Frankenstein: Planning a doppelganger question

  • The question is taken from the June 2013 OCR paper and examines the balance between Frankenstein and his Creature in the light of Doppelganger/Doubles.  I have written on the Doppelganger and suggest that you might like to read  before you embark on the plan.

frankenstein doubles plan

This should be feasible in 10-15 minutes – good luck!

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Frankenstein: Seduction and promises

Frankenstein: Seduction and broken promises.

This is a short stimulus piece designed to look at the pattern of seduction and broken promises that run through the novel. It is not an exemplar essay for examination.

Seduction, it should be remembered does not merely imply a sexual predation, but any attempt to win another over to one’s side and to keep them there.

In the opening Epistolary frame of the novel, Walton reports to his sister that he has met a stranger. Although Frankenstein is at first silent, once he is able to speak his ability to charm Walton and his crew suggests a similarity with a man trying to win over a potential lover rather than merely responding to kindness. Walton is clearly entranced by Frankenstein’s ability to speak: “When he speaks, although his words are culled with choicest art, yet they flow with rapidity and unparalleled eloquence”. It is clear that by the final letter, Walton is entirely seduced and has fallen under Frankenstein’s spell: “Will you smile at the enthusiasm I feel over this divine wanderer?” It seems that his suffering, together with the way he has told his story, has completely won over Walton who is trying to convey the power of Frankenstein’s words to his sister, safe in London and removed from the novel. Not only Walton, of course, but “even the sailors feel the power of his eloquence” to the extent that they temporarily view the ice cap as little more than “mole hills”. But it seems to be temporary. Once the voice is removed, so the power fades. Walton is clear that his sister will not be moved since she does not hear the tale “from his own lips” and this suggests a seducer who’s power extends to all who hear him, though they may not be aware of the seduction itself. In this there is a clear reference to the power of the “Glittering eye” of the Ancient Mariner, a poem referenced by Walton himself earlier in the frame. The voice seems to carry power. The reader should note that since Walton narrates the entire book of frames within frames, we are also likely to be spared the power of seduction since we never “hear” Frankenstein’s voice other than through Walton’s narrative. To this end, there is an interesting feature of the writing in that the voices of Frankenstein and the Creature are almost identical despite the assertion that the Creature speaks in a voice that though “harsh, had noting terrible in it”. Thus there is no identifiable change in voice or tone regardless of which strand of the story we are reading and the focus sits squarely n the story itself. Character is denied a clear point of view.

It is rare to be led outside the narrative, but it happens in the Justine sequence in terms of the letter Frankenstein is reported to have received from Elizabeth. Crammed with detail that seems irrelevant but which sets up the first murder – that of William – the letter has a 2nd person narrative in terms of the introduction of “Justine, you may remember…”. This jars a little but is unavoidable in the telling. The full detail of this scene has to wait for the Creature’s telling in Frame 3 – Justine is unable to construct any meaningful defence (women in this novel seeming to be very poor communicators) to seduce her prosecutors and gain he rightful freedom since she does not know the truth of what happened. The only one who does is the creature, and the tale he tells suggests his response to failed seduction.

When the Creature narrates the events leading to William’s death, the image is clear. He wishes to seduce William to “seize him and educate him as my companion and friend”. Seeing William as unprejudiced he makes a clumsy attempt to befriend him (the wish for a companion echoing that of Walton), and finally kills him in a fit of rage as he hears the name “Frankenstein”. There is little doubt that his feelings are aroused by the image in the locket a she gazes “on the dark eyes, fringed by deep lashes, and her lovely lips” before his sexual passion is replaced by rage. However on finding Justine alone he gazes at the sleeping girl and remembering the locket is engaged once again in an attempted seduction: “Awake fairest, they lover is near”. Despite his body thrilling to the sight, he is once again unable to pursue his seduction and invents a pretext for killing Justine: “the crime had it source in her, let her be the punishment”. It is the telling of this tale in the frame in which the Creature is using his rhetoric to seduce Frankenstein that leads to the request to create the Eve-Creature. The honesty of the Creature’s narrative is designed to win the agreement of Creator to make a partner.

One can also see the Creature as a failed seducer in his attempts to win over the De Lacey’s. He watches over his family from “afar” and is material in assisting their recovery and relative prosperity before he decides to go to the next stage – integration. In his conversation with De Lacey, who is sightless, it is his ability to talk eloquently that seems to be the winning feature of the scene. He wins De Lacey’ confidence: “ I have no relation or friend on this earth”, before seeking to win his confidence in a story about his raising by a “French family” which avoids the need to tell the truth whilst managing not to be a direct lie. He finally resorts to emotional blackmail, crying: “You and your family are the friends whom I seek. Do not desert me in the hour of trial”.

