Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Ying and Yang of the Question Grid

I have been a fan of @JOHNSAYERS question grid for sometime. Not only is it making me phrase my questions in lessons much better, it is enabling pupils to develop their own questioning skills. What's not to like, or indeed love?!

I began using it with my genial guinea pigs that are the Year 13 Language and Literature group and have gradually introduced it to my KS3 classes.  The KS4 class, my 'snake-wrangling' Year 10s had been swerved a little, because I was not sure how best to use it with that class, and after this post, you'll know I'm still not sure! As people tell me, 'God loves a trier.'

This is a more warts than all post than most because I shall reveal the epic failure of my attempt to use it with the year 10 class, followed by a far more successful use with my Year 8 group before they began to read 'Face' by Benjamin Zephaniah.

Year 10 and the Ying of the Question Grid or For God's Sake, don't to this:

We are studying Romeo and Juliet for the WJEC Poetry and Shakespeare Controlled Assessment  which to use a bloomin' Gove-ism, is really rather rigorous. The CA focus is on family relationships so, with a boy heavy class I have decided to focus on Romeo, Lord Montague and Friar Lawrence in more street speak I am asking, 'Who's the daddy?' - Montague or Lawrence? We have done plentiful work, exploring father son relationships in the real world, film and television and now The Bard, a backwards slip down a timeline if you will.

Furthermore, before Easter, I really felt, through a huge amount of blood sweat and tears, I'd had this group sussed at last as they were really beginning to develop some higher level responses in lessons, alongside a much more positive attitude to learning. 'Oh I am fortune's fool!' I now cry, two weeks roaming free at Easter and we are back to square one.  It really has been horrifically difficult to be with them in a classroom since the start of term!

So, brimming with confidence I had planned lessons based on the class I saw before Easter, not the one that arrived back to me afterwards. #errornumber1

Here is what I put in the question grid for them to have a go at using:

My intention was to arouse their curiosity about the character's actions and behaviour through writing their own questions about the first words, spoken by Friar Lawrence in Act 3 Scene 3 of 'Romeo and Juliet'.  It would also enable them to consider the language and write questions about it that we can use in later lessons.  It was also about building their confidence by removing me from the role of inquisitor, and placing that idea at their feet, giving them more autonomy in the lesson.  How to use the grid to create questions was modeled with the class.  The idea came from a discussion with @hgaldinoshea and I thought, 'Cunning' must give it a go!

Oh but it DID back fire spectatularly. I saw the sort of behaviours in that lesson that you have nightmares about as PGCE student and an NQT.  They were totally disengaged, often defient, argumentative, rude, disriuptive and frankly, this would have fallen off the bottom of the Ofsted lesson grading scale.  I sat down, drained and disappointed at the end of the lesson. It was a car crash. 

Where had else had I gone wrong?
  • They needed introducing to John's grid in a less 'high stakes' situation perhaps not involving language but using images instead
  • The task made them feel vulnerable as learners and children, they felt they couldn't do it, so demonstrated as such through their behaviour
  • I could have led them to where I wanted to be in more 'bite size' chunks
  • There were so many that were not even trying to co-operate, my energy was sapped out of me part way through the lesson, leaving me less able to keep my head and my calm
  • I should have just abandoned it and had a plan B handy that would have achieved the same aims.
  • It was the wrong task for the wrong group, well at least in this moment in time!
  • I had not tried the quote in the grid idea before with more amiable students - always useful as it irons out glitches and builds your confidence with a new technique.
How to pull it all back?
  • Friday we had a lesson that did directly deal with their behaviour, reminding them of their responsbilities as learners, rules and consequencs
  • I also admitted that I need to change how I teach them so they feel like they are learning and making progress.
  • The Head of Year came into support.
  • Some previous CA marks were handed back and they were chuffed, as some of them should be, with their marks (note not grades....) 
  • We managed to finish on a high.
Lesson learned Miss. Nelson, lesson learned.

