Home Schooling Adventures in Spain: Part 1

One of the wonderful benefits of home education is the flexibility it provides, which can include the ability to travel with our children, learning as we go. With this in mind, my family and I decided to spend a few months on the Costa Tropical in southern Spain, working on improving our Spanish. Whilst there, I thought it may be of interest to record and inform you of some of the experiences we have.

We did the same thing last winter, and despite many people reassuring us that the children would simply absorb the language by having Spanish speakers around us, in fact it really didn’t work like that. For children to pick up very significant amounts of Spanish, or any other language, they really need to be properly immersed in it, having no option but to use it to communicate. This is difficult to do unless the children are immediately around spoken Spanish for 4-6 hours a day at least, which ours weren’t. However, they can still learn plenty of very useful new language in simple day to day situations such as shopping, or by joining Spanish groups and societies. If these societies provide plenty of opportunities to mix with local kids, so much the better.

For any traveller, the first challenge after finding somewhere to stay is finding somewhere to eat, and shopping for food is a goldmine for new and hugely practical vocabulary. Sometimes things are not as obvious as they might seem, however! We saw a grocer holding some bananas labelled with the word “plátanos”, implying that the Spanish for banana is “plátano”.  On the shelf behind him were some more, but this time with a sign that read “banana” – so which was it?! In fact, both are right, Bananas are the type that we buy in the UK, whereas plátanos are a smaller, sweeter variety which is normally grown in the Canary Islands. They’re slightly more expensive, but much nicer than the regular “bananas”.

Elsewhere in the fruit and veg department, there are similar challenges; which sign relates to which item? Like a multiple choice question, we can work out the obvious ones such as “tomate cherry” and “limón”, and make a good guess at the rest. And if we’re still having trouble, nowadays we at least have Google Translate on our phones to double check – no more carrying around a dictionary!

With more travel and more exposure to different languages, educated guesses can really help. While we have to be very aware of “false friends”, we can make a reasonable guess at the fact that “ajo” means “garlic” if we know the French word “ail”. I remember travelling to Portugal as a child and learning that “bacalhau à bras” was a speciality of the country, a surprisingly delicious mix of dried, salted cod, potatoes and eggs. When I spotted “filete de bacalao” in the fish section I therefore felt that it was reasonable to assume that they were stocking frozen cod. French, Spanish and Portuguese share common roots as Latin languages, and children who learn one of them have a huge advantage when it comes to experiencing another.

Having made our food choices, we then needed to negotiate the checkout, and the word you’re likely to hear there is “bolsa?” meaning “bag?”.  It is a colloquial reply if you’ve brought your own and answer: “sin bolsa”, meaning “without bag”, but this is the phrase that is used widely and it is easy to remember.

I’ll be writing more about our stay here and the ways that we’re learning Spanish together as a family, and about the learning experiences that we have while we’re here, so keep checking back to the Oxford Home Schooling blog page for more updates!

August in the UK doesn’t just mean a month of school holidays for many school and college pupils; for those who have sat their GCSE, A level, Standards, Highers, BTEC and equivalent exams, it brings to an end a long wait to see if those exams have been passed, and if so, how well.

After the A level results were released in England and Wales this year it was widely reported that, for the first time in many years, boys had fractionally higher grade marks than girls. A number of reasons have been put forward for what seems to be perceived as a sea-change, including the structure of this year’s exams. However, this may not necessarily be true. For instance, The Guardian also quotes a research group called Education Datalab which comments: “Their [boys] performance has improved relative to girls’ this year, but this might have been as much to do with the academic ability of the boys and girls who chose these subjects this year as it is to the changes to A level structure.”

In other words, the differences between boys and girls grades can depend on so many different factors that stating that boys are cleverer than girls this year, or vice versa, is a bold statement. There are so many variables to take into consideration; geographical differences, the subjects chosen (if more boys than girls do chemistry, then they are bound to have the higher percentage of good grades).

It is understandable that newspapers and the media in general feel duty-bound to report on the annual exam results. After all, those pupils are the very people who will steer our country through the next eighty or ninety years. There is a tendency however, when there is no real news to report about the annual results, to focus in on tiny differences in gender achievements or a tiny rise or fall in the overall grades received overall. More or less A grades than average can make a good newspaper headline- and good headlines sell papers.