The two stories are recounted in Frankenstein’s narrative and need to be seen in the context of his purpose – the seduce or win Frankenstein to his request for a partner. His wish is clearly for sexual consummation and he needs to extract a promise from Frankenstein to assist in his desire. Frankenstein will, while telling this tale attempt exactly the same from Walton at the end of the novel: “Swear to me Walton, that he shall not escape, that you will seek him…”. Although Frankenstein promised a moral tale at the beginning of his narration, the Creator and the Creature seem to have the same purpose in their narrative – to extract a binding promise form the listener.

Thus promises seem to dominate the Frames of the novel. In addition to the two mentioned, Walton has promised his crew that he would sail South as soon as the ice melted, only to seek to humour Frankenstein and renege. So we should consider the litany of broken promises in both the main narratives and the minor plot devices. Apart from the obvious breaking of the promise to create Eve-Creature, which absolves the Creature form his promise to leave the known areas of the Earth, promises are a feature of the narratives of Walton’s crew and the De Lacey’s which echo each other in the early frames. The apparent digression by Walton to discuss his first mate serves to show the power of a promise kept against the odds and bringing misery on the promiser. He remains “silent like the Turk”, a simile which gains relevance only when the tale of Safie is told at the centre of the novel. Here we see Safie’s father -a Turk – renege on a promised marriage and become the catalyst for all the woes to befall the De Lacey family. That both promises are concerning marriage is, of course, relevant given the role that Frankenstein’s broken promise on the same subject will play in the destruction of his own marriage to Elisabeth. The Creature makes a promise atop Mont Blanc when he promises to “quit the neighbourhood of man” and in so doing ensures his temporary seduction of Frankenstein to do his bidding. Whilst Frankenstein never speaks the words “I promise”, his adoption of the Creature’s request is evident form all that follows. In fact this is the last in a series of failed seductions. However powerful the Creature’s rhetoric, he has no hold over Frankenstein once the latter is out of the range of his voice and the Eve-Creature is eventually destroyed. It is this destruction that sets in train the events of Frankenstein’s wedding night thus ensuring that no marital harmony will exist in the novel.
At the heart of the destruction of the family and marriage lie broken promises. The promises are extracted by the force of rhetoric and all are driven by male narrators. It seems that women have little power to persuade by rhetoric in this novel and are regularly to fall victim to broken promises and failed seduction.

The single female who is untouched is Margaret, Walton’s sister. She sits outside the framework of the novel and is protected from the power of both Frankenstein’s and the Creature’s rhetoric by the power (or otherwise) of Walton’s narrative. Although the tale is meant to be “strange and harrowing” it is Walton who hears the “full toned voice” swelling in his ears and it is he who is seduced by the tale.

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Paul Mason on Jerusalem: “Butterworth’s Jerusalem: the full English”

This article is copied from the blog of Paul Mason, working for BBC Newsnight.  The original can be found here:

Butterworth’s Jerusalem: the full English

[in July I promised to write a blog about Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem. Here, finally, it is.]

“This, Wesley, is a historic day,” says a middle aged drunken traveller, posed at the front of his caravan with various no-hopers, low-lifes, teenage runaways and misfits from semi-rural England…”For today I Rooster Byron and my band of educationally subnormal outcasts shall swoop and raze your poxy village to dust. In a thousand years Englanders will awake this day and bow their heads and wonder at the genius, guts and guile of the Flintock Rebellion…”

It’s just one glorious speech out of many from Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, staged at the Royal Court Theatre this summer with Mark Rylance in the role of Johnny “Rooster” Byron, and set to be revived early in 2010.

Butterworth’s play achieves two things: in Rooster he has created one of the most compelling, complex and iconic characters in modern British theatre; at the same time he has managed to capture an era in British political and social life at the very moment of its ending.

Jerusalem was five years in the writing and depicts the life of a poor-ish, prospectless, rave-addicted, casual drug using, unskilled social group that is absolutely central to the society we live in, but which the media barely notices exists. It captures their reality better than any soap opera and their dreams better than any tawdry Saturday night talent show.