The Yang of the Question grid or When 'Phew!' it works!

This time it was used with a Year 8 class who had used it in a prior pre-reading lesson (for 'Face') where they were shown pictures of Katie Piper and The Elephant Man and had to use the question grid to write questions as one of these people, to the other. This was to get them thinking, on their own terms, about facial disfigurement. It was fascinating as one lad physically recoiled from the photographs; while others were enormously empathic. 

So, this time, I showed them the grid again but with the book cover in:

The aim was similar to the car crash Year 10 lesson plus I had more explicitly asked them to hypothesise about the content of the novel via the grid and the book cover.  I only needed to do a short re-cap of how to use the grid.

The lesson start was aided and abetted by Jim Smith's Meta-Starters from 'The Lazy Teacher's Handbook because they were asked to reflect on when they've had to generate questions before, from any lesson.

Oh it was lovely!  The class initially focused on the layout of the book design and wrote their questions based on that.  But, as a little more time was given, pupils began to write questions using the 'Why might...' stem to start hypothesising about the content of the book and what has happened to the person without a face on the cover.  

Here is an example of a pupil's work from this lesson (note the literacy peer marking):

This pupil is a total gem. One of those kids, that when you meet their parent's, it's all you can do NOT to say, 'Thank you so much for consumating your marriage and producing your child.'

Why was this not a car crash?
  • I have done lots of work with this class generating questions in previous lessons
  • The meta-starter enabled them to realise they were on familiar territory
  • The previous lesson had piqued their interest in the subject matter
  • The class were 'on side' and co-operative, even last lesson of the day!
  • The purpose of the work was clear to them
  • They have had a good experience reading novels with me in the past
  • To paraphrase @LearningSpy - the stuff below the water mark of the ice-berg allowed the tip, the bit above the water, the lesson, to be successful.

The novel was produced in the last 20 minutes of the lessson and the enthusiasm for it was so very noticable. They even requested to read out different character parts like we had done so before with Louis Sachar's 'Holes'.  They policed each other to be quiet so we could read more of the book. The opening of the book is fabulously witty. We laughed a lot.

A pupil walked past me at the end of the lesson, and said, 'It is really fun to share reading a book together.' 

Soooooo much more important to us teachers than the big sticks of data, league tables and Ofsted inspections. It is what feeds the teacher soul. More please!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Magpie-eyed: Poetry with nervous A2 students

To begin at the beginning, full credit to this post is owed to @deadshelley 's blog post 'Inside Out Poetry' which you really ought to read here;  this is a blatant steal, or as @danielharvey9 more eloquently names it 'magpied' in order for my slightly nervy Year 13 class to get to grips with poetry in the Language and literature context.  The exam requires them to analyse, compare and write an essay about a transcript of a conversation and an extract from a literature text that contain a conversation upon a linked theme.  Ergo, @deadshelley's 'Inside Out Poetry' technique, which is really all about getting to grips with semantic fields, is ideal.  

SO here is my go at it:  The learning outcome was only partially revealed like this:

To develop your powers of deduction
We can.well youll find out a bit later.

[Usually in the shape of a nice big arrow; a less than subtle hint at progression]

Not revealing the purpose was in keeping with @deadshelley's more Derren Brownesque take on the lesson regarding revealing pupil's psychic abilities. I didn't quite use that sales pitch, however, the poem I chose to base the lesson around was contained in an envelope which you can see here:

The pupils were utterly intrigued and frustrated by not being able to see the contents of the envelope until I told them they could open it, this kind of wonderment being a technique advocated by @HYWEL_ROBERTS in his book 'Oops: Getting Children to Learn Accidentally' - although I haven't read it yet, enough folk on Twitter have credited him with this particular technique for me to know I am at least referencing the right person. It is most definitely on my next to buy and read list Mr. Roberts!

The poem they were not allowed to see, yet... is here:


“I haven’t heard you laugh
in weeks,” he says. The fire crackles
a few feet away.

