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.

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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.

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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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Where will the key take you?

After a week full of wet play, timetable disruptions and just about everything else that could affect the quality of work in my classroom I finally managed to get some high quality suspense writing out of my class on Friday. Our first writing unit this year has been looking at how to create tension and suspense in writing with guidance being provided by the suspense toolkit from talk for writing. Thursday was supposed to be the day when the pupil’s combined all of the skills we had worked on to create brilliantly detailed writing that was full of suspense, diverse vocabulary and be completed to such a high standard that I would practically explode with pride. Instead it was a lesson where I questioned if I was good enough to do the job, if anyone had actually listened to me and whether I had forgotten how to teach. Friday morning came and as I finished looking at their work my plan of editing and improving the writing in our lesson seemed formulaic and irrelevant. I could already tell that most of them would just ask to rewrite it, several children would tell me they couldn’t possibly improve their work (even though it would likely be the weakest) and I would finish the week moaning for the entirety of my PPA.

In all honesty I still didn’t know what to do by the time the children had already entered my classroom and with my English lesson due to start at 9:15 because of a tennis session I turned to my trusty selection of graphic novels in a desperate search for inspiration. After finding out my TA still had the book at home that I thought would serve best I had to explore my lesser used texts. My saving grace came in the form of Locke and Key: Small World (sadly it contains the word whore so I don’t feel comfortable sharing it with the class) which is full of gothic imagery and horror themes that lend themselves well to writing a suspenseful piece. However I actually chose an alternative cover from the bonus content at the back of the book because it was simple and open ended but would create excellent discussion, which in theory would benefit their writing. I chose to give each pair an image of a key which had a house on it.

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We started talking about what the key could be for, ideas such as new worlds, treasure chests, churches, secret passages and even cities hidden in the clouds where offered. Next the discussion turned to where the key could be discovered, suggestions ranged from the beach, hidden in a picture frame, the sea bed and simply the floor. This was where my input ended, the requirements were outlined quickly and then the class was set on their way to creating the best suspenseful writing they could. They were only asked to write two paragraphs, the first one would involve them finding the key and in the second they would use the key and start to experience something strange. By ending the work here it set them up for an easy cliffhanger.

Immediately I could tell the work was going to be a huge improvement on the previous days attempts. Every child was earnestly trying to use the full range of their vocabulary, sentence sizes were being varied appropriately and most importantly events were being drip fed rather than everything happening in about two lines (trust me this happened a lot on the Thursday.) The room felt more positive, energy levels were noticeably higher and even those who normally struggle were enthused. As a teacher I could feel a difference in myself and it was one of those lessons where you realise why we do this job in the first place, to see children trying to miss break time to work and begging for a whole day of writing was inspiring, it was also a stark contrast to the previous day when the same children celebrated the end of their lesson because they had enough of me asking for more.

Reading through the work during my PPA in the afternoon was enjoyable and looking at the two pieces of work side by side showed dramatic improvements. I know everything shouldn’t always come back to evidence but at the same time having such easily irrefutable evidence that the work had been improved was pleasing. Below are some the best examples  I found, none were perfect and everyone had room to improve but these demonstrated that the skills we had practiced were being applied.

‘It was weird there was no one here. As I turned to leave, the door slammed shut, then it clicked. Suddenly there was a voice “You’re not leaving.”

‘When I opened the creaky door, I saw a big room with yellow walls and light brown floorboards, the whole room was empty except for one thing. A picture on the wall. Whilst holding the picture to examine it the back fell out and a little golden key tingled on the floor. Later that night, I was laying in bed trying to get to sleep. I heard something. A noise. It was coming from the locked room next door.’

‘It was a normal day, normal town, a normal life and normal neighbours. But today was different. The sun was sleeping and the moon was awake, a storm was striking what seemed to be only my house. Strange. Strange indeed.’

