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Outstanding English Lessons?

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The question mark is the most interesting thing about this post.

This post is intended to serve two masters: it is really a summary of an Inset session I have to deliver on the 29th of October, after our half term is over, and I want to post something to stimulate some discussion of what constitutes outstanding. This isn’t as a slavish nod to Ofsted but more in consideration of what it is that we can do to design learning experiences that are engaging enough to meet the highest of standards.

I have added the question mark to the title because I hope that the online communities will look at what I’ve offered here and question it’s validity in order to really consolidate what we mean by outstanding learning and teaching (particularly in English lessons).

My school is part of a partnership with three other Cheshire West schools who we will be hosting on Monday the 29th of October for a joint training day. We begin with a joint session on Literacy with Neil Mackay who we have had excellent training from before with respect to the concept of “Dyslexia Friendly” approaches. (http://www.actiondyslexia.co.uk/  Twitter: @ActionDyslexia) This then becomes a marketplace session with each department from each school presenting something to colleagues for five minute sessions around good AfL practice and/or independent learning.

The afternoon is organised in departmental structures. We have decided to offer three sessions with built in reflection and sharing time for each department. My session is around scrutinising examples of outstanding English lessons.

The following link will take you to a video of the prezi from the session: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/23328720/Outstanding%20Lessons%20Prezi%20Vid.avi 

This link will take you directly to the prezi if you prefer to click through it yourself: http://prezi.com/gyo26pjt7qcp/outstanding-english-lessons/?auth_key=5456751302f53ccd79ecbf09a2131d83ec4b15f7

A pdf copy of the prezi can be viewed or downloaded here: Outstanding English Lessons

When colleagues enter, the first thing they’ll do is a good old “diamond nine” of statements gleaned from the “outstanding” descriptor (pdf attached here: Diamond 9 Statements). I’m not looking for any response in particular here, in true English teacher fashion, there is no right answer. However, some answers are “more right” than others! I guess what I hope people will do is identify that engagement is a high priority. The concept of “Flow” is what I’m referring to here and is something I’ve written about in a previous post, “Go With The Flow”. The idea that kids are challenged enough to be fully engaged and stumped enough to be curious enough to keep going.

There are two examples of lessons previously graded as outstanding. The blog format is too long to dissect each of them in too much detail so what follows will be a summary of what I hope are the salient details.

The first lesson was delivered to a good top set Year 9 and was designed to aid their discussion of imagery, particularly in Romeo & Juliet, which we were studying. They were very adept at identifying linguistic devices, spotting and moving on without the analysis that they should be up to.

With groups like this I love to start with a Thunk and in this case a Thunk and a Thinkers Key. Not for show but to aid the dead time at the start of the lesson and make sure they are engaged from the moment they walked in. They were used to this and I had made it clear to them that the broad and different ways of thinking that they inspired were exactly the skills required of the best students in English.

What I then set out to do was to teach them something complex quickly. I taught them what Semantics was and made it clear it was a term usually only used with Year 12. They picked it up quickly and played the Semantics game – working in small groups to outdo their lists of words in particular semantic fields. To check understanding, I moved through some hinge questions, getting them out of their seats and standing in the corners of the room that corresponded to their answer. This allowed targeted questioning and a clear indication of who was “getting” what.

 This allowed a quick segway into the definition of imagery and how it linked to what we had done already. We were to focus on the balcony scene and looked at it in a couple of different ways. The first was with a wordle (www.wordle.net) and the next was with a simple free online corpus analysis tool. The wordle is visually impressive and sparks some nice discussion when you explain the word frequency pattern makes the more frequent words bigger. Taking away pronouns and conjunctions is the next challenge. This is made clearer when the next two slides from the corpus analysis demonstrate that the most frequently used words are “love”, “night” and “Romeo”.

What remains is modelling of the SCAA or Survey-Classify-Analyse-Amplify grid and some group work to start dissecting the imagery. I took some feedback from the groups and indicated that it fed into some extended writing in the next lesson. Done.

The next lesson on the prezi is an introductory lesson to “Lord of the Flies” and was graded as outstanding. It was delivered to a Set 3 Year 11 class (largely C/D borders with some students working at B).

The students walked in to the music from Desert Island Discs and, whilst writing down their homework, had to actually choose their desert island music and luxury. Again, this smoothed out the dead time at the start of the lesson and made it more engaging and useful.

The lesson was organised around “Key Questions” related to the context and plot of the novel. Students were organised in Kagan pairs to regulate their dialogue (it was last lesson of the day) and feedback from each of these dialogues was randomised with lollipop sticks. Students changed pairs for each task and Key Question. They attempted to sequence stills from the black and white film and then watched a short one minute summary from youtube before answering a consolidation question. This one was designed to start to elicit the more higher order understanding around the Cold War and nuclear war.

To consolidate this idea I showed them a short clip of the “Action After Warnings” public service announcement adverts from the early 80s. (Anyone else around my age will remember how scary they were!) This really focused them on the idea of nuclear war and I got some pretty impressive responses, particularly from those also studying History.

I quickly moved them on to a short passage from the book. They had it on an exit pass and we had a look at it as a wordle to get some initial responses around what they could see were the most significant points. They then had to simply pick out words or phrases that they could categorise as either signifying harshness or paradise. There were a couple more questions to stretch some of the B/C candidates in the group and I collected them as they left the room to give me a quick look at how well they had started to grasp the context. They did largely. And, in terms of progress, they had gone from simply knowing that they were to study the book to comprehending that it was grounded in the Cold War, it was a different way of looking at the stranded on a desert island story and they had begun to analyse the contrasts in the text.

Both lessons were graded outstanding for a variety of reasons. They’re good, sure, but I’d be interested to hear what other people think, particularly the “tweachers” out there.

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Author: Gordon Baillie

I am an Advanced Skills teacher in a large comprehensive school in the North West of the UK. Trained in Scotland, I have worked in a number of different settings in my almost fifteen years of teaching. I have been working with both my own and other local schools and their teachers to both enhance and improve learning and teaching for a number of years now. I am an experienced trainer of both trainee and experienced teachers and have contributed to both local and national conferences around learning and teaching, particularly around Assessment for Learning as well as being asked to contribute to keynote addresses around other, more generic areas of teaching. I believe that teaching and particularly learning are deeply creative pursuits and that the only way to continue to enhance them and the practice of teachers is to collaborate.

3 thoughts on “Outstanding English Lessons?

  1. Gordon

    I’ve put a lot of thought into this question (even writing a book on the subject) and I’m really interested to see the approach you’re using in lessons. Also interesting to try to grade a plan. It would be fascinating to see videos of the lessons.

    Thanks, David

  2. Pingback: But, What Does it Mean Sir? | Creative Teacher Support

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