Monthly Archives: April 2016

A writing recovery plan

I’ve said it before, but it’s a game of peaks and troughs this writing lark.

I had a real burst of motivation after my last little dip, reminding myself why getting up early was good for my soul as well as a handy window for escaping into the world of my novel.

But since then life, as it is wont to do, has thrown me a bit of a curve ball. I’ve taken on some new responsibilities for the Connecta Lives blog, I have an epic to do list to help get Shoalstone Pool ready for summer, the school where I am a governor is facing a new raft of challenges. And perhaps most importantly right now the #THISislearning campaign that I have set up with Maddy in protest against what the SATs are doing to our children is gathering steam and demanding a lot of our attention.

All of this is good, and important, and exciting. But none of it is doing anything to give me the headspace I need to write – not even with 6am starts and lemon water.

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The lighter mornings have thrown another challenge into the mix. They are great on one level: the creeping peachy light of the morning sun across the bay is undoubtedly much more conducive to getting up than inky blackness. Unfortunately this also applies to Arthur, and whilst he is remarkably good (for a three year old) at keeping himself entertained in his room until the gro clock says it’s morning it is getting increasingly hard to hold on to that little window of time as my own.

I still have to write, though – to meet my goals, and to release the pressure in my brain. It’s not that I have nothing to write about – I know the direction this story is going in, and my characters are clamouring for my attention. It’s just that it is hard to hear them over the noise of everything else. But I have to find a way.

So I’ve come up with a bit of an action plan. Nothing fancy, but enough hopefully to keep things ticking over and move that progress bar from orange to green.

YESTERDAY I measured up and ordered some blackout blinds for Arthur’s room. I’m not entirely sure how we’ve gone three years without them, but they are definitely needed now.

TODAY I am going to take stock (starting here) and clear as much as of my to do list as I can, hopefully clearing out some space in my brain in the process.

TONIGHT I am going to really make the effort to get an early night, and give myself the time to wind down from screens before then. I’m drifting back into night owl mode, and the lack of sleep is slowing me down.

TOMORROW morning, and every morning, I am going to make sure I write something – anything – to keep the progress on my novel going in the right direction. My daily targets have crept back over the 1500 word mark, and for me that is very rarely achievable. Any words are better than none though, so I’m not going to let the fear of not meeting those targets stop me from writing anything at all.

Next WEEKEND, and two weekends after that, I am going to maximise the time I have on the train for two whistlestop visits to London to catch up and get myself properly back on track. When I set my targets in the first place I didn’t include the weekends in my writing schedule, but now it is time to make the most of that little buffer.

It doesn’t really matter (not to anyone other than me) if I miss my self imposed deadline and the writing of this first draft spills over into June. But it’s hard to juggle writing with everything else that’s going on, and if I don’t set myself some boundaries (and do my very best to stick to them) I worry that I may not find the time to write at all.

And now I’ve set this plan out in black and white I’m hoping it will make it all the more likely that I’ll follow it. Not least because you lot can help keep me on track if I don’t…

 

Writing Bubble

 

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

We had a bit of an impromptu adventure last Thursday.

We’d been supposed to go to a mums and kids exercise class, so had set off early to get the bus. We just missed one (of course), and then the next one didn’t come, but still we were vaguely on schedule. Until we got to pretty much the exact halfway point on our journey and ground to a halt in standstill traffic. There had been an accident – not a dreadful one, but it had involved a police car so they were letting no-one through.

I pondered for a few minutes, accepted that there was no way we were going to make our class, and decided that walking home would be a really great idea – via the coast path, and a couple of gorgeous little beaches that we very rarely get to visit. I thought it would be a bit of a mission, but actually wildly misjudged how long it would take. I’d forgotten just how windy the path was, and just how much of it traipsed up and down through woodlands. It was beautiful, but by the time we’d finally made it home my phone was telling me we’d walked for eleven kilometres.

And this one managed almost all of it, only taking a break in the sling for about twenty minutes in the run up to our (very overdue) break for lunch.

I was so proud of his stamina, and his determination to keep going. So many times when I’ve been wearing him over the past three years people have tutted and said he really should be walking, that by wearing him I wasn’t giving him the chance to build up his strength. I knew deep down that this was nonsense, that he was perfectly capable of walking but that didn’t mean that his little legs didn’t need a break from time to time.

The wonderful thing about the Connecta is that it’s so easy to stash in a bag as back up, leaving us free to go wherever the mood takes us. We might not have planned to go on this particular hike, but I am very very glad we did.

