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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.

’twere well it were done well…’ (or why I’d marry Lady Macbeth)




Raymond Soltysek reflected on the teaching of Shakespeare in the latest 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 .




A few years back, I was helping a friend’s son with his Higher English course.  I asked him what literature he was studying, and, as it’s my favourite play, was delighted when he said Macbeth.

My enthusiasm waned somewhat when he told me how the class was approaching it.  It’s all about one fatal flaw, he said, because Macbeth is too ambitious, and we only need to really know the scene when Lady Macbeth persuades him to kill Duncan because that’s where the theme of ambition is most clearly shown.

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘And how do you feel about that?’

He seemed perplexed but relieved that someone had asked his opinion. ‘I don’t buy it,’ he said. ‘If it was all about ambition, then it would finish at the end of Act 2, when he’s crowned King.  That’s what he wants.’

‘But what about the ‘to be safely thus’ thing though?’ I asked.

‘But that’s not ambition.  That’s insecurity.  Macbeth says he’ll never be as good a king as Duncan, so it’s not ambition that makes him kill his rivals. It’s fear.  He’s afraid he can’t command their loyalty.’

It was an interesting – and distinctly plausible – personal response.  When I asked him what his teacher thought, he said he hadn’t discussed it with him, but had just submitted an essay in which he’d tried out the idea.  ‘Let me know how it goes,’ I said.

I wasn’t hopeful about the reaction he’d get.  The way he’d been taught seemed to reflect what we all know has become pretty standard practice in some classrooms. Teachers plan what will be studied and what will not, decide the acceptable interpretations that will satisfy examiners, and set firm parameters outside of which exploration cannot venture. The justification is always the same (‘we don’t have time to do anything else!’)  but I’m always reminded of  Rosenblatt’s famous exhortation that ‘‘Accepting an account of someone else’s reading or experience [of a text] is analogous to seeking nourishment through having someone else eat your dinner and recite the menu.”

Embracing Shakespeare

Shakespeare has always been problematic, of course.  On the one hand, I can’t imagine teaching English to anyone without Shakespeare, and, despite my natural antipathy to curriculum specifications and the whole notion of canonical literature, am quite happy to accept that the National Curriculum got something right when it  embraced Shakespeare as ”the de facto embodiment of English cultural heritage” (Coles).  I may have a crush on old Will, but that’s because he deserves it.  And yet there will always be a debate about his ‘relevance’, about ‘the language’, about the historical context,  that encourages teachers to make judgments about his ‘suitability’ for the 21st century urban youth  of our classrooms, and  the danger is that in trying to make the text ‘accessible’, we run the risk of making  reductive and patronising decisions.

Certainly, there are ways into Shakespeare that can help, and these often depend on moving away from the written text to explore performance using film.  At its most basic – and unsatisfactory – level, a DVD is slapped into the player simply to illustrate the reading of the print text;   at its best, multimodal approaches develop an appreciation of the play as performance, not as a text, and not as a performance.  Using the print text to support the analysis of several versions of the same scene can help generate a multiplicity of different interpretations about character and theme; just ask the students what’s going on in Macbeth’s head during the ‘If it were done…’ soliloquy as performed by Fassbender, McKellen, Stewart and Branagh, and then try telling them there’s only one motivation lurking there…

Drama too offers enormous opportunities to engage students in the text, and that’s where brilliant schemes run by bodies like the RSC come into their own; a friend of mine has just worked with her Drama class on a performance of Act 2 scene 7 for a Shakespeare Schools Festival project, and the student who directed a remarkable performance is now being head hunted by drama colleges across the UK.  Not bad for a lass from Fife.

But in a world ruled by high stakes examinations, our curricula north and south of the border haven’t caught up with these possibilities, and the critical response to the print text still rules.  This is where we have to make fundamental choices.  Do we adopt the view that it is our role as teacher to fill our students with what we deem to be ‘acceptable’ critical responses organised into PEE chains to be regurgitated in an exam?  Or do we trust ourselves and our students and create the conditions under which genuine personal response can flourish?

To have any hope of building students’ capacity to respond truthfully to Shakespeare (or any text) we have to have the courage to adopt a truly dialogic classroom, because, as Johnston and Maurer put it, ‘teaching Shakespeare’s plays creates a place in the curriculum where students and teachers can take risks together…  can undertake… an examination of texts that provocatively resist attempts to impose a coherent interpretation on them.’

Propositions for Lady Macbeth

I’ll confess, I have a particular affinity for Macbeth because, in taking risks with my students over the years, I have developed my own, idiosyncratic reading that I am convinced is just as valid and supportable by textual evidence  as any other:  I would marry Lady Macbeth.  Misguided though she is, she lives and breathes for her husband alone, sacrificing herself for his benefit and appropriating his guilt to leave him unencumbered, while he cruelly manipulates, uses and discards her in pursuit of a goal he has been planning long before the opening curtain.  You see, I read the play as twin arcs of character revelation, the parallel journeys of ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’ in a play so steeped in things not being what they seem that it is obtuse not to interpret the main characters in the same way.

