenges.  He asks to do algebra and fractions in class because he enjoys it, and he thrives on solving puzzles and crosswords.  Today he did a comprehension exercise, one which I have chosen because I know that he avoids it.  He likes to read but doesn’t like to write and in the past he has given one word answers. We followed this up by some vocabulary work, choosing 4 words from the passage which he didn’t know the meaning of, and using context clues to figure out the meaning. Then he planned a story for me, focusing on thoughts and feelings of the characters and finally I let him do some maths.

Family Time Is The Best Time

My day ends late evening, by which time I am glad to be at home with my family.

Does Your Child Struggle With Mental Maths?

mental mathsPicture the scene, you’re helping your child with maths homework and you come across a calculation which you have worked out in your head in seconds, or even worse, a younger sibling has blurted out the answer.  However, your child is still sitting there, crunching up their face, trying to think hard about the answer.  Maybe your child thinks that the answer should appear by magic in their head?  So you wait, and encourage and try not to rush your child as that is when the panic sets in.  You’re putting pressure on your child to hurry up, when clearly there’s nothing to hurry up about because that answer is not materialising.   In the end your child guesses the answer.

As a teacher I have seen this many times.  The child doesn’t actually have the skills and strategies to work out the answer.  So they try to think if they have done something like this before and then remember that answer.  It doesn’t work of course, as maths is all about application of skills to new situations.  Once you teach the methods, the child should be able to use them in any situation.

So this article will try to address the problems that are caused by poor mental maths.  How can you help?  Does it really matter in this high tech world where we have calculators on our mobile phones?

Children who are weak in maths will also struggle with mental arithmetic.  They work things out too slowly, often get the answer wrong and fail to retain important number facts.  Weak mental maths skills means that a child will make silly mistakes in their calculations and will struggle to finish the work set.  In older children, they rely on the calculator and when you ask them to work it out on paper, they have forgotten how to.  So practicing mental maths will help your child in all areas of maths and boost their grades.

Encourage your child to work things out in their head.  One of my students was doing the question “7+3”.  I know that he can put a number in his head and count on, but when I saw him working it out, he counted 7 fingers, then counted 3 fingers and then added them up.  This took him twice as long as it should have.  If you want to know more about the “counting on” method, which is used in schools, Topnotchteaching explains it really well.

He was doing this because he lacked confidence and counting out the numbers gave him a sense of security, it was buying him time to get the answer right.  Children don’t like mental maths because they have a greater chance of making mistakes, and have nothing to “fall back on”.   The only way of getting over this is form a habit of working things out in their head.

Don’t expect a child to learn number facts for the sake of learning them.  Times tables, number bonds and knowing the number of grams in a kilogram are all examples of this.  These can be learnt, or even crammed for tests, and just as easily forgotten.  Maths is like a language.  Unless it is used regularly and in different contexts, it will not be remembered.  For example, times tables need to be learnt and then used in word problems, applied to fractions, used in division questions and used in everyday life.  We use maths in our daily routines, more than we realise.  Find the maths in your child’s life and help them realise that maths isn’t just something to be used in the classroom, it is all around us.

Here are some simple strategies to help strengthen mental arithmetic.

The most important skill is to learn times tables.  This article gives you some practical ways to teach times tables.

Practice mental maths as a daily routine.

Have a set of questions saved on your phone or your computer or even printed out and fire these at your child.  Make it look like a game so that it’s not too overwhelming.

The Superkids maths Worksheet generator creates some maths questions for you plus an option to print the answers as well.  So you can create your own customised worksheets specific for your child.

If you don’t want to make your own worksheets, this website has ready-made worksheets, just print them out and have a go.

Maths Pyramids are another great way to practice addition as it isn’t as straightforward as adding two numbers.

This app called Gurgle Numbers is one of my favourites for making maths fun.

Performance in exams and tests is another area where practice makes perfect.  If your child is in year 6, then you can download mental maths test papers from Emaths.com.

And finally Cool Maths Games has hundreds of games to help your child practice maths.

Teaching Children Using Infographics

Infographics are colourful, visual posters designed to inform but in a stimulating and engaging way and I love them.  I would prefer to read an infographic rather than pages and pages of text, and I am more likely to remember the information because it will be eye-catching, dramatic and detailed.  So for this reason alone, I think they are wonderful to use to help children read more carefully, to extract important information and to think about the purpose of a text.

The problem is that a lot of them can be quite complicated.  So here is a collection of some of the simplest infographics I have used to teach children.


