Dekko Comics – how they can help you across the curriculum.

I was first made aware of Dekko comics back in September, initially I was unsure how I felt about the concept of an educational comic. On the one hand, they are everything I want, my favourite format trying to help readers gain a greater understanding of a concept. On the other hand, it could be my favourite format possibly falling into the trap of trying to make learning “cool” or act like it wasn’t trying to teach, a bit like the uncle who wants you to think of him as a mate instead of a family member. Thankfully, my fears were completely suppressed when I laid my eyes on the comics Dekko sent me.

On first glance, the comics are vibrant and full of some quirky but brilliant visuals. Immediately, my mind was cast back to my childhood reading the Beano & Dandy, but not in a way that felt like a blatant rip off, more a homage. Each comic has a back cover that shows what subjects will be covered in the issue, along with the specific topics they will be addressing. Prior to seeing them, I had quite naively assumed that the comics would just focus on English and particularly grammar. However, I was hugely impressed to see that each comic covers a wide range of subjects and topics that can support learning across the breadth of the curriculum.

Back covers showing readers what they can expect to find in this issue.

After having a brief flick through the comics, I started to explore them in more depth and think about how I could use them in not just my class but across the school. It didn’t take long to realise that they would be effective from Y3-Y6. In fact, one of the strips showed the process of the circulatory system, which we had done ourselves, earlier in year 6. Having the Dekko version at the time would have really helped some of my students who were struggling to represent the concept, the visual reminder and representation would have made it clearer for them, along with offering a chance to recap things they had forgotten.

A comic that shows the process of the circulatory system, in simple and understandable steps. The key vocabulary is underlined and written down the bottom of the page.

For every comic in an issue, there is key vocabulary underlined and the words are written at the bottom of the page. On some pages, such as one on homonyms, it shows you how the words differ to each other in order to help develop understanding. These little touches allow the comic to pack in maximum information and embed the key elements of each topic on every single page. Prior to reading them, I hadn’t thought about such simple techniques being used but as soon as I saw them it made so much sense (and made me feel daft for being so shocked by its efficiency!).

Homonyms made simple.

Now I am not claiming that Dekko comics are about to make everyone who reads them or uses them an academic genius. But, they are a brilliantly thought out range of texts that have the potential to support classes across the curriculum and across KS2. Each issue covers a range of subjects and topics that will fit with the curriculum in most schools and could be used in a variety of ways to enhance or support learning. In some cases, it could be a simple visual reminder or explanation that children use or have on the working wall. In other cases, they could be used as inspiration for work or a building block for children to add to or extend. Either way, they are a purposeful tool that I genuinely believe has a place in every school. As I say, they aren’t the answer for every single lesson but nothing ever is and that is the key here. You buy them to support when appropriate, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how often that actually is. For some children, this may be the support that helps them to finally comprehend a topic or understand a nuance. From the four issues I have read and explored I cannot recommend Dekko comics enough, they are a friendly company that is focusing on supporting learning first instead of prioritising making money.

Using Lightfall across KS2

This year I was given the duty of preparing World Book Day for the school. Initially, I was trying to think of how I could show that I wasn’t just a one trick pony or trying to force graphic novels on everyone. However, everyone else had other ideas and requested that I did a graphic novel focus because lots of children were enjoying them but they weren’t sure how to engage this interest. Before they could change their mind, I was scheming away on how to make sure everyone had a good experience, no matter how familiar or confident their teacher was with using graphic novels. After scouring my shelves, I settled upon using Lightfall by Tim Probert, a favourite of mine and a big hit across KS2.

My first task was to find a page that would be accessible from year 3 to year 6 (450 children in this case), and would provide excellent opportunities for discussion and work in all of those year groups. I settled on page 220, which shows huge emotional vulnerability along with the stunning image of Bea being “tangled in her thoughts” (a quote from my class).

After studying the page, I thought the best option for stimulating the work would be to focus on the concept of bravery and how we perceive this trait. Each teacher was sent a rough lesson guide, full of questions. The main focus was on identifying bravery in everyday life, thinking about how we can be brave and who we consider to be brave. In my class, the children quickly identified that bravery had nothing to do with being big or strong. Instead, they felt it related to confronting your fears or pushing out of your comfort zone. When considering who they knew that represented these traits, nearly everybody chose a family member or friend. Being able to identify so many daily examples of bravery had a positive impact on the less confident pupils. As our discussion went on, more and more joined in or offered anecdotes of when they had witnessed bravery, some even started to realise that they were braver than they considered. It also gave us a good platform to talk about failing and how bravery can just involve trying something in the first place. Being able to point out that success wasn’t always a sign of bravery gave some a visible boost. In one class, a girl perfectly pointed out that Bea was “already being brave by talking about her problems” which is pointed out by Cad in the following pages.

