My Lockdown Experience as a Teacher



First, I miss the pupils as much as any of us. That genuine interaction in the classroom. The hellos. The laughs. The discussion. These cannot be beaten. We are living in a very strange time, indeed, and we have all had to adapt to this current way of life.

I’ll be honest, when I first thought about online learning I was worried. We get so much from pupils by being there with them and seeing those lightbulb moments as they understand a new idea/concept. At times, online learning can feel static and unnatural. We also have to fit this around our home schedules. Many teachers have children, of all ages, and need to work around others at home and fit time in for giving feedback to pupils and setting work. However, and I know I view this from a privileged position, I have had opportunities during this time.


The online CPD has been brilliant and I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has made them happen. Highlights, so far, for me have been Barbara Bleiman’s session on ‘What Matters in English Teaching’ and BrewEd from home (my first BrewEd event!) and connecting with other educators through the hashtag ‘TinyVoiceTuesdayUnites’. These provided great opportunities to engage with others’ views and develop my own practice. It was great to meet so many like-minded practitioners at the BrewEd event too – looking forward to the next one! Learning about online platforms and remote teaching has also been extremely  valuable. I have been able to embed ideas into my own practice to best support the pupils I teach. My next step is to create videos for pupils (and do live sessions) so if anyone has any advice on this, please share!


The time during lockdown has given me the chance to engage with books in a way I might not have otherwise. This includes reading for pleasure and teaching related books. I have loved reading people’s recommendations on Twitter and I’m looking forward to getting involved in the Tweacher Book Club hashtag – another great find during lockdown! I have read a few classics, such as Jane Eyre, and have enjoyed having the time to settle down with a good book. The current time and the Black Lives Matter movement has also made me think about the literature I will teach post lockdown and for blended learning. I know I can do better as a teacher to address social justice and ensure action is taken for inclusivity. The children need to hear our anti-racist stance and they deserve better than passivity.


An opportunity recently arose for me to become a Network Lead in my subject and I’m not sure I would have taken it on if it wasn’t for lockdown. I’ve been reading leadership books (including 10% Braver) and felt that I need to take more risks and believe in myself as an effective teacher and leader. This can be a difficult task when imposter syndrome looms over me, but I’m definitely getting better at saying ‘yes’ as long as I can see the benefits for the pupils, colleagues and myself. It can be easy to say ‘maybe one day’ but I know I don’t want to regret turning down opportunities that interest me and will help me develop.


To think ‘the daily walk’ will be a phrase taught in a History lesson one day is mind-blowing. However, being allowed to go outside once a day with the pup kept me sane during the toughest times.  It also made me realise that I don’t appreciate the outdoors enough. I’m lucky enough to live beside the coast and lockdown has made me appreciate where I live and the world around me. Empty roads and streets does have its negatives, but we have given nature a chance to breathe again. To be able to see the creatures through a clear sea has made me reflect on how we treat the planet and that, perhaps, the world does need to slow down; we are all in such a rush all the time. It has also been great to hear the pupils’ stories. Many are baking, reading, sewing, building dens and seem generally happier. They also seem to be spending more time outdoors and exploring the local world around them. I am aware that many will not be in the same position, but it does make me think about the value of Outdoor Learning as we move forward to Blended teaching.



I wanted to keep this blog short and just share a few positive experiences I have had. Of course, I have had my anxious days and worries. I have felt really down and missed the structure of a working day (I think most of us can relate to this). But I do think I have learned a lot about myself during this time. I have learned that I can take risks and fight  imposter syndrome. I have learned that CPD helps me to push myself and develop my practice for the pupils and myself. I am hopeful that I can take my development and reflections forward from lockdown to when it is safe to return to school. I am, very much, looking forward to that!



Student and NQT Q&A – Part One



I thought it would be a good idea to create a Q&A style blog for students and NQTS. I feel that this is especially important at this time, due to the uncertainty we all currently face. I asked students/NQTs to send me questions via Twitter about teaching, or any advice they sought, as they begin the first steps of their journey. I did get a number of queries, so the Q&A will be in two parts. I will answer the first four questions below:

How do I best prepare for the year ahead under the current circumstances? 

Great question! We are all currently facing unprecedented times (as the media keeps telling us!) My advice, for this question, comes in three parts:

First, I would suggest that – if you are a student – you continue to take on board your professional association’s advice.  If you are at a university, you should be receiving updates and online learning opportunities to help you through. As you explore the content, make sure you reflect on your own placement experiences and always think about how they theory can be applied to practice. Also, start to look into classroom routines and expectations. Pupils love consistency and routine. It is human nature to want to know what to expect – children are not different. Think about ways that you want to create a safe and purposeful environment. I would recommend Bill Roger’s ‘Classroom Behaviour: A Practical Guide to Effective Teaching, Behaviour Management and Colleague Support.’

