Monday, 23 September 2019

The Winner Takes It All (except they don't - everybody loses)

I haven’t written a blog for a long time. That’s because I genuinely couldn’t think of what to say in response to the chaos that is unfolding all around us. However, I think I’ve finally realised what is causing the chaos, and now feel compelled to share my insight: everything is wrong. Education is wrong. Politics is wrong. Football is wrong (although for different, less systemic reasons than the other two). We’ve created a culture obsessed with winning. An all or nothing society in which the winner takes all, and the loser is, well, a loser. And it’s breaking us.

I decided in the middle of last year to stop being a classroom teacher. The job, which many people love, had stopped making me happy; it had stopped giving me the sense of satisfaction I had hoped for and, frankly, deserved given the amount of work I was putting in. At the time I couldn’t put my finger on why. The workload was high, but I wasn’t unduly stressed. I’d been doing it for 8 years and, if I wasn’t getting any quicker at planning my lessons and working out how to give feedback most effectively to my pupils, I’m pretty sure that I was getting better at it. But, after a summer off, and some time at the start of this academic year to think about things, I think I have started to understand. Teaching had stopped being satisfying for me because our education system is broken. However hard I worked as a teacher, what I was pedalling was still a handful of GCSE grades which I no longer felt were a valid currency for the children I was teaching. And, more than that, due to the bell-curve approach to allocating grades, many children are condemned to “fail” regardless of how their performance compares with that of children in any other year. This bell-curve allocation of grades, in fact our whole education system, is built on the concept of winners and losers.

Stop and think for a few seconds about the fact that a child can go through 11 years of formal schooling and then “fail” education. Thanks for coming, but bad luck. You couldn’t write it. Or, rather, you wouldn’t write it (unless you were Margaret Atwood). It’s too cruel. Plus, it’s horribly inefficient. There’s no reason for it as far as I can see. I appreciate that there should be something a child can point to at the end of their time at school which expresses in some way what they have achieved. But that is the point: it should express what the child has achieved; what they can do. Not just, essentially, what they have failed to do. However, the system is designed by people who won at education, and perhaps it is hard to understand, from that perspective, what is wrong with a system which allows people to lose.

The same thing goes for the idea that market forces are a sensible way to determine the success (or not) of schools. Does anyone genuinely think it’s ok, in a supposedly civilised society, for a school to fail. The notion is absurd. I suspect that there is some merit in allowing competition between businesses on the basis that it might inspire efficiencies (as opposed to just inspiring ruthlessness and corner-cutting), but I’m not an economist. The point is that the education system is not a business. It’s not ok for market-led “parental choice” to create a situation where, for most people, it’s impossible to buy a house anywhere near a “good” school, while schools elsewhere are allowed to decay, to lose.

I think that a big part of the problem is that this obsession with winning and losing reflects almost all of our society. We preserve with an antiquated adversarial legal system which prioritises “winning” the case ahead of actually finding out what really happened. We have an election system which is designed to create a Parliamentary dictatorship, regardless of the actual breakdown of votes. Only 40% of people voted for you? Never mind – you win! And you get to be in charge. Of everyone. Not only that, but once the election’s over, a huge amount of time is given over to trying to “win” exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions as opposed to sitting down and trying to work out what to do about anything.

And, of course, Brexit. Forget the absurdity of reducing one of the most complicated and far-reaching decisions in our history to a binary, coin-toss, Yes/No lottery. The fact is that the referendum process has allowed vested extremist interests to polarise the entire debate into a slogan-shouting contest. There is no room for compromise. You’re either leave or remain, and that’s it. Sticking with two strictly defined teams is sensible when you’re playing football in the park. It’s ridiculous when you’re talking about geopolitics. But, we’re opposed with winning. Listen to Boris Johnson’s ridiculous martial language. He wants to beat the European Union. He wants to win these talks. Or he’s going to Hulk-smash them until he does win.

