Category Archives: teacher training

Year 9 discuss The Knife of Never Letting Go

My year 9 boys are working on Ness’s Knife of Never Letting Go. Here they discuss the text at the mid-point of study. Please feel free to use the sound files for critique of Speaking and Listening skills…

NOTE these are broadly off the cuff discussions – preparation was minimal.

 

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On Trump: TOK and his ban…

A short activity for ToK students.  We do not offer full ToK at school – we are not an IB school- but I teach an additional studies session of ToK on a Monday. I like to mix my more hypothetical discussions with the sort of ‘real life’material which would form the basis for a presentation.

Trump’s recent ban on immigration from some Muslim countries is such an opportunity.

2-trump

trump-wall

A lively debate ensued.

 

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We are not teaching them to pass exams…

A recent post in the Guardian Secret Teacher  column focused on a school in which plagiarism was given tacet permission to take place as part of the essay writing process. 

I am not surprised by this. I have taught many students over the years who view plagiarism as a fully acceptable approach to essay writing. What is possibly worse is that that do so knowing that if the matter is raised with their parents, the response will be supportive of their position- the argument being that anything is legitimate in the thirst for high marks, as long as one is not caught.

Most  schools have a plagiarism policy which will get tough- eventually. Obviously with so much riding on assessment of outcome rather than process, nowhere is going to act as strongly as some might wish for a first offence.

My feeling is that not to act is to fail as an educator. I do not believe that I am teaching children to pass A levels as a finite action. Surely we teach to pass students to the next level. Primaries are preparing children for secondary study, not for KS2SATS; KS4 is about preparing for A Levels and KS5 is about preparing for further education. To give any suggestion that a lack of academic honesty is acceptable is to fail to provide a good education.

In the internet world, students routinely cut and paste notes, homework and essay content in many schools. Some “educators” suggest that google can and should replace knowledge. In essence this encourages the actions of such short-term practices as replacing research with plagiarism, and replacing hard work with under-considered internet browsing. 

In short, to turn a blind eye to plagiarism is to condone cheating and to condone cheating is to fatally undermine the whole point of education.

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A level unseen: Dystopia (OCR)

This unseen is based on a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. The passage is beneath the unseen.  This was 55 minutes writing…

My response might read thus: using the SCASI structure as a basis for the writing.

McCarthy’s 2006 novel  is part of the post-apocalyptic dystopian novel group which has appeared since the end of World War 2. It seems that the after-effects of the atom bomb focused thought towards the possible fate for the human race following a disaster of some kind. Novels from the 1950s seem to be focused on the idea of warfare or ‘alien’ interaction, possibly reflecting the anti-communist sentiments of the era – Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids would be an example, whereas the late 20th Century saw in increase in plots derived from the potential danger of medical disasters. A good example might be Stephen King’s The Stand, in which a strain of flu has wiped out civilization or idshiguro’s Never Let Me  Go which focuses on the idea of cloning of humans. McCarthy’s disaster is not clear. The landscape “Barren. Silent. Godless.” resembles that of King’s novel, but there is no hint here of the cause of the disintegration of mankind. In that sense the passage reflects Hoban’s Riddley Walker which, although written in a phonetic language, carries no clear explanation of the actual disaster which has plunged England back into an Iron Age, though in this novel elements of the past civilization are clear to see, just as in The Road, the ‘soft ash’ blew over the ‘blacktop’. The existence of the tarmac suggesting that the disaster was still relatively recent.

The passage presents a double setting to the reader: one the location of the two travellers -the anonymous ‘he’ and ‘the boy’, the second being the nightmarish landscape of the dream. The passage opens with an atmosphere of threat – the woods are ‘dark and cold’ and McCarthy repeats and intensifies the ‘darkness’ in the opening sentences, possibly developing a symbolic Hell on Earth by use of the idea of sin. Even the daytime is tainted: it is ‘more grey’ and the simile likening the day time to ‘some cold glaucoma’ suggests not only a gradually reducing level of light, but also enhances the sense that the planet is suffering from a withering illness, one which is reducing the effectiveness of the eye of the sun.This idea of a ‘sick planet’ is a regular device in Dystopia, recalling the worlds of The Day of the Triffids or Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go. The setting does not relent and there is reference to ‘soft ash’  in the ‘ashen daylight’ with image created being one not only of the after effect of fire and destruction but also the pallid ‘ashen’ appearance of a face when struck by horror or fear. In a tricolon group of monosyllabic sentences, McCarthy presents the Earth as ‘Barren. Silent. Goddless. The anaphora builds towards the depiction of a planet devoid of hope, and lacking a humane presence and also uses language suggestive of female infertility: mother Earth is truly dying.

