Saturday, 20 September 2014

Well-Being


Fostering well-being = Minimising unnecessary stress for your staff and giving them the tools to work without wasting unnecessary time.

What would improve my well-being at work - A wish list:

- a laptop that works well 
- a reliable photocopier (is there such a thing?), or at least one that doesn't break down every 3 minutes. And idem with the printer
- printed class lists when I come back to work
- as few split classes as possible
- as few classrooms to teach in as possible
- timetabled time for joint-planning and evaluation / review of lessons and strategies
- a recognition that marking cannot be done in PPA time
- CPD that is tailored to my needs and encouragement to follow my own path too
- regular line-managing that challenges, advises and supports me
- a feeling that interventions, if they need to happen, will be well thought-through and targeted so that I feel my extra effort and time is not squandered.
- transparency at all levels

Little things that would boost teacher morale...

I'm not even bothered by free coffee and tea!

What would you add?


Sunday, 20 October 2013

TLT13 - My presentation on Questioning (hasty draft - no time today)

So I foolishly said yes to David Fawcett... It was the summer term and I thought I would have a bit more time...

I know!


Anyway, having focused on questioning, particularly recording my endeavours with year 10 last year, I thought I would have something to say. I had tried to do a bit of deliberate practice and was aiming to record some lessons to help me fine-tune my skills. It didn't happen but I did take some notes with a focus on a few target pupils. After reading Alex Quigley's post on deliberate practice and chatting to him briefly at Clevedon in the summer, I was more determined than ever to be ... rigorous.

This year, I started with a new year 10 class. It made me realise how far we had got with last year's lot and how far I would have to go with my new class. I do believe that my efforts last year have had some impact on some of my pupils' outcomes and general attitudes towards their learning. I was focusing on a group of boys whose lack of motivation and grit in English was a particular concern. I should have blogged regularly; I never really found the time. But I do own a great number of notebooks!

You can read Alex's excellent post here:
http://www.huntingenglish.com/2013/03/03/becoming-a-better-teacher-by-deliberate-practice/

It was also the starting point for my presentation. Thanks again, Alex.

Later on, I also read and was inspired by Harry Fletcher Wood's effort excellent posts (he's clearly more rigorous than me):
http://improvingteaching.co.uk/tag/deliberate-practice/

Anyway, I'm no great thinker or writer so after wondering (and worrying) about how I could give a talk on questioning to a group of professionals who use questioning every day, I decided to go back to my default position and share what I do in my classroom.

So why questioning? As I said in my presentation, why not? I remember only too clearly my PGCE and early years as a teacher. I remember feeling grateful to pupils who would bother responding to my questions, so grateful that I could hardly even listen properly to what they had to say.
Even though I gradually got better, I continued for years to lead boring "tennis match" style Q&A sessions in class that could last up to 20 minutes during which half the class would be asleep, pretending to listen and/or glad not to have to participate. The same kids would put their hands up and the same kids would be asked questions. The questions became better and better, for sure, but something had to be done.


Alex uses a Bruce Lee quotation in his post: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
I only know too well what he means by this. Adapting our strategies after reflecting on their impact in the classroom is surely the way to go if we are going to become better at what we do.

I wanted to kick off with a clip straight from my classroom to prove that I'm not an expert and would hate to be held as one. I have finally worked out how to use the STAR camera we have at school and have been recording lessons and watching them back. Plenty of cringe moments for sure. In this clip, I asked students as we were reading chapter 4 of Of Mice and Men how they could explain Crooks' behaviour and attitude towards Lennie. 
The first student I picked on gave an interesting response. The second student (one of my target student) was asked for his reaction to that and ... well, turns out he had only been pretending to listen. I didn't set out to catch him out - I just did. And unfortunately, it was recorded. The 'doh' moments kept coming: I repeat student A's point before realising that, really, he should have been doing that; I end up pleading the student to "Clarify! Clarify!"; student B tells the first one to 'shut up' after a while (he said it jokingly but still... First time that we've had this language in the classroom this year and you can tell everyone suddenly gasped), I tell one of them that he's 'doing my head in'... Frankly, by this point, I was thinking of deleting the whole thing. But hey, we persevered, student C gave a short but great answer, adding the word 'defensive' to the discussion to explain the character's behaviour, and lo and behold, student B had a lightbulb moment which made it all right again. 