“Look—” she begins,
walking to stand beside the window.
Her interlaced fingers
point to her own chest. “I don’t think
we see the same colors. I don’t—”
Breathes in. Breathes out.
“I’m not the baptism you want me to be.”

She draws lines in the frost
on the windowpane. Looks at him.
She says, “I’m too young.”

“I don’t understand,” he says.

“Even the cliffs by the ocean
will erode into sand,” she tells him.
Storm clouds have been looming all day.
Her voice seems to come from
a place she’s never been. “It just takes time.”
Inhales. Exhales.

“You have shackles for arms,
do you know that? You love like chains.”
A gust of wind rattles the door.
He jumps. She doesn’t.

“What can I do?” he asks.

She says, “Forgive.”
Her fingertips paint patternless swirls
across the glass.

He asks, “Is there someone else?”

The fire is dwindling, the logs letting go
of their last ashes. She raises her hands
to her face and finds, miraculously,
that it is still there.
“There’s everyone I’ve never met,” she says.
Turns to look outside.
She says, “There are raindrops.”

AleaShurmantine · Dec 10, 2010

Found via Mr. Google and his ever searching eyes...

Now. I had not sat and annotated this to death before the lesson. In fact I tend not to with A level classes, which could be, in other peoples' eyes a questionable method. However, I did this last year teaching Hamlet to an A2 Language and Literature class. Why? Well, it falls in line with @JamesTheo's idea of classroom praxis: allowing for a very open ended outcome from the learning and where better to do this than in an A-Level class? Pupils are bright and often petrified of getting things wrong, well if there isn't a 'wrong' to begin with, how can they be? Whilst teaching Hamlet this led to MANY a lively debate, verging on the conspiracy theory, about THEIR interpretation of the text. I badgered them to justify their ideas, thus making them very much right, even if their were a few wrong turns along the way.  

Next the poem was presented to them in the form of a word cloud using Wordle which I can't seem to copy and paste from my Power Point slide, or find in the Wordle gallery because it doesn't seem to have a 'search' function either, well at least to my tired eyes. [If anyone can help me with this, do tell!]. Next time I'll save it as a JPEG, honest...

Anyway on with the lesson. So, as per the structure of @deadshelley's lesson they next sorted the word cloud into categories of their choosing.  This was when the lesson really started to sail, because the pupils started debating what types of categories there should be, how many type of groupings there are, could the words fit into more than one category and lo and behold they began to see a pattern in the words, or several patterns, or even better the semantic fields contained within. I had yet to use the term in the lesson. Sometimes, secret squirrel is the best modus operandi. 

I love teaching girls as they get all excited by big paper, felt pens and being creative. One of the girls put her groupings into clouds...which then changed into sheep (which somehow seems, metaphorically visually appropriate) flocking in a field.  I digress...

We then had a great discussion about their word groupings then focusing back on what might be contained with the contents of the envelope, what might the poem be about? They were still NOT allowed to open the envelope, instead, they had to use the word cloud to write a stanza of the poem with this set of criteria: 

  Your turn:

Write a stanza of the poem:

  • You must include use of dialogue  
  • You must not attempt to rhyme 
  • You do not need to use all of the words 

  • You can: 
  • Add additional words, alter the tense, other suffixes appropriately
  • You have 12 minutes with no stopping, no talking! 
[This bit also a blatant magpie from @deadshelley]

And so we (yes me included) sat and wrote; or at least tried to write some poetry.  When we finished, none of us were quite sure if we had produced poetry, but by crikey it was poetic. 

Now we finished and they were all protesting about sharing their work, girls being girls, insecure about if they had got it wrong. I soon put them straight by telling them I would share mine first, that I have the BA and an MA in English, and really, who will be the more embarrassed if it's rubbish? So, here *gulps* and *sweats a tad* is my 12 minutes of effort:

"Breathe. Everyone!"
We inhaled the patternless ozone.
"Forgive me." His laugh crackled
like an unchained fire.
Swirls baptised the pained faces.
"Forgive you?" she spat venomously.
Hope dwindled from the crowd, 
who exhaled hopelessness.

