ASLS Schools Conference, 1/10/16

A healthy number of SATE members and friends attended the annual Association for Scottish Literary Studies conference, a veteran highlight of the CPD calendar.  ASLS is a fantastic organisation that has for decades been highly influential in promoting Scottish writing, both in and outwith schools.  You can join the ASLS here:  ASLS .

An excellent day was had by all.  Here are some thoughts and reflections.

Kerri-Anne Campbell, SATE student member trick

It was a pleasure to be part of the annual ASLS School’s Conference on October 1st 2016. Writers of the past, present and future were celebrated. Engaging, passionate speakers offered fresh perspectives on classic and contemporary Scottish literature and provided insights into engaging young learners with such texts in the classroom.

It was an autumnal Saturday spent chatting to fellow student teachers and literature enthusiasts. Lots of useful resources were provided and lunch was pretty good too!

As a PGDE student from Northern Ireland, the discussion of the languages of Scotland was particularly interesting as it was something I knew very little about before moving to Glasgow.

I have realised that teaching Scottish literature to young learners is not necessarily a simple task. The conference introduced me to teaching challenging Scottish texts, from Walter Scott’s short stories to Janice Galloway’s novels including ‘The Trick is to Keep Breathing.’ Each of these texts present potential obstacles in their own way however, the conference has inspired me as an English teacher to embrace such challenges.

I left the ASLS conference with a greater understanding and appreciation of Scotland’s history and literary culture and a long list of new Scottish novels I can’t wait to start using in my classroom.

Jane Wilson, SATE Committee member

Our phones and PCs give us access to a wealth of resources and information on just about anything. As English teachers, we teach about bias and identifying quality sources. Even so, sorting through the chaff to access the kernels of useful information takes time.

For the second year running, I attended the ASLS Conference.  It is my annual shortcut to high quality understanding of Scottish texts. (Being Canadian, I was raised in a different literary landscape.) The opportunity to hear from curriculum experts on specific set texts gives you new insight. Whether you are staring at a text for the first or looking it over for the 1000th, hearing someone else’s considered perspective rends it fresh and relevant.

The internet also provides global access to information; the ASLS conference narrows the focus to Scottish. Scottish texts as understood by Scottish teachers of English. On the day we delved into the works of James Robertson, ‘Men Should Weep’, ‘The Trick is to keep Breathing’, a fabulous round up of Scottish fiction for the BGE, introducing Walter Scott to the BGE…. It was resource-tastic both inside and out. Free teaching resources, discounted Scot Notes, literary magazine, posters (SATE lapel badges!) and delicious scran. I came last year out of interest. I returned this year for the quality of content and resources.

Rowan Climie, English Teacher, Queen Margaret Academy, Ayr

This was the third year I have attended the ASLS School’s Conference and, again, it was both an enjoyable and thogideonmack2007ught-provoking experience.

As always, a wide variety of texts were considered, ranging from Walter Scott to Janice Galloway.  Each speaker conveyed their enthusiasm and passion clearly , delivering not only thorough and original papers on their chosen text but also addressing how these texts can be used successfully within the context of the classroom.  Dr. Gillian Sargent discussed the challenges of teaching Galloway’s text and offered practical advice on how these can be overcome and   Alison Lumsden explored ways  in which Scott’s texts can be used as a stimulus for a range of creative writing activities.

In addition to the excellent speakers, we were treated to a celebration of work from writers of the future as the presentations were made for the Young Writer’s Award.

Overall, a great event which provided  both practical advice and aimed to excite the our enthusiasm for the wealth of Scottish literature available to us and our pupils.

Colin Bain, English Teacher, Ellon Academy, Aberdeenshire

Having been teaching for three years, I have come to realise how important it is to share and receive the expertise of others to continue to grow and develop practice as a teacher.  The ASLS School’s Conference on October 1st came highly recommended to me, and did not disappoint.  This conference provided an entertaining and insightful look into important works of Scottish Literature and, more importantly, brought life to the teaching of these texts.

