About Me

Anxieties, worries, stressing, resources, ideas, lessons. Moments of upset and moments of learning brilliance.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The English Teacher's Struggle: Reading for Pleasure.

Encouraging students to read is the biggest struggle for teachers of English. I want children to read, but I also want them to love reading. How do I do that? How can I make them feel affection for something? I deal in knowledge and skills; emotions and feelings cannot be taught. Life would perhaps be easier if we could. Today class, I'm going to teach you how to feel happy even when life is getting you down...

I apologise if this is something you disagree with. Of course, teachers do try to assist pupils in dealing with their emotions, to encourage them to respond appropriately to certain situations, to ensure they have adequate social skills when they leave school- but to make them feel a genuine passion for something, such as reading, is not part of the job role. 

And whilst the desire to make them love reading is forever present, as is the desire to just make them read. Just read. Please. Students. Time to read. Read anything. Read a book. A newspaper. Just. Read

But in making them read, in setting reading for homework, in having set time for reading, in making them read the same book as everyone else in the class... are we encouraging them to love reading? Or are we just forcing them to read - but never read for pleasure?

(I actually don't have any answers for this. If you've come here looking for some sort of solution to solve the issue of getting teenagers to read then this is most certainly the wrong place. I think this was just my opportunity to ramble on my frustration on this topic.)

Can we really force students to love reading? Is that not a paradox in itself - and, if we can't force them to love reading, can we encourage them? When we "encourage" them, are they doing it for the right reasons? Are they reading because they want to? And can anyone actually read passively, properly?

The first thing I feel I need to consider is why I want them to read in the first place. I'd love to think it's for the reasons I should say: so they can develop their spelling and grammar; so they can build a richer vocabulary; so they can absorb skills and apply in their writing; so they can have a thorough understanding of how language works; so they know how to retrieve key information; so they develop the ability to skim and scan texts; so they can read explicit and implicit meaning in texts in all subjects; so they can apply all the necessary reading skills when they arrive in their place of work. 

But in reality, that's not why I want my students to read for pleasure. I believe that stories are a form of escapism, and I believe that every child has a right to escape. But in reality, you can only actually escape if you take part in the journey itself. So if I'm forcing a story into the hands of a teenager, are they actively partaking in the journey the book offers them? Are they escaping? Or are they just following the instructions, going through the motions, sat there for half an hour (as that was the stipulated homework time) and maybe even reading the words, but not actually reading?

So what do I try and do to make reading more about enjoyment than going through the motions?

I discuss what they're reading: There is nothing more important than asking students what they are reading, whether they are enjoying it, what they like about the book they are reading, and if they would recommend it to me. Sometimes it works if I have read it too, but I'm always honest, and sometimes it's nice to take their suggestions and follow them up. 

I genuinely read what they tell me to: I know I was about three years after the bandwagon, but I recently read the Hunger Games trilogy in about a week after a student was offended (and I mean offended) because I told her I hadn't read them. I couldn't wait to see her on the Monday after the weekend of finishing Mockingjay and discuss them all with her. 

I don't forget: Teaching is a terrifyingly constant job and sometimes we are too busy and miss out on potentials moments with the individual students in favour of the collective. I try to remember what individual students are reading, and ask them how they are getting on with it. And when it seems to be taking an age for them to finish the book, I ask them why they have stopped reading it. 

I praise them for reading: Mostly verbally, but it is important that students understand that reading is beneficial and that teachers are proud when they give their precious, life-filled time to reading. 

But, most ironically, I sometimes force them to read: Only sometimes. But I do. Ridiculous really, after everything I have just written. But I do. I sometimes - not constantly, that would be overkill - do set reading homeworks. Because in discussions with students, I find that it isn't reading they don't like, it's choosing reading over their friends, their social media, their phones, their gaming... etc. If I'm going to set them a homework either way, why can't it be reading? Why not force them to set half an hour aside to read?

Because I started this by saying that forcing students to read and getting students to love reading is, in reality a paradox. And it is. But the truth is, that one can lead to another. In forcing students to read - not constantly, but in small amounts, then I genuinely believe that we might unlock a love of reading, if they have the right book. 

And I guess that's the biggest battle. Some students say they don't like reading. My mantra has always been, if you don't like reading, you just haven't found the right book yet. That is my job. If I want students to love reading, to read regularly, to gain all the right skills, and to escape, then I need to find them the right book. And that is a struggle too, but is one I will face every day if it will help them learn to love to read. 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Correct the Celebrity Tweets.

