I have worked as a teacher for nearly ten years. I began in Special Needs schools, have spent the last seven years in Primary, and am now moving on to become a Secondary Maths teacher. I studied Philosophy before I trained to teach, and I have always loved ideas, mathematics and books. I live with my partner and our young sons, play football once a week, and I'm colour-blind.
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Q&A with Josh Lury
What inspired you to write resources for teachers?
I wanted to write resources that prompt pupils and teachers to ask questions, and to say things like: "I wonder if..." and "What about if I change this...". I am very enthusiastic about ideas, and how language and thought are linked, and I wanted to be able to share that enthusiasm with as many people as I could (or as many as would listen). Before I became a teacher, my background was in philosophy, and I tended to look at ideas from a distance, and try to see how they linked with the ideas around them. I found that this can be a useful way to learn, and wanted to write tasks that shift students' attention from the details to the long-view.
What do you think is the most important thing when trying to engage students with work?
Giving students the sense that they are at the centre of their learning. So, they can ask questions, pursue their own thoughts, make their own links, and build their own understanding based on the world around them. I want students to realise that there's not a "right answer" to put in the box, but that the world is fascinating and beautiful and full of opportunities to learn. Languages, literature, mathematics, science, RE - and all the subjects they will learn at school - provoke questions and conjectures and mistakes and breakthroughs in equal measure. It's all valuable, and it can seem a real struggle at times, but I defend the idea that the hard won knowledge is the most valuable.
Can you give us any teasers of what to expect from your new English Sharpener Pupil Workbooks?
There are short exercises to begin each chapter based around a short mystery story, and these are to revise and refresh what you've learned before.
The next part of each chapter builds your knowledge of new concepts, and gives quite a specific way to practise them.
Finally, there are a range of challenges to round off each chapter, and these are my favourite parts. They need you to be imaginative and innovative, and you are free to interpret them in the way that seems best to you.
Dotted through the books are skill check quizzes, descriptions of the philosophical context for different grammar skills, and also many opportunities to set your own learning goals.
What are the major themes of your work?
There's a library on Geoge IV Bridge in Edinburgh that has a copy of every book published. I used to watch the building with suspicion - it hardly seems fathomable to me that you could contain all those books in one building. Edinburgh is built on seven hills, street over street, building upon building, and I imagined that the most ancient vaults of the library were buried deep in the basalt.
You'd be forgiven for thinking the secret rules of grammar are kept in a book lying hidden away from the world in one such vault. Down this deep it would be silent except for the sound of a clock ticking, although if you really took the care to observe, you'd notice that the hands on the clocks never moved, and that the ticking sound came from the librarian, who tutted every time someone, somewhere made a grammatical error.
I want to escape this horror.
Very young children with only a year or two's experience of speaking, use and adapt incredibly complex grammar to express their understanding of the world and the people around them. I think that grammar is the study of the way our languages flow around the thoughts we have. I love the way people bend the rules to create their own meaning, the way friends develop their own shared language, the way dialects and slang force us to see the world afresh, the new language structures we need as technology shifts, the way poets and philosophers take language apart, like a child dismantling a toy to discover how it works. I think that as the rules change, so our understanding of grammar changes, and it becomes the study not of what to say and how to say it, but of what it is possible to express in words.
That was the guiding philosophy behind the English Sharpener books.
What initially made you first interested in English?
Being colour-blind, I learnt to read from the colour names on my crayons. To this day there is joy for me in the rhythms and evocations of 'Raw Umber' and 'Burnt Sienna', and the existence of both 'Red Violet' and 'Violet Red' suggests to me the nuance that makes the world a fascinating place and words subtle enough to describe it.
After that, I remember a favourite English teacher of mine, Mrs Fletcher, reading to us from Chaucer. It makes the hairs on my arm stand on end to think that as she spoke, he communicated with me across 800 years in a language at once familiar and strange, and that I can see and hear so clearly his trees 'bresten every bough' in a storm.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers/authors?
Don't let a fear of writing badly stop you putting words on the page.
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