Author Archives: kennypieper

The Book Whisperer – Scream it from the Rooftops #FabEduBooks

Being an English teacher, I still look and cringe at my first, probably, five years of teaching. Everything that had got me to where I was, everything which I had experienced up until that point and had supported me through the years of working in terrible jobs – the wilderness years, as I like to call them – had books to thank; books and my ability to read them and stick with them. What shames me is that by the end of my fifth year I had just about thrown in the towel when it came to encouraging Reading for Pleasure in my class.

At around about that point, I stumbled upon ‘The Book Whisperer’. Slightly cynical at first, the title sounded cheesy and cringeworthy, I’ll have to be honest. It, without a shadow of a doubt, changed me as a teacher. I read through this book with increasing ardour, angry at myself for forgetting why reading for pleasure is so important. Donalyn Miller, a teacher from Texas, had written a book which rekindled my belief in reading and one which is never very far from my desk whenever I contemplate reading for pleasure in the classroom. I return to it again and again.

What struck me was not merely the simple message that if we are to create and develop children who will go on to be life long readers – and who would argue with that? – then  we have to live that philosophy every day in class, not merely when it suits us. I had become the teacher who drops reading when things get busy, assuming it to be a luxury a packed curriculum could not afford, but the passion and love for her students which oozes throughout the ’The Book Whisperer’ convinced me that there is another way: Time, Choice, and Love have become the backbone of my practice in developing readers.

Creating the conditions for our students to see reading for pleasure as a valued and valuable skill takes a lot of time and commitment but if we, especially as English Teachers, don’t do it, then who will? I’ve persisted with many of the strategist I found in this book – time to read every day, free choice, consistent support and discussion – even when it would have been easier not to. I’ve sacrificed other things in order to keep reading as a mainstay of every lesson. And, do you know what? My students make progress in all areas as well as leaving me having begun that process of becoming a reader.

If you’ve ever heard me rattle on at Teachmeets or Pedagoo sessions then you’re more than likely to have heard me mention ‘The Book Whisperer’. And, while I read some incredibly good Educational books on all sorts of subjects, this one is my favourite. Donalyn Miller has followed this up with more of the same in ‘Reading in the Wild’ but her first book is essential for those of you who are responsible for Literacy and promoting reading for pleasure. Indeed the message screaming from each page might be, “There’s more to life than oaks you know, but not much more.’ Read it soon.


#FabEduBooks is supported by Crown House Publishing

Everyone who shares a post on their favourite edubook this September on Pedagoo.org will be entered into a draw at the start of October. The lucky winner will receive a Big Bag of Books from Crown House Publishing.

To find out how to submit your post, click on the following link: Pedagoo.org/newpost

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I Don’t Care What You Think Of My Music

A couple of years back a young boy in school came sauntering along the corridor towards me with those big trendy headphones on. I approached with my stern teacher face on and asked him to remove them, which he did.

‘What are you listening to anyway?’

‘(Some band I’ve never heard of),’ he replied.

I hammed up a comedy sneer.

“ I don’t care what you think of my music,’ he said, in not a nasty way at all, but incredibly matter-of-fact. ‘It’s mine.’

And he was right, of course. At that precise moment I realised I was turning into my dad. And it hurt.

Following on from my previous post about how words, and language in general, have made me into the person I have become, who could argue that our early experiences of music don’t do the same. I don’t mean the silly, childish music we might enjoy when we are nine or ten but the earth shattering discoveries we make in our teens. My obsession with lyrics on album covers; the constant repetition of the same L.P. (ask your parents, kids) for weeks on end; the almost tribal protection of any of my favourites. That boy brought it all home to me, just how much it meant back then.

Since the inspiration of that day I’ve taught a unit of work in class called ‘I Don’t Care What You Think of My Music.’ It’s a unit which prepares pupils to write discursively or persuasively so we look at loads of exemplars of those sorts of writing. We develop a checklist of techniques and critique each others work as we go – yes, I write too – but all with a back drop of the class playlist. Each pupil picks five songs which they think should be included and argue their case. I usually choose one from each and Spotify provides the soundtrack to our summer term.

That musical DNA is of course inexorably linked to our literary DNA. What you find is that the kids with the most passion for music are the ones who relate to the lyrics that cry out to them. And it is incredible to remember myself at that age- moody, isolated, indifferent. A teenager, indeed – and think about what these kids are going through. How much can we influence them or is it all just a matter of circumstance? Channelling that very personal attachment is incredibly powerful for their writing but also allows quieter kids who have lacked confidence, write in more personal ways than I’ve ever seen from them.