Infographics may contain graphs and charts, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, timelines, maps, tables and blocks of text and lots of information so they are ideal to use as a tool to engage children into learning about the topic or to read and interpret it.

Type 1 – Infographics Showing Instructions and How To’s

This one on the simple game of “Rock, paper Scissors” is perfect for getting children to think about how to write effective instructions.  Suggested activities

1.  Write your own set of instructions for the game

2.  Outline the layout features in the infographic like diagrams, headings, sub-headings and numbering and comment on how they are effective.rock paper scissors

Type 2 – To show statistics, facts and figures

There are hundreds of this type but I love the “If there were 100 people” in the world for it’s simplicity and clarity.  The “International number 1’s” had some children engrossed for a good half hour.  Suggested activities:

1.  If you were one of those 100 people, what would your statistics be?

2.  If you could be number 1 in the world at something, what would it be?

If the World Were 100 People

by KVSStudio.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

1276_international_number_onesTaken from this website.

Type 3 – to re-educate and eradicate myths and misunderstandings

This type of infographic could be used to get children to recall simple facts from.


Taken from this website.

And finally…..

Type 4 – a bit of fun

How Much You Can Trust a Bearded Man?

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Using Magnetix to Explain Quadrilaterals

Magnetix are construction toys, but they are also very useful for teaching about space and shape.  I get children to make different shapes with them, including 3D shapes.  But in this article I am focussing on quadrilaterals, because they can be the most confusing ones to learn about.

Here is how not to do it……..

Naming quadrilaterals

For each shape children need to know:

  1. number of sides

  2. length of sides – whether equal or not

  3. sides parallel or not

  4. interior angles


  1. 4 sides

  2. all sides equal length

  3. opposite sides parallel

  4. all interior angles 90 degrees


  1. 4 sides

  2. 2 long sides, 2 short

  3. opposite sides equal length

  4. opposite sides parallel

  5. all angles 90 degrees



To make a rhombus, just make a square and tilt the sides.

  1. 4 sides

  2. all sides equal length

  3. opposite sides parallel

  4. none of the angles are 90 degrees, 2 acute angles, 2 obtuse


square to rhombus


To Make a parallelogram, make a rectangle and tilt the sides.

  1. 4 sides

  2. 2 long sides, 2 short

  3. opposite sides parallel

  4. 2 acute angles, 2 obtuse, no right angles


rectangle to parallelogram


  1. 4 sides

  2. One pair of parallel sides



  1. 4 sides

  2. 2 long sides, 2 short

  3. no parallel sides

  4. the 2 sides next to each other are equal length


But if you haven’t got the time or struggle to explain things simply to your child, let us do the work for you.  Book your child for a free assessment and let us take care of things.

Storybird Website Review

It’s not often that I recommend a website, but when I do then it’s because it ticks all the boxes for me a s a parent and a teacher.  Storybird is:

  • designed for children and adults to use

  • is simple to use

  • can be used to teach children of all ages and abilities

  • is hours of fun on a rainy day

What is Storybird About?

It’s a website which allows users to create and share their own written personalised stories.  The stories can then be published for the whole world to see or just sent via email to close family and friends.  Children age 13 and above can create their own account but younger children have to give their parents email address.  Teachers can add children to their accounts by creating classes.  What I love the most about this site is that it allows children to express themselves in modern, interactive and tech-savvy way.  Even the most reluctant writers want to write a Storybird!  If I asked a child to give me 5 words to do with a “train journey”, they would struggle.  But give them a picture like this and the task doesn’t seem so daunting anymore.  Storybird is the key that has unlocked some of my students minds and got them writing.

How Does It Work?

1.  Start by choosing a picture.  You can either browse the themes or search for a particular subject.  I prefer to search for a topic like “pets” or “Christmas”.  Choose the picture you like and use that artwork to start a storybird.  The artwork provided is by professionals and is colourful, detailed and imaginative. It is designed to kick-start children’s thinking and get their ideas flowing.

2.  Once you have decided on the artwork for your first page, it will appear in the centre of the screen with images as thumbnails surrounding it.  You click and drag images onto the page, add pages and change the layout.

3.  The stories can then be published online for the whole world to see or just sent via email to close family and friends. The end product has a professional finish even if there is only one word per page.

Here is a storybird written by one of my students. Tolu is 7 years old and is a budding writer.  Please feel free to add your comments to encourage him.

Take One Storybird Picture…..

You don’t have to write pages and pages to create a storybird.  I take one picture and get children to write just one page worth.  Here are some ideas to try

  1.  Use the picture as a prompt for some descriptive writing.  For example if you search the word “dragon”, choose the best picture and describe the dragon.

