Monthly Archives: July 2014
A RHYMING INDEX
1 MASTER YOUR POKER FACE
2 ASSIGN A PRE-PLANNED PLACE
3 CONTENT COUNTS
4 NOT KNOWLEDGE FOUNTS
5 COME CARER, COME BEDOUIN
6 BE TOTALLY GENUINE
7 THE BOUNDARY GIVER
8 WARN CONSEQUENCE… THEN DELIVER
9 ACCEPT RE-DIRECTION
10 VALUE REFLECTION
1. MASTER YOUR POKER FACE: “Don’t smile until Christmas.”
To be fair, someone did tell me this … though not until Easter, by which point it was much too late. It’s a ridiculous comment out of context but a helpful reminder when you’re starting out that you’re not being paid to be anyone’s best friend. Err on the side of caution initially – it is far better to go in tough and ease up with a class than go in easy and then have to toughen up.
2. ASSIGN A PRE-PLANNED PLACE: Do not underestimate seating plans
On paper, seating plans look like nothing. They are, essentially, the list of class names taken from your register and slotted into the desk positions that match your room(s!). In reality, they are so much more than that. This is one of those tips that will become more helpful as you get to know the students more but there is plenty of data and inside knowledge of colleagues you can draw upon to use this as a helpful behaviour management/ SEN support tool.
Consider: a) student needs, b) ability levels, c) possibility of progress, d) group dynamics
In my opinion, these are working documents – have one ready to go but be prepared to amend as necessary!
3. CONTENT COUNTS: Know your stuff
I’m stating the obvious here, but it needs to be mentioned. You’re there as an educator – it makes sense that you’d be expected to turn up with some level of expertise in your subject. From experience, behaviour of a class is far more within your control when you’re confident with the topic you’re teaching. I started my career teaching Primary and there was a clear correlation between my uncertainty around teaching a particular area of knowledge and poor pupil behaviour. Expected to deliver a Year 6 series of gym lessons on ‘The Haka’ or imparting my wisdom on refining football skills in Games, I was very much out of my depth. At least three of the boys in my class had rightfully earned places on county teams and there I was, teaching them how to dribble.
It’s okay to be more uncertain about an area of learning than others. We are humans. However, if there’s an area I have to teach that I can’t get my head around as easily, I’ll work hard to fill the gaps of knowledge. I would meet for a quick catch-up with my parallel Year 6 colleague each Wednesday afternoon before my physics lesson on a Thursday morning for a whole term, just to be at the ready.
4. NOT KNOWLEDGE FOUNTS: Model a ‘forever-learner’ attitude
In partnership with the point above, while a solid understanding of what you are teaching is important, you are not expected to know EVERYTHING. In my opinion, it is an incredibly valuable lesson for students to witness that we are not supernatural magical beings, brimming with limitless knowledge that seeps from every pore, created only to impart our incredible wisdom to the world.
As IF they think that anyway.
My point is, simply, there are times where you will need to say ‘Do you know what? I’m not sure…’ and then model to students the process of how to go about finding out, in order to fill the gaps of knowledge in question. This is a Growth Mindset all over, right?
5. COME CARER, COME BEDOUIN: Background context is important
Students are humans. We tend to forget this when we turn around from the board to find a troublesome student utterly disengaged with the work and giggling uncontrollably with her partner, having just successfully aimed a paper aeroplane at the nape of your neck*. Don’t panic – this is a worst-case scenario(ish). *Wait for point 10
Consider this. Sophie is one of three children at home. Her older sister has been kicked out over the weekend after a string of late nights out; her mum not knowing where she’s been. Her younger brother has significant special needs and she has to care for him every evening until 7.30pm when her mum arrives home from work. Sophie misses out on the dance club she really wants to go to but can’t because she is looking after her brother. She comes into school tired, miserable and behind with her homework as a result of her home-life, impacting her friendships too.
I don’t condone teacher-targeted paper aeroplanes OR laziness at all, but there is a difference between an idle student and the scenario given above. I think it is helpful to remember that context matters.
