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Debating #Michaela Last Saturday: Time for a “7 Up” anyone?

I was there in the flesh on the front row of the #Michaela debates at London’s City Hall last Saturday. I loved it. It was great fun – a very polite interchange of views that made for much more engaging CPD than you’d normally receive by a series of PPT presentations on just one topic with perhaps 2 minutes for questions afterwards.

It was a shame to see that some who were not in attendance got huffy on Twitter because either they felt #Michaela as an event was dominating their Twitter feed, or perhaps they were just feeling left out, or miffed that #Michaela as a school was getting so much coverage. It’s true that #Michaela is a controversial school, have a look at their website at www.mcsbrent.co.uk to find out more. They do seem to do stuff that has connotations of the Charter Schools in America, which we smile wide-eyed at and laugh and snigger at when we watch their YouTube clips online. The rumours, which may or may not be true, include children being made to walk corridors in absolute silence between lessons.

I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t have to worry about it, because 1) I don’t teach there, and 2) I don’t have a child attending there. Perhaps I should have a moral conscience about it or something, as it does affect the wider educational eco-system we live in. And who knows, some future extremist Minister for Education may use #Michaela as a precedent for insisting ALL schools in the UK may follow suit. That’d never happen though, would it? Would it?

The double clap made me laugh, which headmistress Katherine Birbalsingh playfully got us to do at the end of the day. We saw a brief video clip of students at their school doing it. Can’t hurt, I guess.

Katherine Birbalsingh was a superlative orator, and I tweeted so. Her entire team from #Michaela were a highly polished set of debaters. I wondered if they had rehearsed their gig together beforehand to give each other tips on where to put the intonation on particular words in their delivery. Katherine was very charismatic, a great leader no doubt. Her team of teachers all quite young and idealistic perhaps? If so, then it’d be understandable if what some teachers say might be true: is #Michaela a bit of a cultic school environment?

I don’t know if it’s true that they only have year 7 and 8 students at the moment, due to having started from scratch with admissions right from the get go only the other year. If that’s true, I think we need a BBC or Channel 4 documentary to chart the progress of this scholastic social experiment, a bit in the style of the “7 up” type series done years ago: “Show me the boy of 7 and I will show you the man”. I wonder if you compared students who went to #Michaela and a ‘normal’ school now, and then in 7 years, 14, 21 and 28 years from now, whether there would be any interesting trends that emerge in destination data and progress made through life. What would their choices and limitations in life be? Career wise and otherwise? Would #Michaela students be more or less successful, and how? Would they be limited in some ways? Would they tend to end up in highly structured environments? How many would be entrepreneurs and innovators? Would they be more or less rigid in their expectations of others around them once in the real world? How would they cope with lack of structure and people who don’t conform to society’s rules?

It was interesting that none of my tweets appeared in the live feed displayed to the room on a TV screen on Saturday. Maybe the organisers were filtering out based on some criteria for tweets that conformed to some rules unknown to me. Or maybe my tweets weren’t that interesting. I don’t know…

I think for me personally, my biggest take-home from the day was that debates with starkly opposing viewpoints represented by the debating party are an exceptionally valuable form of CPD. It mattered not whether the views represented were false dichotomies. The end result was that you heard something talked about from a variety of points of view, which provided an enriching and highly nuanced package of delivery. Most of the debates left you with a middle-ground feeling (PBL vs direct instruction/drilling, no-excuses discipline vs a more reasonable approach, personalised learning vs classes in sets receiving direct instruction without differentiation, schools doing whatever it takes and becoming social workers vs not getting involved much at all outside the classroom and putting teacher well-being first through prioritisation). Of course the last debate was hilarious – Jonathan Simons, a non-teacher, arguing in favour of performance related pay to a room full of teachers – even he changed his position at the end!

The middle-ground debates though covered most of the angles. If they had been turned into transcripts with rebuttals and audience Q&A too, it would probably read like an excellent exegesis. No turn really left unturned and all angles critiqued. I think you could compare it to a form of Socratic dialogue, where the audience takes the less vocal role of Socrates. The Socratic line of questioning seems to follow its own implicit and tacit course. The conclusion is, everything having been heard, there is rarely any black and white.

My own feeling on leaving was that as a unique environment and its own system, #Michaela probably works. As do any other systems with their own rules and boundaries. For a time. It’s where the actors within the system then have to leave and enter other systems that interests me.

#Michaela wasn’t promoted or marketed much on the day by the way, not explicitly. Just in case you wondered. I felt it was more about the discussion of the issues at hand that were the focus, and not the school itself.

It was an entertaining day. I’d recommend going if there is another opportunity like that.

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 42: Writing to Explain (Gun Crime!)

Here’s a revision task for the AQA foundation paper, question 5, writing to explain.See the post card for the task and then see some further notes underneath.

