Fifty Book Challenge: complete!

Anyone who knows me will know how my favourite type of competition is one with myself. I had two resolutions this year; I wanted to go to the theatre more times than I drank, and I wanted to read fifty books. The first one has worked out pretty well (it really is a work in progress, watch out 2014), and the second one is finally complete with five days to spare. I wanted to say thank you to the books for 1) existing- I find it to be the most therapeutic thing for my tired brain; being a long term sufferer of insomnia, they are they only thing to send me off to sleep, and 2) getting me to the end of my own self-imposed challenge. I won’t write about every single book, as several are clearly for school stuff, and they were not all loved equally. But, nevertheless, thanks books.

1) Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis by Wendy Cope
I decided to start with Cope’s collection to reintroduce myself to poetry. I feel that this had been ignored for several years until my return to university at 24 and I am keen to enjoy both the act of reading and writing poetry again.

2) Macbeth by William Shakespeare
My Shakespeare tragedy top three features this, followed by King Lear, followed by Hamlet. I have been outwardly vocal with my top three and been met with nothing but laughter at the fact that my top three tragedies even exist. These laughing folk don’t know what’s good for ’em.

3) Holes by Louis Sachar

4) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

5) Woman in Black by Susan Hill

6) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

7) Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

8) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Almost beating my favourite book of all time (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, in case you want to read a bloody good book).

9) Unlocking Assessment by Sue Swaffield
It takes some getting into, and the end may not be what you imagine.

10) The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

11) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Believe the hype. This was the start of my weeping year of books.

12) Trash by Andy Mulligan

13) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

14) Divergent by Veronica Roth

15) The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

16) Mr Stink by David Walliams

17) A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
This book will always remind me of @mulberrykate and a lovely lady called Rachel who gives the best hugs.

18) Stormbreaker by Alex Rider

19) Heroes by Robert Cromier

20) Our Day Out by Willy Russell

21) The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

22) High Windows by Philip Larkin

23) Flour Babies by Anne Fine

24) The War Poems by Siegfried Sassoon

25) Drama Games by Jessica Swales

26) As you Like It by William Shakespeare

27) Kid by Simon Armitage

28) Dear Nobody by Bertie Doherty

29) Collected Grimm Tales by Carol Ann Duffy

30) Life of Pi by Yann Martel

31) The Man Who Forgot His Wife by John O’Farrell

32) The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

33) The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Again, tears. It appears this couple know exactly what they’re doing in the world of literature.

34) An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

35) The Road by Cormac McCarthy

36) Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

37) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Upon finishing the opening chapter, I announced that I was indeed Amy. Upon finishing the book, I swiftly retracted by statement.

38) The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
A beautiful, beautiful book about love.

39) Insurgent by Veronica Roth

40) Beautiful Disaster by James McGuire
Trash. I feel it fits wonderfully amongst all of the harrowing fiction I have read this year. I read this straight after The Road, which I think is the main reason that I managed to finish it.

41) Room by Emma Donoghue
When I tell people the rough outline of this novel, they shudder and ask me why I would want to read such a thing. This reaction probably personifies how I choose my literature.

42) The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

43) Educating Rita by Willy Russell

44) How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper

45) Journey to Jo’Burg: a South African Story

46) Blood Brothers by Willy Russell

47) Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

48) The Society of Others by William Nicholson
Like nothing else I have ever read. Which is definitely a good thing, and one I will be recommending.

49) Like a Hole in the Head by Ivan Noble

50) War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

I’m genuinely excited about sharing my list with my students, and starting a 2014 fifty book challenge!


My updated inspired #Nuture1314

This year seems like a tale of two halves; it has separated itself into PRE and post QTS, and I am not sure I will ever be the same again. I have changed so much in such a short space of time, and some of it just won’t go into sentences, but I will attempt to take care of the bits that will.