Life for such people is about to get very tough. Indeed, the economic data tells us that the UK’s “flexible labour market” has already been the key to avoiding mass unemployment. The real life Daveys, Lees and Tanyas have gone on short time, taken pay cuts, slept on floors at their mates’ houses, worked for no wages (in what our parents’ generation used to call overtime).

They have scrabbled around the bargain shelves of major supermarkets, shopped in the pound shops, borrowed from doorstep lenders and bunged their electrical goods into Britain’s booming pawnbroking sector. As we go into 2010, they will now be faced with an economic “recovery” in which public services are cut, benefits are very likely frozen or slashed, credit is in short supply and all political parties implore them to “help themselves” and become “social entrepreneurs”.

The sociology of Jerusalem is interesting: Rooster is a drug-dealer and fairground daredevil rider, a kind of anti-social entrepreneur. In real life he would be drawing some kind of benefit. Of the three young male foils to Rooster, Lee is “a pisshead and a wizzhead” about to emigrate to Australia; Ginger is an unemployed plasterer with delusions of being a DJ; Davey is a slaughterman. The West End theatre reviewers tended to describe this demographic as a “bucolic underclass”, “wastrels”, “waifs and strays”.

But the power of the play lies in the fact that Rooster’s band of outcasts are not at all marginal to real life in Britain. They are only marginal to the “real life” portrayed on soap operas and the slick, unreal drama series that British TV specialises in making – and of course to the pop tribute shows and star vehicles that clutter the West End.

Jerusalem then, is real. The plasterer, the DJ, the weekend drug dealer, the ex-squaddie looking to work abroad, the bored slaughterman – are mainstream figures in the real English workforce and down the real English pub: two million ecstasy tablets are taken in Britain every week; one in eight young people are not in work, education or training; 15% of all households claim in-work benefits.

Also real is the effing and blinding which seems to have uniformly discomforted the mainstream theatre critics: the swear wordcount in Jerusalem is acutally low compared to reality, and the swearing is generally genial, compared to reality where it is often aggressive, racist and violent. This, then, is the real English spoken by something close to the majority of real people: it’s an indictment of the state of theatre (also, while I am at it, English literature, which has recently become dominated by surreal narratives told in a kind of quasi-poetry) that the language of Jerusalem is seems so challenging to theatregoers and critics alike. For this alone Jerusalem will go down as one of the great plays of the decade.

But Jerusalem’s greatness is that it is also hyper-real. In Rooster Byron the playwright has created a character who both embodies, understands and rebels against everything that is wrong with this real England. (I am deliberately not writing here about Mark Rylance’s superb rendition of Byron, because I think the play is even bigger than the performance).

A relentless fantasist and purveyor of tall stories to his mates, Rooster is also the protector of runaway kids abused by their parents, a serial rebel against the planning department of Kennet and Avon council, the local bogeyman whose anti-social behaviour can fill the local church hall with outraged Rotarians (“You get a cup of tea. Flapjack. Then they all sit down on foldy chairs and go beserk.”). He is also a force of nature: Falstaff and Henry V in the same body, the original Green Man of pagan folklore whose face vomiting vegetation can be found on the corbels of early medieval churches all over England.

And he embodies magic. At the centre of the play, which is dark in ways impossible to discuss without revealing the plot, is the ambiguity between Rooster’s tall tale telling (I will call it that because this is a BBC blog but you know the word I am thinking of) and the tantalising question of whether or not he really has magical powers. Is the 90ft tall giant who once gave Rooster an earring in the shape of a golden drum on Salisbury Plain, and who will one day be Rooster’s own personal close protection guy in showdown with Kennet and Avon Council, real or imaginary?

By placing this unreal, magical, flawed, wounded, complex character onstage amid an unflinching portrayal of real life in low-skill, low-pay, low-horizon England (“When I leave Wiltshire, my ears pop,” says one character) Butterworth asks layer upon layer of questions about the society we live in.

And the biggest one is this: what would happen if this happy go lucky world of cheap booze, semi-employment, casual sex, Saturday night raves etc were one day disrupted by something serious. What if the music stopped, the benefit office closed its doors and the caravan got dragged away by the council.

The coming fiscal crunch has made this a relevant question. Because Butterworth’s characters are captured at the end of an era of debt-fuelled consumption, cheap credit and amoralistic drift. When we sit in London and say: the Greeks’ lifestyle can’t go on; or Latvia is living above its means; or Dubai was a dream built on sand, Butterworth’s play shows us there are equally telling observations to be made about British society in the era of Shopacheck and whizz at £3 a tab.

