Author Archives: nicpenny

About nicpenny

Nic Penny is currently a PYP (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme) teacher at Southbank International School in London. Nic trained at Massey University, College of Education, New Zealand. She worked in New Zealand for 5 years teaching from Grade 2 to Grade 5, as well as guest speaking at Massey University on effective practice in literacy education. Nic also worked in the UAE as Grade 3 teacher and coordinator. Her educational interests include, but are not limited to: Inquiry learning and constructivism, formative assessment, child directed learning and international education. Nic is currently working toward her MEd (International Education) through the University of Sydney. As part of this she is exploring the effects of economic globalisation on education, in particular, the internationalisation of curricula and the development of global citizens.

Reading and Inquiry

One of my professional goals this year is to effectively implement the resource First Steps into the programme of inquiry.  I think it is a great resource, but, as I discussed in my appraisal meeting the other day, I think it would be easy to pay lip service to reading in a busy programme, and not use the resource to it’s potential.

So, this last few weeks I have tried the following…

At the moment our unit of inquiry is Where We Are in Place and Time, with the central idea: Present civilisations are built upon the experiences of civilisations from the past.

The reading strategies we are focusing on are skimming and scanning, and previously we looked at self-questioning.

As we started a guided inquiry into Ancient Greece, I modelled skimming.  On the smartboard (SB) I had pages taken from a non-fiction text about Ancient Greece.  I looked quickly through the pages, thinking out loud as I went, and looked at the headings to find out what parts of Ancient Greece I could learn about.  Still on the SB then brainstormed the aspects of Ancient Greece.  I then gave the children a brainstorming pages, and a number of books on Ancient Greece.  The books had a wide variety of information, and since I have children with reading ages varying between 5 -12 years, the texts were varied in their difficulty.  The children then practiced skimming through the pages.  Some of the children worked independently, while others went through the process with me in a small group.

At this point, the children highlighted 1-3 aspects they wanted to research further.  (I guided some more or less able children to choose 1 or 3 so as to extend or not overburden them).

My next step was to go back to the SB.  The children helped me brainstorm specific questions I could ask about my chosen aspect (clothing).  We came up with several options, discussing whether they were too big to cover, or too closed to be useful.  Finally we decided my questions would be “What clothing did men and women each wear in Ancient Greece? And how are these the same or different to modern clothing?”

From here, the children brainstormed questions for their own Greek inquiry.  They critiqued each others questions, looking for open ended, specific questions.

This post is getting long now, so I will tell you about how we included scanning… next time. 😉

In the meantime, do you have any thoughts about how you have meaningfully integrated reading, and reading strategies into your classroom?



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Filed under Grade 3, Language, Where we are in place and time

Reflections on Maths

Wow, you can tell it is the holidays because I have had time to do two posts in one day. 🙂

Last week, the children put together their final presentations on place value.

The task:  In groups of 3-4 the children were to put together a presentation to explain the aspects of place-value.  These were the lines of inquiry: The base-ten number system; numbers up to 100,000; multiplying and dividing numbers by 10, 100, 1000; rounding to 10, 100 and 1000.

So, the positives:

The children were completely engaged.  They used iPhoto, iMovie, Smartboards, posters, blocks, place-value boards, place-value blocks and so on.  They worked cooperatively and presented their ideas in a variety of ways.

The negatives:

With so much scope on how they could present their learning the children’s focus shifted from presenting their learning to the presentation itself.  As a result, the children did not present full information, even though during lessons they were able to clearly explain and demonstrate conceptual understanding.

Final thoughts:

It is fortunate that I keep detailed formative assessment notes during the unit.  Next time, I will limit the scope of the assessment to help the children focus on the learning instead of the cool ways of presenting it.

Any thoughts to contribute?


Filed under Grade 3, Mathematics

From the perspective of a student

I have recently started taking German lessons.  I won’t go into the reasons because they have nothing to do with this post, but I will briefly discuss my experience and how it is influencing my practise in my own classroom.

In my first lesson, my teacher, “Polly” began by finding out what we already knew, why we were there, and what we wanted to find out.  She spent a lot of time working on the very basics – Ich heiße Nic, etc, through to Mein handynummer ist… and gave us time to build a connection with my peers in the course.  Polly spoke 95% German.  She used a wide variety of non-verbal cues to help us understand what she was saying.We played games to practise our new knowledge and vocab, we spent a lot of time talking with our peers to practise.  We reflected on our learning and made connections between the different parts of German vocab and grammer, and connected all of this to English.  When we made errors in pronounciation or grammar, we discussed links between English and German phonics and grammar.  Small errors Polly never corrected, she simply modelled the correct way of doing things and gave us the opportunity to connect the learning ourselves.  I walked away from the class feeling comfortable with the learning I had done, part of the group, and eager to practise and go back for more.

Then came week 2.  Polly was sick.  They asked another teacher “Jan” to cover for the class.  Now, to be fair, Jan is not a teacher, so what I say I do not mean as a criticism toward her, just a learning experience for me.

Jan lectured.  She made us practise saying and writing by rote Ich heiSe Nic.  Mein name ist Nic. Ich bin Nic. And a number of other sentences.  We had two new class members who sat there completely confused, while maybe 3-4 were furiously note taking, and then myself and another class member, “Sam”, who had learnt German previously sat there bored.  It was the LONGEST two hours of my life.  Mistakes were instantly corrected, often over and over.  When me or Sam answered we were told to be quiet because we were dominating the conversation but noone else wanted to answer – they weren’t sure so were afraid of being told they were wrong.  I walked away from this class feeling frustrated, and very sorry for the people who couldn’t follow what was happening.

