Tag Archives: English

Back to School English Planning – for Mastery

For many primary school teachers, planning sequences of English lessons – and specifically writing lessons – is one of the toughest jobs on the to-do list; not just in advance of the new term but all year round. Why is this? Perhaps it’s because there is so much to think about when planning for writing, including spelling, handwriting, grammar and vocabulary as well as writing for purpose – all of which are under constant scrutiny by senior leadership teams, not least because achieving and maintaining strong writing outcomes is a constant challenge for many schools.

Where do you start? Good learning is based on practice – but not just any practice. Repeatedly practicing bad habits, which I did on the golf course for years, can actually make you worse. Expertise writer Anders Ericsson says we need a very purposeful and focused ‘deliberate practice’ which is “all about putting a bunch of baby steps together to reach a longer-term goal”.

I suggest that our long-term aim for developing writers in primary school is mastery learning that can be applied to a wide range of contexts with independence and fluency. The baby steps are the curriculum skills children are expected to acquire in each year group. Not just age-related expectations but also the skills that underpin them. Of course, children have different starting points in any given year group. There are skills that should be in place that simply aren’t, and focused practice on these is an important part of their journey.

So, the baby steps to be taken are a mixture of skills addressed through whole-class teaching, and those that individual children need to practise in their writing to remove barriers to their own progress. This means teachers need to be very organized on two fronts: a) sequencing units of learning so that they follow a logical skills progression, and b) ensuring children are always aware of their own next steps (through personal targets). Learning that lasts needs to build incrementally on what children already know and understand, and so the sequence of learning needs to be driven by skills and not, for example, by genre or texts shared in a random order. To make maximum progress during this sequence, each child not only needs to work on the whole-class objective but also to take ownership of personal targets: they need be aware of what successful writing looks like for them in any given task and act on precise feedback as they practise.

Effective writing is, of course, more than the sum of its parts. Skills shouldn’t be taught in isolation but as the means to producing the sort of writing that people want to read. We need children to want to write and have something to say. The skill demanded of teachers is to create an engaging context for writing, often using quality texts, and getting children thinking and talking about ideas and themes that are somehow relevant to their own lives or at least interesting. If we want children to learn more deeply then we have to get them to think more deeply and the ideal vehicle for depth of thought is talk.

Those first minutes, when staring at a blank planning template awaiting inspiration, are hugely important. The first decisions you make will likely frame the sort of teaching and learning diet your class will receive. To avoid getting bogged down in all the detail, or re-using plans that don’t quite do what you need anymore, I suggest getting systematic. Use the following planning pyramid to drive those early decisions:

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Make the corners of this pyramid work and, as you get used to it, you will find that you can quickly get a skeleton unit plan together. Allow the next skills in a logical progression to drive the process, and then think about context. What could your chosen text or other stimulus get your children thinking and talking about? What writing outcome(s) could provide the perfect vehicle for the ideas generated and practise of the focus skills?

I believe that teaching that puts children on a road to mastery needs to focus on the process rather than outcomes. My recipe for getting children to where we want them to 9781472949899.jpgbe as writers has some key ingredients. I call these the F STEPS: Feedback, Skills, Talk & Thought, Engagement, Practice, and Sequence. Find out more in my new book, Teaching for Mastery in Writing.

 

Mike Cain is deputy headteacher at St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School, in St Helens, Merseyside. He was a newspaper journalist and corporate communications specialist for 12 years before becoming a primary school teacher.

WHAT WOULD YOU ASK A POET?

How do you teach poetry?

Haven’t a clue – but I can tell you about some  really exciting poetry activities you can do with KS2 classes…

READ YOUR CLASS A POEM every morning. Every single morning. I know lots of KS2 teachers that do this and they say the results are manifold.

PUT ON POETRY CONCERTS/ASSEMBLIES – try whole classes performing poems such as Boneyard Rap (Wes Magee), Gran, Can You Rap? (Jack Ouseby), Little Red Rap/I Wanna Be A Star (Tony Mitton), Talking Turkeys (Benjamin Zephaniah), How To Turn Your Teacher Purple (by me..woops.).

twgsc-twitter-imagesv2-2WRITE POEMS AS PART OF YOUR CLASS TOPICS – poetry modules are great, but nothing beats writing poems for a real purpose – creating poems that express a subject matter that a class is enthused about and fully immersed in. Try shape poems (rivers, mountains, volcanoes, planets), kennings ( Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans), haiku ( rainforest creatures, sea creatures), and best of all free verse (memories, real events) – children too easily get stuck in the rhyme rut. And you don’t need to be an expert in all the various forms of poetry – just knowing a few is absolutely fine!

PUBLISH CHILDREN’S POEMS around the school, in the hall, on the school website. And I’ve noticed that children love nothing more than having to take a brand new poem of theirs to show the headteacher!

FIND A RANGE OF POETRY BOOKS – single poet collections and themed anthologies. Set up a poetry corner or poetry book box. Public libraries always have a great selection of contemporary children’s poetry titles – and Oxfam bookshops too are usually good for poetry.

PUT UP POETRY TREES IN THE CLASS/HALL – featuring poems by the children, or the children’s favourite poems.

PHOTOCOPY POEMS and put them all over the school, down the corridors  – even in the lo0s!

HAVE A STAFFROOM POETRY READING one lunchtime. Share adult or children’s poems you like.

INVITE A POET IN … why not? A poet will model how to read/perform poems to an twgsc-twitter-imagesv2-1audience, as well as how to run poetry writing workshops in a classroom.

What advice do you have for teachers?

Apart from buying my Bloomsbury teachers’ book Let’s Do Poetry In Primary Schools! as well as multiple class copies of The World’s Greatest Space Cadet (sorry, that was cheeky! ) – and apart from the activities I have recommended earlier, I would say just go for it. And maybe find a teacher in your school that enjoys doing poetry with her/his class. Find out what they do, and what the results have been.

Quite a number of teachers I’ve met in the hundreds of schools I’ve visited over the last few years have said how much poetry has truly revitalised their English teaching, and got the boys in their classes really motivated. What not to like?

And even if you don’t especially like poetry yourself – and you don’t have to – simply try and source some poems and poetry activities that your class could have fun with and be stimulated by. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results. Enjoy!

book-launch-3-002An award-winning children’s poet, James Carter travels all over the cosmos (well, Britain) with his guitar (that’s Keith) to give lively poetry performances and workshops. James once had hair, extremely long hair (honestly), and he played in a really nasty ultra-loud heavy rock band. And, as a lifelong space cadet, James has discovered that poems are the best place to gather all his daydreamy thoughts. What’s more, he believes that daydreaming for ten minutes every day should be compulsory in all schools.

The World’s Greatest Space Cadet by James Carter is available to buy here 

Follow James on Twitter @JamesCarterPoet

www.jamescarterpoet.co.uk

What is it like to have dyslexia? An interview.

This week it is Dyslexia Awareness Week and the theme this year is ‘Making Sense of Dyslexia’. I’m a commissioning editor in the education team here at Bloomsbury and part of my job is creating books for children who struggle with reading. I spend quite a lot of time talking and thinking about what children and teenagers with dyslexia or other reading difficulties might like, what might grab their attention, what makes reading hard for them and what could encourage them to keep trying even though they find it hard.

But I (and I suspect most people who work in publishing) wasn’t one of those children who struggle with reading so I thought that in Dyslexia Awareness Week it might be good to hear from one of those people (instead of me)!

My nephew, Sam, is a typical 10-year-old boy. He has been better than me at all sports since he was about 4, he’ll be taller than I am in a frighteningly short time, and he is one of the kindest people I know. He is also quite severely dyslexic so I asked him some questions about what that’s like for him.

What can you remember when you first found out you were dyslexic?
I struggled at school and so I had a test to see if I was dyslexic. I felt stressed and didn’t know what to think of myself.

What did it make you think or feel?
I was scared that people would notice that I was different, but I got used to it. People don’t worry about it, so neither do I.

Do you think there are some good things about being dyslexic?
It’s hard for me to tell what I get from dyslexia and what is just me. My dyslexia is part of who I am.

Are there things that you find particularly hard at school?
If I’m set a long piece of writing I struggle with my spellings and I struggle when I am under pressure.

What do you think you might like to do when you are a grown up?
When I grow up I would like to be an engineer because I like maths and science or I would also like to play sports professionally.

What are your favourite books and stories?
The Harry Potter series, Diana Wynne Jones’s series about Chrestomanci, and the Percy Jackson books. (Sam’s mum and dad would have read these to him – they are too long and hard for him to manage without support)

My sister (Sam’s mum) told me that it is impossible to tell which of Sam’s many excellent qualities are because of his dyslexia and I think that’s right. As Sam says, “My dyslexia is part of who I am.”

This Dyslexia Awareness Week it is important that we keep in mind the needs of people who have dyslexia. I hope that we can work together to make amazing stories accessible (in whatever form that may need to be) for children and teenagers with dyslexia, as well as making sure teachers have the right training and resources in place to support them. Ultimately, I hope that all young people with dyslexia can grow up to become engineers or sportsmen or whatever else they want to be!

Visit our website to see some of our High/Low fiction for struggling or reluctant readers.