REVIEW: The Leaderless Revolution – Organise Magazine

My review of Carne Ross’ The Leaderless Revolution published by Organise magazine.

Leaderless Revolution

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15 of the best Birmingham Instagram accounts you need to follow – Counteract.co

My second piece for Birmingham-based online news outlet Counteract, this time focusing on prominent, engaging and interesting Instagrammers from the second city. Featuring professional photographers, street artists and food bloggers – Brum has never looked so good.

Insta

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Ned’s Atomic Dustbin & Pop Will Eat Itself to roll back the years in Birmingham – Counteract.co

Counteract is  Birmingham based online news platform, focusing primarily on the city’s vibrant live music scene, but also covering general news, film & TV and food & drink in Brum, and the surrounding Midlands. Their aim is to shine a light on the excellent cultural scene in the UK’s second city, and give a platform to local artists and creatives.

I was really pleased to have my first article for Counteract published, as I got to embody the site’s ethos, by writing about two bands from my hometown of Stourbridge.

Neds

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Website & App Reviews – Educate (Jan/Feb 2019)

In January, the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers merged to become the National Education Union. The inaugural issue of their new magazine Educate features a website review and an app review of mine.

Educate reviews JanFeb19

Each issue they feature reviews of books, websites and apps which teachers could use for inspiration, or in their teaching. You can read my reviews in the January/February 2019 issue of Educate (page 39) magazine online.

Educate reviews JanFeb19 zoom

 

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Website & App Reviews – The Teacher (Nov 2018)

This was my second set of reviews published in The Teacher magazine, the bimonthly magazine of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Each issue they feature reviews of books, websites and apps which teachers could use for inspiration, or in their teaching.

The Teacher Nov 2018

This was the third time I have written for The Teacher, and my first set of reviews since being asked to become a regular contributor.

You can view my reviews in the November issue of The Teacher (page 38) magazine online.

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“Mobiles in the Media Studies Classroom” – TES.com

This was my second article published in the “Subject Genius” section of TES.com, the Times Educational Supplement website.

You can read the article on TES.com or it is reproduced with permission below the image.

Mobiles in the Media Studies Classroom - TES.com

The use of mobile devices in schools is a divisive and controversial topic, but could they be beneficial in the media studies classroom?

In the 10 years that I have been teaching media studies, I have seen an incredible change in the content that I am teaching. One of the things that I love about teaching my subject is that it is constantly changing and evolving, forcing me to actively update my subject knowledge. When I started teaching, I wasn’t that much older than my students, and was largely consuming similar media products to them. Almost a decade later, I feel increasingly detached from the “Generation Z” students in my classroom, who have no experience of the pre-internet media landscape. I have to go out of my way to research the media that they are consuming, and ensure that I don’t fill my lessons with out-of-date content and examples.

One of the most notable additions to the media curriculum has been not only the internet, but also mobile devices. The ability for consumers to access the web anywhere, at any time, rather than being tethered to their home computer, has been a revelation. It has had a monumental impact, not only on consumers, but also on media institutions. Web-based content is now tailored specifically for web-based devices, and a whole new set of methods and strategies has been created to allow institutions to reach and interact with their audience. The way we interact with the media has changed, but one thing that largely hasn’t changed is the way mobile devices are used in schools. I occasionally see footage on the news of students in utopian classrooms, with a tablet computer each, but in my experience this is far from reality. In the three schools I have worked in, the mobile devices policies have been draconian, allowing no use of mobile devices by students at all on the school site.

I am not generally an exponent of mobile devices in the classroom. I don’t believe that they would necessarily raise student engagement or standards, and there are numerous studies, including one by the London School of Economics (2015), that show a noticeable improvement in attainment in schools with a complete mobile phone ban (not even allowed switched off in bags). Where I do think mobile devices could be used beneficially, however, is in the media studies classroom. So many aspects of the GCSE and A-level curricula are now incorporating online media, particularly relating to marketing and audience engagement. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to teach this as a real-world scenario in school, as access to many social networks is restricted in schools. Using their mobile devices to access social networks would circumvent these problems, and also allow pupils to see how the content that they are producing looks on a mobile device, as opposed to a desktop computer, which is more true-to-life.

