When the changes to GCSEs were announced, English teachers across the land were bereft. George and Lennie had been “canned”. Like Candy’s dog, they had been cast aside and denounced as useless. What would we do now? The frustration felt was not so much that years of experience teaching this great book would be lost, but that hundreds of young people wouldn’t get to know George, Lennie and the other characters on the ranch.
I love technology. I also love teaching. You would therefore think that teaching using technology would be right up my street. However, I often hear of technology being used for technology’s sake and it makes me cringe. When applied effectively we can all agree that edtech is an incredibly effective and engaging tool. But what about the more traditional approaches to education; should we throw out decades of proven pedagogy because “there’s an app for that”? I have spent the last academic year working with small groups within my school experimenting with fusing traditional methodologies with technological advances. Pedagogy smashing if you will. What follows is a short record of some experiments from this year.
Pupils at Mayflower Community Academy are some of the latest inductees into a global writing project. By working alongside the team at LendMeYourLiteracy, the primary school’s teachers are enabling the kids to publish their writing work online, thus receiving feedback from other pupils around the world. According to the Plymouth Herald, the organisation operates in over 100 countries.
Back in January, my school set upon a new initiative. The marking of core writing skills – that is, spelling, punctuation and grammar (or SPAG as us educators, who never shy away from a good acronym, like to call it) – was to be implemented across all departments. No longer just a proviso of the English faculty, now History teachers would have to check for syntactical errors in their students’ essays; Science teachers would have to ensure that methodologies and conclusions which came to them did so with the required requisite of full-stops and capital letters; Geography teachers would have to supervise not just the correct spelling of ‘oxbow lake’, but also the correct spelling of all the words which surrounded it in their pupils’ books.
Writeable furniture: the concept sounds silly. I agree. Of course, for those who are reading this, we are adults. We have forgotten about the little things in life. We have forgotten about how excited we used to get when we would bang the chalkboard erasers together. I remember being so amazed at my teacher when she used a crazy gadget that created five straight lines in a row with her chalk pieces, all at one time!
About four years ago I started the journey down the path of combination classes. Teaching two grades at one time has inspired me forever, but there was one big lesson I got out of it all.
If you find that your children are struggling to have ideas when planning a story, try this simple and very effective technique. Show them a picture or a sentence and play the coin flip game. Invite the children to ask yes-no questions about the picture or sentence stimulus. Emphasise that the questions have to be sensible and relevant. After each question, flip a coin – heads means yes and tails means no.
The technique is more elegant and sophisticated than it appears. A yes answer means that the children have a definite piece of information that can be incorporated into the story and which can form the basis for further questions. A no answer means that the children have to come up with another idea: there is a ‘positive pressure’ for children to keep thinking.