The Space around the Child

We expect children to be ‘on-task’ and ‘focusing’ all day, most of it sitting down. I can’t do this myself. When I find an idea really interesting I have to move around – I get up out of my seat and pace, doing something relatively mindless. It calms that moment of excitement. When I’m writing, I have to get up regularly. When I watch the children listening to me or sitting at their desks writing, I wonder how many of them feel the same. But they’re supposed to stay in their seats and I’m supposed to be running rings trying to get to every child and give ‘feedback’. I like this post because it suggests the valuable of being available but not intrusive while children work.

MainstreamInclusion

‘I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage’ Peter Brooks, The Empty Space.

At Betts this year Sir Ken Robinson gave a short talk at the evening TeachMeet. He mentioned Brooks’ The Empty Space, which as a Drama graduate, was my bible.

Sir Ken used it to talk about the conceit of teaching, the belief that if left to their own devices students cannot learn effectively – the problem he said was that the current education system had side lined that crucial teacher/student relationship and substituted it for standards, national curricula, output and inspections. He went on to say that learning was a natural thing and education a more formal one but that a healthy education system has to begin with teaching and learning; “you can’t improve education without supporting, encouraging and developing teachers – teaching is an art form”.

@eddiekayshun’s spaced learning blog (http://t.co/hFZlgV0A0C) got…

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Why The Over Use Of Writing Stimuli & Book Planning Could Be Damaging Children’s Writing Potential.

I will be re-reading, considering and using this a lot.

Literacy For Pleasure

I should start out by stating quite clearly that this is not an article advocating for the removal of all stimuli or book inspired writing tasks from classrooms. I myself use them. However, this article looks to reflect on what contemporary writing and research is telling us about these dominant writing practices.

We begin with some wise words from Donald Graves, writer, teacher, researcher and thinker:

‘Children want to write’.

In this post, I want to suggest, through use of research findings, that the provision by teachers of cross-curricular ‘topics’ or ‘writing stimuli’ for writing in schools could be inhibiting children’s desire to write. As a result, this may effect the quality of their writing too. Is it the case that too few children are realising that they can do more with writing than simply imitate or produce ‘writing to order’? Is there another way of offering topic choice which…

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‘Fox’ by Margaret Wild and ‘Cow’ by Malachy Doyle – teaching time adverbials

Fox when sentence cropped

Subordinate clauses relating to time are the easiest to teach, so they should probably be the starting point for any work on fronted adverbials. It is the least literary of all the types of subordination, being one that children actually use in speech – you will hear them recount things from their own lives as well as from stories using ‘when’: ‘When we got there, we had to…’ or ‘When Goldilocks saw the bears she…’

I can grade the picture books I use for teaching writing according to a sort of ‘subordination hierarchy’, or to put it another way, how literary the language is. Having said this, books that come higher up the hierarchy can still include lower level subordination, and ‘Fox’ is one of these. It includes six types of subordination (see Mog examples): those starting using a preposition, those starting using ‘with’, one starting with an adjective, a couple using an ‘-ing’ verb and one with a simile starting with ‘like’. The majority of the subordination in the writing is to do with time, and it is done particularly well.

These are the sentences in the order that they appear in the book:

Magpie drags her body into the shadow of the rocks, until she feels herself melting into blackness.

After the rains, when saplings are springing up everywhere, a fox comes into the bush …

In the evenings, when the air is creamy with blossom, Dog and Magpie relax at the mouth of the cave …

That night, when Dog is asleep, Fox whispers to Magpie, “I can run faster than Dog.”

But later that day, as Dog runs through the scrub with Magpie on his back, she thinks, “This is nothing like flying!”

And when at dawn Fox whispers to her for the third time, she whispers back, “I am ready.”

While Dog sleeps, Magpie and Fox streak past Coolibah trees …

[NB: Most, but not all of these adverbials are fronted.]

 

Margaret Wild uses time subordination in two ways: to situate events precisely in time, and to situate events in relation to each other. The time relationship can be ‘this happened at the same time as this happened’ or ‘this happened immediately after the first thing happened’. Often Wild does both – situating events in time and in relation to each other – at the same time.