If you have just finished your student year, I would recommend that you take this time to reflect on both your strengths and areas for development. Read around the areas that you have been advised to improve. If classroom presence was a development opportunity, find reading to support you. I would recommend Paul Dix’s ‘When the Adult Changes Everything Changes.’ This is a fantastic tool for teachers across the UK. It really got me thinking about how I approach situations with pupils as an adult, and how I could adapt my behaviour for a more positive outcome. Sue Cowley also has a selection of fantastic books to support new teachers including; ‘The Ultimate Guide to Differentiation’ and, ‘How to Survive your First Year in Teaching’.  I’ve also found reading around teaching has helped me in my own practice, as I consider how I would apply certain strategies in my own context.

Secondly, don’t worry too much about creating loads of resources for your classes. You haven’t met them yet! I spent the summer before my NQT year making up loads of resources that I did not use. It wasn’t until I got to know my pupils that I could make a unit that I knew would suit their needs. As soon as you find out about the school you will be taking up your NQT year in, contact them. They should have a rough idea of the classes (or class) you will be taking forward and be able to tell you some information about them. You can also find out from the school if they have resources that you can adapt. It can be tempting as an NQT to make everything from scratch, however if there is work out there for you to look at (and even use as a model) do it.  Don’t burn yourself out before you have even met the class (or classes) you will be teaching. However, it is also worthwhile remembering that schools will be under a lot of pressure right now; give them some time to get back to you with any information they have.

Thirdly, use this time to think about teaching strategies you want to learn more about. Twitter can be a great place, however there will be some who will write off (for example) group-work because it hasn’t worked for them. Don’t be put off by this. Take the time to read around your subject (or in primary, your year group). There are loads of ‘100 ideas for’ books for both primary and secondary teachers. A quick Google search will bring up a selection designed to support classroom teachers across the UK. For example Stephen Lockyer’s ‘100 ideas for Primary Teachers’ is a great tool with a variety of ideas to support teaching. I would also recommend looking at Dylan Wiliam’s work around formative assessment and feedback. Here is an example of his work at a conference (with a focus on questioning):  Also another really important piece of advice I can give is, have a critical eye with everything. There will be pedagogy that people agree on, there will be pedagogy that people don’t. Remember you are still learning, so always think about your learners and how you can best support them with your teaching.

I am not a loud or outgoing person. Does this mean I won’t be a good teacher? 

A common myth in teaching is that you need be high-spirited and an extrovert to teach. You absolutely do not. Some of the best teachers I know have a quiet and calm presence in the classroom. The pupils feel safe because they know that the person teaching them is a predictable and consistent individual. We all have our own ways to make our lessons come alive and -trust me- that does not need to be with (hopefully figurative) fireworks and explosions. Do you need to have presence? Absolutely. But that is not the same as being ‘outgoing’. Presence is not about yelling, but a large part of it is about confidence. You will have heard the ‘fake it until you make it’ mantra numerous times and, in part, it is true. Take the time to develop your own teacher identity, and think about what kind of teacher you want to be.

If you have a quiet, soft spoken voice I would think about tools you could use to get the attention of the whole class after a, for example, group-work task. There are countdown timers online which are great, and you might also want to consider a bell of some kind. This means you don’t have to strain your voice and, if it is used consistently, pupils will soon learn that is your signal for attention.

I would not consider myself an extrovert, as I enjoy time alone to recharge, however I do enjoy being in the classroom and feel like I can be myself around the pupils – to the point of eccentricity! You never know, you might feel the same when you step in front of your own class for the first time. However, also remember confidence can take time. Try different strategies out and see what works with your teaching style.

How do I successfully build relationships with pupils? 

A very important question! I believe building relationships is at the core of everything we do. Children are looking for a human connection with you, and you should look for the same with them. One of the most important elements of this is building trust. To build trust you need to be as fair as possible in every situation.  The reason I say ‘as fair as possible’ is because you will make mistakes – we all do. However, it is how you amend the mistake that is important. Make sure you apologise to pupils when you are wrong. Some may see this as ‘losing face’ or authority, but it actually allows the pupil to see you as a human being who makes mistakes. It is an opportunity to model to them what is important and how we should go about it.

In addition, think about how you can reframe potentially negative situations. If a pupil does something they are not supposed to do ( for example, deliberately drops their jotter on the floor and leaves it) reframe at first to: ‘Oh, I see you have dropped your jotter, let me get that for you.’ You will see the look of shock on their face as they expected an explosion of rage, but – instead – got a kind and positive response. Of course, we need to have consistency and expectations, however think of this as seeing the best in them (at first)  rather than presuming they are doing something wrong.

Also, get to know pupils’ names as soon as you can. Greeting them at the door and saying their name within the first couple of days of meeting them is key. Just think about how great you feel when someone you hardly know remembers your name and uses it. Make greeting pupils at the door your opportunity to use their name and catch up. As they are entering ask them how, for example, the football game was on Saturday. This gives you a chance to build a connection before the lesson begins and can help set a positive tone. If you take the time to build relationships, you will notice a huge difference in terms of how pupils respond to you and how much more you enjoy teaching. I would recommend watching this fantastic TED Talk, ‘Every Child Needs a Champion’:

As well as setting a positive tone, it is also important to listen to understand rather than to respond. Most of us enjoy the sound of our voice – let’s be honest. But it is really important with pupils to ensure that we are not trying to ‘win a battle’ with them. Taking the time to really listen, can be the difference between a situation escalating or de-escalating. Tell them you understand, ask questions, and don’t interrupt when they are explaining something to you – you might find out some crucial information.

