Work in progress … working out the process. With thanks and credit to Alex Quigley.

I thought I would share thoughts after attending an illuminating session with Alex Quigley yesterday at the English and Media Centre on applying research in the English classroom.  For some unknown, hyperbolic reason, I initially wanted to entitle my post ‘QuigleyMania!’ but as it was a calm, well-mannered and thoughtful occasion throughout, it would have been most unrepresentative of me to do so. However, the ideas discussed did induce some manic planning action for me later in the evening as, like every other school in the land, our department is re-planning with gusto* to stay abreast of* the latest curriculum changes.

*I have an ongoing challenge running with my Head of Faculty to slip the phrases ‘with gusto’ and ‘stay abreast of’ into everyday discourse wherever possible.  

Alex’s introduction was an informative balance of recent research findings, his own experience of ‘what works’ in English and how to approach research (with caution and always looking for studies from the opposing view).  His blog is linked below along with links to the sources he referred to as part of the presentation, and sources I’ve mentioned here when making my own connections: mainly for me to find them easily in one place, but now also for you to explore further.  Be forgiving: this post will be impressionistic as I am recording my initial thoughts on what Alex had to say. I am also asking for help and feedback!  But if I bore you, you can always just skip to the end and click on the links.

My takeaway headlines from the session below are not a Quigley recommended checklist (though he does like a checklist, we gather!) but what I have taken away from the session, which I’m afraid will align to my own cognitive biases, current planning agenda and magpie mindset. It’s My Takeaway (as I have been known to shout of a Friday evening). So with that in mind, I have given a headline and summarised my / our current faculty thinking below in response:

  1. Agreement on a departmental process for how to teach writing and reading – we are in the process of doing this through discussion and building consensus as a faculty, coming to agreement on preferred methods shown to be effective and which can be used as scaffolding (with the intention to ultimately withdraw the scaffolding). Any ‘method’ is combined with other teaching methods eg. modelling, joint construction, not an ‘off the peg’ solution. But for starters, we like PETAL as an ‘early doors’ paragraph structure for structuring analysis (point, evidence, technique, analysis, link). Focuses on ideas before techniques and encourages further analysis through ‘link’ – to alternative interpretation, context, the question, the next point… Be interested to hear what others use, Lindsay Skinner presented at PixL on ‘SCITTLES’,  we have used ‘Iceberg analysis’ before, I saw some ‘rainbow word analysis’ via Mrs C Spalding on twitter.. lots out there. Some will hate any forced paragraph scaffolding at all, finding it limits ideas and creativity, or would baulk at the notion of departmental processes … Open to views!
  1. Movement from teacher dependency through interdependency towards independence – sounds obvious! But at times we bemoan the lack of independence in some of our higher key stage students yet must face up to our own role here.  For me it’s encouraging more of what we already do in our department, eg metacognition strategies as used in our Let’s Think lessons, establishing more secure processes for teaching, modelling, scaffolding, having consistent methods for structured peer assessment, developing independent wider reading schemes and EPQ style research projects, developing oracy. Alex stressed the need for training students thoroughly in self and peer assessment and structuring paired work solidly. He also shared his own class processes and structures for feedback: eg. always peer assess, self assess before handing work in for teacher assessment – encourages independence, shortens marking process, what’s not to like?
  1. Joint construction / live modelling with feedback – demonstrating the writing and editing process, with the class, live on the board or using visualisers, sharing and critiquing work a la Austin’s butterfly, Didau’s ‘making the implicit explicit’ and the National Literacy trust’s Transforming Writing report. I remember feeling the fear about doing this in my PGCE year, my fantastic mentor Nicola encouraging me to start the process and I’ve never looked back. This will be a key element to encourage when mentoring our new trainees: is it ‘THE thing’ ( © Quigley ) P’raps one of the main ones.
  1. Teaching reading strategies explicitly – this is controversial apparently. To me it fits in with the ‘making the implicit explicit’ as mentioned earlier as in sharing how expert readers (us) read. We have previously used a faculty agreed list of strategies such as ‘skim and scan’, ‘predict’, ‘infer’, ‘find evidence’ etc, which could be revived, this is up for discussion… Would be interested in reading those who have research which is anti-reading strategies?
  1. Doing fewer schemes of learning, better – this makes me feel relieved as I am always the one in the faculty who has never finished the scheme of learning before half term! Term lengths, text complexity and level of mastery all determine when we progress to the next scheme. Bodil’s blog on ‘lessons: the wrong unit of time’ also chimed with my instincts on this (alert – my instincts are not research-based!). Despite the temptation to squeeze loads in, we have focused on processes and concepts as well as content and knowledge in our new KS3 planning.
  1. Explicit vocabulary teaching – again a range of research and writing available (Isabel Beck’s Bringing Words to life: Robust vocabulary instruction is interesting) – interested in more. Alex discussed pre-planning vocabulary teaching based on texts to be encountered. The Huntington model is to kick off a knowledge of etymology with a Year 7 ‘History of Language’ unit which is used as the first unit in Year 7.  We currently teach vocabulary on an ‘as it arises from the text basis’ which may be too ad hoc. Help with how to approach this needed… ideas of learning lists of higher Tier words? Sophisticated vocab lists?
  1. Curriculum models. Alex kindly shared his KS3 overview with us which is on his blog below. I found it interesting to compare it with that again kindly shared by Swindon Academy further to their work with David Didau and Martin Robinson (link also below). Big challenges for us all as we face the new closed-book GCSEs with more 19th century fiction and non-fiction. The English dropbox run by @fod3 will be a great resource for #teamEnglish to share long term plans and schemes of work during this time of flux.

Having discussed these and other models in faculty, and taking into account more pragmatic issues like text availability and planning time, along with the school context, our current KS3 work in progress LTP does not take such a pure chronological approach, though I can see the benefits.

For each unit we have discussed / included so far:

  • Key texts
  • the ‘process’ – the reading or writing processes we want students to develop (master) –  this may link to David Didau’s discussion of threshold concepts or be called ‘skills’ although the term ‘skills’ is somewhat pooh-poohed by some… I like Alex’s term: ‘processes’
  • form and genre
  • knowledge – what we want students to take away / forward
  • Wider reading (WR) – building a wider reading list for weekly reading HW on the VLE
  • Let’s Think – we teach fortnightly Let’s Think (Cognitive Acceleration) lessons so selecting which may fit best with the unit
  • Real Life experiences – how to make English connect with the real world

Thinking is still ongoing on planning for SPAG. We prefer teaching literacy / grammar in the context of the texts we read and write rather than teaching discrete literacy lessons but need to plan a departmental way of doing so, specific to the texts we plan to use.  KS3 plans still in progress, need mapping with KS4 and 5 too, I will share soon and would appreciate any feedback.

Those links I mentioned:


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