They always comedy sneer whenever I tell them who I listen to. But back when I was walking out to winter; when I was up on the pavement when they we’re all down in the cellar of their basement flat; when I was writing ‘Do I love you? Yes I love you’ on cards and giving them to girls I fancied; when I was in the darkened underpass thinking ‘oh God my chance has come at last’, I knew exactly how they feel now. And you may laugh. But I don’t care what you think about my music. It’s mine.

Cross-posted from Just Trying To Be Better Than Yesterday

#pedagooglasgow

It’s been a while coming but I’m in the proud position to announce that PedagooGlasgow is on. After some healthy consultation with the University of Strathclyde, we will be holding an event on Saturday June 14, in Glasgow. We are still fleshing out the details but the day will take a similar form to the Fringe event we held a couple of years back and the PedagooLibraries event last June. A selection of workshops will be available with, hopefully, four slots throughout the day so you are guaranteed to hear some amazing ideas. After some great events in England, it’s about time we got something happening in Scotland.

However, I’m determined that this Pedagoo event gets teachers in a room talking. There will be no speakers as such, although David Cameron ( @realdcameron) has agreed to attend so you never know. There will be few frills – might not even be wifi – so the emphasis is on collaboration and conversation. The event will take place in the Lord Hope Building of the University of Strathclyde so the space has been created with learning in mind. In true Peadgoo-style this will not be a series of lectures but a day of workshops in which everyone is encouraged to get involved. Active not passive.

But it will not happen without your contributions, your interaction, your presence. So, now, we invite anyone who would like to lead a workshop to sign up. We hope that we can offer workshops from all sectors; early years, Primary, Secondary, FE, all other educational establishments. Workshops will involve a twenty to twenty-five minute presentation style talk from the leader and fifteen or twenty minutes of audience participation in some form. Who knows, it may prove so popular that you have to run it twice. We’re aiming for about eight at a time, four slots during the day, so there are lots of opportunities if you haven’t done something like this before.

It is also very likely that there will be little in the form of catering available. A real back to basics event. We may need to improvise with a PedagooPicnic in the main room of the floor we are on; coffee, sandwiches etc. We have no sponsorship so if I can find any coppers down the back of the settee then I’ll see what I can do. Shops are close by but it may be better to bring something. Who knows, you may share some great things over lunch, perhaps with those at workshops you couldn’t attend. Remember that’s what Pedagoo is all about. Getting teachers in a room to talk.

Pedagoo started three years ago when we were very much in the early stages of this final push into the new Curriculum in Scotland. We have all come a long way. But it is hugely exciting to be able to gather again and discuss the progress we have made in Scotland. We could be on the verge of something very special and we’re the ones to make that happen. By this time next year all assessment changes will be in place, more or less, and we will have what we have. The glass is only half full. Let’s make a start on filling it properly. Sign up now: Pedagoo.org/glasgow

What is Pedagoo to Me?

It has been almost two and a half years since the inception of Pedagoo and it’s been a hell of a ride, I can tell you. Without doubt one of the most inspiring ventures of my teaching career, I’ve been involved since very early on and watched it develop into something really special. But where are we now? Fearghal Kelly set up a survey a couple of months back which I pondered without contributing. Now I think I’m ready to state my case. If we are to make it work, we need to be sure of what it is and what we want it to be.

For me Pedagoo needs to be a space where all educators have an opportunity to contribute, share, discuss and debate. It needs to be a blog, first of all, where everyone is welcome to write about their practice; to write about the difficulties they may be experiencing; to seek advice or assistance; and, on #pedagoofriday, a place to share some great things which are happening in classrooms around the country. If Pedagoo is anything, in my opinion, it is that thing which is missing from many of our schools and staffrooms: a positive and supportive platform to share.

If we have created a space where people feel too intimidated to get involved then we have failed; if we have created a forum for experts, one where other teachers can come in and pick the brains of the few, same old faces, then we have failed; if our collaborative events, our own ‘Teachmeets’, become hierarchical lecture tours where an ‘audience’ feel they cannot get up and get involved, then we have failed. The spirit of Pedagoo comes from the strength of its ‘members’. None of us are better then anyone else; we share as equals.

I’m not sure of any of us knew exactly what Pedagoo would or could become. The peaks and troughs have made us stronger and more determined though. But if it is to have real impact, the kind of impact which we want to it to have, then it needs everyone to contribute. It needs to have regular events, small ones are fine, and a consistent input of blog posts. And those blogposts can only come from educators. So, if you don’t have a blog and are toying with the idea, then let Pedagoo be your first place to turn. If you have regularly contributed to #pedagoofriday then write a short post about what it means to you; it doesn’t have to be greatly detailed.

