Showcase lessons are about displaying the best practice in the English department. Each half term, two-three members of staff will offer a showcase lesson on an area of their expertise. This half term, MGN is offering a showcase lesson on group work; DES is offering peer assessment and ASO is showcasing a writing workshop. Staff can either come to watch the lesson 'live' or watch it on IRIS
During my relatively short career as a teacher, one aspect I have found exhausting is the students’ neediness. Often, their unwillingness or inability to try harder in the face of adversity ends in poor behaviour, giving up, disinterest in learning and apathy. Sometimes, I feel as though I am giving them my all and they give so little in return.
As a pedagogy leader, I identified this as an issue for many of our young people and decided to run a session on building resilience and determination in learners. From this, I have reflected a lot on my own practice and have endeavoured to implement the strategies in my classroom. Many of them are not revolutionary but simply take a little time out of your lesson to have a dialogue with students about their resilience and determination.In a lesson with my mixed ability year 9 – many of whom struggle with English – I began the lesson by displaying ‘clues’ around my room. They were asked to explore these clues to determine the type of writing we would be using in the lesson. They included ‘I am written in the first person and past tense’ and ‘I share my writer’s thoughts and feelings and include their day’s activities’. Whilst I took the register, students were able to figure out that we would be writing a diary entry. This was my first step in allowing students to work independently. The ‘unusual’ starter activity was engaging; plus, some of them enjoyed the movement around the room. Additionally, rather than simply telling students or reminding them of the conventions of diary writing, they were able to revise them independently.
From here, I decided to have a very open dialogue with students about what it meant to be resilient or to work more independently. I was very honest with them about how they often said ‘I don’t get it’ before they’d even attempted the task. Many of them nodded, knowing that they did this on a regular basis. Whilst this strategy isn’t ground-breaking, it worked really well in simply raising the profile of resilience and determination. Students came up with ideas about how they could be less reliant on teachers and support staff. They came up with the ideas of using their books, the glossaries in their plays and talking to one another.
Students then had to work in pairs or small groups to revise the events of Act 1 Scene 7. They would be writing a diary entry as Macbeth after his discussion with Lady Macbeth and therefore needed to be familiar with the main events of that scene. Students had a 10 minute timer on the board and were given 6 revision questions. After the open discussion about resilience, students were eager to show that they could work without support. Many of them used their notes from previous lessons. I could hear students telling each other which lines to have a look at.
The last part of this lesson asked them to plan their ideas. They were given four ‘prompt’ boxed which asked them to consider the content, structure, and vocabulary and language techniques of their writing. Again, with prompt questions and guidance, students were able to plan independently and were very well prepared for their writing assessment the following lesson.
At the end of the lesson, I asked students to reflect on how they’d worked differently that lesson and how they’d demonstrated their resilience. Many of them reflected on how they’d used their revision notes or talked to a buddy. Whilst it is important for students to consider their progress in subject specific skills, it is also important to remember that students must have key learning skills to be good learners across the curriculum. If we can address and hone skills such as resilience, we will inevitably see good progress across the curriculum.
Attached to this blog is the PowerPoint I used for my lesson, photos of the kids’ work and the session I ran for staff on resilience.
Cross curricular and issue-based conversations in English.
Last week, at our school residential conference, we watched a speaker, Hywel Roberts, who encourages teachers to make links between subjects, to bring in real world contexts into the classroom and to ‘trap’ children into learning or to make them learn ‘accidentally’. Whilst these were some ideas I’d already begun to embed in my practice, this session really enthused and encouraged me to pursue them even further.
Every Friday, my year ten group have a debating and discussion lesson. Despite our government’s desire to reduce the profile and importance of speaking and listening, it is vital we teach these crucial skills to our young people. Not only are these key life skills but, the relationship between articulacy and effective written communication means that improved oral fluency will inevitably raise standards in all aspects of the curriculum.
