Tag Archives: resources

All the Gear but No Idea: the Aggrandisement of ‘The Resource’ in Teaching

One of the lovely things about the online teaching community is the sharing of resources. Teachers have an innate desire to help – not just their own pupils but other teachers too. Most are happy to share freely the resources they have created. We are at heart a collegial profession and the free sharing of resources is really one of our greatest strengths.

And whilst this is a good thing, it has also created a system where The Resource has achieved an elevated status in the currency of teaching.

The problem is that I think that the elevation of The Resource has obscured what should be the gold standard of teaching: subject knowledge.

I have worked in a department where the PowerPoint was king. In that department, all scheme of work planning had to be accompanied by a PowerPoint to share with the rest of the teachers. The premise being that teachers could just deliver your slides without having to spend the time thinking through the process of how they were put together. The Resource there not only trumped subject knowledge, I think it actively inhibited the development of it. It stopped teachers from having to think through the subject, build a bank of knowledge and sift through it to create a resource. But the knowledge that doesn’t make it onto a resource is vitally important: it sits beneath a resource like the larger, submerged part of an iceberg and gives it its power.

A few times I’ve had a go at teaching a lesson using a PowerPoint written by someone else. It’s almost always ended badly. It’s not that it was a badly written set of slides – I am certain that the person who wrote them knew exactly what they were doing and it was well thought through. But the problem is that I didn’t do the thinking. In the author’s hands, I bet the lesson flew. In my hands, it usually fell flat at some point. I had The Resource, but not the knowledge or thinking to teach it. I had, as they say, all the gear but no idea.

Today I saw a perfectly reasonable request on Twitter for help in challenging a class with high level questions and lessons on one of the GCSE Literature texts. Lots of lovely and well meaning teachers offered up resources. I’m not sure that this is the right answer to that request. To me, the best way to challenge a class with high level questions is to the know the text well. The answer to the request should be to improve your own knowledge of the text: read it, annotate it, study it – read critical essays on it. Don’t worry about resources, think about improving your own subject knowledge. Forget the gear, get the idea.

The Resource has achieved an elevated status in teaching. But it is a usurper. Subject knowledge is the rightful king. So excellent a king, that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr. And subject knowledge is your best bet in understanding that reference.


A Timeline of Literature (with GCSE texts)

The links below will take you to an easy to print version of a timeline of English Literature. Alongside other important moments in English Literature and the English language, it includes the dates of the monarchs of England and Great Britain, key literary and artistic movements, stages of the English language, as well as the dates of production/publication of MacbethStrange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, An Inspector Calls, and the poems from the ‘Power and Conflict’ cluster of the AQA Anthology. Obviously, you can edit these texts to fit with those that your pupils are studying.

The dates of the movements are up for debate, of course, as different commentators will put different dates on these periods. You can change them as you see fit.

You can also add any more key moments to the timeline. I kept it to these as I didn’t want it to get too ‘busy’.

This is for a display of landscape A4 sheets measuring 7 x 4 (28 sheets in total).

This resource takes ideas from displays shared with me over the years by colleagues, so I don’t claim originality.

I’ve included links to an uneditable PDF version, as well as an editable Powerpoint version. If you want to use the editable version, the fonts in use are Gill Sans for most of the text, and Mexcellent (regular) for the literary movements.

PPTX: Timeline of Literature

PDF: Timeline of Literature

If you notice any errors, aside from arguments over dates, please do let me know in the comments below. I’m looking at you, History teachers.

NB. As with any of the resources I share, I stipulate that I don’t give this freely to anyone who chooses to sell resources anywhere online. If you are such a person, I ask you kindly not to download this. Obviously, you can ignore this request as I have no way of monitoring this. But if you do, shame on you for ignoring my request. As for anyone else, thanks for keeping the sharing of resources completely free. You are wonderful people.

5 useful online resources for English teachers

There are a number of resources I return to again and again online, in order to either find useful texts for pupils to read, or to deepen my contextual knowledge of texts. Here are five sites I think are really helpful.

JSTOR Understanding Shakespeare 

This is a brilliant resource that connects digital texts from the Folger Shakespeare Library with articles on the JSTOR digital library. As the strapline tells us: “Pick a play. Click a line. Instantly see articles on JSTOR that reference the line.” 

