Who doesn’t love a story?

I have always loved a story: a fable, an autobiography, a short one, a comedy, a tragedy, a classic, a yarn, something the children tell you about their weekend … aren’t we all just a collection of our own stories?

What inspires me to teach English is my absolute conviction that everyone needs to be able to do their own story-telling at some point in life:  an exam answer, an interview, to their own child in the future; and we are all enriched by hearing and learning from the stories of others, fiction or fact.  If I can instil that same curiosity (or at least a passing interest – enough to get through a GCSE), in one or two of the children I teach in a year, then I’m making a difference.

As teachers, we are in the uniquely privileged position of having a real and lasting impact on the future lives of the children who pass through our classes.  We all know someone who, in the ‘bad old days’ of education, was told that they’d amount to nothing or might as well give up whatever notions they had of being an astronaut to making do with filling space on the shelves in the local supermarket.  I absolutely believe that those days are firmly buried in the past and we are in a more inspiring, egalitarian world of education but, with that, comes the responsibility of encouraging young people to make the most of the opportunities available to them in their secondary schooling years.

With every subject there is a book.  It may come in the form of a study guide or a text book or a book of musical scores or even, heavens above, a novel.  Teachers have to read to acquire information in the first instance and must continue to read to remain current in their topic, and the students study books both independently and alongside the teacher.  If we, as the teaching professionals, can share our passion for our subject, I think that’s what enthuses students to get involved in the subject at a deeper level, sometimes even reading around a subject voluntarily!  And then there’s just reading for pleasure – a whole separate can of words.

The BBC iWonder website currently has an interesting article entitled, Why is Reading Good For Me? with a section headed, Hidden Health Benefits, which reads:

 

Studies show that it can increase our emotional intelligence as we understand a range of perspectives and motivations.

There is some evidence that mental stimulation is one of the factors that can delay the onset of dementia and reading is among the activities that can help to keep the brain active. It is far from a passive pastime. When we read we create mental simulations of the activities, sights and sounds of scenes in a story, blending these with our own memories and experiences, all of which stimulates the neural pathways.

As well as this, research suggests that reading for 30 minutes a week increases health and wellbeing. Reading for pleasure has been found to improve our confidence and self-esteem, providing the grounding we need to pursue our goals and make life decisions. It can also aid our sleep and reduce feelings of loneliness.

To the onlooker, reading can appear to be a solitary and passive activity. But the simple act of picking up a book can do us a world of good.

So, the next time you have your young person asking you if they reeeeeeally have to read out loud for 10 minutes for homework, or if they moan when you suggest reading for 20 minutes instead of tinkering with technology, just tell them with real conviction that yes, they really do, because research has shown that it genuinely is for the good of their health!

 

Jane White

English Teacher

27 Jan 2017

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z86jhv4

What is the point of education? 

So, having been asked to write the first piece for this blog, I pondered long and hard over what I should talk about. Differentiation? Challenge? Assessment and marking? The joy of data? And then it struck me. A question that lies in the bottom of every Friday evening bottle of Prosecco. A question that inhabits the thoughts at 3.12 every morning. A question that should be the first one in each and every SCITT (other acronyms are also available) interview. What exactly are we doing here? I mean that not in a spiritual or metaphysical way but in a more prosaic ‘why do I get up at some godforsaken hour every day to spend eight hours a day instilling young people with the message that every word I say is vital to their future’ way? What is the point of education and, maybe, are schools the best place to provide it?
So I did what every reasonable person does at this point, I googled it and found the answer. Apparently, according to the philosopher Mortimore Adler writing in the 1980s, education serves three purposes: the development of citizenship; personal growth or self-improvement; and occupational preparation. Now, in my mind, if any prospective teacher were to answer the question ‘What is the point of education?’ with ‘To prepare students for the world of work’ they should be escorted immediately from the premises and never again allowed within 100 metres of any young, impressionable mind. I am not teaching people to be hairdressers or brain surgeons or airline pilots – that is the job of those industries and they are best equipped so to do.

So that leaves us with ‘creating good citizens’ and ‘personal improvement’. Obviously, the concept of being a good citizen is an important one to us and, if that means the primary function of socialisation that we perform, whereby we teach important values such as respect and acceptance, then all well and good but do we really need schools to do that? Isn’t that what communities, churches and families are for?

Somewhat uncomfortably I find all that remains is the rather idealistic and fluffy idea of self-improvement. And still I am inevitably drawn to that abiding image of the late Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poet’s Society throwing aside conventional methods and tearing up books to make his students think for themselves. For surely that is exactly the point of education. Who actually cares how oxbow lakes are formed; or why Hitler rose to power; or even what would happen if you mixed hydrochloric acid and nitrogen oxide? It is not the knowing the answer that matters but the imagination that went into thinking of the question in the first place. One of the most powerful moments in the classroom is the one when the student asks the question you’d never even thought of. ‘If Shakespeare had written The Merchant of Venice after WW2, would it have been different?’ That wasn’t my question, it came from a student at the end of a lesson; she stayed behind to ask me. She knew I didn’t have an answer but she also knew that the answer did not matter. It was enough that she had thought to ask it at all.

And all this reflection has led me to one simple proposal, a radical and unconventional reform: on all our boards, in all our classrooms, for all our lessons, we write –

WALT: To think for ourselves

WILF: At least one completely independent and innovative thought

What else is education for?

 Jane Doar 06/01/2017