On the 17th of January, I travelled to Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire, where a TeachMeet – named “EngMeet” – took place in the morning – on Saturday at the Princes Risborough School. The school is beautifully located on the top of a small hill with lovely views over the Chilterns. It was snowing when we were starting.
The event was wonderfully prepared by @rachelayres1979, an English teacher working in the same area. Once we got some tea and coffee into us and were sitting comfortably, she kicked the event off with a short reminder of our (teachers’) need to nurture ourselves and take care of ourselves – there are far too many overworked, close-to-burnout teachers out there, so Rachel presented us with a plan for ensuring our own well-being! Using a rather funny image of a teacher with disheveled hair, spending money for resources out of her own pocket, being thrown paper planes at her, stacks of papers to mark and a note from parents saying teachers get paid too much, she insisted: take a break from time to time! You might want to follow Twitters #teacher5aday, #Nurture201415, @Martynreah and @chocotzar. Have a look at the image to the right here: you will probably notice quite easily the similarity to a rather well-known 5-minute lesson plan. Let’s lesson-plan for ourselves and our families!
The event kicked off with a keynote speaker: Simon Wrigley. Simon wears many hats and one of them is his hard work on NWP (National Writing Project), which I have been involved in in the past. At the core of NWP lies a belief that teachers cannot successfully teach children how to write if they themselves do not write! Therefore, the Project runs several groups across England where groups of teachers get together after school or a Saturday and write. It’s a free-writing activity that NWP members (it’s all completely free, of course!) engage in. From my own personal experience, I can tell you it is an extremely exhilarating freeing experience: get a notebook or a diary and write! This allows for regular writing practice, experimenting with writing and reflection on what writing is: for children and for teachers. Simon insists that writing is our occupation – so we should occupy it. I am actually in the process of re-establishing an NWP group here in Kingston-upon-Hull – so watch this space!
Simon’s keynote set the tone for the EngMeet: “others shouldn’t tell English teachers how to teach”: this event was all about empowering teachers who know their own context, their children, their specific schools’ circumstances. Rather than treat all schools using the same Ofsted criteria, we know what our students need. He critiqued the current writing tests as not requiring anymore to write imaginative and thoughtful texts – and said that imagination and thoughtfulness are not longer part of the marking schemes. Simons calls teachers as the agents of reform, sees the importance of our professional development through shared creativity, sustained partnership in research, free and structured approaches and groups collecting evidence of writing journeys.
He concluded with keynote with a wonderful story of an EAL child he knew, who, when allowed to write freely without having been constantly criticized for spelling or grammar errors, wrote an extremely poignant recount of their own traumatizing experiences in Kosovo prior to coming to the UK. Had this child’s grammar and language been constantly corrected, this student might not have ever shared this story. Simon reminds us: don’t go for spelling only: look at the content.
The next presenter delivered on the topic of Reflected Aspiration. She is concerned with the lack of aspiration amongst her learners. Reflected Aspiration is an approach to teaching our students about how to develop their life aspirations. Teachers, she said, are integral to the reengagement of students disengaged (or disengaging) from education. She asked us: When was the last time you had an aspirational goal shared with your learners? She advises us to share our own aspirations with our students.
- How did it feel?
- How were you vulnerable?
- Did you achieve it?
- What did it take?
She told us a personal story about her own physically strenuous achievement – climbing a rather tall mountain… and said we should share similar stories – of overcoming the odds – with our learners. She also linked the Reflected Aspiration to Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on grit (the video is embedded below) – Duckworth talks about how the possession of grit is related to academic success – that is, not being defeated by failures and not giving up in face of educational adversity. In my own experience, the lack of grit and the lack of aspiration are linked to students expressing their learned helplessness – a coping mechanism, accepting failure, having low aspirations and not even trying anymore.
She referred to Corso et al. (2013)’s Student Engagement Model (you can see the model at http://www.studentengagementtrust.org/engagementModel/). One can see from it how the relationship between the students and the teacher is an integral part of meaningful engagement. Thus, sharing our stories of struggle and overcoming our own struggles can be seen as an important element of our students re-engaging and overcoming their own struggles in the process of their education. My own research: Sal Khan’s recording for BBC4 on “I hope my children learn that failure is not bad” – is a case in point.
The next presentation was on Using Theme to support the development of ‘written’ register. ‘Theme’ refers here to the starting point of a clause (including) the subject. The presenter reported on a study she had conducted into how children use theme in their writing. She reminds us that many children come from oral traditions and, therefore, might not tell or know the differences between spoken and written texts. One just has to mention Neil Mercer’s rather famous The Guided Construction of Knowledge here – he has been talking and writing of the importance of speaking for writing for many many years.
She said how some children were only using “I” and “you” or referencing back only with “there” and “they”, but others do not use such referents so much, but use more advanced words for referring to already-mentioned subjects. We need to understand the informal Englishes that children grow up with do vary and this impacts on how they will need to be taught the formal English to succeed academically later in life. M.Berry’s 9 Contentful and contentlight subject themes in informal spoken English and formal written English was cited as an important piece of research related to this field.
Whilst this was an English meeting, the presenter is a Science teacher, but drew our attention to how students of Science may struggle at schools with the understand of exam (GCSE) tasks they are presented with. She uses the RTQ strategy with her students: Read the Question Slowly. She said that too often students simply repeat words from exam questions in their answers – resulting getting no marks in the exams.
The RTQ is related to CUBE: circle command words, understand key points, box what helps you to answer the question and eliminate the irrelevant.
Clearly, this has the potential be used across the curriculum! Why not try it in your own lessons when preparing your students for exams!
The Big ‘O’
A Geography teacher spoke next of how he had played an important part in the development of a whole-school approach to writing – by introducing a new system for marking and feedback to students. He presented us with a very detailed system for marking writing across all subjects – for instance, one of such resources for Extended Writing Planning Sheet to be used by teachers (all teachers) for students. The school also uses Extended Writing stickers in students’ books. Sadly, I did not make notes quickly enough of Alan’s presentation – so if you can fill this gap, please contact me!
FUN IN THE CLASSROOM
This lady showed us some fun ideas for fun in the classroom! When teaching poetry, for instance, she uses screencasts for pupils to watch at home. Another idea of hers is 5 out of 3 – she gives dark cinema glasses to some students, who then have a secret mission and have to report back to the class on it later!
What a great idea! Silent Reading Task Bank. Many schools do silent reading (we do this in our school for 15 minutes every morning) – but do you give students tasks based on that reading? Well, this lady does! She showed us a sheet with tasks for reading (RAFs) and writing (WAFs) based on the reading students have done. Students get cards with three questions on them. I might adapt this idea for my EAL students!
CONTENT-BASED LANGUAGE TEACHING
My own presentation came last. This time, I actually did a repeat of what I had presented earlier in the year at Pedagoo Christmas Party. I spoke of Bernard Mohan’s Knowledge Framework (explained in my glossary – link here), graphic organizers and substitution tables (please see the embedded PPT below). I find the graphic organizers as proposed by Mohan – linking knowledge structures, thinking skills, graphic organizers and language required – to be one of the most powerful tools that actually exist that mainstream teachers can use to teach language through content to their English as an Additional Language learners and all other learners in their classes. I wish more schools would use this – clearly, it was very important in British Columbia schools for teachers’ work with their ESL schools, so why not here?
The EngMeet concluded with prizes – at the beginning of the event, we picked raffle tickets – and now, several prizes were given out to the lucky ones. There were prizes such as books, various resources, and I was the lucky one to actually win the priciest prize – an iPad! Given that this event was around my birthday, it was a nice addition to the prizes lineup!