• Oct 262015

Which candy is your classroom?

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There are two sorts of people in this world. Those who appreciate a candy-based metaphor (to whom, may we also point you in the direction of Twitter for teachers via Skittles!) and those for whom such things are beneath their intellect. Such metaphors aren’t scientifically proven, you see, and, to be honest, it all sounds a bit childish.

Because you’re a sparky teacher, we know you’ll be in the first group. Ain’t nowt wrong with a sweet simile.

At the outset, we should declare an interest in Nina Jackson’s latest book — Of Teaching, Learning and Sherbet Lemons. We were given the honour of illustrating it. Nina had developed useful resources for the end of each chapter and our job was to sherbet-lemon-ify them. It was a pleasure to be asked and we hope we’ve retained Nina’s fizz. Can an illustrator review — without bias — a book they’ve illustrated? We’ll do our best.

Here goes…

If you were asked to describe teaching and learning in your classroom in terms of candy, what sweet would you choose?

No.1 The Mint Humbug

Traditional. Rather regimented. Black and white. You know where you are with a classroom like this.

No.2 The Gobstopper

Keeps ‘em quiet for a while, but it sucks.

No.3 The Pear Drop

Looks like any other lesson, until the sinking feeling of what’s about to happen arrives. No subtlety — the equivalent of being bashed over the head with a brick. Leaves you with a nasty taste in the mouth.

No.4 The Toffee

Learning to chew over and get to grips with. Sticks with you. Three days later you find it’s still there.

No.5 The Popping Candy

All-singing, all-dancing teaching and learning. Is it even a lesson? Full of additives, hyperactive and gone in 60 seconds. Learners left wondering “What was *THAT* all about?”

And then there’s…

No.6 The Sherbet Lemon

In her new book, Nina Jackson takes the sherbet lemon as a metaphor to describe outstanding teaching and learning. Teaching and learning with fizz at its centre. With a bit of bite about it. Zingy. Inspirational. Motivational. Dare we say it, sparky?

As well as being the author’s favourite sweet, the lemon sherbet lends itself to a metaphor that runs throughout the book. As she says of the shell: “We need the solid exterior — the rigour, the rules, the system and the structures — to make everything work.” and then, of the centre: “it is here, at the core of teaching and learning, where the most magical things take place, where the real fizz happens. This is the part that really makes everything worthwhile.”


Apparently, Of Teaching, Learning and Sherbet Lemons (or OTLaSL as it shall henceforth be known) was originally going to be a book called ‘Dear Nina’. The intention was for the author to give sage advice in answer to teachers’ questions. The book developed in a slightly different way, but Nina Jackson has retained the original Q&A and “wise advice” feel. If you’ve ever picked the brains (or wanted to) of someone who has been teaching longer than you and valued the advice you’ve been given, this is the book for you.

Nina Jackson is one of those people who you wish you’d learned from in school as a student and who you wish you’d learned alongside in school as a teacher. If you’ve met her, you won’t have failed to notice her genuine care for children and been swept along by her enthusiasm. After writing that sentence, it was interesting to note that a quote on the back of the book uses the words “swept along” too. Some teachers are infectious. Nina is one.

OTLaSL contains 33 chapters, each one taking a question as its starting point. The author then goes on to give practical advice, things to think about and resources to use to help. Topics covered include:

  • how to engage and motivate students
  • the art of useful feedback
  • what to do when faced with a student who just doesn’t talk or a quiet, introverted class
  • developing digital leaders
  • tips for a smooth transition into secondary school
  • how to re-find the love of teaching in the fact of endless directives and paperwork
  • supporting children who face bereavement
  • deciding if you are leadership material and thinking ambitiously
  • We all have questions we face as teachers. Who or what we have as a “go to” for the answers isn’t always simple. It’s not easy for someone who has been teaching for five or six years to admit that they’re not sure what to do about the child who is self-harming. It’s difficult to admit they don’t know quite how to deal with the feeling that they’ve lost their spark and teaching has become a chore. Where do you turn? Your family? Your boss? Other teachers on Twitter? How about turning to one of the most-respected teachers around? Someone whose experience teaching students in difficult settings, those with special needs, and whose experience training teachers all over the world, stands her in great stead as (for want of a better description) an agony aunt you can trust.

    If “value-added” is more than the improvement in test scores as your students move through school…
    if you are just as bothered (or more so) about the emotional, mental and social well-being of your students as whether they’ve achieved a C or above…
    if all you want is to give all your students access to learning, help them be all they can be and develop the life-skills for what lies beyond their school days…
    if the words magic, awe and wonder aren’t wishy-washy nonsense but concrete things you aspire to achieving…
    and if you are not above questioning yourself or asking questions that show your lack of knowledge…
    this book is probably for you.

    And if none of those sentences are true of you…
    this book is most definitely for you. Don’t deal in pear drops. May it return your fizz.

    FURTHER LINKS:
    – You can follow Nina on Twitter here.
    – Nina’s website, Teach Learn Create is here.

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    So, what do you think?

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