"There is an ocean of hate for you!" she continued
crowing, chained to her bitterness.
Clouds passed across the face 
Of the youngest child; the teenagers
laughed with misplaced sarcasm.
Before the frost consumed the 
gathering crowd; he spoke once more:

"Even you can forgive me." His compassion
Miraculously interlaced with calm authority.

G Nelson 2013

Off to break they went with their chocolate biscuit pocket money I give them every week to get some morale boosting munchies; whilst I went to make a cup tea and nibbled my nails a bit. I was a tad nervous to say the least. I had NO joy writing poetry while a pupil at school; being utterly convinced I just could not do it. 

The girls came back laden with chocolate biscuits, which we all had to consume some of before sharing our work. 

The girls were very kind in their response to my efforts, but more importantly they all were willing to share their work; especially once the exposure of doing so was very openly acknowledged. 

They all read out their work, each one, without question, was beautiful, creative, ambitious and in at least one case, astonishingly good.  (I'm going to have to sweet talk them into letting me photograph them for this post, more chocolate maybe required!).  

Now, due to being restricted to the poem's semantic field, what they wrote contained the similar themes of a lost love, some pained dialogue, and all contained some form of narrative. Here, we worked out what they'd been doing all lesson - finding, interpreting and applying a semantic field. 

At last they could open the envelope! 

The poem was read and the discussion that ensued in the lesson was all from the questions THEY asked, rather than mine.  The girls began by simply feature spotting, stating with poetic features by they quickly moved themselves onto linguistic and spoken language features.  This was very swift allowing them to move onto a more forensic analysis focusing on the exam question demands of: context, purpose, attitudes and values.  The differing attitudes and values between speakers in the chosen poem really enabled them to deconstruct the highly constructed conversation, with efficiency and confidence. 

The lesson was rounded off with this question:
This idea is another blatant steal from @LearningSpy and a very memorable post about hula-hoops and An Inspector Calls. 

What were the outcomes of the learning today?

Something that was really discussed through the course of the lesson, paying attention to the process of working through a text 'inside out', which, @deadshelley they absolutely loved! The loved the chance to be creative, the intrigue of what was in the envelope and finding their way through a text with confidence, rather than the preconceived anxieties about poetry being 'too difficult.'

From what I observed, the girls were no longer bunnies in very large poetry headlights and discovered, well, it's just words, init? 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

#Neighbourgate or Miss Nelson-Marple investigates

Evenin' all. *Spoken in a Dixon of Dock Green manner*

Some of you who have been following me a while will know of my rather 'Jeremy Kyle' incident with the neighbours in January.  In summary: after 'doing me a favour' during November of fixing a damp patch while I was at work, ergo being trusted with my front door key (which was handed back to me afterwards); my house was burgled by them between November and the end of January when their activities had been discovered by me. The most likely, indeed only logical conclusion is that my front door key was copied, hence the so and so's entering my house while I was at work.  

What follows is the letter I passed onto the detective who dealt with my case, addressed to The Crown Prosecution Service in the hope it would have some sway with the sentencing, which will be on 23rd April 2013. 

I'll blank out names of the officers and the 'Jeremy Kyle' neighbour, not to protect him as such, but to not balls up the sentencing later on this month. 

** R__________ Road,

Crown Prosecution Service
Nuneaton Burglary Team
Vicarage Street
CV**  *DW

Re. Burglary at my address
Incident Number: _ _ _
Crime reference Number: _ _ _ _

     Dear Sir,

First of all, thank you to PC M________ C_________ and Detective S________ E__________ for all their assistance in this matter.  It is incredibly distressing to be burgled by your neighbours, and all involved have been kind, professional, calm and reassuring.

There are some details I would like to be taken into consideration when Mr. B______ goes to court on 2nd April 2013.