I will touch on some more points in my next response, but I feel like this is an important time to bring up safeguarding. As pupils begin to trust you, they may start to tell you information that is worrying. It is essential that you pass this information immediately to the child protection co-ordinator in your school. You will find out more about this from your school and your school’s authority.


What was your Biggest Challenge as an NQT?

This question links in really well with the question before. One of my targets as a student was to have more presence in the classroom. My lesson content was good, but I did find it challenging to ensure the whole class were listening when I was speaking to them. This meant when I started my NQT year I took a very ‘assertive discipline’ approach to my teaching. I had high expectations for pupils and I quickly established boundaries. Although this worked well to an extent, I felt something was missing. I didn’t have a connection with any of my classes.  One class in particular would enter and most would give me the dirtiest look as they passed me. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing wrong. I was enjoying what I was doing, but the persona I was portraying was stopping me from building relationships with the pupils.

August and September were a blur for me. I wasn’t seeing the pupils as individuals, but was instead treating them as a class – a ‘unit’. This did do work, as I was warm and approachable whilst having my boundaries in place. However, there was always a pupil who would not respond well. When they misbehaved I would go through the procedures, but it often ended up with the pupil being sent out of the class. For me, personally, I viewed this as a failure on my part. I felt I wasn’t doing everything I could to help that child. I felt like I was missing something. After observing some teachers and doing some reading, I realised what I was missing was the most important part: a relationship with the pupil.

In a way, I knew a lot about the individual in question. I knew they had a chaotic home life and would often walk out of a class or be sent out. However, what I didn’t know was anything about them as a human. I hadn’t taken the time to get to know their likes, dislikes, or even to have a conversation with them at the start of class. I quickly learned that this was where I was going wrong.

Little things started to make a difference. Rather than being on the defence as soon as they entered the class, I would smile and ask them about something they had told me the day before – even if it was just checking up on their science experiment. I would take notice of the ‘little things’ that for most pupils wouldn’t be a big deal, but for them, to notice the little positives, made a huge difference. I soon realised that this pupil, who I thought hated school and me, was more at home in school than anywhere else.

By changing my own actions, my relationship with this pupil changed for the better. Having them in class was a pleasure and I soon realised they had a great sense of humour and enjoyed certain aspects of the course. Was it always perfect? Of course not. But taking the time to build relationships with pupils who have been constantly let down by the system, is so important.

To summarise, for me the biggest challenge, and most important lesson, was taking the time to get to know the pupils. Of course boundaries and consistency are important, but seeing children as human is even more so. We don’t all have the same home-life, and children are impacted by daily obstacles – just like adults. School is often the place where they feel the most safe and have the most trust. Building relationships not only made me a better teacher, but it also made me enjoy the profession even more.

Completing an M.Ed. as a Full-Time Teacher


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Completing an M.Ed. as a full-time teacher is a daunting prospect: we all have other commitments and a busy schedule. Many people I have spoken to have said that they can’t imagine doing an M.Ed. due to the pressure of other deadlines. As teachers, we have planning, developing, meetings and marking to think about too, and the thought of something else can seem overwhelming. However, I found the M.Ed. to be a positive experience and, done right, it should be fulfilling and valuable.
I started the course straight after my student year at a Scottish University. The university provided an opportunity for PGDE students to gain Masters credits whilst completing the student year. These credits meant that I could complete the course in a shorter timeframe and it also meant that I did not have as much to worry about when I was teaching full-time.
The course is not easy, but it is not supposed to be. It is an opportunity to learn more about education and think about your own personal interests within it. If you are interested in doing it ‘at some point’ my advice would be to commit yourself to it now; there are flexible options available and it can be done part-time.
The aspect of the course which, I felt, required the most attention was the 15,000-word dissertation. For this part of the course, I submitted a proposal and was then allocated a supervisor based on the specific area I was interested in. Most of my advice will focus on the dissertation as it was the most challenging, and rewarding, part of the M.Ed.

Get Organised

Before starting the M.Ed. my top tip is to make sure you are organised. You will need to be able to meet deadlines, and with a full-time job balancing everything can be difficult. Everyone handles workload differently, so the best way is to make sure you get the balance right for you. Make sure you check your emails and the university’s website regularly for updates. I would also advise getting a folder to keep everything you need in. This is useful as you can always look back at the work you completed the previous year – you might also get inspiration for your dissertation topic!

