All posts by R. Soltysek

I joined the University of Strathclyde in June 2001. I hold an M.A. (Hons.) in English Literature and Philosophy and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Management Studies, both from Glasgow University. I taught in secondary schools from 1982, including as Principal Teacher of English in three schools, and in Senior Management. I joined the University of Strathclyde in June 2001, where I work in Initial Teacher Education. I have a wide and varied interests, including creativity and creative writing , behaviour management and early career development. I am also a widely published writer, and have a BAFTA award, a Robert Louis Stevenson Award, a Scottish Arts Council Writers’ Bursary and a Saltire nomination. I have collaborated extensively with BBC Education, and my work on promoting creative and persuasive writing has been published online by Education Scotland to support the delivery of new national qualifications.

We’re Moving!

 

 

The SATE blog will be moving from July 1st 2017 from GLOW to it’s own WordPress site.  You can find us here, where our first posts reflect on the fantastic NATE 2017 conference.

 

https://sate.blog/

 

Most of the posts here will be migrated over the next few weeks to the new blog, so you will never lose your favourite entries.

Get Write In!

 

SATE supports the new Get Write In! writing competition run by CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland, based at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.  A competition designed to offer looked after children and young people in Scotland an opportunity to have their voices heard, the judging panel is chaired by SATE National Coordinator Raymond Soltysek, and is honoured to have Scots Makar Jackie Kay on the team. You can read more about the competition and how to enter here:

https://www.celcis.org/news/campaigns/get-write/

Jackie kindly wrote a poem for the competition, which you can read here:

https://www.celcis.org/files/5314/9063/1345/CARE_LEAVER_POEM_-_JACKIE_KAY.pdf

Raymond wrote a blog on his experience of being a teacher who writes and a teacher who teaches writing, published on the CELCIS site.  He says:

‘I have been a teacher for far too long, but that’s what happens when you find yourself doing a job you love.  Most teachers will tell you that working with young people is a privilege and a joy, and I’d certainly agree with them on that. And what pleases me most about being a teacher who writes and a teacher who teaches writing is the passion and ability young people have to express themselves, especially when they don’t know it. 

I remember many years ago doing a workshop on personal writing with some Northern Irish children who were charming, witty and bright, but who lacked confidence in their own ability and were reticent to share.  We did an exercise which involved writing a short poem with the title ‘My Father Always…’, and, as I do, I wrote with them so that they could see the struggles I had too, and could see the way I manipulated my ideas and my words to shape something that made some semblance of sense.

‘So tell me how you’ve done,’ I said, after they had shared ideas with their partners.  Ciaran put up his hand:  ‘Sir!  Sir!’ he said, having forgotten that they could call me Raymond because I was just a writer, not a teacher, ‘Rosie’s is really good, Sir!’

But Rosie wasn’t to be convinced.  Bashful, she hid her work underneath her desk and wouldn’t be persuaded to share it.  ‘It’s never as good as yours,’ she said. Of course,  I left her to it, and other more forceful personalities had their say, and every one pf them was fantastic.

She handed in her work, and it was, just as it stood, publishable in just about any poetry anthology I have ever bought, and far, far outshone my meagre attempt.  She explored her family situation, her parents’ divorce, and how her father never stayed long enough whenever he visited, and how bereft she felt when he left after a fifteen minute visit on her birthday.  I wrote to her, told her how precious her poem was, and I was told that both she and both her parents glowed with pride when it won a local competition.

As a teacher, I love it when young people do better than me; that’s what we should strive for, to see our pupils outshine and outstrip our achievements.  And as a writer, what is even more important is to see them work, manage, manipulate and control their lives though words, to forge some understanding out of their sometimes beautiful, chaotic, uplifting, troubling lives.  For me – and I have personal experience of this – writing’s greatest gift is to give us power over forces which sometimes seem to swamp us; rather than be overwhelmed by emotion, good or bad, we instead mine it for precious raw resources, and use them to shape our existence into something crafted and meaningful and  shining.

And that is, for me, what competitions like this are really about.’

Please promote Get Write In! as much as you can.  If you have looked after children or young people in your school or community, encourage them to enter: the prizes are fabulous and it might be their first step to fame!