And what still stuns me is how new and raw and original and terrifying life in semi-rural working class Britain seems when viewed through the experience of Rooster and his mates. And the very low chances of escaping it.

As whizzhead Lee explains to slaughterman Davey:

“Ever since I’ve known you, come Tuesday you ain’t never got a pound for a saveloy. You’re broke…You are a sad, fat povvo what thinks he’s Alan Sugar. You’re going to live your whole life with the same ****ing people, going to the same s*** pubs, kill two million cows and die a sad fat povvo.”

Davey, capturing the spirit that has sustained the downtrodden English bloke from Agincourt to Helmand replies:

“Sounds unimproveable”.


Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem” is published by Nick Hern Books in association with the Royal Court Theatre. The Royal Court production reopens at London’s Apollo Theatre in January.

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Links to articles about Urbanisation relative to Jerusalem (Butterworth)

These links are to articles which I find relevant to an understanding of Butterworth’s play and will serve as a starting point for next year’s Year 12 teaching.

From Newcastle University, on issues caused by counter-urbanisation

From the Telegraph: Readers feelings about country/urban dwelling:

newcomers struggle in the face of rural life:

Prince Charles on valuing the country, and the response:

On the shrinking Green Belt:

On housing issues in the 21st century:

The countryside is not for the fainthearted:

On Child Poverty in Wiltshire:

Songs: Scallywag by Jake Thackray:

Werewolf: This song opens Act 2

Jerusalem sung by Billy Bragg:

Train Song by Tom waits:  (the original of Rooster’s insemination?)

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The Forest: Butterworth’s setting for Jerusalem or “What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?”

The Forest: Butterworth’s setting for Jerusalem or “What the fuck do you think an English forest is for?”

To Shakespeare, the forest is a place of opposites and a location for clandestine activities. In his plays Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like it, the forest can be seen as an antidote to the “new world” of a harsher time. The fairies operate beyond the human sphere and are linked to mischief and to nature, without any of the restrictions – moral or temporal – placed upon Theseus or the lovers. Puck can defy time and space and the fairy world will survive its invasion after playing with the interlopers, who might leave a little wiser than before. In As You Like It, the forest of Arden hearks back to a “time before” – a better time in which a wiser ruler has returned to nature with his court as an echo of the brash modernism of his brother’s urban court.
Butterworth’s play seems to be a natural descendant of these forests. We have a forest clearing, which is threatened by the forces of urbanization and modernism. However, the water is muddied because of the spectacularly ambivalent reaction of an audience to Johnny, whose domain this is – the Oberon of North Wiltshire. However much one wishes to sympathise with Johnny, one is equally appalled and can understand the wish of the council to move on a drug dealer/potential paedophile. That said, ultimately Johnny wins over the audience – his personality is simply too huge and his ultimate fate at the hands of Troy is too grotesque for us to harbour hatred for the character.

The play opens with a fairy in a forest as Phaedra sings Blake’s poem, which gives the play its name (and Johnny his only weak moment when playing Trivial Pursuits). Blake’s poem is a poem of questions and a poem, which clearly locates the play in England (where the poem has become an unofficial National Anthem) and in a world which is reflecting on the past. As the word “Satanic” is sung, the hymn is replaced with thumping music and the curtain opens to reveal “Waterloo” – an old caravan in a clearing. There is some form of rave taking place, which continues until peace settles on the scene and nature establishes itself in the form of birdsong. Into this world come two outsiders who are on a mission to purify the forest and rid it of the demon who lives there. Fawcett and Parsons are apt names for these moral cleansers. The illusion of timelessness in this opening which moves seamlessly through the passage of one night is shattered by the first words uttered: “Time” (Fawcett) which establishes the opposites at work. In the forest time is not important, but to the outside world it is the measure of all things.

Which came first, Rooster or the wood?

Johnny is a figure of power in this wood, he pulls the youth of Flintock to his call and also has enthralled Ginger – old enough to know better as a lieutenant – though one who seems perpetually to be let down and who will eventually have to be pushed away before Johnny’s final destructive clash with the world. In his Wood, outside power does not exist, but throughout the play the reminders of the council and the waiting forces of the police are a threat which never lifts despite his braggadocio.
The play is set on 23rd April, St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s Birth/Death day and both readings are clearly relevant in an England which can turn a “rural display” into slaughter in the car park or couple floats representing the myth of St George with others reflecting the invented fantasy world of Lord of the Rings or the rush for meaningless celebrity embodied in the X factor.
In the wood, none of this exists. It is all discussed and shown for the tawdry money making operation that it is: Wesley, when discussing his role of the “Barley Sword Bearer” is embarrassed by Johnny (“something is deeply wrong”) and hides behind the excuse that this is a “Swindon level decision”, thus evoking a larger urban authority than the parish council. In the face of such power, it is suggested, we are helpless.

But Johnny belongs to a different world. He has taken over this corner of Wiltshire and squatted in the wood for 27 years. Even his piss seems to be a marking of territory like that of some great feral beast and some form of libation to the Gods of the past (it is greeted by a choir singing off stage). His world is inhabited by losers and dropouts and by those for whom the urban world does not offer enough. He works as a force of nature and has clearly worked his way through many of the bedrooms of the town and is clearly selling drugs and alcohol to the underage children who sit on his doorstep. In a curious way he is also protecting them: the mysterious Phaedra is evidently safer with him (whatever that means) than with her predatory step-father and the others are given a chance to experiment and taste life in a relatively controlled environment. It is not Johnny who has caused Tanya Cawley to drink, but he has provided the means. He and Wesley reminisce in Act 1 saying “Of course they’re bloody drinking” when reminded of the age of the children and recalling the days when a less puritanical attitude ruled the country and the Flintock fair of 1969 was a scene of sexual license and debauchery. The suggestion is that the Puritanical outlook of the modern world has resulted in kids “sit[ting] in bus shelters, freezing their bollocks off” or being barred form Wesley’s pub or visiting Johnny as a place of safety. Nature, says Johnny, will always have its way even when outsiders try to impose a new order upon it.

Rooster’s Wood is to be bulldozed to make way for homes. Many have been built recently and the incomers are complaining about Johnny (despite or because of his effectiveness as a handy man). In the 21st century so many villages within 100 miles of London have become dormitory villages for commuters the soul of the rural life is being destroyed. The reality is that village shops close, pubs lack regulars, petrol prices make it hard for the villagers to travel around and employment is almost non-existent in many cases. In the wood, time has not moved on and Johnny is still ruler of misrule over a group of outsiders whose village is being taken over by puritanical forces who wish there to be nothing to represent nature to the natural in their new environment. The “green and pleasant land” is both less green and considerably lass pleasant in this new version.

“What the fuck do you think an English Forest is for?”

In Act 3 Johnny poses this question to Fawcett and Parsons. His time is running out and he has heard the litany of names who have signed the petition to be rid of him. He has had to stop Fawcett from reading the list. His only defense is the one cited earlier that the forest is a place of refuge and that many are safer here than at home. He cries “Bang your gavels. Bring your warrants. You can’t make the wind blow”. The suggestion is both that the law is transitory in the face of nature and also that perhaps he can do this. Indeed the end of the play with its majestic chant and curse over the giant’s drum certainly suggests forces of a higher level than Kennet and Avon Council being summoned into battle. Johnny might be delusional, but there is a clear suggestion that we should not meddle with forces we do not understand. The forest allows Johnny to be such a force. He is the product of a spectacularly mythological insemination and carries hugely rare blood (or so he says). Throughout the play the forest has been a place where fantastical stories can told as though they are truths and where a man can live who has already died twice as a result of his Dare Devil riding. Might it not survive this latest setback?

However, we should not overlook the Forest as a place of potential evil. Though Shakespeare uses his forest as a critique of an overly Puritanical world, the 19th Century German forest is a place of nightmares and terrors as explored in much Gothic literature and true fairy tales. Nothing good ever comes from a visit to the hut in the woods! If Johnny is the Wolf, is he also a dragon? At the end of Act 2 the professor is left alone on stage to recount the tale of St George. The dragon lives in a “swamp” on the edge of a city and St George is serving all by clearing the city of this nuisance. Again, should we see Johnny as a dragon polluting the charm of the rural idyll? Certainly his drug taking and drinking have little to do with a pure nature which might refer back to the nymphs and shepherds of Virgil’s Eclogues. However isn’t it the case that the Forest and nature is always sanitized for the comfort of the urban elite? Real rural poverty offends – look at Tess of the D”Urbervilles – and the idea that rural dwellers are all somehow pure and fairy-like is an utter nonsense.