  2. Find a picture of a scene like a beach or party or playground.  Use this as the opening scene of a story.

  3. Choose three different characters, and dedicate one page for each character.

  4. Choose 3 different types of weather scenes, and write a diary entry taking place in each type of weather scene.

  5. Younger children love to make lists.  They can just use it to make lists of things they would like to do, things they would like to eat and places they would like to visit.

  6. Use it to make an illustrated dictionary.

The key, in my opinion, is to help children with the planning of their writing. You can help them by listing related vocabulary, brainstorming ideas, putting them in a logical order and deciding how to connect their ideas.  Why don’t you give it a go?

Simple Ways To Help Your Child With Maths.

My Child Can’t Do Maths

A solid maths foundation is vital for children to succeed. Without solid math skills, children will probably have a lot of trouble in school and afterwards.

I often get asked the question “how can I help my child with maths at home”?.  If your child is struggling with maths, there are many ways to help, but before you do that you need to know what the problem areas are.

Some of the traits that I see in children who are weak in maths are:

  • They don’t understand the language used in maths like “less”, “more than”, “half of”, “share”, “total” and “difference”.

  • They have difficulty retaining basic number facts.  They will take a long time to work out something in their head and often make careless mistakes.

  • They often use long-winded ways to work out something on paper.  For example, I saw a child work out the sum 100 – 42 by drawing 100 dots and crossing out 42 of them.  I saw another child work out the sum 250 ÷ 5 by writing out the 5 times table.

  • They cannot “translate” number word problems into maths calculations.  For example: if Sam, Tim and Emma each eat 4 sweets, how many is that altogether?  Children either don’t know that this is 3 x 4 or they may know that this but not know their 3 times tables.

Your child may not have such general difficulties; it could be a more specific problem like understanding fractions, or getting to grips with geometry.  The point is that you need to get to the root of the problem.  Fractions are related to division and multiplication.  Is it because your child hasn’t grasped the basics of these skills yet?  Difficulty with geometry could be just a simple matter of not learning the rules for working out angles in a triangle.  Whatever the cause, there are ways in which you can help your child fill in those gaps.

Help Them Learn Their Times Tables.

Times tables is the bricks and mortar of basic maths knowledge and it is crucial that your child has plenty of opportunities to learn them.  Don’t rely on school to the job for you, as many children will need a lot of exposure to learning times tables.

First get your child to write out the times tables, and then try to get them to learn “parrot-fashion”.  If it’s just not sticking then an easy way to help is to write them on your child’s fingertips or use stickers as shown in the pictures below.


Another place for great ideas is here.  I also get children to recite times tables going forwards and backwards, and sometimes I get them to recite from half way through the tables.  It just breaks up the monotony and introduces a new challenge.

Use a Multi-Sensory Approach.

It has been shown that children retain information better when they not only see it, but when they hear it and also when they can put it into practice.  Making maths practical and relevant to everyday life can get a child to use all of their senses and at the same time giving it a purpose.  Maths is all around us and we can use our surroundings to help our children with maths.

To teach measures:

  • teach your child to use a ruler or a tape measure with accuracy.  If you are into gadgets then why not invest in an electronic tape measure (often used by estate agents).

  • Point out quantities of things on food packets to show them the difference between grams and kilograms or litres and millilitres.

  • Look at angles on objects around the room, see how many right angles your child can spot.

  • Involve your child in cooking, getting them to read the scales when weighing out ingredients.

  • If you are baking cup cakes and the recipe only makes 12 but you want 24, use this as an opportunity to teach about ratios and equivalents.

  • Play with water using different sized containers, predict how many small cups can fill a large container and measure how much water the containers hold.

To teach place value and money:

  • Show your child a till receipt and look at the quantities in pounds and pennies.

  • Take your child shopping and equip them with a calculator.  As you shop they can work out the bill.

  • Get your child used to handling money, recognising coins and working out if they have/don’t have enough money.

  • To teach about tens and units, read our blog post here.

  • Play Monopoly.

Talk Maths Language

Use mathematical words like “total” and “difference” when talking to our child.  Other words to use are “rotate”, “divide”, “more than/less than” and “fewer than”.

Here are some more ideas:

  • Plant sunflower seeds and get your child involved in measuring how much water to give each day, measuring how tall the seedlings are growing and comparing the length of the seedlings.

