Language and Literacy

Michelle’s input on language was very engaging and led to me reflecting on my own experiences of learning English. I expect most native speakers like me take this ability for granted, and because the initial processes began so early in life I can’t really remember the actual process. I was also quite literate before attending primary school so have always felt very confident in using language. This instinctive or at least early development of the understanding of how to communicate is marvellous in and of itself, but does not help me analyse the process in terms of teaching it to others. On reflection one of the key aspects is repetition, or practice, along with immersion in real world use of language and exposure to vocabulary, initially with parents/care givers and then broadening out from there.

With reference to children achieving second level outcomes, I would be hoping to observe engagement and confidence in using language, and the ability to summarise, discern between facts and opinion and to explain the purpose of an instance of communication. Bloom’s Taxonomy (represented graphically below) suggests the kind of language to use when assessing learners’ stages.


Another method might be to use ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ tasks, which give teachers an insight into learners’ stages and give their pupils an opportunity for self-assessment, reflection and benchmarking.

As literacy underpins attainment in all other aspects of the curriculum, and therefore one’s role in society, I am a keen exponent and practice what I preach. I read a great deal from a wide variety of sources, both professionally and for pleasure. This is a habit which both my own young children have adopted by osmosis and one which I hope to pass on to young learners in my charge. For if young people can express themselves, communicate and comprehend effectively, then there is no limit to their potential.

Makin’ Movies

My first ICT workshop involved group work using the Zu3D software to create simple stop motion animations such as the one below.

This abstract piece set to Bernstein’s Mambo allowed us to play with the software and hardware to get a feel for the piece and imagine what it would be like from a learner’s perspective. Although we were able to create a satisfying result in under an hour, I still felt the whole experience was very rushed. I would imagine in the classroom, this is something that would need to built up to over time i.e. becoming familiar with the music, learning about the geometric shapes, investigating other animated features etc etc with the animation short forming the quantifiable result of a block of work.

Our second input saw us endeavour to portray a narrative with a ‘claymation’ approach building on our experiences with the Zu3D setup from the previous workshop. I can see how, like in the other Workshops, the scope of the outcomes for learners can be very broad. For example, we were developing not only our ability to engage with and evaluate technology, but also group working, story telling, using our imaginations and fine motor skills and so on. This involved cross-curricular skills such as planning and organising, utilising materials and tools and developing design skills.

Although the end result is terrific and I really enjoyed the Workshop, I still have reservations about using this exact lesson with primary classes. Using my own ability to critically analyse the technology I think there are far too many variables (ageing machines, usb drivers, fragile hardware, updates, glitches etc etc) which might make this unwieldy for a whole class to undertake at once. Perhaps this might be better suited to a lunchtime ‘Animation Club’ or similar with a dedicated workspace and perhaps 6 learners at a time. That said,  it was a fascinating session which illustrated very well how simply a fairly professional-looking little movie can be put together :oD.

Steppin’ Up!

Despite having no formal training in dance, I have been known to bust some serious moves from time to time on the dancefloor. Until this semester, I hadn’t considered the role of dance within the curriculum, but was pleasantly surprised by how straightforward it will be to integrate it into my practice.

My own experience of dance at Primary School was only really the dreaded annual Scottish Country Dancing session, where not only did one have to keep one’s school uniform on rather than gym kit, but one also had to HOLD HANDS with a GIRL! The arbitrary gender division and partnering was the source of acute embarrassment for some and just getting in the way of what could have potentially been a fantastic game of netball/dodgeball/tig instead for others. The rigidness and tartan-and-shortbread Scottishness of it all did not sit well with me back then (and still doesn’t) and that was pretty much it for me and formal dancing. Until now.

The contrast between what I learnt from Eilidh and what I learnt at school could not have been starker. By that I mean dance is now framed (I believe correctly) as a creative, expressive art, almost the exact opposite of the thinly veiled military drills we learnt as “dance”.

One of the main things I will take from the lesson is the ability for dance to help transcend difficulties with literacy and numeracy; learners who may struggle to express themselves on paper may find that dance will help engage them. The second thing was that very little resources are required –  one does not require special equipment or even necessarily a beat to be able to teach and enjoy dance. And finally I am very pleasantly surprised that individuality and creativity are now encouraged and fully supported by the Curriculum for Excellence.


Legacy of Empire: Racism and Misogyny

I found the issues explored this week were very closely aligned to my own passionate belief in equality and fairness. It is also very interesting to me personally as a mature student to note that that concepts around equality and fairness were regarded as in some way subversive or counter-cultural when I was growing up: “Gay” was a pejorative term, people of colour were routinely referred to in what would now be considered obscene language in polite company, and so on. Standard child rearing practice involved the constant threat of violence and use of one’s dialect was a punishable offence in school.