Read the Handbook (Dissertation)

Reading the handbook is very important as it will answer a lot of your questions before you begin. It will tell you the structure of the dissertation and give you information regarding word counts, references and deadlines. I constantly referred back to the handbook when I was writing to make sure I was on the right track. Also, the handbook will often have templates for submitting pieces of work (the proposal etc.) these will need to be read thoroughly and filled out correctly. In addition, you will also find out about the ethic approval requirements of the university. Please remember if you are working with children, you need to get permission from their parents and the school before you can begin your investigation.

Keep in Touch with your Supervisor (Dissertation)

This is something that I, on reflection, wish I had done more of. Please remember that your supervisor is an experienced academic who is there to guide you through the process. The more you keep in touch with them, the more support you can expect back. Make sure you set up regular meetings through email and don’t be scared to ask them about elements of the thesis you are unsure about. Mentors are also there to read short sections of your dissertation before you submit it; they can give you advice on reading and writing critically. However, remember they are busy people and you will need to make sure you are organised and keep in touch with them. It is also a good idea to keep a record of the meetings you have had and the focus of the meetings. This means you can refer to back to the conversations you have had and think about the progress you have made.

Choose your Focus (Dissertation)

This is your chance to choose an area you are interested in learning more about it through in-depth independent research. The dissertation will build on the skills and understanding gained from previous modules. There will be many areas to think about such as inclusion, policy and practice and sustainability. An idea is to revisit the work you completed on previous modules and see if there is anything that would require further investigation. Also think about your current career and professional development. An interest may derive from something you want to achieve in the future or something you want to develop now. However, make sure your you don’t choose an area that is too wide as you do have a word count which will be around 15,000.

Read Widely BEFORE you Start Writing (Dissertation)

If I could turn back the clock, this is the advice I would give myself. As far as possible don’t prejudge your research before you have done your reading. That will focus you on an echo chamber that will support your initial thoughts and not investigate research which might oppose you. You must make sure that you read evidence supporting your investigation and opposing it. By being impartial, it will be easier for you to think about the research question(s) and the focus of your dissertation. Ensure your research questions derive from the reading, rather than from assumptions based on anecdotes or your own beliefs. Remember this should enjoyable and interesting: give yourself time to read and always note down any questions which stem from the reading you are doing.

These are just a few tips that I would give to anyone starting the M.Ed. There is much more to think about and I’m happy to write another blog with more advice and reflections – if that would be of interest!


Thriving as an NQT




I have recently seen a few articles commenting on NQTs ‘surviving’ the first year of teaching; just keeping  their heads above water in order to survive the year. This shouldn’t be, and isn’t always, the case. Of course, the support of a school is fundamental. Schools need to understand that an NQT is starting out and needs time to develop a teaching identity.  Schools also need to understand that piling on the workload  (extra curricular clubs, meetings, initiatives etc.) will not only burn NQTs out, but could also reduce the amount of time they spend honing their practice. Priorities can become muddled when NQTs experience high-levels of pressure from extra curricular work. Therefore, my tips for NQTs will focus on what they can do in terms of practice.  NQTs need opportunities to develop, reflect and thrive in order to best support the children they teach.


  1. Ask Questions

Not only is this a great way to learn (and problem solve) it will also help you build relationships with colleagues. I used to worry that my questions were silly, but there really is no such thing. No-one should expect you to know everything and it is much better to ask than to overthink and worry about doing something wrong. I am now going into my fourth year of teaching and I still have questions. If you are feeling anxious about getting started, it’s a good idea to keep a notepad.  The notepad can be used if you start to overthink potential issues or queries and then, if you need to, you can ask these when you get to school.  You should also have a mentor who is there to support you – make sure you use them!


2.  Seek information about pupils

Whether it is through pen portraits, the school system, speaking to colleagues or speaking to pupils, make sure you know your classes. Knowing pupils can help with seating plans, as you can solve potential issues between peers by sitting them separately. You may also find information about additional support needs, such as sight or hearing difficulties. This information may advise you to sit pupils near the front of the classroom.  Furthermore, gaining information can also support you with differentiation.  As stated, finding out about ASN will help when it comes to planning and organising you lessons.


3.  Be prepared to adapt resources.

If you plan on developing resources all summer, please remember you may have to change them. You will struggle to meet the needs of all pupils before knowing them and their needs. I spent the summer before my NQT year developing resources that I did not use once I knew my pupils. My advise would be to have a plan in place for the outcomes you want to achieve, and make sure you are organised for the first few weeks. It is also important that you  speak to your HOD before you begin developing. Talk through your ideas with them and make sure your resources don’t clash with other year groups or teachers. They may have their own shared units that can be adapted/used to inspire your own work.  However, most importantly,  make sure you enjoy the summer and don’t burn yourself out.  You are still learning, and its important to remind yourself of that!