We didn't fully discuss the clip in the session. I was still trying to find my bearings and seriously wondering how much time I had till I had to let these lovely teachers go! Pity.

[Note: Can I point out that exporting the video has somehow distorted my voice (I still hate it) and has given me a strange speech impediment with the 's' sound? I think I'm too close to the mic)



Onwards and upwards. I proceeded to talk about deliberate practice as set out in Alex's blog and noting the fact that despite the best intentions, I had found it hard in reality to find a 'time and space' to record things systematically, that I didn't really have a coach or 'critical friend' (well, I did talk quite a bit with one of my colleagues last year but not this year), but that the camera really helped and anyway, I tend to be my harshest critic.  This year, I am being more systematic in my targeting of students and gathering of evidence. 


We then ask ourselves as a group:

And heard some great suggestions. I had prepared a few that I shared.

Incidentally, in the feedback, I started repeating some of the teachers' responses for everyone's benefit and kicked myself. I've spent the last 2 weeks trying not to do that in class... See Andy Buck's great blog here about dialogic teaching: http://andybucksfizz.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/harnessing-the-benefits-of-dialogic-teaching/


... and my tweet after reading his post:

I'm off on another tangent here...

Okay, back to the talk. I then talked about some of the strategies that have had the biggest impact on my teaching and the kids' responses over the last few years, namely: using no hands up most of the time (with hands up mainly for polls, Yes/No etc...); increasing the "WAIT" time before asking for an answer (most of the time); using "Bounce" in one way or another, getting pupils to build on others' contributions, which means listening actively as well. In other words, we're talking about embedding habits that do change the ethos of the classroom.




My transition to the next bit was non-existent but in my head I was moving on to sharing a few slides I put up, particularly at the start of the year, at the start of my lessons. It's not exactly about questioning per se but they are questions nonetheless, and I would argue that they are questions I hope the pupils are asking themselves. I refer back to these throughout the lesson or I point back to them - the arrow especially) when some of the children's concentration starts to slip (again, I'm thinking of that target group last year):
[Note: the first one below was lifted from a blog by Pete Jones @Pekabelo]



Discussing this in class has actually made a difference and it is worth asking pupils questions about mindsets and attitudes to learning. It is another little step in cultivating the right atmosphere / culture / ethos.

Another change of topic without any elegant transition saw me moving on to getting students to ask more questions.
I won't go into detail here as I have blogged about this before. I went through some of the work my students have done, most recently on Of Mice and Men, when they came up with some questions on chapter 3, refined them with the mark scheme in hand, refined them again, and finally answered them.
When I get a second, I'll add more detail.

 Lord of the Flies (see earlier post here):

Of Mice and Men:


Using pictures to have students ask questions:

That Ofsted lesson - Silent Debate and Question Matrix (post is here):



Starting and finishing lessons with questions to and from students. I probably went too fast over all this but time was ticking.
WARNING - The following ideas might require post-its :)



Example of Wordcloud (Here, text from the poem Catrin)

Stone Cold - Learning objective over a series of lessons. More questions added (and answered) around the boxes with each passing lesson. Nicely builds continuity and a real sense of progression over time.
 Poetry - Okay, the LO is not a question here but I forgot to take pictures of the revamped slides... But you get the idea. The students still ask questions to help their group plan ahead, think about how to break down the tasks, think about analysing the texts in more depth etc...



In other words, we should aim to do an awful lot of this:



I actually found this on Twitter last week which I shall be using in the classroom (I cannot credit the author unfortunately as I have no idea who designed it):



And finally, I meant to finish with a more profound point... Not really, but I thought that this would be important to mention.
Unfortunately, it was getting clear from the noise in the corridor that it was lunchtime and therefore time to let my lovely audience escape and recharge. So like a bad lesson, I mumbled a few last words and left it there.

