CPL Reading

English CPL reading

Teach like a writer

A super introduction to different writing forms.  Writing covered includes: short story, speeches, journalistic writing, poetry, academic (loved this chapter) and playwrights. The expert chapters are really fascinating and I particular enjoyed the short story chapter.  I say this books serves as an introduction because it has made me want to go and buy every book ever published on short story writing or speech writing and read around these areas to enhance my knowledge of these forms and improve my teaching of them.  There were some commonalities – regular practice, the importance of reading your work aloud, the importance of peer assessment and critique done in a useful and informative way.  

What do I want to do as a result:

  1. Plan my writing – go back over the long term curriculum plan – Year 7-13 and firm up the writing we do and why.
  2. Find, source and read books articles, journals etc on successful short story, speech writing, letter writing and article writing.  Build up my knowledge with regard to these areas.
  3. Create new units embedding the ideas from this book (and in my Cornell note book)


This book, written by two English teachers, whose own creative writing has been published, provides a plethora of different activities to support developing characterization, settings, story structures alongside enhancing skills of drafting and editing.

The teaching of writing is something I find infinitely more complex than the teaching of reading and it is for this reason that I have decided to make it a focus as part of my CTeach programme.  I am currently re-drafting a year 7 unit with a focus on characterization and constantly questioning and doubting myself about how I do this most successfully.

I think after reading this book and after mulling over lots of different ideas, I have a few thoughts.

  1. Narrative writing is really tricky.  I don’t think it would be an option for me at GCSE if my pupils were tasked with this in the exam.  I think it demands too much of our pupils in the time frame given.  I think descriptive writing and really stripping back the writing is key.
  2. For us, the imaginative writing component is done as coursework.  Of course, there is a word limit for the coursework piece and so it lends itself to the short story form.  I need to do much more work on understanding the short story form in order to teach my pupils to be successful with this.  Louisa Enstone recommended ‘Short Circuit: A Guide to the Short Story’ which I am looking forward to reading.  At IGCSE we also have an anthology with a number of short stories and using these alongside other well-thumbed examples, I need to spend more time developing my knowledge of the form before setting my pupils off to create their own.
  3. So this has led me to consider how we teach imaginative writing at KS3.  I have at the moment broken it down so that year 7 are focused on characterization, year 8 on setting and characterization and year 9 on mood and tonal changes. 

Upon reading this book, I think what is key is identifying the different components of these.  So when looking at character – archetypes and stock characters to understand how characters have developed over time, character backstories (Jennifer Webb has done some amazing work on this: her initial character biography is here https://funkypedagogy.com/free-resources-from-teach-like-a-writer/ ), wants and needs, motivations, show vs tell linked into our choice of nouns and verbs linked into ‘tics’ as the writers of this book describe it, character conflicts.  This isn’t an exhaustive list but an initial start. 

In identifying these different components, I see the teaching of characterization, for example, at KS3 in a writer’s workshop style format, introducing pupils each lesson to a different aspect of characterization and giving them the opportunity to experiment.  For me, this also links into a lot of the messages coming from the EMC about choice – provide pupils with choices and let their creativity flow.  So in covering different aspects and different ways into characterization, pupils will increase their repertoire and be able to select further on down the line.  For me, they will be able to play around with different approaches and gain confidence in a particular skill.  This book is great at providing a repertoire of different strategies to introduce, describe and develop characters and I am anticipating I will draw upon a range of the activities here.

4. Alongside this, I think is the importance of teaching sentences and the use of direct instruction for this.  Kate McCabe has blogged about this – https://gettingitrightsometimes.wordpress.com/2019/08/09/planning-sentence-instruction/ a super blog and this is definitely something I building in to each of the writing units.

Over the course of the year, I look forward to reading everything I can get my hands on about writing to ensure that I feel as confident teaching writing as I do reading.


We are so fortunate as a subject to have a wide range of subject based books to guide us on our merry way as we consider curriculum and how we approach the teaching of particular areas. Although initially sceptical as I began ‘Beyond Literary Analysis’, it turned out to be an absolutely fantastic read packed with advice on how to teach analytical writing which, for us, could branch out to support us with how we teach transactional writing.

The strength of the book lies in the fact that it has considered and taken some of the barriers to pupil writing and considered activities that could address these issues. Furthermore, the book provides a plethora of mentor texts which could easily be used in any classroom.

The book is organised into three sections. Section 1 asks us to consider our understanding of analysis and perhaps to see beyond literary analysis and the constrained way in which we teach analysis as a result. The book begins by sharing a piece of analytical writing written by a pupil that might, for us, appear very different to our norm. Yet what is striking is the level of engagement the pupil clearly has with what they are writing about. They write eloquently about what the text means to them, what the text says to them demonstrating a secure understanding. They also compare the text with another text to show their understanding of the form. From this, Marchetti and O’dell (no relation) argue that analysis, for them, is a real exploration of a text and that this exploration can be done in a variety of ways (see the chart below):


I really like this grid because it did make me think about the different forms that analysis can take and I went on to consider how well I nurture each of those forms with my pupils or how I could in the future.

Marchetti and O’dell then go on to argue that all analytical writing has four elements at its heart: passion, ideas, structure and authority and Section 2 of the book dedicates itself to how we can facilitate, teach, support the development of these four elements to create authentic pieces of analysis.  What I think is really clear and helpful is the way in which Marchetti and O’dell have thought about the various barriers to pupils’ writing and matched activities that help to address these barriers.


I also really liked the ‘Instructions for students’ for some activities as this really, again, provided clarity about how they support pupils with their writing.


