Friday, 31 May 2013

Sentenced to six years of APP - APP and reading

I am preparing for my first ever teachmeet in Leeds next week and part of that is talking about sentences. Next week, I will blog about the topic of sentences, but in my preparation for it, I thought I’d talk about APP in English - with a bit about sentences at the end.  

I remember a couple of years ago when APP was introduced as the next best thing in teaching. It was designed to make marking easier and more focused; yet, at the same time it reduced the English language to a series of bullet points. There were a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at the time it was unveiled. I was quite excited at the time, as it meant that marking could be more focused and you could ditch the usual general marking of things like spelling and accuracy, and focus on word choice and the effect on the reader. Then, schools went mad and everything was obsessed and focused on doing it, and showing evidence in lessons of its use. It is interesting in this age of ‘progress in lessons’ there is very little mention of APP (assessing pupil progress). Obviously, there is a political agenda; it was a Labour initiative and so under a Conservative rule it is neglected, but I think it is still bubbling away in pockets of classrooms.    

Several years on, I am not so positive about it. Don’t get me wrong – it can be used effectively, but is only a part of a successful approach to teaching. From an English point of view, I struggled with the framework because of the assessment focuses (or foci – depending on the attitude of the reader). To get about a level 6, everything becomes vague. Level 7s tend to do things with flair and creativity, which sadly doesn’t really equate to the mark scheme. It almost says ‘does it really, really well and better than others in the class’.  I always felt that the APP grids were focused on the level 5s and how to achieve to a level 5. As soon as you got to a level 5, it read as ‘blah blah yes you do it really well’.

Furthermore, the grids allowed you to have students being proficient in writing for an audience and using superb vocabulary, yet the basics of sentence control and punctuation were often missing from their writing. You ended up with a mixed view of a student’s capabilities. It almost said: yeah, I know you can’t punctuate to save your life, but look... pretty words.  Some people might say that this was great because it gave an idea of the student’s priorities. It directed them and showed them how to improve. Other people might say that this just masked their weaknesses, as naturally most people will ‘upsell’ a student’s skills. I always felt that you shouldn’t be getting to the dizzy heights of a level 6 unless you could punctuate accurately. I recall one teacher insisting that you couldn’t give a level 5 unless they used paragraphs, which has stuck with me to this day.

One major problem: showing evidence of it once means that you are proficient in a skill. I have scored a goal once, by accident. I was standing near a goal, when a ball hit me and bounced into the net. This one event does not make me suitable for the England football team. Just because you do something once, doesn’t mean you are an expert. It just means that you are lucky. I was lucky. Students are lucky too and get it right by accident and fluke. But, does that mean that they are skilled at that particular element?  The APP grids were highlighted, ticked or shaded if a student demonstrated a skill once. As evidence, it looks great. But, it really masks the whole problem: what can they do independently?  Guided by the APP grid, you could probably help students to show a lot of high level skills. Take a lesson for each focus and you can tick them off one by one, but what can they really do without the 'stabilising wheels' of your help and instruction?

It became a reductive process:  Today, we are looking at AF3 and AF5.   Lessons became focused on a very narrow skill and the learning process was reduced to a simple step ladder. This isn’t too much of a problem in small doses, but it can lead to a culture of breaking down each skill one by one and teaching them in isolation. When looking at a poem, you tend to look at one aspect and then bring other aspects in along the journey. I felt that a culture focused on AF1 or AF2 meant that it became stuck on that focus. The beauty of teaching English is that you can start talking about a poem and end up looking at something completely different by the end. To paraphrase a quote from Doctor Who, if we capture a star and put it in a box, we miss the true beauty of the star, for the star is beautiful in relation to other stars in the sky. Boil a lesson down to focusing on sentence structure alone and you miss the relationship between the audience and the purpose of the text. You also miss how the punctuation works with the structure used to create a desired effect. Furthermore, you miss out the use of effective vocabulary that is necessary for a sentence to be really effective.

