Posted in Uncategorized

Bird’s-eye View: GCSE top grade statements and evaluation…

Birds pic

This is a resource I have developed for my Y11 class. It is meant to support them in making evaluative comments about texts (looking at them from a bird’s-eye view), and exploring overall text structure. The idea is that it allows students to construct strong opening statements, and also gives them prompts to consider the more challenging structural questions, and author intentions. Only by finding a way to access the BIG ideas, can students really come into ownership of the texts they study…

Enjoy! Feel free to use/adapt or discard as you see fit! Please get in touch with pictures or comments; I’d love to see if and how people use it! Continue reading “Bird’s-eye View: GCSE top grade statements and evaluation…”

Posted in Teaching Ideas

27 English reading and analysis resources which work!

The creativity and generosity of the online teaching community never ceases to amaze me. I have spent a couple of weeks collating resources for my department from my Twitter back catalogue, and was blown away by how long the list was. Years of communication with fellow educators has given me a huge collection of ideas and resources, some of which I use regularly, and some which I had forgotten about entirely. In an attempt to bring some order to the chaos, I have started with some reading and analysis resources. All of these resources were created by teachers, and shared online – you can see the creators’ details below in case you want to follow anything up with these very talented people.

Though I’ve collected them here for English resources, most can be very easily adapted to other subjects and disciplines.

For ease of use, I’ve organised the post into four groups:

  • Analysis templates and techniques
  • Understanding or revising texts
  • Explaining and exploring structure
  • Expression

Analysis templates and techniques:

The first few of these are based around using hexagons to scaffold writing, planning and ideas. There are tons of hexagon-based resources out there – these are a few which I know work really well…

  1. Concentric Hexagons from @JamieClark85.

These can be used to revise or explore characters, themes etc in a text. I ask students to write their topic (character, theme, idea) in the middle hexagon, then the next level out is for quotations, leading to a level of anlaysis, and a level of wider exploration (context/wider reading/critical viewpoints/alternative interpretations etc.). This has the potential to work for all age groups and for a lot of disciplines. My Y13 Literature students love it – I break each hexagon into a different assessment objective.

Original Tweet by @JamieClark85

concentric hexagons

2. Visual Hexagons from @misscs_teach

Using images to prompt students to explore or revise a topic without simply looking at a text – this example is from History, but could work brilliantly as a range of images from a poem or novel…

Original Tweet from @misscs_teach

3. Linking Hexagons by @LessonToolbox and @Jivespin – shared by @OLewis_coaching

This is a fab key word linking activity which would work in ANY subject. Students write key words in the hexagons (could also work with quotations for English), then in the boxes at the bottom they explain how each hexagon links to the others.

linking hexagons

Original Tweet from @OLewis_coaching

4. Quotation Explosion

There have been dozens of these resources flying around Twitter for a couple of years, ranging from the functional to the very beautiful. At it’s core, though, the quotation explosion is about detailed exploration of language, encouraging students to literally take a statement or image apart.

The version we have been using in our department is here: Explode a Quotation

A great example I saw recently from @cazzwebbo can be found on her excellent blog, here.

quotationexplosion

5. 7 deadly sins from @LPuds

MORE hexagons! This is a great way to link abstract ideas to a text. Works brilliantly with An Inspector Calls, but could work with a huge range of literature texts…

dealysins2deadlysins

Original Tweet from @LPuds

6. Character Outlines

man outline

There are tons of variations on this resource, too. It is basically a nice, visual way to work on characterisation. Give students a blank body outline and get them to make notes inside and outside the shape. I get my students to put character traits inside, and quotations to support it outside, but this has tons of other possibilities.

One really great variation of this idea is one I saw recently from @HeadofEnglish

Original Tweet from @HeadofEnglish

There are tons of other brilliant ideas on Caroline’s blog, here.

7. Linking Extracts from @missfordenglish

A fab group activity where students annotate and make links between extended passages and extracts from texts.

linkingextracts

Original Tweet from @missfordenglish

8. Paragraphs exploration map

This is one of my resources from a while ago and, while it uses the dreaded PEEEE(ad infinitum) structure which appears to have gone out of vogue, it is a useful way of looking at paragraphing and textual analysis through the metaphor of exploration and zooming in and out… the resource for the mat is here (front and back pages).

Analysis front

analysis back

9. Peephole Analyser

I designed this resource as a way of scaffolding planning and writing to include all of the required elements in the AOs for A Level, but can also act as a way to read, interrogate or peer assess a document. The example here is an ‘analyser’ for the AQA Literature A legacy spec Victorian paper:

B8oYJTQIQAAhlO7B8oYJdXIUAAAK9P

You make the resource by leaving an A4 sized hole in the middle of an A3 piece of paper, and framing the hole with hints, tips, key words, reminders etc for whatever the intended piece of writing is. This works well as a frame for peer and self-assessment because students can look at what the requirements are and produce very detailed feedback. It could also work well as a generic resource for looking for literary elements in extracts or unseen poetry. The document above can be found here. Feel free to use/edit/discard!

