Gonna read 10 sonnets

A theme tends to emerge when there’s a plan to tidy the house with the family. I start a Twitter spat and the kids watch ‘just one more’ YouTube clip of LD shadow lady. By the end of the morning we’re all bleary eyed, the house looks like it’s been burgled and the dog is so desperate to go for a walk he’s got the lead in his mouth.

To my spat…

I saw a tweet advising teachers to read ten sonnets to improve their ‘mental schema’ before teaching a sonnet. 

I responded ‘don’t mean to be rude but isn’t this obvious?’ which invited some agreement from tweeters creating #statethebleedinobvious but more surprisingly to me a lot of people who I respect defending this tweet. ‘This does need saying’ I was told ‘new teachers don’t know this stuff, what if they studied English language?’. 

But this missed my point. I wasn’t saying teachers should know everything (polymaths are rare) my criticism was the assumption that teachers wouldn’t do this. I could teach a sonnet tomorrow but if I were asked to teach Henry V I’d need to polish up my knowledge as it’s been a while since I read it. The point is that I would do this because I’m a teacher and it’s my profession – it’s what teachers do.

To defend encouraging teachers to research a topic before teaching it seems so ‘bleedin obvious’ it’s bewildering. I’m not keen on medical comparisons but it seems to work here. A general practitioner cannot know about every ailment but if they’re unsure they would look it up or refer on to a specialist. Would it seem strange to ask a doctor to read up about athlete’s foot before prescribing talc? Yes it would; of course she would do that, it’s what doctors do.

Is this becoming an educational system of unbearable control creating learned helplessness? Having to control every little thing and then having prove that someone’s done it? (which is the next step; there are schools who expect teachers to hand in their lesson plans).

For teachers this seems to be, ‘read 10 sonnets then you can teach a sonnet’. Or, we’ve planned all your lessons and here’s a text book. You just need to deliver with those 10 sonnets I asked you to read.
In my mind, teaching isn’t like that. Yes, it might be useful for teachers to plan together and I’ve done that all my professional life but I then tweak it and make it my own. I have always gone to the teacher who knows the most about certain subjects if I’m stuck but I find out, ask and reflect as part of my planning and this is how professionals work: experienced or inexperienced ones.

The argument that you must tell them the obvious seems corrosive; that schools don’t give teachers time to develop their subject knowledge might be a valid concern but I can’t see how telling them to do it will help. if we take that level of autonomy away then we are no longer teachers. 

This belief system plays to the lowest common denominator. It is similar to how the ‘no excuses’ culture in schools feeds the narrative that chaos is ripping up our schools and unless we keep a micro managed behaviour system comprising silent corridors, blackened out windows and rows of compliant students who should not be heard only seen schools cannot function. It’s a deficit model driven by cynicism and a belief that children won’t behave without these structures in place. We are now taking a similar line with teachers; unless they are told to study they won’t. 

It is not a coincidence I place students and teachers together – we are not only infantilising our children with a level of suffocating control because we don’t believe that they can succeed without it, we are doing the same to our teachers. Teaching is not a profession if you have to tell an English teacher to read some sonnets before they teach one. It eradicates any autonomy they might have had and is deeply patronising. 


In the maelstrom of the Twitter spat I was sarcastic to Alex Quigley and upset him. I’m more concerned by this than anything else I’ve done on Twitter. Sorry Alex.


Advice on botch jobs for DFE

I’m not a wise old owl but I am old and have some experiences. I’ve done lots of jobs and I’ve been a parent, I’ve moved around the UK and lived abroad a number of times. That does not make me an expert, I realise that. Over the years however, there are a few things I’ve learned, so I think I can offer some tips to the DFE which might help them refocus.

Tip 1 – Patience is a virtue
This is difficult for people who are naturally impulsive; they want to do everything and they want to do it straight away. They think of something during breakfast and announce it by lunch.
While occasionally making a quick decision is vital, particularly in a school, on a structural level taking time to think things through, ask for opinions, tweak things before finally launching an idea is good practice. The less you plan the more likely something which you hadn’t thought of but which seems glaringly obvious once it’s been pointed out to you will be pointed out to you, by the person you didn’t ask because you couldn’t wait. 
Fill in the DFE impatience initiative here…………………………………………………………………………………………
Tip 2 – Check details published online should be published
In a large institution, it should not be possible to publish anything online without it being agreed by various levels of authority. Red tape is annoying but it’s there for a reason.  
Fill in DFE error here………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
Tip 3 – When lots of people are against an idea don’t become even more determined to implement it
OK, sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made. It may be due to money, due to a safeguarding issue, even a disciplinary one. But, when you force an idea on lots of people when it has obvious flaws and is even unpopular with your allies it might be best to back track a little or change. Stubbornly insisting an idea should go through backed up by dodgy reasoning does not make you look stronger, it makes you look like an idiot.
Fill in DFE unpopular and flawed idea here:……………………………………………………………………………………..
Tip 4 – Research is finite
Research can show varying results: it might show this, or it could mean this however other research says this. Weighing up all research is good. Using research to suit your own argument is bad. We all do it to a certain extent but when you have to make massive decisions, it is probably good to speak to people who disagree with you too and find a workable solution.
Fill in DFE research which has been cherry picked to suit ideology here………………………

