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Mrs Lewis: It all started with a box of books

1st May 20

When I was eight, my aunt visited, with her car packed to the roof with boxes of books that she had enjoyed as a child. There were so many of them, that my father built rows of bookshelves in my bedroom, rows so high that I needed a chair to reach the top one. It was from that moment that I became a voracious reader. I went on adventures with female detective Nancy Drew; learnt about hobbits, magic and dragons; and, rebelling against my mother, who had told me that I was far too young for Homer, grappled with The Iliad and The Odyssey. I was hooked.

Novels and nonfiction captured my imagination and opened new worlds to me: I learnt about other cultures and new ways of thinking. This inspired me, after I graduated as a teacher, to work abroad for nine years, teaching English as a foreign language, developing an understanding of English grammar along the way. A book (or nowadays, my kindle) has always been an essential handbag item for a train or plane journey.

When Dunottar almost closed in 2014, Love Dunottar (a group of parents, alumni, staff and members of the community) asked teachers to open a Twitter account to support their campaign. I dutifully did so and, when the school joined United Learning, I opened a new account, @Mrs_SPaG, as a hobby. Changes to the Key Stage 3 English curriculum were taking place on a national level, and these included the compulsory teaching of spelling, punctuation and grammar. The aim of my Twitter feed was to provide a resource in a time when many people had received very little, if any, grammar teaching at school.

I followed YouTuber, English teacher and author Mr Bruff who, to my great surprise, asked me if I would consider writing a GCSE self-study grammar revision book. I thought, why not? This led to an A level literature guide and four subsequent GCSE literature guides. I thoroughly enjoyed researching, planning and writing: the whole process was a fantastic professional development opportunity. Students at Dunottar have also benefitted from this, as Dunottar has free school licences to use any of the books that I’ve written.

At the moment, I’m using my spare time to experiment with making YouTube videos to help GCSE students with grammar. It’s just a fledgling channel at the time of writing (three videos so far!) but, as long as they’re helpful to someone, somewhere, that’s all that counts.

Nowadays, when I reflect on my interest in English, I can thank my aunt, an English teacher who clearly understood the importance of reading. In a world without computers, mobile phones or iPads, she was keen to develop- my mind in the best way she knew. Today, I run the student eMagazine co-curricular club at Dunottar, and it’s so lovely to see that, because of their access to eBooks and current events—all through their iPads – the students have enquiring, inquisitive minds, opinions about a range of topics, and a much better grasp of what is happening in the world than I ever did at that age. None of this is possible without reading!

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