Sunday, 31 December 2017

On The @TES Blog: Six Books That Chart My Reading Evolution

On The @TES Blog: Six Books That Chart My Reading Evolution
Another personal blog post about reading (sorry). This one was hugely enjoyable to write due to the fact that books are not just bound and covered collections of paper with words printed on them - they are intertwined with life's real events and characters. I could not have picked six books without thinking particularly of my dad and my wife as well as times and places in my life.

I hope you enjoy reading about the six books that chart my evolution as a reader; I'd love to hear about the books that you'd consider to be elementary in your growth as a lover of books.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/six-books-chart-my-teacher-a-reader-evolution

Friday, 29 December 2017

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
In 2016 I accepted my first reading challenge (from @saysmiss), set myself the target of reading 50 books and proceeded to beat that target. In 2017 I decided to try for 52 - 1 a week - and set about encouraging others to do the same. So far I've read 63, with a couple of others on the go that might get finished before the year ends.

A great motivation for me has been to have a better knowledge of children's literature, as well as to be genuine in my enthusiasm for reading when teaching it to children (read more in my blog post 'Being a Reading Teacher'). However, what began in 2016 in 2017 has become an indispensable habit. Reading to my target in 2017 has been a product not of hard work but of a matter of course. I am a reader.

Having said this, my original motivation still shines through in my reading list this year - I largely read children's books. I see this as a duty but I also love them intensely.

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
I'm often asked for book recommendations and I happily oblige but when it comes down to making top ten lists I'm hopeless! But look at the average of ratings I've given - 4.2. Read almost anything from this list because I've more than likely enjoyed it.

In 2018 I won't be setting a challenge - after two years of challenging myself I have created a reader in myself and no longer need a challenge to continue my habit. This might mean I read fewer books, longer books, more varied books - who knows? I may just read a similar selection of books and that's OK too. But if you are looking to train yourself to become a reader, setting yourself a challenge is a good way of doing this - some on Twitter are doing #52Books2018 and on Goodreads you can set any number of books as you want.

I regret that I have not tracked the excellent picturebooks that I've read this year - this was because I felt that they shouldn't count towards my 52 (a downside of doing such a challenge). However, there are some reviews of picturebooks here in my book reviews thread: https://thatboycanteach.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Book%20review

Now for the books I've read, loosely categorised. I have provided links to ones I've reviewed:

My #52Books2017 (And Why I Won't Be Doing #52Books2018)
Young Adult

Island – David Almond
The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness
Northern Lights (His Dark Materials, #1) – Philip Pullman
More Than This – Patrick Ness

Middle Grade

Cogheart (The Cogheart Adventures, #1) – Peter Bunzl
Holes (Holes, #1) – Louis Sachar
Kensuke's Kingdom – Michael Morpurgo
The Girl of Ink and Stars – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Eragon (Inheritance, #1) – Christopher Paolini
Mold and the Poison Plot – Lorraine Gregory
The Wonderling – Mira Bartok
The Light Jar – Lisa Thompson
Sky Song – Abi Elphinstone
Add caption
Stormwalker – Mike Revell
Skeleton Tree – Kim Ventrella
The End of the Sky (A Slice of the Moon #2) – Sandi Toksvig
The Kites Are Flying! - Michael Morpurgo
The Island at the End of Everything – Kiran Millwood Hargrave
All The Things That Could Go Wrong – Stewart Foster
Moonlocket (The Cogheart Adventures, #2) – Peter Bunzl
Time Travelling with a Hamster – Ross Welford
The Last Wild – Piers Torday
The Bubble Boy – Stewart Foster
It Ain't So Awful, Falafel – Firoozeh Dumas
Hitler's Canary – Sandi Toksvig
Who Let the Gods Out? (Who Let the Gods Out?, #1) – Maz Evans
The Night Spinner (Dreamsnatcher #3) – Abi Elphinstone
The Shadow Keeper (The Dreamsnatcher, #2) – Abi Elphinstone
Watership Down – Richard Adams
The Goldfish Boy – Lisa Thompson

