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Re-learning to be wrong: philosophy in schools and metacognition

By Peter Worley 

‘Metacognition’ is one of those words that gets thrown around a great deal in education circles, but if you ask what it means, very often you’ll be met with silence or stammering. Philosophy is put forward as an exemplar intervention for metacognitive development in classrooms in a recent programme for the BBC World Service:  and in a short BBC film (in which ‘The Happy Prisoner’ from my book The If Machine is being used). So, what is ‘metacognition’ and how does philosophy help achieve it?

In short, metacognition is when one reflects on one’s own thinking or learning process, evaluating and monitoring it. Put as simply as possible, one is not merely thinking or learning when one is ‘metacognising’, one is thinking about how well one is thinking or learning in order to improve.

The Education Endowment Foundation has conducted research into metacognition and ‘philosophy for children’, but no link between the two is shown or claimed in either piece of research, and, as far as I can tell (please correct me if you know this to be wrong!) there is no research showing the link between philosophy interventions and metacognition. However, intuitively, it would seem that philosophy is par excellence the discipline of metacognition; after all, philosophy has for millennia been associated with classic metacognitive attitudes: questioning assumptions, demanding critical analysis, changing shifts of perception (even when unwanted!), problematisation and so on. Though this may be uncontroversially the case with adult academic philosophy I think we should be cautious about attributing all these metacognitive attitudes to philosophy interventions with children. Only if we can show that these attitudes are actually occurring within the philosophy sessions in schools can we perhaps make the claim that philosophy in schools develops metacognition.

I think that if, during a philosophy session in a school, the children merely respond to a stimulus and then discuss it, sometimes disagreeing with other along the way, then I would say that this is not sufficiently critical for metacognition to occur in any significant or substantive way. So, the easiest way to observe and measure metacognition (though, not the only way) is to consider how critical thinking skills are being deployed.

The Philosophy Foundation and King’s College London are currently looking into exactly this: how doing philosophy develops critical thinking skills. However, we are not only measuring and observing what critical thinking skills the children demonstrate, we are also implementing a critical thinking intervention: we are teaching the children (aged between 8 and 11) certain critical thinking skills (e.g. counter-example, distinction-drawing and conceptual analysis) and seeing what they do, in philosophical enquiries, when they have those skills at their disposal.

Ahead of the research I have been running some preliminary ‘test’ sessions using the critical thinking intervention in my philosophy sessions in schools and I’ve seen some fascinating anecdotal results:-

First of all, the children love learning skills and being presented with content in philosophy sessions; something that is usually left out of standard ‘philosophy in schools’ approaches (including our own).

Secondly, contrary to my own expectations, it is not only the high-ability children that respond well to the use of critical thinking.

And thirdly, it changes the climate of the discussions from a ‘sharing’ emphasis to an ‘evaluative’ emphasis. This, for me, is the most important change. There has been a lot of ‘talking up’ of philosophy in these recent heady days of ‘post truth’, ‘fake news’ and ‘alt facts’, philosophy and ‘philosophy in schools’ interventions are seen as antidotes to this extreme kind of relativism or ‘epistemological authoritarianism’. But I would be careful about being too confident about philosophy’s role here. Indeed, philosophy in schools – when it is done well – can provide the children with the critical thinking tools for tackling misinformation and misleading rhetoric, but philosophy when not done so well it can, I believe, itself contribute to the climate of ‘post truth’. Every time a practitioner of ‘philosophy with children’ says that ‘in philosophy no one can be wrong’ or ‘in philosophy there are no right or wrong answers’ then, I’m afraid philosophy interventions become part of the ‘post truth’ problem. This is why I think, in order to genuinely show that philosophy in schools develops metacognition we need to start teaching children critical thinking skills and have them evaluate themselves and each other. As one Year 6 child said, ‘If the counter-example against what [another child] said is a good one then [the other child] has to change what they said; they have to be wrong’. If we want children to become better thinkers and to be able to tackle what’s coming their way in the media, on the internet, or from a campaigning government, then we need to reacquaint children with the (currently ‘dirty’) word ‘wrong’. They need to accept that they, their peers and their elders can all, quite appropriately, be wrong.

If you are a school that would like to be involved in our research then please contact us: info@philosophy-foundation.org.

Peter Worley teaches philosophy in schools every week. He is a Resident Philosopher at 6 state primary schools in London and he is the founder and CEO of The Philosophy Foundation (www.philosophy-foundation.org), a charity that specialises in philosophy in primary and secondary schools, based in the UK. Peter has over 20 years’ experience in teaching and regularly gives talks and presentations about philosophy in schools. He is a Fellow of the RSA and is a Visiting Research Associate at King’s College London.