SQA updates Scottish Texts List for National 5 and Higher English

Katie Lane reports on the SQA updates for Teaching English, NATE’s classroom practice magazine.  You can read Teaching English by joining NATE, which gives full access to the magazine and its companion research journal, English in Education, as well as a huge array of other resources.  Find out more at https://www.nate.org.uk/ .

The Scottish Qualifications Agency (SQA) has published an update of the Scottish Text List for National 5 and Higher English (roughly equivalent to GCSE and A Level in the rest of the UK.) All students on  both courses must study at least one of these texts during the course, and questions on this text make up20% of their overall final mark.  Following the revision of National and Higher courses in 2013,   Scottish Set Texts became a compulsory part of the Critical Reading component of the exam. A consultation took place in order to determine what should go on the list, and it was decided to refresh the list every three years. Some texts are set for National 5, some for Higher, and some as ‘crossover’ texts for both.

 

Following a consultation on the review of the list, there are few changes. The novels Kidnapped and The Trick is to Keep Breathing have been removed and replaced by Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as an additional crossover text. The number of short stories to be studied, if chosen, has been reduced to four. In addition, two poems in each set of six has been changed.  To allow teachers time to prepare these changes will take place in the academic year 2018/2019. More information can be found at: www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/45672.html.

 

The updated list for National 5 contains plays by Rona Munro, Alan Spence, Ann Marie di Mambro,  short stories by Anne Donovan, the novel The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson, and poems by Edwin Morgan and Jackie Kay.  The updated list for Higher contains plays by John McGrath, Ena Lamont Stewart and John Byrne, short stories by George Mackay Brown, the novel Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and poems by Sorley Maclean, Don Paterson, Liz Lochhead and Robert Burns. Crossover texts, available for both National 5 and Higher, are short stories by Iain Crichton Smith, the novels The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, and poems by Carol Ann Duffy and Norman MacCaig.

 

The structure of Scottish English courses at National 5 and Higher level is significantly different from equivalents in England and the rest of the UK. For both exams, students study a combined language and literature course. In the Critical Reading component of the course, students must answer on one Scottish literary set text, but otherwise teachers have a free choice of English literary texts to teach, and these can include not only prose fiction, poetry and drama, but also prose non-fiction, and film and television drama. Alternatively, students can choose to answer a language question. The questions are generic questions about the genre chosen. Not every text that is studied on the course is assessed in the examination.

 

Katie Lane is a Teacher of English at St Margaret’s High School in Airdrie, and is SATE Local Coordinator for North Lanarkshire.

‘Lysander, gonnae decide who yer lassie is?’: Utilising Learners’ Own Language for the Teaching of Shakespeare

Amy Douglas, a teacher of English at Tynecastle High School, writes about a project she undertook while a student at All Saint’s Secondary for Teaching English, NATE’s classroom practice magazine.  You can read Teaching English by joining NATE, which gives full access to the magazine and its companion research journal, English in Education, as well as a huge array of other resources.  Find out more at https://www.nate.org.uk/ .

 

During my third placement as a student English teacher, I took over teaching a top-set first year class who were halfway through studying Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The class (and their fantastic class teacher from whom I learnt a great deal) impressed me with how well they coped with studying the play at a relatively fast pace. However, my impression was that the play’s unfamiliar Shakespearean language had the pupils focussing all their efforts on following the plot. With a great deal of support from their class teacher, I agreed that I would spend the short time I had with the class on a ‘fun’ activity adapting the Act 3, Scene 2 fight between the four lovers, hoping that this would foster some appreciation for the play’s drama and comedy.  I encouraged the class to create dramatic adaptations of the dialogue in language more natural to them, placing particular emphasis on the Scots language that many of the learners brought to the classroom.

It was my hope that they would take from this series of lessons: enjoyment of the comedy of the fight scene; greater confidence when approaching and discussing Shakespearean language; and a deeper understanding of the heritage and value of Scots language.

Why Scots?

The Scottish Government has directed teachers delivering Broad General Education to ‘build upon the diversity of language represented within the communities of Scotland’ (Scottish Government).