I use APP occasionally, when the task is appropriate, but it isn’t the focus for all assessments. It is a tool. A tool for helping students improve, but it is not a hammer to hammer in learning. It can help with AFL, but it isn’t the miracle cure that we were led to believe. Recently, I was preparing students for writing about a novel and I was faced with the grid of doom again. Looking at a huge grid and colouring different bits doesn’t help them or me, so I came up with these sentence to help them unlock that skill. In the past, I have given them bullet points or a list of questions, but my new strategy helped them better:  I gave each student a set of structures for them to articulate the skill I was assessing. Too many times have I talked about a skill for students to repeat bland statements like: ‘The writer uses structure to show us the theme of loneliness’.

I warned students that this wasn’t a case of a Woolworths' pick and mix. They had to find one that best fits what they were trying to say. I know they are quite dull and boring, but they are a starting point for them to articulate the complex ideas. They are much more effective than looking at a grid and saying to get a level 5 you must link the structure to the meaning and take several quotes from across the text to support your ideas. The students that used them demonstrated effective evidence of the skill assessed.

AF2 – Retrieve information from texts and use quotations 

·         We see this when ‘___________________’.

·         An example is when _________ says: ‘________________’.

·         The best example of this is when _______ says ‘___________’

·         POINT: ‘___________________’.

AF3 – Infer or interpret information or ideas

·         This suggests that …

·         He could also be hinting that ________

·         Although it seems that he is saying ____________, he really means_______ .

·         The fact that he ____________ and ___________ shows that he means ______

·         On the outside it looks like he _____________________. However, on the inside he is _________ because he says_______

AF4 – Comment on the structure of the text

·         At the start, you notice that_________

·         The second half of the books shows a change in the way that __________________

·         As the book progresses, we see_______________.

·         The more ______________, the more__________________.

·         As the story progresses, we see that_____________________ .

·         By the end of the book, we see ________________ .

·         The last chapters explain __________________.


AF5 – Comment on the writer’s use of language

·         The writer uses _____________ to show / highlight / suggest ______________________ .

·         The character tends to use ____________ when ___________________.

·         When the character uses___________, it shows us that_________________ .

·         The use of ___________ suggests that _____________________.

·         By using ______________, the writer shows us that._____________ .

AF6 – Comment on the writer’s purposes and viewpoints

·         It would seem that the writer is ________________________ towards___________.

·         The writer suggests that ________________ .

·         The writer uses __________________ to show us that ______________________.

·         The writer wants the reader to feel _________________ so that _________________ .

·         The novel demonstrates the writer’s view that _______________________________.

Thanks for reading. I think I have been let off early for good behaviour.



Monday, 27 May 2013

Blog Synch 5 Why I idolise Henry VIII

This is my entry for the latest blogsync project. See more here.
What would do most to improve the status of the teaching profession? Privatise education.

Let’s privatise education! There’s a phrase I never thought I would ever say or write, but nine years in teaching has changed me beyond all recognition of my former self. I have lost the na├»ve glow of youth and found the tarnished cynicism of old age. The face of education has changed completely in my time teaching. Time will tell if it has changed for the better or the worse, but it has changed nonetheless. Each week, month and term brings something new or a new idea or initiative to do or integrate into lessons. Like Henry VIII, you look around and see something better and you try to look for a solution or do something different with the current wife. Henry’s choices were divorce, death or behead. Sadly, the middle one wasn’t and isn't a choice, but it just sits well in the sentence. So, it is just divorce as the other  one isn’t appropriate either. Learning the History through rote methods must have some benefit.  

I think a divorce, in theory, from the public sector would be the best thing to happen to education, because, while it is in the public eye, education is owned by the public and therein lies the crux of our problem. As it is the property of the public, every man and woman and his or her dog feel they have a right to dictate how education should be led and how lessons should be taught. The ludicrous situation is that almost every news story links back to education, because education is seen as the key to solving all the problems in the world and in society.  Education has become reactionary to every event or speech made. In fact, if you are a business and you want a few pages of free publicity, all you have to do is criticise the education system and make some suggestions of how you want children to be taught. Bang. Free publicity.

I foresee a future where our education system will be dominated by this constant line of publicity inspired comments:

·         Tescos will want us to teacher people how to shop better.

·         Thomas Cook will want us to teach students more about countries that they fly tourists to.

