5 min literacy plan

5 min literacy plan

If you’ve used @TeacherToolkit’s 5 Minute Lesson Plan, you’ll know how quickly and easily it can revive the often time constrained art of planning.  If you haven’t seen it, check it out (http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/The-5-Minute-Lesson-Plan-by-TeacherToolkit-6170564/).  I love Ross’s plan because it is a finite document.  I have to hand-write it and am limited by how much of my big scrawl I can fit in the boxes.  I don’t have the time or the space to faff or to second guess myself.  It forces (or perhaps that should be ‘allows’) me to think in a way that works for me.

5 min lesson plan

So, in that spirit of reducing time and increasing focus in planning.  I have drafted a 5 min literacy plan and I want to emphasise the draftiness of it, as I would like of you to test it out for me and let me know what works and what doesn’t.

Here it is, just click to download 5_min_Literacy plan or at http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/The-5-Minute-Literacy-Plan-6352707/

5 min literacy plan 2

How does it work?

I imagine this will sit alongside another planning document (like the 5 min lesson plan!).  I don’t imagine that anyone will use it for every lesson or need it for every group of students.  I imagine it might be useful when tackling a difficult, long or important text or preparing for a key piece of written work.

So, the BIG picture remains the same.

The outcomes and needs are perhaps more functional, designed to focus on what the students need to achieve in the end because this outcome will directly feed into your choice of literacy activity and then how you plan it.

I included needs along with outcomes because for me they are always closely linked.  If a student doesn’t have the vocabulary knowledge to understand a text, then I need to tackle that first before reading.  If a student needs a more structured approach to writing, then this has to come first.

Key words in context – enough said, I have posted on this in the past.

Having purpose – You will see for each of the literacy “hot spots” I have added space to include a purpose.

You see I don’t want to pay lip-service to literacy.  I don’t want it to be another box ticking exercise.  I strongly believe that engaging activities around talk, reading and writing will help students progress in every subject, but only if we use them with a purpose that is tightly linked to our subject.

If we are going to ask students to express their ideas through talk or writing, we need to know why they are doing it, what we want them to achieve.

If we are going to ask students to read something, then is it because they need to gather knowledge and information, or to explore ideas, what reaction and response do we want them to have?

Speaking – what questioning will you use?  How will you extend and develop students answers?  See some ideas on Extending student talk and Accountable Talk.

Reading – what reading age / level is it?  This will impact any reading differentiation (shortened texts for some etc).  How will introduce the text/ideas?  What will take place during reading (annotating, answering questions, gathering evidence, listening) and what will happen after reading to demonstrate understanding, comprehension, evaluation etc?

Writing – once you have sorted the purpose, how you are going to help students plan their writing (please make them plan it first), what are you going to do during writing to ensure they are producing something high quality and what can you and what will they do after writing to improve it (see my comments on glow and grown marking here).

Your comments, ideas and feedback needed

Please let me know if you use it, send me some pics of it filled in.  Please tell me what needs improving, changing, adding, removing.

I would like this to be something practical and useful.

Possibly the best homework project ever

Last week I posted my experience of using research and debate to expand students’ ability to answer essay or exam questions (Killing the question, becoming more).  As a footnote to that post, I shared a homework project I did with my year 12 students based on an amazing powerpoint I found on the TES – http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/50-things-to-do-before-you-and-39-re-twenty-6180376/.

Together we created a list of 50 things to do before you turn 20.  Some are from the TES resource.  Some we added ourselves.  There was some negotiation involved as you can imagine, there were a number of suggestions that wouldn’t make appropriate homework tasks!

If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know it was very popular and created a somewhat hilarious and competitive buzz around our sixth form.

Here is a copy of the original homework doc I gave my year 12s:  50 things to do before you turn 20

50 things

 

 

I have been thinking of ways I could use this lower down the school.  So over the summer, I have started to create a list for years 7, 8, 9 and 10.  The lists aren’t complete because I want students to add their own ideas.

I will upload them once I have a full set.

So watch this space.

A letter to my year 11 students

Dear Year 11s

It’s Wednesday afternoon, at around 2.00pm, the day before results day.

I have been thinking about you this week, for obvious reasons, but if I am honest you haven’t left my mind much since the start of the holidays.   I am worried for you, and about you.  I am hopeful.  And anxious.  I am excited and terrified all at the same time.

In our last lesson together before study leave, we had a party and did some revision.  For a laugh, I showed you pictures of me at school.  You guys bought me presents that I will treasure (especially my yellow spangly bear) and consume (thanks for the wine and chocolate – it’s good to know you were listening to some things I said).  Because you were approaching your last day at school, you were on an emotional high.  You said nice things to me and thanked me.  I appreciated this more than you can know.