Overall, I have found that training students to ask and respond thoughtfully to my questions, and to their peers' questions and points, has brought about many rewards. The relentless questioning of the highly able students challenges and stretches them. Their own questions show an increasingly solid understanding of what it is that we're trying to assess and an increasingly sophisticated way to think about texts and authors' intentions. The trickier characters I was focusing on settled into better habits and contributing definitely became 'normalised', leading to better focus and outcomes. 

Thank you to everyone who listened to me. I enjoyed it!

The slides are here:


TM Labour with Keven Bartle: The Black Box Between Autonomy and Accountability

Well, that was an interesting experience! We worked hard to prepare our presentation on important educational issues that are close to our hearts, and share them with S. Twigg... Pity he was moved from his post a couple of weeks later.

Thank you Kev for taking the time to type it all up!

http://dailygenius.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/the-black-box-between-autonomy-and-accountability/


You can watch the presentation here:






Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Teachmeet Collaborate - Wednesday 25th September 2013 - 5pm-9pm


“If you want to walk fast, walk alone.
If you want to walk far, walk together.”
This proverb, happily ‘borrowed’ from a Steve Munby presentation at the Festival of Education, is a pithy reflection of the philosophy that underpins Teachmeet Collaborate.
A biannual event this teachmeet, itself a collaboration between Canons High and Park High schools in Harrow, has twin aims.
The first of these aims is to bring individual educators, departments and schools together to share their experiences of effective collaborative working. On the evening these contributors will give eight minute presentations to explain the ideas behind their collaborative working, their actions working together with others, the results of these actions and the impact of these actions upon their students, staff and schools.
The second aim of Teachmeet Collaborate is to bring individual educators, departments and schools together in new collaborative ventures. On the evening these contributors will have five minutes in which to pitch their ideas behind a proposed collaboration, explain their suggested actions and identify their intended outcomes and impact to the audience.
Following the ten presentations and six pitches David Weston of the Teacher Development Trust, a group that has recently established the National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN) and led calls for the establishment of a Royal College of Teaching, will deliver a keynote address. This talk will help potential projects within the room identify ways in which their future collaborations can be research-rich, methodologically sound and demonstrably effective.
Following the keynote there will be an opportunity for all attendees to meet with those giving presentations to find out more about their past collaborative ventures or an opportunity to meet with those giving pitches and make connections that will lead to future collaborative projects between schools.
It is our hope and intention that ideas pitched at the first Teachmeet Collaborate will lead to successful cross-school collaborative work that will become presentations at future events hosted by our two schools. In this manner we believe that TMCollaborate can generate a virtuous circle of school-to-school collaborative networks that enrich the professional capital of those working in our schools.
And the reason we want to establish these networks is because in education the time has come to stop walking so fast. We are far more interested in how far we can walk together. Above all else we hope that contributors and attendees alike will reflect, evaluate and share findings from the ‘walking far’ collaborations that start out at TMCollaborate.
In the coming weeks we will provide some suggestions about the kind of ‘Collaboration Presentations’ and ‘Collaboration Pitches’ that contributors may wish to give but we would also love to hear early ideas from you. As TMCollaborate has pedagogy at its heart possible areas of focus might include collaboration in areas such as curriculum planning, questioning for analysis, marking and feedback strategies.
We hope you can join us for this event and that it is the start of a great collaborative journey for you and colleagues you may not even have met yet.
Keven Bartle (@kevbartle)
Canons High School
Hélène Galdin-O’Shea (@hgaldinoshea)
Park High School

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The one where... Ofsted came

Year 9 English lesson – Part of the ‘New Media’ unit (which examines issues around new media [including social media] with emphasis on Speaking and Listening and GCSE style reading questions, comparing articles)

Need / Area for improvement identified by staff and examiners at GCSE: Lack of ideas in their work/”thin content”, limited vocabulary (we have a high proportion of EAL students at different stages) – although they can all use rhetorical sentences!

SO… the unit aims to look at some tricky contemporary issues and difficult concepts whilst building specialist vocabulary and a stock of arguments in order to have a discussion/debate in groups that would be ‘assessed’. This in turn would allow them to write a convincing persuasive / discursive piece around the pros and cons of the internet.