6. BE TOTALLY GENUINE: Transparency wins
Students know when you’re being ‘real’. They have a 6th sense for it. Much like a working relationship with a colleague, the best professional relationship you can have with a class is one that is based on trust. This doesn’t mean you need to spend the first three timetabled sessions you have telling them your life story. It just means that, once you are comfortable in your own skin standing in front of a class, you can explore ways to introduce elements of your own personality a bit more, finding a balance that would hopefully make the learning environment a more ‘cushioned’ place rather than ‘cold’.
7. THE BOUNDARY GIVER: Tough love
The naughtiest student in my very first class (Year 4) wrote something on a survey that, shamefully, reduced me to tears. I knew Tom’s home life was incredibly difficult – his Dad was in and out of prison and was banned from the school premises, and he lived with his Mum and his grandparents. Like with many students that we perceive to be difficult, on a 1:1 basis Tom was gentle, engaged and keen to learn. Within a classroom setting, however, he was disruptive, a crafty bully and completely inconsiderate of his peers’ education.
Around Easter time when I was nearly two terms down of my NQT year, students had to complete an annual questionnaire, designed by the school leadership team. It asked a range of questions related to learning and enjoyment of school. The class I had were incredibly difficult as a group of 31. It was the kind of class I was warned about in advance, from a number of different colleagues. They were well-known for not getting on with each other and were always at war in the playground. By Christmas I had almost managed to ban the phrase ‘Miss, at playtime…’ and encouraged them to approach whichever staff member was out on duty to resolve the issue there and then.
Back to Tom and his survey. Here’s what set me off:
Q: What do you think your teacher could do better?
A: Have stronger boundaries.
Here was the naughtiest student in my class telling me, as clear as day, that he wanted greater restrictions. I was caught up in a mixture of surprise, realisation and disappointment that I hadn’t provided what he needed. I suppose when we think to David Beckham, one of the world’s greatest footballers, he doesn’t despise his sport just because of the rules. In fact, the game wouldn’t exist without them. We need to know where we stand as humans, so if a teacher is always promising to carry out sanctions but not sticking rigidly to them, where is our safety?
8. WARN CONSEQUENCE… THEN DELIVER: Just do it!
Plan ahead. Setting clear boundaries at the start of the year with any new class is essential. Know what you’re prepared to accept and not accept (often dictated by whole-school behaviour policies already in place) and share these with every class of students at the start of the academic year. In Secondary, these can sometimes be department-specific but it is important you know the process for behaviours and their consequences. Never assume that students have remembered these from the year before and, if nothing else, by outlining these each time you encounter a new group of students, you have a reference point to refer back to, should any issues arise.
Connected to Point 7, this is simple. If you prescribe it, give it. I’d be very disappointed if I’d gone to my GP for a medical prescription that I needed and they gave me the signed, green slip but not the actual medicine. Likewise, if I’d won a competition and was promised a prize but it never appeared, I’d have something to say about it. I’d assert that young people feel safest when adults follow through with what they say they will do, so just do it. It’s worth sacrificing a chunk of your lunchtime every day for the first three weeks to prove you’re serious about this behaviour stuff than dishing it out and losing their respect for not going ahead with the sanctions promised.
9. ACCEPT RE-DIRECTION: Diversions are okay
“Never work with animals or children.” (W.C. Fields)
Be prepared, be clear and be strong – but know that plans will need to change. One of the greatest skills a teacher can have is the willingness to adapt. Keep your goals firmly in mind – be that related to behaviour or another area of teaching – but redirect your route as necessary.
10. VALUE REFLECTION: It’s your oxygen
“A teacher that does not value reflection is one that will not grow.” (J. Mingay)
I remember being at uni and yawning as soon as I heard those two vomit-inducing words: ‘Reflective Practice’. It was a perfect case of Classical Conditioning. Just as the dogs in Pavlov’s experiment (late 1800s) would salivate every time someone entered the room, I would automatically yawn on hearing even a whisper of these words. They were the two biggest buzz words around at the time and we were undeniably overfed on the phrase. However, in this profession you quickly realise that reflective practice is far less a cumbersome burden and more a lifeline.