Here are just some of the ideas I want to now explore within my classroom

  1. Question flooding – sometimes pupils identify topics they want to write about but these topics are quite wide in their focus. The aim of question flooding is to narrow that focus down. Marchetti and O’dell offer a range of question stems that could help with this:
  • How has _____impacted _____?
  • How does _____ affect me?
  • What is the meaning behind _____?
  • How has ______ changed over time?
  • How is ______ related to _____?
  • How else might we look at _____?
  • How does _____ do _____?
  • Why does _____ work this way?
  • Why does _____ have this effect?

They then provide a model using Adele as a topic. The pupil in question wanted to explore the question: Why is Adele so popular? And in using the question stems was then able to narrow their focus down to the following examples:


2. Visualise it – the argument that doodles can be a ‘transformative tool for exploring structural possibilities for analytical writing’. Marchetti and O’dell recommend Infographics and the book the ‘Infographic guide to Literature’ and I think this is a really interesting idea in helping to formulate ideas, summarise ideas and organise these in a coherent way.


3. Digital reading – I like this idea. We focus on promoting reading for pleasure with our literary texts but don’t push the non-literary as much. I like the idea of using this reading, which many pupils are already doing, as a springboard for further writing. The IB has introduced an idea of a learner portfolio and I have been thinking about bringing this down to KS3 and so this would fit really nicely with this idea.  (See instructions for pupils above)

There are many more ideas and strategies to support the production of writing in the book especially with a focus on creating authenticity, language choice and how to structure a text both with regard to our sentence choices and our textual structure. And, as previously stated, one of the key strengths of the book is the huge volume of mentor texts for each strategy shared meaning you already have a bank of excellent examples. The last section also shares with the reader where further mentor texts can be found for a range of writing.

So what are the pitfalls of the book? Whilst it is an excellent book to support analytical writing and the more creative analytical writing, this is only one form of writing that we have to consider in our teaching repertoire. This is not to say a book should answer all our prayers on all types of writing but go in to reading this book with a focus on creative analytical writing and think about how the ideas could be applied to information writing etc. In addition, when it comes to literary analysis I feel we are actually constrained a little by the expectations of an exam board. For many, the idea of pupil choice will be a complete turn off. And yet, however, I felt excited about the opportunities I could create within KS3 for writing and for pupils to choose the content of their writing,

Overall, this is a fantastic book, full of ideas to support pupils with enhancing their analytical writing and definitely worth a read. I intend to use it and dip back into it as I plan my curriculum for next year so that I can embed the range of strategies offered.


I am on a mission to improve reading at our school. It’s not en vogue and our students simply don’t read. Their reading ages upon entry are low and, whilst I am undecided about the value of AR, they aren’t quizzing either. So what do we do? You can’t force students to read. In theory, that is because opportunities to read are a subtle way of forcing students to do so.

Faced with a challenge, I made the conscious decision to read material around the subject of reading and fostering a love for reading in the students I teach to see if I could pick up any strategies or ideas that might just help us on our way. The Book Whisperer was recommended on Twitter.

The Book Whisperer is written by Donalyn Miller, a teacher who is passionate about reading and developing a love for reading in all her students. She makes a number of recommendations that I have been thinking about and starting to incorporate into our practice at the academy.

Recommendation number 1: From a seed grows a tree.

Classroom libraries. Over the years DOnalyn Miller has built a classroom library. She recalls the first bookshelf she bought and still has the bookshelf now. She buys all the books herself – she has read these books and because they are hers, feels she can loan them out without question. She has bought hundreds of books now and she states that bookshelves adorn three of the walls in her classroom. She has organised the books into genres so it is quick to find recommendations for students.

This week I bought a bookshelf for all classrooms. A small start in creating a classroom library. I am currently challenging myself to the Carniege list and each time I finish a book from the Carniege list, this book will be added to my classroom library. As I am sitting here reading this, I am thinking how nice it might be to also add the texts that really left a mark on me as I was growing up: Matilda, for example, is one such text. I will include non-fiction but am yet undecided about magazines. Some might argue any reading is reading but I really want them to read novels.

Recommendation number 2: Interest surveys

Before you can recommend a book to a student, you need to know their interests. She recommends giving students a survey at the start of the year to find out what they like. The survey she uses, however, does not focus on literature but other interests as well that teachers could then link to texts with the help of a librarian. I typed the interest survey up and gave it to all my KS3 students. Having recently taken on quite a challenging group of students, it really gave me an insight into them and it struck me that they all had two things in common: a love of football and a love of gaming which has enabled me to connect with the librarian and find books with these themes to engage them further with reading. I have now stored these in their library folder so the next time they are struggling we can find something together.

Here is a copy of the survey typed up:Interest survey

Recommendation number 3: Reading every day

This is a given isn’t it. They encourage 20 minutes every day and whilst we have introduced DEAR, it is done in a rather more haphazard way and not scheduled. Therefore, I have taken drastic action – all of our students now read for the first 10 minutes of their English lesson. Ok, so it isn’t 20 minutes but it’s a start. She argues that students who read in class are more likely to read at home as well and has evidence from evaluations completed that this has been the case. She also says that you must let students read what they wish to read. So, for the most part, this is happening at my academy. I am making year 11 re-read Of Mice and Men in those 10 minutes and will then make them read An Inspector Calls. We have also thought about 19th century texts for year 10 BUT KS3 get to read their choices. It has been an absolute pleasure to see this in fruition. The calm start and seeing all students in possession of a book has been a pleasure. For those that don’t have a book, I have the start of my class library. One student picked up The Boy At The Top of the Mountain by John Boyne on day one and has told me how much he is enjoying it and, therefore, wants to stick with it. She insists, and I agree with her, that the teacher must read too. It can be hard to get lost in admin and worry over getting resources ready but she states that students must see the teacher reader. Yesterday, when I got my book out, many students commented that I had finished my other book and so this told me that they are interested in what I am reading and paying attention to this. I also made a point when I had finished the book of drawing their attention to this, saying that I had really enjoyed the book, offering a brief synopsis and telling them it was being added to the class library so if they wanted to read it, they could.