·         Typhoo will want us to teach students how to drink tea more effectively than coffee.
  • Radox want teachers to show pupils how to wash effectively so they use more soap.

Teachers are told they need to do this or that they are not covering enough of something endlessly. The problem is, is that everybody has an idea of what should be taught and what shouldn’t be taught and that there is no common thought or direction. There is very little status in teaching because it is so confused. How can parents feel secure that teachers are doing the best, when the 'best' changes every minute? The exams change every year. The syllabus changes on a whim.
I hear endlessly about the NHS being in crisis, yet I cannot fathom a way to improve things.  The main reason being is that I am not in the NHS. Just because I can put a plaster on someone, doesn't mean I am an expert in the NHS. Just because you have been through the education system, doesn't make you an expert in what should be taught. As long as education is in the public eye, it will always be questioned and challenged. At the moment, there are no breaks or pauses. It is a sea of changes. A bumpy ride that it is hard to keep on track when there is a new storm every week. No wonder teachers are leaving, when the landscape of education isn't consistent.

The people who are in charge of education have their direction and that too is not free from public scrutiny. The politicians want votes, so their views are coached so that they reacting to public opinion. Furthermore, politicians need to be seen to be doing things. Imagine a world where politicians say that they are going keep things the same, like the last party did. It is never going to happen. That’s because underlining everything a politician says is the notion that they are going to do it better than the other party. So, politicians change things ‘for the better’ and this involves making major or radical changes, because these will improve things. All this meddling makes education a dizzy merry-go-round. It never stops still. No sooner has one thing been introduced then another contrasting one in unveiled. I want better, but improving things every 5 minutes doesn't make real improvements. You need to see the benefits of those changes and time is important for you to see that happen.

I want to see a divorce between the education system and the public. I don’t want to hide it; I just want it away from the public in terms of direction. It should be led by some clever people and free from political motivation and radical elements. Being directly accountable to the public hasn't helped us. Look at the league tables. Too often schools are judged outstanding through a series of tick boxes. One of those is linked to results. If you get the results, no questions asked. There are some outstanding schools hidden in the system, because from a public perspective they are failing because X and Y don't hit the national target. The tick box doesn't take into account several factors that are out of the hands of teachers. Like Henry VIII’s relationship with the Pope all those years ago, the relationship we have at the moment is not a happy marriage. In fact, it isn’t even a marriage. It is one of pain and mood swings. You can’t even predict where things will go or what will happen.

I agree with some of Gove’s ideas, in principle. His idea of raising the academic rigour of education is one that I wholeheartedly agree with. I have often struggled with students spending more time on a subject other than English because it was the equivalent of five GCSEs. However, his agenda is politically motivated. He might say he wants to improve, but you know part of his speech and rhetoric is designed to win voters. It isn’t completely focused on improving education. It is about winning the next election and convincing floating voters that his party is doing the right thing. His ideas are thoroughly conservative in education terms so he will appeal to those people who prefer it to how it used to be. It is about spin. But, education shouldn’t be linked to or part of any form of spin. It should be about providing the future with the tools for life.

Furthermore, his actions are about keeping him in the job too. If he sits and does nothing, then he will easily be replaced or reshuffled with someone who will do something. We supposedly want people of action not people who think and wait. Gove political strategy seems to be based on mentioning one controversial idea a week. It makes him look like he is doing a good job. Plus, there isn't really anybody to argue back. He is great at getting publicity. Even though there have been very few changes in education recently, his publicity machine makes you think there has been. You think the landscape is changing. 

Politics is always about change. Changing things to make life better. Changing our manifesto so that it appeal to real people. Changing the policy on this and that. When politics is obsessed with change, that has an affect on other aspects. The public services cannot keep up with these changes, because mainly change happens on a whim or an idea. They are never really grounded on real things. Change is good, sometimes. Change for improvement is good, but not when they don't stay around long enough to see the effects.

