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.


The #Litdrive Way of Life

After receiving a vast amount of interest about my ambiguous spouting on about #litdrive on Twitter over the weekend, then sharing the original post (here if you are interested https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-little-acorn-litdrive/ ), I have realised that there are already several things about #litdrive that are outdated. One, we shifted from googledrive to dropbox (mainly because my ICT skills leave a lot to be desired and my lack of organisational skills could do with an entire post of their own). We have also grown from the original concept that I posted about; what started in my mind as a resource for literacy has inevitably grown wings, sprouted heads and transitioned to a heaving bank of resources for all sorts.

Change is good! We are now sitting at 350 contributors (primary and secondary) and with lots of shared drives floating about, I hope that the variety of resources will add value to any teacher, anywhere. A plethora of ‘stuff,’ #litdrive offers schemes of work, exemplar work, marking ideas, reading lists and initiatives, written literacy support, literacy across the curriculum and a whole heap in between. I usually have a monthly re-arrange/clear up/back up to ensure that resources shared are safe and easy to find.

What next? I thought it may be beneficial to outlinethe purpose of the drive but also put a few guidelines/pleas in place to make it great for everyone. Excuse the bullet points (some people may not have wanted to read the rambly words above and just get to the good stuff):


  • DM your email address with the #litdrive hashtag for me to send over an invite for you. Alternatively, send to my email (Katherine.howard@hotmail.co.uk) and #litdrive world is your oyster.
  • Once you have access, please do share how you have used someone else’s wonderful resource, using the #litdrive hashtag! It may be that you have tweaked a resource or used it in a new way which would be invaluable to any teacher. You may just make someone’s day after an hour of pulling glue sticks out of a child’s hair. Make someone smile.
  • Please, please, please do add your own resources- the top folder entitled wittingly, ‘I have something to add!’ is the place to pop it. I get heaps of messages from people saying, ‘I don’t really have anything great,’ or, ‘what type of thing would you want?’ Nonsense to the first- you’re an ace teacher, joining an online community to collaborate and share resources. You’re resources must be awesome. To the second- if you’re sharing a resource, I will find a folder to put it in.
  • Final gigantic plea- please do not delete or modify files. By all means, download it- stick it on your usb but other shared drives are really suffering as a result of this. It’s never deliberate of course, but if your Dropbox is heaving and you want out, just let me know and I will remove you from the drive.

Thank you so much for getting involved with #litdrive- I have had teachers from all over the world say thank you and would like to pass on that thanks to the people that deserve it. Enjoy!

#teacher5adayread: a little room for you

Reading is the only way I can sit still. If I’m not submerged in a story, my mind will wander to food (always food!), plans that week, what’s left to do, what I could be buying on the internet- my partner Ben says it is the only way to get me to attempt to relax most of the time. I write this after being told that there were no plans today, and so took it upon myself to redecorate the bathroom. I need reading more than reading needs me!

It is with the lounge-worthy days of Summer that #teacher5aday came about; national libraries were challenging children to read six books over the summer break and @martynreah quite rightly mentioned, why can’t we do the same?

The discussions and recommendations that have taken place as a result of #teacher5aday have been a pleasure to see- I now have several books winging their way to me because I could not resist after reading a tweet that gave a snippet of the synopsis or seeing a beautiful cover that would fit nicely on my bookshelf. After all, it is all about the shelfie…but reading is always the surefire way to #connect, #learn, #relax and #notice, and what a perfect time of the year to do just that.

It really is that simple. Use the #teacher5aday hashtag for a multitude of recommendations, update the spreadsheet as you go with a mini review to share with others, tweet your reading spots or get involved by sharing your top three books of all time, or perhaps the book you would pick if you had to read one forever (kindly shared by Stagecoach- what a crisis! One book!). You’ll find the document here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1z6skfijOB0qFBOT4iVVQtHZmSQJpqcnSLg8f_Qan1b0/edit?usp=sharing

This will be the fourth year to attempt fifty books as part of the #fiftybookchallenge that I shared a few years ago- if you like a challenge- and it always is for me- then please do get involved. I’ve shared my list so far (currently at number 38 and counting) here:



Happy reading!