Recommendation number 4: The 40 book challenge

All students will read 40 books in a year. She says 20 something is too low. She also argues that if students don’t make the 40, no doubt they will have read more than they have ever read in trying to get to that magic number.   Miller says 22 is the lowest. Today, I told my challenge group they were going to read 40 books this year. They were shocked. Reactions included, ‘I haven’t ever read one book’ to ‘I won’t be able to’. Then someone mentioned reading a short book and I told them there was no stipulation on how long the books were. They beamed with pride, believing they had cheated the system and not realising that the act of reading – whether the books are short or long – is the real winner J

Miller isn’t an advocate of testing and programmes such as AR. I understand why this is – it brings nothing to the joy of reading with many students associating books with quizzes and testing itself. However, schools buy in these programmes and these tests and quizzes must be taken. In the book, she explores a range of methods to tracks students’ reading – many of which she discounts because she feels the tracking is for teachers’ purposes and not students. Her most favourite is the review or a letter to the teacher which I am currently exploring. However, what she did make me think about was the input required before asking students to review a book – teaching them what a review looks like, the language used in a review etc etc.

I really enjoyed this book and found lots of food for thought in it.

Over the next few weeks I will be

  • Continuing to produce the reading league each fortnight of students who have quizzed and passed on AR, quizzed and those, sadly, who haven’t. This is displayed in tutor groups and has had an impact on the number of students quizzing.
  • Book recommendations. Get students in KS3 to write book recommendations, like the ones you see in Waterstones and attach these to the library shelves.
  • Create our AR, reading review, 40 book challenge journal.
  • Publicise the 40 book challenge, our word millionaire and other reading success stories.
  • Begin to organise our World Book Week – our own version of a readathon, a cake off, decorating doors and lots and lots of reading activities.

Great English blog posts to read



Other CPL reading

Boys Don't Try

This week’s CPD read was Boys Don’t Try by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts.  I found this to be a really interesting and informative read.  The book considers a wide range of topics surrounding the concept of masculinity, the teaching of boys and the constructs placed upon boys.

As I reflect there are three things I want to ponder about and explore further.

  1. The gender bias that has infiltrated itself into so many domains within our every day life.  The idea being that from such a young age, boys and girls are subconsciously subjected to preconceived ideas when it comes to gender. This reinforced for me the important roles parents and educators have in challenging these presentations so that children don’t feel constrained by the gender roles society seems to have forged.
  2. The language we use in our classroom and the subtleties of this.  I think I have been guilty of utterances that, without my realizing, or perhaps with my realizing, have reinforced gender bias and I need to think more carefully about the language I use when teaching.  In the same way, I need to ensure that if I hear things within my own classroom reinforce gender stereotypes or that might appear banterish but in actual fact are harmful comments then I need to deal with this immediately by explaining clearly why the use of particular phrases is wrong.
  3. The area I have struggled most with – even recently – is boys choosing to fail, through lack of effort in order to save face in front of their peers rather than admit they find something difficult or need extra help.  Having read this book and listened to Caroline Spalding speak on motivation, amongst other speakers, I really need to ensure that the boys I teach within my class feel success early on and are thus motivated by this.  I also need to commit to emailing home to parents to share that success.  When I reflect upon one particular class, I made some fundamental errors early on, which meant that success wasn’t garnered and this definitely impacted upon their motivation throughout the year.  I also need to consider how I support boys in bouncing back from challenges or perceived failures to ensure their motivation doesn’t dip.

At the start of this academic year, our Assistant Headteacher, responsible for behaviour, presented the staff with some interesting data about praise points and detentions and I don’t need to tell you what she was presenting.  That presentation, along with this book has made me really reflect on areas that I need to improve my own practice to avoid gender bias within my own classroom and support all pupils in becoming successful learners.

Stop Talking about Wellbeing

Stop Talking about Wellbeing by Kat Howard explores how we, as teachers, can ‘take ownership of our workload and achieve wellbeing through purposeful job fulfilment.’ 

Often, discussions around wellbeing can be quite loaded and emotionally charged with blunt accusations being made about individual schools and the education system.  This is because of teachers’ own experiences of working in environments that have run them ragged.  It is easy to talk about the toxic nature of a school or of a system that has little consideration for the staff at the heart of it.  It is emotional and evocative.  And, for the most part, reactionary.  There has been much written on this topic and often it is written in a way that frames it in the negative.  (I know I, too, have been guilty of this).

The reason I really enjoyed reading this book is because it frames wellbeing in a positively active way.  It doesn’t shy away from the stark statistics of teacher retention or the very real toxic culture of some schools but its focus is on reframing the dialogue about wellbeing in a positive and active way.  Active in the sense that we have to consciously craft our own wellbeing – both individually and in conjunction with our schools. We have to give consideration to  how we improve our wellbeing in schools and whether the systems in place are conducive to good teacher wellbeing.  And positive in that it isn’t focused on blame but on the proactive steps we need to take – not the tokenistic steps but the ones that are integral to our day to day school experience – to try and achieve ‘purposeful job fulfilment’ and good work life balance.

Reading this book gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own wellbeing journey.  Two years ago, I wasn’t in a healthy place but having moved schools (and country), I have become an active constructor in prioritizing my own wellbeing and working hard to achieve work-life balance.  It is my number 1 for the reasons below.

  • Teaching is a job. It’s a wonderful job, but it is a job. 