And this somewhat perverse reaction to the play isn’t a rehash of my undergrad essays, nor come from reading critical analysis by Oxbridge scholars (though I’m sure it’s not original), but from starting with dropping little pebbles of devil’s advocacy into the pond of classroom discussion, asking ‘yes, but…’ questions, and allowing students to throw whatever comes to hand at me in response (once, it was a copy of the Arden edition).  We really did learn together.

Take Act 2 scene 7, the scene we all trudged through lectures on, telling us that a woman who would crush her child’s skull is the blackest heart imaginable.  Set the students up in groups with contradictory propositions, task them to find the textual evidence within and outwith the scene to back up and defend their given proposition, and watch the sparks fly:

 Proposition 1:


Macbeth, in his soliloquy, has an attack of conscience.  Duncan is so good while he feels so wicked to be motivated by nothing but ambition that he will be damned for the murder, and he relents.  However, when he conveys his decision to his evil wife, she knows exactly what his weaknesses are, and, using fearsome language and horrifying images, attacks his strength of character and masculinity, bullying him into going forward with the plan.

  Proposition 2:


Macbeth, in his soliloquy, worries that he will be held accountable for Duncan’s murder if he is caught, and regrets that the only motive he has for killing is that he wants to be king.  He does not actually say he won’t kill Duncan, but when his wife enters, he seems to back out of the scheme, knowing she will attempt to persuade him again. He manipulates her, so that in the event of him being caught, he can shift the blame to her and claim ‘she made me do it.’

Breathing space for ideas

For me, it’s absolutely imperative that we allow this breathing space for ideas like this to butt heads with each other.  To restrict response to a particular interpretation that we have predetermined is, as Leggat puts it, ‘tempting and dangerous’ because there is no growth ‘beyond the idea you came in with.’  Instead, he argues, we must ask ‘questions that have no answers’.

In doing this, it is helpful to think about approaches being developed in the Philosophy with Children movement (Cassidy) such as Community of Philosophical Inquiry (CoPI ), using its four principles as a mantra for explorative discussion:

  1. It is possible to question everything
  2. We are all capable of reasoning independently and with others
  3. We are human and therefore prone to error
  4. Communication requires creating meaning.

In addition, the rules of the enquiry – that the teacher as facilitator never rephrases participants’ responses, that participants don’t have to believe what they say as long as it develops the discussion, that participants do not seek consensus or conclusion – all help to generate the kind of genuine discussion we would have in the theatre bar after a particularly thought-provoking performance.   I do wonder how much of our investigation of literature with students embraces these principles, but it strikes me as a short cut to failure if we deny students’ rights as active participants in the responsive process.  Moreover, we deny ourselves the right to grow.

Taking risks with intepretation

So we have to take dialogic and philosophical risks with Shakespeare, and be prepared to challenge and be challenged ourselves.  My friend’s son and I discussed and developed his interpretation of Macbeth’s paranoia; I agreed with him in many respects, disagreed with others and came away with a new perspective on the play.  We discussed my passion for baby-smashing regicidal maniacs; he agreed with me in many respects, disagreed with others and went away with a new perspective on the play.  We also discussed his teacher’s one fatal flaw theory, and wholeheartedly agreed that the notion that a mind as sophisticated as Shakespeare’s would conceive of a character so cartoonishly one-dimensional was pretty much preposterous.

As for his essay: he brought it to me after it had been corrected.  His argument was only just beginning to germinate, but the seeds of an independent response could clearly be seen; it just needed nurture.  Instead, his teacher had awarded him 7 out of 25 and had written at the end, in bold red pen, the single comment, ‘Were you not listening to me in class?’

Awful, yes.  But I reckon we should all be alert to the fact that it’s possible that even just the tiniest bit of that kind of attitude is always in danger of creeping in to the way we teach texts if we take the safe option and tell our students what to think.



Cassidy, C. (2007). Thinking Children.

Coles, J. (2015).  Teaching Shakespeare with Film Adaptations. In ‘Masterclass in English Education’, Brindley, S. and Marshall, B. (eds.)

Johnston, D. K. & Maurer, M. (2002).  Teaching and Risk; Doing and Undoing Shakespeare.  In ‘For All Time?’, Skrebels, P. & van der  Hoeven, S. (eds.)

Leggatt, A. (2007). Questions That Have No Answers. In ‘Teaching Shakespeare: Passing It On’, Shand G.B. (ed.)


(Raymond Soltysek lectures in Teacher Education at The University of Strathclyde and is Regional Coordinator for The Scottish Association for the Teaching of English.  Views expressed here are his own, not those of his employer or SATE)


Bethan Marshall / Simon Gibbons Seminar! Wednesday, 16th March.




