TES Blog: How to Start a Grassroots Teaching Movement

Four years ago, I had just taken on the role of literacy coordinator and felt a little isolated. When working as part of a successful, like-minded department, the shared vision is clear and your support network is strong. Coordinating literacy could not be more different.

Read the full article here.


No To Corner Cutting: What Maternity Taught Me About Tackling Workload

Here is a short, edited version (without all the erms!) of my TENC18 session.

I was somewhat misleading with the title; my recent maternity leave taught me only a proportion of the strategies outlined here. Being a single parent whilst I completed my teacher training course taught me how easy it was to flounder under the demands of teaching. Struggling to work within constraints of a school system taught me the importance of taking control of my own workload. But beyond all else, the desire to do what is essential within my working day, and what is enjoyable outside of it was my main motivator- as I am sure it is with every teacher across the country. You can adore this job, but it WILL consume you if you let it; boundaries are essential to our survival.

We all know the teacher that works the longest at school- that looks the busiest, that has lunch the least, that leaves last. It is all too often that those individuals are praised for their commitment and drive. How alien, that we should celebrate and not support those working above and beyond any measure that they could be expected to sustain? Why do we not celebrate the people that work hard not to allow it to spill into the weekend? That rather than mock those that are leaving on time and not skipping to the car park with books, we work towards that as the norm for all teachers?

Wellbeing is more than regular sleep and eating properly. It’s taking measures, evidenced based steps towards teaching in a more streamlined way that doesn’t drain you as a resource, but also that makes your teaching more effective and reaps rewards in the long term. Sadly, ‘more effective’ or ‘lessening workload’ are often associated with corner-cutting and ‘easy lessons,’ but I stand by the conviction that there are a series of steps that you can take to challenge an unreasonable workload, whilst actually teaching in an efficient, succinct way.

1 There is a right way- for you

Ensure that your methods are embedded and implemented as a result of research. Focus your energy on strategies that are steeped in evidence of their success and discard those that are not- be ruthless. Being well read in education is a time sponsor- here is a lot of noise out there but by taking away practical ideas that are based upon theoretical approach and not simply ‘because this is the way it’s always been done,’ not only will it improve your teaching, it helps form comprehensive debate against crap like VAK and drawing yourself on the learning tree at INSET. True story.

TOP TIP: Teacher Tapp folk saved me heaps of time by providing me with a short, concise blog that provided the highlights of some incredibly extensive research.

2. Embrace the Gimmicks

We learn the alphabet song and the colours of the rainbow, only to sneer at rite learning and adopting a formulaic approach. Although PEE and AFOREST belong in a skip, using What How Why and narrative Story Circle structure have been invaluable to act as springboards for students. A formula that acts as a starting point rather than a confine aids all students, informing further analysis or sophisticated cyclical narratives that are still capable of creativity and individual craft.

3. Lighten the Cognitive Load

Yours and theirs. Focusing on learning environments alone, strip your wall space and provide students with only the essentials- @jamestheo’s Literature Through The Ages timeline, essential  terminology and a What How Why framework will be my choices this year. This allows me to return to my displays for reference during my teaching, make explicitly obvious to students the connection between the units that they learn and expand their analytical vocabulary.

4. Reading is Magic

If we don’t preach that as English teachers, we are simply doing our students a disservice. It’s easy to be deceived by our own childhoods or family environments as atypical for reading groups habits, but books in homes are not indicated by affluence; I work in a demographic that lends itself to affluence and yet I teach a great deal of non readers. Remove homework and replace it with reading and spelling. @TLPMsF has written an extensive blog about the journey her department took to implement reading logs as homework, and we have adopted this approach in the last year. It outlines the importance of reading above all else to students and eradicates all those homework menus (guilty!) that we slaved over for so long.

To bring this into the classroom, more and more, I find myself compiling an entire lesson with just the text, a visualiser to model our thinking and discussion. The magic lies not with dressing up or disguising literature as ‘fun,’ but exposing the intricacy of a text as something quite enchanting. Y7 were blown away by the psychological profile of Captain Hook, his callous and ruthless behaviour driven by fear and insecurity.

My own personal focus this year regarding reading is to incorporate etymology within my teaching; @jachwartz’s word of the week resource is inspirational and I’m keen to share the bewitching nature of words with students.

5. Knowledge is the Fun

This brings me aptly to inclusion of knowledge as a tool to reduce workload. By leading our teaching with knowledge, we reap the rewards in years to come with students. Using five a day starters to encourage retrieval practice, providing knowledge organisers for the testing of the this knowledge but providing students with additional outlets for their curiosity of a unit. @evenbetterif’s cover sheets idea curated a couple of years ago is a great way to provide students with additional reading or resources; I’ve included my KS3 examples in my presentation but this is something that I want to explore further in the forthcoming academic year. The benefits of teaching knowledge are phenomenal: the standard of work evidenced speaks for itself and it really is a strategy that will pay back in spades (retro idiom for free there, you’re welcome).

6. Dump Perseverance: Cherish Memory

As David Didau said in a recent Q&A, co-hosted with Nick Rose for their new book, ‘What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology,’ ‘Angela Duckworth simply proved that some people succeeded if they spent a long time doing something.’ We, and students don’t have the luxury of time, so what can we rely on instead? Memory. Explicitly teaching students the value of memory supports and aids retrieval practice, interleaving and encourages memory exercise outside of your subject, leading to a more secure chance of success.