Tip 5 – Take your staff with you. 
You can be a strategic genius but if you don’t bring your staff with you, you will fail. They have to carry out your brilliance; they have to make your innovative creations come to fruition. If you annoy them, don’t respect them and make constant changes they will eventually tell you to shove it and leave.  
Fill in DFE changes here:………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
And their poor treatment of staff here:……………………………………………………………………………………………

This post was originally posted fir @LabourTeachers


7 books by women, not men, to improve your teaching 

The wonderful Peps McCrea (aka half of @staffrm) recently published a post recommending 6 books on education. I’m afraid my #genderedcheese ears pricked up as they were all male. Peps agreed and we asked for some recommendations from the Twitter hive mind.

Peps’ list is now 7 including Daisy Christodoulou which is a small step for womankind. 

I know, I’m never satisfied but it seemed a terrible shame to waste the other recommendations so here they are:

1. Pimp my Lesson – Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman

 2.   Teacher Geek by Rachel  Jones  


3. Getting the Buggers to Behave by Sue Cowley 

 4. Of teaching, learning and Sherbert Lemons by Nina Jackson 


  5. Lesson Planning Tweaks for teachers by Melanie Aberson and Debbie Light 


6. Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks


7. The Learning Brain by Sarah Blakemore and Uta Frith


@Sue_Cowley has also written a great list  of women edu writers and @DamsonEd  and I came up with 2 posts on recommendations for Literacy Leaders here and here.

Day 28 – logic or instinct – let tech help – Assistive Technology #28daysofwriting


Well I’ve come to the end of my 28 day series. An idea started by @tombarrett and picked up and run with by @staffrm, @mrlockyer & @pepsmccrea.

And the final push I needed was @ictevangelist’s tweet offering a free Staffrm mug for anyone who manages the full #28daysofwriting.

I have been encouraged daily by @digitaldaisies who preferred the free kit blogs of the first 8 days. Penny works for a seriously underfunded alternative provision with very slow broadband – she writes about it here. digitaldaisies.wordpress.com/2…

@rondelle has also followed the series with lots of encouraging comments. @hrogerson has asked pertinent questions which prompted a blog from Foldr about eportfolios.

And the wonderful @Sue_Cowley has cheered from the sidelines writing 28 Days midway after someone was critical of the idea; concerned it produced poor quality writing. suecowley.wordpress.com/2015/0…

My SEN buddies, @cherrylkd, @nancygedge, @aspiedelazouche, @rachelrossiter and @chrischivers have been great retweeters.

I have made new friends on Twitter through the growing and lovely @staffrm. I have been invited to speak at an event in London, for a coffee and chat in Bristol and learned of new assistive technologies and iPad apps.

Writing is a bit of a demon for me; I’ll never find it easy and to complete the #28daysofwriting I needed to make it chatty – discursive essays take me too long – perhaps the complainer had a point.

Two awards from me, the first goes to the funniest – @ellen_ellenboss for a late night post after being out with her department – coming home tipsy she writes about her failure musing on how students feel. Even the # has an error – I love it. staffrm.io/@ellenmerry/bH3j6qA…

Then, dear Rory, @eddiekayshun. He has written poetic, autobiographical and pedagogical blogs. You name it, he’s covered it – I have enjoyed every, single one, especially his Corsican stories.

Oh dear, this has turned into a speech. I’d like to thank my Mum, my dog….

I hope my series has been helpful to some; I know what a difference assistive technology can make. 80% of my job is teaching children how to read, write and spell but despite this, I recognise that they need help to access the curriculum and record their work right now – not once they’ve learned.

It makes sense to help these children; would we deny them glasses or hearing aids?

It’s logical to help them.

RIP Leonard Lemoy

Day 27 – IPad and SEN in Secondary – Assistive Technology – #28daysofwriting

After the iPads & SEN In Secondary course, I like to finish with three points, the best toolkit. problems and take back to school messages.

1. Best toolkit

Here are four options:


Book Creator

Snap Type

Guided Access




Book Creator


Jumbled Sentences

Mr Thorne’s

Telling the Time


Book Creator


Reading Champion

Spell board

Write online


Book Creator


Guided Access


Voice Dream (with Load2Learn)

Speak and prediction enabled in Accessibility and use with Dragon Dictation.


2. Problems
a) lack of secondary reading apps.

I suggested Reading Champion and Lexia but no fiction. A gap in the market here I think? Gazoom do a lovely Level 1-6 Magic Key series for primary; something age appropriate for secondary would be nice. Any ideas?

b). Sharing work – take pictures, email or print all options but far better is an eportfolio – I mentioned Foldr (foldr.io/blog/2015/02/27/aweso…), Google Drive and Own Cloud – any other ways?

c) Teachers nervous of use – a small demonstration from SENCO or a confident TA to all staff may help.