Below is a screenshot that shows you how it works. I’ve chosen the line “‘Tis an unweeded garden / That grows to seed.” from Hamlet’s first soliloquy (Act 1, Scene 2). You can see that there are 53 references to this line in JSTOR. It lists them on the right of the screen, and by hovering over each one, you can see the page of the article on which it is referenced.
In the referenced page on the example above, you can see how the line can be seen as part of a tradition of similar references to husbandry as a metaphor for kingliness and national security across a number of Shakespeare’s plays. Illuminating, right?

The British Library Articles 

I love these. Here you can browse some really interesting articles on Shakespeare and the Renaissance, Romantics and Victorians, and Twentieth Century literature. All of the articles are linked to items in the British Library’s collection (mainly original manuscripts), with embedded slideshows throughout the articles exploring these items. There’s some really useful contextual stuff here.


This is an American website containing “a free collection of fiction and nonfiction for 5th-12th grade classrooms”. It is a wonderful digital resource.

You can search texts based on the grade they are aimed at (just add 1 to get the UK equivalent age: 6th grade is the same as Year 7 in the UK), or by the text’s Lexile range. Or – and this is where it is really useful – you can search it based on theme, genre (looking for speeches or short stories?), or by a short list of books that the texts link to (for example, searching for texts linked to Animal Farm returns some nonfiction articles on Stalin and the Russian Revolution, among other things). You can also search for texts based on linguistic and rhetorical devices, so if you are looking for examples of hyperbole or dramatic irony, the search will return texts that contain these.

What’s more, each text comes with a series of questions to help comprehension. And you can download each text as a PDF (which includes these questions).

BBC History – British History

With some articles, some iWonder pages and some BBC archive videos, this is a really useful source of contextual information for literature texts. With pages on the Tudors, the Victorians and some key moments of the Jacobean period (to name but a few useful touchstones for English teachers), there are some great resources here.

English Heritage – Story of England

In a similar style to the BBC History site, English Heritage’s simple timelines and overviews of the key periods in English history are a valuable resource. Not only is this organised by period, you can also explore it by themes such as Power & Politics, Religion, Daily Life, and Arts & Invention. Have a look and see what you think.

Teachers: @TesResources has a problem and they want you to work harder to deal with it

TES Resources has a problem. Its resource sharing platform is riddled with copyright infringements. What are they going to do about it? Well, they are going to ask you to add to the already burgeoning workload of hardworking teachers and get you to police it. As if you don’t already have enough to do.

TES Resources is a great platform. It allows teachers to share resources freely with hundreds of colleagues up and down the country. It truly exemplifies the collegial spirit of teaching. Well, it did.

It did until July 2014, when they announced that teachers would be able to start selling the resources they were already sharing for free. They sold this move as ‘teacher empowerment’. Weirdly, this announcement didn’t mention the cut that they were taking from these transactions.

Now, I have been very outspoken about the selling of resources on social media in recent times, but this post isn’t about my moral objections to teachers selling resources to one another.

This week, it was brought to my attention that a resource that I shared freely on this blog had actually been copied and was being sold on TES Resources for £3 a pop. It had been on the website for nearly 2 years and had received a number of downloads.

I should point out that the aim of this post isn’t to vilify the individuals concerned in this practice. Not because the practice isn’t reprehensible, but rather that, in the spirit of charity, I am happy to concede that some people may do this in complete ignorance that they have taken this idea from someone or that there is a victim of their actions. People make mistakes, and if they show contrition for those mistakes, I’m happy to move on.

In the case of my resource, TES were straight on the case once I’d brought it to their attention and are investigating as we speak. In the first instance they have taken down the resource. I wait with interest to see if there is any attempt to remunerate the injured party. After all, someone has made money from something I chose to give freely. (Should such remuneration arrive, I have earmarked my local paediatric oncology ward to receive the funds – it is a charity that is very close to my tutor group and me, for reasons which I shan’t go into here.)

However, like the mythological hydra, as soon as TES had sliced off this head, another one grew back in its place. It was brought to my attention the next evening that another of my resources that I’ve shared freely was on sale for £4 on the site.

And I am not the only one, large numbers of people have offered me evidence that the TES platform is riddled with people selling others’ resources.

