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Blendspace
blenspace

As one of our digital leaders at school, responsible for raising our digital prowess and use of technology to enhance learning (rather than just a bolt on), I am often asked what are my most recommended apps/tools to use in the classroom. I am by no means an expert – in fact, quite late to the technological game when it comes to it being integrated into the classroom. I have learnt a great deal from experts in the field, such as Mr P ICT and Rob Smith (founder of Literacy Shed). As an avid fan of all things technological, I spend my CPD time learning from them and gleaning whatever I can from the trail they, and others, have carved out. So, with all that in mind, I apologise now if anything I share might be ‘old news’ for you.

My favourite at the moment is ‘Blendspace’, which does exactly as it says on the tin – blend the ‘digital’ space with that of your classroom. I have found this tool invaluable with any children I teach (KS1 – KS2). It allows me to create a digital pinboard, for the children to access online content that I have chosen and selected beforehand. I have used QR codes for a while (another post to come) to allow children to quickly access a website, without having to enter in the inordinately long address. When I have needed them to access multiple websites, I have given them multiple QR codes, which in its essence, is fine. Except there is something better. Blendspace.

You can access this website (soon to be an app also, I hear) through your TES account. If you don’t have one of those….you’d be the first teacher I’ve met who doesn’t. Go get one! It’s free and is a whole remarkable resource all of its own. I don’t have time to unpack the genius of this place here and now. Alternatively, you can just sign up for Blendspace.

Blendspace allows me to compile any digital content that I want in one central place for the children to access. I can upload directly from TES, Google, Youtube, images….etc.

Here is a screen grab of a lesson I delivered a few weeks back to Year 6 on Charles Darwin. I wanted them to research, using the questions they had generated. By ‘googling’ Charles Darwin, they would have spent too much time sifting through to find relevant KS2 appropriate information. Here, I provided it for them.

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Here you can see that I found a PDF, links to websites and a video, through the search function on the right. I then just clicked and dragged into the available boxes on the left. Here, all the research resources they need are in one location. Now, for them to access this ‘digital lesson’ I have done one of two things. Either:

1 – Used the link above as a hyperlink on our class blog. I tend to do this if I want them to access this outside of school.

2 – Clicked on the green ‘share’ button at the top and then copied and pasted the QR code onto a document. I usually display this on the board, or print off for tables. All our children have access to ipads and so can scan the QR code, which will take them to what you can see above.

Saying that – it isn’t the longer address and they could type it into the address bar. Not my first choice, but not a problem either.

Once created, I named my lesson and it became forever in my library of lessons. Others can access it too, if they search for ‘Charles Darwin’. On that note, if you click on ‘blendspace’ at the top, it will take you back to your dashboard – your homepage, if you will. From here, you can search for lessons that already exist, that others have made. Super useful.

You could differentiate the ‘lesson’ by creating a different pinboard for each group. I have also used it in a carousel activity, when I needed multiple stations, each with different research. My students have also used this to create ‘lessons’ on a topic they researched for Home Learning, to make the websites/resources they used available to all. After we have finished, the QR codes are added to the display board, for anyone to continue to research in their own time. A number do.

I was using this before we purchased iPads. Whilst I believe they do make it smoother, they are not essential to using this excellent tool.

I used this weekly in some capacity or another, in a range of lessons throughout the curriculum. Sometimes, it has just been set up as a station for those who are ready for challenge/early morning work, with websites to SPAG revision, phonics games etc. We have even used it to upload the children’s actual work, be it writing, calculations or art work, so that it can be seen by others (parents, children, teacher) all in one place – a gallery of learning.

If you are already using it, I would love to hear about other ways you have used it, whatever your setting. If you haven’t, please let me know if you started using it and what you thought of it. My staff were really excited to discover this and have found it invaluable already. I hope it is for you too.  Happy blending!

Poetry By Heart Scotland: calling S4-S6 teachers and students
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Poetry By Heart Scotland is a competition from the Scottish Poetry Library that gives students in S4-6 opportunities to learn by heart and perform poems from our specially curated database. Students compete at school, regional and national level, culminating in a final event in Edinburgh where they have the chance to perform in front of high profile poets such as Liz Lochhead, Rachel MCrum, Diana Hendry and Tom Pow.