 

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

This is what learning looks like

On Tuesday 3rd May, thousands of parents are planning to take a stand against a school system which is more interested in testing our children than it is in nurturing in them a love of learning. They will be adding their voices to the growing unrest that already permeates the teaching profession, and joining the call from the National Union of Teachers to cancel the SATs for 2016. By keeping their children home from school on that day, they want to send a clear message to the government that enough is enough, and that their children – all children – deserve more.

We want to take things one step further.

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As well as fully supporting the kids’ strike on 3rd May, we want to use that day and the run up to it to flood the internet with inspirational learning moments: images, stories and activities that show just how much more there is to learning than the narrow focus of the SATs allows. Whatever the age of your child, whether they are at school or nursery or educated at home, we would like you to help us show the government what learning really looks like using the hashtag #THISislearning.

If you’re a teacher, we would love to hear your thoughts too: this government has marginalised the expertise of education professionals for far too long.

If you have a blog, you can link up your posts below to create a hub of inspiration in the run up to 3rd May and share what you and your child(ren) get up to on the day itself. If you are not a blogger then don’t worry – you can share your ideas and activities on your social media accounts, using the hashtag #THISislearning on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can find out more about why we’re taking this action by reading Maddy’s post No, Mr Cameron, No, which inspired us with the fantastic response it received from parents and teachers alike, and the follow up, This is learning, Mr Cameron, as well as my post Why SATs are Bad for our Children, reflecting on the current situation from the perspective of ten years of teaching as well as life with a three year old.

You can also join our Facebook group to keep up to date with latest developments, and please comment below or contact either of us directly if there is anything else you want to know.

Sophie: Sophie is…

Maddy: Writing Bubble

#THISislearning

 

We would love as many bloggers as possible to join in! Here are just a few suggestions for taking part:

  • Link up any post (old or new) about inspiring children to learn, including fun activities people might like to try on May 3rd.
  • Please grab the #THISislearning badge for your post to spread awareness of the campaign (copy and paste the HTML code to add it to your site). We will share your posts on Twitter in return.
  • If you share your post on social media, please the hashtag #THISislearning. If you tweet us a link to your post @writingbubble and @sophieblovett then we will RT.
  • Link up your post below – just click on the blue button that says ‘add your link’ and follow the instructions. We look forward to reading your posts!

 

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<img src=”https://sophieis.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/thisislearning-little-badge.jpg&#8221; alt=”Sophie is” width=”200″ height=”200″ />
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Mud glorious mud

The unschooling diaries: week thirteen

This week, we have finally managed to start sorting the garden out for summer.

It’s not an especially big space, and because our house is essentially built into the cliff face it’s on three different levels – and has no grass. So over the wet, windy Devon winter it really does start to look quite sorry for itself, and I start yearning for a house with a proper garden with room to run and explore.

I’ve realised, though, that there is actually an awful lot we can do with the space we have. Rather than bemoan the lack of lawn, I’ve decided instead to focus on what an interesting space it is, and its huge potential as an outdoor classroom. So, with Arthur taking the lead of course, we’ve been exploring exactly what that might look like – and having lots of messy fun in the process.

We started with some digging and pulling up of weeds in our raised beds. Arthur was very keen to get involved, and was fascinated by the bugs we came across along the way. We found snails, slugs, earthworms, a centipede, woodlice and a caterpillar – and had a good chat about each of them before getting on with our work.

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We also got the tuff spot out into the garden, creating a mud-filled paradise for Arthur’s beloved diggers, made even more fun when we added water to the equation.

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We managed to work some arts and crafts in there too. When we were in Lanzarote we’d talked about how Cesar Manrique had used volcanic ash in his paintings – Arthur had been quite intrigued by the unusual textures it created. So, inspired by the puddle that formed after some overnight rainfall, we decided to try some mud art.

We started with some puddle painting, using oil and food colouring to create colourful swirls on the water. This didn’t work brilliantly as Arthur got a bit over excited with the amount of oil he added, but it was still lots of fun!

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Especially fun was, of course, stamping in the oily puddle – and seeing how much Arthur was enjoying making footsteps on the deck I decided to give him a bit of a canvas.

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Then, after a slight diversion to make a magic potion, we got properly stuck in and covered a large sheet of paper with pva glue before pouring on the muddy concoction and mixing it up with anything else that took our fancy…

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There was more focused preparation too, with Arthur climbing inside the raised beds to get the earth ready for planting (and make some mud castles).

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It was all so much fun! And tidying up was even more so: Arthur was super keen to use the hosepipe, and I in my infinite wisdom let him. It was going great until he accidentally splashed me whilst I was holding the tuff spot, and I yelped, and he laughed, and… well, let’s just say we both got very wet!