Here are a few examples that came shortly after I made a request on Twitter last night. Important to note that these are just the ones who were up, saw my tweet and responded. I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg:

Not only that, as the last tweet suggests, this practice is driving people away from using the platform to share resources freely:

This might suggest that more sold resources on TES = fewer free ones.

And there are plenty more responses where all these came from. I’m sure you get the picture.

So what are TES Resources going to do about it. Actually, it’s more what they expect you to do about it. They want you – hardworking teachers, already overburdened with a burgeoning workload – they want you to police the site for them.

That’s right. Rather than come up with a way to police this themselves, they are asking us to identify stolen content. Imagine if the police said they wouldn’t deal with antisocial behaviour in your neighbourhood unless you went out and brought the assailants into the police station yourself?

Quite how they want busy teachers to do this is beyond me. Do they want us to do a regular search weekly? Monthly? And what should we search for? I produce lots of resources every month – are we supposed to search for everything we’ve ever produced and shared? Do they not get that we are very busy? Have they not read the pages of their own publication, drowning in articles on workload? Why do they think people use the site for resources in the first place? To save time. Now they want to us to use that time to work for them in managing their site, for free.

Nope. This is on you, TES. You can’t pass this off onto already overworked teachers.

Was this a problem before TES introduced selling? Well, yes, I’m sure people uploaded resources that weren’t their own. But the difference is they weren’t profiting. I share my resources freely, so someone else uploading it means that it will still be shared freely. Okay, so the lack of credit may irk, but that can be easily addressed.

What would I do if I were the TES? I’d embrace the collegial nature of the profession and of sharing freely and leave the cynical hawking of resources to other sites. But whatever they do, the responsibility is theirs to kill off this heinous practice on their site. Over to you, TES.

Why I think selling resources to teachers is wrong

Shut up and take my money

This is just a quick post in response to a brief discussion I had earlier.

After seeing a new website that was charging around £8 for a 31-slide Powerpoint and a few worksheets, I tweeted this:

A few people tweeted agreement. A couple of people defended the selling of resources to teachers and questioned why I felt this way. Here’s why:

1. It is generally teachers that pay for these out of their own money, not schools. If anyone wants to suggest that it isn’t, then why do these companies sell individual accounts and pay-as-you-go schemes? Teachers spend enough of their money on things like: subject knowledge books, teaching practice books, stationery, printing, class rewards, etc. (I’m sure you can all add plenty of things to this list). Charging them for things they could and should get for free is just exploiting their commitment to their job.

2. If the resources were produced by a jobbing teacher for their classes, the teacher has technically been paid for producing them. And as the state has paid for them, I feel uneasy that they are making extra income from selling them to somebody else working for the state. Why not just sell the pens out of the department stationery cupboard?

3. If the resources were produced specifically to be sold and not to be used in the creator’s classroom at all (i.e., by a business that solely produces resources), then it’s worth asking: are they selling something that has not been tried, tested and developed in a classroom first? How effective is that resource? New/desperate teachers might just assume it is worthwhile and spend money on it anyway. I’d also question the quality of a resource if the incentive for producing it is purely financial.

4. I don’t think there are many off-the-peg resources that can be taken straight from a third party to one’s classroom. Teachers will spend time developing and altering it to suit the needs of their class. I think it is fair to question the quality of a resource that is produced for generic classes, rather than one that is produced for a specific class.

5. Obviously, one could level some of those last criticisms at resources from third parties that one can get for free. The difference is that with free resources one can pick and choose. When you pay for a resource, you have sunk costs into that resource  – this is a bias that means you will probably be committed to using it, no matter how good it is. I’ve written about the dangers of sunk costs and consistency before.

6. The resources we create are a product of everything we have learnt as teachers over our careers – they are, in part, ideas that we have picked up from other teachers. Nothing is entirely original. If I were to sell a resource, I may have put the effort into typing up the slideshow or worksheet, but the ideas are partly made up of things I’ve picked up from others. I’d be profiting from something that was given freely to me. Again, that makes me uneasy.

7. Why not just be kind? What you give someone else will benefit other classes – classes the other side of the country, maybe the other side of the world. Even if altruism isn’t enough, what about the reward that your reach as a teacher is even greater than the walls of your own classroom? Doesn’t that give off a lovely glow to bathe in?

Please note that this is what my opinion. You may disagree entirely. I am merely responding to those questioning why I feel this way.