The journey we started last September wasn’t an easy one.  In all honesty, there wasn’t much hope for you.  You hated English.  Your grades sucked.  At the beginning, you played me.  You pushed my buttons.  I shouted.  You swore.  I booted you out.  You just laughed at me.  Being in class with you was a bit like playing Whack-a-mole, I would get one of you working and another one would jump.  You would talk and talk and talk and just not stop.  Do you remember the day you all refused to sit on chairs and sat on the tables?  There were days when I went home and cried because I didn’t know what to do.

What changed?  I honestly don’t know.  I can’t say for definite when you went from being my least favourite class to my surrogate children.

It might have been the day we had an honest chat about your coursework.  It wasn’t your fault what happened.  But from December to April you had to write all your coursework, as well as learn an anthology of poems and an exam novel to revise.   I told you, that if we could work out how to get your coursework to a decent level, then you could go into the exam as champions.  I said we would stick our fingers up at everyone who ever said you couldn’t do it.  I told you it wasn’t going to be easy, but it would be worth it.  I promised I would be there every step of the way.

And so we did.  We managed it.  We compared non-fiction texts and wrote our own.  We analysed Romeo and Juliet and Talking Heads.  We completed the spoken language study and wrote a piece of creative writing.  It seemed unending.  There were days, when it just wasn’t possible to make your learning fun.  We just had to plow through.  There were days when I talked too much and days when I didn’t have the energy to even speak.

One day stands out – it was a Thursday.  I woke up feeling awful, but as you were writing your last controlled assessment and I knew it wouldn’t happen with a cover teacher, I went into school.  My vision was blurry and I was heaving.  Nice huh?  When you came into the lesson, I had the lights off and blinds down.  You probably don’t remember what you did.  You sat down at your desks and got on with your work.  You were silent for the whole hour (as you should be in a controlled assessment! – how many times have I said that this year?).  You worked in the darkness, hunched over your papers.  All because I wasn’t feeling well.  One of the reasons I am writing this is because I wanted to thank you for that.

Well, it’s results day tomorrow.  We will see if you all your hard work has paid off.  But before that, there are a few things I wanted to say…

Although I know you are relying on these results for your college places, these results are not you.  Please do not let them (whether good or bad) define you.

If you don’t get the results you want tomorrow – know this.  I have seen you at your worst – you are pretty annoying and I have seen you at your best – those after school revision sessions.  Your best is pretty awesome.  They have been days when just chatting to you made my day.  When you asking for helping or making an observation made me smile for the next few hours.  I still laugh now at some of the jokes we played in my lessons (I am thinking of Spiderman and Chuck Norris right now).  If only these things were worth UMS points – you would all be rich indeed.  When you were on study leave, you still came into school to revise.  You used to come and interrupt my other lessons just to say hi.  You are good people.  You are more than your GCSEs.

If you do get the results you want tomorrow – know this.  Your success is down to you.  100%.  Yes, I helped.  But you wrote those coursework essays and you sat those exams.  I taught you for less than a year.  This is down to you.  Well done.  You did good.

Not matter what tomorrow brings – I can honestly say it was been a privilege knowing you this year.  I am proud of you.  I am so proud of how hard you worked in those last few weeks.  When you went home and did practise essays that you didn’t tell anyone about because that’s not cool.  I am proud that you revised.  I am proud that you tried in the exam and you all came and told me how much you have written.

When we first started out I told you it wasn’t going to be easy, but it would be worth it.  I hope that wasn’t a lie.

Remember – you are in charge of where your story goes from here.

Go on, go live your life.

Mrs E

Killing the question, becoming more

I am free

When I first read about Kill the Question on @rlj1981’s blog (http://createinnovateexplore.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/3d-planning-and-kill-the-question/) the idea got me pretty excited.

I am vampiric when it comes to borrowing other people’s ideas and I loved that Rachel’s idea was so easily adaptable to the English classroom.

Below is what worked and what didn’t work as I tried to figure out how I could use this activity with my students.

Kill the question

Working up to it:

Rachel described this activity as a starter, for me it became a whole lesson and later as you will see a 2 hour workshop.  The idea is to ask students to look at a concept (or an essay question) from every conceivable angle.

Our year 12 students return after their exams and we normally start teaching year 13 material.  This year we were given a free reign and I decided to do some year 13 Literature prep by looking at philosophy and some of the great philosophers who have shaped the way we think.  Prior to this lesson, students had worked in groups to research and present on a specific philosopher or a period of history that saw some great advances in philosophical thinking.

The activity:

The activity itself is based on CSI and the idea is that students gather evidence to “kill” or in some cases “resurrect” the question.

