David Didau at #TLAB13

As an English teacher (and self-confessed Twitter-holic) then the choice of the first #TLAB13 workshop was a no-brainer: I was going to listen to David Didau’s Anatomy of an Outstanding Lesson session.

For those of you who don’t know David, he is an associate member of SLT and Director of English and Literacy at Clevedon School in North Somerset. He is also an associate of Independent Thinking Ltd and specialises in training on Literacy, AfL, Outstanding T&L and English.

He blogs and tweets under the name of @LearningSpy and I have always found his take on teaching to be both innovative and refreshingly real.

So, I left the theatre with my head buzzing from Alastair Smith’s keynote and entered the room to the sound of Cameo’s Word Up – classic theme tune for an English teacher, right? (Later in the workshop David spoke about playing music at the start of lessons and its potential to change mood/atmosphere etc.)

What a pleasure it was to meet David and to get an insight into how he goes about planning a lesson. He manages to combine authority with an endearing humility which belies his ‘twitterati’ status as the go-to-guy for English.

Alastair Smith had already talked about the problem of many lesson plans being simply “elaborate to-do lists” and David’s workshop continued this theme as he promised us he would demonstrate his “contempt for activities”.

Firstly, the visual metaphor of the iceberg to describe lesson planning was perfect. It really is the unseen ‘stuff’ that makes the observed lesson work. And, as someone currently mentoring NQTs and a PGCE student, it gives me a great discussion point for this week’s meetings.

David’s learning questions resonated with me. (I’m using the word resonate a lot in my #TLAB13 posts – but it was that kind of day. Lots of little lightbulb moments or earnest head nods and palpable relief that I’m not alone in problems, dilemmas etc)

Five Planning Questions

1. How will last lesson relate to this lesson?

2. Which students do I need to consider in this particular lesson? (Pen Portraits.)

3. What will students be doing the moment they arrive? (Bell work.)

4. What are they learning and what activities will they undertake to learn it?

5. How will they – and I – know if they are making progress?

Again, not only am I going to reflect on these questions in my own planning but they will become part of my dialogue with the department. I liked the idea of the Pen Portraits. Having certain pupils in each class who are the focus for that unit, skill, module, term etc seems like a good way to do it.

David is a teacher. He may have additional responsibility and a sideline in writing and training etc but the man teaches. So when he talks about how “time is precious” and offers ideas of how to work smarter, then this fellow teacher is listening. His assertion that “a set of books marked is a lesson planned” and “lessons can simply be working through the feedback” made me think. Could I (and by extension, the teachers in my department) be working smarter when it comes to marking and planning?

I liked David’s idea of the post-it note as instant feedback. I’m a fan of the post-it note as teaching aid. I use them all the time. I’m not sure I have used them in this way though – an instant take-away-and-implement idea. Genius! (The idea: step back during the lesson, observe pupils’ learning & use the post-its to offer suggestions, feedback, next steps etc)

The workshop continued. I was typing away furiously. Discussing ideas as they popped up with Kristian, my fellow back-row occupier. (It was probably at about this point when I stopped forgetting I’d already been up for hours and realising what a brilliant day this was turning out to be!)

A discussion about learning outcomes followed. David shared his use of the phrase “so that we can” which was a little slice of genius. This allows you to split the learning from the outcome but still make it meaningful and coherent. See the example he gave below:

Learning: To be able to analyse characterisation.

“so that we can…”

Outcome: Evaluate Steinbeck’s intentions

Or another: zoom in on details “so that we can” zoom out on the big picture

This was my second instant take away from the workshop. I’ll be framing my learning objectives/intentions/outcomes (whatever the phrase du jour is!) in this way from now on. It makes sense.

As a fellow English teacher, I always appreciate training delivered by subject specialists. I am confident that whatever subject the audience taught, they would have gained much from David’s clear breaking down of the elements of a lesson but, as an English specialist, the subject-specific element gave this the edge.

