Fictional Islands

It’s Sunday again and time to choose six books on a theme chosen by @eenalol on her blog at https://alittlebutalot.com/. Every week she sets a theme and if you want to find out more about it, visit her blog or look her up on Twitter. This month the themes are all based on the Viper books by Bex Hogan and this week’s is fictional islands that you would like to visit. Help!!!! There are many real islands that I would love to visit but thinking of six fictional ones seemed impossible. Very few books that I have read include islands let alone ones that I would like to visit. However, after a lot of thought and a bit of luck with library book, these are my choices.

I would love to visit any of the islands visited by The Dawn Treader
The Island of Roke where the school for wizards is.
The Isle of Avalon, the resting place of King Arthur.
I’m not sure I would want to live on Recluse but a visit would be fine.
The Once-City. A city built on a sea of grass.
Libraries are open again!!! I borrowed this yesterday. The description of the Greek island of Kyri sounds idyllic.

So that is my Six for Sunday, some very old and a couple quite new. I’m really looking forward to seeing what books other people choose. Let me know if you have read any of my choices and what you think.

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Magical Books

Six for Sunday is the brainchild of Steph (@eenalol). See her website for the full details. https://alittlebutalot.com/. I’m very late to the party but have really enjoyed creating my own lists according to her prompts.

This week’s prompt is Magical books which immediately means that there are way too many to choose from. I was brought up on a diet of fairy stories before moving onto Narnia and Lord of the Rings. Fantasy and books involving magic remain a huge love of mine. Just choosing 6 books about magic was definitely much harder than finding six books with snakes. Initially there was a common theme of a young boy discovering or coming into his power and female heroines seemed poorly represented but I think that’s because a lot of my original choices are quite old now. There are a lot more fantasy books with female leads now than there were 20 years ago so I had another look at my bookshelves and the list is now more balanced.

You can’t have a collection of magical books without including Merlin. This is his back story before King Arthur was even thought of.
The Magic’s Price trilogy were the first books I read by Mercedes Lackey and Vanyel remains my favourite character. This trilogy is quite dark and shows the danger of magic.
Possibly one of the best fantasy books ever written. It has elves, dragons, dwarves and other worlds. What’s not to love?
Love the magic system in this series and Vin is a terrific character.
I just love this Venetian based trilogy. Two great female protagonists and a brilliant story.
I couldn’t have a set of magical books that didn’t include one by LEModesit. A strong female mage in a world dominated by men.

So that’s my six magical books for Sunday. I can’t wait to see what choices other people make. Let me know what you think of the books I have chosen. Are any of them your favourites too?

My Bullet Journal Journey

I’ve kept my bullet journal for three months now, that’s a quarter of the year so it seemed like a good time for a review.

I have really enjoyed creating the pages for my journal. It’s been a lovely way to relax. I have also ended up spending a lot more time on social media as I have looked at examples of people’s journals on pinterest and google. None of my pages are breath taking or desperately original but they have given me pleasure both to create and to look at once they have all been completed.

I have also enjoyed the accountability that my journal has created. I’ve got a page each month to log the exercise that I take and on at least three occasions, I have gone out for a walk so that I didn’t have a blank space on my page. That however, didn’t stop the odd blank space in March due to 12 hour days in school.

My pages are a combination of drawing and washi tape. It would be easy to spend a fortune on reels of tape but I have contented myself with just a couple of sets from Amazon. They do add a dash of colour and detail to the pages and mean that I can create a pretty page even when I don’t have much time.

I’ve also chosen a different colour scheme for each month so that each one looks different. January was mainly blue and grey, February pink and purple, March was leaves and green and April is pastel colours.

These are some of my pages so far in my journal.

February pink hearts and skinny washi tape
Last weekly spread for February with mainly hand drawn pictures and just a bit of tape
March pages for exercise and the books I’ve read
March weekly spread with washi tape and hand drawn leaves
Title page for April with a hand painted wreath.
Exercise log for the 30 days of April. Hopefully no blank spaces this month
I couldn’t have a weekly spread spanning two months so this was the first page for April and then I will have double spreads for each week as usual.

So far my journal has been a record of what I have done, read, watched and listened to. I’ve also kept a note of Covid news as I feel it’s important to record it for myself. This year is going to be a year unlike any other as I retire and I’m looking forward to continuing to record it.

