Analysis of Science GCSE paper

During the snowy weather, cooped up in the flat, I had a happy time applying the linguistic insights of BtL to a GCSE exam paper in Science.  I went through questions and answers highlighting in green the frequent occurrences of the passive, nominalizations in yellow and I added special technical words that are not part of non-scientific vocabulary in pink (e.g. ethane, ethanol, fermentation) – there were a lot of these and it is an obvious feature of scientific language. Continue reading

Strategic learning

Another issue that came up in our discussion of deep and surface learning was the value of strategic learning – that is, that successful students find out what exactly is demanded of them in terms of assessment: they want to do well and get good marks (leading to marketable qualifications). I came across a good example of this over Christmas when one of my great-nieces, who is in her first year of a degree course, told me that she had been disappointed in the marks she got for her first exam. She asked for an interview with her tutor, who explained in detail that, although her knowledge was excellent, the way she laid out her statistical tables and the language she used was not sufficiently academic to get her a first-class degree. Continue reading


Some friends have attended a meeting in a Birmingham suburb full of retired teachers called with the purpose of setting up a University of the Third Age in the area. It was packed with interested people and a further meeting has been called for this week.

I was talking to one of them about the Observer article that I wrote about in this blog last week – about first class courses free online – and we agreed that some of the U3A group might like to access these courses and study them together.

I look forward to hearing whether anyone has taken this up.

Learning for free

The thing that got Breakthrough to Learning into MMHS in the first place was making the course available free to anyone on the internet. This seemed to me to be a good use of the digital revolution – and it has certainly paid off.

About twenty years ago I attended a conference organized by the Society of Authors. At this event it became clear that, with the international availability of information through the internet, there was no way that copyright could be defended. This is hard luck for authors but wonderful for readers. My life has been transformed by Wikipedia, another free service set up by people who want to share knowledge without profiting from it (though they seem to be hard up at the moment). Continue reading

First reactions to BtL

Last week I had the huge pleasure of meeting the Research Assistants who are administering and monitoring the implementation of Breakthrough to Learning at Matthew Moss High School.

They have set up a blog and made a number of video clips (including two of me made on their visit!). They can be accessed on:

These are some of the comments by Year Seven learners on their first experience of Book 1: Continue reading

Who said language study was boring!

I’ve just had an email from Matthew Moss High School in Rochdale, which has introduced Breakthrough to Learning into every class in the school. This is how some pupils responded to the first lesson:

We observed some year 10s in BTL today and it was marvellous. They are doing the fast track course. The promo video had really inspired them and they worked brilliantly, making some lovely observations along the way, such as “It really makes you think Miss!” and “I’d never thought about language in layers like this before Miss.” It was so exciting and rewarding! It was Mark Moorhouse’s, the deputy head’s, class and he was amazed at how they got stuck in! One boy, a reticent learner called Luke, was excitedly babbling about complex sentences and connectives etc – it was great! He said “This is miles better than normal English Miss!”

Another book

Language, Knowledge and Pedagogy ed. Frances Christie and J.R. Martin, 2007

The title was irresistible! I got it from Amazon in pursuance of work which Urszula Clark had told me about in answer to my comment: “Surely other people have done my analysis of academic  texts and come up with abstract language.”

Indeed they have! In this collection is an article by J.R. Martin: Construing knowledge: a functional linguistic perspective. The abstract words which are produced by nominalisation and metaphor are described by Martin as the product of “grammatical metaphor” and “literal metaphor”.

This gives strong academic backing to my own work, though it is done from a totally different perspective. I can feel the necessity of another article coming on!

Breaking the shackles of the timetable

In my blog on 6th June I trumpeted the news that a school in the North of England had contacted me to discuss using Breakthrough to Learning in their school.

Three teachers from the school came down to Birmingham on 21st May, and what was my amazement to be told that they had already timetabled in Breakthrough to Learning in every year of the school from next September. This was something different! How was it that a school could respond to the needs of the pupils instead of fitting the pupils into the iron framework of the subject-based school timetable?

Since then I have been in constant touch with the school and have been pursuing the articles and websites they have sent me. I am still working on this, but have to share with my readers immediately a very exciting website: