What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Big Writing Follow Up Session: in which I do my corrections

This post is supplementary to my "Big Rant about Big Writing" Post, which you may read here.

Ros Wilson has expressed concerns about my post and I want to address them here. She was unable to post her comments on my blog post personally.

Firstly, let me say that I am appreciative of Ros Wilson's offer of a Big Writing training session and of her interest in my thoughts. I was surprised too to be contacted by her via a twitter mention. I'll reproduce our brief conversation here so I can explain what I find positive about it, and where my worries still lie:

rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 Tried to reply on your blog Bird, but think I failed. Found your tirade on Big W interesting but superficial and ill informed. Ros
bird42 beccy
.@rosBIGWRITING I'm sorry you couldn't reply, I'll check the settings. I agree it wasn't in depth, but which bits did you find ill informed?
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 VCOP is a piecemeal way of teaching writing. It sticky tapes quick fixes over limited teaching... Stated as a fact, so wrong.
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 ... as are so many other statements. Would like to 'talk' more effectively than this / invite you on a day. Ros@andrelleducation.com
bird42 beccy
.@rosBIGWRITING thank you, I appreciate the generosity of yr offer. I have had Big Writing training, however & worked in BigW schools.
bird42 beccy
.@rosBIGWRITING if you have time, it would be good if you could comment on the blog itself re: anything you see that is factually incorrect
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 suggesting that you can only write when the moon is in the seventh house and Venus is aligned with Mars is not going to help. Sorry?
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 "Keep writing real, give it a purpose, give it an audience." You obviously know nothing about what I, personally, say Bird.
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 You quote a Forum comment that must be 2 years old at least - we have had no students for 2 years. If you had been trained by...
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson  
@bird42 ... an Andrell consultant or myself you would know we guarantee our work and if it did not work for you you could come back to us...

bird42 beccy
.@rosBIGWRITING Meanwhile, I will post an addendum expressing your concerns & restating that my view of BW is personal opinion.
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 ...we work on with you free until you get it 'right'. We abhor stulted 'purple prose', which you may see in the very early...
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 ...'emergent' phases of BW, but you find the same in early use of features of text type and many other forms of early learning.
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 Please don't worry about doing that, I am sure readers would realise that. I would rather 'talk' in a better forum...
rosBIGWRITING Ros Wilson
@bird42 ...where I can explain your misunderstandings properly. Take care, Ros

This reassures me that Andrell are committed to providing value for money, which is always one of my worries about buying into private companies in the public sector.

I wonder also whether the issues I identify with Big Writing are not due to the theory but to problems in the dissemination of the original ideas. Obviously, Andrell cannot be responsible for the practice of each individual teacher using Big Writing. However, I am still concerned that this is partly due to the absence of a solid base of research underlying Big Writing. Maybe more thorough research would identify potential problems in delivery without having to rely on working with individual teachers until they get it "right".

I'm glad that Ros Wilson seeks to explain misunderstandings, but in my case I feel they are more differences of opinion.

In Education currently, there is a lot of debate around personalised learning. We accept that children have different needs and ways of learning and that we should consider giving them increased responsibility for that learning in order to support their development and help them become more active participants in school. I think the same is obviously true for adults, even teachers. We learn in different ways too, and we teach in different ways. If I was to personalise my own learning journey as a teacher, I would not take on board Big Writing because it does not work for me. I don't think any extra training would change that. I like to work in a different way. As long as I teach the objectives in the Primary Strategy, in a way that is enjoyable and meets the needs of my class, then I'm ok with that. And so is Ofsted. Big Writing is not compulsory and doesn't come from the Department of Education.

Regarding the oddities in children's writing that Ros Wilson identifies as "emergent Big Writing", I still feel that they are qualitatively different from children's naturally emergent writing. We all know how excited children get about new words, new writing tools; like that period in Year 2 when their work is liberally sprinkled with exclamation marks. None of that exuberance feels as clunky and bolted on as Big Writing errors. The hundreds of SATs papers I have marked demonstrated a difference between VCOP and non VCOP schools. To generalise, the difference is in the flow of the work, the development of an individual writer's voice and in lively and entertaining content; all of which come as part of less prescriptive writing methods.

