However, my school (at the time) began to veer away from him. For a few blinks, I could see why; external pressures fooled schools into thinking that children needed to 'look busy' in order for the school to be a success, rather than accessing an activity that would benefit them in the long term. Perhaps some of you will have experienced this yourselves; a strange expectation for little people to show ability in a skill you haven't actually taught, because you didn't want them sitting for long enough for you to explain it to them? Or that the volume of an experiential activity is horrifically misunderstood as misbehaviour rather than engagement; teaching-snobbery.
This confusing time led to teachers (myself included) making ridiculous choices in regards to English 'teaching'; expecting an impressive and completed composition in a 60 minute lesson, with no planning opportunity for the children, few of which have any prior knowledge of what is expected to be in it (even if you did list it on the comprehensive Success Criteria and provide a 'word mat'); the most bizarre teaching sequences, with little or no build-up, all in a bid to get as much on the page as possible, because 'getting more done' was good (regardless of the quality or ability to transfer what had been 'taught').
And I fear it wasn't just them. Worryingly, when I was applying for jobs, I sat with an SLT member who flicked from the first page of one of my learner's books, straight to the last page, and uttered, 'They've not made enough progress'. Internally, I was seething, but externally (through gritted teeth) I politely asked, "Have you actually read the writing?" Her reply was a lonely "No". I withdrew my application.
One of my most favourite strategies from Pie Corbett, and one that I intend to keep for a long time, was his 3 part structure; Immerse the children in what you want them to learn, help them Imitate what it looks like to be successful so they can Innovate and apply what they have learnt and experienced.
(I think the fear comes from not knowing what this might look like on paper!)
My top 3 tips for literary immersion...
As the teacher, you should have a clear vision of where you're expecting MOST of the learning to go. While a tangent is always fun, keep in mind what you're expecting the children to LEARN. Ask yourself, "At the end of this unit of work, what do I want my children to be able to do, and to what extent will this help them in the future?"
As a result of this valuable foresight, I recommend you write your own versions of what you're expecting the children to do, so that you have a bank of vocabulary and sentence structures ready to TEACH the children. Take time to read them with your class, annotate them, go crazy with coloured pencils and highlighters. Over time, they will be able to draw on these themselves, using the models that you have taken time to create; ensuring you're heading towards the end goal you have identified.
Whatever you're expecting the children to be able to do, regardless of how many 'versions' of your own you have written, ensure it has some purpose.
One of the most magical things about our job, is that we can really use our imagination. For this reason, I always try to have a quality text that inspires our writing, whether fiction or non-fiction; rendering our 'purpose', most often, completely fantastical! Children (and most adults who work with them) have a wonderful sense of humour; while we all know this isn't real, we are really enjoying that story we are reading, so we'll go along with it!
Alongside your written versions, use pictures, clips and films to bring the writing to life; another way to present the language you're teaching the children. Some of my favourites are:
- www.literacyshed.com - PACKED with little clips that are brilliant for inspiring writing, a great way to hear the language structures you're looking for.
- www.teachinghooks.com - an AMAZING selection of pictures that you can use as a stimulus for writing, useful for igniting discussion to rehearse the vocabulary you're teaching.
- www.youtube.com - an underrated teaching resource that combines the benefits of the above. Common sense will tell you to watch all clips and view all images before using them.
What does it look like?
We were reading an abridged version of Oscar Wilde's 'The Canterville Ghost', where there is a mysterious bloodstain that keeps appearing on the carpet! The oldest brother, Washington, keeps cleaning it, but when he returns, it's always back!
I had planned for this to be the stimulus for persuasive writing; adverts! Our task was to create a new cleaning product that Washington could use. Time to be immersed! We spent an entire lesson watching various cleaning adverts on YouTube; popular bleach brands, kitchen and bathroom cleaners...it was hilarious! We pointed out the blatant exaggeration, the guilt-tripping, the emotional blackmail, etc. Very quickly, the children picked up similar phrases used across the clips and developed a very critical eye, giving reasons for the language the adverts used. A simple mindmap recorded the phrases they heard on paper; easy for them to refer to independently.
We even started to notice all the little writing they hide in the corners ('leave for 30 minutes'), why the company play safe claiming '99.9% of germs are banished', and began to understand how the phrase 'up to 100%' can include anything from zero upwards!
Immersion, in my opinion, is the best way to build understanding and make the learning stick; promoting success when applied.
Take the time to allow your learners to experience something. It will pay dividends when you want some independent writing from them; a piece of pie!