Schools that participated in the pilot have told us that through the competition students improved their self-confidence and went on to engage with poetry on a deeper, more meaningful level in the classroom. It’s a great chance for the teachers too – an opportunity to run the school competitions and regional heats in a personalised way that responds to the needs and interests of their students. Registrations are currently open till the end of September and we’d love for as many schools as possible to participate this year, following our successful pilot in 2014-15. To date, schools have registered from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, Aberdeen, Dunblane, Perth and Kinross; there is capacity for more schools in these regions and others throughout Scotland to join us.

The competition is completely free for all participants and the Scottish Poetry Library funds all related travel costs and prizes.

You can find out more about Poetry By Heart Scotland on the SPL website at http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry-heart-scotland or email me at georgi.gill@spl.org.uk – I’d be delighted to explain more, answer any questions or engage in general poetry chat!

Georgi

Eyes Down for Bingo!
June 18, 2015
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Using bingo cards is something I’ve done since I was an NQT and I’ve always found it to be a useful way to test pupil knowledge of characters or quotes. It’s simple enough to include a group of either on the cards and then call out a clue which the class have to decipher in order to cross off enough to get a line or full house. It’s fun and as a simple knowledge test, reliable but it can take up a lot of time both during the lesson and in the planning stages.

Recently I’ve been thinking about developing the quality of the content as well as making it more focused on pupils taking ownership of the game. Most recently with Year 9, I was hoping to embed their knowledge of the characters at the beginning of a unit on Romeo and Juliet (particularly now that they need to have a much greater depth of knowledge with the new GCSE assessment approach) and ensure that they were able to link these with key quotes in preparation for a scene analysis of theme.

Each board had a slightly different layout to ensure that the whole class didn’t match everything at once but in order to foster a more independent approach; the pupils worked in pairs with a set of coloured character cards each turning over the cards and matching them to an appropriate quote or analysis point. As you can see in the pictures, cards can be laminated and two coloured highlighters can be used too. Wipe clean and reusable!

This format is so versatile that it can be developed from Bingo to Connect Four according to the rules that you set as a teacher. It can be used as an indicator of gaps in knowledge or as a springboard to prompt further and more detailed discussion. Rather than having simply characters and quotes, the boards can be developed to include analytical statements about characters and events which pupils must discuss before ‘marking’ or blank squares can be left in order for pupils to add their own thoughts. Used as an individual or paired task, for a quick warm up, plenary or as a revision tool before the exam, it never gets old. Let’s face it, the novelty factors will always be there. After all, who doesn’t love a good game?

Cross-posted from The Ramblings of an Enthusiastic Teacher

Using a short, silent film to stimulate independent learning, discussion and writing
Untitled

I was really delighted to be asked by Pedagoo to explain how I would use this short film to enliven learning in my classroom. In this post I am mindful of how to harness the abilities of our visual learners. By using this visual text my aim is to generate extended thinking and learning and to encourage engagement with the writing process. I was inspired by David Didau’s hexagonal learning (Solo taxonomy) strategy to create genuine pupil-led independent learning and to find some evidence that this, often alchemical aspect of teaching has taken place.

Activity One
1.Watch this short film prior to showing it to your class. It lasts for 7 minutes.

2. In the classroom you might PAUSE the film mid-way when the little girl is resolute that she won’t accept the boy’s charity. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT ?– cue class writing activity… Five minutes of writing

Join in with this activity teachers !

The whole class including you writes the story. Write frantically, announcing an amnesty on spelling (just for this activity). What really matters here is that ideas are being blasted onto paper. After a strict five minutes, (set a timer) everyone must stop. Then enjoy reading all of the weird and wonderful responses this writing generates. Don’t be precious, read yours out too and accept the fact your pupils may be a little ahem… underwhelmed !

Leave it there fizzing with potential for next time. Your pupils will love this unrestricted burst of writing. Deliberately don’t be too prescriptive about using certain vocabulary banks in advance, see what your students will try, what might flow.

