Avoiding a ‘literacy dip’ in Year 7

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.

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The importance of ‘extended writing’

Word cloud.JPGSome 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.

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‘In this school, English is about…’

Practical tools for reflecting on the what, why and how of English teaching

Venn.JPGA 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.

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Being ‘good at English’

Image result for correctSome 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 poetry lesson

An account of a poetry lesson, with some thoughts on efficiency, on how we treat texts and on knowledge.

Sequencing.jpgWhen I became an Advanced Skills Teacher, in 2002, the designation was still fairly new. There was quite an intensive appointment process involving a portfolio of documentary evidence, a set of testimonials and a visit by an external assessor, who watched me teach a mixed-ability Year 10 class. For this, I served up a ‘sure-fire’ double lesson on a poem, which I thought went very well. However, while the assessor enjoyed the lesson and was complimentary about it, she had a major reservation. Just the week before (she told me) she had seen the same poem “taught very well in just half the amount of lesson time.” I found this a little irksome. I argued that I could very easily have ‘taught the poem’ in half the time, but that the lesson was about more than covering curriculum content as quickly as possible. But did she have a point? Continue reading “A poetry lesson”

Developing critical readers: preparing students for GCSE English Language reading papers

Thoughts on how students are taught to write critically about texts in exams

This post was originally an article for NATE‘s Teaching English (Issue 12, Autumn 2016.) It has been edited slightly.

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Preparing for the new English GCSEs has compelled English departments to put their Key Stage 4 curriculum through yet another revision. For many, this has been taken as an opportunity to be creative with the curriculum, to devise fresh practice and to sharpen classroom teaching of knowledge and skills. However, the combination of a short time frame and a highly pressurised environment has pushed some departments towards an anxious, somewhat mechanistic approach to the specifications, with teachers focusing narrowly on the hoops through which students will have to jump. Continue reading “Developing critical readers: preparing students for GCSE English Language reading papers”

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