The other great untapped resource that mobile devices represent is that almost every student in your classroom will have a device in their pocket, capable of capturing high-quality still images and video. This could be extremely helpful for departments in increasingly cash-strapped schools. When teaching a foundation topic, such as shot sizes, camera angles and camera movements, you could get every student to demonstrate their understanding by producing practical examples of what they have learned, using both still images and video. This could then be uploaded to the student’s online subject blog, for annotation. This would help to engage all students, and ensure that no one gets left out, as often happens when they are working in small groups with one camera between them. There is also no reason why these devices could not be used to capture images and footage for practical controlled assessments. The quality of mobile phones’ built-in cameras has increased exponentially, and there are dozens of international film festivals dedicated specifically to films shot on mobile devices. Films shot on phones have gained more exposure in recent years, thanks in part to films such as Tangerine, a multi-award winning feature-length film, shot entirely on an iPhone 5S, which premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in 2015. Some smartphones even come with simple video-editing software, either built-in or available to download as free apps. This would empower students to take the production and post-production processes into their own hands, outside of the classroom, without the need for expensive equipment and software. If teachers began to incorporate mobile devices into their practical media teaching more regularly, the positive associations that students have for their devices may transfer somewhat to the lessons and subject itself. We could turn students’ largely negative mobile-obsession into a positive, and get more students improving their skills by producing their own media products outside of lessons, in addition to their controlled assessments.

Allowing students to use mobile devices in the classroom, or on the school site, does have the potential to cause problems, and would not be appropriate for all students or groups. However, as with behaviour management in general, in order to be successful, it simply requires clear expectations, rules and sanctions, applied in a consistent manner. I would suggest some of the following:

  • No students should use mobile devices in the classroom, except if given express permission from the teacher;
  • If using mobile devices, students should only use them for the required task (camera/social network), and should not use any other applications (text messages/phone calls, etc);
  • If using mobile devices outside of the classroom, students should be provided with permission slips;
  • Apply your school’s behaviour policy consistently if any of these requirements are not met, with warnings and sanctions as appropriate;
  • Sanctions for transgressions could include not being allowed to use their mobile device for the rest of the activity, or the next activity. Being around classmates who are able to use their phones while the culprit is not allowed could work as a powerful deterrent.
     

I realise that this is an extremely controversial topic within education, and I certainly don’t claim to have all of the answers. However, I feel that this is a topic that is worthy of rigorous debate among teachers of media studies. It may also help to alleviate the pressures associated with delivering specifications that require compulsory original images or footage taken by students for non-exam assessments, with limited amounts of ageing camera and computer equipment.

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Website & App Reviews – The Teacher (Sept 2018)

I reviewed a website and app, for September 2018 issue of The Teacher magazine, the bimonthly magazine of the National Union of Teachers (NUT). Each issue they feature reviews of books, websites and apps which teachers could use for inspiration, or in their teaching.

The Teacher Sept 2018

This was the second time I have written for The Teacher, and I was pleased that following this inclusion, they asked me to become a regular contributor.

You can view my reviews in the September issue of The Teacher (page 38) magazine online.

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Series 18 Episode 1 – Newsjack (BBC Radio 4 Extra)

I was lucky enough to break my child-induced writing sabbatical by having a joke included in the first episode of series 18 of BBC Radio 4 Extra’s Newsjack.

newsjackThis was my first foray into comedy writing, so it was nice to be broadcast on the BBC with my first attempt. Unfortunately the BBC only keeps episodes of this show available online for a limited time, so the episode is not available via the link above. I will try to track down a version that I can post here.

It is also unfortunate that the BBC don’t publish a written list of contributors to each episode, but this website did (although they spelled my name incorrectly).