#FiftyBookChallenge- 2015

For the first year EVER, I ended with time to spare. Granted, it was only a day but progress is progress! As ever, my exhaustive list followed by the highlights:

  1. Robert Graves- Goodbye to All That
  2. Patrick Ness- More Than This
  3. Jonathan Coe- The House of Sleep
  4. Pierre LaMaitre- Alex
  5. Very British Problems
  6. Michael Grant- Light
  7. Anonymous- Go Ask Alice
  8. Charlie Higson- The Enemy
  9. Ray Bradbury- Fahrenheit 451
  10. Lara Williamson- A Boy Called Hope
  11. Sabine Durrant- Remember Me This Way
  12. Brothers Grimm- the Robber Bridegroom
  13. John Williams- Stoner
  14. Carol Dweck- Mindset
  15. David Almond- Savage
  16. Tom Baker- The Boy Who Kicked Pigs
  17. Tim Bowler- Night Runner
  18. Tess Sharpe- Far From You
  19. Ann Kelley- Runners
  20. Anne Holm- I am David
  21. Gillian Flynn- Sharp Objects
  22. Sophie McKenzie- Girl, Missing
  23. Siri Hustvedt- The Sorrows of an American
  24. Banjamin Zephaniah- Teacher’s Dead
  25. Matt Haig- The Humans
  26. Sarah Crossan- The Weight of the Water
  27. Jessica Kane- The Report
  28. Mary Kingsley- A Hippo Banquet
  29. Marcus Sedgewick- Cowards
  30. Albert Camus- L’etranger
  31. JP Cavafy- Remember Body…
  32. Glen Duncan- The Last Werewolf
  33. Piers Torday- The Last Wild
  34. Dr Seuss- There’s a Wocket in my Pocket
  35. George Taylor- 1 4 Sorrow
  36. Paula Hawkins- Girl on the Train
  37. Paint me Like I am- Poetry for Young Adults
  38. E.Lockhart- We Were Liars
  39. Keith C Blackmore- Mountain Man
  40. Jay Asher- Thirteen Reasons Why
  41. James Thurber- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  42. Natalie Babbitt- Tuck Everlasting
  43. Diana Hendry- The Seeing
  44. Jennifer Niven- All the Bright Places
  45. Gillian Flynn- the Grown Up
  46. Jasmine Warga- My Heart and Other Black Holes
  47. Andy Weir- The Martian
  48. Michael Acton Smith- Calm
  49. Neil Gaiman- How the Marquis Got his Coat Back
  50. Matt Haig- A Boy Called Christmas

It seems the overarching themes for 2015 were war, YA fiction, dystopia, poetry and a couple of wildcards in between! I will pick out some highlights for those that want to take something useful from this list. I would like to start by saying I did persevere with a couple of books even after my initial enjoyment waned, but I won’t dwell on these. In the same way that I would not introduce someone by saying, ‘he’s not my type,’ it would be rude of me to sway your opinion of a book. It is simply not fair.

YOU MUST READ The Martian by Andy Weir and Humans by Matt Haig. I have been standing on my soap box to anyone who will listen about both and they show a completely alternative insight to our existence as humans. They question the importance that we place on what we perceive to be extraordinary and open our eyes to the wonder of the ordinary.

ONES FOR THE BOYS if you teach are 1 4 Sorrow, Teacher’s Dead and The Enemy. Charlie Higson’s sequel has been on my shelf for a month now and is on the list for 2016. Michael Grant’s Gone series is another fantastic set that will keep anyone hooked for a considerable distance.

NOT FOR CHILDREN’S EYES but definitely worth picking up (on the basis that you are not easily offended or squeamish) are Sharp Objects and the Last Werewolf. Brutal, brash and unapologetic, Glen Duncan tells a convincing tale of the supernatural.

GOOD FOR WAR IN THE CLASSROOM are I am David and Sedgewick’s Cowards. Holm tells a story equal in poignancy to Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and places emphasis upon the impact that adults have upon children. The Report also shows the conditions that people faced in the aftermath of the war, based on an original news report of a tragedy that took place in Bethnal Green in 1943.

