Travel Writing, Tcheuchters & Chicken with Tomatoes

Chicken Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

My seniors were doing some peer assessment of their travel writing today. They just started to write yesterday after a week of reading articles by, among others, Paul Theroux (my favourite) and Bill Bryson (far from a favourite). The class loved Bryson and hated Theroux. Boooo, I said. Booooooo!
After reviewing the conventions of travel writing (for example, the mixture of personal experience plus facts) the pupils began writing their opening paragraphs. The following period the class read each other’s work and pointed out what was working well and what required improvement. I had a peek at the paragraphs too and I must say that, despite their shoddy choice of role model, their efforts were superb, especially considering these were the class’s first drafts. A few extracts that made me smile:

Some people say the town is a fading glory. Many go as far as to call it tacky. But to me it’s simply brilliant. From the pleasure beach to the tower, the sandy beach to the hoards of tourists; I love Blackpool!

• (On Edinburgh)
The one o’clock cannon goes off and 3,000 people have a near heart attack. The odd couple worriedly wonder where the cannonball goes.

Being a tcheuchter, I obviously cannot comment on the modern ways of the lowlander. With their new fangled televisions and four-wheeled cars us Highlanders don’t have a hope in hell of understanding how they live. Or so they’d have us believe!

A “tcheuchter”, for you non-Scots, is a person who lives in the countryside. Who you call a tcheuchter (or tchuech) depends on where you live. Coming from a village, I would be a tchuech to a city dweller. But farm folk are tcheuchs to me. And the farmers I know have a tcheuch hierarchy too! It’s all relative.  🙂

Dinner last night was very low maintenance and very good.

Chicken with Tomatoes and Peppers
(serves 2)

4 x chicken thighs (bone in)
300 g cherry tomatoes
1 orange, red or yellow pepper, sliced thickly
1 chilli pepper, sliced
100 ml stock (or water)
Handful of basil leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

• Heat the oven to 180oC
• Season the chicken well.
• Put the first 6 ingredients into a tight fitting oven proof dish and drizzle with the olive oil.
• Cover with tin foil and put in the oven for an hour.
• Remove tinfoil and cook at 200oC for another 20-30 mins, until browned.

We ate this with some super healthy steamed green beans and some highly unhealthy garlic bread.

A Sari, Some Flowers and an Omelette

Im so handsome!

Originally uploaded by genna.rhodes.

Feeling ridiculously happy this evening. Had two surprises today. Firstly, an ex-pupil popped in to school to say hello. In a small community, as Alness is, this shouldn’t be a huge deal but Ramseena moved back to Kerala in India last year. She turned up today in my last class in a stunningly beautiful blue and gold sari rendering my boisterous (but lovely) third years speechless. Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I’d had a camera. To have captured Ramseena in what turned out to be her honeymoon sari would have been wonderful. It was a truly bizarre sight to see such a sparkling vision in a dusty, grey computing room.

   Secondly, one of my pupils from last term gave me a bunch of flowers to say thank you for teaching her. Now, my aunt and cousin are primary (elementary) school teachers and are inundated with gifts at several points in the year. This doesn’t happen as a secondary school teacher! Was so chuffed I shed a wee tear – much to the horror of the pupil, I should add. And, if all this wasn’t enough I have a cracking weekend coming up. Off to Aberdeenshire to see my parents, go to a food festival (Taste of Grampian – will report back) and visit my best friend and her new puppy, Rufus. Isn’t he a cutie? Enough gushing. Dinner this evening was very simple but exceptionally successful. More of a suggestion than a recipe, I think.

Artichoke Heart & Parsley Omelette

20g butter
4 artichoke hearts, tinned or marinated
Palmful of fresh parsley
3 Eggs
Salt and Pepper

  • Melt half the butter in a frying pan.
  • Saute the hearts gently for a minute (just to heat through).
  • Meanwhile, beat the eggs, parsley and seasoning gently.
  • Cut the remaining butter into little cubes and add to egg mixture.
  • Pour egg mixture into hot pan and stir a few times.
  • When the omelette just begins to set fold in half.

My omelettes always look terrible. This one tasted fab though!

Tomato and Aubergine Salad

Met my new Higher class today.  They are a lively bunch and seem very keen to do well.  This is their fourth year together as a class so they have a very strong group identity.  So much so, in fact, that this morning I had to fight the feeling that I was a guest in my own classroom.  It always takes a wee while to get to know a group and work out the class dynamic.  Wondering if this will be a lengthier process since the group already have a dynamic.  We’ll see. 

Starting the term with a travel writing project.  Reading/examining writing by Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin, Bill Bryson and some extracts from a Lonely Planet travel writing anthology.  The pupils will use what they learn to write their own travel piece.

Talking of travel, a friend of mine was in Sicily last year and fell in love with a spiced aubergine salad.  She told me all about it and I began looking for recipes.  There were plenty to be found!  I’ve tried out several different versions of the dish and all have been lovely.  In Roast Chicken and Other Stories (one of my favourite cookbooks, though I’m not at all keen on the sniffy sequel, Second Helpings) Simon Hopkinson tell us the salad was a favourite of Elizabeth David.  What more do you need to know?  Hopkinson’s version uses allspice instead of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  I prefer the latter combination as it provides more of a kick to liven up out-of-season tomatoes.  When tomatoes are at their best/tastiest the allspice version might be better.

This is my entry for Joanna’s HotM vegetable round-up.

Aubergine Salad

(serves 2)

1 aubergine (eggplant), diced


Olive oil

4 big, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 tspn cumin

2 cloves

Pinch of nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbspn raisins

1 tbspn fresh mint, chopped

1 tbspn fresh coriander, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

  • Put the diced aubergine into a colander and sprinkle a generous amount of salt over it.  Leave for an hour.  (Salting aubergines was originally to draw out any bitter juices.  Apparently the majority of aubergines available these days don’t need this treatment.  I tried salting and not salting.  The former version was tastier and the salt seemed to help the aubergine brown when fried.)
  • Fry the spices and garlic in a generous lug of olive oil for one minute.  Add the sliced onion and fry until golden.
  • Add the tomatoes to the spiced onion and cook gently for 20 mins.  Add the raisins and remove from the heat.
  • In a seperate pan, heat another generous lug of olive oil and fry the aubergine in batches until golden. This can take some time.
  • Combine tomato mixture with aubergines and herbs.  Taste for seasoning.
  • Serve at room temperature drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

This is great as a bruschetta topping or simply eaten with a spoon.

Subject Co-ordinator

Had a very productive ASG meeting today.  The booklets, including all of our case studies, are being put together and distributed in schools next month, including a DVD with pupil/teacher interviews.  Going to ask my seniors if they are interested in being interviewed.  Imagine they’ll jump at the opportunity.  I’ll be very interested to hear how they reflect on their learning and my teaching in hindsight.

Something else that came up in conversation was the lack of an English subject co-ordinator for the Highland region.  It seems bizarre that schools across the region do not have a forum to share materials.  What this means is that teachers are spending vast amounts of time creating materials that have already been created in another school seven miles up the road.  A phenomenal amount of time is being wasted!  The position of co-ordinator is available at the moment but the time allowance is only one day per week.  A teacher would have to be crazy to take on the position on top of their normal teaching load.

So, myself and a teacher from Millburn Academy have decided to try and create some kind of website or wiki or blog (not sure what would be best and how they differ exactly) where Highland English teachers can submit materials and ask colleagues for professional help.  It wouldn’t solve the problem, but it might prevent us from continually reinventing the wheel.

Cherry Tomato, Rocket & Basil Spaghetti

tomato pasta
Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Tomorrow I’m off to Charleston Academy to meet with the other members of the Highland AiFL Associated Schools Group. Six (?) English teachers from across the region are meeting up to discuss our individual AiFL projects. I’ve written a case study based on the self-assessment/modelling technique I blogged about earlier this year. I’m a little worried about my lack of evidence. The kids all kept their essays for revision and I wasn’t organised enough to copy them first… Have managed to scraped together something. Don’t feel it exemplifies the results very well though.

After a great Saturday night with some visiting Swedish friends I spent today in the garden working off a wee hangover. Amongst other things I have now attached the greenhouse to the garage. If it blows away again the garage is going with it! When lunch time came I was famished and wanted something fast.

Not even sure this qualifies as a recipe.