After marking my Y7 books I was extremely shocked at their general lack of punctuation. I mean the whole lot: full stops, capital letters, apostrophes etc. Everything seemed to be lacking. So I put it to the lovely tweachers on Twitter for some good ideas and I had a perfect response from the lovely @Englishlulu here, suggesting using celebrity tweets and asking pupils to correct them (originating from this article) . 

I love this idea, and shamelessly went about stealing it and collecting celebrity tweets with a range of mistakes, from capital letters to the wrong there/their/they're. I see this is a long term need for many of my classes, and fun starter for some (depending on issues that arise when I mark!)

Here is the link to the first set of tweets (there are 30 tweets so far - I will update regularly as I start to run out...). The tweets range from members of One Direction to Alan Sugar to Wayne Rooney. Feel free to use, share and enjoy. I hope they are helpful. I have included some suggestions of ideas to apply the tweets below - these have popped into my head as I have been finding them. 

Correct the celebrity tweets!


  • Make it cross-curriculur: How about in maths correcting the tweets and then counting the characters to check if they still reach the limit? Or subjects comparing different celebrities relevant to their field (P.E could compare footballers and rugby players etc).
  • To make it even harder, include tweets that are actually correct but pupils normally add wrong punctuation in (its as a possessive etc) then try and spot the odd one out - which is right?
  • Create responses to the tweets explaining the correction - don't just correct them!
  • Give each table/pair/group a celebrity, once a week give them their twitter feed. Least amount of mistakes wins?
  • I'm thinking of using them as a starter and having green, amber and red. Once green is complete, move on to amber etc. Red will be a STOP and think - harder/multiple mistakes. 
  • An excellent tutor time resource...
  • Homework to find three more tweets and correct them? Harder to find mistakes and means you have more to share with other classes (as suggested by @agwilliams)

Saturday, 5 October 2013

AQA Relationships Poetry : A Playlist

So I have been playing with the idea of writing a playlist for the Relationships poetry section of the AQA anthology, and today I had fun asking my family "What is a song about two women having feelings for the same guy - and being sisters?". With my sister and husband looking at me rather confused they still dutifully shouted out a range of songs for me to think about. I have put them here and included lyrics that I think fit well (and also as some people won't know all of the songs!) ... Enjoy. 

The Manhunt (Simon Armitage) - Fix You (Coldplay)"And the tears come streaming down your faceWhen you lose something you can't replaceWhen you love someone but it goes to wasteCould it be worse?Lights will guide you homeAnd ignite your bonesAnd I will try to fix you."I like the idea of linking the sentence "When you lose something you can't replace" to the question of what the soldier may have lost - confidence? Pride?  

Hour (Carol Ann Duffy) - Little Wonders (Rob Thomas)"Our lives are made In these small hours These little wonders,These twists & turns of fateTime falls away,But these small hours,These small hours still remain"Personally, I would link the language (the repetition of the word hours) and the general idea of the importance of time, even if it is only a small amount of time.

Quickdraw (Carol Ann Duffy) - Hangin' on the telephone (Blondie) (Suggested on Twitter)"It's good to hear your voice, you know it's been so longIf I don't get your call then everything goes wrongI want to tell you something you've known all alongDon't leave me hanging on the telephone"The whole song places emphasis on the power of speaking to someone on the telephone, but is perhaps more positive than the ideas in the poem - I would ask students how the Western language changes the poem from the more positive lyrics in the song.

Praise Song for My Mother (Grace Nichols) - Because You Loved Me (Celine Dion)"You gave me wings and made me flyYou touched my hand I could touch the skyI lost my faith, you gave it back to meYou said no star was out of reachYou stood by me and I stood tallI had your love I had it all"This verse mirrors the natural imagery in the poem, but also links to the final line of going to wide futures, and the mother's support of the child and whatever future they might choose. 

Harmonium (Simon Armitage) - Father and Son (Cat Stevens)

"How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.It's always been the same, same old story.From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen. [...]All the times that I cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,It's hard, but it's harder to ignore it."This song is about a different kind of relationship, but both the poem and the song explore what can't be said - the idea of death, and the difficulty of being honest to someone you love and respect. 