Following this excellent discussion the children were given an open ended task that they would be able to adapt to their interpretation. Everyone was given the task of creating a comic strip that showed people being brave or confronting their anxiety. In year 5/6 we also looked at the idea of giving advice to people in difficult situations that might cause anxiety or that anxiety might stop them from joining in with.

Without hesitation, my class started thinking about how they could explore the broadest range of topics possible. I had pairs talking about ensuring they had different ethnicity in theirs and one set of girls even discussed body representation and how they wanted to draw characters of different sizes to make sure everyone felt represented. The only thing we discussed that might have inspired this was the idea of standing up for your beliefs, it was so pleasing to see the children taking this and absolutely running with it. They wanted to everyone to know they could be brave.

Along with this excellent discussion in year 6, I had several year 5 teachers coming to find me and inform me how much their children were loving the work. In one class a girl had been struggling all day with the fact she had made a wrong choice but was too embarrassed to admit it. After being present for the class discussion she felt inspired and admitted to her mistake. When she was asked why she had decided to finally confess, she explained that ” I didn’t want to but the lesson made me realise it was the right thing” which shows just how important it is to explore such rich and quality texts. Moments like this were something I never imagined would happen, but sometimes when we give children the chance to engage without always focusing on such a narrow objective or goal they can really surprise us. Days like this really allow the pupils to express themselves fully and show you how perceptive they are.

Some excellent examples of how to overcome your struggles from Y4 & 5.

After completing this task the teachers were given a wide range of other activities they could use to fill the day. However, a lot of them said their class were enjoying making their comics so much and desperate to make their work the very best it could be, so most classes barely finished because they had become so swept up with the work. Some classes managed to write some questions for Tim Probert, which we will send to him this week, while others watched some recommendation videos from members of the year 6 book club, including a brilliant top 5 graphic novels from an especially avid reader in my class. I had prepared a large range of resources to try and stop people running out of ideas but many of them were never used, due to the effort going into the comic strips. Some classes managed to find time to create a top 10 bravest characters in books, whilst others followed some drawing tutorials on The Phoenix Comic website or did a spot of book speed dating.

On the left is an excellent example of how to support each other completed by a Y3 child, on the right is a selection of wise advice from a Y6 boy in my class.

At the end of the day, there was a really positive buzz about the work and some classes were going to continue working on it the next day as the children had enjoyed it so much. Throughout the week, classes were taken to Waterstones to spend their book token and pleasingly on the Friday, several year four classes went in and basically cleared out the entire graphic novel section. In the future, we could easily do another day like this and use it to suit the appropriate occasion. You could use a range of text types, but it must be said, graphic novels work very well because you can adapt them so well to suit your skills. Children who love to write can focus more on the text, whereas those who prefer to express themselves through art can use their pictures to do the talking. Either way, the most important thing is children get the chance to talk about books and engage through quality texts instead of being rushed through various objectives to tick another box.

WW1 Comic strips

Over the past term we have been learning about World War One and our English work has all been based on the superb novel Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. Ordinarily, I would use a graphic novel or comic to help children improve their writing and look at how can we expand on detail or structure. However this week I decided to work the opposite way. We used Private Peaceful as inspiration to create our own comic strips based on being stuck in the trenches. Instead of writing long flowing paragraphs about the atrocities of war the children were tasked with communicating how horrendous they were in a matter of only a few lines and only seven panels. They were allowed to split the panels up into smaller ones if they wanted but they couldn’t have another sheet, the key was to be succinct with their writing and create the most impact possible in the least amount of space. Unlike this intro there was no space for them to waffle.

In order to do this we had to look at excellent examples of descriptive writing in Private Peaceful. This allowed us to discuss the power of figurative language and how it can allow us to create incredibly powerful writing in very few words. Although they would have imagery to support their words we all agreed as a class that their language needed to be the star of each panel. It was no good having stunning images and lacklustre writing. Of course not all of them found this easy and some still finished with work that was far too generic and full of ‘and then we got out of the trench and then we went into no mans lad’ style writing. But for those children who really pushed themselves and applied what we discussed, planned and modelled together there was some truly stunning writing.