You can see from the above, we “killed” to ideas – the only truth is knowing you know nothing, and freedom is a redundant idea.

Students were then allocated cards of a specific colour, and in their philosopher groups they had to gather evidence from their works (I would like to spare a moment for a quick thank you to Squashed Philosophers http://sqapo.com/ at this point).

Once students had gathered evidence, this was placed around the idea and we debated from the stand point of each philosopher, what they might say to “kill” or indeed “resurrect” this idea.

Kill the question 2

It was then that I realised I wanted to try this activity lower down the school.

As S&L debate this could be very useful – think of the connections that students could make – links to themes, character and setting, links to context, links to other texts and writers.

kill the question - lord of the flies

With my year 9 students, studying Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale, we took the bold step of using chalk on the carpet in my classroom.  Note – it did come off eventually, but only I after I scrubbed it…

The idea we killed this time was Malcolm X’s quote: Nobody can give you freedom; nobody can give you equality or justice.  If you are a man, you take it.

To begin I allowed students to write their “first response” to this idea on the carpet in chalk (another learning point for me here – don’t even bother trying to discourage year 9 boys from making your dead body anatomically correct – you are wasting your breath).   I was pleased and surprised that I got a full range of responses, not just what they thought I wanted to hear, but what they really thought.

After this, I put students into small groups and gave them each a non-fiction text that in some way added evidence to the idea.  I had an in-depth article about the science of the murder gene, another on nature vs nurture, one on dictators and the world history of overthrowing a government.  Students worked together reading this texts, using my summarising annotation scheme and then chose evidence to support or oppose Malcolm X’s idea.   Their evidence was placed on different colour cards and placed around the body.  We began to discuss it.

Finally, I have each student some green cards, I asked them to find evidence from either of the texts we were studying (most chose Lord of the Flies) or from the contextual evidence we had gathered about Golding and Takami.

Again, we then together looked at each piece of evidence.  As a class we weighed it against our own thinking, what we felt to be true and we created a collection we were happy with.

This collection could have been used to write an excellent essay – if that had been the plan, which it should have been, looking back on it in hindsight.

Next year then.

What came next?  The workshop

Kill the content  kill the question

For the first time this year, we ran a year 12 literacy day.  A colleague and I were asked to do a session on “talk for writing”.  Our kill the question activity, became Kill the content, kill the question.

We had about 40 students from the whole spectrum of subject areas and so needed something that would grab the attention of everyone.

The idea we went for was “religion and racial inequality are still the greatest flaws in our society”.   We knew everyone would have an opinion, we knew the ‘slightly’ slanted perspective of the question would insight fierce opposition and strong support.

year 12 literacy 2

As a warm-up each student was given a different statement which they had to respond to in writing at the start of the session.  We then placed students in groups and introduced the idea we wanted them to “kill” or “keep”.

Each group was given a whole bunch of different colour cards, which we had labelled in advance for them and they were sent off to research as much evidence as possible, from as wide a spectrum as possible to support, oppose or just explore the idea.

year 12 literacy

We expected each group to provide evidence from:

  • Their own personal experience, or their gut feeling
  • Historical evidence
  • Contemporary culture and current affairs (we quoted Black Skinheads at this point and discussed how music and art could be used as evidence)
  • Literacy and artistic
  • Political
  • Philosophical
  • Scientific
  • Psychological

We challenged them to come up with evidence from ‘their subjects’ that could contribute.

Once all the evidence was in, we then re-allocated one evidence collection to each group.  They summarised it and wrote that summary in one of the big thought bubbles on our chalk floor.  Together we read and digested everything.

Things that surprised me (and perhaps shouldn’t have) – the kids found it hard to come up with literary evidence (even the ones doing literature) and ended up citing Of Mice and Men.   Contemporary cultural evidence and current affairs evidence was very obvious – they cited the Woolwich murder and 9/11 but weren’t able to reference anything from the Middle East.  They couldn’t find any scientific evidence.  They didn’t bother looking for any artistic evidence – when I asked why, they couldn’t see what kind of art might deal with race or religion.  We discussed music but they couldn’t apply it.  I mentioned graffiti – they laughed.

The above makes it sound like this wasn’t a very successful workshop, but it was.  The debate, a standing debate – which I am a big fan off, once we got going covered a lot of ground.  Far more than we had evidence for.  Students did use the evidence they had gathered.   Most students contributed to the debate, they were about 5 who led it and were polarised in their own thinking enough to make it interesting.

Did the workshop or debate change their thinking on racial inequality or religion?  No.  It wasn’t meant it.

Did the workshop and debate help them see that in many ways everything is connected (don’t worry I’m not about to break into The Circle of Life)? Yes.

Becoming more

This workshop got me thinking.

