A letter to Miss Soares

Picture Credit Zarine Mogal

Dear Miss Soares,

It is with a heavy heart that I write this. You are a legend, almost an institution yourself. You gave more than 50 years of your life teaching Maths to girls in a school, St Joseph’s, in Karachi. If one talks about girls’ education or about education in Pakistan and specifically Karachi, one has to mention St Joseph’s. If one talks about St Joseph’s then one has to talk about you. You dedicated your whole life to making maths come alive for us. Is it any wonder that when we heard of your passing away we were shocked and deeply saddened? Tributes are coming in from all over the world. You taught grandmothers, mothers and daughters and left a mark on each and every one of us.

You were petite, bespectacled and usually wore a knee-length skirt and blouse and walked briskly. The only jewellery you wore was a wrist watch. You would enter the classroom and we knew you were not going to let us waste even one second. You didn’t smile but your eyes twinkled and we all loved you. You would start each lesson with a small test covering the topics taught earlier. The marks of these tests counted towards our final mark. As this is what you did during every lesson, we weren’t stressed by these tests. This was low stake testing designed to test our knowledge of what had already been taught. While we would be busy doing the test you would walk up and down the class (we sat in rows, facing the front) looking over our shoulders. This would have given you an indication of who was struggling with what. You were so ahead of your time. Regular, low stakes testing of previously taught material is now known to be the way to go about teaching and learning. We would then open our homework, you would call out the correct answers and we would check our books ourselves. You would go over the difficult problems by solving them on the blackboard. Whole class feedback and again ahead of its time! You would collect the books and look over them later. This would give you an idea of how well we had understood the work you had set us but as we had already checked it ourselves it would reduce your workload, giving you more time to plan any adjustment for the next lesson.

You lived and breathed maths. I have been going through all the messages left on the school Facebook page. One of your students has posted that she visited you last year and you told her you missed teaching. You taught for over 50 years and you loved the vocation so much that when you finally retired you still missed it. That sums up who you were.

So many of your students are saying that they grew to understand and love maths because of you. If a student develops a love for a subject because of how it has been taught, then that is the biggest accolade for a teacher.

You were strict but you were fair. You were a disciplinarian, a no-excuses teacher but you were never harsh. And you had a wonderful sense of humour. Your one-liners are legendary! “They look but they don’t see” being one of them. Your strictness, your fairness and your humour endeared you to us. There was never any low level disruption during your lessons. We worked hard and we worked silently. But it was a happy place and there was laughter too. You taught us maths and you taught us so much more. You taught us the value of hard work and the value of not giving up.

In Pakistan students don’t sit public exams in their own schools. Instead they are assigned another school where they do the exams. You would come to the exam centre on the day of the Maths exam, your presence reassuring to those who may be feeling nervous. You didn’t have to do this but you did and we were all very grateful to you for that. At the end of the exam season you would treat your whole class to a trip to the cinema.

You embodied what St Josephs’ stands for which is that every girl who walks those hallowed corridors has a right to a good education. You played a huge part in making that a reality and for that your students can never thank you enough. Miss Soares, you will continue to live in the hearts of all your students and your memory will be kept alive by us remembering and talking about you and the time spent with you.

Rest in peace.

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@BeyondLevels #LearningFirst Conference in Greenwich. Videos

I tried my hand at live streaming during the #LearningFirst conference on 30th Sept 2017. I missed the earlier sessions as I only thought about live streaming after the conference had already started. I was doing it through the “Live” Twitter function using Periscope. This led to a technical hitch during Sean Harford’s presentation. Someone phoned me which cut off the live streaming (my phone was on silent, thank goodness, or Sean may have rated me as Requiring  Improvement as an audience member!).

Below are links to the live streams

Dame Alison Peacock

Jo Penn

David Weston

Clare Sealy

James Pembroke

Sean Harford

Mary Myatt

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A case for having uniforms

Years ago, when I was young, my father told me about someone who worked in his office. What this gentleman was earning barely made ends meet. He had two daughters and was determined that they went to school. Pakistan, like other countries, has private as well as state schools. The state schools have a nominal/no fee. Many of these state schools operate two shifts, a morning and an afternoon one. This allows them to teach twice the number of children using the same facilities and staff. The gentleman I’m writing about, sent his daughters to one such school. One daughter went to the morning school and the other attended the afternoon shift. When the daughter attending the morning shift came back home she’d give the uniform to her sister who would then go to the afternoon shift. When she came back, the uniform would be washed and dried, ready for the next day. He said the only reason he could afford to send his daughters to school was because, firstly, the school had two shifts, and secondly, because the school had a uniform. If there hadn’t been a uniform then his daughters would’ve needed different sets of clothes each day which was beyond their means. Because of the two shifts his daughters shared the same uniform  and none of their friends were any the wiser.

The other day I saw an advertisement for admission to a Pakistani school. The school provided free uniforms for students meeting certain criteria. I assume they are able to do this as they bulk buy and can offset the cost of supplying free uniforms. This is another example why I think schools having uniforms is a great idea. If you’re thinking to yourself that the cases I’ve quoted are those of schools in Pakistan and don’t apply to U.K. then spare a thought for the families using food banks, think of the girls/women dealing with period poverty and then you may agree with me that uniforms (with the caveat that they should be affordable) are a good idea.