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All in all it’s made me very excited about our little garden, and the fun and learning that is going to happen there in the weeks and months to come. There is something about being outdoors that just can’t be beat.

 



Why SATs are bad for our children

There are many moments that have stayed with me from my ten years of teaching. The overwhelming majority of them are positive, but there is one in particular that has been circling around my head the past few days that makes me feel so sad about what current government policy is doing to our children’s experience of learning.

Early on in the first term of Year Seven, I often broached the question to my English class “What makes good writing?”. It’s a big question, and not one I ever expected to hear answered in its entirety, but still the responses that I got were pretty telling. The particular set of responses I remember was from Autumn 2012, just before I disappeared on maternity leave. Fresh from SATs preparation, hands shot up as I wrote the question on the board, and the answers spilled out proudly into the classroom: “varied sentence starters”, “correct use of conjunctions”, “fronted adverbial clauses”, “using semi-colons”.

Now none of this is strictly wrong, of course – and I dutifully noted each response on the whiteboard before mooting my own ideas. But it was still incredibly deflating to hear it from a room full of eleven year olds. Where was the talk of imagination? Of storytelling? Of creativity? Where was the space for them to fly?

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It is this reduction of learning to rote mechanics that worries me most about the SATs, because the world doesn’t work like that – and yet in order for children to be able to succeed in these exams they have to be trained as if it does. When Key Stage 3 SATs were still around, I remember as an English department poring over questions trying to work out what it was they were actually getting at, and then teaching our students which right answers to put down for which type of question to make sure they got the marks they deserved. It was a preposterous waste of time and energy at a delicate stage in young people’s lives when the cocktail of hormones they were dealing with made the conventions of school pretty challenging anyway.

Still, I can get the argument that (at least within the limitations of our current system) being able to ‘do’ exams is kind of necessary. And I can just about stomach the concept of putting thirteen year olds through that process – at least we could explain to them the whole idea of the hoops they had to jump through, and begin to separate out different types of learning so that the experience didn’t completely extinguish the fire within.

I find it harder to justify for ten year olds, and I think it is such a crushing shame that children’s final year in primary school, a period in education which for many has been characterised by creativity and imagination, is reduced to drills and mock exams and learning ‘right’ answers to the most complex of questions making reopening the door to the potential for real learning a dauntingly challenging task in the years that follow.

Except of course primary school isn’t really like that any more. Not since the reintroduction of KS1 SATs, where children as young as six are now expected to sit formal tests in spelling, punctuation, grammar, reading, arithmetic and reasoning. SIX! The notion of what constitutes correct answers is, from what I have seen, just as convoluted as it was in KS3 – and so drilling is, if teachers are not going to sacrifice the children in their charge (and themselves) on the pyre of government assessment, inevitable.

And then of course there is the question of what all of this drilling occurs at the expense of. Play, for example, and creativity. Various other government initiatives are squeezing out the arts as children move up through the school system, but it is beyond belief that they should be marginalised at this crucial early stage. It goes against all of the research, the experience and the professional instinct that should guide our education system. When I admit that as a result of the regressive nature of government reforms I am reluctant to enrol my child in nursery, friends are quick to defend the relative freedoms that are still enjoyed in the early years. They go quiet when we get on to what starts to happen in year one.

All of this is part of why I am no longer teaching, and is a major driver in my decision to home-educate my son – for the first few years at least. My approach as a teacher always meant that there was a degree of rallying against the system – I wanted to see my students grow as individuals, to try to find creative ways of managing assessment that did not compromise their own personal development. During the bulk of my career, it felt at least as if I was moving with the tide – that what I innovated with one year I could integrate the next as Labour education policy responded to the needs of teachers and schools. And then the Tories came to power.

I could still be fighting the battle from the inside – I have untold respect and admiration for my former colleagues that are – but it is just so exhausting to have to make your classroom a fortress against the outside world, and I have a family to think about now.

My son is three: he is curious, brave, funny, unique and creative. He has many subjects he is passionate about, and is developing his own clear preferences for how he likes to learn about them. I want to nurture those in him, to enable him to find his way through the world in a way that it keeps its wonder, and where he gets to cherish his uniqueness, not play it down to fit in within the system and win validation for himself, his teachers and his school.

These KS1 SATs don’t give children levels; they don’t take a formative approach to identifying their strengths and areas for development; they don’t recognise that each and every child will progress in different areas at a different pace: they just indicate whether they have reached the required standard, whether they have passed or failed, whether or not they are ‘good enough’ at this stage in their lives.

I cannot imagine putting my little boy through that in three years time.

And it looks like I am not alone.

