Thursday, 30 August 2012

Time to Stop?

I'm sure that my previous school experience will stand me in good stead on my PGCE course. And i'm certain that without it, i would never have been accepted into university in the first place. But the problem with all this experience might just be that it's turned me into a smart-arse. And nobody likes a smart arse.

Since the end of last term term, i've had around six weeks to fill in. The ideal would be holidays/festivals/walks in the park and lots of al fresco dining. Sadly, the wife has been away for most of the summer, money is tighter than a nun's chuff and the weather is woeful. So instead of having fun and relaxing, i've found myself in a strange situation - i'm planning lessons.

I'm aware that they might never be used. That they might not be up to scratch. That it's arrogant of me to assume i know what how to do it. Except i do. Kind of. I've been watching English teachers in action for two years. I've taught dozens of lessons myself (largely under supervision) and i know a good/bad lesson when i see one. I've done more observation already than i'll ever do at university.

I've also spent the entire summer reading assiduously, pillaging the likes of Phil Beadle, Rex Gibson and Trevor Wright's brilliant books for ideas, inspiration and lesson plans. I've even published some of that work here. But is it time to stop? Should i really be waiting until i've at least completed my induction day before i go any further? Could too much practical experience even be a bad thing?

Monday, 27 August 2012

Fun With Food/Simile

A couple of fun, interactive lessons here, inspired largely by Trevor Wright's How To Be A Brilliant English Teacher - a book which I'd highly recommend to prospective and practising teachers alike. A rough overview of the lesson is here, and at the foot of the article there are links to download the full lesson plans and associated resources.

Lesson One: An Introduction to Similes
Just get on with lesson – no messing. Draw a large circular shape on the board and label it – “head like an orange” will suffice. Stick an ear on it and label it – “ear like a cauliflower” will do the job. Offer the pen to a pupil to have a go. Repeat until you run out of steam.

Discuss your character. Give him a name. Why is better to say he has “spots like baked beans”? Get to a point where the word ‘simile’ is mentioned. The kids will hopefully now understand the concept – get them to prove it... Each pupil has a post-it note. They have to write what they think a simile is. Collect them, discuss them, arrive at a definition and get them to copy it into their books.

In their books, pupils are to complete this sentence: I think the poet has used lots of similes because... Feed back and hopefully someone will come close to answering today’s LO: To explore why writers use similes.

Head like a potato
Show the kids the a picture of a someone with an interesting face. They must describe them without using any similes at all. Feedback – and be critical. Ask them to do the same task again – this time they must use loads of similes. Feedback – there should be much to praise. Pupils swap books and make one positive comment on how the description has improved from the first version to the second.

To wrap things up, pupils must work with the person next to them to produce a definition of simile – without using the word ‘as’ or ‘like’. Once you've got a definition you're happy with, let them pack up!

Lesson Two: It Tastes Like...

First, pupils must unscramble the red words in the learning objective and copy it into their books.
LO: To lime issues to describe food.
LO: To use similes to describe food.
Following the last lesson on simile, pupils should have a good idea what it is and how it works. So just launch into this lesson and they’ll hopefully follow enthusiastically...

You need some foodstuffs. My suggestion would be some Chilli Heatwave Doritos, some pineapple and some chocolate – enough for everyone to have some. Pupils will take it in turns to eat an item before writing a suitable description in their books. Initially they must begin “it tastes like...”
  1. For the first item (Doritos) there are no restrictions on what they can write. It could ‘taste like’ anything they want.
  2. For the second item (pineapple) they are not allowed to describe it in terms of another foodstuff.
  3. For the third item (chocolate) encourage them to describe it in a way which doesn’t mention taste at all: it feels like, melts like, etc.
After each stage, discuss which descriptions were the best and why. Hopefully you’ll get some really creative ideas and can make a record of the best ones on the board and in books. Have the kids realised that in saying ‘it tastes like’ they have created dozens and dozens of similes?

Hand out and read Thorarinn Eldjarn’s Froots & Vegedibles (link below). Pupils are to pick three of the absurd foodstuffs and describe them using similes. Pupils should describe taste, appearance, texture or anything else that tickles their fancy. Feedback, sharing descriptions and maybe try and guess which fruit/veg they are describing.

