Lynlee Lawrence says CSI Private Eye is “the best online resource I've come across”.
As a head teacher, we figured she knows a thing or two, so we sat down with Lynlee to find out why she loves CSI Private Eye.
How did you get started with CSI Private Eye?
We started off with my class trialling it. I wanted to see the pros and cons and I wanted to see how effective it was, especially with my year 7 and year 8 boys. I was looking to see if it was at the right level and if it would grab my students’ attention – whether it was an opportunity for students to really enjoy what they were doing but that would use the strategies that we'd already taught in class.
What were your first thoughts?
I loved the fact that students preferred it to the reading programme that I'd been doing in class. I had boys running in and saying "Are we doing Private Eye today, Miss? Are we doing it?" That absolute buy-in from the boys was one of the things I saw quite early on.
I found it really intuitive and easy for me to implement as well, which was part of what my team was looking at. As teachers, we don't necessarily want to bring things into our programme that create a lot of extra work, a lot of extra planning, or a lot of admin. I found the set-up of Private Eye really intuitive, really easy, and once we got into it, there really weren't glitches – there weren't roadblocks that stopped me going any further. It was easy for me, leading a team of other teachers, to be able to say, "I've tried it, it worked really well. Off you go."
What surprised you about CSI Private Eye?
I was really surprised at how collaborative it was. Boys that age enjoy working together and they enjoy talking about things, but I didn't anticipate they’d do that with CSI Private Eye. But it was one of the absolute bonuses I found using it – I found that students would naturally buddy up and talk about things and solve problems together when they were going through the different adventures.
Were there any students in particular you noticed Private Eye had an impact on?
It impacted some of my lower level boys who often don’t engage easily with texts. When you have students like this, you’re often saying things like, "How about this? Try this. Have you looked at this?" For my lower level students in particular, I found Private Eye really, really useful.
Did students enjoy the topics?
CSI Private Eye has topics that I wouldn't have necessarily anticipated they would have liked, but they do – it's different, it's exciting, it's new. They loved The Forgotten Moon Landing – they loved the fact that they could go away and do some extra investigating about different things with the moon landing. It's a noisy one, but I loved the fact that there is lots of noise, lots of talking. I don't expect them to be quiet, I don't want them to be quiet. I want them to be talking and sharing what's going on and thinking about what they're doing.
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So your students were really engaged?
Yes – with Private Eye, you have to go through the programme, you have to engage. It's really hard to cheat! There are always students who trick you and will flick to the end and say, "Miss, I've read it". And you're like, "No, I don't think you have". If students got stuck, I noticed they’d ask their neighbour instead of stopping – whereas in a book or text, they just stop. Private Eye was a lot more collaborative if they did have a problem along the way.
You’ve told us that you really like the writing component. How did you discover it and how did it fit in with what you were doing?
I teach year 7 and year 8, and Private Eye is levelled for years 4–6, so we weren’t sure if it would work for us. But midway through last year, my team looked at the writing lessons to see if we could integrate some of the ideas with our reading. I think we kind of fell into it by accident in a lot of ways, but it's my favourite part of Private Eye.
This year, I've done at least two of the different kinds of writing each term and as we've gone on, it's improved every time. I think I've improved with my teaching of it, which shows with the confidence I have when I’m presenting it to a class. The writing – I love the writing. I'm a huge fan of it. I think if you’re a beginning teacher, you would love the structure of it – the way that it talks you through the process is great, and I must admit that it's taught me a lot of stuff that I'd forgotten. Last year when I was still new to Private Eye, it’d be 'let's stick to the programme’, but now we know what we're doing and we’ve found using it over time that we've started to integrate it into other parts of our programme as well. This year teaching writing feels a lot broader and I'm really enjoying it.
How do you use the graphic organisers? What do the boys think?
When I started using the graphic organisers last year there weren’t many students who had used them before, which kind of surprised me. Visualising and planning what they're doing wasn't something students brought with them from their primary schools, and it wasn't something I'd been doing a lot of either. I’d teach my senior boys a certain way and think, 'that'll probably work with the junior class'. Using CSI Private Eye, I realised that, actually, graphic organisers helped them immensely to organise their thoughts in quite a simple, age-appropriate way. For every writing genre the graphic organiser is different and the boys really like that. Today we did one out of Mystery of the Buried Army – we opened it up and it was 'Wow, this one's really cool, Miss!' The variety works really well.
