Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Weft and The Warp by Cornelius Owen

The Weft and The Warp by Cornelius Owen

I've finally finished my annual re-read of the Harry Potter series.  Whatever people might think of the quality of the writing, and it definitely improves as the series goes on, the sheer brilliance and complexity of the plot never ceases to amaze me.  But this post is not about Harry; instead it is about a book by a new author Cornelius Owen.

This book is lengthy so I shall blog as I go along rather than waiting until I've finished it.  The novel begins with a young man drinking in a pub with his father, an amateur genealogist.  The father has managed to trace their family tree back to the start of English history proper, the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  The novel then proceeds to follow the various stories of the people behind the names in that family tree. 

Although the book is long - it covers 900 years of history - it rattles along at a galloping pace.  There is a focus on the set pieces of history - the big battles and conflicts - but it also vividly brings out the human side behind the facts.  It appears to be very well-researched and there are even footnotes to expain some archaic words.  The descriptions of battle are exciting, vivid and realistic but once again there is a clear sense of the people involved: their fear, adrenaline and motivations.

I'm really enjoying this book and it is great way to get an overview of English history with a human perspective.  

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Big Mistakes Teachers Make

The Big Mistakes Teachers Make

I read this book on the recommendation of one of my fellow media moderators as she is a contributor of a couple of the tips.  It is a short and easy read consisting of 55 separate articles.  Whilst there are a few key contributors most have have done one or two each so the advice is interesting and varied. This would be a great book for a student teacher or NQT as each little snippet of advice is easy to digest and follow.

The most common piece of advice, which came through time and time again from different contributors, was to smile.  The old adage of 'don't smile until Christmas' is well and truly dead it would seem (and rightly so).  Many of the contributors submitted articles on the theme of connecting and building rapport with your students and smiling is definitely the first step in that.

Other tips I liked included 'don't try to go it alone', and 'get to know your students'.  The best two pieces of advice for me though, were about marking.  One was a basic bit of time-management advice but so useful.  Don't take your marking home at the weekend and then leave it until Sunday afternoon.  The mere fact of its presence will cast a pall over your whole weekend.  If you must take it home - do it Friday night or Saturday morning.  Get it off your back and out of your mind so that you can use the weekend as it should be used - to relax and refresh.  The other piece of advice is helpful in reducing resistance and resentment about marking in the first place.  Do not see it as a chore which you have to do to keep management and Ofsted happy but as a dialogue with the students.  Comment on their work as though they are there and then do them courtesy of being able to reply - always allow some time for them to comment back, correct their mistakes and add detail or whatever else you have suggested.  Otherwise all that marking really is pointless and you might as well be talking to yourself.

Of course, much of the advice in the book is common-sense but nevertheless its bright and upbeat tone provide some gentle reminders and refreshers when sometimes the sheer amount of work we have to get through gets in the way of remembering the purpose of teaching in the first place.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Finding The Time

The usual response I get from most people when they learn how much I read is something along the lines of "I wish I had the time..." This used to annoy me because the implication, of course, was that I had nothing else to do and in fact, I'm just as busy as everyone else with a full-time (and I mean full-time!) job as a teacher and an old house which takes a lot of upkeep and a family (albeit grown-up) and two dogs.  Well you get the picture.  

One statistic I came across whilst reading Mini-Habits by Stephen Guise was that the average reading speed is 300 words per minute and, at that speed, reading for an hour a day will result in getting through 6,570,000 words a year which equates to 131 50,000 word books.  Put like that then my 80 book challenge looks wimpy!

I thought I'd investigate this further so took an online speed reading test. This tested non-fiction reading and I did it on my iPhone, so on a very small screen.  My result was 400 words per minute with a 91% retention rate.  I was quite impressed with this which means my hour a day habit should get me through 175 books a year.  Obviously 50,000 words is a pretty short book, and I do take notes as a I read when I'm doing my hour-a-day non-fiction reading, but even so my target of 30 non-fiction books should be easy.

I haven't done a fiction speed reading test but I'm pretty sure that my speed for reading fiction on paper is considerably faster - probably nearer 600.  One reason I prefer to read non-fiction on my iPhone is because it slows me down so that I take in more which is not an issue with fiction.  Novels are nearer 100,000 words than 50,000 so, at that speed, spending half an hour reading before bed every day (not counting some days in the summer when I have been known to read for 5 or 6 hours straight!) I should manage 65 books.  I'm beginning to think I've set my target far too low.

When do I read?

Reading non-fiction (and writing about it) is part of my Miracle Morning routine.  I get up at 5.00am, have a few minutes quiet, record what I ate the day before, do my exercise routine and then spend an hour on the non-fiction.

Fiction is my passion and I could not even think about going to sleep if I hadn't read for at least half an hour before bed.  I rarely watch television (except Pointless!) although we do occasionally get into a nice Scandi-drama.  And I've given up Candy Crush which is a spectacular waste of time.

So squeezing in an hour and half reading per day is really no hardship and certainly doesn't mean I don't get anything else done.  Now I recognise the "I wish I had the time" comment for what it is, it doesn't stress me out anymore.

I finished Mini Habits today so I'll do a post summing it up tomorrow.  Nearly finished the The Big Mistakes Teachers Make too.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Lately I've been coming across loads of interesting articles and books about habits.  Because of all the reading I do, I tend to have a head stuffed full of 'good' ideas for things I want to try out.  Unfortunately, I'm a bit of a serial procrastinator, probably because there is always one more book to read before actually getting on with something.

It seems that mastering the art of habits might be the answer. One book which has had a massive impact on me over the past few months is The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.  It is not the first book I have ever read which extolls the virtues of getting up early but it is the first one which describes a really good system for making it work and using the extra time productively.  I first read this book in July and started getting up early then with great results.  I love the hour or so to myself with my coffee before everyone else gets up, and I managed to continue with it even through the summer holidays.  One of the elements of the Miracle Morning system is exercise and at first incorporating this into my morning routine went well.  I used the 30 day challenge app, set myself some exercises to do and kept on track with them pretty much every day.  However, the app started to ramp up the reps and suddenly I found my resistance to exercise growing to the point where I would find any excuse to skip that part of my morning routine.  The exercises were taking too long, and becoming too uncomfortable.

One of the best things about the Miracle Morning is the Facebook community who regularly post about their experiences with the system and also recommend apps and books that they have found useful.  One such recommendation was Mini-Habits by Stephen Guise.

I'm about halfway through this book and I think it has broken the deadlock of my exercise resistance. I've ditched the 30 day challenge app and now set myself the target of doing a plank for 30 seconds. Guise started his whole mini-habit idea through getting himself to do 1 press-up (I'd be overjoyed if I could do one press-up!).  The result for the last couple of days is that I am doing my full exercise routine every morning at a manageable level.  Now that I don't think I have to do plank for 3 minutes and 50 squats my subconscious is not fighting against doing any exercise at all.  A 30 second plank and 10 squats is more beneficial everyday than a half hour routine I have to force myself to do so only manage once or twice a week when I'm feeling 'motivated'.

I'm sticking with just the exercise mini habit for now but I'm sure that there will be potential for adding in more mini-habits to my routine.  Guise also recommends a mini-habit of reading two pages a day but that is one habit I don't have any trouble with!

Another blog I like which focuses on habits is The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I haven't read her book yet but it is on my list.

I also like the work of James Clear. He commits to publishing a blog post every Monday and Thursday, a routine which has seen his blog become successful because it is reliable.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

First Book Finished

I've just finished The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau so that means it is the official number one in my 80 book challenge.  It definitely comes under the 'inspirational' category of my non-fiction list.

I've followed Chris's blog at the Art of Nonconformity for a while now so I was already familair with his own quest to visit every country in the world (in the words of Richard Osman 'by country we mean a member of the UN in its own right').  I believe that Chris visited the 193 'official' countries plus Kosovo and Taiwan which aren't; I'm not sure if he's been to Scotland which would have been an interesting point had the referendum gone the other way.  The buzz on the blog when he visited his final country, Norway, last year was quite exciting.

The final chapters of the book dealt with the differences between achieving the goal and experiencing the process and what happens when the quest is over.  It was interesting to see how very differently motivated many of the quest participants Chris talked to were.  For some it was all about the process and the enagagement with the task they had set themselves.  These people were the ones who fully relished the challenge in the moment and loved what they did but they struggled when the quest was over.  Others, though, were focused on the end result and the achievement.  They seemed to have more struggles on the journey, coping with the inevitable points of hardship and monotony which their quests entailed, but they were the ones who felt the most satisfaction on completion of the quest and celebrated its end.

Another point that Chris made about quests was that they don't always finish the way they start. Often they pick up a momentum and life of their own. Quests usually start as a solitary endeavour, but, especially if they are bit whacky, start to attract followers and become more social.  All the people who went on travel quests seemed to begin the journey with an idea about places and ended up with their experiences being about people.  This reminds me of the fabulous novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry which is worth a read.

The book finishes with a set of 'lessons'  - some of my favourites are 'Adventure is for everyone' and 'Not everyone needs to believe in your dream, but you do'.  Finally there is a chart of all the people Chris spoke to for this book and the details of their quest.  One of the best 'takeaways' from the book for me is a couple of other new blogs to try.  I particularly liked the one by Elisa Baha.

So, first one down, 79 to go! I'm still finishing off my annual re-read of the Harry Potter series and am half way through Half-Blood Prince.  I am not including these as part of my quest but I will probably blog about Harry at some point.  My thoughts on Harry could fill a book on their own.  My first fiction book is going to be The Weft and The Warp by the brand new author Cornelius Owen.

The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

The latest book by The Art of Non-Conformity's Chris Guillebeau.

I'm about halfway through this wonderful book about quests.  Incredibly inspirational, in fact it is what inspired me to set up this 80 book challenge as my own mini-quest.

The book draws on Chris's experiences of completing his own quest to visit every country in the world - all 190+ of them.  Chris achieved his goal last year and along the way he met many other people engaged in their own personal quest.  Many of the quests involved travel and adventure but not all of them.  Some of the challenges people put themselves through are, to many people, frankly ridiculous like the guy who, after giving up all forms of transport except walking, then gave up speaking and took a vow of silence.  He now works in a university as the only silent teaching assistant! Others were undertaken for a cause, such as the girl who lived in a Tasmanian tree for more than 400 days.  Her goal was to stop loggers destroying the forest and she succeeded.  Yet more, most in fact, were undertaken for personal satisfaction such as the mother who resolved to cook one meal a week from around the world - a complete 3 course dinner with authentic ingredients starting in Albania and proceeding alphabetically. Nevertheless, Chris describes these quests in such an enthusiastic and understanding way that it is easy to go along with their ideas and 'see the point'.

The strong message from the book is that happiness is not something you sit around waiting to happen to you, it is something that happens while you are busy pursuing a goal.  Instead of having dreams resolve to make memories.

Before our children were born, my husband and I used to go caving (potholing)  almost every weekend.  For my husband's fiftieth this month, we revisited old times and, together with my brother and sister-in-law, went up to Yorkshire to go caving again.  We went down Swinsto and had a fantastic experience.  It took me a while to remember how to abseil again but actually I thought I picked it up pretty quickly considering it has been more than 21 years.  I immediately felt at home underground and, yes, I am nowhere near as strong or flexible as I was when we used to cave all the time, but still I didn't do too bad physically.  The ladder climb at the end was hard but it didn't take me nearly as long to recover as I expected.

So alongisde this book challenge I have also set myself the mini-quest of going caving in the UK at least once a month for the next year.

I'd love to take up cave photography but think I'd better get the hang of dragging myself through those underground passages before I start attempting it with camera gear!

(This picture is not me but it is pretty good one of what Swinsto is like).

A Book Lover's Adventure - My 80 Book Challenge

"And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure."
Albus Dumbledore

Welcome to my blog. I am a teacher at a small rural secondary school in Derbyshire and I have an MA in Children's Literature. I teach media studies and computing but until last year I also taught English and I am the school's literacy co-ordinator.  Last year my form and I completed a 40 book challenge.  Along with many of the children I completed the challenge in 6 months, so this year I have decided to set myself an 80 book challenge.  To up the ante I have given myself various categories of books to cover but the real challenge will be to write about every book I read here.

My 80 Book Challenge

50 fiction:

5 classics
5 brand new authors
5 YA novels
5 old favourites
5 science fiction novels written before 1970
5 books that have been made into films
1 book set in Africa
1 book set in South America
1 book set in Russia
1 book set in Australia
1 book set in India

30 non-fiction

5 education/teaching books
5 popular science/psychology books
5 digital literacy/tech books
5 business books
5 biographies/autobographies
5 inspirational books