Archive | May 2014

Designing a New KS3 English Curriculum.

andywarner78

Here is a summary of the principle points guiding the development of our new KS3 English curriculum:

We want a curriculum that:

–          challenges our students and supports them to become well-read and knowledgeable about great writing in the English language (including novels, poems, plays and literary non-fiction) and how it developed chronologically.

–          develops students that can read easily and fluently in a wide range of styles and genres, who can understand high quality texts, making personal responses and critically analysing and evaluating patterns and ideas within and between texts, whether of language, structure, style or form.

–          develops students that enjoy writing skilfully in a wide range of styles and forms and for a variety of purposes and audiences.

–          develops students that speak confidently and fluently in a wide variety of contexts, who can adapt their speech to a wide variety of situations and who listen intently…

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Designing a New KS3 English Curriculum.

Here is a summary of the principle points guiding the development of our new KS3 English curriculum:

We want a curriculum that:

–          challenges our students and supports them to become well-read and knowledgeable about great writing in the English language (including novels, poems, plays and literary non-fiction) and how it developed chronologically.

–          develops students that can read easily and fluently in a wide range of styles and genres, who can understand high quality texts, making personal responses and critically analysing and evaluating patterns and ideas within and between texts, whether of language, structure, style or form.

–          develops students that enjoy writing skilfully in a wide range of styles and forms and for a variety of purposes and audiences.

–          develops students that speak confidently and fluently in a wide variety of contexts, who can adapt their speech to a wide variety of situations and who listen intently and with understanding and challenge and debate theirs and others’ ideas.

The Framework.

Each of the three years in key stage three will be broken down into four (roughly) 10 week units. Each unit follows the same structure of progression but is informed by a different theme and the texts studied are chosen in relation to the theme, with individual teachers having a large degree of freedom to choose the texts they want to teach. Students should study a variety of prose, poetry, drama and non-fiction in each unit. One full novel and play will be read at some point throughout the year, but most texts studied will be poems and shorter texts, with students encouraged to go and read longer texts themselves in their own time. Texts should be chosen from a range of time periods within each unit and contextualised historically in order to develop an understanding of the historical development of English, which will be consolidated in the Language and Literature unit at the end of year 9. Students must also study two authors in depth each year, but this will be down to the preference of the teacher and may be set as a homework “project”.

The below table outlines the structure of each unit:

Duration

Skills

General activities

4-5 weeks

Exploration and reading of a variety of texts related to the theme

–          Individual, paired and class reading.

–          Paired, group and class discussions of texts relating to narrative, character development, language and effect on reader.

–          Written personal responses to texts.

2-3 weeks

Analysis, evaluation and comparison of texts read

–          Comparing, categorising and ranking of texts

–          Highlighting and annotating aspects of language in extracts from a selection of chosen texts

–          Speaking and listening tasks

–          Written analyses and evaluation: focus on language, structure and form.

2-3 weeks

Creative writing production

Drafting, proofreading and editing

–          Students produce their own creative writing in various forms and styles, using the texts studied as models.

–          Creative speaking and listening tasks

 

Underlying Theoretical Principles.

Several theoretical principles underpin this proposed structure.

1)      SOLO taxonomy

If you’re familiar with SOLO, you will notice that each unit begins by building up students’ knowledge and understanding of examples of great literature within a theme at the multi-structural and, to some extent, the relational level. The second part is firmly working at the relational level with elements of multi-structural and extended abstract, and the final, creative part, moves into the extended abstract. It is deliberately structured in this way to ensure that students are able to move to a deep understanding of the texts in particular and the subject in general. The SOLO skills can be mapped onto the sections of each unit in the following way:

Part 1 (5weeks)

Multi-structual:

Define, identify, describe, list, combine.

 

Relational:

explain, compare, contrast, classify.

Part 2 (2-3 weeks)

Multi-structural:

Combine

 

Relational:

explain, compare, contrast, classify, analyse, relate.

 

Extended abstract:

evaluate, theorise, generalise, predict, reflect

Part 3 (2-3 weeks)

Extended abstract:

create, imagine, hypothesise, reflect, evaluate

 

You will notice there is significant overlap between the parts of a unit and the SOLO level, and this is intended to allow individual teachers to respond to the needs of their learners. Some students will move from one level to another more quickly, others less so, and by being aware of this through their formative assessment teachers will be able to differentiate and challenge students effectively.

