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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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!

Supporting Learning: Thinking 3D

New resources, for Mathematics, Art & Design, and History of Medicine, all inspired by an exhibition celebrating the legacy of Leonardo da Vinci.

The exhibition Thinking 3D ran at the Bodleian Libraries during 2019. It explored the legacy of da Vinci and his contemporaries for portraying, modelling and thinking about three dimensions. In my role as Education Officer, I and colleagues developed several resources for use in workshops with visiting school groups. Usually the resources we create for temporary exhibitions have a finite lifespan, but I was keen to develop these that into versions that teachers could use with their own classes in school.

Three resources are now available for free download from the Bodleian Education Teams’ TES shop.

Was Euler Right?

Link: www.tes.com/teaching-resource/was-euler-right-a-maths-investigation-12588555

‘Was Euler Right?’ is a KS2 Mathematics resource exploring 3D shape and space. Students can build a variety of polyhedrons from the nets provided and use them in an investigation to test Euler’s hypothesis that for all regular convex polyhedrons:

Vertices + Faces – Edges = 2

Creating 3D

Link: www.tes.com/teaching-resource/creating-3d-techniques-to-create-the-illusion-of-depth-in-2d-media-12593487

‘Creating 3D’ is aimed at KS3 Art students and explores a series of techniques used by artists to create the illusion of depth in 2D media:

  • Overlap
  • Relative size
  • Shading & shadowing
  • Single-point perspective

While each resource can be used as a standalone activity within a lesson, they combine in a progressive sequence. A final activity challenges students to draw a room using one-point perspective and the other techniques they have learned.

Build a body

Link: www.tes.com/teaching-resource/build-a-body-vesalius-dissection-and-anatomy-12587078

Andreas Vesalius’ Renaissance anatomical work De humani corporis fabrica revolutionised the understanding of human anatomy. His painstakingly detailed drawings were based on his own direct observation of dissections and achieved a new level of accuracy. Such was the interest in his work that he produced a shorter version, the Epitome, in which he helped readers gain an understanding of the 3D complexity of the body by including paper template pages for the reader to cut out and build three dimensional models. This resource is a simplified facsimile enabling students to follow in Vesalius’ footsteps and build their own model.

Accompanying questions prompt students to consider the significance of the models in their historical context.

I hope you find these resources useful and I’d be interested to know how you got on using them with students. If you download any, I’d really appreciate a review on the resource site. Thanks.