The TES English Teaching Podcast
28 Aug 2018
For the past two months I have had a social media and, for the most part, educational break. I haven’t read anything on education, I haven’t seen a single Twitter feed and I have, as far as possible, tried to live a mobile phone free existence.
I won’t bore you too much with the rationale for this, and fear not – this is not another diatribe about the evils of all things social media or technology. This podcast interview with Jaron Lanier, author of ‘Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts,’ is however, a bit of an eye opener!
In reality I was feeling rather like a fraud. I had written a book, ‘Slow Teaching’, ostensibly with the aim of finding ‘calm, clarity and impact in the classroom’ – a mission to focus on what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom. Yet two years into blogging and using Twitter as a form of CPD I was reading and absorbing so much information about teaching that I had reached a kind of bloated impasse.
I wasn’t thinking clearly enough about my own teaching, and checking social media and spending time reading online content had become more of a habit than something I was learning from (interesting podcast interview with the author of the excellent ‘The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg here), a habit that was taking up too much time. While exam results are never going to be perfect, some of my students’ results have niggled away at me over the past couple of weeks and reinforced this.
One of Van Morrison’s greatest songs is called ‘Precious Time,’ with the repeated refrain of “Precious time is slipping away, you know you’re only king for a day.” I was questioning how I was using my own time – too often I would find myself fritting away time on things that would have little value for what I wanted to achieve in the classroom. I was finding myself drawn to reading and engaging in debates online that – and this is a purely personal viewpoint – seemed to be completely circular and often served to just distract and procrastinate. And that as, the excellent Daniel Goleman (podcast interview here) book on attention ‘Focus’ highlights, had the effect of meaning I was easily distracted by the whims of notifications:
“Many people think of splitting attention as multitasking, which cognitive science tells us if fiction, too. Rather than having a stretchable balloon of attention to deploy in tandem, we have a narrow, fixed pipeline to allot. Instead of splitting it, we actually switch rapidly. Continual switching saps attention from full, concentrated engagement.”
I have also found that with a wee four month year old gurgling around, I am now much more conscious of what I am doing when not spending time as a family. In reality, work life balance now becomes much more than just a platitude or a throwaway phrase. So I took some time to detach myself from the online environment. I read lots of books, finally getting to the end of ‘Sapiens’ which had been gathering dust of the bookshelf for some time. As this podcast interview highlights, Yuval Noah Harari is phone free and somehow manages to find time to meditate for two hours every day. I also developed a slight obsession with the wonderful nature writing of Robert Macfarlane (podcast interview here). This, on the relationship between man and technology from the superb ‘Wild Places’ is interesting:
“In many ways, there has been a prising away of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different kinds of touchlessness. We experience, as no historical period has before, disembodiment and dematerialisation. The almost invite connectivity of the technological world, for all the benefits it has brought, has exacted a toll in the coin of content. We have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like”.
I enjoyed having the space to day-dream, think, and spend lots of time outside. When my phone took a suicidal dive of the top of a hike up a mountain (my wife, very much fed up with this technology purge – has claimed deliberate and murderous intent on my behalf, but I still maintain my innocence) I thoroughly enjoyed the two weeks of phone free life I had before being forced to purchase a new one.
I also wanted to think more creatively about how to continue to develop and improve as a teacher, and how to best use social media as a platform. There were things I missed: the fantastic range of inspiring bloggers, the incredibly generous work of people like Team English and Lit Drive, and the authentic voices who genuinely seek to improve what they are doing for young people.
In June I was invited on to Jamie Clark’s excellent teaching and learning podcast ‘The Staffroom’. As a bit of a technology luddite, I have to confess that I had never actually listened to a podcast. In nervous preparation I listened to a few, with Craig Barton’s wonderful Maths podcast as my first port of call. My rather laboured point since the start of this blog illustrates just how popular they are – literally everyone imaginable has had a podcast interview, including Barack Obama in this from his prime as American president.
As a more introverted chap (Susan Cain, author of the wonderful ‘Quiet’ is interviewed about introversion on this podcast), I nervously stumbled through the interview itself, but still thoroughly enjoyed the sense of delving into issues. It offered the opportunity that everything in 280 characters of a Tweet can’t – real discussion and debate about issues.
I had also decided I wanted to now focus in more on the pedagogical side of English teaching in my writing – hoping to develop more of a skilled understanding of how to approach all the complex areas of English teaching. Connecting and learning from a wide range of English teachers is a priority in this mission. So, I dreamed up the idea of an English specific podcast – giving voice to that passionate online community and specialists from across the world to provide more specific English teaching CPD.
And a dream it would have stayed without the fortuitous fact I have a brother who is my complete technological juxtaposition: a Gandalf of all things technology (see this rather spectacular glimpse into his life as a freelance director). The equipment and process was quickly sorted, but now I needed to track down some voices and some topics.