To His Coy Mistress (Andrew Marvell) - Let's Get It On (Marvin Gaye) 
"I've been really tryin, babyTryin to hold back these feelings for so longAnd if you feel, like I feel babyCome on, oh come on,Let's get it on"Perhaps a discussion over why Marvell is slightly less obvious with his intentions than Gaye? 

Sister Maude (Christina Georgina Rossetti) - That Boy is Mine (Brandy and Monica)"You see, I know that you may beJust a bit jealous of meBut you're blind if you can't seeThat his love is all in me"Of course we could discuss the reliability of the narrator - do we know for sure the speaker's love wasn't interested in Sister Maude? Is she justifiably damned?

Nettles (Vernon Scannell) - Just the two of us (Will Smith) "From the first time the doctor placed you in my arms/ I knew I'd meet death before I'd let you meet harm [...]Throughout life people will make you mad /Disrespect you and treat you bad /Let God deal with the things they do (things they do)/Cause hate in your heart will consume you too" In the song the father is aware that outside influences will affect his son so warns him against them - in the poem, what does the father do? Does he realise he has no control over these outside influences (the nettles)? 

Sonnet 43 (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) - How Deep is Your Love? (The BeeGees) "And it's me you need to show/ How deep is your love? I really need to learn [...] You're the light to my deepest darkest hour / You're my saviour when I fallThe song questions a lover to the validity and strength of their affection - the poem answers a similar question and defines the speaker's feelings towards the  lover who has asked the question. How does the poem work as a response to the song? What imagery of love in the song (light etc) is mirrored in the poem? 

Any suggestions for the final poems welcome!

The Farmer's Bride (Charlotte Mew) - 

Sonnet 116 (William Shakespeare) - In Paris With You (James Fenton) - Ghazal (Mimi Khalvati) - Brothers (Andrew Forster) -
Born Yesterday (Philip Larkin) - 


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Speaking and Listening Removed: My "Summary of Findings"

I would not be a teacher if it wasn't for speaking and listening in school. 

Okay, this may be a slight exaggeration, but at school in the early years (KS3) I loved the discussion, project and presentation side of English. I decided I wanted to teach English because I was fully engaged with the subject, I loved being creative and I loved discussing and reading books. However all that being said, I was not the best at analysis and writing technically. 

For me, English all fell into place during GCSE - an exceptional teacher and the texts we studied helped it all "click" for me. But I still thrived off the speaking and listening elements, and I loved linking role-play into Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls. I am looking forward to teaching these texts this year for my NQT year - but an announcement today has literally appalled me - I will not be teaching speaking and listening. 

I will not express the importance of communicating. 
I will not expect my pupils to be able to confidently present. 
I will not help my pupils to improve how they talk to others. 
- I will, obviously, and I will assess these things, and it will all be reported in their GCSE, but it won't count towards their actual grade.

The announcement of Ofqual today did not shock me, it just disappointed me. And as I read through the 'summary of findings' my anger increased. My favourite part:
"Overall, respondents strongly disagreed with the proposals, with many supporting their views with specific examples. Comments provided were often detailed and extensive, drawing on respondents’ experience and wider evidence to exemplify the ways in which speaking and listening skills and their assessment have benefited students and indeed wider society"
They may as well have finished the paragraph "not that we listened, or cared what anyone had to say, we had already made our mind up..."

Brace yourself - it gets worse. If your anger is boiling like mine, here is the clincher

"Most respondents, (92 per cent or 841 respondents), disagreed with Proposal 1, whilst 8 per cent (69 respondents) agreed."

The issue is becoming a matter that does not involve speaking and listening, but a question as to why the consultation took place at all if all responses were completely disregarded. 92% is not a small percentage. Not only does this "summary" acknowledge that no-one agreed with the findings, it acknowledges that many respondents offered a more fair and equal alternative.

"School or college: ‘If Ofqual do not feel that schools are assessing correctly why not move to address this? Increase moderation visits; include some recording of assessments as there is at MFL and in the IB.' 
School or college: ‘Speaking and Listening is a vital part of English alongside Reading and Writing. MFL qualifications have an oral communication element as part of their assessment; why shouldn't English?’"

It makes depressing reading, if I am completely honest. Every single proposal is disagreed by a large majority. 

If you agree or disagree with speaking and listening being a component in English GCSE, your opinion is irrelevant. I am not sure how many people may read this blog and think "what is she on about? I wanted it gone" - your opinion is irrelevant. My opinion (as one of only 917 responses to the consultation) is also irrelevant. 