However, placing value on the language that learners bring to school is not merely a curricular necessity, but a pre-requisite when learners are to be encouraged to react to literature critically. Paulo Freire has criticised the ‘banking’ model of education as one in which ‘knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing’. It is right that the Scots language that pupils bring to the classroom be recognised not as something to be corrected, but as a specific and valuable resource. The requirement for the protection of Scots language is currently safeguarded by the European Parliament, which recognises Scots as one of the minority languages of the UK alongside Manx Gaelic, Gaelic and Cornish. Amid current political uncertainty over Scotland’s continuing EU status, I would argue that there is an increased need for Scotland’s teachers to utilise their unique position to ensure that Scots language remains respected and defended

Unfortunately this has not been the historical experience in Scotland’s classrooms: as ‘English was legitimated as the language of education’ (Shoba), Scots was effectively devalued as a language not worth learning in or about. ‘Scots and English have therefore not developed on any basis of sociolinguistic equality’ (Shoba). The ‘correct’ spoken language that the teacher brought to the classroom was the only valued – or even permitted – form of communication, and any input from a learner given in Scots dialect was dismissed, their classroom voice devalued.

When looking at these damaging attitudes, implications for the socio-economic attainment gap that remains a significant problem for young people in Scotland’s schools (Ellis & Sosu) cannot be ignored.  A 2010 Scottish Government survey confirmed that the proportion of those living in Scotland who identify as using Scots language specifically as part of their spoken language is highest in lower socio-economic groups, with 87% of those in the lowest-earning quarter of the survey’s participants claiming to speak some amount of Scots. Given the academic evidence that pupils who do not primarily speak in standard English tend to perform more poorly that their peers (Strachan), it is fair to assume that dismissal of Scots-language voices in the classroom may be particularly damaging to learners from lower income backgrounds.

The Lessons

I initiated discussion of the Scots language by projecting a selection of Scots words onto the board. These words ranged from those I knew would be familiar to all the learners in the class (such as wee or aye) to slightly more obscure examples (such as oxter, glaikit or dreich). I asked the learners to work cooperatively in pairs to find how many of the words they knew the meaning of, and how many more they could add to the selection. This initial task elicited an enthusiastic response, and highlighted the Scots language knowledge the pupils already possessed.

The class then moved on to view Education Scotland’s video on the history of Scots language from the Middle Ages to the present. I feel this video demonstrates convincingly that Scots developed not as a corrupted form of English, but a language with its own unique history, grammar rules and literature. I asked learners to, following our discussion of their opinions towards Scots words, take note of any information in the video that surprised them. Discussion centred around surprise at the age of the Scots language (with some learners previously holding the misconception that it was modern phenomenon growing out of Standard English) and shock that modern Scots had developed from a language respected enough to be used by kings, queens and courts – a telling sign of the sense of inferiority that pervades attitudes towards Scots (Stobo; McPake & Arthur).

For the translation task itself, I divided the lovers’ fight into six different extracts of around fifty lines each, and added word-banks with translations of the more obscure vocabulary and phrases. Groups then worked cooperatively (over the course of four 37.5 minute lessons), first to establish and discuss Shakespeare’s original meaning, then to write and perform their own adaptation in language more familiar to them.

Outcome on Pupil Learning

Perhaps the least successfully realised learning intention was the existence of Scots as an independent language. This was to some extent attributable to the fact that I did not insist on strict Scots translations. I made this decision partially to avoid spending too much class time on defining what words can and cannot be counted as Scots, and also for fear of excluding ESOL pupils in the class for whom much of Scots may be somewhat alien. The intention was to move Shakespeare into a more familiar space for each learner. Whilst most groups wrote scripts making significant use of Scots, a few translated their extracts into general colloquial dialect. Were I to teach this series of lessons again, I would allow online access to Scots language resources, such as the ‘Dictionar o the Scots Leid’, to add legitimacy to words pupils were sometimes uncertain to use in their adaptations, and indeed to the existence of Scots as a language in its own right.

I was more satisfied that my intention that the class gain greater appreciation for the comedy of the play was met. I believe this came from allowing learners to utilise the language they would naturally use to write jokes, as well as the task itself heightening awareness of the role performance plays in comedy. Both these factors were apparent in one group’s decision to add their own stage direction for Lysander to make a ‘boaking action’ (Scots for vomiting) at the sight of poor Hermia.

Overall I felt the most positive outcome of the lessons was significant improvement in the learners’ confidence and ability to understand and adapt Shakespeare’s language. The group tackling Helena’s speech, for example, were faced with a significant length of challenging Shakespearean dialogue:

‘Our friendship in our schooldays, our childhood innocence? We used to sit together and sew one flower with our two needles, sewing it on one piece of cloth, sitting on the same cushion, singing one song in the same key, as if our hands, our sides, our voices and our minds were stuck together. We grew together like twin cherries—which seemed to be separate but were also together—two lovely cherries on one stem.’

