Don’t evaluate a book by its cover. 

  
“Literature is the great garden that is always there and is open to everyone 24 hours a day. Who tends it? The old tour guides and sylviculturists, the wardens, the fuming parkies in their sweat-soaked serge: these have died off. If you do see an official, a professional, these days, then he’s likely to be a scowl in a labcoat, come to flatten a forest or decapitate a peak. The public wanders, with its oohs and ahs, its groans and jeers, its million opinions.” Martin Amis

In their own ways, what both Martin Amis and Stewart Lee’s comedy persona seem to be critiquing is the inability of the public to gauge and select quality in literature. Two weeks ago, Engchat focused on the way in which we teach this, under the umbrella heading of evaluation, in schools. A question arose around what evaluation actually is and why it’s often considered to be a higher level skill than analysis.

An answer to the first part of this question should be relatively easy – evaluation is forming an opinion, judging, assessing, appraising. It’s hopefully a lot more than groaning or jeering or oohing or ahing in Amis’ metaphorical garden of literature. 

The second part of the question is more challenging. Evaluation is different to, though often at its best interwoven with, analysis – a close and detailed examination to see either how something is made, how it works or to deepen understanding of its meaning. Evaluation in literary terms is not, in itself, more challenging than analysis. The level of challenge with either form of literary writing is set by the focus text and the question to which a student is writing a response. Whilst one evaluation question about a particular text might be a breeze for a student, the same student might be left to ooh and ah like Cantona by a different question about another text.

James Theobald has written excellently here about some of the key features of evaluative responses, including the need to judge the following four areas:

  • Outcomes
  • Impact
  • Alternative choices
  • Context

James’ post develops an analogy between the kinds of judgements made on bakery based reality shows and those made by students of literature. The four key areas he identifies are, without a doubt, as relevant to literature as they are flour based products and I completely agree that the ability to decide which baked treat or which literary work is best is reliant on secure knowledge. 

I think there are other challenges though which are specific to literary evaluative writing and it’s these which I’d like to explore in this post. 

Challenge #1. “Question: How d’you really feel about…?”

A key issue with making sweeping statements about “evaluation skills” in English is that the demonstration of any such skills – if they even exist – are displayed through responses to a variety of examination question types.

Interestingly, none of the question types require students to merely give a set of statements about a text’s inherent or comparative quality. They are miniature academic essays rather than literary reviews or book group contributions.

Having gone through most of the specimen papers for the new GCSE and A-Level specifications, the questions I’d identity as evaluative tend to fall into or between one of five main categories. I’ve provided exemplification of each below. 

1 Evaluate a text(s) in the light of a given viewpoint.

AQA Literature GCSE Paper 2

‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.’ How far is this idea important in Animal Farm?

Write about:

  • what you think Orwell is saying about equality and inequality
  • how Orwell presents these ideas through the events of the novel.

2 Evaluate a viewpoint in the light of a given text(s).

AQA English GCSE Paper 1

Focus this part of your answer on the second part of the source, from line 19 to the end.

A student, having read this section of the text said: “The writer brings the very different characters to life for the reader. It is as if you are inside the coach with them.” To what extent do you agree?

In your response, you could:

  • write about your own impressions of the characters
  • evaluate how the writer has created these impressions

support your opinions with references to the text.

OCR English GCSE Paper 1

‘These texts are powerful because they show the importance of having freedom and strong personal beliefs.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

In your answer you should:

  • discuss what you learn about the importance of having freedom and strong personal beliefs
  • explain the impact of these ideas on you as a reader
  • compare the ways ideas about freedom and personal beliefs are presented.

OCR Literature Paper 1 

‘Money is the source of all Pip’s problems.’ How far do you agree with this view?

Explore at least two moments from the novel to support your ideas.

OCR English GCSE Paper 2

‘In these texts school is presented as a challenging place for the pupils.’ How far do you agree with this statement?

In your answer you should:

  • discuss your impressions of the pupils’ various experiences at school
  • explain what you find unusual about their school environment
  • compare the ways the writers present the pupils’ experiences of school.

Support your response with quotations from both extracts.

OCR Literature A-Level

‘A great surprise of the play is that Claudius has a conscience.’ How far and in what ways do you agree with this view?