He is the author of three titles for Bloomsbury Education, to find out more about any of them please click the jacket images below:

9781441155832978144117495617, 40 lessons to get children thinking Philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum

My Favourite Childhood Book…

We all have one book that sticks out in our memories – one that set our imaginations wild and sparked a life-long love of reading. To celebrate World Book Day  2017 we asked a few Bloomsbury Education authors to talk about the books that began their reading journey…

Visit our online shop to find out more about the authors, their books and more!

Benjamin Hulme-CrossImage result for treasure island

Treasure Island was my favourite book when I was growing up. Buried gold; the original
pirate-rogue, Long John Silver; a mutiny; a young hero somehow defying death and a swarm of cut-throat buccaneers; and a treacherous parrot. I’ve never wanted to be part of an adventure quite the way I wanted to be on board The Hispaniola as a boy.

Ross Morrison McGill (@TeacherToolkit)

SophieImage result for sophie's world‘s World. It captured my imagination and rekindled my love for reading as a young adult.

Stephen Scoffham 

One of my favourite books was Rudyard Kipling’s Just So StoriesImage result for just so stories I was particularly fond of the story about how the elephant got his trunk. I think it appealed to me because of the focus on the naughty young elephant who got his own back on this uncles and aunts.  But there was a deep sense of Africa and the exoticism of distant lands which permeated the both the pages and, ofcourse, the illustrations.  Another
Kipling
story, in a different collection, which appealed to me enormously was Rikki Tikki Tavi, the heroic mongoose who fought with the snakes.  I identified whole-heartedly with Rikki and I thrilled as I read the account of his battles from which he always emerged victorious against the odds.

Joshua Seigal 

“My favourite book as a young child was There’s a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss. My dad Image result for there's a wocket in my pocketused to read this to me and my sister in bed, so I associate the book with bonding. The book is full of weird and wonderful nonsense words too, and I’m sure that it helped fuel my subsequent love of language and wordplay. I also perceived a melancholy underpinning to the book – the illustrations seem to portray the protagonist as being all alone in a vast house, even though he is a young kid, and no reference is ever made to his parents or family. The story is told in the first person singular. I found this somehow sad.”Image result for famous five

Jon Tait

My favourite books that I read as a child were the Famous Five series. I used to love reading
them and imagining the adventures as if they were real life. It was a world that I felt I could dive into when I opened the books.

James Carter

The book that inspired me most as a young reader like no other was the TinTin book The Black Island. Why? It was THRILLING, a non-stop adventure.

It was FUNNY – The Thompson/Thomson twins are sooo stupid, especially as they are supposed to be policeman. And Captain Haddock – what a great name for a former ship’s Image result for the black islandcaptain! He was always get a little ‘tiddly’ shall we say and would begin saying such ridiculous things as ‘blistering barnacles’!

What’s more, it was totally and utterly MAGICAL. I wanted to jump into the world of that book and BE Tintin – have Snowy as my dog, and go on an adventure to a Scottish island where I would meet a g- I won’t say any more. You try it. You find out. But all TinTin books are fantastic. They’re wonderfully escapist stories, and have such fabulous artwork.And great, memorable characters to boot. I love geography and travel, so I loved the fact that TinTin travelled all over the world too – Tibet, Africa, South America, Australia, Russia – everywhere. Even the moon!

Judy Waite

I was horse-mad so Black Beauty stands out, but there were always ‘girl gets horse/girl wins horse/girl wins prizes with horse’ type books that I devoured. Especially the ‘girl wins horse’ one, as I’d entered a real competition to win a horse, run by a daily newspaper Image result for blackbeauty(which seems massively irresponsible these days). Anyway, I didn’t win so horse ownership remained an endless dream, and ‘girl wins horse’ allowed me to experience such joy vicariously.
There’s another book I remember. It was called Isle of Dogs and no, it wasn’t about a dockland area in London. It was about an actual island with dogs on it. The dogs were all pedigrees being transferred somewhere (by ship or plane, I can’t remember which) but a sinking/crash into the sea meant the humans all perished and the dogs swam to a remote island, and the story played out in a sort of doggy Lord of the Flies type of way. I was primary age when I read it, and at the time it latched into my imagination and took me over. I’ve never been able to find it since, despite various searches, so it clearly wasn’t a classic or written by someone well known. But whoever that author is, and wherever they may be, thank you!!

Jo Image result for the dark rising bookCotterill 

My favourite book was The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. I was fascinated by the concept of the Light and the Dark and the battle raging through the centuries – and of course, Will is a fantastic central character, learning about his abilities and frequently in real danger. It kept me gripped and enthralled for many a night!

