Monday, 29 October 2018

Faster Reading: A Trial Run

Previously, my approach to a text read in lessons has been to interleave the reading of a text with analytical lessons focused on developing reading skills.  The aim of this would be that students practised their analysis writing skills as we explored a text.  However, I found that I have been more and more worried with the lack of retention when it came to the overall plot and key events (despite regular quizzing).

This led me to the concept of ‘Faster Reading’, where students read two novels back-to-back (focusing on plot rather than detailed analysis) before going back to analyse key extracts once they have a clear understanding of the plot as a whole.  The idea is that it allows students to focus on knowing the plot well rather than the ‘read a section, analyse a section’ approach that I had used previously.

With so much focus on remembering a plot for the GCSE Literature exams, I was keen to trial some of the principles with my Year 10 class this term (reading ‘A Christmas Carol’) and I have been surprised so far with the positive impact it’s had on their retention of key events.

The Process
Teaching a mixed attainment group, I was keen to ensure that students were still able to access higher levels of thinking whilst we read, so I chose to get students to make notes as we read (training them in the Cornell method as we did so).  For this, students had differentiated questions to address in their notes, focusing on comprehension questions at the lower end and a sustained focus on considering Dickens’ polemic message for top-end students.

I was also careful not to overload students with too much time spent reading, so most lessons followed the structure below, with about 20 minutes of each lesson spent reading the text.

Typical structure:
  1. Retrieval task through five questions on previous events (focusing on events that were significant to the events of that lesson’s chapter).
  2. Reading of the text, with breaks to add to notes (using the Cornell method) and to discuss some key moments/vocabulary in the text through whole-class discussion.
  3. Task to reflect on aspects of a key character or theme from that day’s reading- this could be as simple as sketching a character and labelling with adjectives to describe them, or writing a comparison to how they were presented earlier in the text.
  4. Students write (in their Cornell grid) a short summary of the events from the section we read that day.

In terms of time, this meant that the reading of the novella was condensed considerably, spread over 16 lessons instead of 35.  The remaining lessons, then, involve going back over key extracts and conducting a detailed analysis, including links to other events across the whole text.

My Findings
As we read the text, I was pleasantly surprised when students were able to make links to previous events- sometimes coming up with ideas that I had not considered myself.  This, perhaps, could be a result of reading the text in a shorter period of time: the previous chapters were fresher in their minds and, therefore, allowed them to access this information more readily.

I have also found that, in the subsequent analysis lessons, students were being more creative with their interpretations and have been much more confident with the analysis of Dickens’ methods as they can draw on other areas of the text to further support ideas.

However, the result I am most impressed with is my students’ ability to recall quotations and events with ease and confidence in discussion tasks.  This was particularly evident in a recent lesson where they were used for an interview lesson.  Here it was intriguing to see what they were able to recall without my direction or scaffolding- again reinforcing how confident they feel compared to previous tasks.

It is important to note that my approach could not be considered rigorous, as there are a number of other variables that could have generated my findings, including a different mix of students and also the introduction of Cornell notes and training in self-testing for students to complete at home.  That being said, I am looking forward to coming back to the text in Year 11 to see if the students recall more a year later in comparison to previous year groups.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Diversity: Check

It’s been a hectic year in many respects for me: moving to lead a department in a new school and moving to a different (and very picturesque) area of Yorkshire has meant that blogging has taken a bit of a back seat.  However, being sat here facing the remaining six hours of a sweaty train ride home after #TENC18 leaves me wondering about the curriculum I put in place in September.

Before I starting leading my current  department in September, I already had some clear ideas in mind about the texts taught at KS3, as it needed some clear updating.  After consulting my new team, we decided on Prince of Mist for Y8 and Trash for Y7.  Both texts aren’t set in England, both texts offer a multitude of opportunities to engage students in both reading and writing.  Yet something still hasn’t sat quite right and a recent discussion with other subjects leaders near me made me realise: my department’s curriculum lacks diversity, someone that is vital in the ‘hidden curriculum’ (a term borrowed from Hywel Roberts) when our intake reflects where we live: predominantly white and middle-class.  This was highlighted in a recent A Level Literature lesson on post-colonial theory when my students struggled to name writers who weren’t white and - in most cases - dead.

With this in mind, I was delighted to see that @benniekara was leading a session on diversity in the curriculum at #TENC18. I went in, hoping to walk away with a reading list of BAME writers so that I could tick the box of diversity and feel like I was giving students a more balanced diet.  How wrong I was.

Here are my main findings from @benniekara ‘s session:
  • Diversity isn’t about ticking boxes; it’s about the links between the boxes and how they reflect society
  • Diversity isn’t about a checklist BAME writers; it’s about all of the different ‘labels’ we use in society and understanding how representation of different groups has developed over time
  • Diversity isn’t about re-writing the curriculum; it’s about using the curriculum to introduce a wider understanding through set texts, but also extracts (fiction and non-fiction) to develop a critical understanding of the questions surrounding race, gender, sexuality, disability, religion and social class
So, although I will be looking at ways to introduce a broader diet of writers to my students, I’m also going to think about how I can teach students about the development of literature from different angles- especially at KS4.  Planning a new scheme of diverse extracts for Year 10 Language seems like the perfect opportunity for this.