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It’s a bit of a challenge! Can you explain the problem of gun crime in America? To be honest it’s doubtful you’d get a question that required such deep understanding in your exam, but if you’re looking for something to get your teeth into for revision, this is a good one.

It might be controversial for some reading this, or painful if you know anyone affected by gun crime. If so, then apologies. However, in its own right the issue is a topic of extreme importance and is often the subject of passionate debate. It’s of relevance if you live in today’s world, therefore, to be able to understand why some countries allow personal ownership and use of guns (known as the “right to bear arms” and embedded in the country’s laws / constitution). Hence this task.Explore the subject a little first if you have the time. If you don’t have the time, then perhaps make time.

Here are a few links to some posts on the web that may interest you about this subject:

  1. A YouTube video where British journalist, Piers Morgan, gets in a heated debate with an American about gun control in America
  2. Bowling for Columbine: At the bank – a clip showing where you can open a bank account and get a free gun in America
  3. President Obama makes a speech about gun control in America

 

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 38: Language Features

Revision task for identifying and explaining the effect of language features for question 3 of the AQA Foundation paper. 

Remember, if you are a student revising, you need to get someone to read your response to this task and give you feedback for improvement – or you won’t really learn much…

  
  

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 37: Information Retrieval Task

Yesterday my GCSE English retake class did their mock exam. I’m nearly done marking them already – I was genuinely excited to see what progress they had made and also to find out what I needed to give them individualised help with. It turns out paraphrasing is something for focus. 

In the information retrieval section of section A, questions 1a, 1b and 2, many of them suffered the strain of using the same words to make their point as they then used in the supporting quote from the article. Only one student shone out with the inference skills that are key here. 

To paraphrase well (put something in your own words) you need to infer what you are being told, synthesise and summarise. But that does take a bit of mental effort. It’s only by getting over laziness and practising thinking skills required that will help. 

An example to work with: 

“A man (or woman) comes home from work, takes off their dirty overalls and muddy boots, leaving them at the door. The smell of cow manure is overwhelming.”

If I asked you what the subject did for a living, I doubt you’d say they worked in an office. You’ve used inference skills to probably deduce they work on a farm or with animals. Maybe they are a farmer, farm hand or a vet. 

Read. Focus. Think. Understand. 

  
  

GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 35: Punctuation – Colons

As said previously, section B of the AQA foundation paper requires secured and controlled use of a variety of punctuation to get strong marks. A quick win can be achieved using a colon to write a list. For example:

“There are many reasons to consider teaching as a career: the delightful students, the abundance of free time, extraordinarily high salaries and very light workload.”

Remember that you don’t need a capital letter after the colon. It’s not a new sentence.

Happy revising!



GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 34: Presentational Devices

A quick way to revise some basic presentational features as a stepping stone task for question 4 on the foundation paper. One of the saddest things I see after a mock or the real exam is when a student has just forgotten what presentational features are and they write about language features by mistake or, worse, nothing at all and leave it blank.



English Language Revision Postcard 33: Using Language

Revision task to recall and use key parts of speech and language features, which are subsequently required to then identify them when reading in section A, question 3 of the AQA exam.

You can describe the women too if you like 😉

Happy revising!


GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 32: Writing to Argue

Revision task for question 6 on the AQA Foundation paper, writing to argue. Also using @HeadofEnglish ‘s viewpoint discourse marker lollipop sticks that she kindly donated to the Twittersphere 🙂

Happy revising!




GCSE English Language Revision Postcard 31: Writing to Persuade -Foundation Paper

Here’s another revision task for question 6 on the AQA GCSE English Language foundation level paper, writing to persuade.

When I’ve said “powerful words”, read emotive as well as less common and rare vocabulary.

The aim of the game with persuasive writing is of course to get the reader to take on your point of view, and as such examiners like to see that a student can “manipulate the reader” – the easiest way to do this seems to be by using rhetorical questions to create a feeling of guilt or shame if the reader doesn’t agree with them. That’s something most foundation level students can easily do. It also seems more effective if the manipulative, guilt/shame inducing rhetorical question is attached to the end of an emotive anecodote. For example:

“My beautiful little sister, Gemima, was only 3 years old when she became ill and died as a result of passive smoking. She had the rest of her wonderful life before her: golden locks that curled around her dainty neck and bounced up and down as she laughed and played, rosy cheeks that burned with energy and happiness, and an intense love for a favourite teddy bear, named Fred. However, her precious life was cut brutally short. Why? All because of her next door neighbour’s disgusting smoking addiction. She would play with her dolls right next to the fence where the neighbour used to come outside to puff on his sticks of death. No-one thought anything of it, until it was too late. You don’t want to be guilty of killing beautiful little children, too, do you? No? The answer is clear. Stop smoking today.”

The revision task:

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