Cherry Tomato, Rocket & Basil Spaghetti
(for 1)

A handful of cherry tomatoes, seeds squeezed out and roughly chopped
A handful of rocket
6 or so basil leaves, torn up
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
100g wholewheat spaghetti

  • Combine the tomatoes, rocket, basil, garlic, and oil. Season to taste and leave to marinate.
  • Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water.
  • Drain spaghetti and add to tomato mixture. Mix gently.

Teaching Critical Writing 2

One of my standard grade classes are writing critical essays on MacBeth at the moment.  The aim of Friday’s lesson was to reinforce what I had taught to them that week about contextualising and explaining quotations, and also to remind them of what they had learnt earlier in the year about topic sentences and the purpose of quotations.  

As the class entered the room and got organised I was writing a model paragraph.  The digital projector was on so the class could see exactly what I was doing as I was doing it.  This was not intentional, I should say; I simply hadn’t had time to write the paragraph earlier in the morning.  The results were fantastic though.  The pupils were curious about what I was doing and were interested to see me going through the writing process that they were about to carry out.  As I finished the paragraph I became aware that the class were having wee discussions about the paragraph and why it was good.  When I actually asked for comments everyone wanted to participate.  It was great!

Each feature of writing that they picked out was recorded on the paragraph using the review tool on Word and simple highlighting.  The annotated paragraph was then printed out and copied for each pupils to have a copy.  All in all a very satisfying lesson for all.

Have attached the annotated model paragraph.  The formatting has gone a bit weird – my home PC causing it, no doubt.  The section of text being commented on was easier to differentiate in the original.


Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

The fourth years and the seniors are now on study leave giving me lots of free periods to sort out my room and develop materials. Haven’t quite started yet… It seems I work better under pressure. But not only is next week the school’s activity week during which I will be out and about for four out of five days, the following week our new timetable begins. Really ought to make the most of this week. I like to be super organised when I first meet a class. First impressions really do count in the classroom.

Starting to feel the pressure now – thank goodness!

Lentil Salad

The recipe I adapted this from calls this “Lentil Tabbouleh” but my Larousse tells me a tabbouleh is made from bulgar wheat only. So I’ll call it a salad instead.
Pedant? Me?

250g Puy lentils, rinsed well
1 onion, peeled
1 garlic clove, whole but squashed a bit
4 spring onions, chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 green chilli pepper, finely chopped
Big handful of fresh parsley and coriander, chopped
1 tbpn balsalmic vinegar
3 tbsn extra virgin olive oil

• Cover lentils in plenty of water (no salt!). Add the whole onion and garlic clove.
• Bring to the boil. Simmer until just cooked (anywhere between 20 – 40 mins). Drain well.
• Add the rest of the ingredients to the warm lentils and season well.
• Serve warm or cold. Keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

Face Lift

Alness CharactersWelcomeOyster Catcher

Though our school is in a beautiful setting the building itself looks grim in the extreme.  On the back of the HMI inspection we have finally managed to get some funds to improve certain aspects.  The above is my favourite change.  Some of our pupils have been working with a French graffiti artist on creating a mural for the school enterance.  It’s looking fantastic! 

Improving Critical Essays

My senior class (a mixture of Int 2 and Higher pupils) will be sitting their exams in a couple of weeks time.  We are spending the few weeks between Easter and D-day revising the class texts, practising close reading techniques and improving essay writing skills.  The latter of these is the trickiest, I feel.  Though the pupils understand the importance of sticking to the task, of structure and of using quotations, their analysis can be a little thin sometimes. 

With this in mind I have set about using AiFL techniques in order to heighten the pupils awareness of what is required of them and where their own work needs to be improved.  I’ve found the following mixture of modelling and self assessment to be very successful. 

After reviewing the meaning, types and importance of analysis the pupils are set an essay question to complete at home.  On the due date I hand out a strong Model Essay.  Pupils colour code where the essay’s author has used quotations and where they have focused on analysis.  The class then do the same with their own essay and compare the results.  The majority of pupils found that they ought to increase the amount of analysis in their essays.  Some also realised they should be including more quotations.  Using this information pupils set themselves targets for the next essay.

I have tended to do the second essay in timed conditions and set a very similar task to the initial question.  The results have been very pleasing indeed.  🙂