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

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.

PictureA.pngThe 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.

Text 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: 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”

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.

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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?

Continue reading “A poetry lesson”

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