AS Context Analyser

10. Dynamite Paragraphs – original idea from @Murphieface, visual designed by @JamieClark85

Blog from @Murphieface here.

Here is the gorgeous adaptation of the idea from @JamieClark85:

dynamite

11. Character Heads from @siancarter1

This is a totally wacky but brilliant idea! @siancarter1 managed to source some mannequin heads, and did this lovely thing for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde revision…

heads

Works brilliantly for the internal struggle and duality in this novel, but could be adapted for many other texts and characters.

Original Tweet from @siancarter1

12. Connotation Circles from @MissJLud

connotation2

Magic Circles (or connotation circles) were designed to encourage students to write analytical answers and think of multiple layers of meaning and to help improve their analysis of sentences or keywords. They can be used by all year groups and in a variety of ways. They are a scaffolding tool which can be removed once students know how to add multiple layers of meaning to their analysis.

Firstly, you  must ensure students know what question they are being asked. They must think about the answer to that question (their point) and write it in the top box. From here, students identify the key quotation they would like to analyse to answer the question. To encouraging students to keep the quotation short, the box is quite small! The middle of the circle says ‘keyword’ but more often than not I tell students to put the whole quotation in. This is important especially with difficult quotations (where it’s hard to find a keyword) for example a quotation from Shakespeare or Chaucer as they also need to remember to explain what they mean before analysing.

Once they have filled in the point and evidence sections, they can begin to think of words to use in their analysis. With a keyword, this is quite simple and students can think of a connotation that is relevant to the question (usually you need to stress this point!). From then on, each box is filled in with a further connotation of the previous word. To make sure they are relevant and developed multiple layers of meaning (rather than just synonyms) it is important that the connotation is of the previous word and not just of the key word in the middle. Hence why the arrows flow as they do! For a difficult quotation, it may be necessary to look at it as a whole and students can then move on from that point.

For the last step, students must think of a link between the final connotation and their overall point. This ensures they are answering the question.

Once the whole circle is complete, students can use a range of linking sentences to fit in their ideas. You can use a range of active verbs to encourage students to analyse in detail. It is very useful to model this to students first of all. There are a range of examples below from Year 7 and Year 10 students where you can see how they have used the connotation circles in a few different ways.

Common issues:

– Students don’t know what connotation means and this needs explaining.

– Students pick connotations that are not relevant to the question. e.g. (Red – Man United!)

– Making the link to the point can be hard/impossible depending on the quotation and question – you and the student can decide whether or not to leave this out.

– Students don’t know how to write up their paragraph without modelling.

Link to Publisher and PPT documents from @MissJLud

Understanding and Revising Texts:

13. Mapping the plot from @MrMoonUnity

This resource enables students to make notes on narrative events, ideas, characters etc, using images from the text. The best part is that, by so explicitly placing their work in the text’s setting, students are forced to consider place, character journeys, and perhaps notice structural elements of the text they might not have seen before.

mapping

@MrMoonUnity has very kindly shared the original document – feel free to make of this version.

MappingMoon

Original Tweet from @MrMoonUnity

14. 5 A Day Starters from @TLPMsF

This idea is explained brilliantly on Rebecca’s excellent blog, here. She has also very kindly shared a link to the resources in her GoogleDrive!

5aday

Original Tweet from @TLPMsF

15. Visual Timelines from @sarahcnokes

A lovely, simple idea, which could be adapted to tons of subjects. Students use both images and text to explain processes or plot lines. This is an example from Geography, but could easily be adapted to explore events in plots, character journeys and arcs in literature. The use of images could be literal or figurative and allow students to map out how imagery is used throughout a text.

timeline

Original Tweet from @sarahcnokes

16. Images

Using pictures as stimuli for discussion, promoting recall, making abstract links or just for talking literally about imagery, is part of our English teaching bread and butter. All the same, the simplest ideas are often the best.

This is a nice example I saw in a tweet from @kathydarlison85:

images

Original Tweet from @kathydarlison85

I used to have a tissue box which I’d covered in pictures (angels, clouds, a monkey, a woman’s face, a bridge and a tree). Students would throw the box around and have to link the text or a quotation to whichever picture was face-up.

17. Mood Boards

A way of creatively exploring a text, mood boards allow students to bring their own ideas and interpretations to a piece of work in a truly multi-sensory way. I’ve had students produce boards with pieces of jewellery, broken glass, fabrics, evocative scents and even sound effects! You can find a post on mood boards with some good examples on my blog here.

This is a very recent example of a beautiful hand drawn board from one of our A Level Literature students, based on Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire…

mood1

18. Revision Clock from @teachgeogblog

This is possibly my department’s favourite resource this year. We have used and adapted it across the age range, and students have loved it! The basis premise is that you use the clock in the centre to represent an hour of lesson time, and then you chunk up the hour into segments of the page for separate revision topics (or focuses within a topic).

clock

I’ve used it very successfully with both HA and LA groups, and found that students are liberated by the limitation of 10 minute or 6 minute blocks to complete something. My Y11 top set recently did this as a competition to see who could get the most information down in a hour without any notes or revision material in sight – they had to write down as many facts and quotations as they could remember about the characters in Of Mice and Men. They were really shocked by how much they actually knew!

