Summer

I’ve orchestrated “Summer” by Joe Hisaishi for school orchestra.

Aerith’s Theme

I’ve orchestrated “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII for school orchestra. Feel free to print, download and use.

Driving

It took me five attempts to pass my driving test in an automatic car. Not as bad as Michael Gove’s seven but he can drive a geared car and currently I can’t. I just found it incredibly hard to drive and I thought it would be interesting to explain why because it might have something to say about teaching.

Firstly, I had absolutely no experience with driving until I was seven years old. My mum didn’t drive and we took the bus to Stratford or the tube to South Kensington to visit my mum’s friend Carol. I have no recollection of anyone driving before the age of seven when I got in a friend’s car and I remember vividly being scared because the conversation was about car accidents and my mum saying she wasn’t surprised because she had seen it in the Tarot cards. Then my mum went into hospital and the next experience of driving was one when my grandfather came to take me away from London to West Wales. He had a cool sports car and it had electric windows. My family called it his mid-life crisis car because he bought it one day on a whim and he almost never drove it. So my first memorable experience of driving was a very emotional one as I had almost never left East London and we were travelling faster than I had been before on the M4 with windows open! It was all very exciting and of course I had no idea that my mum was in hospital – it was just an adventure. I had only met Grandad once before – he was my dad’s father and I had never met my dad. My mum didn’t have any family as she was adopted by elderly foster-parents who had died so this was the first family member I had met apart from my mum.

Anyway, every junction we would put the windows down “a blast of air for Reading” and “a blast of air for Bristol” and then the most exciting thing – going over the Seven Bridge. Grandad explained that you had to pay a toll to get into Wales but not to get out of it. Or was it the other way round? I could never remember. I don’t think you have to pay at all now. Anyway we went down a leafy lane to this big house and it was very different to our 13th floor red-ant and damp infested flat in Plaistow. There was even a garage!

We went for lots of drives to Cenarth to see my Auntie Bryony and it is still one of the most beautiful journeys I have taken. I took it every week day to drive the seven miles to school in Cenarth – it had a Red Dragon on the signposts that was later changed to a daffodil because it was a scenic route. Driving was wonderful but I never concentrated on what Granny was doing when she drove the car. Why would you when there were so many things to see outside? And I’ve always been able to sleep in cars so never paid attention. I knew Granny had an automatic car and Bryony had a geared car. I wasn’t quite sure what the gears did but there was this handle in the middle and it looked very complicated. Much simpler to look out the window.

I went to boarding school in Mid-Wales on a government assisted place and never saw any driving there. I cannot remember any times we were in a car. Sometimes a mini-bus or a coach for trips but I don’t remember anyone driving a car. That was past my A-Levels. And then I took a year out and it all went terribly wrong so I ended up in Burger King doing the night cleaning. I was only getting 3 quid an hour and my rent in the basement in Canterbury was 45 quid a week so there was no chance of driving lessons.

After my year out I went to Keele University and almost everyone I knew did not drive. All apart from two friends called Chris and Chris and both of them drove minis. I thought they were so grown-up because they could drive. But we almost never drove anywhere at Keele. Sometimes we wouldn’t leave campus for months. It was then I got into hitch-hiking. That was amazing and I absolutely loved it. I even hitch-hiked round all the cathedrals in England (45 of them) in a month. I experienced many different types of driving then. I got lifts in a police car going from Wakefield to Bradford, a limousine going from Birmingham to Litchfield, an old banger with a 14 year old joy-rider from Peterborough to Ely and a series of cars with three drug-dealers from Grantham. They gave me no choice to get out the car once I was in and “on a mission” but to their credit they drove me to my destination. I remember my legs were like jelly getting out at Nottingham!

