English, Education, Solo, Literacy
It’s been a pleasure receiving such positive feedback from the teachmeet in Leeds
last Saturday, and I love being part of an online community that really does
care about its students- the passion and enthusiasm for a mid-term Saturday
morning was awesome to be part of.

As the hashtag in my title suggests, I’m still dining out on the same bloody
  thing, but hey, if it aint broke, I’m not fixing it! I saw @oldandrewuk ribbing
  people still blogging on SOLO, to which my former colleague @saidthemac offered
  a suitably sharp reply that made me smile.
But it got me thinking- what’s the point of these things that surge through the enormous populace of tweachers if they aren’t sustained and aren’t given opportunities to evolve into newer iterations of something which, let’s face it, must have been a bloody good idea in the first place for anyone to bother with.

As @gwenelope so fantastically commented in her recent blog, TofE gives ‘... an efficient and purposeful way of providing very focused feedback. Anything that saves time with marking and feedback has got to be good.’ So, I thought, why not capture that sense of feedback and give it to students before they undertake a piece of work. At the moment, we are studying ‘Transactional Writing’ in preparation for the WJEC Unit 2 exam. This lesson required the students to write a report covering how to improve their school. The resources they had were:

1.     Some ‘realistic’ stats and quotes which were made up and handed to them (we discussed importance of realistic and reliable data here, but the focus was on the format of the writing, and more in depth discussion about writing a report and making stats up from scratch in the actual exam will come later!)

2.     A small number of sentence stems for each section of the report

 For me, it’s at the end of the year, the students are, largely speaking, burned out, they have had a ludicrous amount of supply prior to me even getting here, and they’re probably not going to remember the minute details they will need to closer to the time. My focus has been capturing engaging ways that can expose them to a range of texts and give them a platform to build on from next year.

TofE helped as it enabled me to give them the challenge of setting up their own Success Criteria in a self-differentiating way. By this I mean that students were able to target areas they felt most comfortable with, and then move on to push themselves for the more complex errors, and the movement up the ladder provided a safe platform for them to do this. I asked them to mark a sample report and filter the errors as below:

Of course, the quality of feedback is variable, but the key is that so many students picked up on subtle points, and they often felt positively when I said that that they had found a ‘complex error.’ Notably, the informality of the langage with words such as 'rubbish' and 'reckon' was frowned upon (another battle I feel like I've won with them recognising this!) They saw that they could jump highly in a very short space of time, and this suddenly made the more mundane errors much, much easier to fix. At the time of writing, I’m half way through the marking, and I’ve never seen so many perfectly written capital letters! The key, I found, was after this phase of the lesson in terms of the @dkmead style critique process that we went through, which enabled a whole class success criteria to be built:    
The true measure of success of this as a teaching exercise was that students all completed the work in terms of quantity, andy also in the many conversations that I had with them, it was abundantly clear to them where they needed to improve their work- I could ask them what a ‘clear suggestion’ looked like, and they could tell me- it didn’t need an enormous amount of detail in the board, as it was unpacked in the class discussion prior to this. As below, for whatever level of work is produced, reference to the ‘fixes’ allows students to understand how to progress to the next level in a much simpler, broken down way (at least that’s what I think)! 

The lesson, while an improvement on the students’ previous attempts at writing a report, still needs tweaking.

When I do it again, I will:

1.     Give the students more time to plan their specific sections- although there was some discussion, it needed to be more in depth in order for students to genuinely produce a coherent report, given that they were responsible for different sections

2.     Back off with the sentence starters- this is something I am guilty of far too much- I want lessons to flow, students to feel confident, and me to feel like things are being done, but, in all honesty, I don’t see the long term benefits of these things, so I need to find a way of weaning myself and my students off them

3.     Allow one group to work on the teacher computer- I think particularly for a task such as this, seeing a (preferably effective) example being constructed would be useful, with frequent live interviews from the front of the room

I few months ago, I posted about why it was so 'bloody' difficult to teach English. 

As teachers, we live in a world of Ofsted, progress, yada yada...  My own personal world is also, currently, a number of difficult classes in a new school at a difficult time of year.

Actually getting the students to engage with any kind of specific learning outcome has been difficult, and continues to be, but thanks to @kevbartle life has become a wee bit simpler. His blog on "Taxonomy of Errors" instantly struck a chord, and I've been running with it ever since.

The truth is, given the ludicrous nature of what is now expected in terms of planning and marking so continuously, getting the students to actually take ownership of their own work is important more now than ever.

Handing the job of feedback over to the students has been a steep learning curve for my own professional development (and continues to be), but I feel it's absolutely crucial to trust students with providing their own feedback, not least if they are going to even begin to care about their own progress in real terms, and not the hijacked, reductionist sense of the term that people seem to be so hung up on nowadays.

What is Taxonomy of Errors?
Basically, a list of a range of errors that students can make in a piece of writing/work, from more basic to more complex.

How do you use it?
Basically, give the different levels of errors to the students, and they mark their own work (or peer assess)

An example of my own use is whilst studying the reading unit for WJEC. We looked at a question whereby the interviewer was was surprised by what they found when they met a celebrity. I was able to give the students a taxonomy of the errors that I found from a previous reading answer in their books, which was powerful, in that the students had been shown the image above, reminding them not to make the same mistake twice... (see the slideshow below for the example!)

Why do I love it so much?
  1. It forces me to think clearly about the success criteria I have in mind for a genuinely quality piece of work
  2. It helps the students recognise mistakes as an important part of the process, rather than an excuse to switch off- whether a mistake is not writing enough or not subtly interlinking various pieces of evidence, having a tangible aim is essential to keep students invested in the process
  3. It forces me to hand over to the students more- and trust them with taking their progression into their own hands 
  4. It encourages a sharing culture and a common vocabulary amongst students, and gives them a framework in terms of what work requires if it is to be improved
  5. It's extremely flexible- it can be used pre assessment (although I would recommend after students are familiar with it) to make students aware of what they need to avoid doing, or just simply used to tack on to a piece of homework, for instance, to supplement independence
  6. It can be differentiated to suit any level of student- I have used it and it was amazing to see the transformation of a group of year 8 students with targets as low as level 1s, for example, as well as a higher ability year 9 class with level 6/7 targets- students can be spotting missing capitals or a lack of coherence over an entire piece of written work
  7. It provides me with a frame of reference when verbally feeding back to students, and sharpens the process as well, enabling me to move on and help other students


English, Education, Solo, Literacy