The best examples were all brilliant for different reasons. Some experimented with different sentence lengths to create atmosphere. Others used powerful metaphors or more ambitious vocabulary to create an engaging comic. Knowing that they weren’t allowed to draw their images until they had written out what they needed meant the class was incredibly focused on their work and desperate to produce the very best they could. I won’t lie it was really enjoyable to see how excited they were when I told them they had time in the afternoon to carry on with their comics, you could see how much they cared about the quality of their work. One boy who can’t stand art and was angry at first ended up creating his best writing of the year because he focused so intently on making sure each box said what he wanted it to. He then worked with another boy who loved drawing and explained how he wanted the images to look, some may say this was too much of a compromise but actually whether he can draw or not doesn’t matter when it comes to his English work. He was tasked with creating a detailed story in only seven panels and he did, most importantly he was proud of his work which is a rare occurrence for him in English lessons.

If you can’t read the images quite clearly enough I have included some of my favourite extracts from them below as they deserve to be acknowledged. One girl in particular really impressed me with the atmosphere she was able to create and her parting line of ‘at least you won’t die alone’ really captured me as a reader.

“Sometimes silence is the loudest thing you can hear. It almost seeks you out, teasing you.”

“Waking up to a tsunami of bullets”

“Pressure, no mans land lay ahead, sending goosebumps up my arm, trying to make it out alive is a key thing but trying to not let anyone down is another…”

“I couldn’t ever handle being called a coward though could I?”

“Its gone silent, I hate it when it goes silent”

“There’s this irritating ringing in my ears, might be tinitis, might be my loss of sanity, might be my fear – I’m not sure-“

“Silence filled the air, heavy breathing. Hearts beating. I wouldn’t say frightened is the word describe all this”

Writing from different perspectives

As part of our first week back we decided to focus on just getting our classes writing again rather than focus on a specific text type or unit. I felt this was a great excuse for me to try out an idea I had stumbled across while reading 47 Ronin recently. Although the book isn’t suitable for primary due to some of the language, it has lots of pages that lend well to engaging children especially less confident or reluctant readers and writers. I knew my biggest battle was going to be getting some of my year 6 boys back into the swing of things so I felt this text would allow me to entice them into writing without encountering their usual negativity. My idea was simple but over three days allowed us to address lots of different areas of writing that would be required in the coming weeks and months especially when we move onto studying Private Peaceful and do several pieces of work about writing from different character’s viewpoints.

Before attempting to write from more than one perspective we looked at making sure we could explain events clearly. The children were shown five images from a page but they were shown them one by one and each time asked to write one sentence only about what was happening. The images quickly subverted their expectations and led to them realising that a story can change very quickly and that their words need to represent that change. After creating a sentence for each image we then looked at the different ways in which a sentence can be improved, focusing on adding a beginning or ending and for those more confident, inserting a subordinate clause into the middle of the sentence. Vocabulary was a basic expectation for everyone to improve as we had worked a lot on this at the start of the year.

Some of the best examples came from less confident writers or those children at the start of the year who struggled to create particularly engaging writing. Below is an example from a less confident child that shows how only working on one sentence at a time really helped them to focus on their quality instead of getting distracted by quantity.

The muscular, valiant samurai made the angry samurai drop his weapon by ploughing through his organs, releasing a wave of blood. (Kaden, 9, who I will be 100% honest I didn’t think was capable of writing such a powerful description but because he was focused on one task he really pushed himself to make the best sentences he could.)

Another powerful sentence came from a writer who enjoys writing but can struggle to organise her ideas correctly. Taking a slower approach allowed her to really focus on her basics and structure.

There was no mercy this time, keep moving he said to himself as he furiously stormed out of the water on his way to finish something that should have been finished a long time ago. Annie, 10.

The following day having created our sentences and spent time improving their structure and content we started to look at just two of the images. Together we discussed and noted down how both the characters would be feeling and what they would be thinking in the images. After drawing up a list for each character in each image we discussed how we would be writing a paragraph for each character but they would alternate. So the first paragraph would be from the perspective of the samurai in the white robe and the second paragraph would change to the persepective of the samurai in the grey robe. This would then be repeated for the second image. By doing this their writing would have to change mood and tempo each paragraph due to the contrasting fortunes of the characters rather than them sticking to a very repeptitive formula and tone. It would also ensure the action wasn’t rushed and finished in one paragraph like it often is.