To teach but not care to reflect on your practice is almost impossible and, wholly undesirable. I can’t think of any genius, friend or family member, colleague or famous authority at the top of their game who hasn’t taken the time to look back and consider their own strengths and weaknesses. To be able to objectively review your practice is critical to surviving in the world of education and, at times, this will sometimes require you to ask for other people’s opinions. Be open to constructive critique.
At the end of the first day / week / month / half term / term / year, stop everything, reflect and make necessary changes. Do this and then repeat. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. (etc…)
Follow me on Twitter… @JAMingay
In my role as Literacy Leader, I find myself constantly reflecting on what we are doing well as a school and what we could be doing better with regard to supporting student literacy. Embedded within this review process is a persistent thought that works its way into my conscience time and time again, leading me to question what reading or writing support students are getting at home.
Working in a great secondary school based in Greater London, rightly proud of its own active engagement with the local community, it welcomes students from quite a diverse catchment area. This results in the intake of a wide range of students who have vastly different backgrounds. This includes those who come from homes where literacy is rated as fundamental, being the foundation on which all other learning can take place, to those families who consider literacy as almost irrelevant, so long as their child is happy to step into the family business. In these cases (which thankfully are few but nevertheless real) being able to read and write is considered merely a ‘bonus’. Not an easy partnership to nurture when your aim is to equip every student with the same essential ‘toolkit’ to get through life beyond their compulsory education years.
Standing with most other educationalists in the teaching profession, I presume, I’m of the strong opinion that a positive home-school relationship with regular and valuable communication is the best approach to scaffolding student learning. For this reason, when I see articles like the two listed below, I question whether we are going far enough with sharing our expertise with students and their parents/carers. Take a look…
With my reading-instruction-radar firmly switched to ‘ON’, it seems to me that we are missing a step in the learning process, particularly for those students from homes where reading might not come naturally to their parents, either.
Geoff Barton, in his great book ‘Don’t Call it Literacy!’ (Routledge: 2013) outlines some of the key points taken from a survey carried out by the National Literacy Trust in 2010, named Literacy: State of the Nation, A picture of literacy in the UK today. Barton writes:
- ‘Parents are the most important reading role models for their children and young people’
- ‘One in five parents easily find the opportunity to read to their children’
That’s 80% of parents who don’t, then…
- ‘Recent research has shown that the likelihood of fathers reading to their children is linked to their socio-economic background.’
21% of dads in £40-50k income homes read with their children compared to 11% in £10-15k income homes.
Various different research studies have looked into the positive and negative effects of adult support within education and, in all those that I have come across, results seem to suggest that TAs who have had the necessary, thorough training around how to deliver particular programmes to students are ones where impact is most effective. Just one of these examples can be found here: http://eppi.ioe.ac.uk/cms/Default.aspx?tabid=2438
With this in mind (i.e. the knowledge that training is essential in order for adults to have a positive impact on student learning), is it time for schools who have, for example, established reading programmes and interventions in place, to now take a step further and look to supporting parents as well? If research suggests that academic success is determined partially through the level of parental involvement in their own child’s studies, do we need to start thinking creatively about how to support the parents as well as the students? Perhaps that initially means just targetting families where illiteracy or, at least, a very low level of literacy is present, or delivering a series of workshops within different departments across the school to create greater discussion opportunities that focus on how parents can support their child’s learning best?
Another superb book highlighting the importance of literacy within schools has been written by David Didau called ‘The Secret of Literacy: Making the implicit explicit’ (Independent Thinking Press:2014). In a section of the book on ‘Building a Reading Culture’, Didau lists the recommendations given by the Department for Education on reading. The very first point in the list advises,
- ‘Engage parents by inviting them to become members of the school library, or by inviting them to workshops on how to support their child’s reading.’
