Tag Archives: writing

Memories of a Hillhead infant⤴

from @ blethers



It was this picture that started it. I've been rummaging among my old teaching materials and came upon a small buff book, with cartridge-paper pages that are half blank, half ruled in light and heavier red. This pre-dates all the other stuff I found, as it comes from my childhood. From 1952, I would say, when I was in Infants 2 in Hillhead Primary School in Glasgow. A chance remark on the Facebook conversation that followed its publication there brought memories flooding back - far too many for that medium. And it struck me that this is social history as well as my history, and I find it fascinating. That's what brings me back to Blethers after so many months. I want to write it down before I forget, or before no-one who was there is around to remember with me.

Let's begin with Christine Findlay, pigtailed in Primary 2. By this time she will be almost 7, because her birthday is in September. This meant that she started school in January, already 5 years and 3 months old and able to read. She is no longer playing with Plasticene and lacing cards (the latter, for some reason, a great thrill; something never seen at home).
Presumably for reasons connected with accommodation - and perhaps staffing - her class was called 1e and the school day began at 1pm and ended at 4pm. She travelled by tram from her top-flat home in Hyndland along Great Western Road to the foot of Cecil Street, where she crossed the main road with the help of a traffic warden. (He was once knocked down while she waited beside the road - perhaps this story will reappear). The lunchtime journey cost a ha'penny - the "Ha'penny Special" for school children; the return a whole penny. A yellow ticket at lunchtime, a blue to go home. Six months later her class became 1a and attended school in the morning. I cannot recall - see: it's going already - if the beloved Miss Buchanan survived the transition to morning class or if it was then that Mrs Reilly appeared, a red-haired, vivacious woman confusingly addressed by older pupils as Miss Forrester.

It is her class that provides this book, and some of my clearest memories. I can actually remember writing some of the legends in it, drawing the pictures to go with the writing exercise. In the course of it, we moved on to joined-up writing, copperplate. But before I go there, a vivid, stressful moment...
We were writing the letter l, lower-case, on the same kind of ruled paper as is above. And I couldn't work out how long the letter l (lower case) should go on. How many lines? Two thick and two thin? It looked far too long and wavering. I was distraught. We were forbidden erasers. Even when I saw a friend - was she a friend? - doing what looked a more correct version, there was no way I could hide my shame. I was a fool, and I blushed. That perky child in the picture - wearing, I notice, the regulation school winter jersey with the collar (striped in school colours) through which one threaded the school tie under the gym-slip - was feeling anything but perky.

But I progressed. My writing became fairly spectacularly neat copperplate - an example occurring in the day we learned about Diogenes. There is a wonderful picture of someone else's vision of how he might live here, but this is what I drew.

On other days we drew such things as the Glasgow coat of arms (so hard, these fish!) and a cuckoo which still looks quite convincing. All with this amazing writing underneath. Of other learning I remember less; I was bored much of the time during reading lessons because I was already a fluent reader and became cross at people who read aloud each individual word. Clearly, I was not destined to be a patient person.

I think there were forty children in my class, boys and girls equally distributed. The "a" designation referred to our birth dates, and all of us had our birthdays between September and December. We were the oldest class in the year group, we had had two terms of education more than the rest of the year. We felt superior, and no doubt we acted that way. We had embarked on our Hillhead journey. And the next time it's raining and I have little more to do, I'll regale the waiting world with a few memories of the next stage of that journey ...

What’s Up, Docs? Digital Technology in English.⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

As  an English teacher I get no greater pleasure when I see a classroom full of children engrossed in a book. Whether that is a focused ten minutes on their own choices or hanging on every word of Macbeth, books are what got me here and books are what it should be about. So when it comes to tech, I’ve always approached with caution. With any new ‘innovation’, I always begin with two questions: will this help reduce my workload rather than increase it and will it genuinely be a better way to teach kids stuff? If the answer to either of those is ‘No’ then I’ll ignore it.

I have real concerns that some of the major international tech firms are looking on at Education in the UK and are rubbing their hands with glee. So much money; so much possibility. The blind swallowing of this thing called ‘21st Century skills’ often disguises the fact that good learning is good learning no matter the tools we have in front of us. But is it incumbent on us all to find out what might work for our classrooms and ourselves? Perhaps. Again, approaching with caution – and a firm eye on the price tag – is key.

Having said that, though, it is our professional responsibility to utilise the best strategies for our classrooms. Using effective tech is already part of what we do in Scotland. The Government issued document ‘Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology’   states that: Digital technology is already embedded within Scottish education. It has a place within Curriculum for Excellence, Initial Teacher Education and the Professional Standards set by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).’ So, knowing that, I have always tried to use the best resources I could find for my classes. The danger comes, however, when we use tech just because it is there.

I have recently been dabbling with the  ‘Classroom’ suite of tools from a very big tech company. For writing in the senior school I have begun to see it as hugely impressive. Our students have to produce a Folio for Higher and National 5. Using Docs this term has allowed me to follow progress very closely, to mark and assess as they go along, and avoid the chasing up of late bits of paper. It both cuts down on my workload and helps the students to make progress. Sold. I would never use it with younger kids; they need to write accurately with pen or pencil before they should move on to more focused tools but for seniors it works really well.