At first some of the class found this a very difficult concept because they struggled to write appropriately for the character, so some had a very confident grey samurai despite the fact he was facing an almost certain death at that point. However as they started to write and draw upon our joint discussions they started to realise how one paragraph would be vastly different to the other. One character would be confident while the other would be contemplating life. These roles would then switch incredibly quickly as the grey robed samurai escaped death and the white robe samurai was left to rue his hesitation.

To help them fully get into the character I had explained the brief story of 47 Ronin and what each samurai was fighting for, this helped them truly understand how disapointed or elated each would be feeling. Gaining an understanding of their overall goal definitely helped transform their writing to a higher standard. A lot of them also really enjoyed the idea of the grey robed samurais fighting for their master’s honour.

Below are some of the best sentences or paragraphs to come from this, some of the children struggled with basic spellings but their content was a high standard. Although they need to work on their spelling to me the content is more important, I will always choose a poorly spelt but powerful sentence over a dull but perfectly spelt one. Some will disagree, but to me knowing what to write is a more important skill then how to spell it. Both are ideal though.

Focus. This is the moment I have been waiting for. My anger trapped inside for so long. I will not fall now after everything. (Laurel, 10, another writer who has struggled hugely with structure and confidence until recently.)

No this can’t be. I’ve lost haven’t I? I’ve disappointed everyone. Absolutely everyone. I don’t even get a chance to say goodbye, to say sorry for letting everyone down. It’s so ultimately unfair. Why? Why me? Deep down I hope for mercy but I know there’s no point in doing so, he’s in control. I’m weak at the moment and I’m going to die a long, painful death. Unless… (Evie, 10, a confident write but one who struggles to sometimes put herself in someone else’s shoes, this was an excellent exercise for pushing her out of her comfort zone.)

A good example of transitioning well from character to character came from Isla in Year 6 who really captured the contrasting fortunes well. Below is the end of her first paragraph and the start of her second showing the switch in perspective and emotion.

He has messed with us without any doubts, so now it is our turn. I will put all my anger into this, he deserves it.

Why? Why me? What have I done wrong? My life is flashing before my eyes. I’ve failed and this is my last goodbye, people make mistakes but sometimes they can never be fixed.

Her use of rhetorical questions was particularly pleasing as we had discussed how this character would be questioning what was about to happen.

The last example is from probably the strongest writer in my class so I was expecting her to produce some decent work. However, I wasn’t sure how she would return after lockdown and if the first week would necessarily see her best material. Despite us not mentioning tools such as similes and metaphors she was able to apply them to great effect. Obviously her work wasn’t perfect and some of the risks she took with her language didn’t quite work but I am more than happy to see her trying to be more adventurous rather than sticking to a tried and tested formula.

It sounds horrific but I really enjoyed reading the sentence – ‘I look back down at my meat’. It summed up the confidence displayed in the image.

Representation and why graphic novels are vital for it.

This week has seen another unnecessary attack on teaching thanks to the vile excuse for a news source that is The Sun (I have no interest in pretending to be impartial) and it has led to some horrific abuse that is completely unwarranted. I won’t post a link in case it makes them think they did something well! Now the article was focusing on changing house names to more modern role models and this led to lots of right wing cretins crawling out of the woodwork and proclaiming how lucky their children were for not going to that school and how we can’t delete history. But then a fascinating secondary wave of attack began, centered aorund the fact that Lee Hill (don’t know him but sounds like a pretty sound bloke based on what he’s done) was tattooed or to quote the article a “heavily tattooed headteacher.” Now how this is relevant to reporting the story I will never know because I’m sure he didn’t look at his tattoos and think you know what this bit of ink is right I should have a Greta Thunberg house but somehow it became relevant. At the end of the day I’m pretty sure children can relate a lot more to her than Nelson ( I’m from Nelson’s county and I wouldn’t care about the switch) so why shouldn’t they switch things up and modernise them? But that is a far bigger debate that I can’t solve here so back to looking at skin markings.