A rich mix of material was provided, addressing the need for clear and strong material and approaches for both National 5 and Higher.  ‘The Testament of Gideon Mack’, ‘The Trick is to Keep Breathing’, and ‘Men Should Weep’ were all explored in a way that showed an understanding that whilst exams are an important part of the process and progress of a student’s learning, they are not the sole reason for which these texts were created.  I certainly wish to (re)read these without my teacher hat on.

The richness of the Scots language, and the power that it has in the classroom was made clear, and the use of well chosen literature can really inspire and engage pupils.  A portion of the day was given over to the Dictionary of the Scots Language, and their endless work documenting and formalising the state of our language was inspiring.  Also, a great look into the up-and-coming work being published right now, including a power of work on Scottish Graphic Novels and Picture Books.

As I sat on the train on the way back to Aberdeen, bag filled with new resources and books (I’m a sucker for a book stall) I found myself inspired.  I know a little bit more than I did before, some of it about the ‘old stuff’, and some of it about the ‘new’. Here’s tae ye, ASLS, for the conference – hopefully get the chance to attend in the future. See ye after.




Decluttering assessment

Nuala Clark writes ‘News from Scotland’ for Teaching English, NATE’s quarterly magazine.

swinneyJohn Swinney MSP, Education Secretary, has pledged to ‘declutter’ the senior phase of the Scottish education system by scrapping the prescribed internal assessments in National 5 and Higher. The news came during Swinney’s keynote speech at the annual Scottish Learning Festival.

Teacher-marked assessments have been an important part of National 5 and Higher qualifications, and, as NATE has always argued, they can play an important role in developing students’ ability to respond reflectively and creatively in extended writing. However, these assessments add to the already heavy workload burden of the Scottish English teacher. The bureaucracy involved is significant and has added to the stress put upon teachers and pupils alike.

Teaching unions in Scotland have been working on the issue of workload for teachers. EIS members began a work to rule in May this year and the SSTA have been balloting their members to take action short of strike action. It is still unclear what impact these changes will have on individual subjects, and – at time of writing – union action remains as it were.

Swinney says the changes will have a positive effect on teachers and on pupils; ‘young people will not be carrying as much pressure as they have been carrying in the past. This will assist young people in concentrating on the achievement of their learning, rather than the assessment of their progress.’

The proposed changes involve scrapping the cumbersome internal assessments and providing a strengthened final exam for pupils. Important coursework will be adapted and will be externally assessed, freeing up classroom teachers. Clarification as to what this means and will look like are to follow. The Education Secretary stated, “I now intend to take the proposals to the Curriculum for Excellence management board as the appropriate body to discuss the details and agree their implementation.” After the proposed changes are in place, pupils will still be in a position to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding out with the exam hall and the pressures which come with that.

The first changes will come to National 5 in the 2017/18 session, with the changes to coming to Higher the year after.  A spokesperson for the EIS said that they see these changes as, ‘a way forward and clearly we welcome the agreement which has now been reached.’

However, the proposed changes could be viewed as a political ‘quick fix’, which speak to the recent pressures from teaching unions, and, although well-intentioned, may leave gaps in the curriculum.


Nuala Clark is SATE’s Local Authority coordinator for Glasgow.  Views expressed are her own.

SATE Seminar: Teaching the Holocaust through literature, 21/9/16

Some English teachers reflect on the SATE seminar, delivered by Tom Jackson of the Holocaust Education Trust.

het1Gareth Webb, SATE student member

I was expecting the Holocaust (or Shoah as I learned is the preferred name by many in the Jewish community) seminar to inform me and guide me on how best to teach the topic in the English classroom. This was achieved without doubt, but the level at which I was challenged emotionally and professionally was not so expected.

I took from the seminar that Shoah education is a responsibility that I as a teacher should be accepting and carefully planning to ensure that my students are being properly informed and educated, and that I am treating the topic with the respect and enormity that it deserves (although this will always fall short).

It became clear to me that there is no one experience of the Shoah that can be shared in the classroom. The possible texts that I may use in the future cannot be conveniently bundled and packaged to convey one message. Each piece of writing, whoever it may have be written by, needs to be treated as that individual’s personal experience. I must, as a teacher, not refer to the victims as a homogeneous group but open up channels of communication for each voice to be heard to help construct a bigger picture of what happened. The Nazis used dehumanisation to achieve their goals, and Shoah education must always focus on the human so as not to perpetuate the tactics used to commit these crimes.

