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

The Boy Who Became A Dragon: A Bruce Lee Story by Jim Di Bartolo

Bruce Lee is a name known round the world and often one of the first people mentioned when thinking about martial arts. He remains increidibly famous despite dying 47 years ago, yet how much do people really know about his life? Before reading this book my knowledge was limited to the following: he fought Chuck Norris, his son was The Crow and Brad Pitt’s character fought him in the latest Tarantino film. I was quite frankly uneducated and ignorant to the journey Lee went through in his 32 years on this Earth. However thanks to this fantastic telling of his youth from Jim Di Bartolo I now know significantly more.

The story focuses primarily on Lee’s formative years  and the struggles he endured. Academic, physical and political isues all arose for him consistently. From the start the book is honest and isn’t afraid to showcase how unfair things were in Hong Kong as Japan took over and seized control. Along with highlighting how these issues affected the people in the country it explores the knock on effect it had on the economy and the wealth of Hong Kong citizens. Racism plays a part throughout and shows how despite being seen nowadays as an Asian star, Lee often found himself outcast due to his mother being half German. Repeatedly we see his struggle to understand where he fits in with society.

As the story progresses you begin to realise that this book isn’t here to portray Lee as a man who was just naturally brilliant and succeeded at everything because of genetics. If anything it’s the opposite. Di Bartolo brilliantly showcases how hard it was for Lee to focus, how he didn’t know what his passion was and then when he found it how hard he had to work in order to become the legendary name he is today. This isn’t your classic turns up for one session and is better than everyone by the end. As a reader you see Lee deal with setbacks and obstacles continously but the key is he doesn’t let them stop him. As a role model he is everything we preach about in the teaching industry, resilient and robust. Willing to make the sacrifice required to achieve his dreams even when others are actively stopping him.

The story of Bruce Lee will ring bells with teachers across the world of a student who showcases potential and ability but can’t direct it appropriately. They might be the student who gives up before they’ve really tried, they might say nothing interests them or it may be that they always blame something else for stopping them. This is the perfect book to show them.

Bruce Lee battled through adversity, he struggled in school, he was always in trouble but when he found the passion for something he pushed himself as hard as he could to be the best he could. Personally I think this message is vital for children to see especially as they prepare to transition to secondary school and the fear of not being good enough or popular is often amplified. It also shows that you can turn things around, a reputation can be changed and you control your own destiny. Yes there are some artisitc liberties taken in places but the author acknowledges that himself in his notes at the end, however the core values are present throughout and it’s hard not to resonate with the never give up attitude of Lee even when he’s being dragged home by the police on a regular basis!

Personally I loved this book and can’t recommend it enough for year 5/6. It can teach the reader lots on a personal level along with lots of historical information that they are unlikely to know at all. For some this will be the inspiration they need to push themselves while for others it’s a fantastic opportunity to read about a different culture and a character who compares very differently to the so called modern ‘celebrity’, 5 stars for sure.

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When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson & Omar Mohamed

Buy this book. If you take only one thing from this review then let it be that message. In simple terms books like these need to be in every UKS2/LKS3 classroom up and down the country. The messages and values displayed throughout are so important for children to read about especially if they have come from a very priveleged or secure background. Much like Illegal by Eoin Colfer, WSAS isn’t designed to make being a refugee seem more light hearted or a plight that people exaggerate, it is designed to give you an accurate and honest portrayal of how difficult life in a refugee camp can be. Not every refugee will have the same story and that is an important point raised throughout, even in camps designed for safety no refugee has the same experience or treatment.

The main story of WSAS follows Omar and Hassan, two brothers who have fled Somalia after their dad was killed. Along with losing their father, the boys have been separated from their mum and have no idea if she has survived or not. As the reader we get to see the boys grow up and deal with problems that many of us would never experience, at times they have to go without food for a day and school is a luxury that Omar is almost made to feel guilty for. Hassan has seizures but there is no help with medicine or guidance on supporting these. As the story progresses both the boys have their own battles to fight but the goal is always to try and secure a new life in America. A safe life.