3. Take back to School messages

* This tech can enable; it doesn’t replace skills

* Toolkit of apps

* TAs need:

Training so they can help student.

Time to prepare word banks, electronic copies of documents and materials for students.

Access to ipads to practice.

I hope this helps and thanks to the SENCOs and TAs who helped create this.

Day 26 – #5 Simple Tips to Help With Reading from a Screen – Assistive Technology #28daysofwriting


There is a US study which claims to show that increasing the gap between letters may make reading easier for struggling readers. VoiceDream will do this for you (Day 14) but for most students this is not possible.

Some easier steps may help however:

1. A larger font – this can be seen just from children’s books to adult books but if you are showing a lot of text on the whiteboard, it would be useful if the font were 14 or 16 rather than 12.

2. The right font – evenly spaced sans serif font such as Arial or Tahoma is recommended. There is a free font called Open Dyslexic which can be downloaded. It then just sits in the font choices along with all the others in Word. Some students, those who report moving letters particularly, seem to like this font as it is weighted. Others however hate it and prefer Arial. It is worth encouraging students to try different fonts to see if it makes a difference.

3. Changing the background colour – this is one of the easiest things a student can do. Many seem to choose electric blue or pink – no idea why. A few of my students choose a black background with white or orange text. Again, if they say it helps, why not? I like buff – it just reduces the glare of the white background and makes reading less stressful (before anyone rushes to the comments box to tell me there’s no research, I don’t care, it helps me and seems to help the occasional student). Some teachers will change the background colour on their whiteboard to an off white or light pastel colour which is a nice gesture.

4. Underlining – this can really confuse students who struggle to read – not only are they trying to decipher the letters and the word but there’s another bit of print underneath to contend with. ALSO WRITING IN CAPITALS IS DIFFICULT TO READ.

5. Preferable to underlining and italics is to use bold and bullet points. This emphasises text without changing the shape of the letters. Big blocks of text with no obvious break can be difficult to read and breaking it down into smaller sections or text boxes (even with different colours) can help students. 1.5 line spacing helps.

If you want to research this further, work is being done by E.A. Draffan at Southampton University and JISCtechdis offer good advice.

Day 25 – #28daysofwriting Assistive Technology Series

I have been very postive about Assistive Technology so far but it would be dishonest of me to finish this series without admitting to the problems.

People sceptical of tech do have valid concerns and I don’t think I get it right all the time. On top of that, students change – technology they were quite happy to use in primary school may suddenly seem embarrassing in front of the big kids. The school might be larger making it harder to cart around a laptop to various lessons.

These are my top 5 problems.

Problem #1

Insufficient training – the student gives up because no-one has shown him or her how to use it.

Solution – build capacity within the school.

* Give a Teaching Assistant the title of Assistive Technologist – ensure adequate time and training so he or she can become the expert.

* Allow students using this technology to become digital leaders in assistive technology – they can teach younger students.

Problem #2

Teachers will not let student use the technology.


* a 10 minute presentation to all staff raises awareness of how the technology helps – be clear why a student requires the tech and how it should improve achievement – reassure staff that it is them who will make the final decision but maybe challenge, through debate, if teachers are preventing use due to an ideology rather than the best interests of the child.

Problem #3

IT department put barriers up preventing the efficient use of the technology.


This is difficult – it is IT’s job to protect the school but it is my job to ensure the tech I provide is fit for purpose. I have had some difficult conversations but usually find there is a solution we are both happy with. Explaining what I need and why, helps – equally I have learned to listen to IT’s concerns and ask questions if I don’t understand. The bottom line is that we are here to help children learn; if we can’t facilitate that then I am concerned. It’s like having a library which won’t lend out books in case people don’t bring them back.

Problem #4

Keeping a record of work and showing progress.



@hrogerson raised this question and it is an issue. For students with SEN we ensure the TAs check students have saved worked, sent it to the teacher or printed it out. How to show progress? I can only say screenshot as much as possible and keep in photos. An eportfolio is an idea or Foldr has something called flinks with shared folders (freeyourfiles.co.uk/blog/2015/…). They offer a free trial. Owncloud is an open platform where students can access data from all devices.

@cherrylkd mentioned she uses Evernote to track progress – I’m hoping she may blog on this one day….(grovel grovel).

I don’t have a definitive answer on this I’m afraid.

Problem #5

Student will not use the tech because they don’t want to appear different.


This needs unpicking – why? What is the problem? Is there something else which would help? A tablet with text prediction may be preferable to voice recognition in the classroom. Or, do they need space to work away from others to use it?

Once all options have been explored and there is still resistance, I’m certainly not going to force it. I don’t think I’ve met a student who has rejected every option though and tablets have made this easier in my opinion.

I am sure there are other problems but I still think technology assists rather than hinders and it can transform some students’ lives.