‘Opening the box, my life flashed before my eyes. It was over … ‘

‘ Every time I said those words the key glistened again and again. Then I saw it. In the walls I saw a little shudder. I touched the walls, it all happened again…’

‘I felt the sudden urge to go in, but a voice softly called my name, several voices actually. They warned me to go back, their voices synchronised. How could I turn back now? I paced towards the church disobediently, but something stopped me in my tracks. Something was in my freezing hand. Something cold, something smooth, something hard…’

Each of these is from a different child and there were other excellent examples that I haven’t included as well. I know they aren’t perfect but this post isn’t just about the quality of work produced. It’s also to remind us that sometimes as teachers we can over complicate things, we get in our own heads and make it harder for us and the pupils. In an age of evidence, data, standards, non negotiables and every other buzz word flying round staff rooms across the country, it is easy to forget that sometimes we need to make a task as simple as possible and let the pupils lead the way with it. I can admit that anyone observing me on Thursday would have wondered why I was allowed near a year six classroom, it wasn’t good enough. Yet one day later with less planning and preparation I felt the most enthused I had so far with my class, because I did less and let them do more. The lesson wasn’t revolutionary, many people have used a picture as a writing stimulus before me. But the success a simple, open ended image can yield is the key message I want to pass on. Sometimes the simplest ideas produce the best results.

 

 

Postcards with Click

On Wednesday I was greeted by a classroom full of children who had a range of emotions about being sent back to school and being made to put up with me for the next academic year. It was only as I watched them rush to their friends to help settle their nerves that I realised my class was made up of children from four different classes. Moving to a 5/6 mix has meant not that many of my pupils actually know each other and this has led to apprehension from some of them, while others are relishing the chance to get a fresh start. Immediately I started thinking how I could help them to feel at ease, relax some fears and hopefully inspire a few of them to feel a greater sense of confidence in the room. A book which sprung immediately to my mind to help with this was Click by Kayla Miller, a story centered around a girl who has friends but doesn’t seem to quite fit into a specific group or have a best friend to lean on. Looking around my class I could already pick out three or four children who were clearly feeling the same and I’m sure there were several others I hadn’t spotted.

Thursday’s English lesson was treated like a normal lesson, wasting time on introductory exercises seemed daft. Each child was given a sheet which had three panels from Click cut out and stuck in the middle which showed the main character (Olive) in clear emotional distress and suffering from a friendship crisis. Working in pairs the children were asked to write down as many words as they could that described how Olive would be feeling about being left out at school. Following this I heard answers from all pairs and created a list on the board. Each pair was then given a thesaurus and asked to find more powerful ways to describe Olive’s feelings, particular focus was drawn to the words  sad, lonely and different which we felt were weak compared to their other choices. While the pairs were rifling through their thesaurus I worked my way round the class to help them with word selection or to establish whether they had found an alternative that would make sense. The natural discussions occurring in the pairs was fantastic to hear, lots of them had started to work out that you can’t just take any option given in a thesaurus and apply it.WIN_20190906_14_19_39_Pro

Example of a sheet completed by a pupil, their initial ideas are at the top and then their findings from the thesaurus are at the bottom.

After about fifteen minutes we compiled a second list of words on the board and compared them to our original ideas. There was a noticeable improvement in the power and emotion of the language they had discovered in the thesaurus which we discussed together. Lonely, sad and different were now being replaced with words like isolated, perplexed, bewildered, disconnected, and neglected.

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Due to the important discussions about word choice, meaning and suitability this task ended up taking the whole lesson which wasn’t my original plan but rushing it would have lessened the impact of it significantly. On Friday after a quick recap the children begun to write a postcard from the perspective of Olive. We made up a scenario in which Olive had a good friend who lived far away and she was writing to her to explain her friendship struggles at school. I decided to ask them for a postcard so no children would feel pressured or daunted about how much they had to write and could focus on writing five or six high quality sentences. The first draft was written in their book and before writing it up in neat on a postcard template they were asked to go through and polish their work either with me or their partner.

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For the second part of the task they were asked to write a reply from Olive’s friend. This allowed us to talk about offering positive advice and encouraging people to potentially step out of their comfort zone. At this point a lot of answers were forthcoming because many of the children are in this exact position in my class, a lot of them have been separated from their friends and they aren’t quite sure where they fit in yet. Again the draft was written in their book before being edited and then finally transferred onto a postcard template in neat. This ended up being finished in the afternoon because many of the class were trying to produce the very best work they could but I couldn’t complain about this in the slightest as their desire to create quality writing that represented their best work on only our third day was fantastic to watch.