2)      The Trivium

In his book Trivium 21C, Martin Robinson (@surrealanarchy) explores the possibility of designing a curriculum based on the classical trivium subjects, but brought into the context of the 21st century. The trivium consisted of the teaching of three subjects; grammar, logic (or dialectic) and rhetoric. The grammar part consists of the building up of knowledge and understanding, logic or dialectic involves testing and debating that knowledge, and rhetoric requires the production and creation of new ideas and knowledge. The structure of our units will very much allow students to develop their knowledge and skills within this framework. (See blog entitled “The Tools to Rule“)

3)      Progression

Some may argue that this structure is repetitive and therefore doesn’t allow for progression. The repetitive nature and the freedom it gives teachers to personalise what they deliver is intended to ensure that progression is about both deepening and widening the skills that students have. Furthermore, the outcomes that are eventually mapped onto the long term plan will ensure that students are given the opportunity to learn, practise and revisit ways to express themselves in a very wide variety of formats, thus providing opportunities for summative assessment throughout the course. By 2015, I would envisage that the way these are assessed will be married up to the new GCSE 1-9 levels, although may be given a different name to allow a perceptual distinction between key stages, especially for students and parents.

4)      Freedom and flexibility

A key principle is that teachers get to teach the texts that they want to within each unit. This will need to be planned and worked out with the department before the summer and its financial implications evaluated, but the premise here is that teachers will do a better job of teaching texts that they love and that they will be more likely to impart this passion to the students. I also want to get away from setting and streaming so that we have the freedom to create groups that work and that are comprehensive and include all types of learners within them. This will also allow for teachers to have more flexibility in planning their lessons and groupings within the class for various activities, as well as eliminating the existence of the “sink” group.

Possible themes could include:

Year

Unit

Theme

7

1

Myths and Legends

 

2

Exploration and discovery

 

3

Ghosts, magic and witchcraft

 

4

Growing up

 

 

 

8

1

Different cultures and traditions

 

2

Love

 

3

Crime and Punishment

 

4

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

 

 

 

9

1

War

 

2

Class and gender

 

3

Language and Literature in English

 

4

Start of GCSE course

 

The specified outcomes that students will be assessed through are yet to be decided upon. This is pending the release of the new KS4 specifications which will inform discussions about how best to prepare our students to succeed in the new qualifications. Once the specifications are out it will be important to identify the knowledge and skills that students will need, and tie these in with the threshold concepts that must be taught in any rich and varied English curriculum.

“The Hidden Lives of Learners” by Graham Nuthall

andywarner78

This week I read Graham Nuthall’s “The Hidden Lives of Learners” ready for the @EduChatUK discussion on Wednesday. It is a fascinating study of student behaviour and learning in the classroom, but I’m not sure it has any new implications for most teachers. I’m vastly oversimplifying here, but the key points of the book seem to be:

1)      Everyone learns differently depending on their prior experiences

2)      A concept needs to be revisited at least three times for it to be learnt.

3)      There are three separate cultural spheres at play in the classroom

I’d like to discuss each of these in turn.

1)      Everyone learns differently depending on their prior experiences.

Prior experience, the “nurture” aspect of the false nature/nurture dichotomy, is arguably the single most important factor in determining the performance and behaviour of a student in the classroom. Regardless of the school experience, a child that has…

View original post 1,066 more words

“The Hidden Lives of Learners” by Graham Nuthall

andywarner78

This week I read Graham Nuthall’s “The Hidden Lives of Learners” ready for the @EduChatUK discussion on Wednesday. It is a fascinating study of student behaviour and learning in the classroom, but I’m not sure it has any new implications for most teachers. I’m vastly oversimplifying here, but the key points of the book seem to be:

1)      Everyone learns differently depending on their prior experiences

2)      A concept needs to be revisited at least three times for it to be learnt.

3)      There are three separate cultural spheres at play in the classroom

I’d like to discuss each of these in turn.

1)      Everyone learns differently depending on their prior experiences.

Prior experience, the “nurture” aspect of the false nature/nurture dichotomy, is arguably the single most important factor in determining the performance and behaviour of a student in the classroom. Regardless of the school experience, a child that has…

View original post 1,066 more words

“The Hidden Lives of Learners” by Graham Nuthall

This week I read Graham Nuthall’s “The Hidden Lives of Learners” ready for the @EduChatUK discussion on Wednesday. It is a fascinating study of student behaviour and learning in the classroom, but I’m not sure it has any new implications for most teachers. I’m vastly oversimplifying here, but the key points of the book seem to be:

1)      Everyone learns differently depending on their prior experiences

2)      A concept needs to be revisited at least three times for it to be learnt.