As a tattooed teacher myself I didn’t contemplate his choice of ink to even be an issue but then I dipped into the comments section to see a wave of attacks suggesting that he isn’t good at his job because he had his arm coloured in. This was followed by lots of teachers saying ‘well I’ve got them and it doesn’t make me worse at my job, I can’t believe we are discussing this in today’s age’. But that’s the problem just because lots of people accept them now doesn’t mean that everyone does and we forget that. I am a good example of this, my dad is 66 and loathes every single marking I have chosen to add to my body and I mean loathe. It doesn’t affect our love for each other but he still feels the need to tell me everytime he spots a new one that I shouldn’t get anymore and if he had it his way he would take them off me. My point here is that he is only just at retirement age, how many heads, CEO’s, teachers, professors etc are of a similar age or generation and thinking the same? Just because I love the fact my legs are colourful doesn’t mean my next boss will and actually we need to start thinking that if we want to change these opinions we need to do something not just get more tattoos and hope they start to like them. Otherwise as unfortunate as it is tattoos will have the potential to cause issues in the workplace.

Now obviously I don’t think my teaching is anyway worse because I have a T-Rex on my leg (in fact it used to help appease a tricky pupil in the past) but it also doesn’t make me better at my job. Lots of my colleagues are brilliant and have tattoos just like lots of them are brilliant who don’t have them. I’m sure if Jon Biddle rocked up tomorrow with a full Japanese sleeve he wouldn’t start burning down the library or forgetting how to add because it literally makes no difference to your teaching ability. If you want them great, if you don’t great, do what’s best for you.

This made me think about how we make the perception that they are a choice more obvious, after all we have finally realised that we need to represent all of society in literature rather than just one stereotypical view of life. So surely it is the same in regards to appearance, why shouldn’t children see images of different aesthetics – tall, thin, tattooed, long hair, no hair, piercings? To go further surely as well as looking at ethnicity we should also be looking at different body types and exploring those who have had to overcome other issues such as hearing and sight impairments, wheelchair users, limb amputees etc. If we want to create a more accepting society then we need to represent it more. We need to represent it all not just what we find comfortable.

So after all of this waffle I’ve come to tell you how the answer to this is not only more books but specifically comics and graphic novels. When I tried to think of books where people were represented having to overcome an obstacle to do with their body or simply appearing ‘differently’ (lets be honest there is no normal) I thought of multiple graphic novels that were also hugely popular in the classroom. El Deafo is a brilliant way of teaching readers how hearing loss can affect people, Cardboard Kingdom looks at a range of issues such as gender identification struggles and gender stereotypes. Raina Telgemeier has addressed several big issues but her work showing anxiety in Guts transformed some of the girls in my class who begun to realise it was normal to worry. Coming soon is the book Allergic about a girl who suffers with allergies, as someone who has developed a ridiculous intolerance to items like hand sanitizer, soap and washing up liquid (the pandemic has been interesting for my skin to say the least!) I can’t wait to read it and see how they show an issue some are embarassed of. I myself don’t love showing up to work when my skin is swollen and red but actually the children don’t care because they know why I’m like that and they are really understanding because they have seen it and someone has explained it.

Now the beauty of graphic novels is along with all these brilliant examples of showing why these things shouldn’t be an issue there are plenty of books that maybe don’t address one big issue but are filled with pages showing characters breaking sterotypes ( The Breakaways, Primer). Characters from all parts of the world are included and it gives us a chance to explore their culture and traditions. Stargazing and Pashmina show some fascinating insights into Asian culture and obviously Gene Luen Yang is a master of showcasing his upbringing in America but with Asian heritage, as is Kelly Yang with the brilliant Front Desk ( not a graphic novel but truly phenomenal).

Children in my class don’t bat an eyelid at different cultures and ethnicities mixing because they’ve been exposed to lots of it in books so surely the key is to keep doing this and make sure all of society is included. Perhaps if some of the people commenting on the article that sparked this debate had been brought up on a wider variety of literature in various forms they would be more tolerant of others now. All books are important in this but as a man who is passionate about the world of comics and graphic novels I think they can play a huge role in helping destroy people’s misperceptions without them even realising. If they read pages of text and see images showing people teaching with tattoos, women being treated equally, ethnic minorities being given equal opportunities then they won’t grow up expecting anything different. If we hide these things then how can we expect them to accept them?

