Unseen Poetry Without the Stress…

Unseen poetry is stressful. We feel that it is never given enough time (because there are fifteen anthology poems to teach) and students struggle with confidence because the texts will be unfamilar to them. Coupled with this, the independent reading of poetry requires students to posess a certain degree of cultural capital; literature is filled with establised imagery and hidden meaning which the frequent readers in our classes will pick up easily, but those without that literary grounding in language and symbolism will miss, without even realising there was something there to spot in the first place.

I have started to teach unseen poetry by stripping away much of the worry and myth surrounding it. The main concern my students tend to have is: I need to be able to understand what the poem means.

Wrong. The exam question doesn’t say ‘explain what the poem means’. The questions on unseen poetry are going to ask how writers present things, and the examiner wants students to demonstrate their ability to pick out features of texts, comment on them and write some developed analysis. This is not the same as having to give a straightforward overview of a text. Continue reading “Unseen Poetry Without the Stress…”

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”