So I knew what good and bad driving was but it wasn’t until I started a job working for the county peripatetic Music service that I decided to learn to drive myself. And I knew next to nothing. In my first lesson the driving instructor told me to use the clutch. I hadn’t got a clue what he was talking about. What was a clutch? He talked about squeezing clutches. My first lesson went really badly and he clearly thought I was an idiot. My next few lessons were even worse because I realised I had no idea about anything whatsoever to do with driving because I hadn’t paid any attention to the driver. I was always looking out the window, chatting to mates or asleep. So I didn’t know which control did the wipers and I hadn’t the foggiest what the fog light even was. I knew you had to put on the flashing hazard lights if you stopped but did I know where they were? Nope.

Even worse, I hadn’t paid any attention to roundabouts. I knew you turn left onto the roundabout but I didn’t get if you were taking the second or third exit you should move into the right. That scared the life out of me. Where I lived in West Wales there were roundabouts but there wasn’t much traffic so it didn’t really matter what lane you were in – most people just hogged the middle bit.

After six weeks of lessons I realised I was failing very badly. I just did not get the gears whatsoever, so I decided to learn in an automatic. At the time, I was riding a scooter over the Peak District for my job so I was getting more experience with roads and I had a 125cc Yamaha Majesty which meant I could drive up to 70 miles an hour over the moors. I loved my scooter but had many accidents – I am absolutely amazed I am still alive. Anyway, after five test attempts I finally learned to drive and three weeks later crashed my wonderful Vauxhall Corsa in a pretty horrific accident on a skid dirt road. I still kept on driving as it was the only way of doing the job but the new car I got had loads and loads of scratches and dents because I wasn’t very good at driving. I drove for seven years and I haven’t driven for the last ten. My wife is a professional truck driver from Canada and we had a deal when we first met that she would do the driving and I would give her babies. I haven’t broken the deal yet – we have one and a half babies but we do have a car in the basement. As Covid-19 has meant we are 10,000 miles apart (she is in Canada and I am in China) I have just got my automatic driving license translated into Chinese and am thinking of doing a bit of driving. It is probably a very bad idea but I feel that I need to have another go at driving and get better at this pretty useful skill.

What could have helped me to be a better driver?

1) Paying attention to what other drivers was doing.

2) Paying attention to the road rather than everything else that was going on around me.

3) Understanding the importance of driving for the future.

4) Understanding the importance of signs and directions.

5) Understanding that there would be a test and it wouldn’t necessarily be easy. Failure would mean I’d have to pay for a retest.

6) There are consequences for failure – some stark.

7) Some direction on theory so I understood the rules of the road.

8) Some direction on practical so I could fill the car up with petrol and change a tyre.

9) Breaking driving into small chunks so I was not overwhelmed by the amount of information I was trying to comprehend.

10) Watching the driving instructor carefully and copy what he did.

11) Practicing certain things over and over until I had mastered them.

12) Revisiting things that I thought I knew but had forgotten from time to time until they clicked in my brain.

13) Some positive reinforcement so I didn’t feel like a failure after every driving lesson.

14) Reading the Highway Code carefully rather than skimming over it.

14) An insistence to listen to the driving instructor carefully.

And if we transfer many of these things to teaching, you can see why quite a few students fail. Learning to drive was the hardest thing I have every done. It was even harder than Physics GCSE which was rock hard and definitely harder than my Master’s Degree, which I found quite easy. But when I passed driving I cried and embarrassed the examiner. As teachers we need to understand that our subjects may not come easy to some students and for them to succeed it may need teaching things that you might think are bleeding obvious. But not everyone has paid attention and some people learn a lot slower or later than others. It isn’t necessarily about intelligence but more likely to be about the ability to focus and pay attention.

And I did pass. I can drive. But only in an automatic.

Returning to School

So the UK government want children to return to schools.  They cite educational reasons and worries about disadvantaged children getting left behind and a gap widening.  I am sure there are educational reasons for this policy but I will explain why it simply isn’t a good idea for Primary Schools morally or practically.  There are all sorts of reasons why schools should open or stay closed, this blog post is about social and academic reasons and the truths of how schools work.  If for you it’s all about free childcare, stop reading now.