Many people have said how teaching can fill time if you let it. This is true. I believe that we need to put the boundaries in place.  These boundaries may vary and it has to be what individuals are comfortable with but boundaries need to exist to ensure that you have time to spend just being a normal human being.  We can love our jobs and be invested in them but we are better at our job when we switch off and live a life away from school too.

  • We are more than the teacher we present in the classroom.

I worry for some teachers on Twitter who seem to spend all day and all night working.  I think sometimes we need to step back and ask ourselves who we are away from the classroom.  What is it that we love about life and then do more of that rather than just continuing to resource or mark or do other teaching related activities that fill our time of an evening or at a weekend.  For me, it is travelling (God, how I have missed travelling), food, wine, reading, art, music, theatre….

  • There is a world to see out there and opportunities and experiences to be lived.

Even more true in our Covid 19 world where many of us have been trapped in our apartments for months on end.  There are towns and parks and beaches and mountains and galleries and theatres and restaurants just waiting for us to visit.  Putting this off because you need to spend a weekend planning or marking means we are losing out on some amazing opportunities and experiences.

  • Time is finite.

Again, this Covid 19 world has shown us that life can change in an instant.  Many people have often quoted at me that ‘She produced great booklets’ is not a great engraving to have on your tombstone.  Morbid, perhaps but very very true.

How have I addressed my own wellbeing?

  • I moved schools and country. (This is quite drastic LOL)
  • I have boundaries in place.  Most days I leave school at 4pm.
  • I travel at weekends.  If I work at a weekend, it is on a Sunday afternoon.
  • Coupled with this is spending time outside.  It is sunny 85% of the time here and that does make a huge difference to wellbeing.
  • I am more pragmatic.  I teach using booklets but wasn’t prepared to kill myself writing booklets in their complete form this year.  Instead, I wrote them as I went and used a treasury tag to add to the booklets as we went along.
  • I am much better at using resources that are out there.
  • I use green penning for marking and only mark assessments.
  • I work when I am at my most productive – I am an early bird and most productive in the time before school between 6am-9am.  I do my work then.  I am rubbish at productivity in the evenings and, therefore, don’t work evenings unless I have to.  I also do the things I am less good at in my most productive slots – so marking in the morning.
  • I always prioritise sleep.  An unplanned lesson can be taught really well on a full night’s sleep in comparison to a 5 lesson day on very little sleep.
  • I have greater PPA – no escaping that one – but I maximize all PPAs and am focused on work. I avoid going into the staffroom because I know I will get distracted.
  • I surround myself with radiators.  I am not interested in complaining or gossip or any of the like and avoid at all costs.
  • Although this is harder, I am trying to make friends outside of school and I now have a good few friends I can meet up with to talk all things other than teachery stuff.
  • If I have questions or ideas, I ask the people directly.  I have absolutely no qualms in emailing or speaking with my HOD, Head of Sec or Principal if something is bothering me.
  • When things don’t go right.  I sit on it.  I remove the emotion from the situation, think about the other perspective and respond after a day of thinking things through.

How does my school support wellbeing?

I am lucky to work in a school where wellbeing isn’t an afterthought but is permeated through the everyday.

  • We have a superb induction programme that balances an introduction to the school, systems etc with a wider, more social introduction to Italy and includes a welcome drink, a pizza evening, a cooking lesson, an evening about Italy.  I think this is an important consideration internationally when you are not only starting at a new school but also perhaps in a new country.
  • Nobody clocks when you check in and when you check out.  I leave work most days at 4pm and nobody bats an eye lid.  This is because they trust me (and everyone else) to do the job that is required for them.
  • We are not heavily monitored or scrutinized.  Again, we are trusted to get on with our work.  Feedback policies, for example, are determined by individual departments and what works best within their subject.
  • Emails – godsend!  I rarely receive emails in the evening and at the weekend.  This has been transformative in terms of wellbeing coming from the UK (although I too was guilty of this!)  The discovery of a schedule button is awesome.
  • Department time is scheduled within the timetable. (Although we also have meetings on a Monday after school, of which department meetings happen 1-2 times a term).
  • Tutor time and tutorial periods are included within our allocation.
  • The school has heavily invested in coaching.  This has great potential to be a supportive tool for staff.
  • Staff are thanked each week via the bulletin and the briefing for the extra contributions they have made.
  • If we are not teaching in the afternoon, we are free to leave the school site and work from home.
  • There is free tea and coffee and fruit every break time (and on a couple of Fridays in a term, a cheeky Prosecco on a Friday after school)
  • Plenty of social events are organised for staff to come together – quizzes, yoga and our weekly Wine Appreciation Club which we hold on a Friday after school.
  • Our Principal holds a Principal’s questions session in which staff can ask questions of the principal and discuss things about the school with him.
  • We have an amazing school counsellor who is there for staff and students and runs regular sessions that we can attend focused on staff and student wellbeing.  She has also made herself totally available to us during this period.

Wellbeing 2020-2021

Covid 19 has seen a period of work greater than the two years I’ve been here combined with some old habits re-emerging.  In the main, this has been to keep me busy and focused during an incredibly isolating time period.  I am, for whatever reason – maybe the heat now – finding it harder to go back to normal and get out there.  I need to actively start shaping myself back into life pre-Covid with day trips here and there.

I also have some challenges coming up that I need to manage carefully.  Earlier on in the year, I signed up to CTeach (which is brilliant, by the way) but I signed up when things at school were slightly different and I had minimal responsibility.  I am now going to be caretaking the Head of English role, and one of my very real hesitations in applying for this role was the impact this might have on my work life balance.  Whilst I spoke to wonderful colleagues who were very reassuring that it would be possible to balance, I am mindful that balancing Head of English (especially in this Covid 19 scenario) alongside C Teach will present some challenges that I will need to carefully tackle to ensure I still have a really healthy work life balance. Prioritising things that contribute to healthy work-life balance will be key.