This whole idea of privatising education doesn’t sit well with me as I like to think of myself as ‘working class’. In fact, I am so working class that I never used to go on holidays abroad as a child. I am so working class that my parents always worked during the holidays. I am so working class that I used to wear second hand clothes as a teenager. For me, education is so important. Education provides social mobility. It allows the poor to become rich. It allows us to improve. Yet, the problem with our system at the moment is that is flawed by a lack of clear direction and an agenda based on several million people’s agendas. Everybody should have free education. However, the way that people view education is tainted by a consumer view of it. Education is a product today. It is something that can be marketed, rebranded and adapted to improve profit-margins. I don’t think for a second that by going private these things will disappear. But, I think that education will be removed out of the public sphere and it will stop it being something that people think they have a right to meddle with.  No more silly comments like: ‘I pay for your wages, teacher’.  

Finally, that would lead me to the difficult question: Who would run it? Let the tender begin. My personal favourite is ‘Group 4’. Hang on, isn’t that who is running it now? Yeah it is. They’ve lost something. Yet, we don’t know what it is.



P.S. I don't really idolise Henry VIII. I just thought it would hook you in. If you are reading this, it did the job.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

What’s technique vomiting? Spot first, effect after

There is an awful lot of feature spotting in English. So much that I think it is becoming a disease: the vomiting of technical terms associated with language analysis.

Teacher: What do you notice about this text?
Student 1: It’s got a rhetorical question.
Student 2: Alliteration.

Student 3: It rhymes.
Student 4: It has got long sentences in it.

Student 5: It uses a contrast.

Teacher: Does anyone think it is funny?

Student 1: Yeah, it is funny, but it has a simile in it.
I was privy to some Year 11s revising and it was an alarming and joyful experience all at the same time. Joyful, because I listened to two students discussing at length which poem they loved from the anthology. ‘Hawk Roosting’ was a loved by one. ‘Come on, Come back’ was adored by another. The boys explained how they were hoping to write about them in the exam. I chipped in and explained how I couldn’t stand ‘Come on, Come back’ for its blandness and its tenuous position in the conflict section of the anthology.  In response, I received a detailed explanation of how I was wrong. Great stuff, in my opinion; I am happy to be challenged. There was passion for the poems, which isn’t always seen. On the other hand, I overheard a conversation about techniques: “I will mention juxtaposition of incongruities,” said one student. “I’ve got an oxymoron here,” said another one. It was as if the poem wasn’t a collection of ideas, but a bag of techniques instead. The ammunition for the exam was not thought, but technical terms. It was feature spotting.

In my time, I have attended quite a few meetings with English teachers and most of them were led by AQA. Usually, I tend to be the only man or at least one of two men in the sessions given by the organisation. The general atmosphere is usually friendly and quiet, as we all read books and we are generally nice people, even if we do not like the use of the word ‘nice’. Where do you teach? Oh, really. Quickly, you find that you have a common interest, such as a colleague, school or a text you teach.

Anyway, there comes to a point where the leader of the meeting asks the teachers to get into groups and discuss a text. Every time this has happened to me a teacher will drop in a fancy technical term for something. Half the group lie and nod their heads, agreeing with the use of said technique. The rest look bemused by the Latin term used only once by a group of monks from a remote region of hills in France. I look at this person for clarification. They inform me that the term describes the use of rhetorical question. Then, why didn’t they use that term? Simply: they wanted to assert their intelligence over the rest of the group. But, it isn’t a sign of intelligence for me. I used to work in the insurance industry and I can spout jargon like nobody, but I don’t, for it will make me look a prat. Yes, jargon has a nasty habit of making you look an idiot. Using language effectively is about using language in a precise manner.

One of the greatest teachers I have seen teach used language so effectively and precisely that I still to this day remember the lesson. She didn’t spout technical terms with glee. In fact, she used two in the whole lesson, and that was at the end of it. She understood that it is the ideas behind the term and not the term itself that is important. How many lessons start with an objective about identifying things? How many classes have an activity that involves labelling something? Don’t get me wrong: the subject specific words are valuable because they encode to a reader that the speaker or writer is part of an elite group – the knowledgeable group. But, somewhere the term has become more important than the skill or the concept. Poetry isn’t about engagement with ideas now. It is about regurgitating a glossary of techniques. Today, grammar at primary school isn’t about the skill of using grammar. It is about spewing up a list of terms to fool someone into thinking you know what grammar is.

