Posted in Uncategorized

English Subject Knowledge Exchange; A Proposition.

IMG_5387In this uncertain world of recruitment crises, funding struggles, goalpost-changing new specifications and ever increasing workloads, it is hard for us to grow as readers and find time for us to develop expertise in our subjects. Most departments are working hard to welcome a larger number of non-subject specialists and a higher proportion of trainees, and this creates a huge need for CPD which is almost impossible to fulfill within one school alone.

How can we upskill ourselves in this high pressure climate, with no money and no time?!

I propose that we take control of our own futures and establish a subject knowledge exchange. EVERYONE has something they are good at. If we had a local database of people in schools near us who could offer a seminar on a topic, no matter how niche and unusual, we could have a series of knowledge swaps and create HIGH QUALITY CPD FOR FREE!!!

Example: I would happily offer a 1 hour seminar on Anglo-Saxon heroic literature to ANYONE who wants it. I am looking for someone who can support my department by offering a seminar on conventions of 20th Century drama.

This is in the initial stages of development. I am open to suggestions about how this could work! If you’re interested in being involved (even if it’s just that you know your department might want some subject knowledge support but you’re not sure what you could offer), please could you pop your details in the comments below or tweet me @funkypedagogy

Posted in Uncategorized

differentiation (with a small ‘d’)

This post is based on workshops I have led this summer at both the Leeds Trinity University NQT Conference, and at Teaching and Learning Leeds 2017 (hosted by The Grammar School at Leeds). If you attended either of these sessions and have questions, suggestions or comments, I would love to hear them @funkypedagogy, or write a comment below. My thanks to Anne Williams (@agwilliams9) and Charlotte Wright (@commahound) for asking me to speak at these brilliant events and providing the impetus I needed.

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differentiation: know your students and act accordingly. Anything which seeks to complicate this beautifully simple idea is missing the point.

There have been a number of heated debates in the teaching community in recent years about inclusion vs. aspiration; accessibility vs. challenge; differentiation vs. mastery. Such debates seek to set educational approaches up in opposition to each other and, in doing so, take each of those approaches to their most ridiculous extreme. differentiation does not mean that we should ‘dumb down’ the curriculum until it has no challenge at all, nor does Mastery mean that we never respond to students’ individual needs. Let’s do ourselves a favour and stop taking things so seriously!

The best practice I have ever seen, blends the best bits from a range of schools of thought like a classroom pick ‘n’ mix. differentiation is a powerful tool, but IT IS NOT THE GRAIL! It is not going to save you! It is not going to give you all the answers and solve all your problems! differentiation is just an umbrella term for a rag tag bunch of ideas which, if used judiciously, might just help your students to engage and make progress.

The following ideas are not new and they are not revolutionary but, in my experience, they work.

Why is it important?

differentiation recognises that every student is an individual. There are a huge number of factors which impact the young people in front of us, and these go beyond academic ability. We might differentiate in a lesson according to a student’s level of skill in our subject, but we might also consider: family circumstances; hobbies and interests; mental health issues (such as anxiety); confidence levels; recently assessed work; SEND needs; spontaneous needs within a lesson; whether they ate lunch today; student ambitions for the future, and even what happened in the local community the night before.

I work in a school in Bradford with very challenging circumstances; our children are faced with a huge number of barriers to their learning. Regardless of the kind of school you work in, every child has complex and significant individual needs at some time or other during their school career, and differentiation is about responding to these needs and ensuring that every child can succeed.

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Hard vs. Soft Data

When I was an NQT, I tended to use hard data (test results, target and predicted grades) as a basis for planning and differentiation. I might have had separate work sheets for levels 4, 5 and 6 letter writing, or had a grade A* extension activity. While these strategies do have some benefit, the use of hard data alone can limit us to support students only on the basis of cold numbers (which are probably weeks out of date!), and ignore all of the more flexible soft data which is available to us.

