Saturday, 4 August 2018

Talking, talking everywhere!

So, I have finished my 4 week study travels as a Churchill Fellow. I actually can't believe how quickly the time went by,  as initially I thought 4 weeks away from home would seem like a long time. It has been amazing to actually live in another country for an extended period and to get the opportunity to live like a local as opposed to being a tourist.

After this time spent talking to various people on the ground dealing with children and parents from migrant backgrounds on a daily basis in Dresden, Berlin (Germany) and Norrköping & Stockholm (Sweden) there is a common theme running through all the discussions - language acquisition and communication between parents and children. 

Whatever the home language of the family, all those I have met with have all agreed that it's not about what language a child hears at home but how much of that language they hear and therefore can begin to use themselves. 

I love this quote from James Britton "Reading and writing floats on a sea of talk" and it sums up perfectly how important communication is for all young children but particularly those who are trying to learn a second or third language. 

Early years settings - be they daycares, kindergartens, preschools or nurseries - should be places filled with the noise of children and adults communicating. Those of us who work with young children know that they can communicate by more than just speech - they hum, sing, makes noises and move when communicating. I have so many things to reflect on from the past 4 weeks but the one big thing that I have taken away is that in the UK context, our children are being asked to be quiet and listen too early - if literacy floats on a sea of talking why are we so keen to have children writing and reading at the age of 4 or 5? The young children I met in Germany were confident communicators, it was obvious they had had lots of time to watch, listen and talk rather being expected to listen and then write. 

The 5 and 6 year olds talked fluently (many in their second language) whilst sharing memories provoked while looking through their 'Language Learning Diary' with me and other members of staff. The 'Mein Sprachlerntagebuch' was introduced by the Senate Department of Education Berlin as part of their initiative to make parents realise the learning that was going on in the kita. What I particularly like about this document is that it involves the parents from day one - they are asked to fill in the early pages 'What they child likes, dislikes, favourite toys, food, siblings etc' so that the staff can build up a picture of the child and use it help comfort the child at settling in time. Many settings have an 'All about me' type document that is similar but the Berlin one is more of a working document and is added to over time, and used to record the child's language development over their time in the kita. 

There was a little girl from Poland in the group that was looking at their diaries and when asked if she wanted to talk about the activity she had taken part in earlier that day to record in the book, she said no but did enjoy looking through the book and got very excited when looking at photos of her cousins. When she headed outdoors the teacher explained that she had been selectively mute until recently and by flicking through the diary she was able to show us exactly when the child had first spoken in the kita and what her first word was. (Incidentally it was chocolate!) This is when I saw the full potential of this document and how it could be something we introduce in our system to help staff and parents see the language progression at a glance. 

A huge thanks to Dr Gesina Volkmann from SFZ Berlin for taking the time to meet with me on numerous occasions to explain the important work her organisation does in relation to language learning. 

I have much to mull over from my 4 week travels and a report to write but for now I am taking the time to try and write posts about some of the observations I made. 

Here is an excellent article on the importance of talk in the classroom:

Here is a great post that explains how a German Kita operates:

Monday, 9 July 2018

Finding Solutions not Focussing on Problems.


I am writing this post from Berlin, where I am almost 1 week into my 4 week Churchill Fellowship, my idea to research how preschoolers and their families are supported in Germany & Sweden began with a study visit here in Berlin in March 2017. (You can read about that here:
As a preschool teacher I was so curious as to what was happening in the kindergartens if at almost every primary we visited teachers were saying 'If the migrant children have been to kindergarten then they don't need to come to the Welcome classes' I wanted to find out what strategies were being used to make sure the youngest children were up to speed with their German by the time they went to primary aged 6 and were fully ready to be integrated into the mainstream classes. 

Reached out to some of the organisations I had come across in my previous visit and one DKJS ( pointed me in the direction of a kindergarten in Dresden called 'Kleiner Globus" ( meaning 'Small World'. So I began my Churchill Fellowship in earnest last week with 2 appointments in Dresden, one at Kita Kleiner Globus and the other at DKJS.

It was incredible to get to see around the Kita and learn their story, it is purpose built preschool set up 2 years ago with the intention of integrating children from all different types of backgrounds. The main body behind the Kita is Ausländerrat Dresden e.V ( an organisation specifically set up in 1990 to support the cultural , social and political integration of migrants. 

