Week Four 1st-7th October


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The philosophical focus was on the “Greek miracle” and the dominance of stoicism in the ancient world.The attractions of this school of thought were explored and the strategies employed to outflank death and fear of death.  Ultimately the anonymous and impersonal nature of this philosophical outlook led to its decline and the reasons for this were discussed.

An excellent presentation on Wells Cathedral was given:


Our work on the Viking Heritage continued apace and pupils uploaded essays on their chosen topics which they illustrated.  we now await the contributions of our partner schools in Norway and Denmark.  the link to the public twinspace is:


We read the first half of the long third Fitt in Sir Gawain, when the knight is tempted by the Green Knight’s wife, while her husband is out hunting.

Links have now been established with the Liceo Petrarca in Trieste, with whom we shall share our work on Romanesque and Gothic architecture and also study three stories from Dubliners by James Joyce: The Dead, Araby and Eveline.

In our history lesson we considered the treatment meted out to heretics and the increasing intolerance in Europe following the execution in Geneva of Servetus for publishing his socinian/unitarian pamphlet.


Week Three 24th-30th Sept

We spent this week considering the big questions behind philosophy, what it is and why we should study it?  In essence we realised that it is the best training for life, helps us to understand philosophical models and ultimately helps us to understand ourselves.  It also allows us to overcome our fear of death, by approaching the topic in a considered and clear-sighted way.  The three stages of philosophising were also discussed: the theoretical leading to moral/ethical questions and our concluding phase which encompasses salvation/wisdom.

Our historical analysis explored the religious wars of 1550-1650 and the notions of tolerance and toleration.

Our architectural lesson looked at the wonders of Chartres cathedral in this Prezi:


We concluded the week by racing through the second Fitt of Sir Gawain and by discussing the problems faced by the E.U. in determining its spending priorities and the role of the “green economy”.

Week Two: 17th-24th Sept.

Rather a slow start this week because of illness, so our double lesson on Wednesday was null and void.  On Monday we debated the briefing papers the pupils had read over the weekend.  The week was redeemed on Thursday by an outstanding presentation by one pupil on Lincoln Cathedral, using the Prezi software.

Lincoln Cathedral Prezi

Have a look at this and be as impressed as we all were.

We have now agreed a division of topics for the “Viking Heritage” project, to be undertaken with the schools from Norway and Denmark. These are the agreed topics:

Language; Religion; Trade; Slavery; Exploration; Artefacts; Settlements;               Monarchy; Art and Design; Economy; Myths (received notions); Literature;          Present day links between “Viking” nations

Each topic will have a group of pupils working on it, and their findings will be collated on a wikispace and then we intend to publish their findings as an online magazine.  Here is the winning eTwinning magazine from last year:

eTwinning winning project 2012

Everyone enjoyed rattling through Simon Armitage’s “Fitt 1” of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and we watched an excerpt of his BBC documentary on the poem.

This weekend there was a wide selection of essay tasks available.  Pupils had to write 1000 words on one of the following titles:

1. Is it immoral to buy a £10,000 handbag?

2. “I don’t care if anyone reads my books; I write for myself,” said the author of a half-dozen published novels. Is there anything wrong with this statement as a theory of art?

3. Are boycotts futile?

4. “Every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something” [Andrew Carnegie]. Do you agree?

5. What, if anything, is wrong with selective schools?


Week One 10th-17th Sept.


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All pupils wrote a one side summary on the salient features of Gothic architecture.  They were also asked to learn the key terms used to describe the buildings we shall be considering.  I set a test in today’s lesson, when they had to fill in eleven blanks on a pictorial diagram.  How many would you get right?  I was so impressed by the quality of their comments in class and by the evident attention they had paid to this first task.  Five pupils got all eleven missing captions correct and most of the others made few errors.  This is going to be a good year.  The test is reproduced below for you to have a go.

Architectural terms test

Tomorrow we put this new knowledge to work, when we shall visit Winchester Cathedral to identify the architectural features we have encountered so far in the book.

