Curriculum: A Warning

‘Curriculum’ is a lovely, concrete noun. And, like concrete, it can be pretty hard to shift once it’s in place. So, in this post, I’m offering a warning before stuff that’s a bit rubbish becomes too embedded to move. A big, concrete caveat to counterbalance the big, concrete curriculum narrative that has, in some parts, started to warp.

 
Curriculum is in the ascendant. Whether we believe a curriculum should be cross-subject and thematic, or steeped in knowledge (it should be the latter, obvs), it’s a narrative that everyone’s talking about. And a hand-clapped, whooped bravo from me for that. The more we talk about what we teach, the better. I also think it’s important that we talk about how we teach alongside discussions about curriculum. Pedagogy was, and still is in some parts, overrated (Stuart Lock, 2017), but the how should have an interwoven, richly tapestried relationship with the what, dictated by the subject discipline. But that’s another blog.

 

I am delighted that knowledge has finally shaken itself free of the engagement mind-manacles of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Remember, knowledge-enthusiasts, we used to be the pathetic little creature languishing at the bottom of that pyramid – the creature that shook a little Gollum knowledge-fist at the evaluation and synthesis heavens in futile exasperation. As Willingham says, teachers had become “wary and weary of knowledge” (Daniel Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?, p.26). Heck, school leaders were really wary too. My playing of Britney’s ‘Toxic’ at the start of a lesson on Browning’s ‘The Laboratory’ (a totally tenuous and embarrassing link, I know) was praised in an observation more than my expert questioning of the pupils. Because ENGAGEMENT. There are numerous examples of this. Rebecca Foster started a wonderful but painful thread on it fairly recently. And it’s not just embarrassing, it’s horrific. It’s disgraceful that time was wasted on practice grounded in what Tom Bennett calls ‘folk’ teaching: stuff that’s been heard in the staff room, or what I was told as an NQT: “Don’t worry Claire, you’ll work it out eventually”. I don’t want colleagues to have to work it out eventually. Our children’s futures are now. We don’t have time to waste.

 

We gambled on the futures of our children with the toss of a snakes and ladders ‘revision lesson’ die and the spin of a Bloom’s question wheel. Practice like this was a joke, a circus. I reckon if I’d unicycled in lessons that would have gone down a treat, especially if I’d swapped de Bono hats with a flourish while doing so. And as for Bloom’s, remove knowledge and the rest comes fluttering down in a flimsy house of laminated card sorts. We did our children a huge disservice and we did our colleagues a huge disservice. I am embarrassed to have been complicit in this nonsense at the time. But more so, I’m furious that so many young people had their futures risked in an explosion of glitter and frippery pedagogical ‘good practice’.

 

So it’s all very well us laughing knowingly in 2019, chuckling at our past errors and eye rolling at our ‘engaging’ origami fortune teller starters collecting dust, but I’m worried. I’m worried that this welcome focus on curriculum could mean that new knowledgy and curriculumy ridiculous practice will emerge. And it already is. Here are some examples. Beware. Challenge, question and raise a sceptical eyebrow where it rears its curriculum lip-serviced head.

 

1. Knowledge organisers
Now these can be brilliant or rubbish. Many schools have seen them as a magic bullet, and immediately churned them out of photocopiers at terrifying speed. This isn’t because schools and school leaders don’t care. They do, of course. But the knowledge curriculum narrative has been leapt upon in parts by those who think knowledge organisers will lead to an immediate improvement in outcomes, or that it will tick a box for Ofsted, or that it looks good on a school website. There sometimes hasn’t been careful thought about the curriculum narrative; sequencing is perhaps non-existent and subject leaders haven’t been given the time to consider curriculum properly. This dearth in curricular thought has led, in parts, to significant underperformance and the gnawing poverty of low expectation in many of our schools. So where schools have given primacy to curricular thought, knowledge organisers can be brilliant (as long as the climate for learning is good so teachers can actually get to teaching, and the careful consideration of pedagogy linked to the subject discipline is prioritised too). But knowledge organisers on their own do not a curriculum make.

 

2. Knowledge booklets
See number 2. These can also be brilliant or rubbish. Thankfully, most I have seen have been pretty good. But without the bigger curricular considerations and conversations, they are a well-intentioned lip-serviced resource. Waving them around on Twitter does not mean a curriculum, or indeed a school or MAT, is necessarily that good. Again, knowledge booklets on their own are not a curriculum.

 
3. ‘Knowledge checks’
This is a sly one. Using the perceived new narrative of ‘knowledge-rich’, these, in some parts, are the ultimate lip-serviced nod to knowledge. But, painfully, they’re mini-plenaries by another name. We all know about poor proxies for learning. Mini-plenaried ‘knowledge checks’ every 15 minutes to prove or evidence (gah!) learning are indeed a poor proxy for learning. I can teach you something and then check you remember it 15 minutes later. You probably will remember it. But will you remember it tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or in six months? Learning is invisible. Waving a ‘knowledge check’ sheet around and claiming this knowledge has been learnt in a lesson is a very, very poor proxy for learning. As Greg Ashman says, a good proxy might be something like a delayed test. It is not a ‘knowledge check’ every 15 minutes in a lesson. Stop hijacking the knowledge narrative with poor proxies and poor practice.

 

4. Intent, Implementation, Impact
I really like the new Ofsted Framework; I make no bones about it. I have faith in Amanda Spielman and her team to listen and engage with practitioners and school leaders. But some schools hurriedly leap onto Ofsted language in a frantic bid to ‘do curriculum’. I’m not blaming them, necessarily. This has been what many schools have done for years with different permutations of different frameworks, and those of us who have been in teaching a while, particularly those of us in senior leadership for a while, will have seen this many times. But in this specific example, it is often schools who haven’t, for whatever reason, prioritised curricular thinking. Intent, implementation, impact sounds snappy, right? Again, for some school leaders who love a process, it’s a magic bullet, or a curriculum ‘action’ ticked off the list. Ofsted will love it! It’s on the website! Look at us using their language! And, sadly, I see ‘implementation’ misinterpreted as descriptions of GCSE modules, weightings of GCSE papers, lengthy descriptions of content, rather than considerations around the narrative and sequencing of the curriculum. I worry that schools view this as a scrambled, frantic attempt to show everything for Ofsted, rather than giving careful thought to curriculum development. Please don’t do this, head teachers and school leaders. Curriculum thought and development does take some time. But it’s a joy. Give your subject leaders back their subject; free them from the shackles of pedagogical ‘engagement’ and gimmicks. Allow your teachers and pupils to love subjects for all they are, not for a GCSE question rolled back to year 7, not for ‘engaging’ music played in lessons if it’s not a music lesson, not for unnecessary and distracting carousel activities.

 

5. Senior leaders named as being ‘in charge of curriculum intent, implementation, impact’

This has become more and more apparent in the last few months, both in job adverts and in descriptions of senior leaders. Please stop. What you mean is ‘The senior leader in charge of curriculum’. That is fine. Please stop warping language because you think it sounds like what Ofsted want to hear.

 
Curriculum is in the ascendant. We’re returning to conversations about what we’re teaching. This is awesome. But curriculum is far bigger than a process. It’s what your school is. As Tom Sherrington says, “Your curriculum is your school…This is what we are. This is what we do. And we’re proud of it.” Please think about this carefully before churning out the above. Curricular thought is good. Lip-service is not.

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A Gentle Grief

I found death today, twice. I wasn’t expecting it, and it caught me unawares.

 

My first encounter was this morning as I was getting ready to go out. I had nipped onto Facebook. I don’t often bother with Facebook much, and when I do, I expect the usual scrolling stream of friends’ babies and updates and cuteness. This morning was different. I had missed some shocking news: one of my school friends – Jody – died unexpectedly last Sunday. She leaves behind her little boy, her partner, and devastated friends. She was 41.
She and I were friends at school: we were in the same maths set and both adept at larking about, so gravitated towards each other like detention magnets. We were part of a wider social group. When we got older our group of friends used to frequent all the house clubs in Birmingham, so we knew each other pretty well through the various nights out over the years. We weren’t especially close friends and we were probably more acquaintances than friends over the last fifteen years or so, but it was an easy, sunny, Facebooky friendship. We shared photos of old hair dos and chuckled about memories of the 90s. We made each other laugh.
And now she’s not here. I find this difficult to process. I don’t know what to think really, or what to do. I’ve written before about how, when it’s difficult, I like to ‘fix’. I want to make things better and I want to help. There’s nothing I can do to help. There’s not even anything recent about our old friendship to grieve. So it’s an odd, hollow sort of grief that’s quietly shuffling about. I don’t even know if it’s grief. I don’t think it is. It’s just a strange sadness for a life cut cruelly short.

 
I found death again late this afternoon. I was faffing about in the study – tidying, reorganising piles of paper, opening drawers and cupboards. I noticed a flush of pink and a frayed edge, and pulled out from under a pile of random stuff my PE kit bag from primary school. Mum had made it for me from scraps of old fabric. It was one of my most prized possessions when I was a little girl. I’m glad I’ve found it; I didn’t even know it was in the house. Grief nudged me. It wasn’t steamrolling, flattening or deadening. It was a gentle surge of grief, a sweet sadness. The simple beauty of Mum’s bag meant the chain stitches bind our love across the years; a love which ran in the running stitches, and still does. I feel its tender pulse.

 

Quite a few friends and colleagues have lost loved ones this year, and now this includes my other school friends who were close friends with Jody. There’s ravaging grief, lonely grief, postponed grief, numbing grief. Battering grief – grief that juggernauts and tramples. Grief that rends. But it does, at some point, turn into a gentler grief, at least for a while. I wish that gentler grief as respite for us all.

Tes Education Resources: An Open Expression of Concern

This post has been agreed by several teachers and is shared across several blog sites.
In the last couple of years, we have openly expressed concern at the approaches taken by Tes Education Resources to plagiarism and copyright violation, theft of resources, and the selling of resources that violate copyright. This is not a blogpost intended to cast disapproval on those who sell resources. It is a simply an open expression of concern at the approach taken by Tes Education Resources, when these incidents are uncovered. We also wish to make clear that this is not about an individual or anybody working for Tes Education Resources. We believe that this is a systemic problem that should not fall on one person to solve.

 
We feel that the following issues need to be properly addressed by Tes Education Resources:

 
· The fact that people upload and sell plagiarised resources, which have been clearly copied from free shares on Twitter, Facebook, and sometimes from colleagues.

 
· The fact that although Tes Education Resources offer ‘goodwill’ gestures to those who give public challenge, and offer compensation when they recognise plagiarism, the onus is on the victim of theft to report and prove the theft.

 
· The fact that customers are being advised to buy resources to check the content if they suspect a theft has occurred, and then claim the money back.

 
These issues need addressing because:

Plagiarism can constitute copyright violation, which is covered by legislation in both UK and EU law, as well as being a feature of international treaties and agreements. We believe that this is not being taken seriously by Tes Education Resources, who provide a platform for the sale of resources which have been taken, copied, and presented as original resources by the thief. Tes Education Resources describe themselves as ‘one of the world’s largest peer-to-peer platforms for teachers to trade and share digital teaching resources’ (Tes Education Resources Ltd: Annual Report and Financial Statements – Directors’ Report 2017). We feel that a company of this scale, regardless of financial status, should not be placing the onus on individuals to identify instances of copyright violation.

 
A goodwill gesture is something given on a case-by-case basis. It means that those with the time and tenacity to challenge instances of copyright infringement are being offered compensation, but there are victims who are unaware of the issue, or perhaps who do not have the time and resources to prove the provenance of the resource. We believe that the Tes Education Resources could and should ensure there is parity here.
Tes Education Resources have conceded that only 5% of their resource downloads are purchased. The rest are free downloads. We appreciate this valuable resource, but feel that the 5% are being prioritised over the 95%. It is understood that the 5% is the download, rather than the upload, figure – but the point still stands – 95% of people downloading from Tes Education Resources are downloading free resources.

 
We also believe that asking people to buy resources to check for copyright issues, in order to then claim a refund, is an unfair and illogical request. Perhaps most pertinent is the fact that all of these issues are contributing to our workload. The Tes recognise this too. In fact, they have an entire section of their website dedicated to this issue – you can read this here: https://www.tes.com/news/hub/workload. In refusing to adapt their practice, either by demonetising the site or by taking further steps to prevent these incidents, teachers are being forced to spend time searching the site for their own resources. When teachers locate stolen resources, the expectation that they buy their own work and prove its provenance is onerous and frustrating.

 
What Tes Education Resources Can Do:

 
– Have a long-term aim to demonetise the site and subsidise it, to enable an entirely free sharing platform for those working in education.

 
In the meantime:

 
– Improve checks on resources to identify plagiarism and/or copyright infringement.

 
– Allow for full download with retrospective payment, rather than asking people to buy resources simply to check for copyright infringement.

 
– Enable reviews of paid content without purchasing – so that copyright infringement which is clearly evident in the preview pane can be challenged in a review.

 
What you can do:

 
– Avoid downloading from Tes Education Resources until the long-term aim (above) is fulfilled.

 
– Use your Social Media account to inform your followers that you are doing this.

 
– Share your resources through Dropbox and any other suitable medium.