For my year 12 students, I was left feeling that in those last few weeks before the summer I wanted to challenge them to broaden their horizons a little.  To become more than a Croydon teenager.

I stumbled across this resource on TES – http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/50-things-to-do-before-you-and-39-re-twenty-6180376/ and I fell in love.  This became my year 12s homework task each week until the holidays.  We made a list of 50 things and each week they would choose one (so did I) and come with some kind of evidence (generally photographic) before the following week.

50 things

The most popular by far was learning to cook a roast dinner, but students also learnt to iron, do the washing, do the supermarket shop.  They visited farms and museums.  One, who was afraid of hills, learnt to run down a hill.   We learnt to say “thank you” in 10 languages and to say “no”, particularly important when your Saturday job boss asks you to do extra hours the week before your exams.  I learnt to play the guitar and they wrote a song about Stanley and Blanche  – I would share it but it is inappropriate.  We googled the space elevator and asked our parents why we were given our names.

For those few weeks, we became more.

spaceelevatornicechicken guitar

#TeachMeet Literacy

Advert 3

I am very excited to be one of the co-hosts of TeachMeet Literacy in November.  If you live in South East London or near Croydon, please sign up.

http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/68322846/TeachMeet%20Literacy

An Ode To Nothing

nothing

This short blog post is an ode to a practical and useful book I have used in the last 10+ years of teaching grammar.  For anyone who’s interested and has the money, it contains 70 grammar, language activities which are aimed at developing language use (please see note at the bottom of this post though…).  It is a very low tech book.  That’s one of the reasons I love it.  It’s broken down into sections called “Activities using no resources” and “Activities using pens and paper only”.  I was as appreciative of these categories in a basement in Soho as I was in foreign parts.

Why should you care?

One of the interesting challenges of recent inspection / observation criteria is this idea of “just going with it”.  Whilst I don’t want to get into the debate surrounding the semantics of what this means or whether it should exist, I realise it does.  As an English teacher, and facing another academic year teaching only our lowest ability students, I recognise that sometimes “just going with it” won’t always be about jumping off the brightest spark and launching into the stratosphere.  Sometimes it will mean stopping everything because we need to revise adverbs, synonyms, idioms (the list goes on).  For me, the challenge of this kind of “going with it” is my lack of instant preparedness.  Jumping off an idea is easier.  Being instantly prepared to teach a grammar feature is a bit harder.

I used Lessons from Nothing before I went into teaching secondary English.  However, it wasn’t long before I found myself adapting and modifying my tried and tested favourites to match what was needed in my classroom.

Below are 3 of my favourite “instant grammar” activities.   There is nothing mind blowing here.  But that isn’t what I want when I am trying to “go with it” in the midst of everything else.

Adverb game (no resources needed)

Most of us will have played this game in some form, but perhaps not this one.   I brainstorm a bunch of actions (please blow your nose) and a bunch of adverbs (violently) in advance.  Each student takes a turn at the front of the class and they are instructed to dramatise one of the actions in the manner of one of the adverbs.

Please blow your nose – romantically.

Please stroke the cat – curiously.

The rest of the class guess the action first and the modifier (adverb) next, thus underlining that adverbs modify verbs.  Yes, I know they also modify adjectives and other adverbs – but not in this game.

Change it (no resources needed)

This is a re-drafting activity which helps students internalise grammatical constructions through verbal redrafting.  I use this activity more (I’m not sure why) when teaching non-fiction writing.

I begin with a sentence “The newspaper said the situation was unable.”

We discuss whether we have been given any useful or specific information.  The answer, of course, is “no”.

Students are then asked to change any word within the sentence (I try not to say “to make it better”), any change that is grammatically correct.

Examples of the changes include:

“The newspaper said the mountain was unstable.”

“The scientist said the mountain was unstable”.

It can also be used  to teach embedded clauses and relative clauses.

Ladders

Useful for teaching synonyms where the definitions do vary by degree.

Get students to brainstorms all the synonyms for the word “small”.

Draw a staircase on the board.

stairs

Then agree together where each ones goes in relation to the others.

microscopic – tiny – little – small

Do you agree?  No, why not?  Which one would you change?

The Ode’s End

I would be interested to know if you have any instant grammar exercise that you use regularly, the more low tech the better.  I also don’t expect everyone to rush out and buy this book (if you are considering please see below).

I’ve also got a few more examples to add, which I will photograph and upload next term.

If you are considering buying this book, please be aware many of the activities are stalwarts of every English department.  For example consequence, hangman, tableaux, anagrams, crosswords etc.

No one jumps a twenty foot chasm in two ten foot jumps

No one jumps

I would love to fill your classroom tip top and full to brimming with all my literacy resources.  But I don’t think I should.  It’s not fair on you, it would suggest you don’t have anything better to do than laminate.