I think that a lot of this attitude comes down to an inaccurate understanding of the survival of the fittest. That doesn’t mean survival of the strongest, it means the survival of the entity most fit for its purpose. Survival of most adaptable. Boris Johnson seems to think that the trick is to act like a top predator, and simply overwhelm everyone else. I worry that, if he gets his way, very soon there’s going to be a very skinny, starving lion, weakly opening one eye, looking round at the carcasses surrounding it thinking, why did I eat all the wildebeest, all at the same time?

I don’t know what it will take to change this obsession for winning and losing. To the extent that I can, I’m going to try and remove myself from these pressures where it just doesn’t make sense. I mean, I’m not against winning and losing as a concept. I can get really quite cross when Viki beats me at scrabble. But education isn’t scrabble, it’s much more important than that.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

The Core of the problem

Recently I would say I have been suffering from pretty poor mental health. Feeling stressed and a bit overwhelmed by how much I’m not able to do in the time there is, and upset at how much better a job I wish I was doing. Which, dear reader, has made me somewhat reflective. And this is something which has stared back at me: I don’t think that teaching English should be stressful. It’s about stories. About love conquering all. Good overcoming evil. All that stuff. Good, fun, positive stuff. I love it! Why is it stressful? Do you know what I think the problem might be? I think it might be because English is a CORE subject. 

Being a core subject, for anyone unfortunate enough to have to teach anything else, is not simply an excuse to lord it through the corridors, pushing less important subject teachers out of the way in your haste to get to the next intervention class (pupils unilaterally removed from [insert any other subject here]), it’s also an invitation to take on the full burden of the school’s performance, and to squeeze all of the joy you once had in your subject out onto the educational chopping board and have it pummelled with a data rolling pin. But, why does English have this status? Why does this status exist at all?

Presumably, the core subjects are considered core because somebody decided that they are more important than the other subjects. More relevant somehow to the betterment of society. Which, honestly, at least in the case of English anyway, is just not true as far as I can see. A good proportion of teaching English is about discussing and (over-)analysing bits of writing, and speculating about why a writer might have chosen this or that particular word. Which I obviously think is awesome, but I’m not sure it is more important, or intrinsically more relevant, than knowing how to cook a decent meal or why William was a Conqueror. What is more important than all that, and vastly more relevant, is being able to read and write confidently. However, as I’vewritten before, teaching English is not teaching reading. The conflation of English with literacy is a fallacy which is limiting our potential to successfully teach both, and which is failing too many of the children in our schools. English teachers don’t have time to teach children how to read properly: we’re too busy planning our twice-weekly, two-hour, 6am Year 7 Christmas Carol quotation memorisation booster sessions (one hour for non-PP pupils). Everything is so focused on how well they do in their exams, that there’s no time for love conquering all; it’s all about whether you can get them to memorise another 4 synonyms for shows before the next practice paper steam-rollers in.

Ensuring that children leave secondary school able to confidently read and write is a fundamental moral obligation which everybody involved in education needs to support, but, at the moment, the system just isn’t set up to ensure that it happens for everyone. For too many (i.e. more than zero) children, English lessons (and, most likely, all their other lessons as well, but I’m not in those) are boring and hard because it’s almost impossible to take part in what’s happening because they don’t really understand what it is they’re reading. There needs to be an accepted literacy benchmark, which schools need to ensure pupils reach before they leave. Really, it should be the only (academic) thing schools are judged upon. And “Literacy”, as a stand-alone subject, should be compulsory for everyone, until they meet that benchmark. For some people, that might be when they’re in Year 7; for others, that might be the last thing they achieve before they leave school: it doesn’t matter, as long as they do achieve it, and they receive the support they need to make sure they achieve it. Which, at the moment, lots of children do not. The ones who can’t read well are being made to learn enough about how Shakespeare uses the weather (“Who can remember what it’s called? Path….? Anyone….?”) to get through their exam, and then being sent off into a world they can’t hope to fully understand, although they might (maybe) smile ruefully to themselves as they walk miserably down the street in the rain. “How Shakespearean!” they’ll chuckle to themselves.