Superman Smashes the Klan

Wednesday was an interesting day to say the least, it was our final day of term before a day of trust wide CPD. If I’m honest my motivation was low, energy was low and morale wasn’t at its usual heights. The toll of a tough half term was showing and I think the children in my class were seemingly aware that we needed a break from each other. On my way to work in the morning it had dawned on me that I had nothing prepared for an English lesson as we had finished a week long piece of work the day before. Now most people would make this a priority to sort out immediately, however being the fairly relaxed person that I am, I decided to ignore it and bemoan the fact I was hungry instead. This turned out to be the best decision I’ve made all term.

Come break time my brain finally caught up and realised I still didn’t have a lesson ready and frankly I still didn’t have much motivation. Watching my class deal with wet play told me a lesson of writing may not be as successful as I’d like so I decide comprehension is the route for me. I then decide it’s time to do our first bit of text marking this term, year 5 have never done it, what better day to start? I start combing the shelves for a text and then I came across Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang. Now I love this mini series and despite not being a big Superman fan it really blew me away with how well it covered such a sensitive topic. As I flick through the pages, it dawns on me that we had a discussion about the KKK only a couple of weeks ago because it was referenced in HIgh Rise Mystery. A Youtube comment in the book was from someone who had KKK in their username. The day we read that part of the book we had a really honest but very brief discussion as a class about what the Klan stood for and how it related to the story.

As break time came to an end I’d just managed to photocopy the page (on the furthest away copier because obviously one was broken) and I strolled in ready for either a engaging discussion involving racism or a lesson where I wonder why I thought it would work. As always I started the lesson demonstrating how to mark down your thoughts as you explore the text, using the visualiser they can see how much I manage to extract from one panel. I show the questions, I make it okay to question yourself or be unsure and then in pairs they are let loose. Some of the year fives start looking around wondering what is actually going on and if I’ve lost my mind.

Superman Smashes the Klan (2019-) #1 eBook: Yang, Gene Luen, Gurihiru,  Gurihiru, Gurihiru, Gurihiru: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store

Like most lessons when you permit talking and encourage discussion, no one talks or even thinks about making a noise. At this point the doubt creeps in and then slowly like a miraculous ripple, noise starts to permeate around the room. I hear year six children taking the lead and demonstrating how to approach the work. I watch pairs questioning each other and looking for answers. I also deal with two boys who seem incapable of working together and choose to spend their time blaming each other for not being able to annotate much or come up with ideas.

After about 20 minutes we came back together as a class and we shared our ideas. Children add new ideas or answers to their quesitons in blue pen to show it’s from our discussion. As we go through the page, I slowly feed them subtle clues or question them about the people on the page and what they’re doing. Especially the ones in the weird robes. About half way through the penny drops that these are the bad people we talked about the other week in High Rise Mystery because the person had a username with KKK in it. At the this point the conversation starts to erupt. More children are willing to share ideas, more questions are answered by using the text or the informations we’ve worked out, more children are realising that there was a point to this lesson after all. By the end I barely needed to do anything as another child is nearly always capable of explaining what is happening or answering someone elses question.

We covered a delicate subject, gained a greater understanding of it and then I did my best to help the class with their inquisitiveness about it. Now this last one means my headteacher probably has some strange search results coming his way because unsurpisingly I didn’t exactly have a photo of a cross burning to hand. But it was important that they realised this story was all too familiar for a lot of people. Maybe not us, but too many people had suffered for me to just say they were bad people and leave it at that.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is efa33fbb-b3a6-4512-95d1-c61dcc5aae49-1.jpg

The class responded well to this and expressed their shock and disgust that so many people could be so cruel. It pleased me that my class was appalled by it but it also shows that in order to prevent these issues continuing to plague society we have a responsibility as teachers to keep educating pupils about them. If we choose to ignore or downplay thr atrocities of the world to children then they won’t be able to grow up fully comprehending why things are happening or even what is happening. Yes we need to deal with these matters delicately and at the right time, but this summer has shown that they have to be raised or history will continue to repeat itself.

Is bruv standard English?

After marking some less than inspiring SPAG tests last week I decided to try and modify my teaching this week to not only incorporate more opportunities to address gaps but also to cover them in different way. In order to make the learning purposeful, all of the work was related to our current English text High Rise Mystery. On Thursday we looked at the books use of non-standard English especially in regards to the character George. The class grasped the idea fairly well but for many it was not a concept they were as familiar with as they should be. After being asked by one pupil if ‘bruv’ and ‘oi’ were considered standard forms it dawned on me that one lesson wasn’t going to be enough. Friday was a good chance to consolidate learning rather than leaping forward onto something else.