How do you use your journal? Let me know if you have a blog as I love to see what other people are doing.

Six for Sunday 2

The book challenge for this week on alittlebutalot.com is for six books with snakes in the title or on the cover. This was a real challenge and I had to resort to google but I actually found 5 books that I had read and one that is currently on my TBR list. Thanks Steph for reminding me of my number one which is a book I love but haven’t read for ages.

I love this and it is definitely due a reread.
One of the all time great middle grade series.
I haven’t read this yet but is on my list. Loved the previous books.
The second book in another great series.
I really enjoyed this and her previous book, The miniaturist
I read this when it came out. Everyone seemed to love it but I didn’t really get on with it.

So that’s my Six for Sunday. How many snake books have you read? All the images are taken from Goodreads apart from my own copy of Dreamsnake.

Six for Sunday

I have only just discovered this hashtag on Twitter. #sixforsunday is the brain child of Steph alittlebutalot (@eenalol ) and she has been giving out weekly prompts since 2017 on her blog alittlebutalot.com. This week’s theme is blue and green books so I went on a hunt.

One of my all time favourite series is the Valdemar series and this was the bluest of them.

Probably the greenest cover of any of my books. Daughter of the Empire is one of my favourite books ever as well as forming part of another series. Mara is one of the best female protagonists you could hope to meet.

IBack to blue and I was introduced to this one by my daughter. Definitely not your usual run of the mill school story.

Another introduction from my daughter. I read all five books in the Grishaverse over two weeks and am looking forward to moving onto the next one soon.

If you like dragons, then you have to read Anne McCaffery’s Pern books. Another all time favourite read.

I’ve been spending a lot more money on books during lock down due to the libraries being closed and picked this one up in Smiths. An interesting look at children dealing with older parents.

So that’s my six for Sunday. Thank you Steph for the prompt.

A new year, a new journal

On Sunday this week, I randomly came across a post on my twitter feed that showed a picture of a bullet journal. I had never heard of them before but I’m always interested in journals that combine art and writing so I investigated. Several hours later, I had looked at Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and spent over £30 on a new journal, pens and some pretty washi tape (I’ve always wanted some but never knew what to use it for).

My new journal

Since my journal arrived on Monday, there seems to have been a real explosion of interest and a whole community is developing on Twitter with the hashtag #journalingteacher thanks to @CassHT and others. I guess that it’s partly because it’s a new year but there also seems to be a real desire and interest in creating something individual and artistic as well as keep a record of the year to come.

From reading articles and watching videos, there doesn’t seem to be any set idea about what a bullet journal is. It can be what you make it I think. Some seem to be mainly used as planners for work and home, others are trackers for emotions, exercise logs, diaries or a combination of all of them.

This seems to me to be a good year to begin a journal for two reasons:
The first is that it will be interesting to record how we move out of our current situation. The infection rate is dire at the moment but the vaccines are now here so hopefully, there will be an end to restrictions before too long.
The other is that this is the year that I retire. In July I will retire from teaching after 30 years and so a journal that can also be a planner seems like something that I might need come September. I’m not at all sure how I’m going to fill my time so having a planner may well come in useful

I’m looking forward to filling my pages with books, walks done and lots of lovely decoration and hopefully, at the end of December 2021 I will be able to look back on a healthy, happy year.

2020- The year the music stopped

2020 hasn’t been a good year for anyone and in a lot of ways, I have got off quite lightly however the thing that I have missed most is music.

White Christmas 2017

Despite being painfully shy as a child, I have always loved performing. My first public performance (not in school or church) was on the stage at De Montfort Hall in Leicester when I was 10 in 1970. I can still remember the thrill of getting into costume and make up and running out onto the stage to the music of Vaughan Williams folk song suite.

Since then, there hasn’t been a year when I haven’t performed in a show or a concert somewhere. Until 2020! That’s 50 years of amateur singing and performing and I have loved every minute of it. I have sung with huge choirs and small groups but my first love has to be musical theatre. My first role was Louisa in The Sound of Music when I was 11 and I have never looked back. I have never been amazingly good and my one regret is that I wasn’t more talented and able to do some of the lovely lead roles. However I have had some great small roles and just being on stage and in costume has a thrill all of its own.

