Sunday, 31 August 2014

Screams of Work

I have never ever found a scheme of work that suits me.  In fact, I hate practically every scheme of work ever invented. There, I have said it. It is out there, so feel free to judge and criticise me. I don’t hate what they represent; I just hate the bleeding things and the obsession people have towards them.  Somewhere in the dark recess of your teachery brains we have this notion that if everything is encapsulated in a couple of printed sheets of paper we are safe, secure and confident. I am starting a new topic: phew, I feel better as have some markings on a piece of paper.  As we use garlic and crucifixes to ward off vampires, we also have schemes of work to ward of OFSTED. Look, here’s our scheme of work. Be gone, it's in our scheme of work.  

Every summer it is the same. Endless streams of teachers plan their schemes of work. They plan every second and every space in a series of lessons to microscopic detail. I have seen pristine booklets produced to support the SOW (I am now going to abbreviate from now on) and they have lovingly produced memory-stick bursting PowerPoints to support each lesson. I have seen the military detail that teachers have planned lessons weeks in advance of the term starting. Right, it is week 4 so in the third minute the students must be completing the card sort that links to the lesson in week 2 and week 8.

I plan. I write plans and for years I have written SOWs. Each new topic has its own SOW typed and planned by me and my fingers. I know what I am going to do and when I am going to do it. However, each year the same thing happens. I get to about lesson two and I realise that everything needs changing. The resource I spent four days laminating are not needed, because I could cover it in one sentence in a lesson. The work producing a SOW does not seem proportional to the time saved. I can guarantee there are teachers out there who have spent days writing a SOW, and if they were stubborn like me, they will teach them irrespective of the fact they don’t work.

This year my department are trying something new. We have tried an approach recommended to me by a friend and I am indebted to them for this idea. We have transformed our SOWs and turned them into ‘Learning Journeys’.  The problem with having SOWs in department is that you need to have billions of the things for everything to be covered in a department. Each year group might have a number of sets. Each year group will have a number of topics. The list of SOWs needed then doubles and quadruples. This then further changes when new curriculums are introduced or the exams are revised.

Here’s what one of our Learning Journey’s looks like:

Learning Journey

Year 8: Horror Writing

Teaching structure
Big question / objective
Features of horror
What are the typical features (character, settings) of a horror story?
Gothic horror
What makes gothic horror different to horror?
How do writers create tension?
Narrative perspective
Why do horror stories select a first person narrative instead of a third person narrative?
How do writers make the reader identify with the protagonist of the story?
How important is the setting in a ghost story?
Atmosphere / mood
What can you do to create a particular mood in your writing?
Choice of adjectives
How can adjectives suggest something about a place?
How can personification be used to make a setting creepy?
How can I create a believable character?
Similes / metaphors
How do writers use figurative language to make writing effective?
Showing not telling
What is scary?
Action - Verbs
How can verbs be used effectively to create drama?
Action – Sentences
How can I vary the sentences that I use?
Use of dialogue
How do you use dialogue effectively?
What is a paragraph?
Structuring a story
What different ways can a story be structured?
Dramatic devices – foreshadowing / dramatic irony / tricks
How can I manipulate the reader’s thoughts and feeling?
How can I make my story original?
What should I write?
What do I have to do to improve?
Demonstrate skills
What have I learnt?

A teacher’s role often is to provide a narrative to the learning. Or, simply an order of aspects to learn. The beauty of the Learning Journey is that the narrative is up to the teacher, but the content is the same between staff. I teach differently to other people in the department I am in, yet this way I can enable the department to have the same points of learning. There can be some form of consistency. Too many times have I junked whole aspects of a SOW, because it didn’t make sense to me or how I want to sequence a lesson.

The 21 points are just things to cover. They could be covered in one lesson or a number of things can be covered in one single lesson. The coverage is up to the teacher. There is just an understanding of what they cover. Now, the beauty of this is that some things will apply for your Set 1 only, and some will apply only to other sets. But, rather than keep the Learning Journey like a SOW and only reviewing it when it comes to the next time we teach the unit, we are going to evaluate the journey and review which components relate to which set and what needs adding or removing.

I am really enjoying planning this way and I feel the rest of the department agree with me. It’s a simpler way of planning which places a stronger emphasis on what you want the students to learn or experience. Plus, teachers don’t have to translate the SOW for their group. Too many hours of my life have been wasted on thinking about how I am going to dress up a lesson to be interesting to a student. This way, I am focusing on the learning first and then the way to deliver the learning second. Teaching can become easily cluttered and often the way dominates the what.

Oh, and with this way of planning is quick.

Thanks for reading,


1 comment:

  1. I would love to teach horror writing to my students! What fun!


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