27 things Mr. Small’s class learnt last year

Teaching

Yep. It’s that time of year again—the last day of the summer hols. Back to school tomorrow. There’ll be tears, and there’ll be tantrums, and there’ll no doubt be one or two that simply refuse to leave the house come the morning… The kids probably aren’t too happy about going back, either. (Boom-tish.)

The first few days are always a bit fraught, but it doesn’t take long for teachers to get to know the children in their class. However, it’s always more interesting to see how well the children know the teacher by the end of the year. In the last of this mini-series of blog posts, Rob Small shares his list of things the children in his class learned last year… judging by this, his lot seemed to have a pretty good handle on him. 

31 things the children in Miss Osborn’s class learnt this year

Teaching

You may remember that I recently shared with you a list of 27 things the children in my class have learned this year. Shortly after, I put out my usual call for other teachers to share in the enjoyment and do the same. Big thanks to Kerry Osborn for stepping up and encouraging the children of 3KO to enlighten her, and us, with what they’ll be taking away from Year 3. If you’re the type that’s prone to analysis and reflection, you might read these posts and deduce that, as important as the curriculum is, what we’re really trying to do, on a day-to-day basis, is help little people figure out this crazy mess of a world; to work out who they are and the impact they have on others; to show them how it matters to make an effort; and to help them in some small way to discover the tools they need to do something good. Easy, right? Over to Kerry…

27 things the children in my class learned this year

27 things the children in my class have learned this year

Teaching

Well, it’s almost over. Seven more weeks and that’ll be another academic year complete. But what have we learnt?

Below is a selection of the comments my class of eight- and nine-year-olds wrote down when I asked them to answer that very question. I’ve copied them exactly as they appeared in their books (one for each child) and I have to say, it made me proud. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that you can only teach children who allow you to teach them, so this is a tribute to them as much as anything else…

Primary school teachers share their favourite books for children

Book Reviews, Reading, Teaching

Some kids are natural born readers. Many others develop a love for books because of the time that their parents spend reading with them. For others it starts with a single book that sparks just enough of a reaction to get them to read one more book, and then another, and so on.

As a teacher, to know that you’ve inspired a love of reading in a child is a wonderful thing for so many reasons… not least the fact that a child who reads will come to my classroom with a more expansive take on the world and an exponentially greater vocabulary.

Ten Things I Teach The Children In My Class That Adults Need To Learn Too (Yes, Even When You’re Using Facebook)

Grammar, Teaching, Writing

1. Capital letters

Let’s start with an easy one, shall we? Capital letters go at the start of any sentence, status update, comment or tweet. Also, when you write someone’s name (that’s their first name AND surname) you need to use a capital letter. Same for the name of any town, city or country. Honestly. Most children over the age of five get this right.* What’s your excuse? 

Watermelon Daiquiris

All, Teaching, Words, Writing

Some days you’re just more open to the world around—more attuned to the melodies that play over the rhythm of your everyday routine. Why it happens, some days more than others, I don’t know. Quality of the coffee, maybe. The weather. A really good night’s sleep. Whatever the reason, it’s important to take advantage of those moments—those moments when your sense of wonder is heightened.

Every morning I write my pages. Anywhere I am—in the coffee shop, on the plane. Wherever. The other day I was at a school, doing some support, and having arrived an hour or so early, I sat down in the staffroom to do my pages. (I’m working a new short story, which I’m quite excited about, but I need to nail the ending, so I was hammering out some words and just playing around with different versions.) Anyway, about halfway down the page, three staff came in—all women—and started making coffee and chatting about their weekend. Whether or not they noticed me, sitting in the corner, I don’t know. Maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t care. Either way, they carried on their conversation, and as it turned out one of them had been to Ibiza for the weekend…

“So, how was it?”

“Oh, fantastic. No kids, just me and Chris.”

“Wow, I bet that was nice. Did you party all night long?”

