Here’s the thing…

Are you old enough to remember context questions? Popular in RS or Eng lit exams, they gave you a pesky little quotation and asked you detailed questions about it, what did it mean, who said it and why – how minimalist was that? Candidates even had to translate key phrases/sentences into good modern English, as if the original were written in a foreign language. And of course it sometimes felt as if it was, which was one reason why reading a Shakespeare play aloud around the class was a recipe for total incomprehension and complete allergy to Shakespeare evermore. How many of us eventually discovered Shakespeare in a theatre, open-mouthed at how crystal clear was the meaning of every line – “OMG! So that’s what it meant! And that’s what actors are for!”

Teachers – OK, my teachers, but there were two of them – were manacled to the need to make sure we could tackle those compulsory context questions. Classes, hours, terms disappeared into line by line explication, word by blessed word. Chopping at the wood and missing the trees comes to mind. Looking back – and I begin to think I should stop doing this – there was very little overviewing of the whole text, themes, ideas, style. No time. Too busy going line by line. Maybe the teacher with whom I toiled through ‘Ant and Cleo’ thought if we only knew the meaning of every word, we could work out the rest for ourselves. Simples.

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Lincoln at the Gettsyburg address

A classy address

Assemblies still have an important role to play in school life.

There is – obviously enough – a gap between the writing of any of these articles and their publication. Someday I may get the hang of looking forward to publication date and seeking out interesting anniversaries in pursuit of that glimmer, that glint of gold which is the starting point of any article and which would be considered wonderfully timely in three months’ time. Someday.

Meanwhile, the spur to write comes from many and various places and today it’s an anniversary. By the time you read this, it won’t be so current, but you will be familiar with the event which took place on 19 November 1863 – and go to the head of your quiz team if it comes to mind even as you read these lines.

On that date, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, and how could that date not make you want to write a piece for a publication like IET?

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3 trophies with ribbons on a table

What a performance!

There’s a sea change happening in the world of sport and I wonder how long it will be before it arrives in schools?

The new buzz word is ‘performance’. Or perhaps ‘performance!’ Schools have been in the business of improving performance since the league tables came in and have even become quite team-aware in the process. I have come across a school where the English department was forbidden to teach a tough long text for GCSE because the kids could score just as highly on a shorter, easier book and, with less reading to do, would have more time to spend on tougher subjects. That’s whole-school thinking, though I would lament the loss of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ for ‘Of Mice and Men’ any day.

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Well, what do you know?

I mean really, what do you know?  And how did you find it out?  Were you taught it?  And if so, were you taught it by teachers, by mates, by parents or by the hard knocks of the School of Life?  Or – even – by the telly?  Go on, admit it, you can learn a lot from the apparently endless parade of quiz shows in one format or another. There’s probably a sociological study to be done of such shows: on a daily basis, they remind us of the value – literal, hard cash value – of knowing stuff. Much of it probably of no use to you at all except in the cauldron of a quiz show, where it can be very valuable indeed.

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Books and pencil and apple

Ready, steady…

Don’t you love the smell of a new pencil case in September? Even as I write, I am thinking two things: “How old school is such a thought?” and “Ah, probably not”. The feel of a new laptop possibly, then, or glee at the prospect of whole new technologies reclining seductively in the classroom: “Look at me! I will make it easy to differentiate for all pupils, to engage, entertain, enthuse all learners with a kaleidoscope of images and sounds to rival the Odeon on a Friday night, put the universe and Stephen Hawking in your classroom! Flick my switch, smooth my surface, open sesame – the world beyond the classroom is right here on the wall – click!”

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