3. Don’t forget to read lots out even if it’s only a paragraph or two – then watch the film to see who the future script writers might be in your class !

Activity Two
Hexagonal Learning – Independent Learning using this visible thinking strategy and discussion tool.

  1. In groups of 4-5 pupils list the narrative moments in the film on hexagonal post-it notes. One event/word per post-it note. Ideally you would use lots of different colours and link the colours to the content.
  2. The pupils then list some of the themes they think may be emerging in the film.
  3. Together the group joins the hexagons up and discusses why they are placing them in a particular order.
  4. The hexagons are photographed and then using Bluetooth or other alternatives are linked to the classroom white board for all to see. Two members from each group go to the board and explain the connections they have made collectively, their decisions and the group thinking to the rest of the class. See below for an example:

Untitled

Figure 1 Hexagonal Learning using Hexagonal Post-it Notes

This activity ensures that pupils, come up with ideas, lead the discussion and make decisions and links independently.

You could also use a template, depending on your class and the ability ranges, where you direct the learning and the pupils develop the initial ideas. I would use this sort of template below, which is a PowerPoint that can be tweaked according to whatever you are teaching. I would have at least 20 prompts on the hexagons. Print and cut the hexagons out, for longevity you may also wish to laminate them. (Do this while they are still in sheet form and use the school, paper guillotine for cutting out.)

Untitled2

Figure 2 Hexagon Generator Pam Hook
pamhook.com/solo-apps/hexagon-generator

Cleaning your work
How to washHow to wash

Hi all!

This is my first ever blog about teaching! Please apologise for my ramblings – if anything is unclear then don’t hesitate to tweet me @MrRDenham . Or even better, if you have a go at this, then tweet me some pictures to the above handle.

Context of the class:  Students have come a long way in recent times. It is the first time we have seriously considered entering a set 3 class into higher tier – normally only sets 1 and 2 get this chance. School has had the mantra of ‘safety in numbers’ when it comes to getting a C. Thankfully, this all changed now we are measured on progress. A change I am really glad of. Now the whole school has to focus on all students. Not just the ‘C’ grade ones. Students in this class range from an E to a B (got high hopes for one girl even getting an A) so differentiation is key.

Cleaning Your Work! The idea came to me when driving home… I felt that I was banging the same old drum with my year 10 class when it came to successfully analysing thoughts and feelings within a text: look at a text; show good examples; they attempt it; we mark it; I mark it; repeat! This was becoming very monotonous for me and the students – some were not excelling. I needed to attack this at a new angle.

The task:

The task involves students reading a text and then answering a question on it – developing sustained responses. We were answering a ‘thoughts and feelings’ style question. Using the washing up instructions provided by me, students had to ‘clean their clothes’ and create great examples of text analysis. They were tasked with creating 5 clean clothes. Along with this they had to purposefully create 2 dirty clothes – these were rubbish examples. I recommended they took out a step from the ‘washing instructions’ to help them achieve this. I feel that the latter part was the most successful for lower ability students as they were now able to recognise what a bad answer looks like. They were having to think how to make a bad piece of work, rather than concentrating on creating excellent examples and stressing themselves out with keeping up with the rest.

How to wash

How to wash

During the washing process, I also provided washing up ‘tablets’ to enable students to break away from just saying ‘suggests’ all the time. Like when we wash clothes, we lose a tablet to the process, thus eliminating a ‘suggest’ word. This helped them to increase their vocabulary and enabled them to stop their work sounding repetitive (C – E grade students were struggling to get out of this habit).

Then it was…walla – peg, or throw out (I used my working board to stick a bin bag on – always find that it’s good to have a blank display for you to use in class) your work as you go along.

Bin bag used to get rid of dirty clothes

Bin bag used to get rid of dirty clothes

These are two 'clean' examples pegged out to dry

These are two ‘clean’ examples pegged out to dry

To finish we stuck our work into our books: 1 clean, 1 dirty. They had to then reflect and state why the clean work is ‘clean’ and the dirty ‘dirty’, once again reinforcing their exploration in the lesson (it took us two x 50 min lessons to achieve this).

