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Culture vulture

Amanda Cottam finds answers in her darkroom

Books I can't put down

I'm hooked on the Aberystwyth trilogy by Malcolm Pryce, a spoof detective series that's fast becoming a cult. They're quirky, funny and yes, they are all set in Aberystwyth. But don't let that put you off; it's all part of the charm.

Film I love

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (above) is a typical Peter Greenaway production: violent and disturbing, but vaguely surreal and very beautiful.

Inspiring

We go away with the same group of friends every summer; with my four children that makes 12 of us. Last year we all went to New York and visited the Lee Friedlander exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. I was so interested to see the show as I have only ever seen his stuff in books and loved these black and white photographs of silhouettes, reflections and shadows. It made me feel that I must do more photography.

I have a darkroom (or, should I say, cupboard) at the top of our Victorian house and I use black and white photography a lot when teaching religious education. Black and white shots of war and devastation are a powerful way of getting a message across when discussing questions like the existence of God and the presence of suffering.

To use in class

Every teacher should tap into www.thethinkingclassroom.co.uk. It's not subject-specific but it looks at the issue of getting kids to learn effectively.

Looking forward to

My next visit to the Samye Ling Buddhist monastery in Eskdalemuir, just across the Scottish border. It's so peaceful and relaxing to have picnics by the river there, or to sit at the back of the prayer hall. Any harassed teacher should take themselves up there. We tend to buy prayer flags which end up in our garden and those of neighbours and friends.

Amanda Cottam, 48, is assistant head and teaches RE at at Holyhead school, a secondary in Handsworth, Birmingham, where she is devising a thinking skills programme.

Interview by Elaine Williams

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