So, here are my top 10 literacy resources every classroom should have (yes, I have put them in order of importance – to me, that is):

1. Reading strategies

No matter what subject you teach, students will always need to read in your lessons.   Whether it is a worded question or a set of instructions, if your students are unable to decode and process the words in front of them, then you will end up spoon feeding them and they won’t make progress.

Here are 18 “Reading your pen” strategies, that I hope you can use in any subject.  This is the extended version of the annotation strategy in my previous post on summarising.

Just another way that you can support students’ reading in your lessons.

reading with your pen

Download the word version here.

2.  Connectives

Connectives are the glue that stick great ideas together.

Why do I want you to have connectives in your room?

Connectives are a brilliant way to extend students thinking and contributions without having to think up a whole new question.  I have about 15 connectives stuck up near the front of my room.  If a student doesn’t give me a full enough answer – I just go over and point to (occasionally whack) “for example” or “furthermore” or “because”.

The step then to integrating these into student writing is easy.  I can pull them off the wall, chuck a few at each group and away they go.

pritt stick

Want some?  Of course you do.  These lovely connective glue sticks (get it?) are from the days of TeachersTV, remember them.  Download them here.

3.  Analytical writing style guide (this one is a work in progress for me too)STYLE-Guide1

Ok, I get that there are subjects where the need for analytical writing is limited.  However, in general I find that most subjects do at some point require students to write a formal essay.

I am also aware that many of us will use structures, such as PQE, PEAL or SPEED, for these essays.

What I would like to see in our classrooms is more advice on academic writing style.

Perhaps we can champion the highest marking essays by putting them on the wall or creating a fab publication like this one

http://intranet.wellingtoncollege.org.uk/pageturner/publications/Annexe-Issue-2/HTML/index.html

Most universities have an academic writing style guide – we should too.  When I say style, I don’t mean how to embed quotes or references.  I mean “how do I take my idea and turn into something that sounds clever and sophisticated”.

This is a huge stumbling block for many students.  So, this autumn I will be writing a style guide for academic writing in English.

You have one?  Please, please share it.

4.   Key words in context

I need to confess to a level of hypocrisy on this one.  I have lots of key words up on my walls – especially my favourite classical rhetoric techniques and my Words on Wednesday.  However, not all of them are displayed in the context of a sentence.

Why is this important?

keywordsStudents struggle with new vocabulary, they will listen and understand it in the lesson in which it is taught but the following week it might not be so clear cut for them.  With key words, if we don’t teach how it appears and can be used in a sentence, we can fall into the trap of setting students up to make grammatical mistakes.  Take the word “foreshadowing” for example.  A literary technique loved by authors and teachers alike.

I will teach the term in context “The foreshadowing in Chapter 3 ultimately suggests…”.  When we come to use the term later, this is what I generally get “Mercutio’s use of foreshadowing allows him to …” or “The dog’s foreshadowing shows…”

Students understand the term but don’t pick up the nuance that it is a technique the writer uses not the fictional character/animal.

From now on, all key words – in the context of a sentence.

5.   Books

sfcovers

Lots of classrooms have reading books in them.  If yours is a tutor room and you do reading as one of your tutor time activities, then you will probably have a collection of books you have gathered to support the less organised members of your tutor group.

I would like to see some fiction or non-fiction (but not textbooks) books that relate to your subject.  Not long ago I visited a school where every subject area had a box of books in their classrooms titled “what a historian would read” or “what a sportsman would read”.
I love this idea – it helps the kids who are interested in your subject easily identify something they can read, it also helps kids realise that your subject is about books too and it gives you the easiest “early finisher” task every (flick through this and find me something you didn’t know before).

If you can’t get the physical books – perhaps create a little kindle like display or print some of the book covers for the wall.

I do have a list of fiction books for each subject area – but it is on the server at school, which is down for its much needed summer nap.  I will upload it as soon as I can.

6.   Visual stimulus

It is very easy to think that literacy is all about texts – reading and writing them.  But for many of us, our ability to understand, analyse, critique and evaluate concepts starts as much from visual stimulation as it does writing or oracy.

Please, please, please cover the walls in your classroom with pictures that relate to your subject.  I don’t just mean diagrams or posters that relate to subject matter.

I mean pictures / images that challenge concepts in your subject area, that show sneak peeks into ideas and that represent the minutiae and the big picture.

Why does this help literacy?

Students who have weak literacy skills (unless SEN) often do not have weak cognitive skills.  They can’t perhaps articulate an idea with the level of sophistication you might like, but they can process the idea.  I often use images to give these students an opportunity to share ideas and make connections without having to be 100% rooted in words.  I will select a picture (see below) and ask a student to make connections between the picture and the text or character or theme and then they have something to share that does not necessarily demand that they have gotten to grips with every word on the page.

