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The Epistemology of English

2019-02-07T15:53:11+01:00February 7th, 2019|English|

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 [...]

A broad and balanced approach to English teaching and the curriculum

2018-06-29T18:30:54+01:00June 29th, 2018|English|

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 - [...]

What can you practise in English lessons?

2018-05-04T22:52:26+01:00May 4th, 2018|English|

Over my last two posts I've argued that, contrary to popular opinion, English is not a 'skills based' subject. In fact, what appear to be skills are actually composed on many thousands of individual components of knowledge organised together as schema. In my last post I tried to demonstrate that practising 'inference skills' won't actually help students get better at making inferences, and that this ability depends on what they know about a text and about the domain of English more generally. In this post I will attempt to reclaim the concept of practice in English lessons from the confusing quagmire [...]

Why English is not a ‘skills based’ subject

2019-06-11T17:10:41+01:00April 27th, 2018|Featured|

The idea that English is a skills based subject has become axiomatic. Most English teachers of my acquaintance accept it unquestioningly, as did I until a few years ago. How do we know English is skills based? Because it depends on the skills of reading and writing. And, in turn, reading depends on such skills as inference and analysis, while writing depends either on the skill of making points, using evidence and explaining it or on the skill of using language creatively and persuasively. From this certain things have followed. If English is skills based then it obviously makes sense to [...]

How to be an English teacher: designing an English PGCE

2017-07-22T07:41:24+01:00July 22nd, 2017|Featured|

From September I will be teaching a small group of prospective English teachers what I think they need to know in order to do a decent job as part of the new BPP University PGCE course. I was very flattered to be asked to be involved, particularly as I have no special expertise and no track record at all in higher education, but thrilled beyond reason at the idea of designing the kind of course I wish I'd be on when I trained to be a teacher back in the 90s. Whilst I wouldn't go as far as to claim that [...]

Making a mockery of marking: The new GCSE English Language mocks

2016-12-05T13:38:59+01:00December 5th, 2016|assessment|

The following is a guest post from the mastermind of Comparative Judgement, Dr Chris Wheadon. The marking of English Language is likely to be extremely challenging this year. English Language has long form answer questions, typically with 8, 16 and 24 mark responses. Ofqual’s research suggests the following range of precision is normal across GCSE and A level: 8 mark items: +/- 3 marks 16 mark items: +/- 4 marks 24 mark items: +/- 6 marks So, when an 8 mark item is marked, for the same response, it is normal for one marker to give 4 marks, while another will give 7 [...]

researchED English & Literacy Conference

2015-07-08T20:37:09+01:00July 1st, 2015|English, research|

A few months ago I asked Tom Bennett if he'd be up for rubberstamping some sort of rEDx project (like TEDx but with brains) devoted to exploring the intersection between education research and English teaching and he came back, quick as a flash, with the suggestion that I organise an actual researchED spinoff. So, under the steadying hand and watchful eye of Helene Galdon-O'Shea, I have. When? Saturday 7th November 2015 Where? Swindon Academy (which is also where I'll be working next year.) What? The theme of the conference is exploring the intersection between 'what works' according to the research community [...]

Fancy attending an English & maths conference?

2015-06-10T10:36:32+01:00June 10th, 2015|Featured|

I'm speaking at Optimus Education's English & Maths 2015: Effective Teaching Strategies to Meet New Accountabilities on Thursday 22nd October. The mathematicians amongst needn't worry; I'll only be inflicting my "inspirational keynote" to the English strand. If you're interested, this is what I'll be talking about: "Curriculum creativity: Enjoy your new-found freedom and develop a curriculum plan that successfully encourages breadth and depth of knowledge". There's lots of other great speakers lined up, but I'll be particularly looking forward to hearing the wisdom of Twitter's Andy Tharby (@atharby) and Chris Curtis (@xris31). The only reason I'm telling you all this is that if you're [...]

Fancy attending an English & maths conference?

2015-06-10T10:06:42+01:00June 10th, 2015|Featured|

I'm speaking at Optimus Education's English & Maths 2015: Effective Teaching Strategies to Meet New Accountabilities on Thursday 22nd October. The mathematicians amongst needn't worry; I'll only be inflicting my "inspirational keynote" to the English strand. If you're interested, this is what I'll be talking about: "Curriculum creativity: Enjoy your new-found freedom and develop a curriculum plan that successfully encourages breadth and depth of knowledge". There's lots of other great speakers lined up, but I'll be particularly looking forward to hearing the wisdom of Twitter's Andy Tharby (@atharby) and Chris Curtis (@xris31). The only reason I'm telling you all this is that if you're [...]

Using Threshold Concepts to design a KS4 English curriculum

2015-05-02T10:19:22+01:00March 24th, 2015|English|

The big change a-coming for curriculum design is that the final vestiges of modularity will soon have been licked clean from the assessment spoon; from September it will linearity all the way. Many English teachers have never worked in such a system and there's widescale panic about how exactly we can expect children to retain the quantity of textual information they will need to know in order to have something to analyse in a closed book exam. An obvious solution is to redesign your curriculum to harness what we know about the best ways of getting students to remember stuff. I've written [...]