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Marking as planning…

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Soft data from marking is the most recent and therefore the most relevant information we have. If we mark regularly, we can make key observations:

  • This student doesn’t understand this process…
  • These students are way ahead in this topic…
  • These six students don’t understand the key terminology from the lesson…
  • This student doesn’t know how to embed quotations…

Here is an example of how live marking might develop into differentiated planning:

  1. Identify students…

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2. Observe skills through marking…

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3. Range of personalised solutions…

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n.b. NONE of these strategies is going to work every time – try something out, review it, change it and try again!

Seating Plans

Seating plans are a little controversial. I don’t really use them to arrange the seating in my room; I alter seating on a lesson by lesson basis depending on what activity we are doing. For me, seating plans are a way to record information about students both for my own planning, and to support people who might cover my lessons. This seating plan was first developed at my old school by a very talented AST. Since then, my department at my current school have continued to tinker with it, and this is what they look like:

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We use a colour coding system to record information according to literacy levels, engagement (including behaviour), challenge levels and personal context. Here are some examples:

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I tend not to include much hard data on seating plans, but often scribble the most recent mock grades etc. on in pen as they happen.

Seating plans should…

  • …be a live document (scribbled on and added to regularly)
  • …include information which is relevant to your school and classroom practice (SEND, EAL, LAC, PPG etc.)
  • …be used to inform planning, seating etc.
  • …be useful (don’t waste your time if you won’t use it!)

Anonymised seating plan:

Strategies and Resources

  1. Support stations

These need a bit of planning and (dare I say it…?) printing! Support stations are areas around a classroom which provide differentiated support and strategies for students. These can be dictated by the teacher, or students can choose for themselves where to go.

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In the example above, each table has a very specific target based on my marking of student writing. Each table has a range of resources and activities which will support students in a specific skill.

In the example below, students are able to choose for themselves what level of support they need, and can more up in difficulty over the course of a lesson.

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2. Multiple lessons in one

This strategy is useful when you have a clear and sizeable gap in skill within one group. I teach a mixed ability Y8 class which ranges from students who can access GCSE level content, to students who struggle to access their Y8 texts. In the lesson below, I used the same poem with the whole class (‘A Poison Tree’ by William Blake), and they all ended by completing an analytical response to the poem, but they all got there by different means. The pink group worked completely independently and had challenging success criteria and prompts to encourage more sophisticated thinking, the yellow group worked in pairs for their preparation and planning, and the orange group worked with me on a guided group discussion to support their writing.

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This kind of planning is VERY time consuming and resource heavy. I would probably only do this once per half term, per class. Any more and it loses its effectiveness.

3. Chilli questioning

This idea has been around for ages, but it works! Write differentiated questions and denote their level of difficulty using the chilli scale. Students then have the information they need in order to choose tasks which will challenge or support them.

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@TeacherToolkit has an excellent blog post on using the chilli scale for ‘takeaway homework’.

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4. Questioning

Questioning is a gold mine for differentiation strategies. I’m not going to go through every idea here, because there is enough material there for a whole book! Here is one strategy which I use a lot and which has never failed me!

I write questions on a topic based on different skills in Blooms Taxonomy. Here is an example for Animal Farm:

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One way to use these is to give a different question to every student (based on their needs), and to get them to answer the question at the start of the lesson. You can then teach your lesson as usual, and then ask students to return to the original question at the end (preferably in a different colour), and add to their answer from earlier. This has always been highly effective for me, and students enjoy seeing really clear evidence of their own progress within a lesson.

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5. Differentiated questioning in Maths

A colleague of mine in the maths department uses the names of famous mathematicians to categorise levels of questions in his lessons. Students are able to choose which questions to answer, and can move from one level to another as they gain confidence and skill.

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Another excellent strategy he uses is to draw a simple line:

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…the line indicates that the questions will suddenly get harder. This could be done in pen in 5 seconds, and can provide information to students to enable them to make choices in your lesson, but also to provide some security for students who tend to have anxiety about certain types of task; the line says, ‘this will be harder, but that’s OK because you’re expecting it.’