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rED17 Blogs, presentations, video links

Toxic schools and how to avoid running them by David Weston

This is the new m*th by Christian Bokhove

Improving assessment: the key to education reform by Daisy Christodoulou

ResearchED 2017 a brief review by Daisy Christodoulou

ResearchED 17-a few thoughts by Justin Gray

ResearchED2017 Slides: What You Do Not Know About Feedback and Motivation by Sarah Donarski 

Translating Research Into Practical Advice (Reflections On ResearchED) by That Boy Can Teach

The self-improving school system by Karen Wespieser

Presentation: Urban Myths about Learning and Technology (at #rED17) by Pedro De Bruyckere

My Research Ed London 2017 Takeaway by dukkhaboy

Genre overload: rED17 by Tarjinder Gill

ResearchED by Alex Quigley 

Why target grades miss the mark by Ben Newmark

Can we create a clever culture? By Mark Enser 

Leon Cych Live Stream: 

Dr Becky Allen and Sam Sims 

Amanda Spielman 

Alex Quigley

Martin Robinson

Daisy Christodulo 

Nick Rose

Nick Gibb  

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Why I feel/think the way I do about racism

Those of you who know me already know this. For those who don’t know me then it’s important that you know I’m a Muslim. My view on things are based on Islamic principles. 

I’ve had numerous discussions about race and prejudice lately. I think in order to make my views clear it’s best I quote Prophet Mohammad ﷺ (peace be upon him). The following passage is taken from his ﷺ last sermon. 

“There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”

This is why, as far as I’m concerned, people can be good or evil, racists or victims of racism. Skin colour does not come into it. Evil has to be defeated. Racism has to be fought. Victims need support. All this has to be done without letting the skin colour of the abuser/abused colour our judgment because no one has superiority over anyone else. 

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Learning to read Urdu and Arabic

I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a household where different languages are spoken. I’ve grown up listening to Urdu, Punjabi and English. My father also speaks a bit of Farsi and my mother’s early education was in Sindhi. Being Muslims we all read the Quran which is in Classical Arabic.

I was taught to read Urdu and Arabic phonetically. The Urdu books which I was taught from had pictures as well as words. The Arabic ones didn’t. Do pictures help? I don’t think they do. Consider this picture

What would you say if I asked you, “What is this picture of?” You’d say orange. You may think that looking at the picture and the whole word, “orange” will help the child to “read” the word orange. This doesn’t work in Urdu. This picture may be of سنگترا or نارنجی or مالٹا depending upon the variety. So, unless you can “read” the word, the picture won’t help you. Fruits aren’t the only things which have more than one name in Urdu. Another example is names for relatives.

In English you would say this was a grandmother and grandfather playing with their granddaughter and grandson. In Urdu, however, it could be نانا and نانی playing with نواسا and نواسی or it could be دادا and دادی playing with پوتا and پوتی as there are different names for paternal and maternal grandparents and different names for the grandchildren too.

The other reason why it’s important to know the sounds of letters is that letters may look slightly different depending upon their position in the word. naureen written in Urdu looks like this نورین  As you can see the “n” at the beginning looks slightly different from the one at the end.

We then come to Arabic. The Quran has no pictures so one needs to be able to read the words without the aid of pictures. Muslims all over the world learn to phonetically “read” the Quran in Arabic but not all can comprehend what they read without the aid of a translation.

Some of the debate on Twitter on phonics and reading seems to suggest that looking at pictures and knowing what’s happening is “reading”. In my opinion, it isn’t. Picture books and picturebooks have a place but they cannot replace teaching children to read using phonics. Once the phonics knowledge is sound (no pun intended!) comprehension is aided too as it reduces cognitive load when reading, especially when new words are encountered.

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Thank goodness my parents filled my head with facts!

Every Saturday my daughter volunteers at a day care centre for the elderly. On weekends there is a reduced number of staff on duty and as she’s under 18 I was asked if I could accompany her. This I’m happy to do.

Last Saturday an elderly gentleman came in (let’s call him Brian) and sat down besides me and we got talking. When, during the course of the conversation, I told Brian I used to live in Karachi, he became very excited. As it turned out he used to work for a multi national and spent seven years in Karachi in the 1960s. Brian said that although he sometimes meets people from Pakistan he rarely meets anyone from Karachi. We then passed a pleasant hour or so chatting about the city we both knew and loved. He told me where he first used to live (not a million miles away from my childhood home) and where he subsequently moved to (not a million miles away from where my parents now live). Brian was very interested in hearing about all the places he used to frequent; were they still there, had they changed much? He asked about Elphinstone Street, a prestigious shopping area of Karachi in those days. He asked if the tram still ran. He wanted to know if Maripur Road was still the main road in the city. He talked about his trip to Lyalpoor, a city in Punjab.  If my parents had not filled my head with facts, if I did not have knowledge of the old Karachi, I would have had to say,”I don’t know” to all his questions; Elphinstone Street is now Zaibunnissa Street and the tram service was discontinued years ago. Maripur Road is no longer the main road. In fact, I can’t remember if I’ve ever driven or be driven down Maripur Road. Lyalpoor is now called Faisalabad. Yes, I could have googled these places and worked out that I did know them albeit by a different name but that would have involved retrieving my bag from where I had stored it, taking my phone out and then typing these names in. I’m sure if that’s what I had done then the animated conversation Brian and I had would not have happened, for stopping every two minutes to goggle stuff is not conducive to chatting over coffee and biscuits! So, I am really glad my parents filled my head of facts about the history of the city they call home because these facts helped me connect with this elderly gentleman.

Lovely architecture, Elphinstone Street (now called Zaibunnissa Street). This is a very old building and Brain would have seen it when he lived in Karachi.

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