Share successes of memory with students; highlight those students that are taking time to revise for self quizzing. I used to set spelling tests for the term in advance, providing students with words to revise for the entire term and giving dates foreach word group. I once had a student with dyslexia win for the entire year group and the whole of Y8 were blown away. How did he do it? His mum tested him four times a week without fail. He looked at the words himself every night, using look/cover/write/check. Students were astounded at just how simple success was – and how memory could work for them.

TOP TIP: The Learning Scientists Podcasts are a great time saving way to get to grips with six key strategies of effective learning using memory. Short and backed with a fantastic website.

7. Most important? Maybe . Time is your most precious tool.

There’s barely any of the stuff. Therefore, you need a way of working with less of it. For students, whole class feedback and marginal gains in the classroom slashes minutes and buys back time. I’m lucky enough to work in a school that has embraced a whole school policy for whole class feedback, but if that isn’t the case where you are, make it a talking point- Ofsted support it, it is more effective than paragraphs of feedback and it has a huge impact on workload- and ultimately, your ability to spend time in a more valuable way. In the classroom, having a five a day up, having books handed out by eight students rather than two, planned questions around texts (Reading Reconsidered is brilliant for this) are vital to making sure my time is spent teaching.

To value your own time, find a way that works for you and stick to it. To work full circle, boundaries are essential for your survival. I don’t take books home, I don’t do the essential work at home (resources are like a hobby!) and I don’t keep hefty to do lists. This doesn’t work for everyone, but stick to whatever system you have created so that work doesn’t encroach on the time that you have to invest in yourself beyond teaching. Similarly, surround yourself with people that are doing this really well: as a profession, collaboration is what will save us. Find out how they do it, magpie, share and repay the wealth. It will feel fantastic but you never know, you may also change the reputation of streamlined teaching as ingenious, rather than simply taking a shortcut.

Thanks to #mtptproject for the amazing accreditation process I have undertaken this year with them- endorsed to the point that I now have the role of East Midlands Representative! Thanks also to #TeamEnglish for helping me to shift the way I approach teaching and last but not least, huge thanks to old friend @martynreah and the #teacher5aday support that has helped me to revisit and explore the issue of workload over and over in the last few years.

Presentation is here:


What’s on your doorstep?

It’s been one hell of a week. What made it so much more refreshing was finally taking the time to meet with Anna Hunt, a Head of English for a trust consisting of Primary and Secondary schools and talking all things English.

I’ve previously shared a range of ways that I have continued my professional development whilst on maternity leave- from scouring National Trust properties for contextual goodies, to listening to podcasts in the early days when sleep was gold dust and walks were the key to silence, I managed to not only slot CPD into life with a new person, but make it part of my routine. However one of the most valuable ways that I have used my time has been building relationships.

Through Twitter primarily, I found the Maternity Project, founded by the wonderful Emma Sheppard and started working towards an MTPT accreditation that allowed me to focus and prioritise my CPD for the year. This enabled me to develop Litdrive, and in turn connect with so many people in all corners of the world, at various points in their professional journey. One of these such people was Anna, who after chatting and sharing resources, I discovered was not only just around the corner, but had worked with one my colleagues!

After many attempted meetings, with apologies and promises of food and good intentions, we finally made time to chat today about my areas of focus: catering for the More Able students and avoiding the Y6-7 dip (amongst a thousand other digressions which proved just as useful!)- both of which are an area of personal interest when it comes to T&L. Since the Wasted Years report, KS3 foci has shifted dramatically, but I still have the niggle that I could be doing more to prepare students during that vital period of time before GCSE.

I’d like to outline two key aspects that came out of our discussion this afternoon that I plan on exploring in more detail over the next year:

– working with primary feeders on a collaborative scheme of learning. By collaborative, I mean that the teaching of the scheme staggers over year 6 and continues in year 7. Anna shared her experiences of setting something like this up, with the premise that secondary work with primary schools to develop a five-six week scheme that studies a class novel. Students then continue this novel at the start of year 7, bringing their completed work within the unit with them to their secondary setting. This would be incredibly powerful not only in avoiding the ‘summer dip,’ but in moving secondary and primary pedagogy closer to something that the other recognise: there is still a huge disconnect in the differing ways that Primary and secondary approach English and this could be a start towards dissipating that gap. I’m already in discussion with one of our feeder schools to trial this, with a view to carry out a formal research study to analyse the pilot data.

The second idea that we discussed was how to ensure that the More Able/Disadvantaged groups had sufficient provision at Key Stage four. Fortunately, Anna’s department contains a great deal of exam markers which means that each unit can have a ‘topic expert’ as such- a point of contact for each area of the specification. In the run up to exams this could prove a really concise method for approaching tailored intervention for students. Essentially, each respective member of staff can take on an area of the exam spec and design a session or series of material to support those students that highlight a particular gap in knowledge. I like this idea very much as not only would it provide really succinct intervention, but would be a great way of developing staff subject knowledge- less, but with more depth and when staff experienced a gap in their own knowledge, they would have colleagues on hand that were investing time in their own CPD to offer expert advice and information. Genius!

