Making the investment

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”

Asking real questions in the classroom

Number #5 in an occasional series of short posts on feedback, appearing in no particular order

One of the main ways in which teachers ‘give’ feedback to pupils is through follow-up questioning. This is sometimes the case in written feedback, but is particularly the case in oral feedback, as part of dynamic classroom teaching, in which feedback is folded into learning and is indistinguishable from the discussion and exploration of ideas. It is one key way in which teachers insist on deeper thinking.*In English, it is one of the key ways in which we push analysis and explore response.

Continue reading “Asking real questions in the classroom”

Who is doing what in the classroom? A tool for planning and reflection

It is always risky to discuss something as complex as teaching and learning in terms of any sort of ‘model’. It is always reductive and probably wrong. However, at the moment I am finding it useful to think of classroom teaching working like this. (Click to enlarge)

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Based on well-rehearsed principles, this schematic might be a useful analytic tool for reflecting on planning, lessons and teaching over time, and as a focus for CPD. Continue reading “Who is doing what in the classroom? A tool for planning and reflection”

Differentiation: pitching high, not making easy

A short post about climbing frames: pitch high and support all pupils in reaching for that level.

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This is a photo of my two children at the ‘Yorkshire Dales Ice Cream Farm’ (not ‘pick-your-own’, sadly) taken about three years ago. They are the oddly gnomic-looking child at the top of the slide and – typically – the one blocking the slide by climbing up it. (So proud.) Continue reading “Differentiation: pitching high, not making easy”

Folding feedback into learning

Number #2 in an occasional series of short posts on feedback, appearing in no particular order

FoldLast year, I visited a lesson in which pupils were analysing a newspaper article. They read the article as a class, then – in pairs, so that they were having to articulate their ideas before committing them to paper – they wrote answers to a set of questions. The level of analysis and of expression was variable but, on the whole, not very high:

 ‘The purpose of the article is to tell about what happened.’

‘The headline really grabs the reader’s attention’

Continue reading “Folding feedback into learning”

Objectives and purpose in English

Thoughts on learning objectives and on the way we frame learning in English

This post was originally an article for NATE‘s Teaching English (Issue 8, Summer 2015)

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‘Is that what you went into English teaching to do?’ Reflecting with English teachers on their planning, whether for lessons or whole schemes of learning, I often find myself asking them this question. It isn’t asked in a despairing sense but as a sort of a litmus test of the real value, integrity or power of an ‘objective’ (or an ‘aim’, or an ‘assessed outcome’.) For example, no English teacher went into the profession to get children to ‘practise expanding adverbial phrases’. No one followed a calling to help students to ‘make comparisons between texts’. Of course, these are important but they are not really an end in themselves; they are a means to students developing power in expression and critical awareness and discrimination as readers. They should not be the start and the end of English lessons. Continue reading “Objectives and purpose in English”

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