AQA Language A-Level Paper 1

“Interaction with caregivers is the most important influence on a child’s language development.”

Referring to Data Set 1 in detail, and to relevant ideas from language study, evaluate this view of children’s language development.

3 Evaluate how far a text is typical of a particular genre. 

AQA Literature Specification B A Level Paper 2

Explore the significance of the crime elements in this extract. Remember to include in your answer relevant detailed analysis of the ways that Hill has shaped meanings.

4 Evaluate how far a text is influenced by its context.

EDUQAS Literature A Level

Consider the view that “spiritual or otherwise, Donne’s poems are consistently grounded in the physical world of his time.”

5 Evaluate the similarities and differences between two or more different texts or extracts from the same text (compare/contrast).

OCR GCSE Literature Paper 2

Compare how these poems present the effects of war on people’s lives.

OCR Literature A Level Paper 1

Discuss Milton’s portrayal of Adam and Eve’s actions and their consequences in the following extract from Paradise Lost Book 9.

In your answer explore the author’s use of language, imagery and verse form, and consider ways in which you find this extract characteristic of Paradise Lost Books 9 and 10.

Question level challenges emerge because: 

A generic approach to “evaluation skills” won’t work across all five different question types. Instead, teachers need to model the specific procedures needed to respond to the question type(s) their students are required to answer from Key Stage 3 onwards. Responding to each question type can, for novices, be broken down into a set of steps or procedures which, as students become increasingly expert, can be developed, manipulated or even subverted.

Sometimes, frustratingly, the mark scheme for a question can require students to do something very different to the expectations the question establishes. This is the case with the AQA English GCSE Paper 1 question above. The mark scheme for this question requires students to write in more of an analytical than evaluative manner. Though they’re asked to evaluate to what extent they agree with a statement, the exam board have said in training that the question is set up in such a way that students are more likely to do well if they simply agree. This is largely because of what I see as being a misuse of “evaluate” in the second bullet point which seems to me to be actually asking students to analyse. Issues like this can result in teachers focusing students on tricks to be successful when judged using the mark scheme rather than teaching students to write brilliant evaluative responses to the specific question posed. My advice would be to focus on the latter at Key Stage 3 and, pragmatically if you have to, focus on the former at Key Stage 4 or 5. As a result of this kind of issue, it’s really important that teachers are highly familiar with the mark schemes, that they keep up to date with exam board training and that, ideally, someone in the English faculty is a trained examiner.

The bullet points provided to supplement some of the questions can both help and hinder students. In the worst cases, they could actually lead students away from the evaluation of the original focus in the question. This can particularly be the case if they are used as a step by step structure by students, rather than a set of prompts to aid thinking. A good example of how this can go wrong is the OCR English GCSE question about whether the school experiences described in two texts are challenging. The bullet point prompts hint at aspects to be explored in the texts. However, a student using merely the prompts as a guide to responding could write very well about the bullet points without evaluating the statement at all. Presumably, these bullet points have been added to support students who would struggle with the question if they weren’t there. Irritatingly, this requires teachers to support students to jump an extra hurdle which was ironically put there to help them.

There are two other challenges which I think are so important that they deserve their own section.

Challenge #2. Question: How d’you like this knowledge that I brought?

I have my mum to thank in great part for my love of reading.

I well recall being read to every evening before bedtime and piling into my mum and dad’s room every morning with my older brother to have a story before any other part of our morning routine and working my way through all of the various middle class adventures of Peter and Jane and forcing our mother to read to us just before teatime until she was drifting off to sleep then waking her up to carry on and her listening to us reading our books from school and being taken to the library to max out our six book limit before heading off for rainy summer Wells holidays and Ladybird Books and Richard Scarry and Beatrix Potter and Roger Hargreaves and Helen Nicholl and Enid Blyton and Michael Bond and Roald Dahl and Richard Adams and Robert Arthur and Captain WE Johns and L Frank Baum and her encouraging me to read all kinds of things as a teenager, though mostly fantasy fiction and science fiction because that’s what I liked at the time, and her accepting that I was heading off to university to study a subject and read even more and at a much higher level because I loved it rather than because it led to a specific form of employment, oh, and funding much of it alongside my dad.