David on writing was very interesting. He writes with his pupils. Sometimes this may be typing straight on to the screen in full view, other times it may be on paper and then shared with them at the end of the task. It sharpens his own writing. It helps him re-frame tasks or questions. It also models good practice and, let’s be honest, good writing takes deliberate practice. (I do this. I think I miss a trick though; I don’t perhaps explicitly talk about the writing process enough. My third instant takeaway from this session.)

I’m going to pinch a Didau-ism and make it my own. Henceforth, I won’t talk about writing… it’ll be called drafting so pupils realise it is a process. I’m also going to channel David when I say: “If it isn’t proofread, it isn’t finished.” 

David went on to talk about how there is no magic formula for a perfect lesson. I agree. He did however point to one fact that separates the good from the great when it comes to lessons. What is it? The relationship between teacher and pupils. As the class teacher, you have an innate advantage or trump card you can play on the observer: your knowledge of the pupils in front of you. “Dare to know” challenged David and he’s right.

Thinking about the outstanding lessons I’ve observed and, dare I say it, the best lessons I have taught and they hinge on the teacher’s knowledge of the pupils in front of him/her. If you dare to know your pupils and teach a lesson tailored to meet their needs, designed to help them progress or to challenge them to exceed expectations, then how can it fail to impress those who may be observing?

What a workshop. What a guy.

Sycophantic? Unashamedly so. I had the privilege to meet someone whose writing I’ve long admired and, do you know what, he deserves the plaudits.

Alastair Smith at #TLAB13: Beware the Ofsted Whisperers

Alastair Smith opened the inaugural #TLAB13 with his keynote speech entitled: 50,000 chunks: how we become ‘experts’ and what it might mean for our conference today. 

I’ve posted a link to the presentation which Alastair has uploaded on to his website. I’m not going to attempt to re-hash the presentation, but rather discuss what I personally took from it.

Starting with a call to arms to identify the expert schools amongst the audience, Smith was both challenging and entertaining.

Beware the Ofsted Whisperers

Beware the Ofsted Whisperers

He cautioned us, as a profession, to beware the ‘Ofsted whisperers’ as: “Ofsted chasing will reduce us to the mean, turn our profession into a trade and make us all vulnerable to the industry of second guessers…” Having recently sat through some (no doubt expensive) training which was designed to teach me about the new Ofsted framework and yet taught me nothing I couldn’t (and indeed pretty much had already) read myself, I found myself nodding in agreement.

Citing an example of a school who had gone from special measures to outstanding under the guidance of an inspirational leader, Smith spoke eloquently about how it isn’t all about Ofsted. There is an Ofsted 1 and a ‘real’ 1 – I think I know which kind of outstanding I’d like to be a part of.

So how does a school become truly expert, truly outstanding in its day-to-day life?

The following characteristics of an ‘expert school’ were offered:

  • Have a School Development Plan
  • Seen School Development Plan
  • Feel you have contributed to School Development Plan
  • Senior Staff Member responsible for Teaching and Learning
  • Teaching and Learning number one priority within the School Development Plan
  • Within Teaching and Learning Priority there are identified strategies
  • CPD priorities built around these strategies
  • Regular whole school dialogue around these strategies
  • Lesson observation (including peer observation) built around these strategies
  • Agreed strategies revisited consistently and over time
  • There is shared lesson planning utilising strategies and data
  • Staff are accountable for students results
  • Involvement of students in understanding processes of learning

Given that the audience were comprised of, in my opinion, predominantly forward-thinking educators, it was surprising how few people remained standing once the entire list was read out.

So, once all of that expert practice is in place, what else is needed to make the Ofsted 1 a real 1?

Alastair Smith suggests that a school needs core purpose, clarity, coherence, consistency and community. Music to my ears. Too often I worry we suffer from initiative-itis… we’re guilty of adopting the ‘Dangerous Deputy’ approach. We say ‘I fancy giving that a go’ and jump on the latest faddy bandwagon without really considering what value or impact it will have.