Thursday’s lesson used text from High Rise Mystery but I wanted to try and vary their interaction with non standard forms so I turned to a few graphic novels for Friday. Looking forward in my planning allowed me to see using speech was looming on the horizon so I decided to get a little head start on that as well.

We started off with a quick task to see how confident they were with standard English after Thursday’s lesson. Using a page from New Kid by Jerry Craft, they had to identify where the non-standard forms where and then change them into standard form. This was more of a warm up exercise than anything else but it did present a few misconceptions that I was able to correct early. The easiest example was how some mistook Jordan’s use of the word ‘kay for a name and not a shortened form of okay or who’s meaning who was not who is.

A page from New Kid by Jerry Craft used to start the lesson. This task highlighted several misconceptions and also required a reminder for some that capital letters should still be applied, too many followed the pattern of this example and thought a less formal task meant capitals didn’t matter.

After refreshing their brains and reminding them of the need for correct punctuation we moved on to looking at a page from Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron. The name alone should tell you this isn’t a book for younger readers but just in case it doesn’t please don’t buy this for your class unless you want a lot of parents at your door. That being said it is a brilliant read for adults.

Southern Bastards is set in the south of America so it’s full of non-standard English throughout, the only challenge was finding a page that didn’t have swearwords littered throughout. I settled on a page that featured Jad, a young boy who uses ain’t repeatedly. Perfect.

Before turning the words of Jad and protagonist Earl into a standard form, we covered the rules of punctuating speech. This time rather than simply annotating the panels the children would turn them into written speech between the two characters. This would provide a further opportunity to reinforce the rules of standard English and after being out of school for so long it would give a lot of the class a chance to recap writing speech again.

Although it wasn’t always perfect the majority of the class were able to convert the pages into standard English and by the end they were starting to punctuate the conversation correctly. Using graphic novels rather than the plain text from High Rise Mystery made the speech punctation easier for many to pick up again after a while away. It allowed them to see clearly which words were said by the character and who said them. This should prepare them well for their upcoming work where they will be using High Rise Mystery to inspire their own writing and they will be expected to use dialogue in it to progress the story. Thankfully by the end of the lesson everyone agreed that bruv was non-standard.

Amulet list poetry

Like most schools around the country we have been looking at Here We Are by Oliver Jeffers during the first two weeks back. Having the chance to talk about lots of important issues was vital and for some children it was the first time they have had the opportunity to discuss some of the big issues in the world.

After working on human rights and thinking about the protests over the past few months it made me think of some work I’d seen online (http://cbldf.org/2014/09/using-graphic-novels-in-education-amulet/) about using Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi to discuss what you would do if you could turn back time. In Amulet the character Silas says “the power of the Amulet can give power to turn back time…the power to shape your world.” Which led to me posing the question what might you go back in time for and what might you change? This linked well with Here We Are as the book talks about savouring life and trying to appreciate it before it flies by.

With everything we had discussed during that second week it seemed like every child had at least one big thing they would like to change or redo but it gave us a chance to actually look at some smaller events as well. Some of the things we could probably change now if we thought more about them, like not hitting our brother every day or being more polite. I raised the point that we often leave things too late or ignore them completely and only realise much later that we should have dealt with them differently. The prior week my dad had been in and out of hospital with heart trouble which had led to me reflecting on our years of wasted time arguing over the most petulant matters. I explained to the class that if I could turn back time I’d learn to leave the little things alone instead of going out of my way to argue about why Metallica needed to come out of my speakers at full volume in order to be appreciated properly (hopefully with hindsight he has realised I was right.)

After sharing this real life example the class discussed ideas together and some were very honest in recalling times they shouldn’t have been afraid or times they had been stubborn and regretted wasting their time sulking. Eventually we had to start turning down anecdotes otherwise we could have sat there all day hearing about the time they only went on the zip slide with five minutes left at the park!

After sharing lots of examples we constructed a brief list poem together on the board using some of their experiences. I started the poem and they were given advice on structure with most choosing to start every other line with the phrase “If I could turn back time” some chose to just write this at the start and surprisingly none of them chose the easy option of just using it as a title and then writing the bare minimum below it.

I better check with her Grandad if this tea promise has been fulfilled at all.

