Sunday, 29 September 2013

Personifying The X-Factor Chairs

Has Mr Gove taken over the production of The X-Factor? Last night, I watched the show and was shocked at how remarkably cruel it has suddenly got. It has always dwelled on the sad stories that the acts had and the things that have happened to them in the past, but last night I felt very uncomfortable. In fact, so uncomfortable I retreated into Twitter while it was on.

I have always had an uneasy relationship with the show. I liked the straight talking of some of the judges but detested the way the show manipulated my emotions, or tried to. Like the old exam system, there were people that didn’t quite deserve to get there. Wagner and Jedward are just two examples that come to mind. They achieved a lot, while others more deserving failed at an early stage.

Now the new format has decided to use the new approach towards education. First we have the phonics test – the audition with just the judges. That just tests your ability to read, I mean sing. Let’s weed them out at an early stage. Then we have the SATs tests, which, compared to the first audition, is 500% harder. The SATs tests are more demanding and challenging. First it was reading. Now it is reading, writing and grammar. Now, you are in a huge stadium proving you can sing, ooze charisma and handle the pressure. Get through both of these test and you make it to boot camp.

This is where I get uncomfortable.  The singers are now categorised according to their age and gender and then they have to perform yet again. This is where we get to the GCSEs. The singers /students now have to sing for their life. At this stage, they have worked so hard and received praise and encouragement by a system that says that they are good. At each hurdle, they have demonstrated their ability.  Now, there appears a figure who decides who is worthy and who isn’t worthy of going on in life – I mean the show.  Those worthy get to sit on a white plastic chair and those unworthy slouch off home. Yet, to make things even worse, you sit down thinking you have a hope of success, then in a second your hope is dashed because a judge has decided someone is better than you. Those that have worked hard through the system and done everything right are suddenly binned, because this is showbiz, darling. It is tough. Look at the recent GCSE issues, all those students who had worked hard and sat on their white plastic chairs. Those chairs were cruelly yanked out from under them. In fact, the chairs disappeared, as there was nobody to replace them with.

I don’t take any pleasure in watching people cry, nor do I get any enjoyment from watching someone’s hopes and future dashed and destroyed in one simple movement. Having young children, I see enough crying and snot dribbling that I have no desire to watch it for entertainment. The problem I have always had with The X-Factor is the notion that success is instant. This year they seem to have made it their running theme that success is about trying and trying again, and humiliation after humiliation. Look at how many old contestants have returned this year. Of course, they are a bit like an old character in a soap. A blast from the past. But, also they are examples of how success isn’t instant. Bring on the Year 12 students who resit exams.

Next week, or the week after, we are at the judges’ houses. Like A-Level, this is all cosy and nice. Lots of chatting and a relaxed atmosphere. Only a few succeed and get through. The rest are all told that maybe they are just not ready. Give it a go again next year, because then you will be ready for it.

Anyway, back to those chairs. Those vile, evil chairs that represent everything evil in this new format of the show. I am teaching horror writing to my Year 8s at the moment and I think the chairs would make a great starter for a lesson.  The approach I use for personification either came from somewhere else or it came from my brain. I will see which one responds first and then I will give them a credit.

Step 1:  Think of some verbs that only a human would do.






Step 2: Think of an object.

The lights
The floor

The desk

The speaker

The microphone

The projector

The chair

Step 3: Add some adjectives to the object.

The harsh, cold lights
The clean floor

The high, towering desk

The warm microphone

The bright projector
The silent chair

Step 4: Put some of the objects and the verbs together.

The blank and tall speaker sneezes music  

The high, towering desk stares

The silent chair smiles

The warm microphone shivers                  

 Step 5: Add a simile at the end

The blank and tall speaker sneezes music like a pneumatic drill

The high, towering desk stares like a courtroom judge

The silent chair smiles like an assassin
The warm microphone shivers like nervous animal

Step 6: Adding just a little more detail

The blank and tall speaker sneezes music like a pneumatic drill, struggling to control itself
The high, towering desk stares like a courtroom judge, hoping to condemn  

The silent chair smiles like an assassin, waiting to get ready.

The warm microphone shivers like nervous animal, wishing it was somewhere else

This approach has always worked for me, because it takes out the large leap of imagination students have to come up with when creating some bits of figurative language. I have stood at the front of the room waiting for students to come up with a line of personification about a fireplace or a shoe. I have waited and waited and waited. The most able can create them with glee, but the rest struggle. Starting with verbs has helped my groups to create some effective ones. Building up writing like this is much better than waiting for instant success. This way we tease out the meaning and avoid success or failure. However, the idea of having six chairs in class and putting the six students with the best personification in them could have some potential.

Thanks for reading this,


P.S. I hear that next year that will be a different style of boot camp. There will be a two tier system. Some will get to sit on chairs; others will sit on beanbags. Those on chairs are promised a number one single. Those on beanbags are promised a chance to sing on a cruise ship.

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