As a quick plenary, ask the class to use a simile to describe what today’s lesson would’ve tasted like if it were edible! 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Clown Punk

The more i learn about teaching, the more i realise that there's a lot you can't plan for - and that going off piste can often be the most rewarding way of doing things. I've also realised that other people's ideas are very often better than mine and that using other people's resources is a perfectly valid thing to do!

So, with that in mind, this latest lesson plan for The Clown Punk utilises a handout i found in my old school's harddrive to stimulate a class discussion which i would hope would lead to arguments, disagreements and heated debate. Quite where that leads is not an outcome i've planned for - but by prefacing the debate with lots of work on SOLO and questioning skills which will hopefully ensure more measured and intelligent responses.

There is probably three hours worth of activities here - learning objectives will need to be set or reviewed according to progree throughout the lessons. The overall aim, however, is simply to improve students' critical and interpretive reactions to poetry.

Clown Punk PPT Slides

Give: Flying Solo

Simon Armitage is far and away my favourite poet. His working class 'northerness' appeals hugely, his down-to-earth style and witty readings are right up my alley and he lives down the road. The Not Dead is my favourite collection of poems ever and, as an added bonus, the majority of the kids i've taught are similarly enchanted by Armitage.

Without having yet begun my PGCE, i've been reading extensively and voraciously, desperately trying to absolve as much knowledge as possible about teaching before putting it into practice on my placements. Probably the most useful blog i've discovered is Jill Lavender's fledgling effort, which has provided much food for thought and some extremely detailed and innovative lesson ideas. I'll continue to follow Jill carefully - she's bloody lovely as well as being bloody talented.

David Didau's Learning Spy blog and excellent book have also been inspirational - not least his advocating of SOLO taxonomy: a useful and extremely user friendly way of structuring lessons, objectives and questioning designed to help pupils understand their own progress and how to achieve further.

I'd already planned and taught a pair of lessons on Give in my previous role as a TA, but having seen Jill's brilliant lesson plan based on Solo taxonomy, i immediately re-worked and re-wrote it so as to steal/incorporate her brilliant ideas. What follows is an combination of her plan and mine (weighted in favour of the former) perhaps a little more suited to a less experienced practioner.

Give Lesson Plan
Give Powerpoint Slides

Massive thanks to Jill Lavender, obviously. As always, feedback would be warmly welcomed.

Monday, 20 August 2012

We Are Poets

"Poetry is dead, man."

It's a refrain I've heard a number of times in school and one which, on occasion, I've almost been tempted to agree with. I've seen poetry taught terribly to totally uninterested classes failing completely to engage with or understand the text.

When I've taught poetry myself, I've used Sir Chris Hoy, Drop Dead Fred and the Sex Pistols to enliven and enrich my lessons and, by and large, have left classes enthused and with the feeling that poetry really is something which speaks to them. John Cooper Clarke and the amazing John Agard are also powerful poetic weapons for a teacher to have in their arsenal - who could fail to be impressed by the latter's amazing rendition of The Charge of the Light Brigade?

Now, though, I have something stronger, more relevant, more empowering, inspiring and impassioned: We Are Poets.

The story of six youngsters from Leeds taking on the best youth poets in a global slam event is one of the most powerful documentaries I've ever seen. Filmed on the streets where I live and starring kids who remind me of students at my school, it has a huge personal resonance and relevance for me. More than that, it gives poetry and the spoken word back to the people it belongs to.

The six poets are selected from Leeds Young Authors, an amazing project promoting community and cultural awareness through literature. None of the group are 'academic' in the traditional sense. None of them are white, nor middle class. All of them, however, are truly gifted poets, using the spoken word to explore and illuminate the very real problems they experience on the streets of Leeds: racism, knife crime, relationships, absent fathers.

The portraits of the poets which preface the competition are magnificent introductions to them. Their stories of broken family backgrounds, conflicting feelings over their mixed-race parentage and mistreatment at the hands of Islamaphobes and racists speak loudly to the audience - and directly to a typically mixed race English class. These experiences influence their poetry markedly- and offer an amazing opportunity to use the film in your classroom to examine poets' motives and writing processes.

