Tuesday, 27 June 2017

200 Word Challenge Tasks 2016/2017


I am currently organising resources for next year and given how popular the 200 Word Challenge has been I though I'd share my tasks for next year. The original blog is here for more details.
I am grateful to my department for coming up with some of the tasks. As before, I am happy to share the tasks, but I will not share PowerPoints. That bit is up to you.

Thanks for reading,

Xris


Term 1

Task
Area of focus
Week 1
Describe an object in great detail without naming it
Perspective
Week 2
Write a love ballad for a popular musician
Poetry
Week 3
Write the open speech in a debate entitled – We have become so selfish and greedy that we have forgotten to care about others
Speech
Week 4
Application letter explaining why you should be head girl/boy
Persuasive writing
Week 5
Describe the events leading up to car crash
Creativity
Week 6
Invent a 5th season – describe a typical day for that season
Creativity




Term 2

Task
Area of focus
Week 1
Rewrite a religious story and make it suitable for young children
Audience
Week 2
Is there a generation gap? Are young people always misunderstood?
Extended thinking
Week 3
Write a letter to a parent subtly implying that the student is naughty  and the naughtiest student in the school – cannot explicitly say he/she naughty
Tone
Week 4
Describe a typical day from the perspective of a raindrop
Perspective
Week 5
Write the opening of a thriller – use a picture as a stimulus
Creativity
Week 6
Write a magazine article on the joys of colouring in
Style


Term 3
Task
Area of focus
Week 1
Letter of complaint about an item you have bought 
Tone /Audience
Week 2
Describe what God would have for his breakfast
Creativity
Week 3
Describe a journey through the eyes of an animal
Perspective
Week 4
Write an AOW based on the following question: is happiness based on wealth, health and family?
Extended thinking
Week 5
Write a diary entry of a historical figure – comical (Horrible Histories) or serious
Perspective


Term 4
Task
Area of focus
Week 1
Describe a person’s personality based on a photograph
Creativity
Week 2
Write the opening to a charity leaflet persuading teachers to give students less English lessons.
Tone
Week 3
Write a short story based on a line of dialogue; ‘I’ll be back.’
Creativity
Week 4
Using a picture, describe a setting in a way nobody has done before.
Creativity
Week 5
Write a thank you letter to one teacher in the school – your English teacher is optional
Tone
Week 6
Girls are better than boys. Discuss.
Extended thinking
Week 7
Persuade a head teacher to revise the school uniform in a speech.
Tone


Term 5

Task
Area of focus
Week 1
Describe a setting from the point of view of a plant.
Perspective
Week 2
Explain the beauty of your favourite word. Say why it is better than other words.
Tone
Week 3
Write a short story entitled the lonely walk home
Creative writing
Week 4
Write a letter as if you were somebody else. You must get the sense of the person through your writing.
Style
Week 5
Write a text book entry for a topic you have learnt this week in a different subject.
Tone


Term 6

Task
Area of focus
Week 1
There are too many people in the world. Discuss.
Extended thinking
Week 2
Take a part from a famous book and describe it as it would be seen in a movie.
Perspective.
Week 3
Write a small sketch for a comedy show.
Style
Week 4
Response to a picture. Write the life story of this man.
Creativity
Week 5
Design your own 200 Word Challenge and persuade a teacher why it should be used for the next challenge.
Tone
Week 6
Describe a world with no colour.
Creativity
Week 7
Pick a time in history. Imagine you have a time machine and go back there. Describe what it is like there.
Extended thinking


Sunday, 25 June 2017

September INSET: What are we supposed to do when….?


The world is full of ideas and thoughts. We try to coexist in a society of differing ideas. Twitter is a sea of different thoughts and ideas. Some we like. Some we don’t like. For me, it is how you deal with new ideas that shows me your character and personality.

Generally, people don’t like to change. That’s why we have the same breakfast every day and park in the same place at work regularly. We feel safe with patterns of behaviour and repetition. That’s why people love a system in schools. This is what I should do in this situation. Repeat.

The more I work in schools, the more I feel that the success of any teacher, school and department is not random greatness, but systematic routines and refined processes. That’s why I am watching one school with interest. What if the systems in a school were so explicit and refined that there is no deviation from norm? In developing my department, we have looked at developing and refining existing systems. Made some explicit. Made some more streamlined. Made some disappear. The role of a team is to look, revise, change and amend the systems. What is the system for spelling? What is the system for promoting reading?