Winchester Cathedral showing Romanesque transept to the north and the Gothic nave

Winchester Cathedral Facade

On Friday we shall start reading “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”.

Saturday evening’s task will be to prepare answers in response to a couple of briefing papers which have been produced to help us prepare for the Mock Council of the European Union.

How should the EU spend its money- Mock Council of the EU_2012

Green Economy- Mock Council of the EU_2012

International Links



As you would expect from a  languages teacher, I try to integrate a European framework into my general studies classes. This year I will be running two projects under the aegis of the British Council eTwinning forum, for which I am an “ambassador”.  The first is “Viking Heritage” and will consider the cultural heritage of the Vikings and their influence past and present on the U.K., Norway and Denmark.  I am running this project in collaboration with a colleague from a school in Bergen, Norway: https://www.bergen.kommune.no/omkommunen/avdelinger/skoler/ytrebygda-skole

and also a school in Kerteminde, Denmark http://www.nymarksskolen.dk/

Work which is produced will be shared on a “wikispace”.

This worked well last year, when I undertook a project with a school in Trieste, Italy: http://liceopetrarcats.it/ which considered the cultural heritage of the city of Trieste and its influence on the work of Italo Svevo and James Joyce.  Part of this work is summarised in a blog: http://professorzois.wordpress.com/

and it led to visits to Italy by the English class and to Winchester by the Italian class:

Class visit to Trieste

This year, because of the wealth of romanesque architecture in Winchester, Trieste, Muggia and Venice, I hope to repeat the collaboration and visits, but with the focus on architecture, rather than literature. We intend to visit Trieste, Muggia and Venice for 4 days during our February half-term break.

Each year the British Council organises a one day conference for 29 schools, who each send one teacher and two pupils to the “Mock Council of the European Union”:


Last year my class was lucky enough to be selected for this event, representing the views of Estonia on the topics of “The Arab Spring” and “The crisis in Europe’s economy”.  This year we have been fortunate enough to be selected again and I shall invite two pupils to prepare the topics for debate over the coming weeks.  We have just been informed that we will be representing the views of Lithuania on two topics:

How can the EU use climate change measures to move to a green economy?



How should the EU spend its money?

This should be an interesting event and we are able to contact the Lithuanian embassy in London to obtain details on how Lithuania views these two questions. The conference will be held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Thursday 22nd November.

The final collaborative venture in which I am involved is a study of intercultural relations and I intend to set up a project with a school in Romania to explore this next year.



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How do you keep a group of 16 year olds interested in topics, which most first year undergraduates would find challenging? Variety is the key.  So in a one week cycle of six lessons, I would typically arrange the following activities:

  1. Historical discussion of a chapter from the textbook, which pupils have read in the previous week.  There might also be a test to check that they have understood what they have read.
  2. Literature: analysis of the work being studied
  3. Presentation by pupils. Pupils this term will be asked to give presentations on medieval architecture and on Viking heritage (more of that anon under “International links”). Each pupil will give one presentation to the whole class on each topic, so basically one presentation each half term.
  4. ICT/Music: I book the digital language laboratory once a week so that pupils can hone their ICT skills, keep up with partner schools (see next post) and enjoy listening to music compilations which their peers have compiled. Each member of the class chooses their 8 favourite tracks (a la Desert Island Discs) and they explain the reasons for their choice.  It is important to give pupils the opportunity to explore different ways of presenting their work, so this term I shall teach them how to use “Prezi”, “Sliderocket”, “Wikispaces”, “Podcasting”, “Digital Photo Stories”, “eTwinning Twinspace”, taking about two weeks for each application.
  5. Art/art history: We shall explore developments in medieval architecture with reference to our text.  We shall also visit sites of architectural interest on a regular basis, since our school is located a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral.
  6. Current affairs/films: One lesson a week is used to review what we have covered, to discuss matters of current interests in the media and to watch films which extend our understanding of the themes tackled in our other lessons.  This term I have selected three films which relate to the themes of the wars of religion. Two of these films are in French and will be shown in the original version, with subtitles, so that pupils, who think they have abandoned French for ever, have a chance to reacquaint themselves with this language!

