One of the first jobs I want to do is make the faculty an even more engaging and exciting environment to enter into. I want students to feel even more enthusiastic about coming into English. I want them to feel even more passionate about reading and keen to write. I am fortunate that The Wellington Academy has the most amazing facilities. However, I can’t wait to make our corridor a little bit brighter and a little bit more interactive so…although you are looking at a work in progress, here are a few reading posters I am developing.
In my role as Literacy Co-Ordinator I am expected to run a CPD day each year. In year 1 the focus is on developing Speaking and Listening skills and, in particular, student presentations. I was keen for this CPD day not to be led by me. As an English teacher and Literacy Co-ordinator sometimes it can be taxing trying to convince other professionals that literacy isn’t just a problem for the English department. Therefore, at all opportunities, I have tried to ensure other faculties lead on aspects of literacy. For my CPD on presentation skills, I asked the Acting Head of Drama, the Head of ICT and a fellow English colleague instead to run the workshops.
There were two objectives for these CPD workshops. 1) To begin to embed key literacy skills across the school 2) To ensure a greater level of consistency when approaching literacy matters.
Workshop 1 – English criteria
In this session, my English colleague guided staff through the English criteria to make them more aware about how we assess students within English. She demonstrated a poor speaking and listening presentation (modelled aptly by a member of staff). She then asked staff to mix and match banding, with key words, with key criterion before asking staff to use this to assess another speaking and listening performance. The purpose was to ensure staff went away with an understanding of what constititues a ‘C’ grade presentation, a ‘B’ grade presentation etc. She then talked staff through the process of creating cue cards explaining that she only ever issues a maximum of three cue cards to each student so the focus must be on key words. She taught us a good modelling process of having a speech on the board and going through, highlighting key words that can then be reduced down to go on the cue cards. I haven’t ever explicitly modelled this so this will be something I do in the future.
Workshop 2 – Visual aids
Our brilliant Head of ICT led a session on the use of Power Point as a visual aid. Her message was clear – keep it simple. Students can often get carried away trying to make their presentations look beautiful when in fact it is what they say / how they say it that gets them the marks. Consistency across slides was something she emphasised – consistency in font, transition, layout, background to ensure a professional look. She reinforced the need to keep the text to a minimum and to get students to think of alternative ways to present their work – e.g. in chart or graph form. She also showed the less technically aware members of staff how to embed a video into power point.
Workshop 3- Performance
This was the session most were dreading as it was the practical sessions. Our Drama specialist began with a warm up to demonstrate how activities such as tongue twisters and games like ‘I love you’ can help to warm up students’ voices and get them practising their pace. After this she organised us into groups and gave us a speech we were going to have to present to the rest of the class. To aid this further, she issued each of us with our speaking and listening target from the last assessment (projecting voice, pace, use of gesture). (In English the students stick their targets into their planner) and told us of the need to focus in our target. After 5 minutes she asked us to stand in relevant zones (red, white, green) to signify how well we thought we had done in terms of meeting our target. We then had further time to practise our presentations before one group had to present.
After all three workshops had been attended it was up to me to draw some conclusions for staff to help guide them in the planning of a unit culminating in a formal presentaton, dually assessed for content and speaking and listening skills. I presented a number of key questions to staff that I wanted them to consider:
1) How can we embed the explicit teaching of speaking and listening skills (as assessed in English) within our curriculum planning?
2) How can we model the effective use of cue cards as a helpful tool within our SOW?
3) How can we ensure a consistent approach to the use of planning aids?
4) How can we maximise rehearsal time within units to help students improve thier presentations?
5) How can we use personalised targets to develop students’ skill sets?
It was a fantastically productive morning with so many members of staff providing positive feedback today. I can’t wait to see how faculties have incorporated the workshop material into the unit of work they have been asked to create.
If you would like a copy of the power points we used to present the workshops, please let me know.
I was given the responsibility this term of planning our Thematic Poetry for year 8. I have a top set with students working between a 6.2 and a 6.8. From the outset, I decided I wanted to approach the teaching of this unit differently. I am tired…no…bored of teaching students the PEE structure or PEEFEE for our more able. Of course, I recognise that it is a fundamental structure in developing students’ analytical skills but when working towards a Key Assessment / Controlled Assessment I have noticed our approach means students are writing a PEE / PEEFEE paragraph every lesson. This doesn’t engage or excite them with the learning going on in the classroom and it certainly doesn’t engage me. In addition, it means that although they work independently, I am forever, their safety net. However, with the pressure on to get results, especially with a class I really wish to challenge, could I be brave enough to break away from this mould?
The poem we used in class was ‘Blessing’ by Imtiaz Dharker. Normally, we would teach a skill and this would culminate in the students writing a PEE/PEEFEE paragraph of analysis. However, my decision to abandon PEE / PEEFEE meant I had more time to get creative with my students. In teaching the context of the poem, we watched short clips and viewed photographs online giving students a clear insight into the water shortage problem in India. When approaching viewpoint, we viewed interviews with the poet to seek out her feelings about the situation. When exploring the purpose, the students created leaflets about the situation in Dharker using key lines from the poem before comparing their leaflets with ‘Wateraid.’ We then evaluated whether the poem or the leaflet was more effective in communicating a message about water shortage in India. Looking at structure, we completed news reports, with segments on the situation in Dharker before the municipal pipe burst and then live coverage of the water pipe bursting and people’s reactions. When identifying the organisational features, we focused in on performance, emphasising the enjambment which enabled students to consider the importance of key words. For homework, I asked students to find a poem that they could compare with ‘Blessing’ with a focus on figurative language – independently, without guidance from me. With not one PEE / PEEFEE paragraph in sight, how would my students fare when it came to the written analysis of the poem?
