4. I started to write again.
Friday, 26 December 2014
Monday, 1 December 2014
The true test? A lovely Year 10 student’s horrified reaction when I praised him for meeting his D grade target.
Sunday, 5 October 2014
The next day, I'd received a number of requests for teachers for a copy of the worksheet, but lazy bum me just directed them to Google images...
Thankfully, some hardy souls weren't put off and made their own version. One kind teacher blogged their version, providing the Dropbox link that sloth-like me couldn't quite be bothered to.
And that's when things got really exciting.
First of all it got rebranded as 'Crowdsourcing' on this blog.
Then another teacher took the idea and turned it into an impressive display of not just one question but a whole army-full!
The idea itself is not particularly remarkable. If you are interested then you'll find more details here. What was remarkable, however, were those incessant phone buzzes that resulted in the week to come. From across the country other teachers latched on to my silly little worksheet and turned it into something altogether more special.
To me those buzzes highlight just how exciting it is to be teaching in this brave new Twitter-filled work where an idea can reach outside the boundaries of one classroom and into other institutions the very next day.
I hope this blog can be a time capsule to be opened by myself and others when we're interacting with our students in this brave new world.
Overly scaffolded essays are RUBBISH. RUBBISH for the students who are lead by their nose through four hours of dullity. RUBBISH for the teachers who will spend hour after hour attempting to mark slight variations of one mediocre response. RUBBISH in that they reinforce Gove et al's tired old critiques related to spoons and feeding.
However, unsurprisingly, many 15 and 16 year olds still require stabilisers when it comes to writing an extended response under exam conditions. The approach below was developed to try and combat this dilemma specifically in English controlled assessments.
Pick your weapon
I think it's really important to give students a choice of question whenever possible. At my place, giving students choice seems to have lead to improved results, perhaps as they more readily 'buy in' to the question/task.
They then write their chosen question at the top of an A3 sheet of paper, like so:
Prepare for battle
Firstly, students need to sum up their 'quick' answer to the question. They should be able to give you the gist of their response on the back of a post-it note:
With a bit of 'spit and polish' this will become their opening paragraph. They then stick it on their A3 sheet in the top left hand corner, at the 'start' of their response.
Locate your evidence
Students then need to consider their best bits of evidence (i.e. quotations) for the argument they've outlined. I've made a simple 9 box worksheet for this, but again post-it notes would do.
A top tip is to get them to add page numbers at this stage to save time later.
Build your case
This is the most crucial step, where the 'story' of the essay takes shape. Students need to arrange their evidence in an order that fits the ideas expressed in their opening paragraph. Take for example the second post-it note above. I would expect the student to group all of the evidence that Crooks is treated badly, then that he is disabled and, finally, that he is heroic and 'keeps on going'.
I get students to talk through their essay to me at this point, explaining how each point links to the last. Then and only then do I lend them the pritt stick so they can be stuck down in order!
Put flesh on the bones
At this point the skeleton of the essay is in place and it's time to put the meat on it: time for the highlighters, coloured pens and spider-like arrows.
I give students a RAG rated checklist for their notes linked to the assessment criteria. That way there really is no excuse for missing out tricky bits like structure or context!
Thursday, 25 September 2014
Wednesday, 2 July 2014
This blog post – whilst recognising that what happens in one classroom will not change the ‘world’ of a school alone - is not an attempt at address the Pandora's box of whole school literacy. If you’re interested in that then I recommend visiting Chris Hildrew’s blog.
- have not been heard or read before
- unlock more sophisticated concepts
- build self-esteem and aspiration
- create autonomy and power in the user
Increasingly nowadays my Powerpoint is my lesson plan. With one group, I've made sure every lesson there is a yellow box on the right hand side with 'rich' vocabulary in to scaffold their ideas and discussions. It also acts as a useful aide memoire for my future planning as I can see words they have previously been exposed to.
Drop them (in)
To secure understanding the 'rich' word needs to be followed by a pithy explanation of the meaning. The best definition for encouraging confidence has to be the single word summary - see above. There's plenty of time for refining that definition once the word has gained some familiarity.
If you don't yet follow @ChrisMoyse, you need to start following @ChrisMoyse. This is my 100% plagiarised version of an awesome display of his creation. Each fry packet from a well known food chain, contains 'rich' synonyms for the word underneath. In my Faculty, we've also got paint colour charts that do the same job, but any Twitter search will reap a plethora of other imaginative ways to display these words in a way that shows just how exciting they are.
By this I mean find a way of making them memorable. Here's a simple method from a lesson this term: words that start with the letter 'D'. This slide was introducing students to the relationship between Curley and his wife in that educational pariah 'Of Mice and Men'. We then divided them into three categories: male stereotypes; female stereotypes; the effect of these ideologies. This vocabulary framed the lesson and ensured that, at all points after this, students were using vocabulary sophisticated enough to articulate concepts related to gender roles, misogyny and patriarchy.
Return to them
It's one thing to walk out of a lesson proudly (and metaphorically) clutching a new word, but it's quite another to return on a new day still brandishing that word like a verbal blade. Making the next lesson's pre-starter remind students of their wonderful new word-y weaponry will make all the difference.