If we did end up with a dedicated literacy curriculum, that would mean English could become like other subjects. We could maybe take ourselves a bit less seriously. We could try to teach children in Key Stage 3 so they actually liked our subject, so they’d choose it as an option.  We could maybe teach them some stuff that wasn’t on an exam specification somewhere. And, maybe, it wouldn’t be so stressful for everyone. Unless it’s just me...?

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Once upon a time: starting at the beginning

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. First of all, I should start by saying that I’m certain that what I’m about to say is nothing revolutionary or new. In fact, I almost decided not to write about it because it seems so obvious. However, it wasn’t obvious to me before, so perhaps it will be of interest to someone.

Last year, we started Year 7 with a great reading scheme of work based on a fantastic book, “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman. Similar to every other year of my teaching career, we got straight into reading the book, making inferences about the characters and considering the effects of language and structure. By this time last year, our pupils were able, with heavy modelling support and sentence starters, to write about these things. But, round about June, it occurred to me that we’d actually done them a disservice. In preparation for their end of year exams, we created a set of revision resources which really went back to basics, starting off with exercises focused on meaning, writers’ purpose and effects. As we did this, it occurred to me this is how we should have started at the beginning of Year 7: at the beginning.

This might be an issue that is quite specific to our school, but I have realised that the vast majority of our pupils just don’t understand stories. Many of them have not been brought up with stories, not had stories read to them as young children and don’t really understand the point of stories, which makes developing a genuine understanding of what people are trying to do when they write difficult. Pupils could diligently learn all the different language and structural features and sentence starters, and churn out versions of the model answers we’d worked through, but did not have a real feel for why any of it was important. As a result, there were often moments when I would ask, “Why has the writer done that? What effect does it have?”, and be faced with a room full of blank faces. As a result, I decided to completely change our scheme of work for Year 7 Term 1 and start with a very basic breakdown of what stories are, and what the point of it all is.

For no very good reason, other than me getting carried away with beginnings, I decided to avoid the pressure of trying to get through a whole novel, and chose to use a range of extracts, also starting at the beginning with Hesiod and Homer, moving through to Beowulf. The rationale for this was to try and plug some of the gaps in cultural capital which our pupils have, while trying to build an awareness of how and why the stories have been put together. The lessons involved a repeated focus on making sure the pupils understood the meaning of the texts, borrowing an idea I picked up from Chris Curtis about getting them to focus on what they don’t understand. We spent a lot of time insisting that pupils didn’t simply ignore difficult words, but used a range of techniques to decipher what such words mean. We also repeated ad naseum the idea that the texts did not appear by magic, but were constructed deliberately and methodically by the writers (one brilliant teacher in our department, who is an MFL specialist, had his classes choral chanting, “Because the writer chose it” in response to any questions about why anything happened in the stories). We spent time discussing writer’s purpose, explicit and implicit meaning and considering why the writers made the choices they did, as opposed to any of the multitude of other choices they could have made. And only towards the end of half term did we finally start to talk about what effect these choices had on readers, and what inferences we could make about the characters.

Being totally honest, it did feel at times like we were moving very slowly, and having to cover some quite basic concepts several times. In this regard, I was reassured by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby’s brilliant book Making Every Lesson Count that it was better to persevere with something worth learning until they’ve learnt it, rather than simply moving on because that is what my Medium Term Plan dictated. In the end, we’ve moved lessons looking at Chaucer and Milton and the use of language and structure into Half Term 2, rather than rushing through them. And I think it has been worth it. I teach two Set 3 classes, and I am confident that they are all now aware of what stories are and why they are written, which I believe puts them in a much stronger position for the rest of their study of literature. I’m also confident that they are now aware of at least two culturally significant Homers, which is, in itself, no small thing. The next step is to try and put this awareness to use: in Half Term 2 we are going to focus more on their own writing, using a similar range of “classic” extracts to inspire and inform what they write. I believe that, by going back to the beginning, we’ve given our pupils a better start to KS3 and, ultimately, a better chance of really engaging with their GCSE texts. Fingers crossed anyway.  