IF YOU ONLY WANT ONE, read Pierre LaMaitre’s Alex. It warped my brain cells in the same way that Under the Skin bent them inside and back out again.

Interested in a reading challenge for 2016? Join me (and my school!) in #fiftybookchallenge. No rules, no list- most of my reads are YA fiction as the library is free in school and kids often recommend books to me. Anything goes- as Dr Seuss demonstrates- non fiction, fiction, self help, educational… you name it. Our students started this September and one is leading on 36 books so far! For the fifty book pledge resources, please email me for access to #litdrive. Happy New Year!

Sustain Over Show: Literacy is NOT a dirty word

I’ve spent the last year developing rather a fanatical obsession with what leaves students standing at the literacy block and how I can develop strategies that are not box-ticking or with quick-win value, but that will demonstrate that improving students’ literacy over time with long-term habits is the key to raising standards within school.

As a PGCE student, literacy was presented to me as a bolt on, an extra box to tick on the lesson plan that I needed to include key words or a task that explicitly demonstrated my consideration of literacy. I hastily fell back on my Boggle and Scrabble starters, compiled literacy based word play and highlighted key words as my ‘literacy focus.’ The explicit was easy but I have since become more concerned with the disintegration of the English language within my classroom and questioned the effectiveness of these ‘quick wins.’ How was this going to stay with my students? Admittedly, they were engaged and the concept of a contest to beat the teacher or their peers was particularly motivating for the boys but what happened once they left the classroom?

I love scrabble. I’m pretty educated (for the sake of argument) and my vocabulary is pretty extensive. And yet a game of Scrabble will often see me revert to the words that I know in an attempt to beat my opponent. I will very rarely try to integrate the possibility of a new word into the mix for fear of missing out on a perfectly good word already in my head slamming into a triple word spot and taking me to an easy win. Certain friends (and previous boyfriends) have since refused to play me on account of the deadly combination of fail-safe words and an unhealthy level of competition. I once ruined Christmas eve on account of my ‘one more game’ approach until I had won the best of. I refuse to be beaten.

This is just a microcosm of the classroom- roll out the scrabble Ppt; the same students rise to the challenge, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to use a word already in their head to secure the top spot, whilst the less confident or engaged simply switch off and focus on packing up their pencil case. How is this TRULY developing students’ literacy, other than the power of peer sharing? Is this meaningful collaboration when it is simply one student knowing a word that the other does not?

To get a little geeky for a moment, the National Literacy Trust have drawn up a post Curriculum Review (Sep 2014) to make it explicitly clear as to the literacy-based expectations of teachers. To draw from what I found to be the most beneficial points, teachers need to, ‘provide rich and regular opportunities for talk to develop….. make sure pupils engage in reading, for pleasure and information, with a wide range of increasingly complex fiction and non-fiction texts…ensure their knowledge of literature and poetry enables them to use high quality texts that engage pupils’ interest and develop a love of reading.’ I draw your attention to these over other points outlined because I feel that these are our largest challenges within secondary. Why? Because they focus on the sustained aspect of literacy- development of verbal literacy, moulding and shaping a particular attitude towards reading and enabling confidence to manage more complex texts are not quick wins. 

To quote the horrendous O, I am in solemn agreement with this statement, taken from the 2013 Improving Literacy Standards Report- ‘This survey of best practice found there is no ‘quick-fix’ for raising standards in literacy. The best schools made literacy an integral element of the whole school curriculum. In these secondary schools, there was no attempt to address literacy through one-off training days for staff. Literacy in the best schools was an integral part of longer term school improvement plans and informed the content of action plans for each subject.’

However, I would like to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Whilst I appreciate (and endorse) whole-school presence of literacy, I would like to once again question- what impact does it make? Word of the week displays, literacy books, ERIC sessions- what does this add? Do these act as a driving factor to ultimately motivate children to standards that are required of the workplace?