In the Dream sequence, rather than seeing an image of hope – a trope often seen in Dystopia when characters escape form the harsh reality of their lives in a dream, such as in Orwell’s 1984, the landscape takes on imagery and tone resembling that of descriptions of the Rapture or of Milton’s Hell.  Though horrific, the landscape is enormous and awe-inspiring.Sound imagery is used to add to the feeling of grandeur. Thus water ‘dripped and sang’ and the this sound is described as a’tolling’, heightening the link between this hideous underworld and death. Within the confines of this underworld lurks a creature. described in a triplet which focuses first on ‘its bowels’ before moving upward to ‘the brain that pulsed in a glass bell’. The creature is translucent and the whole world has a darkness illumined only by the ‘light’ which is ‘playing over the .. walls’. It is affected by the light so that it ‘loped off’. The verb has a relaxed tone, possibly suggesting that the evil has been turned away for now, but knows that it will return again.

This idea of a light emanating from the pair, but not carried by them is an indicator of a character which is created with reference to ‘the boy’. He is the elder man’s guide to this underworld, possibly, therefore, the source of the light. Given that light in the context of a hellish setting symbolizes godliness and goodness, the final sentences of the passage take on great weight. Here, the man is clear: the child represents the ‘word of God’ as surely as anything and the reader gathers the impression that hope for the future resides in this child. In the passage he is fragile – wrapped in his ‘plastic tarpaulin’ suggesting the utilisation of the detritus of the previous world – a theme common in Riddley Walker- and also being protected by the older man. His dress- ‘blankets and robes’ possibly suggest the dress of some form of Old Testament prophet who may be protecting the boy through the ‘real’ world yet being guided by him in a dream world. It is the older man who scans the horizon, ‘glassing’ the horizon until the daylight ‘congeals over the land’.  This is a particularly unsettling metaphor, suggesting the pair being trapped under some form of tangible cover, possibly reinforcing the idea that there would be ‘no surviving a winter here’. This landscape and fear for the future, coupled with a need to stay on the move recalls the refugees in The Stand, moving to find food and shelter whilst under threat from the hostile armies which are seizing control of the land, or the revlation found by Todd in Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy once he is able to use Viola’s binoculars ot gain a clearer view of his chasers.

McCarthy’s narrative is clear and generally favours short sentences which precipitate the action except when he is describing the hellish cavern. The language here takes on a richness with similes helping to raise the intensity of the image. The pair are described as ‘pilgrims’ reinforcing their inherent goodness, yet the cavern itself is a metaphorical ‘granitic beast’ -the very earth is personified and made terrible. There is a semantic field suggesting the vast history of the place – ‘without cease’ ‘fable’,’ ancient lake’ all of which help, to create a sense of enormity and by doing so to indicate the fragility of the human forms in the story.

At times the language has resonances of Biblical text as in the simplicity of the phrase ‘he rose and left the boy sleeping’ or the ‘but there was none’ was searching for light in the east -the dawn of a new day. This ties well with McCormack’s vision. As with many Dystopian novels, the hope must be found among the ‘normal’ people and among the innocents – the children. In this passage the hope is the child- ‘his warrant’. The use of this word to mean his justification for his actions – pursuing the search for a better world as they head South – suggests the purpose of the passage  -that hope lies in the innocent in a corrupted world.

An extract from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – a  novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, date and place unnamed , though the reader can assume it’s somewhere in what was the United States. It begins with a man and boy in the woods.( he believes the boy is given to him by God to take care of) The boy is asleep.  The two of them are making their journey along the road. Neither the man nor the boy is given a name; this anonymity adds to the novel’s tone that this could be happening anywhere, to anyone.

 

When he woke up in the woods in the dark and cold of the night, he reached out to touch the child sleeping beside him.  Nights are dark beyond darkness and the days, more grey, each one that what had gone before, like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.  His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath.  He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none.  In the dream from which he’d awaken, he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand.  Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls, like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast.  Deep stones sleep where the water dripped and sang.  Tolling in the silence, the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease, until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black an ancient lake.  And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool, stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders.  It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see.    Crouching there pale and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it; its bowels, its beating heart; the brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell.  It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

With the first grey light, he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the south.  Barren.  Silent.  Godless.   He thought the month was October but he wasn’t sure.  He hadn’t kept a calendar for years.  They were moving south.  There would be no surviving a winter here.