I came away from my visit inspired not only by the ideas discussed (of which this was simply a slither), but also by Anna and her role in itself- the concept of training to up-skill my subject across a number of schools and work so closely with feeder primaries is really appealing and I can only imagine, incredibly rewarding.

I would highly recommend networking in your local area to see how you could benefit other schools but how visits could also drive your own professional development. This sort of free, personalised CPD is priceless and mutually beneficial. Huge thanks to Anna for giving up her time and having Ted and I for lunch! I look forward to developing my takeaways over the Summer.

No Right Way? #rEDRugby

This will be in true #mtptproject blog post form; there’s a baby asleep on my arm and it’s Sunday, after all. I just wanted to take five minutes to reflect upon yesterday and the inspirational ResearchEd event at Rugby School that left me motivated to work on my own ongoing projects in keeping with Jude Hunton’s plea to continual ‘restlessness’ from educators in attendance, but also encouraged to push my practice beyond perhaps where it sits at the moment.

I attended sessions from the Orwell enthusiast Mark Roberts, who outlined the Perfect English Faculty, followed by the wonderful Claire Hill and Rebecca Foster putting evidence into practice within the classroom, Jake Hunton’s line of question in our approach to revision and the lovely Grianne Hallahan (who without her emergency chocolate fund, I wouldn’t be alive today) who talked us through how to lighten the cognitive load for analysis AND writing.

However, the session that made me feel a) suitably out of my depth and b) question our position as a profession was a Q and A session with David Didau and Nick Rose about their new book, What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Psychology. Two key points stuck with me from the session:

  • The educational sector is not governed by a regulatory body with regards to research or theoretical approach
  • There is no correct approach, only aspects of teaching and the psychological theory that accompanies that aspect are more or less debated and controversial

The first is hugely concerning for a multitude of reasons but I think many of us can nod and confer over wasted time in dated INSET topics like learning styles or a warped concept of growth mindset. Not only does this have an impact upon the type of trained teachers entering the profession as a result of training that doesn’t fit the purpose, but as a prospective employee you need to scope out a school that has what Nick referred to as ‘professional skepticism’ in the absence of a regulatory body for research. Ofsted do many things (I’m going to leave hat sentence in its poorly constructed state for fear of getting into a topic I am not well versed on) but they do not govern the content of training in schools or training providers. It is only to what extent the trainee feels supported or catered for, leaving the quality assurance of educational research within their course somewhat neglected.

My first point holds my second by the hand: without an approved or perhaps even balanced approach to educational theory, rather than reaching a point of debate or decision as a trainee or teacher, if you relied solely on your schools to fuel your theoretical beliefs, where would that leave you? In my experience, it is that the school adopts a particular approach, the relevant external consultant is rallied in with lots of whizzy silver bullets and then after a half- day session, teachers are expected to pack up their new tools into their teaching bum bag and trot back off to the classroom, ready to label all the kids with their new found learning titles. There isn’t room for discussion or debate to a topic that is by no means set in stone or argued out. Nick outlined examples of this: certain aspects of research are so saturated that we can safely take a ‘best fit’ approach, informed by the research. Other areas (hence the requirement for the book’s Controversies section) don’t have a fail-safe, tested and undisputed approach.

To say the session left me ‘restless’ would be an understatement; I need to read the book, of course. But imagine if schools took the academic approach of a balanced debate and argument, using research and theoretical publication to inform their staff over a ‘one size’ approach? What would that school look like?

And yes, he’s still asleep. Thank you to the blogging gods.

Retrieval Practice: Returning to Work

A little sooner than expected but welcomed all the same, I screw my teacher head back on this Monday. Having left in a bit of a whirlwind to go onto MAT leave (Braxton Hicks in front of your y7s will do that to a girl), I’m keen to start back but primarily, I’m keen to maintain the mindset that having the break has allowed me.

Teaching is frugal for time; there isn’t any of it. Unless you regularly incorporate reflection into your practice- which I really do recommend- there’s little space to take stock in the daily/weekly/termly events with a view to developing your approach. Having a small person allows you that at least, even if it does come hand in hand with a healthy dose of wrinkles and sleep deprivation. The #MTPTProject coaching and accreditation programme has also been fantastic and Emma Shepherd has been instrumental to helping me recognise my own direction with certain projects or ideas. It was a great starting point for the beginning of MAT leave and have a loose structure and sense of purpose at a time that for one who likes a routine, felt very comme ci, comme ca.

Have I achieved everything I wanted to during my time away? Of course not, but the list was deliberately endless. I wanted to have things outstanding to get my teeth into once the hurricane of becoming a mother again had a chance to settle. To add to this, goalposts move, your own focus changes, and I feel that I’m going back to work with a definite shift in focus. However, I set these ideals back in October in my final days as a Mum of just one:

• Attend three text or subject specific training opportunities- either of the online or real-world variety

I completed a fantastic course centred around the link between mental health and literature through Future Learn. Supported and coordinated by universities up and down the country, the site is a door opener to so many lines of study if like me, you are keen to keep your mind active. There is a loose guide on timescales- the baby did not adhere to them!- but it allows you to work at your own pace. Sadly, I missed out on the CLIC event in Birmingham that I had planned to attend but the team very kindly sent me the resource pack to review and I have rediscovered the brilliance of linguistics for the classroom.

