Textbook Stuff by BrightRED Publishing- English with Dr Chris Nicol

Textbook Stuff by BrightRED Publishing image

This month we launched something new for BrightRED, our new podcast Textbook Stuff. It will shine a light on our Study Guides and offer the inside story on our books.  We have interviewed our expert teacher authors who have spent many months (and sometimes years) writing our Course Books and Study Guides.

Below you will find snippets from the discussion we had with our English author, Dr Chris Nicol. We discussed his frustrations at school and university, his journey to becoming an English teacher, advice for the English course and its exam and finally his career advice that has carried him through his impressive career.

You can find the full transcript here.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I went to a very good Scottish high school up in Arbroath many many years ago. I enjoyed school but I often got very frustrated by my teachers who were very intelligent men and women. But I often got exasperated by the fact that so many of their nuggets of wisdom were clouded in language that was very opaque which was difficult to get through for a 12- or 13-year-old, so my little hand was always going up in class and there was a lot of sighing from my friends, and the teachers, by asking questions like, ‘Oh what do you mean there? What are you saying?’ It was quite an exasperating process. This frustrating process went on all the way through my education.

Can you tell us about how you transitioned into a teaching career?

I had this idea that teaching might be of interest to me, but I wasn’t going to be a teacher like the ones I’d had at school. So, I took myself off and did a teacher training course and found myself a job in a girl’s public school. I immediately put to work what I learned at my own school that I wasn’t going to be that kind of teacher. I made my lessons directly constructed to talk to the students rather than talk at them and I really enjoyed the process very much.

What is the process of going back and editing your work like?

I think it’s a very very useful device to have someone whose judgement you trust listen to yourself reading it. And be prepared for much more critical comment than you would get if you just handed them a text and asked for their opinion.

How would you suggest students could improve their portfolio writing?

I think also you’ve been picking up a lot of writing skills without knowing it by your work for reading, for understanding, analysis and evaluation. All these techniques you’re pinpointing for the examiners, minor sentences, inversion, figurative language, word choice, parallel structures. You’re ready to talk about them in an exam, so why not make them work for you in your own writing? A lot of students just completely overlooked that they have wonderful techniques in their grasp which they could use to great effect for in their own writing.

And for school leavers what advice do you have if they are unsure what career path they want to take?

I think career wise nothing is set in stone and my own career such as it is, has been a path of serendipity. Really, I’ve always been in the right place at the right time. I have picked up knowledge from all kinds of areas. I haven’t been frightened to change career path when I felt I was getting bored or exhausted by a process. I think the world has many, many opportunities for young people and every job has something to teach you.

If you enjoyed these snippets of our conversation with Dr Chris Nicol you can read the whole transcript here or listen to the podcast here!

Thank you to Chris for taking the time to speak to us and we hope you are looking forward to our podcast guest for next month!

Links mentioned:

New Edition Higher English Study Guide: https://www.brightredpublishing.co.uk/shop/cfe-higher-english

Other Books in the BrightRED English range:

BGE Level 3 English Course book (Publishing March 2023): https://www.brightredpublishing.co.uk/shop/bge-level-3-english

National 4 English Study Guide: https://www.brightredpublishing.co.uk/shop/n4-english

National 5 English Course Book: https://www.brightredpublishing.co.uk/shop/national-5-english-course-book

National 5 English Study Guide: https://www.brightredpublishing.co.uk/shop/n5-english

Advanced Higher English Study Guide: https://www.brightredpublishing.co.uk/shop/cfe-advanced-higher-english

My Journey to Bright Red

Source: Unsplash

Starting a new job can be daunting for anyone, but starting your first job in an industry you’ve worked so hard to get into is scary and exciting in equal measures. I’m in my first week as Bright Red’s newest employee; as a Publishing and Marketing Assistant. However, my association with them started many years ago. I was introduced to the Study Guides and, at the time Past Papers, back in 2012 when I was sitting my Standard Grades and Intermediate 2s. To this day I maintain I would not have been able to achieve the grades I did in Chemistry, Physics and Computing without them.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2020, after finishing an undergraduate degree in International Politics I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career. I loved reading and being surrounded by books so I applied for a place on the MSc Publishing course at Edinburgh Napier University. I was successful! The course allowed us to learn about all aspects of publishing and an opportunity to get real life experience working in the publishing industry. I managed to secure a placement with none other than Bright Red. Over the ten weeks I worked with them I was able to develop many skills, such as proofreading, typesetting and dealing with over matter. This time brought out a passion for educational publishing I didn’t realise I had but it’s safe to say I was hooked.

Then when the opportunity to interview for an internship came along, I jumped at the chance. I became the first paid intern for Bright Red and spent from September to December learning even more from the team, which included creating social media strategies, writing e-newsletters and recording a video about the BGE Maths Coursebook.

After a rather fruitless job hunt at the beginning of 2022, I saw Bright Red were hiring for an entry level position and I bit the bullet and applied. I was successful again! Which brings us to today, the beginning of my first week in my new role. I know I have a lot to offer to the team and more to learn but I can safely say without Bright Red my life would look very different right now. So, you never know one day you could be relying on our Study Guides to pass National 5 Chemistry and ten years later you could be introducing yourself on the blog of a publishing company you have always admired.