Some might say that you cannot teach students this sort of thing – and they’re probably right! Russell Hall @hall_rhall was saying last week that this issue shouldn’t be unexpected; it’s developmental, a matter of maturity. In any case, we can take the opportunities offered to us to get students to rehearse ideas orally before they write them down.

ANYWAY… The phone call came and I was seeing year 9 the next day, determined to continue as normal. We’d discussed pros and cons of new media , social media and technologies in general, introducing the concept of utopian and dystopian views of the internet. I wanted a lesson which would consolidate these concepts and push their ideas a bit further. I made sure I stayed calm by avoiding over-thinking the lesson and DEFINITELY NOT writing a lesson plan, opting instead for a few bullet points and a few slides to hang on to in case the nerves kicked in.




The lesson:
I hadn't spotted the inspector who was standing a few feet behind me in that crowded corridor. We were all waiting for the previous class to leave in order to get in ourselves, and I was just joking with some of the kids. It's only when I finally got the class in and put my bag on the table that I saw him. I think I involuntarily recoiled for a second but recovered and smiled, handing him the seating plan and data sheet.

The nerves did kick in for the first time*. My opening salvo was dreadful. I felt myself turning red and decided to focus on my loveliest pupils who had all settled and were reading their private readers silently (I know @LearningSpy doesn't approve but it's department policy and I rather like it). They are all well-drilled so I didn't need to say anything. Magically, SIMS did not take 10 minutes to load up; quick register, call up the PPT, first slide = two columns.

[* I have had notorious issues with being observed for years, often feeling sick and abominably nervous. During the last Ofsted, I cried tears of fear and anxiety on and off for the whole time; the one before that, I destroyed my wing mirror on the drive to school. But curiously, something seems to have happened to me this year. Partly it's just a profound rejection of the whole game and a desire to just 'do my own thing'; partly I just feel more confident in myself. This time, when we were told about 'the call', I did not flinch. I even smiled.]

As I have already said, my opening sentences weren't great but I quickly forgot the extra person in the room (who was writing notes furiously practically the whole time he was there) and took heart in the kids' response. I could tell they were on top form. I've written about a poetry lesson with this class before.

They were asked to start summing up some of the arguments we'd been discussing before using the 2 headings, acknowledging the fact that the vocabulary was really poor on purpose. They spent a minute or two doing that then shared with a neighbour.

Quick class feedback (hands down, targeting certain individuals from the start) including suggestions to improve the headings - the word 'detrimental' was teased out as we'd used it a couple of lessons before. I then told them that this should be seen as the absolute starting point and that anyone simply reciting these basic ideas in their debate would be proving they had learned nothing new and had not stretch themselves.

I played the first clip - 'The internet is a good thing'. They were encouraged to listen attentively in order to add to their list and ask about anything that needed clarification.


I gave pupils a couple of minutes before asking what they had picked up - again, unashamedly targeted questioning, and unashamedly pushing them to develop answers. Also used the 'bounce' technique encouraging others to build on previous contributions, evaluating their validity etc...

I was already amazed at how much they had picked up; I was even more amazed they did the same with the second clip - whose language and arguments are not that easy to understand.

I played the second clip - 'The internet is a bad thing'

Same process for feedback, relentlessly pushing  students to go to the end of their arguments, stopping others who were veering off ('Hold on to that thought') in a different direction. I had good reason: they were talking about the Surveillance argument then about Freedom of Speech, so I needed them to clarify their thoughts as much as possible. I must admit I probed and re-directed and asked them to rephrase and clarify quite a bit at first.

The inspector was still scribbling away. I knew he'd leave soon before witnessing the Silent Debate fully or the Question Formulation grid so I made sure I put copies of the grid on the desk 'for later'.

We moved on to the silent debate (which I stole from the lovely Miss Ludgate @MissJLud ). We'd done it once before and they'd been brilliant at it.
Title: The internet: A force for good or bad?

