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), I have realised that there are already several things about #litdrive that are outdated.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!

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#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:

https://www.librarything.com/catalog.php?view=SaysMiss&collectionname=fiftybookchallenge2016&collection=415140

 

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?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

You can keep Christmas. A food based coma where one prosecco-fuelled day merges into the next and after an eight week term, the only thing keeping me awake is the conveyor belt of food and the fact that I have an obligation to make sure I enjoy Christmas as I have been instructed to by every single member of staff as I left the school building the previous week.

Now February has got it going on.

It is my son’s birthday (big 6, big deal- he busted the mountain bike hiding place this year so now the David Walliams book has got a tough crowd tomorrow morning), my birthday- far less coverage for this one- and February half term always lends itself nicely to a bit of non-teacher related fun. Your eyeballs still work, sometimes you are known to be able to string a sentence together after such a short term and the fact that drinking during the day is far less socially acceptable in mid Feb, but most importantly, you are leaving classes that are just getting into the swing of things now. So before I scoot off to Iceland and remember how to be a fun human being, I wanted to round up why this term has been a good one and possibly the nicest one all round.

They are LISTENING!

By this point, your hard work is well and truly paying off. seating plans are in full throttle, students are tolerating and collaborating, pupils are managing to work in group tables without wanting to polish one another off in the process. Your already switched on group are with you, willingly holding out their hands for more learning, yes please indeedy give me that extra challenge further reading/homework/ website that you said was ace Miss (ok, there are about four of these children) and the not so proactive are coming around to your way of thinking. They’ve learned the person- they’ve grown accustomed to your ways, your expectations and are well aware that if they click that pen or rock on that chair one more time between now and July, you will get Liam Neeson on their ar…..

Ok. So it isn’t all raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens, but they are on your side. They see that your intentions are good and the ‘why’ questions are being answered within your teaching on a daily basis. They have seen you trip over a cable/box of books/your own feet at least once and are secretly amazed that you’re a human because up until that point, you knowledge of your subject has made them think that you were some sort of super-learning artificial intelligence. Stick a USB stick behind your ear to keep that one going.

START GOING CRAZY

Now they are yours is your time to really start to experiment. That thing you saw on Twitter back in October and guffawed at the teacher’s bravery/time management capability to knock up the resource AND ACTUALLY USE IT? Your turn. As you may have seen, I have now started moving my classes towards pledges for next year, long term project based homework, questionless feedback and response lessons, student led learning and a vast amount of student voice to ascertain the direction that we can take together now. Now that you are over the 15 week marathon that you dragged yourself through before Christmas, and before all that delightful Summer marking starts, indulge yourself a little. Your kids will thank you for it.

THE GOODUNS

Those lessons that you cannot even remember because it was the day that you received 684 emails, Jonny vomited on your classroom floor, Bob decided to knee Bilbo (I wish I taught a child called Bilbo) in between the legs, Martha walked out halfway through the lesson with a nosebleed, you had graphic novel club that day (that bit is true at least), a parent appointment after school, the photocopier broke and that child definitely, DEFINITELY whispered the word that starts with bell and ends in…. remember the good ones. The bits that worked, the bits that the kids’ eyes lit up at and you had real fun with. The lessons that you didn’t get through the whole lesson because you wanted students to enjoy the learning that you had jointly created within that room at that moment. For me, my best bits were:

Gothic fortune tellers

‘I bet’ trivia starters

A Christmas Carol Graphic novel pages (the day I called Jacob Marley Bob Marley)

Monarch for the Day (Beyonce as PM and Justin Bieber in prison- we all have to wear funny hats)

Could you run the NHS?

The crazy effect of Sugar

The documentary style football match jungle poem at poetry club inspired by watching the boys on the astro turf

HAVE A MOMENT

Look at your own midpoint achievements- what did you set out to do in your appraisal at the start of the year? Are you still working towards the same goals or has something happened along the way that changed your direction- perhaps for the better? I know that I have now reached a point where my focus has switched slightly and I have moved from a crossroads of career progression to a happy medium- working towards a specific goal but at the same time, relishing the extra opportunities that have come my way. Update a personal statement- map out your achievements to have a cathartic moment to celebrate how far you have come.

