Ponderings about the extent to which knowledge organisers are effective

Knowledge Organisers (KOs) are a very nifty, one page (usually) grid that can be used as a revision tool. They focus on facts, keywords, key terms and quotes, perhaps characters and their traits (if English focused KOs), and important definitions. Yes, they are therefore a good aide de memoir. 
You can, much like flash cards and mind maps, use them to revise a topic and test yourself, or have other people test you. They are in that sense an essential tool and piece of educational armour that should not be left out. 
What they don’t seem to include, however, are a range of questions in anticipation of an exam, that could require a whole different set of keywords, quotes, background contextual knowledge and facts, etc. 
For example, if you can be certain that students will get a question on the Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare paper on the particular angle you’ve fed them via a specific knowledge organiser, that’s great. E.g on Act 3, Scene 5, Juliet’s father. Perhaps you also linked it to Act 1, Scene 2. But what if you missed out a detailed analysis of Mercutio? Or if you failed to focus at great length on Friar Lawrence? What if the knowledge you gave them wasn’t the right set of knowledge?
Also, coupled with this, I think what knowledge organisers leave out are any treatment of inference skills or practice at analysing hitherto unseen extracts for language. You could include a range of subject terminology that you anticipate is likely to come in handy, but it will never be an extant list of all variations possible. 
KOs are a great supplementary revision aid, but by no means all that students need. 
They also need extensive training, starting earlier in school, in language analysis skills linking both inference and the use of an extremely large body of subject terminology. Perhaps this could be incorporated to bitesize KOs along the way to make learning manageable, memorable, and ‘revisable’. But I think the literature KOs that are emerging, while useful to some extent, should not be the main focus of teaching. 
Practise using sets of challenging questions that overarch the content of KOs and bring in the need for more adept use of inference skills and language analysis skills using a wide range of subject terminology seems to me to be a more pressing focus. KOs are useful under this umbrella, but are not the umbrella itself. 

Expecting Things to Spark up at Sunmarke’s Saturday Teachmeet! This Saturday!!

Great line up of speakers, discussion topics and live action to get involved in this Saturday morning at Sunmarke School’s first ever Teachmeet, taking place at JVT based campus, Dubai, UAE. 

I’ll be giving some tips away on how to make a learning mat. Can’t wait – hope to see you there!! 

Fitness and Literacy News: Hot off the Press! TribeFit Trendsetting Gym to Support Sunmarke Teachmeet on January 28th!


Dubai Marina’s trendiest, hottest and most socially active gym is set to liven up the forthcoming Sunmarke teachmeet to give a wake-up call to teachers and other interested delegates and presenters on Saturday 28th January.

TribeFit trainers will make a special guest appearance to get the event off to an energizing, rejuvenating and replenishing start with a January inspired New Year’s fitness resolution style Saturday morning stretch class lasting just 10 minutes at 10.30am.

As already announced via an extensive range of social media channels, Sunmarke School will be hosting a literacy themed mini-conference, where teachers and others with interests invested in secondary international education and the classroom can come along to share ideas and engage in vibrant discussion (see more info and click through to sign up to attend or present via https://goo.gl/PtXCUj ).

While the event will principally seek to engage and nurture the teacher soul, it will not neglect the teacher body: “we are bodied minds, as well as minded bodies”! The morning will therefore also conclude with a TribeFit 10 minute shakedown to bring proceedings to a “body smart” close.

TribeFit will also be offering special one-off teacher discounts for prospective gym members on the day. Make sure you carry your New Year’s resolutions through to the end of January and beyond by attending and taking part in what is sure to be a fun-filled occasion!

Dress code update: comfy casual or sporty, suitable for relaxing and taking part in mild stretch exercise.


Sunmarke Teach Meet, Saturday 28th January 2017, 10am to 1pm: English and Literacy Best Practice in the Secondary Classroom


Sunmarke Teach Meet, Saturday 28th January 2017, 10am to 1pm: English and Literacy Best Practice in the Secondary Classroom – Happy New Teaching Year! Come Nurture and Refresh your Teaching Soul at Sunmarke!