Saturday, 19 August 2017

On being afraid

I am a white man, racing headlong towards middle-age. I grew up in a stable and loving home, did well at school and went to a good university. My parents are still married, I still have a living grandparent, a happy marriage, a child. My mum and dad were both teachers so we always had enough money. I'm now a teacher and Mrs Shaw is a lawyer, so we both have good jobs and earn good salaries. 

I am privileged. I know.

Last night though, I experienced something which brought home to me just how privileged my life is. For the first time I can remember, I felt afraid to speak my opinion. And the fear came from the colour of my skin and my background. I wanted to get involved in a recent Twitter debate, but was afraid of the response I might receive if I did. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not equating me not wanting to receive some mean replies to a comment I make on Twitter with the fear that many people feel on a daily basis through no fault of their own. But it gave me a small insight into what it might be like to feel I had no voice. 

The reason for this is because, over the last couple of days, there has been a huge amount of vitriol thrown around on Twitter about racism and comments made by David Didau in a recent blog. I don't know if there is a link, as the blog suggested, between race and IQ. I don't even know whether there is a link between race and "success" at school (the tiny amount of research I have done seems to suggest that being eligible for Free School Meals is a more relevant measure). I also don't know whether any link which does exist actually has anything to do with genetics, although I hope that it doesn't.

All I wanted to say last night was that, for all my own ignorance of the research and complete lack of any experience of prejudice, the attacks on Didau (and Tom Bennett) seemed wildly over the top, and the response (including accusations of a witch-hunt) equally so. I understand that 140 characters doesn't allow for much nuance, but we are teachers and should be aware that words are important. I have met Tom Bennett (briefly), and have never met David Didau (although I've heard him speak and read a lot of his work), but I can say with confidence that I don't believe either of them are racists. Didau's blog (as I read it) was about being aware of a possible link between race and performance in IQ tests so we can improve the life chances of people who often, and deeply unfairly, have fewer chances than others. And I don't know about anyone else, but that is why I became a teacher in the first place. Disagree with Didau if you like; question the validity of the research he quotes; argue with him (he appears to not be afraid of that). But what happened in response to his blog made me afraid to share my own opinion, and that made me angry. Angry enough to write most of this blog at 4am. Probably I should have been angry already. Angry about the lack of social justice in the world. Perhaps it's time I was shaken out of my privileged safe little world. But I didn't like that feeling, and it has made me even more committed to helping stop other people feeling that way. 

Reading what Didau wrote, and some of what Benjamin Doxtdator has written in response, has raised my awareness of issues, my own ignorance and I'll keep reading. The reality is though that, whenever you look at data in relation to large groups of people (whether that's based on gender, race, favourite ice cream flavour, whatever), you can lose sight of the people themselves. I'm in a fortunate position to teach people, not statistics. I read as much as possible so I am aware of trends that might be relevant to the children I teach, but I don't forget that they are all individuals. When I teach someone I think might be the victim of prejudice in their life (which, by the way, is pretty much all of them), I try to think what that means to them as an individual. There is a Chinese girl at my school. She might be the most committed, hard-working and dedicated pupil I've ever taught. Should I assume that she has pushy parents and might be stressed out? I teach the eldest son of an Indian family who is underperforming. Should I assume that he is indulged by his family and is perhaps a bit lazy? I refuse to do so. Just as I will always refuse to believe that anyone in my class room is genetically disposed to fail. I'll try and be aware of any research which suggests that certain groups of children are likely to face particular challenges, but I won't be slave to it. I won't think about how to motivate "Chinese girls"; I'll think about how to motivate this particular girl. I won't think about how to motivate "eldest Indian sons"; I'll think about how to motivate that particular boy in Period 6 on Friday. I won't think about how to teach "black children"; I'll think about how to teach each child in my room as well as I can.