Reflection

Reflection

Note: During the final lesson of the week we did a ‘mock’ exam to help consolidate their learning further – a number of students requested the tablets to help them. If you have read down to here… then I thank you for your time. Hopefully this blog isn’t as bad as I fear! ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND FOLKS – I’M OFF TO MARK THEIR (AMAZING) WORK!

Sentence Pong
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I recently blogged about Moosing about, a table cloth I used with my Year 7 SEN Class. The ideas and stories generated from this were fantastic and it really helped them with their paragraphing however they all started pretty much the same way- The, Then, I and She/He.

So I decided my class needed to do some more work on making their sentences interesting and the thought processes/ editing that takes place.

This is where Sentences Pong comes in, I have used ‘sentence roll a dice’ exercises and I have a few laminated boards in my classroom with mixed success. So I decided to cut up the boards and put them into yoghurt pots and then students could throw a ping ping ball into the pot which would generate a sentence opener/starter.

This is how it worked

Before the lesson

  • I cut up sentence criteria for example use alliteration, a metaphor, simile, indicate a location, personification ( If you Google sentence roll a dice activities some fantastic ones pop up)
  • I put them into the yoghurt pots

Start of the lesson

  • Went through the terms with the students to refresh/ recap what the terms mean and why they are used
  • Explained the classroom rules and that if there was silly behaviour with the ball then they would not participate

Sentence Pong

  • Students ( I only have 8 in one SEN class and 6 in the other) throw the ball and aim for a pot
  • Once landed in pot, the group stopped and came around the table
  • As a group they then came up with a sentence, I then wrote this down

As the game went on, they decided they didn’t want to do it one at a time and instead wanted to write a few sentences together, they worked collaboratively and generated some fantastic creative writing.

I have now typed up the writing that was on the table, so next lesson they can D.I.R.T and write their own paragraph using the techniques used during the group lesson (they will have the sentence openers/starters grid with them).

I really enjoyed this lesson and so did my class as for once on Friday P5 they were not rushing for the door to leave :)

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Moosing about!!
Moose

This is by FAR.. the BEST 80p I have ever spent!! and this lesson had me hanging off the edge of my seat…. but also in fits of laughter!! and turned out to be one of the highlights of my Y7 (SEN/LA) class.

I was reading numerious tweets about #poundlandpedagoo and decided that I wanted to go on a hunt and track down all the bits and bobs I had seen. So off I went and got the post it notes and eggs etc and then I found this… an 80p party table cloth (from Wilko).

So… how I used it! I simply put across the table and gave each student a multi link and advised them that today we were going on a journey… where we went was completely up to them….

This is how I set it up…..

  • Students placed their counter on a location
  • Then roll the dice and move across the squares in any direction
  • They then need to describe the journey, surroundings, use 5 sense, adverbs, adjectives and to try and create a vivid image and engage their audience (me and class mates)
  • Students were peer assessed throughout, as class mates could hit the buzzer if vocabulary could be improved, sentence could be improved or if they had any questions.
  • On some of the squares I had placed prompt cards- if they moved to one of these they had to include this in their story
  • I also had a buzzer that sounded like a klaxon, when I pressed it ALL students had to include what ever I said into their story (a text message- used laminated Iphone post it notes, seeing something or simile/ alliteration etc.)
  • All the sentences (mainly in green) are the fabulous sentences, vocabulary that my class generated. They then copied these into their books (some drew little pictures) so they could be used when they start to write up their story next lesson.

The students really enjoyed the lesson, they stretched each other, engaged each other and I was able to listen and be transported into their stories.

This could be easily adapted, as students could create their own table cloth.

 

Moose Moose

 

Moose  Moose

 

Snakes and Ladders
Snakes and Ladders  board

Revision and reviewing does not have to be boring… it can simply be a game!

My Year 8 class (SEN/LA boys) have been working extremely hard to not only recap the poetic techniques they learnt last year but also locate them in the poem and construct PEE paragraphs. Their assessment is to compare two poems (Hard Frost and Winter)  the class started the comparison by completing an interactive Venn Diagram and this brought up gaps in their knowledge and ability to lengthen their responses.