It’s hardly the first book of Aurora Leigh, but neither was it an upbringing in which being literate was a challenge.

My mum read too. She tells a tale of having read the whole of Heidi one Christmas Day as a child. My grandparents didn’t believe her and set her a quiz which successfully proved she hadn’t lied – good times. I also held a secret belief that I loved reading because (I was convinced) my mum had said she’d read War and Peace whilst she was pregnant with me. Turns out this was my younger brother. All I’ve actually got is a love of peanuts due to her cravings for monkey nuts whilst carrying me. Probably to escape from the cumbersome, Herculean challenge of bringing up three sons, mum moved to reading mostly trashy historical novels about challenging romantic relationships, mostly set in the time of the industrial revolution, mostly (for some reason) set in docklands, mostly in Liverpool or Ireland. More recently, in her retirement, she’s joined a book group which has widened the scope of her reading once more, though I suspect is also to do with getting the latest gossip from the village.

Both my mum and I are therefore fairly widely (though not necessarily well) read in our own very different ways which is a useful starting point for further studies but isn’t enough for an evaluative question. Let’s take a look at this question to explore further what I mean.

Consider the view that “spiritual or otherwise, Donne’s poems are consistently grounded in the physical world of his time.”

I currently know relatively little about Donne and his poetry. In order to be able to answer this question more successfully, I’d need to know or be able to work out from my current knowledge the following, and more, at question, textual, contextual and procedural level:

Question level:

  • The meaning of “spiritual.”
  • The meaning of “physical world.”
  • The meaning of “consistently grounded in.”

Text level:

  • A range of quotations from Donne’s poems which support and refute the view expressed in the quotation – even though this is an open book exam.
  • A range of linguistic and structural terms which are relevant to Donne’s poetry.
  • How Donne uses this language and these structures to present aspects of spirituality and physicality.

Context level:

  • What spiritual means in today’s context and how this differs from what it may have meant to Donne in terms of religion, the church as an organisation and the afterlife.
  • How the spiritual world might have been viewed as different to the physical world in Donne’s time and how this may have impacted on his writing.
  • How the concept of a “physical world” might link to or have changed as a result of Renaissance learning.
  • How, when and why it’s possible for the spiritual and physical world to be seen as intertwined, particularly in relation to courtship and relationships.
  • The nature of people’s views of the physical and spiritual world at the time of Donne’s writing.
  • Whether there are other themes or aspects of context in which Donne’s poetry might be grounded.
  • Relevant views of critics or other readers. 


Procedural level:

  • How to express my own viewpoints in an academic manner, using appropriate vocabulary and structuring.
  • How to select and then integrate relevant and appropriate supporting evidence to back up my own views and potentially refute the views of others.
  • How to interweave knowledge of the text with knowledge of the influence of context.
  • How to explore and debate a range of other critical viewpoints.

It’s clear that James Theobald’s four areas (outcomes, impact, alternative choices and context) are all highly relevant here. Pulling apart a specific model of question in this way though can give even further clarity to identifying the knowledge required and the potential challenges students face in writing a response. 

Challenge #3: I depend on me.

The final area of challenge I want to explore here stems from the fact that some of the evaluation questions, particularly it seems at GCSE level, are based on unseen texts. I think this unfortunately results in these questions being something of a lottery for students as they are dependent on students’ accumulated background knowledge. It can seem that what it comes down to is the interplay between what students know, the lucky dip contents of the text and their ability to express their judgements or evaluations.

This can lead to an overemphasis on teaching the procedural elements above such as sentence starters to make students sound as if they are writing evaluatively. It doesn’t have to be this way though as we can narrow the odds in our students’ favor by increasing what they know, including through:

  • Focusing in class time on really high quality texts in order to really build students’ knowledge.
  • Implementing a strategy to ensure that students read widely and often outside of the classroom.
  • Developing students’ vocabulary so that they are less likely to encounter unfamiliar words and more likely to be able to deduce the meaning of any new words which they do come across.
  • Providing high quality models, explanations and modeling of approaches to responding to these question types as well as opportunities to practice and receive feedback on how to improve.

Throw your hands up at me. 