Here are examples from my classroom.  As you can see they are not directly related to my subject area.  But I have used them teach everything from Chaucer to Boy in the Striped PJs.

wall photos

7.  Questions

questions

I am not going to preach to you about the importance of questioning.

What I will say is this.  Teaching students to think questions and ask their own, is as important as getting them to answer ours.

Having a few generic questions available – out on desks or around the room – will enable students with low literacy skills to develop higher order thinking without always being prompted by us.

Download here.

8.  Accountable talk 

I’m not sure when we all started talking about Accountable Talk, but whether we use the buzz word or not, the skills defined are essential and like the questions and connectives above, allow students an opportunity to practise out loud their analytical ideas before having to put it on paper.  This verbal rehearsal is essential for students who struggle with the brain-to-paper jump and for those with low literacy, accountable talk prompts can help them shape their talk into something more complex, without having to remember words like “valid” or “evidence” or “alternative”.

accountable talk

I have these displayed on a washing line around my room (along with the questions), again they are easy to take down and use as part of lessons.

Download here.

9.  Mini whiteboards

Again, I am not going to harp on at you about the value of mini whiteboards in the classroom.  If you have a set available, please do use them.

Just a few benefits for students who struggle with literacy are:

  • It’s less daunting that an A4 lined page
  • If a student makes a mistake, they can make it disappear.  Have you noticed how your students with low literacy also have the scruffiest books?
  • They can facilitate shared and collaborative writing – which can take the pressure off having to be in charge of all the words.

10. Yellow highlighters / Green pens

Lots of primary schools use green pen marking.  In secondary it’s harder.  I feel like we have less time.  Even as an English teacher, I generally don’t have more than 2 lessons to spare for one piece of written (unless it’s coursework).  But I have been converted.

Giving students an opportunity to correct and improve their own work is invaluable.  Highlighting where they have met the success criteria builds confidence and correct with the green pen weeds out the lazy ones, who can’t be bothered with spelling Shakespeare correctly and gives students an opportunity to see how they can move from good to great.

See my SPAG toolkit post for more on green pen marking and glow and grow marking.

So…

There you have it.

Some notable exceptions include dictionaries and literacy mats.  I don’t have a problem with either of these and have both in my classroom.  But feel other subjects I feel that useless we are prepared to invest in subject specific dictionaries then the pocket ones are a waste of time (iphone apps are better).  Literacy mats are a funny one – I have seen them used very successfully, I have also seen people spend months and months working on them, as if they were the answer to all problems, only to put them in the cupboard for most of the year.

No two persons are the same

No two persons

No two persons are the same

I have been having conversations in recent times about developing more creative, independent and evaluative responses to texts.  I find my older students generally only want to regurgitate my ideas, or those found on Bitesize and Sparknotes.  When I ask students to get personal or to be reflective they don’t seem to know what I mean.  So this year for my KS3 classes I am going to ensure I build this into each unit.  If you follow me on twitter, you will have seen me harping on about The Creativity Core – an American approach to text response and creative writing that requires independent thought and input.  Do check out Daniel’s ideas – http://www.thecreativitycore.com/

I did this (below) yesterday as a practise run for some year 9 lessons on memoir and autobiography writing.  Instead of simply creating a plan or a brainstorm of my ideas.  I was challenged to present my ideas in a way that also represented me.  The whole process becomes more personal and more independent.  I suspect after a little practise with students, I won’t be handed a single piece of work that this is the same.

Memoir #1

Once we have gotten used to this approach for ourselves, we can apply it to Plaith’s Daddy and Eminem’s Cleanin out my closet.

No two persons ever read the same book

In the middle of the night this idea and my early summer hols book art crafting kind of melted into one.  You see, I have a bunch of texts in my classroom that are beyond tatty and have pages missing.  I can’t use them for studying in lessons anymore.  As I was thinking, I remembered stumbling across this (http://www.logolalia.com/alteredbooks/).  Eureka moment.   Perhaps I can use these battered old books for something a little more clever than just my innocent attempts at classroom art.

entranced-27

Our KS4 students do work experience in the September of year 11 (don’t ask me about the logic) so my class will be back in school for 3 lessons before they go off to the world of work for two weeks.   I don’t have time to start a new unit with them so I’ll go back over our two exam texts and do some revision.  Usually this would mean cuing up some exam prep.

Here is what I am going to do this year.

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Each student will have a page from one of these tatty texts and their challenge will be to use the words on the page to show some of ideas and themes in novel.