As teachers we should be able to assess how tech works most effectively. Kids have loads of gadgets but are not as tech savvy as we may be lead to believe. In fact it is often  lazy assumption. They have tools with great power. Whether we can tap into that or not remains to be seen but we should find out of ourselves. Tech, if anything, should allow us to extend the classroom, providing genuine opportunities for learning. If it doesn’t do that the we should leave it alone. And get back to the books.


The Story of Me – increasing vocabulary recognition.⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

I am a primary school class teacher, based in Scotland. I teach Primary 2 (age 6 -7 years). I designed the Story of Me project to promote recall of vocabulary. It was inspired by an article I read recently by Turk et Al (2015) which found that children were more likely to recall target vocabulary if it […]

Fuji Festival – Calligraphy⤴

from @ Education Scotland's Learning Blog

What is Japanese calligraphy, what do you need to do it and how is it done? Discover the fun of writing in Japanese with Japanese teacher, Ms Emiko Abe plus staff from the Japanese Consulate and volunteers from Edinburgh University.

Ms Abe shows P3 students at Law Primary School that learners can practice Japanese calligraphy with basic materials found in every classroom.

Join us on Friday 10th March at 9.15am in Glow TV to find out more! Sign up to take part now – Fuji Festival – Calligraphy

If you unable to join us for the live event you can always catch up with the recording at another time – Glow TV’s Watch Again.

The Higher English Folio and Equal Writes.⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

There won’t be an English teacher in Scotland out there who isn’t currently stressing over the marking of written Folio essays for both Higher and National 5 classes. A pile which never seems to shrink; another pupil who’d like you to take another look; the demoralising realisation that deadline day is fast approaching. Indeed, over the course of my eighteen years in teaching the assessment of writing in the senior phase has changed several times, arguably not in a good way. I would argue that, at a time when equity in education is so much in focus,  the way we assess writing now has never been so unfair.office-594132__340

The new exam system is now in its third year and, while this might surprise some,  I have been mostly pleased with it. Teaching Don Paterson poetry has been a joy; spending time with Hamlet has been fantastic. The rest has been a chore. Time seems to be constrained; deep learning, at times,  rare. However, the writing folio – one creative piece and one functional piece of  a maximum of thirteen hundred words each – is externally assessed by the SQA and is worth thirty percent of the final grade. So, a good grade for Folio can take you much of the way to a pass.

The writing is assessed using a marking grid which every teacher and pupil can access during the writing process. So far, so fair. But not really. It would be difficult to argue that the external assessment is unfair; perhaps there is an argument there but that’s for another day. The real problems become clear, however, when we consider the preparation and support given. The SQA guideline suggests ‘reasonable assistance’. It also says this;

‘Assessors should not provide specific advice on how to re-phrase or improve responses, or provide model answers specific to the candidate’s task. It is not acceptable for the assessor to provide key ideas, to provide a structure or plan, to suggest specific wording or to correct errors in spelling and/or punctuation. This would go beyond reasonable assistance.’

Those who can, rush straight to their tutors for help. And yes, despite the above advice, tutors do. Parents often insist upon it. Those who can afford it get more help. those who can’t, struggle on. Different approaches are followed all over the country. It’s a system which, while appearing to be equal in terms of assessment is, in fact, anything but.

So perhaps, if we are to assess writing more fairly, it needs to return to the final exam. Why the hell not? It might re-emphasise our need to teach writing properly. Our whole curriculum was supposed to be a move away from our traditional exam system but it doesn’t appear to have worked. What was intended to be an attempt to narrow the gap appears to me to be exacerbating it. Let’s face up to that and do something about it.


Reading for Pleasure- A Passport to Everywhere⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

The sight of a brown box, just delivered, slammed down on the hall rug might not sound special or appealing but it was the most glorious thing that has happened in my professional life. Almost two years in production, I could now stop telling people that I had a book coming out. And, perhaps, that moment was the most nerve-wracking of all. The anticipation as I breathed in, found some scissors and began to open the box, slowly and carefully, for my first sight of ‘How to Teach – Reading for Pleasure’. My words in print. My book.

As long as I remember I’ve been in awe of books. The covers, the spines, the very feel of them; the remarkable nature of words and stories captured inside. Like many of you, no doubt, I loved having them and seeing them on my shelf. Before University, working in factories and shops, I longed to be able to afford more; to fill up my shelves with the complete works of Hemingway or Roth or Updike. It was never a status symbol; they never made me feel clever; I wanted them around me because they were aesthetically pleasing as well as filled with memories. Like a long curated record collection, nothing says more about you than your books.