Original Tweet from @teachgeogblog

Check out @teachgeogblog’s other resources here.

Exploring Structure:

Structure can be a nightmare to teach, particularly at GCSE where a lot of the really technical A Level stuff is a bit unnecessary. Here are a couple of resources to tackle this…

19. Approaching Structure from @DAP206

Great blog post from Danielle Perkins: What is Structure, Miss?

This post talks about using abstract concepts and images to teach structure.

20. Structure Questions from @atharby

A really excellent list of questions which can help us to unveil and dig deeper into the illusive world of structure.

structure

Original Tweet from @atharby

Expression:

This can be a difficult thing to teach because we are all keen to give students sentence structures, vocabulary and writing structures without producing a load of PEE-ing robots who don’t have individual analytical writing styles! I believe the trick is to give them some sound principles, as many models as you can get your hands on, and lots and lots of options for new vocab, phrases and structures as you can.

21. Academic Expression from @TheSickScholar

This is a fabulous seminar written by my good friend, Leslie Rowland. Find the link to her ppt and handout here.

22. Advanced Vocabulary from @RealGeoffBarton

I’ve used this list with students for ages, and it always serves to boost confidence and creativity in their writing. The post from Geoff Barton is here.

23. Solar System essay planning

This is one of mine. You can find a write up here. I’ve used it primarily with A Level groups, but it has been adapted by other teachers for use across the whole range.

solarsolar2

24. Discuss, Define, Refine

Something I stumbled across online (can’t remember where), when I was a PGCE student, this system is brilliant for structuring introductions. I’ve used it for GCSE and A Level. Blog here.

DDR

25. Words to describe writers’ choices – shared by @kathydarlison85

There are lots of these lists floating around Twitter, and they can be really useful for giving students the language they need to express the most interesting and nuanced ideas. This is a nice one:

words

Original Tweet from @kathydarlison85

26. Writing to Show a Viewpoint from @HeadofEnglish

A fab range of phrases and sentence starters for students to help them to express an opinion…

viewpointviewpoint2

Original Tweet from @HeadofEnglish

27. Analytical Vocabulary Mat

This is one of my resources which we have in our classrooms at Appleton. It has analytical vocabulary grouped for purpose, with a glossary and exemplar on the back. Feel free to use/adapt as you like!

Analytical Vocabulary

 

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list! I would like to keep it relevant by adding more to this post as more things come up. Please let me know if you have something you use regularly for reading and analysis which you think I should include up here and I’ll happily edit the post and credit you.

Posted in Personal Reflection

What I have learned as a pregnant teacher…

Pregnancy is a wonderful thing which, for us, did not come easily. As a new head of department, it has been an especially difficult time for me; balancing the stresses of exam preparation, coursework and leadership with the very profound concerns of becoming a first time parent is pretty overwhelming. I am constantly trying to reconcile my anxieties and neuroses with my happiness and excitement. I firmly believe that open and honest reflection makes us better in all
aspects of life, and I hope that this post might shine some light on this crazy journey so that other expectant mums in the teaching world might feel slightly less alone. It really is an incredible time, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it is also scary, isolating and unpredictable.

Pregnancy is hard. Probably the hardest thing I have ever done (and I still have two months to go!!!). Your body takes over and no amount of planning, reading or preparation can change the fact that you are no longer the master of your own destiny. This is a scary thing if you’re a control freak like me.Baby-loading---please-wait-T-Shirts

School cultures and support networks are absolutely key to making pregnancy at work bearable. My school have been really excellent, but I know that not everyone is that lucky. I would advise any pregnant teachers out there to think about:

  1. Brain fog. It is inevitable that you will be forgetful, unable to focus, and generally very tired at various points during your pregnancy. This is made doubly hard if you are in teaching where attention to detail and a god memory are pretty vital parts of the job! Try to identify times in the day where you are the least lucid and plan accordingly (for me this is usually from around 2pm onwards). I often teach A Level in the afternoon, and there have been some comedy moments where I’ve been trying to explain some complex and abstract element of literary theory, and forgotten what I was doing mid-sentence. I am combating this by doing a lot more scripting and planning talking points so that I don’t get off track. If I have anything really intricate or important to do (such as coursework annotation or data stuff), I am ensuring that someone can check it for me when finished, because I know I am more prone to make silly mistakes right now.
  2. Duties. I had a lot of lunchtime duties which meant that I couldn’t actually sit down to eat at all. Some days that meant I went from an 8:30 duty to back to back lessons, and then a full lunch duty; this was insane. My school made this part of my risk assessment and took these lunchtime slots off me. If you have  duties which are outdoors in cold weather, it would be worth asking to be moved inside (pregnancy represses your immune system which makes you far more susceptible to colds). If you have duties on staircases or in places which are going to be really busy, ask to be moved to a location where you are less likely to be jostled.
  3. Seating. If you have your own classroom or desk area where you work regularly, see if the site staff at school can find you a comfier chair with proper back support. As you get into your third trimester, this is a real life saver.
  4. Stairs and long journeys. Depending on what your school building is like, it is worth plotting out for yourself what your most common routes around the building will need to be. I don’t have my own classroom, and actually teach over two floors. I am lucky that my school is a very modern building with a lift, and so the site manager gave me one of the much coveted lift keys to make my life easier. If you have lots of stairs and room changes, it might be worth asking if you can do some temporary room swaps with colleagues to keep movement to a minimum.
  5. Get a wheelie trolley! I had one of these already, but it has become a real lifesaver recently because I struggle even to carry a set of books in my arms at this stage!
  6. Morning Sickness. All pregnancies are very different, but morning sickness can be very disruptive to your teaching day. I was lucky and clear by about 14 weeks, but for some people it lasts much longer. I would recommend confiding in a couple of key co-workers and probably your TA (if you have one), so that you can be covered if you need to make a quick getaway!
  7. Plan your food! Once morning sickness is over, you will need to make sure you’re planning your food so that you don’t get dizzy during the day. I eat before I set off in the morning, then again before school starts, then again at morning break, at lunch and finally late in the afternoon. If I don’t have food in school, I get anxious about feeling hungry or dizzy. I tend to stock up on healthy things like fruit and cereal bars, as well as high sugar treats like chocolate (a medical necessity…).
  8. Keep hydrated. I go through about 3 litres of water or squash during the school day, plus any decaf coffee or tea I manage to get my hands on. It’s really important to drink, even if that means more frequent trips to the loo…
  9. Train your students! My Y11 class are now totally trained; two or three students come to our workroom before the start of every lesson and ask if they can take things upstairs to the classroom for me. The students we teach are amazing, and generally feel such loyalty to their teachers that they want to look after you! I regularly get spontaneous guards of honour from even the naughtiest Y9 boys when I’m walking through the corridor, “move out of the way, pregnant lady coming.”
  10. Clothes. Wear literally whatever you want. I have experiemented with lots of different maternity clothes, and have found that some days I am happy in a tighter fitting maternity dress, whereas on others I wish I could wear a cunning fashioned sack. Don’t even bother buying special maternity shoes (waste of money) – I can recommend stocking up on a few pairs of comfy flat sandals or cheap wide-fit pumps.

I feel like I’m on a perpetual emotional roller-coaster and, having talked to some other expectant mums in teaching, I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. One of the main problems is that we feel that the moment we become pregnant, we are supposed to be giving off some life-affirming, loved-up, Earth-mother, barefoot vision of maternal bliss. We feel that we should be constantly happy and in a state of doe-eyed wonder at the impending arrival. It is, therefore, rather disturbing when you are hit with the reality of it all and, while pregnancy really is wonderful, it is also hard; pregnant women have some pretty serious stuff to work through.

In the interests of dispelling some of the doe-eyed myths, here is an honest list of some of the crazy (and sometimes dark) things I have worried about in my pregnancy so far…

  • Am I a bad mum because I have worried more about Y11 exams than about labour? Is this pattern going to continue as my son gets older, or am I going to get my priorities straight?!
  • Will I cope with maternity leave? Spending the whole summer with my husband (also a teacher) and our new arrival is going to be blissful. But what happens when he goes back to work in September and it’s just me and the baby? I like to think I’ll go all super-mum but, in all seriousness, what if I go totally nuts without some adult conversation? Somehow I can’t see myself becoming one of those women who gets really interested in baby yoga and the intricacies of sleep training…
  • As a new head of department, the idea of leaving my team for 9 months is terrifying. They are going to be brilliantly led by one of my colleagues, but this doesn’t stop me from being neurotic…what if they forget me? What if I come back and I’m just not needed?! What if I come back and I’ve forgotten how to teach?!
  • Returning to work. I don’t know whether this will be a manageable and welcome change, or the worst thing I ever have to do. Even worse, if I DO find it bearable, does that make me a bad parent?! If it does break my heart to leave my child in a nursery, will that make me a worse teacher?
  • I have cried about the most ridiculous things:

Not being able to eat a fish hot dog I saw on a TV advert at 11:30pm

Not being able to find my keys

Thinking I’d lost a bra (one I hadn’t even worn in about 2 years…)

Hearing someone ask a beautifully phrased question on Radio 4 Gardener’s Question Time (in my defence, it WAS about Begonias…)

Not being able to stop laughing at a joke during an A level lesson (yes, I laughed for about 5 minutes, and then had a good cry about it. Good thing my A Level students are so cool…)

The EU referendum

The Eurovision Song Contest

A TV advert for a bank (it had a baby in it…)

I feel like now, at the end of May, I am through the worst of the work-related anxiety. Coursework is posted, exams are underway and all I have to think about now is teaching the classes I have left after Y11 and Y13 have gone, and putting things in place for next year. It is a strange thing to plan a calendar when you know you won’t be there, or write a SOL when you know you won’t teach it. I have five working weeks left until I go on maternity leave, and I am making a pledge now to let go of as much of this baggage as I can. Students will still learn, teachers will still teach, and I will be back so quickly that I will lament ANY time that is not spent on cuddles, half-gurgled conversations and watching my baby sleep.