During this lesson we discuss, debate, converse, think, philosophise, argue and listen carefully. There is always a link to the text or skills we have been covering. For example, during our scheme of work on An Inspector Calls, students argued the issue of social responsibility. Now, we are covering Macbeth. This Friday, students are being asked to consider a woman’s role in society, making links to Lady Macbeth.
Our school has also been focusing an awful lot on the quality of questioning in the classroom. As the students enter the room, there will be three questions on the board. These are differentiated. Firstly, students are asked to recall what they can remember about the Jacobeans’ attitudes to women. Next, they are asked to apply this knowledge by explaining how Lady Macbeth defies these expectations. Lastly, they are asked to compare these expectations with those that we have of women today and whether this affects the way a twenty first century audience perceives this character. Inevitably (though I have not taught this yet) students will assert that women are now equal to men and we have completely different expectations of them.
Though it is true that women’s rights have certainly come a long way since the seventeenth century, the next stage of our lesson will ask students to question their preconceived notion that women are now ‘equal’. I will ask them to watch the Lenor advert, featuring actress Amy Sedairs. In this advert, Sedairs is dressed much like a 50’s housewife and behaves in a way which can only be described as ‘ditzy’. Her hair is perfectly coiffed while she moves around a laundry room. Students will be asked to consider whether our expectations of women have changed and how women are being presented in the media.
Students are then given a list of statements. These range from ‘A woman’s place is at home with the children’ to ‘Men and women should work together to look after their families’. In addition to these two extremes, I have also added statements which will, hopefully, encourage a little more thought and provoke a bit more discussion. These include ‘Women know more about how to look after children because it’s instinctive’ and ‘Men are physically stronger than women and are, therefore, more able to protect them’. During this activity, students are asked to ‘Think-Pair-Share’. I’m sure many of you have come across this technique but it really is an invaluable way of allowing all students the opportunity to ponder and discuss ideas. It also reduces the social anxiety of answering in front of your peers if students have already had the opportunity to discuss with someone else, who can help to shape their thoughts.
Before our whole class discussion, students are given the opportunity to discuss and record their ideas around the statement, “A woman’s place is in the home”. Students can use board markers to record their answers (if they wish) on the desks. Having used ‘table writing’ several times now, the rebellious act of writing on the tables, seems to enthuse students. Additionally, because it is so readily removed, the fear of getting it wrong is reduced.
Lastly, I am going to trial something I haven’t done before. I have printed off a class photo list and all students will receive a tick next to their name once they have spoken. Though a very straightforward way of encouraging all students to speak, it is not something I had used before and less resource heavy than a name generator or lolly sticks. I must credit my colleague, Helen Martin, for giving me this simple yet very effective idea. The class will be asked to discuss whether a woman’s place is in the home and I will facilitate the dialogue, encouraging students to build on what others say or to refute their ideas in a mature and articulate manner.
While students may feel that these activities are simply asking them to express their opinions on the role of women in our society, students are not only engaging with issues around gender and media representation, they are also able to consider the perception of women in the twenty first century. This is a key skill for their English Literature exam paper. So, while we are having an exciting and heated debate around gender roles, students are actually being ‘trapped’ into thinking about the context of an audience and how this shapes our expectations and perceptions.
Whenever teachers discuss differentiation, so often the conversation focuses on enabling the least able to access the curriculum. After all, so rarely do the most able students cause us a problem; we can give them any old task and they’ll happily complete it, no questions asked. However, ensuring that we are stretching the most able is vital if we are to ensure that these students do not switch off from their learning and are learning to the best of their ability.
It is often suggested in CPD sessions that we use the most able to teach others. Especially, when they’ve finished early, it’s suggested that we tell them to ‘go and help someone else’. Unless these are unbelievably conscientious and driven teenagers, they – more often than not – go and have a chat with a friend. I, therefore, decided that I wanted to investigate a more structured approach to using the most able to teach others.
During the study of Jekyll and Hyde, my Head of Department sent out an excellent lesson which asked students to evaluate how successful Stevenson is in creating sympathy for Jekyll in the novel. With this idea, I organised my year 10 top set into groups. Each group was allocated a section of text. In their groups, they were asked to determine whether this section of text generated sympathy for Jekyll, to find quotations from the text to support this idea and to determine what it was that Stevenson had done to create sympathy.