• Make #litdrive a functioning, organised resource for the 400 people signed up, instead of a neglected, chaotic bundle of THOUSANDS (just dropping it in there) of resources for Primary and Secondary schools

Sadly, Litdrive is taking a break, but by no means a permanent one. Standing at over 1500 members at time of closure, with over 300,000 resources, I will remain proud of whatever shape and form Litdrive may or may not take in the future. Watch this space (by putting that, I’ve committed myself)!

• Create a selection of resources at my leisure that I had on my to-do list before starting my maternity leave

This is where I have recognised the limitation of headspace. I always struggle to make resources when not actively in a classroom and should have recognised this a little. I believe resources need to be created, adapted and test driven with children to deliver on quality- the key behind my advocacy for Litdrive. I managed to knock up a Macbeth high challenge booklet here and a few writing challenges linked to the Lit texts, inspired by Jen Lud here

• Keep on top of the @TeacherTapp app recommended daily read- if you do not already have the app, download this!

This was easy peasy- the TT team make it deliberately so for you to engage- and the daily read has really kept my brain ticking over.

• Read- of course read- but in particular, read three classics before returning to work (to make up for the fact that my classic count for #52books2017 was appalling)

Hmm. Not so much. Modern classics allowed me to discover Steinbeck I didn’t even know about! What I did do instead was revisit the lit texts and poetry anthology and read around the texts a great deal. I feel I know so much about Romeo and Juliet that I didn’t previously, which will only aid my approach when teaching it next time around.

• Go into work for at least one KIT day prior to returning

One KIT day done, spending time chatting with not only members of the department but also staff in other areas about projects I am keen to develop beyond ideas. As well as my KIT Day, I contributed to a department meeting following a trip to primary Y6 moderation which was a real eye opener- there is such a disconnect between our demands and theirs. The grammatical requirements within the classroom alone made me rethink my approach to teaching narrative and descriptive writing, and Y6 students in our feeder schools have far more independent working and reflection time than I would have expected. As a result, we’ve revised our approach to transition work this year, which I will blog about at a later point.

So, what next? I look forward to the challenge of a phased return this term, with some key goals that Emma has enabled me to formulate and is perfect for keeping me on track. For anyone juggling the same plates as they return to work, I can only give my friendly advice from the distant memories of having a 3 year old during my PGCE, but the thinking behind my prep last week so that I could take half term to spend with the boys. A few tips:

– buzz word alert. Work SMART with planning. This is so vital to your wellbeing, ability to function, eat, sleep and feel like you have any sort of life. Strip away the bells and whistles to your teaching, give your classes knowledge they can use next lesson and the lesson after that. Adapt as you go and hang onto your planner for September when you are looking at the same schemes and want to do it a little bit better next time around.

– same for feedback and teacher input. Your time in the classroom is your prime time- I have in exceptional circumstances taken marking home, but never as a general rule. Set up routines for intervening there and then, go-to places for kids that have missed lessons and work, homework that is marked in lesson or not marked at all (this is where self quizzing is King- and not just to save you time). A trip to Michaela last year showed me the payback of working hard in the room with the kids- everyone’s brains should be sweating there and then so that when you go home, you’re not sweating over your marking alone. Metaphorically.

– Collaborate. Everyone in the department has a y8 group and are making their own resources? If you’re making something, let the team know beforehand in case someone is sat doing exactly the same thing. Share everything you create. Even the bits that you think are crap, because they won’t be. Share what you are doing to save time, teach more effectively, blog posts that have helped you, strategies with students, the lot. Not only will you feel warm and fuzzy, you will create a climate where others share in return and that means not only will you get more time at home with the people you love, the rest of the team will too. It’s that simple.

Enjoy the rest of half term folks!

Litdrive: Regroup, Refocus, Return

I’ve spent a long time trying to put the words together for this post, and as I type now, I’m still not sure how this will look when I finish typing. Perhaps to start with what, before worrying about the Why.

Litdrive was something I have always been incredibly proud of. Along with the amazing people I have met during my time on Twitter as a teacher, Litdrive felt like a profound, sustainable way of contributing to that community beyond throwing my own (never quite as spectacular) resources out there for others. Always fantastic at dumbing down my own achievements, I would try and explain Litdrive to friends as,’ I just put a bunch of resources together for other people to use,’ but I am proud and confident to say it is so much more than that. When starting out as Literacy Coordinator, during huge shifts in KS3 curriculum mapping across schools and when I took up a post as Assistant Subject Leader, the collaborative nature of Litdrive was an absolute lifesaver for me.

My own sentiments were echoed back to me over and over again; teachers would email requesting to be involved, sharing their own isolations or lack of confidence in their capability to produce fantastic tools for use within the classroom. It seemed that imposter syndrome is far reaching in this profession; I would be sent amazing stuff that I knew would shave hours off my and other teachers’ planning time, and the sender would play it down with comments like,’ it’s not much,’ ‘I’m not sure it’s really what you are after,”I’ll send some better stuff when I get a chance.’ I was blown away with the generosity of people, in such a tough, tough climate where time is beyond precious.