I spoke to Detective. S_____ E_______ on Friday 1st February 2013, regarding the arrest and charging of neighbour on the same day.  Detective. ________ gave me a verbal summary of Mr. _______'s confession at the police station and there are some worrying discrepancies between the chain of events and what he claims he did and indeed didn’t do.  Here is a summary of what Mr. __________ told me on that date.

  1. Mr. A______ B_______ did eventually admit to committing the burglary
  2. He claims he only entered the property once
  3. He claims he entered the property via my unlocked back door
  4. He claims that this happened on Tuesday 22nd January 2013 the same date he was captured on CCTV attempting to sell my jewellery to ‘Second Time Around’ jewellers at **Long Street, Atherstone.
  5. He claims he had only stolen 4 items, although 7 items are listed as stolen

With reference to point 2 above:

 I first noticed the ‘Cariad’ ring (on the list provided to PC C________ on Monday 28th January 2013) missing on 14th December 2012.  I was very distressed about it being missing and consequently checked all jewellery boxes in case I had misplaced it or put it in the wrong box.  All the other items listed as stolen, with the exception of the ‘Monet’ ring, were present on that date. Therefore, two items were missing from my property on that date, but the rest had not yet been stolen.

Additionally, the moment I realised the Cariad ring was missing I rang my mum, who was equally distressed by the matter. Whilst I was talking to my mum on the phone, my friend C______ W______ called round to pick me up for a meal with friends that afternoon. He is also a witness to my distress.

This ring was immediately recognised by the proprietor at ‘Second Time Around’ and it was this ring that was eventually sold, with 3 other items, to the gold dealers, H______’s, on The Market Square, Atherstone, on 22nd January 2013.  Therefore, it is probable that the Cariad ring had been in Mr. B______s possession for approximately 2 months before he sold it.

On Saturday evening 26th January 2013, the day I noticed that someone had been in my property, all my jewellery boxes were checked and that is when I noticed precisely how many items were missing, which was 7 in total.  Therefore, 5 items were taken between 14th December 2012 and 26th January 2013 meaning my property was entered on more than one occasion.

With reference to point 3.
I check both rear and front doors are locked, in a rather OCD like fashion, at least twice before I leave for work.  I often get out of my car to check a 3rd time before actually leaving for work. The claim that it was unlocked on 22nd January 2013 highly improbable.

With reference to point 4, Tuesday 22nd January the date that Mr. B_____ claims he entered my property:

This was the week that we all experienced heavy snow.  At the rear of the property is a shared alley-way that all houses on this side of the road have access to.  It was covered in snow and the snow was ‘virgin’ (as in not walked upon at all).  If Mr. B_____ had done as he had said, there would have been very noticeable foot-prints, leading to and from my property to his, in the snow.   My bins and recycling are at the rear of my property, therefore I would have immediately noticed such foot prints. Being nothing but logical here, had Mr. B______ entered my property in the manner in which he states,  I would have detected the burglary on 22nd January 2013 and informed the police on that date, instead of the evening of Saturday 26th January 2013, which is when the true extent of the burglary was discovered.

My supposition is that when the neighbours were previously given access to my property on 23rd November 2012, in order to help fix a damp patch in my house, they were lent a key to access the property while I was at work, this was returned to me. However, I believe they had a copy of my key made.  Mr. B______ has not admitted to such in his statement, nor was a key found in the property search, but I do not believe he is being honest here either.  As neither occupants of ** Richmomd Road own a car or drive, the key copying would have been done locally in Atherstone.  The following paragraph explains why this is likely.

My locks were changed on Sunday 27th January 2013. I left for work at approximately 6.50 am, and for obvious reasons, I took great care to check both my back and front door were locked and checked them more than once. The front door handle was down when I left. On my return home my front door handle was up, suggesting that someone had attempted to enter my property from the front with a key. (The handle needs to be turned up for the door to be fully unlocked).  Additionally, on that date the behaviour of Mr. B_____ and his cousin L_______ altered considerably after that date.  They were not longer chatty and friendly with me when I returned from work and Mr. B_______ in particular has not said a word to me since that date.