If we are clear and consistent in our approach, if the whole school community knows what our core purpose is and works together to achieve it then positive and lasting change will happen.

I’m not a school leader, but I aspire to be one. I am currently leading a department and so much of what Alastair Smith said resonated with me.

Define and Enshrine What Works
Define and Enshrine What Works

I need to now think about the strengths we have as a department and how we can embed this. I also need to think about where we can improve, look at what other departments or schools are doing and make that a part of our daily routines. As Alastair said, the rhetoric of marginal gains is all well and good but the basics need to be in place first: “you still need to get the bike up the hill.”

Expertise requires dedicated practice. It requires simple, clear and coherent messages which everyone can get behind.

We owe it to our students to be expert teachers in expert schools. No matter what is going on with education at a political level, we can be agents of change.

That’s a call to arms. That’s a reason to get out of bed… even on a Saturday morning.

http://www.alistairsmithlearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/TLA-Berkhamsted.pdf

#TLAB13: Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted School

4am on a Saturday morning & my alarm is going off.

What would get me up at this unearthly time? Why, the inaugural Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference at Berkhamsted School of course!

The conference was organised by Nick Dennis, Deputy at Berkhamsted (@nickdennis) and publicised on Twitter. The power of the educational network on Twitter means that come 9am on a chilly Saturday morning, around 200 educators who had travelled from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United States were gathered in the theatre to listen to the first of the day’s keynote speakers.

I’m going to do a separate post about the various sessions I attended, each of which have made me reflect on my teaching, but wanted to reflect on the day overall as well.

A massive thanks goes to Nick and the staff and students at Berkhamsted for hosting such a fantastic event. To those who gave up their time to be workshop leaders, thank you. A special mention to David Didau (@LearningSpy) Rosie McColl (@rosiemccoll) and Daisy Christodolou (@daisychristo) whose sessions I attended and found both incredibly useful and thought-provoking.

The three keynote speakers: Alistair Smith (@alatalite) Bill Lucas (@eed_net) and Bill Rankin (@rankinw) also deserve a mention. You all made me think, re-think and reflect on both my own teaching and my school’s direction and purpose.

Equally valuable was the chance to meet, chat and learn with and from fellow educators. In a time when education is undergoing a massive transformation and morale can, at times, feel low it was a pleasure to meet everyone and realise what a passionate and committed bunch we are. And yes, there were moments of contention and disagreement when views were shared which some didn’t agree with. But that’s what made the day so interesting. We all come with different experiences and realities and we bring a variety of perspectives to every issue.  The one thing I believe we all had in common was a desire to become better at what we do. Admirable on our day off, no?

Finally it was, as always, a pleasure to catch up with Kristian Still (@KristianStill) Vice Principal at The Wellington Academy, fellow mischief-maker, almost-heckler and force-of-nature.

GCSE Writing Intervention: using the Toulmin method to structure persuasive/discursive writing

One of the fantastic things about our department is the willingness to share resources.

In December my colleague Sam, a very talented NQT, came to show me some work she’d done with her Y11 vocational class. She had been using the Toulmin approach to help them structure their written responses. The shared and independent writing they had done was of a very high standard.

Tell me more about this Toulmin stuff, I cried… eyes lighting up in true English-teacher-geek-style!

Sam explained how she’d adapted the Toulmin method for structuring an argument (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Toulmin#The_Toulmin_Model_of_Argument  and

http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~digger/305/toulmin_model.htm )to help students structure written responses. This fitted in so well with what I was trying to do with our weekly writing intervention sessions that, with Sam’s permission, I included it in our second session.

The way it works is by using the opening paragraph as a plan for the rest of the written response.

Pupils are taught the structure, which handily includes a range of punctuation and some sentence variety. They adapt it to suit the subject matter and, in class, use highlighters to indicate the way they will organise the rest of their writing. This helps them get into the ‘Toulmin habit’ which they can hopefully reproduce in the exam.

