Beyond the Crossroads (Part Two)

By Jarrett, Phil | NATE Classroom, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Beyond the Crossroads (Part Two)


Jarrett, Phil, NATE Classroom


This is the second half of the article featured in Classroom no. 11 based on last year's Ofsted report on English. It continues the summary of ideas and opinions arising from four discussion groups at a conference of primary and secondary teachers from schools which Ofsted had judged to be good or outstanding in English. They had been brought together to consider barriers to success in English teaching within their own schools and also the strategies which had worked well.

1. Developing independent learning in English.

Barriers to success?

* Some points have already been raised, including the tendency for teachers to overmanage classes and problems related to preparing pupils for external exams and tests. The expectation that teachers are directly involved in 'instructing' pupils through all stages of the lessons was also seen as inhibiting independent work by pupils. Teachers agreed that it's more risky to give pupils responsibility for learning; lessons can go wrong, plans can go awry. In addition, some pupils are slow to take the initiative and lack self confidence with independent work. There is also an issue about defining what is meant by independent learning: is it simply working on your own or using initiative or choosing your own tasks; or some combination of all three? Some teachers thought that independent learning might favour the high attainers or the self confident. It was agreed that schemes of work rarely address issues of independent learning in any systematic way.

What works?

* Planning explicitly for independence in the scheme of work including efforts to identify appropriate skills and content across a key stage. This should include regular opportunities for pupils to exercise choice over topic and approach.

* Opportunities for pupils to talk together, make decisions, agree what they're going to do, solve problems. An emphasis on teamwork and critical thinking, ensuring that lessons increasingly help pupils to take on the roles needed within a team, and how to think for themselves.

* Giving pupils opportunities to write unaided for themselves, for example, through learning journals. Doing the same with reading so that pupils can choose what to read and then making sure that this type of reading is discussed and shared leading to lots of 'book talk'.

* Giving pupils time to reflect. For example, pupils can annotate and evaluate their work before teachers assess it. Pupils can also be encouraged to review evidence about their progress in English, helping them to set or understand better their next target.

* Making sure that students communicate with real audiences, for meaningful purposes, using the media and technology which are available to them. This is likely to mean teachers thinking outside the standard sequence of lessons and using time and resources differently. Pupils are likely to need more than a one hour lesson if they are to design, agree and film something of value, for instance.

* Giving homework more value and re-designing it as self-directed learning, with an emphasis on research, independence and choice.

* Using information and communication technology creatively to foster wider communication. Building on the social networking tools that have opened up conversations across the world and formed communities of interest. Computers were seen as motivating younger pupils to use and blend their literacy skills, for example, reading for purpose through the self directed exploration of web resources.

2. Helping boys to succeed in English

Barriers to success

Some teachers spoke of the impact of poor behaviour and low levels of motivation of some boys, especially in the later secondary years. It was generally agreed that boys are reluctant to risk failure and this linked to their low self-esteem in terms of English. Poor or undeveloped levels of literacy skills, especially in writing, contributed to a lack of confidence and in particular a reluctance to begin writing. …

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