I tell all the children I teach not to be afraid, so I won't be. I tell them to challenge things they think are unfair, so I will. I don't know if there's a link between race and IQ (I don't even know whether I think IQ is a very good measure of anything very much, other than the ability to do IQ tests), but I do know what racism is and what bullying is and, as teachers, we have a duty to challenge one, but without resorting to the other. 

Monday, 3 July 2017

More dove, less hawk

I'm 6'2" and weigh about 90kgs. I've got a shaved head (ok, I'm bald). In poor light (to hide the goofy grin), give me a black puffa jacket and a clip board and I could run the door at one of Tom Bennett's club nights. I thought this would help me when I started teaching; my stature, I thought, would lead to instant respect and painless behaviour management. It didn't. And I'm still trying to work out why. Here's what I've come up with so far. 

Firstly, although I am big, I'm not tough. I've never been in a fight, and I have a tendency to cry at the slightest mention of a heart string. Nevertheless, I tried to play tough in my first weeks, have tried to play tough at the start of every year since and was still trying to play tough last September. I remember once (and I've only done it once) almost squaring up to a Year 11 boy with whom I was having a difference of opinion over his presence in my room (bizarrely, now I think about it, I wanted him to stay). It's embarrassing to recall, but I thought I had to have physical dominance to earn their respect. There has been quite a lot written recently about this, and, if you haven't already read them, I'd encourage you to check out Mr Pink and Thomas James' blogs on the subject. My view is that, in my case, going for physical dominance is pointless. For a start, it's not genuine, and I suspect that's obvious. Secondly, the pupils know how powerless you are. And thirdly, and sadly, for some children, even if I was genuine, and was able to do something about it, I still wouldn't be the scariest person in their life. The truth is that some of those pupils have more inclination, more ability and more reason to use violence than I ever will. So, I've decided, why bother; it's exhausting and, more importantly, a waste of time (for me, anyway). I've decided that I'm no longer going to care about being physically dominant in the classroom. 

Probably more important than this is the fact that I'm increasingly of the opinion that children, and some boys in particular, need to see that male role models come in all different flavours. I tell them that all I want is for them to be themselves, as hard as they can, so I need to model that. So I don't bang desks anymore (still get teased for that), and I try to not raise my voice (I'm trying to get quieter and quieter the more challenging anyone's behaviour becomes). It helps that my school currently only has Years 7 and 8, and that behaviour is generally fabulous anyway, but it seems to work at least as well as the tough guy approach, and is much easier for me. Plus, I think it's probably good for the children to see a big guy who's not tough, and doesn't seem to want to be. In Thomas James' wonderfully honest story, he got his respect partly through his power (although the guy is clearly a deeply committed and passionate teacher which I think is probably more important). I'm trying to get mine through a kind of relentless affability. Just as a very basic example, I now try and sit down if I'm going to tell someone off, rather than purposely tower above them. 

It saddens me to feel like I need to make clear that this doesn't mean I've lowered my expectations in terms of behaviour. Perhaps you weren't thinking that, and it says more about what a way I still have to go to prove to myself that I haven't gone soft by being less tough. But I'd be lying if I said that I felt no pressure to be tough. Whether we like it or not, it seems like to me that there is a serious problem with the portrayal of maleness and masculinity in our society. People may point to role models like Obama and ... well, certainly Obama anyway, but, while he may be a fabulous example to us all, the former President may be a little far removed and rarified to be really meaningful for lots of children. All around us "real men" are presented as fighting things, winning things, sacrificing their emotional souls for victory at all costs.  I think I'm pretty enlightened, yet I spent most of my pre-teens pretending to be Han Solo, a man with such stunted emotional intelligence that, when the women he loves says she loves him (as he disappears to what they both believe will be his certain death), his reply is, "I know". Part of me still thinks that's cool. What a dick (me I mean; he's a fictional character, after all). Google "boys toys" and Marvel at the array of superhero figures and a jolly multicoloured arsenal that could take out North Korea. I'm sure things are better than they used to be, but boys especially are surrounded by images showing them how they should be, and I'm actively conscious about raising my son to reject it. If there wasn't a problem, then would I take him to the swimming pool with his pink goggles and Barbie mermaid? Or maybe I'm just trying too hard? 