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An added bonus of the task was several children asked if they could borrow the book, one child read it all on Thursday and it barely had time to hit the shelf before someone else had already borrowed it. Click is a brilliant story that accurately resembles situations that lots of children go through during school, I highly recommend it for any class from year 4 upwards. Using it in class allowed us to have lots of fantastic discussions about empathy, friendships, language and the power of reading.

Dialogue

As the threat of moderation looms ever closer it has been a frantic post SATS period in year 6. However this week we still managed to find a way to use some comics to help develop several skills and produce high quality work. Good quality dialogue was lacking in books for both classes, so it was decided that we would be re-writing comic strips and then turning them into written dialogue in their books.

For those who don’t know I have the luxury of working with Jon Biddle, who is brilliant at making these tasks highly enjoyable and highly effective. His decision to use Calvin and Hobbes as a resource was instrumental in capturing the children’s attention in the first lesson and setting them up to succeed for the week. We used three different strips from Calvin and Hobbes that all showed situations the children could easily relate to. Most of the words were erased on the strips and the children had to go through and fill in the speech bubbles with what they thought the characters may be saying at that point, which allowed for lots of discussion about body language and facial expression.

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After completing several of the strips from Calvin and Hobbes, both classes moved on to a blanked out strip from either Rollergirl or Mr Wolf’s Class. Again their first task was to fill in the dialogue with what they thought the characters would be saying. However this time the images had much less action and required the pupils to really think carefully about how they might react and speak in the situation themselves. Having filled in multiple comic strips across the week the classes then explored how to turn these speech bubbles into written dialogue, similar to what they may use in a story. To ensure a successful transition the rules of punctuating speech were recapped and the process was modeled using real text examples to support it.

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For their first attempt at applying the skill both classes used a comic about Calvin and Hobbes sledging down a hill with disastrous consequences. Most found the task difficult at first because they were unsure how to communicate the contrasting manner of the characters, as well as ensuring their delivery was described in enough depth. Following this task the children then chose either their Rollergirl work or the extract from Mr Wolf’s Class and attempted to convert this into written dialogue. Having practice at it the day before allowed them to see where they had gone wrong or address any misconceptions that had arisen. Both of these texts required a greater focus on facial expression, body language and character thoughts, which meant their knowledge of when to use inverted commas was tested more than the previous day. They also needed to use the dialogue effectively to help progress the story because the actions performed didn’t help with this as much as the previous strip when Calvin and Hobbes were sledging down a hill and crashing spectacularly into the snow.

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By the end of the week it was easy to see how much improvement had been made by the children in regards to the quality of their dialogue, how they used dialogue to progress the action and also the detail they used to describe the interaction between characters. Most had moved on from simply saying ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ and started to use more informative language such as ‘exclaimed’ or ‘explained’ as well as using short phrases to explain the exchange. Some of the best examples of these were ‘instead of replying to her fathers words she gave him a glare and looked round to see if anyone had heard’ and ‘a girl muttered underneath her breath … although not everybody could hear her.’ Previously character reactions were often more simplistic and would have probably sounded more like ‘she looked sad’ or ‘she said it quietly.’

Adding this level of description to dialogue had previously been a big weakness for the year group, which often meant they found it hard to use dialogue as a tool to support or further action in their work. Instead dialogue was often used for very basic conversations where characters just seemed to spend their time asking how each other were and saying okay a lot but never actually doing anything or talking about anything relevant. Using comics in this manner has highlighted how easily you can spot gaps in children’s understanding of the rules of speech along with providing ample opportunities to develop their writing of it. The success of it has already informed us that it should be taught in this manner earlier next year in order to improve an often troublesome area as early as possible.

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Padlet

After a few people suggested the idea I have created a padlet full of graphic novels that are suitable for primary schools. It is far from the definitive article so if you have ideas for some I am obviously missing get in touch with me on twitter and I will add them to the list. https://padlet.com/rruddick9zra/73uh2srzpbia

Things have been quiet on here recently with the joys of Sats in my class but hopefully when they are out of the way I will have more time to do some creative work with comics again in my English lessons.