In reality, despite what reporters say on the television, radio, in the newspapers or on social media platforms, the students that achieve the best exam results are the ones who have worked the hardest. It is those pupils who will go on to get the university places, apprenticeships, and the careers they hoped for- whether they are boys or girls.

A good teacher is someone you’ll remember forever. But what is it that makes a teacher special? What is it about some teachers that make them people you’ll tell your own children about in thirty years’ time? The best teachers tend to have some of the following very particular qualities in common.

They care
No matter how many pupils they have in their class, they manage to make you feel as if you are important. They want to listen to you. Your opinion and ideas clearly matter to them, whether it is academic or personal. They ask you how you are when they see you.

They get to know you
A teacher who takes the time to get to know about their pupils hobbies, out-of-class interests, and personal strengths and weaknesses within and outside the classroom, will always be a better teacher than one who simply turns up to teach.

They have passion for their work
A teacher that oozes enthusiasm and is excited by their subject is going to pass that enthusiasm onto their classes.

They are intelligent
Being passionate about a subject is only worthwhile if a teacher knows their subject well. The more intelligent and well versed a teacher is, then the better they’ll teach.

They make you laugh
Everyone remembers a teacher who made them smile. They don’t have to tell a joke a minute; just someone that makes their lessons happy places to be.

They are fair
They listen to every side of an argument, be it one designed to be discussed in the class, or an argument that has erupted between pupils. Democracy in the classroom will help pupils cope with future confrontation fairly and democratically. Discussing problems as a group in a calm and fair way will help students be more independent and capable of decision makers later on in life.

They are thoughtful
Favourite teachers are always thoughtful in the way they teach. For example, rather than simply printing out a worksheet for you to do, they take time to make everything visible. They draw pictures, use charts, and explain things carefully. By bringing the subject to life they make it memorable. A history teacher may dress as a Roman soldier to help you learn the parts of the legionary’s uniform; a maths teacher might turn a difficult problem into a quiz.

They challenge you
Teachers who challenge your abilities and limits without making you feel inferior or stupid, are often favourites with pupils. Teachers that want to challenge you kindly want you to succeed.

They are good listeners
Teachers who don’t interrupt their pupils from speaking, and who encourage the shy to take a turn in class discussions without pressuring them, will always be admired and valued by their class.

The memorable moment
A teacher that naturally creates one special moment, one single random thing that makes you remember them forever, is the most special of all. That special something will only ever be personal to you. For example, a teacher who takes the time to read and comment on a story you’ve written in your own time. Or a special moment on a school trip, a conversation about your future that helped you see your way, a kind smile when you needed one the most. That moment can be anything, and when it happens, you’ll never forget it.

Grayson Perry’s art exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery opened on 8th June. It is the work of a master craftsman. The exhibits of pottery, tapestries, woven carpets and metal sculptures address issues of class and popular culture in post-Brexit Britain. A two headed piggy-bank with faces looking in opposite directions invites the visitor to contribute to a common fund using any of the slots that describe themselves; young, old, left, right, urban or country, rich or poor, etc. The cameo designs on the pig’s body merge Brexit and Remain – an even handed view of the politics surrounding the issue.

At the heart of the exhibition are the glazed pots, their surfaces decorated with miniature images and one-liners like “luxury brands for justice” and “I’ve read all the academic research about empathy”. Perry suggests that we have more in common than divides us. One pot has a cameo of Big Ben, Winston Churchill and Nigel Farage. Marmite adverts, the BBC and the NHS are depicted on both pots. Perry suggests that our common humanity overrides our social and cultural divisions.

In the corner of one exhibit are colleges of English eccentrics: a tweedy woman clutching a cat, a man in a cloth-cap seeking confrontation. All the images are crowded together, drawing attention to the infinite variety of Britain’s subcultures.

The woven carpets and pottery display the teeming social landscapes of Britain, moving from bulldogs, red buses, the flag of Saint George, all the way to street art. A carpet depicts Euro lorries on the motorway, cannabis adverts next to a child’s playground, a camp of homeless people under a flyover, and a boy in a baseball cap on a bike looking at Brexit graffiti scrawled on slum dwellings against a background of fields.