4.  Build relationships.

You may have heard ‘don’t smile until Christmas’, but building relationships is, for me, vital. You can have high expectations & boundaries without losing your warmth & approachability. I learned so much from my pupils during my NQT year. I learned that some of them were going home to chaos, whereas I was going home to a calm house and a warm dinner. I learned that they would sometimes be distracted, because they had got no sleep the night before. I learned that talking and listening to my pupils helped them to engage in my lessons as they were so used to being ignored or shouted at by some adults. However, it certainly wasn’t always perfect and I did, at times, make poor judgements and mistakes.  Make sure you keep things in perspective and remember that for many children school is their safe place. I would also recommend  greeting pupils at the door and showing a genuine interest in them as individuals. The boundaries can still be in place, but it’s important that they know you are interested in them and want to help them to enjoy school and succeed.

Building Relationships: Advice for NQTs


Building Relationships 

Building relationships with pupils is fundamental. When I was a probationer, I didn’t fully understand the importance of getting to know pupils and understanding their backgrounds and circumstances. Many pupils have chaotic home lives and we need to show compassion. Understanding pupils’ circumstances helps me to support their individual needs and helps them feel safe and secure in my classroom.

Apologise to children

Apologising isn’t difficult. How often do we say ‘Sorry!’ to other adults for the most trivial things? In teaching, we need to make decisions and respond quickly to 30 or more pupils, and sometimes we will get it wrong. However, it’s the response to our mistakes that will be significant to the young people in front of us. As adults we need to be the ones modelling the behaviour we want to see from pupils; by mediating situations, we can avoid escalations and potential confrontations.

Many children see school as their safe place

It’s hard for me to comprehend the difficulties that many young children experience in their lives. Some children rely on school for the nurture and support that most of us take for granted. As teachers we are human and there will be days when we are tired or feeling stressed; however, we must remember that a smile and showing interest in a young person can make all the difference. Many pupils look forward to seeing us, so we must ensure we acknowledge them and allow them to approach us with both achievements and concerns.

The school holidays can be challenging

We must also remember that school breaks can create issues for many young people, and the lack of structure can negatively impact how pupils are feeling before and after the holidays. This unpredictability can increase the stress pupils are under and this can cause them to take out their frustrations in the classroom and around the school. Be aware of this when speaking to pupils, remembering that their holidays may have meant uncertainty and confusion.

Get to know pupils

The quicker I get to know pupils the more I enjoy my job. There are many opportunities to speak to pupils, but I’ve found it extremely effective to greet pupils at the door. This positive communication has always given me a chance to check for any wellbeing concerns, or follow up on something they told me the day before.

Listen to understand

As teachers we must ensure we listen to understand, rather than to reply. Restorative conversations are an effective tool, but only if they are used correctly. I’ve found by changing my approach and giving pupils the space they need to talk, issues are solved in a calm and safe environment for us both. Body language also plays a crucial role too; make sure you come across as approachable and open rather than closed and standoffish.

And remember… 

Pupils need someone who will listen to them and value what they have to say. By keeping these points in mind, we can make a positive difference to the lives of young people.

Allowing Pupils to Develop their Own Responses


There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter recently on ways to allow pupils to develop their own responses to texts – such as poetry and novels.   Some teachers might feel that pupils’ responses are ‘a waste of time’ and they should be focused on writing ‘the correct answer’. I completely disagree with this approach to teaching. I believe the reader’s response is vital as it allows pupils to think about their own feelings about texts in terms of their individual life experiences. It also allows me to think about texts in a different way: as teachers we can often get ‘caught up’ in what we believe and, subconsciously or not, influence the way pupils feel about characters, the plot and the language used.

I have been using reader-response theory with my classes for a couple of years and the improvement, in terms of their engagement and understanding, has been significant. One of the great things about it is anyone can give their own response without the pressure of a ‘right or wrong’ answer:  pupils have the space to think about their own views without trying to predict what I, as the teacher, am thinking.  It has been a great way to introduce pupils to poetry as they can think about their own response before I ‘influence’ them with my views. I have also found it to be a useful tool for when pupils are thinking about characterisation in a novel.

I decided to use reader response theory to help understand pupils’ views of George and Lennie in ‘Of Mice and Men’.  Pupils were shown a reader response theory grid and were asked to write down likes, dislikes, puzzles and key moments for each of the main characters. I used ‘puzzles’ as an opportunity for them to think about elements of the character that they  were not sure about/ did not understand. Key moments was used for them to think about moments which they felt were ‘key’ for each character. It was interesting to see the differences between George and Lennie’s ‘key moments’ considering how much time they spend together in the novel.


Pupils were then given the opportunity to share their responses with their groups and they were also asked to think about the similarities and differences they all had. It was fascinating to see how they felt about the characters so far in the novel and to see them expand on their notes once they had shared their views with their groups.  One of the most interesting parts for me is hearing about pupils ‘puzzles’.  I often open up pupils’ questions to the class and we all think about why that might be a puzzle – views will often differ in terms of a ‘solution’ but that just makes the debate even more compelling.


As well as the reader-response grid, I ask pupils to respond to statements rather than questions. This gives pupils another opportunity to think about their own reactions. They agree or disagree with a statement and give reasons to back up their point of view.   Statements are also useful when discussing poetry with pupils as they don’t try to get the ‘right’ answer but instead respond to a text and back it up with evidence to fight their case.  I will often be ‘the devil’s advocate’ and put in statements which can cause a split in the class in terms of agreement and disagreement.