The passion of all involved on the slam itself has to be seen to be believed. Kids from every race, background and culture compete for perfect ratings from their peers in an intense battle which prizes the delivery of the poems as much as their content. It's a reminder that poetry arose as an oral tradition - and one which makes direct links to acting, rapping and performing.

Most important of all, however, is just how relevant these brave and brilliant youngsters make poetry seem. They use it as social comment, argument and rhetoric, to explore issues which affect young people today and to explore their own lives and cultures - and prove beyond doubt that poetry is as relevant and powerful today as it ever has been. I cannot think of a better way of enthusing children about poetry than getting these talented people into your classrooms. Now!

Unfortunately i've been unable to embed a video of the film into this blog, but you can view the utterly amazing opening sequence of We Are Poets  by clicking here. It's stunning and features Joseph Buckley's gorgeous poetry set over stunning cityscapes of Leeds.

To request a screening and a visit, email or follow them on Twitter @WeArePoets

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The River God Personified

Another of my poetry lesson plans, this time a two parter on Stevie Smith's creepy The River God. The first lesson focuses on personification, its uses and advantages.  The Powerpoint and starter activity will need adapting to your purposes - but doing so should be fun and a good excuse to do something creative in the classroom.
I took this photo. I love it.

Armed with that knowledge, the pupils will be better positioned to tackle lesson two - which focuses on how Smith uses the technique in her poem. There's a lot in here - it might be optimistic to think it could all be done in one lesson - a pick n mix approach might be best. The handout borrows heavily (blatantly plagiarises/cuts and pastes) from the TES Resources material on The River God which is excellent.

Personification/The River God Lesson Plans
Personification/The River God Lesson Handout
Personification/The River God Lesson Powerpoint Slides

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Metaphor and Medusa

This post follows An Intro To Everyday Metaphor, in which I outlined my belief that teaching simile/metaphor was pretty pointless unless students understood just how ubiquitous such figurative language was. The lesson included in that blog was designed as a precursor to the two included here.

The first lesson is an introduction to metaphor in poetry, drawing heavily on two poems from the Relationships cluster of Moon on the Tides: Praise Song for My Mother and Nettles. It obviously makes sense to use poems from the anthology - not least because they're both so rich in metaphorical language relevant to young people growing up. The lesson is designed to encourage pupils to interpret and react to the poems themselves - a part of poetry teaching i've seen disregarded far too often.

The second lesson focuses on Carol Ann Duffy's Medusa. It asks the pupils to analyse the poem's use of metaphor, their effectiveness and whether or not Duffy uses Medusa as an extended metaphor or whether she is writing in her voice - there's a task asking the pupils to re-write parts of the poem with no figurative language at all. Hopefully this will help them arrive at a conclusion by demonstrating the strength of Duffy's technique.

Metaphor In Medusa Lesson Plan
An Autopsy of Medusa
Accompanying Slides (these are not a necessity)

As always, i would welcome any constructive feedback. I'm reading voraciously and taking advice from various sources on how to improve my planning - hopefully by the time September comes around i'll have absorbed oodles of useful hints and tips and be thinking and preparing on autopilot!

Friday, 10 August 2012

An Intro To Everyday Metaphor

I've just started reading James Geary's I Is An Other, a magnificent book about the power and prevalence of metaphor. Surprisingly, he believes we use around six metaphors a minute - some of which are obvious, some of which are the skeletal remains metaphors which have become so commonplace as to be invisible. It's a fascinating book and excellent reading for anyone with an interest in language.

For me, it has proved inspirational. I've never seen metaphor taught as anything other than a literary device - and often this teaching has been dry and prosaic. Surely it would be better to give students a grounding in the everyday nature of metaphor before examining literary applications for it? If they realise how often metaphor is used in their daily lives - and by themselves - surely they'll be far better placed to understand it a more academic sense.

With that in mind, i've designed a quickfire whizz through everyday metaphor which references Elvis Presley, Andy Carroll, Australian weather forecasters, the human skeleton and, obviously, young Romeo of Verona. As usual, it's not gonna be perfect - i'm only a learner myself. But the activities, questions and ideas in this plan can be adapted and modified to your own purposes.