 

A part-transcript of a Power and Conflict poetry lesson with year 11 – ‘My Last Duchess’

On Saturday 2nd March 2019 I taught a live GCSE English Literature Power and Conflict poetry lesson to my year 11 group at researchED Birmingham. I gave some context about my group to the 30+ teachers and educationalists that were gathered in room 16 before they watched the lesson. I am not going to give any more context here about the group, so in a way, this post may only be partly useful to you. This blog post here, though, gives you some context about my school, and this may be helpful for you to read before you read the transcript below. Since researchED Birmingham, after encouragement from Sarah Barker, I have recorded some parts of lessons with the same group for reflection on my own practice, and for use with colleagues in school. While I’m not sharing the videos here, I have transcribed the opening of a lesson to share, with a focus on routines, questioning, vocabulary and eliciting more. Hopefully the following may be of some use. You may want to read this blog post first as it will also give you an idea about what we have been focusing on in lessons, and the routines and strategies we use every lesson. In the transcript below, you will see that the group are ‘Developing Literature Scholars’.
– I still focus their attention on what they need to think about
– I still demonstrate but ask for pupil assistance with analysing and writing together
– We practise steps in ‘chunks’
– Pupils learn more vocabulary and practise the application of it every lesson

But, as you will hopefully see, they are moving towards being ‘More Expert Literature Scholars’, where they can add to and challenge the focus I have given them.

 

This transcript is the first 16 minutes or so of the lesson, illustrates the start of lesson routines, the Do Now, and the subsequent discussion. Photographs included here are from the live lesson at researchED Birmingham.

I am referred to as ‘CS’ in the transcript.  Pupils are named alphabetically in the order in which they speak in the lesson. No names or real initials of pupils are used.

 

CS has come straight from lunch duty to the start of the lesson. She has just had enough time to distribute  glue sticks, but nothing else is out on desks. There is nothing on the board. CS will be able to write the date and lesson question on the board while the pupils are completing their Do Now. The only resource CS needs to have ready for the very start of the lesson is the Do Now. This routine, every lesson, helps to reduce impact on working memory and reduces extraneous cognitive load.

 

Year 11 are lined up outside the door in the corridor.
CS (stands at the doorway and smiles): Hello year 11. You may come in.

 

Year 11 enter in silence and CS says ‘Good afternoon’ or ‘Hello’ to each pupil as they enter the room. They enter with coats and bags taken off. CS hands them the Do Now as they enter. Year 11 stand behind their chairs in silence, and organise everything neatly on their desks, including their books, anthologies, pens/highlighters etc. Bags are placed on the floor or on the chair next to them.  

CS stands in the very middle of the front of the room and doesn’t move. Arms behind back. Open body language. Pupils arrange everything neatly on their desks.  

CS: Right year 11. Everything super-neat on your desks please.

CS waits as pupils unpack bags quickly. Scans room. Doesn’t move from spot.

CS: I can see three desks that are looking perfect. Smiles. Waits while pupils are still unpacking and making everything neat. Scans room again. CS: I can see five desks that are looking perfect. A, your book is here (book was left behind last lesson).
CS holds book out for collection by the pupil and looks disappointed; pupils always take their books home.
Pupil A comes to the front of the room to collect book from CS.

A: Miss, I’m really sorry, Miss.

CS: (hands book to Pupil A). Thank you for apologising. I’ll speak to you towards the end of the lesson about it.

Pupil A returns to stand behind their chair.

CS is still positioned front and centre, motionless.

CS: Right, standing up straight. Check uniforms are perfect please.

Pupils double check uniforms, but had done so before they came into the classroom.
CS scans room again and smiles.

CS: Lovely. Good afternoon year 11. Have a seat please.

Pupils sit down immediately with no fuss.
It is 54 seconds into the lesson.

CS: OK, you have the Do Now for today’s lesson. It’s the same as the one earlier in the week that we’ve done twice now, and there will be some questions that you recognise from earlier in the term too. This is not about tricking you. It’s about repeating what we learnt earlier in the week, and earlier in the term, so it sticks in our heads. Do not use your book to do this Do Now. I’m trying to see if it sticks in your heads so you can recall it quickly. Try your very best, as usual, but don’t worry if you get bits of it wrong. It’s for us all to see how well we remember. It’s double-sided as it was earlier in the week. You should be able to get through it in 6 minutes.

CS maintains eye contact and pauses slightly to ensure everyone is looking at her and focused. Pause.

CS: You may start.

1:58 into the lesson.

Pupils start the Do Now immediately, and all work in silence. CS remains still for a minute to allow pupils to get on with the work. Pupils are practised, and know the answers to most questions. They are moving from ‘manual’ to ‘automatic’. They struggle a little as the Do Now progresses. CS circulates, and pauses to explain parts of it to some pupils. Two pupils are still confused about the noun “visage” from ‘Ozymandias’. They were absent from the last two lessons so CS explains in more detail, quietly, as the rest of the class work in silence.

CS ensures the date and lesson question are on the board. Pupils know to copy it down once the Do Now is complete – this is a routine.

IMG_7834

CS: 20 seconds, year 11. 10 seconds.

CS positions herself front and centre again.

CS: Finishing off your sentence please. And all eyes on me. Black or blue pens down. Pick up your green pens please.

CS scans rooms quickly to ensure all pupils have done as she has asked. Smiles. 8:59 into the lesson (a 7 minute Do Now rather than a 6 minute Do Now as planned!).

CS: Front row has almost got green pens in hand (gestures and smiles to Pupil B, who hasn’t yet sorted out the correct colour pen!). Oh you two haven’t got green pens? Sorry both.
CS moves to hand out two pens she’s forgotten, and as she does so, says “Thank you C, thank you D” – to two pupils who are now sorted and ready. “Thank you back row – everyone ready.”

CS front and centre again.

CS: OK, right then. So use your green pen to make changes or corrections or additions, and to make any extra notes of things you find useful, as usual. Number 1: we all know this one. “That’s _____ what’s the word? – last Duchess painted on the wall.”

Pupils chant “my”. CS repeats the line, emphasising “my” and reading it deliberately emphasising the iambic pentameter.

CS: “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall.” D – what type of word is “my”?

D: Miss, it’s a possessive pronoun, Miss. Speaks very quietly.

CS: It’s a – pardon?

CS holds hand to ear dramatically (CS often does this to indicate she can’t hear – this is a visual cue and routine the class know and find funny).

D: Miss, it’s a possessive pronoun, Miss. Pupil D still speaks slightly too quietly.

CS: I still can’t hear you, D! CS smiles.

D: Miss, it’s a possessive pronoun. Speaks at the correct volume.

CS: Lovely, thank you, it is a possessive pronoun. CS has noticed a pupil is looking towards the window. What is it, E?

E: It’s a possessive pronoun, Miss.

CS: Thanks E. Eyes on me. But so what, D? Why does the poet consciously choose that possessive pronoun for the Duke to use?

D: Miss, it shows that she belongs to him. She’s his property.

CS: How do we know, D, that he’s bothered about ownership?

IMG_7835

D: Well, he’s really affected when the Duchess seems to own things by looking at them – her gaze is almost as powerful as his.

CS: That’s really interesting. In what way?

D: Erm, it’s when she looks at the sunset and the cherries and the donkey that it bothers him. So her gaze must be strong.

CS: That’s fascinating, D. Thank you. I can see some of you making notes as we speak. Good – make notes so you don’t forget, or add them to your grid from last week. Now what else about that possessive pronoun?  Look at question 2.

