When I got my first teaching job, I visited the school at the end of July to find out what I'd be teaching the following September. The Head of Department talked me through which GCSE texts I might want to go for and then, when we got to my Key Stage 3 classes, the brand new sets of Holes and Skellig had, unfortunately, already been nabbed by other teachers but he gave me the keys to the stockroom and told me to pick from whatever was left. On one side of the room were piles of unloved, dog-eared class sets of [...]
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One of the biggest barriers to the successful implementation of an English curriculum is that all too often students are assessed on their ability to do things they haven't actually been taught. This may sound bizarre, but it is, I think, an inevitable product of the belief that English is a 'skills-based subject'. Let's say you teach students a unit on 'Greek myth,' 'a background to Shakespeare,' or Malorie Blackman's YA novel Noughts and Crosses. How will you assess students' progress? Typically, some theme or aspect covered in the unit is brought to the fore and then students are asked to [...]
I think like many English teachers I've long been conflicted about the position of writing in the curriculum. On the one hand, of course writing is central to students' experience of studying English. Not only should we aim to make them technically proficient, but we should explicitly teach them how to master a range of written styles and genres. But, on the other hand, writing units are turgid. Although I always dreaded the moment in the academic calendar when the inevitable writing scheme of work hoved into view, I felt guilty. Clearly, the fault was mine and I just needed to [...]
I'm pleased to announce that Making Meaning in English is available now. (Quote MME20 for a 20% discount) The book is a discussion on the role of English as a school subject: What is it for? How has it been shaped? What’s been done in the past? What’s gone wrong and what’s been successful? It particularly examines what knowledge means in English. Clearly the approaches to acquiring knowledge that work in subjects like maths and science are less appropriate to a subject more concerned with judgement, interpretation and value. I suggest there is important disciplinary and substantive knowledge that tends to [...]
Seeing as all sorts of folks have decided now is a good time to try to get rid of (or at least, reform) GCSEs, I thought I'd offer up my opinions. I should start by saying that, on the whole, I'm in favour of retaining exams. If the last two years have taught us anything it's that for all their problems (and despite all the noisy rhetoric to the contrary) no one has been able to suggest anything better. Exams continue to be the worst possible way to assess children apart from all the other ways. The problem with all forms [...]
My new book, Making Meaning in English - the final fruits of the burst of productivity I enjoyed during the first phase of lock down - will be available for your delight and edification on 10th February. It is (although you may feel this is a low bar) the best thing I've written. So much so that I'm reluctant to forego the opportunity to mark its entry into the world without a (suitably socially distanced) launch event. For those that missed it, here it is: https://academy.learningspy.co.uk/library-content/making-meaning-in-english-book-launch/
… languages recognized, not as the means of contemporary communication but as investments in thought and records of perceptions and analogical understandings; literatures recognized as the contemplative exploration of beliefs, emotions, human characters and relationships in imagined situations, liberated from the confused, cliché ridden, generalized conditions of commonplace life and constituting a world of ideal human expressions inviting neither approval nor disapproval but the exact attention and understanding of those who read … Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Voice of Liberal Learning,’ p. 23. Last month I wrote about 'creative reading' and the art of noticing what is read. This post focusses on [...]
… languages recognized, not as the means of contemporary communication but as investments in thought and records of perceptions and analogical understandings; literatures recognized as the contemplative exploration of beliefs, emotions, human characters and relationships in imagined situations, liberated from the confused, cliché ridden, generalized conditions of commonplace life and constituting a world of ideal human expressions inviting neither approval nor disapproval but the exact attention and understanding of those who read … Michael Oakeshott, ‘The Voice of Liberal Learning,’ p. 23. In my forthcoming book, Making Meaning in English, I suggest two disciplinary branches of knowledge in English which I've [...]
For some time now I've been thinking about how epistemology* - how knowledge is accumulated and divvied up - in English as an academic discipline. While I'm not at all sure that I've accomplished anything particularly profound or useful, I've identified four distinct areas which I'm calling metaphor, story, argument and pattern. These concepts underlie an understanding of what knowledge is in English. They are, broadly speaking, the lenses through which literature and language can be viewed and by which meaning is made. Metaphor Arguably, most if not all thought is metaphorical. Whenever we substitute a concrete meaning to shed light [...]
Having launched a stream of invective against the use of 'balance' as a weasel word in my last post, I want to offer a more nuanced take on what I think balance ought to mean. I see the purpose of a curriculum as being to introduce students to that knowledge which will be of most use to them in academic contexts and to allow them to have the maximum amount of choice in what goals they choose to pursue in life. All skills are activated by knowledge and - if we want students to be creative, intellectually curious and productive - [...]