Having taught the skills needed to respond to the key questions, I presented the students with the questions. They demonstrated confidence in reading the questions because they recognised the key words – viewpoint, purpose, structure, organisation. They knew exactly what each question wanted from them. I then put the students into groups of similar ability to work on constructing their responses to the questions using PEE / PEEFEE. There was to be no guidance from me about this. Although I was worried about whether the depth of response would be enough to get them the mid level 6s they had been targeted, I wanted to see if they could be independent in their responses. I needn't have worried! The students demonstrated an excellent understanding of PEE/PEEFEE without needing me to go over it again and again for them. Instead they worked independently, supporting each other, to construct responses that followed the structure perfectly and, yet at the same time, deviated from in order to present a unique interpretation of the poem. What on earth had I been worried about?
I have learnt a lot from this very straightforward exercise. Firstly, if we embed the skills early on, then we can have a greater confidence in our students to use the structures without the need to reinforce it every time we teach a reading unit. My students fully understood the structure and demonstrated that re-visiting each lesson is completely unneccessary. Secondly, in giving students the freedom to analyse – albeit in groups – I have been blessed with some incredibly thought-provoking and interesting interpreations of the poem. I was staggered by the individual responses to the homework task – my students’ choice of poems to compare / contrast with ‘Blessing’ and their perceptive analysis of the use of figurative language in both, without any input from me! And, therefore, it is incredibly clear to me that I need to make homework tasks and library lessons opportunities for students to research and develop their own subject knowledge without my, heavy teacher input. In building the students’ skill set up, I need to recognise when it is time to let go and let the students become more independent in their approach. This will, after all, set them up well for GCSE.
But most importantly, the feedback from students showed that they preferred this approach because they were given more opportunities to be creative and ‘the amount of writing was reduced.’ And, I, too enjoyed seeing them enjoy analysing a piece of text in a detailed and sustained way without the monotony of the usual written analysis. I have learnt seemingly an obvious but important lesson. I am making the move away from PEE.
The run up to taking on a new role in a new school means that you wish that there were three of you. The first person to focus on continuing to develop good quality lessons. The second person to tie up all the loose ends before you leave. The third person to be the person who thinks ahead. Alas, there is but just one of me. Admittedly, it has been the good quality lessons that at times are having to give. What this means is that my students are being given slightly more freedom in the classroom and slightly longer to complete tasks. It does not mean my standards have slipped. But, sometimes you have to prioritise and ensuring my year 11s are neatly folded, packaged and dropped off (good use of vocab here, according to some) is the most important part of my work right now.
Telling my year 11 students that I was leaving was unbelievably hard. Harder than I first thought. I was forced into telling them when a member of staff let my departure slip to my tutor group. I sat on the desk and in my head rehearsed my approach. It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, amongst some tears I told them that I was leaving, that they are, for the most part, on target and their knowledge of the exam will mean they will be fine without me. The girls cried. The boys weren’t sure what to do. And then teacher mode kicked in and back to work we went. I was expecting a grilling at parent’s evening but I did not get it. Instead one girl broke down, two parents told me their sons were deeply upset and one parent informed me I had been inspirational to her child. I couldn’t ask for a better send off.
And so as the pile of underachieving Controlled Assessment folders dwindle on my desk and I approach the final assessment period, my attention turns to my new school. Over the past two weeks I have been familiarising myself with a new exam board. One would expect exam boards to be fairly similar but this does not seem to be the case so instead I am faced with learning an enormous amount of content within a short period of time. I am fortunate that I am taking over from an incredibly organised HOF so have no need to worry when it comes to Controlled Assessment and instead can focus my time on the exam. I have been given the responsibility for planning revision lessons and so quite clearly, I need to know my stuff.
It is the first time I have planned my lessons using power point, and whilst the end results look engaging and visually appealing, they do take longer to produce. To begin with, I was struggling. I am so used to having my word script that I felt worried about what I would do in the classroom without my script to refer to. I could see my script edging in on the first couple of slides of my power point even though I knew the script would only overload the students but I could feel a real tension about letting go. This was only compounded when I happened to glance at a Power Point a new colleague had produced which was stunning. The pressure was on. The difficulty was maintaining a focus on the teaching and learning. What was it that I needed my students to do in order to meet their learning objective? And then I realised that my attitude towards Power Point was that I had, up until this point, felt that many Power Points I had seen were all style and no substance. Indeed it is easy to lose the focus of what you are planning if your thoughts are more about the presentation of your slide and making sure the colour scheme is appropriate. In the end, I had to go back to my ever faithful planning grid to ensure that teaching and learning was at the forefront of my lesson plan. Once I had the focused skeleton plan back, creating the Power Point became a much easier task and I have ended up with something I am quite pleased with. Interestingly, despite the fact that I shall be going in as HOF, sending my completed piece of work off to the current 2ic was a nerve-wracking process. Would it be good enough? What would he think of me as a teacher? I nervously await his response, hoping that it will be good enough to earn some immediate respect that I actually can pass off knowing a lot more about the syllabus than I actually do!
Now to crack on with lesson 2!