  • Make sandwiches and get your child to decide how many pieces of cucumber to put into each sandwich, how much cheese to weigh, or how many slices of bread to take.

  • Get your child to help you with spring cleaning.  They can sort things into different groups for you, place objects in order of size, measure the amount of space they have made by clearing out the clutter and simply just counting all their possessions.

  • Invest in a dart board to get children working out the totals, for younger children you can buy a simpler version of a dart board which uses Velcro darts.

  • Use every opportunity to count things, whether it’s during a walk to the shops, or how many bounces on the ball or timing how long it takes to take a shower.

Back To School Toolkit

Back To School Toolkit

There are some things that I can’t do without, whether it’s at home or at work in the classroom.  These objects have either made my life much easier or have provided fun and inspirational ways of approaching learning.  All the items on my list have been tried and tested over the years.

A Decent Dictionary

For many years I used to have a tiny pocket dictionary in the house which was actually a free gift when I opened my first bank account.  It was well used and handy as it was small enough to carry around.  However, it was just a dictionary and not dictionary/thesaurus, the writing was too small and even after looking up the meaning of a word, I often found it difficult to comprehend.
Things have changed a bit since then.  I would definitely recommend getting a dictionary which is also a thesaurus.  The ones we use at our centre are by Collins and are available to buy here.

100 Square

We use these daily to help children who need help with number work. What I love about this one is that you can draw all over it with a dry wipe pen and wipe off again. Every home should have one if they have young children and every primary school should have one too.  There are hundreds of ways of using this as a teaching and learning tool.  Click here for ideas.

A World Atlas

With the development of “Google Earth”, atlases seem to be going into extinction.  But I think that nothing beats turning the pages in an atlas, and looking for places of interest.  At our centre, we have a map of the world on the wall, and both children and parents never tire of looking at it.  I have this one at home, and its simple and easy to use.

Pictionary Game

Pictionary is a board game where you have to draw a picture of a word shown on a card.  the other players have to guess what it is.  But I use it in a different way.  I use it to develop vocabulary and thinking skills.  Children have to tell me things about the object without saying what it is.  It’s not as easy as it sounds, but excellent for getting kids to think.  Try this word: engine.

Playing Cards

I use playing cards as a visual and kinesthetic stimulus for children doing maths.  Here are some great ideas on how to use playing cards to help your child with maths.

Early Entry GCSE Maths and Pass Rates

Schools used to pick the brightest pupils in the year and allow them to take their GCSE maths exam early. This was called early entry and the pass rate was very good. These students could then take on an additional maths GCSE like statistics. Nowadays, the majority of pupils are sitting early entry GCSE maths whether they have a good chance of passing or not.

This article by the BBC and this paper by the department for education summarise the consequences of this practice. But I want to tell you my story….

Last week, all the students who sat their GCSE Maths in November 2010, got their results. Last week, I had many calls from panicking parents whose year 11’s failed to get that grade C. These now have to re-take their exam in March or in May this year. They will have to revise everything again but this time they will have other subjects to revise as well so the pressure will be much greater.

Having assessed these students, I’ve come to 2 conclusions:

  1. that they should never have been entered for the exam in November in the first place. I assessed a student who got a “U” (ungraded) in the higher paper suggesting that at best he was a low “D” grade at the time of the exam and that he could have done worse because of exam day nerves. The grades possible in the higher paper are “A*” to “D”. If a student gets lower than the pass mark for a “D” then they fail.

  2. that the students have already forgotten some of the maths they studied for the exam. In the majority of cases, the students who told me they got a “D” in the exam for example, got an “E” in my assessment. The student who got a “C” in the exam got a “D” in my assessment.

These students are cramming for exams and are being taught to pass exams and not to learn skills which can be applied to real life or in further education. A good friend of mine who teaches A level Maths at College says that the students who pass the early entry exam, struggle with A level Maths because they have forgotten everything they learnt by the time they start college. He has to spend the first 2 weeks of the A level course going through basic maths skills to make sure that the children are able to cope with A level standard work. I teach A level Chemistry which needs a good foundation in maths. I find that I have to teach skills like being able to work out ratios, re-arranging an algebraic formula and using a calculator. And the same goes for english skills, like comprehension and being able to answer a question so that it makes sense.

It’s an old argument and one that will always exist as long as exams exist. Students take pride in getting their GCSE’s early and they pride themselves in getting more GCSE’s. Schools have a reputation to keep, and league to tables to worry about. Many teachers view pass rates as a reflection of their own teaching. We all have our own agenda. I just wish that parents didn’t have to get dragged into all this!