Throughout these visual comments on contemporary Britain, Perry is always even-handed. A beautifully glazed Cheshire cat with hypnotic swivel eyes bears the title, “I really love you, super rich cat”. It reminds the viewer that Perry himself depends on marketing and advertising to broadcast his social comments and to get his art seen. And how fascinated we all are with money and the display of wealth.

The whole exhibition is thought-provoking, one of the best craft shows I’ve seen for years. If you are interested in seeing it yourself, it runs unto 10th September.

Primarily a visual communicator, a graphic designer is someone who creates eye catching concepts by hand or by using computer software. These images are used to communicate ideas, to inspire, or to inform, via an imaginative use of fonts, shapes, colours, images, print, photography, animation, logos and billboards.

1) Communication

A graphic designer cannot begin a project without first winning a commission from a client, be they an individual, a small business or a larger corporation. Therefore, a graphic designer will spend some time accessing the requests they’ve had for new work, and discussing ideas with their peers. Once they’ve chosen a project they’d like to work on, they will go over ideas with the client in order to make sure that they meet specifications.

2) Prototypes

Once a graphic designer has decided on a project he or she will develop a prototype for the design. Once that prototype, such as a logo, a menu, or a poster, had been finalized, the designer will present it to the client. A great deal of customer interaction takes place during a typical working day.

3) Finalizing a design

Using a variety of design elements, the graphic designer will develop the overall layout and production design for their client using both text and images. Graphic designers need an excellent eye for detail and a good understanding of popular trends in adverting and art to be able to pitch their designs correctly for each given project.

Often working alongside art directors and communication designers, the graphic design world has strong links with public relations, advertising and promotional work. As advertising and communication via social media becomes increasingly relevant in our day to day lives, the role of the graphic designer is also becoming more important. Consequently, it is essential for a graphic designer to always be up to date with the latest computer design software so that they can remain competitive in the graphic industry market place.

An architect’s day revolves around creating and developing designs for buildings (or entire settlements), and then communicating those design ideas to a client before either helping them make that design a reality, or adapting it into a real build possibility.

Typical tasks in the day-to-day of an architect include:

1) Tackling design problems
Often working as a team, time will be spent tackling spacial issues, a structures appearance, and cost, to make sure a design can go ahead to their client’s satisfaction. For example, a client might want a building to cover a certain amount of space and fulfil a number of functions. It is up to the architect to design the building in such a way that it meets those requirements.

2) Making drawings and 3-D computer models
Architects spend a lot of time making visual models and drawings of what proposed buildings will look like on completion. These models are mostly produced on the computer, and can be displayed as 2-D or 3-D pictures, allowing a client to see every angle of the design.

3) Coordinating with multiple different parties
Architects are the link between the clients who want the building constructed, the builders on the site, and the planning permission and council officers who might need to be involved in a property build. They also have to meet with other specialists, such as structural engineers, to make sure the build goes to plan.

Employment in the world of architecture is both challenging and exciting. You get to see your idea develop from an idea into a practical plan and schematic, then into an actual building, street, housing estate, town or city. It can be immensely rewarding and even influential to the character of a community.

Architects have to have very good attention to detail, as every part of their designs has to be perfect, or the buildings they are working on won’t work, or will be unsafe for use. Consequently the hours can be long in the quest to meet deadlines with flawless design plans.
From designer to budget manager, to customer liaison, an architect’s day involves a wide range of rewarding and challenging tasks.

In 2015 I wrote an article anticipating the publication of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, written before but set after To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s death, soon after its appearance, raised concerns about whether the novel she hid for 55 years should have been printed in her old age, suggesting that she had been coerced into publication. The book itself did not meet with universal praise, although most criticism was aimed not at the quality of the writing but at the change in the character Atticus Finch.

Now that the dust has settled, I thought it would be worth taking another look. It is, undoubtedly, a ‘good read’, although this time it is not narrated by youthful, naïve ‘Scout’ but by her older self, Jean Louise, who lives away and is only visiting Maycomb. She sees through adult eyes and judges in a way that her younger self did not. Now, being critical of the attitudes of others, she is unaware of her own shortcomings.