Using Amulet on the visualiser and comparing it with some of the imagery and themes we had been discussing in Here We are really helped to create some emotive writing and prevented the usual ‘I can’t think of anything to say’ approach. Having the contrasting images of a quiet countryside and then the business of New York in Here We Are really helped to get across the point that life moves fast. Every child was able to complete the task and some were desperate to write as much as possible. Using the format of a list poem took away the fear some children feel when writing poetry, proved that poetry really doesn’t have to rhyme like some claimed and meant those that are less confident writers didn’t have to worry about filling pages of A4 with their memories. A few ideas and the handy trick of repeating the same line allowed them to create powerful work that they could be proud of.

This was written by a year 5 child who often struggles to express herself in front of others but has tapped into some powerful emotions here.

Zatanna and the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody & Yoshi Yoshitani.

They say don’t judge a book by its cover but I definitely purchased this book based solely on the cover. In fact I was debating whether to buy this or Anti/hero and I chose this because something about the cover was so alluring. In a cruel twist of fate there is a preview of Anti/hero in the back of this book and now I’m desperate to read that as well so I might as well have purchased both there and then.

Zatanna is a very enjoyable read and my favourite thing about it is that I know my class are going to truly love it. I enjoyed it but I’m not the main target audience and you can see how there will be so many children who are going to be fully enveloped by the story of Zatanna. As I worked my way through the mysteries of the book I could already picture those kids who would simply devour the story. Then a talking rabbit entered the fray and several more names immediately popped up. Without giving too much of the book away Zatanna is a child who possesses more power than she knows and ends up in a position where only she can save the day with a little help from Pocus the rabbit.  Her dad is not necessarily who he seems and her family history is certainly not the same as Zatanna has been told. While dealing with all of this, Zatanna still has to deal with the trials and tribulations of growing up and settling in at school. Of course there is a lot more to it than that but it’s a story where you take great joy from each reveal and twist that is delivered, I would be cruel to remove that joy from your reading experience.

Zatanna and the House of Secrets (2020) | Read All Comics Online ...

The story is a mixture of mystery and fast paced action but also manages to work in important themes such as dealing with friendships, self confidence and the importance of being respectful. For me it felt like a book that fans of Raina Telgemeier would enjoy as despite it’s fantasy/magic elements the characters deal with a lot of real life issues. Common issues that we all go through while growing up. Despite all of the emotional depth the book still manages to pack in action at a great pace so those who may struggle to focus will be entertained as well. In regards to age this is an all ages book but I would say Year 4 and up will be the readers that can get the most out of it. It’s a worthy addition to any KS2 class and is another example of an excellent book from DC for kids.

ZATANNA AND THE HOUSE OF SECRETS | DC

 

RuinWorld by Derek Laufman

From the first page to the last, RuinWorld is a book that draws you into its universe and makes you desperate to stay there as long as possible. It is truly superb. At no point does the book feel oversaturated with unnecessary dialogue, the pacing is perfect and the action is sprinkled effectively throughout to keep you on the edge of your seat. I came to this book ready to like it, everyone had told me it was great and I had been toying with buying it for months. However, I wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to love it. Everything about it seemed perfect for me as a reader and the illustrative style of Laufman really supported the quality of his writing.

The story in simple terms is a classic adventure where a group of adventurous types meet and form a team in a bid to stop an evil enemy gaining dangerous levels of power. Despite following a classic format of the action genre, the book never feels cliched or predictable. All of the characters have their own personal reasons for being involved and these are developed or responsible for choices along the way. Again, this is done naturally rather than just shoved in because that’s what happens in adventure stories.

You’ll meet lots of characters throughout the book but the real stars of the show are Pogo and Rex. At times they feel like a modern version of Sam and Frodo but they develop at a much quicker rate and have less conversations about potatoes. Rex is the bold and brash heroic one of the pair while Pogo is nervous and often only one tentative decision away from causing disaster. Others join them in their quest but these two really steal the show.

RuinWorld is one of the books that feels like an essential in all classrooms, it’s not a risky pick where you wonder if this years class will appreciate it. There will be children in your class who will adore it and chances are once a few start reading it most of the class will because the joy this book gives the reader is infectious. As soon as I had finished it I needed to speak to people about it, whether they had read it or not. Laufman has created a truly brilliant book and we can only hope that he is going to revisit this universe more in the future.

6/5 – It is that good and that essential, if you teach Year 4 and above you need it.

RuinWorld: Eye for an Eye SC: Amazon.co.uk: Derek Laufman: Books