Time To Unlock The Power Of Graffiti In English Classrooms?

In a book filled with vibrant and dynamic examples of the graffiti of Los Angeles that I’ve had for a little while now,  there are also some fascinating testimonials of crew members and how they came to learn, develop and apply their skills.


Graffiti is all about identity but it’s also a highly collaborative business. The key to the success of the LA graffiti artists and the spread of their amazing work perhaps rests on the treasured piece book.


One graffiti artist known as CRE8 recalls seeing his first piece book and the impact it had on him;

“Bizarre One, older than me by seven years, showed me his piece book, and I hadn’t ever seen anything like that, pieces with markers and fresh color (sic) schemes; I was speechless. I eventually asked him to teach me, and he said he would teach me only if I was serious. At one point, he told me I could keep a piece book of his for a couple of days – well, I couldn’t sleep .. I slept with the book by my bed, and I’d wake up at two in the morning and study stuff like it was serious literature, just soaking it up.” 

Powerful testimony, indeed.


Our high schools have a few too many disaffected students in them and I’m starting to wonder what we might learn from the graffiti crews of LA and elsewhere about motivation, collaboration, and mentoring.

I’m especially curious to see how we, as English teachers, might take the idea of the precious piece book as an artefact and as a process and adapt and use some of its methodology in our classrooms. Imagine the impact it might have, for example, on the stubborn issue of students’ writing. What do you think? I’d like to hear from you.

I’ll be returning to the subject in a blog post or two soon.































World Book Day 2014

WorldBookDay 2014 is almost here! So what have we all been reading lately then?

Stoner illustration

I’m reading Stoner by John Williams, also referred to in this article by Booker Prize

winning author, Julian Barnes as the must-read novel of the year.


Now, I’d read Barnes’ 2011 winning title – A Sense Of An Ending – and been very impressed, so I was happy to give his views on Williams’ novel plenty of credence.

I’ll let you read Barnes’ article for yourself, but I would simply want to say that if nothing else it’s a 300 page masterclass in the art of the sparsely simple. I’d almost go so far as to say that his prose and characterisation verge on the austere. This, however, is where the novel’s power lies as we ride the strange conveyor belt of William Stoner’s life and feel the uncomfortable texture of his relationships – with parents, tutors, and wife.

In case you’re tempted, here’s what the New York Review of Books had to say about it –


Definitely worth a read but don’t expect to find your spirits soaring.

If Music Be The Food Of Love, Play On.

The new Everyman Theatre in Liverpool opens soon and we’ve got tickets for the first production – Twelfth Night – by William Shakespeare.

a2919bfe-4ecc-4bf5-bbc9-475cb6ddbcf1It’s sure to be a treat for seasoned Shakespeare fans and those new to his plays. Can’t wait.

Interested? See http://www.everymanplayhouse.com/show/Twelfth_Night/1031.aspx

A Tense Situation.

A drilling in the niceties of grammar will teach you plenty about the wonderful array of tenses that are at our disposal as users of the English language. Here’s a table I’ve borrowed to illustrate the point (Ralph Pilkington).


A simple switch of tense can make all the difference in a sentence.

I’ve been reading The Goldfinch by American author, Donna Tartt recently, and I thought a quick look at the opening sentence to this very long and excellent novel, might help.


The novel starts thus;

While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.

The use of the past tense – I dreamed – is a clear and efficient hint to the reader right at the start that the novel may well take the form of a retrospective narrative. This is indeed the case. No further elaboration required it seems. The fundamental choice of using one particular tense has made all the difference and shoulders the narrative burden at this critical moment in the novel.

As for creating narrative tension,  the sentence also contains two carefully judged ingredients. The narrator is in Amsterdam when he dreams about his mother … and it’s the first time in years. Not only has the reader to assimilate the fact that the past tense is in play with the likelihood of a retrospective narrative, but also to ponder first the significance of Amsterdam, if any, and second, why it happens to be the first time in years that he’s dreamed of her. Let alone why he’d be dreaming about his mother at all.

First sentence, page one of 771 – talk about a narrative hook!

Sturm Und Drang

The west coast of Britain is currently experiencing horrendous storms with gale force winds bringing storm surges and leading to rivers bursting their banks. The Met Office has been doing sterling work keeping us all well informed of the likely problems on a hourly basis. Indeed, some of our more media savvy weather presenters have been providing additional commentary on twitter – notably Sian Lloyd, Tomasz Schafernaker and Alex Deakin – otherwise known by their twitter names as  @SianWeather , @Schafernaker, and @alexdeakin . Here’s a recent image of record breaking waves battering Cornwall.


And here we’ve got evidence of storms in earlier times as recorded by the great artist, J.M.W. Turner.

JMW Turner Waves Breaking on a Lee Shore at Margate ,circa 1840 Oil on canvas credit Tate, London 2010 SMALLFor a literary take on storms, you could do worse than listen to this reading of ‘Wind’ by the poet, Ted Hughes – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_74vwf8fcw . Our students are unlikely to have missed the media coverage of the ongoing storms, and may well have had first hand experience of them. The storms, and the various ways they’re presented, offer a rich series of stimuli  for them, not least for helping them to produce powerful creative writing that draws on a wide range of sensory experiences.