A key element of this group is that the campaign for social issues that affect migrants and encourage people to stand up for their rights and help them to learn about the new culture where they now live. 

Some of the welcoming staff at the Kita with me. 
Listening to the staff talking about the Kita, I was reminded of how the integrated education movement began in N. Ireland. This kita is all about children from different social backgrounds being educated together & this is a key aspect of any integrated school back home. It was interesting to learn that it was not set up as a direct result of the recent influx of refugees but rather as a way to ensure the Russian population could maintain their own language whilst also learning German (and English if they wish) so that they are not isolated. The main emphasis of this Kita is on immersion of the languages and it was wonderful to hear the staff speak to the children in English or Russian & the children reply in German or vice versa. The atmosphere in the Kita was very relaxed and welcoming & it is very obvious that different languages and cultures are respected in the space. Because the families come from all over Dresden, the staff explained that the children are from a variety of socio economic backgrounds - unlike the norm where you might attend the setting in your neighbourhood and so only mix with those from the same background as yourself. The staff are also from a variety of backgrounds & this can only but help put families at ease. There is strong volunteer movement within the schools (I saw this in Berlin in 2017 too, where retired teachers and business people were volunteering in the Welcome classes) so there were many extra people to help prepare snack, read stories to the children etc. This made for a very calm feeling about the place & the snack was beautifully presented by the volunteers. 
No teacher has time to prepare a snack as beautifully as this!
I had an opportunity to talk to some of the staff and they explained how they had been at training only last week for staff on how to deal with racism and that they had been the only setting who were able to say, that it wasn't an issue they had come across. There are lots of opportunities for parents to meet up and share cultural experiences and learn about what might be expected of them in the new country where they now live. 
The Kita has a dedicated parent room, where 3 days a week there is a member of staff on hand to talk to parents about any issues they might have & that member of staff can attend meetings with the parents that they may need to go to with government bodies. This is an aspect that I would like to see better covered within schools back home - I think we could be doing more to help migrant families navigate their way through an alien system, either by working with another local body or offering such a service in house through a cluster of schools working together. It is not good enough to expect families to have access to computers and printers if they need to use official forms. 

There is a real sense of being a responsible citizen within any of the people or groups I have met up with but also an emphasis on only getting involved in issues that directly affect you rather than getting involved in all issues - something we could learn to take notice of back home too.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Now I know how it feels to be a 'Newcomer' #WCMTUK

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
Winston Churchill 

As some might know, I was honoured and delighted to have been successful in my application to become a Churchill Fellow for 2018. You can read about that here: 
I found out back in March and have been planning my study trip for a few months and lo and behold it has actually arrived! I think I kept thinking that I would receive an email to say "Hey, Kierna, we made a mistake, you weren't supposed to be on that list" but to my surprise, that never happened and I found myself planning a 4 week trip for the month of July to Germany and Sweden. 

I arrived in Berlin on Monday the 2nd July and after a brief stop over for the night travelled onto Dresden on the Tuesday for 3 days. I have no German and have actually found it really hard to even learn some basic phrases - I blame BBC4, they haven't had any German programmes on for me to listen to! (In all seriousness, watching Swedish shows has allowed me to at least understand some words in conversations)

Visiting Spanish teachers passed on information on an amazing FREE app called 'Say Hi' which has proved invaluable for email communication and for translating signs or menus but as usual most people can speak beautiful English and it does make it all a lot easier for me. 

Last night I wanted a cup of coffee to round of my long day of travelling and those who know me are aware that I am very fond of my coffee, so imagine my surprise when the lady at the coffee kiosk wouldn't let me have it until I repeated the word 'Schwarz' (Black) a few times for her. I really began to understand how the 'Newcomer' children must feel in school when staff repeat a word several times for them to say when all they want is a yellow crayon! She wasn't being mean, she simply wanted me to be able to order a black coffee the next time I needed to. 

For those who might find themselves saying that those who migrant to new countries need to pick up the local language as quickly as possible, I want to know have they ever spent any time abroad where they don't speak the language. It is isolating and you can't really engage with people the way you want to and you really can't be your true self. I am finding myself smiling a lot at people and nodding and saying the one or two German words I have managed to pick up and now I know a little bit of how some of our migrant parents feel when they need to engage with staff at school.