Saviour PirottaImage result for the silver sword

My favourite book as a child was easily The Silver Sword by Ian Serrallier. It was the first
story I read that had a multi viewpoint.  I’ve always been fascinated by World War 2 and this had a different take on the subject with children as the main characters. I especially identified with Jan, a misfit who was part rogue part hero. I still have The tattered copy I read in my collection.

Tony BradmanImage result for the hobbit book

My favourite book when I was young was The Hobbit. I loved the adventure of it all, that journey through strange, exotic lands that Tolkien describes so well it seems as if they’re real. And what a great ending! A huge battle with a dragon – I mean, what’s not to like?

Andrew BrodieImage result for Winnie-the-Pooh: The Complete Collection of Stories and Poems

As a young child, my absolute favourite book was Winnie the Pooh – my battered copy shows evidence of how much I read and reread it. I liked it so much for its gentle humour, which still appeals to me now.

Stephen Lockyer

Sly Fox and the Red Hen. When I was very young, my parents went Image result for sly fox and the red henaway for ten days to Canada, and some family friends stayed with us. My parents had hidden a present around the house for each of my siblings and I every day, with cryptic clues (I struggle with one packed lunch for my own children), and this book was one of my presents.

I remember it distinctly as being the first book I read on my own, and read it to everyone and anyone so much that I recited it back to my parents on their return.

This book started my love for books. And hens. But mainly hens.

 

Joshua Seigal on visiting schools as a poet

For me, the best thing about being a professional poet is not actually writing poetry. It is being afforded the regular opportunity to perform my poems to children, and to visit schools where I help them write their own. Here is a list of some of the most memorable things that I have experienced during school visits:

Experiencing a giant group hug whilst visiting a Reception class. The more I wailed “help!” the more kids joined in, and the more the teacher laughed.

The time a child told me that he lived in a buffalo. I was totally mystified, until it dawned on me later that he’d meant ‘bungalow’.

The time a child yelled out “custard man!” in the middle of my assembly performance. I asked him afterwards what he meant, and he didn’t appear to know. He simply blurted it out. This really tickled me, and I now regularly tell this story as part of my performance routine. (In the same assembly, another child asked me the bizarre question, “if you were a monkey, what kind of astronaut would you be?”)

Being presented with a ‘thank you letter’ by a group of year 2 children, in which they had spelt my name ‘Goshoowar’.capture-2

Teaching a child in Year 5 called Tyrone, who hated writing. After my visit, his teacher told me that he simply could not stop writing poetry, at break time, lunch time, and even in class when he was supposed to be doing other things. He simply had to get it out.

Teaching a girl in Year 7 called Precious, who wrote an amazing p
em about her experience as a black person. My workshop wasn’t on this theme; she simply wrote the poem in her own time and decided to show it to me. I entered it for her into a competition, where it was shortlisted.

Undertaking long-term work at Plashet School in East London. Last year I compiled a group of students’ poems into an anthology, which helped raise £500 for the charity Care 4 Calais.

Running a poetry workshop on the theme of ‘what if’. The intention was to write humorous and playful poetry, but the best thing about workshops is that students often deviate from what I expect, and come up with their own ideas (heaven forbid!). Here is a wonderful, and sad, poem produced by a boy called Giacomo in Year 6:

 

What If…

 

What if when I’m older I fail

What if when I’m older I don’t have

any money

What if when I’m older I get lost

and become homeless

What if when I’m older my wife

and children die in a fire and my

house has gone

what if when I’m older

my body gets cancer

what if when I’m older

I’m forced to fight a war

What if I’m in Afghanistan

And get killed at a firing squad

What if when I’m older

I never get married and live alone

What if I could stay a child.

Joshua Seigal is a poet, performer and workshop leader who spends his time visiting schools, libraries and theatres around the country and beyond. He has taken critically-acclaimed poetry shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but usually ends up performing in front of his mirror, using a hairbrush as a microphone. He has managed to gain the minimal skills required to make his own website – www.joshuaseigal.co.uk.

Available from Bloomsbury Education:

I Don’t Like Poetry 

Little Lemur Laughing  (publishes 9th March 2017)

WHAT WOULD YOU ASK A POET?

How do you teach poetry?

Haven’t a clue – but I can tell you about some  really exciting poetry activities you can do with KS2 classes…

READ YOUR CLASS A POEM every morning. Every single morning. I know lots of KS2 teachers that do this and they say the results are manifold.

PUT ON POETRY CONCERTS/ASSEMBLIES – try whole classes performing poems such as Boneyard Rap (Wes Magee), Gran, Can You Rap? (Jack Ouseby), Little Red Rap/I Wanna Be A Star (Tony Mitton), Talking Turkeys (Benjamin Zephaniah), How To Turn Your Teacher Purple (by me..woops.).

twgsc-twitter-imagesv2-2WRITE POEMS AS PART OF YOUR CLASS TOPICS – poetry modules are great, but nothing beats writing poems for a real purpose – creating poems that express a subject matter that a class is enthused about and fully immersed in. Try shape poems (rivers, mountains, volcanoes, planets), kennings ( Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans), haiku ( rainforest creatures, sea creatures), and best of all free verse (memories, real events) – children too easily get stuck in the rhyme rut. And you don’t need to be an expert in all the various forms of poetry – just knowing a few is absolutely fine!

PUBLISH CHILDREN’S POEMS around the school, in the hall, on the school website. And I’ve noticed that children love nothing more than having to take a brand new poem of theirs to show the headteacher!

FIND A RANGE OF POETRY BOOKS – single poet collections and themed anthologies. Set up a poetry corner or poetry book box. Public libraries always have a great selection of contemporary children’s poetry titles – and Oxfam bookshops too are usually good for poetry.

PUT UP POETRY TREES IN THE CLASS/HALL – featuring poems by the children, or the children’s favourite poems.

PHOTOCOPY POEMS and put them all over the school, down the corridors  – even in the lo0s!

HAVE A STAFFROOM POETRY READING one lunchtime. Share adult or children’s poems you like.

INVITE A POET IN … why not? A poet will model how to read/perform poems to an twgsc-twitter-imagesv2-1audience, as well as how to run poetry writing workshops in a classroom.

What advice do you have for teachers?

Apart from buying my Bloomsbury teachers’ book Let’s Do Poetry In Primary Schools! as well as multiple class copies of The World’s Greatest Space Cadet (sorry, that was cheeky! ) – and apart from the activities I have recommended earlier, I would say just go for it. And maybe find a teacher in your school that enjoys doing poetry with her/his class. Find out what they do, and what the results have been.

Quite a number of teachers I’ve met in the hundreds of schools I’ve visited over the last few years have said how much poetry has truly revitalised their English teaching, and got the boys in their classes really motivated. What not to like?

And even if you don’t especially like poetry yourself – and you don’t have to – simply try and source some poems and poetry activities that your class could have fun with and be stimulated by. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results. Enjoy!

book-launch-3-002An award-winning children’s poet, James Carter travels all over the cosmos (well, Britain) with his guitar (that’s Keith) to give lively poetry performances and workshops. James once had hair, extremely long hair (honestly), and he played in a really nasty ultra-loud heavy rock band. And, as a lifelong space cadet, James has discovered that poems are the best place to gather all his daydreamy thoughts. What’s more, he believes that daydreaming for ten minutes every day should be compulsory in all schools.

The World’s Greatest Space Cadet by James Carter is available to buy here 

Follow James on Twitter @JamesCarterPoet

www.jamescarterpoet.co.uk

How I became interested in Geography….

Stephen Scoffham, one of the authors of Teaching Primary Geography, reflects on what geography means to him and how he became interested in it.

9781472921109

What is it that first attracted me to geography?  The simple answer is that I don’t really know. Some people seem to have a clear idea of what they are going to do in life from a very early age.  They want to be doctors, or vets, or to make lots of money in business.  I remember, as an infant, being asked what I wanted to do as a grown up.  I couldn’t really think of an answer but wriggled uncomfortably on my bottom instead.  ‘I want to be a train driver’ I finally blurted out without much conviction.  Fortunately, the teacher, Mrs Brown, seemed convinced.  In those days, when the railway engines were still driven by steam, being a train driver was a glamorous enough job which appealed to young boys.

Thinking back, perhaps it was looking at maps as we went on holiday by car which made me interested in geography.  And planning trips in the countryside must have nurtured my interest in the physical environment.  Also, my father, who was involved in planning in his role with the Local Authority, probably passed on his interest in design and architecture.  I know it sounds a bit naff but I remember enjoying colouring in maps and diagrams in my work at school.  At one point as an adolescent I spent a few weeks making a relief model of India during a spell of illness and forced convalescence.  This was a great hit and the geography teacher was delighted.  My model was proudly displayed on the wall of the geography room for quite a number of years after that.  No doubt it was discretely cleared away some time later when the builders came to redecorate. Anyway I don’t know what happened to it.

I studied geography at ‘A’ level (it wasn’t very well taught and I didn’t enjoy it that much) so I decided to branch out at university.  I opted for a general course which combined a number of subjects.  This was a bit of tricky balancing act as it meant switching from one topic to another and I didn’t have enough background knowledge to make sense of everything I was learning.  However, after three years I ended up with a sound degree and a specialism in philosophy and history.  Not a hint of geography at this stage.  Just a broad grounding in humanities which played to my interest in making links and connections.  I’ve been developing this way of thinking ever since.

On graduating I worked as a primary and secondary school teacher before becoming the Schools’ Officer for an Urban Studies Centre (community study base) in an historic town.  At the same time, I developed a career as a self-employed author of teachers’ and children’s books.  I gradually realised that my interest in the urban environment and outdoor learning was steering me towards geography.  I was also lucky enough to develop a long-term partnership with two local head teachers.  We began by working together on materials to support active learning in the school environment and immediate surroundings.  Then, after banging on many doors, we were appointed as consultants for a new school atlas series just as the National Curriculum was coming on stream. I moved into teacher education soon after that.  It has proved to be a wonderful and supportive professional environment ever since.

This latest book, Teaching Primary Geography, is also the result of a collaboration.  I first met the co-author, Paula Owens when she was a student in initial teacher education and we have both been deeply involved with the Geographical Association ever since.  Sharing ideas with Paula has been a really stimulating and creative process.  I always think that two minds are better than one and we are particularly proud of the way we have found ways to include sustainability and British values in each of the different areas of study.  We are both convinced that the curriculum needs to address contemporary issues.  Hopefully you will be too as you read through our ideas and suggestions.  Do let us know what you think.

pc403rzd_400x400Dr. Stephen Scoffham has published widely for schools and teachers in the field of primary geography. He is the editor for the Geographical  Association’s Primary Geography Handbook (2004, 2010), chief  consultant/author for the Collins Junior Atlas, UK in Maps and World in Maps and joint author of the newly issued Collins Primary  Geography textbook scheme. In 2014 he won an award for his work on  devising and Teaching Geography Creatively (Routledge), a  resource book for teachers.He is currently based at Canterbury Christ  Church University where he is a Visiting Lecturer in Sustainability and Education. You can follow him on twitter @StephenScoffham

tty7hjr7_400x400Dr. Paula Owens is an education consultant and author. Along with Stephen, she is the co-author of Bloomsbury Curriculum Basics Teaching Primary Geography. Her career has spanned teaching and leadership in primary schools and curriculum development lead for the Geographical Association. You can follow her on twitter @Primageographer

Bloomsbury Curriculum Basics: Teaching Primary Geography is available to purchase here 

 

#TMBloomsbury

On the 3rd November Bloomsbury HQ hosted a very successful #TMBloomsbury. The conservatory was img_20161103_181008085packed out with around 45 teachers all there to listen to presentations and exchange ideas around the theme of health and well-being in teaching.

Hosting duties were down to Stephen Lockyer who kept everyone in high spirits wimg_20161103_205449120ith activities such as model something that makes you happy out of play
doh and Twitter competitions (which saw #TMBimg_20161103_205544952loomsbury trending on Twitter at one point!)

 

 

 

We had fantastic presentations from James Hilton, Paul Wright, Paula Nagel, Jo Cotterill, Peter Worley and Kathryn Lovewell on the night, all of which encouraged lots of chat and exchanging of ideas on well-being between attendees.

Our book stall was very successful on the night, stocking lots of our key titles with 30% off and Teach, Reflect Doodle… by Paul Wright was the hit of the night selling 7 copies! A big thank you to all of our speakers and everyone who attended on the night!

If this looks like fun and you’d like to know about future Bloomsbury Education events then follow us on Twitter @BloomsburyEd or email us bloomsburyeducation@bloomsbury.com, we’d love to hear from you!

 

Celebrating 100 Little Books!

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By Phill and Sally Featherstone

How should we say goodbye to Little Books?

Maybe we should start at the beginning. In 2000 the first Early Years Foundation Stage guidance was published, clearly establishing that the Reception year was part of the early years, and not just the first stage of primary education. Previously, practitioners working in Reception classes had no clear guidance about how they should plan the curriculum, or what the entitlement curriculum might look for children between 3 and 5.

The birth of an idea

It was around this time and to meet these new needs that we (Phill and Sally Featherstone) started Featherstone Education. Sally was then working as a consultant and trainer in early years education, trying to help practitioners to get to grips with the new curriculum. She produced almost all the early Featherstone materials, including the first Little Books. Phill managed the day-to-day business, including production and marketing, and edited many of the titlelb_woodlands_16s we produced.

