Seniors – AifL

The persuasive writing unit is going well in 4th year.  Doing a trial run with the class certainly seems to be working.  There have been the expected grumps and groans about writing two (two??!!  Surely not!) essays rather than just the one.  On the whole, however, I think the class are getting a lot out of this unit.  The vast majority of the class appear to have grasped the idea of one paragraph, one line of thought/argument.  Others haven’t.  Noticeably the dyslexic pupils.

We’re taking a break from the writing tomorrow as I thought it might be a good idea to create a display board for parents’ night.  Going to hand the project over to the pupils tomorrow and see what they do with it…

My first year boys pleasantly surprised me this week.  They aren’t a group who generally gel in class.  However, as the class were giving presentations on a topic they had researched themselves I split the class into girls and boys.  This usually helps alleviate some of the nerves.  The powerpoints were all ready but before we started we had spoke about how to listen to/comment on a presentation and agreed on a basic structure of general questions, comments on what the speaker did well and some advice for next time.  The boys listened to each others talks and commented on them so maturely it almost brought a tear to my eye!  Surprisingly, the girls were not quite as insightful in their comments or sensitive in their criticisms.  I don’t remember being taught these skills when I was at school.  I wonder where I learnt them… 

Peer assessment is an area I intend to explore more fully over the next few months.  Especially with my Higher class.  A nearby school, Charleston Academy, has asked our department to get involved in a joint AifL project.  This will involve me trialing self/peer assessment techniques with my senior class and writing a report at the end of term.  I have been using self assessment techniques with them since the start of term.  When teaching essay writing I focused on building up skills gradually.  With each essay I taught and added another target: staying on task; using topic sentences; using the PEA formula; including critical language.  The pupils were sometimes given a checklist to tick off what they felt they had done.  Other times I asked them to colour code their essays, e.g. red for Point, blue for evidence, green for analysis.  They compared their results with a model essay, written by myself and identified targets for themselves.

Close reading, of course, lends itself to self/peer assessment very easily.  Tomorrow, for example, the class will be using the mark scheme to mark a volunteer’s answers.  We have been focusing on Understanding questions recently and I am hoping a joint marking session will lead to a discussion on the merits of what they have been taught!  When I looked at the classes work myself I was delighted to see the pupils who had followed my teaching precisely were doing vastly better than those who had ignored the advice.  Hopefully they’ll notice this tomorrow too.  Actually, I’m going to tell them.

The two question types tackled came were Understanding questions

1.)  Explain/In Your Own Words  

Locate (UNDERLINE) then translate – Good exercises in Higher Close Reading book plus on our blog – The underlining is key here.

2.)  Meaning from context

Define word (state what it means) then identify evidence.  To be sure of full points find more than one piece of evidence and comment on the quotations.

 I’m blethering now but something I told my class this week which cheered them up no end (they are pooping themselves about the close reading element of the exam) is that the only advantages I would have over them in the close reading exam are the fact that I read more than them therefore are more familiar with the types of text used; and that I know how to answer the questions.  I’ve told them to start reading quality newspapers/magazines.  I’ll teach them how to do the latter!  Well, I’ll try at least!

Next post I want to talk about teacher observations.  And peer assessment using the blog.  And being a reflective practitioner.  Right now I’m off to experiment in the kitchen.  Had an amazing parsley and garlic tagliatelle at the weekend.  Can I imitate it?


QA Visit & Persuasive Writing

I’m off school today.  Sore throat, splitting headache..  Hoping it doesn’t last longer than today.  I know I shouldn’t but I tend to feel quite stressed when I’m off school.  Aside from falling behind with plans etc I worrythat my S3’s & S4’s are terrorising the cover teacher!

The QA team were in the school Monday, Tuesday.  I was observed yesterday period 4.  Overall it went very well.  My observer said he had been impressed by my teaching and my relationship with the class.  We had a discussion about the learning that had occurred and thought similar things had worked and not worked.  The main flaw with my plan (introducing persuasive writing) was the lack of a model.  I had intended on using one later in the unit but now realise that to have begun with a model would have given me something concrete to refer to from day one.  This is a technique I often use.  Not sure why I didn’t this time. 

Find teaching persuasive writing difficult.  Teaching the various techniques (rhetorical questions, hyperbole, inclusion of stats etc) is straight forward but actually pulling them together within an effective structure is tough.  And then you have research/collection of info on top of that.  My plan had been for all the pupils to write about boxing and whether or not it should be banned.  Have now decided that this will only be the starting point.  Think it would be beneficial to rigidly scaffold an initial essay on boxing then get the pupils to choose, research, plan and write a persuasive essay on their own topic.  Suspect they may internalise the learning more thoroughly through repeating the writing/research process immediately after their initial attempt. 

Time, of course, is a factor.  There is so much to fit into the standard grade course.  Folios are due in March.  Exams in May.  Easter in between.  Should manage it though.

On a different note, a visiting author gave a creative writing seminar to the pupils on Monday.  It was heavy going but I think the classes got a lot out of it.  That night, however, one of the 6th year girls discovered that the author had been convicted of murder in the 60’s.  The news spread quickly, obviously, and a few of the pupils indignantly accused the school of putting their lives at risk by exposing them to such a person.  The rest are loving the controversy.   


Think I’ve managed to iron out all the problems with the blog.  The kids really seem keen on the idea of using it too.  Hope they aren’t just hoping for a new version of MSN to chat to their friends.  Taking the whole class to a computer room tomorrow to get them started.  A few of the girls are nervous about writing something that might be ridiculed.  The boys’ bravado might be masking similar worries.  Lots of encouragement required I suspect.

On a different note, I was told today that the region’s AiFL inspector (forget what his real title is) is coming to observe my 4th year class on Tuesday.  My 4th years????  Nooooooo!  Not an easy bunch at all.  Nevermind.  I’m sure it will go well.  And if it doesn’t it will be interesting to hear an observer’s take on what went wrong. Thank goodness we’re not focusing on close reading skills at the moment.  We’re just about to start a persuasive writing unit on the topic of boxing.  The class has several boisterous boys in it who can be disruptive.  Hoping the fact that they will be gathering information on a sport (a violent one at that) will keep them focused. 

My plan to display targets throughout lessons isn’t going perfectly.  Doing it all the time with one class and rarely with the others.  Will keep trying.

Target Setting Routine

It’s 6pm and I am fighting the urge to go to bed already.  I’d forgotten how fatigued I can feel after teaching a full day (well, almost – 5 periods out of 6).  Were we really only on holiday for 2 weeks?  Feels like a year since I stood in front of a class.  My voice is protesting this evening too.  As my mum sympathetically noted, I sound much like Dot Cotton after 40 fags.

What I like about the start of term is being able to point out to classes what they have achieved so far and what we are aiming to achieve that term.  Everyone loves to see progress; me included!  Plus, we have a long term ahead.  If motivation is high at the beginning of term and the pupils know what they are aiming for, I have more chance of keeping them interested. 

Target setting and sharing within individual lessons is something I have been trying to implement in my classes for the past year.  I’ve made up a template for targets and success criteria which I aim to display on my digital projector at the beginning and end of each lesson.  (Will attach tomorrow) It is a useful aid in keeping the pupils focused and ensuring they know what they are doing and why.  I often forget to display the targets and aims in the lesson at all.  Though I always let the pupils know what they are learning I don’t often repeat it and I’m not sure they always know if they have been successful, or even what success would look like.  A routine of displaying (and repeatedly refering to) targets and success criteria would go a long way to addressing this.  Not sure how train myself into automatically displaying the targets/criteria.  Want it to be routine.

Toying with the idea of creating a blog forum for my seniors.  Think it might help them explore central ideas of the texts we are studying (The Handmaid’s Tale and The Crucible).  More about that later in the week.

Introducing My Classes

We are half way through the year and I have got to know my classes pretty well by now.  There are, of course, still mysteries.  A brief overview of my current classes:

S1 – A mixed ability group of 25 kids.  There are only a couple of highflyers in this class. The majority of the class are level D/E.  Six pupils are very low ability (A/B).  Got a shock one day when S couldn’t tell me her birthday.  The group have a full time learning support teacher which helps enormously.  They are also quite creative so generally enjoy English.  My concerns with this class are that I am not focusing on the very basic needs of this low level group and that I am not sufficiently challenging the highflyers.  One girl loves to write stories and I am not doing enough to support her development.

S2 – The dream class.  A streamed class of 26 very capable pupils.  They are enthusiastic, motivated and have high expectations of themselves.  No real concerns about this class.  Perhaps the seating needs to be changed though.

S3 – A streamed class of 14 low ability pupils.  Basic writing skills are weak.  Motivation is fairly high in the class though I’d like to see them push themselves more.  Esp. with homework!  Lots of characters in the class.  I have a good rapport with the class (achieved after some very hard work and a buffet!).  They tend to act up something awful if I’m absent.

S4 – A streamed class of 23 mid to low ability pupils.  These kids want to do well but do not want to work hard.  Behaviour can be a problem.  Especiallly with some rowdy boys.  Attendance is also a problem with 5 children.  The class are generally good natured and have bouts of working fairly hard. 

S5/6 – A class of 18.  Half the class are doing Higher.  Half are doing Int 2.  I have taught neither course before and am struggling to get my head around the gradings.  We’ve made very good progress on critical essay writing but haven’t scratched the surface of close reading.  Feel like time is running out.  The class members range from motivated to frustratingly lazy.  Often have to give talk about effort outwith class.  Standard Grade has taught them to rely on the teacher too much.  Perhaps this is something I should tackle in my SG classes from now on. 

A New Term

School starts on Monday.  I’m spending a couple of days this week getting caught up on marking and organising folios and deadlines.  Just thinking about how much has to be completed this term makes me feel slightly panicky!  I’ll get my head around it once term begins though. 

An added stress is a visit by the region’s AifL co-ordinator (Assessment is For Learning).  I use AifL techniques widely in my classes and am continually looking for new/improved ways to develop them.  However, my record keeping is not very good.  E.g. the targets I set and feedback I accordingly give are generally returned to the pupils.  The work I file has been redrafted and so does not have these comments.   Really have to sort this out.  It would be beneficial for the pupils to look back and see how they have progressed or what areas are still weaknesses.  And it would prove to the inspectors etc that the methods are being used in class.   

So many balls in the air!

Hello world!

My first post. 

Let’s start with my reason for writing this blog.  I’m a secondary school English teacher.  I love my job and my kids and I desperately want to be the best teacher I can possibly be.  Every term, week, day I face new challenges and find a new way to do something (or, perhaps more often than not, a new way not to do something).  Remembering everything I’ve discovered is not easy!  I’m hoping this blog will help me reflect on my practice.  Suspect it will also be a useful vent!!!

I’ve never written a blog before so this in itself will be a learning experience. 

Anyhoo, term hasn’t started yet.  I’m just chilling at the moment and will start thinking about the coming term later in the week.  Planning to tackle the fairly large crate of marking etc that is currently hiding under the dressing table in the spare room on Thursday.  Reckon I could blitz it in a day… 

Let’s see how that goes.