Toulmin Example

Toulmin Writing Frame

I introduced this to the rest of the staff during  a Literacy INSET I delivered in December. Several subjects (History, Health & Social Care and RE, if I recall correctly) have started using it to help pupils structure written responses.

So, thanks to Sam for her fantastic resources.

And go St. J’s Team English… doing our best to improve our students’ writing, whatever it takes!

A* Vocabulary: building students’ word power.

One of the strands of my GCSE writing intervention has been vocabulary building. In fact, students really enjoyed looking up the ‘A* words’ I gave them. Simple pleasures… or straightforward gratifications if you will!

I’m not sure we do enough explicit vocabulary-building work. This is something I am looking to build into our schemes of learning. I’d be interested in hearing how other schools have done this.

I’m currently designing some posters with a selection of A* words to encourage pupils to consider their vocabulary and we will be launching a ‘Word of the Week’ scheme next term.

In our GCSE Writing intervention lessons, we shared a list of ‘ambitious’ vocabulary. 106 words Pupils were challenged to look up ten of the words and use them in sentences. With my groups, I then used these words in various ‘exit pass’ activities. Pupils were challenged to focus on five words and, in the words of my old English teacher Mrs Rough “make them their own.” I would’t let them leave the room until they’d used one of the words in a sentence. No repetition of sentences was allowed. Other variations on this theme included me demanding definitions of their focus words on entry and exit to my room.

Has it translated into improved performance in the GCSE Writing paper? Only time will tell, but it was a fun activity to do and pupils seemed genuinely surprised at the amount of words out there that they had never read or heard of before.

This is what makes me think I need to make vocabulary building an explicit activity with all my classes.

All help/ideas gratefully received!

(I will be adding ideas the good folk of Twitter share with me, as I have posted this on my Twitter feed.)

Ideas suggested:

@ramtopsgrum: use a “banned words” wall. I  ban: it, thing, like, stuff, youknowwhatImean, undefined pronouns etc. Answers have to be rephrased without these.

@yesiamemmab: even though I teach year 4 I use a ‘criminal words’ system for words such as ‘nice’ , ‘walk’ etc..

@KerryPulleyn: Geoff Barton has a long list of sophisticated vocab on his site. You could have a look at this.

@teacherTonytips: I get them to use 5 new words they have never used before in each piece of creative writing. This helps a lot.

@andrewmillar72: Big fan of ‘what goes in comes out’ mantra. Stress private reading, provide high level texts & model vocab in own speech.

@kevbartle: Has to be modelled by teachers. No dumbing down in SoWs. High level, subject-specific, technically accurate vocal from Y7. Must be embedded in the teaching. Everyday from the moment they arrive till the day they leave. Actually, really high level vocabulary is an equaliser between kids with high and low prior attainment.

@commaficiando: Specific vocab leads to specific ideas and thoughts and understanding what, for example, pathetic fallacy means is no harder than getting what ‘lemon’ means.

GCSE Intervention: Our Tuesday Writing Paper Sessions.

We do a decent job with our GCSE results. Last year, despite the much-publicised grading debacle, our results were up in Language and Literature.

Obviously we all want to continue that upward trend. However these are uncertain times for English students and their teachers, and it sometimes seems hard to know what to do or how best to secure that improvement.

We run revision sessions after school for pupils to attend but, clearly, that doesn’t always hit the students we may really want to reach. Letters and text messages have gone home to parents and carers and revision materials aplenty have been sourced and distributed.

What else to do?

Looking at our timetable, I noticed we had a slot in which all of our English Language classes were being taught at the same time. It got me thinking about how we could use it for a targeted intervention programme.