This is useful advice and, while I’m confident we do this as a school to a point by engaging and training up some of our invaluable volunteer parents in how to teach reading to our weaker readers across the school, I don’t know if we are going far enough. For our weakest readers, in particular those ones who come from homes where parents are unable to support due to a lack of reading ability themselves, do we need to target the root of the problem here first?
Unquestionably, our biggest priority is to put our students first. This is our call of duty, our responsibility as facilitators of learning. I just wonder if we now need to start thinking outside the box with these home-school related issues a little more in order to best support our students and, as a result, advancing ever closer towards our goal for a more holistic approach to learning.
This is the first of a two-part post.
‘Part 1: ROOT PLANNER’ outlines the ideology behind the new vocabulary stream I’ve designed in connection with the launch of our new English Curriculum.
‘Part 2: ROOT MAP’ will offer a more detailed sketch of the vocabulary map we will be working from, exploring ways to engage students with the importance of language and the art of how to use it.
1. FIND THE KEY
It took me four attempts to pass my driving test. I’d like to say it was the fault of the innocent-looking woman waiting at the zebra crossing, for showing no obvious signs she was about to step into the road as I zoomed past (at quite an impressive speed). Or I could blame that thoughtless trio of examiners I had for endeavouring to engage me in polite conversation during the journey, despite it being glaringly apparent I had a lot going on. But really, I knew.
It was only after the third walk of shame up the garden path back to my parents’ house where I was living at the time that I consciously took a moment to gather my thoughts and reflect. I realised where I’d been going wrong. It was not, in fact, those dreaded manoeuvres that were my downfall after all, but more my hazard perception in built up areas. If I’d had the sense to identify my specific weaknesses, noticing a pattern earlier on rather than seeing each test as just another ghastly event independent from the others, I’m sure I’d have cracked the code sooner.
How is this relevant?
Well, apart from offering you a rare opportunity to indulge in a moment of healthy schadenfreude, for me, the development of literacy is a bit like learning to drive. The challenges embedded within complex processes such as being able to recognise written letter combinations (graphemes) and being able to decode them, spell spoken sounds (phonemes) accurately – within both familiar and unfamilar vocabulary – and grasp the full meaning of a rich text at its various different layers can sometimes be a little overwhelming.
Gear in neutral, check. Start the engine, check. L foot on the clutch, check.
Gear into 1st, check. Position mirrors, check. Control the wheel, check.
R foot gently on the gas, check. Remove handbrake, check.
Final blindspot check. Turn the wheel, check.
L foot off the clutch, check.
Having felt quite secure in my knowledge of the English alphabetic code growing up, I never considered the possibility that I’d only been exposed to a minute proportion of the key principles underpinning our language. I could read, write and spell with ease but it was really not until I began teaching reading and vocabulary acquisition myself (primarily to younger students, then older ones with reading difficulties) that I became fully aware of our diverse and creative language.
In Art, we take time to appreciate intricate patterns. As Mathematicians, we make it our business to hunt for them. In Science, we continually look for patterns in results, consequently making crucial predictions based on these. So why on earth do we not naturally think to do this with our language – the single most important communication tool we rely on day in, day out?
A very real but healthy challenge secondary schools must acknowledge is the sheer scale of subject content covered across the different departments. Unlike primary education where a closer environment lends itself to more regular teacher collaboration, working in isolated departments is possibly one of our biggest obstacles in guaranteeing a holistic approach to learning. And yet, on the flipside, this very hurdle could be our greatest friend. Language spans across all curriculum subjects and, without wishing to be melodramatic, across every other aspect of life yet we fail to use it in its magnificent entirety. This ‘tool’ contains hundreds of patterns just waiting to be identified in order to help make our acquisition of language easier, be that in reading it, spelling it or understanding it.
2. KNOW YOUR ROOT
The oxford dictionaries website claims,
“…there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.”