Posted in Personal Reflection, Teaching Ideas

The Dyslexic English Teacher

dyslexic_fun_bigIt was only after I had got through GCSEs, A Levels, an English Degree and my PGCE year that I discovered I am dyslexic. My particular brand of dyslexia manifests itself in letter, number and colour recognition. In other words, I misread words, struggle to recognise spelling errors (including my own), read more slowly than average, and have struggled for years with my handwriting. The fact that I am an English teacher just adds to the fun.

Now, I am not a SENCO, and apart from my own experiences and observations, I have no formal training or expertise in dyslexia. However, I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on how my dyslexia has impacted on my teaching, and the many things I’ve learned from working with dyslexic students. Dyslexia is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ problem: it manifests itself in many ways, and something that works for one person may not work for another. It’s also important to recognise that dyslexia is a sliding scale; some people are only very mildly dyslexic, and this may not really impact on their everyday lives, whereas some people with very severe dyslexia need to make adjustments to almost everything they do, particularly in an educational environment. There is a multitude of dyslexics in between these two extremes, and they are all unique.

This post will not be revolutionary – nothing is new, and there are far more informative sources out there about the condition, the science, and best practice. I hope that what is here might simply provide some insight into what life is like for ONE dyslexic, and some strategies which work for me in a real classroom setting.

  1. Good days and bad days

ME

I am worse when I’m tired, so I try to work when I’m fresh (early morning or late at night after a nap…). Every day is different – sometimes I am really efficient and ‘with it,’ but others I work very slowly and get frustrated. On days like this, I put my marking aside, and try to do something less text or paper based.

THEM

Dyslexic students have good and bad days too (though this is true for most teenagers to some extent!). I have regular conversations with the dyslexic students I teach, and we talk about being able to identify those times when we are not feeling at our best. If a student is having a difficult time on a day I teach them, I try to find alternative ways for them to work. A student I taught a few years ago, we’ll call her Anna, used to find it easier to do ‘free note taking’ on those days, where you record the lesson in ways other than writing extended passages (i.e. illustrations, mind-mapping, short notes etc.) She would then take her work home and complete it at a time when she was feeling more lucid. I’ve had other students who record sections of the lesson on a dictaphone (or more recently, their mobile phone) so that they can write up what I’ve said later.

I have found that helping students to recognise their own patterns and the things which work best for them is a really effective way to prevent anxiety and issues with engagement.

2. IRLENS

ME

I use a rose pink overlay (IRLENS) when reading, and a notebook with pink paper – I’ve timed myself reading and this increases my speed by about 20%, and definitely improves my endurance!

THEM

A number of my students are diagnosed as needing IRLENS, but all of them benefit from paper and whiteboard backgrounds which are not stark white. I try to use a range of paper colours to colour code activities and provide a softer background to support reading extended passages. Experimenting with different fonts, sizes and line spacing can also be an important way to help students engage with texts. I use Comic Sans on my powerpoints, and when I print texts for students I make sure they are at least 1.5 spaced, size 12-14. Anything we can do to make reading more accessible has to be worthwhile!

3. Handwriting

ME

My handwriting is abysmal, so much so that two Summers ago I tried to completely relearn cursive script. I’ve had some success with this, but it’s still pretty wobbly, and when I’m in a rush (when are teachers not?!), I revert to my illiterate teenage scrawl. This is a major issue with marking books and essays, but my students know that I’m trying my best, and it’s OK to tell me they can’t read my writing!

During lessons, I very rarely write on the board; I even tend to put dates and titles onto a powerpoint rather than subject the kids to my scrawl!

THEM

In many ways, I think that being so honest about my issues with handwriting has helped some of my students who also have poor handwriting. In teenagers, this often leads to a real lack of confidence, so I think it’s important for teachers to acknowledge how difficult handwriting can be, and that poor handwriting does not make WHAT you write any less valid or interesting. The rule in my classroom is, if it’s legible and you have tried your best, it is good enough.

4. Reading and performing under pressure

ME

I struggle, especially when I am tired, to read out loud fluently. If I need to read extended passages out loud to or with the class, I practice beforehand so that I don’t trip up and ruin the flow: this especially applies to poetry and novel extracts. I tell the students that I’ve prepared it, because I think it’s important for them to recognise that performance, even if it’s just reading out a few paragraphs of Dickens, is an art in itself and deserves some real thought!

THEM

I always give my dyslexic students prior warning if I’m going to ask them to read something to the group. I might approach them before the lesson and give them something to look at overnight, or give them 5 minutes in a lesson just to go over it to themselves before sharing with the class. This can be an effective approach for all students, but it’s particularly important that dyslexics are given the time and space to feel comfortable when faced with a page full of words!