The joke was part of the “Number Crunching” section, where topical news stories are explained via a joke including numbers or statistics. My joke was:

3.1 million: The number of Brits who took part in Dry January
3.1 million: The number of alcohol-related A&E admissions on 1st February

 

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“Media Studies as an Option” – TES.com

This post was written for the ‘Subject Genius‘ blog on the Times Educational Supplement (TES) website. My day job is as a Media Studies teacher, and this blog post covers an annual issue for me, of getting students to pick my subject as a GCSE option, while also making sure the students that choose the subject know what they are signing up for.

msoption.png

The die has been cast. All across the land, students have now made their GCSE options choices – choices that could irrevocably impact the rest of their lives. The lead up to students making their choices is a funny time in the academic year, a time when heads of department of the showcase subjects of English and maths, are in the rare position of being under less pressure than many of their colleagues. For heads of department of subjects that are not taught at Key Stage 3, it is a period that holds a variety of pressures and obstacles.

The primary concern for all heads of subject at this time is to get ‘bums on seats’. You want to get as many students as realistically possible to choose your subject as an option, otherwise the best-case scenario may be that you end up with one small class, and the rest of your timetable is filled up with odds and ends. Year 7 PSHE on Friday, period 5 was a dreadful way to end the week two years ago, and teaching more ICT than media studies was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and caused me to leave my last school. However the worst-case scenario is that your subject isn’t viable due to lack of numbers, and you end up being lumbered with some made-up responsibility by SLT, to justify your TLR.

However the numbers game can be a double-edged sword. Whilst you want enough students to fill your timetable, you also want the ‘right kind’ of students; those who are enthusiastic and passionate about the subject, and who are ideally interested in progressing with your subject into further education. As an option subject that is not taught at Key Stage 3, you run the risk of some students choosing your subject because of the novelty factor, because they are sick of the subjects that they have been taught for three years and want to ‘drop’ any that they can, and because with ever restrictive options pathways giving students less and less choice, your subject may simply be the lesser of many evils.

Media studies as a subject has the added issue of being seen by both parents and students as somewhat of a ‘soft’ subject. If I had a pound for every student who has asked me “What do you do in Media studies? Do you just watch films?” I could retire early. Well, perhaps not, but it would certainly cover my Netflix subscription! One thing that I always try to make clear to students is the academic rigor of the course. I feel that media studies can be challenging for students to excel at, as it requires academic analytical skills, as well as creativity and practical skills. It is a subject that actively engages both hemispheres of the brain, unlike many other subjects.

Another negative question that I often encounter is “It’s just computers, innit?” That’s like saying maths is “…just numbers, innit”. It is an enormous understatement, and factually untrue. I would argue that there is at least a grain of truth to the statement in regards to maths, but computers have very little to do with media studies, and any relevance they have to the subject is relatively recent. Media studies as a discipline existed long before the days where every home had a computer, let alone nowadays where every teenager can access the World Wide Web via their phone.

Contrary to the view of media studies as a ‘soft’ subject, I believe that media studies has become increasingly important for young people, in the media saturated 21st century world of smart devices, 24hr wireless connectivity and ever present social media. I personally think there is a place for media literacy to be worked into the curriculum at Key Stage 3, perhaps delivered through PSHE lessons. Children are exposed to a wider range of media, on a more regular basis than at any point in history, and many parents won’t be aware of what their children are exposed to, or even what the potential risks are. Even if we ignore web-based new media, the old-guard mediums of television and print still have a surprising amount of influence over Internet-obsessed millennials.

To sell my subject, I have a five minute slot in an assembly where myself and three other heads of department attempt to inform a hall full of teenagers about what they will study over two years at GCSE, and convince them to take their subject. This is often a difficult task, and nowhere near enough time to get across the necessary information. I always stress during these assemblies for students who are interested in taking the subject to come and see me to discuss the option in more detail, so I can answer any questions they may have and dispel any myths. In addition to the assembly, we also have an options evening, where students and their parents get information about the options process, and get to quiz heads of department about the merits of their subjects.

Although both of these events are useful for teachers, students and parents, their impact is limited. I believe it would be much more beneficial for students to actually experience the subject, to see how lessons are conducted, and get a feel for the options These ‘taster lessons’ could be run mainly in subjects which are not taught at Key Stage 3, in order to avoid disruption to normally timetabled lessons, and perhaps take the place of ‘activities weeks’ for year 9 students.