6. Group role cards

Again, this is an old one, but it never ceases to be useful for me! I’m enjoying playing with unusual group roles…

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7. Breaking things down

A lot of my differentiation is about taking larger, more sophisticated content, and ‘breaking it down’ to make it more accessible. This does NOT mean dumbing down or taking content out, it means giving students a route in. It is important that these strategies can then be given to students themselves so that, as they develop as learners, they are able to use them independently; a student won’t have a scaffolded text in an exam, but they can be taught how to create their own when they see the paper for themselves.

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This one uses the magnifying glass reading technique, where students are slowly introduced to a text piece by piece. This can help with student confidence levels; it is far easier to read a full A4 page of text if you have already engaged with a sentence or a paragraph in isolation.

TTLeeds17 Differentiation WEBB

8. Cutting holes in things!

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You can cut small holes (for looking at individual words) or larger holes (so students can see whole paragraphs etc.). This is a lovely, low tech, whimsical activity which my students love from Y7 up to Y13. Looking at small sections of text in isolation allows students to access detail before being faced with the whole thing.

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An analyser can be used for a range of different things. Take an A3 piece of paper and cut a roughly A4 sized hole in it. Now you have a frame you can use for:

  • A peer or self-assessment tool (key elements of the mark scheme and assessment criteria around the outside)
  • A writing scaffold (students complete a piece of extended writing, and the frame has key structural elements and reminders)
  • A reading scaffold (the frame has key question prompts and statements to help the student to read critically)

9. Chunking writing

Instead of asking students to write on a blank page in their book, get them to fill in smaller boxes. They are often tricked into writing more than they might have otherwise…

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10. Vocabulary

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The ‘Hot or Not?’ list from Amy Thompson (@Ladbroa01) is a great idea:

Create a list of vocabulary or key ideas. This is a ‘hot’ list for weaker students, and they have to try to use the content in their work. For stronger students, this is a ‘not’ list, so they have to think outside the box and find alternative ideas.

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10. Metacognition

Metacognition is an incredibly important skill for students who need to become independent, resilient and ambitious learners. Why not use students’ own observations of their learning as part of your soft data?

You may have seen the comfort/challenge/panic graphic from @teachertweaks. This is a great tool to remind us that we need the right amount of struggle in order to facilitate learning. Why not ask your students to think about what comfort, challenge and panic zones look like for them, and complete their own version? As a teacher, you can then use this student reflection to inform your planning.

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I talk about marginal gains wheels a lot. Why not use a marginal gains wheel for students to demonstrate their confidence or level of skill in a topic, and then use this to inform your planning and differentiation? I asked my Y11 class to rate their confidence in the skills for the GCSE English Language paper (see below) and then used this to differentiate homework and revision resources.

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12. Make ANY resource a differentiated resource in SECONDS…

  •  Filling a bit in for students (if there is a table or chart to complete, fill in a bit for those who you think will need it)
  •  Highlighting or drawing a box around things
  • Post-its for… Reminders, prompts, spellings, key words…
  • Go around the room with your pen and LOOK at work – write comments, prompts and challenges in books…

 

differentiation works best when you…

  1. Use soft data as well as hard data to inform planning.
  2. Base tasks and support on your observations of recent work – keep it live and flexible!
  3. Make your intentions, rationale and success criteria clear to students.
  4. Experiment, make mistakes, think creatively and don’t take ANYTHING too seriously!

 

differentiation is just an umbrella term for all the things you do to respond to the needs of individuals or groups. It isn’t rocket science, it isn’t new and it isn’t all that special. It’s just common sense. Having said that, the impact which truly thoughtful, sensitive and creative practice can have on our students is potentially huge. The best differentiated lessons are those where you can barely see it at all – students are just getting on with it because the teacher has predicted what issues might arise, and the level of challenge is there because students are being pushed and pulled along according to their needs. It’s not flashy or bold; it’s just common sense.