When it was light enough to use the binoculars, he glassed the valley below.  Everything was paling away into the murk.  The soft ash was blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop.  He studied what he could see:  The segments of road down there among the dead trees; looking for anything of colour.  Any movement.  Any trace of standing smoke.  He lowered the glasses and pulled down the cotton mask from his face and wiped his nose on the back of his wrist and then glassed the country again.  Then he just sat there holding the binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land.  He knew only that the child was his warrant.  He said:  If he is not the word of God; God never spoke.

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Stop Press: Season of Goodwill cancelled!

I have not known a time like this – on Twitter.
Students – this is one of my rare posts about education and the industry in which I am proud to work. It has no relevance your exams or your studies – by all means read it, but this one is really for your teachers…

Has there ever been a more divisive time to be a Tweacher? When I joined Twitter in 2011 it really did seem to be a place where teachers shared resources and ideas, offered advice and consolation and tried not to indulge (too much) in ad hominem attack and tried not to use the facility as a platform to impose their views on all comers, resorting swiftly to abuse and blocking if their ideas were not shared by 100% of the community. Now a more binary approach to discussion is the norm, it seems.

There is now a new element in this so called debate which upsets me greatly: the continued abuse and opprobrium heaped on the Micaela Community College by detractors, many of whom have never set foot in the place and are in no way threatened by its existence. Yesterday, there was worse: MCS has an open door policy to let teachers and other professionals visit and experience something of their ethos. In a post by @jofacer, Head of English, we learned yesterday that the bahaviour by adults who sought entry to the school was in many cases despicable – finally leading to the school closing its doors to visits following a safeguarding concern as visitors sought to take their hatred of what they perceive as a hateful school out on the very people benefitting from its existence – its pupils. Years 7&8. Small children who are proud to discuss their school with visitors. Here is Jo’s post

Despicable behaviour.

On Twitter today, some on my timeline are blaming the school for allowing visitors in the first place.

NO.

All schools should welcome visitors as long as the daily routine is not affected. We should have a pride in our school and be happy to share it with other teachers for discussion and development of ideas.

Love it or loathe it, @MCSBrent has stirred up educational debate like no other school. On Twitter recently Debra Kidd shared a lengthy review of the school based on its recent book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-teachers-a-review-part-1/ and https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-teachers-part-2/  Now, I do not know Debra, but I read her material and she does not strike me as a shoe in for lead apologist for Micaela and its way of doing things. These reviews are well balanced and do not shy from praise where due and considered criticism of the elements of the school which she finds disturbing. She was due to visit in the near future – a pity we shall not read her response to visiting in the flesh.

I was amused by one exchange in her comments section when reading the review – a teacher saying that someone should do an in depth study of the school and its practices – Debra’s terse response, that the 11000 words she had just written might be such a thing, made me chuckle.

For those opposed to the ideas which Micaela proposes there seems to be only one tolerable response to their existence – a veritable walk of shame down Wembley High Road being pelted with “right-thinking” texts. It obviously is not enough to castigate the staff “extreme right wing” attitudes any more.

And here’s the thing. We are teachers. We all do the same job. We all have stresses, disappointments and moments of utter joy in our own schools and in our own ways. I have never visited a school without leaving with something tucked away in my mind (not stolen, as suggested by Jo) which might be adapted to fit into my learning environment. And yes, probably with at least one “that would never work here!” moment.

I would like to read “Tiger Teachers II, the KS4 years” when it emerges. I wonder if the highly evangelical tone of some of the writers may mellow with time and I am interested to see how the school responds to growth and to raging hormones. I share Debra’s concerns about the tone of explanation of the Zero Excuse policy among other areas – even judges can take mitigating circumstances into consideration – but I fail to see how a school whose aim is to instil self discipline and self respect can be failing its pupils as some suggest. I live about 10 miles form the school. My local news is not riven with stories of complaint or rebellion – maybe it is true that the pupils and parents lucky enough to be placed into the school really are pleased to be there. I see regular complaints about schools in which behaviour policies barely exist and in which the disruptive element and their families can begin to set the tone and agenda of the school. Here is a school daring to act against the status quo and I applaud it. Maybe it is not all “right” yet – It’s only had 2 years and is growing. Many schools do the same in their own, individual ways. Micaela does not have a monopoly on being right. But it seems that many of those voicing criticism feel that they do.