I’d like to offer my own views. These are very much my own observations and not research based (in progress) but surely the one word to take from the good intentions of big O-dog is ‘integral.’ THE ONLY WAY TO ENSURE STUDENTS CONNECT WITH LITERACY IS TO MAKE THEM A PART OF THE LITERACY PROCESS. I’d like to push some thoughts on to you and see how other schools take a similar approach. This is essentially a spoiler alert of that research that I will get around to.

1. I’ve seen amazing success with Reading Programmes and Incentives in school. However, I am not sure beyond a specific age that it successfully motivates or encourages what I would argue is the ‘correct’ way of reading- understanding a text, engaging with it through either plot or characterisation, evaluating the situations that the character find themselves in and provoking discussion. Why are such programmes not driven by the students that have had the grace and good luck to already harness such skills? I’d like to hand over comprehension and evaluations of books to those students please. If we are to demonstrate engagement in reading and introduce students to access a range of texts, who better to do it than the students who are already convinced.

2. ERIC needs talking time. The child that sits in ERIC with his book open, staring out the window? This is what boredom feels like to him. Even if the book he had picked up were the most exciting thing on the planet, you’re not letting him tell anyone about it. The discussions centred around reading are as important as the act of reading itself; using stem questions as a base, the direction that students’ conversation can have following a book that they have selected themselves are incredible. This can then be recorded in a short summary and displayed, almost as a ‘reader reaction’ moment. Again- peer power. If I have read a fantastic book, I want to tell everyone about it and that enthusiasm is often infectious.

3. We need to provide our students with a variation of texts that they want to read, in an environment that they want to read it. I often say to parents to direct their children to news websites (under supervision) to read before sharing a discussion about their reaction to the article. Several school libraries focus on poetry as a key area of focus so that students’ only experience of poetry is within the classroom; imagine if your only experience of such an artistic demonstration of words was dissecting it and removing the magic at times? The students that want to share what they have read often bring in material from home or that they have sourced elsewhere, which prompts me to think that perhaps I have not provided the outlet for them  to access the type of text that they wanted to read.

4. Talk into writing. Talk after writing. Talk about writing. TALK to these kids about how they’re going to demonstrate ambition. Stress the detriment to recycling words. When we worked towards an assessment that studied the character of Richard III, we ‘collected’ words along the way that depicted this monstrous, manipulative, hypocritical, poisonous, calculating, cruel, vindictive, ruthless (see what I did there?) man. Consequently, we didn’t find ourselves repeating ideas or stumbling over the motivations of the character because we simply didn’t have the words to describe it. Yes, I have my English head on but the processes of science and the concept of History does not possess a monosyballic quality either. Encourage ‘beating’ words: question-driven discussions where students will outdo one another in terms of vocabulary to develop ideas and lead to evaluation.

5. A Whole School Literacy policy that is in consistent, demonstrative, formative use across the school. I was never a fan- mainly due to my lack of memory- and it needs to be simplistic for both staff and students. The power of double marking (mark for success criteria, read aloud for literacy marking) has demonstrated fantastic improvements within my own teaching and again, it is a case of developing the habits for students to be able to objectively assess and evaluate their own work. The value of self assessment a week after writing is especially evident; I have argued with, and will again with colleagues who refuse to believe that all students can self assess work to improve. If we’re talking ‘learning over time,’ then it is essential to understand the power of setting time aside to open a lesson with literacy-based reflection and encouraging students to identify their own literacy requirements.

6. Provide outlets for students to explore literacy in its natural state. David Attenborough style, we need to highlight the presence of literacy outside the curriculum for students. Provide extra curricular opportunities that demonstrate how literacy is an integral (see, there’s that word again) part of society and already existent within their every day life. Poetry Club, Film Club, Graphic Novel Club, Creative Writing Club, Song Writing Club, Magazine Club, Review Club- a range of opportunities for students that would be mortified if they were aware that the very process was developing their literacy skills, because of the association with the word itself. Encourage a literacy focus within other areas of enrichment- written responses to trips, journals, scrapbooks or blogs that record their experiences or reactions. Additionally, one of my current homework options is to send me an email outlining how the student is finding the topic so far with highlights and suggestions of the direction we could take next. Embed the sharing process of literacy to enable students to grasp the words that they may not currently have.