Whatever short term disruption these ‘taster lessons’ may cause, would surely be outweighed by the positive impact of students choosing GCSE subjects that are right for them. There would be less students in your class who won’t engage because your subject is “not what they expected”, and you may avoid the upheaval caused by students swapping subjects after a few weeks of the first term.

 

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REVIEW: Whiplash

The hype surrounding the surprise Oscar contender Whiplash, seems to have exploded unannounced, like the crash of a cymbal, rather than the slow build of a drum roll, like so many of its competitors. However the problem with going to see a film in the midst of unprecedented word-of-mouth hype is that however good it is, it often fails to meet one’s elevated expectations. However, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s second feature-length film met my expectations, and exceeded them.

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash. Photograph: Rex Features

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash. Photograph: Rex Features

On the surface, this is a film about a mentor and a protégé; the surly anti-social music teacher and conductor, Mr Fletcher played by J. K. Simmons, and the intense young wannabe jazz drummer, Andrew, played by Miles Teller. Whiplash injects vigour into this well-worn dynamic, with Simmons’ teacher employing all manner of questionable psychological tactics to push his young ward to the pinnacle of his abilities. Fletcher sees the hunger, drive and desire in Andrew that he requires in a student, in order to mould them into a great musician. Fletcher believes that only extreme behaviour, in the form of dedication from the musician, and drill-sergeantesque encouragement from the teacher can produce extreme brilliance, and it is this single-minded belief that drives him to push Andrew to the limit physically and mentally. Fletcher hurls shocking verbal insults at Andrew, as well as physical objects, but more often than not he is quiet & brooding, and it is then that he is at his most menacing. His performance mirrors the music in the film; subtle, tight and controlled, punctuated by alarming crescendos of rage.

The direction, like every other element of the film, including the performances and the score, is tense, physical and imposing. There is ample use of extreme close-ups and slow motion, to emphasise the intensity and physicality of the performances, and there are a number of fast, jerky camera movements that unsettle the viewer and keep them on the edge of their seats.

The film as a complete package is doWHIPLASH+onesheetubly impressive when you consider that the film’s director Damien Chazelle, himself once an aspiring jazz drummer, is only 30 years old. Such a confident and measured film from such a young director is exciting, and will no doubt lead to much anticipation for Chezelle’s next offering La La Land, which is currently in pre-production, and slated for release this year, with Emma Watson rumoured to play the romantic lead, beside Whiplash’s Miles Teller.

Immediately after watching the film, I was smitten, but on reflection, I have a few small criticisms. There was a distinct lack of female characters, but this may have been a deliberate choice, to emphasise the macho, physical nature of the film. The only female character of any note, Andrew’s short-lived girlfriend, was a little one-dimensional, and not featured for any length of time, but once again, perhaps this was a deliberate attempt to highlight Andrew’s single-mindedness, and lack of ability to focus on anything other than his music. Andrew’s father lives alone, and we neither meet Andrew’s mother, nor hear anything about her. Some background information would have been nice, to justify his obsession with music, but again, perhaps it is a deliberately blinkered view of the narrative that the viewers are shown, to mirror Andrew’s blinkered view of life. There are also times when the relationship between Andrew and Fletcher borders on the absurd, with both Andrew and even Fletcher ignoring their physical wellbeing and social boundaries in pursuit of their dream.

Whiplash is a film that draws the viewer in completely, engages them in the narrative, makes them invest in the characters, and gives them very little respite. I left the film exhausted but exhilarated. Despite not being a fan of jazz music, I was gripped by the musical set pieces in the film, and even that most self-indulgent of musical flourishes; the drum solo, becomes utterly enthralling. It takes a special script, performed masterfully, and shot exquisitely in order for audiences to become completely wrapped up in the narrative, despite having little knowledge or interest in the subject matter and Whiplash does this brilliantly. I left the cinema wanting to head straight for the nearest jazz club. Thankfully, I have now come to my senses, but despite not quite converting me into a jazz aficionado, if any film could, it would be this one. As musical propaganda, it’s about as good as it gets.

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