Refugee Blues: discussion circle

Today I covered for a colleague currently under canvas near Buxton.  His Year 9 group were a revelation.  I decided to do a semi Socratic circle discussion of Auden’s Refugee Blues and discovered that the activity was a novelty for them.  I explained what I wanted, rattled through Edexcel IGCSE S+L assessment criteria and gave them a few minutes to prepare.

Then I said that I would record the event!

This is the outcome.  I think they were brilliant and have produced something that might be used a as a revision tool or as an entry discussion activity.  I hope you enjoy it, and would welcome feedback.  They had no notes for this, only copies of their anthologies.

9S discuss Refugee Blues: 150702_001

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Books which all should read

This is not a VIth form reading list, nor is it the outcome of a recent lower VIth activity to design and justify the texts to form the basis of a new A level course (interesting though that was – The Old Testament through to Trainspotting and beyond…). It is a quick review of two of the most interesting and potentially influnetial education books to have appeared in recent times. Many “names” of the paedagogical world and Twittersphere have already writtne at length and i leav eyou to browse them after my ha’penn’orth.
David Didau and John Tomsett should be required reading for all teachers at all levels and also for anyone with an interest in teaching and learning – including students. If you are an aspiring University Graduand, get hold of a copy of either book and reflect on your education – -see what you come up with and use it to inform discussion and debate.

Didau: What if everything you knew about education was wrong? This is a big book. Over 400 pages have been given over to one of the most interesting reads to arrive for a while. David does not present material based on personal dogma and does not present in a didactic tone which ends up making the reader feel woefully inadequate. Instead his discussion of many of the current issues in teaching is lucid, witty and wonderfully objective. David is open and honest about the fact that, for many, there is a level of engagement with many ideas which “works” even if it shouldn’t. This book is not a sledgehammer, it is a gadfly to make all readers pause and examine their practice before moving on. David manages that tricky skill, to make us empathise with his experience in the profession whilst seeing ourselves in a clearer light. I love his treatment of recent panaceas such as SOLO taxonomy. The alacrity with which many of us seized on what seemed to be a grail like phenomenon has been replaced in many by a slightly shamed retreat. I can relate to this, but it does work in some ways. My blog has many SOLO activities in its pages, and I still believe that the uni-, multi-, relational path is an excellent way to engage students in understanding the current state of their knowledge and understanding. As a result of a youtube video I still relate individual pieces of knowledge to lego bricks and students seem to understand the metaphor as part of the development of writing skills. What has gone are the reliance on the terminology and the wall charts. At last I am reading a book in which my journey through the minefield of paedagogy is validated by an expert who seems to suggest that our journey to excellence should be littered with ideas and experimentation as we strive to improve, before shedding the unnecessary and developing the useful. He is clear and staggeringly well researched and possibly is at his most useful for providing a critique of many strands of practice in one convenient place. Now I can shoot down VAK and Brain Gym, to name two of the most pernicious false dawns to have blighted our profession in recent times, from a single book. This book demands to be read by all who enter and share in a classroom. David blogs at – go and browse the vast range of his posts. You will not regret it.

Tomsett: Followers of John Tomsett’s blog will know already that there are few more honest and humane writers on education. The overwhelming honesty of JOhn’s blog and his willingness to expose his private life as part of the explanation process is something I find extraordinary and humbling. He should also be read by all. His new book:This Much I Know About Love Over Fear … Creating A Culture For Truly Great Teaching is a little masterpiece. It is a guide to running a school, written by someone who does exactly that and it is a book which demands to be read. that said, I think it will be a brave staff member who slips this onto their Head Teacher’s desk simply because it is so demanding of those who hold that role. John is not only adamant that Leaders should be active in the classroom, but this English teacher has also taught Economics and Maths – no hiding there! He is thoughtful and caring of staff and pupils and has brought me up short, once again, with his description of the revelatory moment while teaching Arthur Miller when he had to reassess his entire relationship with his son. Such honesty is rare to read, and yet for most of us in this profession it rings such truth. How many of us are putting job first again and again to the detriment of our private lives? Far, far too many. If you are reading this and have never read John’s blog, dig it out: and change your outlook on education. Then, go and buy this book.

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Planning a coursework essay

For many, coursework is a dirty word. Whilst I am well aware that it can be seen as both a pointless exercise in which someone assists a student to produce “their” essay and also as “free marks” for some students as they approach an examination series which worries them, I believe in coursework as a vital tool for developing students’ critical faculties prior to entering the VIth form and thence to University. It is not the same as the abomination called “Controlled Assessment” which was an aberration now thankfully consigned to the refuse bin of paedagogical pointlessness.

In this Powerpoint I am trying to present to my current IGCSE sets how I might approach a task such as theirs: Explore the presentation of love in 3 poems with reference to 3 more” – catchy and typically circuitous, still that’s the nature of the task for Edexcel IGCSE LITERATURE. We have been working on a range of poets from Shakespeare to Thomas via Rossetti and Achebe. They will not be plagiarising my ideas, quite apart form anything else, I tend to recognise my own writing!