Early in 2001 Sally was on her way back from training in a school in East Anglia. She stopped for a sandwich in a layby, and while she sat looking out over the Lincolnshire fields she thought about the people she had just been working with and what they had been discussing: i.e. how to manage the emerging demands of the new legislation while hanging on to the best of what they were already doing. The germ of an ilb_numbers-aw1dea came to her, an idea for books for practitioners that would show them how they could build on their existing good practice to meet the requirements of the new Early Years Curriculum. These would be small enough to go in a practitioner’s bag, and would be bound so they would sit flat on a table while they worked with the children. They would be little books, but they would promote big ideas. The concept and title for the series were born. So was the strap line – Little Books with BIG Ideas.

An idea becomes a series

Featherstone Education began to produce more titles. Most of the early ones were written by Sally, but an ever-expanding group of other writers later contributed to the series. Many were practitioners, and all were knowledgeable about the early years, able to connect interesting ideas and good practice into new titles. Phill designed the covers, featuring un-posed photos of real children doing real things in real settings, and these became part of the Little Book identity. The demand was great, and so we set ourselves the target of producing a new book every month (ten titles a year – there were no new ones in the summer months). This pace of production, extremely challenging for a small company, continued until 2008, when Featherstone Education was acquired by Bloomsbury.

Illustrations at this stage were also carefully commissioned to reflect the principles of the series, and as every page was illustrated this was a key feature. Some of the early writers illustrated p14their own books, and friends and family were roped in to help before we could afford to employ professional illustrators.

The new era and a final goodbye

Bloomsbury Publishing continued the Little Books series, and 40 more titles have been added. The most recent title, the 100th (The Little Book of Talk), continues the tradition of taking familiar activities, giving them a twist, and linking them to a focus for early years practitioners.

Little Books have been a continuing success and we are proud of them. They are valued by practitioners and their managers and advisers, and have been used in many thousands of settings across the UK and abroad. We are sure they will remain what a practitioner once described as her constant backstop, as she said, ‘Whenever I am stuck for an idea, or wondering what to do on Monday, Little Books are there to help me’.

We wish Bloomsbury Publishing, all the users of Little Books and the chwoodland_generalildren with whom they work the very best for the future.

 Sally Featherstone has a wealth of experience as a teacher, head teacher and a local authority adviser and inspector. In recent years, alongside her activities in publishing, Sally built a national reputation as a trainer and consultant in the Primary and Early Years field. She is currently concentrating on expanding her writing about learning in the early years.

Phill Featherstone has been a teacher, local authority adviser and OFSTED inspector. He now spends his time on conservation work around the pennine farmhouse where he and Sally live, and on writing fiction. His first novel, ‘Paradise Girl’ will be published at the end of January.

To celebrate 100 Little Books, we are offering 35% off when you buy any 4 titles in the series! For more details visit: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/superpage/littlebooks/

Castles in the Air

Using the past as a springboard for young writer by Paul Mason

The idea for the book came while walking the grounds of Walmer Castle in Kent.  What would it be like, my daughter asked, to sneak in and live there?  I spent the afternoon taking in the thick walls, and deep, grassy moat; the Duke of Wellington’s bedroom with its camping cot, the row of cannons pointing out to sea, the pair of Wellington boots—scribbling down notes, possibilities, real detail.

A Gibbon quote comes to mind: “There is more pleasure to building castles in the air than on the ground.”  I often like to use one to inspire the other. The past can provide young writers with a powerful springboard.

I took a class to visit a scale replica of a steerage deck on an 1840’s immigrant ship. They perched on bunks in the dimly lit deck as it rocked back and forth, listening to the waves crash, the boards creak. They pictured the hard yards of the early settlers, and put down some evocative description.

Here in New Zealand, a trip to a marae can be a source of inspiration. The wharenui or meeting house often symbolises an ancestor–with a beam for the spine, rafters for ribs and the heart represented by a strong post.  Carvings inside usually tell stories of those that have gone before, great leaders and navigators. (Check the local tikanga or rules before visiting.)

Of course, the past can creep into the classroom too.  I once brought in an old travelling chest.  The students could look and touch the worn leather, but weren’t allowed to open the lid.  What hid inside? Who did the trunk belong to? Where were they travelling? What would they themselves pack in the trunk if they were going on a long journey?

An inquiry into family history began with a mini-museum of personal heirlooms. An old hat that belonged to granddad. A medal. A treasured photograph. The young writers made them breathe in poems and stories. Given the chance, castles in the air can begin here on the ground.