I'd anticipate the lesson taking an hour and the Powerpoint slides are not necessary at all unless you enjoy a little visual stimulus (or just like gazing at Elvis).

An Intro to Everyday Metaphor Plan
An Intro to Everyday Metaphor Handout
An Intro to Everyday Metaphor Slides

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Singh Song by Daljit Nagra

During my time as a TA, I saw poetry taught very badly, very often. Two 'old school' teachers I observed seemed to believe the hallmark of good poetry teaching was ensuring that pupils had reams and reams of notes scrawled all over their texts - regardless of whether they understood them or not. I hated this approach - it amounted to little more than dictation and encouraged little thought, analysis or interpretation. Wherever possible, I would step in by offering to teach the lesson or by interjecting vociferously. Thankfully, the teachers encouraged this and the pupils seemed to enjoy it. Hopefully they learned something, too.

So now, despite having not yet started my PGCE, I'm bravely putting my lesson on Daljit Nagra's 'Singh Song' online. I focused on how Nagra created the character of Singh through language. Hopefully some of you will like it and use some of the ideas within.

Following some fantastic feedback from the Twitter community (much of which is in the comments section below), this plan has been revamped and reconfigured in an attempt to make better use of learning objectives, assessment and structured questioning. It's quite different to before - and hopefully much improved!

Click the links to download the plan, accompanying Powerpoint slides and handouts. All of these can be downloaded as regular documents or PDF files.

Singh Song: Creating Characters Through Language
Sing Song: Powerpoint Slides
Singh Song: Extracts Handout
Singh Song: Standard English Handout

Thanks to everyone who offered advice - it's much appreciated!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Back to the Future

At the age of eighteen i made a number of choices which i regret to this day. Firstly, i took a year out from education. Secondly, i chose to do a Film & Media degree. And finally, i elected to study in Scotland.

My reasons for making these choices made perfect sense to me as a youth. I fully intended to work during my gap year, saving a huge stockpile of cash with which to pay my way through university. I chose to study media as it was a relatively new degree and sounded exciting, interesting and relevant - with any number of career paths open to me upon graduation. And i chose my Scottish university as it was as far as i could get from my northern hometown (which i've often referred to as 'England's Armpit') without going down south - an alien environment to a meat n' spuds Yorkshireman like me.

Despite my best intentions, none of my choices proved to be in any way advantageous. I earned tuppence ha'penny in a wasted twelve months, subsequently realised that media degrees were the very definition of 'Mickey Mouse' and discovered the Scottish penchant for alcoholism and Irn Bru breakfasts suited my personality far too readily.

And so i left with a shitty degree in a pointless subject, too skint to participate in the unpaid work-placements necessary to make a name in the media and having singularly failed to establish any kind of serious work ethic during four years of study. The reasons for this were myriad and include: being astonishingly immature; Tesco selling vodka for £6.32 a bottle; Scots starting uni at 17 and the first year of study being accordingly easy - and my falling out of studious habits as a result.

And so now, ten years on, i'm returning to university - this time on home soil. And i am excreting in my undercrackers for the following reasons:

I used to hate 'mature' students. They did all the work. Turned up to every lecture, screening and seminar, knew the answers and were articulate and committed in a way which disgusted me. Now, i have become all i despised. I am 32 years old, and although not everyone on my PGCE course will be a fresh-faced whippersnapper, i'm sure i'll be one of the oldest. Will i relate to my fellow students? Will they resent me? Think i'm a geek? I hope not, but i'm not the most outgoing individual and worry greatly about making friends and being part of 'the group'.

After ten years away from university learning, i'm extremely concerned about things like lectures, seminars, note-taking, essays, referencing and all the other routines, skills and habits i've fallen out of or forgotten. I'm so used to writing informally, anecdotally or personally that producing academic writing fills me with fear. Just finding my way around campus is a big enough worry - never mind the things i need to do when i'm there!

Am i right to be concerned? Can anyone allay my fears or offer me advice ahead of registration day in September? Or am i just being a paranoid old man?