I’ve said before that #pedagoofriday is perhaps my proudest moment in teaching because of the impact it has on others but Pedagoo itself has so much more to achieve. we won’t be able to achieve anything if we do not involve everyone in the conversation. Come and join in.

The Pick of #PedagooFriday 11-10-13

Another great week for #pedagoofriday, folks. Keep ’em coming

A Light That Never Goes Out

Cross-posted from http://justtryingtobebetter.net/

This may or may not have happened.

He handed me his first piece of writing homework and, of course, it was illegible. ‘I’m not good at writing’, he’d told me. We’d been working on lists: Things I lost by the time I was ten or Things I’d been given by the time I was ten. He wanted to tell me about his hamster. He’d stayed behind to tell me all about it: how he lost it in his garden and feels sad about it; how he’d look after it more if he still had it. I told him to write it all down at home.

Being ‘not good at writing’ wasn’t a surprise. The notes I’d been passed from the ASN team told me that. He would feel better if he was given a laptop to write his work, something his previous teacher echoed. He had great ideas but there’s no point in him writing it in his class book as you won’t be able to read it. Better to type it up. He’ll feel better about it and you won’t need to struggle to decipher his handwriting. And I thought to myself, ‘No. It’s time to stop this nonsense.’

He’s twelve and the most important thing he has learned so far in seven years of school is, ‘I’m not good at writing.’ And that’s not good enough, is it? We might dress that fact up by giving him a nice laptop to do his work. We might constantly remind him that his ideas are great and he can express himself very well at times. Perhaps that’s fine when you are twelve. His work nicely typed up, perhaps pinned on the class notice board. His teacher might tell the other pupils to read his work because it was one of the best in the class.

But what happens when he gets to fifteen, sixteen, twenty, twenty five? Who is there to tell him that his ideas are great; when he realises that his inability to write legibly will exclude him from any number of things that others can do? So when we condemn some children to a life of illiteracy because it is difficult – not for him, although it is, but for a system which can’t find the time to help him with his problems- we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility when he enters society after he leaves us. ‘I’m not good at writing’ does not sound quite so cute from an adult who has been through twelve or thirteen of formal schooling, does it?

I spent perhaps five times as long deciphering his handwriting that night as anyone else’s in the class. I returned class books and explained the feedback process and that everyone had their own improvements to make. Then I sat down next to the boy who told me ‘I’m not good at writing’. I asked him why that was. He said it was something he’d never been able to do. I sat with him and looked him in the eye and told him that I would do everything I could for him to get better at writing. He wrote out one sentence in large rounded letters. He looked at me and smiled.

Remember, this may or may not have happened.

The Pick of #pedagoofriday 26-4-13

I thought last Friday was one of the best days we’ve ever had, but this week is on a par. Doesn’t it just show how many great things are happening in our classrooms each week, all over the place? Makes my heart soar…
Anyway, here is just a pick of the things people have been tweeting today.

To start with, I think John’s tweet sums up exactly how I feel about every contribution to #pedagoofriday.

See you back here, same time next week….

The Pick of #PedagooFriday 11-1-13

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between any of the PedagooFriday tweets as the best. They are all the best. Here, therefore, is a selection of the tweets to start off the new year. Have a great 2013, folks!

An Unspoken Moment #pedagooreview

At about 8.30 am, on Saturday the 22nd of September I was standing in a hotel in Glasgow with Fearghal Kelly (@fkelly) Neil Winton (@nwinton) and Ian Stuart (@islayian). We chatted nervously as the reality of what we were doing here began to sink in. For a moment, perhaps, as time seemed to be passing, one might have thought we had bitten off more than we could chew. But soon that thought was dispelled. Educators began to arrive; first, one; a familiar face; then, two, three, two more.

The first ever SLFFringe event was Pedagoo’s biggest project to date and a huge success. I won’t recall every detail- look back on the blog for some real inspiration – but there was a moment later that day when Fearghal, Neil and I caught each other’s eyes. None of us spoke. We knew we had achieved something special. Bringing educators together to share was always the original point of Pedagoo. We were and are very proud of that. The positivity which pervaded the day sticks with me even now, feeling a shiver as I write about it. The #pedagooxmas party in Newcastle continued that. But that moment, when Fearghal, Neil and I shared that unspoken thought is my Pedagoo highlight of 2012.

The Pick of #pedagoofriday 7-12-12 #pedagooxmasparty special

Sorry for the slight delay but this week’s picks were chosen by the lovely people at my session at #pedagooxmasparty.
Thanks to Alysha, Chris, Dave, Laura, Andrew, Kirby and Jackie