I'm bloody knackered from a mammoth 8 week slog.
To give you a bit more context, I've also spent the day marking roughly 80 key stage 3 books. I want to get off my chest just how bloody hard it is to teach my subject.
1. "Soft" Skills: you can teach a few strategies an techniques for kids to jazz up their writing, and students can pick these up and combine them relatively well- but I have to say that it so often feels like a grasp of English is so difficult to "teach" as such, but rather something that ought to be learned by osmosis- I would say all of my English skill- and I should have some as an English teacher- has been learned in a gradual process, and not something which can be taught and tracked by simple reductionism as the government seem to want (3 sublevels of progress etc etc etc). Granted, we need to track these things, but it feels like Assessment Foci are trying to be so broad, yet so narrow. There doesn't seem to be any real room to explore and have fun with the subject beyond it all tying back to Assessment Objectives. I feel the same with Mice and Men at GCSE- everything ties back to learning objectives- to track progress throughout a lesson- but surely that defeats the point of an original interpretation- how can this be genuinely linked to ONE learning objective for 30 students to show "tangible" progress? This is particularly if we are talking about unique and meaningful interpretations which have been explored with a degree of spontaneity. It's almost as if the truly loveable aspects of English are inversely proportional to the ways in which we assess it.
2. What "IS" English? I feel like as an English teacher I need to be too many things at once- guardian of the grammar police and also some kind of stereotypically eccentric type that everyone remembers when they have left school (I had two, actually...) Maybe I'm still wet behind the ears, in fact, I know I am, but I'm still struggling with all of this.
3. The bloody marking- this kind of links to the two points above, but the feedback that students receive is so carefully thought through and I can more than understand its raison d'être. However, doing it and putting it all together for every student is something else altogether. I'm going to make time to give my students space to practice in the light of the feedback they receive, but to be fair to the poor kids, there's so bloody much of it- maybe it's a personal thing, but I think we need to be very careful about not having overkill for both teachers and students, for similar reasons as it goes.
4. Literacy- this is so often levelled at English teachers, and rightly so in many ways, but literacy is something which is becoming increasingly important across the board. We need to think of ways of sharing the load so all subjects can take part and reap the benefits of an improved level of student literacy its many forms. I feel so worried for my students when I read their work and correct their English- there is almost too much to give them, so I focus on the key bits and chip away, but it comes back to this whole 'soft skills' thing- so much of English is about the practice of putting things together, by osmosis. Now, I love SOLO, for example, but it's difficult to map explicitly how a student can take an example, written by someone of a higher ability often, and then generate their own turn of phrase and learn that tangible skill for themselves. If anything, reducing writing to set phrases will only make things worse- so how can this whole transference of soft skills thing be measured? I'm sure it's the same in other subjects in different guises.
SO WHAT NEXT?
I've set myself some new goals to help my kids-
1. Give the kids space to respond to feedback that I've given them, and space to practice putting my comments into practice- I'm going to use "Mr Sammons' red zone: rewrite the red zone in the box..."
2. Use my verbal feedback stamp to help the students with the "transfer" situation in terms of what we discuss and putting exchanges into words- must do better with this...
3. Don't give up- don't overlook the tiny details- I'm trying to create a mini database in my markbook to give kids specific targets in terms of punctuation/spelling based on previous assessments and marking- at the beginning of a new module I'm giving them a lesson to set targets based on this, so skills and basic literacy is transferred across. In other words, when they start a new topic every 6 weeks, it is most certainly NOT a blank slate!