So what brought me to this point? Why would I write a book about reading for pleasure? There are other books on the subject. And, as a classroom teacher, I’m not convinced that this thing called ‘pleasure’ is my main focus. I want kids to read and read well because literacy is the benchmark for their place in society. I want them to be readers because good readers succeed in life. I am convinced of that. But what I wanted to achieve in writing this book was both a tale of my reading life and a series of, hopefully, relevant strategies which would allow the children in my classes to begin to develop the habits of a reader.

imageAnd I’m really proud of it. I wanted to capture my own approach to reading, perhaps with a touch of humour and a wee bit of memoir. Either way, I think I’ve achieved that. Every strategy in the book has been successful in  my classroom at some point: no, I don’t use all of them all of the time. I use them when necessary and when I’d like to inject a little bit of enthusiasm for reading. It, for the most part, works successfully for most kids.


But holding your own book in your hands? That’s a moment which will stay with me for a long time. The new book smell, the untouched pages, the sight of my name on the front: the proud tears. In  my initial communication with Phil Beadle, who so kindly made this all possible, I said that I wanted to write something of which I was very proud. I’ve done that. Books come and go but our words, in print, last a lifetime. Almost two years after I began, I have a book out. And it’s a wonderful feeling.


Moments of Growing Up⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

aberdeenAberdeen. I don’t know why it has taken me twenty years to write about this, but it has. Twenty years ago,  sitting on a train leaving Aberdeen for the last time. A life lived.

It seemed such an event at the time, such a turning point, a real change in my life. I had gone there an uneducated wanderer, in search of a life and a love, and was leaving a University graduate with everything in front of me. A train journey to something else, something different. Tom Waits on the Walkman – yes, a walkman, with cassettes – deliberately set up and picked out. ‘Goodbye, so long. The road calls me, dear.’ Not that it seemed like a choice, really. It was the end of something. The end of University. The end of the job I had, the last meaningless, mindless job I would ever have. The end of several relationships, relationships which would naturally end – associates, colleagues, course mates – and some I’d hope to keep or we’d promised to keep. Knew we would not.

‘Goodbye, so long.’ And the emotion I felt that day should not have been a surprise but it was. I knew this time was coming. A scarcely held back tear. A sudden realisation, as the train pulled away, that it was genuinely the end of something special, a time that would not only prove to be the making of me in many ways but one which would define who I was. Like a hugely important era in my history. ‘The road calls me, dear.’ The grey, wistful mumble of the train heading over the bridge, over the river, to a new world. The river that separates. Past from present, then from now.

 I’ve rarely returned to Aberdeen, merely the odd occasion, and never for very long. Not the same. Either I’ve changed or it has. Probably both. I think of the people I knew and no longer know and I smile. But I don’t regret, never regret. Aberdeen. It seemed like my home forever at the time. Should have known better. A life apart, that some other person lived. ‘Goodbye, so long.’ Tom Waits knew what he was on about.

There have been at least two other times in my life, at least, when I thought to myself that this was it for me, my life will never change. The first came when I was about twenty two. Still at home, still in a terrible nowhere job, still with the same friends. Don’t get me wrong, the friends I had then helped me through my terrible years, my drinking years. Always there, always by my side. And they would still be if life did not require us to live differently. Our proud, loud, male existence.

There never was a quiet pint, never ‘just the one’. And therein lies the problem.

No, if you went out, you went out. At about twenty two I recall an evening when one of our crowd, always this one – the loud and aggressive one rather than the loud and funny one – was particularly loud and aggressive. You could sense a tension in the crowd, had been for a while. We felt or knew that we were coming to the end of something but did not know how to do it.

A situation which almost came to blows, involving me for no other reason than silence and complicity. I didn’t need this any more. I remember very distinctly thinking that this could not go on. An epiphany which began the end of that particular part of my life. I recall walking (slightly) behind my staggering friends – for they were my friends, remember – and thinking that this could be it for me, This life, unless I acted. The next pub we went to – for we did go to another pub – saw me standing quietly to the side. I would like to say that I, somewhat romantically, gave a silent toast to my friends and left but that is not what happened. What did happen was that I brooded silently, eventually took a final look all around me, a final sip and walked out, home. Soon after, by coincidence rather than design, I left East Kilbride, much like leaving Aberdeen six years later. I continued to see these friends, occasionally,  for some time after but all had things to do, business to take care of, living to do and we lost touch. We all became different people.

Some of us actually grew up.


Using stories to support numeracy – Collette Collects – a picture book for number bonds…⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

It is always good to have a bit of a project for the school holidays. My October holiday project probably should have been having a big tidy-up or finding someone to clean the guttering, but instead I decided to finish writing and illustrating a picture book. This was quite a significant project as I am […]

Using stories to support numeracy – Collette Collects – a picture book for number bonds…⤴

from @ Pedagoo.org

It is always good to have a bit of a project for the school holidays. My October holiday project probably should have been having a big tidy-up or finding someone to clean the guttering, but instead I decided to finish writing and illustrating a picture book. This was quite a significant project as I am […]

Great Writing Challenge 2⤴

from @ Bodies in the Library

For the second Great Writing Challenge, Mrs Macfadyen explained that pupils would have to put their characters into some sort of danger. Their task was to investigate dangerous locations around the world to help them decide where and how their characters … Continue reading