If you feel I’ve missed anything, then please do comment on this post. I’d love to know what you think.

Teacher Workload

The DFE have published three reports today on workload relating to:

These are short reports so I’d encourage you to take a look at them in full at the links above. Even so, to help my thinking and possibly yours, in the post below I’ve summarised the key principles established in each of them and outlined what I think are some of the key questions for Senior Leaders to consider in relation to each area. 

  

Marking:

The report maintains that “The Teachers’ Standards state…teachers should ‘give pupils regular feedback, both orally and through accurate marking, and encourage pupils to respond to the feedback’. There is not a requirement for pupils to provide a written response to feedback: it could simply be that pupils act on feedback in subsequent work.”

There are three central recommendations in the marking report. These are that marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating. 

Meaningful: marking varies by age group, subject, and what works best for the pupil and teacher in relation to any particular piece of work. Teachers are encouraged to adjust their approach as necessary and trusted to incorporate the outcomes into subsequent planning and teaching.”

Manageable: marking practice is proportionate and considers the frequency and complexity of written feedback, as well as the cost and time-effectiveness of marking in relation to the overall workload of teachers. This is written into any assessment policy.”

Motivating: Marking should help to motivate pupils to progress. This does not mean always writing in-depth comments or being universally positive: sometimes short, challenging comments or oral feedback are more effective. If the teacher is doing more work than their pupils, this can become a disincentive for pupils to accept challenges and take responsibility for improving their work.”

Questions to consider:

  • Does an expectation of the frequency of “deep marking,” for example that it should be fortnightly, ever impact negatively on the timing of feedback or on other aspects of practice?
  • Should you expect the same model of feedback from all teachers or should you allow them to vary their model of feedback in ways which might be more appropriate to the subject or task and more beneficial to students?
  • Do you ever look for quantity/regularity of marking over quality of feedback?
  • Do you ever expect teachers to mark to suit your monitoring rather than to impact on students?
  • Are your expectations manageable in different subject areas and will they remain manageable if changes are made to the school day? If not, how can you make them more manageable without making feedback less meaningful or motivating?
  • Do you have teachers who are doing more work than their students repeatedly?
  • Do any of your teachers accept work which students haven’t checked sufficiently themselves?

Data:

The report outlines the following four principles. School leaders and processes should:

  1. Be streamlined: eliminate duplication – ‘collect once, use many times’
  2. Be ruthless: only collect what is needed to support outcomes for children. The amount of data collected should be proportionate to its usefulness. Always ask why the data is needed.
  3. Be prepared to stop activity: do not assume that collection or analysis must continue just because it always has
  4. Be aware of workload issues: consider not just how long it will take, but whether that time could be better spent on other tasks


Questions to consider:

  • Does the data you collect help you to progress as a school and help students and groups of students to make progress?
  • How do you know that the data you collect is accurate? Might collecting less make it more accurate and more useful?
  • Is the way you present data most helpful to the people who make an impact on student progress?
  • Are you getting the right data, to the right people, at the right time to make the right decisions?
  • Do you expect teachers to input any data more than once when it could be input just once and processed electronically into other forms?
  • Is there any data which you collect which isn’t used to have an impact on student progress or attainment?
  • Could the process of inputting data be made more efficient?
  • Is there any data which you could stop collecting without this having a negative impact on student progress or attainment?
  • Could you free up time for teachers to do things which would be more impactful by stopping the collation of any of your data?
  • Do you need to collect data as frequently as you currently do?
  • Do you need to provide any further training to any staff on the gathering, processing, analysis and use of data?

Planning:

The report establishes five principles of planning:

  1. Planning a sequence of lessons is more important than writing individual lesson plans
  2. Fully resourced schemes of work should be in place for all teachers to use each term
  3. Planning should not be done simply to please outside organisations
  4. Planning should take place in purposeful and well defined blocks of time
  5. Effective planning makes use of high quality resources

Questions to consider:

  • Do you expect teachers to produce detailed lesson plans which don’t benefit students?
  • Do you have collaboratively planned schemes of learning?
  • Are planning tools suitable for or flexible enough for different subject areas? 
  • Do you need to allow blocks of time for effective planning, perhaps instead of having smaller periods of PPA time?
  • Do your curriculum teams spend meeting time discussing curriculum planning rather than school business?
  • Do you and your curriculum leaders assign enough time to curriculum design and planning?
  • Do your curriculum teams have a shared understanding of what effective planning looks like in their subject area(s)?
  • How do you review time set aside for planning?
  • Do your teachers spend an unnecessary amount of time creating or searching for resources to suit the curriculum?
  • Do you ensure curriculum teams receive and/or share high quality curriculum training? 