5. Spellings

ME

This is the thing which most frequently affects my teaching day. All of my classes are trained to tell me if they think I’ve spelled something wrong, and they know I won’t be offended. On a good day, I can spell anything they like off the top of my head. On a bad day, I have to write it down a few different ways in my notebook and then look it up, just to be certain!

All my life I’ve struggled with spellings, and I try to teach myself mnemonics, songs and other strategies to overcome my issues. I now use these with my students wherever possible – I once had an A Level class who liked them so much that they wrote a song which incorporated all of their key sophisticated Literature vocabulary!

THEM

Spellings are one of the biggest barriers for students who are lacking confidence in their writing, and this generally leads to disengagement with the task and the subject. Being honest with students about our own barriers to learning is really important. My students are trained to do a number of things:

  • When proof reading work, circle any words you are not certain you have spelled correctly (or used correctly), so I will know you were unsure when I mark your book.
  • When writing, if you have used a dictionary to check a spelling, underline the word and write ‘checked’ in the margin, so that you know it’s right and can look back in your book next time you need to use it.
  • They are NEVER too old to do a spelling test, or use ‘look, cover, write, check’!
  • Remember that poor spelling does NOT make you a bad English student, it just means you have to be more aware of what you are doing. I would far rather see you use advanced vocabulary spelled wrong, than read something boring because you were too scared to use it!

 

Other useful strategies:

  • Help students to access texts easier:

Breaking up or ‘chunking’ the text – do you need to give them the whole thing at once? Could you edit their copy to take out some of the superfluous bits? Could you give it to them in a few smaller chunks so that it’s easier to digest?

Highlighting (not underlining…) key sections, words or phrases before giving the student a passage. This will help them to focus on what’s really important.

Give students a list of key words or phrases to look for in a passage so that they have something to anchor them while reading.

  • Help students to plan writing

Provide planning proformas for paragraphing or essay writing, which you can gradually take away or make simpler as they become more confident.

Explicitly teach sentence starters and key phrases which can start a piece, link sections and end pieces. Students can then repeat these to themselves so that they are embedded. and they can write more confidently.

  • General skills

Handwriting practice books are very cheap, and your SENCO might be able to provide them for you. Getting students to do 15 minutes a night as homework can be really powerful, especially if you give them something to copy out which is related to their academic work!

Help them to organise their time/revision/homework etc by showing them how to prioritise their time. Making a ‘to do’ list and highligting the items which they know will take them longer (extended writing etc.) so that they can plan their time better

I hope this is somewhat useful, and that some other teachers out there can make use of the strategies above (or just have reconfirmed something they already do!).

I’d love to hear your own strategies: @funkypedagogy

Posted in Teaching Ideas

Walking-Talking Mock Exams

Many of you will know how these work and, whether you love them or hate them, they are an invaluable tool in the journey to exams for students across the spectrum.

We used them last year in the run up to exam prep in English, and students reported an increased confidence level and, in some exams, performed very highly because they were used to the format and had been “drilled” in the process.

For anyone who doesn’t know how these work, they generally follow these rules:

  • Students sit in the same exam room where they will do their exam, preferably in the same seats
  • Students are given an exam paper which is as close to being like the real thing as possible (i.e. exam writing booklet if relevant)
  • Students are literally walked through every question on the paper – the person leading the session talks them through the smallest steps, such as underlining key words, how to plan, things to remember etc.
  • Students then write their responses in timed conditions

Really effective elements to include are:

  1. Visual stimuli such as memorable images and colour coding (we use the same images in all of our WT mocks and this, in theory, helps students to recall information more easily)
  2. Audio stimuli such as theme tunes and sound effects for different questions or parts of the paper
  3. Posters and reminders in specific locations around the exam hall so that, even when they are not there in the real exam, students can look at the room itself to remind them of what was there before (e.g. they might remember in the REAL exam, that last week there was a red poster to the left of the exam clock which reminded them to check spellings of key words)

This is a very brief overview, and there are many very excellent write ups out there about the theory behind WT mocks and memory training. One good example is here.

I’ve just completed one to use TODAY with our Y11 cohort who are sitting the iGCSE English Extended paper 2 on 3rd May. Please feel free to use/abuse/adapt/discard if it’s useful!

Walking Talking Mock

Posted in Exam Analysis

iGCSE Examiner Report Analysis

In Summer 2015, a lot of schools suffered from what was a very sudden and unexpected shift in the way the Cambridge iGCSE English exam was marked. In September 2015 I wrote this analysis of the exam, using the examiner report from the June 2015 series plus what we could glean from some of the papers we recalled for our centre. Hopefully this is of use to other English departments in the next few weeks!

 

iGCSE Examiners Report – Analysis for teaching 2015/16

In the Summer 2015 series, there were significant changes in emphasis to the way in which the iGCSE English paper was marked.