Happy half term everyone- you’re awesome for changing little people’s lives everyday and they love it, they really do.

Value vs Time: a Precursor

After outlining my initial ideas for CPD  and subsequently blogging about the thought process behind my concept over Christmas, I wanted to explore this idea in more detail, but also to additionally provide a practical insight as to how I try to implement a VVT approach within my own practice. I did previously touch upon this as I neared the end of my NQT year and am so keen to provide other teachers with the mindset to not only admit that perhaps we do not work at our most effectively sometimes. As a result, because of the nature of the job and the extent of the accountability on our parts (even if this is our own self-expectation alone) this often means that inefficiency results in work leaking into our strive to maintain a work-life balance. We all know that the definition of this balance as teachers can never completely be Mon-Fri 9-5 without an ounce of additionally obligation, but is that reasonable? Should we accept that?

I am in my second year of teaching, having completed my NQT last year and then starting at a new school in September of last year. My NQT year left me a little frazzled and I wanted to work out a way to maintain an approach that had resilience and longevity but did not compromise my enthusiasm. I manage a household, write on a freelance basis in addition to my full-time teaching post. I do not view my role at work as ‘just’ teaching; I have worked hard to write and pilot a variety of resources and practices that will eventually be in a position to work on a whole-school scale. I bore easily! The challenge of teaching means that my job and additional paid projects accommodates for that. I work 8-5/6, Monday to Friday. I do not work in the holidays with the exception of an afternoon the day before to ensure that I know what I am doing the following day. I refuse to take books home.

This isn’t a deliberate, ostentatiously compiled series of statements; it is simply an introduction to the fact that I share the pressures, deadlines and priorities of any teacher, no more and no less. Each role contains its own set of obligations and demands, but with teaching and learning in mind, I wanted to share how I achieve this with other teachers so that instead of shrugging my shoulders when colleagues say, ‘HOW do you do it?’ I am actually providing practical ways that I use that other teachers could apply to their own practice.

As mentioned within my #Nuture1415 post, my mindset for effective planning and delivery within lessons, prioritisation of administration and any additional projects is met with a Value vs Time consideration. Disregard the external demand; what will be of greatest benefit to YOU for the longest period of time? Which skills need to be taught for that particular unit that are a priority for THAT class? What long-term routines can you establish in a straightforward way that can then prove to be priceless in the long run?

After mapping out the different ways that I try to achieve this, I came to the conclusion that it would be beneficial to share @TMLeics. Whilst most educators tend to come to a Teachmeet with a view to improving and developing their own teaching practice with reference to undiscovered resources or alternative methods of delivery, this could combine several aspects of my teaching that within any other format, would have simply been a presentation of ‘stuff I do.’

I don’t want to go into detail (massive spoiler alert for March!) but wanted a bit of a reminder to myself of the ethos behind my meaning; that whilst teaching IS about improving the education of children, we are also working in a very demanding and rapidly adapting climate that requires us to evolve quickly and proactively rather than reactively to the changes currently threatening to drown us within a system to an extent at times. Sometimes being the best teacher you can be is ensuring that you have put yourself at the centre of your priorities rather than the children in the classroom.

Elements of VVT that I will cover @TMLeics on the 17th March (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/leicester-teachmeet-2015-in-partnership-with-toshiba-additionally-sponsored-by-e-teach-twinkl-tickets-13125997211):

Streamlined marking and feedback

Independent learning

Classroom routines that will work for a long-term, established classroom climate

A box of tricks- literally!

Further challenge and duplicated practice

The point? More time for planning, teaching and the privilege of a teacher in front of students that had more than 6 hours sleep the previous night. That’s the dream, right?

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!