A group of teaching and learning enthusiasts will gather together on Saturday 28th January for a morning of thought-provoking and stimulating presentations and discussions around the topic of teaching English and literacy in the international British curriculum at secondary level.

The exciting teach meet Spark event, taking place at Sunmarke School, Jumeirah Village triangle, Dubai, will kick off at 10.30am and last until 1pm. Light refreshments will be available and delegates will receive a warm welcome from the Sunmarke English team and Spark host, Rachel Edgar. To sign up to attend or present visit the following weblink: https://www.sparkevent.me/spark/tbc/dubai/77

We would love to invite more enthusiastic, creative and sharing educationalists to attend, take part, and deliver 5 minute presentations on the theme of delivering English and literacy in the Secondary British curriculum classroom. You don’t have to be an English teacher to be interested in this of course as every teacher is a teacher of English and literacy – so whatever subject you teach you are bound to be able to share or learn something of value.

So far the line up of presenters includes Spark host, Rachel Edgar, on the intriguing theme of helping students to develop analytical writing skills at Key Stage 3 using “SWEATY” and “SWAG”. Second up will be English teacher, Dr Carol Webb, sharing personal, practical and helpful tips and tricks on how to make a ‘learning mat’ to help students prepare for assessments or typical styles of writing.

In addition to the normal teach meet format with 5 minute presentations being delivered by Dubai’s most creative and open-source teachers sharing their best resources or ideas, we will also be facilitating a 15 minute discussion slot. This will be based around a number of teacher chat tables, each with a different theme for conversation attached. Attendees will simply be able to sit at the table chat they are most interested in.

Table chat themes will include:

  • Responding effectively to EAL challenges in the British Curriculum international classroom
  • Maintaining and achieving high expectations in the lower sets
  • Successful integration of students’ own devices as part of normal classroom routines
  • Best practice Shakespeare
  • Best practice poetry

We hope to see you there! Please do join us by signing up to present or attend at:  https://www.sparkevent.me/spark/tbc/dubai/77

AS Level Opinion Article: Political Correctness vs Jeremy Clarkson :)

Just had to share this, by my year 12 AS level English Language student. Pure brilliance – enjoy! 🙂

Opinion article aimed at young adults ages 18-25
A politically correct term a day, keeps the offence away

Jeremy Clarkson, I beg you sincerely, shut the bloody hell up and sit your backwards behind down. Have you not caused enough trouble? No really and truly, riddle me this– you punch your producer in the face because there was no hot food in your hotel and now you want to badmouth your old bosses because they were being politically correct and all of this is sound to you? Jezza, can I call you Jezza? I’m gonna call you Jezza, I understand that one of your basic human rights is freedom of speech and you are entitled to use it but why don’t you use it for something that doesn’t make me want to rip my hair out?

I understand that he named his dog after a footballer and I’m sure he meant no offence by it, he’s allowed to like the sport but people were offended. That is the key thing here, people were offended! If what you are doing offends people, then why is it so hard to just put aside your pride or whatever you want to call it and change the dog’s name? Then everyone will be happy and we can all walk off into the sunset because we have not offended anyone any longer! I doubt your dog will be grief-stricken if you change his name, if people can deal with it, so can your dog! Let’s take a look at the Inuit people, formerly known as the Eskimos. Inuit is the politically correct term for people that reside in the cold snow because they were offended by the word Eskimo which roughly translates to raw meat eaters. Not a really nice thing to be associated with, is it? So now we refer to them as Inuits because it is a term that doesn’t make them seem like zombie people. As a result of this change, the apocalypse happened and the world exploded. Oh wait, you mean that didn’t happen? You mean, everything was fine, life went on as normal and no one cares anymore? How absolutely astounding! Someone tell Jeremy Clarkson this glorious news!

Jezza thinks it’s all fine and dandy when it’s his dog but how would he feel if I named my dartboard after him? Or after one of his family members? After all my family loves darts and we love him, it’s a dartboard should I have called it the Dartful dodger? There are things that I would do that seem inoffensive to me but would make Jeremy and his family feel small and belittled. The difference is, I would change that name without a blink of an eye, but Jeremy would not do me the same favour. He’s okay with political correctness as long as it benefits him and there are so many like them. If I started talking about Zimmerman and West’s Dominance theory and how men are more likely to interrupt, then before I was able to finish that sentence he and all his other straight, white, male friends would interject (ironic) and give me so many different reasons as to why that’s wrong and I shouldn’t say things like that because it generalises and makes people seem insignificant. Isn’t that the same with his dog? He has made this footballer, who I’m sure is very proud of his achievements whatever they may be, and made him feel insignificant. It makes it seem like Jezza’s dog is on the same level as a well acclaimed footballer. It really is alright for some, isn’t it?