For me, reader-response theory is a beneficial tool which allows pupils to have their own say and then develop responses through discussion with the class. It is a great starting point for class dialogue and it is fascinating to see the way responses grow and develop. The theory also allows pupils to express any ‘puzzles’ they may have and these can be addressed – sometimes they can be answered and sometimes we can only speculate about what a  potential ‘solution’ might be.

I have written another couple of blogs looking at similar topics: Applying Reader-Response Theory to Media and Texts   and Statements or Questions?

Encouraging Pupils to use Refreshing Language in their Writing

Last weekend I attended the 2018 NATE  conference and, just like the year before, I left with loads of thought-provoking ideas.  One workshop in particular was so inspiring that I decided to try out some of the tasks with one of my classes.

At the conference the Award-winning poet Jonathan Edwards delivered a hands-on and enjoyable workshop exploring exciting  approaches to teaching poetry and creative writing.

Jonathan began the workshop by asking us to write for 5 minutes about someone close to us.  He asked us to start our writing with ‘my father is…’ but changing ‘father’ to the person we had chosen to write about.  This task was a great way to get the creativity flowing and , when I used it with my pupils, it worked well as a starter to get them focused on the lesson ahead. I also liked that it was a short sharp task and pupils could write as much as they could within the time limit.


After pupils had shared some of their writing we moved on to Jonathan’s next task:  writing about a person/thing from their toes to their head.  The pupils were introduced to ‘Blood’ by Ian Duhig – another recommended poem by the workshop leader. ‘Blood’ is a great poem to show the pupils as it uses the same structure and has a twist at the end.  The poem also has brand and well-known item references throughout and this is an interesting challenge for pupils – can they consider the clothing choices of their chosen person?  This task can also be differentiated in terms of challenge; you might want to encourage some pupils to add a twist to the end of their writing, like ‘Blood’, or even write about a famous figure. One of the attendees wrote a fantastic piece on Julies Caesar and therefore this task could be used in connection with subjects like History and Modern Studies.

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The final task was my favourite one in the workshop and it also turned out to be beneficial in the classroom.  Pupils read ‘Not The Furniture Game’ by Simon Armitage – a poem that is made up of unusual, humorous and original metaphors.   Once the poem has been read the pupils started thinking about the metaphors in the poem they thought worked well and those they deemed as ‘random’.  It was interesting to hear the pupils’ differing views on this and the ones which stood out to each individual. We then moved on to a task that Jonathan introduced me to in the workshop and I think it is a fantastic way to encourage pupils to move away from clichéd language.  Pupils were given a piece of A4 paper and, whilst keeping their chosen person in mind,  were asked to fold this into 8 pieces and write down:

two adjectives

two body parts

two objects/places

two words of their choice

Once pupils had completed this part of the task they could start to play around with the language and create metaphors. I allowed them to add a few words to these in order to make them more logical if they wished; pupils then had the opportunity to get up from their seats and ‘borrow’  words chosen by other pupils in the classroom in order to create more of their own original metaphors. I was blown away by some of the examples including:

Her hair was the sandy beaches of Bora Bora

His eyes were a mesmerising Disney film

His arm was a jubilant musical

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This approach  was a great way to encourage pupils to be ambitious and take a step away from the over-done language they can be used to using.  It exposed them to how fun and exciting poetry can be and allowed them to be creative with their writing.   In the next lesson pupils will create their own poem based on their chosen person and ‘Not the Furniture Game’ will be an inspiring model for them if they require a scaffold.

Throughout all of these tasks I wrote with the pupils and this was extremely beneficial for them as they could see the struggles and triumphs all writers go through when creating pieces of work. They were also really interested to hear what I had created and seeing me engrossed in the task also helped them to stay focused.   I often think teachers can shy away from writing with pupils but I find it makes my job easier as I’m more aware of possible issues; it also shows pupils that we enjoy writing and I think that is extremely important.







Pupils’ Expectations


In life we always have set expectations for an event. We develop these expectations through our own prior experiences and through word of mouth. As we live the experience we soon begin to gage whether it is living up to our hopes or letting us down. For example, the expectation for a lecture is students sitting in rows facing a lecturer and taking in information. This can seem exciting to some fresh undergrad students as they hope to be inspired by this new form of learning; however most students have heard that lectures are boring and to skip them because ‘they just put the slides online anyway’: is this what we want learning to be?

I have been to many inspiring lectures, as well as the not so inspiring ones, and I have come to realise that expectations can often be dangerous and misleading: they can determine the attitude we have as we approach a new experience and our level of engagement with it. If more lecturers began their sessions with active learning and discussion, would we still class it as a lecture or something else? If we call an experience within a lecture hall a ‘workshop’ does that mean it is different or does it depend on what actually happens within the ‘workshop’?