The forest tells us that Nature was here long before the modern obsession with the urbanization of the country seen in building projects and a need to reflect a “time before” in all celebrations of Englishness. Does anyone take Morris Dancing seriously as a link to heritage? Does anyone pause to consider what life was like in the 1940s when a Spitfire sweeps above our heads? The message I take from this play is that we have lost touch with our heritage and that the Forest setting represents an exploration of the difference between us and them – they might be uncomfortable to recognize as a rawer version of ourselves, but we need to be aware of the existence of a less sanitized and potentially less safe world that has existed and will exist again.

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This powerpoint contains 25 slides, each with a quotation missing key words and the original quotation for confirmation.  It is a game I play with Year 13 and that I wish them to make for themselves…

Simple idea:  Fill in the gap and then talk about the quotation focusing on SCASI issues – setting, character, action, style, ideas…

Should be fun and should be used by students working together as part of their revision.

quotation discussion set

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Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, quotation tests King Lear, revise quotations

#TLAB15: another great day of CPD for the brain.

Yesterday I attended my third #TLAB conference: TLAB15. The theme this year was “All in the mind” and once again Nick Dennis had corralled a wide range of talent to give us a Saturday to remember. For once, I chose wisely and enjoyed a sense of relationship running through my sessions as we looked at ways in which to best harness the adolescent brain to do our bidding. I also attended an exciting Leadership Panel. More of that later.

Prof Sarah Jayne Blakemore of UCL kicked the day off with a keynote addressing the social adolescent brain.

Beginning with the fact that the years 18-25 show the most common openings for the onset of schizophrenia despite utterly normal teenage years, she entertained with snippets of brainlore : Did we all know that the brain shows clear distinct behaviours despite cultural differences. Not only that but we were introduced to Adolescent Rat Alcohol Issues – who knew that rats have a couple of days of adolescence in which they drink alcohol in greater quantity when with their peers?  Shakespeare got it right it seems: Winters tale 3.3

I would there were no age between ten and three and
twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is
nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging
the ancientry, stealing, fighting-
Indeed, it is clear that the bulk of the years spent at secondary school are the period of developments of social self; of risk taking and peer influence.

Paradox of adolescence: Most healthy time of life and most prone to take risks. A pack mentality is a serious indicator of increased risk taking. this is not news to teachers or parents, but the key question is why peer effect has such a major impact on adolescent risk taking.

Experimentation exists showing adolescents as hyper sensitive to social exclusion. Fear can be a contributor to this process. We were shown a smoking analogy to illustrate the fact that a
young adolescent can been shown to alter perception more based on peers than on adults perception. This might suggest an alteration to delivery of some lessons such as PSHE AND and the like and suggests that the use of peers in y 9 &10 might be more effective than staff. Other areas were covered: Brain development continues well into 20s; Environmental conditions can effect the synaptic development/loss post puberty; Most change takes place to the prefrontal cortex thus automatic responses can be altered at his time. This area controls self control and social behaviours. Thus different cognitive strategies are required between adults and adolescents in terms of same task.

A fascinating talk which made me want to get into studying of an area which is genuinely pushing at the boundaries of knowledge. Prof. Blakemore wears her erudition lightly and is all the more impressive because of it. A great start.

The best thing about TLAB is that it is not a conventional day of CPD. We were not learning about KS3 or a new syllabus, but looking at the implications and applications of discussion. We are free to draw our own conclusions about how to use information we receive.

With this in mind, I attended Mike Grenier’s session on Slow Education.
Grenier presented the ideas around this: Rather than confirming expectations we need to take time to consider. The warm up tasks themselves were designed to force the brain into spasm – Brains want to find patterns to presuppose sequencing and save time. This is addressed at length in Stephen Pinker’s modern guide to writing:
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. We played with visual games from Chomsky: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously and the old favourite ??e one, two , three… ten, ????, ??e?n, ?in? The fact that the tow “same length” lines weren’t just added to the fun. KS5 brain teasers? Sorted. The idea is that Literary texts need to move from quick response instinctive reading to a slower reasoned approach.

Slow response to words suggests that expectations are set up and then destroyed by subsequent words. Brain does not expect green to follow colourless and thus denotation is impossible so we make metaphors. The sentence is grammatically perfect but carries no meaning. The range of discussion is enormous: word order ideas, possibility of meaning idea…. Should be an invitation for discussion and creative thought.