Younger Children’s

Coming to England: An Autobiography - Floella Benjamin
Dragons at Crumbling Castle – Terry Pratchett
The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy
The Great Cat Conspiracy – Katie Davies
The Children of Noisy Village – Astrid Lindgren
The Reluctant Dragon – Kenneth Grahame
The No. 1 Car Spotter and the Car Thieves (No.1 Car Spotter, #3) - Atinuke
The Firework-Maker's Daughter – Philip Pullman

Education

What Does This Look Like In The Classroom?: Bridging The Gap Between Research And Practice – Carl Hendrick & Robin Macpherson
100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom (100 Ideas for Teachers) – Tammie Prince
Making Every Primary Lesson Count: Six Principles to Support Great Teaching and Learning – Jo Payne & Mel Scott
Hopeful Schools – Mary Myatt

Non-Fiction

Land Rover: The Story of the Car that Conquered the World – Ben Fogle
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking – Susan Cain
The Empathy Instinct: How to Create a More Civil Society – Peter Bazalgette
True Friendship – Vaughan Roberts
The Joy of Service – Julian Hardyman
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
The Big Ego Trip – Glynn Harrison
Soldier Spy: The True Story of an Mi5 Office Risking His Life to Save Yours – Tom Marcus

Adult Fiction

Utopia – Thomas More
Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
Chocky – John Wyndham
Who Was Betty? – Laura Jukes
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Transreality – Chris Lackey
The Handmaid's Tale – Margaret Atwood
Towards the End of the Morning – Michael Frayn
The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Rivers of London (Peter Grant, #1) – Ben Aaronovitch
The Colour Of Magic (Discworld, #1) – Terry Pratchett

So with no challenge and a huge 'to read' pile (I received quite a few books at Christmas) I look forward to next year - what will I read? What will you read?

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Book Review: 'Urban Jungle' by Vicky Woodgate

Publishers Big Picture Press do not disappoint: they produce very big books full of wonderful pictures and this one by Vicky Woodgate is no exception. 'Urban Jungle' is an oversized non-fiction book which explores the fauna of the world's major cities.

Did you know that Spinybacked orbweavers can be found in Lima, Peru? Or that Milk sharks patrol the waters around Mumbai? Or that Vancouver is home to Bobcats, Coyotes, seals, bears, skunks, turtles and Rufous hummingbirds? With each turn of a page the reader encounters the surprising inhabitants of some of the world's busiest cities and surrounding urban areas. 

Each page begins with clear geographical summary of each city, a map of where in the country or continent it can be found and a plethora of stylistic animal illustrations. A particularly nice touch is the 'Animal Stories' box that can be found on each page where a particular animal is highlighted, sometimes with a funny story that made the news and often with tales of historical significance or surprising facts about the creatures.   

The book is split into sections based on continent and each part opens with a double page map - the book doesn't skimp the geography side of things. Urban Jungle definitely isn't just a book about animals; it's a brand new beast combining an Atlas with a natural history book, although it perhaps couldn't be used as either - it must be treated as something different.

With publishers pushing he boundaries of what non-fiction books look like this is an exciting time to be a child who loves to gather facts. With maps and animals being popular obsessions for primary aged children this book is sure to be a hit both at home and in the classroom and will hold up to repeat reads such is the wealth of information contained.

Book Review: 'The Elephant in the Room' by James Thorp and AngusMackinnon

This surprising and striking book appears to stand alone in today's picturebook market - there certainly aren't many books like it, illustrated in an psychedelic style reminiscent of The Beatle's Yellow Submarine film but with an even trippier colour pallete. This is a book which aesthetically stands out a mile and its eye catching design will draw children in, keen to know what this strange-looking book is all about.

Featuring a rhyming text (and a rather nice, but perhaps not always child-friendly Art Deco typeface) the story gets as bizarre as the illustrations themselves. But this bizarre story will be all too familiar to adults who, with a wry smile, will read this aloud to children and recognise the narrative: something gets broken and the culprit makes up all sorts of excuses in order to escape punishment. This story concludes however with a stronger moral message for adults as Father Giant realises that maybe he had been too busy and the accident had happened because he hadn't been with the children. It is certainly food for thought for the grown up who might be reading this to younger children.