These thoughts got me thinking about the expectations pupils have for what happens in the classroom. Yes, we may set our high expectations for them but what are their assumptions about us and our teaching? Do their views change as they enter our classroom and are we presented with opportunities to alter their outlook?
I have been considering this mainly in relation to senior classes and the change of timetable that is almost ( or already for some) upon us. Senior pupils will enter our classes with a set expectation of what the class will be like through word of mouth from their peers (unless we are new) and if we have taught them in the past. From the moment the pupils steps through the door we have an opportunity to either stick with what they expected or start afresh and try something new.

It is pretty common to spend the first few periods going over the course outline with a senior class and to discuss the exam structure; however I find this detrimental. For me, it puts the exam at the centre of importance rather than the pupils’ learning. If we lecture to pupils for an hour about what they ‘need’ to know for an exam we have, in my opinion, already set their expectations for the rest of the year: this teacher is going to tell me what to think in order to pass this exam. 

Although exams are important I believe it is vital that students are aware that it is their learning that should take centre stage. I believe that starting the year with a discussion about literature, and giving pupils the opportunity to develop their own opinions about texts, is far more beneficial. We should take that opportunity to build pupils’ confidence rather than get them worked up about an exam and set them in the ‘just tell me what I need to know’ mentality. If we begin the year by letting pupils know that we aren’t going to tell them what to think and if we encourage them to contribute their views, then I believe we will all gain more out of the school year.

Text-Worlds in the Classroom Seminar



I recently attended an inspiring seminar, with  Jess Mason and Marcello Giovanelli, looking at Text World theory and the way that it can help structure classroom activities.

At the beginning of the seminar we were asked to picture how we would visualise a short piece of writing and draw this on paper.  The extract was taken from The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill and it was interesting to compare our drawings with other members of the group and see the elements of the story that we each, individually focused on.  There were many similarities with the drawings and these occurred most frequently in the same groups.  For example each individual in my group did not use the whole sheet of A2 paper and focused on smaller images instead; whereas other groups used the whole sheet with much larger drawings.   Marcello then explained that this comes from our mental representation of a text as we are more likely to  create similar images to those who are near us and may influence our decisions.

This would be a fantastic task to use with a class as it would allow pupils to build an individual mental image of a text that can then be shared and discussed with their group.  It would also be interesting for pupils to think about why they focused on certain words in the story and why they discarded others. There will be words in the extract that some pupils may have vocabulary gaps with.  For example, in the extract we were given, the word ‘London’ triggered mental pictures such as Big Ben and the London Eye; however if a pupil has little/no knowledge of London they may not choose to focus on that word. This, therefore, highlights the important connection between comprehension and interpretation: if  there is a lack of understanding then it may make it more challenging for pupils to think critically about a novel and create their own interpretation.

Quick minute drawings to create a mental representation of an extract from The Mist in the Mirror.


This task also tied in well with Jess Mason’s thoughts on personal preference.  As we read more we start to gain an understanding of what we like and dislike.  Due to our own experiences we may also be more likely to focus on certain elements of a text.  This was made evident in a whole group discussion. Some members of the seminar stated they enjoyed rich character description and voice, whereas others preferred descriptive setting and landscape.  Interestingly, this reflected on the drawings we created in our groups.   Certain words in the extract created an individual trigger for each of us and we focused on that element of the story.  This, perhaps, indicates the influence our personal preferences can have over what we focus on in a text and the mental image we create.

This idea of personal preferences led Jess into a discussion about pupils and their experiences with novels in a classroom.  This was really insightful for me as Jess explained the difference between a teacher’s experience with a class novel and a pupil’s. Teachers will, normally, read a novel before they begin it with a class.  This means that a teacher experiences an authentic reading of a text and, therefore, can create their own interpretation of the novel.  However, pupils often only experience a class novel within a classroom.  They might read some of it with the class for 15 minutes of the lesson and then start tasks in groups and this may potentially result in the pleasure of reading being denied for these pupils.  There will be pupils in the class who wish to read at a slower pace or those who read ahead and we must ask ourselves how much this disjointed experience of reading is influencing the pupils’ enjoyment of a novel.

Furthermore, because the teacher has their own interpretation of the text they can, consciously or not, influence the way the pupils perceive a text.  This means that pupils are experiencing a manufactured reading of a novel and are being denied the right to engage.  If we think about sharing our thoughts with someone on a TV series we have watched,  we expect to have similarities and differences in terms of likes and dislikes and we expect to interpret characters in different ways .  Yet, because teachers have already had the experience of a novel , they are more likely to encourage pupils to create their  mental representation of a text rather than allowing pupils to have the freedom to create their own.

