To teach and to inspire: balancing exam preparation and the joy of learning

Teachers take delight in inspiring their students. They must prepare them for exams. Sometimes this creates a tension; concentrating too heavily on assessment objectives may jeopardise the sense of wonder in a topic while too little consideration of them risks failing to prepare students for their exams.

In my role as an education officer, I contributed to a recent article ‘Chaucer’s World’ Study Days: Enhancing Learning and Encouraging Wonder, which explores how teachers, university academics, and Public Engagement colleagues have sought to achieve both. As the lead author Professor Marion Turner puts it, ‘to teach and to delight’.

Our collaborative essay, published in New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy & Profession, reflects on the ‘Chaucer’s World’ study days co-organised for secondary schools by the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum, and the University of Oxford. The event is aimed at A Level students and is intended not only to help them with their preparation for the A-Level English Literature exam but also to inspire in them a wider appreciation of Chaucer’s works and medieval literature and culture in general.

In a nod to Chaucer, the article is structured as a collection of ‘tales’. In The Education Officer’s Tale, I describe the structure of the Chaucer’s World study day, explain how we have sought to overcome the challenges schools face in engaging with such events, and reflect on how we adapted to a remote delivery model during the pandemic. Materials we created are available on the Bodleian’s website on the Resources for Teachers pages. Please feel free to use these with your classes.

From the Bodleian’s perspective, the study day has been a huge success, becoming a key part of our annual offer. The combination of access to contemporary texts, exploration of the historical and cultural context of Chaucer’s writing and real engagement with experts in the field has proved to be a popular combination with several schools returning year after year. Elsewhere in the article, Charlotte Richer considers the positive impact on her students in The Teacher’s Tale.

I hope you enjoy reading the article and agree that it provides an example of how we can both enhance learning and encourage a sense of wonder through an extracurricular experience. The Bodleian’s next Chaucer’s World Study days will be in March 2023. If you would like to know more, please email education@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Image: Bodleian Libraries

Turner et al. 2022. ‘Chaucer’s World’ Study Days in Oxford for Post-16 Students: Enhancing Learning and Encouraging Wonder. New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession 3.2: 70-78. https://escholarship.org/uc/ncs_pedagogyandprofession/| ISSN: 2766-1768.

© 2022 by the author(s). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 4.0 license. New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession is an open access, bi-annual journal sponsored by the New Chaucer Society and published in eScholarship by the California Digital Library. | https://escholarship.org/uc/ncs_pedagogyandprofession| ISSN: 2766-1768.

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Hello darkness my old friend: tips for dealing with dark winter mornings

As memories of summer fade into autumn’s golden hues, we see the days shortening and must tackle those dark morning starts. It’s not something our ancestors had to contend with – they rose with the sun – but it’s one of the demands of modern working life.

If, like me, you’re relatively happy with a sunlit early start, but find autumn and winter mornings difficult, here are some tips on coping with dark mornings once the clocks have gone back.

Top tips for dark morning starts

1. Get out during the day, even if it isn’t sunny. Exposure to natural daylight can lift our mood, even on an overcast day.

2. Keep up exercise. It may feel harder when the weather isn’t at its best, but regular exercise is a great way of combatting daytime fatigue. A daytime walk, run or cycle outside will combine exercise and daylight exposure.

3. Think about taking a vitamin D supplement. Our skin synthesises this vitamin when exposed to light so shorter days may mean we are producing less.

4. Connect with nature. Getting outside is also a great way to stay in touch with the natural world. This is great for our wellbeing; noticing the little changes around us helps to remind us that spring is on the way.

5. Stay Hydrated. When we wake up we need to hydrate and this can contribute to feeling fatigued. While a caffeine fix is the first choice for many, try drinking some water first.

6. Prep the night before. Get as many things done each evening so you don’t have to start each morning with an unappealing to-do list. This might include choosing clothes for the next day, making a packed lunch, or packing your work bag.

7. No screens before sleep. If you’re finding it hard to sleep, or you aren’t feeling refreshed on waking, make sure that you aren’t using a screen for the last hour before bed. The light from screens can disrupt the natural rhythm by which our body prepares for sleep each day.

8. Turn off the snooze button. It’s very tempting to think ‘just a few more minutes in bed’ but it may be better to start your day straight away and avoid the risk of oversleeping. Turn the snooze button off and and put your phone or alarm out of reach, so you have to get up to turn it off.

9. Turn the light on. Put the light on as soon as you are awake. This will help your body maintain a sleep-wake rhythm and avoid daytime fatigue.

10. Try listening to some epic music on your way to work. Something like the film theme from The Lord of the Rings will make even a familiar walk or the most humdrum commute feel like an momentous quest!

Help Save Bees With The Big Bee Bonanza!

I wrote this post for the ‘Crunchy on the outside’ blog from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It’s a Zooniverse citizen science project that might be of interest to anyone running a school science club from KS2 upwards.

Measure beautiful bees from around the world to help biologists understand why bee species are declining. The Big Bee Bonanza is a new citizen …

Help Save Bees With The Big Bee Bonanza!

Beat the #ResultsDay media scrum with buzzword bingo!

With A Level results day pending, press, politicians and performative celebrities alike will be preparing for the inevitable annual media scrum.

Navigate your way though the quagmire of commentary with this handy results day buzzword bingo card. I hope it helps a little to make the day more manageable!

If you’re looking for some advice with the UCAS Clearing process, you might find this Clearing Checklist helpful.

Your questions answered: ‘Which is the most successful species of ant?’

All about ants! I wrote this for the Crunchy on the outside blog in response to a question we received that really made us think about ants and what ‘success’ means in terms of a species.