Excellent. As a proud and ‘outed’ logophile, I rejoice in the knowledge of this. If the above estimate is true, that’s somewhere between 250,000-750,000 words floating around for us to explore. Wonderful. So how do we propose to teach them all?
Simply put, we don’t. That would be ridiculous.
I am confident, however, that we’re missing a trick (where ‘a trick’ means ‘a simply great way to teach vocabulary’). What we are in a position to do is employ strategies that offer the most time-effective, cognitively engaging methods to ensure words are taught and embedded in the long-term memory, drawing on research-based assessment methods to consolidate learning.
I am without doubt that language needs to be taught explicitly. While it is obviously pleasing to see students reading texts for their own enjoyment and, usually as a result they broaden their knowledge of vocabulary, this is not the only way to encourage language aquisition. It’s not the only way and it’s not the best way, either.
In his excellent book, ‘The Secret of Literacy’ (2014), David Didau suggests that, while ‘wide reading’ is fine, we are mistaken to believe that this is the best way to develop vocabulary. He explains,
“Written language is a far less effective medium for building vocabulary than spoken language.
Typically, pupils only learn between five and fifteen of every 100 new words encountered in
written texts.” (p173)
While engaging and helpful in the process, this kind of exposure to new words is never going to move mountains. Didau goes on to cite the great English teacher and education blogger, Joe Kirby, who suggests that we should be teaching root words as our default rather than isolated words divorced from others possessing the same root. “In that way, instead of just teaching one word, we’re potentially teaching hundreds of words.” (p174)
I suppose, in likening this aspect of literacy to maths, it would be comparable to teaching every single number independent from all the others, rather than teaching the decimal principle which relies on the use of hundreds, tens and units etc.
Language has a clear structure and as educators it is our responsibility to scaffold students’ learning by ensuring we provide the necessary foundation blocks for them to be able to continue building on this independently.
An understanding of what root words, prefixes and suffixes are is the first step to solid language development, in my opinion. Following that, a consistent, direct teaching which targets the most common roots in our language will undoubtedly give students greater freedom to explore vocabulary.
Take the root word ‘chron’. ‘Chron’ means ‘time’.
During one of my regular Sound Training sessions (a literacy programme we use and rate highly – designed to support both reading accuracy and knowledge of root words to aid learning), I was asked:
“Miss, so if ‘chron’ means time, why does my Dad say he gets ‘chronic’ back pain?”
I couldn’t answer this with any conviction as, until this moment of realisation, had always misunderstood the term to mean ‘severe’. On researching it’s etymology with the group of Year 9 students we learnt it actually means ‘continuing for a long time’.
I’ve also welcomed conversations with questions like this…
“Miss, so if ‘photosynthesis’ means […] does that mean ‘sis’ means
‘the process of’ like ‘tion’ does?”
To be able to explore such an intricately-woven tapestry like the English language, investigating roots and their meanings with students who clearly show an interest is the kind of precious learning time I relish.
I really do believe there are huge merits to teaching vocabulary in this way and, working in partnership with a great colleague of mine, Phil Stock, plan to pilot this approach from September with the launch of the new English Curriculum. (See his post on the broader new KS3 English curriculum here.)
Not only do root words have invaluable benefits on students’ comprehension of unfamiliar vocabulary, they also significantly aid spelling. Once the meaning and spelling of a single root has been learnt, by utilising the other essential ‘tools’ taught alongside roots (such as: counting the number of syllables in a word, learning both common and akward graphemes, having an awareness of confusing homophones & homographs etc.), it is anticipated that students will be able to spell with far greater confidence.
