English - Let's be real

7th November 2008 at 00:00
Base lessons in reality and they're sure to grow and grow, says Paul Wright

When we asked pupils what motivated them most as part of a consultation on the future of English, the answer came back loud and clear. "When we can see what we're doing has relevance in the real world."

As schools begin to recognise that pupils learn best when the work they are given has a clear context and purpose, they can use the flexibility provided by the new curriculum to make links with the world beyond the class.

A powerful way of achieving this connection is to introduce a real audience into the equation. Having decided to set his pupils the task of writing stories for younger children, David Cooper, deputy head of English at Cowplain Community School in Hampshire, looked for ways to give the task a real purpose by arranging for the finished stories to be published in the school library and shared with children from their feeder primary school.

Throughout the project, the knowledge that they would have to present their work to a real rather than imagined audience motivated the pupils. It focused their thinking about what they wanted to communicate and how best to do it. It also gave immediate relevancy to the skills of writing accurately and appropriately.

At the end of the project the class was able to experience first-hand the impact of their work when they read their stories to the children.

Joel, one of the pupils who took part in the project, said: "Knowing that my story was going to be read by someone other than my teacher inspired me to create something really good. I thought about how to structure it so that it would appeal to young children."

Pupils we spoke to as part of the consultation also told us that they were motivated by being able to respond creatively, play with language and think in new ways.

Creativity has always been at the heart of the English curriculum and - as one of the key concepts in the revised secondary programmes and a major theme in the primary review - it's more important than ever to recognise the importance of engaging pupils' imagination and commitment.

Broad Oak Primary School in Manchester, for example, has developed a sequence of lessons in key stage 1 to encourage pupils to look at the story of Jack and the Beanstalk from different points of view.

Using drama techniques, such as "teacher in role" and hot seating, the children took part in a series of lessons that lead to Jack and the villagers meeting the giant to resolve their differences and find ways of living peacefully together.

Rather than just acting out the story, the children were able to show creativity by being presented with dilemmas and problems to resolve that did not necessarily have clear answers. They had to ask themselves: "What if .", handle uncertainty and try alternatives before coming to a conclusion.

The teacher was delighted with the way the class responded: "Asking the children about possible solutions to the problem gave me some surprises. Children who did not usually volunteer came up with ideas. One pupil, Leah, had the idea of asking the mayor to help and another child, Bobby, decided the giant needed smartening up with new clothes."

Paul Wright is programme manager of the curriculum division at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

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