I am immensely grateful to following people, who all responded to my tentative requests for an hour of their time to talk about teaching with real enthusiasm (and to Craig Barton, who passed on some very helpful podcast wisdom!). For the first three months there will be two episodes of the podcast a month, then one a month for the rest of the year, with each lasting for around an hour.
Becky Wood and Niki Carlin decided two years ago to set up Team English, and have since amassed almost 18,000 online followers. They are the guests on the first episode exploring collaboration, well being and what we should focus on in our classrooms in the year to come.
Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson are the authors of the excellent ‘What Does This Look Like in the Classroom‘ and in this episode they discuss what educational research tells us about motivation, behaviour and feedback.
Dianne and James Murphy’s book ‘Thinking Reading: What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Reading’ is an comprehensive guide in how to approach teaching reading. In this episode we explore the traps English teachers can find themselves in and how we can improve our teaching of reading.
Aidan Severs, superb blogger at www.thatboycanteach.com gives an insight into teaching of reading in primary schools, sharing his wealth of experience and advice.
Alex Quigley, influential blogger at www.theconfidentteacher.com and the author of the brilliant and hugely successful ‘Closing the vocabulary gap,’ is changing the way vocabulary is taught in schools. In this episode we delve into his book and strategies for how to effectively teach vocabulary.
Andy Tharby’s superb blog www.reflectingenglish.wordpress.com is a must read for English teachers. In this episode we will be discussing his book on English teaching ‘Making Every English Lesson Count’, alongside his book that will be out at the start of next year, the superbly titled ‘How To Explain Absolutely Anything to Absolutely Everyone’
Rob Smith has had a huge impact the teaching of English in primary schools as the creater of ‘The Literacy Shed’ and author of a range of books. In this episode we discuss these and his new book: ‘Modelling Exciting Writing.’
Head of English Chris Curtis’ blog ‘Making mistakes in the English Classroom’ has had a huge impact on my own teaching and that of many other English teachers, and an hour in his company is a perfect way to start a new year. This episode will explore a range of ways in which Chris has learned from his mistakes and developed as an English teacher.
This episode will focus on the English curriculum with the expertise of Mary Myatt, whose book ‘The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence‘ is vital reading. We will be discussing this and levels of challenge in the English classroom.
Mark Roberts (https://markrobertsteach.wordpress.com) and Matt Pinkett (https://allearssite.wordpress.com) are two more brilliant English bloggers, who have joined forces to write a book on educating boys. In this episode we will look at ‘Boys in the English classroom.’
I watched English teacher and Assistant Headteacher Jennifer Webb (https://funkypedagogy.wordpress.com) deliver a superb CPD session on ‘Memory, retention and recall in the English classroom’ at the Leeds Education Festival, and this episode will be essential listening for preparing students for exams.
Two experienced Heads of English and excellent English bloggers Rebecca Foster (https://thelearningprofession.com) and Claire Hill (https://aclassroomofonesownsite.wordpress.com) have written a book on middle management ‘Leading from the Middle‘, and in this episode we will focus on what makes successful English departments and the skills necessary to be a strong head of English..
Kenny Pieper’s book ‘Reading for Pleasure: A passport to Everywhere’ is one I return to again and again. Kenny will be on the final show of the series, discussing how we can inspire a reading culture in schools.
I am really grateful to have the opportunity to spend time talking to these inspiring teaching and learning heavyweights, and was hoping to be able to share the show with as wide an audience of English teachers as possible, so I pitched it to TES. They liked the idea and agreed to host the show, which I am hugely excited about. I am hoping that the podcast will help English teachers with strategies and ideas in the classroom, and go some way in motivating teachers by providing that subject specific professional development that I know I often crave.
I am also hoping that this is something I can get better at with time and with feedback. My brother, in response to how long the first show took to edit, didn’t hold back the punches: “editing you took the longest by far”. Lovely. Apparently my dulcet Scottish tones manically alternate from the volume control of Willy on the Simpsons to Alan Hanson monotony. You can also play the “fantastic” and “fascinating” checklist for the first two episodes if you like – it would make for a very dangerous drinking game. If that doesn’t encourage you to listen I don’t know what will!
I would really appreciate honest feedback on this: as English teachers what would you like to see more of, what areas would you like to explore? In the couple of weeks of term, TES will release the first two episodes. The first with Becky and Nikki from Team English is a real motivational cracker for the start of the year; and the second, with Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson authors of ‘What Does this Look Like in the Classroom’ is fascinating, answering all questions you might have about educational research and how it can help us as English teachers in the classroom. Safe to say I was way out of my intellectual depth with those two!
As for my social media ramblings, I guess like anything it is about balance and about individual preferences. We are all complex, and what works for someone might not work for another. Other than to share podcast adventures and the odd blog about my own teaching I won’t be using it as much this year, but I will keep reading and learning from those passionate teacher voices and hoping to improve what happens in my classroom.
Thanks for reading, and thank you in advance for listening!