This is my issue with this entire debacle. My anger is a response not entirely to the loss of speaking and listening. It is to the fact that 92% of respondents were ignored. It is that the "consultation", as @Gwenelope mentioned on Twitter, was completely farcical.

I despair that I responded myself (in anger, of course) and what a waste of time it was to sit at my computer and click submit. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Acronym to acronym: Ten things to remember from PGCE to NQT.

As next week approaches, I am filled with an immense sense of trepidation. I am fearful for so much that as I type my stomach is tangling itself into knots. I am terribly excited too, but I feel like it is hard to truly feel that excitement whilst the cloud of doom hangs over me. 

"What cloud of doom!?" I hear you cry in response to my terrifying opening. The cloud of doom is a long list of questions and fears buzzing around my brain every second I turn myself to school work. Planning to do, new classes to know, names to learn (not only students, teachers too!), routines to grasp, policies to understand, teachers to impress, pupils to teach. It literally terrifies me. And yet, it has been my dream for the past ten years, so I mentally slap myself for being stupid and try to turn my mind to planning... 

I decided that last year was the best and yet most difficult year of my educational life. So in a sense I want to constantly ensure that I learnt from it, and I mean really learnt from it - not just filled a folder (or two) full of paperwork and evidence to tick boxes (read as: standards). I want to really think about what I have learnt in the past year and how I am going to really use what I have learnt from last year to this year. 

Rule 1: Silence is golden.
This is of course rule 1, because I really need to remember it. I remember reading this in every book I read before my PGCE started, and hearing it from a lecturer, and my mentor mentioning it... and it just seemed so obvious. But - it needs to be absolute. Do not talk unless the entire class are listening. That includes little Connor who never shuts up for anyone. I need to remember this for next year - during the PGCE you float into a class for eight weeks never to be seen again - this will not happen anymore

Rule 2: You can not do everything. Deal with it. 
I'm not sure how specific this is to me, but I learnt last year that from the minute the PGCE started I would never have "nothing to do". What is that anyway? What I need to learn (still) is that it is okay to leave something half done if there is time to finish it the next day. Even writing that sentence I'm not sure I agree with it just yet... 

Rule 3: It is okay that you haven't reinvented the wheel. You can't. It is already there - see. A wheel. 
Everyone said it. Did I listen? No. I still made my own resources. I still wrote my own lesson plans. I still did everything on my own: a constant resource-making-lesson-plan-writing-never-sleeping machine. Oh right, I didn't sleep, because I had to do everything myself. Then when it dawned on me that I could be up all night planning amazing lessons but not have the energy to teach them, it clicked. It is okay to magpie. In fact, it is sensible to do so. 

Rule 4: Never forget what it was like in school.
This is an odd one, and perhaps one that isn't as mentioned/obvious as the first three. Whenever I do anything, I think about the mixed up ball of angst and hormones and downright moodiness I was at 13. And I remember that even though I went to an outstanding school, I still had lessons where I was bored and learnt nothing. I remember the teachers that did interesting things, and fun things, but most of all I remember the teachers who really cared about me. I want to make sure my pupils know I feel the same way. 

Rule 5: Be yourself. 
Don't try and be their old teacher. Don't try and be their old colleague. Don't try and be what you think they want you to be. Don't try and be what you think you want to be. Just be the best you can be, and the person you actually are will do just fine. Even if you don't like yourself most of the time, it is unlikely anyone else will dislike you for being you. And if they do, stuff them :)

Rule 6: There is no such thing as perfection. 
This one is still a slight issue in my mind, but all the same it is time I faced the fact that I am a perfectionist. And that realistically it needs to stop. It is good to want the best out of everything I do, but perhaps not good to spend 40 minutes stressing over the box that doesn't look quite right on the worksheet and Word won't let me move it. Because by the end of tomorrow it won't matter, and the kids won't even notice, and if they do - so what? It is only a box. 

Rule 7: Make a note of everything. Make a note that I should make a note... 
Sometimes, my memory is not the best. Sometimes, I have the best intentions to finish something and then something slightly more urgent pops up and is completed, but the first something has completely erased from my mind as if the thought had never crossed my mind anyway. I need to use my love of post-it notes and make a note of everything - no matter how trivial. 

Rule 8: Marking is just as (if not more) important as planning.
So get on top of it. Write the planning timetable you planned on doing and stick to it for as long as possible. Use everything you have read in blogs and on twitter; do it in chunks, turn the books round, mark in order to plan, make pupils reflect on the marking, give them DIRT time, make them progress, be a good teacher. It all makes sense now... 