Finally, I want to withdraw myself from social media a bit more.  Something that will take a bit of work and time.  It’s a fantastic tool – and has been so wonderful during isolation – but it is a tool that can take over a bit.  And I want to reclaim some of that time.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to prioritise our own wellbeing and reflect upon how we actively ensure a healthier work-life balance that allows us to do a job we love whilst also having time away from school.

A great read that frames wellbeing in a positive, active way and offers opportunities for deep reflection and action steps to move forward.


Teaching is actually a really simple process. For some reason though, it can get pretty complicated. Organisations and reactionary SLT can make the process of teaching far more complicated than it need to be.

Jo Facer’s excellent new book ‘Simplicity Rules’ brings us back to the core of great teaching and learning. It is an absolute great read for anyone venturing into the profession and a timely reminder, as we start to think about next year, of just how we can go about keeping our teaching lives that little bit simpler.

In Chapter 1, Jo explores how children learn. First she simplifies the definition of learning by arguing that learning takes place when we ‘are able to do something we couldn’t do previously.’ She then considers the knowledge versus skills debate. Personally, I think we have gone too far in this debate and need both but that knowledge does precede skill and I love how Jo argues that the development of a skill should be broken down into the components of knowledge that a pupil needs to posses. Whilst exploring this debate, Jo references the absolute necessity to ensure pupils’ understanding, something that I think sometimes gets overlooked and how this can easily be done through comprehension checks and that we can never overlearn something too much, especially if we want to commit it to our long term memory. I absolutely love Jo’s argument that when we lesson plan, we need to simplify the process by thinking only about what we want our pupils to remember. Jo argues that our planning for learning should simply be focused on our questioning and that our lesson plans consist of the questions we want to ask in a lesson.   She summarises her thinking about the vital role questioning has to play when she states that ‘a question which works well is one which consolidates learning, checks understanding, moves the lesson on, probes understanding and pre-empts a misconception.’

In Chapter 2, Jo considers behaviour. Behaviour is so crucial and good behaviour, in terms of what we expect from our pupils, is so important if we want them to achieve their very best. Jo argues that good behaviour boils ‘down to two clear rules:

  1. The pupils follow the teacher’s instructions first time, every time.
  2. The pupils focus 100% on learning.

For me, good behaviour management begins with consistent routines, high expectations and clarity of instructions. I agree with Jo, re. sanctions. Our pupils need to follow the rules we set but I loved two things Jo explored in this chapter:

  1. ‘it is not the severity of the consequence, but the certainty’
  2. And that we sanction with love.

I told someone off today for not behaving in the way that I would expect from them. But when I think back to the conversation, the pupil in question simply thinks I am picking on them and what I needed to do is really explain to them that I have a core expectation for them because I love them and want them to achieve well and to set themselves that standard. I needed to show more deeply that my frustration with their attitude comes from a place of care for them and Jo’s chapter on behaviour reminded me of this. And yet, whilst we need to remember that ‘all children have the potential to be good, decent and polite members of society’, they also need to remember that their actions have consequences and we, as teaching staff, need to hold them to account.

In Chapter 3, Jo explores what to teach. I like Jo’s argument that those who attend school should have an enriched experience because of what they have learned at school. Jo explores in this chapter the importance of what we teach and the sequence in which we teach things to ensure we are constantly building on prior knowledge whilst also considering the needs in terms of what lies ahead. She vehemently argues that we should not slow down the curriculum for our disadvantages pupils as this would only seek to widen the attainment gap but dedicate more time to knowledge that will make a longer term difference. Finally, she argues that building cultural capital is an important consideration. Something I definitely agree with.

Chapter 4 focuses on resources. Having seen Jo in action and become a booklet convert myself, I needed no convincing here. Jo advocates a two page lesson resource broken down with recap questions, good quality texts and comprehension questions to check understanding with extension and more challenging tasks for development. Whilst reading this chapter, I was considering how this approach might work for the development of writing and wondered if the structure would remain the same. Jo argues the case for exemplars but I love how she sensibly suggests co-constructing exemplars with classes in year 1 to create a bank of exemplars for the following year as this maintains a focus on not perfecting everything in year one at the sake of a healthy work-life balance.

Chapter 5 builds on chapter 4 with a focus on how we start our lessons with Jo arguing for good recall and retention questions. Testing prior knowledge not only helps to retain information in our long term memory but is great for assessing how much pupils can remember. Knowledge organisers are referenced in this chapter as a way of helping to generate retention questions and examples are shared. I am looking to create knowledge organisers once again next year and loved the focus on keeping the knowledge organisers simple and concise – something I definitely need more practice on.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 look at core elements of literary: reading, writing and speaking and listening. Jo begins by emphasising the importance of reading every lesson, especially to impart knowledge. So our choice of texts is critical if we really want to help our pupils become excellent readers. In addition, Jo advocates that all pupils should be expected to read aloud using Lemov’s ‘Control the Game’ strategy. With regard to writing, Jo makes the case for the art of a sentence. I am fully on board with this. The idea being that we need pupils to be able to craft a perfect sentence before they can write the perfect paragraph. The sequencing of the teaching of writing is vital and I don’t think the process of crafting a beautiful sentence can be rushed. I also loved Jo’s reference to the CIE exam and completely agree that this English exam really focused on core literacy. I loved Jo’s idea of using the old summary question more regularly in lessons to test comprehension.

Chapter 9 has a focus on practice. An absolute key part of any lesson and chapter 10 looks at how we effectively end a lesson.