Q1:

Pupil responses were expected to be “tethered” to the source text, but were penalised if they stuck to it too closely in terms of structure, language or detail. Many students, particularly the weaker ones, wrote responses to Q1 which mirrored the original text in its chronology, but this has been criticised by the board, “tended to stick closely to the events and ideas in the passage, and to present them in the same order.” The suggestion is that stronger candidates were able to use the detail in the passage, but made sophisticated decisions in order to structure their response anew.

Weaker students generally failed to notice changes in tone or emphasis in the source text – we should expect in the next exam series that the text will shift in mood or tone part way through, and prepare students to identify these shifts. Students who do not recognise these moments of change wrote “rather limited response(s)”.

A greater emphasis was placed on students’ development of detail from the passage, “sustain use of supporting detail throughout the response, firmly tethering any development to details in the passage.” – Students are encouraged to take note of any minor details in the passage, and flesh these out in their own response.

As in previous years, emphasis is placed on even coverage of the three bullet points in the question.

A far greater importance is given to the style of writing in Q1 – student were heavily penalised for not writing with a sharp awareness of journalistic style, “unselective narrative retelling of the events of the meeting – without developing a journalistic stance. Such responses lacked a sense of purpose.” This task demanded a “discursive, investigative tone”.

Action points and teaching priorities for 2015/16:

  • Give students strategies for planning and structuring responses which build on details, but stand apart from the original text in structure.
  • Explicitly teach students to identify where texts change in tone or mood, and to reflect these changes in their writing.
  • Teach students how to develop textual detail in an appropriate way which is still “tethered” to the original text.
  • Continue to emphasise the importance of students covering all three bullet points equally.
  • Explicitly teach stylistic writing for a range of potential task types.

 

Q2:

Students must write in continuous prose and not, as some centres have done, in a table format (this is not something we have ever done.)

Student responses should do three things –  (1) Identify interesting and effective words/phrases, (2) explain the meaning of the word/phrase within context, (3) Explore the effect of the word/phrase on the reader.

Quotations selected needed to be very specific, and show “precise focus at word level”. Some less successful candidates simply “lifted the whole paragraph and offered a general comment.”

Action points and teaching priorities for 2015/16:

  • Teach students to explain the meaning of words/phrases within their context, rather than simply giving a dictionary definition – this changed focus should ensure that students are able to move on to their exploration of effects with more assurance.
  • Consider adjusting our recommended timings for Q2 – for students to write analysis at the required level of sophistication, they perhaps need a little more time than the recommended 25 minutes.

Q3a:

Students did not get marks for any correct answers outside of the original 15 points they made (unless they had gone back and crossed out previous points)

Although the question asks for ‘brief notes’, students whose notes were too brief did not get the mark, even if the point was valid. Students needed to be very clear in their responses, e.g. if the response was “it was difficult to collect enough firewood”, students would NOT have got the mark for simply saying “difficult to find firewood” as this response is not grammatically complete, and misses the key verb “was”. Students also failed to get the marks in this section if they spelled key words incorrectly or made other careless slips in accuracy, e.g. incorrect plurals, tense etc.

Q3b:

Similar to the writing marks in Q1, responses to the summary in Q3b was criticised because they followed the structure of the original text too closely. Students who did well and achieved all 5 marks in this section were those who organised the points thematically or in some way other than following their chronological order in the original text.

Students are reminded that they MUST use their own words in this section, and that any words or phrases (apart from key terminology) which are lifted from the original text will be heavily penalised.

Some students in this section became a little confused between the summary skills required here and the development skills required in Q1 and, as a result, attempted to develop points, straying away from the core meaning of the text.

Action points and teaching priorities for 2015/16:

  • Stress the importance of giving only 15 points for Q3a, and of crossing out the least relevant or repeated answers if they have gone above 15.
  • Teach strategies for proof reading, and for writing whole, grammatically sound sentences for Q3a.
  • Ensure that student prepare their responses to Q3b by re-ordering their notes by some other method than their original order in the text.
  • Reiterate the differences between ‘summary’ and ‘development’ in Q1 and Q3b.
Posted in Personal Reflection

Things I wish I’d known before my first week in teaching…

I am just about to start my sixth year as a teacher, and was having a chat with a family friend who is about to start his NQT year. As he picked my brains over coffee and told me all of the things he was worrying about already, I realised how much I wish I’d known when I had started five years ago. This is pretty simple stuff, but is not intended to be patronising –  in my first week on the job, I struggled to see past my own fear and focus on the things I could control. I hope some of these ideas are useful…

The first week – no need for bells and whistles:

Scott-660x330Don’t dwell too much on overly complicated lessons with 8 parts and all-singing, all-dancing resources. There is no way you’ll get through what you think you will, and you will exhaust yourself with planning before you even start. Just make sure that each first lesson with a new class is solid, and that you give them a chance to get to know you and what you expect in your classroom. Make sure that you have some sort of conversation, no matter how brief, with everyone in the room; if they feel that they have connected with you, they will be more likely to work well for you. Over the first few lessons with a group, you will begin to get a sense of how they work, what they need, and what they will respond to, which will make your ‘bells and whistles’ lessons even better when you do them later on.