Across the land, there are glossaries in books and posters in classrooms aimed to help students, but what would be more useful would be a wider range of words used or even posters for different sentence structures. Students need the tools to explain thoughts better and not just a ‘wow word’ or technical term. The most able can use technical terms effectively, whereas others just chuck it in a sentence and hope to God that it works or it sounds right.

The problem lies with the exam. My students have sat the poetry exam this week. In one hour and fifteen minutes, they have had to write a comparison of two poems and a response to an unseen poem. Sadly, the short duration forces this technique vomiting, because what else can you do in such a short space of time. Quick spot something and talk about it. I said to my students that they had to show ‘thought and thinking’ in their writing this year and I feel that it has worked, because it moved them away from spotting things. However, I don’t think a simple case of ‘thinking’ will solve this ingrained problem of over-reliance of terminology.

This week I had a lesson observation. The class were exploring how a picture is used in a piece of non-fiction. It was a bit of preparation for a practice English language exam. However, I was a little bit foolish and I tried something new and it worked.

Instead of jumping in and analysing the text, we explored the effect of the text first. In pairs, the class had to decide if they were the writer or the reader. I showed the class the front cover of a newspaper this week. It featured the shocking story of the soldier’s murder.  I am still stunned by the events that took place. (Like others, I am trying to understand the events and my thoughts and prayers go to the poor soldier’s family.)  

The student who was the ‘reader’ had to describe to the ‘writer’ how they felt and feel when they read it. This conversation was quite heated, understandably. As a class, we shared the different readers’ thoughts. Most were shocked and horrified with the picture. Some questioned the choice of the attacker over the victim. A few felt is was inappropriate for a mainstream newspaper to publish a picture like this. They questioned the reaction it might cause and one student said that if he had a daughter, he wouldn’t want her to see this picture.

Then we inverted the situation. The ‘writers’ had to explain their choices and why they made those particular choices. There followed a detailed discussion of the choices made with some references to technical terms, but they were combined with the effect on the reader. Students were able to see through role play the importance of the writer and the reader when discussing the text. Often, we obsess on what has the writer done (the techniques) and then we link in our feelings. This way the feelings and the thoughts are at the front of what we were analysing.

I will put the whole lesson on the blog at a later stage, but I think the concept of role play element in non-fiction really worked. Students could easily adopt the roles of the reader or writer and it made the learning so much better than having the endless list of techniques spotted. Again, I am going back to ‘choices’ and being explicit about teaching students to see writing as a process of choices. However, this method makes the reader and writer explicit in our teaching of language analysis.   

I am now going to have a week free of techniques.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Classics, Blue Peter and here’s one I made earlier

It seemed that the current battle in education was all about knowledge verses skill. Do we focus on knowledge? Or, do we focus on the skill? The tests this week for Year 6s highlighted that old battle again. Which is better: the knowledge of grammar; or the skill of using grammar correctly? Does the ability to spot an abstract noun help you to write effectively? Generally, we focus on both and somewhere in the middle it will stick. Like salt and pepper, you need them, but not too much at once and not always at the same time.

Then, Mr Soundbite, I mean, Mr Gove opened a Pandora’s Box in a speech and raised an interesting argument. For most people, it was the shock that Mr Men was being used in association with the Holocaust. For Gove, it was the sign of ‘dumbing down of education’. But, for me, I think it raised a more interesting point: engagement verses boredom. I don’t know much about the lesson in question but I think the furore has created more lessons than it intended to. It would make a great starter for most lessons: Should Mr Men be used to teach ‘Of Mice and Men’? Should Mr Men be used for Science lessons? Discuss. Anyway, I saw it for what it was: a teacher trying to engage a class and make them see things in a different light. I can also see why people feel the need to question the sensitivity of the topic and approach used. However, the real problem lies in the ‘how far will you go to engage students’. I expressed my opinion before about the ‘boredom factor’ here, but I think we need to raise the issue again. On the surface it could look like ‘dumbing down’ but underneath it might be one teacher trying to engage students and use Vygotsky’s ‘Zone of Proximal Distance’. Starting with the familiar and then introducing the unfamiliar in the learning journey.  

Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. This has always been a concept thrown around by Ofsted. Students have to show signs of engagement in the lesson, or you will die…sorry, I mean fail. I get a little confused; the general feeling of Ofsted is do or die at the moment. Lessons are being observed and observers are looking for signs of non-engagement. A child leaning back on a chair. A boy investigating chewing gum under a table. A girl doodling in her book. A lad colouring in the letters on a worksheet. A boy investigating a patch of dry skin on the back of his hand. All, supposedly, signs of a lack of engagement.  If there is evidence of any of these, the lesson can never be outstanding or good. I have always felt, at times, that I was being led to be a Blue Peter presenter in teaching, balancing between entertaining and informing mode. Listen to some of the phrases that a Blue Peter presenter might use:

Remember last week, when we had…                                     (placing learning in context)

On today’s show, John will be … and Peter will be…           (objectives)

First you need …                                                                               (task setting)

Here’s one I made earlier                                                              (modelling process)

Who knew that ….                                                                           (reinforced learning/ mini-plenary)

Well, that’s us for another show. We’ve had…                    (plenary)

Join us on Thursday, when we will be looking at…             (referring to the next stage in learning)


Add a piddling Elephant and few giggles and you have an average lesson, I mean episode of Blue Peter.  Look at lessons at the moment. Expectations seem to be of lots of mini-plenaries in a lesson. All designed to track and maintain progress in a lesson. It is the format of Blue Peter. First we have a section on a zoo where they are using poetry to help pandas to relax. Then, someone makes a cake in the shape of a TARDIS.  Finally, we have a section on the Henry VIII, including people wearing the costumes in a re-enactment of scene at court. Lots of short things designed to entertain and inform at the same time. Everything revolves around entertainment or engagement. Short sharp burst so the audience doesn’t move on to something else.  But, really the education in the episode is the history bit, yet it is hidden amongst cake making, cute animals and dressing up.

Teachers are magicians and tricksters. We use underhand techniques sometimes to teach something. With a sleight of the hand a student has learnt how a sonnet is structured or what an oxymoron is. However, these tricks of engagement are just that - tricks. We use them occasionally, but they are not the foundations of our teaching. They are used to engage. I do not think that that poor History teacher’s schemes of work are linked to different children’s story. I don’t think for a second that the teacher uses Winnie the Witch to discuss the suffragette movement. Or, Winnie the Pooh to explore the history of kings and queens in England. It was a sleight of hand. It was a way into some aspect of learning. I feel saddened that this secret from the ‘Magic Circle’ of teaching is being seen as what is the norm. In fact, I haven’t referred to any children’s books in any of my lessons this week. Simply, it was a teacher trying to engage with students. We get them hooked in and then the learning begins.

The key word is 'sometimes'. Sometimes I do some engaging stuff, but I don’t do it all the time, because the learning isn’t always about the ‘flash’ and the ‘bang’ moments. It happens in waves in lessons. Therefore, the current instance of lots of mini-plenaries doesn’t factor this in. It promotes this bang, test, bang, test, bang, test method. I am planning a lesson to be observed next week and I am wondering if I need to do a small dance in the middle to make sure they are engaged. I might use the question: How does this dance reflect the character’s inner turmoil in the poem? It would just be the sort of thing a Blue Peter presenter would do. A silly dance.

In truth, I think the ‘hook’ is the thing that needs to be engaging and the rest follows. I don’t have to be a Blue Peter presenter all lesson, just for the first few minutes. The happy, smiley face that greats the class and teases them with a trick and a sleight of hand that they are doing something exciting and fun, when really they are going to do something difficult, challenging and not always as exciting as an CGI explosion in the finale of a trilogy of a blockbuster. But, it will be much more valuable and beneficial to the rest of their life.

And, here’s one I made earlier.

This is a lesson I have done for several years with Year 8s and they have done some great stuff with it. In fact, it predates CSI. I taught it long before people used CSI in RE, Science and other lessons. It uses Robert Browning's 'Porphyria's Lover'.