#Nuture1415- what a difference a year makes

As the year draws to a close, I wanted to re visit my Nuture1314 post, look back on my then-perception of achievements, and see not only how my aspirations have or have not been completed, but whether they even remain the same. It remains true that this is a career that has completely tilted my view of particular beliefs and values that I thought I was very rigid on, and it is also true that nothing matches hindsight. This may be quite an indulgent way of bringing things to a close, but I have found it more than invaluable to measure my own achievements and happiness against a point that I was previously at- it is immeasurable to grasp a true portrayal of it in any other way.

My #Nuture1314 achievements were:

1. I realised that I am a good mother.
2. I was approached by @tes to write an article for their blog, regarding using iPads within the classroom.
3. I know I can teach.
4. Other things are just as important.
5. I broke Bob’s armour.
6. Y10 actually want C grades.
7. J brought me a tile.
8. I taught my son to read.
9. I went to Venice. And Sherwood Forest. And Cornwall. And Sea Life. And Wistow Maze. And took a row boat out on a lake. And had plenty of picnics. And went to the seaside. And generally remembered how fun my son was/how to be a non stressy, non shouty mother.
10. ERM HELLO THERE MISS. YOU ACED A PGCE.
11. I have learned to relax.
12. I did what couldn’t be done.
13. I have a job.

I have realised this much about myself over the last two years since joining the teaching profession (and maybe that is merely a coincidental effect of my self-awareness during this time)- I find it incomprehensible to believe that something is impossible. Whether I am still completely under the impression as to whether I am personally capable of making it so remains to be seen, but in each year that has passed, I concoct new ways of proving to myself that I can do things.

2014 was meant to look something like this. So how have I managed against the goals that I set for myself?

1. I’ve bought a house. An actual house.
2. I HAVE A TICKET TO SEE ELTON JOHN.
3. I’m going to have all summer off. Yes yes I am.
4. I’m going to be nice, more often and in a more obvious fashion.
5. Remember things!
6. Treats are good.
7. I will not whinge.
8. I want to get better.
9. @gcuoros words, “Do less better.”

My house is much closer to a point of completion that I ever dreamed possible this time last year (after spending over a month on a sofa bed whilst my son had to play human jenga to get to his resting place every night). I have become more over analytical than whinge-fest, and moving my work closer to home has caused me to take a more collected approach to my workload- what does not get done will always wait until Monday. I still adopt the approach to my work that it IS possible to have a balance, and it IS achievable to have a weekend like every other occupation- it is completely dependent on the stage that you can step back and say, ‘that is enough.’ I can only advise others finding this a struggle to remain objective when contemplating a workload- I try to consider everything in a ‘value vs time’ mindset. Of what value is the task- this then determines the time that should be allocated to it. Who will it benefit and to what extremity?

I am nicer. Not that I was a vile dragon previously (not all the time anyway), but I find it more and more comfortable to show those that I care about them that I care, without the expectation of it in return. I remember that other people have their own priorities, and the appreciation that I would feel at having a small gesture to show how important that person is to me can sometimes be priceless. To give without expectation demonstrates complete security of your purpose in the big wide world.

I believe I am a better teacher, again not because I was not before, but because of my own self-awareness. I am capable of identifying and disposing ideas that do not work, and my mind works in a much more linear approach to planning and delivery. Again- value vs time. What will we get out of it? And so, how much time do we dedicate to getting it right?

Enough holistic wittering, let’s work on WWW for this year, and EBI for next..

1. I got a new job.

I am now at a school that I feel that my opinion and worth are valued, that I am a contributory part of a school where the ethos and purposes match my own. I am helping to develop an approach to education that will make the teaching and learning better, and I feel completely supported. Where everyone’s needs differ, mine were that I could be somewhere that openly valued staff, and that I had the trust and opportunities to develop as a teacher. I have both of these and know how lucky I am.

