Tips for a transformation
It was June when I struggled back to school from the launch of the key stage 3 English pilot with an immensely heavy collection of shiny white folders. My memory of that event is of an endless sequence of statements projected on a screen proclaiming the importance of active learning while denying us any opportunity to engage with the pilot materials in a professional manner.
It was not a promising start to a process which had been launched with the ambitious aim of "transforming KS3 English", nor was it representative of what was to come.
Now, by spring 2001, our concerns at Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove, as a pilot school, about the initial training sessions have been answered promptly and creatively by our local literacy consultant, leading to in-service training which has since been less reliant on overhead projectors and more concerned with the practicalities of good teaching.
We have made progress with implementing changes to our schemes of work in ways which are an improvement on what we had before and broadly in line with the recommendations of the National Literacy Strategy. Our lesson planning involves more collaboration between staff. The academic year so far has seen us refining our previous approaches rather than doing anything revolutionary.
On balance our first term of living with the pilot was been a good one, with benefits for pupils and teachers.
How can English teachers who have had no involvement with the pilot benefit from the findings of those who have? These ideas for ways of using the KS3 literacy initiative in productive and positive ways draw on our experience at Cardinal Newman.
* Visit a number of primary schools, looking at how their staff are teaching the literacy hour. You may not want to do things in quite the same way as your primary colleagues but you will get a sense of what your Year 7 pupils have been experiencing.
* As soon as possible decide on how you are going to find ways of enabling Year 7 pupils who come to you with level 3 in English to take the Literacy Progress Units. There are six of these, and they cover the following areas: Writing organisation
Reading between the lines
Each unit is designed to be taught to pupils in groups of six, with three 20-minute sessions a week over a period of seven weeks.
Decisions about who will teach the units and when the sessions will take place need to be taken now.
If you want the Progress Units to work yo will need to find ways of integrating them into next year's timetable and in many schools such decisions are likely to be made this term. You will also need to have some means of identifying which of the units your pupils need to take.
* Look at your current schemes of work for KS3. Bringing the Framework for Teaching English to life means devoting a lot of time to incorporating its objectives into your current schemes of work through long-term planning that gives an overview of what pupils will cover in English during the key stage; medium-term planning that shows how particular units of work will be taught; and short-term planning, showing the structure and content of individual lessons.
This process can be positive and enjoyable but it does need to be informed with a clear understanding of the Framework and its many objectives and it does need the active involvement of the entire department and support from the headteacher.
English teachers whose work involves implementing the Framework will need to have plenty of time allocated for planning with one another on a week by week basis from next September.
* Central to your planning will be an approach to structuring individual lessons that follows the pattern used in primary schools for the literacy hour. A fast-paced starter activity during which all pupils are expected to contribute is followed by an introduction to the main teaching points for that lesson. These are then developed, perhaps through some form of group activity. The final part of the lesson is spent exploring what has been learned.
The pilot training materials made it clear that teachers can "flex" this recommended structure depending on the needs of their classes. The reality is that English teachers will use it when and if it is helpful and effective.
Approach the implementation of the Framework with an open mind. Many of the training materials are, in our experience, of a very high quality. Early criticisms of the Framework highlighted the complexity of its wording and the number of objectives.
These points have been addressed and the revised version will be clearer, with fewer objectives. Implement the Framework in ways that suit your school and your pupils and those glossy ring binders may indeed "transform" your teaching.
Peter Shears is head of English at Cardinal Newman Catholic school in Hove.E-mail: email@example.comThe draft Framework for Teaching English Years 7-9 can be obtained from DFEE Publications PO Box 5050, Annesley, Nottingham NG15 0DJ. Tel: 0845 6022260It can be downloaded from www.standards.dfee.gov.ukliteracypublications