The biggest and most difficult aspect to come to terms with is indeed the alteration in Atticus Finch. Scout’s view of him as a learned, wise and compassionate father became ours. Now Atticus is infirm, and even worse, he is attending white supremacy meetings. There is some attempt to contextualise, but Lee does not satisfactorily explain how the man who defended Tom Robinson with such empathy and eloquence could now be his inverse. Similarly, Calpurnia, the reliable housekeeper and important influence on the young Scout, is now hostile towards her. Change came to Maycomb County, as everywhere, but it does not make easy reading.

In some ways, Watchman is the novel where the characters are more rounded and the flaws are out in the open but there was something very special about the view of the world which Lee gave us through the eyes of an inquisitive young girl and I can’t help wishing that she had preserved that.

This week the government hailed as a victory the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Term Time Holiday Ban.

The judges ruled that “regular” attendance had to be in keeping with the rules of the school. At present, that means that state-funded schools can only offer time away under exceptional circumstances. Anything else risks slipping an Ofsted ranking.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position – that no child should be taken out of school without good reason. As before, headteachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent, but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and the local authorities that were created by the previous judgement,”

“The evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”

So, is the government right? Is the banning of time away from school in term-time the best thing for our children in schools?

There are so many opinions and arguments surrounding this subject, and apparently no clear right or wrong, even after this ruling. I am no different. As a parent, there are certainly any number of questions that I ask myself when considering the issue. But when I do so and I look at my own situation, just to take one example, things only ever become very unclear.

The government have been promoting the benefits of family life for years. They have encouraged parents to eat and play together with their children, for example, actions which will both help increase confidence and interaction with others. But these promotions and edicts, whilst worthwhile, also bring with them similarly valid and concerning questions. What happens if a parent’s employer dictates their annual leave? Is family time no longer important?

For a large number of parents across the country, holiday time is the only time when memories are made. Most parents work in full-time employment, passing each other from childcare to work, work to childcare. Holidays for these families are not a luxury, they are an essential part of family life. I have decided to send my children to school and not be home-schooled, but that does not and should not mean that I am any less able to educate my children. Surely taking a child to Lanzarote to investigate volcanoes would benefit them more than sitting in a classroom looking over a book? Is it no longer my right as a parent to make the right decisions for my child? Do I not know them better than anyone else?

Quite often, children can also become lost in schools, which are often large institutions, and this raises for me again the question of how a parent can agree with this judgement.

The Guardian’s “10 Reasons to Home School your Child” promotes some of the greater flexibility provided through this method of education. Child-led learning, the benefits of one-to-one, the ability to write your own timetable, to form a great social network, all these things are only beneficial. Not to mention avoiding the school run (my favourite feature). And if you decide you want to return your child into the mainstream system at any point later down the line, you can.

So now I am left wondering to myself: Why, actually, have I sent my child to school?

There are two questions in Section C and all candidates must answer both of them. The first question is an analysis of a single unseen poem. This question is worth 24 marks. The second question introduces an additional unseen poem. You must then compare the two poems. Curiously, this second question is only awarded 8 marks, so you can see that you must not spend much time on this. Ideally you should spend about 30/35 minutes on part 1 and about 10/12 minutes on part 2.

The unseen poems come at the end of a long, complicated examination paper, so it is crucial that you have your timings all worked out before the exam. You will need to make sure you have the time (and stamina!) to give Section C your very best shot.

Preparation is key!
Just as with Sections A and B, preparation is key. These are unseen poems so you cannot actually learn them in advance. You can, however, practise your technique. Borrow a collection of poems from the library, use the internet, or use the poems from your Anthology which you have not studied, to practise coming face to face with an unseen poem.

Part 1

The question will be, for example: In ‘To a Daughter Leaving Home’, how does the poet present the speaker’s feelings about her daughter?
(See the AQA Specimen Paper if required.)

SMILE
When faced with an unseen poem, it’s a good idea to SMILE:
Structure – what is the structure and form? What does this add to the effect?
Meaning – what is the literal meaning?
Imagery – what poetic devices, e.g. similes, etc, are used? To what effect?
Language – what type of language is used?
Emotional effect – how does the poem make you feel?