7. My dream? A whole school literacy festival. A place where a school-based community come together to explore the multi-model presence of literacy and celebrate our ability to develop excitement around the spoken and written word rather than the connotation that literacy often brings with students. Creative writing, Meet my Book, Song Writing, Performance Poetry, Open Mic, The Art of Storytelling, camp fire, bunting. You get the idea.I want a whole-school celebration of how literacy opens up so many doors to us as individuals, rather than the existence of it on a wall in a classroom or scheme of work somewhere. I’m working on this one.

I asked a selection of students today to explain what the word literacy meant to them. The responses?

‘Books and stuff.’

‘Words to use to make our writing better.’

‘Booklets with gaps to full in.’

Isn’t that sad?

Fifty Book Challenge 2014

In step with my new tradition of attempting to plough through at least fifty books a year, this year I have managed it with a week to spare. I thought I would compile the list (mainly because I am amazed that I have found the time) but also highlight the ones that were well worth it, in my humble opinion.

Full, exhaustive list:

  1. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
  2. Oranges in No Man’s Land, Elizabeth Laird
  3. Allegiant, Veronica Roth
  4. Second Star to the Right, Deborah Hautzig
  5. How I Paid for College, Marc Acito
  6. Oops, Hywel Roberts
  7. Strange Meeting, Susan Hill
  8. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
  9. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
  10. Revolver, Marcus Sedgewick
  11. The Bailey Game, Celia Rees
  12. The Daydreamer, Ian McEwan
  13. Midwinterblood, Marcus Sedgewick
  14. The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook, Jim Smith
  15. What’s Left of Me, Kat Zhang
  16. the Wish House, Celia Rees
  17. The Iron Man, Ted Hughes
  18. The Photograph, Penelope Lively
  19. Fearless, Tim Lott
  20. Floodland, Marcus Sedgewick
  21. Blood Money, Anne Cassidy
  22. The Willow Man, Sue Purkiss
  23. The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriaty
  24. The Wells Bequest, Polly Shulman
  25. Pimp Your Lesson, Isabella Wallace
  26. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capone
  27. The Bunker Diary, Kevin Brooks
  28. Edge of Nowhere, John E Smelcer
  29. The Dark Horse, Marcus Sedgewick
  30. Malarky, Keith Gray
  31. All The Truth that’s in Me, Julie Berry
  32. Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys
  33. Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill
  34. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  35. The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness
  36. The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo
  37. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  38. Wonder, RJ Palacio
  39. The Tulip Touch, Anne Fine
  40. Gone, Michael Grant
  41. The Book of Dead Days, Marcus Sedgewick
  42. Paper Faces, Rachel Anderson
  43. Paper Towns, John Green
  44. Hunger, Michael Grant
  45. Lies, Michael Grant
  46. Plague, Michael Grant
  47. The Quantity Theory Of Insanity, Will Self
  48. Exchange, Paul Magrs
  49. Witch Hill, Marcus Sedgewick
  50. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

I think we can safely say that a) I have discovered (a little late in the game) an unfounded and complete love of Marcus Sedgewick, thanks to the librarian at my old school. Midwinterblood was like nothing else, and so beautifully written. The same llibrarian was also the lovely human being to force the Carnegie finalists into my hands- up to that stage, my only experience of Kevin Brooks was what I believed to be a weak plotline in IBoy. Bunker was both bleak and raw, but had what I love about fiction; the presence of humanity in the most unimaginable of circumstances.

Hill’s Strange Meeting is definitely one for the teacher out there- I used an extract from this book to read to year 10 when teaching Wilfred Owen. The graphic and stark description of the character’s portrayal of the front line portrays his numbing experience perfectly.

I was pleasantly surprised by Celia Rees; I find it quite accomplished of both her and Sedgewick to be able to twist several different stories in such a way that it never felt like I was reading a particular ‘style’ that you sometimes come across with writers- my ideal author is someone who does not fit a pattern, or writes consistently in the same way. The unpredictability and skill of being able to write with eloquence but unlike that of a previous book is the ideal!

