Notes on my first Shared Reading group session at Melton Library Monday 18th Sept. 2017 10.30-12 noon

Texts selected : The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

The Morning Swim

Moonlight

The Tent

Poems : Childhood among the Ferns by Thomas Hardy

The Moment by Margaret Atwood

The Gift Outright by Robert Frost

In these readings we explore a child’s developing relationship with her Grandmother who is completely familiar and at ease in her natural surroundings but feels disappointment and a creeping anxiety about  memory loss.

* Questions and notes about these readings will be added after the reading session.

 

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Thoughts on intervention for GCSE English Language

It seems to me that the way that our students are learning to meet specific criteria for GCSE Language as it stands, actually hinders the natural development of reading and writing skills in those students who learn in unusual ways and who think differently. I have observed this amongst borderline and resit students and am convinced that the only way with some of them is to educate them out of the formulaic approach that they were drilled in at school to free them up to use their natural intelligence and common sense.
For example, this year I helped a Yr 12 student who achieved an A in AS History to pass English Language with a high C the 5th time of taking GCSE only by convincing him that the way he was writing in History essays was the way he should approach his English. When he realised he was free to do this – to focus on the content and meaning of the text he was writing about, rather than trying to spot examples of figurative language and jump through hoops- his writing style improved overnight.

Reluctant and rebellious teenage boys with learning difficulties, excluded from school and frequently facing worst case scenarios themselves, are notoriously difficult to engage in learning to read.  I am sure most teachers would agree that it is more important to foster a life-long love of reading than the mechanistic ability to decode without any real engagement in meaning.

Although it is never possible to generalize, I have certainly found that many such boys are seeking to take responsibility, test their mettle and are intrigued by the idea of a teenager surviving alone in the Canadian wilderness. This is the theme of “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, an American writer well respected in the US. The plight of a boy just like themselves had so gripped its early teenage readers  that they asked for an even worse case scenario! In response, Paulsen wrote a sequel, “Brian’s Winter”, which can easily be read first and it is shorter. Personal qualities and life skills are presented through the protagonist’s actions and thoughts in shovelfuls, making it an ideal teaching tool and source of encouragement for these boys who need to develop their own resilience and ability to face difficult circumstances.

Following a dramatic worst case scenario of a pilot suddenly dying of a heart attack leaving our protagonist as the sole passenger obliged to crash land into a lake, the reader embraces the thoughts of What if…? What would I do in such a situation? While recalling their hero, Bear Grylls’, Survival and Bushcraft skills and setting their minds to practical problem-solving which is the great strength that these boys often have, they enter wholly into the scene and experience, possibly for the first time, the joy of reading. They find themselves not simply decoding but reading for meaning, identifying with the protagonist, feeling his pains, joys and hopes, benefiting from immersion in story in all the ways we value. Boys who find it hard to communicate with us suddenly open up and talk about real-life practical tasks such as how to light a fire, make a bow and arrows, find out if there is an animal hiding in a cave, whether it is safe to light a fire inside a wooden shelter, how to skin a rabbit and use its fur to make rope, clothing etc. All the skills which these boys often have in abundance, such as resourcefulness, creativity and ingenuity – skills which largely go unnoticed and unacknowledged in our classrooms – are demonstrated by this young teenage boy.

The readers become engrossed in problem-solving, empathising and predicting, all the while feeling good about themselves as they vicariously take risks and share the boy’s victories.  Although initially attracted and drawn in by their interest in the physical survival skills needed in such a hostile environment, these readers soon recognise the significance of other personal qualities and skills. With the teacher’s help, they see the importance of maintaining one’s emotional and mental health through speaking positively to yourself, being self-disciplined, persevering with dull routines and even  replaying in their minds, advice from the past. A boy, like themselves in so many ways, suffering the fallout of his parents’ messy divorce appeals to their imagination like no other. They read a whole book for the first time and are so enthused by the total experience that they go on to become readers which is surely the best indicator of success in education.

Worst Case Scenarios – What would you do?

Reluctant and rebellious teenage boys with learning difficulties, excluded from school and frequently facing worst case scenarios themselves, are notoriously difficult to engage in learning to read.  I am sure most teachers would agree that it is more important to foster a life-long love of reading than the mechanistic ability to decode without any real engagement in meaning.

Although it is never possible to generalize, I have certainly found that many such boys are seeking to take responsibility, test their mettle and are intrigued by the idea of a teenager surviving alone in the Canadian wilderness. This is the theme of “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen, an American writer well respected in the US. The plight of a boy just like themselves had so gripped its early teenage readers that they asked for an even worse case scenario! In response, Paulsen wrote a sequel, “Brian’s Winter”, which can easily be read first and it is shorter. Personal qualities and life skills are presented through the protagonist’s actions and thoughts in shovelfuls, making it an ideal teaching tool and source of encouragement for these boys who need to develop their own resilience and ability to face difficult circumstances.

Following a dramatic worst case scenario of a pilot suddenly dying of a heart attack leaving our protagonist as the sole passenger obliged to crash land into a lake, the reader embraces the thoughts of What if…? What would I do in such a situation? While recalling their hero, Bear Grylls’, Survival and Bushcraft skills and setting their minds to practical problem-solving which is the great strength that these boys often have, they enter wholly into the scene and experience, possibly for the first time, the joy of reading. They find themselves not simply decoding but reading for meaning, identifying with the protagonist, feeling his pains, joys and hopes, benefiting from immersion in story in all the ways we value. Boys who find it hard to communicate with us suddenly open up and talk about real-life practical tasks such as how to light a fire, make a bow and arrows, find out if there is an animal hiding in a cave, whether it is safe to light a fire inside a wooden shelter, how to skin a rabbit and use its fur to make rope, clothing etc. All the skills which these boys often have in abundance, such as resourcefulness, creativity and ingenuity – skills which largely go unnoticed and unacknowledged in our classrooms – are demonstrated by this young teenage boy.

The readers become engrossed in problem-solving, empathising and predicting, all the while feeling good about themselves as they vicariously take risks and share the boy’s victories.  Although initially attracted and drawn in by their interest in the physical survival skills needed in such a hostile environment, these readers soon recognise the significance of other personal qualities and skills. With the teacher’s help, they see the importance of maintaining one’s emotional and mental health through speaking positively to yourself, being self-disciplined, persevering with dull routines  and even  replaying in their minds, advice from the past. A boy, like themselves in so many ways, suffering the fallout of his parents’ messy divorce appeals to their imagination like no other. They read a whole book for the first time and are so enthused by the total experience that they go on to become readers which is surely the best indicator of success in education.

If…

If you can keep your cool when Mum and Dad are leaving,

Wishing you farewell with trembling lips and firm handshake

If you can stand upright and not flinch

when all about you jockey for position

rough you up on the pitch and jostle you in the changing rooms

If you can trust yourself not to weep

when all alone and longing for your sleep

If you can holler with the rest of them, sing the hymns and snigger at Jones’s shoes
If you can hate and not let hatred show its ugly face

Or lie, especially to point the finger elsewhere

and not be lied about yourself

By playing the clown and striking first before they pick on you

And yet take care not to look too good, nor talk too wise

For fear of being ostracized

If you can dream—and keep those accidents a secret;
If you can think along the lines that you are taught

Nor ask too many questions, or try to reason why you’re privileged
If you can trust that you deserve to be the Master
And treat those cleaning skivvies with disdain
If you can bear to twist the truth to fit in with the crowd

Concealing your true feelings by
Speaking fast and just a bit too loud
Or pretend to be too busy while “Relatives do fuss!”
And stoop and tie your laces when the tears begin to gush

If you can make one heap of all your savings,

Buy treats and smokes for bullies

While escaping their worst ravings

Risking all for reputation

That most precious invitation

To join the movers and the shakers

Speaking brash and walking proud

So you can one day be the boss

And just not give a toss what others think

Or care whose feelings might be hurt

For now you’re hard, untouchable
And fit well in your shell

This carapace you’ve grown will serve you well

Long after growing pains are gone.

If you can force your heart to be like stone

Unmoved by pleas, excuses, son, you’ve shown

The qualities we need in our Leaders’ party

You’ll fit, you’ll suit, your tie and neat physique, sure, they come with a price

But neither foe nor friend so nice can cut through that ice

Your malice will suffice to mould your world just as you wish

If you can be impervious to scorn, derision, even blows,

 

Play with your phone while smiling at your foes….

 

If you can fill the undiscerning press
With sixty seconds’ worth of waffle and digress,

Yours is the House, and everyone that’s in it

You’ve won their applause; enjoy that precious minute

They robbed you of your manhood, son

Those playing fields of Eton

But they taught you how to run when done

so run Cameron!

 

 

 

Tony Benn’s daughter talked about the local schools’ network when she came to the Leicester NUT meeting. They talk a lot of sense.

“It’s saying something of crucial importance here: it’s only when teachers start looking beyond their own school that standards are raised across the board. If schools are competing against each other, this won’t happen at all; schools will remain locked within in their own narrow walls. If systems are put in place that really motivate and incentivise co-operation then best practice will be shared and teachers will be able to reflect upon what they are doing well and not so well. A radical re-think is needed of The White Paper in the light of this report; competition between schools needs to be down-played and co-operation enhanced.” – See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2010/12/latest-ofsted-report-proves-co-operation-not-competition-improves-schools/#sthash.cw7eT3US.dpuf

Syntax Play: Trading Ideas with David Didau