Once you have SMILED the poem, you should have a good understanding of it. You can now look again for deeper meanings. Is the metaphorical meaning different from the literal meaning? In the example mentioned above, the poem appears to be about a girl learning to ride her bike. However, the title of the poem and other language and clues in the text suggest it is more about a daughter growing up.

Context is not assessed in Section C, but do consider the name/dates of the poet. Do they give you any additional clues to what it is about?

Plan your answer
It is important that you spend some time planning a careful, considered answer. Just as with Section B, to score a high mark you need a structured, conceptualized response, not just a stream of unrelated paragraphs. You need to plan a detailed answer which considers the language, structure and form of the poem and includes relevant quotations.

Part 2

You are not given much time to focus on this second unseen poem. Take about three minutes to quickly SMILE it. The focus of the question is on comparison. For example: In both ‘Poem for My Sister’ and ‘To a Daughter Leaving Home’ the speakers describe feelings about watching someone they love grow up. What are the similarities and/or differences between the ways the poets present those feelings?
(Both poems available on the AQA Specimen Paper).

This question is only worth 8 marks and the examiners want to see that you are able to confidently compare the language, form, structure and ideas in the two poems. Luckily, you have plenty of experience in comparing poems from Section B. You will need to work quickly to plan a short answer, addressing these points. Remember, the key focus is comparison.

This concludes my series on preparing for this exam. I hope what I have said will prove useful when you finally come to sit down and put pen to paper, and lastly, I wish you all the best of luck.

Section B – Comparison of two Anthology poems

The question in Section B will ask you to compare two poems from the fifteen which you have studied. The examination paper will choose one poem; you must choose the other.

Preparation is key! It is absolutely vital that you are comfortable and familiar with all the poems. This is no mean feat, so do take it seriously. This is a tricky examination and students (and teachers!) are understandably a little nervous about this. Read through the poems until you are sure of each one. Can you confidently explain the structure, form, imagery and themes in each one? Have you learnt some key quotations for each and every poem?

  • Quick Quiz

Love and Relationships
(1) Which of the poems are about marriage?
(2) Which of the poems are about love between parents and children?

Power and Conflict
(1) Which of the poems consider the power of nature?
(2) Which of these poems are written after the conflict?

If you can, ask a friend or relative to help you revise. Give them a list of the poems you have studied and ask them to read it to you. Give a brief synopsis of each poem.

  • The Question
    Your question will be something like this:

Love and Relationships
‘Compare how poets present the idea of romantic love in ‘Love’s Philosophy’ and in one other poem from your cluster’.

Or

Power and Conflict
‘Compare how poets present the idea of power in ‘Ozymandias’ and in one other poem from your cluster’.

  • Planning your answer

Look carefully at the question and consider what is being asked. You will have the text of the poem in front of you. So what ideas of romantic love are presented in ‘Love’s Philosophy’? You will need to look at the language, structure and form. Consider also the wider context of the poem, e.g. Shelley as a romantic poet. Annotate your poem quickly. Remember to focus on the question being asked. You are not being asked merely to analyse the poem, but to prepare a considered, conceptualised response.

Once you have annotated the first poem (spend about five minutes on that), turn your attention to choosing a second poem. You will not have the full poems in front of you, but you will have a list of them you can read through. Look for comparisons and similarities. Which of the other Relationships poems focus on romantic love? Which of the Conflict poems discuss power? Give yourself a couple of minutes to decide this (and then stop thinking about it and move on!). From memory, jot down key features (language, structure, form and context) of the second poem. How does the poet present ideas about romantic love/power in the poems?

You now have your two poems and notes about each of them. Spend an additional five minutes drawing together a plan. You should aim for about three or four good paragraphs. It is important to not just list the features of the poem; you must explain why they are there and the impact they have. Skilled answers will move beyond a basic comparison and begin to create a conceptualised narrative considering the question of, for example, romantic love/power.

And Finally… Start Writing! A question like this will probably require 10-15 minutes serious planning. A good plan on your exam paper shows the examiner that you understand the question, have considered your answer and you know where you’re going. If you start to edge towards the 15-minute mark, however, it is time to move on. You have revised for this, you have learnt all your quotations and you have prepared a solid plan. Now you need to start writing!

 

A final blog, on approaching Section C, the Unseen question, will be published on this site next Thursday.

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