Chapter 11 finishes the book with a bang and possibly the biggest area in which we need to continue to strive to simplify what we do. Feedback. Jo refers to the whole class feedback sheet which has become ever so popular across all schools and the use of green penning. Having embedded both the whole class feedback sheet and green penning into my teaching routines, my workload with regard to marking and feedback significantly shifted so I think both ideas are brilliant. I love Jo’s argument that the pupils need to have more ownership over their feedback and she provides a range of examples as to how this can be done.

All in all, this is a great read and a really good reminder of how we can simplify what we do without diluting the impact on the pupils. In a time when the profession is haemorrhaging teachers it’s so important that schools work together to ensure that teachers are enabled to keep things simple and not subjected to onerous policies.

In maintaining a core focus on what we want pupils to remember we will create curriculums that slowly guide pupils through the development of necessary knowledge in order to be successful.  By keeping the learning process simple with high expectations, reduced resourcing and clear routines: recap as starters, reading, writing every lesson, practice and a well organised end to a lesson we will minimise our workload.  And in using whole class feedback and empowering pupils to respond to feedback we can significantly reduce our workload.

Jo argues at the end of the book that happy, healthy, well-balanced teachers – teachers who have a good work-life balance – are better teachers in the classroom and I would have to agree.  The tips and suggestions in this book will really help teachers to focus on the things that matter – to keep things simple – so that greater work-life balance can be achieved.


Ofsted’s new inspection framework has certainly brought discussions regarding curriculum to the forefront and this book – The Secondary Curriculum Leader’s Handbook – is a really great compilation of articles that provoke thought for those responsible for curriculum design.

Many chapters in the book advocate a knowledge based curriculum arguing that schools ‘need to have a strong relationship with knowledge, particularly around what they want pupils to know and know how to do’ and that the curriculum itself should be a progression model with knowledge building on knowledge.

There are certainly some interesting chapters from Jon Hutchinson and Fran Hayes about curriculum design and the idea of planning backwards by considering what knowledge pupils would need if they were to sit your subject at university. Progression mapping is definitely something I have found useful in helping to create a cohesive approach to a 5 year curriculum.

However, I loved the slightly different perspectives offered in a variety of different chapters with regard to why we need particular knowledge / what we utilise that knowledge for. In chapter 2 Steve Rollett puts the following argument forward: ‘school is emphatically not just about passing on knowledge, it is about empowering knowledge, making meaning of the knowledge, using it, applying it and challenging it.‘ The idea being that we educate and train our young people to shape a better world using knowledge of the current one.

This is reinforced in Chapter 4, when Nick Soar argues that ‘we need to enable students to possess powerful knowledge that splinters and then breaks the glass ceiling, and enables them to speak truth to power.’

Choosing what knowledge we want to impart then is of critical importance. For me, this has created a shift in thinking. Instead of choosing texts from a canon because of their literary merit or challenge, I have instead given more consideration to literature that has had a wider significant impact or that is values based or explores some aspect of moral consciousness. If we want our pupils to smash that barrier, one could argue that not only do they need to possess ‘knowledge’ (the best of what has been said and thought in the world) but they also need to be able to use that knowledge in a way that will continue to benefit and move society forward as a whole (whilst also not repeating the mistakes of the past).

This is partly why I really liked School 21’s curriculum designed based upon three core principles of the Head, the Heart and the Hand. Whilst School 21 recognise that knowledge is important, and vital for our more disadvantaged pupils, they also recognise that how we build the whole pupil needs to be given due consideration and time within the curriculum.

Head heart hand.jpg

This also made me reflect on the strengths of the DP programme which strives to develop the whole student, especially through core elements such as CAS, TOK and EE. In reflecting upon this, I am in agreement with Simon Watson, unsurprisingly, that ‘international schools are ideally placed to educate people for a shared humanity’ because the international sector isn’t as entrenched in knowledge that the development of the whole person has been lost.  Instead, programmes such as the MYP and the DP explore the importance of utilising ‘knowledge’ to help create citizens who will have the most positive impact in the future.

I also found it really interesting in Jon Hutchinson’s chapter when he stated that university lecturers stated the best thing we can teach our pupils is to ‘understand the significance and influence of context.’  In understanding where we’ve come from, the hope is that we establish a clearer and better path forward.

A point should be made here about the numerous references in the book to the argument that a curriculum should reflect ‘the best of what has been thought and said in the world’ as I do not think this is always reflected in curriculum mapping.  There has been a tendency of late to create a curriculum that is linked to a literary canon to provide a level of ‘academic rigour’.  This then has manifested itself seemingly into a dead white British man’s curriculum and a curriculum that cannot, as well-intentioned as it might be, actually reflect the best of what has been thought and said.  Instead, we need to go beyond the dead white man to encompass the plethora of voices across the world and expose our pupils to these.   If you haven’t read or listened to ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie , it is well worth looking at.

Aside from exploring what a curriculum should do, there are some really practical chapters (esp Jon Hutchinson and Fran Hayes) on how to approach the writing of a curriculum with a focus on backward planning, careful sequencing to support what is embedded in pupils’ long term memory and cumulative assessment. For me, KS3 is of critical importance and we should strive to impart all of the core foundational knowledge into our pupils’ long term memory to free their working memory up for the application of knowledge at KS4 – one for another time, perhaps.

And last but not least the importance of core literacy and vocabulary development was emphasised constantly throughout the book. J Durran’s literacy checklist is an excellent share in the book for framing discussions around pupils’ literacy development and I also particularly liked the discussion by Mary Myatt about how we extend our pupils’ learning through wider reading.

Overall, this is a great book offering a range of perspectives on curriculum design and is great at provoking thought as you consider your curriculum offering over the next couple of years.

