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The dog days of summer and school holidays finally beckon. Unless we’re talking about Scottish students, who sped off at the end of June, or Northern Ireland, which downed its sweaty pen and scarpered soon after. But here, in naughty-corner England and Wales, there’s just a few more clammy hours to go before we peel ourselves out of our seats and head off for the Big Summer Break.
Holidays. They always beckon, right? Whereas term times loom. Although, if you’re a parent, it might feel the other way around. But still, you know, light and shade. It’s the parents who teach I feel sorry for. More looming than the Industrial Revolution.
Which is strangely apt because much of this year’s Lexonik Advance training has taken me to former industrial heartlands in the Midlands and North West of England. In Manchester, I even stayed in a hotel called the niu Loom, which artfully referenced the area’s textile heritage, although fortunately we weren’t required to craft a new line of T-shirts before breakfast.
It’s been good to be back in schools delivering face-to-face training once again. And, during the breaks in between, I always look forward to two things in particular. A hearty school dinner, and, wherever possible, a spin around the library.
Libraries have always been big in our family. I picture my gran, galloping off into town to raid the ‘Westerns’ section of Briton Ferry Library on behalf of my grandad, back when cowboys in South Wales were more of a thing. I remember the day I filled out a form for my very first library cards (made of actual card – imagine!), to gain the freedom of Hoylake Public Library (Children’s Section).
And look – here comes Staple Hill Library racing over the horizon to my mum’s aid, breaking down her pandemic isolation with regular visits from a community librarian armed with a selection of large print historical fiction!
So no surprises that in my previous role as a literacy mentor, I worked closely with our school librarian on all manner of initiatives to raise the profile of reading amongst our students. We ran competitions. We reclassified genres. We became expert in spotting the trends in Young Adult (YA) fiction, from the Gothy romances of the Twilight era to the dystopian page turners ushered in by the Hunger Games.
Hence my interest in browsing the shelves in between training. I notice the library where the primary school classics have been rebranded ‘Nostalgia’, and the ‘Horror’ section tweaked to an even more attention-grabbing ‘Horrific’. Then, in June, I visited a school celebrating Pride month with a rainbow montage coupled with a display on Alice Oseman’s ‘Heartstopper’ series.
This, I’d say, has been the YA phenomenon of the year, a million-copy bestselling boy-meets-boy graphic novel franchise, resulting in a smash hit Netflix adaptation. Chances are, if it’s not in your library you’ll need to add your name to the waiting list.
This got me thinking. At Lexonik, prefixes play a big part in our programmes, and are often taught at speed as a way of empowering students to develop their vocabulary knowledge. Often originating in Latin or Greek, they remain common currency, with a fab four, ‘un’, ’re’, ‘in’ and ‘dis’, accounting for over half of all prefixed words.
However, when I visit schools, of all ages and all faiths, it’s more often the more zeitgeist-capturing ‘bi’ (two) and ‘trans’ (across) that teachers want to talk about.
Sometimes they comment on how well they link to the PSHE curriculum, or how they open up a thoughtful conversation on self-identification between pupils. Sometimes there’s an anecdote, like that of the rugby team star, who, slightly embarrassed, could only think of ‘bisexual’ to illustrate a ‘bi’- prefixed word. A good example, said the teacher, linking the meaning back to the prefix before moving on.
A recent report by anti-bullying charity Diversity Role Models noted a correlation between areas of diversity less likely to be addressed by schools and higher levels of bullying. Tellingly, almost half of those surveyed agreed that pupils are more likely to be picked on when they are, or thought to be, gay.
However, the crossover success of Heartstopper might suggest that there’s also a real appetite to change things for the better. Navigating sexuality and finding the right words to define yourself can seem a huge undertaking for anyone, but particularly for LGBTQ+ kids. Maybe Lexonik, and a couple of prefixes, can play a part in this journey too.