Ten Takeaways from Jo Facer’s ‘Simplicity Rules’

Teaching Top Tens

I saw Jo Facer speak at a researchEd English I attended a few years back in Swindon. Okay, having just checked, it was November 2015. There was a lot coming out of Micheala at the time, and I believe knowledge organisers were starting to be spoken about (but weren’t fully understood). I remember listening to her and I loved her speaking style: she was clearly so engaged in her subject, in the importance of knowledge, in breaking educational boundaries.

Therefore I was extremely excited when my Head of Department gave everyone a copy of her book at the end of the year. Not only was I excited to read it myself, I was intrigued to hear what others might think. We have introduced knowledge organiser, whole class feedback, and starters to recall knowledge- these all feature in Facer’s book. I’m hoping that if we read it as a department, it…

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Ten Takeaways from ‘How to Teach English’ by Jennifer Webb

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My main priority this summer-from a work perspective- is to do a lot of reading. I’ve got a notepad which I’m keeping with me as I read, and I’m jotting ideas down as I read. I offered on Twitter to share some of my reflections, and it was met with a positive response, so I’m going to go ahead and process some of my ideas in this post.

I saw Jennifer Webb speak at the Team English National Conference, and I absolutely loved her opening keynote, which had us all laughing and reflecting on our roles as English teachers. I immediately decided to buy her new book; I have seen a lot of positivity around it on Twitter so it was an easy choice to read. Below are 10 ideas/activities/thoughts I had when reading it – it’s not in chronological or any other type or order. Let me know if…

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Building Vocabulary: 10 Strategies for Closing the Gap

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Over summer I read Alex Quigley’s ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’. It has really hit me how the quality of a student’s vocabulary can be indicative of not only what they learn, but what they can access, and how they can respond both verbally and in written work.

After my return to school, I think two more aspects of vocabulary have hit me. The first is seeing the GCSE papers returning, and looking at grade 9 ones from last year, and thinking really hard about what separates a 30/30 response from a 23-25/30 response. I think it’s the vocabulary.

As an examiner myself, I’m not suggesting that the words a student uses can dupe the examiner into thinking they’re more intelligent. And actually, whilst I teach a lot of vocabulary to students, it is only the ones who actively work to apply that vocabulary that can use it seamlessly. I think…

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Ten Testing Strategies: A Range of Activities for Varying Retrieval Practice

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I have said in previous blogs that this is not an academic, research-based approach to blogging. I read a lot of these types of articles, and a lot of books, but I am not the type to type up my own scientific response to these ideas. I won’t be providing a series of detailed references, or any links to back up why I do this. But one thing I can say, is I firmly believe testing works.

By testing, I obviously mean low stakes recall tasks which force students to bring information out of their long term memory, or in same cases, fill in the blanks in that memory. I don’t mean long, summative, extended tasks which require the teacher to provide feedback. I mean activities which are marked by the student themselves, thus allowing them to know what they know, but – more importantly – to know what they…

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Comparing Content: 10 Approaches to AQA Paper 2 Question 2

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It appears that paper 2 of the new English Language GCSE from AQA is the greater of two new evils. Many teachers dislike the paper. But with the exception of the 19th century text, it really is a blessing. Honestly. Firstly, it has the most common trends with the old language GCSE. It offers non-fiction texts, which we are used to applying skills of summary and analysis to. It allows students to present their own viewpoint on a subject, and everyone knows teenagers have opinions. It offers a language question with an identical mark scheme to paper 1, allowing students to build on analysis of a short extract to selecting language across a whole source, and offering students an extra 4 marks for doing so. It has a question where students have to literally shade the boxes of statements which are true. So really, the problems lie with questions 2 and…

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Quotation Application Test: Why, How, and What Next?

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I’ve had a big response since I’ve post the quotation application test I started yesterday with my year 11. With retweets come questions and I’m not confident I can respond to them all on Twitter. So this post is split up into why I decided to create the sheet and what its purpose is, followed by how I did it and how I plan to develop it. First, here’s an example of the sheet completed so you know what I’m explaining:


Why I’m doing it:

1: I’ve already taught the quotations

If you haven’t read my blog post already about how I’ve been teaching quotations this year, it’s available here . Essentially I have been teaching students 3-4 quotations a week since October. The problem is that now, when we carried out a test on the first day back after half term, students had to write down 46 quotations and 4…

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Quotation retention: why and how I do it.

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When the changes to GCSE English Literature were announced, I was outraged. Relatively new to teaching, caught up in the wave of Gove-hatred which I felt was the accepted way to feel, I was indignant about the announced alterations. But, I am not ignorant. I am open to change.

With my year 11s last year I ensured they knew the poems and key texts well enough that they could plan a rough answer without searching through the text. I guess my mindset was that I was doing it with year 10, so why not year 11? And I think their analysis became all the better for it; they were able to adapt quotations, develop their analysis, become more flexible with their understanding of character and theme presentation. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. And when a far more experienced and wiser teacher than myself told me that the students not…

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Away with displays: my top ten working walls.

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When I first started teaching, the idea of beautiful displays made me very excited. Over the years I have worked in children’s nurseries and I could spend hours making a perfect six foot long Hungry Caterpillar or a 3D pirate ship complete with feather parrots and a child-sized pirate lovingly splattered with paint and glitter.

However, it’s not quite that simple at secondary school. What’s the point in a display if it doesn’t impact the student’s learning? What’s the point in spending hours designing and laminating a beautiful display when by the time you actually get it up on the wall you’re about to move on from the unit and no one cares anymore? And there’s always the real issue (in my mind) that there isn’t enough room to display something from everyone in every class, and is that really fair?

So instead of displays, I have working walls. And over…

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