From here, a student teacher (I had allocated this role to a member of each group) would visit the other groups, teaching the others what they had determined in their own group. Each student teacher would move around the room after five to ten minutes of talking to a group.
I determined the ‘student teachers’ by establishing either a) who the most able member of the group was b) who was the most confident in talking to others or c) who would benefit from teaching other students about their ideas. Of course, teaching others is a skill which is important to all students as the verbalisation of their ideas helps them to hone and concrete these ideas even further. The movement around the room and the short time frames given for the changes between the groups also helped to maintain focus.
At the end of the lesson, I asked students to complete a ‘learning log’: a plenary which asked them to discuss with their partner the type of skills they’d used and why they felt that it had been beneficial to use them during their learning. I believe that by encouraging students to think about how they’ve learnt and not just whether they’ve hit an assessment objective for an exam, we create more resilient and independent learners. At the end of the lesson, I asked students for feedback to include in this blog.
Their responses were as follows:
• What skills have you been asked to use this lesson?
Listening skills, written communication skills, note taking, teaching
• How did it make you feel?
It forced me to justify myself
• Why do you think they were useful skills?
Display own knowledge
Forced to concentrate.
• Did they help you to learn in a different way?
Talking gave you more confidence
• Did you prefer learning from your peers as opposed to the teacher?
Would have liked to go at front
Teacher knows more – can we trust what they say?
Easier to learn with friends when we feel we can’t put our hand up in front of the whole class
Whilst some students did express some discomfort at being forced to talk to others about their ideas, they did recognise that this was an important ‘life’ skill and that you do often have to cooperate with people you may not want to. As for feeling that they couldn’t necessarily trust their peers, I hope that in time and with ‘training’ in the classroom, students will become more accustomed to feeling responsible for teaching others and this will ensure that all students experience a high quality learning experience in this situation.
Go into any English classroom in the UK, and inevitably you will find displays telling students to PEE/PEA or PEEL (and for some, apparently, PQE). For anyone unfamiliar with these acronyms, they stand for point, evidence, explain and/or language analysis. This is a writing frame to help students structure their responses to texts. It works very effectively in getting students to provide interpretations, support their ideas with quotations and to then analyse the author’s use of language. These are all key skills in the English curriculum at KS3/4 and 5.
Some of the time, simply asking students to following the PEEL structure is enough. They’ve had it taught to them so many times that if you ask them to read a chapter and write about it using PEEL, they are able to do so quite competently.
However, in KS3 or for those who are in KS4 but struggle to remember the structure or to use it correctly, there are a number of strategies to encourage them to do so.
The first key barrier we come across is that many students are lacking in a wide range of vocabulary. This then means that if they are coming across words with which they are unfamiliar, it can create huge challenges in being able to actually discuss their effect. Using talk as much as possible in the classroom is key. Talking about the words, allowing paired talk to unpick the meaning behind the words or explore the connotations of words is vital in allowing students the opportunity to succeed in reading tasks.
Secondly, the idea of analysis or layers of meaning in words and language is also quite a difficult concept to grasp. I sometimes begin my lesson by giving students three colours – black, white and red. I then ask them to mind-map everything that that colour can represent or symbolise. I explain to them that this means that these words have connotations and that an author often uses words to create multiple meanings.
And for those kids that say, ‘What if the author just put that word there because he wanted to?’ I show them an image of a Monet painting. I zoom right in so that they can see all of the little dots. Then, I zoom out so they can see the whole painting. I explain that, just like an artist, a writer selects every single word – just like a brush stroke – to create a fantastic overall picture for his reader.