In any case, I'm pretty sure that the last thing my pupils need to see is me desperately acting like a tough guy to try and earn their respect. In the end I think the boring truth is that I think all I've discovered is that it's best to just be myself, and, if that means waging war (a good manly metaphor) on stereotypes of what it means to be a man, then so be it. Huey Lewis had it right I think: The Power of Love is a curious thing and, amongst other things, turns a hawk to a little white dove. So that's the power I'm going for now: more dove, less hawk. 

Sunday, 25 June 2017

A marked improvement

In November last year, my school was kind enough to let me go, along with our Deputy Head, to visit Michaela Community School. On the way down, we talked about what we were hoping to get out of the trip, and I told him that I was interested to learn more about their claim that they didn't mark books. Our Deputy Head is a PE teacher so, after I'd explained to him what marking was, he smiled politely and then carried on talking about behaviour policies or Pupil Premium funding or some such. The visit was overwhelming and incredibly thought-provoking - so much so that we didn't really talk much about the marking (or, rather, feedback) policy on the way home and I figured that would be the end of that.

I was wrong.

A couple of weeks ago, my school embraced the future. While it isn't quite the golden utopia of the greatest marking policy in the world ever (written, incidentally, by me: “There should be clear evidence that pupils and teachers have considered, and taken action on, pupil work on a regular basis”. See here for more on that), it is pretty close. Essentially, each department has been told that we can develop a policy of providing feedback which best suits our subject and our classes. There are some general, best-practice guidelines, but they are not prescriptive, and we have been encouraged to be as creative and flexible as we can. The guiding principle is that, whatever we do, it needs to be sustainable for teachers, and make a tangible difference to the pupils we teach. 

Honestly, it's brilliant. Our Head of Department was part of a pilot scheme involving a small number of teachers working on different ideas, and her approach, which she has adapted over a term, is the one we have adopted. And, the funny thing is, it's very similar to the way they approach feedback at Michaela (on this, read Joe Kirby here and Jo Facer here). We read the pupils' work, make notes and then, in the next lesson, tell them what they have done well and what they can do to improve. Making comments in their books is not forbidden, so if a pupil is making a particularly idiosyncratic mistake, I'm at liberty to provide more detailed, individual feedback but, generally, written comments are at a minimum (handy if your handwriting is as bad as mine). It's simple, and, as far as it's possible to tell after a couple of weeks, really effective. I also take photos of excellent examples of work and talk through them in the follow-up lesson to break down why they were so good. I tend not to announce whose work it is on the screen and the pupils love trying to guess who produced it, and the looks on the faces of the authors is priceless. It has created a lovely atmosphere in the room as we talk about what makes a good piece of work and they then have a go at improving what they have done. 

Marking a full set of books used to take me at least four hours. Some of the other teachers in my department have been completing a full set of books, and the prep for the response lesson, in less than an hour and a half. I haven't quite got down to that level of efficiency yet (see here for evidence of my marking problem), but I think that is partly due to the fact that we have been preparing for our end of year tests, and we have been covering a wide range of material. Nevertheless, last week I read the book of every pupil I teach, which I don't think I've ever done since I started teaching. And it was clear that, as I walked round my classes during their response time, they had a much better idea of how to make their work better than has been the case previously. It really does seem to be a better way to do things.