Over the next 4 weeks I want to research different practices to help migrant families and preschoolers to best feel at ease in a new situations, with a view to being able to bring some ideas back home to share within my own school and the wider community. 

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Integration and Support in Preschool - Churchill Fellow 2018.

Becoming a 2018 Churchill Fellow.

I first heard about the Churchill Travel Fellowship Award a few years ago from a 2008 Fellow - Juliet Robertson  you can read about it here on her blog:
I looked into this as a funding option in 2015 after speaking to Juliet about her topic but was unsuccessful in my application. Then another colleague & fellow eTwinner, mentioned that he had become a 2016 Fellow and I decided to apply again. 
am a nursery teacher in a primary school and usually have 26 three & four year olds in my class each year. I teach in Dungannon, a small rural town in Co. Tyrone that had a huge migrant worker influx in the past 5-6 years and this has had a big impact in our school with more and more pupils coming into the school with English as an additional language.
I was appointed Newcomer Coordinator in my school in September 2016 and part of my remit to see how best to support the children and their families and how to help them integrate into our school community. 
Our school began a 2 year Erasmus Plus KA3 Project in 2016 with the theme of 'InEdu inclusive education model for children with migrant backgrounds in preschools' with partners from Poland, Estonia, Romania, Sweden, Macedonia & Czech Republic. 
In March 2017 I was fortunate to be allocated a place on a British Council International Study Visit to Berlin to look at that city had coped with the refugee crisis in 2015. You can read about that visit over here:
I was so impressed by what I saw but as preschool teacher I was curious about how the younger children were coping with being in a new city, country and preschool and how their families were being supported as they settled into a new city. So I found myself thinking about how this could be a theme for a Churchill Fellowship Award and I duly filled in an application and sent it off. I heard in October I had been selected for an interview in London In January 2018. Honestly I was delighted to just get an interview and didn't really think I had a chance of being offered an actual award. But after a robust interview in January I got a letter last month to say I had been awarded a Fellowship and can look forward to travelling to Germany and Sweden in July, during my summer holidays to research how cities within these 2 countries are supporting and integrating migrant preschoolers and their families. 
This week I was fortunate enough to travel back to London to meet up with other Fellows and hear from those who are also Fellows in the Migration category and from previous Fellows - the stories of my new 'colleagues' were very inspiring and I can't wait to follow along on their travels around the world too. 

Applications are now open for 2019 and I would thoroughly recommend applying to anyone who is interested in travelling to learn more about a topic of interest. You can find all the details here:

I have started another blog that will be somewhere for me to record my travels and reflect on what I see, hear and learn whilst talking to those who are working hard to help insure the youngest migrants are being supported and integrated as they begin their new lives far from home. You can follow it here:

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Education Matters - Erasmus Plus Visit to Sweden. Part 1.

Thanks to funding from the British Council's Erasmus Plus KA1 funding, myself and a colleague from Primary 1 were able to travel to Norrköping in Sweden to take part in a job shadowing project in preschools who had previously sent staff to do a similar scheme in our school in 2016.

After a later start than planned, thanks to Storm Emma, we arrived in Stockholm on Monday 5th March and headed to Norrköping by train. Even though we had had some snow on and off since December, we were still enamoured by the lovely deep snow that met us upon arrival. 

We visited 5 preschools in total, 2 inner city ones, 1 very rural and 2 in the suburbs. Both of us loved the classroom set ups - small rooms off a bigger room to allow for lots of small group activity; both child and teacher led. Every preschool had a designated atelier space to allow for in depth creativity on the part of the children. The influence of Reggio was very evident in every school with white walls and lots of recycled materials used for art work. The atelier spaces were well organised and we both remarked that it would be easy to be creative when all materials were easily found.

