Last year Kaz Armstrong, our KS3 Subject Lead and the English department collaborated to create a Key Stage Three curriculum that we felt would equip our students for the demands of the new GCSE. It is a really good curriculum.
However, at times there has been, for a variety of reasons, a disconnect between the Long Term Plan, the Medium Term Plan and Short Term Planning leading to inconsistencies across the department.
In April, to improve the consistency of the planning, I took the decision to streamline the texts meaning from September we will all be teaching exactly the same content.
With lots of schemes of work to write/redraft, I decided to use one meeting a week to bring the department together to collaboratively plan for a unit on Of Mice and Men.
I firstly asked staff to choose their favourite extract from Of Mice and Men. I explained that in the first meeting, I would be wanting them to present their favourite extract to the rest of the department and explain their choice. The rationale behind this is that I strongly believe that planning is where the love for your subject, for your students and for teaching embeds itself. I wanted everyone in the department to find that place of love for ‘Of Mice and Men’. Fortunately, we had a range of extracts – the opening sequence and Steinbeck’s love for the natural environment, the shooting of Candy’s dog and, for me, the presentation of Crook’s room.
Alongside the choosing of an extract, I asked staff to read Joe Kirby’s blog – How to plan a knowledge unit in English https://pragmaticreform.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/unit-plan/
At the start of the meeting we discussed the blog and I found that the way Joe structured his blog enabled us to use it as a guide to work through.
Step One: Specify the most useful knowledge for the unit.
In asking staff to choose their favourite extracts, we had already specified the most useful knowledge for the unit. Because we are only a team of eight, we then discussed and added to our chosen list to arrive at ten key extracts across the novella.
Step Two: Identifying the characters we want students’ to remember in a year
Once we had identified our key extracts, we then identified the characters that were presented in each extract to see how much attention we were paying to all the main characters.
Step Three: Identify the context
Once we had chosen the extracts and the characters to focus on in each extract, we then began to identify opportunities for link to context.
Step Four: Identify the subject specific concepts
For us, this is our AO2 – language and structure.
As staff were sharing their ideas, I created a table with a basic summary of what was said.
This is where we ended our first meeting and where I briefed everyone to their task for the following week.
I asked staff to re-read their extract, identify Steinbeck’s use of language and structure to present a character, theme, setting or event. I also asked staff to identify two-tier vocabulary. I explained to staff that in the next meeting they would need to present their annotated extract to the rest of the group.
We had done this previously after I had read Jo Facer’s blog or seen her speak about how they use their meeting time to jointly read, annotate and analyse an extract. It seemed a brilliant use of time.
We started by reading our blog of the week which tied aptly to what we were doing.
Then we went through the extracts one by one with each member of staff presenting on their chosen extract. This was brilliant. There were some inspired comments being made about the use of modal verbs, person and contrasting verbs to present George and Lennie amongst many, many things. Staff also had the opportunity to feed into the presentation, adding in language and structural techniques that they felt were pertinent and why which meant the original analysis of the extract was enhanced, as was our knowledge of the text or our knowledge of the methods used by Steinbeck.
Had we all been planning the unit alone, we might not have captured the pertinent language and structural techniques and we certainly wouldn’t have some of the interpretations. In addition, in sharing this way, I have confidence that we will all approach a particular extract in the same way which will ensure a level of consistency across the department.
Once staff had presented, I went through our lesson planning structure. This, I think, will vary from school to school. We are now a booklet department and so I went through some of the key things that needed to be in the booklet: What am I learning today, learning goals, learning, mastering and extending opportunities etc. Again, this is school dependent.
Staff were then briefed with the task of producing 3-4 lessons around their chosen extract using our planning framework. One meeting has been cancelled to give staff time to do this. Staff will bring that planning to the meeting and we shall present in a similar way to discuss the lesson structure, content and tasks / activities. This means that we are quality assuring the unit before teaching it to ensure we are all happy and confident with the approach.
To be continued…