I don’t want to say much else about the story as the rollercoaster of emotions that come with reading it shouldn’t be spoilt. Instead I want to focus on why this book is so important. Throughout the story the character’s in the camp showcase a range of important values. Omar shows exceptional resilience, maturity, responsibility, humility and he has a fantastic work ethic. The whole camp has an excellent attitude to school but the female characters Nimo and Maryam in particular set a phenomenal example that a lot of children could learn from. No matter what prejudice is thrown against them they try their very best to achieve as much as possible in school. They don’t settle for less than their best at any point. Despite the difficult situation all the characters are placed in there are never any excuses offered for poor choices or attitudes.

Having a chance to see people in such a diffiult situation but still full of aspiration is something that classrooms need. Speaking personally I know a lot of children in my class would be unaware of how tough the life of a refugee can be and are often prone to acting like they are the only ones finding things tough in life. Being able to share a story like this with them would really open their eyes and show them how they actually have a lot to be thankful for. Saying the story of Omar and Hassan is inspirational feels frankly a little underwhelming but it’s the best I can offer. WSAS is a brilliantly story that is brought to life by beautiful illustrations that help support the messages being conveyed. It covers a topic that many people are still ignorant of and is often misrepresented in the press. Despite being 2020 and technology giving us more access to the world than ever people still act like refugees are just here to take and not give. Such biased and unwelcome views are the reason books like this need to exist as they will help to enlighten readers about some of the atrocities refugees have been forced to endure before even gaining the opportunity to settle in a new country. Being based on a true story only enhances the power of the book and makes it one that should be talked about for years to come. The content is suitable for year 4 up but I would suggest pushing it more at year 5 as the length and content may be difficult for the average year 4 reader to sustain.

When Stars Are Scattered: Amazon.co.uk: Victoria Jamieson: Books

 

Donut the Destroyer review – Sarah Graley & Stef Purenins

In a bid to keep myself sane and carry on talking about all things graphic novel I’ve decided to write a few reviews. These are all based on books I’ve purchased and intend to use in my classroom when things return to a more normal state. None of them have been gifted to me so you can be assured what I say is my genuine opinion.

Donut the Destroyer is the latest book from Sarah Graley who has previously written Minecraft and Glitch. Glitch has been so popular in my school that I’ve had children from five or six different classes borrowing my copy and it’s been read so much in the last year that it will need replacing soon. You know how it is, the type of replacing that tells you the book has been loved byt hose who’ve read it rather than the replacing you do when someone spilt their water bottle on it.

Donut the Destroyer (Dtd) is a story about a character called Donut who is a member of notoriously evil parents, has a best friend who’s evil and is expected to attend the evil Skullfire academy. Instead she follows her heart and attends the heroic Lionheart school. It is all about the choice and battle of good versus evil. However it deals with the topic in a very new and refreshing manner that will ensure readers not only have an action packed story to read but will be presented with examples throughout of how they can control their actions and choices.

Covering the choice between being good or being evil could have ended with lots of moral lectures or very bland story telling that just wanted to make sure readers got the point. Graley steers clear of this though and delivers scenarios that allow an engaging story to flow while also demonstrating how responsible we all are for our own behaviour. Donut should be evil, her parents are world famous villains yet at no point does she think it’s the right thing for her to do. She always follows her heart and tries to do what she thinks is right in a situation. She tries not to give into peer pressure, she chooses friends that respect her for who she is rather than changing her behaviour to fit in. Her desire to be a prefect shows aspiration and when things don’t go her way she picks herself up and tries again, there’s no room for her to give up or throw a tantrum just because she didn’t ger her own way. These lessons are vital for younger readers to engage with as they set a brilliant example for them to follow. As I read it I immediately thought of several members in my class who would either adore the story or would benefit from seeing a strong role model like this, who was willing to fight for what they believe in. A personality trait that is hugely important but can so easily be dismissed by people who simply claim someone is ‘easily led’ as if that makes it acceptable.