The group, with very limited teacher input, worked cooperatively to create an impressive adaptation:

‘We were such good friends in Primary we even went on that double date to Burger King. Then one thing led to another and we were leaving High School. We’ve been so close like two peas in a pod and now we’ve fallen out over stupid boys. Or like two Irn Bru cans in a pack. But now the packs been opened.’

I was struck by the sophisticated level of understanding here: demonstrating comprehension of the playwright’s choice of activities as a portrayal of two young girls growing up together and relating it in a comical way to contemporary experiences of young female friendship; furthermore it recognises and shows command of literary techniques, with their funny and astute re-imagining of the ‘twin cherries’ simile. The effects of this agency the students had gained over the play were notable in subsequent lessons – class discussion improved in quality, with a particularly interesting conversation on whether or not the pupils felt sympathy for the lovers clearly influenced by their impressive understanding of Act 3, Scene 2. I believe by engaging with and ascribing value to the learners’ own linguistic and emotional experiences, they were empowered to enjoy and find humour in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

World Book Day: Celebrations Across The School

Lewis James McPartlin, an S1 pupil at St Andrews’ and St Bride’s High School in East Kilbride, reflects on how his school celebrated World Book Day this year.

St Andrew’s and St Bride’s S1 choose David Walliams in 2017 survey

Every year, St Andrew’s and St Bride’s High School conducts a survey to find the most admired children’s author in S1.  In 2017 the favourites were: in 3rd place, ‘Harry Potter’ author JK Rowling; in 2nd place, creative genius Roald Dahl; and in 1st place, funny man David Walliams.

The winners were decided by a popular vote that all first year pupils took part in by writing down their current favourite three authors. These three acclaimed writers have remained strong favourites throughout the years, as shown in previous survey results.

The full results revealed that there was a wide variety of genres voted for, including horror, fantasy, real life, humour, mystery, adventure and dystopian fiction. Overall, there were over 50 authors mentioned.  Last year’s favourite author, Jeff Kinney, has quite obviously fallen out of favour with first year pupils, as he has dropped down to 5th place.  Suzanne Collins, famous for ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy, has been knocked off the leader board completely by James Dashner, dystopian creator of ‘The Maze Runner’ series.  Teachers were pleased to see names such as John Green (‘The Fault in Our Stars’), Charlie Higson (‘Young Bond’ series and ‘The Enemy’ series) and Michael Grant (‘Gone’ series) appear as their books are aimed at older readers.  Authors such as Lemony Snicket and Charles Dickens have appeared to resurface in popularity, perhaps because their famed books have recently been produced into both movies and a television series (‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’); the same is implied with the ‘Maze Runner’ books. This suggests that perhaps watching film adaptations inspires children to go and read the original story. Speaking to teachers, they are happy with this tactic, as long as it gets kids reading!

Reading is important as it helps build your vocabulary, become more intelligent and perceptive of the world around you.  It develops and unlocks a more diverse world of imagination, and encourages others to write about themselves. Professor Ellis, from the University of Strathclyde, believes that ‘reading shapes the sort of society we live in.’ She also believes it’s ‘fundamental for employability in nearly all sectors of the modern job market.’ Reading is in no way exclusive to English as a subject; it branches out to every aspect of our lives. As Professor Ellis clearly states, it is vital to society and our lives: there will never be a time when reading is not a useful skill to have.

Mrs Lyon, Principal Teacher of English: ‘It comes as no surprise that our pupils love the work of Rowling, Dahl and Walliams. We see them reading these books with voracious appetites. Such a wide range of authors on the list reflects growing interest and engagement with reading across year groups. Long may it continue!’

Mrs Mullen, Headteacher, agrees stating that: “seeing that so many of our pupils are engaging with and enjoying reading is tremendous.  Reading expands our vocabulary and improves our spelling and writing skills, it helps to enhance     our thinking and analytical skills increasing our general knowledge and understanding of the world around us.    It also helps to improve our focus, concentration and memory skills but most of all allows us to take some time for ourselves.  Reading is a great stress buster and there’s nothing better than taking time to ‘lose ourselves’ in a good book.  World Book Day helps us to highlight these benefits and gives us the chance to enjoy and celebrate our favourite books and authors.”