Over the last month, Litdrive reached whirlwind stakes. Having discussed with two other English teachers to take on their own shared drives to merge with Litdrive, as we became more and more aware that we were simply duplicating work when it could be one service, word of Litdrive spread. I received in excess of fifty emails a day, from every level of management within school, from a range of countries beyond the UK, but all with the same enthusiasm and willingness to contribute and participate. The buzz was infectious; people were receiving positive, encouraging feedback for their work, people were coming together with ideas of collaboration for future projects but most importantly for me, people were saving time. As one teacher commented,’ HOURS and HOURS of time that I will be able to spend with my two very young daughters.’ This feedback wasn’t isolated to parents, but NQTs looking for guidance, individuals new to particular roles or simply those who had been out of education for a little while.

Beyond that, the people I have met and collaborated with thanks to Litdrive have been priceless to me. This is a tough gig, teaching, and surrounding yourself with people who show compassion, patience and generosity is worth hanging on to.

But I don’t want to make this post a gushy, aren’t teachers great kind of deal. Two weeks ago, for reasons that I am too dignified to elaborate upon (and that ripple beyond just me), Litdrive had to be removed from a public platform. Over 1500 contributors, 300,000 files and so much hard work from so many people, over such a number of years. As I write (one handed, as with all tasks carried out on my maternity leave), I cannot tell you how devastated I was about my choice, but it was very much the right one. Not wanting to focus on the problems and the pitfalls, and with time to let the dust settle, the experience has presented itself as an opportunity in new form.

An opportunity to provide a professional, FREE service to teachers. To bring teachers together without the bitter aftertaste of a price for their request for help, the fear of someone selling on their hard work, the reassurance that they have a collective body of several teachers to support them. Litdrive IS the answer to the workload issue surrounding planning, and I put that down in complete conviction (and a small amount of terror from my inside voice). I have the grandest of plans to making Litdrive work, but it will take time, and the munificence of so many of you in order to make it happen. I don’t want to make a profit, I just want to provide something with a grassroots ethos that we can say, we run our own show here. We provide for one another. We build our own abundance of knowledge. We, as a group, make teaching better for ourselves and one another. Think of us as a giant super-powered teacher cooperative- because after all, the little guys come out good in the end.

I cannot promise a timescale or even a platform at this given time, but it was vital to me and my own integrity that I shared a little of our current state of play. If you think that you could contribute to what will be a spectacular service for English teachers, by all means start a discussion with me via Twitter or at litdriveuk@hotmail.com. We will need all of you, wit me all of your knowledge, skills, enthusiasm and will to make it happen. Until then, what Arnie said in that film that time.

Scandal at Southwell

As part of my #maternityCPD (and obsession with anything Victorian shaped!) , I took a trip to Southwell Workhouse with Ted. Restored and maintained by the National Trust, the building alone was incredibly striking. Stark against the backdrop of rolling countryside and its own impressive sustainable gardens, I wondered how it must have felt, walking up to admit yourself or even your family to such a place. The irony of the title ‘Greet House’ is inescapable.

I was informed by our guide that many arrivals were the elderly that simply had no other source of welfare. As part of the tour, we were provided with details of admission and discharge of various residents; as you can imagine, many do not tell a happy story.

Several of the names on the admissions register left in death, or the book was marked with ‘own wish:’ to what extent that was true, you have to wonder! The rules alone were somewhat laborious and punishment was harsh. Throughout the entire visit, I struggled with the ideology that the presence of the workhouse could be viewed as a positive addition to a community, which is how it was portrayed in parts. One family asked for admission whilst their father was ill in hospital; when he recovered, he sent for them. Was this place a far cry from the anguish of London workhouses of the era?

That may be exactly so. Southwell housed 160 residents from 60 parishes- a world away in destitution and desperation of the sometimes 1000 strong holdings in London. Those that stayed were given three meat meals a week, an exercise yard and their children were educated. If behaviour was good, they could spend time with their children on Sundays. As a parent, I could see why in such times of poverty, the workhouse was not just a place of last resort for some- it wasn’t that black and white.

However, there were remnants of information that held helplessness and despair to their tales. Inmates were given the task of ‘getting money for old rope’ for the master- pulling the tar from ship rope purchased at a minimal price and reselling back to the ships for insulation for a tidy profit. Their hands would bleed, but the work itself was a replacement for bone grinding. This task was discontinued after starvation reached such a point in a workhouse in Andover, Hampshire that inmates were eating the decaying meat from the bones as they worked.

‘The Dead Room,’ held corpses as the uninventive name suggested – these bodies were then transported by horse (at a cost to the Master) to Upton to be put into a mass, unmarked grave. To save the budget, bodies were held for weeks at a time to transport en masse. It seemed not only clearly inhumane, but what would be an distressing reminder to the other inmates as to what might inevitably become of them once it was their time to be discharged.

With my English head on, two pieces of literature stood out for me to ponder over. The first, a quotation from the founder of Greet House, Reverend JT Becher,

An empty workhouse is a successful one”.

It takes me back to Ebenezer himself, as the words,’are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses’ are thrown back at our protagonist as he makes his journey to redemption. Did Belcher truly feel that he was making a positive impact upon his community? As a man of God, did he see such people as individuals that required saviour? The quotation could be interpreted as such- was he suggesting that all poverty could be resolved with the inclusion of such systems within society? Or was this someone that saw poverty as a disease that only he could cure?