Much of the ideas form the academic side of the school seem to be excellent – the lack of marking, the revision homework, the focus on knowledge rather than “fun” and the whole team ethos strike me as excellent – I would have loved to see them in operation, but had only begun to discuss a visit with Jo last week!

Micaela has raised hackles by its attempts to break the mould, and I see the strap line “Secondary School – Private School Ethos” is unnecessarily antagonistic. Incidently, I teach in a Private School. We seem to be limp liberals in contrast to the MCS way in some areas… drop it. You do not need to use this line – you are achieving enough in your own right.

So, how about this: If you teach in Wembley and your school is in some way suffering as a result of Micaela, make your case and enter into adult debate. If you don’t and your opinion is based on assumption and dogma, then back off. This is a school, maybe not like your school or my school, but a school. A community of vulnerable young souls who do not deserve the scorn they receive. A community of dedicated teaching professionals (and yes, an Unqualified teacher is a teaching professional) who are giving their all for the benefit of their students – just as we all do.

The behaviour of a minority of our colleagues has evidently been quite appalling on a professional and a personal level. Let’s stop it here.

Have a Good Christmas.

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Remembrance Poetry competition: hints…

As part of my Yr 9 curriculum, I introduced a year 9 competition a couple of years ago.  The students are working on a war literature module and are required to submit a poem for a Remembrance Competition.

 

This year I have prepared this slide-deck to help my class prepare.  I will use a visualiser to write alongside them and will post the result.  Hopefully the winner, when posted, will be an altogether stronger poem!

how-to-write

The winning poems from an earlier year can be seen here: winners: poetry competition

 

My my first draft in the lesson, from the visualiser… a bit of work to do.  Why did I try trochaic hexameters in the beginning?

img_0837

 

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Jerusalem class blog comments

Studying Butterworth’s Jerusalem in yr 12, I am trying to engage my class in the idea of sharing independent work… we have no formal class blog as yet and i am using the blog feature on our Firefly VLE.  Here is a sample…

This is your space

Use this space to explore the nature of Englishness:  NIMBYism, Xenophobia, jingoism, aggression, pride in heritage, love of the country, patriotism…  Nothing is irrelevant… read widely and post.

By all means start here, but move beyond! https://jwpblog.wordpress.com/tag/jerusalem/

Comments

    1. I’ve done a bit of research on NIMByism
      NIMBY: This is an acronym for ‘not in my back yard’
      It is defined as – Opposition from residents to a new development in the local area

      Could this imply that it is ‘English’ to only actively oppose developments that are taking place on our doorstep and not to others? It may appear selfish, or understandable as if we are not effected, why should we get involved? It could be seen as a good thing as British people are prepared to protect what they feel is their property, and this could come under ‘Englishness.’

      An example of this comes from this article –https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/26/fields-england-postwar-countryside-englishness

      Andrew Motion feels the fields of old England are being lost, as houses are being built on the land. He feels that Englishness lies in the traditional countryside and that it is being lost.

      He feels the countryside should be preserved as it quintessentially represents Britain and that it is our heritage, which he is protecting, as he does not want it to be destroyed. It appears that he feels he is being ‘English’ by opposing the loss of our iconic British countryside.

      Following on from our discussion today, we could say that our local areas would be ‘damaged’ if travellers moved there, if they drop litter, or if they are unsociable, which is why people would not appreciate it. This is another example of NIMByism.

      The faded cross of St George on the curtain at the beginning of ‘Jerusalem’ represents this pride in our heritage and suggests that it is fading but in a different circumstance to what Andrew Motion is proposing, showing that NIMByism and pride don’t mean the same thing for everyone.

      Hope this was helpful… part of me isn’t sure that I know what I’m writing about

      POSTED BY  08/09/2016 AT 19:52

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    2. I looked into the Patriotism side of things, and there are many instances in sport (football being the most common as well as infrequent and smaller rugby incidences) that show national fans causing trouble and violently clashing with police or other national fans. These cases often end in arrests, hospitalisations and banishment from the game. Several articles blame excessive drinking and peer pressure, while others say there has been a reoccurring issue through the history of football with English fans causing violence.