Exchange is one for any book lover- the Exchange is a book shop set up by a man that simply asks for books in exchange of other books- an extension of the free book shops that are now popping up, the concept extends from an exchange of reading to an exchange of the different aspects of the character’s lives and experiences between one another.

Joe Hill was a recommendation and quite possibly next to The Road, one of the most dark and terrifying books that I have ever read. I have strayed from the supernatural in quite some time and this conjured up a nasty, realistic twist on the idea of the dead remaining unsettled. The main character Judas makes quite the sceptical lead, and his cynicism bonds the entire story together.

I think the underlying theme of dystopia throughout my fifty books is pretty clear! Zhang’s What’s Left of Me is one of a trilogy which I have still yet to track down the remaining two of, and once again gave a sense of realism to the way that the world could work out. Both this, Michael Grant’s series (still unfinished) and Patrick Ness’ KONLG touch upon elements of the world that we know and play out the possibilities, and consequences of what could be, but also reinforce the fact that as humans, the small comforts and necessary compassion that we hold for one another still remains.

I was going to close with my all time favourite, but in true book worm style, that is impossible. I am however incredibly happy that I finally made time for the Book Thief, after being told by so many people about its beauty. The narration of Death makes it all the more poignant, and his encounters with Liesel are both heartbreaking and eye opening.

What next? I need to get my teeth into all the grown up stuff that Neil Gaiman has done that my eyes have yet to see! I quite enjoy recommendations rather than seeking books out. The perks of having so many English teachers on your Twitter timeline!

Take Away the Spoon

Linear assessment keeps me awake at night, and every day that passes feels like a lost opportunity to prepare students with the coping mechanisms that they need to function in the big, wide, real world. Here are a few ways of ensuring that the children that enter your classroom stand a chance if left to their own devices:

Mentor roles. The most rewarding and empowering thing that you can offer a student within the classroom. This does not have to rest with your more able student, but can simply be responsibility within the classroom. I find roles a fantastic way of ensuring engagement- administrators, class leaders, board writers, mentors that oversee tasks, annotators for whole class exercises using Word review. Everyone likes to have a moment in charge.

Student voice- regularly use google forms to take feedback. You can gauge the temperature of the previous term, get valuable ideas from the students (hwk suggestions, lesson planning) and again, empower them to take ownership of their learning. I like to open the new term with ‘You Said, I Did’ slides that show their responses, and how I have incorporated that within planning and assessment for the term ahead.

Student-led learning- they create the learning objective, they set the task that will help them achieve it, they assess their progress, they decide on the next steps. You facilitate, rather than instruct. Ideally, you just sit in the space of whoever has taken on the role as teacher.

Challenge yourself I encourage all students to create their own tasks, create questions linked to the learning objectives, add words as we read or discuss topics to the word wall within the classroom to stretch vocabulary. These aspects are now embedded that Y7 particularly are trained in the routine of seeking out the answer for themselves.

Create an independent classroom- students should have the resources available to help themselves; I have now set up an unstuck corner for both reading and writing, where students can fetch help cards that will assist them with their particular task or improvement during DIRT lessons. Again, by establishing routines, students are now equipped to seek out ways to improve without my input.

Provide the stimulus- especially at GCSE, non fiction texts are so alien to students, that the concept of formulating a report, or news article is incomprehensible. GCSE classes are now bringing in non fiction on a weekly basis that interested them, or they would like the class to discuss- this is usually an online blog, or news article. The only requisite is that they compile a question to accompany the text as a starting point. We are collating all of the texts to use during revision sessions at a later point in the year- again, students need to take ownership of the direction that they are heading toward.

Consolidate- each term, the final homework is to find a way of consolidating the learning that the student has experienced for that particular unit. We have explored different ways of achieving this- Prezi, a Ppt, a scrapbook, revision tool, mindmap…. whatever works. I have set the expectation that we will call upon this in Y10, and Y11 to see how skills have developed, what we could add or improve, or how the tool helps us to recall the specific skills in question.

