Quick talk about texts

Short-burst pair or group talk activities which can be woven into reading lessons

Structure

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”

Whole-class reading: a planning tool

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See also Whole-class reading: an example lesson and a menu of approaches  and Whole-class reading: another example lesson

Recently, @NorthYorksEng has 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.

  1. Enjoy reading challenging texts with children
  2. Let the text lead
  3. Have rich conversations about texts
  4. Pitch high & scaffold for all
  5. Build talk around personal response
  6. Keep it varied
  7. Integrate the teaching of reading, writing & grammar

Continue reading “Whole-class reading: a planning tool”

Fear of grammar and the grammar of fear

Injecting challenge at Key Stages 3 and 4, using Key Stage 2 knowledge about grammar

Capture.JPGThe 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”

Whole-class reading: another example lesson

See also: Whole-class reading: a planning tool

A description of a recent whole-class reading lesson, with commentary

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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.)

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Continue reading “Whole-class reading: another example lesson”

Challenging responses: designing a successful teacher-led reading lesson

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.

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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.

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Continue reading “Challenging responses: designing a successful teacher-led reading lesson”

Mini-whiteboard jigsaws

An organising technique and resource for discussion. Good for revision and for practising retrieval, synthesis, analysis…  (Good for all ages, too.)

Step 1

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.)

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You now have a robust, re-usable resource.

Step 2

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. Continue reading “Mini-whiteboard jigsaws”

Whole-class reading: an example lesson and a menu of approaches

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See also: Whole-class reading: a planning tool

See also: Whole-class reading: another example lesson

See also: Challenging responses: designing a successful teacher-led reading lesson

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’.

Continue reading “Whole-class reading: an example lesson and a menu of approaches”

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.

Continue reading “The importance of ‘extended writing’”

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”

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