      Examples of this nature include:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3630050/When-England-shamed-Marseille-18-years-visiting-fans-prove-hooligans-long-gone-Euro-2016-opener.html

      http://www.politics.co.uk/reference/football-hooliganism

      Perhaps english fans are violent because they want to proudly display their patriotism and ‘englishness’ to their opponents, and they think by being involved in violent clashes they are defending their country’s honour against ‘foreigners’. However this would lead to another possibility that football hooliganism has become and integral part of english sport and as sport can be considered and ‘english’ pass time, the violence, excessive drinking and peer pressure that accompanies it is also an attribute of ‘englishness’.

      If this is the case, we can associate this behaviour and begin to understand why characters may act the way they do in the play Jerusalem, such as Rooster standing tall (as if proud) on the front cover, with a suspicious looking cigarette in his mouth. This could suggest he is clearly doing the wrong thing (drugs or in the case of sports fans, being violent) but he is keen to boast his bad habit as it makes him feel important (potentially for the same reason english fans do when displaying their patriotism through violence at a sporting event). Therefore characters could be acting the way they do as they are mirroring the actions of several english sports fans meanwhile demonstrating ‘englishness’.

      POSTED BY  08/09/2016 AT 21:41

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    3. I’ve decided to look into the pride of heritage we have and the notion that perhaps we are beginning to neglect our culture and heritage.

      I was reading an article in The Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/10/traditions-such-as-christmas-celebrations-will-die-out-unless-pe/) which explores the idea that immigration may be the reason that we are losing our ‘Englishness’.

      When you think about it, it’s completely understandable, with so many other religions and cultures that are practised in England is it any wonder that English traditions are put to one side? For example, one community centre called a Christmas tree a “festive tree” so they didn’t cause offence to Muslim or Asian workers. I understand showing respect for someone else’s religion and culture but surely this is taking it too far. Perhaps this is why residents of an area feel unsettled and restless when people of a different ethnicity or religion move into the same area- they don’t like the change.

      Like Harpal said, the faded cross of St George in ‘Jerusalem’ demonstrates the pride in our heritage fading and maybe we should be more concerned with losing our heritage than we are at the moment because heritage is so important, especially to a place like Britain.

      Hope this was helpful

      POSTED BY , SUNDAY AT 12:44

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    4. I did some research on xenophobia and racism and how it relates to the nature of Englishness. During my research I came upon this article http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/racism-after-brexit-attacks-muslims-leave_uk_57766dc8e4b0f7b55795302d

      The article talks about the rise in racism after Brexit and that the idea of Englishness is becoming more white and Christian. It also mentions that its more a kind of celebratory racism, as if its in celebration that white England has finally got something. This also demonstrates how violence is a part of Englishness possibly because that the English like to show how proud and defensive they are of their own country even if that means incorporating violence and xenophobic/racist hate crimes. This xenophobic abuse however could be more expressive and about expressing dominance to show how great England is and convey the message that the English don’t want to let other cultures, religions, people etc. significantly impact the English culture and allow others to take its place.

      Furthermore the article raises the point that the majority of ethnic minorities and the majority of minority religions would say that they’re British but they wouldn’t say that they’re English. A sort of national identity shift has happened that has given Englishness a white racialised meaning to many people.

      Linking all of this to “Jerusalem” we can see this dominant male figure in Johnny “Rooster” Byron where he gets into many fights and is a drug dealer and a habitual drunked. He sort of fits into this mold of the stereotypical example of the violent, xenophobic part of Englishness.

      POSTED BY  WEDNESDAY AT 22:53

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    5. I’ve decided to look at the development of a new type of ‘Englishness’ developing and whether it can really be considered English or whether we are indeed losing sight of what makes actually us English.

      The 2011 Census featured 70% of people living in England identifying as English, with the majority of people identifying solely as English rather than British as well. The vast majority of people identifying as English, raises the question, what really causes us to identify as English? In an article written by Tristram Hunt, which calls for Labour to embrace ‘Englishness’, he states a love for our landscape, culture, history, humour and literature are key features of Englishness and for a true appreciation of these features many would agree that you would have to look back and have an understanding of the country’s history. A country described as ‘rebellious, independent and resistant to European Civilisation’ putting emphasis on our sovereignty and the belief that we are a strong, independent nation. This seems especially relevant considering the result of the EU Referendum, in which the majority of the English electorate voted to leave. Looking back through history, this rebellion from the European continent, may correspond with what many see as English due to previous relations with the continent.