Clocking in at 189 pages and packed full of well written dialogue, Dtd will be a challenging read for year four children but one they should be capable of. Year five and six will devour this story and be begging for more I am sure of it. As an adult the book reminded me of The Good Place. I’m not suggesting at all that Graley copied the T.V series but I had the same feeling of inspiration when reading how she had managed to put her own spin on a very saturated topic. As the story progresses it would be easy to throw in cliches or follow tired character arcs but Graley ensures her characters stick to what they believe in and proves that you should always fight for what you believe in. After all we tell children to follow their heart so the books they read should definitely be preaching the same message.

If you teach in UKS2 I have no doubt this will be a hugely popular addition to your library and a title well worth investing in. Glitch was a well written story that I enjoyed but I would argue this is an even better read.

IMG_7515

Vital books for the current climate.

Current events have raised the ongoing issue in British schools regarding BAME representation in literature. This topic has been rumbling for a few years now and although many people have tried to ensure their library provision provides a mixture of all cultures, many are oblivious to the one sided view they offer of the world. I know at my school we had fallen foul of this and it took a deep survey of our library by Jon Biddle to realise we weren’t providing the diversity our children needed. This wasn’t an intentional issue and we had both discussed previously how we had tried to buy a more diverse range of books for our own classes but it was never going to be enough to balance things up when you consider how often publishers stick to what they know.

Over the past two years our school has made a conscious effort to really improve the diversity and choice of literature available to all ages, in all formats. We have definitely got a larger selection of books showcasing BAME characters, cultures and beliefs from around the world but our shelves are far from the finished article. There still is and always will be more texts that require purchasing to ensure children leave with a balanced view of the world and it’s inhabitants. It is particularly important for our children because Norfolk can be very archaic and in places incredibly whitewashed. Casual racism is often tossed about and justified with ‘it’s just a joke’ or ‘that’s what people used to say’ and if you try to correct it you can easily be chastised for trying to ruin a joke.

Personally it has never made any sense to me and never will, perhaps it’s because my parent’s originated from London and therefore had experienced a lot more than some people who have been stuck in Norfolk all their lives. Perhaps it’s just because it never has and never will make any sense to me to make friends based on appearance. Why hang around with someone just because of how they look? If someone is a prick, they will always be one no matter what they look like! However I have to be realistic and realise this is an ongoing battle and just because I’m not racist doesn’t mean other people aren’t. The question is how do we change this?

The answer starts with books and honest discussions.

After reading the brilliant post by Ed Finch (if you haven’t read it, you must! – https://mrefinch.wordpress.com/blog/) I thought about how I could contribute to helping my school follow this example. I love nothing more than talking about the merit of graphic novels as you probably know, if you don’t you soon will. Thinking about literature that refelected other ethnicities, cultures or beliefs made me think about how graphic novels are actually ahead of the game with it. They haven’t always been but they do currently offer a range of stories from big name publishers that have BAME main characters and most importantly promote them and their culture positively.  If you look back historically at work like The X-men, a lot of those stories were about everyone being equal no matter what qualities they possessed. Not everyone spends their time reading graphic novels, so here is my guide to some that will work brilliantly in a primary school and that due to current events have become more important than ever.

New Kid – Year 4 onwards. Not only is New Kid a fantastically written story but it covers vital issues. Jordan moves to a new school and as the new kid he finds out that the culture at his new school is very different. He is one of the only African American students at the school which causes quite a culture shock for him. This book is hugely popular in all UKS2 classrooms and it’s messages are more important than ever.

New Kid Cover.jpg

Superman Smashes the Klan – I have let my year 5 children read this but I spoke to the whole class first about the delicate subject matter and would advise issuing it with caution. This story covers some of the issues asian immigrants suffered in America at the hands of the KKK. Brilliant story telling from Gene Luen Yang and a gripping read.

Superman Smashes the Klan (2019-) #3 eBook: Yang, Gene Luen ...

Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur – A brilliant all ages comic that is a huge hit with year 5 & 6 in my school especially my current class. This story is about a child genius named Luna who loves Science and is academically years ahead of where she needs to be. It’s full of action but also covers many life lessons that most ten year olds will go through at some point especially in regards to friendship and not fitting in.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur Vol. 1 BFF: Amazon.co.uk: Amy Reeder ...