If we focus on just those sentences of the type ‘this time happened at the same time as this happened’, and break them into chunks of main idea and subordination, we get:

 

Position in time – time of day, time of year More detail about that time Main idea
1.       After the rains,

 

when saplings are springing up everywhere, a fox comes into the bush…
2.       In the evenings,

 

when the air is creamy with blossom, Dog and Magpie relax at the mouth of the cave …
3.       That night, when Dog is asleep, Fox whispers to Magpie, “I can run faster than Dog.”
4.       But later that day, as Dog runs through the scrub with Magpie on his back *, she thinks, “This is nothing like flying!”
5.       And when at dawn Fox whispers to her for the third time, (‘at dawn’ adds more detail, but it is not separated into a separate clause with commas) she whispers back, “I am ready.”

[NB: ‘as’ is used in the same way as ‘when’ *]

 

If using these as examples, I would point out that either column works on its own – i.e. column one plus main idea, or column two plus main idea. Then guide children towards an understanding of how the second column adds greater detail and so improves the quality of the sentence.  (Click here for an editable version of this table.)

Sentences 3 and 4 are easier than the others. They follow the structure: time of day plus subordinating event plus main event.

The other sentences require greater knowledge as well as skill. We need to make explicit the knowledge that Margaret Wild is drawing on when adding this type of detail: she has an awareness of the time of day and the cycle of fire/re-growth in the bush, and how different things happen at different times in the day (or year). Sometime she expresses these in terms of how they can be experienced on a sensory level – e.g. ‘when the air is creamy with blossom’.

This last sentence is writing of the highest standard. It draws not just on great skill but on experience – experience that children do not have. They might be able to make reference to the smell of flowers in a piece of writing, but we would not expect them to be able to specify that it is blossom. And to describe the smell as ‘creamy’ – there are plenty of adults who couldn’t do that. And then, to use the word creamy in a phrase ‘the air is creamy with blossom’, requires an even greater level of skill.

Yet we can begin to teach primary age children how to do this. We can ask them to notice their own sense impressions and to include them in their writing. And children being children, what they can do with this will be limited by their own skill and knowledge. Here is where great children’s literature steps in to provide models of what can be done.

One of the best picture books in this respect is ‘Cow’ (another singular animal…) by Malachy Doyle. The writing and the illustrations take the reader through a day in the life of a cow, making reference to the time of day/year, the sense impressions of the cow and the actions of the cow. Unusually, it is written mostly in the second person – ‘you’. It also describes the actions of the humans on the farm.

I would suggest using ideas from ‘Cow’ to combine into sentences with an element of time subordination, as follows. First I’ll start with a table of ideas, ordered as they are written (a row relates to a double-page spread).

Time of day/year Sense impressions What cow (referred to as ‘you’) is doing
On a hot summer’s day (feeling) hot Grazing in the field
Early morning.

Dawn is breaking.

(sound) the first birds sing

(sound) the farmer whistling

 
Morning (feeling) sodden grass

(feeling) thick coat wet with morning dew

You rise from the grass

You amble to the gate

  (sight) sheep, pigs, gander, farmhouse  
  (feeling) your hooves click on the floor of the yard You enter the stall
  (feeling) gently the farmer cleans your udder You bend to eat

Milk is sucked out

  (sight) house, coop You wander back to the field
    You tear the grass and chew the cud, rolling your mouth from side to side. Pushing the food with your thick, wet tongue, over and over for hours.
Slowly the morning passes    
The day warms up (feeling) the day warms up

 

 

(feeling) a long drink of the cool, clear water.

 

 

Your breath comes hot and heavy from your broad wet nose.

You wander down to the river and take a long drink

The midday sun blazes (feeling) in the shade

(feeling) flies from your face

You rest, you close your deep, dark, eyes. Your ears twitch, you swish (your) long busy tail
The hot afternoon drags on    
Later (feeling) your milk-full udder aching You wait by the gate,
  (feeling) the cool parlour Lowing deeply, pressing forward
The sun has gone

The long, hot day draws to an end

  You’re back in the field
(illustration shows the cow under a night sky)   You graze, you chew, and you rest

 

You can then use the ideas, colour-coded or not (for colour-coded editable table, click here), to combine into sentences using time adverbs, i.e: when, as; while; until; after. Use the structures as in the ‘Fox’ text as a guide (so not all the adverbials will be fronted).

