‘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.

Continue reading “‘In this school, English is about…’”

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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”

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”

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