Akissi – Another all ages hit that works well in KS1 & KS2. The tales of a mischevious girl (Akissi) growing up in Africa. It’s light hearted throughout but helps to show how different life is in Africa compared to many people in this country.

Akissi: Tales of Mischief: Akissi Book 1: Abouet, Marguerite ...

Cardboard Kingdom – Perfect for Year 4 onwards. This story shows a group of children trying to entertain themselves throughout the summer holiday. The story ensures a range of problems and ethnicities are included throughout instead of just focusing on middle class white kids from suburbia. It’s a must have for any UKS2 classroom.

The Cardboard Kingdom: Amazon.co.uk: Chad Sell: Books

Spiderman: Miles Morales – Year 5/6 (some slightly inappropriate words) I love this series and so do the children in my class. If you have seen Into the Spiderverse (Watch it now if you haven’t!) then you will know that the story of Miles is similar to that of Jordan in New Kid. Thrust into a new school that he struggles to feel comfotable in, Miles also has to deal with the responsibility of becoming Spiderman. A refreshing take on the superhero genre that does a lot more than just solve crimes.

Miles Morales: Spider-Man (Trade Paperback) | Comic Issues | Comic ...

Stargazing – Year 5 onwards. A truly brilliant story that really pulls on the heartstrings. The story is about two characters who grow up in a Chinese-American suburb and form a strong friendship despite the difficulties they are presented with along the way.

Stargazing: Amazon.co.uk: Jen Wang: Books

Mia Mayhem is a Superhero – UKS1 onwards – A tale suitable for younger readers but no less important. Mia is a seemingly normal 8 year old girl until one day she finds out she is a superhero. Soon she has to begin her superhero training despite always thinking she was anything but super before.

The Witch Boy series – Year 5 onwards. A truly beautiful series that raises some really important points about growing up and accepting yourself for who you truly are. These have been very popular with my current class.

Meg,Jo,Beth and Amy: A modern retelling of Little Women. – Primarily Year 6 and up this story offers a fresh take on the classic story of Little Women. It looks at the day to day struggles of sisters and the issues they go through inculding struggles with sexuality (hence year 6 only in primary.)

The Nameless City – Year 5 onwards. This story looks at the idea of ancient tribes battling for control of a city that has changed hands so many times it doesn’t have a name. It explores the idea of rituals belonging to certain tribes and how different cultures clash. A really engaging story full of action that creates some truly emotional moments for the reader.

Nameless City, The (The Nameless City): Amazon.co.uk: Hicks, Erin ...

 

As children get older and move onto Secondary there are lots of superheroe books that also represent BAME characters brilliantly. Falcon, Storm, Black Panther, Ironheart and America Chavez are staples of Marvel now. Some have primary suitable stories but some don’t so you should read them yourself first before putting them in your classroom. A series I haven’t read but have heard is vital for older children is the March books so that’s another to look out for.

Emotions can go out of control if you’re not careful.

English this half term is based around Wonder in year 5/6 at my school. I love teaching this unit as the discussions you have are full of genuine emotion from the children and often some of the more impulsive individuals start to realise the impact their actions can have. So far the class have engaged brilliantly with the text and I have loved teaching it like normal. Driving to work on Friday I realised that I had completed the work I intended to do this week and we had reached the end of part one in the book so having a long reading session was going to take us further than I wanted. It was at this point I realised that I needed to think of a lesson for the day, as much as I wanted to read all lesson, it seemed unfair to neglect time that could be developing skills. It seemed a good opportunity to get a graphic novel involved for the first time in a while and try something new with Wonder. I decided to do some comprehension work that looked at comparing characters in New Kid and Wonder.

The concept is nothing special but my class currently struggles to explain themselves fully and with SATS looming on the horizon it’s never a bad idea to get them used to writing multiple sentence answers. Four pages of New Kid were photocopied and given out one between two. After time to view and discuss the pages we had a class discussion about the characters and if they reminded us of any other literary characters. Thankfully the class spotted the link between Julian in Wonder and Andy in New Kid quickly. Following more discussion about the behaviour of Andy and Julian, the class were given five questions to answer about them, focusing on their choices in regards to their behaviour.