Events across the school marked World Book Day, from a whole period of ‘Drop Everything and Read’ for S1 – S3, to a special one-off menu provided by the catering team with literary references (Wonka’s Flappy Jacky Chocolate Madness, anyone?), and a scavenger hunt created by the school librarian. Drama also marked the celebrations with a special performance.

Twitter: @SASB_EnglishTop Tips for Parents to Help Your Child to Read

  1. Be a reader yourself and model reading in front of your child. It can be anything – newspapers, novels and (most) magazines. Children learn by example, so set a good one!
  2. Talk to your child about their reading. Ask questions about what’s happening in their stories, which characters they like and dislike, and what’s going to happen next. The possibilities are endless!
  3. Make your home a book-friendly environment. Make books as easily accessible for your child as possible. Make use of East Kilbride’s excellent libraries and book shop by signing your child up for a library card or taking them to speak to booksellers.
  4. Create a reading habit. Aim for a few nights a week where reading is the only activity allowed for half an hour. Put those tablets, consoles and smartphones away! Persist through any initial resistance: it will be worth it in the end!
  5. Browse for books that meet the passions of your child and let them choose. For every interest, there are at least a dozen books. Young Adult fiction is the most exciting it has ever been so get in there and experiment with as many genres as possible. All it takes is one book to spark a love of reading that will last a lifetime.
  6. Rewards can work well, especially in the short run. Setting up a system in your house that awards points or prizes for reading can be the kick-start that makes your child pick up a Penguin… Classic.

Yaisin Scots in the English Classroom

Laura Green is ain  English teacher an Scots Language Enthusiast workin fir West Lothian Cooncil. Ye can fun oot mair aboot her @fairpechtoot . Aw views are hur ain.

 

When Ah went fir the interview fir ma PGCE qualification at Strathclyde University, we hud tae gie a presentation. Ah decidit that Ah wid speak aboot something close ta ma ain hert – yaisin Scots the English classroom.

Ah mind talkin aboot how Ah wid yaise wan o Matthew Fitt’s poems (Ah think it was this wan here) an get the weans in the class tae ask their maws, das, grannies an grandads tae tell them o Scots words that they yaised. Ah suggestit that the weans wid respond well tae literature written in their ain leid.

Fast-furrit some thirteen years later an ma opinion husnae chynged. Ah regularly yaise literature written in Scots tae spark debate an inspire scrievin aboot personal experience, identity, setting, history an tradition. Ah yaise Scots tae teach Senior students shades o meaning an connotations; an find Scots awfy useful in teachin students how tae determine the meanin o a word yaisin context.

Scots is in ma classroom in August when Ah start teachin Alan Spence’s Sailmaker tae ma Nat 5 weans; at Halloween when ma BGE weans are listenin tae scary stories by Alan Bissett an ma Senior weans are learnin aboot the origins o the word guiser; in November when we’re participatin in the St Andrew’s Day Challenge; in January when ma BGE weans are keekin roon Rabbie Burns’ Hoose an ma Senior weans are comparin Burns’ Holy Willie’s Prayer an its condemnation o religious hypocrisy tae MacCaig’s Asissi; in the Spring when ma BGE weans are debatin the merits o usin Scots an ma Senior students are readin challengin Scots texts tae practice analysin the connotations o effective word choice.

So why place so much emphasis oan Scots? Whenever Ah start a new topic Ah aye ask the weans in front o me why they think Ah’m teachin it – ‘Whit’s the point?’ Ah say. Well – the English and Literacy Review, published by Education Scotland in 2015, states that:

Learning Scots can often improve learners’ engagement in learning and their development of wider literacy skills. Through Scots, learners can explore language in more depth, making connections and comparisons with the linguistic structures and vocabularies of other languages. Scots as a context for learning can also provide an engaging platform for children and young people to explore language, register and audience. It can encourage reluctant readers and writers to become involved as texts in Scots can capture the imagination and speak to them in a familiar voice.

Last October, when Ah asked ma class why they thoat we were learnin aboot the Scots Language, wan laddie put his haun up an said ‘Because we’re Scottish.’ That pretty much summed it up fir me. Fir English teachers, we are especially interestit in literacy skills – helpin the weans tae hone their skills in readin, scrievin, talkin an listenin. Indeed, Education is aw aboot literacy, numeracy, health an wellbeing. Part o that is celebratin tradition, identity an culture – no forgettin oor ain. Ensurin that the Scots leid has a place in the English curriculum helps us dae aw o the above an mair.