Once we have done this, we will create a biographical text – like my own example above – for the ideas shown.  If I really want to, I can then use this to build some essay writing skills.

It’s so simple.  How is this any different from teaching students to find an quote in an exam extract?  Well, it’s not, but it does involve wax crayons.

No two persons

If you would like to be involved in our shared google document of “Creative Responses to Texts” please find me on twitter and let me know.

The elephant in the room

When I became literacy coordinator for my school I was asked to consider what our biggest literacy challenge was.  At this point a thousand suggestions surfaced:

  • Kids don’t read
  • Kids hate writing
  • They can’t spell
  • Their vocabulary is limited to words used by The Sun
  • They don’t know when to use an exclamation mark, let alone a comma or a semi colon
  • They only give one word answers
  • When kids do talk the words “like” and “basically” make me want to jump out of a window

I paused and asked for some time.

That night I was helping my daughter “revise” for her year 6 SPAG tests, she had been asked to identify the prepositions and modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) around the nouns in a bunch of sentences.  My husband, who has a degree in Creative Writing, couldn’t (or wouldn’t) help.  So the task fell to me, an English teacher.

I have more grammar experience than many English teachers.  I worked teaching English as a foreign language for some years and spent a goodly portion of my life in the City typing, proofing and editing a book (it’s available on Amazon, although I wouldn’t recommend it http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/052187159X).

I am good at grammar.  Yes, like everyone I have my typo moments, brain freezes and words that fill me with dread (practise and practice are mine).  But I understand words and sentence structure and I get what makes good writing.  Correct writing is a different matter.  I am not a grammar nazi (although overuse of the exclamation mark does make me rant), I understand that language is fluid and changeable and like Darwin said it has to adapt to survive.

After helping my daughter and discussing with her what she had learnt at school, I realised that her anxiety was borne out of the palpable stress demonstrated by her teacher.  Year 6 SATs are important indicators for primary schools and the SPAG test is new.  A number of schools have had to re-teach their teachers in order to deliver the SPAG test prep (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9961510/Teachers-to-be-given-lessons-in-spelling-and-grammar.html).  My daughter was feeding on that stress and questioning her own skills.  We all do that.  But it got me thinking.

I went back into school and chatted to a number of friends.  I asked closed questions like “Do you know what a preposition is?” and “Can you give me an example of a comparative connective?” I wasn’t trying to catch them out, really, but I wanted to prove the point to myself.

elephant

You see, for me, the elephant in the room when we talk about literacy in schools is that most teachers can’t match the levels currently expected of a year 6 student.

This then became my biggest challenge.

How can I improve staff literacy awareness, confidence, skills without be labelled as judgmental or a pedant?

My colleagues are experts in their subject areas and I wouldn’t want to be judged on my ability to sketch a face or shoot a goal.

So why should they be judged on their “English” skills?

And yet we are.  Ofsted’s definition of literacy is reading, writing and communication – and these are expected to be embedded into the curriculum for every subject.

ofsted

But what does that mean exactly?  What should I be tackling when I consider staff literacy awareness?

It wasn’t long after this that I met a like-minded colleague at a school down the road.

We posed the question – can we tackle literacy in the classroom without first tackling it with teachers?

Here are a number of the questions we have discussed:

  • Is it ok for teachers to spell things incorrectly?
  • Should all teachers demonstrate a good quality of spoken English?
  • Do teachers need to understand grammar terms to teach good writing in their subjects?
  • Does it matter if teachers make punctuation errors?
  • Does it matter if an LSA gives students incorrect grammar advice?

Now, if I look at this list pragmatically the answer is “of course it matters”.  Students should on all possible occasions be taught what is correct and true.  They should be given the best possible models and the best possible starting point, and incorrect spelling, poor punctuation and grammar are not the best starting point.

So how do we go about it?

Well, as with everything there are a number of possible routes.  For me, I think a drip feed route will prove to be the best option.

My drip feed approach:

  1. Opting into “Grammar and Cake” sessions
    At the beginning of next term all staff will complete a literacy audit, where they will assess their own literacy skills and be given the opportunity to attend a 20/20 twilight grammar session.  These will be fun, practical and edible.
  2. Language for learning tips
    Next year we have a new T&L newsletter, each one will have a language for learning tip which I hope will, in time, create a useful pack to be used when planning, marking etc.  Here is my first entry:language for life 1
  3. Literacy pack for staff
    This is an extension of my SPAG toolkit and some thievery from other colleagues.  It contains a basic booklet on grammar and punctuation (I will upload in due course), my literacy target stickers, a number of other planning and marking goodies.  I promise to do a post on this soon.
  4. Ideas for lessons
    Sharing ideas for activities that can be used in other subjects I hope will also develop staff understanding. At our school a 5 min teachmeet style slot at our Monday morning briefing is what I have to work with, so for example, I have a whole bunch of starters based on things like accountable talk (which improves good spoken English), connectives (improves writing), punctuation (well, this improves punctuation).
  5. The dreaded PM approach
    I suspect the reality will be that, at some point, literacy will become part of our performance management / observation structure.  Whilst I don’t mind this in general – as it would be great to be able to say something like X% of lessons observed demonstrated good literacy – I do worry that it will mean literacy becomes another shackle around our necks.  I don’t want to shackle anybody.
  6. Literacy for tutor time
    I know a number of schools that do literacy activities during tutor time.  I think this is a fab idea.  Looking at literacy “stuff” without the pressure of the curriculum, planning, assessment etc certainly sounds good.  If you do this at your school, please let me know.
  7. Homework
    Just like kids, sometimes doing a little bit of extra work at home pays off.  I have a whole bunch of “improving spelling, punctuation or grammar” resources that I have developed for kids.  Why not make them available to staff as well?
    Cambridge English (one of the TEFL qualification providers) do a number of online courses.  This one http://www.cambridgeenglishteacher.org/courses/details/18606 is free and can be completed in your own time.  I have asked a number of our LSAs to test it out in September to see if it is helpful.  So watch this space for a review.
  8. Extreme Reading, Staff vs Student Reading Challenge
    Our Extreme Reading competitions have been pretty low key so far, there is a lot more I could do with this.  I would also like to start a staff vs student reading challenge using the TES 100 Great Reads list http://www.tes.co.uk/ResourceDetail.aspx?storyCode=3013418

So the elephant in the room…I have hope it’s not such a big monster.

If you have any great stories or ideas about improving literacy skills for staff, please let me know.

MY SPAG toolkit

I have made and borrowed a lot of literacy resources over the last year, so this summer I have organised all of them into one lovely neat and tidy (for now) box.

Here is my SPAG toolkit.

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The Bread and Butter:

The Alphabet

It bugs me that kids don’t shape their letters correctly, it bugs me when they say “I know when to use a capital, I’ll do it if it’s important” or “that’s what my capital p looks like”.  So now I just put one of these on each desk and tell them that if their capitals don’t look like capitals to me, then they will have to rewrite the piece of work.  Funnily enough, the kids really appreciated having these, a few of them spent a lot of time shaping their capitals so they looked exactly like the ones on the laminate.  The quality of their writing will take more time to improve but at least we can read it now.

Alphabet

Capitalise with Mints

Yes I know the picture below is American, I promise the one in my classroom isn’t.  I can’t find the original for the life of me.  When I do, I’ll change it.  Anyhow, I find this a pretty useful reminder of when and what to capitalise.

capitalise with mints

Developing writing skills:

Punctuation inspiration

These flashcards prove useful for revision and inspiration, they contain a reminder of punctuation rules along with fiction and non-fiction examples.

Punctuation inspiration

Sensational Sentences

A whole bunch of flashcards based on @XChris32 sentences, I use them almost everyday.

sensational sentences

Various “finished” and homework tasks:

I do have a set of “I’m done” tasks that I use, but for students in year 9 and KS4 I tend to use more demanding tasks for them when they have finished early, need homework or their parents request extra work.

Finished task 1

These tasks also include:

Sentence type worksheets, 5 min writing tasks, spot the grammar fail quizzes and some of my favourites from Words on Wednesday.

The grammar fail ones are invariably the most popular…(why thank you Taylor)

taylor swiftgrammar fail

Writing mats:

I have a whole batch of these, my favourites these days are my persuasive writing mat and the connectives mat.

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SPAG and assessment tools:

Green pen marking stuff

Green pen marking is nothing new.  I have a supply of green biros and my green pen marking guide and students will often spend the first 10 mins of a lesson or a homework improving a piece of writing using my specific feedback.  In my experience this makes a big difference with the basic errors – such as capital letters, punctuation and spelling.

Grow and glow labels for self assessment

This self assessment tool is borrowed from Runde’s Room – http://www.rundesroom.com/2012/08/quick-and-easy-assessment-strategies.html

Students re-read a piece of work (for me this has generally been an essay) using a yellow highlighter to show where they have met or exceeded the assessment criteria and a green highlighter to show where they could improve their work.  They then fill in the Glow and Grow sticker which I then signed or add an additional comment to.

Glow and grow labels

Literacy target stickers

These aren’t as pretty as Ali’s Literacy plasters (http://cheneyagilitytoolkit.blogspot.co.uk/) but they are very functional and I now don’t mark without them.

Literacy stickers

 

There is more to add but I think that’s enough for now.  I will upload all of my resources onto downloads soon.