Reading rocks

Headshot of Michael Rosen

By Dominic Traynor

Posted on 10-02-2020

We’re at a unique moment in history when we can look at education from a different vantage point with school closures forcing us to re-evaluate what education means and where it is going.

I set about interviewing some of education’s most interesting people in researching my book on teaching English using Adobe Spark, Literacy Beyond The Classroom, in order to get deeper insights on how we might rethink education.

Michael Rosen is an English children’s novelist, poet, and the author of 140 books. He needs little introduction to teachers. He served as the UK’s Children’s Laureate from June 2007 to June 2009. He has been a TV presenter and political columnist. More recently, he has become something of a YouTube celebrity with his own channel. As someone who is so revered by teachers for his work as a writer, his work as a YouTuber makes him a very interesting interviewee given how disinclined schools are in general towards digital media compared to the sacred act of reading. I recently spoke to him to get his opinion on what is important to teach in our schools.

Imagery from a book.

What is the point of education?

I suppose there are three ways of looking at that question; what does it mean from the child’s point of view; what does it mean from the teachers point of view; and what does it mean from society’s point of view?

When society answers that question, or rather all these incredibly global people in the Department for Education, it’s about knowledge transmission and cultural transmission. We have this enormous body of knowledge and wisdom, and we’ve collapsed all that into this thing called the National Curriculum and then it’s our job to transmit that.

Children doing work at school

The National Curriculum is a common programme of study in schools.

Also, there are things like being nice to each other, which schools are supposed to pass on in their various forms. Most teachers would think that it’s incredibly important we create decent and good places where we treat each other properly and as equal or modeling that behavior, but of course that is to some extent enforced obedience.

If you look at it from the point of view of the parents and children, then there’s a huge demand that in some way or another through school you will learn to do things like how to be happy or how to acquire things that will enable you to go through life.

For me, there’s also something very important that is hard to put your finger on. Everybody has a culture, everybody comes from somewhere. Does a school say to you that you are a valuable and valid human being, that things that you do in your life are interesting things, that you have at home and that your grandparents are really interesting? Or does school say no actually, could you leave all that at the door because all the interesting stuff is here in the 11 plus or whatever book that we’re doing all — this math book, this geography textbook — or does it ever open the door and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’

Child with pink hair

“Everybody has a culture, everybody comes from somewhere.”

A school is a place where we could express and discover who we are, so I discover about you and you discover about me. It’s incredibly exciting to know a bit about each other’s background. Suddenly we’re in a whole different ballgame, we’re exchanging thoughts about who we are, where we’re from, and what I can learn from you and what you can learn from me. You could call it interculturalism, but generally it doesn’t exist in schools because the curriculum is so big and so heavy.

What’s the first thing that you would like to see taught in schools?

We do a lot to talk about language in schools. Most of it is focused on writing and most of the writing is what you might call continuous formal prose. So the children have to learn how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and chunks of writing, whether it’s a story or essay or composition. There’s a tremendous weight of importance on this and that’s fine. But as human beings, we communicate with each other with something else that’s terribly important, called conversation. Now conversation is not some sort of accident, it’s not some sort of thing that just sort of happens by mistake. Conversation structures are extraordinary: how we take turns, how we can construct a thought or an argument in a conversation, how we can listen to other people, how I can influence you and you can influence me.

2 girls talking while on swings.

The art of conversation.

Oracy and public speaking are becoming much more popular in school, which is great, but actually it’s not only a matter of standing up and being able to talk for 10 minutes to half an hour and convince and influence people. It’s also about how we can chat and progress things. It’s more like the art of negotiation. It’s cooperative talk, it’s conversation.

What’s the second thing you’d like to see taught in schools?

I think that one of the most important things going on in the world right now is migration. The moment you start looking at the history of humankind, it becomes a thing of migration. You’ve told me you come from Liverpool. You’ve migrated from Liverpool to London and some of your family came over from Ireland. As we know, Ireland massively depopulated many times over due to terrible famine. The issue of migration is in the news virtually every day with what Trump is doing, and so this is an important thing to think about, especially because we need to understand that everybody at some point has been involved in migration.

World map

“Migration is in the news virtually every day.”

Even if you ended up just moving next door, as a child you have actually migrated to a completely different world. It seems to me that it’s a huge aspect of human existence, but when you look at the curriculum, it comes up in geography and history a bit, but it doesn’t show that every single human being that lives in the British Isles must have migrated at some time. It gets us thinking about cultural education as a constructed nation-state. The idea that we all belong to this nation is a form of education that we’ve been given indeed, so it seems to me to be important to study that.

What is the third thing you wish they taught in schools?

I wish they studied the future. On first glance, it’s a very broad subject – it could be the future of work, it could be sci-fi, climate change, the possibility of nuclear war. It’s a very wide, eclectic subject to do, which could also touch on the history of the future. If you think about the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, he drew a flying machine regardless of whether it could or couldn’t work. The point was he was saying, “Wouldn’t it be great?” and “Isn’t it possible for human beings to get into a machine and fly?” He was projecting into the future what was possible, and he was right. With children, we can start with getting them to think about what they’re going to do tomorrow before moving on to 10 years’ time, 20 or 30 years’ time. There’s plenty to study in the future, isn’t there?

Man kneeling with neon lights behind.

Could children study the future?

A great tool for exploring the effects of world events on our students today and in the future is Adobe Spark. Using this versatile tool, students of varying ages can complete a Video Book Review Project. This sequence of five lessons can be taught at any time of year once a group of students has finished reading a book individually or as a class. Students can also film a video book review to share with the rest of the school. The project develops a number of important skills, from close reading and critical thinking to drafting and revising, as well as filming and uploading a report.

For examples of good book reviews in a primary/elementary school setting, have a look at this video playlist.

For an idea of how to share work like this in a special, whole school community celebration, watch this short documentary of how a school in the UK celebrated their students’ achievements.

Check out lesson plans for the project here on EdEx: Video Book Review Project.

Topics: Insights & Inspiration, Education, Content Series, Voices of Education

Products: Creative Cloud, Spark,