Deborah Jones theorised that political correctness can be a good thing, in small doses that is. I’m all for political correctness but that doesn’t mean I think every single thing should be delved into until we find offense in them. I merely think that we should all strive, male and female, to be aware of our verbal hygiene (Jones again, wahey!). That is to say that we should be concerned with correcting ourselves no matter the gender or the group we subscribe to so that we appear as upright citizens to all and not the uncultured swine that we usually are when we use the internet anonymously. If you don’t care about offending people, you’re a selfish git but alright, don’t you care about yourself? Don’t you care about not seeming absolutely stupid and uneducated amongst your peers? Let me present a scenario to you where you’re in a board meeting with a straight white guy from America (USA! USA! #Murrica) and you ask him what his favourite baseball team is. He says he’s a big fan of the Red socks and you tell him how much you love the Washington R-words and screw all the f*gs that think it’s a racist name right? You start laughing at how funny you are but they don’t seem pleased. I wonder why that is? Oh did I not mention that he has a native American wife and a gay son? Probably should’ve started with that. Oh well, too late now, you’ve just lost your company a huge deal and managed to come out looking like an absolute imbecile. Grand.

I’m sure there are some people out there who aim for political correctness but can’t seem to shake the stigma. You start to wonder if it’s worth the hassle of fighting all the ignorant people that think it’s funny to tell women to get in the kitchen and make them a sandwich. Maybe you’ve even based your theory on other theories, in 1986 Wood said that people prefer those that conform to societal norms. Howard Giles even came up with the accommodation theory that tells us the speaker is trying their hardest to make themselves seem desirable by their audience. And we’ve all been on the internet, we all see the trolls commenting about the horrors of political correctness and their right to free will but we have a right to that same free will. We all share that right to freedom of opinion so why are we allowing these trolls to throw this in our face and oppress us? They say that political correctness ruins jokes, but if an actual real life comedian thinks we can be funny without offending people then why can’t you? Comedy is a tricky thing because it aims to tread the line between being hilarious and being outright offensive but comedians have spoken out about this and have said that times change and humour should reflect that. The attitudes towards political correctness are outdated and stem purely from the fact that humans want to make other humans feel bad so that they can feel better about themselves. People think it’s funny to use the n-word. Why is it so satisfying to use a word that is tied to hundreds of years of oppression and hate? People think it’s okay to make fun of Hijabis but why is it a laughing matter when this is a lifestyle that people still live today? Because of all these people making jest of minorities, we end up with hate crimes as these jokes become something people truly believe in. People that use the word f*ggot as a joke would do their best to separate themselves from those that commit mass shootings on gay people. It’s not them, people take it too far but you are the people that give them the spark. And all it takes is a spark.

Sapir and Whorf once formulated the language deterministic theory. They believe that thought reflects language, in other words, language came first. When you look at it that way, it makes sense why knob heads like Jeremy Clarkson say the things they do—it’s because they’re not thinking before they speak. Because they’re not thinking, the rest of us have to mill about as they spout their nonsense with no end in sight. But I’ll make you a deal, shall I? Jeremy, I promise you that if you start using your mouth to spread niceties to the world and stop punching people and stop saying we should tone down the political correctness, then not only will I never watch Top Gear again, I will buy and Amazon Prime subscription and watch every episode of The Grand Tour. Twice.


9 English activities for 9 days of term left… 

Just 9 school days left before the winter break, starting this Sunday. So here’s my English teacher 9 day advent calendar of … fun? Well, 9 things to do in class until you all break free 😉
1. Take an existing seasonal song and put your own words to it to help you remember and use discourse markers when writing or speaking. Record your song. 

