When I first came into teaching, Pie Corbett was the best thing since sliced bread. In many schools, I'm sure he still is.
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.
What I found to be so successful about this method, was the very first stage. Liken it to Maths; how many times would you expect your class to be able to solve a problem before you've modelled the method?
My top 3 tips for literary immersion...
1. Plan for 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.
2. Give it a purpose
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!
3. Use different media
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:
What does it look like?
This is a basic example of what I have described. (I am currently preparing a separate post about this work in more depth.)
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.
Dear Supply Teacher,
Thank you for taking my class during my 2 week absence and ensuring their safety while in your care. I didn't want to be away for so long, but it was unavoidable. I trust you enjoyed yourself; they're a vibrant bunch. However, don't be fooled; they couldn't wait to grass you up. My children are devious, mastermind-sleuths, who are not to be trusted. Their smiles are angelic, their eyes burn bright, but behind the mask is a fickle being, perfectly capable of lulling you into a full sense of security.
Here's how I know:
I can understand why there would be cause for "interpretation" when following routines you don't know and teaching from a plan you didn't write. In all honesty, the only person who understands the plan is me! It must be daunting to enter a new school and be expected to lead the day with a group of strangers (although if you'd arrived before 9am every day you might stand a better chance - yes, I know about that too; they were fascinated by the briefcase they watched you walk in with everyday!) For these reasons, you were more than welcome to ignore the "Outline of Lesson" box, and just focus on the "Learning Objective"; that is, after all, what I need them to learn. I could even understand you disregarding the work and resources I had prepared for you because we all know every teacher has their own style.
All children might give a bit of attitude sometimes, and push the boundaries with their behaviour, they do it for us all; but they are loyal. And although my class and I irritate each other (I'm too fussy and they're too loud), don't ever forget that we have each other's backs. We laugh together, help each other, and learn along the way.
Thank you so much for looking after them; you did a great job to keep them safe.
Those who know me, professionally and personally, will be aware I've had to take 2 weeks 'off'; a little hospital trip to destroy a worrying lump. I did everything to avoid the procedure being in school time, but the recovery time has been longer than my optimism had predicted, despite trying to schedule it all during the Winter break.
I have felt like a total vegetable; mind-numbing tv, no physical movement, and the worst bit? I've missed work. My colleagues, my kids and the supportive families that leave them in our care each day. In case you weren't aware, I'm a bit of a geek. I love my job, and with all the current articles regarding the 'teacher recruitment crisis', I want to tell you some of the best things about this warming profession.
Education needs you!
A career in Education exercises your imagination!
One of the aspects I like most is the opportunity to create. Whether it's designing a unit of work, planning a sequence of lessons, or thinking of a way to communicate something in a memorable way, you can really think out of the box and experiment with finding the best way forward. With all learners benefitting from different methods, it's your job to help as many as you can. Find or design the resource, provide the experience; whatever works!
A career in Education challenges you!
Personally, I could never head to work, stay at the same desk, and leave hours later. I also couldn't wander around the same shop all day. Teaching is a never-ending puzzle; a constant problem to solve! If the last strategy didn't work, find a new one! Twin that with the Tetris-like juggling of a packed timetable and it's almost like an arcade game! If you like to be intellectually stimulated, teaching is for you.
A career in Education is rewarding!
It's the fluffiest cliché, but the most true. There's nothing like the feeling of seeing a moment where a student begins to understand something. It's in the eyes; a change in thinking as they finally make a break through, and with the inevitable, associated struggles that come alongside the two listed above, the sense of pride as their teacher is tremendous. It's a profession full of cognitive and emotional embrace.
A career in Education is varied!
While the day-to-day timings are broadly the same, the content of each working day is totally different and never dull. Adding to that, you meet a range of people, both in and out of the classroom from a wide variety of backgrounds, with all manner of colourful histories. Yes, some of these histories can cause difficulties, but a bit of empathy goes a long way. If you're lucky, you'll get a chance to get to know these people and the journey they have taken to your meeting.
A career in Education will make you laugh!
They say never work with animals or children. Depending on how brave you were planning that lesson, you might find yourself doing both! Young people, often accidentally, say the funniest things; they make the best dinner-time stories with their strange wonderments and most logical explanations for the most complicated phenomena. Leave your troubles at the door and prepare for a giggle. Humour is an underrated tool in the classroom; it makes everyone feel welcome and has all participants eager to return, making the whole learning process a lot more enjoyable.
Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.
At times it will be emotional; some of your learners have come to you from a place you couldn't even imagine. Yet, they're relying on you to help them. At times it will be stressful; there are often deadlines set by an invisible boss. Yet, what job doesn't involve quality assurance from a foreign body creeping from their ivory tower? At times it won't feel worth it; that lesson didn't go as well as you hoped. Yet, that's life isn't it? Tomorrow will be different!
Come in. I'm about to return, and I think you should come with me.
Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognising your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them.