Previously, I had discussed in a post how I wanted to make students aware of ‘choices’ in my plan for 'Literacy across the Curriculum'. Little did I know how much this would affect my teaching. I am quite surprised with how I have never really been that explicit with 'making choices' in lesson. Yes, on a simple level, I have focused on which words are better than another set of words. Yes, I have taught the features of a text. However, I have never explicitly used the word ‘choices’ or even discussed the choices they could make. It has always been: “What do you notice about how this text is written?” Here are two examples from this week’s lessons:
I vs. he / she
thoughts / feelings / what happened vs. what happened
facts vs. opinions
very descriptive vs. states what happened
The Woman in Black
Susan vs. Susan Hill
audience vs. reader
I think vs. The reader thinks
'the woman in black' vs. 'The Woman in Black'
Now, as a resource, these are not mind-blowing. They are not even sophisticated. But, what they did (this week) was stimulate intelligent discussions about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of writing. At the end of the discussion, we had a list of features, aspects of writing or choices that the students could use in their writing. There was less of that ‘just do it because I tell you to’ and more of the ‘why should I write like this’. Again, it is my attempt to subtly enforce the rules of writing. It is my attempt to slow the writing down in lessons. Ultimately, I want students to think for themselves. I don’t want them to repeat things parrot fashion. The best writing, for me, is when a student writes something in a new and original way. We have all experienced a class using a word again and again, because you enthusiastically praised one student three weeks ago for using it.
Anyway, back to my adventures in Literacy. The date is Thursday 7th February 2012 and we are still writing the date in full. Personally, I feel that has been quite successful. I asked a TA today if the noticed anything different and they informed me that everyone had been writing the date in full. Great – success. In time, we will see the benefits of this, hopefully. Sadly, with Literacy you don’t see quick results. It isn’t something that is going to change results over night, but the culture of Literacy will be the one that improves results. The culture of improvement. The culture of writing. The culture of reading. The culture of wanting to be better. That is where Literacy comes in. Students want to improve. There are very few that I have come across that don’t want to. They often mask it with poor behaviour or a negative attitude. Everyone everywhere wants to be a little bit better – even me. Literacy is where students can make those improvements. If they improve their reading and writing overall, it will benefit every subject, and not just English.
One of my steps to improve Literacy in the school is to spell out some key messages I want all teachers to adopt. These are:
I have been in teaching long enough to see many new initiatives introduced into schools. The overall problem, I find, with them is that it is either all or nothing. People either go mad and put the initiative in every lesson and every assessment, or, they struggle to apply the initiative to lessons and therefore don’t try. I thought that if we applied these notions above to our focus on Literacy, we will have a workable approach. Therefore, we will able to be consistent with the teaching of Literacy aspects. We will embed them into our lessons and work schemes. We will work to foster the habits of good writing. We will make links to other curriculum areas and build on the existing knowledge that students have. We will be explicit about Literacy in lessons.
One area that I have tried to focus on is consistency. Therefore, I have made several PowerPoints to build a consistent approach to types of writing or purposes.
All staff has access to these resources. They are still in their infancy, but it is amazing what you can do with some hyperlinks. If you haven’t discovered them, do. They make some exciting PowerPoints. Very interactive. If a teacher is asking students to write a newspaper story, the teacher can use this resource and make sure they are using the same features as another teacher in a different classroom.
One of my main concerns is the messages we give out to students. What is the message our school tells our students about writing? Is it a message about crafting good writing? Or, is it – quick because I have lots of information to cram in? Are we giving them skills for life? Or, are we simply jumping through hoops? Possibly, like most schools, we give out mixed messages. We just need to work on being harmonious. Therefore, one of the things I have brought in is a weekly focus on Literacy. Each week staff try to build an element of Literacy into their lessons.
Our school is not original with this approach, but I do think it has been a big factor in the consistency of Literacy in our school. Each week I try to select something that teachers can build into their lessons easily. One week it has been a particular sentence structure. Another week it has been a focus on using the correct their/ there or they’re in writing. It has been beneficial for staff because it is about ‘short and intelligent’ approaches to using Literacy in lessons. This drip feeding of ideas, I think, helps with building opportunities into lessons. I have sat through numerous CPD sessions thinking, “How can I fit all of this in?”. Staff, on a weekly basis, are trying to build Literacy things into lessons. Some work. Some don’t. However, there is less of that ‘crowbarring’ of something for the sake of it. We have all, at some stage, been guilty of crowbarring something into a lesson, as we have been instructed to. At the moment, this weekly approach is becoming a habit. Hopefully, when the tiny patter of Ofsted feet come this way, staff will feel confident enough to show them what they can do. They may recall one of the previous focuses, or they may even feel confident to do something new. Either way, they will feel confident.
What is the Literacy focus for next week? Grammar bingo! Staff are going to mark down every time they correct a student’s speech.
Thanks for reading,