Review | Cleverlands

As a teacher, you often hear talk about the world’s best education systems – starting school later, more respect of the profession, mastery – but it can be hard to turn this policy into something workable. Lucy Crehan’s Cleveland manages to shed some light on this.

Cretan travels the world visiting the top performing PISA countries, and takes a good look at their education systems. Through her visits to Finland, Singapore, Japan, Shanghai and Canada, we see why these countries are so successful and the possible foibles of their education systems.

Rather than an enforced theory or set of ideas (at least until the final chapter), Crehan enables us to have an insight into the lives of students and teachers across the globe. The book allows for ideas about streaming (when, if at all?), motivation, professionalism, accountability and curriculum design to bubble in your mind as you read, so you are able to come to your own conclusion as she does.

This is a really good read if you are interested in education policy or over-arching ideas about education systems! Order here

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Review | Boy in the Tower

At first, this novel seems like a strange entity: a sci-fi about killer plants and a boy stuck in a tower block. Yet, as you delve deeper into it, you realise that it is so much more. Our narrator and protagonist is ten year-old Ade who lives with and cares for his housebound mother; when the mysterious ‘bluchers’ arrive everyone else splits, and Ade is left to fend for himself.

This book is initially slow to start as it builds tension and peppers the text with clues about the incoming crisis, but the longer you stick with it the more you are invested in Ade’s story of survival. This was my story-time read aloud last term, and Year 5 loved it. They were quick to empathise with Ade, and we had thoughtful debates around the text’s key themes.

This would definitely work well as a read aloud in Years 4-6, and fluent readers would definitely enjoy getting stuck in. It is a good introduction to dystopian or science fiction, and would really fit with a topic on plants or growing.

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Review | Bringing Words to Life

I came to this book hot off the heels from The Secret of Literacy; I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready for the world of robust vocabulary instruction.

Beck, McKewon and Kucan’s book explores the deficit between ‘word rich’ and ‘word poor’ students, and how best educators can go about fixing this. It definitely fulfils it’s remit. There are some shocking figures about the language deprivation of the children studied (the case studies are all American I should note – no value judgement, just interesting to compare!), and in short children who begin school with a vocabulary deficit will only see the gap between them and the ‘word rich’ widen as schooling progresses.

The book offers a structure for vocabulary introduction and teaching, and the biggest piece of learning for me was the splitting of vocabulary into three tiers. ‘Tier One’ words are the basic, high frequency words that children should know; ‘Tier Two’ the wow-words of old that are uncommon in oral language but often found in writing; and ‘Tier Three’ is the vocabulary of academic disciplines (think filibuster). I found this distinction particularly useful, and as I design my next unit of teaching I will definitely think about the ‘Tier Two’ words to focus my instruction on.

My only real problem with this book, was that it was a smidge dry. It’s style is densely academic (often sighting many studies and authors), it had lots of reproduced teacher-student conversations, and a slightly cheesy ‘your turn’ section at the end of each chapter. Its lessons are definitely worth hearing, but for a read on the train to work, this probably isn’t for you. Give it a go over the summer holidays, and don’t feel ashamed skipping the boring bits!

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Topics | Best books for the Tudors

Having taught the Tudors as a cross-curricular topic for the past few years now, these are three of the best books that I’ve found for writing, class novels and independent reading. Enjoy!

 

The Devil and His Boy, Anthony Horowitz

A captivating novel which charts the adventures of Tom as he is caught up in a whirlwind adventure which takes from a pub in Framlingham to the Shakespearean stage! The writing is evocative, dramatic and is a fantastic starting point for writing. Works well as a read aloud or shared text! Order here.

King of Shadows, Susan Cooper

This time-slip novel sees Nathan Field, a young American actor, travel to England to perform on the newly-built Globe stage. Once there, he falls sick with a mysterious illness and wakes up in Shakespearean England. He then assumes the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, working with William Shakespeare himself. This text is a great independent read, and has many great links to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It would work well alongside the study of the play, and children love spotting the links! Order here.

Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the Royal House of Tudor,  Kathryn Lasky

I was first introduced to this series through my own childhood reading of the Marie Antoinette Royal Diary and the rediscovery of the series as a teacher. All the novels in the series are accessible diaries for young readers based on Royal figures. It really captured the imaginations of my weaker girl readers who feel like they could get close to the Virgin Queen.Order here.

What other texts do you think work well with a Tudor topic?

Review | The Secret of Literacy

Wanting to shake up my practice, I’ve been ploughing through some educational books and, broadly, they fall into three categories: policy, practice and pedagogy. It is really tricky to find a book aimed at teachers that includes elements of each, while remaining readable. The Secret of Literacy does this.

David Didau, author of the must-read blog The Learning Spy, has managed to do exactly what his tag line suggests we do for learners – make the implicit explicit. He explores the different ways we can reveal the structure of our learning to children, and his book is peppered with fantastic ideas that are practical and really work. What I like about this book, is that Didau strikes the tonal balance between offering practical ideas but supporting it with sound pedagogy. I’ve already tried ideas such as Slow Writing, which have been a great hit with my class!

This book is a must read for anyone in the Primary classroom, and it’s easy to access ideas and thinking will transform your teaching.

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Review | The Wild Robot

What a lovely book! If you believe me already, you could go and order the book, make a nice cup of tea, enjoy a biscuit, and enjoy a job well done. If you need a little more convincing , then here goes.

Peter Brown’s debut novel (better known for his picture books) has completely set my class alight this year. Among my Year 5 readers, this book quickly turned from pristine hardback to a battered tome with an extensive waiting list. The plot is centred around Roz, a robot, who is shipwrecked on an uninhabited island. We are told that she has no feelings or emotions, but as she gets to know the animal inhabitants (and speaks their language) this changes.

It is a fab twist on the shipwreck plot, and manages to engage a wide range of readers. In Year 5, it is great for enticing reluctant or less confident readers with its short chapters and pretty illustrations; for my stronger readers it represents a quick read with long lasting ideas and fondness. I think it would work nicely in lower KS2, and would definitely be a lovely read aloud across the age phases (it was the Global Read Aloud in 2017!).

The Wild Robot is a great read, and the next instalment – The Wild Robot Escapes – already has a 15 strong waiting list in my class.

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