The other piece of writing – rather unsettling to read that it was a nursery rhyme. Remember ‘Ring-a-ring-a-roses?’ It was ever so slightly more implicit than this creation:

The rhyme was like a derogatory version of ‘Monday’s child.’ The song demonstrated the harsh isolation and segregation that the female inmates must have felt, separated from their children once they turned 2 (several women were admitted in the throes of labour) and with little hope of prospects beyond those four walls.

I left Southwell wanting to know more about the individuals and their stories rather than rules and regulation- it appeared that there was more scandal than I realised. The Education Inspector’s visit in 1848 was less than satisfactory:

However, it appeared to be the tip of the iceberg. It came to light that the Master, William Sumner and the Mistress, Maria Richardson had engaged in a relationship that held a ‘low tone of morality,’ resulting in Ms Richardson becoming pregnant. Mr Sumner was 17 years her junior. Both had regularly entertained friends at the workhouse for dinner parties on the workhouse budget! It must have been quite a day- a hypocritical one at that- as inmates watched them cast out, jobless and destitute themselves.

All in all, a really informative day that opened my eyes to the complexities of Victorian poverty, and the convoluted ways in which they sought to solve them.

Nearly Three and Look at Me: Little Ol’ Litdrive

Well, what a tidy little trip we have been on.

Almost three years ago, I took on the role of Literacy Coordinator and found myself looking around despairingly at the lack of information specifically aimed to support such a role. Hindsight in tact, and particularly after reading David Didau and Geoff Barton, who in their own way argue that literacy can never truly exist as a separate entity from a curriculum or culture, that may have been why I looked at the role with some perplexing thought, but that is a post for another time.

I combatted my confusion by setting up #litdrive, a little shared set of resources that was simply my ideas and action plan for others to view and critique. Before I knew it, people wanted to become involved, offering their own resources at both primary and and secondary level. I think the message or aim of Litdrive has been confused over time, but that may be because of the lack of ‘brief’ as such; I just wanted a space for people to share stuff, magpie or adapt other resources and see what other schools were approaching the huge changes within KS3, 4 and 5 (thanks, Govey). #KS3LTP was an amazing spin off from Litdrive, with several English departments sharing their new long term plans and collaboratively reaching solutions for the rigour of a new specification.

And here we are. A lot has changed in those three years; I no longer coordinate Literacy, I’ve left the school (and returned- another blog!), I type blog posts with a dead right arm and a sleeping baby on top. It appears that Litdrive is trying to keep up- we are now at over 500 contributors, and I have a terrifying 60 requests sat in my inbox.

I want grand things for Litdrive. I know that other subjects look on at movements like #TeamEnglish a little enviously; I’m incredibly lucky to teach a topic that has such a strong online network and support system. But there is room for #litdrive to branch out just a little I believe. And as long as both myself and my dead arm can keep up, here’s the plan:

  • Litdrive now has its own twitter handle- @litdriveuk. This is my desperate attempt to remain organised with requests, uploads and share success stories or particular resources that are in keeping with the seasons (hi there, exam month, waving at us on the calendar).
  • I’ve also set up litdriveuk@hotmail.com, because I have no idea how I thought I could deal with loads of stuff being sent in my direction and not lose all my Amazon/BabyGap/Boden/Waterstones/Habitat/Frustrated Builder emails along the way.
  • I would like to open up Litdrive a little bit to include other sections to support different aspects of school life; for example, there is now a #teacher5aday section, so that people can contribute resources to support wellbeing for teachers either in or outside a school environment. This could be a wellbeing policy in use, or a support system that you use that could benefit others. There is now also a CPD section that again, contributors could add to if they have run a session within school that may be useful to other teachers, or another document such as an article that would be beneficial to those in other schools. This file has come about as a result of being on mat leave and wanting to continue my own ongoing CPD: I know many teachers take ownership of their professional development and the idea would be that there would be a bank of tools to assist you in doing so. If you think that you could contribute to either section, or indeed have a suggestion for an additional section within the drive, please do get in touch.
  • Finally, I’d like the drive to be far more organised for everyone! I’m going to spend some time every week in a concerted effort to do as such.

Litdrive has led me to connect and have discussions with so many people, especially recently and it really does demonstrate the extent of people’s generosity and compassion for others. Without wanting to be sentimental, the last two weeks have been a little overwhelming on the Litdrive front (positively speaking, of course) and it just becomes a steady reminder of how many brilliant teachers there are out there. So, thanks and all that!

Do As I Do.

In the last three months, I’ve discovered that chronic sleep deprivation does the funniest of things. 1, what was once a rather straightforward task now feels as though it requires a Mensa subscription to crack. Complaints processes appear to be a particular challenge. 2, you can reach a point of tired along the journey to utter madness where you actually don’t feel tired. It is this stage that is indeed the one to be most feared. 3, you come up with the most amazing and original ideas but unfortunately, because of the tired, you may never know if they are truly any good or not.

Both worryingly and spectacularly, I’m enjoying 3 the most. Whether it is the fact that my freedom is now somewhat restricted (in a wonderful way of course) by looking after a newborn, or simply that I really do need employment to keep my brain cells ticking over, I’m feeling quite inspired. I put this down to one factor above all else that seems to be the real bitch within the braces: time.

