Saturday, 21 June 2014

Juggling the Curriculum - Part 1

For the past few months I have been thinking about the curriculum. The new curriculum for English. I have been pondering, thinking, procrastinating and, finally, I have started to solidify my thoughts and ideas. I commend all my colleagues and friends who have their curriculum planned, typed and photocopied for next year. I am impressed. But, for me, I haven’t been able to make my thoughts concrete, because so much has changed since September. At the moment, I am on draft four. I am happy with it and its shape. It does, however, look a little bit different to other things I have seen.  Now, there’s more than one way to crack a nut, but this blog is going to talk about some of the things my department’s new curriculum includes and how it differs to other departments. Rather than do a lovely ‘tah dah!’ I will just walk you through some of the things we are intending to do. Warning: some things might disappear completely by the time I get to draft fifteen.

How does our curriculum link to the work done in primary school?

One of the main problems I think with curriculums in Key Stage 3 is that they duplicate work done in primary schools. I am surprised at how much things have changed in primary schools and how English skills are changed. It used to be a gentle grumble about how they have stolen ‘Holes’ or ‘Skellig’ from us by teaching it to classes, but I realise that fundamentally what they teach is a mirror image of what we do. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. English is recursive. You do the same things again and again. However, there’s no step up in terms of work. We expect the same things and there’s no ‘step up’ and challenge. The writing triplets (I hate them), I would say, are common place in the primary school.  Writing in the style of a particular text is a common process.

Stepping back from things, there’s no wonder that schools have problems with Year 8s. By the end of Year 7, students have twigged that it is Groundhog Day for them. The promise that secondary school was going to be a rite of passage for them turns into a lie. It is all the same thing – just with different teachers.

Decision 1: Start with the topic of essay writing.

In the past we have done ‘nice’ activities with the purpose of engaging students. Sadly, the sole purpose was engaging them. One example of this was when I got students to write their first day in secondary school as an entry to ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’. We looked at Americanisms and the style of the writing, but sadly the thinking was to engage and get a benchmark piece of writing from them, and not about development.  

We are now going to step up the writing. Working with the Geography department, we intend to set the framework for writing essays. We are going to start by explicitly teaching the essay. Set our expectations from the start and then build up the skill of writing an essay over the year, and years. Obviously, we will try to engage students and develop enthusiasm for the subject, but we want to set the message to students: English is needed for other subjects and it is challenging.

How does our curriculum develop the work done at primary school?

Primary schools are grammar hothouses now. You can’t move without bumping into a grammar aspect in the corridor. Yet, at secondary school we often teach it when it crops up, or when we feel it is relevant. Or, if it has been enforced on us.

I have noticed a big different in students’ use of the grammar metalanguage in lessons. I can freely mention an adverb without being greeted with a sea of blank faces, resulting in me spending ten minutes explaining again what an adverb is. Students are prepared to explore language, but are we hindering this in secondary schools? What is going to happen to all the grammar concepts and grammar terms? Are we hoping that they will appear by magic in a lesson? Or are we going to plan lessons in mind?

Decision 2: Have a grammar test at the end of Years 7, 8, 9 and possibly 10.

What are we doing with the knowledge learnt at primary school? We are not explicitly embedding the knowledge successfully. We are just hoping it all works together. The core knowledge is there for most students, but we are not embedding it.

We are going to have the grammar test as an end point. Staff will revisit key grammar terms and revise concepts throughout the year with idea that students will be tested on this at the end of the year. We are going to model the test on the KS2 grammar paper and use that as the basis of teaching. Boo hiss, Chris! You are teaching to a test. Yes – I am, but the purpose of the test is to revisit core knowledge to embed and secure that knowledge. Whether you agree with it or a not: it will be helpful if a student can name an adverb or adjective by the time they get to GCSE. Yet, the current ‘rainbow’ principle doesn’t help to embed and secure things.  [The rainbow principle: abstract noun – you never see a rainbow every time it rains – only occasionally and for no rhyme or reason in my book].   

We want there to be some consistency in how grammar is taught and students’ relationship with grammar. The test results will be shared with the parents and key areas for improvement will be identified. The problem we have is that grammar is a big ball of timey-wimey stuff. It is HUGE! Too often things are reduced and simplified or rounded-up. Hopefully, this approach will give us a clear direction to the way the grammar is used. If we use the KS2 grammar test as the benchmark of consistency, we can ensure and maintain levels of knowledge, or we can develop it.