As far as the social side goes, the main problem is that the government don’t seem to understand the reality concerning how schools work. They seem to have this rather romantic idea that schools are full of children who will abide by rules and diligent parents and teachers who will enforce them.  One of the government advisors suggested yesterday that kids won’t share their lunchboxes with one another or don’t chew their pencils. Have they ever met a six-year old child?  They suggest that children will be fine with social distancing. They won’t, especially in the UK. It’s a dreadful anti-child, unnatural, amoral policy. Kids need to be back in school when they can have a normal school life without chalk circles, quarantine zones, forced masks, two metre distance rules, assembly bans, football bans, swimming bans, band bans, choir bans, hugging bans, playtime bans and ending up with sore hands from rubbing them red through constant hand-washing. They can’t even play chess unless it is a two metre board.  They don’t deserve to be continuously frightened, don’t deserve to see their teachers, cleaning and dinner time staff in scary masks, and they don’t deserve to be continuously reprimanded for doing what all children want to do – play with their friends.  The idea that teachers are so mechanistic they will implement all these measures shows what a stupid policy this is.  The majority of us are kind people who like working with children – that’s why we became teachers.  So either the policies will be enacted and we will be responsible for installing an anti-child environment or it won’t be enacted, which will make it a farce.  Schools are some of the last places where social distancing can possibly work.  Perhaps boxing might be worse but even this only affects a few people rather than hundreds of unhygienic, grubby fingered darlings who eat dirt, flick snot and are fascinated with poo.  

As far as academics goes, the idea that children can catch up on academic work in eight weeks after being off for eight is barmy. Teachers will take about two weeks to work out where all the gaps are and what has been forgotten. They will be teaching new things and then realise, oh crap they don’t know this after all and then go back to basics. We will get them back to about what they were doing just before Easter and then it will be the summer holidays, when they will forget half the stuff as usual.  I am not saying they will learn nothing at school.  I am saying children will learn at school or at home but the idea they are all on track is nonsense.  There are going to be so many factors preventing kids from learning with all these social distancing measures. Kids who don’t feel secure in school do not learn. We have known this for decades. And if you think this environment will be good for learning, think again. Whatever happens, I bet that most schools will be filling in gaps for a long time to come.  Any decent school will stop and take a few steps back rather than ploughing down a path where children vaguely know what they are doing in the hope it will all sort itself out.  What the government need to be doing is getting remote schooling to work – this is their chance. Oak Academy is doing some fantastic work. Class Dojo is super for submitting work. There is a role for Zoom but trying to make it replicate a normal class environment isn’t it.  They have eight weeks to actually train the workforce to become properly computer literate on the job – they will probably never get that chance again. We can train teachers to use video learning properly and introduce some to excellent online resources.  Long term everyone will win.  But in the rush to try to get kids to as normal an experience of schooling, all they will do is miss this opportunity and we will still have to go back to the drawing board in September. 

We don’t know if kids spread the disease.  We don’t know if the lack of antibodies in their system is because they are immune or asymptomatic.  We don’t know if sending them to school will cause many parents and grandparents to become sick and possibly die.  And we don’t really know if many of the children themselves want to go back to school in these circumstances with these anti-child policies.  Adults have a choice to quit their jobs but as usual we don’t give kids this choice themselves – whatever their feelings.  In the meantime, political parties are arguing, devolved governments are arguing, trade unions are arguing, newspapers are arguing, everyone on Twitter is arguing (some things never change) and the reality is that it won’t make the slightest bit of difference; as when September arrives what I do know is we will end up going back and picking up the pieces. But hopefully in September, these children will be able to learn, hug each other and walk hand in hand.

Safety of Teachers

Why are teachers worried about going back to work?  Look at the diagram above.  There are two kids to a desk all facing the front.  The teacher is on the desk in the middle facing a barrage of potential coughs and sneezes each containing potentially millions of viral particles that could kill their elderly parents.  “This is normal!” cry the masses.  “No it’s not” reason the teachers “This one has no vaccine”.  Many teachers will teach up to 150 children a day – they have a massive chance of catching a virus.