So when do most schools decide to make those changes in school? The first day back. Yep, across the land there are people deciding on the new initiatives and systems ready for introduction in September. There are new marking systems and codes being typed up. There are posters on the new behaviour policy being printed. In fact, Term 6 is the pinnacle of new initiatives. They are being primed for that INSET day in September. September is the time, for most, to ram the new idea down teacher’s throats.

Personally, September is possibly the worst time to introduce new things – well, apart from new staff and new students. September is the time when teachers are adjusting to the fact they have to work. They have to recall the systems they used last year. You add new ideas and new staff in the mix and you have a conflict of ideas. A conflict of old and new. What September usually ends up being is a confusing situation. Established staff adapt to flip between new systems and old systems. The new staff struggle to define what they should do because the systems are in flux.

You can’t suddenly switch to a new idea. You need to grow it in people’s minds. Prepare people mentally and physically for change. People will accept changes, but they need time to adjust to it. We owe it to our staff to be understanding of how people deal with change. Of course, people will reject ideas if you just switch things quickly. Of course, people will struggle to change when instantly they are expected to ditch one system for a new sparkly system.

Why do teachers see the profession are stressful? Could it be that the changes are made without a thought for the impact on the way teachers think? The recent GCSE in English and Maths highlighted that fact. We didn’t have appropriate time to adjust to the changes. The specs were completed and then then next month we were teaching the course.

Ideas need to grow in a person’s mind. The teacher needs time to adjust and explore the idea. Then the person is ready to follow that idea later.  We did just that this week. We introduced an idea this term in preparation for September. Then, we will just remind people of the idea.

We need to work hard at making teaching less stressful and demanding. Understand that the flow of new ideas in schools can be a huge source of stress.

I love Twitter, but I understand it come be stressful. There are tonnes and tonnes of new ideas out there. It can be a little bit overwhelming. That’s why some people are driven away by it. That is also why people get so angry on here; they feel the need to shout about their idea to be heard. It is also the reason why people can be so unpleasant sometimes; it is because they fear their idea will not be heard.

Twitter is a symposium of ideas. Ideas should be explored, discussed and then a person can make a judgement. Like the structure of a sonnet, there’s an idea and then an alternative view of the point and then one last issue to think about. Idea – but – however. But, more importantly, people need time to adjust to an idea.



Thanks for reading,

Xris

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Turning the indicators on

Exam marking season is finally upon us. As I type this at my own pace and inclination, I know that there are several hundred teachers waking up to marking. They are in the process of marking hundreds and hundreds of scripts and probably regretting the decision, when they look out of the window and see glorious sunshine.

I have no desire to mark.
You could try to persuade as much as you like, but this man is not for turning…yet! One job I’d happily do with glee is to write the indicative content for exam boards. I’d happily do that job. I’d do it with aplomb.

The new GCSEs has changed my way of presenting assessments to staff and students. To get my head round the new GCSE, I have created indicative content sheets for all the assessments students have sat and I have loved every minute of it. But, it has made me realise that we do undervalue indicative content in lessons in English.

For years, I have walked into a classroom armed with a blank text and mined it for interesting nuggets of information and language devices. I walk in armed with a few things to point out. Usually, we have my ideas and several ideas from the class mixed together. The pace of this can be slow. It is, however, an organic process. We layer one idea on top of another idea.  Things snowball and combine. And, at the end we have a text annotated in detail and some reasonable points.

What if we utilised indicative content more in lessons? What if it was a regular part of the teaching? What if we are more transparent about the range of ideas a student could provide for a question?

Take this question I am using with a class tomorrow. Students are going to be given the extract and the question. They will have 5 minutes to bullet-point ideas.

How does Shakespeare present Romeo’s love for Juliet in the extract?
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she:
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
It is my lady, O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!  

Indicative Content
Ideas

·         Beyond the physical realm

·         Perfect and  pure

·         Obsession

·         Glorification

·         Monomania

·         Opposite of everything else

·         Unique / special  

·         Sexual



Language Features


·         Metaphor – ‘light through yonder window’

·         Metaphor  ‘Juliet is the sun’

·         Contrast of ‘sun’ and ‘moon’

·         Contrast of  adjectives ‘fair’ and ‘envious’

·         Light and darkness imagery

·         Disease imagery

·         Repetition of ‘envious’

·         Repetition of ‘O’

·         Repetition of  ‘It is my …’

·         Repetition of pronoun ‘my’

·         Repetition of noun ‘maid’

·         Starts and end with exclamations

·         Use of imperatives

·         Structured with a question followed by an answer to the question

·         Sentences shorten when confident

·         Reference to Goddess Diana

·         Reference to sexuality – vestal livery


Of course, there will be more and I will add to them over day. When I have taken some of the students’ ideas, I will reveal these lists and develop their understanding and knowledge of the text.

Indicative content isn’t about making the student feel stupid because they didn’t find something. It is about branching out and opening the synaptic pathways, making them see things and the possibilities. The danger is that students see indicative content as a tick list, so that is why it is so important we stress that indicative content is about possibilities. To develop the range of points a student covers in their analysis, we need to develop their experience of points.

A student becomes a better reader by reading more. Therefore, providing student with more content will provide students with more content for their future analysis of texts. If I show students that they could refer to the repetition of a pronoun in one extract, they will recall it when they refer to another text.

Shakespeare is tough, but rewarding. So, it is important that we help students become better at analysing it. Yes, we could focus on one technique at a time and help them that way, but by the GCSE course they should be able to cope with multiple techniques and multiple ideas. We need them to see multiple aspects and have a knowledge of those multiple aspects. We need them to develop their knowledge.

Thanks for reading,

Xris


Sunday, 11 June 2017

I digress. A lesson on digression.


Phew! I am glad that election is over. The endless talks from politicians highlighted how very few of them get to the point. Many of them spend their whole time deflecting the question. How many ‘more important questions’ have been raised in response to an interviewer’s question? No wonder Paxman can’t stop bullying people to answer the question, when a person tries to actually answer the question.  

This is a lesson I did with a bright group of students on developing anecdotes. They told me some pretty woeful anecdotes. So, I thought hard about what they needed to do to improve. The problem for them wasn’t the story. The story was fine, but like all comedians tell you, the story is only part of the act. The problem wasn’t the delivery too. Actually, it was the sense of drama. They jumped to the narrative too quickly. There was no build up. There was no digression.  

To get the idea across, I used the idea of metaphor. Well, two actually.

1: Somebody pushing the camera away when something bad is unfolding whilst you, the reader, try to push the camera back to see what is happening.

2: A person walks before a TV screen as you watch it.



I then explained the following to students:

Digression – moving away from the main story

  1. Introduce an unrelated topic
  2. Describe something unnecessary in great detail
  3. Introduce another story
  4. Introduce something the reader might know

Together, we explored the purpose of digression and the benefits of using it.  

·         To create a sense of tension

·         To build us suspense

·         To make the story for interesting

·         To convey a sense of atmosphere

·         To add humour to a humourless situation

Then, I provided students with a dull, collective story. Every class has that story they can share with the teacher. The time Sophie spewed her lunch over the desk. The time Tom farted when laughing. The time the teacher actually said a word that added the letter ‘h’ when asking a student to sit down. Ours just happened to involve me trying to give an Ofsted inspector a set of books. You had to be there at the time – the students thought it was hilarious. On paper, it is pretty dull.


Version 1:

The day Ofsted visited.
The class were studying Macbeth and we had started the lesson by focusing on an aspect of a key scene.
I was keen to impress the inspector, so I offered him a set of assessment books.
He ignored my offer.
I then repeated the offer.
He refused.
I then tried again.
Then, he refused, again.
Finally, a look of panic appeared on his face: he was in the wrong room; he wasn’t supposed to be observing me.
He made his apologies and left.
I still had the books in my hands. 

I instructed students to add some digression on the page. Now, I laid it out with one sentence on each line so that students could see the different opportunities, places and chances for digression.  

One version.

The day Ofsted visited. The dreaded moment every teacher waits. In fact, I think I’d rather have to teach a whole class of Alans than have one simple inspector observe me.  

The class were studying Macbeth and we had started the lesson by focusing on an aspect of a key scene. We had just Jenny’s Oscar winning performance of Lady Macbeth shouting at her husband. Well, Oscar winning performance is probably an exaggeration. An exaggeration in the same way that a candle is a bright as the sun. In fact, acting probably, at that one moment, decided to pack its bag and spend a long vacation in a different country.    

I was keen to impress the inspector, so I offered him a set of assessment books. They were lovingly presented. Only a doily could have improved on the presentation.

He ignored my offer. Having regularly taught teenagers, I am used to being brushed off or ignored.

I then repeated the offer.

He refused. I then started to worry. This was my one way I thought I could prove

I then tried again.

Then, he refused, again.  Had he spotted Alan dozing asleep? Alan seemed able to sleep through wars. Surely, Alan could last a twenty minute visit from an inspector.