Time is the one thing that teachers beg for as answer to all of our problems, the only thing standing in our way of feeling like we are nailing the workload. I’ve been thinking this over and being a starter over a finisher, time is my excuse rather than the true enemy. To be honest, the stumbling block is often that whilst the time I have is almost certainly sufficient, I’m not using it in the most efficient way.

I think I figured this out above all else over the last year: I can teach better if I do the things that matter (ironically, and I’ve mentioned this before, I talked about value vs time and the impact of workload on wellbeing at #TMLeics in 2015. Clearly doing a fantastic job of taking my own advice). So let’s scale this right back by thinking about our students; with only a limited time with the content, what could they do-or could I get them to do- that will make maximum impact? How can we simply stop using time for anything other than the things that matter?

I’ve by no means formulated a comprehensive list- I definitely need to know the examiner’s notes inside and out to be in a position to feel that I am providing students with the most accurate advice on this. But as a starter for five (ish) and with last year in mind, here’s what I believe we could possibly pinpoint, with both Lang and Lit in mind:

1 Read non fiction every day. Talk about it and keep a reflective journal to ensure you are engaging actively with the text and possible contexts or structures.

2 know your context. For all the literature texts, read around both the texts and authors to grasp a thorough understanding of these people. Dickens is now your best mate. Treat it as the equivalent of a 19th C Facebook stalk.

3 Know your texts, on three levels. Firstly, literally be in a position to reel off the parts of the text that are valuable, provocative, open to interpretation or ambiguity. Secondly, know your characters. Consider them as old friends or perhaps people you would avoid inviting to a party and think about why they are one and not the other. Encourage yourself to like them, even when they make it so bloody difficult (I’m talking about you, Sybil). Finally, know the text to understand its motives. View the text as an individual that is pointing you in a particular direction and consider what it is exactly it wants you to see.

4 Know your terminology. Not only the fancy words, but why someone writing would make such a choice. When would you choose such fricative alteration- angry? Indignant? Excitable? Number five will help with this a bit:

5 Write, every day. Write as another person, object, in another era, walk of life, present moment, purpose of writing. Play with words; do not view what you are writing as something of finality but more as a mixing bowl to see what you end up with.

6 Because I knew I wouldn’t be happy with five, see how others do it. Not because they will carry out the five tasks with any more flair or finesse than you, but because they will have chosen a different way of getting there, which will put things is an altogether different light to your initial ideas. Argue with them (not too aggressively), and allow yourself to be convinced by what they say, if they put it well enough.

To take my own medicine, I’m going to spend the next six months trying to do the same through the CPD that I complete. That way, maybe I can endorse my own sleepless ideas and pass it off as words of wisdom.


In true (absolutely never) earlybird fashion, I came in at 53 as at last week, so I’m quitting whilst I’m ahead. The majority of this year’s list has been borrowed or recommended via Twitter and as consequently, I am finding it more and more difficult to start a book without it receiving endorsement from someone else. I used to pick a book based upon what I  now view as the most frivolous of reasons: cover design (this was the basis of my decision for quite easily a decade- too much charity shop shopping led me to just lose patience and buy the pretty book), the same author over and over, learning to recognise their style and then becoming furious at myself for knowing it so well that I would guess the ending, or simply because it looked like the type of book that would hold my somewhat sketchy attention span. As I reach my fifth year of 50+ books, or at least formally tracking them, my tastes have changed to a degree, but I think the remnants of my twenty something self still remain; a pretty cover, desperately lacking in a reading of non-fiction or classic literature, manoeuvring towards the apocalyptic over a laugh-out-loud. However, in my defence, I read to teach (Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths was a head scratcher), I have learned to persevere with the more difficult reads because sometimes, it’s worth it (Dear Amy was not but hey, I finished it didn’t I?) and I’m learning to stretch out beyond YA fiction from time to time.

The complete list:

  The Kites Are Flying Morpurgo, Michael
The Power Alderman, Naomi *
Alex As Well Brugman, Alyssa
The Girls Cline, Emma
Before I Fall Oliver, Lauren *
One Crossan, Sarah *
The Muse Burton, Jessie
This is Not Your Final Form O’Brien, Richard
Anna and the Swallow Man Savit, Gavriel
Dear Amy Callaghan, Helen*
Dreaming the Bear Thebo, Mimi *
Hot Milk Levy, Deborah
The Iron Man Hughes, Ted
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite Kim, Suki *
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Out of the Hitler Time, #1) Kerr, Judith
Brother in the Land Swindells, Robert
Bone Room Cassidy, Anne
The Girl of Ink and Stars Hargrave, Kiran Millwood *
All the Little Animals Hamilton, Walker
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Konigsburg, E.L.
My Brother’s Ghost Ahlberg, Allan
I Let You Go Mackintosh, Clare *
The Dead Fathers Club Haig, Matt *
The Buried Giant Ishiguro, Kazuo
The Giver (The Giver, #1) Lowry, Lois *
How Texts Teach What Readers Learn Meek, Margaret
The Light Between Oceans Stedman, M.L. *
My Name Is Lucy Barton Strout, Elizabeth
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Harold Fry, #1) Joyce, Rachel
The Nest Oppel, Kenneth*
Salt to the Sea Sepetys, Ruta *
Boy In The Tower Ho-Yen, Polly
Bed Whitehouse, David
Lie With Me Durrant, Sabine
Once (Once, #1) Gleitzman, Morris
Everything, Everything Yoon, Nicola *
The Bone Sparrow Fraillon, Zana
Red Sky in the Morning Laird, Elizabeth
Shtum Lester, Jem *
Paperweight Haston, Meg *
Wolf Hollow Wolk, Lauren
American Gods Gaiman, Neil *
The Tobacconist Seethaler, Robert
The Graveyard Book Gaiman, Neil *
Drop Everson, Katie *
Delirium (Delirium, #1) Oliver, Lauren *
Seven Myths about Education Christodoulou, Daisy
How to Stop Time Haig, Matt *
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way Birbalsingh, Katharine
How Not To Be a Boy Webb, Robert
Never Let Me Go Ishiguro, Kazuo
The Radleys Haig, Matt *
Turtles All the Way Down Green, John *