With the coming of the new National Curriculum for English from September (that some of us still have to adhere to, Academites) we've introduced a standard cover sheet for all of schemes of work that will clearly identify 'rich' words that students should be exposed to over the unit. As Wayne from Wayne's World once said: 'Plan for it and it will happen'. Or at least I'm sure he said something to that effect.
Be it scrabble or Sports Day, I love a bit of competition - and so do students. Whatever your reward system, ensure that no use of a 'rich' word goes unnoticed, acknowledged and praised. For us it's Vivos with points literally meaning pennies to spend in the Argos catalogue. We also have rather lovely 'Literate learner' stickers (and any teacher worth their salt knows the power of a good sticker).
Thursday, 19 June 2014
It's the worst time to write this blog. I'm frantically trying to create a new timetable, a new engaging KS3 curriculum, a new accessible route through the ever-demanding and increasingly ludicrous demands of GCSE specifications, whilst choosing a new A Level spec., recruiting a new Deputy and Key Stage Coordinator - oh, and planning a wedding in four weeks time.
But, somehow, that all just makes it more necessary.
I think it was when an incredibly frustrated Year 10 student had just taken out his emotions on my quivering plastic display case in the corridor outside my classroom that this blog post finally came into being.
Having flourished since September - moving from a copied couple of lines to a full page of his own ideas - being faced with his first taste of a GCSE exam paper had landed him right back at square one. He was unable to put pen to paper; quite simply, he felt like a failure. Despite my concern for both my rather lovely display, cataloguing the last year of English trips, and his own, now bruised, fist all I could feel for him was pride: 1. that he cared that much; 2. at the realisation that he absolutely could do that exam and that I was going to do everything in my power to convince him of that over the next year.
Because, you see, teenagers are ace.
Unlike most adults, their emotions are plain to see. Happy. Sad. Frustrated. Proud. Grateful. Lonely. Reading a classroom is a pleasurable skill for an experienced teacher, spotting who is about to metaphorically (or literally in this particular case) 'hit the wall' and bringing them back from the brink. Grabbing good work and whacking it under a visualiser and then spotting the side-smile of pride from the recipient of class jealousy and praise. It might be given the jazzy title of 'emotional intelligence', but I don't think it's the teacher's intelligence that should be the focus.
You see, for me, it's simply that teenagers are ace.
Before I put finger to key for this blog, I tweeted about whether I should write it. I'm very aware that the title alone could be perceived as somewhat nauseating. And I'm sure repeating it has brought up a vom-bubble or two for some. As a result, I had a couple of alternative blog suggestions from the Twitterati, one of which was: 'Are teenagers a product of their environment or creators of their reality?' My response was simply: both. Which leads me to my next reason that... well, you get the idea.
Teenagers are sponges; young people soak up praise and the ideas and attitudes of those around them. As my brilliant first school had on the toilet wall: 'Teachers create the weather...' Every lesson is a fresh start, be it in terms of behaviour/relationships or learning, if only we can convince ourselves of it, greeting that child with a chirpy 'Hello' or tackling again that problem topic (presentational devices for me!).
Maybe teachers should be a bit more like sponges too. And I don't mean that we should all start saying 'LOL' or 'YOLO' (although anyone who works in a school will inform you that it's a media-mythology that they go around spurting that tosh) or stretching out our ear piercings (again, ahem).
I mean that we should be open to learning from our students. I'm sure it's not the complete reserve of the English teacher to nick an idea from one class and pass it off as to another as their own unique insight. Maybe we should also listen to them about the changing experiences of being a young person in 2014 too. I'm pretty sure I didn't know my sub-level in Year 8 or start my GCSE course in Year 9. God help me if I'd been asked to study Maths until 18...
And when we are learning from them, we will definitely be taught, once more, that teenagers are ace. Because, despite the challenges they face, they still make cheeky jokes about my name, do amazing pieces of homework and show kindness, passion and excitement in our schools.
And that's what'll be getting me through the timetable, new NC, specs, Gove's many whims - and be at the centre of every blinking decision I make.
The final words belong to the Lead HMI for English who has said recently the key question in judging provision should be: 'What is it like to be a student in this class?' And what I think she meant was: 'Teenagers are ace. Are they made to feel - and be - ace in this class?'
Tuesday, 6 May 2014
Note: the vast majority of these are not my ideas! They are ones that have been magpied from a variety of sources including many awesome Twitter users like @siancarter1 and @englishlulu, as well as members of my fantastic Faculty like @mrszshah and @missrcapper.
A good way to ascertain your starting point for revision, the 'knowledge vomit' challenges students to splurge out everything they know on a topic in the grossest way possible.
I've seen this done really well on desks, floors, windows etc. - just make sure you use chalk pens or NON-permanent markers!
Quality Revision (get it?!)
OK, not every student has a smart phone, but in this era of marginal gains if you get three or four more students revision I'll take that as a win.
Just whack a hyperlink - Youtube video, website, Dropboxed document etc. - into a free online QR code generator like http://www.qrstuff.com/ to make your QR codes. Then, copy and paste them into a Word document (I recommend using a table to keep them in neat little rows) to turn in a worksheet or poster. I've stuck ours up at A3 postersin rooms frequently used for revision and given out A5 versions for exercise books!