3)      There are three separate cultural spheres at play in the classroom

I’d like to discuss each of these in turn.

1)      Everyone learns differently depending on their prior experiences.

Prior experience, the “nurture” aspect of the false nature/nurture dichotomy, is arguably the single most important factor in determining the performance and behaviour of a student in the classroom. Regardless of the school experience, a child that has spent the first four years of his life in an unstimulating environment in which he receives limited social interaction or parental feedback, and where the usual babysitter is the TV, will unquestionably perform less well than a child for whom the opposite is true. This is because success in the classroom relies on internalising “normal” social relations and a high level of cultural capital. The former allows the child to interact positively with adults and peers and the latter allows the child to make connections between his own knowledge and the new knowledge that he’s learning in the classroom (I have blogged about this previously in a post entitled “Ways to Change the Way we Differentiate”). So, although what Nuthall discusses is clearly true, it is not new. Good teachers have known this since ancient times. It’s very much an example of the “Matthew Effect”, as described by David Didau. What may be revolutionary for some teachers is the notion that we should try to gauge and understand a student’s prior knowledge base so that we can design learning experiences in such a way that they will connect to that prior knowledge, although I’m not even sure that we need to take such a vast variety of information into account in our formal planning, but rather we need to be aware of it so that we can differentiate effectively during our lessons in the explanations we give and the examples and analogies we use to clarify concepts for individual students.

 

2)      A concept needs to be revisited at least three times for it to be learnt.

When we want students to learn any concept we try to demonstrate it and give them chance to practice it in as many ways as possible. If we just tell them or show them something once or twice, there is clearly no way that this can then be committed to the working memory. What I loved in Nuthall’s book was the metaphor of a “learning landscape” that we have to allow our students to explore in many different ways in order to be familiar with it. You can walk through a landscape using many different paths, you can fly over it, you can draw it, photograph it, map it and describe it. In the same way we need to engineer situations that allow our students to explore concepts in many different ways. So for example, this week I’ve been trying to create lessons that will allow my students to explore how and why social relationships are affected by social media. Their homework was to transcribe some examples of their own social media use. We read two newspaper articles: one about how there are marked differences in how the genders take absorb “text speak” into their own spoken vocabulary; the second was about a young woman who tweeted about knocking a cyclist off his bike whilst driving. We watched a YouTube clip made by a freshman at an American university on how his friends use social media, and lastly the students were given the space to study and make notes on the transcripts they had brought in. This led to them being in a strong position to understand the concept we set out to investigate (the effect of social media on human relationships). Again, Nuthall’s assertion is probably correct, but it’s nothing new.

 

3)      There are three separate cultural spheres at play in the classroom

The argument that there are three social or cultural spheres at work in the classroom is an oversimplification. However, I can see that this is a really useful way to think about the classroom when dealing with the social aspects of learning. Nuthall suggests that the classroom is divided up into the public culture that we take for granted, controlled (in theory) by the teacher; the social sphere of the students that teachers are very often unaware of; and the private mental worlds of the students themselves. Students’ priorities are very much bound up in the latter two and to get them to engage with public sphere they have to be experts in designing and delivering exciting and engaging lessons. We have to be aware of the peer culture and try, as best we can, to tap into it and use it to our advantage. He gives some lovely examples of the sorts of conversations that students have in the classroom through transcriptions of recordings he has made. These show a variety of traits, from serious and active discussion of the topic, through topic related arguments about misconceptions and misunderstandings, to all out battling and bullying in an effort to recreate the social hierarchy in a new way. The implications for us as teachers are clear: we have to be constantly aware of what everyone in the room is doing and saying. This, obviously, isn’t possible, but we must at least try. Again, this is nothing new, and comes down, as always in the teaching trade, to the relationships we have with our students and the way we actively differentiate for individuals within the lesson. My issue with the three spheres assertion is that it dramatically oversimplifies things – there are in reality an infinite number of spheres in the classroom as people from different backgrounds and different social statuses interact with one another, negotiating and renegotiating their own personal and social identities through, and in spite of, the things that they learn or do in lessons.