The pandemic and publishing

We were really thrilled to be a sponsor of the SYP Scotland Conference this year and had the opportunity to write a post about how the pandemic has affected our publishing and how we are refreshing our plans and looking ahead to the future. We thought we’d share this post here too so you can find out more about what’s been happening behind-the-scenes over the last year.

Control?

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the first thing that seemed to disappear for most people was control.  There have been titanic changes to social interactions, approaches to working and how businesses operate.  The publishing industry has not been untouched by this – the effects of COVID-19 have ricocheted throughout our sector, affecting both SME and conglomerate businesses nationwide with disruption permeating everything.  Businesses have been forced to adapt, to reflect on why things have been run in a certain way and question whether they could be run differently in order to survive and flourish.  All in an attempt to take control of what had suddenly become a very uncertain present and challenging future.

Alternate

Small publishers are perfectly placed to change what they do and innovate quickly.  They are also often built on the idea of doing things a little differently.  An ability to alter business models has been crucial for the survival of all publishers during the pandemic. With schools shut, exams cancelled and all learning moved online, Bright Red transitioned to home working and a more digital approach in order to meet the new learning demands. Fast-tracking our digital mindset has been pivotal to navigating through the many, ongoing challenges the pandemic has created. With trade establishments feeling the full force of national lockdowns, having our own online shop and independent warehouse in Fife meant we could continue supplying learning materials to the thousands of students in need of our resources. We approached social media with renewed gusto, highlighting our award-winning (and free) online learning platform that in turn saw an uplift in print sales, which are so crucial for a small, independent, business.

For Scottish publishers, there’s been a definite shift towards becoming digital content creators and experience providers. In educational publishing, there has been an increased demand nationwide for learning material and entertainment for children/young adults and therefore, a call to meet those needs. Posting daily challenges, creating playlists of video content on our YouTube channel and updating our Digital Zone saw a surge of website traffic and sales, and also a wave of appreciation for providing resources that could help students remain on track. With our loyal customer base and support, we reshuffled our publishing plans, focussing on getting our backlist fully updated before we pushed forward with new titles (and exciting new product launches).  

Refresh!

Although schools and shops remain closed (and exams have also been cancelled this year), we are looking forward to the months ahead with renewed hope and continuing with what we do best – publishing high-quality, bespoke books for the Scottish curriculum that fulfil a pressing need. As a small publisher, we are able to publish into niche subjects or subjects that have historically had smaller cohorts, making us stand out from our competitors. Our books are unique in their features and presentation – they put the student at the very heart of the content and we feel that shines from the pages of our books. We are thrilled to be in the process of producing sets of revision cards for National 5 subjects – something new for Scotland and a direct response from teacher feedback.

As Scotland navigates its way out of the pandemic, it is companies that have been able to adapt, to change their outlook and move with the times, utilising the benefits of a digital community, that will be most likely to survive and, ultimately, thrive.

Image of our Revision Cards (the jacket covers which are red for Biology, orange for Chemistry, yellow for Physics and purple for Mathematics and all have jumping outlines of students on them).

How to find a routine for home-learning

In the UK, March has thrown us a massive curve-ball and things seem quite topsy-turvy right now. With so much uncertainty, we wanted to share with you some top tips on how to find a study-routine that works for you at home, offer some suggestions of where you can find resources to support your learning and websites that you can trust to get the latest, most up-to-date information about the pandemic.

Person writing in a notebook
Finding your study routine. Source: Unsplash.

Where to find trusted information about Coronavirus

For your mental well-being, it may be wise to limit how frequently you check for updates about the pandemic – you can easily start to feel overwhelmed by all the information. Use gov.uk for reliable, trusted advice, which clearly outlines what you need to do. Young Scot also have a wealth of information on their website all about Coronavirus. It’s a good place to look if you want to find out more about what’s happening and how you can prevent catching COVID-19 and spreading it to others. There are also articles there that advise what to do if you’re feeling anxious and how you can support others in your community. Check out their forum of articles here.

How to establish a routine

For many people, their routines will have been completely thrown out of the window so establishing some kind of schedule for yourself, may help settle anxieties and help you find some normalcy in day-to-day life.

It can be very tempting to have a lazy start to your day but if you’re able to, sticking as closely to your normal routine get-up-time as you can will help your days feel structured. Setting your alarm to go off at the same time each day and creating a daily structure featuring work, breaks and workouts can help to establish a new kind of routine, which in turn can benefit your mental and physical health.

Alarm clock on a table
Set your alarm to go off at the same time each day. Source: Unsplash.

Getting into the right mind-set of learning at home can be a real challenge along with knowing where to begin. At Bright Red, we have a number of resources you can use to aid you with your home-learning journey. We have a free online learning platform, the Bright Red Digital Zone, which is packed with activities, tests, video links and additional content across a broad range of subjects. You could use the platform to tackle an entire subject over time or just use it to dip in and out of units that you need a little extra support with.