Text marking with Mr Wolf

Over the past few weeks SATS fever has started to sweep year 6 meaning the chance to teach with comic books or try something considered a risk has become a very slim possibility. Although we are trying our very best to keep the curriculum broad and not just turn lessons into revision missions, there are times when you have to focus on the gaps no matter what. However thanks to the work of Wayne Tennent and the technique of text marking that he taught us on a reading course this year I have been able to sneak in some comic based lessons which have also served a SATS based purpose. In a bid to help develop the deeper thinking skills of our year 6 pupils both classes have been working on exploring what a text is truly showing us and what we can read from it. Credit must go to the mighty Jon Biddle who in PPA last week read the fantastic Mr Wolf’s class (buy it for year 4,5 &6 if you don’t have it, great book and they love it) and then said how he planned to use it for some text marking work. Being the resourceful practitioner that I am I stole his idea and did it as well because he said it so therefore it must be a good idea!

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The page in question involved a teacher asking a pupil to say sorry for something that wasn’t really a problem just so they could settle the issue. In predictable fashion the child apologises but doesn’t mean it and didn’t actually care about being sorry whilst the teacher thought he had settled the incident perfectly. We’ve all been there ourselves and will continue to deal with it on a daily basis as long as children exist. We decided to go through and mark all over the text about what they thought the characters were really thinking, why the teacher was settling it this way and what their body language told us about their real intentions. The class picked up on lots of subtle details and nuances that at first glance they had ignored. After marking it we talked about their findings as a class which allowed others to pick up on things they had missed. The discussion ranged from the character saying sorry being sarcastic rather than really meaning it, the teacher being smug even though he hasn’t really settled the issue, turning your back on someone to show them that you don’t actually mean your words and even how rushing off after the teacher has said shows a lack of respect.

The discussion was really productive and plenty of the class had picked up on little facial expressions and clues in the text that others had missed including myself. We followed this task up by looking at three questions based around the text. The questions were based on looking at the text, using a clue from the text and then using their own thoughts about a concept related to the text. The final question was What do you think makes a good teacher? This question required us to discuss all the different areas of life that people teach them in rather than just focusing on teachers at school. Many of the children hadn’t considered just how many different people teach them and how they teach others themselves. This question prompted some interesting discussion which revealed many of them considered a good teacher to be someone who could demonstrate the skills and knowledge required themselves, possessed patience and was kind and caring. Most of the children were adamant that the person teaching needed to know or show how things worked rather than just being people who could tell them what to do. When talking about who the best teachers in their lives were a lot of them recognised their parents or grand parents as people that have taught them a lot along with brothers and sisters. Interestingly some also suggested their parents were the worst teachers because they didn’t have the knowledge or patience to do it properly!

Following on from this task (later in the week) we then looked at another page from the second Mr Wolf’s class book which I felt would address some of the issues we were having as a class. This time we decided just to mark and discuss the text rather than moving onto three questions afterwards. This time we looked at a page where several seemingly innocent lies got out of hand and led to a character believing an old teacher had potentially been abducted by aliens. Working in pairs the class had about 30 minutes to break down the text and explore what was happening and more importantly why it was happening.

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I was surprised by how many didn’t understand what the word ransom meant but this presented a great opportunity to demonstrate how they could use the words around it to establish a potential meaning. About half way through the task after rushing through all the words most of the class started to say they were finished which I knew they were definitely not. Rather than stop there and discuss I simply informed any child who told me that to look further into it and start thinking about more than just the words. After a brief whinge about being made to work harder every group went back to the task and started to pick apart tiny details of the text which led to lots of fantastic paired discussion. Slowly they realised that the page features constantly changing backgrounds which could be related to the way the conversation is going between the two characters. Lots of them picked up on the spotlight on the last panel and the wonky features in the corridor which didn’t fit with the rest of the page. Facial expressions were studied and allowed them to draw conclusions about the intentions of the words as well as answering questions they had about the start of the page. When it came to stopping them many begged for more time as they were engrossed in extracting everything they could.