Hand goes up.

CS: Yes, F?

F: Miss, she has become objectified by the Duke. She is now more like an object rather than a person, and the possessive pronoun emphasises that his gaze is on her and owns her. It controls her.

CS: OK, thank you F. That’s really interesting. So what’s the noun in this line, apart from “Duchess”?  CS reads line again: “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall.”

E: It’s “wall” Miss.

CS: Yes, it is. Why might have Browning deliberately chosen that noun “wall” for the Duke to say?

CS says the line again for them to hear. Pauses.

G: It makes the Duchess a part of the house. She’s there all the time, even though she might have passed away.

F: But we don’t know that definitively.

CS: What do you mean?

F: I mean we don’t know definitely or for certain that she has passed away – but Miss, can I used “definitively” instead?

CS: Yes! Please do. Put that word in a sentence again for me.

F: We don’t know definitively that she has passed away.

CS: Great, thank you. Right everyone, F is going to say that sentence again, nice and loud, and you’re going to say it back to me, so terrifically loudly that next door hear. Ready F?

F: Yes Miss.

CS: OK. 1, 2, 3 raises arms (again, it’s a routine the class are familiar with).

F: We don’t know definitively that she has passed away.

CS raises arms for the rest of the class to respond.

Whole class: We don’t know definitively she has passed away (a little too quietly).

CS (smiling): No. Not good enough. I want it so loud that next door can hear. I pretty much didn’t hear that, and I’m standing here! F is going to say it again and you’re going to repeat it, and you’re going to repeat it so loudly that I want complaints from the science labs upstairs. Ready, F?

F: Yes!

CS: OK. 1, 2, 3 raises arms. 

F: We don’t know definitively that she has passed away!

CS raises arms.

Whole class: We don’t know definitively she has passed away!

CS: Much better! Thank you. And it’s a good idea that some of you have made a note of that sentence in your book. Remember it’s your exercise book, so your own revision guide. I know you all write beautifully neatly because I check your books, but remember to write down things that we say in class that you think might be useful.

Waits a minute so pupils jot down the phrase.

MLDD

CS: OK, so we don’t definitively know that something has happened to the Duchess, but we know she’s not there any more. And as G says, she’s still a part of the house – it’s almost like she’s become part of the fabric of the house itself. But don’t we think something awful might have happened to her – what about question 3?

H: Yes Miss, it’s alluded to when the Duke says, “Now all smiles stopped together”.

CS: What do you mean?

H: Miss, it’s like a euphemism. It’s good because it’s suggested but we don’t know if something has happened to her or not.

CS makes notes on the board as the pupils speak.

CS: It’s “good”?! (smiling).

H: (pupil smiles and corrects their language): I mean we might consider it to be effective because we don’t know if something has happened to the Duchess or not.

CS: So why might the Duke use a euphemism rather than overtly saying that he had killed or hurt the Duchess?

H: Miss, maybe because he didn’t want to lower his position in the social ladder.

E: You mean the social hierarchy!

CS: How can we tell he didn’t want to lower himself; that he didn’t want to lower himself to her level?

I: Because he says, “And I choose never to stoop”.

CS: What is the verb in that sentence that suggests that he will not lower himself then? Check the alternative options you’ve got on question 4 that you had to circle.

I: It’s “stoop” Miss.

CS: Good. OK, so we’ve got some nice ideas here. I asked about a minute ago about that we think that something awful might have happened to the Duchess, and H said it’s alluded to when the Duke says “Now all smiles stopped together”. So let’s put those ideas into fully developed sentences. I’m going to write on the board and you’re going to help me and write with me as I type.

CS sits at the computer to type straight onto an empty PPT slide (the whiteboard is not big enough, so the PPT is used instead).

CS (starts to type): How about this? “The poet hints that the Duke may have done something to the Duchess.” Actually, that’s not good enough. What’s the more sophisticated word I could use that means hints at or mentions something in a more indirect way?

B: It’s “suggests” Miss.

CS: Good. Thank you. But haven’t I missed something else? Surely the poet is doing this on purpose to consciously craft the character of the Duke?

J: He is Miss, so you need to use the word “consciously” after “poet”. So write “The poet consciously suggests that the Duke may have done something to the Duchess.”

CS: Thank you. Can someone finish this for me by adding a quote and saying something about a noun in the quote?

C: Miss, I can! The poet consciously suggests that the Duke may have done something to the Duchess when he gives the Duke the phrase “Then all smiles stopped together.” to say. The noun “smiles” is deliberately used by the poet to suggest – actually Miss can I change it to “which might symbolise” because we’ve already used “suggest? – CS nods. So the noun “smiles” is used deliberately used by the poet which might symbolise that anything that was joyful or happy has been taken away, or removed.

CS types and the pupils continue to write it down in their books.

CS: Thank you C. That’s looking more closely at the language now and why Browning has used specific words intentionally. But what modal verbs could we include to show that we’re considering other alternative viewpoints or possibilities?

K: I know, I know!

CS: OK K, go for it.

K: You could say “The noun “smiles” could or might be used deliberately by the poet to suggest…” – then it helps to show you are thinking – I mean considering – different viewpoints – CS cuts short because she knows this pupil knows another word to use.

CS: Different viewpoints or?

K: Perspectives, Miss.

CS: Lovely. Thank you.

CS stands up front and centre again, scans the rooms and waits for all eyes on her.

CS: Right, let’s go back a bit. A few minutes ago, G correctly said that Browning uses the noun “wall” when the Duke says, “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall.” I’m interested for us to think in a little more detail as to why that noun was intentionally chosen by Browning. I know it’s one of the questions on your Do Now, and I’d like you to turn and talk for 2 minutes: why might Browning have specifically chosen that noun for the Duke to say?

Pupils talk in pairs for slightly less than 2 minutes.

CS: OK, everyone. I’m really interested to hear your ideas. So all eyes on me and mouths closed please. Thank you. So Browning has con – shuss – how do I pronounce it, how do I say it, again? Can someone help me pronounce it correctly please?

CS deliberately struggles with the pronunciation to check the pupils can pronounce the word correctly.

D: It’s CONSCIOUSLY, Miss (pupil correctly pronounces the word).

CS: Ah yes. Thanks D for helping me out. So everyone, why might Browning consciously use –

A: Miss, you could use ’employ’ instead of ‘use’!

CS: Ah, of course! OK, so why might Browning employ consciously the noun “wall”? Is that right, A?

A: No Miss. Use “employ” after “consciously”.

CS: Thanks A. So why might Browning consciously employ the noun “wall” when the Duke says “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall”?

L: We said it was something about her being there all the time.

CS: That’s interesting. What do you mean?

L: Because she’s become part of the actual bricks of the house – she doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so it’s almost like she’s strong – she’s like the wall holding things up. But maybe the building is almost like his mind, and she’s having a psychological impact on him by being there the whole time. It’s like he can’t get rid of her.

CS: What else?

M: Yes Miss, we said that it’s her gaze that has become more powerful now, because even though she can be hidden –

A: Concealed!