Twister and Shout
I've had this germ of an idea for a while. I want to use it as a way of revising GCSE anthology poems, but I'm sure it could be adapted for anything where students need to make links.
In my version, they write the names of the poems across each of the coloured dots. They then take it in turn to spin the spinner to identify the finger they need to use and then use it to link to the poems, explaining the similarity or difference they're identifying. This could be a theme, idea, language technique, the tone, or structure. If they can't go (either because they can't see a link or their fingers won't stretch) they lose the round and their opponent scores a point.
You can nab an editable version of the play board and spinner from my Dropbox here.
Feeling brave? Why not try the whole body version (using same sex pairings) with the this online spinner.
Use these how you want! To generate questions, prompt individual or group responses, as the start of a mind map...
You can find the ones I have made here:
GCSE English Language
'An Inspector Calls'
'Of Mice and Men'
Student-created revision guide
My favourite incarnation of this was the 'William Golding's Guide to Life' I created at my last school. I divided students into groups and gave them a subject e.g. 'Friendship', 'Adolescence', 'Food', 'The Environment'. They then had to work together to write from the point of view of the author about these topics. What they produced was creative, witty and insightful. I'll try to dig it out when I get a second...
Here is a simple proforma for a stripped down 'An Inspector Calls' version and an example.
Stick or twist tasks
Whack some revision tasks in a bucket or bin (preferably clean). Students choose one and if they don't like it get to 'twist' by choosing another one - just once though! Will they risk choosing a harder one...?
You can find the writing tasks I use here:
'Stick or twist' writing tasks
Snakes and ladders
Spider web analysis
Sunday, 6 April 2014
The title of this post comes from a comment I received following my recent Performance Management observation: "You make it clear We're doing English now." I think it was a compliment. Given the need for positivity at the end of what is, as always, a somewhat draining term, I'm certainly going to take it as one. Anyway, what this seemingly innocuous observation triggered was reflection about how we can get students all in, all on task and, fundamentally, all learning, in the crucial first five minutes of a lesson.
It's a pet peeve of mine that some lessons begin with a register, locating a pen etc. Want to kill your subject? Ask your students to first copy down the learning objectives. However, simply starting with an engaging stimulus alone doesn't ensure that you engage the thirty plus brains sat in front of you. So how can we marry this need to both inspire and challenge students with very different needs both in terms of ability and engagement?
Here are a couple of suggestions that might make this seemingly impossible task a little more achievable.
I am an absolute unashamed thief when it comes to teaching strategies. This one (I think) is an original. And, as such, it's mega easy. Step one: ask a hard question. A really hard question. One only the bravest and boldest in the class will attempt. When three or four of your bravest volunteer an answer ask them to stand up and silently whisper their answer in the ear of another student. Crucially, that student must be able to explain the answer. When they can they then also silently whisper in the ear of another student. Before you know it, the whole class will be standing... at which point you ask them to sit back down and ask the question again. In theory, all students should now have their hands up with an answer!
Note: IMHO it doesn't actually matter if the answers given are right at this point in the lesson, simply that all students have felt empowered to attempt to answer a challenging question without you intervening to tell them the answer.
Line of agreement
"Come in. Do NOT sit down. Question on the whiteboard. Agrees near the window. Disagrees near the door. Decide where you stand. I want at least one reason." You get the drift.
Three answers on three walls
The best tactics are often the simplest. I love this one because it is immune to the distractions of late comers, requires all students to participate and suits any topic. The title says it all: you blu tack three pieces of paper giving three possible answers onto the three walls of the classroom. Students come in, read the question on the Powerpoint and immediately have to go and stand next to an answer. No opt outs. Suspect they're just following their friend? Make it clear you'll be asking them for their reason as to why they've chosen that answer.
In the last couple of weeks I've been using this Year 10 who've been studying Macbeth. For example, as an intro to language analysis. Pop up three quotations. Challenge students to stand next to one for which they can explain the meaning. Then, move to another for which you can identify a language technique. Finally, stand next to one where you can explain the effect of a language technique on the audience. It also worked well for the start of their first lesson comparing the texts. Who's most likely to take a selfie? Lady Macbeth, Macbeth or Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde? Who's most likely to pull the legs off a spider? Cheat in an exam?
Stand up/Sit down
Like all of the tactics here this is about ensuring that there is no choice not to respond. If you stay sat down you're giving an answer. If you stand up, that's an answer. And you will be picked on to justify why you answered in this way!
So much better than individual whiteboards which seem irresistible to the doodler, post-it notes ensure every single child contributes. Maybe it's their child-friendly size that does it. Intimidated by a blank white page of A4? Here, try this sunshine shaded snippet that is no bigger than your palm. See, three words in and you've almost filled me! Again, this a late comer immune tactic, simply hand those who have completed their post-it a second one (and a reward).
No nonsense top tip: sick of students sticking their post-it notes at the top of the whiteboard/on each other/anywhere they're not supposed to? Add a box on your Powerpoint in which they have to stick it.
To be continued...