We teach in setted groups. Our students’ target grades range from A* to E. Sometimes I question the validity of this: do pupils work better in mixed ability groups? (Perhaps the subject for a different blog.) One thing I am certain of though, is that the old adage ‘a change is as good as a rest’ is often true and so I decided to mix the groups up a bit for their intervention lessons. I looked at the aspirational targets we had for our pupils and re-grouped them according to their 4-levels of progress target. I then discussed the groupings with class teachers and we moved some pupils based on them already outperforming against target data.

This through up some interesting anomalies. For example, we now had a number of set 3 pupils in groups with their set 1 peers etc. We felt this would have a positive impact on those students and so decided to give it a go.

I decided to focus on the writing paper for these sessions. By planning the lessons myself I could ensure that the whole cohort were getting the same messages about technique, tactics etc. Sessions were split into short and punchy sections; I wanted them to be pacy and feel different from ‘normal’ 50 minute lessons.

Session 1: vocabulary and punctuation.

Session 2: using the Toulmin structure in persuasive writing and how to improve content marks.

Session 3: audience, purpose and format and a recap on sessions 1 and 2.

(Subsequent posts will discuss the session content.)

We launched the idea to pupils and class lists went up. This caused some consternation in those who don’t like change, but on the day we had excellent attendance and they found their new rooms with minimum fussing. Pupil feedback after the session was very positive. They felt energised and boosted by the delivery. One pupil, who found herself in a “clever group” (her words!) waited at the end and told her teacher how pleased she was: “because I kept up with them and I know I could do that in my exam now too!”

We have our last session in January just before the exam is due to be sat. The final week in December was hijacked slightly by reward activities and mock exams. I hope to re-energise and inspire them before they go in and do battle with their GCSE-fate.

We will probably continue to use the lesson as a way of reaching the whole cohort in a practical, revision-y way as the year progresses.

 

 

 

This year and next…

Lots of people on Twitter seem to be writing an evaluation of their year & a looking forward to the next with #Nurture1213

So, in no particular order, here’s my contribution: twelve highlights of last year and thirteen hopes for next year.

12 Highlights of 2012:

1. Getting my own place.

Having moved back to my folks’ a few years ago, this felt like a huge step. I initially moved home to be able to afford to complete my GTP. I stayed for financial reasons and, although I love my parents dearly, moving out (again!) was and is just perfect.

2. Becoming Head of Department.

Admittedly this is an acting role during my boss’ maternity leave, but all the same I am enjoying the challenge.

3. Losing weight.

As of 27/12/12, I have lost 30lbs. I feel heaps better for it.

4. Starting to exercise.

I’ve discovered that exercise won’t kill me… although not doing any might!

5. Delivering a literacy INSET at school.

Sometimes I think my colleagues suffer from INSET-ennui, so being asked to present to them in December at the end of a long term was a challenge. Despite a raging flu-induced temperature throughout, I loved it. I’ve had some great feedback from colleagues from a variety of departments and I need to blog about the best bits.

6. Completing my MLDP.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Middle Leadership Development Programme and made some great contacts in local schools. It made me think and helped hone my practice. I have also found it useful to look back on as I have begun my acting Head of Department role this term.

7. Our departmental team.

I’ve taken on the acting Head of Department role and, it has to be said, I couldn’t do it without the support of ‘Team English’ who have been uniformly fantastic. We have a great team and it is a pleasure to work with them. I look forward to 2013, working with them to further improve outcomes for our pupils.

8. Learning to appreciate my family more.

My moving out was postponed by the horrendous flood I had in October 2011. The house was wrecked and lots of my possessions (I was in the process of moving in) were ruined. My family rallied round and were fantastic. From the initial desperate phone calls ankle deep in water, to the time they have taken to help clearing up, sorting stuff out and getting me settled, I couldn’t have asked for a better safety net behind me.

We’re not overly close. We don’t do emotion. I should tell them I’ve written this… but, whilst I pluck up the courage, at least some people know how much I appreciate them!

9. The fantastic wedding of the delicious Katherine and the marvellous Dave.

Two of my friends got married in July. It was the perfect day. The bride looked stunning and, what’s more, it was a loooooong time overdue. So, as the year draws to a close, I offer another virtual toast: “to the bride and groom.”

