English, Education, Solo, Literacy

I honestly think the best ideas for born from one another- at least in my own experience of having anything resembling I good idea. This year, I've been using lots of diamond nines for students to organise their thoughts, as well as Thinking Tools to compare, contrast and prioritise things. I love the idea of students organising things physically on a page. Love it. And I think Thinking Tools are an excellent way of consolidation, rather than exploration. But I wanted to take it in a different direction in terms of planning and coming up with original ideas. What I love about hexagons is that they do just this- they can be as concrete and/or as moveable as you like. I wanted to share my use of them as a means of dealing with a real problem area of mine.


Since teaching the WJEC English spec, I've had to deal with the awkward Shakespeare & Poetry comparison task. To be blunt, it's a bloody nightmare. I know it's not the most popular task amongst teachers, but I actually quite like the concept of it. It makes understanding and individual reading a central component, and a necessary one if students are to fare at all well.

However, I've never done that good a job teaching it. I've always ended up giving students rigid structures to work within, which has stifled their creativity and originality, and also making it a wholly dull and uninspiring process. Using rigid structures that I have provided usually given students a platform to get to a C or B target grade, but very few have been moving beyond this. This year, my question has been redesigned:

What effects can Power and Control have on people's words and actions? 

For this, I used Macbeth, Havisham, and The Man He killed. It's turned out to be easily the most enjoyable thing I've ever taught, and one thing has been at the heart of it- particularly for the ending comparison section- hexagons. 

Apparently riding on the wave of SOLO and so forth, hexagons have been all the range for a while now. A number of big hitting T&L colleagues in my last school- such as @charte and @dkmead- have extolled the virtues of hexagons for a long time, but I never really took much notice, much to my (now) regret. I should have seen the writing on the wall when @learningspy was talking about them too- who teaches the same subject as me. It's one of those things I really should have taken note of and taken time to explore a long, long time ago.

I kind of knew they were good for links. I kind of knew that they were good for students to explore their own ideas and doing things a bit more independently. I also kind of knew they were a good basis for questioning. 

However, not til recently did I realise just
how powerful they could be. Before doing the hexagon thing, the comparison section of my essay would've been a total car crash- look at what I had lined up for my students to plan on- an absolute monstrosity (this would have formed the basis for their plan)-

I am embarrassed by this. Luckily, this never really got used. It would have done more harm than good, I think. It gives the students no room to compare, no room to make interesting links in terms of the emotional aspects of these rich and diverse texts. I'd been toying with using Double Bubbles with my year 9 class to compare Lady Macbeth and Havisham, and it worked, but still didn't really lay a platform for original creativity and flair in terms of making original interpretations and links between the characters- so added to my earlier use of the Diamond Nine, and my little love affair with thinking tools this year, I remembered a colleague's suggestion I use Hexagons some months ago (thanks @mattjepeery).

What I did:

So, luckily, I had the hexagons riding in on their white horse to save me... Before anything else, as a class, we worked in small groups to explore the emotional consequences of Power and Control in each of our texts- I only gave the groups small prompts in terms of key words and questions to report back on. We then made a simple list on the board, which looked something like this:

We could then ask- but do the characters experience these emotions in the same way, or a different way? The class could then select key quotes and moments from our texts, and group them according to different kinds of emotions experienced, as here:
Not only were the hexagons incredibly useful in uniting the concept as a whole, but also in helping the students pick out the similarities and differences underneath each emotion. The platform for questioning was incredible- I circulated, using the visualiser in order to ask questions such as:

  • Is '____' the same as '___' ? Why? Why not?
  • Do you have more sympathy for ___ than ___ here?
  • What reason triggered the writer/speaker to use this language?
  • What happens if I move ____ here?
  • Why might you take this out from here?

In an instant, the quality of conversation was transformed. As @mattjeperry rightly states, the next stage is making sure the students' conversations with each other is improved by using this. In terms of the whole class discussion, students had so much more to say that could be said in a bog standard PEEL paragraph driven planning sheet. When I get a chance, I will put some examples of student work up to show you- but I am delighted with what I've seen so far.

The uses for these things are enormous potentially, I think, including-

  • Collating evidence for an essay such as 'how is x presented?'
  • Planning descriptive writing pieces- what details are needed to make a scene realistic and enjoyable to read?
  • Link the key concepts from todays lesson and EXPLAIN...
  • How might the following statements link together?