Along with intending to improve their ability to write detailed explanations I also wanted the class to think about what is motivating a character using real life experiences. Some children took longer than others to engage with this but eventually almost everyone in the class started to realise that the characters in the books weren’t behaving like this for no reason, there had to be a cause for them behaving in such a manner. The first three questions focused on using the text to support an answer and being able to explain what both stories were telling us whereas the fourth and fifth question focused on using the texts as an inspiration to explore their own beliefs.

The fourth question involved offering advice to Andy from New Kid who seems to be intent on upsetting as many people as possible at times. Not only was the advice offered incredibly well thought out but showed a maturity beyond their years. Some of the best answers were:

“If I could I would tell Andy that everyone has friends so stop stealing others. You’ll get more friends the kinder you are.”

“If I had to give him advice I would say friends don’t come from being mean they come from being kind.”

“I would tell Andy to just focus on what he needs to do.”

“I would tell Andy that just because someone is smarter than you or better at other things doesn’t mean you should bully them and make them feel like nothing.”

The final question was designed to make them think deeply about why children choose to be unkind to others instead of being welcoming, both Andy and Julian are unpleasant to new arrivals at their school despite having no reason to dislike them.  Some of the answers showed compassionate and caring attitudes from the children along with an understanding that both characters are unlikely to be doing it just for the sake of it, some of the best answers are below:

“I think that people treat others disrespectfully because they want to become more popular and they have been bullied themselves before and want to take that out on other people.”

“I think bullies choose to be mean because something at home or in their thoughts is making them sad and they take it out on other people. The other reason could be that they’re jealous of their popularity, kindness, skills, what they own or beauty. Emotions can go out of control if you’re not careful.”

The lesson on the whole was very pleasing and the majority of the class engaged well with the task. Speaking to several of the year six children after was beneficial for me as they explained not only what they enjoyed about the lesson but also how they felt using the visual support of New Kid helped them. Despite being relatively competent and confident learners all four of the children I spoke to said having the facial expressions alongside the words helped them to interpret the characters emotions easier and allowed them to gain a better picture of everything that was happening in the story. Despite being essentially standard comprehension/SATS style practice they all asked to do something similar again and felt it had helped them to express themselves in their work which was pleasing to hear.

Imagine a lesson where they all they enjoy writing.

This week has been full of timetable changes and constant Christmas performance rehearsals which led to me working with half of year five for three of the English lessons this week. Our year five cohort has a very mixed attitude towards reading which has subsequently affected their attitude and application in regards to writing. However we have had a lot of success getting them interested in reading through graphic novels (although this has led to some of them refusing to read anything else, but one step at a time) which led me to try and get them developing their literary skills through comics. Our three lessons were all based around the book Tamsin and the Dark by Kate Brown & Neill Cameron which is from the excellent range of graphic novels available from The Phoenix.

The first lesson was all about exploring the cover, what did they think was going to happen in the story? What could they see? How did the font, layout etc make them feel towards the book? Immediately they were engaged in lots of rich conversation about the potential of evil twins, shadow people, zombie attacks, Tamsin saving the world and even her magical stick actually being a hand held tornado. They annotated a printed version of the cover in their books and finished this task with a small prediction about what would happen in the story, despite their pleas for me to let them see some of the inside they were still restricted to the front cover for this.

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Following this task I had lots of children desperate to read the book who had previously missed it or ignored it on the shelf. The cover alone had captured their imaginations and one boy who can struggle to read consistently snatched it up at the first opportunity.