All the resources from this blog can be found in my One Drive here: One Drive Differentiation

Please feel free to use/adapt/share/bin as you see fit.

n.b. I have tried to credit all the ideas I’ve pinched from elsewhere, but I know I might have missed something because a lot of this stuff is well established and has been recycled a lot! If you notice any omissions along the way, PLEASE give me a shout and I’ll happily add names of original creators I’ve left out.

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 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

Posted in Projects, Teaching Ideas

#TMBrad – Teachmeet reflection..

I am always amazed by the dedication and sheer geekery of some teachers. At 10am on Saturday 11th July (the FINAL weekend of the school term), teachers from around Leeds and Bradford (plus, you know, Bahrain, just because…) descended on Appleton Academy for a day of inspiration and all round teacher banter.

The day was part of our project called ‘Writing for Bradford’ which you can see details about here.

TMBrad

The focus of our teachmeet was ‘getting kids to write’ and we had some really fantastic presenters and ideas throughout the day. Below I have written up my notes from the presentations, and included all the powerpoints, links and resources which the speakers have very kindly agreed to share.

Here is the ‘Storify’ document of the main tweets from the day: Storify

1. Keynote Presentation: Adam Henze (@henzebo)

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Here is Adam’s blurb from the program:

Adam D. Henze is a third year PhD student in the Literacy, Culture, and Language Education department at Indiana University. Adam fell in love with the spoken and written word when he accidentally stumbled into the speech and debate office at his high school. He attended Western Kentucky University on a full speech scholarship, helping the squad win four national championships at the collegiate level. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies and English Writing, Adam attended his first poetry slam and immediately felt embraced by the spoken word community. In the past decade Adam has lectured and performed at over 40 universities, dozens of secondary and elementary schools, prisons, juvenile detention centers and other places of learning. Adam has performed in almost every state, Canada, Ireland, and is excited to return to England. He has a Masters degree in teaching, is an instructor in the English Department at Indiana University and is the director of a summer camp for fledgling high-school-aged poets at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota.

Today Adam’s presentation is about “writing like a fan.” Fan culture has embraced the multimodal literacies inherent in mediums such as spoken word, hip hop, video games, comic books, music and film, and his session hopes to marry academic literary practices with the kinds of “reading” students value at home. The presentation will explore the evolving literacy practices in a globalized digital society by giving educators theory and practical lessons that they can apply to their classroom.

‘Literacy Beyone Literature’ – Prezi link here.

2. Mehwash Kauser (@meshishk) – ‘Chaucer to Tupac’

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Mehwash is at the end of her second year of teaching, and is the KS3 curriculum coordinator at Appleton Academy. Her presentation centred around a SOW which she developed this year which aimed to engage students in canonical poetry by first hooking students in with rap and other elements of modern youth culture. The SOW was incredibly successful, and is being used by the National Literacy Trust as a national model of excellence; Mehwash will be presenting her work to colleagues around the country in order to support their own engaging planning for teenagers and classic literature.

You can find Mehwash’s powerpoint here.

3. Richie Dunk (@richie_dunk) – Letter Writing in Science

Richie is a physicist and Lead Practitioner at Appleton Academy. His presentation began with the problem that most students see scientists as being stereotypically brusque and lacking personality (his words, not mine!). Consider someone like Sheldon from the ‘Big Bang Theory’, and you understand why, when asked to write a letter in Science, some of Richie’s students were struggling to write with real personality and flair, even though they do it instinctively in English and History.

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Richie talked about using photographs, and the personal letters of famous scientists in order to make them feel more immediate and relevant to students of today. These letters show people who had deep emotion, loving relationships and real life connections to politics and the wider world; by showing these to students, they can begin to see writing in Science as just as human and close to their own lives as everything else.