They needed a few clarifications, for instance: Make sure you respond to the other person and address their arguments (they had assigned themselves a side in their pair). Respond as passionately and persuasively as you can. Question the other person. Demand clarifications. Draw from the whole pool of arguments. Mention specific examples to illustrate your points.

I also warned them that I'd stop the task after 8-10 min but they'd have a chance to keep going afterwards.

Some of them threw themselves in the debate immediately; others wanted to but were more hesitant with their arguments. In the meantime, silence descended upon the class and the inspector carried on writing... I can't quite remember when he left. I circulated and went to see some of the groups, pointing at some of the ideas they could develop further.

After a while, I reluctantly stopped them to bring their attention to the Question Formulation grid nicked from @JOHNSAYERS (you can find it at the end of this post on Questioning). I wanted them to stretch their ideas one last time and test each other's arguments. They came up with some questions pretty quickly after a short class example.
It was time to resume the silent debate - which they did with glee.

Once again, I had to stop them reluctantly. But I needed to conclude the lesson. I asked each pair to identify one of their most successful or interesting threads and be ready to share this with the class.
We only managed to listen to two groups but that was enough. One of the groups was asked to feedback at the start of the next lesson as a starter and refresher.












































Verdict: I really enjoyed the lesson. The kids really enjoyed the lesson. They definitely used much more jargon and impressed me with some of the arguments they used. I was very happy with it.

However, I felt I had to go and get some feedback at the end of the day. The team had offered to feedback to all the teachers they had seen that day from 3:10 pm. I got there first as I didn't have a lesson in the afternoon and had to rush somewhere else.
- He was impressed by the high degree of 'conceptual thinking' in their answers.
- He loved the clips used in the lesson
- Final verdict from the inspector: 'Nothing to worry about. Great learning taking place.'

And that was it!

PS: It's only the next morning that I realised colleagues had been asking for grades. It never occurred to me to ask him...


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

A word about #PedagooLondon... at long last

Too much has happened over the last month; it's prevented me from recording a few thoughts on the day... but what a day it was! I'm unlikely to forget it for a long time yet.

(PHOTOSTREAM HERE  and HERE)
The lasting impressions are, quite randomly:
- I loved the vibe and ethos of the day, its coherent message;
- people enjoyed it;
- participants got something out of it, an idea, a thought, a reflection, or in a few cases, confirmation that SOLO is not for them;
- presenters seemed to enjoy delivering their sessions and engaging in conversation with colleagues;
- it was a non-ego day;
- I loved the whole day and feel quite proud of what we put together;
- I remain awed by the generosity of colleagues, awed by the willingness shown by some many to come along to London on a Saturday and take part in a CPD event that was resolutely by teachers, for teachers, awed by the good humour, enthusiasm and warmth shown by so many people;
- I feel like I have made a good number of friends in the process, some to whom I feel indebted and eager to return any favour I can.

And I could gush in this way for a while longer...

In brief, much has happened since but it is still fresh in my memory.

The wiki:
http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/63012722/Pedagoo%20London%20TeachMeet

From pedagoo.org
http://www.pedagoo.org/2013/03/pedagoolondon/


Right, let's try a proper write-up:

It was with trepidation that I left the house on Saturday 2nd March, headed for the Institute of Education in London, where Part 1 of #Pedagoo London would enfold shortly. It had been a labour of love organising it. Inspired by #Pedagooxmasparty organised by Lisa Jane Ashes in Newscastle, I was keen to develop a similar format for a TeachMeet. The spirit of Pedagoo TeachMeets is firmly focused on professional collaboration and discussion. I wanted colleagues to enjoy a day of reflection as much as anything else.  I wanted participants to feel the 'buzz' I had felt at my first TeachMeet - this feeling of reclaiming our sense of Agency and taking the reins of our own professional development, this feeling of being amongst like-minded colleagues keen to develop their practice, not by nodding blindly at new ideas but by engaging in a professional dialogue and asking challenging questions. And above all, this happens at ground level: teachers talking to teachers based on their own experience, reading, reflection.