I have been formalising my approach in my mind over the years and have been focused this year an engaging yr 10 with the nature of drafting and improving. We have a little spare time in the calendar and I have been encouraging them to take the time to develop and mature prior to actually writing. All this is quite alien to a group of boys who often wish to dive into a task with little heed of where they might emerge, but it has to be done. Funnily enough, I have just begun to read John Tomsett’s This Much I Know About Love Over Fear … Creating A Culture For Truly Great Teaching a wonderful book by one of the most humane writers on education currently writing and blogging in the UK. In the book, he outlines a similar course of action – I have also stolen his Janus sentences here:  janus sentences – they make so much sense that they will appear in any discussion I have with the students – I urge anyone reading this to read his book and read his many wise ideas about great teaching and leadership.

So, here’s the Powerpoint – feel free to use it or abuse it!
essay planning

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On working abroad:

This link is to a short article on Staffroom (, a brilliant platform to share ideas.

A 500 word limit means it is short, but if anyone is looking at this blog and contemplating the jump to overseas teaching, you might enjoy it.

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Year 10 Edexcel IGCSE examination give back: literature

A give back powerpoint for reference.  The exam paper is the May 2013 Literature paper.  The texts covered are Much Ado and Mockingbird.

Literature feedback


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Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, Harper Lee, Shakespeare

Approaching EDEXCEL IGCSE English Language 2015

This is an updated Powerpoint for delivery to a Year 11 support group on Monday 1st June 2015.  It is designed to support students studying for Edexcel IGCSE/Certificate English Language Paper 1.

Approaching paper 1 edexcel 2015

Here is a sound file of this session in delivery: 150601_001

I have added a few pages to develop the advice given.  Below I have added a few links to the blog and my department you tube channel as well as some specific powerpoints for specific foci.

edexcel-lang-paper-1-top-trumps (1)

preparing-for-unseen-texts (1)  including a link to ISPACED openers  The You Tube Channel Anthology A playlist.

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Mockingbird Window revision

A post to help yr 10 as the prepare for end of year exams.

Mr Iveson’s windows 1

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MUCH ADO about revision

As Year 10 approach their end of year exams, they ahve been making cue cards to assist with their revision.  I will be posting the sets as they arrive.  These are cue cards for quotation banks for the main characters (sans Dogberry) and key themes of Much Ado About Nothing.

I always recommend revising in pairs for this task and using it as a top trumps type of activity or even a tennis match – rallying ideas related to the quotation until they run out of steam…  Never simply a reading exercise!

Claudio flashcards

MAAN Cue Cards – Beatrice


hero (4)


cue cards Benedick

MAAN Revision

Courtly Love english milan and sohan

Beatrice – Quotes PPT

Much Ado About Nothing – Hero


English Homework

maan deceit

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What makes a great King Lear?

This article appeared in the Daily Telegraph and is widely available online:  some general Lear thoughts to stimulate revision ideas:

Sir Laurence Olivier as King Lear

Sir Laurence Olivier as King Lear

Derek Jacobi’s Lear has been garnering extraordinary reviews from seasoned Shakespeare watchers. What is it about this play that makes it the Everest of classical acting? And who are the actors who have crawled their way to the top and planted their triumphant flag on the summit?

It is only since the Sixties that the play has been regarded as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. Before then, Hamlet was taken to be the jewel in the crown. Remarkably, King Lear has been performed more times in the past 50 years than in its entire prior performance history of 350 years. It speaks with special power to a world of global conflict and a sense of impending apocalypse. The on-stage blinding of Gloucester (“Out, vile jelly!”) is the most terrifying moment in all Shakespeare. In Trevor Nunn’s 2007 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Regan set to work with sadistic glee that masked an underlying fear—the moment inevitably conjured up the American soldiers in Abu Ghraib.

For a long time, King Lear seemed either too vast or too horrific for the stage. Charles Lamb, writing in the early 19th century, was typical in proposing that Shakespeare’s anatomy of the human condition was so profound and tempestuous that the play could not be staged: “To see Lear acted — to see an old man tottering about the stage with a walking-stick, turned out of doors by his daughters in a rainy night, has nothing in it but what is painful and disgusting. We want to take him into shelter and relieve him. That is all the feeling which the acting of Lear ever produced in me. The Lear of Shakespeare cannot be acted.”

Lamb was speaking more truly than he knew. In 1811, when he wrote this, the Lear of Shakespeare could indeed not

be acted. The madness of George III meant that the London theatre managers kept this play about an old, mad and despised king off the stage, for fear of offending the court.

A generation before, Dr Samuel Johnson confessed that even reading the play was almost too much to bear: “I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia’s death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.” The shock for Johnson was both emotional and moral. The death of Cordelia —Shakespeare’s boldest alteration of the older versions of the Lear story, in all of which the beloved youngest daughter survives — was an extraordinary breach of the principle that Johnson called “poetical justice”, whereby the good end happily and the bad unhappily.

It was quite in order to impose poetical justice on the play: during the 1680s Nahum Tate, author of the hymn While Shepherds Watched, had rewritten King Lear with a happy ending, in which Cordelia was married off to Edgar. Johnson had some sympathy with this alteration, which held the stage for a century and a half, whereas for Lamb it was yet one more indication that the theatre was not to be trusted with Shakespeare’s sublime vision of universal despair.

The play’s special place in the modern Shakespearean repertoire can be traced back to a moment in the early Sixties when the director Peter Brook read an essay by the Polish literary scholar Jan Kott called King Lear, or Endgame. The unlikely juxtaposition of an epic drama set in Ancient Britain and Samuel Beckett’s nihilistic Endgame, in which dying characters exchange absurd dialogue as they lurk in dustbins in a post-nuclear wasteland, gave Brook a new way into the play. He cast Paul Scofield as the aged king and inspired the great critic Kenneth Tynan to write: “Lay him to rest, the royal Lear, with whom generations of star actors have made us reverently familiar, the majestic ancient, wronged and maddened by his vicious daughters.” Scofield’s Lear was an irascible father, a difficult old man, as much sinning as sinned against.

The genius of Brook and Scofield was that they revealed the play to be about Big Issues — power politics, international conflict, poverty and social exclusion, the condition of humanity in a godless universe — but equally about domestic problems, such as coping with a father who has dementia or dividing an estate between three daughters. The key to a great production is the ability to hold together the huge and the tiny, the universal and the local, the epic and the intimate. Shakespeare’s language makes just this demand, as it moves at speed from vast philosophical questions (“Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?”) to the language of small and ordinary things — garden waterpots, gilded flies and toasted cheese.

To make these shifts an actor needs long experience and terrific stamina. It’s sometimes said that the problem with the part of Lear is that by the time you are old enough to play it, you are too old to play it. Laurence Olivier tried both too soon and too late: on the stage in 1946, still in his thirties, he seemed to be impersonating a whimsical old tyrant rather than actually being one, while on television in 1983, he was too frail for the rage.

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow”: the role is often associated with the barnstorming style of Sir Donald Wolfit, as immortalised in Ronald Harwood’s play about his experience as the old actor-manager’s backstage dresser. But many of the finest modern productions have been in small spaces and a quieter style. For the actor, the real difficulty in playing the part is deciding how much to let rip how soon — if you give too much to the anger in the first half you’re too exhausted for the madness in the second half, but if you have too much control to begin with, the transition into madness can seem too sudden and extreme to be convincing. A slow build and then a relentless stretching out of emotional agony: that’s what works best.

Minimalist design and physical proximity to the audience help tremendously. The three best Lears I have ever seen were all in “black box” studio theatres: they were Tony Church, directed by the late Buzz Goodbody in an RSC “Theatregoround” production, Ian Holm in the little Cottesloe in Richard Eyre’s farewell production as artistic drector of the National, and Lee Beagley with a company called Kaboodle in Liverpool’s tiny Unity Theatre. What they had in common was the ability to range from a whisper and a tear to a curse and a howl. Fancy design on a cavernous stage, by contrast, can all too often lead to a train wreck, as Nigel Hawthorne discovered when he teamed up with the Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa in 1999.

The other key to a great production is the quality of the ensemble. Many a Hamlet has shone even in an indifferent production — as Jude Law did for the Donmar last year — because the character’s soliloquies allow him to hold the stage alone. But Lear, exceptionally for a Shakespearean tragic hero, is hardly ever alone. He constantly bounces off his companions — the Fool, who tries to teach him wisdom; the loyal Kent, who follows in disguise; the other broken aged man whose name is Gloucester.

Many of the most brilliant productions have depended on double acts: Michael Gambon as Lear with Antony Sher as Fool (perched on the king’s lap like a ventriloquist’s dummy), Ian McKellen as Kent standing resolute with Brian Cox’s Lear for Deborah Warner at the National, Alan Webb as Gloucester beside Scofield in both the stage version and the film of the Brook production. Compelling performances from Lear’s antagonists are equally important.

If the reviewers are to be believed, Michael Grandage’s production at the Donmar hits all the buttons: an intimate space and a minimal design, a uniformly strong ensemble, and in Sir Derek Jacobi an actor who has not left it too late, as Olivier did. It sounds as if in pursuit of a ticket we should be taking the advice of Lear himself: “Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.”

Jonathan Bate is Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick

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Shakespeare Sonnets in year 7: work in progress…

I have attached my draft student workbook for a Shakespeare sonnet unit to be used next year in Year 7.  It might be a little advanced… much will depend on delivery and engagement.


The Department You Tube Channel Sonnet playlist: 

I alos recommend the Touchpress App, available on itunes:

After much mind-changing I settled on Sonnets 12,18,55,71,116 and 130 as giving a good range of central topic and providing some spectacular imagery for the students to engage with.  There is a major creative piece in here, otherwise I am trying to establish a strong sense of technical mastery in this unit.

Ethan cracks iambic pentameter in lesson 1: 

Do let me know what you think.  It is work in progress and will be further developed over the summer.

Oh yes: Thank you to the brilliant girls of UCGS Yr 9 who provided the artwork stimuli.

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