2. Write a poem about skating on thin ice. Use lots of sibilance. Record your poem. 

3. Plan and perform a role play where you use a range of rhetorical devices to persuade someone to buy you a really expensive gift of your choice. Be sure to use emotive language and anecdote. Video your role play. 

4. In a group, enact a dramatical scene where you are a team of researchers en route to the North Pole to find out what really happens there on 23rd December. You encounter a dying reindeer and help to save it. What happens next? Video your drama. 

5. You went out for a winter walk in a forest in Lapland. You saw some unbelievable things that delighted and amazed your eyes. Write a letter to your grandma to tell her all about it. Make sure you use lots of alliteration and triplets. 

6. “The best gift ever” – write a news article for the Winter Weekly using that title. The actual news story is up to you. Make sure you use lots of superlatives. 

7. In groups, create a mannequin challenge with 12 scenes: each to represent something that happened in each month this year. 

8. Write a message of hope for all those enduring difficult times this winter and make a pledge to do more to help those less fortunate than yourselves, explaining how others can too. 

9. Create a ten question winter break kahoot quiz to test fellow students on all the knowledge they’ve learned this year. 

Happy end of term! 🙂

Are you up for the 15 minute creative writing challenge?

How many words can you write in 15 minutes? This morning I was challenged by my students to prove that I could write 800 words in the space of a 90 minute lesson. I said if I did then they had to. This came after a discussion about effort and how many words of a first draft could be achieved in one lesson. So anyway, within 15 minutes I proved my point: 627 words. 
The response was mixed: “awww, miss, you are smarter than us!” “You’re making us feel bad now because we can’t write like that.” And so on. However, one or two were spurred on to make more effort than usual too. 
Here’s my 627 words below. Not bad for a fifteen minute first draft, even if I do say so myself. How many might you manage in a similar time?
“The hills were aglow with the beauty of the night’s sky. The scintillating stars were twinkling above my head. The smell of a distant campfire and the sound of it crackling in the woods wafted into the range of my senses. But I was alone. All alone.

My loneliness was not unwelcome. I enjoyed the splendor of my solitude. The only company I had was the stars. The globular lights in the ether capacious. They pulled on my heart strings as gems carbonaceous. My feelings ran through me with urgency and I decided to run.

I ran with all the pulsating power my thighs could muster. My nylon dry-fit leggings were doing their job nicely. The air met my face like a buffeting tail wind around the rudder of a light aircraft: a glider perhaps. My hair was taught against my scalp and the mud under my feet was of no concern. It was just me and the road and the paths on the hills.

Suddenly, the heavens changed: it was a metamorphosis of transient sensory deception – a thunderstorm was looming but it hadn’t yet arrived. Was it night, or hell on the horizon? I couldn’t tell. The potential Val Halle was emitting sonic booms in my imagination already; sonic booms of excitement, fear and thrills all wrapped up together. I had stopped still in my steam train tracks of speed. Mud had spurted onto my face in tiny splashes of miniscule mayhem – a chaotic reminder of my journey so far.

My journey! What had that been? It was all too much to recall sometimes. A metaphor for it may be a boat trip across a stormy ocean, or a balloon ride through a lightening ridden sky. Or was it perhaps hanging on for my own dear life as a runaway train went hurtling out of control into the depths of a valley? Whatever it was, it had been tumultuous, terrific and intrepid. I had grown so much because of it. I had grown so much I could barely remember the young girl I had been before the journey of my life had begun.

As a young girl I had been carefree and full of hope: now I was driven and angry, but enthused with the prospect of winning the race. It was an ultra-run: 100 miles. Was I crazy? Yes. All ultra-runners are. Men and women with insane goals and nothing else in their life – their lonesome, solitary life. That’s all you need to be an ultra runner: no life apart from the run. The run of death for some, over ridiculous terrain, by torrid rivers and arid deserts.

In the midst of my marathon of madness things were clear: my life had purpose and I was the bullet shooting out of a loaded weapon. I could achieve everything. My existence was defined by the motion I was folding out into and enveloping with my toned, muscular, lean body. My calves were as tight as a tarpaulin stretched over a newly harvested crop that the farmer wanted to protect from the elements more than his life.