The day was split in two.
Firstly the afternoon devoted to longer presentations and/or workshops and since attendees had had a chance to choose their sessions in advance, I really hoped that they felt that different needs had been catered for. The whole thing would be framed with an opening keynote by Keven Bartle, (summing up the day beautifully with his Trojan Mice/Guerilla teacher idea and "bottom up' approach to PD and recapturing professional autonomy - watch it here), and a plenary by John Tomsett sharing impressions of the day, highlighting the importance of professional collaboration beyond the walls of one establishment (and more and more through social media) and sending us off with a smile at the thought of a day well-spent.
Secondly, there was an evening TeachMeet, a more traditional affair, with colleagues sharing an aspect of their practice in a short presentation. I had loved Lisa's evening TeachMeet at Blake's in Newcastle as it was warm, intimate and in a licenced place! We opted for a pub and a limited number of attendees and I am so glad we did. Some of the presentations can be watched here, here and here (have a look at the playlist)

For me, both parts of the day were successful thanks to the quality of the presentations. Everybody whom I had approached said they would take part despite many of them feeling very nervous. I was awed once again by the enthusiasm, commitment, generosity and friendliness of these educators. And I like the breadth of topics on offer, and especially the fact that, as someone who attended put it, you could go from one session on strategies to organise effective group work (Rachael Stevens' excellent Box of Tricks presentation) to another in which Tom Bennett took his usual pleasure in denouncing group work as pointless (and probably harmful - scrap that, deadly...) But this is important too; to find oneself in the middle of an echo chamber would be fairly misguided in terms of professional development!

For the afternoon sessions, the brief was clear: I had asked speakers to share "tried and tested pedagogy" from their own classrooms, particularly something that they felt had had a clear impact on their pupils' learning. Alternatively, I had asked presenters to discuss an area of pedagogy for which they were responsible at their school and to present ways in which they were developing it. Central to each sessions should be discussion time. I wasn't disappointed by the quality of the sessions on offer! Below are some links to different blogs and sites which are more eloquent than I could ever be.
I hope you take the time to investigate some of them.

It was a fantastic and inspiring day. I am particularly pleased that so many attendees took something away from it and implemented it in their own classrooms the following week. Many wrote or tweeted to explain that they had adapted an aspect of their planning or their Scheme of Work as a direct result of attending #PedagooLondon. And this leaves me with a broad smile. This is exactly what Pedagoo is about.

Now to start planning the next TeachMeet.... Hope to see you there!


The brilliant and ever-reliable Leon Cych (@eyebeams on Twitter) not only provided filming equipment on the day but also interviewed many people for their thoughts and impressions. He has usefully pulled it all together here:


Martin Burrett (@ICTMagic) put together a Pedagoo Tweet Archive for which I am incredibly grateful:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/128167323/PedagooLondon-Tweet-Archive

And here are lovely Karen's reflections on the day:
http://www.pedagoo.org/2013/03/cinderellas-reflection-on-a-day-at-pedagoolondon/

and Kenny Pieper's reflections:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-YKoBWetpw

Other links:

Punk Learning at Pedagoo London - Tait Coles' session


Alex Bellars' Prezi: Depth

Athena Pitsillis' Trajan Columns session

Gordon Baillie's session:
and

David Fawcett's session:

Chris Waugh's post and presentation:

David Didau's post and presentation:

John Tomsett's session:

Tom Bennett's reflections on the day:

Extract from Lisa Jane Ashes' session:

Extract from Aleisha Woodley's session:

Extract from Laura Sutherland's session:

Extract from Tom Bennett's session:



Sunday, 16 December 2012

Making Learning Visible in lessons

Gathering and putting resources for one of our 'stations' for our next CPD day, I thought of asking my lovely PLN on Twitter for tips on making the learning visible in their lessons, particularly to the students themselves. Of course it is also essential for the teacher to see how much learning is taking place, how much and what kind of feedback is needed, and to use this information to plan the next lesson(s).
Some great responses are storified HERE for #visiblelearningtip

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The MEA/BFI session - November 2012 - Using iPads and ExplainEverything in the Media classroom






http://www.themea.org.uk/archive/conference-feedback-2324-november/

On Saturday 24th November, I attended the MEA/BFI conference for Media teachers as a presenter for the first time.