How are we ensuring progression of skills over the key stage?

The good, old National Curriculum had a set of progressive skills across the different years. They were great but they were often very vague or too proscriptive (starting to sound like Goldilocks).  In a nutshell, things boiled down to harder texts over the years. The development of skills often happened through some kind of English teacher sixth sense. I taught them this and that in Year 8 so they need to know this and that for Year 9.

We all developed the students, but did we develop them in the same way or in the same direction? One teacher might take one angle, while another takes the opposite.

Decision 3: Track the progression of skills across the years.

I have broken down English, crudely, into several key strands: Shakespeare, the novel (pre and post 1914), poetry, plays, non-fiction, writing and speaking and listening. As a department, we have discussed what a student should be able to do by the time they reach Year 11. We tracked back those skills over the years and made clear points as to what should be developed at a particular time. The complexity of English is that you could do all skills in one lesson or unit of work, but we felt that if these skills were explicitly developed at one particular time, then our vision of the progress is clear, the students’ vision of the progression is clear and we can make links and promote links across the years. Hopefully we will avoid that awful conversation: Remember you did Shakespeare in Year 7? The time when you acted it out? The lesson when Tom fell of the chair? Right, well in Year 7 you did a bit of Shakespeare.


Now, our list of skills isn’t finalised and they are open to debate.


Year 7
Year 8
Year 9
Year 10
Year 11
·         Context of Shakespeare’s world
·         Opening scene
·         Staging a scene
·         Shakespeare’s language
·         Anatomy of a scene
·         Characterisation through language
·         Audience’s reaction to a scene
·         Comparing two scenes
·         The structure of a whole play
·         Development of a character over the play
·         Role of characters
·         Characterisation
·         Different perspectives



Novel (pre 1914 and 1914) 
·         Presentation of a character
·         Heroes and villains
·         Victorian life /education  
·         Presentation of a setting
·         Genre
·         Tension
·         Victorian law and rules
·         Presentation of a theme
·         Structure of the novel
·         Narrative voice
·         Use of dialogue
·         Linking the writing to the context
·         Making connections across a text
·         Revision of basic terms (metaphor, simile, personification, etc)
·         Exploring word choices
·         Explaining how the reader feels
·         Deeper meaning
·         Learn the various forms of poetry
·         Use of imagery in poetry
·         Mood / atmosphere
·         Tone
·         Writer’s opinion
·         Ambiguity
·         Punctuation use 
·         Structure
·         Enjambment/ caesura
·         Sound effects (syllables, consonance, assonance)
·         Patterns 
·         Comparing and connecting poems

I will continue this blog with a look at the texts studied, development of knowledge as well as skills,  covering the breadth of texts in a year and exploring how we plan to assess things.   

Thank you for reading,




  1. What an inspiring post. How different from my daughters' experience (currently in Year 10). We have a middle school system; at the end of Year 8, her English teacher told them she was going to teach them the basics of writing an essay, even though she wasn't "supposed" to, because she couldn't bear to think of them going to high school without knowing that.

    Ditto for the bittiness and lack of ensuring that understanding was soundly embedded. Year 10 teachers re-teaching the apostrophe yet again, intelligent kids not understanding the function of "ing" on the end of a word or how to spell it...some of the things my daughter reports to me about the ignorance of quite bright kids with regard to grammar, usage, punctuation etc are quite appalling. But they've all had lots of practice in writing stories!

  2. Hah, should have known that writing about apostrophe usage inevitably results in using one incorrectly! I blame my new laptop...

  3. Thank you for your comment. I do agree essay writing is an assumed skill. It is assumed students know how to write one. Like all writing, you teach, model and get them to practise it. Here's hoping this plan works.



  4. In today world English is become a global language and we must learn it

    Difference among TOEFL and TOEIC

  5. I teach language arts at a middle school that has a separate reading class; this means that I primarily teach writing and use texts as a basis of writing either as a model or as a way of gaining content. I am constantly looking for ways to design work for students that is engaging as well as challenging. I love the idea of asking students to write to "shock or amuse." I will spend time thinking about ways to incorporate this idea into my plans. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Sunny


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