WREWTS MEEN VARY LITUL UNLESC YEW CANNES WREED AN RITE
I have no desire on the final leg of this marathon blog post to steer us in another direction but it would be ludicrous not to briefly mention another equally important aspect of literacy – the ability to decode isolated sounds (phonemes) and spell them accurately (graphemes). Within the vocabulary stream of our new English curriculum model, we intend to build in tried and tested methodologies to teach spelling and decoding in the mainstream classroom, alongside the comprehension aspect of roots.
phoneme = e.g. the sound you hear when you say ‘f’
graphemes = the written representations of the sound ‘f’ = fun, phone, cough, puff
grapheme = e.g. the written representation of the sound ‘ch’
phonemes = the different sounds you hear in the words: chips, chef, chorus
As a result of including this element in the model*, it is expected that students will benefit from having a greater handle on vocabulary and an increased confidence to use words more freely.
*Part 2 of this post will outline the model in greater detail.
(As an aside: I should say here that, while we are very eager to launch this model in September, we have no intention to reduce our intervention support for students who face barriers to reading. There will inevitably always be a need for support at Wave 1 (in class), Wave 2 (group support) and Wave 3 (1:1 tuition) for students who require further alternative support to help close the gap between them and their peers. For these students, we will continue to use the synthetic phonics-based programmes we currently use, such as: Read, Write Inc. Fresh start and Toe by Toe etc. We also intend to deliver Sound Training – a phonics and roots-based literacy programme – with each student in our new Year 7 cohort.)
3. PREPARE FOR OBSTACLES
One reason why this approach to teaching vocabulary may not have been so ardently pursued before could be due to the cocktail of possible misconceptions that lie within the model.
Take these words, for example:
Here, we have two very different words, though their beginnings are identical. It is quite common for students to mix up the roots ‘bi’ and ‘bio’, since it is not always clear to see where one morpheme (root) ends in a word and the next begins. The best way to tackle this is to ensure students are made fully aware, right from the onset, that there are likely to be confusions like this within some words. It is at the point of uncertainty as in the example shown above, that we would then use the learners’ knowledge of roots in combination with their understanding of the word in context to make an educated guess around its meaning. Once the context has been established, it is then possible to dissect the constructed word into what would simply revert back to its original collection of root meanings.
Other anticipated confusions include…
a) there can be more than one meaning for a root
b) there can be more than one root for a meaning
c) there can be words without any helpful clues
However, by disclosing these potential misconceptions with students at the beginning of the year, we hope to significantly reduce the potential margin of error surrounding what is, largely, a reliable and precious resource.
4. BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS
(Click on the image above to appreciate its comedic value.)
It is a small but worthwhile point to make that, when expecting students to use lexical jewels in their writing, we need to be mindful that some will have had greater opportunities and life experiences than others, giving some an inevitable advantage over their peers. Similarly, if students are not choosing to read challenging texts for pleasure at school or at home, they are inhibiting their chances of language development, thus reducing the likelihood that they will ever recreate the extravagant use of vocabulary we see in challenging texts within in their own writing. While this point may be partly out of our hands – unable to influence some home life factors contributing to this – we may be able to support students both within and around the classroom environment by helping them select ability-appropriate books (with a welcome level of demand) that they will enjoy.
5. TEST YOUR THEORY
As previously mentioned, Part 2 of this post will outline in greater detail the systematic approach we will adopt to teaching vocabulary from September 2014. Included in this post, there will be an outline of our proposed method of assessment, discussing the frequency of these and suggesting why formative assessments throughout the year are just as important as the direct teaching. Each term, students will have the opportunity to demonstrate their level of understanding through the use of short, regular, purposeful tests that will be used not only to assess understanding but to embed knowledge too.
6. GET YOUR LICENCE… and GO!
While I love words and am excited to drive this stream forward, I’m not naïve enough to think that through this approach, all teachers and students will magically become fellow logophiles too. What I do hope, however, is that through employing the best evidence-based teaching methods that support memory retention in the long-term, students will be able to look at language in a refreshed way, seizing opportunities to explore language deeply.
The vision is not only for students to benefit from what will hopefully be an improved confidence in reading, spelling and selecting vocabulary for their writing, but for them to develop a genuine enthusiasm for words too, recognising the incredible impact language can have across all areas of learning and life.
Part 2: ROOT MAP to follow soon…