1. I realised that I am a good mother.

I was always this, but I have only truly realised it in the last 15 months. I had sacrificed a lot to become a parent, and have since felt that by following a profession that I am more than dedicated to, I have made sacrifices on the quality of my parenting. This is not true, and I now realise that it is simply a matter of my extraordinarily high standards and expectations bleeding into yet another aspect of my life. Turns out that not all children have a story read to or by them every night, sleep and go to school in clean, ironed clothes and are told they are loved at least three times a day. I have learned to both appreciate and be grateful for the fact that my child does. Sacrifices are only as such if you label them accordingly- most people call it a work/life balance, but with less guilt and pressure involved.

2. I was approached by @tes to write an article for their blog, regarding using iPads within the classroom.

I felt both privileged and terrified to be judged as anywhere near the extent of knowledgable enough for the task during my PGCE (I had picked up an iPad for the first time only a month before my course began) but there we go. Just any sort of acknowledgment was amazing and a massive boost in what was quite possibly the hardest year I have ever experienced. It will always be floating about, just here:

3. I know I can teach.

Now, you’d think upon entering into a career that you have subconsciously wanted to do since you were writing out registers for your teddies into exercise books at the age of five, that you would have given the concept of actually being CAPABLE of doing a job, yes? Not so much. I went into this career with my eyes sewn shut. I like English, I like to talk to other people about English, I own lots of books. I really, really want to show other people how fantastic both literature and the English language can be. This is all enough, right? No, dear. That is not quite it. However, it was not the realisation of this wake up call (and the moment that I realised that I was in fact both dyslexic and in the dark with all that is grammar- thank you @veldaelliott, eternally grateful, and sometimes still none the wiser) that rocked the boat of capability, but simply the fact that I didn’t think I could do it. I felt completely and utterly out of my depth. I had sat through an interview at Warwick, talked inherently about the fact that I could do pretty much anything and now I was surrounded by some fantastic teachers. I felt both inferior and unprepared, and wasted so much time talking to anyone that would listen about how inferior and unprepared I was, that I was missing the fact that I was actually teaching the entire time. Rather successfully at times. Admittedly, it wasn’t until a rather lovely gentleman within the ITE sat me down one day when I had reached my dramatical pinnacle of the year and had decided I was appalling as a practitioner and told me quite frankly about the fact that if he had children, he would feel both honoured and privileged for me to teach them.

I focussed so much on what the kids hadn’t done that I was missing all the things that had stuck. I still do this, a lot.

4. Other things are just as important.

I was reminded, quite cruelly during my PGCE year that whilst I had made a commitment to the course, I had a certain commitment to the people in my life as well. I won’t dwell on this one but the horrid argument that this statement produced made me realise how important the people in my life are for so many different things. My friendship circle has moulded and warped into one of the most beautiful things I am proud to look upon. Whilst my teacher folk friends like @mulberrykate and @missdramatink are two of the most valuable people that I have met in the last 12 months, I now treasure my non teacher folk for their ability to make me hit the off switch more often than my OCD likes, but that my sanity definitely needs.

5. I broke Bob’s armour.

Bob- the fall back name of all good characters- is my alias for one of the kids. Bob has a reading age of eight, should have received a statement to support him so many years ago, and at times I worry that he has no sense of consequence or conscience of action. When I talk to him either to reward or reprimand, it is as though he can’t even hear me. I was beginning to feel that my role as Bob’s tutor was simply to act as the essential but unloved drill sergeant that consistently carried out his detentions (he fails to remember them if he has to go elsewhere) and that would be the extent of our interaction for a while.

Bob wrote me a Christmas card. And no, not to be translated as ‘Bob’s mother wrote me a Christmas card,’ but Bob did. He presented it to me last week with a beaming smile on his face, and followed it up with a thank you for this term. That is good enough for me.

6. Y10 actually want C grades.

Now I know you may not see this in the same holistic light as my other 12, but I am rooting for this group. I couldn’t back them more than if I brought Pom poms to school and created a song as tribute. I have seen every single student go through de motivation, swing back across to dedication before shaking their heads in disbelief at their lack of commitment to their teenage pout, sashay back over to de motivation again. The first controlled assessment was a painstaking tug of war, chanting at them with absolutely no glimmer of response from their sullen little faces.

