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.

Is your coursework deadline looming? It’s easy to panic about getting all your studies completed, especially when a percentage of your grade is riding on how good your coursework is. However, it can be a great advantage to have part of your GCSE, A Level or other result safely under your belt when you go into your exams. You’re not under the same intense pressure that you would be in an exam situation, so your work is likely to be of a higher standard. Here’s how to make sure you get it right…

  •   Get a clear understanding of what is required

If you have an essay question, for example, write it down before taking it apart. Look at each word of the question and write what it means. If you’re in any doubt about what you’re being asked to do, talk to your tutor or teacher. You should also check how many marks are being allocated for each part of the coursework: the number of marks will dictate how much time and detail should go into each section. If possible, read a few sample answers to get a good idea of what you need to do to get it right.

  •  Plan your research

Whatever the subject of your coursework, you will need to read texts and do research online to arm yourself with everything you need to answer the questions that are being put to you. Make a list of all the sources of information you will be using, and allocate specific amounts of time to spend reading and taking notes for each.

  •  Don’t rush the writing

Your coursework plan should include plenty of time to write your essay and answer the questions posed, or to present your findings. Do not leave this until the night before. Despite the fact that lots of students might say this works for them, you will just feel unbearably stressed and pressurised, and your work will not be to the highest standard it could be. Give yourself a few days to complete the bulk of the writing at a relaxed pace with time for breaks, and your coursework will be much more likely to help you get that grade you’re after.

  •  Factor in editing time

No matter how hard you’ve worked, the first draft of your coursework will not be your best work. Allocate time for drafting well in advance of the deadline so that you can correct mistakes and make improvements. If you find it difficult to read your own work with a critical eye, ask a friend, family member or tutor to offer ideas on how you can make sure that your work is the best it can be.

The key to successfully planning coursework for any subject is allowing plenty of time, and incorporating as much detail as possible into your schedule. This is your chance to make sure you’re going into the exam knowing that you’re part of the way there, so don’t waste it!

Born in Soho, London, on November 28th, 1757, the poet William Blake came into a Dissenter family. Largely educated at home by his mother, The Bible was the main source of Blake’s early influences. At four years old, Blake claimed he was experiencing visions. His friend, the journalist Henry Crabb Robinson, wrote that Blake once claimed to have seen God’s head appear in a window.

By the age of 10, it was clear that Blake had an incredible artistic talent, and he was enrolled at Henry Pars’s drawing school. When he was 14, he was apprenticed to an engraver, and by the age of 21, he was studying at the Royal Academy of Art and Design.

In August 1782, Blake married Catherine Sophia Boucher. Catherine believed in her husband’s visions, and encouraged his creative talents. The following year, Blake spread his artistic talents into the world of poetry, privately publishing a collection called Poetical Sketches.

In 1787 William’s brother Robert died from tuberculosis, aged just 24. This brought another vision to Blake, who said he saw his brother’s spirit ascend through the ceiling. The following year, Blake claimed it was Robert who, in yet another vision, told him to try a new method of printing his works, which Blake would call illuminated printing. This method of production allowed Blake to control every aspect of the production of his art. He used it to produce scenes from the works of Dante, Shakespeare and the Bible.

In 1800, Blake moved to the seaside village of Felpham to work with the poet William Hayley. While in Felpham, in August 1803, he found a soldier, John Schofield, on the property and removed him by force. Schofield accused Blake of assault and sedition, (meaning Damning the King). This was a serious crime, and it took a full year before Blake’s lawyers were able to get the charge acquitted. Also that year, Blake began to write and illustrate Jerusalem (a plate from which can be seen above), something that would take him until 1820 to fully complete. He then began to show art in exhibitions, but this work was met with scorn. Reviewers referred to Blake as “an unfortunate lunatic.” Devastated, Blake withdrew from society and sank and paranoia. Blake continued to sketch, however, and in 1819 he began a series of “visionary heads,” claiming that historical and imaginary figures had appeared and sat for him.

Sadly, although he remained artistically busy, it wasn’t until after his death on 12th August 1827, from an undiagnosed disease that he called “that sickness to which there is no name”, that William Blake was recognized as a major influence in the literary and artistic world. One of a number of great artists who have only come to appreciation posthumously, it could be argued that his greatest, visionary inspirations were, in his time, the greatest barrier to the success he deserved.

Celebrated English novelist George Eliot was born Mary Anne Evans, on 22nd November 1819. Raised in Warwickshire, Mary was forced to leave school at an early age after her mother died in 1836, so she could become her father’s housekeeper. In 1841, Mary and her father moved to Coventry, where she looked after him until his death in 1849. Mary then travelled around Europe, before eventually settling in London.

Although Mary had inherited strict religious views from her father, she was always open minded and, once she was free from her family, became a freethinker. In London, Mary joined a circle of intellectuals that included Tennyson and Dickens.

In 1850, Eliot began contributing to the Westminster Review, a leading journal for philosophical radicals, and later she became its editor. Adopting her male pen name in the hope that she’d be taken more seriously, she published Amos Barton, a short story which was later to appear in Scenes of Clerical Life (1858).

Amongst her literary friends, Mary met George Henry Lewes. George was a married man, but despite this, they came to live together as a couple until his death. This caused a society scandal which led to Mary being shunned by friends and family alike.

George Eliot’s first novel, Adam Bede‘, was published in 1859 and was a great success. Her other novels include The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Romola (1863), Middlemarch (1872) and Daniel Deronda (1876).

It was the popularity of Eliot’s novels which earned her social acceptance back. Soon her home with George Lewes became a meeting place for fellow writers. After Lewes’ death in 1878, George remarried. Her husband had been a friend for many years; John Cross, who was 20 years younger than her.

Mary ‘George Eliot’ Evans died on 22th December 1880. She is buried in Highgate Cemetery in north London, leaving an incredible literary heritage behind her.

Connect with Oxford Home Schooling