2. I spot patterns.

As people, we often lack the ability to identify that our life is a series of making the same mistakes over and over again- we don’t evolve, we simple spiral by transferring the same behaviours and applying them to different situations, making it even more incomprehensible for us to notice that the pattern itself is still the same- we are still approaching things in the same way. Whilst the context might be different, our reaction and how we respond is still exactly the same- I believe that this is the fundamental error that contributes to our discontentment- either as teachers, or outside of the profession. I am by no means an expert at this- spotting a cycle, and grasping the ability to put something into action to combat it are two very different processes. It is something that the more aware I am of it, the more likely I am to be able to put a plan in place to action a change.

3. I know that now is more important than then or then.

Don’t get me wrong- planning is a key coping mechanism to make us feel like we still have control over a situation- it is the mind’s way of rehearsing for every possible eventuality. However, it is so so easy to think that putting something in place for the future will in some way change what is going on in the present. We get so caught up in nostalgia looking back, or seeking security in setting up the future, that it is unpreventable to then lose sight in what is happening in the here and now. Your well being in the present, and re-evaluating to what extent that is being maintained should take priority over any other spot in your timeline.

4. I still get the mystery.

I am still constantly confused at work- every day, I will participate in a discussion with a child that makes me question the ideals or values that I have placed in something- in a good way. I am excited by my job- I embrace not knowing the outcome of learning, and have never felt as rewarded by anything in the same way that I feel when teaching children how to think with independence and depth.

5. I have the confidence to share my ideas without the doubt that the ideas I have are successful or will be of valued.

This is more about self worth- the most successful people are the ones that do not stop to consider whether what they are saying is worth saying- yes, it is vital that you consider the reaction, the opposition, the alternative, but there is undeniably a huge sense of value to giving yourself the recognition that you have plenty to share.

6. I have worked on projects that I am incredibly proud of- BBC Bitesize, UKED Mag, with other exciting prospects lined up for next year.

I have been given some fantastic opportunities (Thanks to @veldaelliott, again!) this year within a professional capacity, and I cannot tell you what it has done for my sense of pride in my work, and number 5. I won’t dwell too long on this one.

7. I can see practical implementation of how I can contribute.

I can now see where I fit in the educational profession (not completely, or with a particular plan) and how I can add value to that. This is an unfinished one, but at the same time, I can identify my point to a much greater degree than I could twelve months ago.

8. I have been brave enough to set up a teachmeet!

We are go! This is a massive task for me and something I feel incredibly about. Teaching and learning, improving the standards of education in an effortless and inspiring way are so important to me and this will be a fantastic opportunity to do so. Tickets are available via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/leicester-teachmeet-2015-sponsored-by-e-teach-tickets-13125997211 and I could not be more excited to bring a group of teachers together to inspire one another.

9. I have educated and informed myself to confidently hold an opinion on education.

I always assumed everyone knew more than me. Turns out not.

10. I am comfortable.

Both inside and outside of the classroom, I feel a little bit more sure of what makes me happy, and the limits of my own capabilities. I am not superhuman, I cannot fix everything, and I cannot always do what it is that I so desperately want to. Everything is not always possible.

Things to look forward- anyone who follows me, you know I love a to do list!

1. Running a teachmeet without it falling apart at the seams like a poor man’s super sweet sixteen. Cake everywhere.
2. Identifying possibilities and not waiting for opportunities.
3. Running and coordinating a teaching and learning programme within my own school.
4. Not yet knowing where I want to be- that’s exciting! I have constantly toyed with my next steps within my career and where I want to be- I am hoping that this becomes more apparent as new opportunities present themselves to me.
5. Becoming more informed in my practice- I need to fit more stuff into my brain to understand and implement certain ideas.
6. Making plans- both in and outside of school.
7. Wanting to collaborate and share beyond my own Teachmeet.
8. Organise myself but at my own pace, and within my own capabilities.
9. Complete action research, looking at what I believe to be the detriment of interdependence and how to react to that within secondary education.
10. Providing a real-life context to my teaching, so that students can recognise the importance of holding and justifying their opinions and views.

I have also finally FINALLY mapped out plans for two books- one fiction work that has been in my mind for a while and an educational one. Remind me of this when I whinge about not having anything to do.

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.