La Reine Margot

Henri of Navarre

The Mill and the Cross

The last film deals with the genesis of Bruegel’s 1564 painting “The Procession to Calvary” and prepares us for next term when my provisional topics will be Bruegel and the Van Eyck brothers, the writings of Michel de Montaigne (following on from Ferry’s introduction to humanism and our study of the Wars of Religion) and Mme de Lafayette’s courtly romance.

Michel de Montaigne

Princess of Cleves

The work asked of pupils each week outside the classroom is to keep up with their historical reading (50-60 pages a week), to read and note one chapter of medieval architecture each week and to keep up with the literature (50 pages a week).  They also have to practise the software skills, which we have covered and every two weeks they write a 1000 word essay on a topic given in advance: and this is all in the context of learning for learning’s sake, since they take no public exam in this subjects at all!

Previous topics


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Two years ago, when I was teaching the same period, I tackled the following texts and themes with my class: Vasari’s “Lives of Artists” and Ross King’s “Brunelleschi’s Dome” as we considered the Renaissance.  We also read Boccaccio’s “Decameron” and Castiglione’s “The Courtier”.  We looked at several artists of the Italian Renaissance and spent some time considering Mantegna’s “Camera degli Sposi” in Mantua, assisted by John and Katya Berger’s book, “Lying down to sleep”

In the final term we considered Watteau as an artist and read Diderot’s “Rameau’s nephew” and Beaumarchais’ plays “The Barber of Seville” and “The Marriage of Figaro” and the operas, which were inspired by these plays.

Last year my class considered the modern period and we again turned our thoughts to Italy in the first term, reading Italo Svevo’s “A Life” and Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. Our incursion into Triestian literature was guided by Jan Morris’ book “Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere” and we explored the artistic movement known as “Expressionism”.  We analysed three films, which are centred on Venice: “Death in Venice”, “Don’t look now” and “Pane e Tulipani”.  We also read James Joyce’s prose poem “Giacomo Joyce”.

In the second term we switched our focus to France and read Flaubert’s “Sentimental Education” and watched Chabrol’s “Madame Bovary”.  We also read Jules Valles’ “The Child” and our historical analysis dealt with the Paris Commune, guided by Alistair Horne’s “The Fall of Paris”. Our art focus moved from Expressionism to Impressionism.

The final term took us to Czechoslovakia, Russia and the Ukraine.  We read three plays by Vaclav Havel and watched “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. We considered how we interpret art with John Berger’s book and television series “Ways of Seeing”.  We read Gogol’s “The Government Inspector” and watched Tarkovsky’s masterpieces “Solaris” and “Andrei Rublev”.  Our final text for the year was Andrei Kurkov’s black comedy “Death and the Penguin”.

Cultural Musings


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In this blog, I hope to give a flavour of the work that I do in my general studies class. I teach a group of 13 pupils in Year 12 ( aged 16/17) for six 40 minute lessons each week.  There is no syllabus and no exam!  The dates alternate over a two year cycle between 1300-1789 and 1789 to present.  This year we are looking at the earlier period. I’ll give some information about what I have taught in the past couple of years, but this year I shall be looking at humanism, medieval architecture and the wars of religion. I am not an artist, art historian or historian: I am a linguist, who likes reading, art and buildings.

I’ll be starting the academic year with Luc Ferry’s book “Learning to Live”, which gives one of the clearest philosophical introdiuctions to humanism and how it developed from stoicism.

Luc Ferry’s Learning to Live

I shall also be introducing pupils to medieval architecture.  We are fortunate in Winchester to have Winchester Cathedral and the Chapel of St. Cross.  The book we shall be using to explore the architecture around us is Nicola Coldstream’s introduction to Medieval Architecture:

Literature and History will also form an important part of our work this term. I have chosen Simon Armitage’s version of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and Ben Kaplan’s study of the Wars of Religion.