You can fin Richie’s powerpoint here.

4. Laura Hirst (@MissLHirst) – Using Post-it Notes to Motivate Students

Laura is just 3 weeks in to her NQT year in the English Department at Appleton Academy. She presented some strategies she has used with a challenging group of Y10 students, using post it notes to support, motivate and reward them.

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You can find Laura’s powerpoint here.

5. Charlotte Wright (@commahound) – Writing a Class Novel

Charlotte taught in Bradford for 8 years, and is now KS5 leader in the English Department at Brigshaw High School. She presented the powerful work she has done in order to create class novels, where every child becomes a novelist, and every child feels celebrated. Charlotte uses multi-linear narratives (where the reader gets to choose which route to take through a story) to ensure that every child can write their own part of the text, while still being part of the whole.

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You can find Charlotte’s powerpoint here.

6. Jennifer Webb (@funkypedagogy) – Engaging with Abstract Concepts

You can find a blog post about my presentation here, and my powerpoint here.

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7. Curtis Wilson (@andrellcurtis) – Big Writing

Curtis is the owner of Andrell Education, and proponent of ‘Big Writing’ (his mum is the wonderful Ros Wilson, so there’s no surprise there!). Curtis spoke about the rationale behind the ‘Big Writing’ initiative, and shared some ways in which schools can get involved.

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You can find out more about ‘Big Writing’ here, and look at Curtis’ powerpoint here.

8. Cheryl Boote (@CherylBoote) – Working Wall

Cheryl is only 3 weeks in to her NQT year in the English Department at Appleton Academy. She shared some of the work she has been doing on displays in her first ever classroom – the mantra being, they should be interactive, and celerate the work of students.

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You can find Cheryl’s powerpoint here.

9. Annie Black (@AnnieBlack01) – Slow Writing

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Annie is an English teacher and shared some work she has been doing on Slow Writing in her school, following a Research-Ed conference where she saw David Didau (@learningspy) speak. She talked about how Slow (or ‘focused’) Writing was helping her students to be more creative, and allowing them to explore new techniques.

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You can find Annie’s powerpoint here.

10. Mark Miller (@goldfishbowlMM) – Revision Decisions

Mark is an English teacher at Dixons Kings Academy. Having done a great deal of work on using sentence structures with students, he shared a new idea to help them to break sentences down in order to explore the many structural and syntactical possibilities we have as writers.

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You can see his own blog post about his talk here, and the powerpoint here.

11. Kat Lang (@kat_stubbs) – Literacy Ladders

Kat is an Assistant Director in charge of individual learning needs, AND the Head of English at Appleton Academy. Her presentation focused on literacy ladders as a way to get high quality, developed writing out of SEN students. Sudents use the ladders to rank writing techniques in order of difficulty, then attach ideas, vocabulary and sentence structures to tladderhe ladder in order to plan and scaffold their writing.

You can find Kat’s powerpoint here.

12. Leah Ellerbruch (@LEllerbruch) – Success Criteria

Leah is an English teacher and leads the Media GCSE at Appleton Academy. She presented how she developed and uses success criteria in order to support students’ writing, and give them ownership of their content and mark schemes.

You can find Leah’s powerpoint here.

13. Keynote Presentation: Leslie Rowland

Here is Leslie’s blurb from the program:

Leslie Rowland is currently a PhD student in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education at Indiana University. She grew up in Kentucky (you might hear a bit of a twang), but has lived all over the United States. She graduated magna cum laude from Murray State University with a degree in English Education (focus on literature). Her primary doctoral research focuses on teens, chronic illness narratives, and depictions of chronic illnesses in young adult literature. She also studies drama pedagogy, disability studies, and social justice issues. Before graduate studies, she was a high school English and theatre teacher, and a writer and editor for educational publishing companies. Her 48 writing, grammar, and vocabulary titles are used in PK-8th grade classrooms all over the world. A sincere Anglophile (as you will witness), she’s thrilled to be back in England.