 Starter:  Look at these pictures. A body has been found.

What has happened?

Why did it happen?

Students write down their hypothesis based on the pictures.

Main: I reveal the poem in sections as below.  The students, in pairs, try to develop the story of the body further. Each time a new section is revealed they revise their hypothesis. As they revise their hypothesis, they make reference to the poem and use quotes. .

Each time, a section is revealed the class share their hypothesises and we annotate a copy of the sections on a PowerPoint. The analysis becomes quite specific and highlights language choices from the start, due to the nature of the exploration. You tend to hear that the weather is described in a bad way to help set the tone for the possible murder.

One of the best things is when they think something saucy is about happen. It causes a lot of nervous coughs, but when he strangles her that dissipates.  


The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.

She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,

Murmuring how she loved me — she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavor,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me forever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight's gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:

So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshiped me: surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.

That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,

I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,

Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!

Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!

Plenary: At the end, we explore where our expectations changed and what caused those changes. And this will usually end up with some very subtle analysis of the language.
And finally...
I don't think the problem is about 'dumbing down'. Personally, I think the problem lies in the expectations of things being 'fun' by the students and notion of having to engage with everything in the room. Are we sending the wrong impression to students? That learning is fun, exciting and can be simply rounded to 15 minutes intervals. The idea of engagement as being one of the assessment criteria of observations is so subjective. If we want our students to be more academic, then they must be able to have an attention span longer than 5 minutes. They must be able to learn and work without changing tasks every 5 minutes.  A diet of lots of short, fast tasks and mini-plenaries are setting the tone for learning and it isn't very academic. I wish that Gove would understand that the texts aren't really the source of the problems or the odd lesson. I just wish he'd see that the structure of the system and the judgement of the system isn't truly designed to support academic learning.  It favours the quick results and not the deep learning that makes students successful learners.

I now need to spend some time thinking about the lesson observation next week, so I have bought super glue to stick the chair legs to the floor. I have laminated exercise books and worksheets to avoid doodling and I have even bought a vat of hand cream to stop that one student investigating a patch of dry skin. Hopefully, they will all be engaged. If not, I might just have to do some expressive dance to keep them entertained.
Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Guidance to parents - Literacy Across the Curriculum

Tomorrow, I am going to give a talk to parents about how they can help their son or daughter by helping with literacy at home. This is a handout to go along with the presentation and talk, given by me. Obviously, some of it needs further explaining, but I think you can get the general gist.  

I am looking for some comments about the things here. Any suggestions?

Creating a culture for learning
What does the ‘impossibly perfect student’ look like?
Warning: this child does not exist. Some of our students will show evidence of one or two of these things, but no student demonstrates all of these skills.
·         Spend time thinking before they write.
·         Always check over their work and improve it.
·         Proofread work and spot mistakes.
·         Always have equipment.
·         Ask questions about the concept rather than what they have to do.
·         Have the confidence to follow instructions without the need for further clarification.
·         Work independently without any guidance or support.
·         Present work neatly and appropriately without instruction.
·         Will read for pleasure and for learning.
·         Gets engaged in the learning by relating it to their experiences or knowledge.
·         Makes links between different aspects.
·         Will take the learning out of the classroom.
·         Make detailed and original points.
Effective students reflect, refine, re-evaluate and redo work.  We work to develop these skills, but the home environment is the key to instilling and fostering these aspects.
It may be through discussion or by seeing their parents do things of an academic nature that allows these students to develop this attitude towards learning.
Where do students get the message that learning and education is important to them?
We know that the home plays a pivotal role in a child’s opinion of learning. If students see the value of education in the home, then that is reflected in their behaviour and attitude towards learning in school. If it is valued at home, it is valued at school.
The message students get from you is so important. But, how do we get the message across to them?
·         Talk about their aspirations.
·         Discuss progress and what they think they need to do to improve.
·         Discuss what they have learnt. Ask them questions.
·         Focus on their learning and not their behaviour in school. What have they learnt?
·         See everything as a learning opportunity. Show interest in finding out something new.
·         Offer them support and guidance as to how they might solve problems. Place emphasis on the ability to solve things rather than the understanding of a concept.
The problem is that they are that special breed of person - teenagers. They prefer to communicate in grunts, and everything is so ‘unfair’. However, we do not want them to get to Year 11 and feel stressed and anxious, knowing that they haven’t done enough preparation.  If we put the ground work in now and the systems in place, your son or daughter will feel confident, prepared and ready to face the exams and the rest of the world.
The following are a list of areas that you could work on with your son or daughter:
The Environment
The GCSE examinations are about testing knowledge and a student’s thinking skills.  Sadly, today isn’t the best time for a student to refine and develop their ideas. There are too many distractions and not enough peace or quiet time.
·         Make sure there is a dedicated time for no distractions. A time when work can be done and the house is quiet. It is hard to concentrate, if you know that somebody is watching something you want to in the house.
·         Limit the use of computer, electronic devices or TV.  They are great and they have a lot of benefits, but they are more appealing than reading or writing. Aim to have dedicated times in the week when they can watch or do things for fun.
·         Give them a place to work where they can work without distractions.
Give students an option of reading, watching a film or playing on a computer and most times they will usually avoid reading.  The problem with reading is that it takes a long time to get involved in the story and it can be seen by students as a lonely thing to do.  
·         Let them see you read. It is important that boys see their dad reading as that sends the message that reading is fun.  Read books (fiction or non-fiction) and have them in the house. 
·         Make books part of your conversation.  Talk about them and show them how good books are.
·         Be careful you don’t push books on students. Because you liked a book when you were younger, doesn’t mean your child will. Often students want to find their own path in books.  Give them a hook into a book, but don’t force it on them.
·         Give them an opportunity to buy books. The start of a holiday is a good time. There are hundreds of books and they are very appealing. Children will judge by appearance and book publishers have understood this for a long time.
·         Get them to have the habit of filling quiet moments with a bit of reading.  It could be before bed or in the middle of the day. Get them to avoid jumping straight onto the computer or the phone.
·         Read the same book as them. I would argue that some of the best books for teenagers and children are the best books available. Share books and talk about them.
·         Ask them to read some of their book out loud to you. Then, ask them some questions about it. Question their understanding rather than their ability.
·         Have a newspaper in the house. Newspapers are great for dipping in and finding something interesting to read. Plus, they are not scary and you don’t have to read the whole thing. Or, use online resources.
·         Research a topic. Students will always be working on a topic in each lesson. Get them to research it on the internet, so that they can go into the lesson prepared.
·         Avoid computers – technology is great, but it also masks the real problems with writing. When using a computer, students often let the computer do the corrections or assume that the computer will make it correct for them somehow. Stop them using the computer. Nothing can replace a pen and paper for making them write more effectively. Good writing takes time.
·         Slow them down - give students a realistic time-frame for completing work. They have to write to that limit and not finish it before the time is up. The slower they write, the better their writing will be within reason. Obviously, the exams will limit them, but the habit of crafting writing is an important skill to develop.  
·         Be a critical reader – tell them of some of the problems, but don’t tell them where it is. Get them to search the text to find the problems. They need to take ownership of the problems.
·         When writing, have another piece of writing before them. If a child is writing a letter, it helps to have a letter before them so that they can borrow some ideas, sentences or phrases.
·         If it is of a poor standard, make them do it again.
·         Remind them of the need to proofread or the fact that they always forget to use the correct version of their, there and they’re.
·         If you correct a child’s spoken grammar, you are more likely to improve their written grammar.
·         Get a child to explain a concept to you that they have learnt. If they can explain it to you effectively, then they can explain it to an examiner effectively too.
·         Use phrases that help to signal the direction of a conversation: however, furthermore and on the other hand.
·         Get your child to write down all the words they struggle to spell. Stick them on the fridge or by their bed. Give them a quick test.
·         Look in their exercise books. What words have they got to spell correctly?
·         Get them to focus on learning a spelling. Keep testing them on the same word again and again until it is understood.
Reading is, for me, the most important aspect. It is the one thing that helps students improve in leaps and bounds.  The following are just a few books that I recommend to hesitant readers. 
Recommended Reading