It seems I’m not alone in placing the Northern Lights at or near the top of my (fairly small) bucket list. Some of my strongest, and most content, memories are of nights spent looking upwards at the indescribable grandeur and beauty of the universe (I highly recommend this corner of Reddit you need a regular fix of infinity, by the way).
Imagine how travellers in earlier ages would have tried to express seeing the Northern Lights when they returned home. That’s where I’m headed today … considering how we describe the indescribable …
Particularly when teaching writing, I’ve often compared a text to a map. My thoughts generally run like this:
When your reader lands on a fresh page of prose, they haven’t got a clue what landscape they are standing on; it’s up to us as writers to orientate them, and our language forms the contour lines and the key to the world we are mapping out for them. We have to make careful decisions about what and how much to show – how far they can see; how quickly they can recognise signs, symbols and the direction of travel. We need to contextualise what they’re reading, even if that is the relationship between this page and the previous one, or this paragraph and the one before it, because context is key to avoiding the dizzy nausea that can turn a reader off.
Conversely, when teaching close reading, it’s all very well spotting WHAT a writer is trying to do. By the time pupils hit KS3 at Y7 they can all spot a simile: a symbol on the map. But how many students, even when we get up to the heights of Y13 can really read the map, talk about WHY the simile was employed; WHY that particular comparison was chosen?
Prince Hal is one of those annoying, frankly very boring people who simply don’t have sufficient imagination to have hobbies. The ones who pine away six months into hard-earned retirement, or keep coming into work after you thought you’d finally got rid of them, to ‘keep their hand in, and check the youngsters haven’t stuffed it up yet.’ AND they no longer contribute towards the coffee fund!
Don’t knock teacher holidays until you have tried the profession for a few years. You’ll soon realise that half-term weeks are misnomers, and should be labelled ‘admin / sleep’ weeks, and large chunks of the longer holidays are eaten up by marking or planning. We’re not actually that much better off than other professions when it comes to quality time pretending your job doesn’t exist.
If beginnings feel tricky (until you read this, naturally), then signing off an essay can feel just as daunting, and it’s equally important. Faced with the time pressure of writing an additional half paragraph of analysis only to finish mid-
-sentence, or writing a strong conclusion, I know which one I’d choose every time.
Time-limited tasks are like a triple shot of caffeine …
It’s human nature, you panic. I don’t care what your name is. You can’t help it. Fuck, man, you panic on the inside, in your head, you know? You give yourself a couple of seconds. You get ahold of the situation. You deal with it. What you don’t do is start shooting up the place and start killing people. (Reservoir Dogs: Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
It’s less than a month to go before the Shakespeare exams my Y11s and Y13s will be taking. The Y12s and Y10s have mocks broadly over the same period.
Today’s post relates to three things I often say in the classroom:
Life’s pretty poor for Shylock as is, but his world falls apart when his flighty daughter elopes with a ne’er-do-well Christian lad, taking his fortune to boot. Famously, Act III scene i sees the dam of his frustration and resentment overwhelmed, leaving him only the potential satisfaction of revenge against his mortal enemy, Antonio.
But why is Shylock’s speech so memorably powerful?