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 [...]

2021-09-11T07:46:16+01:00September 8th, 2021|assessment, curriculum|

Curating a reading curriculum

One of the roles of a school is to curate a sequences of encounters which students have a entitlement to experience before they leave. For many students, school may be the only time in their lives when they are given no choice but to navigate their way though events that are unfamiliar and intellectually demanding. Selecting a sequence of books which students will have read to them is a powerful way to force children to confront people, places and events way outside their narrow lives and ensure that they experience the expression of thoughts and ideas which would otherwise have remained [...]

2021-07-22T16:31:46+01:00July 21st, 2021|curriculum, reading|

Do young adult novels have a place in the English curriculum?

When I got my first teaching job, I visited the school at the end of July to find out what I'd be teaching the following September. The Head of Department talked me through which GCSE texts I might want to go for and then, when we got to my Key Stage 3 classes, the brand new sets of Holes and Skellig had, unfortunately, already been nabbed by other teachers but he gave me the keys to the stockroom and told me to pick from whatever was left. On one side of the room were piles of unloved, dog-eared class sets of [...]

2021-07-11T12:39:47+01:00July 10th, 2021|curriculum, English|

School rules

Should schools have rules? Obviously, yes. No one - I think - disputes the necessity of having rules that keep people safe and make life easier and more pleasant for everyone involved. So, a rule setting out acceptable behaviour in a science lab or DT workshop are clearly important and sensible. Rules governing minimum expectations of how students should behave in classrooms and social spaces are also desirable as are rules about how teachers should and should not interact with children. So far, so good. But the sorts of school rules that tend to get the commentariat aerated are those which [...]

2021-07-04T16:55:15+01:00July 4th, 2021|behaviour, leadership|

Specify, teach, assess: using the English curriculum as a progression model

One of the biggest barriers to the successful implementation of an English curriculum is that all too often students are assessed on their ability to do things they haven't actually been taught. This may sound bizarre, but it is, I think, an inevitable product of the belief that English is a 'skills-based subject'. Let's say you teach students a unit on 'Greek myth,' 'a background to Shakespeare,' or Malorie Blackman's YA novel Noughts and Crosses. How will you assess students' progress? Typically, some theme or aspect covered in the unit is brought to the fore and then students are asked to [...]

2021-06-25T17:20:36+01:00June 25th, 2021|Featured|

Echo reading: Building a bridge between text and meaning

As a student I was one of those kids who was desperate to be picked to read. When we studied Romeo and Juliet I got to read Mercutio, a part, I felt, I was born for.  I threw myself into it and felt I really connected with both the character and the play. This was obviously how to do things. Fast forward to my PGCE. For the first weeks of my first placement I got to watch a lot of lessons. Being a complete novice I felt very able to criticise the lessons of many of the seasoned veterans I got [...]

2021-06-22T17:50:38+01:00June 22nd, 2021|reading|

Schools and the Tyranny of Merit

One of the books I read last year that has most stayed with me is Michael Sandel's The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? In it, Sandel argues that meritocracy is inherently harmful to society and has brought about the huge divides in politics across the western world we've witnessed in recent years. The divide between 'winner's and 'losers' gets ever deeper and, while Sandel acknowledges that this is, in large part, due to inequality, he identifies the attitudes to 'winning' and 'losing' engendered by meritocracy as the unacknowledged catalyst that has prompted the breakdown of civic life.  [...]

2021-05-30T10:30:46+01:00May 27th, 2021|leadership|

The problem with ‘it makes the reader want to read on’

One of the most common and irritating of responses to be found strewn through students' literary or linguistic analysis is that a writer will have a made of particular choice in order to 'make the reader want to read on.' So far as I know, no English teacher has ever advised their students to use this phrase and, in fact, a great many explicitly forbid its use. From where, we might legitimately wonder, does this tortured construction derive? And what is the source of its enduring appeal? Like so many persistent problems in teaching, the MTRWTRO Gambit is so not so [...]

2021-05-23T17:06:59+01:00May 23rd, 2021|English, writing|

A reading curriculum: Gap-widening vs gap-narrowing

The idea that education acts as a Matthew Effect that disproportionately benefits those who start with most is an uncomfortable but well-understood phenomenon. Everything we do in schools either widens the advantage gap between the most privileged and least privileged students, or narrows it. This is, I think, a real dichotomy: anything that, on balance, appears net neutral is in fact acting to keep the gap a yawning chasm of inequity. This allows us to look at any potential intervention or policy and ask whether it's likely to widen or narrow the gap. Take, for instance, Renaissance Learning's ubiquitous quizzing software, [...]

2021-03-24T12:24:23+00:00March 21st, 2021|Featured|

How should writing fit into the English curriculum?

I think like many English teachers I've long been conflicted about the position of writing in the curriculum. On the one hand, of course writing is central to students' experience of studying English. Not only should we aim to make them technically proficient, but we should explicitly teach them how to master a range of written styles and genres. But, on the other hand, writing units are turgid. Although I always dreaded the moment in the academic calendar when the inevitable writing scheme of work hoved into view,  I felt guilty. Clearly, the fault was mine and I just needed to [...]

2021-03-06T18:48:23+00:00March 3rd, 2021|Featured|
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