 

Magpie drags her body into the shadow of the rocks, until she feels herself melting into blackness.

You graze in the field until the first birds start to sing and the farmer comes whistling down the track.

 

After the rains, when saplings are springing up everywhere, a fox comes into the bush …

After the dawn breaks, when the grass is sodden with morning dew, you rise and amble to the gate.

 

In the evenings, when the air is creamy with blossom, Dog and Magpie relax at the mouth of the cave …

In the morning, when the morning dew lies wet on your thick coat, you rise from the grass and amble to the gate.

In the afternoon, while the hot day drags on, your udder fills and starts to ache.

 

That night, when Dog is asleep, Fox whispers to Magpie, “I can run faster than Dog.”

At midday, while the sun blazes, you sit in the shade and twitch your ears.

 

But later that day, as Dog runs through the scrub with Magpie on his back, she thinks, “This is nothing like flying!”

Later, as you wait by the gate, your full udder aches to be milked.

 

And when at dawn Fox whispers to her for the third time, she whispers back, “I am ready.”

And when in the evening the sky fills with stars, you graze, you chew and you rest.

 

While Dog sleeps, Magpie and Fox streak past Coolibah trees …

When the sun has gone and the long, hot day draws to an end, you are back in the field, tearing the grass and chewing the cud.

 

Some of these sentences (for colour-coded version, click colour coded Cow sentences) work better than others (e.g. ‘After the dawn breaks’ doesn’t sound quite right), and there are plenty of other possibilities. Notice how sense impressions can be turned into main ideas. Certainly children will come up with combinations that don’t really work but there is a lot of value in discussing with them why it is that they don’t work, also in showing how to make small changes so that they do.

 

 

Friendship, loyalty and belonging in Fox by Margaret Wild – a compare and contrast

Fox
It had to be this picture….

This post discusses some picture books with the shared themes of friendship, loyalty and belonging. I chose them to support Power of Reading’s idea of a ‘literature study’ in their unit for Fox

I would suggest using Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner to introduce the concept of loyalty in a literary context. The stages of the relationship are very simple: ‘Sylvia was lonely’; ‘Bird and Sylvia became friends’; ‘Sylvia realised she didn’t need other dragons to be happy.’ The term ‘loyal’ is used explicitly in the very last sentence – ‘The best friend in the world was loving, loyal Bird’.

Sylvia and Bird

How does Bird prove her loyalty? – what is her loyalty worth? Bird seems to have everything she needs to be happy: she is building a nest when Sylvia comes upon her by chance, so she is presented as comfortable and established in her world. This is reinforced by the fact that she is surrounded by creatures that, in being the same as her, provide her with a sense of belonging. She also gets to ‘chit-chitter’ with these other birds, suggesting she has a good relationship with them, unlike Sylvia, who has no other dragons to belong with.

Bird is prepared to give this all up, however, for the sake of her friend, when she sees that she is ‘unhappy’.   We can surmise from this that Sylvia is Bird’s only close friend and that she values this friendship enough to do something – go to the moon – that puts her very life in danger. She does this without any guarantee that Sylvia will find what she is looking for on the moon and, in fact, is the one to suggest it. Her loyalty, in these ways, is presented as irreproachable.

The characters in Red Ted and the Lost Things  by Michael Rosen also come upon one another by chance.   Though they become friends by the end, it is not their friendship that frames the story, rather their differences in the face of adversity. Red Ted is an optimist, always on the look-out for practical solutions, while Crocodile is an unremitting pessimist who expresses his lack of faith in Red Ted at every turn. There are similarities between Dog and Red Ted on the one hand, and Magpie and Crocodile on the other.

Red Ted

When the cat appears, considerably larger than Red Ted and Crocodile, we suspect she may have evil intentions, but she turns out to be an amiable and sympathetic companion who temporarily complements rather than threatens the main relationship. This is in keeping with the very different tone of the book. For all these reasons, Red Ted and the Lost Things is useful for comparing with Fox, both as an ‘unlike’ as well as a ‘like’.