My feet started to pound the ground once more. Bang, bang, thump. It wasn’t a chore but a dream come true. My ambitions were nearing their climax. The undergrowth I was leaping over scratched and tore at my shins as I raced ahead: I didn’t feel it though. I didn’t care. It didn’t matter.

Run, run, run. It’s all that mattered.

I was alive, although nearly half dead.

My mind flashed through scenes from my childhood – I remembered the good and the bad. The tears, the pain, the cheers and joy. It was complete. And so was I. I had done it – 100 miles in 24 hours. I collapsed in ecstasy.”

A neat little way to get students to focus on one improvement target per lesson: noodle card stands

I’ve been set the challenge of setting students a target for improvement each lesson. As I already do this explicitly in exercise books after marking I thought I’d go the extra mile to make the process even more explicit and came up with the idea of a ‘noodle card stand’.

Anyone who has been swimming at fun splash time or to an aqua aerobics class knows what a noodle is: an elongated tubular float, available in a range of colours. They are used to either create extra resistance in water or help give more support. And, if you dice them up to create circular disks you can also make an incision across the top surface to insert a piece of paper or card and place on a student table. You can then get the student to write their own improvement target on said card or paper, insert into the handy noodle disk slit, and gaze merrily at it all lesson while obviously taking appropriate action. 

Next question: should targets for improvement be ‘SMART’? Answers in comments below. 

See following images for step by step how to…

Sand is a toe warmer … 

Sand is a toe-warmer. Unless it’s cold and damp. Then it’s a rheumatoid arthritis inflicter. 

Sand is a moving nail file, an emery board extraordinaire, smoothing away the rough edges of dead bits of feet and getting under nails. 

Sand is a never ending bumpy, lumpy, shifting, softly undulating yet sometimes quite flat and hard desert. 

Sand is an infinity of potentials: potential castles, trenches, holes, moats, snakes and animals – potentially anything your hand can turn to your mind’s imaginings. 

Sand is an unwitting irritant, plaguing your mouthfuls of lunch at the beach. 

Sand is a reminder that grit endures – unfortunately often in the creases of one’s thighs or elsewhere that is equally uncomfortable. 

Sand is a treasure trove for hunters with metal detectors, searching for ancient artefacts. 

Sand is a money box for lost ten pence pieces. 

Sand is the lost and found department of the ocean, where all sorts of things wash up. 

Sand is a people magnet, with windbreaks, beach towels, deckchairs and half-tents, buckets, spades, sun-hats and cool-bags, ice-creams and frisbees, factor 20 and total sunblock. 

Sand is a welcome mat for swimmers returning and boats arriving – a diplomat of meet and greet. 

Sand is a hiding place, for lovers and nudists. 

Sand is also a litter tray. 

I wish you peace – peace filled classrooms everywhere, for at least a month or so…

You can hear a pin drop. The students are all gone. Summer is upon us. The sun’s already shone. The window left ajar in MFL room six, means displays of jaunty numbers slowly blow unfixed. The racks of tools in D&T start to gather dust. Looming academic EBacc means they may forever start to rust. The school hall has fallen silent but the coat of arms inspires. The ghosts of old terms finished flutter through undisturbed. A sport’s day trophy stands up proud alongside other shiny medals. An empty lunch queue doesn’t wind, and there’s no break at two. A football field dares to send forth more shoots of emerald green. A locker room is left bereft, of all but a lonesome lace and someone’s forgotten shoe. A waft of bleach pervades the staffroom, where coffee stained cups have disappeared. The worktops have been wiped down and a fresh coat of wall paint has appeared. The head teacher’s office seems pregnant let vacant, still ominous – patiently waiting for serious meetings with next year’s errant students. The English textbook storeroom is well stocked, filled to the brim – ready to bestow cultural wealth and capital of literature with excitement, vigour and vim. The interactive whiteboards are all quietly left unplugged. Projectors are on vacation and so do not hum. The library of course is also shut – its tomes of knowledge obediently tucked up asleep on reliable shelves of sturdy wood, the organic matter finding transformed synergy, although having long left trees. The school snores now and its slumber is restful. The grounds are all in peace. The teachers are on holiday: at home, by the coast, perhaps Greece.