Parents evening was a shifting stone for all of us. I saw each child in a new light- the bravado stripped away to reveal how much they could care. They each told me what they wanted to achieve after GCSEs, moreover what they needed to get there. I found out F isn’t just an HD browed gossip, but loves horses and rides regularly. I found out that M is a fantastic artist. I found out that L can talk at quite a rate when she chooses to- which is never in my classroom in front of all those terrifying boys. Going back into the classroom afterwards, I felt like I finally got it a little bit.

7. J brought me a tile.

You know those shops on holiday where you can paint your own tile and then your parents can save it forever to marvel at your eleven year old talent? I have one of those on my mantelpiece from one of my students from the class of kids that will really take some beating.

8. I taught my son to read.

This is like watching the secret if a magic trick. To see a four year old crack the code of the encryption that is the English language is really like no other feat of sorcery. From wanting to run around book shops like an aeroplane, he will spend an hour pouring over the pages of books before trying to reachable decision. About which one he wants the most. He loves anything that will educate him; from encyclopaedias to Volcano facts to the history of dinosaurs, nothing gives him greater pleasure than to recite knowledge back to you over dinner. We are now seventy pages into Harry Potter, and his finger follows the words as we play out Harry’s thrilling first trip to Diagon Alley, and Noah holds his hands out to guesstimate exactly how big a large owl is…

9. I went to Venice. And Sherwood Forest. And Cornwall. And Sea Life. And Wistow Maze. And took a row boat out on a lake. And had plenty of picnics. And went to the seaside. And generally remembered how fun my son was/how to be a non stressy, non shouty mother.


This blurb could be a come of sentences or a couple of novels. I will veer towards the first. I learned that I am in fact more educated than teenagers (even if they make you think that is not the case), that people are the most difficult things to get along with and that it is incredibly lonely and intrinsically community-spirited teaching is all at the same time.

11. I have learned to relax.

Now I haven’t quite nailed consistently sleeping for periods of time- I currently do alternating weeks of deprivation, meltdown and then sleep catch up- but I have learned to switch off. I have realised that I am a better teacher by doing so. I’m not going to dwell too long on this one because I am by no means an expert just yet.

12. I did what couldn’t be done.

Now, I could play this down but with the help of another teacher (who I am so indebted to for the last year and the chocolates didn’t even come close to saying thank you enough times) we essentially did our best Mrs Kay impersonations. After being told on more times than I wish to count (by SLT, SEN team, several bemused members of the department) that I couldn’t possibly take this group of children on a trip for the day, I did. Not even out of sheer pig headed determination, but I think that helped a little bit. One wheelchair, two hearing impaired, five ADHD, one severe learning difficulties, several levels of emotional and behavioural needs and not a partridge or a pear tree to be seen, yes we did. Not only did we go to Stratford, but to save cost and make this a truly Shakespearian experience, we wrote a treasure trail to follow. I harassed SLT for pupil premium funds so each team within the trip had a camera, and had a budget to buy memorabilia.I phoned parents on the morning to offer hardship funds so that their child could come. I was told repeatedly that the pupil in a wheelchair could not attend due to toileting, and I will still see it as a failure on my part that she was transported home in a taxi courtesy of the school halfway through the day after I had spent two months liaising with the local council to try (and fail) to find a disabled toilet and available hoist within Stratford to ensure that she had exactly the same experience as the other students.

I had the best day, and will never forget how much fun the kids had. Highlights included being unbelievably proud of the childrens’ behaviour after receiving compliments from the general public, eating ice creams next to the canal, seeing 21 kids genuinely absorbed in Shakespeare’s history at Nash’s house as the shop assistant gave them an improvised talk about the building, and my group performing a two minute mini play on the grass of Macbeth for us to watch back in the classroom.

13. I have a job.

Not just any job. A job where I have felt more content than the entire history of my employment. Where people are supportive and encouraging, and where I feel that I can share my work within the department without it receiving negative comments about how I am simply showing off ( I wish I was kidding. If I wanted to show off, I’m pretty sure I could be more inventive than a Powerpoint on an email. People can be cruel). A job where not every day is a battle, and I have control of my own approach to work. I am not penalised for considering how something could be done more efficiently but praised, and I am finally working with people that don’t behave like they are from another planet. Additionally, the people are interesting. They like the things that I like, and know things that I do not. Every day is in fact a school day, rather than observing each tick of the clock until it is over. I love my job!