I could have made a work sheet got them to complete a table but I wanted to do something different, where I could sit and listen to their answers…. SO I came up with this.

Its really simple (buy and outdoor snakes and ladders game- this one is from Amazon) put questions on as many squares as you like and then play Snakes and Ladders.

I chose to use the questioning stems from the thinking dice and then the students generated 10 questions of their own relating to the 2 poems (these tended to be questions that they still had about the poems).

Students then played the game, answering the questions they landed on. The rest of the class listened to the answer and told them whether they were right/wrong or needed to add more to their answer. If a question arose that they could not answer, we then paused the game and had a class discussion ( some of the questions became the starters for the following lesson to check).

My class played the game for a whole hour, and were thoroughly engaged, answered the questions in FANTASTIC detail and really stretched and encouraged each other. It was a delight to witness.

 

Snakes and Ladders Snakes and Ladders  board

I Don’t Care What You Think Of My Music
Image by flickr.com/photos/dbl90Image by flickr.com/photos/dbl90

A couple of years back a young boy in school came sauntering along the corridor towards me with those big trendy headphones on. I approached with my stern teacher face on and asked him to remove them, which he did.

‘What are you listening to anyway?’

‘(Some band I’ve never heard of),’ he replied.

I hammed up a comedy sneer.

“ I don’t care what you think of my music,’ he said, in not a nasty way at all, but incredibly matter-of-fact. ‘It’s mine.’

And he was right, of course. At that precise moment I realised I was turning into my dad. And it hurt.

Following on from my previous post about how words, and language in general, have made me into the person I have become, who could argue that our early experiences of music don’t do the same. I don’t mean the silly, childish music we might enjoy when we are nine or ten but the earth shattering discoveries we make in our teens. My obsession with lyrics on album covers; the constant repetition of the same L.P. (ask your parents, kids) for weeks on end; the almost tribal protection of any of my favourites. That boy brought it all home to me, just how much it meant back then.

Since the inspiration of that day I’ve taught a unit of work in class called ‘I Don’t Care What You Think of My Music.’ It’s a unit which prepares pupils to write discursively or persuasively so we look at loads of exemplars of those sorts of writing. We develop a checklist of techniques and critique each others work as we go – yes, I write too – but all with a back drop of the class playlist. Each pupil picks five songs which they think should be included and argue their case. I usually choose one from each and Spotify provides the soundtrack to our summer term.

That musical DNA is of course inexorably linked to our literary DNA. What you find is that the kids with the most passion for music are the ones who relate to the lyrics that cry out to them. And it is incredible to remember myself at that age- moody, isolated, indifferent. A teenager, indeed – and think about what these kids are going through. How much can we influence them or is it all just a matter of circumstance? Channelling that very personal attachment is incredibly powerful for their writing but also allows quieter kids who have lacked confidence, write in more personal ways than I’ve ever seen from them.

They always comedy sneer whenever I tell them who I listen to. But back when I was walking out to winter; when I was up on the pavement when they we’re all down in the cellar of their basement flat; when I was writing ‘Do I love you? Yes I love you’ on cards and giving them to girls I fancied; when I was in the darkened underpass thinking ‘oh God my chance has come at last’, I knew exactly how they feel now. And you may laugh. But I don’t care what you think about my music. It’s mine.

Cross-posted from Just Trying To Be Better Than Yesterday

High Impact
Image by flickr.com/photos/spettacolopuroImage by flickr.com/photos/spettacolopuro

‘Impact’ is a word which has become increasingly popular in pedagogy. Teachers and leaders in education – increasingly skeptical of an implied focus on school data which comes with the word ‘progress’ – have seized on ‘impact’ as a term which more directly encompasses the concept of practice informed by and for pupils. Reflecting on this, I’ve started to look at what makes the most impact within my classroom. In this reflection I found myself constantly returning to the now almost cliched phrase: high expectations. The increasing use of these words in school promotional material and on blogs – my own included – makes it easy to consider this as pure rhetoric or as something which should simply be part of any classroom. Yet, I think it means more than this and requires deliberate development and focus, both on how you teach and what you are teaching.

