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’”

Googling for originality

A simple classroom technique, when drafting and editing.

Recently, I have been doing quite a bit of drafting and editing of creative writing with Year 5 and 6 pupils, and I have been finding this little game useful. I’m sure it’s not original, and I have used it with older students since search engines became a thing, but it is still new to many teachers – so here it is. (It’s very, very simple.) Continue reading “Googling for originality”

Marking for ‘literacy’ – problems with ‘codes’

Number #4 in an occasional series of short posts about feedback, appearing in no particular order.

In many schools, there is a literacy ‘marking code’ by which all teachers are meant to abide. Typically, spelling errors are marked with an ‘S’, punctuation errors with a ‘P’ and so on. Some of these codes are highly complex; some are simpler. These codes are intended to improve standards in written accuracy across the curriculum by promoting consistent messages, by making corrections instantly recognisable and – importantly – by raising the status (and teachers’ awareness) of spelling, punctuation and grammar.

I would be very interested to hear of examples where these are working well, and why. They may well sometimes succeed. However, in my experience, they often go wrong. These are some of the problems they can present. Continue reading “Marking for ‘literacy’ – problems with ‘codes’”

What does the poem do? A revision tool

This is an approach which I have used successfully when revising clusters of poetry for GCSE. (Apologies for any parts which seem commonplace or obvious.)

The basic idea is familiar – to practise summing up the ‘essence’ of each poem, so that students feel that they have a pinned-down overview of each – a handy encapsulation. This can be useful when introducing an answer; it can be helpful for unlocking or framing ideas; and – perhaps most importantly – it can give students a sense of control, of in some way ‘owning’ each poem, when it’s tucked up in a single, illuminating sentence. Continue reading “What does the poem do? A revision tool”

Written comments: three simple rules (and a fourth)

Picture1Number #1 in an occasional series of short posts on feedback, appearing in no particular order

When delivering training on feedback, I don’t tend to spend too much time on written comments: the focus tends to be on oral and whole class feedback, classroom culture, questioning techniques, editing and redrafting, ‘work-shopping’ approaches and so on. If anything, it tends to focus on ways to minimise written ‘marking’.

However, many teachers are bound by policies which insist on regular written, prose comments; many are even tied down to formulae such as ‘three stars and a wish’, or ‘WWW, EBI’. So here are some simple ‘rules’ for such written comments, which I have found helpful. (Note: there is nothing startling here, but it all seems to need revisiting!) Continue reading “Written comments: three simple rules (and a fourth)”

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)


‘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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