Marking, marking, marking. A Triptych of Assessment Strategies.

Imagine that you’ve gone to buy a new car. You have certain requirements. Some of you will be limited by the need to find a “sensible” vehicle in which you can fit 2.4 children with associated holiday luggage or family shopping when you’re on the rush home to watch Strictly. Others of you will have an idealised (or even realistic) vision of yourself as a 007 Austin Martin type. Some of you might just want something to get you from A to B.

Either way, now imagine if, when you went to buy the car, you were only able to make the purchasing decision based either on seeing the MOT certificates of the cars or taking the cars on a test drive before you made your purchase. One or the other.

Would you choose just the MOT certificate or would you choose just the test drive?

The MOT will, of course, tell you whether the car can function in certain basic ways. Do the indicators work? Is the steering wheel strong enough? Are the oil levels right? Is the tyre tread depth legal? Many of these pass/fail judgements are taken in isolation. With the MOT certificate, you don’t find out if, once you’re out on the road, the car is appropriate for your needs.

With a test drive, you can get a sense of how the car feels, how the car functions, whether it matches your requirements. Does it take hills well? How does it steer? Is there enough leg room? You wouldn’t necessarily know though if it were safe or legal.

Austin Martin

One of the developments which we’ve been involved in, as part of United Learning, is a system of assessment called Key Performance Indicators. These are essentially elements of knowledge that we want our students to be able to master in English. They provide the MOT of English assessment. Here are just three of the Year 7 Key Performance Indicators:

  • Use the appropriate structure, conventions and vocabulary for formal letter writing
  • Identify specific words, language techniques and features of organization, commenting on why these have been used
  • Identify, define and accurately use the following in a range of writing: types of verb, types of noun, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns

They’re broken down into parts so that you can test students’ ability to apply them in isolation in a pass/fail way. What you might want to do here is set up a series of assessments which check whether a student can accurately identify, use and define the full range of different types of noun or use the appropriate structure and conventions in formal letter writing. What this can provide you with is a set of data which looks like this at whole year group, class and individual pupil level:

KPI Feedback Sheet

This data set can inform your planning because you can see that whilst this student is able, in a set of exam questions, to use past tense consistently accurately and make use of brackets for parenthesis, their use of speech punctuation is not accurate. Other students in the same class may have the opposite set of problems and so a bank of pre-developed resources could be drawn on to address these students’ needs. This kind of diagnostic assessment may sound potentially great – as long as the marking workload doesn’t prevent teachers from planning the in class interventions which could make the difference.

However, there are also possible risks to this kind of assessment model. The first of these is that, just like in the MOT/test drive model, with this isolated form of assessment you can find yourself making assumptions that students can do things when they are decontextualized which they actually can’t do in broader contexts. Just as there is a difference between a motor passing its MOT and performing how you want it to once it’s out on the road towing a caravan (if you like that kind of thing), there is also a great difference between adding speech punctuation to pre-written sentences which students know have been incorrectly punctuated and students writing a narrative from scratch which includes speech that they have correctly punctuated themselves. Equally though, if you prescribe a set of written aspects which need to be included in a piece of writing, you end up with quite sterile writing by numbers. This approach can also result in markers not paying attention to whether a piece of writing is effective as an example of the form/genre the students were trying to craft as they are so focused on a checklist of small and specific details relating to, for example, punctuation. In the worst instances, students could produce work which demonstrates achievement in the assessed KPIs but which is basically substandard. 

Another key risk with this form of assessment is that these elements and these elements alone can become the English curriculum. When teachers know that their students are being assessed in three weeks’ time and they are aware which Key Performance Indicators will be the focus of this assessment, there is a potential perverse incentive for them to teach to these KPIs even if they don’t know what the actual examination questions will be. It is possible to lose the wider scope of the curriculum or for wider expectations to dip.

