Embedding reading fluency in the KS3 English curriculum

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

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 [...]

Assessing English at KS3

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

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 [...]

Come work with me…

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

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 [...]

Using tenor, vehicle and ground to analyse metaphors

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

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 [...]

How should we teach students to interpret texts?

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

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 [...]

Specifying a concept-led KS3 English curriculum

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

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 [...]

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

2022-01-26T12:15:23+00:00July 10th, 2021|curriculum, English|

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. When we came to consider 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 A [...]

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

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

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 [...]

Making Meaning in English: An exploration of the role of knowledge in language and literature

2021-02-10T16:23:49+00:00February 9th, 2021|English|

I'm pleased to announce that Making Meaning in English is available now. (Quote MME20 for a 20% discount) The book is a discussion on the role of English as a school subject: What is it for? How has it been shaped? What’s been done in the past? What’s gone wrong and what’s been successful? It particularly examines what knowledge means in English. Clearly the approaches to acquiring knowledge that work in subjects like maths and science are less appropriate to a subject more concerned with judgement, interpretation and value. I suggest there is important disciplinary and substantive knowledge that tends to [...]

Using grammar to make meaning

2021-01-19T11:21:19+00:00January 19th, 2021|English, writing|

As a writer I know that I must select studiously the nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, etcetera, and by a careful syntactical arrangement make readers laugh, reflect or riot. Maya Angelou, Conversations with Maya Angelou Every human culture has developed a spoken language and, by inference, a system of grammar. No one ever sits us down and teaches us how to speak, we just soak it up from our environment. All children, regardless of their culture, seem to go through very predictable phases of language acquisition: first they learn nouns, then they start to pick up verbs and then start to combine [...]

Making analogies in English

2020-11-14T14:02:18+00:00November 14th, 2020|English|

… languages recognized, not as the means of contemporary communication but as investments in thought and records of perceptions and analogical understandings; literatures recognized as the contemplative exploration of beliefs, emotions, human characters and relationships in imagined situations, liberated from the confused, cliché ridden, generalized conditions of commonplace life and constituting a world of ideal human expressions inviting neither approval nor disapproval but the exact attention and understanding of those who read … Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Voice of Liberal Learning,’ p. 23. Last month I wrote about 'creative reading' and the art of noticing what is read. This post focusses on [...]

How to read creatively: noticing in English

2020-11-14T12:39:05+00:00October 3rd, 2020|English|

… languages recognized, not as the means of contemporary communication but as investments in thought and records of perceptions and analogical understandings; literatures recognized as the contemplative exploration of beliefs, emotions, human characters and relationships in imagined situations, liberated from the confused, cliché ridden, generalized conditions of commonplace life and constituting a world of ideal human expressions inviting neither approval nor disapproval but the exact attention and understanding of those who read … Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Voice of Liberal Learning,’ p. 23. In my forthcoming book, Making Meaning in English, I suggest two disciplinary branches of knowledge in English which I've [...]

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