Mary myatt

I love Mary Myatt. This is because Mary has this aurora of absolute fierceness fuelled by her passion for education but she tempers this with an incredible sense of compassion and empathy for educators. Her books are about rigour and the highest of expectations but having these whilst also being kind to yourself.

I started reading ‘The Curriculum – Gallimaufry to coherence’ yesterday and finished it this morning. What I particularly love about Mary Myatt’s writing is that you are offered a concise overview of such complex matters. Chapters are short and within each there are nuggets to digest and chew over as we head into a new academic year.

So what are my main takeaways?

What curriculum is

I love this from page 14 when talking about curriculum: ‘The reduction in bulk is important; there is strong evidence of teachers moving with undue, enforced pace through an overladen curriculum…deep learning must be a principal goal of the national curriculum, with learners able to retain and transfer learning.’

This idea of deep learning has really come to the forefront over the past couple of years. Long gone are curriculum maps with six distinct units (one for each half term) and in its place 2-3 units that enable teachers to explore texts at a ‘deeper level.’ Retention has also become a core focus with the new linear GCSEs: knowledge organisers, low stakes quizzing, self-quizzing, recap questions are all now common features within most curriculums.

I am, however, now more interested in this idea of transference and actually, my second takeaway, purpose.

I don’t think I am great at purpose. I rarely refer to learning goals, for example. But there is an interesting point to consider about the ‘Why am I teaching this?’ that goes beyond the ‘because it is on the GCSE specification.’

This has prompted my thinking with An Inspector Calls which I am teaching in September. So, besides being on the IGCSE spec, why should we be teaching An Inspector Calls?

My answer is that An Inspector Calls is a powerful text. It is a text about social injustice – a topic that is just as relevant today as it was back then. If I can inspire my pupils about social injustice and the power of literature to act as markers of this, then their reading of this text will surely be enhanced. Now you may argue that this is something you automatically teach when you teach AIC but actually this has made me consider my way in to the text. That I need to do a couple of lessons on social injustice before we begin our reading of the play. I’m thinking pictures of MLK, Anne Frank, Emmeline Pankhurst and associated texts to discuss why MLK made his speech, why Anne Frank wrote her diary etc and the power of literature in documenting these moments and pushing society on (arguably!) I’m then thinking I will want to show pupils images of poverty, of racism etc from the present to discuss how relevant social injustice is today and whether documentation of these events is enough. After this, I can begin to look at JB Priestley and his ideological standpoint about society during the time of his writing of AIC.

Transference of knowledge

‘Knowing things helps us to know more things. Knowing things helps us to connect with previous knowledge and to make connections. Knowing things makes us feel clever.’

This is something I don’t think I’ve nailed (as teacher and as a Subject Lead, currently).

We have thought about how KS3 prepares pupils for KS4. We teach Our Day Out to prepare for Blood Brothers and Oliver Twist to prepare for A Christmas Carol. It is also true that when teaching Blood Brothers, we can connect a lot of knowledge with A Christmas Carol and make references back and forth. But I feel like more could be done. I’m not a Subject Lead next year so I am interested to see how it works at my new school before I ponder this one further.

Independence within the curriculum.

Independence is a key quality valued in IB learners and I am keen to develop how I support my pupils to be independent.

I love the idea of wider reading to enhance cultural capital and support what is done in lessons and Mary references a Geography teacher (I think?) who sets a University essay each week for her y9/GCSE pupils.

I also love the idea on page 65 which references Feynman. When making notes, ‘a student would put a query or a question mark against the elements he wasn’t sure about. These were the areas for him to go back and revisit.’ I really like this idea of encouraging this active reading and inquisitive state of mind – that perhaps the text is the starting point and more can be learnt independently. Creating a culture in which pupils feel comfortable saying that they don’t know could also be fostered through this explicit method of noting.


‘When I have to explain and justify my answer to someone else, I am having to dig deeper into the underlying structures to my argument.’

I completely agree with this and want to read up a bit more on using oracy within the classroom to support extended writing.


I am really interested in writing. Having spent 3 years looking at reading and embedding a number of strategies within our academy (some successful, some less so), I am really keen to develop my approach to writing and am still working my way through The Writing Revolution. Having also examined, I understand Mary’s point about the mechanical rather than the voice and the shape and I really want to consider this further. I like the summary of The Writing Revolution on page 119: ‘Writing is underpinned by six principles: pupils need explicit instruction in writing; sentences are the building blocks of all writing; when embedded in the content of the curriculum, writing instruction is a powerful teaching tool; the content of the curriculum drives the rigour of the writing activities; grammar is best taught in the context of student writing and the two more important phases of the writing process are planning and revising.’

Next year, I’m hoping to do a lot more reading around the area of writing so watch this space.

There are some fantastic sections on leadership and curriculum later on in the book but I am stepping away from leadership for a while so am focusing on how I can develop my classroom-based practice.

A brilliant book with lots of food for thought as I plan ahead to 2018-2019.


I am a leader. I am a leader finding my way from the murky depths of leading an English department to the even murkier depths of leading on TL across the academy I work out.

It’s hard. It’s difficult and, for me, it is often plagued with uncertainty. I have days when I feel I am cracking it and days when I wonder what the hell I am doing.

For this reason, I love a good leadership book to root me back into what it means to be a leader.

Legacy by James Kerr is a superb read on leadership. Sharing 15 key lessons for leadership, the book offers strategy to ensure your team becomes a high-performing team.

Below are my key take-aways.  I am hoping to be able to blog on how I have used this book in future to shape my leadership development.

Chapter 1 – Character

What does the book say?