Rule 9: Those terrible lessons are better than those amazing ones. 
Now I know this makes no sense at all, but come on. Remember those wonderful year 9s who started to test you? And after the lesson (despite them being your favourite group) you never wanted to see them again? Remember discussing with your mentor how important it was to reinforce expectations and show them that you are in charge? Remember doing that and having an incredible last few weeks with them? I would never have learnt any of that had I not had the terrible lesson in the first place. And in a sense, I would not have been able to carry out the creative and wacky ideas I had later on with them if there had not been that dreadful "what are they doing" moment which pushed me into really telling them that I was not happy and forcing them to question their behaviour. I learnt more from the horrible lessons than the amazing ones. But of course, I need to remember the amazing ones. They will keep me more sane than the terrible ones.. 

Rule 10: Make time for everything else. You are not only a teacher, you are also a wife, daughter and a friend. 
I sometimes rage at myself for how little time I spent with friends and family last year. It is a wonder they are all still around. They have probably got used to my face - actually seeing my face - over summer. I don't want to deprive them of that joy again. All modesty aside, my friends and family knew last year was hard, and know this one will be too, but that is not an excuse to take their understanding for granted. They still all need to know they are important. Especially that husband - he would do anything for me, so it is time to make him know I would do the same. If that means lesson 3 with year 9 not being 100% perfect, than perhaps that lesson someone else wrote will be enough. (It will, it really will. And they won't even notice. But he will).

I will perhaps have a check on these rules at half term (if I have made it...) and see how I am going. Final rule: Sort out the body clock before Sunday, or you are really stuffed. It is 4am and you aren't even tired. Why aren't you concerned? 

Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Establishing my space: my blog and my classroom.

It is with extreme caution and fear that I start my first blog post. There are an exhaustive amount of reasons why it has taken me a long time to start blogging and why still, whilst writing this post I do not feel quite ready to do so. A selection of the more prominent reasons are:

1. Top reason: I am only an NQT. I have just finished my PGCE and I wonder what I have to offer? When I read other educational blogs my mind is often shaped and my opinions change; Am I too naive to really offer my less-justified/experienced opinion?

2. What is my purpose? Are these posts merely a self-indulgent experience of letting out some of my stress/worries/anger - or do I actually want someone to read them? If I don't want anyone to read them, what is my purpose? Right - so maybe I might have to actually let people read them...

3. Who will want to read my rambles anyway?

With my head buried in the sand and my decisions not really made, I came across a blog post by Freya Odell in which she shared her new classroom called Setting the tone. I enjoyed the points she made about the importance of your own space in the classroom, and she had also used my resource in her room. After sharing a few resources on Twitter/tes I was amazed by the lovely responses I recieved from my AF bunting and word wall flashcards (more on these later). Reading Freya's blog and actually feeling I had made something worthwhile has pushed me into writing this blog and perhaps believing that I may have something to share. Even if that something is just a couple of resources, at least it is something.

My classroom

I was extremely excited about getting my own classroom for this year. During my time at University I have worked in Early Years and have loved creating fun and interesting displays and I literally could not wait to have my own space to devote to English and my own classes. I decided to have five displays. One is a Shakespeare display (I read on a tes post a while ago about showing the students that you have a love for English, and Shakespeare is my top choice. Of course...). And the rest are all working walls. I am also looking forward to creating mobiles (with the help of the students, of course) and getting some washing lines up for more work to be displayed. Here are some pictures! (Apologies for poor quality!)

The Shakespeare display

The APP bunting (available here) in action

My interactive 'Word Wall'. I plan to take words off that will be a focus of the lesson, use them as starters/plenaries, target setting - anything really! Also available here!

 My heroes and villains display - with timeline and pictures ready to be joined by opinionated pieces of paper (I hope).

 Clearly I like bunting. What are you reading bunting!

More of the bunting above the Sherlock Holmes display. This will be a working wall so just the title needed!

Lastly my 'Teacher's Dead' display ready to be a working wall.

And there we have it. I kind of realised (whilst I spent hours laminating and cutting things out in my new room) that a large portion of my time is going to spent there. It is worth putting the extra hours in in the hope that my new wonderful students in Septmber really believe that I care about them and the school and my classroom - and I'm ready to work hard for them if they work hard for me!

More blogging coming soon....