John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat by Jenny Wagner may have the most in common with ‘Fox’, in terms of the behaviour of the characters and the dynamic between them. Ron Brooks is the illustrator of both books. As in ‘Fox’, the motivation of the antagonist (John Brown) revolves around the emotion of jealousy in respect of a key relationship, here the one with his owner Rose. Another similarity is the sense of exclusivity in the relationship – we know of no other creatures that could interfere in Dog’s symbiotic friendship with Magpie, and we are told in the first line of John Brown that, Rose’s husband having died, she now lives with her dog. The relationships – between Rose and John Brown and Dog and Magpie – are presented as ones that should have the strength to endure, the first being built on the bonds formed by longevity, the second by the bond of mutual need.

John Brown

Here’s a difference: we know when Fox appears that he will test those bonds, whereas it is the bonds themselves that are the source of John Brown’s predicament. If he were not bound so closely in affection to his owner he might be able to tolerate her interest in the midnight cat; if he were not bound so closely in affection to Rose he might not have allowed the cat in. It is Fox’s rootlessness, his being unbound, that makes him the far more dangerous character. Magpie warns Dog about Fox: “He belongs nowhere. He loves no-one.” I’ve always interpreted the ‘scream of triumph or despair’ at the end of the book as Fox’s cry to the effect, ‘I could have belonged. I could have been a part of that family. But I could not help myself; I had to destroy.’ Remember that it is Sylvia the dragon’s need to belong, to see her dragon-ness mirrored in other dragons, that causes her to put her friendship with Bird in jeopardy; it is Fox’s fox-ness that means that he will only find satisfaction in acting in a way that guarantees his continued isolation.

All of this children can understand. They can relate to John Brown’s mean response to the cat – they know the selfishness and jealousy in themselves and in other people. When he’s ‘thinking’, they know that he’s thinking about his behaviour and how it’s hurting someone he loves. They can also understand Rose’s similarly selfish behaviour: having endlessly promised John Brown that, “We are all right. Just the two of us, you and me,” she then betrays that promise by taking to her bed ‘All day and for ever’. And when John Brown asks her if the midnight cat will make her better, she says, “Oh yes! That’s just what I want.” Which can easily be seen as rather hurtful.

This joint culpability is not so obvious in ‘Fox’, but it is there. If Dog had heeded Magpie’s warnings, and resisted the canine tendency to love everything, Fox might not have been able to lure Magpie away. But there is no question that Magpie’s betrayal goes far beyond anything Dog’s folly deserves. The Shakespearean level of Fox’s perfidy in bringing about this betrayal is what raises ‘Fox’ head and shoulders above other picture books for me, and what makes it so valuable as a teaching tool. I have used it countless times for upper Key Stage 2 interventions with both low and high attaining groups. I feel that the power of its theme, and the way it is represented so vividly in both words and pictures, reaches right into a person, adult or child, and demands a response from them – which it is then the job of the teacher to help fashion into writing.

*

Session 17 of the Power of Reading unit for ‘Fox’ suggests that you: “Invite the children to conduct a literature study to consider other stories that feature friendships that are forged in challenging contexts or have a distinctive quality.” (I love the use of the word ‘invite’ here …..) It suggests tabulating the study and I’ve adapted the PoR table below. For the full, editable table in Word, click here: Fox literature study table.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend comparing four texts at a time as a whole class but it’s something that could perhaps be done in groups.

 

  Sylvia & Bird Red Ted John Brown Fox
What year group would this story be best for? Year 1-2 Year 2-3 Year 3-4 Year 5-6
Is the story about the relationship between two or three characters? Two – Sylvia and Bird Two – Ted and Croc Three – John Brown, the Midnight Cat and Rose Three – Dog, Bird and Fox
In what ways are the characters similar? They can fly They are both lost They want to be part of a caring family They carry wounds, internal as well as external
In what ways are they different? They need different environments

