Embedding reading fluency in the KS3 English curriculum

Last year I wrote about 'echo reading': ...last week I ... watched English teacher Rhys Williams do something I’d never seen before. He was teaching The Tempest to a low prior attaining Year 8 class and was focussing on the moment in Act 3 scene 1 where Ferdinand and Miranda first begin flirting. What he did was to allocate lines to different members of the class that they would read aloud after listening to him reading them first, attempting to emulate his tone, emphasis and pronunciation. While I was watching I wasn’t sure whether it was working. The students were reading aloud with impressive [...]

2022-05-30T17:00:30+01:00May 29th, 2022|English, reading|

The case against Power Point as means of implementing curriculum

First things first: I have nothing against PowerPoint. As means for displaying visual information it definitely has its merits. I have no issues with teachers using slides to share pictures, diagrams or moving images with student (although I do have a few reservations about using it to share text.) My argument here is focussed on the widespread practice of using PowerPoint (or any other similar product) as a means of implementing the curriculum. When I began teaching the idea of displaying slides in classrooms was a distant dream. My first classroom didn’t even have a modern whiteboard and I made do [...]

2022-03-21T11:19:15+00:00March 13th, 2022|curriculum|

Assessing English at KS3

Throughout my career, the de facto approach to assessing English at KS3 has been to use extended writing. After all, this is what students will be faced with in their GCSEs so it kinda made sense that this was what we should get them used to as early as possible. In order to take this approach, we need a markscheme. Most markschemes attempt to identify the different skills areas students should be demonstrating and then award marks based on well well these skills are demonstrated. The weakness of using markschemes - or rubrics, if you prefer - is that it comes [...]

2022-03-05T17:53:30+00:00March 5th, 2022|assessment, English|

Come work with me…

Since January 2021 I've been working for Ormiston Academies Trust as Senior Lead Practitioner for English. I had no idea when I started how much I'd love working for OAT or how much I'd relish the role of supporting English and literacy across a national network of 43 schools stretching from Grimsby to Cowes, from Runcorn to Chichester, and from Walsall to Ipswich.As you can imagine this is way too big a job for one person and I was incredibly fortunate to inherit a team of 4 extraordinarily gifted regional lead practitioners who basically do all the work and make me [...]

2022-03-06T16:44:48+00:00March 4th, 2022|English|

Using tenor, vehicle and ground to analyse metaphors

It's vanishingly rare to encounter a student in secondary school who doesn't know what a metaphor is. That said, it's equally rare to find students who are able to define what a metaphor actually is. When pressed, they tend to say things like, "It when to say something is something else," or "It's saying something is something it isn't," or, even more commonly, "I know what it is but I don't know how to explain it." Does any of this matter? After all, if students can spot a metaphor - and they usually can - why do they need to provide [...]

2022-03-01T21:43:46+00:00February 2nd, 2022|English|

The problem with marking and how to solve it

Every teacher - particularly English teachers - has huge existential guilt about marking. When I worked full time as a teacher marking was the first thing to go when the stress inevitably piled up. And if we excoriate ourselves sufficiently to make sure mock exams and termly assessments receive sufficient attention, who's got time to keep up with all those Key Stage 3 books?, There are only so many hours in the day and the only way to survive the brutal realities of teaching is to make correspondingly brutal choices. Pretty everything teachers do has value, but it's unavoidably true that [...]

2022-01-31T20:03:24+00:00January 31st, 2022|workload|

The shape of assessment

As we should all now be aware, there are no external audiences interested in schools' internal data. If we're going to go to the trouble of getting students to sit formal assessments on which we will collect data, we should be very clear about the purpose both of the assessments and the data they produce. On the whole, the purpose of assessment data appears to be discriminating between students. The purpose of GCSEs, SATs, A levels and other national exams is to discriminate between students - to determine each individual's performance into a normally distributed rank order and then assign grades [...]

2021-12-31T18:47:44+00:00December 31st, 2021|assessment, curriculum|

How should we teach students to interpret texts?

The default approach to so much English teaching is to present students with a text and then say some version of, "What do you think of this?" If you're fortunate enough to teach in a selective setting with advantaged students, then this must be a very rewarding way to go about things. The students make their thoughtful suggestions, respectfully challenge each other, and hone their interpretation though the lively cut and thrust of classroom debate. I've never taught in such an environment. Sadly though, this didn't stop me taking a pretty similar approach with my students. Neither did it prevent me [...]

2021-12-17T14:00:44+00:00December 12th, 2021|English|

Specifying a concept-led KS3 English curriculum

If we accept that we are using the curriculum as a progression model - if making progress means that children know more, remember more and can do more of the curriculum they've been taught - then that paves the way for us to move away from using unhelpful approaches like flight paths and age related expectations to make judgements about whether children are making progress. But what happens if it's not clear that knowing more, remembering more and being able to do more of the curriculum don't feel like progress? This, I think, is a big issue with the way English [...]

2022-03-10T21:56:34+00:00October 23rd, 2021|assessment, curriculum, English|

Is curriculum all that?

Over the past few years we've all been putting a lot of thought and energy into trying to improve our specification of what we want students to learn and, whilst there have been some unfortunate consequences (intent statements, cultural capital statements, bizarre arguments about how powerful knowledge is etc.) this has, on balance been a very good thing. When I began teaching English in the late 90s no one gave a damn what I taught. At my first schools I was told to teach whatever I liked the look of in the stock cupboard. In the mid 2000s, I was told [...]

2021-09-26T13:52:25+01:00September 24th, 2021|curriculum|

Why using the curriculum as your progression model is incompatible with ‘measuring progress’

Our capacity to misunderstand complex ideas leads, inexorably, to the lethal mutation of those ides. In my last post I set out why the apparently simple and obvious notion of 'using the curriculum as a progression model' often goes wrong but I underplayed some key points about the use of numbers. Tucked away in that post are two ideas that need some amplification and explanation. Firstly, in relation to the way in which summative assessments are scored: I should note that the key assumption underpinning this assessment model is not that tests should discriminate between students so we can place them [...]

2021-09-11T15:10:11+01:00September 11th, 2021|assessment, curriculum|

Why ‘using the curriculum as a progression model’ is harder than you think

Since first hearing the idea that the curriculum should be the model of progression on Michael Fordham's blog, I immediately and instinctively felt that this was right. Of course, I said to myself, we will know whether students are making progress if they are learning more of the curriculum. Voila! And, like many others, I left the notion as a self-evident truth that required no further explanation. Once it is understood to be true, the scales will fall from the eyes of those espousing flightpaths, Age Related Expectations and incoherent statements of progress and all will be well. (See here and [...]

2022-03-10T17:25:55+00:00September 8th, 2021|assessment, curriculum|
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