10. London 2012.

That opening ceremony. That glorious celebration of our past and present. The amazing Olympians and Paralympians. The medals. The once-in-a-lifetime moments. I’ll admit it: I got quite emotional!

11. Friends.

2012 delivered some new friends. That’s got to be a highlight!

12. The stuff I can’t write about…

Some of the highlights of this year are best not blogged about. But remembering them makes me smile… and chuckle. Lots.

Thirteen hopes for 2013:

1. To continue to lose weight.

I haven’t set any goal weight/size but I know I will continue in the new year. I’m following the Weightwatchers plan & so far so very good!

2. To make exercise an integral part of my routine.

I’ve recently started going to a Bootcamp fitness class in the village. It hurts but, oddly, I have found I quite enjoy it. I enjoy not being so preoccupied with work & just being outside in the fresh air. I’m determined to make this a 2/3 times a week routine.

3. To have one weekend a month in which I do no work.

Every year since starting teaching I swear I will achieve a work/life balance. I somehow fail. This year I’m trying to make this happen by having one weekend per month set aside for non-work stuff. We’ll see.

4. To start driving lessons… again!

Yes, I know, I should be able to drive at my age. Moving swiftly on…

5. To learn to salsa.

I’ve just booked a course of 10 lessons starting in January, so this is one step closer at least. Every year I watch Strictly and think I’d love to be able to dance. Every year I sit in front of the tv and do nothing. No more excuses!

6. To get back into photography.

I have a fab camera. I need to learn what all the buttons do. I’ve neglected it this year. I’m going to try & do more in 2013. (See hope no.3)

7. To successfully complete my acting Head of Dept role.

I want to make a success of the temporary position. I am looking to move onwards and (hopefully) upwards in my career, so this is a great opportunity. I don’t want to let our students down more than anything though. I want this year to be successful for them.

8. To be a better teacher.

I have committed to being the best teacher I can be. It’s a hard job but it’s also one of the best jobs in the world. I need to make sure I’m doing the best I can for my pupils. They deserve nothing less.

9. To make some of my Twitter pals ‘real’ pals.

This starts in January when one of my good Twitter pals is coming to stay. I’m very much looking forward to being tour-guide-in-chief for @joanne_rich as she ventures to Liverpool for the first time ever!

I have benefitted from the support, inspiration and challenge that Twitter, and the #ukedchat community in particular, offer. I hope to turn some of those ‘virtual’ friendships and collaborations into ‘real’ ones in 2013.

10. To blog more.

I’ve neglected this blog in 2012. I need to get better at reflecting on my teaching and blogging is such a good method of doing this. I read so many inspirational blogs… this year maybe I will contribute something of merit myself.

11. To travel.

I’m booking a holiday this year. I didn’t manage to get away in 2012 and I do so love to travel. After my solo trip to Italy in 2011, I’m hoping to venture further afield in 2013. I think a long overdue return to my favourite city – New Orleans – may well be on the cards.

12. To host a TeachMeet in Liverpool.

See no. 9 – this will, I hope, be a chance to meet lots of fantastic educators and to benefit my own practice and that of my colleagues. My Head will hopefully be on board with the idea when I present it to him in the New Year. Watch this space!

13. To be content.

I’ve felt somewhat at sea this year. I want to work at being content in 2013. I have so much to be grateful for and so much to look forward to. I shall work very hard to find my inner contentment this next year, even though I’m not quite sure how or what I need to do to make this hope a reality!

Don’t Suffer, Together We’re Tougher: Rochdale teenager has a message for victims of bullying.

It’s been a long time since I blogged, and excuse today’s more personal post. I’ve been inspired by the daughter of a friend of mine.

It’s been a summer of role models and positive images of young people. August 2012, in contrast to the riots of last year, has given us plenty to look forward to, to celebrate and to shout about.

