Weekly Newsletter Monday 2 June 2014 – The amazing Maya Angelou edition

http://goo.gl/1P5Wn9 for the full colour version

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

When I was in Sixth Form, I came across Maya Angelou’s writing, “I Know Why the Caged Bird sings” , book 1 of her autobiographical writings. I came across her writing at the same time as I became aware of the civil rights films such as ‘In the heat of the night’ and shortly after the murder of Martin Luther King. Off at University, studying Sociology in my 3rd year, Angelou’s writing, more specifically her poetry entered my ken, with ‘Still I rise’. And probably for the first time, I seriously worried about whether I had pursued the right degree disciplines (Biology and Psychology), because with such work, my eyes were opened to the beauty of writing that transcends colour, culture, race and creed. Circa 1974.

Now Maya Angelou has gone, and leaves behind a legacy of work of such magnitude, I am not surprised to read that if we are to lose american writings such as the Crucible and To kill a Mocking Bird, then we should replace those with ‘I know why the caged bird sings’.  Sara McCorquodale writes an impassioned post last week, in response to the news that Gove had cancelled GCSE’s American influence. I quote 2 lines that should take you through to read more:

From big issues such as prejudice to personal experiences like virginity loss (an “empty night”) and teen motherhood (“he was beautiful and he was mine. Totally mine.”), I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings deals with the right, the wrong and the minutiae of family life. It’s a book about a young woman who will not be curbed and who learns a person needs strong character and determination – not perfect circumstances – to thrive”.

Maya Angelou was asked to read at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration her poem “On the Pulse of Morning”.  You can read that extract and hear Maya Angelou’s reading here – http://goo.gl/gaHLKH. It brings shivers to the spine, not just because of the hope that it promises, but because under the subsequent President George Bush’s stewardship, we saw the denial of the admonishment in the Poem

“You, created only a little lower than The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness, Have lain too long Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words Armed for slaughter”.

I love the idea too that Angelou’s best poem was saved ‘til last, her ‘Twitter’ feed.

Do read it, because they might be right in a curious way. https://twitter.com/DrMayaAngelou

Time for some light relief

I recently read a straight talking blog by Barry Smith ( that made me laugh out loud and made my day. You see I think teaching is really hard and that education is the most complex of industries. And to be good in teaching, to be paid for it as a professional demands of individuals that we practise hard to get better.  Now Barry doesn’t seem to write a lot, but he reminds us of the need to be honest in our endeavours, to try new things when the old way does not work, or perhaps to go back to the old ways when the child spots the Emperor’s ‘new’ clothes.

For me, the best practice I can have at getting better at this teaching, learning and leadership stuff is through reading lots, and Twitter and Blogs and modern technology have surfaced so much to read that perhaps I am in danger of not seeing the wood for the trees, as well as mixing too many metaphors.  Quite. And then someone like Angelou dies, and I get transported back to why I come to work each day – as the opening quotation implies – ‘to make a difference’.

Changing colour pen during the Summer exams

What we know about thinking reading and writing is as follows.  Unless a child can verbalise what they are thinking, they won’t be able to write it down.  And if they can’t write, the process of so doing will so occupy their conscious working memory that they won’t have time to think, generate ideas and make connections. I have taught a number of dyslexic children in my time, pupils who could verbalise brilliantly but who could not write legibly. For those, the laptop has proven a god-send. But for the vast majority of others who can’t verbalise their thinking, no amount of laptop time can make up for the lack of thinking to start with.  Despite some serious flak for over a decade now, I have insisted in our secondary school that during the summer exams of an hour’s duration, children are required to change colour pen for the last 15 minutes.

This small step provides us with very useful data:

  • Does the child have sufficient resilience to work through for an hour on their paper?
  • Do they go back and check and correct their work?
  • Do they know enough to warrant receiving extra time?
  • Are they day dreaming for the first bit and then coming in with a rush right at the end.

I then require that the exam papers are sent home for parent review.  Now that’s a hair-shirt, but provides the parents with first hand evidence on their child’s performance, both in terms of actual responses, and in terms of feedback on their child’s ability to work.

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

We are not the only school to be dismayed at the obvious deterioration in handwriting of those entering the secondary phase. What really perplexes me is just how many children continue to choose to write in pencil, rather than ink, be that biro, writing felt pen or fountain pen. So our big push at secondary level is to change expectations straight away about ink and pencil, and at Junior school is firm up substantially on our expectations of what good writing looks like.  

Graeme Patton, education editor of the Daily Telegraph highlighted two weeks ago the growing problem of illiteracy in public examinations, highlighting that students feel it is now appropriate behaviour to use emoticons in Exam answers and coursework. :o(

I draw your attention to this article for 2 reasons

  • the next back-to-the future of MG, as we see handwriting once again relaunched as an integral part of the junior curriculum (did it ever leave?)
  • the comment stream makes the clash between educational cultures very obvious.

Wilding’s basic guide to recovering handwriting can be found here: http://goo.gl/SDPRCQ

And finally,

The Ning site, the ISANet is to disappear at the end of June. This blog will continue, and both existing and new members wishing to receive the weekly newsletter will be able to ‘follow’ my weekly postings on my wordpress blog, jameswilding.wordpress.com. I will extract/curate from the Ning site all of our work, and no doubt in due course, reflect back on what the Ning site enabled for our schools and community.

James Wilding


P.S. Last Google Apps training for the term at Claires Court – info here – https://www.smore.com/8h6e

Saturday 14 June, led by Paul Farrell.

PPS Infographic of the week follows – it is a biggee! All the data you can byte


About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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