“Yep. Lots of cocktails…”

“Ooh, I like Sex on the Beach…”

“Didn’t have any of those. Had a few mojitos, though.”

“Strawberry daiquiris—they’re my favourite…”

“Yep, had a couple of those.”

“Although, I went to this cocktail bar the other night in Milton Keynes called Turtle Bay, and it really put me off them, ‘cos they just didn’t know how to make ‘em properly…”

“Well, at this one place we went to they made us watermelon daiquiris.”

[Cue both the other women basically having kittens.]

Watermelon?

“Yep.”

“Ooh, that’s a bit different…”

“Bet they were lush.”

“They were…”

At which point, all three now with their mugs of instant coffee in hand, drifted out of the staffroom, leaving me with a big grin on my face. Come on, I thought. That was amazing. You’ve got to get it down…

Writers are often encouraged to eavesdrop, as a means of developing their ear for dialogue. But really, who needs an excuse? Hearing a conversation like that just sets you up for a good day. Which it was: the boys in my writing group all managed to knock out a decent story (well, almost all of them… a half-decent one, anyway) and then, later, for some reason the girl at Pret gave me a free flat white and a discount on a cheese toastie!

So, there you go. Increased awareness. Watermelon daiquiris. And free coffee.

It’s all good.

The Purple Crisp

All, Creativity, Reading, Teaching, Words, Writing

Greetings…

It has been a while, eh? Yeah, well, I been busy. Weddings, marathons, general elections (all as an attendee and/or viewer, rather than a participant, I should add).

Mostly, though, I’ve been learning about gutter opera, with D. Foy. The whole experience has been fantastic, a lot of fun, and hugely, incredibly inspiring—and so the next few blogs I post will be either posts I wrote for that class, or pieces inspired by the assignments I was given. I hope you like them, and perhaps feel inspired to take D.’s class yourself.

Anyway, there are several things D. has been trying to get us to do during the course of this class. One was to compile a commonplace book, in which you store or make a record of all of your influences. (And by all of your influences, he means all of your influences. Doesn’t matter how random, weird, or seemingly irrelevant.) Another thing he encourages you to do is pay attention to the language around us. Again, by this, he means all of it. Everywhere…

Look around your immediate surroundings and note the myriad types of language you see (e.g., online, print magazines, books, advertisements, mailers, street directions, billboards, airline tickets, bus passes/transfers, take-out menus, and so forth, and so on). Do this often as you go through your day…

Sounds simple, right? It is, but try it and you might be amazed at the creative avenues it opens up.

Take for example, the other day, when I bought a packet of crisps [or “potato chips” for my American readers] and took them to the school where I teach, to eat at snack time. Before opening the packet, I read all the text—and there was a lot of it. Sheesh. Crisps aren’t just crisps anymore. Oh no. These had “BEST OF BRITISH POTATOES WITH ANGLESEY SEA SALT HAND COOKED CRISPS” written across the front of the packet, and then, underneath, “BRITISH POTATOES grown in HEREFORDSHIRE and specially selected for their quality. Our potatoes are thinly sliced with their skins on, HAND COOKED in small batches, and tumbled with sea salt from ANGLESEY to give a delicious and crispy snack.” (All upper casing and italics the manufacturers’ own).

Wow. Tumbled. I don’t think I’ve ever had crisps that have been “tumbled” in sea salt before.

And if I didn’t before, I really wanted to eat those crisps.

Then I opened the packet, and the first thing I saw was… yep. You guessed it. A purple crisp. And it totally threw me. In fact, the crisps were all different colours—red, purple, yellow. Que raro, I thought, but then almost immediately I had an idea for a story-prompt for the boys in my writing group.

The Purple Crisp.

Yes!

Imagine you found a purple crisp in your bag. What would you do? Would you eat it? What might happen if you did? Etc., etc., and so on.

Anyway, I put it to them; they loved it, and off they went. Then a weird thing happened. While the boys were busy writing, I looked at the packet again and noticed that under all the blurb was an image of the Anglesey Sea, serene and blue under a cloud-streaked sky. I must have seen it before, but nothing registered. It was weird, because Anglesey was where I went last November, with a group of mates to commemorate my friend, Warren, who’d died the year before… And it was weird, because I suddenly started thinking about him, and all the stories I wanted to tell. Warren. AKA: Norm. A, er, how shall I say? Bit of a rogue. Yeah. And then some! Oh, boy. The stories I could tell you about Norm… Point is, just like that, there he was, in my thoughts. And I wanted to write about him.

Problem was, I was in the middle of a class. Couldn’t just pick up my pen and start writing about that time he got arrested for shoplifting sausages and gave Stuart Brown’s name and address instead of his own, now, could I? So, I thought, what I’ll do is keep the crisp packet, put it in my commonplace book, and write about Norm later… which is exactly what I did.

Teaching Writing, Part One

All, Creativity, Sitting, Teaching, Words, Writing

For the past three weeks, I’ve been going to a small primary school just outside Bedford and helping one of the teachers with a group of boys who want to improve their writing. It takes me about forty minutes to drive there, and I’m only with them for a couple of hours, one morning a week, but even after just three sessions, I’m psyched about the progress they’re making.

There’s still a lot of work to do, of course. It definitely helps that they’re all attentive, quick to respond and fairly well-behaved. Ahem. Their “problems” vary, from child to child: one boy, for example, has absolutely no confidence in what he writes; another cannot see that what he writes invariably ends up as one long string of independent clauses, completely devoid of any punctuation whatsoever. Rudiger*, meanwhile, is obsessed with the word therefore. He wants to use it all the time. It drives me fucking nuts, and I’ve told him so (minus the f-word, of course, because, er, hello?). I have, therefore, banned him from using it more than once in each piece of writing he does.

By the time they’re in Year 5, most children have had it drummed into them so often that when you ask them what their writing needs to include, you get a monotone chorus of: “Capital letters and full stops… time connectives… interesting vocabulary…” Which is all true and good. But boys—I’ve noticed this, being one myself—can get pretty obsessive, and this often stops them from just getting something down on paper. They’re constantly thinking, I’ve got to use conjunctions. Or, I’ve got to use technical vocabulary… whatever that is. And that leads to a kind of writer’s block, which we all know is worse than anything to afflict mankind in the entire history of its existence.

One of the techniques I use is getting them to free-write. How often do kids get to do that? Not very often, I’ll wager—and it shows. The first time I tried it, some of them really struggled with the mere concept. “But, I don’t know what to write,” they say. And sometimes that’s true. More often than not, however, they’re under the illusion that what I want them to write has to be perfect. Perfectly punctuated, in their neatest handwriting, and no spelling mistakes… the works. Because, somewhere along the line, this is what they’ve come to understand “writing” to mean. And yeah—ultimately, that is what we teachers are after. But not all the time, and certainly not straight away.

Sometimes you need to give them a topic, or a prompt. Sometimes not. I’ve often done it by giving them the opening, “Mr Pucci has asked me to write for ten minutes, but I don’t know what to write about so I’m just going to write about…” Either way, once you get ‘em going, you’ll probably find they use “connectives” and “interesting vocabulary” without even thinking about it. At some point, of course, you have to stop them and get them to look over what they’ve written. To begin what I call the translation process. That’s when we start doing things like reading aloud, checking for repetition or overuse of the same word, and choosing where to put a full stop. (As an aside, it’s interesting how many of these techniques I need to remind myself to use, or encourage my clients to use). For this to work—certainly with a group of nine-year-old boys—you need to establish a culture of trust and respect. Make sure they know we’re not judging any mistakes, but at the same time saying it’s okay to laugh at something that sounds silly. Watch how fast they reach for their pencils in order to make those corrections, or to put in those missing full stops. Thus begins the process of editing and re-writing… but more on that next week.

*Not his real name.