My Fair Lady 2018

I have had the good fortune to work with professional singers and actors as well as some amazingly talented amateur performers. I have also travelled and performed in places as far apart as the top of the Empire State Building and a 2000 seat theatre in Philadephia to the end of the pier theatre in Cromer with the waves crashing below us. I met my husband through my theatre group and we have had over 20 brilliant years together.

Full Monty 2016

It isn’t just performing. Each show can take up to 6 months to rehearse. The people that we rehearse and perform with become a second family. There is nothing quite like sitting in a room and learning new music together. The camaraderie that comes out of this is second to none but this year it all came to an abrupt end. We were 10 days away from putting on The Producers. It was a fantastic cast and was going to be a brilliant show. Sadly all our work together with that of every professional and amateur group in the country was wasted.

Hopefully, this year theatre will return. I have missed going to see live shows as well as performing in them. With a vaccine ready to be rolled out, maybe we can begin to look forward to shared live music being part of our lives again. Roll on 2021.

Addams Family 2019

The Writing Furore Part II

5%I’m going to stick my head above the parapet and explain, again, why it is entirely possible for schools to achieve higher scores in Writing than Reading at the end of Key Stage Two without cheating. This blog has been brewing for a few weeks but reading tweets today including one that stated categorically that ‘no school should have higher writing scores than reading’ has really annoyed me.

Our school has always had higher scores for writing than reading. It is generally our highest result and that is the same whether we are moderated or not. Our results have gone down as a result of the 2016 changes but are still around the 86% mark against a reading score of 70%. However our Grammar scores are fairly close to our writing score so I think that supports our writing result.

As a school, I believe that we teach writing well. We write lots and not just in the morning English lessons. Our children produce extended writing in all subject areas including RE and DT from Year 1 upwards. Many of out pupils enjoy the task of writing where they are in control more than reading which some boys in particular can feel is a a passive activity. This is especially true of the KS2 reading test where the children are expected to read and completely understand 3 random texts in an hour. Compare this to a writing task on a subject that they have a lot of knowledge about and a real interest in. Surely it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that they will do better at the writing task than the reading test?

We choose writing focuses that will interest and enthuse out pupils. An example is the Whitby Abbey walk through on The Literacy Shed. This never fails to stimulate brilliant writing from children of all abilities. Drama also plays a large part in our writing. Acting out a situation before writing about it gives them a real insight into characters and how they might act and what they might say in a given situation. Writing in our History, Geography and Science topics is also successful as the children are writing about subjects of which they have a good level of knowledge.

Unlike the reading test, writing is not subject to a rigid time constraint. I had two children last year who answered every correctly every question they attempted on the reading paper. However they failed to get the magic 100 simply because they didn’t answer enough questions. That problem of working slowly doesn’t apply in writing tasks. I can give them extra time during assemblies or break times so that they are able to complete their writing. Is that cheating? I don’t believe so.

The children are given opportunities to check and edit their work too which they don’t really get a chance to do in the reading test due to the time pressure. That is independent editing, not me telling them what to change but a chance to behave like a real author and improve their work or spot their own mistakes.

The writing is also judged on a portfolio of work. We usually start collecting this after Easter and aim for 8 pieces of work from each child. This means that if there is a piece of writing where they have not been so successful or maybe just have an off day, there should still be enough evidence in the other pieces. This is not something that can happen in the Reading test. If the text is incomprehensible to a child for whatever reason, there is no opportunity to show that they might do better with a different one. In my 26 years of teaching, I have certainly learned that children always do better when they have an interest in whatever it is that they are doing.

I also feel that it is easier to teach writing than reading. The skills seem more concrete to me and it is so easy to find good models where they can see how real authors use the techniques that we are teaching them. It is much harder for me to try and show the children how to answer questions on a text in a way that will be transferable to a completely unknown text in May. I know that is a fault in me as a teacher and one that we as a school are trying to address. The teaching of reading is a whole school focus as we try to bring our reading results up towards the level of our writing results.

Maybe instead of insisting that schools can’t legitimately have higher scores for writing, people should be looking at how they teach writing and how they can improve it in the same way that we are trying to improve reading.