This is why, in English, we are gradually developing the following set of assessment strategies which will include:

  1. Pretesting of the grammar and punctuation elements of the KPI framework in isolation to support teachers in identifying which students need further intervention in terms of their basic grammar knowledge. As far as possible, this will be done online so that teachers have the information which they need to and can therefore spend time reshaping lessons to support these students rather than spending time marking the answers to the questions themselves.
  2. Periodic retesting of these grammar and punctuation elements, including the ability to add these aspects into or edit the accuracy of pre-produced texts. This will mean that we can check whether students will be able to demonstrate the ability to make use of the elements of grammar when they are required, but not by forcing them to apply them in an artificial way in their own writing unless they choose to because it’s appropriate.
  3. The use of comparative judgements. David Didau has written about our progress with this process here and here. We see this as providing teachers with a method of checking the quality of students’ writing more holistically, more reliably and more efficiently whilst also enabling staff to set a standard within a year group rather than developing writing by numbers. Judgement questions will focus on the relative success of two students writing in a particular form or genre such as narrative, speech or letter writing. 

The first two of these strategies will act like an MOT, whilst the third will be the test drive. Alongside this of course, there are a range of formative assessment strategies which teachers use both in the moment and between lessons, which I’ll write more about in future posts.

When you’re buying a car, you don’t need to make that decision between the two forms of check and both have to be done separately. I wonder whether, in trying to do both forms of assessment with our assessments of writing or reading in the past, we’ve ended up getting ourselves and our students in a muddle.

 

“Somehow the vital connection is made.”

In my last post “Capiche?” I explored how there can often be a lack of clarity when we use the term understanding in education. This can lead to very different strategies with varying degrees of effectiveness being used with very different outcomes, all in the name of “deepening understanding.”

When I use the term understanding, I take it to mean the fractal links that we make between pieces of knowledge which are developed, strengthened, displayed and assessed through generating explanations, performances, products or creations.

Fractal

In this sense, I’m inclined to agree with people like Michael Fordham, here, who question whether it’s worth using the word understanding at all, arguing that the term confuses the issue. Essentially, what understanding boils down to is knowing some bits of stuff, knowing that there are connections between those bits of stuff and knowing how to express these connections. The more connections you’re able to express which are relevant to the particular field of study in the way which is appropriate to that area , the more you are said to understand. Fordham argues that it’s all just knowing – “knowing that,” “knowing links between” and “knowing how to.”

At the end of my last post, having confessed to a very limited understanding of Lego, I explained that my older brother had a propensity to nab my kits before I could use them and learn from them properly. This meant:

  • I had limited knowledge.
  • There were few connections between the elements of knowledge which I did have.
  • I wasn’t following any sets of instructions.
  • I wasn’t using worked examples.

In this post, I’ll explore how we can support students with similar issues in English through:

  • Key Stage 3 curriculum design
  • Teaching practices
  • Assessment methodologies.

“What do I do now?” The Key Stage 3 Curriculum

I suspect that, given the changes to national qualifications which have taken place this year, there are unlikely to be many English teachers who could confidently say that they have their curriculum nailed at the moment. Recent online discussions about English teaching have frequently focused on the substantial changes to GCSEs and A-Levels as well as the consequent amendments which people have made to their KS3 curricula.

In order to give you a flavour of the thinking behind our English curriculum, which I believe will be useful in the rest of this post, I’ve written previously on our school’s teaching and learning blog about what we mean by mastery and put together this booklet about overall mastery curriculum design. I’ve also written here about the process we used, with David Didau’s support, to generate our initial overview for the KS3 English curriculum which can be seen here:

ks3 curriculum-1

A number of teachers, when I’ve showed this to them, questioned whether the pitch was too high – whether we were being overly ambitious. In planning and teaching the earlier units, we encountered a number of challenges with implementing a curriculum based on these texts, but pitch wasn’t one of them. In fact, these initial challenges actually related to us needing to more clearly define:

  1. What we want students to be able to do as a result of studying these texts
  2. What students need to know in order to be able to do these things
  3. How our assessment model enables us to see when students are successful in knowing what and knowing how so that we can do something in the classroom to support them
  4. The balance of time between studying such substantial and challenging literary texts and the other elements of an English curriculum

Hopefully, you can see how these link to my issues with Lego from earlier on.

