Literacy is a hot topic at DHSB and for good reason: we want our students to achieve the highest possible academic standards. In order to do this it is necessary for students to be able to communicate their knowledge and understanding of a broad range of subjects with clarity, accuracy and confidence and not only in their written work but also their oral work. Unfortunately, with the wealth of information that students need to process and share, attention to detail is often lacking and valuable marks are lost due to errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. When you also consider that writing to describe or to explain means different things across the curriculum, you can understand why students sometimes struggle. So that leaves us with an unappealing word in ‘literacy’ and a significant challenge in helping students to prioritise precision. The good news is that there is a lot that we can do to reinforce these skills and that we now have a forum in the shape of this blog for doing so.
As a starting point I wondered if the explicit teaching of key words in every subject would help to transform learning. Whilst I recognise that the explicit teaching of key words on their own will not be successful in creating more effective or expert communication, it might help the students to re-engage with the specialist language of different subjects and give them access to ways of learning. It might also help students to become more thoughtful and more precise in their communication. Karen, Louise, Pam and Ross are currently working with 7W and 8N on a key words project and we’ll share the process and the findings here as we make progress with the project. The students have already shared their thoughts with us and literacy ambassadors for each subject have been chosen. Now it’s over to us to make the use of key words an integral part of the teaching and learning process. Geoff Barton would be proud!
Why would Geoff Barton be proud? Well, when I sent a recent plea to Geoff Barton (the author of “Don’t call it literacy!”) to provide me with an alternative term to ‘literacy’, I received a simple and direct reply: “Teaching? (I’m not joking: literacy should be embedded into what every teacher in every subject does).” Although I was hoping to find a more interesting and engaging term than ‘literacy’, I found in Geoff’s response the simple fact that it is our teaching that must engage students with literacy. So, with this response in mind, I gave up my brief quest to replace the term ‘literacy’ with something more appealing and tried to focus instead on what really matters and that is enhancing the quality of teaching and learning through improving communication. Why wait until students are in Yr11 and Yr13 to prioritise effective and accurate communication? It is critical to develop students’ confidence in spoken and written communication over time so that they build good habits. As subject specialists the one thing that we can all do every day within our teaching is to model expert communication and demonstrate effective communication perhaps through the use of key words. Let’s share our ideas and resources here!
Clare McConnell @DHSBEnglish
Head of English
I have recently taken the role of SWAT Coordinator across the school. After attending one meeting of SWATCo’s I cannot wholeheartedly define my role, which I believe will develop over time. However, I do know that SWAT will allow the continued development of teaching and learning and I think that opportunities for this with similar schools is integral to engage and challenge our students.
That’s nice, but what is SWAT?
SWAT (The South West Academic Trust) is a partnership of leading South West grammar schools and The University of Exeter.
The schools involved can be seen on the map above: Bishops Wordsworth School, Bournemouth School for Girls, Churston Ferrers Grammar School, Colyton Grammar School, Devonport High School for Boys, Parkstone Grammar School, Plymouth High School for Girls, Poole Grammar School, South Wilts Grammar School, Torquay Boys Grammar School and Torquay Girls Grammar School. These are leading academic schools in the South West region and these links are the start of exciting partnerships.
The vision for SWAT is that schools work together to raise achievement and aspiration within our schools. This partnership started with fewer schools and we have recently joined with the hope that we can work with these partner schools to foster good practice and innovation. Exeter University’s involvement gives us further opportunities to access resources for our teachers and students through their research and working collaboratively in teaching and learning and preparing students for higher education.
The key areas below are the driving factors for SWAT and its vision:
Subject Department collaboration will allow Heads of Department to meet and collaborate on a specific area of their choosing. This is likely to involve other department members and/or students and should contribute to work already being done to improve and develop teaching and learning
Gifted and talented research will allow those who have responsibility for G&T to meet to discuss how they can most effectively be challenged. These discussions take place alongside events specifically designed for our most able students.
SWAT also aims to look at CPD, activities for students and collaboration with local schools and the “Mastering the Dragon”conference is a good example of this in action (look out for more information about this event soon).
Please look out for regular posts and updates about SWAT events and opportunities for our students.
Rachael Green @dhsbgeography
Head of Geography
There is one big problem with wanting students to do background reading outside of the classroom; accountability. This is certainly an age-old problem, whereby only the most motivated of students actually complete the task. Step forwards Google Docs. I first used Google Forms to gather anonymous feedback from my students on teaching and learning styles they found most useful in Psychology. Encouraged by how quick, easy, but powerful it was I considered its utilisation for flipped learning.
For my year 13 Psychology students, one third of their course requires basic knowledge, with two-thirds strong evaluative skills. It is inevitably the latter skill students find challenging and cannot learn from a textbook, whereas facts can easily be absorbed outside of the classroom and consolidated in lessons. I recently trialled setting my students a pre-reading task before every new topic, emailing out a very short 7 question multiple-choice quiz to separate classes. Not only does Google Forms collate all of the students’ results in real-time, but it also time-stamps them and thus introduces accountability. It is as simple as it sounds. My main concern was whether students would fail to complete the task and arrive at lessons behind others, however within a week the opposite was true. Students knew results would be projected on the board at the start of the lesson, so would hastily complete on their phones in the break time before class if they’d forgotten.
It has been fantastically successful. All students arrive at new topics with prior knowledge, which means that we spend much more time in lessons focusing on higher level analytical skills, with consolidation tasks at the start to check for understanding. I can also identify any areas of misunderstanding from the outset (after throwing the odd tricky question in). All of my year 13s voted for keeping the quizzes (despite the extra reading four nights a week!) although half said they would prefer to be sent a quiz after a topic in class, either in addition to, or instead of the pre-reading one.
If interested in doing something similar, I would definitely recommend setting quizzes up in the holidays on your Google Drive, as they are time-consuming to create, but take seconds to share with a class at the end of a lesson.
Kimberley Croft @kimcroft
International Links Coordinator
Teacher of Psychology and Science