Paul Mason is a former primary school teacher. He writes fiction for Bloomsbury Education including the Skate Monkey series which has two new titles, The Cursed Village and Fear Mountain, publishing in January 2017.

Under the Sign of Gobbledygook

Steven Withrow is a poet and co-author of It’s Not My Fault

Astrologers tell me, as an early March baby, I was born under the sign of Pisces. And mythologists tell me the Piscean symbol of two fish is derived from the ichthyocentaurs who aided Aphrodite when she was born from the sea.

While this might be astrologically accurate, I’ve often felt I was born 1under a different and decidedly less classical sign. The sign of Gobbledygook.

Lexicographers tell me the word means language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms. In other words, nonsense, gibberish, claptrap, rubbish, balderdash, blather, garbage, mumbo jumbo, drivel, tripe, hogwash, baloney, bilge, bull, bunk, guff, eyewash, piffle, twaddle, poppycock, phooey, and hooey.

If there is a symbol for Gobbledygook, it is likely to be three enjorvincing grelsh interlocked in a skeelered pattern of sympsolathent friggs. Or possibly a beldoor too glarg for opening.

Are you stroffening me?

No?

Then let me ask y2ou a question: What does it mean to make sense?

Wait, I’ll put it another way: How did “reading” get to mean, well, reading…and how did “climbing” come to stand for, um, not-reading?

Let’s attempt an experiment. Next time you’re ascending a ladder or a hill, call that action “reading.” And more immediately, try naming what you’re doing now as “climbing.”

Do this long enough, resolutely enough, and I’ll wager that although it will not shake your linguistic foundations, it will leave you in a slightly more doubtful state of m3ind about words and the roots of words and that whole making sense nonsense.

Because it’s all rather arbitrary, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

Semioticians tell me about signs, signifiers, and signifieds, and I’m inclined to believe….

Hold on a second.

I’m a poet, not a scientist, so for me a read can be a climb when it feels like it ought to be.

And why am I gloaking prose, anyway?

Here’s a lail m4urs of verse instead:

Never belp a thillkish scard

Unless you twill it first in ohl.

Better still to quam a snole

Than to hind up naking abrigard.

While you’re busy puzzling that out, I’ll be carrolling on the learest wall with Humpty Dumpty.

Please be sure to druze your corspicutrations in the comments below.

Thanks for climbing!

Researching Fact to Fiction

Kathryn White writes for children of all ages and is obsessed with animals. She’s published by Little Tiger and Egmont and regularly visits schools and runs interactive workshops. Her latest title for Bloomsbury Education is Sea Wolf.

Some of my books are triggered by just one word; but the word has to inspire, pull me in and make me search for more.  I gather words like pebbles.  Imagine walking along the shore and amongst the many pebbles that make up the shingle, there are strange shapes, marbled colours, and sparkling stones. As the wave foams back, I see an unusual stone and put it in my pocket. Sometimes I can place that word instantly into a book, or it will become the title of a book: such as The Tupilak.

If not used, then over time I store words away and hope they’ll reappear when needed, but this isn’t always the case.

The structure of my book is rarely
formed from the outset. My story will emerge through fog, the characters’ outline becoming more and more distinct, powerful. And, it is invariably research that determines the fluidity of my writing; I learn, I rewrite, I learn more and rewrite. Facts must dictate fiction – or it doesn’t work.

As with The Tupilak, I tripped over the word and was compelled to find its origin. There, the story began in the magic carving once used by the Inuit to cast powerful, evil spells upon those they deemed deserving.

White bone ― whale, seal, even human bone was carved into macabre shapes, distorted faces filled with maligned intent.  This was to be my story. But in researching the origin of this amazing artefact, I discovered so much more.  At the start of my research, I was a world away from the people of Alaska, from where my character dwelt; the people who started this strange, dark ritual, centuries ago. The deeper I delved into the history of the Inuit, the more tragic and inspiring their story became.  They survived in conditions we could only imagine. Their roots, beliefs and family loyalty were present: stretching out through each village to make it unshakeable, immense.

As with The Tupilak, I tripped over the word and was compelled to find its origin. There, the story began in the magic carving once used by the Inuit to cast powerful, evil spells upon those they deemed deserving.

White bone ― whale, seal, even human bone was carved into macabre shapes, distorted faces filled with malignimg_20160929_095602728ed intent.  This was to be my story. But in researching the origin of this amazing artefact, I discovered so much more.  At the start of my research, I was a world away from the people of Alaska, from where my character dwelt; the people who started this strange, dark ritual, centuries ago. The deeper I delved into the history of the Inuit, the more tragic and inspiring their story became.  They survived in conditions we could only imagine. Their roots, beliefs and family loyalty were present: stretching out through each village to make it unshakeable, immense.

