Vocabulary Project: Part 1- Rationale and Launch #appletonacademy

To an English teacher, words are everything. Put in the right order, they have immense power to move us, fascinate us, make us laugh and teach us. Words excite and entertain me, but as someone who has always loved to read and felt able to express myself with an ever expanding vocabulary, sometimes I am at risk of forgetting how words (or lack thereof) can create barriers and instil fear in some of my students. Revered journalist, William Raspberry said, “Good English, well spoken and well written, will open more doors than a college degree… Bad English will slam doors you never even knew existed.” While there are many things which contribute to overall “good English”, vocabulary is arguably one of the most vital components in your arsenal. A wide vocabulary can enable a speaker to be succinct, precise and sophisticated, while a narrow vocabulary can lead to vague expression, waffle and frustration.Continue reading “Vocabulary Project: Part 1- Rationale and Launch #appletonacademy”

Five displays which work…

If there has been one pattern in my teaching career, it has been the slow realisation that nothing is worth doing unless it can answer ‘yes’ to two questions:

1) Can it be re-used, and/or integrated into a regular part of my practice?
2) Will it make students active, rather than passive participants in their own learning?

1) We spend so much time creating resources and setting up activities that we need to be discerning about the things we spend our precious time on. I never spend time making something unless I am going to laminate or cover it with sticky-back plastic, and bring out again or refer to it on a regular basis.Continue reading “Five displays which work…”

What I learned from spending a year in the wrong school…

Teaching is my vocation. I love my job and the challenges it brings, but in the past year I have questioned my planning, decision making, relationships and my worth as a teacher. This post is not going to be a rant about the school or an attempt to air my grievances; I’m not angry, and that would be neither helpful nor interesting to anybody. This post is an attempt to think through some of the lessons I’ve learned about school environments and the importance of finding the right match for the right teacher.

When I was an idealistic PGCE student, I took a job in a private school. My staunch Labour family were horrified, and demanded to know why I was ‘betraying my roots’ and ‘working with the enemy’. My answer was simple: ‘all kids are the same, why does it make any difference?’ Continue reading “What I learned from spending a year in the wrong school…”

What happens in Slam Club, stays in Slam Club…

Slam has been a huge part of my teaching life for over two years, and in that time I have worked with hundreds of young people, shared their stories and felt their passions. To find out more about what Slam is and to see some great examples, see my previous blog: ‘5 Reasons why you should bring spoken word into your classroom’

In this post I hope to give some advice and guidance for anyone who wants to set up a slam club at school.

Here are my Slam Club rules, agreed with my current team:

We Only Deal in Truths – writing is about communicating truth, so if it’s not true for you, it’s not worth your breath.Continue reading “What happens in Slam Club, stays in Slam Club…”

My battle with “teacher talk”, plus tips for winning the skirmishes.

I am, fundamentally, a performer. I thrive when in the lime light and love to entertain my students but, if I’m really honest, I must admit that sometimes I run the risk of it all being about me and not about them. I have been a singer since my dad first took me busking (probably as soon as I could stand independently), and am now a semi-professional soprano. When I first started teaching, I thought this would go in my favour. I thought; I’m confident… surely that makes me a good teacher, right? Wrong.

As an NQT I was exhausting myself with whizzy lessons which relied on my personality and humour to carry them through. I could be every character in the play, the proposition and opposition, and always prided myself in sending them away buzzing and eager for more. Continue reading “My battle with “teacher talk”, plus tips for winning the skirmishes.”

Doodling in the English Classroom

Everyone loves a bit of colouring in. As a dyslexic English student I developed my own coping methods when writing notes, planning essays and internalising language during my A Levels and later, during my degree. I personally find colours to be vital to my own learning; even now I read with a pink layover and have a colour coded system in my own notes and lesson planning. Images and colours work beautifully as part of English lessons because, at its heart, English is a highly conceptual subject where students need an understanding of abstract theories as well as a strong sense of structure in their own writing (structure; the great intangible elephant in the room). Images, symbols, doodles, colours and shapes have been the basis of some brilliant activities in my lessons and I am certain that many of these principles will apply equally well in other subjects too.Continue reading “Doodling in the English Classroom”

Marginal Gains with Controlled Assessments

My Year 11 boys are getting restless and, since coming back from their mock exams, they have no focus… GCSEs feel miles away for them (all of four months) and they still have half a novel and a 25% literature CA to go. The answer for me is marginal gains. Alex Quiggley (@HuntingEnglish) has done some brilliant work on Marginal Gains (here). I know this is now widely understood and used by many, but for anyone who is unfamiliar with the theory, it’s based on the work of the hugely successful GB Cycling team and briefly states that if one is able to make marginal improvements in a number of different areas, even a 1% raise in efficiency, skill, understanding etc. then the overall improvement will be substantial. Alex Quigley has taken this idea into the classroom and I have been using it with a number of classes, in slightly different ways, since the start of term.Continue reading “Marginal Gains with Controlled Assessments”

Universal Panacea? The Number 1 Shift in UK Education I Wish to See in My Lifetime… Shake the Dust

Shake the Dust. Is teaching about repetition or creativity? In my own school there is a real divide. Some have decided that they know what to teach and how to teach it; they have a set repertoire of techniques and they are now happy to stick with them. In my subject, English, this might manifest itself in a teacher who has taught the same GCSE novel for twenty years in exactly the same way, using the same notes, activities, essay titles and, what’s worse, trotting out the same opinions they had back at the start. This is not a dig at my older colleagues, some of whom are the most reflective, innovative and inspirational people I have ever met. Rather, this is about the people who are happy to settle and are scared of popping their head back out into the ever evolving world of education. As an aspiring AST, I regularly bring new ideas to department meetings and to colleagues on a more informal basis, but often hear the old mantra, “yes, I’m sure it works in your lessons, but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, or “not really my style…”

The problem with this attitude is that it promotes what is, for me, one of the most intensely frustrating ideas about education in this country; that teaching is just getting what is in the teacher’s head into the student’s head; a simple transfer of stuff from us to them.Continue reading “Universal Panacea? The Number 1 Shift in UK Education I Wish to See in My Lifetime… Shake the Dust”

5 Reasons why you should bring Spoken Word into your classroom…

A wise lady once told me that ‘Poetry is the music of language’. I take this to mean that poetry is simultaneously pure and abstract, both direct and ambiguous. Just like music, poetry needs an open mind, an open ear and, perhaps most importantly, no fear. Students of poetry must feel confident to face even the most intimidating poets of the canon, take them apart and reinvent them for themselves. If Shakespeare’s sonnets can speak to the students of their own frustrations and crushes, and if they can see something of their own lives in Chaucer’s pilgrims then poetry will become, like music, something which can comfort and stimulate them.Continue reading “5 Reasons why you should bring Spoken Word into your classroom…”

Poetry Writing 1 – Symbolism

Getting kids to write poetry is often difficult. Some teachers, me included, think of that oasis of poetry writing as one of the only times when we can let students be totally free and expressive. However, the key to creating the best lessons on poetry is structure – if students get activities broken into bite sized chunks then they will be much more open and willing to put pen to paper. I am trying hard to avoid the ‘staring at blank page’ horror we all know, by doing just that; breaking things down. This lesson, or series of mini activities, is the first of many I hope to post over the next few months. They are all tried and tested with my own guinea pigs and mostly stolen from talented writers’ workshops…Continue reading “Poetry Writing 1 – Symbolism”