Her presentation today is on remix writing in the digital age (i.e., a digital composition using at least three different modes of communication [i.e., combining words, sounds, and images into one creation on the computer]). She’ll show examples, present a little research, connect it to “academic” writing, and give suggestions on how to incorporate this fun “new” way of composing in your class—no matter the age of the student (or teacher). You’ll receive a handout with detailed lesson plans, resources, examples, and differentiation tips for using remix digital writing to motivate even your less-than-stellar students.

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‘Digial Writing REMIX’ – Prezi link here.

Presentation handout here.

Posted in Projects

A New Project – Writing for Bradford

This summer, my school (Appleton Academy) will be hosting an exciting project to promote writing in Bradford schools. It will involve working collaboratively with professional writers, spoken word artists, academics, university students and teachers. The project is open to any interested schools in the Bradford/West Yorkshire area. Please see the information in this document: Writing Bradford leaflet

If you are interested in being involved, or would like more information, please contact me on my work email: jennifer.webb@appletonacademy.co.uk or on Twitter @funkypedagogy

Posted in A Level Teaching, Teaching Ideas

A Level Literature Ideas – #1: Writing Introductions

Introductions and conclusions always seem like quite abstract things, threatening to book end an essay with vague statements and ‘summing up’. However, done right, an introduction serves as the perfect vanguard of a well crafted argument.

There are tons of different ways to teach introduction writing, but the most successful in my experience is ‘Discuss, Define, Refine’ (DDR). Here is a brief outline:

Discuss: Introduce the key terms of the question, showing that you are fully aware of the given theme/issue/area. Often constitutes a simple re-wording of the question. e.g. “Madness is a topic which clearly fascinates writers across all of literature.”

Define: Define the key terms in the question, showing that you appreciate a range of ways to interpret the topic. e.g. “‘Madness’ could refer to a range of human emotion and conditions, such as the brief madness caused by grief, the intoxicating madness of love, or the tragic madness of severe mental illness.”

Refine: State clearly how YOU are interpreting the question/terms for this particular essay, bringing the question to your specific text(s). Ensure that the final sentence of the introduction firmly establishes your key argument. e.g. “Perhaps the most significant presentation of madness in literature is that of King Lear as he succumbs to old age, confusion, anger and dementia, destroying his family and, for a time, losing his humanity. In Lear, Shakespeare presents a king who loses his mind, his country and his children; this is not a play about greed or evil, but about a frail and vulnerable man in the throes of mental instability.”

This structure effectively ensures that students begin with a very wide concept, and then narrow this concept down to their own specific argument. I use an upside-down triangle to show my students how this works:

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The other very pleasing thing about the triangle shape is that we could see it as an arrow, literally pointing towards the rest of the essay…

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The resource below is a writing frame using the triangle/chevron shape, which students can use to plan their introduction. The shape is really helpful in emphasising the fact that students have to start in general terms, and gradually become more specific, ending in a final, very clear, narrow focus for their argument.

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Define

Refine

Introduction Template

The finished introduction is here:

“How do writers present male dominance in Victorian literature? Consider one prose and one drama text.

Male dominance pervades Victorian literature in everything from plot to setting to characterization. The writing community itself was almost all male, with only a handful of notable female writers to create any sense of balance. Male dominance could refer to depictions of powerful men and domestic hierarchies which were typical of the period. It could also refer to the way in which masculinity and misogyny are ingrained in the very fabric of novels, plays and poetry.  The most potent example of male dominance in these texts is the very real and oppressive way in which characters such as Torvald Helmer and Lord Henry control and manipulate those around them. These writers present their male oppressors as villains who exemplify all that is wrong in a male dominated society.”

I’d be really interested to hear other A Level intro structures you have used or developed @FunkyPedagogy

My next post on the A Level Literature Ideas series will be on essay planning…