Find out on your first day:

  1. How do you do photocopying/printing?
  2. How do you get in/out of the building at different times of the day?
  3. What is the absence procedure/phone number?
  4. How do teas and coffees work? Is there a machine? Do you have to bring your own?
  5. Is there a water fountain somewhere? Or drinking water in the staff room?
  6. How do you pay for food in the canteen (if you need to)? Cash? Fingerprint?!
  7. If you don’t have your own classroom – which rooms are you teaching in? Are they all on the same floor? Will you need a plan for getting yourself and your resources from one room to the next in between lessons?!
  8. Who do you speak to if you have any IT malfunctions, or SIMS issues which affect registers?

Marking is just as important as planning (if not more…):

Once students have completed work, the most powerful thing you can do is give meaningful, personalised feedback, and give them time to improve in a future lesson (for an excellent discussion on this, see this post from David Didau ‘What’s the point of marking books?’).

Marking is incredibly important, but do not strive for perfection – set a time limit per book, decide on a marking focus (i.e. whatever the objectives or success criteria were for that piece of work), and don’t get de-railed!

If you get behind with you marking, SAY SOMETHING! Everyone gets overwhelmed by the workload at some point, but if you ask for help from your NQT mentor or HOD, they will help you find some practical strategies to get through it all.

Avoid endless ‘to do’ lists:

These can become huge and unfocused, and soon stop becoming the organisational tools they should be. Use an important/not important, urgent/non urgent grid.

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Unfortunately, the things you want to start with usually come under the not important/non urgent column, but organising things like this will help you prioritise the right things!

Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have – highlight two or three things to complete each day, but do them WELL!

Switch off:

Teaching is all consuming and can get overwhelming at certain points in the year. Find something to do outside of school time which is going to stop you from thinking about work. If you find yourself going in early to work, then staying late to work, then going home and working some more, then you need to rethink! I go in early every day (though this doesn’t work for everyone), then my rule is, if I stay late to work, I do NOT take work home. If I leave at 5pm, I take something home with me, but something manageable which won’t take me more than a couple of hours (NOT a whole set of books, but maybe 15 instead…). I also have at least 1 night a week where I do no work at all, and one whole day on the weekend which is work free.

Kids have short memories:

941349Don’t be too devastated if you have a dramatic incident with a student. When I first started teaching, I always felt as though because of my poor classroom management, I had destroyed my relationship with a student FOREVER. This is crazy. Yes, my behaviour management was still developing then (and still is!), but you have to accept that we are all human and we make errors in judgement. Better still, if you give that student a clean slate at the start of the next lesson, they will forgive YOU very quickly.

Love the kids, but manage the behaviour:

Don’t let a child be defined by their behaviour – it is not who they are. Kids will work for you if they feel that you like and care about them. Sometimes it is difficult to feel that bond with them in the face of all their crazy teenage outpourings of rage (especially when this is directed at us personally), but if you can see past that, you can see value in who they are underneath the anger. Ask how their weekend was, how their baby sister is, what food they like, and even share something of your own experiences with them. 9 times out of 10, if you have some sort of appreciation of who they are, separate from their behaviour, those issues will fix themselves. If you just see them as a ‘naughty’ kid, then they will sense that and do their best to live up to the label.

A boy I taught a couple of years ago, let’s call him Sam, called me a c*** on my second day in the job. He was vile in my lessons and incredibly disruptive for no reason I could see. However, during our detentions, after his initial telling off for whatever he’d done that time, we would talk about other things (all the anger aside, because I had clearly and calmly dealt with his behaviour already) It turned out that I had just become addicted to a video game he had recently completed. He told me how to kill the boss on my current level and from that point on, even though he regularly slipped up, he made much more of an effort in my lessons. Even more importantly, his slip-ups were far less damaging, because he knew I would deal with them in isolation, and that they would not damage my opinion of him.

Embrace the support staff:

Caretakers, cleaners, catering staff, duty staff, admin staff, finance staff, gardeners, bus drivers, teaching assistants, IT technicians – whoever they are, these people know more about education than many of the teachers, and especially more than any fresh faced NQT could ever know. These people are key to your survival when you first start teaching, and I would urge any NQT to step outside the teaching staff bubble and make friends with the whole staff body. Partly, this will help you settle in quickly and feel part of the school, but also, there is nothing like knowing the caretakers well when you realise you have left your car key in the building after hours! In my first year, a reprographics lady called Janet was like my school mum! She regularly helped me create resources last minute, gave me advice when I’d made one of my many mistakes, and yes, gave me the odd hug when I felt like I couldn’t cope! The site manager at my current school is ex army, and has happily had conversations with some of my students when they are struggling to cope with authority – he is brilliant.

I won’t call them ‘non-teaching colleagues’, because I believe that all support staff teach the kids in a multitude of ways, even though they are not in the classroom, but they do have a whole different slant on the students, and a refreshing perspective on teaching which can help you put things in perspective.

I’d be really grateful to hear any other reflections or advice to new teachers starting out! Get in touch @funkypedagogy or funkypedagogy@gmail.com