Who gets your attention?

The sermon in church this weekend discussed Matthew 6:24-34, which begins “No one can be a slave of two masters.” The passage is part of the Sermon on the Mount and teaches us to alter our attitude towards money. The analogy within the passage is money as a master distracting minds and dictating actions – in the purchases we make and how we expand our lifestyles to fit our income – rather than serving them.

This conception of money led, as all economic issues do, to Adam Smith. He questions: “to what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world?” This isn’t a broad ‘why are we here?’ question but focused on the driving force behind our acquisition of money. Our initial, instinctual answer is that we use money to live. In our modern world money has replaced the direct trading of goods. When we need bread, clothing, shelter and don’t have the means to provide it for ourselves, we use money to purchase these items. But Smith continues: “What is the end of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power, and pre-eminence? Is it to supply the necessities of nature? The wages of the meanest labourer can supply them.” We do not increase our wealth for basic necessities, nor can we say we do so to exist comfortably.

These questions are posed in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (section III chapter II) in a chapter focused on the origin of ambition. Smith recognises that we constantly better ourselves through improved skills, promotions and bigger houses. What reasons can we provide for this ambition to be better? Is it happiness, contentment, comfort? Each of these advantages could be purported and swiftly criticised. This is Smith’s answer: “To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy, complacency, and approbation, are all the advantages which we can propose to derive from it. It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interests us. But vanity is always founded upon the belief of our being the object of attention and approbation. The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world, and that mankind are disposed to go along with him in all those agreeable emotions with which the advantages of his situation so readily inspire him.” Wealth opens the eyes of the world towards you.

This argument grabbed my attention because it made me reflect the educational gap, which has been a discourse within journals as well as national papers for a long time now. There is gap between the richest and poorest students because we have observed the needs of the rich and ignored the poor.

Smith describes the poor man. He is “ashamed of his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the sight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow-feeling with the misery and distress which he suffers…The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, and when in the midst of a crowd is in the same obscurity as if shut up in his own hovel.”

A harrowing image is conjured in my mind of the child in Ursula Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Way from Omelas. If you are still to read this short story, it is worth a 10 minute read: http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/dunnweb/rprnts.omelas.pdf. In the story, the community are blissfully happy. Le Guin describes their jubilant celebrations in vivid detail as horses “flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another” (even they are “vastly excited”). As the story progresses, we are told that this joyous scene can only exist because there is a child who takes all the suffering from the community. The city dwellers accept that their happiness is possible only if the child continues to live in utter distress, pain and misery.

Not observing the causes and solutions to the educational gap can lead to the acceptance of it. The education profession has now openly discussed this issue and rejected the status quo. The challenge now is to refocus our attention without vain ambition to be the best but with compassion to take heed of those who have been overlooked and put them fully in our sight to progress.

References: Adam Smith The Theory of Moral Sentiments; Ursula Le Guin The Ones Who Walk Way from Omelas.

The final frontier

Yes, it’s enterprise! Not the Star Trek intergalactic vessel but that practical resourcefulness we try and teach along with our subject content. Enterprise skills do strike me as final project that is attempted at the end of the year or an initiative schools sometimes rely on external providers for through ‘drop-down’ days.

Enterprise tasks are most effective, and beneficial to a pupil’s wider learning experience, when embedded into everyday lessons. Below, I have outlined some enterprise tasks that could be used in a lesson and others that could stretch a whole half term. They are designed to link closely to subject specific curriculum and provide an alternative route into traditional topics.

The images below can be used as task sheets to give to groups in class.

1) This project is designed for an English lesson. As well as developing enterprise and group work, the tasks will require students to use persuasive techniques and demonstrate their understanding of the text. This brief is based on Frankenstein but could be adapted for other texts.


2) Next is a human geography based project. Pupils are required to consider the local environment, including population, amenities and cultural developments. A community datasheet and description will need to be provided with the task sheet. The location will depend on what is topical at the time. When I conducted this project with a class in 2012, the London Olympics were about to take place and the Olympic torch had just passed by the school.


3) This project is ideal for maths classes. Pupils must use number, budgeting and graphs. Along with the task sheet, pupils will need to be provided with a list of costing for hotels, flights, staff with different levels of experience etc. This costings sheet and the overall budget can be adapted to the ability of the task. You may even want students to deal with currency conversion if they select an overseas holiday destination.


4) This is a project that I ran for 5 weeks. Again, it is English focused but the success criteria could be adapted for an Art class. As an English teacher, I found the drawing and presentation involved in the creation of the comic a great learning curve for pupils with poor fine motor skills affecting their handwriting. It was equally an eye-opener for me because it highlighted the difficulties and frustrations pupils experienced when they tried to make their work neat and complete fine motor tasks for an extended period. It really helped me to adapt my teaching of extended writing tasks to help build up their writing stamina and motivate them to redraft as a ongoing process.


Ranking Activities

Diamond 9 is a tool that many teaching professionals are aware of and use frequently. It is a tool for ranking ideas. Below I have included my diamond 9 for Blood Brothers. Students are asked to ranking the cards according to which one sums up the play best. They then had to justify their selections. This was a useful activity before I asked the class to write an introduction to an essay on the play.

Blood Brothers diamond 9

The problem with a diamond 9 activity is the cutting involved to create the resource. Either you are stood at a guillotine with thousands of tiny pieces of paper and equally small envelopes during valuable PPA time or your classroom becomes awash with white hundreds and thousands when you ask students to cut the shapes themselves.

This alternative avoids the need to create a card sort but is still a visual resource to engage students. I use a Blob Tree (often used for social and emotional development) to rank and organise characters within a text. The Blob Tree is an image of a tree with various ‘blob people’ taking positions at the top of the tree, falling off a branch, helping another to climb the trunk etc. I number the blobs and ask students to attach a character to each numbered blob with an explanation. This has worked well with Holes after we have read chapter 11 and we start to learn about the hierarchy among the boys at Camp Green Lake. For example, X-ray might be near the top of the tree as he orders Stanley to give him everything he finds while digging.

This is an idea I picked up from TES and unfortunately with the wealth of resources available on there I cannot find the contributor who shared this resource. I will update this post when I find them so they can be attributed here.

To find out more about the Blob Tree and its uses see here: http://www.pipwilson.com/2004/11/blob-tree_110181146915869209.html

Tedious Link

This was an idea I came up with while listening to the Chris Moyles breakfast show on Radio 1. Radio shows are great ways to pick up on fun game ideas for revision. On the show, they play the tedious link game where one of the presenters, Dave, must introduce a track by making a series of links from a given start point. (Have a listen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8wwO_M6pw4.)

So I adapted this idea for plot revision. I show a chain of pictures related to the text and students must explain the links from the first image to the last. As well as serving as a useful revision tools, it prompts students to think about the deeper links between characters, events and themes. For example, the Of Mice and Men tedious link below encourages students to comment on how the dead mouse in Chapter 1 foreshadows the death of other animals and ultimately Curley’s Wife.

Of Mice and Men Tedious Link


  • This task can be made more challenging by only having a start and end point so students have to create the chain of connections.
  • You can introduce keywords for students to use in their explanation.

Tedious link Blood Brothers

Literacy Starters for Lower Ability Classes

1) Sentence Circles

This task is a useful starter to demonstrate students’ comprehension of sentence structures. I draw a circle on the board and within it write jumbled words that make a sentence. Students must then use those words to create a sentence. This task is beneficial to assess students’ grasp of sentence structure but is also applicable across the curriculum. The words in the circle could be in a different language or used to create a keyword definition for any subject area.


  • The task can be extended by adding higher order punctuation or capital letters to help students.
  • The outcome is differentiated because students will use sentence structures they are comfortable with.
  • It is time flexible because students who finish can create their own sentence circles to share with the class.

In class troublingshotting:

Some students may opt to make the simplest sentence. If this is the case, specify that they must use all the words in the circle or create a competition to make the highest number of coherent sentences.

Sentence Circle

2) Scrabble Spelling

This resource was given to me while I was teaching in Wakefield. Since then, I have used it numerous times and shared it with many others. The idea is simple: students are shown the alphabet with scabble points attached and they must make words related to a given topic. The aim is to make the highest scoring words. This starter has benefits for spelling as well as numeracy. Again, it can be used across the curriculum to revise key topics.


  • The numeracy involved can be extended by setting a target score or adding bonuses (times the score by 3 if the word was taught last week) or penalties (divide by 2 if the word is displayed in the classroom).
  • Students are challenged to use more complicated vocabulary to gain a higher score.

In class troubleshooting:

It can be difficult to check the spelling and scoring in class. If errors occur that would be laborious and unhelpful to address as a class, you can save awarding a winner until the end of the lesson. This will give you time to check student responses during the lesson.