Although it is early days, I am confident that this approach will improve the quality of response work my pupils do, as well as making a fundamental change to the quality of my life and teaching, such is the reduction in the time is takes to complete my marking load. Having more time for myself and my family will make me a better teacher. Having more time to read up on my subject will make me a better teacher. And I believe that, by focusing more on what I really want the pupils to know, and planning for these regular feedback sessions to assess whether they know it, I will become a better teacher. I am excited about structuring schemes of work next year so they build to one of these feedback sessions (weekly, fortnightly, whatever makes sense); I am even more excited about getting more sleep, reading more books, doing more exercise and spending more time with my family.

I don't know what exactly prompted our Deputy Head to rethink the way we approach feedback, but I'm very glad he did. If you are still struggling under the load of a more prescriptive marking policy, I'd encourage you to mention it to whoever is in charge: there is another way.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Can you teach language analysis by playing?

I recently read this interesting article by Tom Bennett on the limitations of learning through play. I immediately (and sycophantically) responded to say that I agreed and thought play wasn't essential in order to teach language analysis. And it isn't. I'd go as far as to say that there is often no fun had by anyone in many of my lessons. Which, if I'm honest, does trouble me. Am I really as mean as Tom? Isn't he Government Overlord of Telling People Off or something? I started thinking about how I could use play. 

Which made me think about YuGiOh and how brilliant lots of the children at my school are at it. YuGiOh is an essentially indecipherable card trading game played at impossible speed involving intricate, multi-faceted analysis of your own cards, and those of your opponent. I've watched it. It's been (very patiently) explained to me. I've got no idea how it works. But the children do, and they use complex analysis skills, the kind I despair of them ever showing in my classroom, effortlessly, automatically. 

Which made me think about Daniel Willingham and the research finding that "poor" readers who knew about baseball understood text about baseball better than "good" readers. Willingham says that people are, generally speaking, pretty good at understanding things they know something about. David Didau has made a similar point here. Analysing isn't all that hard; it's knowing what to think about that's hard. I can analyse a piece of text because I know lots about what makes a piece of writing good, not because I'm great at analysing. I used to be able to analyse the flight of a cricket ball because I knew what was required to execute an elegant, graceful cover drive (so successfully that I regularly produced such masterpieces once, or even twice a season). But, despite these great analysis "skills", I can't analyse Beethoven's symphonies (or, if I'm honest, anything in the Little Mix discography) because I don't know anything about how music is put together or any of the vocabulary to explain it. 

So far, so dull. I then read another brilliant blog by Fiona Ritson (seriously, all her blogs are brilliant - read them here) about preparing students for Lang Paper 1 by using and deconstructing model answers. Then I went swimming. And while I was swimming I thought: I wonder if they could play YuGiOh with model answers? Trade different pieces of text based on the relative merits of their use of language? "My Dickens scores 5 stars for use of complex sentences!" "Beats my Orwell: 2 stars cause he never uses more than 5 words per sentence!" I mean, even writing it out is fun!

Now, as I admitted earlier, I have no idea how YuGiOh works, so my game is basically Top Trumps. I'm going to write (or find) short pieces of text and, initially, rate them on their use of writing techniques (see the picture for an example - I just did this very quickly, so would appreciate some feedback on the categories! I think that it will be better with more specific categories). The children can have a few each and will play, trying to acquire as many cards as possible. At first I think I'll give them the ratings, so they'll only really be analysing the scores. However, they'll need to read and analyse the texts in the event of a tie. Nevertheless, they will be using the language they'll need to know to analyse the texts themselves when we get to that. When they're comfortable with that language, then I think I'll get them to rate (and write) the pieces of text themselves. Not only can they play, but they could also write up some of their classic plays (like those people who kept diaries of their Risk games): My extract from Henry V was able to defeat the extract from Diary of a Wimpy Kid because.... I mean, seriously, who isn't having fun in that lesson?

At this stage it's just an idea, but I'd appreciate any thoughts or ideas from anyone who has done something similar. Does it work?