One strategy that works well in helping students to get to grips with the PEEL paragraph is the guided annotations of quotes to be very useful. For a very weak ability student or class, I would start off by providing the quotations I’d like them to look at. I’d provide prompt questions. Again, these can be differentiated. They can either be generalised (‘What message is the author conveying here?’ or ‘Are there any language techniques used) or they can be specifically tailored to the language of the quotation. I’d begin by ‘live-modelling’ on the board:
* Put the quote on the board
* Use questions to elicit answers from the students
* Annotate the quote, identifying language techniques, significant words or phrases etc.
* Verbalise your thinking process as you go
I’d then ask the students to do the same but to do it to another quote. For very weak students, prompt questions tailored to the language of the quote is key.
Another strategy that works really well is the use of a table. Again, this can be filled in as much as you need in advance to differentiate effectively for your group. The table can have an ‘interpretation’ box, followed with a ‘relevant quote’, then ‘significant words or phrases’ and finally
‘analysis of significant words or phrases’. By breaking it down into smaller sections, students can separate each of the skills involved in the writing of PEEL paragraphs. Once completed, students need to simply write it up.
However, one disadvantage of PEEL paragraphs is that students become so used to certain sentence stems that they can repeat these over and over again and their writing becomes very monotonous. Some students may find these writing frames are restrictive and some exam boards are moving away from it too. Trying to wean students off of these writing frames is vital to ensure that they can write naturally and with their own style.
As a teacher, it is your job to facilitate all students to make excellent progress. Of course, there are so often factors that inhibit this progress: special educational needs, social skills or having English as a second language to name but a few. However, one group that so often underperforms in English are boys. In fact, year on year, boys are outperformed by girls on average by 10%. In 2015 57.7% of boys across the UK achieved an A*-C grade in English Language while they were overshadowed by 72.8% of girls.
In my experience, many boys find reading and writing boring and difficult. They are often more unlikely to sit still and to exhibit inappropriate behaviour in my lessons. The reasons for this are numerous and widely debated and that is not the purpose of this blog post. Instead, I’d like to explore the techniques that can be used to engage boys in an English classroom.
My year 9 class had been studying London by William Blake and I wanted to devise a creative writing workshop that was based around this poem. The premise was that there would be 3 tasks based on: 1) the five senses, 2) figurative language 3) show don’t tell. Each of these tasks were then subdivided into ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and ‘hard’. It was explained to the children at the beginning of the lesson that they had to complete all of the ‘easy’ tasks; completion of all of the medium tasks would earn them a Passmores Point (merit); completion of all of the hard tasks would earn them a postcard home. This was the breakthrough moment with this class. Though there are many girls in this group that often go above and beyond expectations, the mention of positive contact with home was the ‘carrot’ required to engage the boys in challenging themselves.
The students were given 10 minutes per task. Initially, I had wanted the students to move around the room, completing these writing stations as they went. Previously, I have found that movement around the room gives students a physical break needed when they have been sitting down for long periods of time. However, due to issues with photocopying, the students remained in their seats and the tasks were displayed on the board. Despite the fact that the students couldn’t move around the room, the timed element of the tasks created a sense of urgency and, with the promise of the postcard home, the boys seemed particularly desperate to complete the ‘hard’ tasks in the allotted time. They were engaged in every task for the duration of the task.
The differentiated tasks were set up so that the easy task asked students to be able to identify a particular technique. The ‘medium’ task asked them to apply the technique. Finally, the hard task asked them to apply the technique, using sophisticated vocabulary. The rationale behind differentiating it in this way was to ensure that those students who were lacking in understanding of a particular topic were able to gain the knowledge required before moving on to a more difficult task. You may think that students, eager for their postcard home, would have jumped into the ‘hard’ task and tried to complete it without fully understanding. However, because the more difficult tasks asked them to apply knowledge, it was impossible for them to complete it properly without ensuring they understood what they needed to do first.
These tasks asked the students – many of whom lack a lot of confidence in the subject, have very low literacy skills and are working at around a National Curriculum Level 3 or 4 – to use vocabulary such as ‘caliginous’ ‘amorphous’ and ‘cacophony’. For these boys, many of whom don’t read regularly, they were excited and engaged by creative writing techniques and words that they had not experienced before that lesson.