A campaign is gathering pace to undermine the KS1 SATs with a children’s strike on the 3rd of May. Yet more parents are calling for a boycott of the KS2 SATs, where the expected standards have risen so sharply that children are being set up to fail more than ever before. Parents up and down the country are uniting to say that this dismantling of their children’s childhood is simply not OK, that to stop their kid’s learning in its tracks by subjecting it to meaningless assessment is not something they want to be a part of.

My son is too young for me to be able to make a stand in this way, but I will be taking the opportunity on that day to demonstrate just what learning can look like when we set it free: to tell the story of our learning journey on this blog and on social media, to show how much fits into a day when it is not constrained by the need to learn to jump through hoops.

If you too are angry about what current government policy is doing to our schools, teachers and most importantly our children, then I hope that you will join me.

 

Edited 16th April 2016:

In response to our general disbelief at the way the government are decimating our education system, myself and Maddy from Writing Bubble have started a campaign to show them what learning really looks like. 

To find out more, check out our launch post and join our Facebook group. It would be awesome to have you on board.

 

Writing Bubble

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

I will never get tired of being able to just pop to the beach on our way home from whatever else it is we’re doing. And I love that this one thinks it is entirely normal: sand in his toes and the sea stretched out behind him, his world an ocean of possibilities just waiting to be explored.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Learning (loads) in Lanzarote

The unschooling diaries: weeks eleven and twelve

We spent a week in the Canary Islands over Easter, and once again I have been blown away by just how much there is to be learnt from travelling. We weren’t even motivated by anything more than the desire to get away somewhere warm and spend some quality time as a family, but the tremendous scope for discovery and new experiences that Lanzarote had to offer completely surpassed our expectations.

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We were especially lucky, I think, with the base we chose. We stayed in the most wonderful eco-resort in the North of the island, away from the main tourist trail. We slept in gorgeous yurts, which was an experience in itself. Our closest neighbours were chickens, ducks and donkeys, and there was a lovely solar-heated pool. Not forgetting the playground, which was right outside our little complex: it had a trampoline, and climbing frames, and a boat, and sand, and dump trucks, and little houses, and for Arthur it very quickly became home.

Outside of our little idyll, there was a whole new world to explore.

Unsurprisingly, the sea was central to much of our experience: admiring it, travelling across it, eating its many fruits, and of course swimming in it. We found an incredible lagoon, and some magical tidal pools. Between those and the pool Arthur well and truly shook off any wintery reluctance to jump right in, and his confidence and skill in the water came on in (literal) leaps and bounds.

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He was mesmerised by the little fish that swam around our ankles as we paddled and splashed, but it didn’t stop him enjoying them on his plate, too… I’m not sure how many three year olds would demolish boquerones with quite as much relish as this one did. I like that he’s happy to eat fish that looks like fish, though – and that it gave us the opportunity to talk about where it came from and how it had been caught. I don’t want to freak him out about the food he eats, but I think it’s useful to be able to make the connections and understand our world better – especially when it’s him asking all the questions!

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Away from the sea, there were of course the volcanoes. In the run up to our trip we’d watched some videos and talked about the volcanoes we were likely to see there, and wherever we went Arthur was full of questions about the nature of the mountains around us. We took a (very windy) trek into the lava fields, climbing up to the top of one volcano to peer into the caldera and walking into the depths of another. Both were long dormant, but that didn’t stop the incredible power of nature being evident everywhere we looked.

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One of the other highlights of our trip was completely unexpected. I had never heard of Cesar Manrique, but he was an inspirational artist and architect who through his work and his vision had an enormous impact on the infrastructure of the island. We visited several of the sites he created, and Arthur soaked up the paintings and the sculptures and the unusual spaces, as well as being fascinated by the exhibitions about the landscape around us.

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Last but very much not least, inspired by an advertising board that caught Arthur’s eye in the airport, we took a trip on a submarine. It was the first time any of us had been on an actual submarine voyage, and it blew all of our minds a little bit – but especially Arthur’s. Just the whole mechanics of it was pretty exciting, watching the little screen at our seat compute our depth, the pilots with their illuminated control panel and the propellers at the rear. And out of the window we saw wrecks, lots of fish, and even a diver feeding a huge ray. It was pretty cool.

It was all pretty cool, actually. And it really got me thinking about how we can work some longer trips into the next few years. It’s one of the main reasons I’m not super keen about getting stuck back into the constraints of the school system any earlier than I have to, and why I’m trying to evolve my working life into one I can take on the road with me.

We shall see…

For now, though, we have plenty of memories to be mulling over. I’m going to make a photobook for Arthur so that we can pull it out from time to time and be inspired afresh by our experiences. It’s a lot to compute for a growing mind after all!