Screenshot of the Bright Red Digital Zone log in page
Bright Red Digital Zone

Investing in our books is another great way of continuing to learn at home. They cover all the course content and are the next best thing to being taught in a class with their engaging, colourful spreads and bespoke features. You can browse our full range of titles here. We also have a YouTube channel, which hosts 45+ subject playlists of videos which you can incorporate into your daily routine and you can take part in the challenges on our Twitter page, which will help stretch your knowledge and understanding of topics.

Peppering your day with activities you enjoy doing at home will also help break up the day and bring you joy. This may be reading, baking, watching an episode of your favourite TV programme, playing games etc. Alternatively, why not take up a new hobby? Get creative in the kitchen (we have a Health & Food and Technology Study Guide and a Practical Cake Craft Study Guide), try out your arts skills, learn a new language (check out our Language Study Guides) or find out more about a subject that you have gaps of knowledge in.

Exercise is also so important – Joe Wicks has launched his ‘PE with Joe’ daily live lessons (find out more here) and there are some wonderful exercise classes you can partake in online which are easy to do at home with minimal or no equipment at all.

Example of ‘P.E. with Joe’ Daily Lesson

During this time, you need to protect your mental health as much as possible. As a result, you might need to redefine what you deem as a ‘successful day’. Try and stay as positive as you can, remember that each day that passes is one day closer to this all being over and to reach out to friends and family if everything is feeling a bit much.

Lastly, just a reminder that we are here for your learning needs and are happy to help in whatever way we can. You can save 25% with the discount code: SUPPORT2020 on our website to get those books you need (plus you’ll be making a huge difference to a small, independent publisher) and we’re available to answer any questions or queries you may have via email (info@brightredpublishing.co.uk).

Stay safe and all the best with your home-learning.

Flat-lay of home-learning necessities
Home-learning. Source: Unsplash.

How to revise for the SQA exams

Exams coming up? Not sure where to begin with revision? At Bright Red, we understand that the exam period can be a tad daunting. We’ve all been through exams so can fully relate to how you might be feeling and can help give you a gentle nudge in the right direction to help you tackle those exam nerves and help you walk into your exam with confidence.

Here are our top tips to help you revise for your SQA exams:

Start your revision early

The earlier you start revision, the more time you will have to get fully prepared for your examinations. It can be tempting to put off doing revision but starting months in advance and doing a little bit of work each day will allow you to avoid any last-minute, panicked cramming sessions.

Two friends standing next to each other. One friend gesturing and saying 'Always Be Prepared'.
Always be prepared – start your revision early

Plan, plan, plan!

Making a revision timetable can help you visually map out how long you have until your examinations. It can help you plan your time effectively and ensure that you’re allowing yourself revision breaks and some social time too.  You can create a revision timetable in a notebook or by using Word or by using templates online (Get Revising offer a brilliant, free Study Planner template – check it out here).

Boy rolling out plan of action
Create a solid revision plan

Find your study space

Finding a distraction-free space really helps when it comes to getting focused with revision. If you can, choose somewhere that has natural light and where you have plenty of space to spread your notes out and get in the zone. This may be in your bedroom, in the kitchen, at school or in a library. Keeping things nice and tidy around you can help you stay focused and on track with your revision.

Man rubbing his hands together and getting ready to type
Find your space and get in the zone

Use Study Guides

Study Guides are a brilliant way of filling in any gaps in knowledge and consolidating what you’ve learnt in class. We have 65+ Study Guides from N4 – AH level across a huge range of subjects so definitely check out our website here and pick up any Study Guides in subjects that you feel like you need a little extra support in.

Boy with pencil behind his ear, looking over worksheets
Use Bright Red Study Guides and Course Books

Jazz up your notes and use mnemonics!

Add colour and illustrations to your notes – this will make them more visually appealing and will help all that studying stick. Using mnemonics is a good way of shortening your notes and making concepts and facts easier to remember.

Man playing a musical instrument enthusiastically
Jazz up your revision and class notes

Test yourself!

Practice makes perfect – register for our Bright Red Digital Zone which has tonnes of activities (Things to do and think about questions) and tests so you can identify both your strengths and any gaps in knowledge. Past Papers are also a super way of testing yourself and assessing what you do and don’t yet know. Check out the SQA website here.

Girl writing on blackboard
Practice makes perfect with Bright Red

Take breaks

It’s important to take plenty of breaks in order to revise effectively and avoid burning yourself out. It’ll also help you to stay motivated and allow yourself to relax! Try going for a run, watching an episode of your favourite show or simply treating yourself to a cup of tea and a piece of cake.

Hedgehog floating around a bath tub
Take time to relax

Look after yourself

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night so you can recharge properly and wake up feeling fresh and alert. Drink lots of water, avoid all-nighters and try and eat as healthily as you can to keep your energy levels up!

Sleepy duck drifting off over class notes
Get enough sleep and look after yourself

Best of luck.

For more top tips and advice on different study techniques, check out our Learn to Learn Study Support Guide. It’s also worth checking out our Twitter and Instagram pages for additional revision tips!