The Highlights:

Robert Webb, How Not to Be a Boy: I know that some will disagree, but I found this not only to be incredibly entertaining in an endearing yet sardonic fashion, I also found Webb to be well researched in his opinions as to what hinders boys throughout childhood to what can certainly be a well-founded contributor to our male suicide rate within the UK. If nothing else, one to ponder over.

Matt Haig, How to Stop Time: Haig is writing slower than I am reading. After discovering the author rather late in the day, I believe that I am all out but this (along with Reasons to Stay Alive) is a firm favourite. A delicious concept for a novel and Tom is such a likeable yet tormented individual to fall in love with.

Walker Hamilton, All the Little Animals: I came across a pile of these for 50 pence each in a second hand shop and wish I had scooped up the lot. Bobby is Lennie, and the novella tosses around the ideals of good and evil in this quick read.

Jem Lester, Shtum: I wept, a lot. Knowing a family that have been caught in the ridiculous, illogical cycle of meeting criteria to enable their child to be educated in a way that meets THEIR needs, not the needs of a piece of paper, this was a tremendous way of opening up that world to any reader.

Kazuo Ishaguro, Never Let Me Go: Because I resisted it for so long after my disappointing experience of Buried Giant, and now wish I had the opportunity to teach it. I loved the ambiguity that the characters journey through, not relentlessly but without option because after all, that’s kind of what life offers up.

I like to attempt optimism, but I think this may be my last smash at 52 books in a year for a while. The incredibly small person currently strapped to my body is the only reason that I can write this blog to you, but there are also other priorities for this year and I don’t do well with a target that seems unreachable. With this in mind, I’m aiming for 12 books for 2018 (piece of cake), but with specific criteria:

  1. One MUST be a classic. There really is no excuse.
  2. One MUST be a book that I own but have not yet read. This may or may not be as a result of bagging up five bags for life with books and still possessing an entire shelf of ‘I’ll get round to that’ books.
  3. One MUST be explicitly to aid with professional development. I want to really link this to subject knowledge as I do feel that my historical context could do with a Spring clean.
  4. One MUST be poetry. And it MUST be annotated as a result. Strict, but I read so much poetry and then instantly forget it, which means that I don’t make use of it or even remember it in a sense of personal value.
  5. One MUST be to help with grammar. I really want to take a more traditional approach to teaching grammar when I return from maternity leave and as with all things requiring memory, knowledge fades when it is not used.
  6. One MUST be a funny book. I read far too many books that end in death or despair and that’s all very well but Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van was one of the best things I had read in years and it reminded me of how therapeutic it is to laugh out loud at a book.
  7. One MUST be finished in a day. A pretty contradictory approach to the restrained twelve books over fifty, but this will force me to sit still for at least one day of the next 365 and relish the act of reading.
  8. One MUST be written by an author of a book that I teach. This one is off the back of reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl and Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant; there is so much value in exploring the rest of a writer’s brain when teaching their work.
  9. One MUST be a recommendation of my son’s choosing. I get passed so many books by him and often (this is awful, I know) say I will get around to reading it and don’t. This is admittedly because I’ve read the back and the plot line makes me want to weep- I do not want to spend my precious time finding out about the highs and lows of Captain Underpants, apologies- but I think I can stretch to one book.
  10. One MUST be more than ten years old. Weaning myself off all the amazing new YA fiction that comes out every year.
  11. One MUST be from the Carnegie List- because just writing the last stipulation brought me out in a cold sweat.
  12. One MUST be written by an author I have met or at least spoken to on Twitter. Because one of them had to be bloody near-on impossible (or alternatively, opens up a whole heap of brand new conversations.

Big thank you to @thatboycanteach, @afardon, @fkritson, @mrlockyer, @ralston_h, @happysadcross and anyone else who has endured my Twitter book chat over the last year, but also to @RemusLupin for disagreeing with every book choice I ever make, but always reading double my figure to spur me on. For anyone interested in setting themselves a #52books2018 challenge, @fkritson runs a group via Goodreads that helped tremendously with recommendations, alongside the hashtag on Twitter.

Please feel free to get in touch to chat books, make recommendations or dispute my choice for this year’s highlights; I recently tweeted here regarding the eleven books that I dug out in my book-purge and could not bring myself to get rid of.