English Team Review 2013

The blurb

I decided to make our team review much more experimental this year to allow us to focus on developing our teaching and learning. The focus was writing, and before the review started we all went away to read up on different ideas for developing writing. This meant that by the time we went to observe each other we had already started experimenting and building our ideas into our teaching.

The delivery

The Team Review was held in a teachmeet style, where everyone presented their ideas and teaching techniques. The brief was to present something that was interesting, transferable and productive. The ideas could be new or old, but had to work. The presentations were short and were evidenced by examples of work. Nibbles were provided.

The reason

Why focus on writing? It is central to everything we do in English, and grammar is becoming a much bigger element of many subjects. For English Language, SPaG is growing to 20% of the new GCSE from 2015. But we also have a moral obligation, as explained in my short animation:

The presentations

The idea of word rich and word poor, and the widening gap between them, is known as the MATTHEW EFFECT. This idea is developed in this powerpoint by MJW, which goes on to show one teaching technique (SLOW WRITING) that provides a grammatical structure and reinforces knowledge, while still maintaining creativity. It also shows examples of code based marking used by a number of the department to speed up feedback,  and the benefits of double spaced paper.

JER’s presentation below goes through using DIRT to improve writing in year 7. The exemplar work at the end of the slideshow shows how weak students can develop when given a framework for thinking about their work:

JCH‘s presentation used the metaphor of driving to instil a notion of CONTROL in her students’ work. CONTROL is a key idea in developing writing: you have to be aware of what you are doing to control it. This shows how progress can be made in a lesson as students exert more control over their work, while simultaneously reflecting and improving writing. JCH is – of course – widely regarded as the Lewis Hamilton of the English Department.

CLB gave a presentation showing how TECHNICAL CHALLENGE can be engaging and productive, and used her interactive whiteboard to MODEL MANIPULATING SENTENCE STRUCTURES. The work was based in the CONTEXT of the novel ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’, and is a good example of how we often use a specific context to develop our writing. It is also a good example of using TECHNICAL VOCABULARY: students get used to the metalinguistics quickly, and often already have it in year 7. Without reminding, this knowledge disappears.

FM gave a very interesting presentation about developing spelling skills, and her lesson  involved debate and discussion around spelling and its importance, as well as a potted history of the English language. The discussion after her presentation gave us a few pointers for developing our curriculum, and it was great to have her views coming from her MFL background. She also noted the need for more DICTIONARIES and THESAURUSES in the dept.

We then watched a brief video by Ron Berger. JPR talked through how she had used it with her class, as had a number of other teachers including JER, JCH and MJW. The general consensus was that it allowed students to see how PEER ASSESSMENT and dogged determination can improve the outcome beyond the expectations of students. This is definitely something we will come back to:

JPR then went on to show how she had used the BUTTERFLY combined with the idea of the GALLERY CRITIQUE. This is where work is distrubuted around the room and students read several examples, offering positive comments and suggestions via post-its as they look around the work.

JCH explored the idea of developing writing by tapping into students’ own ideas about what ‘perfect’ writing looks like. For each skill, students move around the room, picking up ideas specific to their needs. The final pieces of writing were used in a BEAT THE TEACHER competition.


ZG gave an interesting presentation that explored how to promote independence in writing. The students in her class worked through a flow diagram of checks and balances, with each stage requiring a signing off by other students. This shared responsibility and meant that students were constantly checking and pushing each others’ work.

IOK‘s presentation took us through a three lesson sequence that was aimed at developing writing over time. One of the earliest slides links writing outcomes to MODELLING and this is a key technique for students’ development.
JEB’s presentation picked up on technical language and allowed students time to explore the effects of different sentence structures. He also showed a very CLOSE ANALYSIS of word choice in Steinbeck, and reflected that in the students’ own work. He has also provides a good example of how seemingly arbitrary challenges can develop writing.

The final presentation was concerned with using hexagons to structure sentences and thought. This is developed from an idea used in MFL. The idea is that because hexagons tesselate, we can break down parts of a sentence using them. We can add in extra detail, flip over the hexagons to develop words, and generally manipulate sentences in an interesting way. I’ve also been using them to structure writing, as shown below:

The presentations were excellent throughout, and it was great to see so many teachers enthused with ideas, and spreading that enthusiasm to each other. The team review was therefore a great success because the process allowed us to read, experiment and reflect. Most people evaluated what they had done, and gave honest assessments to show how to improve the ideas. We were not sharing gimmicks and fads. Without exception, the learning that was explored was INDEPENDENT, technically CHALLENGING, EVALUATIVE and ENGAGING. There is a lot to celebrate, but this is an ongoing project. MJW ended with a gallery of learning, and some questions to ponder: