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My school librarian told me that she has a chunk of money she wants to spend on comics - and wants me to provide her with a list of must haves. She's looking for stuff suitable for the senior school (15-18 yr olds). Anyone who has any wonderful ideas, I'd love to hear them.
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No, seriously. Honest. This is a happy story...

I had intended to spend yesterday at a conference on the Da Vinci Code; primarily because there is bound to be a kid that wants to study it for their personal study, but also out of a certain nosiness about what the Religious Studies department might want to say about it. Unfortunately I forgot to pay, lost the details of the venue and only remembered about the dratted thing at around three am Saturday.... (and thanks to the friend who happened to mention it)

So, nine forty five I am wandering along University Avenue, sleep deprived and vague, looking for helpful signs and thrilled when I find one on the English department door. Unfortuately when I finally manage to focus on it, it is instead advertising a teacher's CPD course. Sounds like a good one too - Science Fiction and Fantasy. It's on today, too.

 So I wander in to try my luck.

Now, this is the reason why I love Glasgow Uni. I could not have been made more welcome. We had a wonderful day - I learned a new way to categorise fantasy - intrusive, immersive, portal and estranged - and was convinced, once again, that SF is a variety of fantasy (the real distinction is between texts with more and less explanation). We talked about Le Guin, Wells, Blish, Pohl, Byatt... And, by the by, I'm such a snob - I know she writes fantasty at least most of the time - "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye"? But I hadn't ever thought of her as a fantasy writer... Stupid me.

Discussion of how much of this stuff you could actually use in the classroom was interesting - the undeniable truth that if you teach a class science fiction or fantasy texts, the one (or two, or three) in the corner for whom this is the best thing that has ever happened to them will be outweighed by the majority who do not see why they should have to read this trash. But then, as was pointed out, they will probably feel the same way about Jane Eyre, so why worry? And yes, they will have to deal with domestic realism but, hell - the way that pop culture is at the moment they are hardly less likely to be exposed to fantasy. And why shouldn't I teach texts I like now and again....?

So, how will this course impact upon your classroom practise, Ms Happybat? Well, THIS is the year that I will teach Buffy the Vampire Slayer to my Intermediate Two class. And my boss can say what she likes.
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After a very pleasant weekend, I'm back at school and finding that no plan survives contact with the second year. To wit - "The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew" may have enough dragons, knights, magpies and general nonsense to keep an English teacher happy, but not her class. Grammar tomorrow, I think... They'll be sorry they ever showed they were bored with a text I like.
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Tomorrow my favourite, most beloved class sit their end of year exam. Their entire final grade depends on it. I feel sick with nerves - I know that the most sophisticated modern tests seem to indicate that competent teaching makes very little difference to the grade the kids get, I know that it is ludicrously too late, and that there is absolutely nothing I can do about it now... But sometimes it would be nice to be a theist, and have some kind of deity to pray to.

Ulp.

In less than 24 hours, it's all over.
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but when I heard that a certain ex-pupil of mine (failed her Higher and then told a colleague "Well, I might resit if there is a decent teacher taking it next time") ran over some poor first year's foot in her car and then reversed back over it again in a panic... well, I don't feel good about myself for laughting...
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I'm currently teaching this film for the second time. The first time was - oh help - four years ago, to a third year General/Foundation class in my old school in Ayrshire. This year I'm teaching it to my lovely Second years. The contrast is marked - my current class can pick up on, and comment on, so much more. It's a joy to discuss it with them - I do hope the essays they write live up to it.

There are so many reasons why this film works with a class. Everyone likes Will, although this year I have been amused to see that it's his ambition that they have picked up on. They have 'written' him as rather a manipulative figure who uses his friends as pawns in his ruthless pursuit of fame and glory, and seem to respect him for it. To my surprise, they are also quite fond of Jocelyn. Last time round, she got fairly short shrift. None of them ever love Chaucer with the depth of devotion he deserves, though - I suspect because they can't understand what he is on about. Too, the collision between old and new never fails to amuse - although unlike my Ayrshire lot, my current class do NOT like the music (insufficiently technobeeb for Coatbridge, I think). 2B have picked up on the interweaving of old fashioned and modern language - the "foxy lady" line gets a laugh - and seem keen to write about it (who'd have thunk it?)

One of the best things about this film as a text to study is how it lends itself to a discussion of technique. I'm not going to get a chance to talk about the music this time, but discussing the use of language helps us to see the text as a made thing - constructed to provoke a series of responses from the viewer. We also got a chance to talk about heroes and villains - although they were not, in my opinion, nearly enthusiastic enough about the wicked Ahdemar. It's a shame we won't get the chance to do more media this year. I'd have loved to run this lot through Deep Blue Sea... Big CGI sharks and subversion of standard action movie roles - who could ask for more from a film?

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May 2016

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