Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

There are certain responsibilities which fall to you when you become a teacher.

Other people’s children’s welfare becomes your responsibility.

Agonising over the placement of the apostrophes and whether to write become or becomes in that previous sentence! As the welfare is singular, so should the verb be? But is welfare a noun that can be quantified at all in terms of number?

We also acquire a congenital dread of Ofsted, suspicion of Sir Michael Wilshaw and repugnance at the thought and image and voice of Michael Gove. Admittedly, the latter is symptomatic of being a fully evolved member of the human race rather than necessarily just being a teacher.

So when Ofsted came into our rural coastal school, I was already arming myself with vitriolic, bilious and defensive adjectives with which to blog this weekend. I was prepared to be grilled, interrogated and probed – although not in an alien abduction way, there are limits to what I’m prepared to do for an Outstanding!

I was poised to leap to the defence of my Department and to fight our corner against politically motivated judgmental bigots.

And instead I’m reaching towards vocabulary like personable, fair and constructive. What has happened to the world? Is the sky about to tumble about our ears?

Yes, clearly, there was a huge amount of nerves and stress and rather limited family life for the 48 hours of the inspection. But the actual process was…

Okay.

It seems anathema to say it but, I quite enjoyed the process. Enjoyed. That may not be the right word. Relished, perhaps. Rose to? Maybe.

I did ask for (well, I asked robustly. the word demanded has been bandied about somewhat unfairly. A gentleman never demands, he asks robustly) an hour’s one-to-one interview with the English Inspector.

I was asked if 15 minutes would do; I said no.

Robustly.

As a new Head of English, with massive plans for next year, I wanted to be judged against them rather than the outgoing Head of Department’s decisions.

Results, Data, Progress and Pupil Premium were obviously large parts of the Ofsted brief. What were our headline figures? What was our response to last year’s GCSE fiasco? Were we being pro-active or resigned to being at the vagaries of GCSE (politically motivated?) grade boundary variation. I, in fact, had a range of reasons behind our headline figures last year and an even wider range of responses to them in place in the short, middle and long terms.

The Inspectors were responsive to both structural changes (things like iGCSE, English and Language/Literature entries, early entry and exam board choices) and teaching and learning changes (see previous posts for my plans for a skills-led Programme of Study as well as changes to our feedback and assessment).

There was a big focus on Pupil Premium: those students who attract extra funding because they have been eligible for free school meals within six years. They are therefore deemed socio-economically vulnerable.

What I actually liked was that they obviously had the data and wanted me to know and understand it. Colour coded spreadsheets and transitional matrices are, at the end of a day, just another text and as open to interpretation as Of Mice and Men or Composed Upon Westminster Bridge! I like to think I’m competent to understand them. I guess, they wanted to be talked through the data to see that we weren’t simply collating a variety of spreadsheets in a folder entitled Ofsted but we were using them to drive forward strategic planning.

But what the inspectors really wanted was to see that I knew the stories behind the names and data. They wanted to see that there was a reason why Pupil A wasn’t achieving progress and intervention had been put in place to facilitate their making progress; that there were a host of reasons which genuinely did limit Pupil B despite all the interventions; that Pupil C had progressed to a point where she was able to access her next steps even if that didn’t equate to 3 levels of progress.

I liked that. I teach children, not data. I was very much relieved to see that the Inspectors shared that focus.

It is possible that this post is merely the result of a freakish combination of the only decent and humane inspectors available to Ofsted. And I suspect that other conversations may have been more prickly but I can only respond to the conversations I had.

Which were genuinely positive and constructive!

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Okay, I have asked my Year 11s to write an essay in exam conditions on these poems and this title.

It is so close to the exam, I clearly need to give them feedback but no longer wish to take in their books, depriving them of the opportunity to revise. Therefore, I have started giving them a “Have You Included” sheet.

It is basically an essay plan – what would I have put into the essay had I been asked to do so. But it allows students to self assess, referring to what they wrote, my Have You Included sheet and the marking criteria.

Compare the experiences of education portrayed in In Mrs Tilscher’s Class and Head of English by Carol Anne Duffy.

Have you included:

1. Overview

The experiences are very different:

i.      Mrs Tilscher is affectionate and warm;

ii.      Head of English is mocking and satirical.

The titles of the poems – the difference between naming the teacher and identifying her only by title – are hugely symbolic       

2. Relationship with the teacher

Mrs Tilscher

i.      Opportunities given “you could” do and go anywhere

ii.      Respect shown to the pupil: “Mrs Tilscher loved you” and sometimes “left a gold star”. Is maternal an appropriate word for Mrs Tilscher?

Head of English

i.      Gives instructions – imperative sentences – “Notice…” “Sit up straight”

ii.      Curbs and restricts, limits student responses “show your appreciation / by clapping. Not too loud”

iii.      Prefers the formulaic and traditional poets: “Season of mists” from Keats’ To Autumn is presumably her preferred form of poetry; Kipling likewise traditional – and also colonial, perhaps an offensive figure to those who have English as a “Second Language”

iv.      Short snipped fragments of sentences – gives impression of snappy, rude teacher barking commands

3. Environment

Mrs Tilscher is a sensual poem, students engaged through the senses:

i.      “tracing the route”

ii.      “coloured shapes”

iii.      “scent of a pencil”

iv.      Exciting: even books were “enthralling” and the class “glowed like a sweetshop”

v.      At points, synaesthetic:  “the air tasted of electricity”, “chanted the scenery” almost mystical or magical

Head of English is dramatic monologue, less description

i.      Silence is enforced “Whispering’s, as always, out of bounds”

ii.      Environment is controlled “Open a window”

4. Education beyond the curriculum

Mrs Tilscher shows a development and growing up process, perhaps rite of passage

i.      The tadpoles “changed” which parallels the students’ own maturity

ii.      Questions over “how you were born” and students “impatient to be grown”

Is this paralleled in the shortening of the stanza lengths?

iii.      Final humid image of the sky “split open into a thunderstorm” heavy with suggestion of the turmoil and potential of adolescence.

Head of English

i.      Extremely limited view of poetry and of education

ii.      Dismissive: “not all poems, / sadly, rhyme these days” – undermined by Duffy’s own use of rhyme within the poem itself?

iii.      Final line deeply offensive, challenge to the poet to “Convince us that there’s something we don’t know”

iv.      Reference to education of technique out of context – “Remember / the lesson on assonance” – no opportunity for students to play with or experience language, only derive a lesson

v.      “Take notes but don’t write reams. Just an essay / on the poet’s themes”

We have inherited a situation where our Year 11s have a high percentage studying an English specification rather than a Language/Literature course. The English specification has historically (by which I mean last year ) had very low A*-C grade results so we are looking at how to insulate them against a repeat of the 2012 GCSE Fiasco. Insofar as that is possible.

What we have found is an Edexcel GCSE-equivalent level 2 qualification which has no Controlled Assessments and two exams. The exams focus on the following:

Paper One:

Romeo and Juliet; and
Of Mice And Men.

Both of which we have covered in the English course.

Paper Two:

Unseen poetry or prose; and
Anthology poetry.

Both of these are papers that our kids could have a decent attempt at, not affected by a lack of Controlled Assessment. I do worry that the subject is deemed to be reducible to a three month blitz – I live and breathe Literature and want that enrichment to be part of my students’ life.

The Edexcel course is really just there to validate the iGCSE First Language English course 0522. We’re eschewing the Coursework element in favour of the two exams.