The primary English subject leader: overseer, monitor, director or trusted expert?

Graphic.JPGRecently, as part of our work with English subject leaders from across the county, the North Yorkshire English Advisory Team have been looking at how the subject is led differently in primary schools. English or literacy subject leaders tend to be talked about as a group, yet we know that what they actually do varies enormously.

We have been particularly interested in the role that subject leaders have in the planning of teaching and of what is taught. This has arisen out of an increasing sense that raising standards in English and literacy requires focusing on curriculum and on effective long and medium term planning. It has also arisen out of the perceived, urgent need to address teacher workload, including through the efficiencies afforded by ‘collaborative’ and centralised planning. (This was a point emphasised by the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group in 2016.)

Complex relationships

To an extent, the exact role of the English subject leader depends on school size. Leading a core subject in a four-form entry school (rare in North Yorkshire) is clearly different from in a school with a total roll of just 60, or even just 20. (Our smallest school has one pupil.) The role is also complicated by the fact that schools usually have other people involved in ‘leading’ planning and teaching. Continue reading “The primary English subject leader: overseer, monitor, director or trusted expert?”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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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