The HOW

My observations both highlighted to me techniques that I had worked on over time, which had begun to create a culture of high expectations within the classroom. Two fairly simple techniques which centre around a key aspect of teaching: questioning. A number of bloggers have posted on the important impact of questioning within the classroom. I believe it is central to the practice of teaching and has made the most impact on my pupils. In my early years of teaching, I therefore made it my personal aim to get it right – I thought about questioning all the time whether observing others teach, reading educational material or perusing blogs. As I developed as a teacher, I drew a more narrow focus on the types of questions which forced pupils to really think; to move beyond expected or simplified responses. Over time I had built up the teacher instinct which allowed me to actually recognise when the cogs were turning in my pupils’ minds – an instinct, which is actually only instinctive after several months of close observation and thought about those you teach. This is key and allows you to identify the all important difference between the “I don’t know” which signals disaffection and that which highlights panic; when a pupil is not trying and when they are genuinely struggling. It was this deliberate development of this area of my teaching that made a huge impact on the level of discussion and thought within my classroom; the fact that this was verified by an observer was reassuring. The class was a wonderful bunch of Year 11s who I had built a good relationship with and who were mostly willing to engage with the work but for both the observer and myself, the questioning/interrogation was the time I saw them pushing themselves to really think. In a time where it is all too easy to panic spoon feed them (I think I was probably guilty of that when it came to the English Language exam nightmare) this has an impact including but also beyond the realms of the examination hall.

This observation made me realise that in fact much of the impact lies in the space between the first answer and the second/third/fourth. An oral version of Austin’s butterfly, if you will. This was made even clearer to me in the second observation, a few months down the line in a different school, this time with a Year 7 group. In this case I had asked a pupil a question to which he didn’t know the answer (this was during the first activity, which was a consolidation of the previous lesson). I could see both that he clearly wasn’t sure of the answer and that he should have known the answer; he hadn’t learnt it in the last lesson, which meant that there was a failing somewhere along the line, which could have been me/him/a combination of both. I needed him to know that answer, I also needed him to know that it wasn’t ok that he didn’t know that answer – not in a cruel or negative way but in a way that said come on you, this is important, you’ve got to show a little more faith in yourself by making sure you remember it.  I asked someone else in the class to answer, then I went back to the first pupil and asked him to repeat the answer. “Uh, I don’t know”. Ok so this time I knew that focus was evidently a problem, he also still hadn’t grasped that he couldn’t just be let off knowing this once he wasn’t in the spotlight. NB: At this point I was starting to feel a bit nervous – here I was in an observed lesson and my pupil was clearly not getting it. I considered leaving it and moving swiftly on to a pupil who I could be relied upon to get it right, but I decided instead to pursue it, to make sure this time he got the answer.

“Alright” I said to him “Well this is important and you need to know it. So, I’m going to get the answer to this again and I’m coming back to you. Ok?” I had to spell this one out. Process repeated. This time he got it. I asked him to repeat it. Then again. Then again. It sounds potentially evil but I promise it was done with gentleness, encouragement and a warm smile (from both me and the pupil ‘in question’). Throughout the lesson I came back to him with the question – a reminder that this wasn’t an ‘in the moment’ piece of information, this had to be stored. I went from nervousness to pride as I saw him become more confident each time he answered. He knew that answer. He hadn’t known it at the beginning. I could have hid this or let it slide so it wasn’t obvious to the observer that my last lesson hadn’t hit the mark with every pupil. But by not doing that, by putting it out there in the open space of the classroom I felt more confident than ever before that I was not only showing the observer a decent stab at progress but more importantly I was actually making some.

As an observer in a few schools recently it is these type of moments that I have seen in other teachers’ classrooms where I too feel the impact. On reading Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like A Champion earlier this year, it was with excitement that I discovered this technique formed part of his chapter on creating high expectations, it was called ‘No Opt Out’. More than that, he provided more detailed and developed ways this could be used, with real concrete examples. I was transfixed by Lemov’s recommendation to focus on your teaching strengths and develop that. It made so much sense to me and it also gave me something real to hang my ethos of high expectations on. Reading Dweck’s Mindset. How You Can Fulfil Your Potential has similarly given me a narrative which shapes my thinking about what I am expecting from my pupils. Whilst having an impact in your classroom can come from the ‘tacit knowledge’ of being a teacher, I appreciate the value of academic literature to help teachers consolidate and put into action their instinctive teaching strengths.