It may sound like I grew up in the Victorian era, but I am only 36 years old. I point this out only to reflect on how incredibly far we as a society have come in such a short space of time – it genuinely fills my heart with joy and hope for the future when I find what were somehow marginal concepts becoming accepted by the mainstream. The younger students in our year have grown up against a pluralist background where cultural/gender/ecological diversity is the norm, thanks in part to digital technology, and I believe it is beholden upon us all to not take this for granted and continue to strive for democracy and social justice.

I have always found that discrimination was basically about maintaining a social order which protected vested interests which were, to quote Diane Abbott, “male, pale and stale”. I felt growing up that I had very little franchise in this social order and quickly adopted counter cultural role models. I present here a VERY short list of some bands, movies etc that had a huge influence on my worldview not to show off my exquisite taste (!) but in the hopes that someone else may find these things interesting/inspirational. Oh, and remember, there was no google back then so these things were arrived at through scrutinising liner notes and books and speaking to actual people!

Riot Grrrl Feminist punk culture – Bikini Kill, Le Tigre etc

Straightedge/skate punk culture – Fugazi – amazing DIY anti corporate band, DOA “Guilty of Being White”, Dead Kennedys “Nazi Punks F*ck Off” etc etc

Spike Lee movies Bamboozled etc

Ghost World – comic book and movie

Public Enemy, Fishbone, Living Colour, Rage Against The Machine, Beastie Boys – amazing rockin’ bands full of social commentary and good people who practice what they preach

John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus – jazz pioneers and 2nd wave black intellectuals – as Derek pointed out don’t fear the Jazz!! – it “is America’s one true original art form”

Blues players Robert Johnson, Leadbelly etc

And, just to drop in something remotely up to date, watch the stunning Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale, or go one better and read Margaret Atwood’s book!

As we seem to be heading in to some pretty dubious territory politically with the rise of the right and various populist movements I believe there is no room for complacency and it is our duty as teachers to nurture and promote these values and defend our hard-won freedoms. 😃


Social (In)Justice in the classroom!

On reflection, I really enjoyed group 4’s Seminar with Gillian last Tuesday. I’m not sure I was enjoying it at the time though as I was in one of the under-resourced groups!!

The whole session was designed to subtly explore ideas around structural inequalities  and social justice which I felt it did extremely well. The lesson’s structure featured an element of misdirection where we were asked to focus on a creative task, but this element was altogether secondary to the ‘big reveal’ of the disparities in our resources and treatment. It was around 3/4 of the way through before the penny dropped for me…🙄

It was not only a great lesson in classroom management (ie don’t just focus on one subset/demographic as a teacher) but also elementary to extrapolate to a societal and global level. These ideas are also cast very movingly and unflinchingly in the Humans video from Week 2’s Learning Materials.

Being from a poorer (albeit Western) background myself this is a subject very close to my heart. Without wishing to labour the point, it has taken me 20 years longer to get to University than many of my classmates, largely because I started from a less privileged position. It still surprises me how some better off people can struggle to imagine and empathize with this fact.

Anyway, here’s a good video that explains that differential more succinctly and less personally/ranty than I can. 😄


Every Day’s A School Day…

…and this has been especially true of the last couple of weeks! As a (numerically) mature student  with no prior experience or family history of University life a new world has been revealed to me. Throughout my life I have worked in a variety of jobs, most recently 16 years as an outdoor educator.

My own experiences at school were a mixed bag. I’m not sure the teachers knew what to do with me. I was a disruptive wee schemie who in a prior generation would have been considered factory fodder. I was academically quite bright and achieved a decent fistful of Highers. In my youthful naivete I assumed this meant I could pursue my ambition of becoming a writer like Conan Doyle or Orwell, taking attic lodgings in Paris or Cambridge, living out my days pontificating and smoking a pipe whilst a nice old lady brought me cups of tea. Nae luck. Turns out that, if anything, I might get to make the tea.

My parents did not understand the concept or intricacies of Further Education (still don’t, bless ’em) and so I left home as I turned 17 and struck out on my own. The inequalities in our society were starkly apparent to me then and an instinctive sense of social justice developed. Various pop culture and political figures became my role models as I tried to lead a worthwhile, compassionate life. This fed my interest in the environmental movement and issues around sustainability, setting me on a course to becoming a Countryside Ranger which has been an enormously fulfilling career. I have been lucky enough to work with a vast range of people from all walks of life and from all over the world who have influenced me in a great many ways. I also discovered that I possess the qualities of a good leader and have the potential to be a great teacher.

Sadly, I don’t have any tales of inspirational teachers who prompted an epiphany regarding my life’s work; rather each day and every experience has incrementally made me the person I am. Observation of and reflecting on my experiences and the examples of behaviour and lifestyle of people I have encountered along the way have helped me reach this point where I can say that I am worthwhile. I have something constructive to offer. I am as good as anyone else and hope that I can set a positive example for and inspire young people to strive to reach their full potential and lead a happy life. :oD

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Teacher, Lorraine Lapthorne conducts her class in the Grade Two room at the Drouin State School, Drouin, Victoria

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