I was also personally challenged by how to approach texts, especially written by those who were murdered. On the one hand, what right do I have to pick apart the expression and final testament of someone who suffered such brutality like I would any other text? On the other hand, what right do I have to deny the writer equality of reception that I would afford to other writers?

What stuck with me most is that Shoah education, perhaps more than any other ‘topic’, needs to be constantly reviewed and refreshed by me on a personal level. Understanding the Shoah through literature is definitely a journey without an end and whilst being complacent about any aspect of education is wrong, there is absolutely no room or excuse for it when it comes to Shoah education.

Sally Law, Principal Teacher of English, Marr College, Troon.

The recent SATE seminar ‘Teaching the Holocaust through Literature’ was thought-provoking and certainly sparked a number of ideas of how to introduce and tackle this complex and harrowing topic to young people. I was particularly interested in the idea of using a range of poetry, personal accounts and experiences (in the form of letter and journal) to allow learners to explore and better understand the impact of the Holocaust on the individual. Now more aware of the variety of literature and resources to draw on, I can confidently say that I won’t again be using the novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in any context in my classroom. Tom Jackson made clear the failings of this text if it is used as a tool to ‘teach’ the Holocaust and I’m embarrassed to say that they are things I hadn’t considered even although they are patently obvious now they have been pointed out. I only taught it once before it was consigned to the book cupboard but that was on account of protagonist Bruno being woefully naïve and irritating. What I hadn’t considered were the implications of engendering feelings of sympathy for the perpetrators and the blatant distortion of reality most obviously, a child being housed next to one of the death camps. While I don’t think it is wrong to explore and consider different perspectives, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas presents an over-simplified version which suggests no-one really knew what was happening in Germany. With the Nuremburg Laws introduced in 1935 and anti-Semitism dating back two millennia it is improbable that anyone, including children, could have been so ignorant.

Susan Brownlie, English Teacher and SATE Local Coordinator (South Lanarkshire)

Having used Holocaust-related texts with pupils in the past and with an ongoing interest since my early teens in how the subject is explored in children’s and young adult fiction, I was very keen for this seminar to take place. Prior to it, I confess to having felt a sense of unease in the classroom, sometimes unsure how detailed to go with context, gauging how much or how little pupils already knew from elsewhere and occasionally challenging the view that they’d already been ‘taught it’. In the seminar, both the content of Tom’s presentation and his delivery challenged a lot of what I thought I knew about the Holocaust, both personally and professionally. Tom provided me with an opportunity to look closely at what I’d come to believe was true. As a classroom practitioner, a strong desire for a shared understanding and the importance of acknowledging and remembering, had led me perhaps to not interrogate texts in the way that Tom explained is absolutely necessary. So much of the seminar’s content can and should be shared by participants with other English colleagues and those in both History and RME. This cross curricular approach is incredibly important. As a result of the seminar, and the excellent materials published by the Holocaust Educational Trust, I feel I can now make much better use of existing texts, whilst also introducing new ones suggested by Tom.

Raymond Soltysek, Nationahet2l Coordinator of SATE

This was an enlightening, humbling, difficult experience for me.  Tom’s faithfulness to historical accuracy had me physically flinching when he said that no extermination camps existed in Poland during the war because Poland didn’t exist during the war.  And yet, I know that many of my relatives, my Polish blood kin, would have been living in that place in that time, working and playing, loving and laughing in the shadow of the camps.  Were they aware?  How did they feel?  Could they even have been, perhaps through inaction, complicit in some way in that awful, awful crime?

The Holocaust has always loomed behind me because of the questions I can never ask, and what Tom taught me was that we have to be utterly truthful about it.  There are no other topics we teach in English where the accuracy of the context is so important – the poetry of the First World War is perhaps the only one that comes close – and so we have to be extra vigilant, extra sensitive, to ensure that we honour those who suffered as best we can. I’d like to thank him for making me so aware of that.