      “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.”- Jan Glidewell

      In another article written by Tariq Masood it is argued that ‘Englishness’ should not be solely nostalgic. He states basing ‘Englishness’ exclusively on heritage can be seen as ethnic nationalism- Anglo-Saxonism. Indeed, to some ‘Englishness’ is seen as an ethnic label which detracts from multiculturalism, due to the paradigm that an ‘English’ person is white. Perhaps this is due to the nostalgic element of ‘Englishness’ involving focus on time periods where the country was not as ethnically diverse as it is currently and is therefore not representative of England as a country now. Such strong emphasis on heritage can lead to nationalism manifesting itself in xenophobia, a prominent feature after the EU Referendum result. Surely this is outdated looking at the ethnically diverse country England is now and cannot be considered English. Or would it be argued that this problem has only arisen due to being infiltrated by the continent and that such actions are continuing the tradition of rebelling from the continent?

      Tariq Masood begins his article by stating Multiculturalism can foster a new kind of Englishness. This new type of Englishness would perhaps be more representative of England as a country now and erode the stigma of “Englishness’” being exclusively white. However, can we really forget how we came to be this great country? While the faded St.Georges cross may represent the country losing sight of what makes it ‘English’ perhaps it can also represent the population finding new and alternative ways to identify as English. That ‘Englishness’ is no longer concentrated on a single figure, giving the appearance that it is fading, while it is actually getting stronger. Or are we in fact losing sight of what is English?

      Hope this was useful,
      Articles that I used:
      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2016/04/24/hurrah-for-englishness/
      http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/08/11/multiculturalism-can-foster-a-new-kind-of-post-brexit-englishness/
      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/05/labour-embrace-englishness-proud-patriotism

      POSTED BY , WEDNESDAY AT 23:31

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    6. I thought what Seb said was interesting; but I do slightly disagree on the idea that Johnny is prominently depicted as an ‘English’ citizen. Although Johnny is written as an intimidating, boisterous drug-abuser, it is important to remember that he is still the definition of an ‘outsider.’
      Rejected by society (although not wrongfully), and loathed by his own community, I believe that Johnny represents something other than Englishness. He represents a generation of people, that should be accepted in to an English society, but aren’t. Obviously, the amount of trouble Johnny causes makes him a lot easier to loathe; with violent outbursts, and exhibitions of a horrific nature (think back to the whole ‘pig’ scene), Johnny is justifiably exiled from the rest of the county. However, one cannot help but ask, that should Johnny be born with a purely English identity, would he be frowned upon with such severity by the majority of the town? Does the fact that he has no nationality (and therefore, arguably, no identity), make him easier to judge and despise? And, even in class, were we already judging Johnny by the way he lives as a traveller, even before we’d heard all the horrific stories about him?
      Because, if we consider Johnny’s physical appearance, he is a stereotypical Englishman. Even without looking at the front cover of our scripts, we can infer from the nickname “Rooster”, that he is a strong, white man who acts, at times, in an outrageous, and often barbaric manner. Add in the image we have of Rylance (a man with a broad chest and tattoos), and there is no doubt that Johnny does look, and act, like an Englishman. However, the defining conclusion, is that Johnny will never be English, because of this constant lack of identity. Maybe the simple fact that he doesn’t even own a home is key in people almost expelling him from society, and that, in itself, shows you the slightly naïve, and pretentious attitude that’s adopted by the English with regard to foreign adversary.
      Overall, I just wanted to add something to this chat which symbolised how I’ve interpreted peoples opinions towards Johnny. Having read Lami and Harpal’s articles, I’ve tried to incorporate typically ‘English’ attitudes in to the context of the play, and this is what I came up with. From what I’ve read so far, Johnny isn’t regarded as a member of the community; the fact that he lives on his own in a wood shows us how isolated and secluded he physically is from the rest of the town. But it was interesting for me to discuss and figure out why (apart from the obvious reasons) he has been exiled from the public, and if his lack of identity has played a big part in that.

