Neurodiversity Week 2019

This week has been Neurodiversity Week at Churchill, as we have been exploring together the variations and differences in our brains that help to make up our rich community.

Neurodiversity is term adopted by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s. She was frustrated that differences in the make-up of our brains were too often being seen as problems or challenges to be overcome, rather than part of the natural variations in our human makeup. She proposed that neurological differences – differences in our brains – should be recognised and respected as much as any other human variation.

It’s a well-accepted fact that everyone’s brain is different. We are all unique. We recognise that our individual brain is “wired up” differently to anybody else’s. My brain, for example is wired up so that I am left handed. As a small child, I reached for objects with my left hand, and instinctively kicked a ball with my left foot. Despite the fact that everyone else in my family was right handed, it’s just the way my brain was made!

There are many other differences in the ways our brains work. Some people are naturally more organised than others; some have better hand-eye coordination; some see colours differently; others have superb memories for names and faces. What Judy Singer recognised was that some differences in the ways our brains work were characterised with negative stereotypes. Labels such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome and others were seen as problems to be “fixed” or “cured;” Singer argued instead that they should be respected and recognised.

Neurodivergent individuals may have many strengths that those without the differences lack: perseverance, creativity, problem solving, oral communication, resourcefulness, visualisation, and practical skills being just some examples. This may be why there are so many highly successful individuals who have neurodivergent qualities:

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This week students have been learning about neurodiversity. They have been discussing how we all need to value our differences, and not to see people who differ from us as “other.” How boring would life be if we were all identical? What can we learn from each other? And how can we celebrate our strengths?

Above all, whilst we are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, what we also know is that our abilities and intelligence are not fixed. Through hard work, careful practice and determination, we can improve on all aspects of our natural ability – and that this process continues throughout our life, not just at school.

 

Lessons from the Champions League

What a week of football it’s been! Liverpool and Spurs both overturned seemingly overwhelming odds in the second legs of their semi-finals to set up an all-Premier League final.

There’s no doubt about it – Liverpool were immense on Tuesday night. Coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the first leg to defeat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate and book their place in the Champions League final is the stuff of legend. When Trent Alexander-Arnold took the corner for Divock Origi to score the fourth Liverpool goal, he caught a team of legends and international superstars napping and dumped them out of the competition.

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It’s not the first time it’s happened, either. Last year, Barcelona were through to the quarter-finals and carrying a 4-1 lead into the second leg against Roma. They were defeated 3-0 in that second leg, and it was Roma that went through to the semi-finals (where they were beaten by Liverpool!)

This fact did not escape the Barcelona players in the painful aftermath of their defeat this week. Luis Suarez, ex-Liverpool striker now playing for Barcelona, summed it up in a post-match interview:

“We have to do a lot of self-criticism because this is the second time that the same thing has happened to us. We cannot commit the same mistake two years in a row. There are many things we need to consider and think about.”

What struck me about Barcelona is that they went out of the Champions League because the players weren’t concentrating. Liverpool, on the other hand, were completely switched on, focused on the task in hand, and playing every single second as though their lives depended on it. For Liverpool on Tuesday, the idea of “giving up” wasn’t even a possibility. The incredible support at Anfield certainly gave them the belief and the boost they needed.

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Then, the following night, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a second incredible comeback – this time overturning a 3-0 deficit in just 45 minutes of football, away from home against a really strong Ajax side. Just like with Liverpool, the first-choice striker was unable to play, but the team showed in their battling determination that they just refused to be beaten. Lucas Moura was quicker, more focused, more switched on than the Ajax team, and poached the final goal as the final seconds of stoppage time ticked away.

These were two magical nights of football, even for a neutral like me. As a Watford supporter, I hope that my team can capture some of Spurs and Liverpool’s “never give up” fighting spirit in the forthcoming FA Cup Final against Manchester City. And as a Headteacher, I hope that our students can capture some of the same spirit in their endeavours. I hope that our students see that lapses in concentration can cost you, and remember to stay focused all the time. I hope they see that, whilst we all make mistakes, we have to learn from them – and that there’s really no excuse for making the same mistake twice. I hope they see that with hard work, effort and determination, nothing is impossible; and that, with the support of those around you in the community, you’ll never walk alone.

 

Revision: the final stretch

This is a short term, and many of our students are now in the final furlong before the finish line of public exams at GCSE and A-level. Speaking tests and practical exams have already started, and Year 11 and Year 13 can now count the days until their first written exams. I thought this was the ideal opportunity to give some final advice and reminders for effective revision in the final stretch.