The University of Strathclyde School of Education


The Scottish Association for the Teaching of English

Seminar with

Dr Bethan Marshall and Dr Simon Gibbons

(King’s College, London)

As part of the Scottish Government’s National Improvement Framework to address the ‘attainment gap’ and persistent underachievement of children from lower income families, new proposals were recently announced for national standardised testing in literacy and numeracy. Described as being ‘at the heart’ of the Framework, these tests will, it is claimed, ‘bring greater focus to improvements in the health and wellbeing of young people… [and] consistency, transparency and robustness to the work currently taking place across the country and will inform teachers’ professional judgement of children’s progress within Curriculum for Excellence.’

Dr Marshall and Dr Gibbons will speak about assessment, both generally and in the context of literacy teaching, and will consider the claims made for the benefits of standardised testing, drawing on their years of experience of research in the field of formative assessment.


Wednesday 16th March

17.00 – 18.30

Room KX 2821, Technology and Innovation Centre, 99 George St, Glasgow G1 1RD


Places are limited.  Pleas register online at:

For further information, contact Raymond Soltysek,

Coordinator for the Scottish Association for the Teaching of English

Tel: 0141 444 8088


Follow SATE on @SATEfeed and

NATE 53rd Conference: call for research papers

NATE members in Scotland are encouraged to offer research papers for the NATE conference.  Details below.  NATE conference is an excellent event that is guaranteed to stimulate and energise you and your English teaching.  It would be great to see a strong Scottish contingent at Stratford-upon-Avon this year!

The proposal form can be obtained from Amy Forester (address below) or from Raymond Soltysek at .


National Association for the Teaching of English

53rd Annual Conference

All The World’s a Classroom


Friday 24th June to Saturday 25th June 2016


Proposals are invited for research papers and poster presentations for NATE’s national conference in 2016. The deadline for proposals is Monday 22nd February Proposers will receive feedback by Monday 28th March.

The research strand of the conference will take place on Saturday 25th June. We invite contributions from both experienced researchers and from research students and classroom teachers wishing to try out ideas or present their work for the first time. Thereforee proposals are welcome from both classroom teachers undertaking action research in their own educational settings, as well as from those engaged in research leading towards post-graduate qualifications at Masters or Doctorate level. Indeed anyone involved in research related to teaching and learning within English is welcome to submit a proposal.

Our vision is for the research strand to incorporate all forms of research in English Education, from small scale, teacher led projects, to larger scale studies. The event will embrace and celebrate all forms of research; from small scale classroom research to academic, university led research. We would also welcome presentations that combine the two, taking inspiration from evidence based research and then demonstrating how this can be used in the English classroom, primary or secondary, which has had a positive impact on students.

A variety of time slots will be available to provide speakers with the best opportunity to share their interests, ideas, findings and to take questions from delegates. It is envisaged that these will range from twenty minutes to more extended time periods al, and proposers are advised to indicate on the form their preferred allocation. It is envisaged that the research strand of the Conference will operate largely as group sessions, enabling delegates to listen to a range of speakers. Given the flexible nature of this, final details of the structure will be dependent on the number and nature of the proposals and these will be communicated to those invited to present.

Presenters are also invited to consider submitting a version of their work to NATE’s journal English in Education.

Proposals should be emailed to NATE’s Research Officer, Amy Forrester, and copied to NATE’s Director, Paul Clayton.

Amy Forrester: NATE research officer:

CC to:

Please include your name when creating the file name.

Further guidance on research sessions is available from Amy Forrester. Please do get in touch if you wish to find out more about the session. We would love to hear from you.

“A Day of Research: 50 Years after Dartmouth, what is English today?”

You may also be interested in the IFTE and NATE collaborative research symposium event “A Day of Research: 50 Years after Dartmouth, what is English today?” on Sunday 27th June at the same venue as the NATE conference.

For more information about this event, please contact Professor Andy Goodwyn, President of IFTE, Professor of Education at University of Reading:

Please note: NATE are unable to fund attendance, travel or accommodation for speakers.





A request from ‘Teaching English’

SATE has received a request for items for publication in NATE’s classroom practice magazine, Teaching English.  It would be great to see some Scottish teachers represented in the UK magazine, and it’s excellent for your cv and your professional update: so get writing!

You can see what was in the last edition here:

The editor Gary Snapper says:

‘So I guess what I’m saying here is I’d be really grateful if you could keep an eye on possible topics/contributors, and bear in mind the themes for each edition of Teaching English (always announced on page 1 of each issue: for instance, the themes for June and October 2016 are Shakespeare and the Literary Heritage (June) and Language (Oct), and future ones will be announced soon. Not all articles in each edition have to fit the theme, by the way, so if there is something topical that doesn’t fit it I can still consider it.)

If you are a NATE member and would like to contribute or ask for more details, contact either Gary Snapper at or Raymond Soltysek at .

Look forward to hearing from you!