      POSTED BY , YESTERDAY AT 21:18

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    7. I quite agree with what Tom has said here, and I think that Johnny is English literally, but those in the play don’t see him as English as they are too different to him. So in that respect he is an outsider, but whether he deserves to be is debatable. It could be argued that he cares about his friends? He is known for drug use and alcoholism, but that’s not too different from any other person (our age or not), as they just do this kind of thing from behind closed doors, and if it is found out it is usually kept quiet… It’s interesting as they all seem to be in the same boat in some ways, as (after what we read today – St Trinians, X Factor) none of the locals seem to be English – if English means being proud of their heritage. This then raises the question of what is Englishness, and who is English and who is not. St George himself wasn’t English, so again, they all could be in the same boat. Maybe none are truly English at all, and this idea has caused a whole lot of problems for Johnny.

      POSTED BY , YESTERDAY AT 22:20

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Writing a Personal Statement?

I am in the middle of helping tutees prepare personal statements for their UCAS entry.  These links to You Tube films may be of interest:

why statements are often rejected

Birmingham University

Imperial College – with a summary from 33 minutes

And on Plagiarism 

There is no magic bullet – every student and every university is different and there is a danger in writing an utterly formulaic response.  I hope you may use these along with whatever material your schools are issuing to help you.

Good Luck!

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Blessing : Imtiaz Dharker

This is a well-known poem to teachers of KS4 over the years. It is back on the IGCSE syllabus for Edexcel, as part of the English Lit Anthology collection. Since the new IGCSE makes the poetry part of the exam and removes it from the optional coursework, I thought I would link my “Blessing” posts here.

Some time ago I set some Year 11s this well known and much examined poem as an unseen. I was rather unsettled by the lack of structure in their responses and felt the need to take time to recap SLIME and SCASI to help them to tackle the task… For those unused to the mnemonics: Subject/Style, Language, Imagery, Meaning, Effect and Setting, Character, Action, Style, Ideas. I prefer the second one which I first came across as a teacher of the IBDP where it was recommended to me when approaching unseens in their mammoth two hour unseen paper.

I thought of using this poem when exploring techniques for discussing unseen poems: https://jwpblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/28/unseens-for-examinations/

One of my students then emailed me and asked for a model response!

So, here goes (written in a single sitting with no more than 25 minutes allowed for either essay to mimic the examination):

“How does Dharker create a sense of wonder in the poem?”
Focus on the language used in the poem, the use of images and literary effects, any other relevant feature of the poem.

‘Blessing’ by Imtiaz Dharker

The skin cracks like a pod.
There never is enough water.

Imagine the drip of it,
the small splash, echo
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.

Sometimes, the sudden rush
of fortune. The municipal pipe bursts,
silver crashes to the ground
and the flow has found
a roar of tongues. From the huts,
a congregation : every man woman
child for streets around
butts in, with pots,
brass, copper, aluminium,
plastic buckets,
frantic hands,

and naked children
screaming in the liquid sun,
their highlights polished to perfection,
flashing light,
as the blessing sings
over their small bones.

SLIME: This poem, written in free-verse is set in a hot and dry part of the world where water is scarce and where any appearance of it is a cause for excitement and rejoicing. The free-verse form enables Dharker to organise the poem around ideas with a freedom to draw attention to specific words or phrases without consideration of rhyme or rhythmic pattern. An example of this comes at the end of the third stanza where the list of utensils gradually decreases in status whilst increasing in urgency until the line “frantic hands” in which the adjective conveys both a sense of despair and of excitement. The sentence does not end at the end of the stanza, however and the fourth stanza opens after the enjambement with the ambivalent image of “naked children/screaming…” Here the image manages to once again convey the double emotion – the verb offering suggestions of pain to the same extent as it offers suggestions of enjoyment.

The stanzas of the poem follow an approach to the issue of water in their content. At the opening of the poem the pair of single line sentences, with their clear present tense outlining of the situation – “there is never enough water” present the context for the poem clearly. This is then countered by the imperatives in the second stanza which urge the reader to engage fully with the poet: “imagine…” The imperative verbs and the use of onomatopoeia on “drip” and “splash” help to convey the scarcity of this much sought after commodity.

It is in stanza three that Dharker uses imagery to convey the thrill of the water leak and to establish a link with the poem’s title. Already she has introduced the idea of a “blessing” at the end of the second stanza by describing the water as the “voice of a kindly God” (though we might wonder how “kindly’ a god is that keeps his people in such a state of need). As the third stanza develops she develops the idea. The water is variously described as “the sudden rush of fortune” and as “silver”. Both images create a sense of great value and worth on a materialistic scale. In the next stanza, however the “congregation” worshipping around the pipe are treated to the image of water as “liquid sun”. This is a clear metaphor which puts water on the same level as the sun as a life-giver and a provider of Goodness. No wonder it is seen as a blessing and is viewed with wonder, even when it is an imaginary event.