The train driver has a carriage for himself.  The bin collector is outside with a colleague or two.  The businessman has a boardroom of about a dozen.  Even the hospital worker will not have 150 patients a day breathing into their face.  Who else has a more risky job?

I have read some appalling articles of people saying that teachers aren’t brave enough or are worried about nothing.  There is no other profession that I can think of which is more risky than being a teacher.  Please support them.

Video Feedback

In our rush for Zoom and synchronous teaching, we have forgotten the power of feedback. You can do feedback via Zoom but in a video lesson it really comes into its own. I hope to show in the following lesson how you can use children’s prior work to engage learning and move children on to the next step. I don’t think I could do this very well via Zoom with huge amounts of children in a class.

In this lesson I start off with a recap of last weeks lesson and then I play compositions that the children have written and sent in via Class Dojo. I then use that learning to scaffold compositions using three notes and then using a five note scale with lots of worked examples. The objective is to create five note compositions and score them using bunny pictures. I hope you like the lesson and it might inspire you to make your own lessons using feedback from the children as a starting point.

Missed Opportunities

Covid-19 has caused chaos everywhere, including amongst our schools. But it has also created some opportunities and this blog post is about a few of those missed opportunities and a plea to think longer term about the situation we are in.

Firstly, we are all Teaming and Zooming but really we ought to be Videoing. There is a big conversation about Zoom including privacy, connectivity, reliability, latency and security. But it’s a choice to have lessons live or not and we should be choosing not. There are many reasons – one is that video teaching can help EAL students by using subtitles. You can’t do that with Zoom in live time. Also, you can access the video at anytime or in any location. If you download at another time, you can take your learning offline. Asynchronous video has more reliability, more connectivity, no issues with latency and has better security. We don’t need to worry about “Zoom-bombing” or what happens in real time. But most usefully for teachers and schools, if we just focus on video teaching we will have ample cover resources and with some forethought an entire Virtual Learning Experience for any student that needs it in the future. But we are sacrificing these opportunities for live online lessons which have no lasting impact. Parents want live, I get that and the social aspects are important but unless we think this situation is going to last a very, very long time it is temporary and video teaching is what we really need. Just think – no more worries about cover, just put on one of the videos, with a task. No more desperate searching Tesresources and Twinkl.

Secondly, the government is missing a trick here. All it needs to do is move the school year. There aren’t any exams so it doesn’t matter. Start the school year in January and end it in December. Stop the crazy six week holiday in the summer and finish this school year in December after relaunching the summer term in September. GCSE and A-Levels to be when the weather is cold in November. Then universities can open in January, hopefully with the international students they desperately need to keep financially afloat. The kids still do their exams, just postponed. And then keep this system going. Finish the school year on 1st December and make the holiday season a real holiday. No more predicted grades, there will ample time to get the exams marked and returned and offers made based on real results.

Finally, we are missing the opportunity of widening the curriculum. If we take my advice and basically postpone the end of this academic year to the end of this calendar year then we have four months now to focus on something different. And most people are already doing something different. This is the time for project work, cooking, instrument practice, drawing and reading. If we postpone the year let’s use this pause time to do something different. Everyone has been crying out for this but now it’s happening, we seem to be incredibly confused.

Some of these decisions can be taken by schools and others by governments but one thing I can assure you of, we will look back at this time and think “why didn’t we do … when we had the time?”

Online Learning

We are now into Week 4 of Music Online Learning. They are calling our experience in China the biggest and longest experiment into online learning ever. Researchers will be examining this time for years to come. I am living a nomadic existence and am currently … Continue reading Online Learning

The Sea

I have made a new workbook for my Year 4’s on “The Sea”.  It’s a five or six week unit on sea shanties.  It is mainly using recorders, some xylophones and lots of singing.  There are three listening reflections -“10,000 Miles Away” by Bellowhead, “Skye … Continue reading The Sea