Noah contacted us recently with an intriguing question: ‘What is the most successful species of ant?’. It really got us thinking! Insects are a very …

Your questions answered: ‘Which is the most successful species of ant?’

Insects Online

A short post I wrote for the HOPE project at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, highlighting some of the online resources about insects. Most are aimed at upper KS2 and the scientific investigation ideas are suitable for secondary school age.

When the weather is chilly there aren’t many insects about, but we still have lots of online ‘Crunchy’ insect activities for you to try. We hope they…

Insects Online

Looking forward to spring term 2022

The coming spring term seems as uncertain as that of 2021. The Omicron variant has created a spike in Covid-19 cases, including many teachers. At the time of writing, the government has stated that it wants schools open, but, beyond mask wearing, has announced no new mitigations. The controversial DfE call for ex-teachers to return to the classroom has not been met with enthusiasm. It looks as though teaching will be remote, at least in part because of staff and student absence, as it was for many schools before the Christmas break.

Despite these uncertainties, there is still plenty to look forward to this term. As last year, perhaps the regular routine of the school calendar and observance of familiar events may help us look towards a brighter future.

January

The first half of this term is time to take part in the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch 2022. Get your pupils involved in some citizen science by surveying the birds visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. Registration is open now and you should submit your results online by 21 February.

Registration for the Show Racism the Red Card Schools Competition 2022 is open from the start of January until 4 March. Young people can enter work about fighting racism in any medium – art work, creative writing, song, film, and T-shirt designs. You can find out more on the competition pages of the SRtRC website. The deadline for entries is 18 March.

Thursday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year, the theme is One Day which can be interpreted as one day to mark the Holocaust, one day when there will be no more genocide, one day in history, or the struggle some face to live one day at a time. You can find more information for schools on the HMDT website.

February

Tuesday 8 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety. The theme this year is Together for a better internet which aims to make the internet a better and safer place for all, especially children. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Tuesday 1 February is Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the world, which in 2022 ushers in the Year of the Tiger.

Monday 21 February is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight which runs until 6 March. The focus for 2022 is the Choose the world you want festival. You can find out more, order school resources, or request a virtual school visit from a speaker, from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

March

1 March is Shrove Tuesday (or ‘Pancake Day’) when, in the UK pancakes are traditionally made to use up eggs and sugar before the start of Lent, in the Christian calendar, on the next day, Ash Wednesday.

1 March is also St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. While not an official Bank Holiday in Wales, some schools may have a half-day holiday.

Thursday 3 March is World Book Day in the UK, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary (I know, I can’t believe it either!) You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. As usual, a selection of £1 books will be available for purchase with WBD tokens.

British Science Week, the ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, runs from 11 to 20 March. The theme this year is Growth and includes a schools poster competition. You can find out more from the British Science Week website.

Wednesday 16 March is Young Carers Action Day. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on Tackling Isolation. You can find out more and download resources from the Carers Trust website.

Thursday 17 March (starts on the evening of the 16th) is the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

17 March is also St Patrick’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland, celebrated there and by the Irish diaspora world wide. It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

Friday 18 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of spring.

By now we will all be noticing the hours of daylight lengthening and the clocks go forward by an hour at 2am on Sunday 27 March, marking the start of British Summer Time.

27 March is also the date for Mothering Sunday in the UK and Ireland, although the date varies internationally.

World Autism Acceptance Week (note the change of name from ‘awareness week’) runs from 28 March until 3 April. You can find out more and register for the schools’ newsletter from the National Autistic Society website.

April

Thursday 1st April is April Fool’s Day, which will make for an interesting last day of term for some schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

The Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown on Friday 15 April and ends at nightfall on Saturday 23 April.

The Good Friday bank holiday is on 15 April this year, with Easter Sunday on 17 April, and the bank holiday on the Monday. Let’s hope that by this point in the year, a successful booster vaccination programme will enable us all to share the holiday with friends and family.

Hopefully, this list contains something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Please let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.

My ten most read posts of 2021

Here’s a run down of the ten most read posts on my blog in 2021. Topics range from perennial issues facing teachers to questions arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

10. Things to look forward to in spring 2021. I write one of these for the start of each term but none have contained truer words than “This spring term may be more uncertain than any that have gone before”!

9. Lots to look forward to in autumn 2021. Another ‘looking forward’ post; this one for the autumn term. For some reason, Summer wasn’t as popular, at 17th place.

8. Volunteers returning to teaching – Seven practical questions. A recent, topical post on the DfE call for ex-teachers to return to the classroom.

7. Wasp in the classroom. A perennial summer challenge for teachers – I was even asked this once at interview! This advice draws on my experience at the Museum of Natural History in Oxford.

6. Ten ways to gain a class’s attention. Visiting schools means I see a lot of techniques to gain attention. Here are ten to choose from.

5. Looking for a little inspiration? A post pulling together all my downloadable picture quotes posts in one place. The only ‘resource’ post to make the top ten. I update this regularly so it’s worth returning to.

4. Progress on behaviour – haven’t I seen this graph somewhere before? An older post from 2016 on the ups and downs of improving behaviour in a secondary school.

3. Thank you teachers! I wrote this ‘thank you’ when some we might hope would be saying it weren’t forthcoming, despite the challenges teachers had faced.

2. Learning and long-term memory. Another older post that’s still proving popular. This one is about different types of long-term memory and learning.

1. Do windy days wind children up? Once again, a post I wrote back in 2016 is the most read! It’s about research on that perennial teacher topic: does windy weather make children’s behaviour worse?

I hope you find something useful in these posts. If you do, it would be great to hear about it!