He moved onto Slow Reading ideas. His suggestion of a range of marks for annotation helped to create a dialogue between creative reader and creative writing. Revision programmes could be structured around this idea, especially when studying poetry or with the idea of critique of peers’ writing. Potentially exciting approach to reading and invitation for discussion. Application works well from primary to eps and throughout the school. a simple tick for understanding and a range of others: ! for surprise and excitement, ? for non understanding and a double ?? for utter bemusement, an * to suggest importance and so on. Again, I am not sure where I will use this, but that is the point. CPD as a slow burn – because we do not have to “learn” at this conference, the results can be exciting.

Another reminder for us all was the discussion of the value of silent thought. Allowing 3 or 4 minutes of silent reading and thought followed by a discussion of what one remembers strikes me as a useful way of revising my IGCSE poetry collection… The day is about the stimulus for ideas. Students are encouraged not to fear uncertainty and hope to be excited. We all should be excited by the chance to be engaged. Cloze type activities can improve or engage discussion and are not new to me – I use a Wilfred Owen Anthem task in this way – using the range Owen’s drafts to engage with discussion of the effect of lexis in a poem.

On talk,we explored the idea that Grice’s maxims are utterly applicable to good practice:
Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).
Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.
We could consider in the light of the teacher-talk debate. Key is not a percentage and we should have the confidence to respond as the situation requires rather than as we think a putative inspector wishes.

In the afternoon I heard David Fawcett discussing planning and engaging with retention of information and teacher/student work balance. Rather than adding to workload we need to consider how to eliminate the need for students to receive extra lessons. He suggested that the over common “School within a school” is not an option – work life balance is destroyed and therein doubtful plausibility of success. We need to consider where our curriculum planning can include techniques to help retention. Much was based on work by Robert Bjork and ties in with the research by Daniel T Willingham. Much was familiar from my reading, but again I was forced to consider application. A sit happens, I will review my plans for a new KS3 curriculum outline with this in mind. Teaching in the right order to allow development of knowledge and engaging with regular testing to develop long term retention can be planned for. The aim is for a bend of high storage strength and easily retrieved information. I want to make these ideas explicit in my planning for the KS3 curriculum to ensure that all my staff are conscious of the need to develop this area.

This was explained by Schema Building – illustrated by Hawaii. Can students do this about all our texts/topics? To help them we need to build in development of retrieval via desirable difficulties (Bjork).The idea is that new knowledge requires prior knowledge to enable learning to take place. Thus planning should probably engage with ensuring that knowledge is incremental. I also like the idea of pretesting at the beginning of the module to see what is known and to begin the learning process. A brief discussion of interleaving: breaking up units to teach in sections completed the session.

The day ended with another Professor: Professor Barbara Oakley discussing Learning how to Learn.

This was about getting in touch with self and with students’ selves and asking “How did you do it?” The question based on Oakley’s background as a non maths and non technical student who became a professor of engineering.

How do we learn? Oakley presented a simplified brain function: focused and diffuse – and used a Pinball machine on a brain analogy. The Focused Mode will develop patterns based on familiarity and the Diffuse Mode has fewer patterns and thus can be used to get engaged with new topics. This took me back to the discussion about slow reading from earlier in the day. Students need to realise that it is ok to stop. This relates to the feeling of banging ones head against a brick wall. Dali and Edison were presented as examples of using the diffuse mode successfully. The idea of a key or a ball bearing being held while relaxing in the diffused mode was used to show ideas slowly merging into focus. Ideally we need to consciously recognise the two different modes. Oakley’s simplifications were helpful and encouraged easy assimilation of neuroscience by a total layman.

She also addressed procrastination. This is a response often caused by literal brain-pain when faced by the unknown. There is a strike choice: Avoid or persevere. Overlong procrastination is damaging. The Pomodoro technique can help: Set a timer and remove all external stimulus to allow utter focus in 25 minutes. At the end of this time a totally mindless activity must take place for a short period of time. It is important not to focus on finishing a task. Once the focus shifts to worrying about focus itself, let it return to task.

Sleep is vital for learning. Apparently, sleep allows brain cells to shrink and the toxins created during wakeful thought can clear away. Sleep also allows neurone to develop new synapses which alter the potential of the brain to take on and use information. I have no idea if this is true, but I see no reason to doubt anything I heard.

Oakley’s 10 tips are attached below.

oakley tips

I was encouraged to learn that poor memory is often a sign of creativity since there is a constant development and replacement of information. Slow thinking can be a positive boon… Allows time to develop thinking.