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1. Break it up

Cramming doesn’t work. Revision is most effective when it is spaced out, with breaks in between. This allows the brain to consolidate what you have revised, and also helps keep a healthy balance between revision and relaxation. Take fifteen minutes off for every hour of revision completed – it’ll help you remember what you’ve learned, and stop you going stir-crazy.

2. Make your brain work hard

In order to remember something, you really have to think about it. Just reading through notes, watching a revision video on YouTube, or listening to a recording of the key information is not going to help you remember information, because your brain isn’t having to try very hard. Re-reading, watching or listening on their own are passive activities. For information to stick, you need to actively do something with it – so turn the information you’ve read, watched or listened to into something else. A mind-map, a spider-diagram, a practice answer, a poster, a set of flashcards…you choose! Taking information from a source, processing it, and turning it into something else will help you to recall it better. After a proper 45-minute revision session, you should feel tired – you will need that break! (see tip 1).

3. Practice makes perfect

At this stage of revision, in the final weeks, your best preparation will be to practice exactly what you will have to do in the real exam. Practice questions, completed from memory to the same timings as the exam, will not only sharpen up your exam technique but will also help you remember what you’ve learned because they are a form of retrieval practice. You can get past papers or practice questions from your teachers, the Academy’s VLE, and services such as MyMaths, but also from exam board websites, and revision sites such as Get Revising or Bitesize.

This excellent video from the BBC summarises these three strong approaches to revision:

Good luck?

If you’re well-prepared, you know your stuff, and you’ve practised your exam technique, you shouldn’t need luck – the exam is just an opportunity to show the examiner what you can do. But good luck to all our exam-takers anyway!

What’s happening to the Academy site?

Tudor is down

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Where Tudor/Science used to be

We’ve returned from Easter to open skies where the old Tudor/Science block used to be. The light is pouring in where the old building used to overshadow the playgrounds and the Sixth Form. This space – when it is cleared – will become a new car park for staff and Sixth Form. It’s now possible to visualise how the Academy’s site will take shape over the coming year.

The Tech Block is going

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Just before Easter, we received the news that we had been granted funding to demolish the final original building, this single-storey Technology block. It will be replaced by a two-storey extension to the Athene Donald Building. The architects had planned the Donald Building with the extension in mind, so the process should be smooth and completed in a year!

Reception is moving

SSite changes for September 2019

Reception, administration, finance, HR, and First Aid will all move down to Hanover from September 2019. Access to reception will be from the main sports centre car park, which will be the only car park available for public access. My office will also be relocated down to this new hub, just next to the main reception.

The current reception area will become a new social space for students, just next door to the Academy Hall. I have been working with the House Captains of Hanover, Stuart, Tudor and Windsor to help design this space, which we plan to open in September for students of all houses to use.

Green Team redevelopment

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The new broadwalk pathway in development

The Academy’s student-led Green Team has been working with local landscape architects and suppliers to ensure that our new site is a beautiful and environmentally sustainable place to learn and work. Over Easter, volunteers began clearing spaces alongside the new central broadwalk path for planting, which will take place over the summer terms. There are also plans for a Sixth Form garden and a vegetable garden behind the Donald building to supply Food and Nutrition lessons. This is alongside the Green Team’s wider work to promote sustainability and reduce the Academy’s carbon footprint, including the solar panels project and the introduction of a car-share incentive scheme.

Change is afoot!

With so much change happening, it can be difficult to keep track! The Academy is very fortunate to have a dedicated team, led by Deputy Headteacher Mr Branch, overseeing this work. We are also grateful for our partnership with building contractors Mealings, who are completing the works, alongside our fantastic site team of Mr White, Mr Butler and Mr Winstanley. By this time next year, the site will be very different indeed – and a much-improved space for our students to enjoy for many years to come.

Eating and drinking to improve brain power

Top revision tips from Miss Tucker

1. The right kind of fat

1vqaw_ph_400x400Firstly, brains need fats! But no ordinary fats, it needs superstar fatty acids Omega 3 and 6. These essential fatty acids are linked to preventing a decline in mental skills and memory loss, and must come from what we eat and drink. Eating nuts, seeds, oily fish or drinking fish oil supplements (like cod liver oil) are all seen to be crucial to the creation and maintenance of brain cells. Those who consume more of these fats in their diet have sharper minds and do better at mental skills tests.

Salmon is an excellent source of these essential fats. Fresh, canned or frozen salmon is fabulous in fish cake patties. Good vegetarian alternatives includes pumpkin seeds and walnuts, or frozen soya beans are a good cheap source too and are great in a stir fry.

While Omegas are good fats for brains, eating other high fat foods containing artificial trans or partially hydrogenated fats do not just compromise brain health; they can impair memory, and lower brain volume. Thankfully most of these bad fats have been removed from supermarket and the big fast food brands but they are still common place in cheaper backstreet independent takeaways and imported American supermarket sweets and snacks (like the Reese, Hershey’s, and Flipz).  Give the body junk food, and the brain is certainly going to suffer.

2. Antioxidants

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There’s a huge amount of chemical processing in the brain which can make it highly susceptible to something called ‘oxidative’ damage but there are things called ‘antioxidants’ that are thought to protect against the harmful effects. Fortunately there is a wide variety of good antioxidants to be found in fruits and vegetables that enables brains to work well for longer periods of time. Different coloured fruit and vegetables provide the body with different types of antioxidants, with purple and blue particularly linked to a reduction in mental decline and other benefits. Blueberries for example have an antioxidant capacity significantly higher than vitamins C or E, and studies have shown improved memory with a diet including blueberries and strawberries (plus the seeds from berries are also another great source of Omega-3). In general, when it comes to berries the more intense the colour, the more nutrition in the berry. So, why not try adding some fresh berries to yogurt or a bowl of oats in the morning?

3. Micronutrients

health-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds-by-greenblenderThe brain needs a steady supply of other micronutrients, and without powerful vitamins B6 and B12 our brains are susceptible to brain disease and mental decline. Also, small amounts of the minerals iron, copper, zinc and sodium are fundamental to brain health and cognitive development. All dairy foods are packed with protein and the B vitamins needed for the growth of brain tissue and neurotransmitters; milk and yogurt are a great source. Lean beef is one of the best absorbed sources of iron, and also contains zinc, which helps with memory. For vegetarians, beans are a good choice of iron (plus they contain yet more omega-3 fatty acids). For zinc, the mineral vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills, pumpkin seeds are richer than many other seeds.

4. Carbohydrates

c618b53a-6262-11e8-a998-12ee0acfa260To enable the brain to efficiently perform it needs lots of the right type of fuel, most of which comes from carbohydrates, but specific carbohydrates effect how the brain responds. What we call ‘high glycemic’ food like white breads cause a rapid release of glucose into the blood followed by a big dip as blood sugar shoots down – and with it, your attention span.  On the other hand, oats, wholemeal bread, and ‘brown’ rice and pasta have far slower glucose release enabling a steadier level of attentiveness. Low-fat popcorn, switching bread to wholemeal and oats make for cheap, easy options. Oats also are good sources of vitamin E and B, as well as potassium and zinc – which make our bodies and brains function at full capacity. You could also try dry oats in a fruit smoothie to thicken it.

5. Choline

Choline, neither vitamin nor mineral, is another micronutrient that is essential in tiny amounts for brain development and memory function, and concentration. You’ll find it in beans, broccoli, lean beef, yogurt and eggs (especially the yolk). Eggs are great brain food also being vitamin B rich, but stick with poached or boiled; or why not have scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast?

6. Hydration

benefits-of-drinking-waterFor sustained brain power opting for a varied balanced diet of nutrient rich foods in three separate meals a day is critical. So is drinking the equivalent of between 6-8 glasses of water a day (between 1.9 and 2.25 litres) to avoid suffering dehydration, tiredness, and lack of concentration and short-term memory. Our brains are 73% water! Avoid caffeinated drinks as they can leave you irritable, sleepless, and anxious, and they have diuretic properties that can leads to further dehydration. Instead try un-caffeinated relaxing herbal chamomile tea, which has been  shown to improve cognitive function.

7. Sleep and exercise

Don’t forget that as well as a healthy diet, aiming for eight hours sleep and exercising helps to keep brains sharp. Research suggests that regular exercise improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively.

Good luck!

The importance of active lives

This week saw the publication of Sport England’s annual Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, revealing the attitudes of school-aged children up and down the country towards sports, exercise and physical activity.

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The five key findings are:

  1. Physically literate children are more likely to be active. The more of the five elements of physical literacy – enjoyment, confidence, competence, understanding and knowledge – children have, the more active they are likely to be.
  2. Enjoyment is the biggest driver of activity levels. While all of the reported attitudes make a difference, enjoying sport and physical activity makes the biggest difference to activity levels.
  3. Physically literate children are happier, more resilient, and more trusting of others.The more elements of physical literacy are present, the higher the levels of happiness, resilience and social trust.
  4. Physical literacy decreases with age. As children grow older, they report lower levels of enjoyment, confidence, competence, and understanding.
  5. There are important inequalities that must be tackled. Girls and those children and young people form less affluent families are less likely to be active.
Churchill sports Day 29th June  2018

Churchill sports Day 29th June 2018

The report itself finds clear links between leading an active lifestyle and mental wellbeing, happiness and resilience. Interestingly, the studies found that having a positive attitude towards sport and physical activity was the strongest driver of happiness and resilience levels – more so than activity levels.

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These findings underline much of what we are trying to achieve with our Physical Education curriculum at Churchill. Especially in Core PE during Years 9, 10 and 11, our aim is to ensure that all our students have a secure grounding in physical literacy, but above all to ensure that they develop a positive attitude towards sport and physical activity – and they they enjoy it! It is so important to us that we equip our young people, when they leave us, to lead an active and healthy lifestyle independently, not because they know they ought to, but because they want to.

Churchill sports Day 29th June  2018

Churchill sports Day 29th June 2018

This year, thanks to the hard work of Mr Hayne and the PE team, supported by Assistant Headteacher Mrs Gill, we are proud to be working alongside Sport England to develop approaches to training teachers in PE which develop physical literacy to improve enjoyment of PE and Sport, and to ensure as many children and young people as possibe adopt an active lifestyle. Mr Hayne and his team are working across eight schools in North Somerset to develop these approaches, to introduce some new sports, and to work with experts from local gyms and fitness centres to train staff in new approaches. We’re already seeing some of the benefits, and we’re looking forward to more over the course of this year-long project.

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We can all do more to ensure that we lead active and healthy lifestyles. Walking the dog, going for a run, a bike ride, taking the stairs instead of the lift…every little helps. Find something you enjoy, get up and go – the benefits are clear!

Click here to read more from Sport England about their Active Lives Children and Young People survey.

Athene Donald’s speech from the opening ceremony

This week saw the opening ceremony of the Athene Donald Building for Science and Technology at Churchill. Our guest of honour was Professor Dame Athene Donald herself.

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The opening ceremony began with our Chamber Choir, who gave a fantastic rendition of Blue Skies, arranged by our very own Mr Spencer. Polly and Freya, the Year 8 students who suggested the building be named in her honour, then introduced Professor Donald, who gave an inspiring speech to the assembled guests. Outgoing President of the Sixth Form Council, Libby Scott, gave the vote of thanks, before the guests were shown round the classes currently in session in our wonderful new facilities.

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With her kind permission, I reproduce Professor Donald’s speech here in full, so that all our staff, students and the wider Academy community can benefit from her inspiring and positive message.

It’s wonderful to be here today. And it’s wonderful to see a school able to provide such fantastic facilities for science and with such a strong commitment to encouraging girls and young women to pursue science to A levels and university.

We’ve just heard the Chamber Choir sing Blue Skies. That is a song that I chose for one of my Desert Island Discs, because it has a particular significance for me. When I was in the USA and my research was going very badly, I found the balance in my life by singing Barbershop with three students in my (engineering) department. It helped me get through some otherwise miserable times and helped me to persist. To the students here I would say remember that life does not always go according to plan, but finding ways – and people – to help you through difficult periods is very important. Music was my escape and support.

Let me say straight away how deeply honoured I am to have been chosen to have this building named after me. It is not the sort of honour that I ever expected, not something that would ever have crossed my mind when I myself was a teenager.

Having first class facilities is undoubtedly something that will make a difference to every student – not to mention staff member – who works in the new building. So many schools have to make do with out of date and often depressing surroundings in which to do their science, and that is hardly likely to inspire the next generation that this is an exciting area to pursue.

Science – which I use as shorthand to include engineering and technology of course – has a crucial role to play in our world. Whether or not a child goes on to study science in later years, if they have a feeling of comfort with the subject means that so many of the big issues – be it climate change and the necessary energy transition we all have to make, or interpreting health risks or what AI may mean for our society – will not feel so scary and unapproachable.

Working at their science lessons in a modern block will provide a congenial atmosphere in which to get to grips with these important subjects.

And what about girls and women in science? Why do I care so passionately about this? Firstly there is the moral argument – why should 50% of the population feel that science is not for them, particularly given its role in empowering citizens in our democracy? But secondly there is the fact that we as a society need the best brains contributing to drive innovation and insight and losing these is a loss to society as a whole. We need to make sure that every young adult in this country whatever their gender, race or background – has access to good science teaching and encouragement to pursue their dreams, whatever they may be. That some children are told they can’t do one subject or another either explicitly or simply implicitly in the messages our society and media give, is not good enough. We need their brains and their talent.

The L’Oréal tagline, as I learnt when I won the Laureate for Women in Science for Europe ten years ago, is that ‘The World needs science and science needs women’. One does not need to care about cosmetics – and I am a bad poster child for L’Oréal as I am very allergic to most of them – to recognize the truth and importance of that sentence.

When I was a teenager, attending an all girls school, no one told me it was odd to want to pursue physics. No one put me off and we had good facilities and good teaching. When I went to university I found out that I was in a minority and I have been ever since. I was the first woman to be made a professor in any of the physical sciences in Cambridge, something I still feel very proud of. I am, indeed, the first woman to be Master of Churchill College at Cambridge, a college that uniquely admits 70% of its students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. We have an incredibly diverse intake but, because of its emphasis on these subjects, not as many young women as I would like. We are working on that, but I hope the brightest of your own students would aspire to come to a college like ours.

I am truly humbled that you chose to name your new block after me, not after the usual suspects of Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin. I hope in some small way the knowledge that women like me can thrive in the sciences will inspire future generations. I wish the school all the very best as this new space is up and running.

Congratulations and best wishes.

Professor Dame Athene Donald

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A last look at Tudor

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Inside Tudor Towers for the final time

This week I took a final look around the Tudor Block. Over the weekend, the roof was removed by the demolition team, who are completing the final strip of the building before they begin to take it down. The site is now quite dangerous, so I was accompanied by the construction site manager and the demolition supervisor, along with Miss Bessant from the Art Department to take some photographs. After our visit, the only people allowed on site will be the professional contractors. We were the last Churchill staff to set foot inside.

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With the roof gone, rain falls through the building and pools on the ground floor

This was the final opportunity to get inside the rooms which have housed Churchill staff and students for over sixty years. Although the rooms have been completely gutted, there are still some signs of the lessons that once took place here.

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“Tie back long hair…wear an apron” – hygiene regulations which no longer apply in the Red Zone in this food room, now open to the elements

It was quite a spooky experience, walking through empty rooms, surrounded by rubble and debris, with demolition equipment and construction materials for company.

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The mural between the old ASC and Food is a relic of the building’s past

I hadn’t been to the top floor of Tudor for well over a year, since the rooms were sealed off after the Business and Computing team moved into the Alan Turing Building. The rooms up there felt completely lifeless, open to the sky above.

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On the top floor of the Tudor Block

We finished our tour in the Chemistry block. All the internal walls have been knocked out, so it’s now just one big empty space with only the pipework and supporting pillars to break it up.

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Inside the old Chemistry block

This single-storey building will be the first to be completely demolished. There will be no spectacular dynamiting, or swinging of giant wrecking balls. Instead, the buildings will be taken down piece by piece, brick by brick, until there is nothing left.

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Pipework and rubble inside Chemistry

I think I was expecting to feel sadness, or sorrow, or a sense of the memories that the buildings had held. But I didn’t feel any of that. Tudor felt empty, lifeless, and deflated. As I walked round I realised that the spirit of Churchill, the laughter and the learning, comes from the people, not the bricks and mortar. All the joy, friendship and excitement is now happening on the opposite side of the school, in new buildings, with new memories being made. I shut the door on the Tudor Block for the final time, closing one chapter of the school’s history, safe in the knowledge that the next chapter has already begun.

The book that made me

On World Book Day this week, I was reflecting on the books that I have read and which one I would choose as the most significant – the book which made me. There is really only one choice: Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath.

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My copy of the Collected Poems

I can remember my first encounter with a Plath poem like it was yesterday. In actual fact, it was upstairs in a sixth form classroom when I was in Year 12, in the summer of 1992. One of my English teachers, Mr Rattue, presented us with two poems called “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus”. Reading those poems was like an electric shock. I had never read anything like them before. The fury and fire in those lines blazed off the page and scorched themselves into my mind. I was dazzled by a poet who was an absolute mistress of her craft, writing about her personal trauma with almost clinical precision, without sacrificing any of the emotional content. The fiery-haired, powerful and terrifying voice of the poems mesmerised and enchanted me. After the lesson, I remember asking for more, and Mr Rattue lending me a copy of Plath’s collection Ariel from the English office. I was hooked.

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My copy of The Bell Jar

I read more and more Plath, seizing on The Bell Jar next. I was bewitched by the imagery, the detachment of the narrator, the autobiography of it. I held on to Ariel, reading and re-reading the collection. I typed out “The Moon and the Yew Tree” on my Nan’s typewriter and kept in my wallet for years afterwards. I remember reading its steady, dead rhythms to calm myself before my university interviews. I still carry it with me, tattered now after many years, but intact.

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Inside my copy of The Collected Poems

My copy of  The Collected Poems came later, in a really important week of milestones. After taking part in every school play and production going, I was awarded the Service to Drama prize for my work on lighting the school plays. This was the first time the prize had gone to a backstage performer rather than an actor that anyone could remember; I was incredibly proud to win it then, and it remains one of my proudest achievements. All school prizes were given as book tokens; we had to buy a book to be awarded at the ceremony. There was no question what I would choose. I remember the frustration of waiting the week from handing the book in to school, to being awarded it on Tuesday 15th December 1992. Wednesday to Saturday I was behind the lighting desk for Twelfth Night, our school play that year and the last one I was involved with. And on the Saturday afternoon of 19th December 1992, I got my acceptance letter from Oxford University.

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Analysing Ariel: my university notes inside The Collected Poems

I took the Collected Poems with me, writing about Plath’s poetry in my first year and returning to it for my finals. In my teaching career I have taught The Bell Jar and Ariel as part of A-level English Literature. Whenever I return to the poems, even to write this post, the experience is as gripping, chilling and breathtaking as it was in 1992.

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Tattered but intact – my copy of The Moon and the Yew Tree hand-typed over 25 years ago

The Collected Poems is the book that made me because it is tied up so tightly with landmark experiences of my young adult life. The voice of the poems speaks so clearly, so personally, with such craft and skill, such poignancy and power, that I measure everything else I read against it – but nothing comes close.

How to revise: retrieval practice

It’s that time of year when revision is moving to the forefront of our minds. It’s a particular focus for our Year 11 and Year 13 students they approach their public exams, but good revision practices are important for all students. If Year 7 get into good revision habits now, they will stand them in good stead for the future!

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Key research paper from Dunlosky et al – how to learn!

Extensive research studies by cognitive and educational psychologists have shown that all revision is not equal. Some revision techniques are more effective at securing learning than others. So, what works? And what is less effective?

Less effective: reading through and/or highlighting your notes

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Highlighting text feels good – but it doesn’t lead to effective learning

Whilst these techniques might make you feel like you’ve spent your time well, the research show that they are not that effective at actually helping to to remember what you’ve read or highlighted at a later point in time. They are generally quite low effort – your brain doesn’t have to work too hard to read through or highlight things. And, because you haven’t had to try too hard, your brain doesn’t retain much of what you’ve done.

More effective: retrieval practice

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Retrieval practice is hard work – but it helps you learn more effectively

Retrieval practice is recalling information to mind from your memory without notes or reminders. Some examples of retrieval practice are:

  • Having a list of key words in front of you, and writing down the definitions or meanings of those key words from memory
  • Having a quotation from a book, play or poem in front of you, and writing down what the quotation implies, demonstrates or illustrates – from memory
  • Having a topic title in front of you, and writing down everything you can remember about that topic without referring to your notes
  • Doing past paper questions without your notes in front of you.

After any retrieval practice, it’s really important to go back to your notes, the textbook or the answer sheet to check which elements you were able to remember correctly, and which you got wrong.

The research shows that even if you can’t remember the answers, or if you get them wrong, retrieval practice still strengthens your recall of the correct answers days and weeks later – provided you’ve corrected your mistakes after the retrieval practice.

Using flashcards is another great way of doing retrieval practice – there’s an excellent blog on how to do this from the psychologists at Inner Drive here.

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Flashcards are a good way to organise your retrieval practice revision

More on how to revise

There are lots of older posts on this blog about revision techniques. You can find them all collected in the Revision category – just click here.