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.
Short-burst pair or group talk activities which can be woven into reading lessons
In other posts, I’ve suggested that the most effective whole-class reading sessions allow for seamless weaving together of whole-class discussion, individual thinking time and pair or small group talk. below are some examples of typical, short pair or group talk activities (30 seconds to a couple of minutes) which can be woven into reading lessons so that pupils are required to retrieve and to rehearse knowledge, to develop and refine understandings, and to practise the articulation of these things, as well as develop their independence and their personal and social confidence as readers. Continue reading “Quick talk about texts”
Recently, colleagues and I have been working hard with schools to develop whole-class reading practice which is both challenging and inclusive. This is a particularly current issue in primary schools, but is – of course – also pertinent to secondary English.
Many teachers and schools are moving towards quite a formalised approach, with a similar agenda for every session or series of sessions. Pupils might move through a fairly fixed set of activities; texts might be subjected to quite repetitive kinds of interrogation, with pupils asking and answering similar questions each time. (Such an approach can develop out of a focus on preparation for assessment, often defaulting to ‘content domains’ in primary, or to GCSE ‘AOs’ in secondary.) Such repetition, while reassuring, can also be limiting, denying the potential of individual texts to teach particular aspects of reading, to demand particular kinds of thinking, to invite different kinds of response, to suggest a variety of engaging, classroom activities, and to offer new pleasures and experiences to pupils as real readers.
The contrasting approach is to have no set formula for whole-class reading sessions, but to let planning be flexible, led by the the text’s ‘potential’, by the shifting needs of the pupils, by the class’s developing relationship with the text as readers and – of course – by the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the teacher.
Such a flexible approach can make it easier for teachers to follow the following principles, which we believe underlie the best whole-class reading practice.
- Enjoy reading challenging texts with children
- Let the text lead
- Have rich conversations about texts
- Pitch high & scaffold for all
- Build talk around personal response
- Keep it varied
- Integrate the teaching of reading, writing & grammar
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”
See also: Whole-class reading: a planning tool
A description of a recent whole-class reading lesson, with commentary
This is a description of another successful whole-class reading lesson which I taught recently to Year 4 and Year 5 classes (although the approaches are applicable to other phases.) It is a follow-up to a post last year (Whole-class reading: an example lesson and a menu of approaches) which described a Year 5/6 lesson, and which also offered some resources developed here by the North Yorkshire English advisory team, including a menu of approaches for whole-class reading. (Click for Word document.)
See also: Whole-class reading: a planning tool
In primary schools recently, there has been a lot of interest in ways to approach whole-class reading lessons. The imperative to raise standards in reading is leading many to question the dominance of small group guided reading, in which – at any one time – most pupils are not being taught by the ‘expert’ in the room. Teaching the whole class instead means that all pupils can read with the teacher more often, moving faster through more or longer texts and benefiting from the teacher’s expert explanations, modelling, questioning and feedback. It also makes possible more integration between ‘guided reading’, topic-related reading, reading as stimulus for writing, daily reading aloud to the class and following a ‘class reader’.
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”
An account of a poetry lesson, with some thoughts on efficiency, on how we treat texts and on knowledge.
When 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, he had a major reservation. Just the week before (he told me) he 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 he have a point?
Michael Rosen recently published a ‘matrix’ of different types of comments which children make about the texts they are reading:
I have had a go at composing typical ‘trigger questions’ for each type of comment, for use in training.
Click here or on the image above to download the questions as a Word document.
This is an approach which I have used successfully when revising clusters of poetry for GCSE. (Apologies for any parts which seem commonplace or obvious.)
The basic idea is familiar – to practise summing up the ‘essence’ of each poem, so that students feel that they have a pinned-down overview of each – a handy encapsulation. This can be useful when introducing an answer; it can be helpful for unlocking or framing ideas; and – perhaps most importantly – it can give students a sense of control, of in some way ‘owning’ each poem, when it’s tucked up in a single, illuminating sentence. Continue reading “What does the poem do? A revision tool”