Linear Preparation- Are We Ready to Rumble?

I looked around my year nine class yesterday and despaired a little. Not a fan to admit to moments of anything but positivity in the classroom, I thought that it would be best to take stock and work through to offering/seeking a solution to said despair. Little Johnny not even listening to the question until the fourteenth time, other little Johnny making what unfortunately are rather hilarious comments about little Johnnetta’s rather prominent eyebrow control, big Johnny in the corner retorting that Peter Kay made 34 million last year, and so his own career is SET.

My question- how on earth am I going to drag this angelic collection of Johnnies through the first linear GCSE spec in 2017? I have rather plainly stated that unfortunately no, I am not Alex Mack, I do not collapse into a pool of mercury and so therefore cannot segment out my being to reform terminator style as them to sit the exam papers. There has to therefore be another way.

The shift towards linear has challenged my usually positive and proactive outlook to my profession. In a perfect world, I need students who are focussed, well read, used to working independently, controlled with their written responses, able to interpret non fiction texts, a wide knowledge of poetry, a genuine enjoyment for the subject and an ability to work at their finest in exam conditions.

Now I know when I say this how surprised you will be; this is not the description of my Johnnies.

I realised that I was asking the wrong question. How are THEY going to drag themselves through it? I sincerely believe that it is my responsibility to fully equip and prepare them for such a condition, but they need to be actively involved in the process. Beyond a mother- style lecture, how do I get the commitment that I need from students that have already disengaged from my subject, a subject that is so imperative to their future?

I don’t have the answer to that. But I am on it, I can assure you.

Students need to recognise FOR THEMSELVES the importance of y9 as a preparation year. This is the year to understand the exam, the texts, and form targets that they can take into year ten with a clear expectation of what they need to do to achieve. They need to read, anything, and preferably a variety of texts to grow that word bank before 2017 sneaks up on us. They need to be able to look objectively at their work. They need to collate information along the way, preparing tools and records for themselves to be able to cll upon during revision time. They need to remember what they have learned and be able to apply it to a text that they have never seen before.

They’re going to do all of this, unaided, with an unabated eagerness to succeed. Right?

Ok. Here is what I am doing. I have prepared a ‘what can I do?’ Outline and hand delivered to all my y9s with a star next to the one that they should personally focus on first. You can find this on my twitter account, @saysmiss, but the actions are generally those in the paragraph above. We have a weekly spelling test, collecting the words that we struggled with the most for a lesson on strategy later on in the term. With 20% resting on SPG and a separate reference to formality within analysis on the mark scheme, I’m not taking any chances Johnnies, no no no. All students are sent the assessment cover sheet at the start of term, with the task that they will be completing. They are encouraged to look at this, work out where they feel they can currently meet or exceed the mark scheme, and an area that they want to focus on as a target. Again, this will be visited during the planning lesson prior to examination with a ‘Genius Bar’ lesson; those with specific strengths will advise those who have set that area as a target. We have a weekly non fiction news based starter, using news sites as inspiration for a correction task. We have #takeawayhwk to create and store revision tools for each unit, so that the end of the summer term can be based around those tools.

Both I and the students need to feel that not only are we prepared for this huge shift, but that we have done everything to equip ourselves for every eventuality. I still don’t know the answer to my question, and don’t feel that it will be answered until those exam results come through, but I need to feel that I have gotten off my lazy dependent bum and done something about it. Right Johnny?

Fifty Book Challenge- the story so far

In no particular order, I thought it would save me my Christmas jolly day (and spur me on to finish again this year!) so here is where I am up to:

Oranges in No Man’s Land by Elizabeth Laird
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
How I Pid for College by Marc Acito
Oops! Helping Children Learn Accidentally by Hywel Roberts
Strange Meeting by Susan Hill
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Revolver by Marcus Segewick
The Bailey Game by Celia Rees
Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig
The Daydreamer by Ian McEwan
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
The Wish House by Celia Rees
The Photograph by Penelope Lively
The Lazy Teacher’s Hndbook by Jim Smith
The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
the Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo
MidWinterBlood by Marcus Sedgewick
Fearless by Tim Lott
Floodland by Marcus Sedgewick
What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang
Witch Hill by Marcus Sedgewick
Blood Miney by Anne Cassidy
The Willow Man by Sue Purkiss
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriaty
Exchange by Paul Magrs
The Wells Bequest by Polly Shuman
Pimp your Lesson! By Isabella Wallace
Malarkey by Keith Gray
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Edge of Nowhere by John E Smelcer
Out of the Easy by Ruth Sepetys
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self

The Ask in the Answer in progress….. 39.

