English, Education, Solo, Literacy
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

After 2 years, 2 terms, and an incredibly difficult day on thursday, I have left my first post in teaching, at Cramlington Learning Village.

I've no doubt that leaving was the right thing to do, but it didn't make the incredibly touching shows from kids, colleagues and parents any easier to look past. It was this that I found truly overwhelming, and this that has really shaken me quite a lot since breaking up.

This feels like a weird post, but it's one I think that one or two NQTs might find interesting as they begin to close in on their first year in the job. If I could go back and speak to my NQT self, I would say the following:

1. Stop trying to become the teacher you want to be overnight. I went into CLV with a load of ideas about who I wanted to be and it served only to slow my own progression. I would tell myself to take it lesson by lesson, day by day, and work only on very specific aspects of each lesson that you want to  get better at, but realise that an NQT is just that- Newly Qualified! A now great friend of mine once told me that it's all about becoming 'unconsciously competent' and this is incredibly important. You can't rush your own development, I would tell myself to stop trying to be something I'm not, and just focus on the relationships and the controllables- what I can do to make this lesson that bit clearer than the last.

2. Find someone you trust to talk about things with.  I was lucky, I had an awesome mentor, and an AST that observed me, who stuck by me from that first (I think pretty poor) observation. These two will remain special to me in a professional sense for as long as I teach, because the bottom line was that the expectations were never ridiculous- they were realistic, achievable, and, above all, negotiated. I felt always able to speak to these two people about my failings, to put them into perspective, and to help me move on. 

3. You're right- it's about relationships! I would tell myself that I was right from the off about relationships- I was bowled over and cried at the words of some of the kids and parents on my last day, and these kids, I hope, went with me from day one because I wasn't scared to make a fool of myself or put on a silly voice for a character- I would tell my NQT self that you were right- go with the urge to develop relationships, it makes life easier, enjoyable, but above all, gives the students something to feel good about when they come through your door, which can only help achievement. One caveat to this is be careful to draw the line with the students though- but this doesn't have to be a huge, face threatening deal.

4. Stop worrying yourself- All I ever wanted was to impress. Mainly colleagues and senior management. I admit that. But when it came down to it on my last day, none of it mattered, and I will be absolutely sure to take this feeling with me in the future. Where I had always tried no matter what was with the kids, and to improve my teaching, and the rest is, really, a pleasant by-product. Sir Alex Ferguson deals with money at Man Utd so well- he simply says to the kids coming through that if they're at this level, they'll never have to worry about money so stop being greedy. That's where I went wrong, I was greedy in a sense- I should have focussed on doing the job I loved doing. I would tell myself to stop worrying about what everyone's thinking of your teaching and your ideas, and just enjoy it. I wish I'd just let go and trusted those around me earlier. 

Rather than thinking about what I'm bringing to my post as a Lead Learner/Teacher of English (I keep forgetting the title), I want to see what others can give me and what I can learn from them as well. I'm loving the chance to have a few days before putting together a formal plan for my new post, which I'm incredibly excited about, but I will never, never forget my first post, and all the wonderful things I experienced there.


English, Education, Solo, Literacy