Superb ideas for literacy: Using the Shed to think ahead

Every time I book myself onto a course I have found I have a certain amount of uneasiness.  I dread this conversation upon my return to school.

“So how was the course?”

*Awkward pause* 

“Anything useful?”

*Longer Awkward pause.*

“What was lunch like”

“Oh yeah the lunch was really nice, they had those sticky sausages on sticks “

“Oh well that’s good then”

However after the course I went on yesterday  I can not wait to return to school and be asked those very same questions. The CPD course ‘ The literacy shed conference: shedding some light on it’ has to be one of the best courses I have been on in a long time. It was relevant, engaging and so useful I came out bemoaning the fact that the Easter holidays were here: meaning I would have to wait to implement the dozens of superb ideas I now had.  As I said previously, I had found the course myself, via twitter – I follow all four of the guys who spoke (@redgierob,@inspiredMind5, @ICT_MrP and @blandpoet)  if you don’t follow them I strongly suggest you rectify that immediately. Go on. Yes right now. I can wait … Done? Good. These guys have so many superb ideas, and shared so much outstanding practice that I wouldn’t possibly be able to do it justice in one blog post. However most of what they speak about is no secret, its readily available on their websites. and

I am looking at the notes I made on my ipad at the event, and in no way can I fully encapsulate the multitude of ideas. Instead I have tried to reflect on the key message each of the speakers left me with and how I am going to implement them in the next term. So here it goes.

It was an early start to the day (a 6:15 train to London), my destination Twickenham “Home of Rugby” and after negotiating the maul that is the London underground I managed to make it there in one piece. Exchanging pleasantries with others it was clear that there was a sense of excitement. Many of us had been reading the tweets of the speakers for years and were looking forward  to hearing them talk.

First up Rob Smith, founder and architect of the Literacy shed, spoke about the importance of visual literacy and how the skills of inference and deduction and innately present in all children. It is simply our job to make this thinking and understanding explicit. Rob shared with us a multitude of resources and videos (Reverso was my particular favourite) and explained how he used these to develop imaginative and creative writers. There was so much to take in, I could barely type fast enough, but if I had to choose the one thing that I am going to implement first I think it would have to be the simple but effective methods Rob used to encourage collaboration between children to widen their vocabulary and improve their work. One example of this was the ideas track, whereby children create a runway of their ideas on the carpet of the classroom and then peer assess the ideas by reading out their favourite ideas as they walk the catwalk. That is just one of many ideas which I will be sharing with my colleagues when I return to school, and I am sure the kids i teach will find so many of the tactics Rob employs extremely helpful to improve their work and inspire their writing.

A great opening, Rob was a tough act to follow. Next up was Matt Sullivan. Matt is the co-author of the second book of exciting sentences with Alan Peat and so I was looking forward to hearing his ideas. A self confessed comic geek, Matt spoke of how to use comics as an engaging stimulus as well as a vehicle for various story structures. Matt’s depth of knowledge was clearly evident and he spoke passionately about the need to embed SPAG and use it as a tool to improve children’s writing not simply as a end in itself. In his words ‘We want to teach children to be writers, not editors’. Narrative writing is probably one of my least favourite text types to teach, however after hearing Rob and  Matt speak about the ways in which they taught it I was itching to go and plan a story telling uniand even playing with the idea of a ‘story makers’ after school club. The best ideas are often incredibly simple and this is true of Matt’s approach to story planning- the comicbook planning format lends itself to manipulation of ideas, visualisation of setting and correlation between sections of writing. But what blew me away was his outstanding approach to differentiation through constraints. I have heard Alan Peat speak about the ‘Oulipoan constraints’ he employs and Matt clearly utilse this technique to full effect,  by providing children with a planning structure which had an event of the story already placed on it. Sounds simple right? I thought so too , but when Matt explained that where he placed the events was dependent on he ability of the child, about how this change altered the whole structure of a story and significantly  increased the level of challenge, it became clear that this was a really efficient and effective method of differentiation. One that I cannot wait to try. 

After Lunch we were treated to a performance by Ian Bland, an ex teacher from Wigan, who creates humorous and active poems which would have children in stiches and managed to raised smiles from even the most fatigued of audience members. Ian had us up on our feet and even got me up in front of the audience to become the grumpy head teacher.  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it and I would highly recommend him to any school looking to get a poet in to help with children’s writing. 

The final speaker of the day was Lee Parkinson or Mr.P as he is more widely known. Taking us through the history of story telling using Apps:  providing us with a huge range of Apps which can be used to help with all stages of the writing process. The apps were certainly useful and his use of Angry Birds and Temple Run as a starting point for writing was truly inspired. I will be downloading many, if not all of the apps he showcased, but it was something else which Lee spoke about which really stuck with me . Lee explained how crucial it is to give children a real audience,  to motivate them to want to be better writers . Quite rightly Lee pointed out that there is no real point in writing a brilliant piece of work if it is going to languish in an exercise book,  only to be read by a handful of people. Instead he proposed that children’s work is published online and given a real audience, a real purpose and a real sense of worth. The work his class did on the morality of keeping Orca whales in captivity left the whole room speechless. I can’t possibly do the children’s work justice here so I will leave you with the extremely talented children of Davlyhume Primary School.

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