It’s not all about our Olympians or Games Makers however. This summer, whilst the much of the nation has been transfixed on the events of London 2012, a young woman in Rochdale has been undertaking a marathon of her own. Meet Emily Foster, 16, the founder of the Brave the Bullies campaign.

Emily was inspired to start the campaign as a way of remembering her best friend, Sam Riley, who tragically committed suicide in 2009 after being the victim of bullying. It seems bullying has rarely been out of the news lately, what with the so-called ‘trolls’ online posting vicious and hurtful attacks on Olympic bronze medallist Tom Daley, Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton closing her Twitter account and, just this week, people abusing Gary Barlow after the tragic stillbirth of his daughter, Poppy.

As a teacher, I am all too aware that bullying is commonplace yet it sometimes seems it only really gets the attention it deserves when it is a celebrity on the receiving end. Emily is determined that the victims of bullying will not be forgotten and will not have to suffer alone, no matter who they are.

Emily describes herself as “a ‘do-er’” and explains that “whereas some people will sit and complain about something, I’m someone that will do something about it, that’s all.” She’s being modest; since finishing her GCSEs, she has dedicated herself to setting up a charity campaign rather than relaxing and waiting for her results. We’ve heard much about what motivates our young Olympians, but Emily’s motivation is similarly impressive. She explains: “ever since Sam died I’ve always hated bullying and it’s been something that really angers me. But a couple of days before my last exam, another teenager in my area committed suicide and, although I didn’t know her, it really got to me and made me realise that even if I don’t get anywhere with it, there’s no point in me wasting my summer doing nothing. I could be doing something positive that could actually save someone’s life. So as soon as my last exam finished on the 18th June, I went home and got started with it all.”

So what is Brave the Bullies all about? Emily aims to raise awareness of bullying and offer support to young people and parents. She is starting small, as at the moment she can’t afford to register as an official charity but with a summer fair and fun day planned this weekend, she is hoping the funds will come. Working towards charitable status is just one aim and she wants to create a website full of resources and information that people can access. However it doesn’t stop there, she wants to run workshops in schools across greater Manchester and the north west “and basically aim to educate pupils on how much of an impact their actions can have because I think a lot of people don’t even realise how hurtful they can be.”

Emily has been surprised at how willing people have been to help her. She puts this down to the fact that many people have been affected by bullying themselves, or know someone close to them that has. She has had to overcome some resistance, given that her campaign isn’t an official charity yet, but she says that the overwhelming reaction has been positive when she explains what she is trying to do.

Changing people’s mindset about what constitutes bullying, is one of Emily’s aims. She wants there to be more of a focus on the victim’s feelings, “I know a large amount of people that think that it’s only classed as bullying if someone is crying or has a black eye and I think that whole mindset is completely wrong. It shouldn’t be the bully that gets to decide whether it’s bullying or not, if somebody feels that they’re being victimised then they should be able to go to somebody about that without being made to feel stupid about it.” She is keen to raise the profile of the victims of bullying: “people who have been bullied deserve to be respected because it takes a lot of bravery to have aspects of yourself torn down and humiliated” and she wants people to understand that significant and lasting harm can be done to people, without there being physical signs or evidence.

Emily met Sam when they both started secondary school together. She describes him as a joy to be around and “one of the friendliest boys in the whole school regardless of some of the taunts he got.” Sam suffered from eczema and it was this that people chose to pick on him about. Unfortunately Sam clearly felt unable to cope with the bullying he was receiving and, in 2009, took his own life. It is not hard to understand why her motto for the campaign is “Don’t suffer, together we’re tougher.” Emily doesn’t want anyone else to feel they have to put up with bullying alone. She has a simple message for potential bullies too: “all I want is for them to take more notice about what they’re doing or saying.  Actually think about whether ruining someone’s whole self esteem and way they see themselves is worth it.”