What an amazing learning experience!!!

From here I reflected on my own class and came to the following conclusions:

1 – differentiation is VITAL! I do this anyway, but in some settings I could be doing more.  This brings me to my next point,

2 – inquiry and constructivism are VITAL!!! Giving the children, in ALL learning situations, the opportunity to connect new learning to prior knowledge.  Planning based on the goals of each child.  Giving the children the chance to reflect on their learning in order to make connections.  The inquiry cycle we use at Southbank has ‘connections’ as the initial phase of the cycle – this is important, but making connections to prior learning needs to happen at all phases!!!

3 – a safe learning environment where all children can contribute.  I hope I have this, my class are certainly very good at sharing.  But I have noticed that some kids do have more to say than others, and I need to make sure I have a system that is safe for children to contribute, even when they don’t know, and that children who are being extended can also feel free to contribute with out being told they should sit back and let others learn… they should ALL be learning.

I must say though, that this last week we had Jan for a second lesson and she was very well prepared and the lesson went very well.

Food for thought, huh? 🙂

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Filed under General, Language

Inquiry and Assessment in Maths

Well, it has been very quiet from Southbank for a wee while.  Working in a fantastic school with outstanding colleagues is making me raise my game – which I love, but has come at the expense of some of the other things I love to do.  But here I am…

My partner and I, over the last 6 weeks, have worked very hard to provide the children lots of opportunities to inquire into place value.  Inquiry in maths is an area that is new to me, and if I am honest, I have struggled.  Structuring learning experiences in such as way as to facilitate the children asking their own questions and then inquiring into them is something new and difficult for me.

The steps I have taken on my learning journey have been to provide investigations.  I have given the children a variety of open-ended tasks requiring them to look at the numbers, patterns and changes to these number patterns, and then draw conclusions about what has happened. For example, the children took calculators, place value block, place value boards and their own “tickers” (similar to an odometre made of paper and card), and multiplied a number by 10, 100 and 1000 to see what happened.    As an aside, using the key concept “thinking keys”, particularly form, change and reflection, have been very useful with this unit.  (For more information on the thinking keys check out  Once the children, individually and in small groups, had come up with idea on what they thought had happened, they worked closely in collaborative groups to make a consensus page.  Here they recorded their own thinking and then had to present their findings to their group, possibly even persuading others, and then as a group they had to decided what they would like to present to the class, then finally model and “teach” their theory to the whole class.  This is only one example of the investigations the children have carried out.  Though I am sure this is far from perfect, I have loved watching the children develop their skills, knowledge and conceptual understanding in place value.

So now, the children are working towards their final assessment.  My partner and I agonized over this – we didn’t want a random, meaningless test, but with so much else going on we needed it to be efficient, both in time and content.  What we finally decided was the the children, working in groups of 3, will put together a presentation for the rest of the grade 3 children.  We will film it – which makes their e-portfolio sample easy – and the children in the audience will provide feedback and feed-forward on the mathematical contents of the presentation.

This has been a steep learning curve for me, I can tell you.  What are you doing in maths? How do you think we, as teachers, can facilitate more inquiry in our maths time?


Filed under Concepts, Grade 3, Mathematics

Being balanced at Southbank

As part of our Who We Are unit, (Central idea: People make choices that affect our health and well-being), the children have been looking at the choices they and the people around them make, and how they are affected.  The children identified that there were many choices they were able to make themselves – such as what to eat for breakfast, what they wear, who their friends are.  But there are also choices that others make for them – like bed time, their school, their dinner.  From that point, the children have discussed what the consequences of these choices are, and how they could change if the choice was different.  We have co-constructed the meaning of balance though looking at examples of balanced and imbalanced lives, and discussed what balance looks like for them.

On Thursday a real life example came up… through me.  The kids noticed that I was super tired, and asked as to why that was.  I decided to be honest with them and explained that I am also studying (my MEd) and had put off my study for too long so I had to stay up very late to get it done.  At this point, they said they were concerned that I was not being balanced.  A more balanced choice would be to work little by little on my study, and go to bed early every night.  A few of them offered to ask me how my study is going so that I would remember to be balanced.

Of course, that was not part of the plan.  But it is really exciting that the children are able to take their learning and apply it to real life.  And I have promised them that I will try to be more balanced.


Filed under Grade 3, Learner Profile, Unit of Inquiry, Who we are

Grade 3 at Southbank are inquiring into…

In Grade 3 at Southbank we are also doing an inquiry into Who We Are, but with quite a different spin on it to ISM.  We are looking at the choices people make that affect our health and well being.

First of all, we need to discover the choices we are responsible for.  Why do we make those choices and why can’t we make all of them?  What would we do differently, and if we did make different choices what effect would that have on our lives???

We have spent this last week looking at the Learner Profile, and from that deciding what we want our classroom to look like, sound like and feel like as we write our essential agreements.  Instead of me giving the children a definition of the learner profile traits, instead I have asked them to brainstorm together what each of them means.  This has mostly been amazing, as it meant the children get a better understanding and take more ownership of their learning and behaviour as we reflect on the learner profile.  The problem I am finding is that it can take so long to go through the process of brainstorming that the kids get bored and then it is counter-productive.  I really want to continue with this as we establish class routines and expectations, but I feel like I need a better way to get there.

Any thoughts???


Filed under Grade 3, Learner Profile, Unit of Inquiry, Who we are