The piece below was written many years ago by a Year 9 pupil, Kanika, for a colleague of mine (@craigbmorrison) at Parkside Community College, Cambridge. It illustrates, I think, some features of what might be termed ‘exploratory’ writing – developing response, understanding and expression without recourse to P.E.E or P.E.T.A.L. or other formulae, and without adherence to the conventions of an ‘analytical paragraph’, of ‘academic style’, or of an exam ‘answer’. Emerging from talk, it maintains, throughout, a sense of dialogue – between the pupil and herself, and between the pupil and the text.
Injecting challenge at Key Stages 3 and 4, using Key Stage 2 knowledge about grammar
The not-so-new-now grammar curriculum at Key Stage 2 has resulted in pupils arriving in secondary school with a knowledge of grammatical terms which, even to some specialist English teachers, can be a little intimidating. It can also be confusing to teachers used to different terminology: pupils are unlikely to know about definite and indefinite articles, but they will know about ‘determiners’; they will have been drilled not to refer to ‘connectives’, although they will know about adverbials and about subordinating and coordinating conjunctions. They will know that ‘pretty’ can be an adjective or it can be an adverb, because grammar is all about function. They won’t just know about past, present and future tenses; they will also know about progressive and perfect and subjunctive forms. (Useful for inventing new ghosts for A Christmas Carol, such as ‘The Ghost of Christmas Future Perfect Subjunctive’, who will show Scrooge what would have happened were he not to have changed his ways.) Continue reading “Fear of grammar and the grammar of fear”
A reflection on some different ways to structure discussion of a text in the classroom. The example is from Key Stage 3, although the principles are applicable to any phase.
The text below is one which we used to read with Key Stage 3 pupils at Parkside Community College, in Cambridge, when teaching about World War 1 poetry and propaganda. It is a personal letter from a soldier to his mother, which was published in the local paper as part of a drive to recruit more volunteers for the army.
Its local relevance made it particularly compelling to the pupils, all of whom knew “Gwydir Street” and the “Great Eastern” railway area, and some of whom lived there.
An organising technique and resource for discussion. Good for revision, for practising retrieval and for deepening thinking. (Good for all ages, too.)
Using sharp scissors, cut up some mini-whiteboards to make a set of unique, four-piece jigsaws, like this. (This is surprisingly quick and easy to do, and oddly satisfying.)
You now have a robust, re-usable resource.
On each jigsaw, use a board pen to write four connected things which you want pupils to think about. These might be terms, facts, quotations, diagrams, concepts or any other fragments of knowledge. Each jigsaw should have a different theme or connecting principle. Like this.
Some questions for secondary teachers, English teams and school leaders, which may be helpful
Many secondary schools have concerns about how to maintain progress in the core area of literacy from Year 6 to Year 7, perceiving that many students do not make sufficiently-strong progress in Year 7, or that they can even regress in some aspects. These concerns have been fuelled recently by Ofsted’s ‘The Wasted Years’ report. They have also been foregrounded by changes to the Key Stage 2 curriculum and assessment framework, which has left some secondary English teachers feeling de-skilled as Year 7 students arrive throwing semi-colons around with alarming confidence.
Some thoughts on task-setting and assessment in English, especially at Key Stage 3
In a well-planned Key Stage 3 course on Of Mice and Men, pupils will be gripped by and immersed in Steinbeck’s novel, will enter imaginatively into the world of the story, will explore its context and significance, will investigate ways in which Steinbeck uses language, and will discuss characters and get to grips with themes. They will watch one or more film versions and might think hard about how the novel has been adapted. As well as acquiring a wealth of knowledge, pupils will practise a range of types of talk and writing – some imaginative, some analytical and some discursive – and maybe some drama.
Practical tools for reflecting on the what, why and how of English teaching
A friend’s nephew, when in Year 8, remarked to him: “I used to enjoy English, but all we do now is write PEE paragraphs.” If this is a pupil’s view (even an unfair one) of English in their school, then something has gone badly wrong. It’s extreme, but it is – I think – indicative of a trend in secondary English, in which the narrow imperatives of external assessment are dominating planning and thinking, and when GCSE ‘AOs’ are busily colonising Key Stage 3. Meanwhile, tests and secure-fit assessment frameworks are increasingly dominating primary teachers’ thinking about the teaching of reading and writing.
In this post, I offer two simple tools which I have used with both primary and secondary teachers for reflecting on the principles behind English as a subject. This might be as part of a process of curriculum renewal, of the revitalising of practice, or of a deliberate attempt to build cohesion and shared purpose. Or it might just be to to stimulate professional discussion about some basics – on what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why.
Reframing ‘engagement’ in the classroom
Any mention of ‘engagement’ in the education Twittersphere or blogosphere will create a flurry of emotive debate. To many, it is now a dirty word, summoning up caricatures of content-free, gimmick-laden teaching, in which the aim is simply to engage so that learning somehow follows. In fact, there is a strand of discourse in which even considering how to engage pupils, or to think that anything other than ‘learning itself’ or ‘the richness of the subject’ is motivation enough, is a failing – a sort of lowest common denominator approach.
Of course, this is in reaction to historical imbalance. In training, I use videos of exemplar ‘Outstanding’ lessons from just five or six years ago, to show how remarkably empty of learning a lesson can be when it is designed around activity and engagement. And the idea that pupils will ‘behave’ if only a lesson is made engaging enough is, of course, very dangerous. Continue reading “Making the investment”
Some possible ‘qualities’ of excellence in English
There has been some discussion recently on blogs and Twitter about what it means to be ‘good at English’. Often, this is in the context of thinking about progression – from Key Stage 3 to 4, or from GCSE to A-Level, for example: what should we be aiming to ‘produce’ in students? Continue reading “Being ‘good at English’”
A simple classroom technique, when drafting and editing.
Recently, I have been doing quite a bit of drafting and editing of creative writing with Year 5 and 6 pupils, and I have been finding this little game useful. I’m sure it’s not original, and I have used it with older students since search engines became a thing, but it is still new to many teachers – so here it is. (It’s very, very simple.) Continue reading “Googling for originality”