What does 2014 look like? I couldn’t possibly put the pressure on myself to produce 14 little things (I say that now, see how long I witter for) but here is a start:

1. I’ve bought a house. An actual house.

Not just a tiny house to get me on the property ladder but actually wish I had never bothered, but a beautiful house. A friend commented that it was as though it had been built just for me. 2014 will have the most fantastic start to it because it marks the beginning of knocking walls down and choosing bathtubs and all of the other wonderful things that a project calls for. Have I mentioned I love a project? The best bit is, it’s all mine. The bathroom is under the stairs, the 200 foot garden terrifies me and I have already built and knocked down walls in my head, panning out the next five years of my own anxiety. Cannot wait.


This is all I need to say.

3. I’m going to have all summer off. Yes yes I am.

I ended up working for my placement school (inability to say no) and return to my previous place of employment last summer just out of boredom/not being able to sit still for more than two days without a purpose. I’m almost certain that I moved house in the summer just to give me something to do- although I will never admit that aloud. Additionally, I think the rather loudly amorous neighbours also bore a factor in this. I digress…six weeks this year. I’m going to do stuff. All the stuff.

4. I’m going to be nice, more often and in a more obvious fashion.

This can work on many scales, but I feel that my dry sense of humour is a misunderstood animal at times. Those close to me understand the many shapes that it can take but I think that along the way, it has tarnished my relationship with someone at times. Be nice, just because. Don’t expect a single thing in return.

5. Remember things!

Take photos, remember birthdays, speak to people on the phone more often, update my blog, keep a journal, leave notes for people to smile at. Make things better for longer.

6. Treats are good.

After saving for said house for the last six years, it has created in me this ridiculous in-competition-with-myself monster when it comes to saving money. This needs to stop. I don’t need to save a substantial amount of money every month for a deposit, so I really need to start spending money on nice things to compensate for the lack of sleep/life during term time.

7. I will not whinge.

Now, this is a stretch. You see, my problem is not that I am ever particularly miserable or discontent when I whinge, I whinge for comedy value, to get stuff off my chest or just because I am bloody British. But sometimes I do worry at the glazed look on my friends’ faces when I start up. I personally blame them for attempting to get me out during term time and expecting conversation about anything except the funny inks kids say/do, or how much work I have on. However, I will give them one of fourteen at least…

8. I want to get better.

At my job that is. I feel that my creativity keeps me motivated within my profession, but that there is a bigger picture that I have not yet explored. I want to start thinking about what I want after my NQT, because I currently do not know the answer to that question. Not so much do it, but have an idea at least. I am so dedicated to teaching and learning, that I feel that there is more to give.

9. @gcuoros words, “Do less better.”

This is the perfect summarisation for my outlook right now- 2014 needs to be smarter and sleeker than I have previously been. I lack the linear function that I envy in other teachers; my work process is normally to write something several times, leave it along and return to it, procrastinate, write two or three lessons to get the same result and only use one. I have an awful memory, and sometimes when time is of the essence, I forget that I probably already have a resource that looks very alike the thing that I am creating. As an NQT (and from talking to colleagues I think this should probably be worded, ‘as a teacher’, but hey, I’m optimistic) I am still juggling to reach my work-life balance. This is my goal now; to find the balance where I am awake enough to function, see some of the weekend but most importantly, experience a life away from work. Wish me luck.

Shhhh- juggling practice in progress

I have so many things to blog about that I didn’t quite know where to start, and I am not sure that I want to wade into the depths of blogging about blogging. So, I came to the conclusion that I should try to map out the last term from a personal perspective first of all. The last term has been a bit of a blur, but I want to ensure that I do not become sentimental or dramatic in my approach to reflection. This is purposely disjointed- I didn’t want to edit for fear of it losing the tone of my entire term; chaos!

September to December has proven to be a period of ahhh’s. I have lost count of the moments of realisation where the penny has dropped in response to the advice that I was given by teachers last year. The priceless nature of time is one of the most monumental to me; in the midpoint of this term, I almost felt that my life had become periods, lessons- units of time. I would constantly feel that I was ‘wasting’ time or trying to reach a decision about the best use of a unit of time. The school schedule had now begun to govern every minute of my life. I felt that I was constantly torn about whether to spend time with my son or work. To food shop or sleep. To mark or plan. To complete data or make a resource. You get the idea… I was being ruled by a school timetable to an extent; I could never decide what the prioritise because I had become so aware that there was a limit to my ‘time units.’

The ridiculous expectations that I was placing upon myself were not going unnoticed; friends and family tried to gently nudge that I might be doing too much, that I needed to sleep or take time for myself. Anyone that knows me knows that to approach the preposterous ideas of doing less to me is not going to receive the best of receptions. Do less? How do I ‘do less?’ My Dad was brave (foolish) enough to say in passing, ‘sometimes you just need to leave stuff.’ My reply was exasperation. How? No one else will do it. No one else will plan lessons, empty the dishwasher, clean, cook, make sure the child has his pants on the right way, attempt to plan a house move. What do you mean, ‘I can leave it’? Don’t be absurd. This is the girl that has decided to paint a room at 11pm because it was that or waste a weekend. Don’t talk to me about leaving it.

No one can be perfect all of the time. Who knew? The only person that has that expectation is myself. Once you remove yourself as a critic in this hectic race to be the best of the best of the best, things lighten up a bit. However, a mindset is not going to take the human form of a housekeeper/lesson planning dogsbody/ patient mother.

The tiny decisions were the ones holding me up from all the bigger stuff that was truly important to me. I food shop online now. My son has hot dinners at school. I iron as I go. I say no to people. We read Harry Potter every night before bed, even if my eyeballs are burning. I don’t always make weekend plans. I force myself to leave the house on a Sunday, even if it is freezing cold and hideous outside, even if it is just to go for a walk. I will make sure I have my nails done, always have a hairdresser’s appointment booked, and do something nice in half term beyond planning next term. I will keep up my PGCE resolution of going to the theatre more than 5 times a year.

The teaching profession is the most explicit of contradictions. It attracts perfectionists that consistently demand the highest standard from themselves, but it is physically (and psychologically) impossible to deliver at that standard day in, day out, week in, week out for a sustainable amount of time. I now try to remove myself from conversations about either the good old days or how this job will continue at this pace, because it is horrible not to have the answers.

Having come from a management background, and worked within jobs that offer very little job satisfaction on a personal level, I have no desire to progress to middle management or beyond. I have personal goals relating to my teaching, but I do not seek to move towards a more senior role to achieve them. My realisation is rooted to the fact that I struggle to juggle because it is the priorities to my classes and students that I am juggling. I guffawed a little bit at a man who said, ‘ if it isn’t about the children or the learning, I’m not interested’ last year- mainly because I thought it a little corny. I eat my guffaw with a slice of humble pie. I now see that if I do not hold this at the forefront of every single to do list I construct to quell any anxiety that I may have, I could quite easily lose sight of why I am here in the first place.

So there it is; my own clonky reflections of what it is to be a teacher at the beginning.

The Best Bits

It is a time to spread goodwill and all that, so I wanted to take a moment to share the best bits of the term. In no particular order, and based on what I can remember more than anything!

Space Shuttle Mission: a great drama exercise with KS3. Students lined up chairs back to back X2 to form two rockets- one coming to the Moon from Earth, the other from Mars. Using a selection of YouTube sound effects, students were taken through a mime activity: the rocket launch (switching on controls, fastening seatbelts, fitting helmets), hitting the atmosphere, zero gravity before eventually landing on the Moon. They then encountered someone from the other rocket that has landed, and thought about how they were similar and different to them. I actually used this as a basis to discuss the difference between Mickey and Edward in Blood Brothers (same mother, different upbringing; same hopes and fears, different backgrounds; same interests, different financial position) and the kids really got into the experience.

