Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book – part of the enjoyment could have been due to the fact I listened to the story on Audible rather than reading it. That said I came to look forward to my 50 minute commutes so I could catch the next slice of the story.

Was this a perfect story – no, and it probably wasn’t one of Stephen King’s best pieces of work but that’s not to say it isn’t good. I loved the idea of the villains, ‘the true knot’ who have a range of shining like talents, but feed like vampires on the children who have the shining. I found myself drawn to the baddies because whilst you don’t like how they survive (and their contempt for normal people), you do get to know some of them quite well and I felt a certain envy of their carefree lifestyle.

Whilst the story is a sequel to the Shining, it has been many years since I read that book and I don’t think this detracted from the story. Many of the important aspects of the story are recapped in this book, enough to jog your memory if you’ve read it before.

The start of the book was a little confusing (perhaps I wasn’t paying full attention) but the book jumps through the life of the main character so twenty years pass in the blink of an eye. I found myself trying to work out what was happening because I hadn’t kept pace. The book is set over many years and not all of them are relevant to the story, hence the jumps.

Whilst there are lots of unanswered questions in my head (I have to keep telling myself it is only a piece of fiction!) I really enjoyed the premise of this book, the characters and the story telling. As with all King books the ending wasn’t fantastic but it still held a few surprises and twists. Recommended!

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Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

The Universe Versus Alex Woods
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book not really knowing what to expect. The book is really a story of a boy who was hit by a meteorite and has some traits of autism/poor social skills as a result. The book tells the tale of his childhood and how he came to make friends with an old man who lived alone. The book opens with Alex being caught at customs with the ashes of the old man so telling you he dies isn’t a spoiler, but the story tells how they came to be friends, good friends.

Whilst this book isn’t action packed and doesn’t build to a climactic finish, it introduces some lively and believable characters that you come to know and love. I really enjoyed this book and found myself reading it whenever I could.

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Review: Outstanding Lessons

Outstanding Lessons
Outstanding Lessons by Ross Morrison McGill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Before I talk about the book I wanted to give a little background about myself that might put the review into perspective. I like reading and I read a lot of books, but nearly all fiction. I find non-fiction and research material tedious and slow going. I’ve had a number of books about assessment in schools sat on my shelf waiting for me to start reading them – and I’ve never got more than a chapter or two in. This could have influenced my view of the book, as could the fact that there are lots of ideas in the book that I either use already or can’t use in my setting.

Anyhow on to the book. I decided to order a copy of this book because my twitter stream was full of people who had purchased the book. Others were saying how they had used some of the ideas from the book and had good observation feedback as a result. I decided to part with my cash – opting for a paper copy rather than buying for my Kindle (I think reference material is better on paper).

The book arrived and the first thing that struck me is the size – it’s a compact paperback with small print. The pages aren’t full of text but instead the main text flows down the centre of the page in paragraphs with ‘tips’ and the odd hashtag (yes – hashtags in a paper book!) down the sides.

My initial feeling when flicking through the book was one of disappointment – I didn’t think the book lived up to the ‘hype’ on Twitter, although you can’t fault the book for that. When I go on CPD I always look for things packaged up that I can take away with me and slot straight into my own teaching. I did like some of the ideas in this book but the majority of the book left me feeling distinctly unimpressed.

If you follow lots of teachers on Twitter (like I do) then you come to pigeon hole some of the more prolific posters into certain stereotypes. Reading this book made me think of the ‘trendy’ teacher, using ideas and terminology that is in fashion. That might just be my opinion (I am getting a little long in the tooth now and my teaching styles are starting to look a little old school) but a review is an expression of one’s opinion. The title also made me think that the book would be 100 teaching ideas but instead some the ideas relate to the culture you build that leads to outstanding learning – an important but subtle difference.

Some of the chapters were of little use to me – for example the chapter 23 is called #bananas. After a page full of text we learn that it might be useful to use your marking to inform planning (perhaps next a chapter about teaching your granny to suck eggs?). Another chapter talks about the gherkin in a burger. I read this expecting some tangy tasty tip I could throw into my lesson – but the chapter concludes with a short list suggested by tweeting teachers about lesson planning.

Other chapters that I didn’t find useful referred to strategies and ideas that I already use like mini-whiteboards (these are hardly new, they appeared with the National Strategies). A chapter is devoted to Bloom’s taxonomy which all staff at our school use when planning (we starting to move out of special measures). Another chapter refers to Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce (which Dylan Wiliam explains well on YouTube) which I’ve run training on in my own school.

I’m painting rather a negative picture of this book and that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful to others (and Twitter will bear witness to this). My setting (special education) means that some of the ideas in the book aren’t relevant to my teaching, and the nature of my students means we do a lot of hands-on practical activities.

If you are the type of teacher who needs to be told how to use a TA (perhaps by involving them in planning…) then this could be the book for you. I’ve tried returning to this book several times in case my opinion changed and unfortunately it hasn’t. I have several teachers and school leaders in my family and when we were catching up over Christmas the topic of this book came up. I wasn’t sure if to be relieved or disappointed that we shared the same opinion of it.

Don’t let this review put you off – I’m in a different position to lots of teachers having accessed and run CPD for teachers, ASTs and school leaders I doubt I fitted into the target audience for this book. I will continue to flick through this book and share it with my colleagues at work who might find it more useful than I did.

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