M: OK so even though she can be concealed by the curtain, her gaze is always there and always still watching and observing him.

CS: So what sort of impact does her gaze have on him? Is he affected by it?

B: Miss, is it the gaze of memory on question 5?

CS: What do you mean?

B: He’s thinking about her, and looking back into his memory, and she is making him angry.

MLDDD

CS: But how can you tell from how Browning has consciously crafted in the language or structure that he’s angry or frustrated?

D: Because of the rhythm. It’s broken.

B: Miss, the iambic pentameter.

CS: What do you mean?

D: The iambic pentameter is broken when he thinks about her. There are many breaks in the sentences –

B: Yes, and the caesura! And a high frequency of hyphens and exclamation marks!

CS: Thanks, B. But let D finish. You can help out in a minute if they need it.

D: So the iambic pentameter is broken deliberately. This was used intentionally by Browning to emphasise how controlled the Duke is – he is in control of his emotions. But now he’s looking at the Duchess through his gaze of memory, and it’s making him angry and out of control, so his language is now more fractured – which is why there are so many breaks in the lines – like on question 6.

End of transcript

Darkness Visible: Physical Pain

I’ve written about different types of pain I’ve experienced before: poverty and grief. This post is different. It isn’t a metaphysical exploration of pain. It’s not going to consider the different sorts of pain that can be intensely personal: embarrassment; fear; cowardice; love; death. This post is about physical pain. Pain that feels like it’s an uppercut with a mercilessly raw concrete slab to your jaw; pain that feels like it’s sent your eyeballs rolling like a slot machine into your ricocheting skull; pain that feels as if it’s punched out your brain like a yo-yo on a string with a wound so broad that daylight can be seen on the other side. That sort of pain.

 

I’m writing about this while in an intense amount of physical pain, and pain I have never experienced before. I can only write a bit of this post at a time, because my joints are so sore. I’ll come back to that later.

 

Physical pain, too, can be intensely personal. No one really knows what pain feels like to others. We can describe it, and that’s what doctors rely on when trying to help us. I am used to a very specific type of pain, but not the brawny, sinewy pain hanging on to me now like a burr. As a fourteen year old I was diagnosed with a prolapsed disc. I hadn’t injured myself or fallen off a horse as my consultant wondered (bless him – no one rode horses where I grew up); it was simply a genetic fault. So, over three years I had two operations: one at fifteen years old in the Christmas of year 11, and one at seventeen years old in the summer of year 12. The first operation, a laminectomy, widened my spinal canal at a specific point in my lumbar spine. It didn’t work and the sciatica continued. The sciatica hurt, of course, but I could see that it hurt my parents more than me as they watched their youngest daughter struggle to heave herself out of a chair and walk with a limp because the pain was so fierce. The second operation was a discectomy and removed most of the disc. It worked, and since the 90s I’ve had very few bouts of back pain and sciatica, but I was left with an impressively messy scar on my back that resembles a rather too-straight mini shark bite. And when the pain does return, as it does very, very infrequently, I know what it is and I know what to do. We’re like awkward guests at a school reunion: we don’t have much to talk about because it’s been so long, but feel obliged to catch up and chat bunglingly over the Twiglets.

 

Physical pain was a usual part of the household from when I was fourteen until my parents died. Mum had lots of neurological conditions; I’ve written about them before. MS made Mum experience weird neuropathic pain. It was mainly stabbing pains in her legs and in her feet, and odd crawling pains up her legs. Pain can also be oddly funny sometimes. Mum said she once sat on the toilet wondering why the crawling pains felt so strange in her right leg: she looked down and saw there was a huge house spider nibbling her shin. You may remember from previous posts that Mum had Parkinson’s disease too, diagnosed a few years after her MS. Thankfully Parkinson’s disease does not have pain as a symptom as such. It does though, cruelly, mean that people with Parkinson’s often ‘freeze’: all of a sudden they can’t move, and are then felled by the disease as trees in a forest. They come crashing down like wrecking-balled Corinthian columns, and frequently don’t (or can’t) put out their hands to stop themselves. So Mum was often in pain because of this. She had many, many falls. Mum clattered into the sideboard and broke her ribs (and punctured her lung with a rib as a result), smashed her head against the unforgiving skirting boards, endured a hairline fracture to her skull when she froze and fell on the bus. Pain wasn’t new to us. We had a lot of painkillers rattling about the house.

 

Dad was diagnosed with liver cancer about two years before he died. My sister and I had known three people who had died of cancer before Dad did. They had died in a tremendous amount of pain. Pain that was difficult to understand. Pain that had filled the ends of their lives with a constant, all-consuming, blistering intensity of pain. So when Dad was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, this was a huge worry. Dad, amazingly, didn’t seem to be in too much pain. Although liver cancer is an absolute hell-kite, and scavenged on Dad from the inside out, it did so softly, inconspicuously, quietly. It turned Dad into a bag of bones, but it didn’t seem to turn Dad into a bag of bones with a Sisyphean pain boulder to bear. Dad was in pain before he died, but the high doses of morphine seemed to control it. Of course, it may have been my Dad’s innate belligerence and defiance: he never wanted to (and nor did we want to) accept that he was dying, and I think that part of Dad’s nature seemed to override the pain, almost. That, and him not wanting to show how much pain he was in to his wife, two daughters, and brother. Of course, now, we’ll never know.

 

And so, back to the physical pain I feel now. Nothing awful has happened. I’ve had a random autoimmune response to an allergy I didn’t know I had. It didn’t turn into this very intense physical pain until the end of last week: I have temporary rheumatoid pain in my joints until the response calms down and is dampened further by the steroids. It’s affecting all my joints currently, except my elbows and ankles. My hands and wrists are particularly affected, hence the slowness in writing this. I can normally rattle out a blog in an hour or so. This has taken nearly three days. The pain brought everything into sharp, dazzling, brittle focus until I was sent to the hospital on Friday afternoon by my GP, and prescribed nullifying painkillers and steroids that turned everything into a neutralised hazy blur. I’m not trying to compare the pain I feel to the pain of other people; I’m certain there is far worse pain that can be experienced. I can only hold it against physical pain I’ve felt before, and it’s nothing like it. It’s searing and ferocious, controlling and constraining. This is probably the most upsetting part of it: being controlled by something I have no control over. But – it’s temporary and preventable. Fleeting, in the grand scheme of things. But it don’t half make you think.

 

End note:  On finishing this post, it’s Monday, and I feel much, much better. I can walk unaided, and the pain is manageable now. And – joy of joys! – I can type much more quickly too. Thank goodness for our wonderful NHS.

How to run a conference

I’ve been in teaching for more years than I care to admit now, and I’ve always been a huge supporter of sharing good practice within our profession and within our subject communities. When I was a shiny new AST back in the noughties, this meant trogging my de Bono hat box of tricks from school to school, and shouting from the rooftops that a clipart and Britney starter was SUPER-ENGAGING. Although I now see in technicolour researchED-subtitled hindsight that this was all kinds of stupid, what was clear was that I believed in the agency of teachers and in the collective power of us all working out what works in our practice (even if my practice was pretty rubbish and I didn’t know it. Awks.).