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To finish we discussed our findings as a class and I teased them towards the idea of fake news and how it is important to be more aware of this than ever. In the previous week I had settled multiple arguments based on children either lying to each other or misreporting events. Their words gathered momentum and got out of hand before thankfully being resolved by the end of the week. This page gave me a great example of this happening and allowed me to draw comparisons to our struggles in class. As a final point of discussion I talked to them about the fake articles that are constantly put up online and the importance of evaluating what you are reading to try and ascertain if it is genuine or not. Quickly I had hands shooting up to tell me about when they had fallen for fake news themselves or examples their parents had shown them being spread on social media. Using the text to get to this point seemed to connect well with them and for those who may struggle to quite understand what I was talking about it gave a concrete example of how a simple joke can quickly get out of hand whether you mean it to or not.

 

 

Formal letter writing using Princeless

This week in English we have been exploring the difference between formal and informal language through the medium of letter writing. Initially many of my students were unfamiliar with the concept but as the week progressed they showed that they could apply the rules consistently when needed. Having finished our planned work by the end of the lesson Thursday I thought Friday presented an excellent opportunity to practice the skill using a different inspiration. After a long deliberation I chose the book Princeless, it’s twist on the classic princess tales that would offer a golden opportunity for the main character to write a letter.

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In the book Adrienne has been locked in a tower by her father so she can be saved. She decides to break out and go on a mission to free her sisters before the same imprisonment can be placed upon them. After sneaking into her castle she finds her brother who relays the bad news that her sister Appalonia has already been locked away with the meanest guardian in the land protecting her. Adrienne sets off in a bid to free her and ends up in a village where she meets her new companion Bedelia. This part of the story was read to the children who took notes about key character names and events. After note taking the task was laid out, they would have to write a letter from Adrienne to her brother Devin explaining how she was faring in her quest to save their sister. We worked together to identify possible things that may have happened after she left the castle and met Bedelia.

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With ideas gathered and expectations established the class then got on with writing a formal letter to Devin from the perspective of Adrienne. At first they struggled to start off the letter, many found it hard to comprehend how I had read them the story but left them in charge of filling in what happens between leaving and saving her sister. Eventually after a little prompting and a few examples being shared they started to let their imaginations loose and started creating events from this journey. Lots of them described the scenery they had passed or made reference to their new companion Bedelia and how she was helping. Some mentioned the dragon Sparky, the supplies they had gathered or even how far they were from finding Appalonia. Most importantly the majority stuck to the rules of writing a formal letter.

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Contractions were abandoned, paragraphs were used in a more structured manner and vocabulary choices started to become more adventurous. I had banned certain words earlier in the week including ‘alright’, ‘ok’, ‘bad’ etc. which caused trouble for some at first but eventually they started to explore their own vocabularies or use a thesaurus to help them improve the overall tone of their work. Words such as ‘ashamed’, ‘informed’, ‘accompanied’ and ‘menace’ started to make their way into more pupils work and today the variety of vocabulary was the best it had been all week. Below are some of the best sentences created or some are examples from writers who often struggle but excelled during the task:

‘After leaving we finally came across a small village. I told Sparky (the dragon) to hide behind a few trees because I do not think civilians react well to dragons.’

‘I am informing you that I am safe. Since you last saw me at the castle a lot has changed.’

‘We are starting out tomorrow beware I might not make it back. Do not be upset if I do not come back but make me a promise. If I do not come home go and save our sister.’

‘I have great doubt that I will succeed brother but I will never stop fighting.’

‘It is getting dark and I am losing sight so I must say my goodbyes and if I do not make it tell my family I love them. It may not go well.’

A lot of children ended their letter with a warning about their potential fate which showed a good understanding of events that were about to occur. It also gave them a chance to discuss their family relationship at the end of the letter whereas the rest had been recounting the journey and trials ahead. Initially I was skeptical about the task but as we had achieved the goals for the week it seemed a worthy risk. On reflection it worked respectably well but having to read a comic to the class because you only have one copy did make the explanation process problematic at times. Ideally in future I would do something similar using either one page that covered enough content or use a comic that I had multiple copies of so the children could follow along more easily.