This Saturday 18th August, Emily has organised a Brave the Bullies summer fair. It is taking place in Queens Park, Heywood from 11am to 4pm. You can also follow her campaign on twitter (@BraveTheBullies) and on Facebook www.Facebook.com/BraveTheBullies

All too often, people criticise young people for their apathy and unwillingness to get involved in their communities. In this Olympic year, if there were a gold medal for making a difference, then I’d say Emily Foster would have a place on the podium in her very determined sight.

#ukedchat – a year or so on and I’m still a fan!

I blogged in August 2010 about the weekly #ukedchat discussions that happen every Thursday on Twitter between 8 – 9pm.

https://dailydenouement.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/ukedchat/

A year on and I’m more enamoured than ever with the whole #ukedchat ‘thing’.

Why? Well, for a start I have now got professional contacts from all over the UK who provide me with advice, support and inspiration on a daily and weekly basis. Sometimes I think there is a tendency for teachers to become quite inward-looking. We get very caught up in “this is how we do it here” and “our focus is this”… #ukedchat takes you out of your own classroom and gives you a privileged insight into hundreds of other schools, methods, pedagogies etc.

It’s free. It’s fun. It’s fantastic.

Join us?

Dumbing Down English Literature?

There’s a report in today’s Telegraph saying that the English Literature A Level has been dumbed down.

It makes for a great headline. I can just imagine the horror over afternoon tea: “Do you know they aren’t teaching the classics anymore?” “I doubt they even know who Shakespeare is nowadays. It just isn’t good enough.”

The Ofqual report has looked at the AQA exam board and focused on their choices of text for A Level teaching. They believe that the choice of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights are not sufficiently challenging for A Level students. I’m not necessarily going to dispute that, although I actually think that Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy are some of the most profound and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long while. It’s interesting however, that as you read the article further, a spokesman from AQA confirms that neither of these novels is on the current exam specification anymore.

So is English Literature really being dumbed down?

I teach English Literature A Level. My Year 13 students this year are tackling a variety of texts including Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, Hamlet and an anthology of poetry that includes work from Petrarch to Duffy, Browning to Angelou. Their Reading for Meaning unit is called Love through the Ages and they are examined on texts from Chaucer to the modern day. Their fellow students in Year 12 are studying Victorian Literature: Hardy, Clare, Bronte, Wilde etc. In both years, pupils are encouraged to undertake wider, independent reading and indeed without showing an appreciation of a variety of texts from different genres and, for the Year 13s, from different times, they cannot hope to pass their AS or A2 examined modules.

Of course we embed an appreciation for literature from an early age. All Key Stage 3 classes study a variety of literature from different genres, cultures and periods. Our Year 7s have a weekly library lesson, in which they are encouraged to read for pleasure. Later in the year they will be introduced to Shakespeare in a module that samples extracts from a range of his plays. Our Year 8s all study a pre-twentieth century classic novel in addition to a Shakespeare play. Differing abilities are catered for in the learning activities teachers choose for their groups, but all pupils are exposed to the texts in their original forms. In addition to this, they have guided reading of modern classic novels and poetry from different cultures. Our Year 9s build on this, studying further Shakespeare plays and a range of poetry, learning to make thematic and structural links between texts they have studied. At GCSE, our pupils study both English Language and Literature.

We are passionate, as a department, in encouraging a love of literature. We wouldn’t choose to teach exam specifications that we didn’t believe promoted a rigorous understanding and appreciation of the texts we study. The skills our A Level students acquire don’t just help them go on to study Literature at university either; they are both valuable and transferable: inference, deduction, synthesis of information from a variety of sources, analysis, and a formation of personal opinions alongside an appreciation of critical readings from many different perspectives. Our students mature into informed, independent readers.

The exam board we use is the apparently maligned AQA. However despite the shock headlines, I can assure you there’s nothing dumb about our lessons!

 

Written for the Huffington Post UK: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/clare-sarson/dumbing-down-english-lite_b_979079.html