Sylvia is alone in being a dragon

Ted is an optimist and a problem-solver, Croc is a pessimist who does not take action Rose wants to broaden the family to include the midnight cat, John Brown does not Dog is innocent, simple, generous; Fox is the opposite; Magpie is caught between them
What challenges do they face? / catalyst Sylvia wants more than Bird can give Finding Ted’s owner’s (Stevie’s) home The arrival of the midnight cat How to live with their wounds
How do the characters behave in the face of the challenge? Bird proves her loyalty; Sylvia understands the value of friendship Croc always wants to give up; Ted persists Rose weakens and becomes sick; John Brown realises his selfishness Dog seeks partnership; Magpie betrays Dog; Fox decides to ruin the family rather than join it
What is the climax of the challenge? Sylvia flies too high and puts Bird’s life in danger Ted could go home without Croc John Brown will not allow the midnight cat into the relationship Fox lures Magpie away from Dog
How do they overcome the challenge? Sylvia realises that she can not find a better friend than Bird, even if she is not a dragon Thanks to Ted’s optimism and problem-solving, they find Stevie’s home John Brown loves Rose enough to overcome his hostility towards the midnight cat We don’t know if they do
Does their friendship last? yes yes Yes Only if Magpie makes it back to the cave and Dog forgives her
Memorable moments?        
Memorable quotes?        

 

A final thought: the Melrose and Croc books (I think there are five of them) by Emma Chichester Clark are the sweetest, most gentle depictions of happy friendship that I know in children’s literature. Perhaps something to have in the book corner if you can get hold of them.

Upper Key Stage 2 Writing Interventions – How To

  • Physical exercise analogy: – it’s more effective to use heavy weights in small bursts than small weights throughout. Use a heavy-weight text.
  • Context consideration: – unlike English, interventions don’t happen for the same pupils daily. Choose something with really excellent extracts – ‘The Wind Singer’ for scary suspense, ‘Varjak Paw’ to describe a character’s movement, ‘The Mouse and His Child’ for a portrait in character malevolence, ‘Sterkam Handshake’ for action etc etc. Or, better because you get the whole story from start to finish, choose a picture book.
  • Literary language: – going back to the exercise analogy, literary language presents a greater demand, and will have greater effects, than different types of writing. So a picture book with literary language is the thing to go for – it’s all contained in one package with pictures supporting the words.
  • Tiny steps: – don’t rely on the current English curriculum, it’s far too specific and way not specific enough at the same time. It headlights certain features of good writing while passing over others. Have your own progression. Give the stages their own names, or better, decide on them with the children – great, greater, even greater, most great.
  • Read the book; write like the book: – that’s your lesson plan, by the way.
  • Colour coding. Always works. For example, that comma up there above the writing line that we call an apostrophe? – there are two of those. A red one to show a letter’s missing, a yellow one to show ownership. Or, breaking sentences up into grammatical units of different colours (as seen in many places done really well).
  • Feedback like you mean it. Critique their work as you would any other (adult) writers. But be nice (really nice – writing’s such a personal thing).
  • Don’t ever say ‘even better if’. If someone said that to me after I’d spent an hour on a piece of writing I’d do a Gorka.  (I actually wanted the one of him eating paper but you’ll have to go to the pinned tweet at the top of james Adomian’s twitter for that.)

the special eating GIF by The Special Without Brett Davis-downsized_large

And finally:

  • Don’t mention greater depth. Just don’t.

‘The Lost Happy Endings’ by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy – Ideas and Resources

1

I taught in Reception yesterday – writing a four-word sentence, one idea, all words decodable using satpni, repetition using a writing frame…. And at the other end of the spectrum is this – writing in a literary style, using adverbials to add nuance.  I can’t say that I have a preference for teaching writing in a particular phase, but I enjoy the sense that the one approach (in Reception) is building to the other.  It seems distant when working with Reception children, but from the beginning, even when writing short, repetitive sentences with a controlled vocabulary, we can give them a sense of what a sentence is, the conventions for showing how they start and finish, and how they, the writer, can control them.

Writing in this distinctly literary register is of course not the only outcome we are looking for.  (And by ‘we’ I mean professionals who want to teach children how to write well, not some ever-changing end of primary-age outcome).  We want children to be confident in all registers.  The narrative prose of, say, Malorie Blackman, as well as the different kinds of non-fiction writing.  But I do think there is a particular value in exposure to and writing of literary texts.  And I believe, having seen proof of it over years of intervention with struggling pupils, that every child can write them.

