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.