 

 

 

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.

Schools and LGBTI+ education

296982_10151094842559131_1163304988_nLGBT Youth Scotland and Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign to ensure that schools in Scotland are offering an LGBTI+ inclusive education and that LGBT young people are fully supported.  With backing from all quarters of Scottish political and civic society, they have raised public awareness of the difficulties faced by LGBT young people within and outwith education. 

SATE fully supports  LGBT Youth Scotland’s and TIE’s aims and welcomes their contribution to the educational debate. 

You can find out more about LGBT Youth Scotland here: https://www.lgbtyouth.org.uk/

You can find out more about TIE here: http://www.tiecampaign.co.uk/

In this piece, a SATE member reflects on her experiences as a bisexual teacher.

 

Last October, I came out as bi-sexual. My friends and family, while slightly surprised (I have a marriage, kids and a divorce to my name), were happy that I was happy. “Gosh, this is easy!”  I thought. The right time, the right people, life is full of happy surprises.

Full of the joys of life, I also let the knowledge seep out via my Facebook page. My acquaintances near and far could share my news and react however they liked, if they reacted at all.

Unfortunately there was another reason I let it out on Facebook. The school in which I worked had a rumbling undercurrent (in the areas I dwelt, at least) of nasty comments from some peers, particularly against homo/bisexuality. My tactic worked a treat, however, and as soon as I was out on Facebook, the rumblings dried up and I could happily go about my business, albeit with my fingers in my ears and my eyes screwed shut, pretending everything was ok as long as I didn’t talk about my partner.

I observed at my school great compassion for children of difference – in other words, all children. GIRFEC focuses the mind on ensuring their well being, physical, mental and emotional. While some teachers raised an eyebrow over a boy’s glossed lip or a girl’s very cropped hair, they always taught to their best ability. Students weren’t always so nice to each other, but on the surface, the teaching staff showed a united front of support. ‘This will stop, you must speak out, we support you’, we would say.

As an LGBT+ teacher, I really wanted to be a role model for being true to yourself. I wanted to put posters up of LGBT+ movie stars, scientists, sports people alongside those of famous dyslexics already up and about. I wanted to initiate conversations in class about LGBT+ characters, about the use of pronouns in sticky situations, about being comfortable to be yourself.

But as an LGBT+ teacher (and I cuddle that label, LGBT+, because it represents me. I am not gay. I am not lesbian. I am not greedy. I am bi-sexual.) I was scared. I didn’t feel I could talk about being LGBT+, or why it took so long to come out, because it was an environment where to do so, I was putting myself on the firing line of sharp comments and cold shoulders.

There recently has been a survey about attitudes towards and experiences of LGBT+ teachers. (http://bit.ly/teacherstie) I took a rather dark pleasure in completing it as I wrote very honestly/anonymously about my experience. I wonder what they are going to do with the data? I’d like to think that there will be created a support group for LGBT+ teachers. The only support I could find was for pupils. I had no idea who to turn to – and my few LGBT+ friends said, ‘Just ignore it, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’ll make matters worse.’ (They were right, by the way.) Is that what we tell students? Our children?

As I write this, I am thinking, panicking slightly…..will I post this anonymously? And shame on me for thinking that. But I think schools need to look at themselves and ask, are my staff afraid to be themselves? Are they allowed to achieve their full potential? Is there a culture of conflict and opposition? Or of surface political correctness? Schools are filled with people and people are imperfect. But schools should also emulate an ideal – equality, compassion….EVERYBODY first.

I look back on my year with a mixture of pride at completing it, shame at being such a feart, embarrassment at my hack-handed efforts at times in dealing with it, but also some small satisfaction that despite my self-censorship, I was able to get through. I like having my first years (who tend to start with an autobiography) finish the year with a personal reflective essay. One student used their essay to come out as gay. Others wrote about learning disabilities or how they tackle personal struggles. I was genuinely myself with them, and so they felt they could be with me. And that is my real pleasure in teaching.

(and yes, decision made to post this anonymously. I simply don’t have the confidence that we as a profession are there yet.)