In order to begin to resolve some of these issues, we started to think more clearly about planning with a set of end points in mind. The end point we had focused on originally, when planning with David, was that of exposing our students to the best literary fiction and non-fiction from our heritage and culture and this principle remains at the heart of the English curriculum we offer at all Key Stages. However, there are two other end points which we had not focused on as clearly as we might. The first of these is the long term end point of the terminal assessment of GCSE Language and Literature for all our students. The second is the medium term end point of each teaching cycle within a unit.

In terms of the former – the longer term end point – our curriculum, our teaching, our interventions need to prepare students to be successful in their lives and one of the gateways to that is their qualification in English. In exploring the new AQA GCSE specifications we realized that, although we’d plotted in a chronological sequence of inspiring texts, we hadn’t got the balance of exposure to non-fiction and opportunities for analysis of unseen texts right. We unpicked this through the production of this overview of the weightings of each element of the two specifications.

AQA Break Down

This kind of thinking led on to the creation of this second table (below) identifying the three overarching writing forms we want our students to be able to produce in the dark blue band, the knowledge students require in order to be able to produce them in the middle band and the kinds of high quality texts we need to expose them to in order for them to be successful in the lightest blue.

Overview

“Inbetweener” – Medium Term Planning

Just prior to the summer of 2015, we put in place a range of planning documents to support the medium term planning for our new scheme as well as knowledge organisers from a visit to Michaela Community School. The issue was that we ended up with too many different forms and, though we had the knowledge organisers, we’d designed them as an overview of knowledge from the whole of the text, rather than being more precise in identifying the specific knowledge which students need in the long term and for that unit. It was as if we were using instructions from five different Lego kits to build a model.

We have now stream-lined our medium term planning proformas and have a stronger model for the production of our knowledge organisers. I’ll be sharing some of these from the Rhetoric Unit in Year 7 on this page soon.

We also believe that designing or selecting model pieces of work for students will improve our planning process. To an extent, it will protect against teachers teaching to a set of assessment criteria . These models could also provide us with exemplars which make success more tangible to students and against which, ultimately, we can make comparative judgements of both the quality of their reading and writing combined.

“Today, Tomorrow, Sometime, Never” – The Problem of Time

The issue of time now arises. There are approximately 35 school weeks in the 2016-17 academic year. A number of these weeks are exam weeks at our school with limited teaching time. There will also be a number of other days with a collapsed timetable and therefore reduced teaching time. This leaves approximately 30 full teaching weeks. At Key Stage 3, this equates to approximately 150 lessons.

If you were to divide each year equally by the number of texts to study, it would allow approximately twenty eight lessons (just over five weeks) for each text. However, within this time students are not merely studying each text’s plot, character and themes. They also require time for some explicit teaching of related grammar, punctuation, spelling and vocabulary and opportunities to write texts about and inspired by the texts. Furthermore, there need to be opportunities for them to respond to unseen poetry and non-fiction as well as to write narratives, descriptions and rhetorical texts.

As a result of this, we are now looking to move from five core literature texts in each year to three, supplementing these with related and unrelated non-fiction texts. The intention here is to increase capacity for more and even better teaching of the knowledge elements of English and to enhance opportunities for writing at length.

“My Favourite Game” – A model for teaching and assessment

As with our master curriculum, I’ve written previously about how our Teaching and Learning Model has developed over time and been codified in this document:

Codification Document

Within English, we have taken this and have been thinking through how each of the elements of “knowing that,” “knowing the links” and “knowing how to” can be built into our teaching and assessment. This has led to the creation of this set of strategies which we have either already  implemented or will be implementing over the course of the coming year. In future posts, I will expand in terms of detail on each of these, but I’d certainly welcome feedback as to further avenues we might explore. What do you think we’ve missed in terms of helping students:

  • Encounter, develop and retain knowledge
  • Make connections between the elements of knowledge which they do have
  • Follow sets of instructions.
  • Use worked examples.

Teaching and Assessment Strategies