Although I insist that there is nothing new in this book and that it simply serves to underline what teachers are, hopefully, already doing, it is still an important read for anybody involved in education, because it forces us to rethink how we deal with the issues outlined and gives us a vehicle through which we can actively think about and discuss them. Furthermore, it is worth reading just for the transcripts of the conversations the kids have. Some of these are laugh-out-loud funny, and some are desperately sad and tragic, particularly the racist name-calling that takes place as students from different ethnicities jockey to work their way up the hierarchy of their peer group. It is a book that should be on the shelf of the staff section of any school library and one that will help us to deal more pragmatically with the things that, as teachers, we often forget about or take for granted.

The Power of Poetry: helping teenagers to grow up better

andywarner78

I had an epiphany yesterday. We were practising comparing and analysing a couple of poems, as you do at this time of year with your year 11s, when one of the brightest boys (on paper) in my class complained for the umpteenth time that “This is stupid! It can’t be right! It’s just words. I bet if you spoke to these poets they wouldn’t have ever thought this stuff when they were writing the poem.”

I went and sat with him and instigated a discussion on the complexities and nuances of language and of texts as cultural artefacts that can be dealt with separately from the author. We discussed the hidden depths of meaning that language has and how language is a vehicle of knowledge, culture and history. He pointed out that the kettle I use is just a kettle because it’s a kettle, so we talked about how the…

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The Power of Poetry: helping teenagers to grow up better

I had an epiphany yesterday. We were practising comparing and analysing a couple of poems, as you do at this time of year with your year 11s, when one of the brightest boys (on paper) in my class complained for the umpteenth time that “This is stupid! It can’t be right! It’s just words. I bet if you spoke to these poets they wouldn’t have ever thought this stuff when they were writing the poem.”

I went and sat with him and instigated a discussion on the complexities and nuances of language and of texts as cultural artefacts that can be dealt with separately from the author. We discussed the hidden depths of meaning that language has and how language is a vehicle of knowledge, culture and history. He pointed out that the kettle I use is just a kettle because it’s a kettle, so we talked about how the word kettle has origins going back to the industrial revolution and beyond, and that all the historical and cultural connotations are bound up in the word. Well, this really annoyed him because he began to realise that, in reality, words aren’t “just words”.

The student in question is an A* student in maths and science, and we began talking about how things either are or aren’t in these subjects and that invariably there is a right or wrong answer. So we discussed further the possibility that without language we couldn’t know anything about the world, and that the extent of our knowledge is bound by the extent of our vocabulary and that new words have to be invented for new ideas, concepts or discoveries, even in science and maths. This really got him thinking, and he finally decided that he just found poetry hard because he doesn’t like ambiguity. Clearly, this very bright young man’s brain has developed in such a way that it thrives on certainty and proof.

I began thinking a bit more about this. The main problem, to my mind, is that throughout key stage three, this student has studied poetry for three half terms (historically there’s been one poetry unit a year every half term where I work). This means that 46 weeks of the year in years 7-9 he’s not read any poetry worthy of the word.

Then, in year 10, he’s studied a few poems for his controlled assessment that he’s had to compare with a Shakespeare play. This has really emphasised in his mind how much he hates the stuff.

Next, in year 11, he has to study poetry to develop the skills needed to answer the unseen poetry question in the exam. Again, he knows that he has to do this to pass his exam, has already decided on and embedded the notion that he’s rubbish at it, and therefore sees this stuff as out to get him.

But then the problem is compounded, you see. All this is happening in parallel to him dealing with his adolescence and growth into young adulthood. This is a time when we are desperately trying to find out who we are and how our identity fits into the social world around us. We crave certainty and clear black and white answers. We don’t want ambiguity and confusion and ambivalence as this stops us from knowing who we are. And so, when sporadically exposed to poetry, it only adds to the confusion and difficulty of growing up. Not only are we fumbling around trying to understand individual and group identities, but we’re also expected to interpret pieces of text with no real correct interpretation. This has got to be the best way to upset somebody who is worried about their own uncertainties.

So what is the answer? Students should study poetry because it is the epitome of linguistic and cultural achievement, and they have to study it because they’re going to be examined on it. Therefore the answer is obvious. STUDY LOADS OF POETRY ALL THE TIME.

If our students are given a steady diet of poetry almost every week of their teenage lives, it will help them to come to terms with the fact that the world is a place with multiple layers of meaning that can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways. It will allow them to deal with issues that they can relate to from a safe distance. They may realise that it’s ok to be a little unsure of exactly who they are. And less importantly, when they go into the exam, they will be confident in understanding and interpreting poems and in articulating their ideas about them.