Mr. B________ may have admitted the Burglary, to some extent, but it is improbable that he is telling the truth regarding the method of the burglary.  There are too many discrepancies between what he has claimed: what went missing when; stating that he only entered my property once; the weather conditions and his behaviour.  Being burgled is stressful enough without the other party continuing to be dishonest, and to add insult to injury, claiming that my back door was unlocked will make an already awkward and difficult claim to my insurers even more problematic.

The notion that this was an ‘opportunistic’ burglary does also not ring true. If that were the case, a range of items, of differing values would have been taken.  However, of the jewellery I had, it was the items with the most value that were taken. The pieces with the most gold in (in some cases, gem stones) indicated that this was rather more planned and calculated than is suggested in his statement to Mr. E_______.  

If Mr. B_______ 's account of how he completed burglary is repeated in court, having sworn to tell the truth, it seems that he would be placing himself in contempt of court.

The other thing I would like taking into consideration, are the sentimental attachments to two specific pieces of jewellery that were stolen.

  1. The Cariad Ring

This was bought for me by my mother in 2005.  This ring was incredibly special and meaningful to mother, my sister and I.  All three of us had nursed my dad at home while he was dying from liver cancer.  We each had the same ring and it was a ‘medal of honour’ if you will, as it commemorates my father and the memories of those difficult days of nursing him to his death.  The company, Clogau Welsh Gold, no longer make this ring, so in every conceivable sense of the word, this ring is irreplaceable. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I am heartbroken that it has been stolen, and worse still, sold as ‘scrap’ to be melted down in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter so that the occupants of No. ** Richmond Road can squander the proceeds  on goodness knows what.

  1. The Cariad Stirling Silver and rose gold cross pendant.

This pendant was bought for me by my sister as a birthday present in 2006.  The pendant was purchased in Aberaeron, my dad’s favourite place in Wales, which he spoke of a great deal before he died.  This gift was incredibly meaningful for my sister and I.  When I informed her that it too had been stolen, she was very upset and distressed.

The burglary has been incredibly stressful, causing me sleeplessness, anxiety, loss of appetite and consequently, weight loss.  Both my mother and my sister have been worried for my physical and mental well being and have been very distressed by the theft of the two items named above. 

As with regard the other pieces.  With the exception of the ‘Tree of Life Ring’ the other pieces stolen are also no longer made by the Clogau Gold company, so also irreplaceable.   It took me 7 years to pay for and accumulate those pieces.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for all members of the local police force who have had some hand in this case.  As a fellow public servant (teacher) I understand what a thankless work this can be at times, and appreciate the efforts of all those involved.

   Yours sincerely,

      Miss G M Nelson
      The newspaper article from the Nuneaton News, oddly creating some level of sympathy for the burglar in the sub-heading.

Thanks to @LizSaddler for tweeting me the picture of this. 

The teaching type bit....

Now, thinking with my English teacher hat on (reluctantly, as it's the last weekend of freedom at Easter), this could be of use to you in your lessons, possibly.....

1. Stimulus for a speaking and listening task - either by doing a 'mock trial' or debating the just punishment for the culprit.  
2. For use in Citizenship lessons when our justice system is studied.
3. Non-Fiction writing - inform/explain/describe with some rhetoric chucked in
4. Stimulus for a newspaper, magazine or news broad-cast.
5. Hot-seating the victim and the accused - developing use of pupil's questioning
6. Writing about the incident from a range of perspectives - the police, the accused, other neighbours on the street, friends and family. 
7. Tweet the series of a events from different points of view
8. Dramatise - the sequence of events or construct a 'Crimewatch' appeal
9. An episode of Jeremy Kyle!
10. Writing to advise - these neighbours are still my neighbours - what advice can you give me about how to cope with this situation?