 

I joined Twitter in the summer of 2016, and I had no idea what to expect, or how it worked. I didn’t know what a hashtag was, what a Twitter handle was, what the definition of ‘trad’ or ‘prog’ was, or why there was controversy about pupils sitting in rows facing away from windows (thank you Rebecca Foster for the debate that runs and runs!). I spent a long time navigating the meandering and sometimes treacherous path of voices and views, until I stumbled upon people that seemed to me to be talking a great deal of sense, and not only that, sense that was not flimsily swathed in gut feeling or folklore, but grounded in evidence and research. And I never looked back. I’m a massive researchED advocate. It has changed my practice for the better both as a teacher and as a senior leader. It’s democratising and liberating: the knowledge is there for everyone, not the select few. I’m fairly evangelical about it, boringly so really, so when the opportunity came a couple of years ago to run a regional researchED conference and build a researchED community in my hometown of Birmingham, I jumped at the chance. But I had literally no idea where to start. Like, nothing. Zilch. Nada. Thankfully the researchED community gathered round with help and advice and patience, and I worked my way through (making plenty of mistakes along the way). Edu-Twitter is wonderful for its communities, whatever community or communities you belong to or are actively part of. There is a great deal of support and kindness out there. So what I’m going to write about is how, when you’re passionate about something and want to run a conference about it, to do it well. It’s advice really. It’s only what I think, and I know there are many, many other ways to run great conferences. I’ve been very happy to have been involved in helping new researchED organisers, and organisers of other events too, and this is pretty much the advice I gave them, and is what I spoke about at the researchED National Conference in 2018. But like I say, these are only my thoughts. There are plenty of other ways to run awesome conferences.

 

rED Bags

 

1. Be clear on your intent
In other words, be clear about what you’re setting out to do. If the community you are establishing the conference for have a specific perspective or point of view, your conference should represent that. Don’t try to be too pluralistic. Too many perspectives don’t add clarity; they don’t help you with your standpoint: they weaken it. Be clear and represent. There are some edu-communities that do this and it’s not a criticism. I just don’t think it adds clarity of message, unless your message is about all views being heard. Which is fine if that’s what you want to do.

 

2. Costings and finance
So this is boring, but hugely important, and something you need to do from the absolute outset. You need to be super-clear on how much things are going to cost, and work out from that how much your tickets will cost, and then work out how many tickets you will need to sell to break even. All of this will depend on whether or not your presenters are speaking and travelling for free. At researchED events, speakers are incredibly generous and no one charges a penny, and no one claims travel expenses. This keeps ticket prices remarkably low for the quality of speakers. The price of the ticket will cover food and refreshments, any cost of staff (e.g. paying site team or an IT technician overtime for the day), any merchandise like tote bags, programmes etc. Some conferences have badges and lanyards and loads more lovely stuff. Just remember: it costs. And I always factor in some money in case there’s a speaker that needs a bit of help with travel expenses, for whatever reason. This is a kind and pragmatic thing to do.
Bear in mind that, depending on your conference, you will probably want to start and end the day with everyone together, so you’ll need a school hall or sports hall that has room for all your delegates. You’ll then need rooms that can fit as many people in as needed, and that depends on how many sessions are running concurrently. Remember that your more well-known speakers may well be a big pull, and so may need a bigger space.
You also need to be utterly transparent about where any surplus will go. In researchED we’re really clear: any surplus is reinvested back into the host school. Nothing whatsoever goes to researchED. I can’t overstate how important I think the financial transparency of running an edu-conference is.

 

3. Choose a date
There are a number of reasons why this is important. Firstly, it depends on your venue. They may only be able to offer specific dates. It also depends on whether your conference is part of a national organisation. So rED Brum, for example, now has its niche spot around February/early March. This means that it doesn’t clash with other rED events; the Birmingham event can support and champion other rED events that happen at different times of the year as part of a reciprocal, supportive community.
Be careful when choosing a date if you are the host school. Remember to check your whole school calendar: are there lots of parents’ evenings, concerts, meetings etc in the weeks just before your proposed conference date? Probably best to avoid that date then, otherwise you’ll be well and truly cream crackered when the conference is over.

 

 

Jude rED

 

4. Pare things down – organisers/organising committees
If it’s your first conference as an organiser, don’t try to do too much for your first event. You’ll probably be very excited, but try to pull away from the thoughts of stages, lasers and striding through dry ice to the opening bars of ‘O Fortuna’ and an X-Factor voiceover. Keep things simple and do them well. If you have an organising committee then boy, keep it small and focused. Too many cooks spoil the broth and all that. If there are too many voices, it’s unlikely you’ll get things done efficiently. When I set up rED Brum, I had two mentors: Jude Hunton of rED Rugby and Tom Bennett, researchED founder. Jude was my go-to for any questions I had about logistics, tickets, last-minute panics etc. Tom was my mentor about liaising with speakers, the rED national calendar and where rED Brum might fit, and more general things. Both were great, and it meant that I retained autonomy over what the event looked like, but I was able to tap into their knowledge and expertise. My head teacher was also there for me to discuss elements of the conference with. That was literally it. It makes life much simpler when you’re organising such a complex event. You’ll need a team of people to help on the day, but keep your initial organising team small and focused.

 

5. Pare things down – speakers
Again, this will depend on a) the space you have and b) your conference intent. If you are limited by space, there will only be so many speakers (and delegates) you can have. Whereas if you have a massive space, you could have loads of speakers and loads of delegates. This is seductive though: be wary. When I set up rED Brum, I kept it small in the first year. Although we could have had more speakers than we did, it would have meant that our 300 delegates would have been spread across loads of concurrent sessions, which would have meant some sessions may have had very few delegates. You really want to avoid this: speakers will have invested their time and energy into their presentation, and you want that to be heard and valued in your conference.
This can also happen if you have more well-known presenters speaking at the same time. So you may want to keep them as a keynote speaker instead, or have a series of keynotes, instead of well-known presenters speaking at the same time as your lesser-known presenters.
Your conference intent is also important here. Be clear about this and draw up a wish list of speakers based on your intent. But do this before you settle on a date, venue, anything. Go from there and don’t veer from it. Stay focused on the ‘why’ of your conference. There may be other things you want to consider: for example, I always like Brummie and Midlands teachers and leaders to be heard at rED Brum. Our line-up this year had huge local representation.