How did you find it worked with students of different abilities?
It's multi-level – it’s a programme designed to scaffold learning really easily. If you do have big ranges of ability in your classroom, I think it enables extension to happen quite naturally. If your students haven't got their mind-mapping or graphic organisers done at the start – you can see where they've stopped and see where the next step isn't happening, which is really nice. You’re able to quite quickly identify problems.
I loved using a programme that differentiated my students’ abilities really, really well – and it held their interest. Even my really reluctant readers – it held their interest. They were able to come back to it, even if they'd been absent for a week.
How have the graphic organisers helped your students writing improve?
Most boys won't plan. Most boys will jump into writing and off they go. These lessons teach them that the planning stage is really important, and that there's a certain structure to your writing. I've seen a massive improvement.
We’ve adopted this process for our end-of-year assessment. Having taught this way for two terms, the students knew the system, so when we did our end-of-year writing samples, we used a scaffold that was very similar to the writing prompts in Private Eye.
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What about the revising and editing mini-lessons?
I use them a lot – they're sort of like the end point for what our writing might look like when we come back to it. I printed out the mini-lessons as charts and they stay up on my wall; we refer back to them all the time, they're so easy to pick up and use.
I find that I actually use them a lot with my senior boys, too. The boys who never 'got it' at the younger level still don't really get when they're older, but we assume that they've got that knowledge. The way that the information is organised on the editing and revising sheets is really clear and easy for students who have missed learning those things. It doesn’t dumb it down at all, it doesn’t simplify it, but it makes it very sequential and very logical. It makes my life easy. I know it's going to work, and I know it’s really effective in the classroom.
What is one of your favourite things about the writing lessons?
That they’re in really achievable chunks! The 20-minute chunks of information with my students is probably about as much as they can realistically handle. When we go to do the activities, it's an achievable, realistic chunk of work that still shows me what they've learned, it shows me what the gaps are, and at the end students can say, "I've done it, I've achieved it". You sometimes feel when you’re teaching longer lessons that if students don’t get it at the beginning, you've lost them. With these lessons, even those students that don't ‘get’ everything have still achieved something by the end of it – they haven’t given up and stopped.
Being an online programme, it’s easy to catch up those boys that have been away. They come back in and stand at my desk, and we go through it. As a teacher, you often miss things and you’ll think, "I know I've got a handout somewhere, but goodness knows where it is". Having everything in that centralised place helps a lot from an admin side – that's a big part of what we do as teachers!
Have you tried the extension activities?
The extension activities in Private Eye are beautiful. You always have one or two students who race through and they’ll finish and say (raises hand), "Hello Miss, I'm done." I can say, "Yes you are, and I have the most awesome extension activity for you, here you go."
What problems have you come across?
I've had a couple of students that have gone home and done the entire series over the weekend. They come back and they'll say, "We just really loved it, Miss, and we've done all six!" And you're like (groans), "That's great, but... What are we going to do next week?"
That doesn’t really sound like a problem.
It’s not, but it surprised me that students are wanting to go home and do the adventures – not as homework, but because they're interested. They really love it. It's teaching by stealth. It slips it in there, all of these beautiful strategies that you want them to have but which can be slightly repetitive and slightly difficult to make inspiring. CSI Private Eye makes it really easy, it’s one of the best resources I've used in 25 years of teaching.
Last question – do you think it’s good value?
I think it’s absolutely value for money. This is the way that our younger students are learning – online. We need to be thinking about what appeals to them. what they're used to, and what they're going to in the workforce later on. Using those relevant technologies makes sense to me. Of course, you've got the values of your hard texts, and the values of your text books that you might be using alongside it, but Private Eye is the best online resource I've come across – absolute value for money.
Aw shucks, thanks Lynlee!
About the author
Lynlee Lawrence is the Assistant HOD English at Hutt International Boys School, a year 6–12 school in Wellington, New Zealand. She has 25 years’ experience teaching, and has taught in Japan, the Middle East and Middle Earth (New Zealand).