Yes, I am quite sure I want some hexagons for my room to be used more often!
Recently did a study with two year 7 classes about modelling effective literacy when writing an Autobiography.

Discussions around 'key features' which were identified for our genre were had with one class, but not with the other, with some intriguing results.

Feel free to download the results and ask me anything about it :)
File Size: 257 kb
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OK, so this isn't revolutionary, nor is it especially exciting, but the Maths department at our school have got some pretty interesting stuff going on in terms of "learning pathways" which gives students a choice in the learning outcome they will tackle. Each student can choose the difficulty of their task on different coloured bits of paper, which they can navigate and change as they feel appropriate (and hopefully increase in confidence).

Obviously English is different by nature, but I still like the simplicity of colour, so I adapted it to English and our study of Of Mice and Men. I've got Cathy Williams (@failbettercw) and Adam Lewis (@englishalewis) to thank for their scheme of work and me even getting the bones of this lesson in place to begin with!

Basically, on the learning outcomes, I put an "All" and "Some will" type of affair, and then colour coordinate the main demonstrate tasks in line with it. If the students select the yellow outcome, they will attempt the yellow demonstrate task on the board and so on, but what I like about this especially is that students can jump from the easier option to them ore difficult one if they feel able. 

That way, it gives the student some locus of control of their learning outcomes, but still keeps it relatively confined in terms of progress tracking- the review might need some work, but it's a pretty non threatening way of getting different perspectives and results of these outcomes together- they just get into groups of four, give themselves a number, and then each have the responsibility of filling in a quarter of a circle- you'll see what I mean...

Attached the slideshow if anyone wants to see :)

Anyone doing WJEC English Language anytime soon is welcome to this- exemplars and key hints to revise when writing texts. .

File Size: 801 kb
File Type: pdf
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I'm trying to use SOLO for students to reflect on their own learning more regularly, and this is a trial really- we're at the end of the year, results are in and this is my time to try new stuff.

This is linked with the previous post, in that I used the success criteria generated from the example above, and asked the students to comment on which 'stage' they felt they were at. 

I asked them to write this on a slip of paper, and I was able to literally count where the class felt they were at- and- to my discomfort at this stage- there were not as many 'relational' as I would like. I felt a bit rubbish about that, but I guess ignorance isn't bliss.

Anyway, I redressed  this next lesson, and the next set of learning outcomes were, 'we will be able to 'put together' our ideas into a detective story.' We also had also a 'how will we know that we've succeeded?' discussion as well, so this is clearly modelled.

In the next lesson, we then played 'detective consequences.' I wanted to have a fun activity which would help the students literally put pieces of a story together, and contribute to others'  work. I began with a starting line: "As the detective approached __________, he/she began to feel _____________," and then had other lines and prompts such as, 'on the next line, add something about the detective's senses,' or 'describe the atmosphere.' It had all kinds of fantastic benefits such as being able to analyse line by line what makes a successful piece of work, and the "poor" lines which took away from the suspense and the tension, things which really annoy me as an English teacher such as "... and then he shot him dead."  In terms of punctuation and spelling, these were things that we could also pick up on as part of the peer assessment just afterwards, and discuss as part of the actual process of writing a story- particularly full stops and commas being a crucial part of the creation of tension.

There's a couple of examples here- one of which is considerably stronger than the other. I'll let you make up your own mind which...

OK, so, don't laugh, this is my first foray into the SOLO world "proper." 

I'm currently midway through a module with my year 7s on detective writing- they are going to plan and record an opening chapter of a Detective thriller to make an audiobook for their parents to listen to.

Creative writing, to me, has always been a difficult "soft" skill, however hard you try to turn it into something with solid elements to put into a list of success criteria.

Having modelled some effective examples with the class, and asked them to comment and highlight features such as short sentences, adventurous vocab, clues to keep the reader guessing and so forth, I then linked this with SOLO by means of the relational phase for them to begin to put the success criteria together, with a modelled example on the board.

This helped the students to realise that it was OK to put a few ideas together, and for it not to be perfect first time round. 

In the following lessons, it's also been interesting to see an improvement in the quality of the re-drafts, especially in light of the success criteria becoming more recognisable for students, as well as, more importantly, having the SOLO ladder to hold onto, as the diagram suggests.

I'll get some examples of the work and stick them up here this week!

English, Education, Solo, Literacy