Texts written in this style provide access to a world that only exists when words are put together according to its rules.  It’s unfortunate that the current iteration of the curriculum insists on the teaching of ‘fronted adverbials’ and in doing so has created mockery and resistance within the profession to something that is useful and important.

For this resource, I’ve selected four sentences from the text that include adverbials starting with an adjective (or adjectives, or modified adjectives).  I’ve structured it so that the position of the adverbial can be either fronted, embedded or after the main idea – children can see it in all three positions and decide which works best.

The resource continues with a selection of sentences with adverbials starting with adjectives, again in the three different positions.  They are all taken from texts written in a more or less literary style.  As ever, the resource is fully-editable so that you can pick and change as you wish.

I’ve drawn on texts some of which are out of print.  But if you are lucky enough to work in an institution that will let you get hold of them, or you want to buy them for yourself, I would urge you to do so – they have endless uses as well as being works of art.

The Power of Reading unit for this text has a (very) long list of perhaps nebulously connected books that they suggest you draw upon.  One of them is another book by Carol Ann Duffy, ‘The Tear Thief’.  It reminds me of ‘Jinnie Ghost’ by Jane Ray (illustrator of ‘The Lost Happy Endings’) as well as ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ itself.  They all have mysterious, magical interventions at children’s bedtime.  Jub and the Tear Thief carry sacks with almost-numinous contents.  The Tear Thief and Jinnie Ghost are not human, and they travel in and out of houses along an urban street visiting different children.  The moon plays a central part in ‘The Tear Thief’ and is integral to the appearance of ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ and ‘Jinnie Ghost’.

However, ‘The Tear Thief’ lacks the narrative and stylistic cohesion of ‘The Lost Happy Endings’ and ‘Jinnie Ghost’.  The writing style is not consistent.  I think Carol Ann Duffy was aiming for more of a story-teller register, sounding closer to speech, but she frequently lapses into a literary style along the way.  The way the story is structured is also problematic: somehow we don’t know if the Tear Thief has good or bad intentions at the beginning; and when the mother says to her son, ‘Stop crying or the Tear Thief will hear you’, we don’t know if the thief is some kind of bogeyman or not.  We don’t find out soon enough why she is collecting the children’s tears.  In ‘Jinnie Ghost’, in contrast, we discover very soon that the ghost is easing the difficulties that children encounter in their dreams, and this is continued consistently until the end in a lyrical but still relatively-sparse style.

Then we have a very weak problem – a little girl has lost her dog – when none was really needed.  It would have worked better if the focus had been on the way that the Tear Thief uses the children’s tears to create the moon’s beauty.  On the last page there is an attempt to pull these elements together – the moonlight, the found dog, a baby crying – all in a full-blown literary style.  The beautiful writing does not compensate for the stylistic and narrative problems.  I wonder if a Year 6 class could notice this?

East of the Sun West of the Moon – illustrations by P J Lynch

Mysterious Traveller image
From ‘Mysterious Traveller’

The resource here focuses on the work of the illustrator P J Lynch.  It starts with a couple of links to websites with information about him, but the bulk of the presentation is a comparison of his illustrations in two books – East of the Sun West of the Moon and Mysterious Traveller.  For those following the Power of Reading unit, this relates to Sessions 1, 4 and 6.  For anyone else, the resources is, as ever, fully-editable to suit your needs.

The comparison is between illustrations for stories with two contrasting settings, the first book being set in Norway, the second in Mali.  I’ve started the exercise of comparison with slides showing the geographical location of these two countries as well as their climates.  P J Lynch does a great job conveying the two contrasting climates in his beautiful and impressive landscapes.

The presentation then proceeds with a variety of ways of comparing the illustrations in the two books.  The first is a comparison of photos of the landscapes of the two countries (yellow backgrounds for Mali, blue for Norway) which can be closely related to the stories.  The next two slides (peach-coloured) provide a starting-point for a comparison of the style and effect of the illustrations in the two books.  The last two slides (pale green) give suggestions for comparing in terms of both similarities and differences.

Favourite Fairy Tales cover

(Another book illustrated by P J Lynch, published in 1985 – found in a charity shop while I was working on this post…)