In the morning I had also attended a Leadership panel discussion between Tom Sherringham, Alan Gray and Tricia Kelleher, chaired by Dr Rona MacKenzie. A wide range of discussion was forthcoming. My particular interest was in the OFSTED discussions. Sherringham’s assertion that “outstanding” should be removed seem utterly sensible. Not only is it a given that that there will be schools currently carrying “outstanding” from inspections long ago that have fallen from grace, but the subjectivity of observation showed to exist by Professor Coe at Durham University suggests that there really is little safety in such nomenclature. It also seems evident that gaming can alter the perception of inspectors and, more importantly, that since all schools can improve, it is fallacious to suggest that a school has somehow reached nirvana. He suggests two types of school – the good and the bad. Discussion was lively around this area and showed up the benefit of a discussion spanning Maintained and Private sectors.

So, are Leaders born or made? Future leaders are visible from day 1. Allowing autonomy is key to this as is allowing stress. A leader must get to know the personalities and characters of their teachers. In addition development objectives should be explicit and focus in development rather than targets. Retention of staff is key to developing a successful school. There is a need to create a culture where people wish to stay. Sherringham commented that targets should allow feedback without judgement of the individual. It can help if targets are set which do not rely on data and result pressure. Kelleher added that the focus of the leader should not be on inspections. The inspection should be about the whole school rather than individual teachers. Remove the pressure from the staff and allow creativity and development to thrive. Gray added that leadership should develop a wish to lead. This can be risky and leader has to be on hand.

It was felt that Middle leaders need to show willingness to move beyond own area and look for opportunity to shine. Don’t wait to be invited, look for own opportunity was the clear message from all three of the panel. Know yourself. Gray noted that he had no wish to micromanage and to have ML with a willingness to inspire was important. He suggested the us of “We” at interview- to show a willingness to be part of the new team.

When asked about learning from either sector either way, Sherringham was impressed by the audacity of leadership in independent Sector whilst Kelleher commented that the maintained sector often has the more imaginative and exciting teaching.

I value these conferences and will be signing up for #TLAB16 as soon as I can. No review could be complete without recognition of @NickDennis who has run the three conferences so far and who is stepping down as the conference looks to broaden its base by engaging with two other local schools/organisations Astra And Chesham Grammar. It goes from strength to strength and shows the simplistic thought behind calls for Private schools to share their expertise or face loss of status. The flow goes in both directions and when removed form politics it flows strongly. Days such as this allow this to happen. As Dennis said in his opening address – “we all do the same job”.

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Filed under exam techniques, Paedagogy, teacher training

King Lear resource for Wheel of Fortune

I am trying to develop a resource for revising the wheel of fortune idea in Lear.  So far I have come up with these sheets…  not over proud of them, but will tinker and post some of the results when students have used them…  Feel free to use and adapt, though I’d really appreciate you letting me see the adaptations.

wheel of fortune

The idea is to fill in the points at which the wheel moves for each character and then to use spokes to add material relevant to the event…

Examples of student work:

lear wheels 1

Lear wheels 2

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Filed under OCR A level, OCR English Literature, Shakespeare

A Life Unloved: Thoughts on IKOTC for CIE lit.


An excellent post from a blog called Exit Pursued by a bear  – a great source of material for students looking for critical writing.  They’ve even put up one of mine this month!

There’s not a lot around for King of the Castle, so fill your boots, Year 11.

Originally posted on Pursued By a Bear...:

How the absence of love leads to tragedy in ‘I’m the King of the Castle’

J Sugden looks at how Mrs Kingshaw’s lack of love for her son overwhelmingly contributes to the novel’s tragic conclusion.

PJ Merrel was quite right to note in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, that to label Hooper as an evil monster oversimplifies our understanding of the text because it ‘removes the responsibility of those around him’. It seems staggeringly clear throughout I’m the King of the Castle that others, aside from Hooper, are in large part to blame for what happens. For me, one of the key reasons that Kingshaw ends up committing suicide is because he feels entirely alone and entirely unloved. In her acknowledgement, Susan Hill notes that whilst some readers have complained Kingshaw’s suicide is unbelievable, she herself felt that it was inevitable. I’ve read the novel many times, and I…

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Filed under CIE IGCSE, IGCSE support

Mockingbird table top plans

Year 10 worked to create plans for two questions:

“Explore the significance of Heritage in the novel”

‘”The summer is going to be a hot one” – explore this quotation with particular focus on ch 12-15″

Their work is on the PDFs for them to download – -feel free to use it.

heritage essay

hot summer planning

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Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, IGCSE support, KS4