The WHAT

On the subject of literature; it has also become clear to me (particularly in the last year where I have been directly responsible for curriculum design) that the content of teaching is as important, if not more than the way you teach it, on creating an impact on your pupils. I have been in debate – both internal and external – about the content which should be taught as part of an English curriculum. In particular this has come back to the types of texts we should be teaching our pupils. When I first started teaching, I was concerned about picking easy to access, relevant texts; the schools I worked at generally taught the likes of Skellig and Holes to KS3 and KS4 was a mad rush to ‘fit in’ literature around the English Language paper; thus teaching Of Mice and Men to most was often justified because it was short, whereas To Kill a Mockingbird could be delivered to those elite, higher sets who would ‘cope’ with it. At KS3 some of this came from time pressures and bad teaching, most of it came from a genuine desire to try to engage pupils in the love of reading, and what I now see as a misguided idea about how this worked. I find the argument around text choice fairly complex – I’m a huge fan of contemporary fiction; my study of it at university made me alive with passion for studying literature, both contemporary and classical. I also struggle with the ‘pale, male and stale’ aspects of the canon, but want my students to have the opportunity to know these works so they have the chance to be critical of them. I also think that the studying of contemporary fiction is enriched by a knowledge of the literary heritage that has influenced it. Equally, as pointed out here by Chris Curtis, contemporary children’s texts often lack complexity and challenge. I now lean towards a curriculum with a range of canonical texts studied as part of a chronology of literature, with additional units of work/comparative studies of challenging adult contemporary fiction. After all don’t great teachers have the ability and responsibility to bring all texts to life; to allow our pupils to see the beauty of texts beyond those they would find for themselves? In this debate I also found myself coming back to the idea that if I think my pupils can only enjoy and appreciate texts which are about their own experiences or written for them in their own time, am I lowering my expectations of them and what therefore is the impact on their learning?

This question was answered recently when I taught a unit studying the play Macbeth. Lessons were pretty much get on your feet, let’s act this out and get to grips with the play and Shakespeare’s language. As part of their end of term test, I decided that this acting approach needed to be represented – they were also writing an essay – but I wanted to give room for the acting out of the play to be as important. So I set them the task of learning and acting out a scene/soliloquy. They had a number of prep sessions (our in-school homework time) to work on this and could come to me for guidance but were largely left to tackle the task independently. The first moment I had a vision of the impact this was having was when one of my pupils who is a struggling reader turned up after school to spend an hour of his time getting help learning his speech. The next day another pupil turned up to do the same. At lunchtime I walked down the stairs ready to confront the noisy crowd of pupils evidently up to no good only to find full rehearsals ago with pupils acting to each other and asking for feedback, or using their tablet computers to record and analyse their performances. For over a week, every corridor, stairway and empty classroom rang with the sound of Shakespeare; so much so that the other day a quotation from Macbeth came to mind and I heard it in the voice of one of my pupils. Many of the performances themselves were spectacular – with pupils learning whole scenes and speeches and performing them so expertly that I felt like I was in an audience at a real theatre. Of course the outcomes varied amongst pupils; there were certain pupils who had worked really hard on the scenes and set themselves high standards, whereas others had attempted some learn lining or some acting but not quite pieced this together. In this was a lesson for me – the task had set the challenge but imagine the impact if I hadn’t been blindsided by the fact they were only Year 7. If I had set that expectation higher for all my pupils then they could all have made it there. Now I have exemplars to show and have tried this out, I won’t make the same mistake again.

So in answer to my earlier question – I do think the impact is lessened when you don’t push yourself to expect more, when you allow yourself to narrow your thinking about what they can or will engage with. Impact for me comes when I expect more, both of my pupils and of myself.

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