The past week I have spent travelling to many different schools with only a solicited email and the request for a ‘chat’. Seeing different schools and experiencing different philosophies for teaching English helps to refine my own. It is easy to narrow focus unduly.
For those reading this for the first time, here is some context: my entire career I have achieved positive value-added with every class. By that I meant that externally assessed or moderated scores show that a student, on average, achieves more in my class than they do in an ‘average’ classroom. Some students do drop off, but the significant majority succeed.
Having taught inner-city, rural comprehensive, and non-selective international/independent (adapting my teaching to inspire Oxbridge A*s or apathetic Ds), I have reflected and refined my frameworks over ten years to the point where my students are achieving A grades where predicted grades were C. While my classes are not entirely perfect, the overwhelming majority overachieve. To this end, there are many blogs by teachers (and some still teaching) that talk about teaching. This is my credibility (although at least one of those blogs is my go-to read).
Using gaming language (which I know some with loathe as much as I love), I might say (po) my teaching has ‘broken’ the exams upon which students are assessed. In the years I teach a student, I cannot necessarily make more able to use English than someone who has read 10s of 1,000,000s of words more, or more able to reflect than someone inclined to such a mindset. I can, however, do the following:
1) Provide them with the framework they might be missing prior to my teaching.
2) Inspire them to want to improve their use of English beyond the remit of my immediate influence.
First and foremost, no teacher or student has wished on exam day that they had done anything else than teach or learn to that exam. It is only afterwards, or outside grade considerations, that the worthy enhancements and glorious uncertainty of ‘learning English’ become an aspiration.
And that aspiration is quite useless if the grades gained do not allow entry into the next stage in their educational career.
This blog exists because it seeks to talk about the logistics of how to do the above.
I know how the above sounds: you should demand that anything I present is:
Further to this, anything I present to you should be doable whilst ‘having a life’. It should fit into the requirements of any syllabus, and it should offer easy differentiation.
What my framework demands from you is this:
1) You know the equivalent UK national curriculum levels so you can create the personalised rubrics necessary for each class.
2) You present the students with the literacy mats on their desks, books, displays and online.
3) You adapt your SoW so they can be categorised into the following three lesson types:
– DARTs lessons (Direct Activities Related to Texts) – academic, text based lessons where students respond to and analyse texts.
– Principle Lesson – academic, conceptual lessons involving threshold concepts (such as contrast analysis, or ways of structuring a paragraph).
– Full English Lesson – novel, kinaesthetic lesson designed to make students receptive to learning.
Broadly speaking, these lessons are built around the content of the DARTs lesson. The Full English lessons are decided partly by the students at the start of each term, and placed according to your judgement. The principle lessons match ideally to the content/theme required, and to the judged requirements of the students.
4) Use the maintenance sheets for vocabulary, spelling and SMART targets. These form starters once per week (along with a ‘respond to marking’ starter to make a month of Monday starters). These sheets are used on an ‘as-need’ basis in lessons, and students are expected to keep these going on an independent basis.
5) Mark students book at least once a fortnight. This is the biggest sticking point: marking up to 120 books with a formative target once a week is somewhat idealistic. Actually teaching a class of 30+ has benefits: dynamics can be more engaging; group interactions have greater possibilities; and the critical mass of engagement can set peer-driven standards. However, marking 120 books (500-odd lessons) once a week requires corner-cutting.
This isn’t impossible; it is not ideal.
6) Provide interesting, relevant and engaging DARTs texts for the students. Using the ‘burnt paper’ template and the method of A5 booklet printing, you can provide the full canon of texts along with personalised (student-created) texts.
The A5 printing method is particularly revolutionary in my classroom. Student work books typically struggle with notes and oversized worksheets. The A5 booklet printing provides effective structuring for the kind of annotation, analysis and creativity that can form scraggly notes so often otherwise.
7) Follow a pattern of contextualise/hook/identify/analyse/freehand-analyse when using the A5 DARTs extracts. This way students can write regular analytical paragraphs in an ‘essay scenario’ style of writing, focussing on progressing in a similar type of analysis, or foraying into other types.
Of course, these do not replace actual analytical essays. Instead, they help keep students focussed on developing their analytical voice in precise paragraphs that lend well to precise feedback.
8) Adapt the course to the students’ interests. You do not have to be a charismatic teacher. You must, though, be a courageous one. Use texts and materials sourced by the students. The rigour of the DARTs lessons will allow you the draw lines off the war-worn path, knowing that you can and will return.
9) Use the formative markbook to spot trends in the skills of the students, and to motivate improvement and independence. This will be my next blogpost.
10) Like I have said: to be compelled to follow any of these practices when you have developed your own can be dismaying. As Orwell said with his rules of style, adapting anything rather than doing something outright barbarous.