Despite the nerves, I was keen to "do" my session (which I had to do twice back to back).
Even though it involved iPads, the focus was on using them as tools to help with formative assessment in the media classroom. We focused on ExplainEverything which I had been using quite a bit in class with AS and A2 students.

Here are the few slides I used on the day:


 
Teachers had a chance to try out different activities using ExplainEverything on the iPads.


Some hands-on activities that AS students do - here with a focus on Genre. ExplainEverything was used to take pictures and record ideas /  commentary / annotations.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Poetry with year 9 - Quick post about being a bit bonkers

One of those lessons when I leave the classroom with a broad grin - at the students' responses as much as the realisation that I might have been a bit OTT... again!

We've just started looking at poems from other cultures and after a couple of introductory lessons (including listening to and discussing point of view in this wonderful extract from The Arrival of BrightEye), we looked at Island Man by Grace Nichols.

After the usual opening tasks, pics to sort out in different piles (and justify) in different ways (pictures of Jamaica vs London) and listening to their fabulous ideas, we listened to a couple of readings of the poem. The second one is this great one from the BBC Learning Zone:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/grace-nichols-island-man-poem-only/1368.html

1 minute in their groups to discuss everything they had to say about what they had just heard... (grouped tables in a maths room)
Then a beautiful burst of hands up which I had to painfully ignore as usual, at least at first. Everyone I asked had something to say, then I relented and asked a couple of the hands up; everything from the slow rhythm to the change in pace and atmosphere was already picked up, the tone of the writing and the mood of the man/character in the poem.

So far so good. The beauty of the poem is in its simplicity but also in the beautifully crafted images that are woven throughout which are much harder to explain - and this was of course the next challenge.

We had a quick discussion (spur of the moment) about the difference between poetry and prose and after listening to their ideas, I suggested that the beauty of a poem is that it has to condense meaning to make every word count... Not sure everyone got that... hadn't really planned it.

I asked the students to read the poem through twice in silence, pen in hand. On the second reading, they were asked to underline / highlight / flag up: 
- favourite line(s)
- Interesting lines/phrases or phrases difficult to understand straight away
- change of pace / mood / atmosphere

...and to write down questions they had about the poem and its content or language.

Cue a couple of minutes to discuss at their table what they'd found out/ highlighted/asked, then listened to some of their questions, asking them to rephrase when needed, bouncing back the questions to other pupils to clarify them.

Had I had more time (and remembered to bring some flipchart paper with me), I would have recorded them all but I wanted to discuss a few key phrases before the end of the lesson.
Boardmarker in hand, I asked pupils to tell me which phrases they'd found interesting and puzzling or difficult to understand, and proceeded to record them quickly on the board.

We picked a first one and I asked them to identify the actual word(s) that made it difficult to understand. Great discussion followed: several ambitious interpretations...

Then the lightbulb moment - what if the poet meant all these things at once? They loved that. We moved on to two more lines and they were great.

Lines we looked at included: 
"his crumpled pillow waves"
"the steady breaking and wombing" (lots of mime cradling from me as we clarified that one)
"Comes back to sands
of a grey metallic soar"

We had to leave it then as we'd all forgotten to look at the clock. I went back to my idea of "condensed meaning" and asked them to try and explain to each other, then to me, what I meant by that.

I left them with an impassioned call to "embrace the difficult phrases" (arms extended) as they are so rewarding when you unpick them a little. Then I said it again in a very earnest tone and to my delight, several heads nodded in all seriousness (particularly that really able young lady who can look a bit jaded at times...) 

I had to wait till they had all left the room to burst out laughing (and it wasn't easy to get rid of them all - some stayed behind to share more ideas about the "sands" bit from the poem). I could still hear myself urging them to "embrace the difficult phrases"... That really wasn't on the original "script" but it pays to get a bit carried away at times :)

I quite like the idea that they think I'm slightly bonkers...

UPDATE:
Well, the essays have been written and marked... I am pleased!!!


A few nuggets: