Return to Islay

“I know only one thing about the technologies that await us in the future. We will find ways to tell stories with them.” – Jason Ohlar.

On Friday I had the pleasure to return to the beautiful isle of Islay to lead  a staff development day on Literacy with the staff of Islay High School and its associated primary schools. Like most of the profession in Scotland at the moment they are beginning to realise the significant implications of the  Curriculum for Excellence reforms, and are wrestling with some of the central issues, such as the notion of literacy development as the responsibility of all, and what that might look like in practical terms.

I hope I was able to demonstrate that the development of literacy is quite explicit in all of the curriculum frameworks, so in a sense there is no escaping that responsibility, no matter what sector you work in or what subject you teach, but the challenges for primary and secondary teachers are quite different, something which I will return to in another blog post. In the meantime, however, if people are to embrace that responsibility, the whole school community, including parents, must first come to a common understanding of what it is to be literate in 2010, what it might mean to be literate in 2020 and beyond, and to develop a common language around it. Here is an outline of my initial presentation to the staff – I would welcome your thoughts on it:

  • The definition of  ‘literacy’ in Curriculum for Excellence is “the set of skills which allows an individual to engage fully in society and in learning, through the different forms of language which society values and finds useful.” 
  • The Literacy framework recognises that the meaning of ‘text’ has to include the huge range of texts with which we engage on a daily basis, and that we should use a range of texts to reflect  this in our learning and teaching.
  • We live in a society where the image is becoming the dominant means of communication, and where once we used pictures to illustrate our written texts, increasingly we are using written text to illustrate the pictures.
  • Most of us engage with moving image texts more than any other form of text in any given day, so the development of literacy skills in young people should recognise that fact.
  • What links all of these texts is that they are all a form of narrative, so when we develop literacy skills in young people what we are developing is the set of skills which will enable them to engage critically with the range of narratives which are in the world, and to be able to construct their own effective narratives.
  • As teachers we also learn, and teach, through narratives, and the quality of the narrative will determine the effectiveness of the learning. To put it simply, there is a range of ways to tell a story, and we should use all the tools at our disposal to make it as good a story as possible, whether the story is a fictional one, or the story of Ohm’s Law, or the story of the First World War.

I would like to thank the staff on Islay for engaging so willingly and positively with some tough questions and activities, including subjecting themselves to a spelling test! You are in a very good place, literally and metaphorically,to show the rest of us how collaborative working is the only way we can make progress, how new technologies make it easier for us to share both ideas and information, and how the the new vision of the curriculum is much more dependent on the quality of the relationships in a community and not about mechanical processes. Slainte!

To see all the photographs from the event click here.

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Bowmore or Bust

I’m just chilling out today, as we younger dudes say, after a very enjoyable cycle trip to Islay to catch up with my good friends Ian and Andy. The visit was the ideal way of seeing a part of Scotland which is so significant to our cultural heritage, including the production of some of the finest malt whiskies on the planet, and at the same time making up in some part for missing out on the hugely successful unconference back in June. To call it a cycle tour is a slight exaggeration as in actual fact most of the journey was by boat and some of it by train.

Setting out from Ayr on Wednesday I tooJourneyk the train to Ardrossan Harbour and boarded the ferry to Brodick. From Brodick I cycled the very hilly road to Lochranza which was basking in glorious sunshine as I waited for the short ferry ride to Claonaig. Another five hilly miles across the Mull of Kintyre to Kennacraig and I was ready to board another ferry for the two and a half hour journey to Port Ellen at the southern end of Islay. Arriving at around 8.30 in the evening my effort wasn’t quite finished as I had booked in to the Bowmore Hotel in the main town ten miles to the north. Fortunately this part of the island is pretty flat, although that coupled with the fact that this stretch of road is also very straight can make it feel like you are never getting there. The round church at the top of the hill was a welcome sight as I freewheeled into Jamieson Street and found my digs for the night.

On Thursday I left Bowmore and headed round to Portnahaven to have a coffee in An Tigh Seinnse, the best (only) pub in Portnahaven and one of the smallest in the world, and to take some pictures of  the sandy bay where a group of children in wellies were playing along the water’s edge and a lazy seal lay sunbathing on a rock, posing for tourists. Stopping for lunch with Ian and Caroline at Port Charlotte I then headed to the distillery at Bruichladdich for a sample of the local produce (highly recommended) before making my way back to the hotel and the sanctuary of a hot bath.

After a bite to eat it was time to for a tour of some of the more remote parts of the island – this time in a four-wheeled vehicle – and a trip to the awesome Machir Bay to watch the breakers rolling in and the sky darkening as the rain clouds gathered. We retreated to the Bridgend Hotel for a few beers and a game of pool while we sorted out the Scottish education system and described with increasing clarity our vision for the curriculum in the twenty-first century.

I took my leave of Andy and Ian, as I was to be up early on Friday morning for the cycle back to Port Ellen and the same journey in reverse. I hadn’t been on Islay for much more than a day but I had seen enough of the island and the people to convince me that there’s something special there, and perhaps it’s best demonstrated by the fact that as you cycle the roads almost every driver gives you a wave, and not in the way they tend to on the mainland.


For more photos of the tour go to LiteracyAdviser on Flickr