Sunday, 23 September 2012


In my department, we've spent a couple of years improving our schemes. At first, they were non-existent; at best, they were collections of vague objectives copied from curriculum documents and a task or two for a novel. There was no notion of progress, assessment or differentiation.

That changed as the school changed. Our schemes became thorough, well mapped and useful. They were differentiated. Progress was planned for.

It didn't seem enough. Reading the ofsted document 'Excellence in English' put the notion of relevance in my mind. The best laid plans for literature in year ten were, on the surface, superb. In reality, that realism and relevance was missing.

Why should they care? Beyond snaring enough marks for a certain grade, what was their motivation?

The answer came to me when I was strolling slowly home at about 3.04 one sunny afternoon, having worked all the way through from 8.57.

Thematic schemes would fix my problems. War poetry was 'dusty' and 'dead' - none of them cared about the classics of the genre. Sure, you could drop in Casualties of War by Rakim, or show a spot of Saving Private Ryan, but it still didn't seem to do the job.

Thematic schemes would place the idea of conflict in its wider context, relating to the reality of modern society. It would allow the teaching of persuasive techniques, the study of journalism, the writing of short stores - a rounded education, rather than an excessive focus on narrow objectives over a six week period, before moving onto another set of AOs or AFs after the next break.

Our schemes had the basics, forced in by the needs of the school at a certain stage of its journey. Relevance and a thematic focus would allow us to move to the next level. We started adapting our existing schemes this year. In the conflict module, we studied 9/11 on 9/11 - in a multicultural, multi faith classroom, the discussions provoked engaged students like never before. Simple questions about their views on war led to the realisation that they think war is a normal state of affairs. Their reflection in this was powerful. Their responses and thoughts when studying poetry by Ed Poynter showed how they'd developed their thinking - much more personal and considered than before.

The year seven induction scheme became more powerful when they were writing for a real audience, knowing their work would get to that audience. Revamping of the school's digital media facilities further enhances opportunities to do this.

Of course, all good teachers create relevance somehow, often intuitively. As an objective for a department, however, it is powerful. It has promoted discussion of teaching in new ways, and encouraged the sharing of ideas and resources amongst the department.

We have many more targets. Improving enrichment opportunities, leading the promotion of reading, increasing independence as engagement. The list goes on. Relevance is the start. We can show our passion, show why we care, why we teach what we teach, why we love the subject.

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