Here we go again…

I am utterly ashamed of how long it has been since I have muddled through a blog post. I have taken my energies away from work for a bit (above and beyond Summer) and feel that I need to start this year with a babble to mark the end of my NQT and start of ‘proper’ teaching.

How was last year?

Hard. However, the goal posts were different to my PGCE, and the demands were different. Having the hindsight of simply recognising the pattern of behaviour as we enter a new year has been valuable. I have given myself the extra challenge of starting at a new school (I don’t like to make it easy) and with last year containing so many big things on the life front, I feel ready to tackle a new year and push myself in a different way.

As an NQT, I think it is the most manageable and self preserving approach to look at your role in a day-to-day manner, mainly due to time constraints and your head swimming with ideas/nonsense that you think you need to hang on to, and now I can see the value of looking further into peaks and troughs of an academic year. The knowledge of knowing that the Autumn term being the most challenging in my eyes is almost a reassuring element; I can mentally steel myself for the long haul, and know that a) there IS a light at the end and its name is Christmas! And b) the challenges are simply the ones I will set myself.

My confidence as a teacher is ten times of this time last year, and the self assurance that you are able to put things into small people’s brains gives you a real sense of self worth. Of course, you could do that at the start if your NQT- you just didn’t realise that at the time. By you, I mean me. Obviously.

This is essentially a little catharsis before the madness begins; I want to ensure that I have a clear set of goals for what I want to achieve within my teaching practice, and this blog seemed like the perfect place. I am not a person motivated by progression or career development in a TLR sense, but more the expectations that I want to place upon myself and the children that I have the luck to teach. So, here’s goes:

Re design Key Stage 3 assessment.

This is something that I have felt strongly about for a while- I do not feel that we are providing students with a clear, manageable way to assess their own capabilities or development in a language that is understandable to them. I am empathetic to teaching according to pervious APP framework, but I do not feel that it is adequate to giving students any sense of what is expected for them- both at the point that they are at in their educational journey, or to prepare them for GCSE and beyond. It is this that assists to stifle flair at an early point, which I am keen to confront- as I am sure others are also.

Develop independence within secondary education

Students need to understand the concept and value of thinking for themselves, placing themselves mentally in a position to question ideas and develop as individuals that will not only participate in society, but ultimately mould and evolve to change and improve it. In order to do this, they NEED to comprehend that it is ok to think, and that this exists beyond simple the right or the wrong answer.

Preparing children for linear assessment

This is something that makes my brain hurt, and concerns me the most. In a profession that is moving (against my will) towards treating all students the same, irrespective of specific need, attainment and ability to access, I feel that it is only fair that I equip them to do this to the best of their ability. I haven’t quite worked out what that looks like yet.

Bring literacy back

Like sexy, only better Justin. Because literacy is the key to the planet! I want to raise awareness in communities, both educational but with the supporting network that we have available to us as schools, that not only is literacy important but it craves to be celebrated. Poetry is a lost art that gets eyes rolling, and I want to change that reaction. Shakespeare doesn’t get the hand clapping that he deserves in the teenage world. Books are something to be shared and embraced, and the positivity that literacy should receive isn’t yet present to the extent that I want it to be (I have a mega plan for this one but you will have to bear with me whilst I teach/plan/do the other stuff on the list/ renovate a house/ maintain a relationship/ raise a child. Any day now).

Have a profound effect in the education in the country that I live in.

That sounds grand, but again, it’s in progress.

My plans are super sized, but I feel that if you can’t think big, how do you expect the kids to?