The children were in mixed aged group classes, with the 1-3 years in one class and the 4-6 year olds in another. It was incredible to see little ones taking part in circle time and joining in with songs and action rhymes by copying their older peers as much as by following the teacher. I was very impressed by the very subtle 'teaching' that was always present during any adult/child interactions and this is very much because the teachers are degree educated with a very clear understanding of child development. There was lots of singing of old, familiar songs and nursery rhymes and lots of movement during this time. Instead of children being expected to sit for long periods on a carpet, they were actively encouraged to get up and move about. One example I enjoyed was 4-6 year olds choosing a number card from a pile (the number & corresponding dots on a hand drawn card), the child had to identify the number and show corresponding number of fingers, then on the back was an instruction e.g. find 4 blue objects, stand on one foot for 10 seconds etc. 
Another small group activity that was very effective was a numeracy 'lesson'. Each child was asked to find 4 objects, 3 had to be the same and 1 different, then they had to explain to the group what was the same and what was different. I was very impressed by the level of thinking from the children, I think that we focus on number too much when looking at maths or colour and size. These children were able to come up with explanations like "These 3 are man made and that 1 is natural" or "These 3 are real animals. that 1 is mythical"! It was obvious they were used to this type of activity and weren't just focussed on a 'right answer', they were engaged in real mathematical thinking. The skilfulness of the adult was also very evident, as the teacher was able to allow the children time to think and not prompt them when they were stalling or unwilling to take part. She also really knew the children and was able to allow a child more time if they needed it or come back to them when she knew they were more ready to take part. The most striking part was the enthusiasm of the children taking part, they were bouncing on their heels and diving forward to take their turn or finding it hard to wait for their turn. 
In the classrooms, there were small boxes of resources dotted around the room for the children to take out as needed, rather than tables set up with resources and clear activities. I guess that as children can spend up to 3 years in a room it makes sense to not have tables set up with specific activities to ensure there is no repetition or boredom.

The most surprising thing was the fact that children were allowed to be in rooms on their own, sometimes with a door closed, building with blocks or drawing large scale on the wall by tracing an image from a data projector. 
On average there were between 18-20 children per class with 3 adults, one teacher and two assistants and this certainly allowed for more small group activity and a calm atmosphere. I was impressed by the pace of the day, it was slow and very much child led and there was no rushing between activities as is often the case back home. Every activity was a learning opportunity - snack time, lunch time, getting dressed to go outside - even toileting. If I take one thing back, it's to slow down and allow the 3 & 4 year olds in my class to have more time to take in all that they are experiencing in a day. Because our children only get 1 year in each class at school, the tendency can be to try to cram too much into that year but I intend to try and slow the pace. 

A big thanks to all the staff at Sörgården, Äppellunden and Parks förskola and to the British Council for this opportunity. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Polydron, Dice & Poker Chips - Take 2!

I wrote a post back in June about how adding some dice to our Polydron had made it become a much more versatile resource than it already was - I love Polydron and the plan for this year is to invest in more of it. 
Today one child decided to build on the floor with it rather than up on the Tuff Spot, he began by laying all the squares down, others then joined him snaking out into the hallway. They all worked really well together and there was lot son chat about what they building, what they could add etc. When the squares were exhausted they began to add the triangles to the outside, then the Pentagons and these allowed the 'snake' to go around the corner and then they decided to add the dice and finally the poker chips. 
This activity kept this group of children busy and engaged for up to 2 hours and made me realise that it is important to allow the children the opportunity to build on a flat surface too. As we need the tables on dinner days, perhaps on a lunch day we could have it outside and remove some of the tables to all the children to build on this scale again in the classroom.

Here is the last post I did on the Polydron & dice:

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

'Snow' such thing as bad weather!

Bear Woods in the Snow.
Every week we have an outdoor day when the class spent the majority of the day outdoors no matter what the weather and this week it was a cold, icy and a little snowy - not very deep or fluffy snow but snow none the less.
The children enjoyed exploring the playground and making mini snowmen, balancing on the crates and tree stumps even though they were slippy and pulling each other on the plastic sleds.

Instead of a big fire we did some tin can cooking, which I first heard about from Martin over at Highway Farm Activity Centre, the children enjoyed dipping apple and mini marshmallows into the melted chocolate - next time we'll use cocktail sticks instead of skewers.

Before heading inside for a story and a lovely hot dinner, some of the children who were still in their rain gear, headed up the hill above the nursery to visit Bear Woods and make some snow angels on the grass.