These are of course my opinions. I'm glad to not be alone in them, and have enjoyed some supportive chats with many on twitter who agree. I know lots of people disagree. Hurrah for diversity amongst teachers, let's celebrate that, and independent opinion and giving our children the varied and passionate teaching they deserve.

(And Ros Wilson clearly isn't a fan of Hair...)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Oh Dan Brown, what have you done to me?

In times of stress I used to turn to the comfort of a Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen, maybe a Jenny Colgan if the Regency period didn’t appeal. They were all quite harmless books, not at all detrimental to health and no serious side effects.

However, last year in a period which saw my concentration span collapse in the manner of earth-pea-blackhole-shrinkage, and looking for something undemanding to keep me turning the pages, (like the Dan Brown I once read, but not as infuriating or face-palmy), I picked up a book by Matthew Reilly. If only I’d forseen the effects. It changed my life. Let me be quite clear, it was not a good book. In fact the opening chapters had me snorting derisively at the nonsensical plot devices, the interweaving of myth, urban myth and freudianly big weapons. However, the pages kept turning and by the time Stonehenge was thrown into the mix I was completely, shamelessly hooked.

This was my gateway book into the genre best described as Post-Dan Brown. Now the PDB monopolises my reading. As I scan the blurb of a book I know what I’m looking for. I want references to a shadowy organisation/cult, the Nazca lines, malevolent Cardinals in the Vatican, hidden treasure, astronomical apocalypses, secret chambers under ancient monuments and lost books.  I like a maverick hero with the purity of Galahad and a gun as long as his, um… arm and a female counterpart with a working knowledge of anthropology and a high kick to make Bruce Lee nod with approval; both being led on a merry dance along some of the world’s more exotic leylines.

It is like an illness now. I can't stop. I've tried. I have read such things, oh such things, as a lover of literature should blush to remember. Classics sit unread on the bookshelf as I feverishly turn the pages of another epic jaunt through popular legend and conspiracy theory. I know all the best places to get a fix: jumblesales, charity shops; anywhere second hand books lurk, there you can find a good PDP. As I think of the School Fayre I’m organising, I find myself salivating at the prospect of getting my hands on the donated books before anyone else.

I don’t know why I’m in thrall to the PDB. They have outrageous plots, risible romance subplots and the kind of violence that I squeamishly have to skim over so it doesn’t give me nightmares. But they render me helpless to resist their call.

It reminds me of being 13 and discovering spy thrillers. I read every Len Deighton, John le Carre and Colin Forbes the school library had to offer. I would spend Saturday mornings cocooned in a duvet absorbing worlds of ciphers, dead drops and double agents. Happy, simple times. Teenage-me also read some decidedly iffy non-fiction works, or at least they hovered around one of the fuzzier borders of the fiction barrier. Yes, I owned a copy of “Chariots of the Gods” by the legendary Erik Von Daniken. Owned? I still own it. I can’t bear to throw it away. It’s from part of my life when a good Saturday night involved a bag of Woolies picnmix, scaring yourself witless with whispered stories about people who were never the same after Doing The Ouija Board, and daring each other to say the Hail Mary 100 times whilst looking in the mirror at midnight.

I suppose the PDB genre combines both of these teenage loves (there were no sparkly vampires in those days).  Reading them takes me back to a time before reality was so demanding, before responsibility, before 8am was a lie in. They let me put my anxious brain on hold for a little bit. However, this is my public acknowledgement that I must break their grip. Before I start discussing the Dogon’s knowledge of Sirius earnestly in pubs.

To complete this confession, here is a list of all the PDB’s I have read recently. I have rated each one on the DaVinci Absurdity Scale, where a score of 1 Leonardo represents an enjoyable occult thriller and 5 Leonardos indicate a book so preposterous Russell Grant would treat it with contempt.

You may laugh and judge me. It’ll be like therapy.