My own opinion is that the Reading Sat is very difficult for a whole group of children who are able to write quite well. They can read but are not always able to show this at 9:15 on a morning in May. I actually feel that schools should have higher writing scores because of all of the factors that I have mentioned. However, I’m sure that those people who are certain that our results aren’t possible without cheating won’t bother to read this and I will continue to be enraged by accusations of cheating but at least I have had my say!

 

The Annual Writing Furore

Every year, Key Stage Two Writing creates a furore on social media. There are those who almost accuse schools who do better at writing than reading of cheating and those who despair at the inconsistencies created by different interpretations of the official guidance for moderation.

This year, the arguments seem to have started earlier than ever as different areas hold moderation training sessions and the difference in how the guidance is implemented seem to be further apart than ever. It does seem to defy belief that what should be a simple assessment system is open to such widely different interpretations that it cannot possibly be a level playing field.

There seem to be two different reactions to this situation. One is a call for formal assessment of writing to be scrapped completely, the other is for a return of the old writing task that was done in Sats week.  However, I firmly believe that both of these reactions are wrong and will lead to a reduction in the quality of writing and the teaching of it.

Firstly, I truly believe that if there is no formal assessment of writing at KS2, then it will devalue it completely. If there is no assessment of writing, how many schools can honestly say that they will give it the emphasis that it currently receives. It will be all too easy to concentrate on Reading and Grammar where success is visible and good results will move the school up the league table. Being able to score well on the Grammar paper however, is no indication of being able to write well. Just because someone knows all of the rules does not mean that they can use them effectively and leaves no place for imagination and creativity. Having a Grammar test as the only assessment of how well a Year 6 pupil can write is a really bad idea in my opinion.

The second reaction of wanting a return to the old writing task where it was completely unseen until the day of the test I think is also wrong.  Theresa Cremin writes in the Tes about how important it is that we give children enough opening time, discussion time and time to generate ideas. This can be done in the classroom without any cheating or bending the rules. The children can share their ideas, plan and adapt and redraft their writing. All of these are things that we should be encouraging but cannot take place if the writing is a surprise subject and has to be completed inside an hour.

It takes me ages to develop ideas for lessons or writing and I really sympathise with children who cannot write to order. How many of us could produce a good piece of writing on a random subject in 50-60 minutes?

I readily accept that the current system is flawed and needs fixing. However I truly believe that it should be fixed and not just abandoned. The current system allows teachers to give their pupils writing tasks that will enthuse them and enable them to write to the best of their ability. My class love to write and I love to create opportunities for them to do so. I would hate to have that devalued.

 

Serendipity and Poetry

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I love getting children to play with words and sometimes it develops into a poetry session. My first week plans included looking at abstract nouns. I have often used the idea from Pie Corbett of linking abstract nouns with concrete ones to create images such as the wardrobe of anxiety or the kite of hopefulness. Sometimes we have developed these into list poems.

This year I saw on Twitter that @MrWalkerKPPS was doing something similar with his class but developing the ideas using colours and verbs which made me think that I could do a bit more with the idea than I had previously.

We have also looked at prepositions this week so I had the idea of combining the work on nouns with prepositions to give something like ‘ Inside the wardrobe of anxiety, the box of curiosity. That reminded me of Amulet by Ted Hughes which we had studied at the beginning of the year and so I had my poetry lesson all sorted.

We worked on computers because I think that it is so easy for children to use wordprocessing to write poetry. It makes it so simple for them to insert or delete words and move things around. They already had their pairs of concrete and abstract nouns  and were ready to start writing their poems. When I reminded them of Amulet, I was really pleased by how well they remembered it and how quickly they realised that they could use the idea of end line being the opening in their own poems.

The atmosphere in the room was really buzzy. Many of the children were working alone but discussing their ideas with those near to them. Others were working in pairs and it was great to hear them all rehearsing their ideas aloud and suggesting a range of prepositions to use in their poems.

Then I had the idea of using a verb to begin the lines which added more variety to their work. Again, the children took the idea on board enthusiastically and thought carefully about which ‘ing’ word would work in a particular line.

After 50 minutes of work, every child or pair had completed a poem and they were very pleased with their finished work. It was a really simple lesson and had the benefit of reinforcing several word classes so was a useful grammar exercise as well. I love it when things work out and just wish that all my lessons were as successful. So serendipity because if I hadn’t seen the post by Mr Walker, I might not have thought again about something that I have done in several years previously.

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