However, subtext aside, children hearing the story and taking it face-value will laugh uproariously at its silliness and witty wordplay - lots of lovely alliteration and rhymes (rowdy cloudiness, yucky yakkiness) and made up words (squinching) will delight young minds ready to soak up new and imaginative language. They will identify with the protagonists and the feeling of guilt that comes with accidental misdemeanours and might even begin to question the folly of not telling the truth in such situations.

The Elephant in the Room, a title which bears multiple significance, is like one of those brilliant children's films which is clearly intended to entertain adults just as much as the kids. As C.S. Lewis said “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”. James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon have produced a good children's story. Highly recommended.

Book Review: 'Sky Song' by Abi Elphinstone

Once you've understood the particular brand of magic (which is not believed in even by many of the inhabitants of Abi Elphinstone's new fantasy world) you'll be taken on an adventure of discovery, unity and salvation. An evil queen is taking the voices of the icy land's adult subjects (literally in the story, but this metaphor would be exciting to explore with young readers) in order to gain immortality and Eska, although initially imprisoned, must do something about it.

Sky Song capers around the fringes of what has been termed Theological Fantasy with its undertone of the importance of belief, yet Elphinstone has no religious agenda to push. It plays with concepts from Greek and Roman mythology, traditional fairy tales and some more recent literary triumphs and blends them cohesively for a younger audience, than say, His Dark Materials was intended for. 

Whilst Erkenwald definitely feels like a realm that could be further explored, Eska and her eagle companion Balapan certainly give it a good initial once-over, encountering on the way, in the manner of all good expeditions, a number of problems which they must overcome, often with the help of Flint, his puppy pebble and his sister, Blu. The animal companions and the magic ways that some of the group's problems are solved definitely aim this book squarely at 8 to 10 year olds.

But this story, like all the best books, does more than just describe an adventure. It speaks of growing up and discovering one's own capabilities, facing adversity and the importance of companionship and collaboration. Sky Song is an important lesson in why tribalism, whilst comfortable, will not save the day - a political message that might give children a starting point to thinking about what their role on the world stage might be. Flint's character provides hope that people can change their ideological views in order to become more mindful of others. The character of his sister Blu, based on Elphinstone's own relative who has Down's Syndrome, is also a possible discussion starter for readers to explore and change their thoughts about those with genetic disorders and resulting learning difficulties.

Children who were a few years ago obsessed with Frozen, or those who have recently discovered and loved the more accessible parts of Narnia, or those looking to move on from reading short myths and fairy tales will find their perfect next book in Sky Song. Fans of Abi Elphinstone's Molly Pecksniff character will find another well-rounded female lead character to follow and be inspired by. With Sky Song, Abi Elphinstone invites her young readers into a new and exciting world which will not only thrill and entertain but might set children on the path to discover more of the brilliant fantasy fiction available for advancing readers.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Teaching Mathematical Problem Solving: What The Research Says


Recently the EEF published their guidance report for KS2 and KS 3 maths. It gives 8 recommendations for improving the teaching of mathematics:


In this blog post for Bradford Research School I focus in on problem solving but touch on the use of manipulatives, developing a network of mathematical knowledge and other areas of the guidance. In the article I outline a maths lesson which follows much of the advice given in the guidance (the cube trees at the centre of the lesson):

https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2017/12/20/teaching-mathematical-problem-solving-what-the-research-says/

Monday, 18 December 2017

On The @TES Blog: Idealistic Leaders vs. Realistic Teachers




"Teachers must…", "Teachers need to…", "Teachers should…"

These are potentially my most used phrases when writing articles on education. Occasionally other groups will be on the receiving end of my strongly worded ‘advice’, but usually it’s teachers because teaching is what I know.

Recently, I have been pulled up on my use of these phrases – turns out teachers don’t like being told what to do. Now there’s a surprise.

My sharing comes from a desire to help others, never from a position of wanting to overburden and bludgeon teachers who are already striving to do their best. But I can see how it comes across sometimes and it got me thinking...

Click here to read more over on the TES blog