November 30, 2004

Back from the real world

Placement ended on Thursday, and now I'm back from 'real world' experiences of paint, assemblies, noise, wet play and a surprising number of slug references, to this cosy university world where people think that children are sweet and that computers work.
This computer thing is the biggest difference, I think. Here at uni we are 'expected' to present things using power point, told excitedly how much schools are using ICT for absolutely everything, and forced to spend hours working out how to use interactive whiteboards. In Real Life, teachers know that the time taken to crowd 28 over-excited children into the one room with enough computers in it, sit them all down and take them through logging on is just not worth the ten minutes of learning time you might get before having to repeat the whole process in reverse. The one abortive attempt I made to plan a computer session into a lesson ended abruptly when I found that the children's internet search engine didn't know who Samuel Pepys was, so expecting them to use it to fill in a worksheet about him was a bit far-fetched.
It's not all doom and gloom for anything ICT based. The school had some amazing computer software that I would have loved to get my hands on, like Kar2ouche, the film-and-storyboard maker with amazing graphics, or like the interactive electronic microscope. It was mostly a matter of time and of not being able to practise while doing my planning from the safety of my own home!
Having said that, not practising beforehand didn't put me off attempting to create carbon dioxide and use it to put out a candle flame in the middle of a science lesson without ever having done it before in my life. What I didn't know was that the teacher was going to be observing that particular lesson. Possibly the hairiest moment of the whole placement came as I began to tip the invisible gas over the flame, watched by thirty attentive, hushed children and a teacher with a clipboard, and realised that I had no idea what this would look like: would it actually go out? Would it just flicker? Would it go pop? How close did I have to hold the neck of the bottle? What if the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda had started to pour out before the flame went? The children weren't the only ones who hissed "yessss" when the flame was finally vanquished. After the lesson, the teacher gave me my feedback.
"I really enjoyed watching the children's faces as you did that experiment. They haven't seen much real chemistry like that before, and I think they were very impressed". She looked at me with a twinkle. "Your face, however, was a picture!"

October 15, 2004

Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome, by Luke Jackson

5 out of 5 stars
OK, so this isn't strictly a children's book: it's aimed at adolescents and adults. But I've just finished reading it, and I wanted to put it up here because I think it should be obligatory reading for all teachers and trainee teachers everywhere! The author is a 13 year old boy (well, he was at the time of writing it, in 2002) with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. He also has three brothers, one with dyspraxia and dyslexia, one with ADHD and one with autism. Naturally, he offers some highly informative and often moving insights into the way that people on the autistic spectrum view the world.
The book is written clearly, maturely and with humour, and it was so easy to read that I finished it in two sittings without once getting bored. Luke Jackson covers school, bullying, social interaction and the dating game as well as chapters on things that have helped him such as a gluten-free diet, and taekwondo. As well as this, the reference section at the back of the book is packed with recommended reading (all vetted by Luke) and a hugely useful list of explanations of all those bizarre everyday idioms that people with Asperger's find so hard to understand: "teach your grandmother to suck eggs", for example, or "have butterflies in your stomach".
There is no doubt that this book will be a primary point of reference for me if I ever (and eventually I surely will) have a child on the autistic spectrum in my classroom. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest…(there, and now try explaining that idiom!)

October 08, 2004

The Very Worried Sparrow, by Meryl Doney

5 out of 5 stars

Title: The Very Worried Sparrow

Author: Meryl Doney

Type: Picture book

Age range: Key stage 1 (to be read to) year 3 (for individual reading)

Plot: Once there was a very worried sparrow. All the other sparrows were perfectly happy, but this one worried about everything: food, where to live, how to fly, whether he would find a mate. Eventually, however, a wise turtle dove comes to the rescue and shows the Very Worried Sparrow how to enjoy life.

Great for: – The pictures, which are beautiful, and take the story through all four seasons. Children love to pick the worried sparrow out of all his cheerful brothers and sisters. And itís quite a skilful illustrator (William Geldart) who can successfully make a sparrow look concerned! – The repetition, which is great for shared reading aloud and for predicting what will happen next, especially as there is a surprise at the end when ďthe worried sparrow

Ösmiled!Ē – The different voices that allow for a dramatic reading which children enjoy. I like to do a quivery little voice for the sparrow, a high-pitched hyperactive chirp for his brothers and sisters, and a low coo for the turtle dove…the passage that describes "all the little things that every creature knows" is written in a poetic language distinct from the rest and is repeated at the end, so a special, low, soothing voice can be used for it.

Also useful for: RE (itís based on Jesusís saying about the sparrows) PSHE (What are we worried/scared about?) and for younger years, discussion about the seasons (why does the sparrow think he won't find food in winter? What will happen to the sparrows' eggs when it gets to spring time? What season is it now that there is blossom on the sparrows' tree?)

This is one of my very very favourites :)

October 05, 2004

'Coming to England' by Floella Benjamin

5 out of 5 stars

Here's my first PGCE review…

Title: Coming to England
Author: Floella Benjamin
Reading age: Years 5–6?
Dates: First published 1995, just re-released in paperback

This is the touching true story of the author's arrival in England in the 1960s. Plucked from her home in Trinidad, which she describes lovingly and colourfully for a large part of the book, Floella is plunged into a cold, grey country which she soon discovers is not quite the "land of hope and glory" she had been taught about. Encountering prejudice and unfriendliness from every side, she must learn not only to cope, but to strive to make her mark and win respect from her new countrymen. She manages this in an inspirational way.

The book is not only wonderful to read as pure story, but would also make a great discussion starter: in geography, there are ample chances to discuss differences and similarities between a child's life in Trinidad and England; in PSHD, the issues of racism and inclusion could spark debate.

October 01, 2004

Technology Fails Me Again

Huh. Well, this entry would have been my very first children's book review. I thought I'd collect my reviews of kids' books, which I have to do on my course, in this nice friendly blog page designed for the purpose, so that other people could use them and comment on them and so on. That's what I thought, but you can never be too sure with computers, can you? Because for some reason my blog doesn't seem to think it has a "create review" function. It teases me by offering one on the drop-down menu, but then, just as if it knows that's the one I want to click on, the menu disappears when I approach it with the mouse.


I wonder whether the amount of time wasted trying to get the computer to do what you want, is actually more than the amount of time saved by what the computer claims to be able to do?

September 28, 2004

Links to Stuff about Me

Greetings. And Salutations. This Is My Blog.

I could do a long a rambling first entry telling everyone all sorts of things they never wanted to know about me, but I won't, because it's pointless when I could send you all to various other bits of the web where I've done it already. So if you're curious enough, you can see general information, the odd snippet of poetry and some photographs on my old website , or you can read entries from my last attempt at a web diary , or you can see the official website for the play wot I wrote that's going to have its second run in Cheltenham this December (nudge, nudge, hint, hint.) As far as personal information goes, that's more than enough to keep everyone happy while I work out what the heck I'm going to do with all this new webspace.

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