Our second day together remained focused on the front cover but this time we honed in specifically on the main character Tamsin. The class was split into three groups and each group was asked to describe, observe and predict a specific feature or area of the character. One group had to describe her appearance, one had to predict her behaviour and the final group had to try and figure out any specific habits she might have. They switched after five minutes and by the end each group had information for all three categories. Although her behaviour and habits may seem fairly close it was done in a bid to get them to focus on very small details for the habits section. I had to support the groups when they were on this section more but it actually led to some of the best observations. One girl picked up on the fact her collar was turned up on the cover and said “Every time she is about to go into battle she turns up her collar to show that she is ready.” Whereas those describing behaviour were focusing on more broad ideas such as ” I think she has to save the world” or “She has to fight evil.” After fifteen minutes every group had worked on each section and written down some ideas. Ideas were shared to the whole class and children were encouraged to write down any good ones they had missed.

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After two days we had analysed the front cover in great depth and the children were really enthused about the book despite still not looking inside it. Our third and final activity moved away from the text specifically and we used it more as a source of inspiration in starting our own comic. The start of Tamsin and the Dark features two pages explaining the history of Cornwall and describing the past of the area. As a class we talked about how introducing a location or describing the setting can set up a story very effectively and provide the reader with important information that may become relevant later on. Backstory and intricate detail is something the year group on the whole struggle with due primarily to a limited reading diet. Recently I tried to teach them how to introduce a setting using the imagine sentence structure from Alan Peat. The sentence starts with ‘Imagine a place where’ and always has the same punctuation and structure, below is an example:

Imagine a place where the birds sing joyfully, where the rivers flow peacefully, where the sun shines all day: this is Mercuria

We used a visual prompt during that prior lesson and still a lot of them found it very difficult to imagine what to write or they struggled for different ideas and it became a list of the same things which destroys the world building intent of the sentence. I decided to revisit the sentence type but this time we were going to create our own comics and feature it in them. The children were allowed to come up with any setting of their own rather than limiting them to Cornwall where Tamsin is set. To help them I created an imagine sentence with them as a class and showed the process that goes into so they wouldn’t just use the first idea that came into their head every time. Then they were given blank comic strips and their only rule was that each time they got to a piece of punctuation in the imagine sentence they would move onto the next panel which would result in their sentence taking up the first four panels. I was apprehensive about this but actually the children understood the concept well and I found the less confident writers responded positively to it. It also ensured they paid careful attention to where the punctuation went which was another issue in the previous lesson on it.

Breaking down their thought process into one box at a time helped them to think clearly about what they were writing and knowing they would be combining art with their writing meant they were more enthusiastic about what they were writing. My least enthusiastic writer (and the one who will let you know how much he doesn’t like it) was inspired from the start because he found an empty box much less daunting than a blank page of A4. Being able to write a few words and then move onto the next box gave him a sense of achievement and really made him open up his imagination which led to him feeling an immense sense of pride in his work. Below is his imagine sentence from the previous work which he never finished and then his one from his comic:

‘Imagine a place where the smokey buildings lay, where soldiers were lead into a fight in world war 2 – this is where it ended because he was struggling to finish and became agitated by the work.

‘Imagine a place where bombs drop every blink of an eye, where bodies drop from powerful gunshots, where soldiers are expected to lose their lives: welcome to World War 3.’ – a clear improvement and completed in less time than the unfinished one above because he found it easier to follow the structure when it was split over four boxes.

By the end of the session most children had filled in at least one page but some had moved onto a second and were now into full story telling mode. This is where the imagine sentence works so well in a comic. Because they had all listed the best or worst things about their location they could easily work out where they wanted the story to go next with a lot of them finding it easy to identify what the problem would be in their story. Our work earlier in the week on describing the front cover came into effect as well because they started to focus on more specific details to help drive the story forward or add greater depth to the backstory.

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Seeing the whole class enthused was pleasing but the true success was seeing how many of them were working independently and only wanted me to see how hard they had worked rather than trying to rope me in to do their work for them. It allowed some of the less confident writers to see just how capable they are and by using a comic format the writing process was broken down into smaller steps which made them feel empowered. All of our work at the start of the week on story predictions, observing, analysing and discussing meant they really thought carefully about what was going to happen in theirs. Lots of them edited as they worked because they knew they couldn’t rush through the plot and it needed to follow their detailed introduction.

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‘Imagine a place where eagles soar across the rising sun, where rocks fall into the unknown, where the heat stampedes through the valley: welcome to Freedom.’

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