Despite this Blessing there is a single disquieting thought at the end of the poem: The first line and the last line form a couplet of their own with the unsettling message that “the skin cracks like a pod /over their small bones”. In the final stanza, Dharker clearly focuses on the children and using the euphemisitic phrase “their highlights polished…” draws attention to this fact. Her euphemism allows their stark thinness to be seen in a positive light and thus confirms the sense of wonder found elsewhere in the poem.

SCASI: The poem is set in a hot, dry part of the world, where water is seen as a scarce commodity to be valued highly. The setting is clearly described in the opening line of the poem in which one of the possible readings suggests that the very “skin” of the Earth itself is cracking “like a pod”.

In this harsh environment, the children and the locals living around a burst water main gather to collect water. The action is “frantic” and Dharker uses the third stanza to highlight this. Using enjambement to help to suggest the tumult, she combines metaphors of sound “roar of tongues” and a long list of ever more mundane utensils to suggest the possible aggression and the urgency with which the villagers contend with one another for water. Ultimately it is revealed that even “frantic hands” are used, so desperate is the need to gather this life-giving liquid.

Within the crowd, the children are singled out for attention. At first the imagery is ambivalent – the “naked children/screaming…” carries an unmistakable suggestion of pain as well as one of sheer enjoyment. The sense of wonder is stronger, however, due to the euphemistic description of the bodies: rather than emaciated and unhealthy, these children have “highlights polished to perfection”. It is as though the Blessing of the water has cured all illness and brought nothing but joy.

This is Dharker’s intention, since the poem is a clear presentation of the view of God providing all for his followers. The “congregation” are literally blessed by “liquid sun” as the life-giving water pours forth. To these worshippers, the water is more than this and its high material worth is suggested by references to “silver” and to a “rush of fortune”. Fortune also connotes luck, and it is possible that Dharker is being ironic in her title. After all, the God who provides so little in the normal scheme of events, as suggested by the empty onomatopoeia of “splash” and “drip”into the low status “tin cup” of the second stanza, does not seem as one who might be likely to provide such bounty as is here unleashed.

The poem uses the freedom of its free-verse structure to ensure that readers are led to the positive view of the leaking pipe. After opening with the dramatic couplet which sets the context in two single sentence lines, Dharker introduces a sense of wonder in the second stanza with the imperative “imagine” which allows the reader to summon up the mental image, assisted by the imagery of sound referred to earlier. In the third stanza, the listing and particularly the enjambment across the space to the fourth stanza help to increase this sense of wonder as the momentum of the poem is increased allowing it to gather speed and power towards the end.

Dharker seems all too aware of the naivety of the villagers who worship at the poor workmanship of the “municipal pipeline”. However, in her telling of the event, it is the sense of wonder which is presented clearly to the reader. There is, however an important message concealed in the structure of the poem which is seen by reading the first and last lines as a couplet with no punctuation: The skin cracks like a pod/over their small bones. Using “small” to present a human dimension to the poem and presenting the harsh reality of the event in this way allows Dharker to show clearly that all the wonder created by the incident will do nothing to alleviate the underlying issues.

I hope that these are some use to my readers. They are not perfect and are not meant to be. I want you to be able to see how I have applied the framework of either structure to ensure that my writing has a purpose and a flow which is more effective than a linear reading of the poem. Feel free to send comments or to mark my writing!

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Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, Edexcel IGCSE from 2016, poetry, teacher training

Creative writing in Year 7

There is a great resource on Teachit ( I believe), written by Fran Nantongwe called “Quest for the cure”.  I got a copy a while ago through a colleague at a NATE conference and love using it in Year 7.

The idea is that the class develop a novel through pieces of creative writing – all transactional and with a particular focus – persuasive, descriptive etc.

It is brilliant and Fran is a star for developing so much.  I attach my PowerPoint for teaching the module, a few of the resources I use to help the students to write and 2 booklets of work from this Year’s Year 7s.

7b zebulon doc

7NV ZEBULON COMPOSITE

Peel Zebulon intro

PPt (2)

mayor’s speech Persuade

Zebulon Project Character Profile

Y7 Diary Writing

The Public Execution – Kite runner extract

persuasion_Atticus Finch (screenplay)

 

 

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Filed under KS3, Paedagogy, teacher training, writing skills