This was a very successful lesson and it’s been a starting point for me to engage the boys in the English curriculum. The excitement of the lesson has made it a memorable one and they are still eager to use those challenging techniques and vocabulary because it has stayed with them. Furthermore, the impact of the positive contact with home has been immeasurable. I have seen these boys happier to come into their English lessons and with lots more confidence than ever before.
My top set are an absolute delight. They are able, enthusiastic and engaged. I could pretty much ask them to do exercises from a text book every lesson and they would, willingly and with a smile on their face. Compliance doesn’t give you that thrill of really stretching a top set, however.
They’d recently grown so bored of the reading and analysis of Jekyll and Hyde (which they do, as it happens, exceptionally well) that I decided that I not only wanted them to approach the text in a different way but I also wanted to really stretch them.
I decided to develop a creative writing workshop, aimed at engaging them with the chapter The Carew Murder Case. Below, you’ll find an outline of the activities with which they engaged, the rationale of including these activities and the results from the lesson.
This class already have a pretty excellent vocabulary. They are able to vary their vocabulary for effect and make adventurous vocabulary choices. I needed them to use vocabulary that they hadn’t come across before and that was exceptionally sophisticated. I provided them with the vocabulary bank:
Metamorphosis – transformation e.g. The metamorphosis saw him change into a monster. Bloodlust – a desire to see bloodshed e.g. Only then did her senses register the three men before her, the alley, and the familiar bloodlust in their glowing eyes. Barbarous – cruel and vicious e.g. His barbarous behaviour shocked and appalled me. Baleful – threatening or menacing e.g. She shot be a baleful look Glowering – scowling e.g. They glowered at me as I stood alone in the corner.Gimlet-eyed – a sharp or piercing glance e.g. His face was set in a grimace and he was gimlet eyed. Decrepit – crumbling or decaying e.g. The decrepit buildings towered over me Dilapidated – run down e.g. The dilapidated building had smashed windows and no door. Squalid – dirty and filthy e.g. The conditions were squalid.
Not only did the students use all of these words, their desire to improve their vocabulary was really increased after seeing the complexity of the words in the vocabulary bank. One student described Hyde as “a behemoth like monster”.
I explained that good creative writing had to use the 5 senses. I provided them with an image of Victorian London and got them to write for 3 minutes using only their senses. The rationale behind getting them to write for such a short time was to get them to write and write straight away. So many students find it difficult to start or put up mental blocks to prevent themselves from having a go, so fearful that they won’t produce something beautifully written.
The timed task gave students the push they needed to get writing and many of them, who had previously shown a reluctance to write, were able to produce a short, effective description which could be re-worked into a much longer piece of descriptive writing.
Before they began to write, I also talked to them about the use of figurative language. Again, these students could identify and use these language techniques with ease. The challenge was to get them to create sophisticated and unusual imagery that avoided cliché. I modelled a clichéd metaphor – “His teeth were like daggers.” Then, I modelled a much more sophisticated and unusual simile “The deep fog spread like a pool of quicksilver”.
Again, I used an image as a stimulus for students to work from. They had three minutes to produce a simile, a metaphor or personification based on the image.
The last task they were given was simply changing two sentences from ‘tell’ to ‘show’, with the aim of building up more engaging descriptive detail.
They were shown :
I was nervous – My nails had been bitten until my fingers were sore and my legs were trembling.
And asked to re-write:
I was scared –
Lastly, the students were asked to write in pairs to produce two descriptive paragraphs of the murder. Each student was responsible for one of the paragraphs and, thus, they had to make sure they fitted together. Not only did this ensure students worked well together and helped to consolidate and concrete their ideas, it also ensured that students were able to discuss interesting ways to make links between their paragraphs.
They were provided with a success criteria:
There was such a ‘buzz’ in this lesson. This was a result of working with others, the pressure of timed tasks, the challenge of the task, and the clear success criteria made this a really successful lesson.
If it’s at all useful to you, click below to download the lesson’s PowerPoint