Save Punctuation

What’s the point of an exclamation mark?
What does it even do?
How do I know when to use one?
And when, perhaps, to use two?

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once told us
It’s like laughing aloud at your joke.
If we let people do that with English
Our language will soon be broke.*

The young are especially fullsome
With their use of the wretched thing.
They love to write tweets and emails
With Wow!!! and Joy!!! and Bling!!!

We really must tidy up English
And make people write it just right.
If we let them write incorrectly
They’ll whisper rebellion at night.

We have plans for the dear old question next
It needs to come into line.
“How are you doing old boy?”
Yes, that usage is fine.

So our edict is plain and it’s simple
We’d like you to teach to the test.
Get rid of the damn exclamation
And we’ll take care of the rest.

 

Please take a look at Michael Tidd’s blog.

*intentional use of colloquial language ;)

Posted in Writing | 1 Comment

Harvest Home

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Before: 7th March 2015

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After: 1st July 2015

One of the things I love most about a project is the way that it forces you to wait for gratification. Just under four months ago, my allotment was a weedy patch of field. Tonight we will feast on the harvest that I have brought home. With little more than a few packets of seeds and some bags of compost, plus hours and hours of digging and watering, I have been able to perform magic, and bring this trug full of wonder home from my plot!

033

Magazine Club is a similar kind of long term project, and one that is very close to my heart. Once a week, I visit my daughter’s primary school, and work with a group of children to produce a school magazine. The Stanton Star is going to print next week, so this week was our final Magazine Club of the year. We have created interviews, reviews, art, stories, poetry, wordsearches, and much more. We spent our last session of the year painting posters to advertise our magazine. When I arrived home with paint all over my jeans, I was reminded about just how brave primary teachers are, every time they get out the paints.

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Writing a book is a project as well. You start out with a germ of an idea, which develops into a piece of writing, and gradually, slowly, painfully, into the finished product. My month off Twitter has been very productive, book-writing wise. At the start of June, I had two rough first drafts that needed a lot of work; at the start of July I have two completed manuscripts. The Seven V’s of A Great Early Years Setting is published and available. I’m just working with a wonderful designer in Pakistan on the cover for the second book. I’d love to know what you think of the draft cover of Bad Faerie and the Trolls of Terror.

7V-kindle-final            Adobe Photoshop PDF

When you take on a project, you often make a lot of mistakes, particularly at first. You feel your way towards the finished ‘end result’ you had envisaged, refining and adapting as you go along. Often, your project looks like an awful mess during the early stages, and it is tempting to lose heart and give up. (If you’ve ever helped to put on a school production, you will know exactly what I mean.) But when your project comes to fruition, when your desire is finally gratified, oh what a feeling! Because with focus, hard work and an awful lot of perseverance, you (yes little old you) well, you brought that harvest home.

Posted in Books, Gardening, Learning | 3 Comments

Hearts and Minds

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou

If you want to get your readers to think about what you are saying, and to take it on board, it is very useful to consider the tone that you adopt. If your readers feel that you are being patronising, or that you are treating them as stupid, this is likely to get their backs up. If you say that you have a ‘mission’ (ensure everyone uses the best methods for teaching; get all children to read; address social inequality) this rather suggests that no one else thought to do such things before you came along. If you tell your readers that everything they do is wrong, but that you know how to make it right, this is likely to annoy them as well. There are a lot of very intelligent people out there, quite a few of whom like to style themselves as ‘New Traditionalists’. They tell me that it will take years to overcome the damage that has been done to our system by ‘progressive education’. Clearly, since I’ve been working in the system for the last twenty years, I should shoulder my own portion of the blame.

I don’t feel a burning desire to change other people’s minds, but if you do, then it’s worth focusing carefully on your social, emotional and interpersonal skills. You don’t win people’s hearts and minds by being rude, patronising or inflexible; by telling them that what you do is right, and that everyone else really should do it exactly the same way as you. You don’t win people’s hearts and minds by being rude about colleagues, or by fermenting division and trying to paint the world in shades of black and white. The reason that my teaching books have been so successful is not because I have a magic formula that no one else discovered. It is not because I have a brilliant intellect, or a method that will work where every other method has failed. It is because I speak to my readers on a level; I treat them as intelligent, sensitive and sensible human beings. I understand their frailties, their struggles and their mistakes, because I have been there (and regularly still am there) too.

The best, the only, way to win people’s hearts and minds is to be kind, gentle, generous, humble, funny where possible, and unfailingly polite. You are no more special than I am; but I am definitely no more special than you.

Posted in Teaching and learning, Writing | 3 Comments

Marking, Mum, and Me

My mum was a teacher, and when I was a kid she would often bring exercise books home to mark. I would beg her to let me have a go at marking the exercise books. Most of the time she would say ‘no’, but sometimes, as a special treat, she would let me use her red pen to put ticks or crosses on a child’s sums. Years later, when I became a teacher, I would spend ages marking my students’ writing. My favourite thing of all was to mark essays, because doing that made me feel like some kind of editor, highlighting the passages that worked, identifying the spelling errors, scribbling questions for the writer to answer when he or she redrafted the work. As I marked, I could feel myself getting to know the ins and outs of the student’s writing style and technique. I could see who needed support with spelling, who struggled to structure or plan, who needed to be stretched to develop their ‘writer’s voice’. It was like I was having a conversation with my students, watching over them and whispering to them, even when we weren’t in class.