Finally, a look of panic appeared on his face: he was in the wrong room; he wasn’t supposed to be observing me. He hadn’t spotted Alan.

He made his apologies and left.

I still had the books in my hands. 

Because this was a collective anecdote, students were able to put little in-jokes and comical asides, which will be lost on you dear reader. But, the results of this generated some really interesting digression. One student went around the bushes and hills and mountains at one point explaining a point. One student gave us another anecdote within the main one that over shadowed it. Another student decided to digress by exploring the inner workings of my brain.

Finally, I got students to revise their own anecdotes.  All too often student think that writing more is the secret to making better stories. Yes, you could make the writing more interesting by adding figurative language. But, interestingly, a story can be made better with a healthy bit of digression.

Sorry, I digress: so the election. What an interesting result, don’t you think?

Thanks for reading,
Xris

Sunday, 21 May 2017

AQA Paper 1 Exam Hacks - focusing on effect


More exam hacks. This time I am looking at the language papers and paper 1.

I have written numerous sample answers, so I have sat scratching my head, working out what is needed. Until a cohort has sat a paper, I believe a lot of these ideas are experimental. So, take them with a ‘pinch of salt’. Some might be effective. Some might not be.  (That’s my disclaimer, folks)   

Two major structural hacks are for Question 2 / Question 3.

Question 2  

2/2/1

Paragraph 1: Analyse two words

Paragraph 2: Analyse two techniques

Paragraph 3: Analyse one thing about the use of sentences



Question 3

Paragraph 1: Explore narrative perspective by exploring the statement describing the text

Paragraph 2: Explore a structural change (mood /perspective) in the text

Paragraph 3: Explore the ending and how it links or contrasts to the start    





Paper 1: Reading Section Exam Hacks

1: Make sure you write one whole sentence in each point explaining the effect.

 We automatically sympathise and identify with him.

We as readers become clear about the cause of the noise.



2: Use one of these four things when talking about the effect.

Mood                    Atmosphere                      a sense of ….                      A feeling of



3: Mention the word ‘writer’ at least three times and the word ‘reader’ four times in questions 2, 3 and 4.



4: Use the royal ‘we’ (or ‘us’) when explaining when explaining the reader and the impact of the choices.

       We automatically sympathise and identify with him

       makes us trust his judgment even more.

       We’d be less likely to believe

       We as readers become clear

       We are in the same position as the start



5:  Think about what verb to use to describe the reader’s reaction

The reader sympathises / empathises / identifies / experiences   



6: The effect can also be a question.

What is behind the door?

What is making that noise?

Why is the narrator so interested in the letter?



7: Where does the writer position the reader? Is the writer trying to connect or repel the reader to events?

The writer puts the reader in the position of helpless (or active)  observer / confidant / participant / witness   



8:  What is the reader’s relationship with the character /narrator? Does the writer want you to like / dislike / hate the character? Or, does he want you to be suspicious?

The writer wants the reader to be suspicious about the man’s motives and so presents as a kind character who acts strangely.



9: Never forget power. The effect of a technique can often be linked to power. It can be used to make things seem inferior / superior or equal.

The violent verbs make the storm superior to the house and the people in it.



10: Readers have expectations too.

Readers will be expecting to see …

Readers expect ….

Readers will believe ….



11: Think about perspective and the effect of the perspective. Which perspective do you trust?  

       1st person – closer – understanding – relationship – connection

       3rd person – distant – mystery- revealing – helpless

Or tense:

Past – fixed – inevitable - predictable – helpless

Present – changeable – unpredictable- involved



12: Think about what is the normal way of presenting this kind of story.

Normally a writer would…

It is common for writers to…

Usually writers start by ….

A typical way to introduce a setting is to…  



13: The writer’s grand design! Address the idea that there is a masterplan under all the writing.

The writer intended … so

The writer designed it so ….

The writer planned for us to …. so  

The writer wanted the reader to …. so



14: If you are not convinced by the writer’s grand design, then say he/she is trying.

The writer is trying to make the reader curious about what is happening.

The writer is trying to make the reader sympathise with the narrator.

The writer is trying to make us feel like we are there.



15: Adverbs are your friends when writing question 4. They can go at the start or within a sentence.  

Typically, …. Realistically,…. Stereotypically, … Effectively, … Unusually, … Unrealistically, … Surprisingly, … Unsurprising, …



16: Explore alternative choices. If…, then….

If the narrator was a child, we’d be less likely to believe that there is something wrong going on.







Thanks for reading,

Xris