  • True success starts with humility – knowing oneself and recognising that character triumphs over talent because whilst winning takes talent, to repeat it takes character.
  • The importance of getting the basics right and ensuring that you are creating the highest operating standards. The culture needs to be right.
  • The importance of team and collective character. And all members of the team constantly asking how can we do this better and have a vested input into this ongoing discussion.
  • The importance of vision. Action without vision is a nightmare. Vision without action is a dream. Vision into every day action. Principle into practice.

Chapter 2 – Adapt

  • A winning environment is one of personal and professional development.
  • Clear strategy for change – an environment that would stimulate the players and make them want to take part in it.
  • Recognise there will be learning dips in performance.
  • Decision cycle = observe, orient, decide act and then repeat.
  • Identify 10 things you need to achieve in 100 days. Three actions for each. Review every Friday.

Chapter 3 – Purpose

  • People want to be part of something worth fighting for, something they can be proud of.
  • The way we feel about something is more important than what we think about it.
  • Emotional reward is more important than material gain.
  • Personal meaning is how we connect.

Chapter 4 – Responsibility

  • A team of leaders is ahead of the game
  • Flexible leadership groups – distributed leadership.
  • Ownership – building trust and a common understanding.
  • The learning environment should be dedicated to improving the individual.

Chapter 5 – Learn

  • Success is modest improvement consistently done. A long-term commitment to improving excellence
  • Constant improvement – always asking how we can do things better.
  • Without the right structure in place, strategy won’t be successful. Structure follows strategy
  • Each team member should identify their 7/8 pillars of improvement and ensure everything they do feeds into a daily map of self-improvement.
  • Success is how a team work together under pressure, how they understand importance of team work and how they are willing to do 100 things 1% better.
  • The environment needs to be dedicated to learning. How do leaders create opportunities for personal growth and professional development?
  • Excellence is a process of evolution.

Chapter 6 – Whanau

  • Fly in formation. Be of one mind. On a good team, there are no superstars.
  • Turn standards into action with peer to peer enforcement. High standards must come from within.
  • Leadership works best when it comes from the team.
  • The greater connections between a team, the stronger the team.
  • Find a structure that would empower everyone on the team and allow the players to grow as individuals.

Chapter 7 – Expectations

  • Those who prepare properly normally win.
  • Successful leaders have high internal benchmarks. They set their expectations high and exceed them.
  • It’s the repetition of affirmation that leads to belief. Self-fulfilling prophecies.
  • Words shape our story, our story becomes a framework for our behaviours, our behaviours determine the way we lead our life and the way we run our organisations.

Chapter 8 – Preparation

  • The way the sapling is shaped determines how the tree grows.
  • Practise with intensity to develop the mindset to win.
  • If you’re not growing anywhere, you are not going anywhere.
  • Effective training is intense, regular and repetitious. For world class results, it should be central to culture.
  • Avoid red head. Aim for blue head: alternatives, consequences and task behaviours.
  • Develop clarity with a more accurate automatic execution and situational awareness.

Chapter 9 – Pressure

  • Pressure is expectation, scrutiny and consequence.
  • Bad decisions are made as a result of inability to handle pressure at the pivotal moment.
  • Where we direct our mind is where thoughts will take us. Thoughts create an emotion and emotion defines behaviour. Behaviour defines our performance.
  • Avoid bad experience pictures from the past or fear of future consequences.
  • Brain is three parts – instinct, thinking and emotion. Disconnect emotion to remain focused on outcome. When this happens find an external force and get yourself back into the present.
  • Mantra – three word act and takes one from chaos through clarity into action.
  • Meet pressure with pressure. By controlling our attention, we control our performance and by controlling our performance, we control the game.

Chapter 10 – Authenticity

  • Follow your own path. Be resilient, stand tall, keep faith and stand strong within yourself. Be genuine, real and true to who you are. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
  • Leaders who fail suffer from a lack of strong identity, belief in themselves and respect for themselves.
  • When leaders disrespect with others, it starts with themselves.
  • Bad faith occurs when peer pressures and social forces combine to have us disown our own values.
  • Leaders need to role model behaviours around admission of mistakes and weaknesses and fear.
  • Essential for safe conflict and safe confrontation.
  • Integrity – thoughts, deeds and words are as one.
  • Authenticity is alignment of head, mouth, heart and feet thinking, saying and doing the same thing consistently. Honesty – integrity – authenticity – resilience – performance.
  • Every morning write a list of things that need to be done that day. Do them.
  • With an authentic voice, we have authority

Chapter 11 – Sacrifice

  • It’s the work we do behind close doors that makes the difference
  • These are the things I need to work on. These are my weaknesses.
  • Never surrender. Spill blood for the team. Sacrifice.

Chapter 12 – Language

  • Let your ears listen
  • No one is bigger than the team
  • Leave the jersey in a better place
  • Live for the jersey. Die for the jersey.
  • It’s not enough to be good. It’s about being great.
  • In the belly – not the back.
  • It’s an honour, not a job.
  • Leaders are storytellers.
  • If you are going to die for something, you need to know what you are dying for.
  • Companies that maintain their core values are those that stand alone, stand apart and stand for something.
  • First we shape our values then our values shape us.

Chapter 13 – Ritual

  • Ritualised to actualise.
  • Identity and purpose need to be continually renewed and reinterpreted to give them meaning.
  • Inspiring leaders use rituals to lead their team to its core narrative and uses them to reflect, remind, reinforce and reignite collective identity and purpose.

Chapter 14 – Whakapapa

  • Plant trees you’ll never see. Be a good ancestor.
  • What is important is that when the sun is on us, we inherit our tribes, values, stories, mythology and standards. Live to that standard and then pass it on to the next person in the team.
  • True leaders are stewards of the future.
  • Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are whilst your reputation is merely what others think you are.

Chapter 15 – Legacy

  • Write your legacy. This is your time.