There’s a lot of debate about marking at the moment – particularly about whether it is worth the effort that the teacher expends, or whether other kinds of feedback are more useful. I spend a lot of time working with new teachers, and it’s fair to say that the whole ‘marking as evidence for Ofsted’ thing weighs heavy on their minds. Natalie Scott’s deeply touching blog on the subject certainly made me think. I’ve only got one thought to add to the debate, and it is a comment from me, the mum, rather than me, the teacher. You might never have considered this, but some parents look through their children’s exercise books when they bring them home (yes, me, I’m sorry, I do this, I confess!). And when I see a teacher’s handwriting on the pages, it reassures me that they have read and thought about my child’s work. I am in no way suggesting that ‘pleasing parents’ is a good reason for teachers to mark books. My parental wishes are pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. But if his teachers didn’t do it, I would be sorely tempted to rewind forty years, ask my mum if I could borrow her red pen, and do the marking myself.

Posted in Marking | 3 Comments

Cannot Compute

Of all the blogs I’ve written, my favourites are not the ones where I tried to construct a coherent argument, but the ones where I said what I meant in an oblique, imaginative way. Often these blogs come out in a weird form: a stream of consciousness, a poem, a play, or a tiny story. Typically, they are very short. Some readers struggle to compute this kind of writing: they tell me off in the comments, ask me to explain what I meant, or write blogs in response to the argument they think I made. But the whole point of fiction is that you don’t want to explain it to your readers. You’re not meant to explain it to your readers. Fiction has to show, rather than tell. The readers get to make the meaning for themselves.

Some commentators would like us to be more rational and less emotional: they want us to offer facts and evidence, not fiction and feelings. There is definitely a movement in education at the moment that wants emotions and personal experiences to be dismissed, because they get in the way of evidence and reason. But we are human beings, and as such our daily lives are made up of feelings – we are what we feel as much as what we think. Teaching is an emotional act, as well as a rational application of technique. The teachers who inspired me as a child did so because they believed in me and wanted passionately for me to learn, not because they applied scientific reasoning to identify the correct methods with which to teach.

Sometimes the best way to shine a light on a subject is to come at it from an angle. A poem can hit on a truth with far more precision than an essay. (I mean, just look at how much meaning Nancy Gedge can fit into 68 words.) And to be honest, I often have no idea how a blog will come out, until I let my fingers run loose on the keyboard. Because I don’t write to try and get you to agree with me …

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
Flannery O’Connor

Posted in Blogging, Writing | Tagged | 4 Comments

Read as a Writer

“Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad,
and see how they do it.”

William Faulkner

One of the best ways to improve your own writing is to immerse yourself in the writing of other people. It doesn’t really matter what you read, it is more about how you read it. This is why it’s so important to get children to read anything and everything: not because every piece of writing is equally good, but because every book, story, article, review (no matter how great, trashy or poorly written) has something to teach its reader. When I read, most of me is immersed in the story or the information, but in the back of my mind I have one eye on technique.  This is often subconscious – I wince at the way that the author has expressed something, or at something the author has said. Conversely I might give a little shiver of pleasure, at a particularly well written sentence, or a beautifully expressed image. When this happens, it is a great opportunity for me to read as a writer: to take a moment to consider why the writing has pleased or displeased me, and to add it to my mental bank of great techniques/things to avoid.

One of the weirdest/hardest/scariest things to do as a writer is read your own writing with a critical eye, but this is typically what makes the difference between success and failure. To come afresh to your own writing – to read it as though for the first time – requires a kind of split personality. At the moment I’m working on Road School, a book about the adventures that we had last year, when we took our kids out of school, and educated them on the road. Writing it is an odd experience because (a) it is partly autobiographical and (b) I’m trying to make it funny. Each evening I save the document, close it down, and despair that anyone would ever think it even mildly amusing. Each morning, I open the document, read it through, and think ‘oh, that’s actually quite good’. I’m in two minds about the ‘pretend quote’ that I’ve made up for the back cover, though. Perhaps you can help me out: is this quote funny, or is that just me?

“This book is disgusting.
It is the bastard love child of Rousseau, Dewey and Piaget.”
Anonymous Reviewer

Posted in Books, Road School, Writing | 9 Comments

Check your Privilege

Most of the well known writers and speakers in education are white men. It’s been like that since I began writing education books, more than 15 years ago, and it’s still that way now. Although I can easily collect 100 female education authors by doing a shout out on Twitter, I still see mostly white male authors in book reviews, and in the press. This is not to blame the white guys; it’s not their fault. It is a bit bizarre, though, given that teaching is a majority female profession. And it’s also a shame. Because if the blogs we follow, the books we review and the people we quote are mostly one gender/race, then we miss a trick. We don’t get to hear different voices.

The amazing Nancy Gedge has just won TES Teacher Blogger of the Year (go Nancy!!!). Cherryl has just signed a book contract with Bloomsbury. I’ve been reading Bennie Kara’s The New Stateswoman’s blog – a must read/must follow. The amazing Iesha Small and wonderful Debra Kidd are both clearly going places. And Vivienne Porritt is coordinating a Women in Education event. Amjad Ali is doing great things and so is Laura Henry. If you really want to hear different voices, there are plenty of them out there. You just have to unplug your ears, open your mind, and check your privilege at the door.

Posted in Women, Writing | 6 Comments