 

rED Panel group

6. Choose your venue wisely
So you’re organising a conference, and it’s something to do with education. Yay. Then it’s probably best to host it at a school. There are bajillions of schools out there that will want to help if you’re not running it at your own school, and schools that will provide their site free of charge. So sessions can be run in classrooms and school halls. Often it’s a huge labour of love involving the whole school community. Clearly the values of your conference and the organisation you’re representing at the conference have to align with that of the school. That’s a given. Some conference organisers are swayed by flashy or beautiful venues, and this becomes the be-all and the end-all, rather than the reason for the conference itself. The reason for the conference should be your imperative, not whether there are turrets to see and tagines for lunch. Don’t get me wrong: I love a turret and I love a tagine. But my time is better spent invested in the curation of the conference, linked to its imperative, rather than faffing about with architectural aesthetics and food minutiae.

 

Deep rED

 

Mary rED

7. Overcommunicate
This is important, for both speakers and delegates. Start with speakers. Ensure they have the date in the diary as soon as possible; many are booked even a year in advance, so getting the date nailed as soon as possible is great. Don’t underestimate how often you’ll need to remind presenters about things, and be mindful that they are often presenting freely on top of doing their day jobs. Ensure that you’re really clear about timelines, deadlines (if you need anything sent in advance), information about travel, parking etc. But, crucially, do not write overly long emails. I write this as a presenter at conferences myself. I’m often reading emails in the frenetic school day or after school; I simply don’t have time to read and process long emails. Keep them short, snappy, bullet-pointed. And regularly communicate information; don’t assume that everyone has read that email you sent two months ago. It’s also a really, really good idea to set up a separate email account for the conference. Don’t use your work email address. I did for the first rED Brum and it was nightmarish as I tried to sift rED Brum emails from my daily emails as a deputy head teacher. Another point about this. If you’re emailing all your presenters at the same time, don’t assume they’re all OK with their email addresses being shared. I always BCC so that information gets sent out efficiently but privacy is maintained.
Set up a Twitter account for your conference. Don’t date it on the name of the account (e.g. rED Brum 2019) or that means it’s only tied to that year, when you might want to repeat the conference. DMs on Twitter are also useful for regular updates sent to presenters. Edu-Twitter will help your conference gain traction. You’ll need a good hashtag and you’ll need to be ruthlessly persistent and organised. Ask your speakers to tweet about it and re-tweet. Build the momentum. Keep dates in mind and remind your audience how long it will be until the conference. Tweet tasters and information about speakers and their presentations. Get the conversation going, and keep it going.

rED Crew

 

8. Say thank you
OK, I know this sounds like I’m stating this obvious here, but saying thank you to your presenters is so important. Many will have given up evenings and days with families to be there and support. You can thank in many ways. In person on the day is lovely. Send a group email to your presenters. Send a DM. And if, for whatever reason, there is something specific that you need to thank or address, call or email those speakers separately. This is thoughtful and shows care and consideration. Don’t worry too much about sharing slides or info from speakers from the conference itself. This is a massively time-consuming job, and you will be most likely running the conference on top of your regular job. Speakers often share slides and notes from conferences from their own blogs. Ask that, if they do so, to use the hashtag from your conference.  Then re-tweet.

 

A final note
Edu-conferences are prolific. There are many: a whole bounty of them to choose from; a smorgasbord of tempting edu-delicacies. I guess what we need to consider, particularly as school leaders, is whether we need to pare things down: which conferences are most likely to have impact on our colleagues, and therefore ultimately, on the lives of our pupils? researchED, like I say, transformed my practice and approach. But there are many teachers and school leaders out there that still buy in to the rhetoric and poor practice of Gandalf magical wizard teaching and leadership: teachers and school leaders that don’t question, that don’t know that there’s evidence-informed stuff out there that tosses that CPD sugar paper into the bin and relegates the confetti of CPD post-its back to the desk drawer. So, for now anyway, researchED is vital. I understand, though, that school leaders may want to refocus their efforts on developing their schools and trusts, rather than running conferences. Because, absolutely, conferences are not the be-all and the end-all; a conference should never become an end in itself.

 

But when I see the many hands shoot up at researchED conferences that show how many delegates are new to researchED, I see how many teachers and school leaders can still benefit from ongoing discussions about evidence-informed practice; colleagues that can benefit from this renewal of autonomous professional development. And this fills me with hope for our profession.

 

So there you go: lots to think about. Hopefully the above is helpful to you, whatever edu-Twitter community you’re part of.

 

A final, final note

There will also be those kind souls who check in with you periodically in the run up to, on the day, and in the weeks after your event. Thank you to all of you who have done that with me – I have appreciated it masses.

The Power of the Gaze in AQA’s Power and Conflict Poetry: PART 1

Most of my blog posts are about leadership or curriculum. Some are trips down pedagogical roads of yore, for a bit of a laugh really. Some are personal. This one is about my first love: teaching English. Thank you to Sarah Barker for giving me a prod to share more Englishy things after she came to see me teach my year 11 group at researchED Birmingham. It was a live lesson, taught at the conference. The group were all my group. They weren’t especially ‘selected’ for the day. They weren’t prepped beforehand. We didn’t do anything special. We just did what we normally do. So this blog post builds upon that really, and some of the things my colleague, Rekha Dhinsa, and I, shared.
I am interested in perspectives. I am interested how things are seen. I teach in a school that has a high percentage of Pupil Premium pupils, and a number of newly-arrived pupils, so realistically our Pupil Premium percentage would be much greater than it is. In one year group, 92% of the cohort are Pupil Premium. We have many refugees who have left the ravaged streets of war-torn countries all over the globe. Our school is in the top ten percent of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the country.
And yet our school doesn’t need to be ‘seen’ as challenging, although our community does have challenges. Our school is wonderfully, beautifully diverse. On the playground you hear many exquisite languages spoken. There are magnificent names of pupils, of all which I learn to pronounce correctly, because your name is important – it’s part of your identity. Our pupils enrich our school. If our young people growing up in challenging areas, as I did, are patronised, or thought less of, or are expected less of, then this is something I feel utterly compelled to challenge, and to change. Because going to school in a challenging area simply should not mean that you can’t access a great education. As I have said before, a great education is a right, not a privilege.
So, as you can see, I am interested in perspectives, and this helped to frame some ideas I have explored with my year 11 group. We have considered the power of the gaze in the Power and Conflict poetry, and I’m going to share some of these ideas with you in this blog post and in a subsequent blog post. I am also going to share with you some of the ways in which I organise and structure our lessons. Ultimately, the poetry part of this blog post is about searching for the unknowable, and clearing away the baggage the poems have acquired over the years to try and see them differently. We can’t really know how Browning wanted the Duke to be seen, or what Shelley really meant by painting Ozymandias with words in the way he did, but that’s the liberating thing about our subject: perspectives and interpretations.
I am interested in exploring the poems as points of sight for us as teachers and readers, too. The poems themselves have become objects of interest, but may not have been when they were written. They are ‘framed’ by our own interpretations and perspectives, possibly by the interpretations and readings of an epoch, and by our pupils’ interpretations and perspectives too, but they are, simply, made of words. Some are consciously crafted as a ‘performance’ (e.g. ‘My Last Duchess’), and these performances are deliberately non-naturalistic. We are very aware that our reality of these poems, our ‘sight’ of these poems, are made of words. They are not a reality. So people that could be under extreme stress, like the Duke, do not usually spout eloquent dramatic monologues in iambic pentameter! What we see are performances of words.
It’s important for me to explain here about how my lessons are structured to enable my pupils’ attention to be completely and utterly focused, particularly when exploring schemas about ‘the gaze’ – quite an abstract concept. My school has a pedagogical approach that is, essentially, hung on Rosenshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’. (If you haven’t read the whole paper, then you must. I did a few years ago and never looked back. Tom Sherrington is great on Rosenshine). What I’m keen to avoid though, both as a deputy head teacher and as a teacher of English, is the initial alluring magic bulletism that a framework like ‘Principles of Instruction’ can provide, if you’re not careful. Whilst a whole-school approach using, for example, Rosenshine, is often done with the best of intentions, we must be mindful of slipping into genericism, and the subtleties and nuances of the discipline being lost. I am passionate about retaining the integrity of our subjects, and our subjects determining the way in which they are taught, rather than the other way around. Let’s prioritise the ‘what’ before we get to the ‘how’. I am told that the lesson I taught at researchED Birmingham was great for showcasing questioning. I had no idea; this was not something I was consciously doing. It’s just what I do as a teacher of English. But the questions I asked were very, very specific, and also particularly pertinent to poetry, so there are differences within disciplines themselves: my questions about plays and novels and novellas and speeches would be differently crafted and focused.
Perspectives, about everything, are important. It is important that our pupils understand that our perspectives and expectations of them are sky high. And so attention has to be focused on the right things for this to happen. The start of all my lessons has the same, practised routine:

 

1. Pupils line up outside and take off coats and bags.
2. They enter the classroom in silence, in single file. The Do Now is given to them by me as they enter, or it’s on their desk ready.
3. They stand behind their chairs and put all their equipment on their desks, including their books (they always take books home), very precisely. I ensure that everything is placed with precision on their desks and there is no mess or fuss.
4. Coats are put on the backs of chairs. Bags are tucked under chairs or desks.
5. I say good morning or good afternoon and give them permission to sit down. They begin their Do Now right away, in silence.
This routine is the same, every lesson. I often remind them: there will be no surprises, nothing different, nothing to worry about. The pupils tell me that they really like this, because everything is the same, and safe. It’s practised, it’s in place, it’s predictable. I am consciously reducing the impact on their working memory and reducing extraneous cognitive load by doing this. I don’t want them to think about anything else other than what we are learning about. We remember what we pay attention to. As Christodoulou says, “Our attention determines our memories.” – this is exactly why I am so explicit and precise about how things are done, so the pupils’ attention is focused on the right things.
We have done a lot of work at my school over this academic year on using Do Nows to check the retention of knowledge. In my subject, we often use them to check the retention of knowledge, and also the application of knowledge. I am able to elicit, as I am walking around, which questions the pupils are struggling with, and which ideas or concepts I may need to re-teach. Do Nows will often be peppered with questions about previous topics, so when teaching the Power and Conflict poetry the pupils may find some questions on Macbeth, for example, in their Do Nows. They know this will happen. Retrieval practice is promoted by frequent low-stakes or no-stakes quizzes. When I first started this back in September, my group worried: if I got something wrong, would it mean I would be moved down a set? This was something I had to constantly revisit to allay fears. Again, if they were worrying about this when completing their Do Now, their attention wouldn’t be focused on what I needed it to be focused on. They needed predictability, routine, and they needed to feel good about themselves. So that is what they got.

 

When I start a new topic, the pupils are novices. So when I started the Power and Conflict poetry, the Do Nows were only on that poetry to ensure new knowledge was retained. It was only after a few weeks that I reintroduced past knowledge about previous topics. I also often include multiple choice questions, but I make sure the options provided are plausible. For example, a question on ‘The Prelude’ in a Do Now was:
Circle the two words used by the poet that create a sense of beauty and the sublime in the poem: shining/sparkling/glittering/streaming.

An interesting discussion could then be had about why Wordsworth chose those specific words to describe the light, and why. Another interesting exploration of the deliberate use of language might be why Browning consciously chose the noun “wall” for the Duke to say, and what that might suggest about the power, or lack of power, of the gaze.
When teaching about ways of looking and the gaze in the poems, I also helped pupils by giving them concrete, visual examples as well as verbal examples, encouraging them to develop their understanding through elaboration. We usually do this as a group. This elaborative interrogation is great to help develop understanding, but I did not use it when the pupils had just started learning the poetry: they didn’t yet know enough. This elaboration is a form of deliberate practice in a way – the pupils have to process information in working memory to access and strengthen schemas in long term memory.

 

MLD

I do a lot of chunking of thinking with the pupils, directing their thinking and helping to specifically organise their thinking. This also reduces cognitive load by breaking down the application of their learning into small segments. Again, anything extraneous should be removed so the pupils are paying absolute attention to what they are thinking about. Often this might be a mind map or visual organiser that I have constructed, and I talk them through why I have created it in that way, or they might fill in some of the gaps. I will then get them to practise creating and re-creating this many times. I learnt this from Oliver Caviglioli, who talked about the importance of the expert structuring the thinking. Often when we ask pupils to create a mind map, it’s a randomly organised group of thoughts and concepts. We, the experts, need to organise thinking for novices.
I tend to think about my pupils as poetry scholars when I am teaching them poetry, and ‘Shakespeare scholars’, ‘Victorianists’ etc when I’m teaching them other aspects of my subject discipline. There are many aspects that overlap, but some that are different. In general, I think about and approach this in three phases. Here they are, but I will think very carefully about the aspects of my discipline that I am teaching to add to this (e.g. poetry will be different to teaching Beckett, which will be different to teaching Shakespeare etc.).

 

1. Novice Literature Scholars
– I focus their attention on what they need to think about
– I demonstrate my thinking and analysis
– I provide explicit models and application with very specific steps, so the abstract becomes concrete
– Pupils learn vocabulary alongside this – I show them how to apply it explicitly, both verbally and in writing.
2. Developing Literature Scholars
– I still focus their attention on what they need to think about
– I still demonstrate but ask for pupil assistance with analysing and writing together
– We practise steps in ‘chunks’
– Pupils learn more vocabulary and practise the application of it every lesson
3. More Expert Literature Scholars
– I still focus pupils’ attention on what they need to think about, but they can add to and challenge
– They explain to me and each other what their attention is focused on and why
– They attempt questions independently because their schemas are more developed
– They move from ‘manual’ to ‘automatic’

 

Tom Needham has done far more developed work than I on this, blending both Rosenshine and CLT to our subject discipline. He is an excellent example of someone navigating the usefulness of Rosenshine but combining this with careful, considered thinking about retaining the truth and integrity of the subject discipline.
In my next blog post, I will explore the specifics of ‘the gaze’ that I have taught my pupils, looking in particular at ‘My Last Duchess’, ‘Ozymandias’, ‘Exposure’, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, and ‘War Photographer’.