As a result of teachers having a natural reading experience with a class novel, it may influence the tasks chosen for a class.  This perhaps highlights the potential dangers of learning intentions if teachers feel the lesson cannot take another direction.  There is also a danger in waiting for the ‘right answer’ and then moving on when that has been given.  This can, therefore, exacerbate the issue with pupils experiencing a manufactured reading of a text as they may switch off if they feel that their views are not important or lose confidence if they feel they are wrong.   However, viewing something differently often has real value and this led Jess to a discussion on the idea of a character being perceived as a ‘villain’.  A teacher Jess was working with asked the class to think about what makes the Warden in Holes  a villain.  Jess then asked a group of pupils if they thought she was a villain and after some hesitation one boy suggested that the Warden was only doing what she knew and following in the footsteps of her family. Therefore this highlights the importance of the way we ask questions, as teachers, as it can lead pupils to share their personal view of a text.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable seminar and I have gained loads of ideas to use with my classes over the next few weeks.  It is always interesting to consider the differences individuals can have in terms of their approach to a text and the way we can, as teachers, utilise these differences to create uplifting critical discussions.


Giovanelli, Marcello and Mason, Jessica (2015) ‘Well I don’t feel that’: schemas, worlds and authentic reading in the classroom. English in Education, 49 (1). pp. 4155. ISSN 1754-884





Using the Outdoors To Support Disadvantaged Pupils


I am always amazed by how much of an influence a change in the environment can have on pupils.  We often expect so much from pupils through the restrictions of four concrete walls. We ask pupils to describe the smell of the beach on a hot summer’s day  and to write down the sounds of an ocean during a storm.  In these circumstances we are hoping that the pupils will have experienced this at some point through real life, a film or a book. We might even set a group task to create a word bank filled with ideas – but who is really producing these ideas?  Are they coming from the pupil who has never experienced a beach?  Or are they coming from the highflyer who experiences a captivating new destination every July? We might, then, ask pupils in their group to choose their ‘most descriptive words’ and we can all guess who has provided them.


In the classroom, it’s my belief, that we are often in danger of unintentionally excluding some pupils from our lessons.  Even if we were to check pupils’ prior learning we may find that, for some pupils, their prior learning is really the learning of their classmates. They have picked up certain ideas and words through the experiences of their peers. Although some may argue there is nothing wrong with this as they are sharing the learning, we must remember that many pupils may have never experienced a beach or a theme park.  We might be able to provide visuals for these pupils through images and videos, however does this give them a sensory experience that will enable them to add description and excitement to their writing?

I am currently taking one of my classes out on monthly trips throughout the year. As their peers add more experiences to their collection, my class are being left stationary, or worse, slipping further behind due to the vital early years now being behind them.  Their peers are constantly adding to the knowledge and skills they have through their experiences. They have the prior knowledge to help them adapt to situations and new learning.  However, I realised that my class, often, don’t have this prior knowledge.  They may have picked up parts of it from their peers but they have never fully experienced it for themselves. Therefore this encouraged me to start taking my pupils to new places for their creative writing.  My aim is for them to start thinking about their senses and how they can use them to enhance their writing.

One of my first trips allowed pupils to experience creative writing in a woodland parkland with over 170 acres to be explored. We had discussed sensory poems in class and we were now going to create them in the outdoors.  It was a perfect day for it. The Autumnal leaves were starting to fall and the winter air was apparent but not too harsh.

The pupils first task was to think about 4 of the senses: sight, sound, touch and smell. The pupils’ task was to walk around an area of the park, on their own, and consider some describing words for each of the senses and I said that I would do the same.  The pupils were all provided with a booklet with a box for each of the senses.  I noticed that having this structure and separating the task into sections, rather than just delving into the poem, helped pupils to focus. Before I set the them off I also asked them to consider the way the leaves fell from the trees, the colours they saw, the sounds they were hearing around them and to touch the grass and the trees to get a real sensory feel.

Some of the describing words were fantastic. One pupil  described the leaves falling as ‘dancing’ and another described a tree as ‘looking like a monster’. As well as sight pupils considered the grass as ‘smooth at first but with an unexpected jag’ and the leaves on the ground having a ‘satisfying crunch’.   After we had our words we began to think about moulding them into  a short 4 line poem; with a sense for each line.  I have attached some pictures at the bottom so you can see some of the work the class produced. Although some people might look at them and think they are nothing amazing, I was really proud of the work the pupils produced on this trip. To describe a tree as ‘like a monster’ was fantastic and I am sure they would not have said this in class. In fact  a parting comment from a pupil was, ‘my poem in class would be different and it probably wouldn’t be as good.’ This shows the benefits of a short trip like this.  I am lucky enough to have a small class but most schools will be within a 15 minute walk from a park and I would definitely recommend branching out from the classroom and allowing all pupils to experience the outdoors and all it can offer.


Trees like monsters with scary branches,                                                                            The cold frosty air moved on my legs.                                                                                  The sweet smell of the autumn leaves,                                                                                Ducks talking to each other through quacks.              

_20171030_203152                                                                      Leaves rustling in the grass,                                                                                                 Leaves changing colours like,                                                                                               Red, orange and yellow.                                                                                                          Wet and soggy grass like a dog,                                                                                             Birds chirping a pretty tune.

_20171030_203142                                                                            The leaves are multi-coloured and falling slowly,                                                              The birds sound like a chatter.                                                                                             I feel the cold on my hand,                                                                                                     As the winter air creeps in.