‘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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Who is doing what in the classroom? A tool for planning and reflection

It is always risky to discuss something as complex as teaching and learning in terms of any sort of ‘model’. It is always reductive and probably wrong. However, at the moment I am finding it useful to think of classroom teaching working like this. (Click to enlarge)

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Based on well-rehearsed principles*, this schematic might be a useful analytic tool for reflecting on planning, lessons and teaching over time, and as a focus for CPD. Continue reading “Who is doing what in the classroom? A tool for planning and reflection”

Differentiation: pitching high, not making easy

A short post about climbing frames: pitch high and support all pupils in reaching for that level.

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This is a photo of my two children at the ‘Yorkshire Dales Ice Cream Farm’ (not ‘pick-your-own’, sadly) taken about three years ago. They are the oddly gnomic-looking child at the top of the slide and – typically – the one blocking the slide by climbing up it. (So proud.) Continue reading “Differentiation: pitching high, not making easy”

Post-Levels: tracking progress in English at Key Stage 3

Thoughts on assessing progress and attainment in English at Key Stage 3

This post is based closely on an article for NATE‘s Teaching English (Issue 8, Summer 2015)  I’ve re-posted it here since ‘post-levels’ assessment continues to be a major concern. 

Capture.JPGPost-levels, it was left to schools to decide on how to track progress at Key Stage 3. A number of teaching schools were funded to work on and share ‘approaches’, and these can be found published online; many other schools have formulated their own approaches, and are sometimes sharing these.

However, this juncture has presented English departments with a clear opportunity to assert some important, positive principles.

Progress in English is not linear

Progress in the knowledge, skills, understandings and sensibilities which compose ‘attainment’ in English is not smoothly linear. Children don’t usually progress to their ‘expected’ or ‘better than expected’ final outcome via a series of neatly spaced milestones, but will have periods of accelerated progress in certain aspects and of slower progress in others. This is normal. Continue reading “Post-Levels: tracking progress in English at Key Stage 3”

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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Objectives and purpose in English

Thoughts on learning objectives and on the way we frame learning in English

This post was originally an article for NATE‘s Teaching English (Issue 8, Summer 2015)

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‘Is that what you went into English teaching to do?’ Reflecting with English teachers on their planning, whether for lessons or whole schemes of learning, I often find myself asking them this question. It isn’t asked in a despairing sense but as a sort of a litmus test of the real value, integrity or power of an ‘objective’ (or an ‘aim’, or an ‘assessed outcome’.) For example, no English teacher went into the profession to get children to ‘practise expanding adverbial phrases’. No one followed a calling to help students to ‘make comparisons between texts’. Of course, these are important but they are not really an end in themselves; they are a means to students developing power in expression and critical awareness and discrimination as readers. They should not be the start and the end of English lessons. Continue reading “Objectives and purpose in English”

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