So, what happened when companies drilling from the oil industry in the U.S. discovered such riches under the feet of the Inuit? Communities were destroyed. Inuit children taken from their heritage and shipped to American prefab schools, which had been hastily constructed to ensure the next generation integrated into the new economic structure.  It’s the age-old adage of the developed world, we know better than you, what benefits you. Families became disenfranchised, traditions almost lost, identity diminished and as a result ― alcoholism increased to epidemic proportions.  All this, I discovered from one word, from one image: the Tupilak.  And, a people I grew up knowing so little about, soon became real, challenged and alive.

For Sea Wolf, my latest book, I discovered the Newfie. A beast with immense character that is, to any writer, irresistible. I knew I wanted to write about the wonderful sea beast called the Newfoundland.

Although Sea Wolf only physically emerges in my story at the end, it is the mystery of this immense creature that weaves its dark presence through the book.  The more I researched, the more I was amazed by the facts surrounding this creature. Newfoundlands, Newfs or Newfies have webbed feet and a water-resistant coat.

This animal is made for the sea!  Males normally weigh 65–80 kg and females 55–65 kg, placing them in the “Giant” weight range; but some Newfoundland dogs have been known to weigh over 90 kg, and the largest on record weighed 120 kg and measured over 1.8 m (6 ft) from nose to tail, ranking it among the biggest Molosser. They may grow up to 56–76 cm tall at the shoulder, yet they can manoeuvre as gracefully as a dolphin, mermaid or Sea Beast. Depending on how your story’s panning out.

But the most fascinating part of my research was the rescue stories, the real dramas that set this animal apart from others.

In 1881 in Melbourne, Australia, a Newfoundland named Nelson helped rescue Thomas Brown, a cab driver, swept away by floodwaters in Swanston Street on the night of 15 November. Nelson’s copper dog collar engraved with his name has survived and 130 years after the rescue, acquired by the National Museum of Australia. It is now part of the National Historical Collection.

In the early 20th century, a Newfie saved 92 people who were on the SS Ethie, which was wrecked off of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland during a blizzard. The dog retrieved a rope thrown to it in turbulent waters and brought the rope to people waiting on the beach. A breeches buoy was attached to the rope, and all those aboard the ship were able to get across to safety including an infant in a mailbag.

In 1995, a 10-month-old Newfoundland named Boo saved a hearing-impaired man from drowning in the Yuba River when he fell in whilst dredging for gold. Boo saw the man in distress and instinctively dived in, took the drowning man by the coat arm in his strong jaws and dragged him to safety. The dog had never been rescue trained.

Hatshepsut ― my next word ― was my Pharaoh in my tale, The Gift.

Hatshepsut ruled in popularity for twenty-five years after the death of her husband Thutmose II.

I dug down into her history and uncovered treachery around her son Thutmose III who finally came to rule. I also discovered her devotee and possible lover; Senenmut, the ultimate designer of her tomb. I travelled back through time and learned of a Pharaoh that I ‘d never been taught about in school ― and a female Pharaoh, too.

These are just a few of the words that prompted research and triggered such discoveries and subsequent books.

Other words I enjoy purely for the sound, particularly for picture books and younger fiction, the sort of words children love to hear and use in rhyme. Words such as a ‘flamboyance’, meaning a flock of flamingos, right down to the simple sound of ‘banana’ ― researching this word was quite fruitful.

There is a rather large diversity of banana species, writing in The New YorkerMike Peed had the following to say about this diversity:

There are fuzzy bananas whose skins are bubble-gum pink; green and white striped bananas with pulp the colour of orange sherbet, and bananas that, when cooked , taste like strawberries. The Double Mahoi plant can produce two bunches at once. The Chinese name of the aromatic Go San Heong banana means ‘you can smell it from the next mountain.’ The fingers on one banana plant grow fused; another produces bunches of a thousand fingers, each only an inch long.

And of course, there is the amazing fact that banana plants actually move, their roots taking them across the ground by up to 40 cms in a lifetime, which is why plantation owners leave space for this extraordinary advance.

For me, research is the discovery of so much.

It is the experience of one word that can turn fascinating fact into a wealth of fiction, opening up a whole new world.

 

Kathryn’s latest title is Sea Wolf  the story of siblings Ethan and Maya and their daring adventure to Black Rock. This title is part of our High/Low fiction ideal for struggling and reluctant readers, those with EAL and those with dyslexia.

www.kathrynwhite.net