Differentiated Production experience: used for Christmas wind down, but upon reflection I wish I had introduced this earlier as a long term project. Y7 have been studying Stormbreaker and using the chapter where Alex is trapped in the jellyfish tank, the class worked in groups to work on a film project for the scene. Groups each had ‘directors,’ who delegated various jobs out within the group; sketch out a storyboard (template provided), write a tense script that would be used as a voiceover to reflect Alex’s panic (the class had previously worked on building tension within writing), selecting a cast for the scene and picking a soundtrack for the scene. Each group came up with their own Production company name and it worked fantastically for the tables getting to know one another.

Head in the Hole: Pinched from the innovative @gemmaharvey73, Y9 have been studying Educating Rita and struggling over consideration of structure. In groups, students created a head in the hole sheet for Rita within a particular scene. They drew out the character, accesorised her with particular fiction/literature that was mentioned, included quotations and stage directions on the sheet which was then analysed. Each group summarised their ‘Rita’ in ten words or less in turn chronologically and the heads were displayed for a future lesson.

PEE consequences: The same group then played PEE consequences, where we broke down the segments of an analytical paragraph, before passing it on for the next person to write. We decided upon a question, and then the first student wrote a point. Books were passed on for the next student to elaborate the point or include any additional information. Books were passed on again for the next person selected the relevant evidence. Once again, passed on to analyse why this moment was significant before passing on again to compare with another point in the play. Passed again to consider what issue or theme the writer was trying to highlight to the audience, and passed one final time to amend, correct, add or include a personal response. Students commented that they found it useful to have another student’s writing in their book, to see how someone may respond differently to their own ideas.

Speed Race: This is the easiest way to spice up a task, and key stage three adore it. We were working on formal register, and writing for a particular purpose. Using the novel Holes, I wrote out an informal missing person’s report and groups had to work together to smarten up the language. This is the (most simple) good bit. I cut my informal report into six pieces for the groups to collect piece by piece as they completed it. I outlined that they would be judged on quality rather than speed, but the competitive edge gave them focus and improved engagement for a last period lesson.

Wallpaper lesson to explore structure: Y10 have been preparing on an imaginative writing assessment this term, so I rolled out a piece of wallpaper for them to explore a different part of the story every lesson that week. They added to the wallpaper the appropriate techniques to use, sentence structure, vocabulary for characterisation to give an idea of how to create moments of tension and use ‘show don’t tell’ within the writing. This was then used as a revision guide during the planning process. I have plans to use more visual resources with this group to aid their understanding of war poetry next term, and will blog results.

Improving RAF2 skills with cake: Y8 had a description of a yellow spotted lizard to then re-create their own yellow spotted lizard. The lizards were judged by the most accurate re-creation, but results were excellent; cake, biscuits, clay, plasticine, card, even a banana!

Newspaper poetry: fantastic for improving vocabulary banks for students. We had reached the moment in Holes where Zero is out in the desert, and students created their own poetry to depict Zero’s experience. Poems were displayed in a ‘literature exhibition’ and groups visited each poem, leaving positive comments in response. Students then stood by the poem that they wished to vote for against the criteria, and justified their choice. I am generally a big fan of walking peer assessment, as they share work much more efficiently, and I find that students are more critical when they have a greater selection to choose from.

Involving Twitter for feedback and encouragement: Y7 created their own Stormbreaker prototypes with manuals (please see my tweets for the amazing creations). Tweeting @anthonyhorowitz with pictures, it was lovely to be able to show them a personal response from the author who had taken the time to appreciate their work. For those who haven’t yet realised that Shakespeare isn’t about anymore, I created a fake tweet with last year with easily convinced Y7.

Other little bits:

Ten word answers to focus relevant articulation and get rid of the dreaded ‘like’

exploding sentences- asking students to ‘explode’ their answers to elaborate or improve vocabulary depending upon focus

Objective oracle- selecting student to answer the learning objective question at the end of the lesson, and decide to what extent we have met the objective with justified ideas

Peer assessment for literacy by reading aloud in our finest impressions of HRH- improving formal register

Selecting one student to rasp ‘incorrect use of commas’ in a creepy voice to put off any particularly keen comma splicers. The class are terrified by it!

Dice rolling to select descriptive techniques, sentence openers or sentence types to use, before then amending and improving. A dice can make pretty much anything exciting, and really helps the students that struggle to make decisions with crafting their written work.