English as a practical subject
The conversation on and around David Didua’s blog helps me develop and reflect on my practice as a non-specialist English teacher. In fairness, the whole experience of teaching a third subject has been both invigorating and challenging; that’s why engaging with subject specific conversation has been so very important for me (and for my students). It is an environment where I have had to listen attentively, contribute less, and accept that I am often one of the least qualified person in the conversation. It is good to get out of your comfort zone, I hope I am a better school leader for it.
Take the debate surrounding David’s ‘The mathematics of writing,‘ post. There was a lot to digest and I bookmark the post to come back to read it again. I followed it up with a few questions to David, (duly answered) and today I did offer my response. My only reservation is that I am aware of my short coming, and yet I am not confident in the holistic approach to teaching English that I am part responsible for delivering. It would appear that it is leaving David’s AS English group and my Y11 group de-skilled?
As a non-specialist English teacher, I am learning and teaching in all phases of my teaching (planning, delivery and assessment). It can be exhuasting and every week I tried and set aside at least an hour of CPD.
The more I teach English, the more I consider English a practical subject or sport, more like music than say Maths. Most lesson are a production, with real purpose, for a real audience (greater than that of my marking) and I believe in showcasing students work. In this regard I see grammar as one of the ‘basic skills,’ of the production. More recently, this term, I have started to teach in the lower school, in much the same way I coached football at our local Academy.
We introduced strict routines, transition tasks, periods of technical repetition to grove ‘technical ability’ before setting up small practices to apply the technique (very rarely more that 4v4). We were relentless in our pursuit of technical mastery and building confidence in our players (Y6 / Y7s). Every session (20 mins of 80 mins), personal practice (homework) and part of every pregame warm up. We most certainly fostered mastery before understanding, though we always knew that understanding we be developed when their thinking skills allowed it. It was a question of readiness. Even once a skill had been mastered, it sometimes took 6-8 weeks before a player tried a new technique in a game situation and we would have to be very patient and supportive.
What I am trying to say (in a rather long winded fashion) is that within our English dept at least, we tend to teach the game of English and not commit to teaching and mastering the techniques. Passing, control, 1 v 1 to beat / defend a player, creating / closing space; reading, writing, spelling, punctuation, grammar. The more I teach English, the more I feel that repeated teaching SPAG will secure not only English skill but student confidence. Just anticipate that even a concentrated and committed effort to technical mastery takes more time to bloom in free form writing then you would think. I also forecast that it would mean that my Y11 students would get more from the self and peer assessment then they currently do, if they had the technical grounding in grammar.
Right now, sadly, I only have my gut feeling that it has been a positive change, of course I will have my markbook and student feedback to support my hypothesis later on in the year.
As for the image, sorry David. Google image search.