Why a KS3 Literature Curriculum is good for GCSE English Language

This week a question was asked of me about my department’s KS3 Literature Curriculum and how effective it is in preparing students for the demands of the AQA GCSE Language Exam. Put on the spot, I didn’t immediately have the words to defend it…but I do now.

Much, much earlier this year, I wrote a blog about the reading demands of the English Language exam and stressed the need for students to be accomplished readers in order to do well; therefore, it is for exactly this reason that the KS3 Literature Curriculum is essential.

The AQA GCSE English Language paper demands that students are excellent readers. To be an excellent reader, a student must have an exceptionally wide knowledge base and an excellent command of vocabulary to be able to make precise interpretations of texts. As a Head of English, the greatest thing that I can do to try and ensure students have an “exceptionally wide knowledge base” is to ensure that my KS3 curriculum is knowledge rich. As such, my team and I have made choices about the texts that we teach that we think will equip students with the most knowledge. Students in our school study a range of novels, plays and poetry to allow us to impart such knowledge. We also study the contexts around these texts and try to ensure that our students have a deep knowledge of what they are studying.

However, I am not naive. I appreciate the mammoth size of the job in hand and I accept that it is impossible for English teachers alone to deliver the knowledge that some students need to excel in their English Language exam, knowledge that some students will not get outside of school. Also, I fully accept and, in fact, embrace that a lot of that knowledge does not have to come from books.

In last summer’s GCSE English Language paper, a comparison was made between an English teacher reading a brilliant piece of work and a prospector discovering a gold nugget the size of a fist. To understand the significance of this, the students needed to know what a prospector is and why a nugget of gold the size of a fist would be extraordinary. Unashamedly, a point of reference for what a prospector is could come from Toy Story 2 with “Prospector Pete”, and you could know that it would be incredibly rare to find a nugget of gold the size of a fist if you have ever watched an episode of Gold Rush.

Essentially, what makes it so difficult to be able to prepare students to do well in GCSE English Language is that the knowledge they may need to  be able to understand and interpret the unseen text they are given – could – be – anything.

A student may have done a million practice questions. They may know exactly what they need to do to answer each question. They may know that they need to include evidence and analyse key words or methods. But, if they do not have knowledge to be able to comprehend and interpret the text then they will not excel.

Students in Year 7, 8 and 9 may not perform highly on the reading sections of the AQA KS3 tests simply because they have not acquired enough knowledge yet. They are not accomplished readers yet. How can they get better? Read more. Watch more documentaries. Travel the world. Go to museums. Watch the news. Absorb everything around them.

How do you map that on your English curriculum?



What every teacher, student and parent needs to know about the English Language GCSE

The inescapable truth about the current GCSE English Language qualification is that ultimately section A of each paper is an assessment of a student’s ability to read. This should not come as a surprise. It is not a mystery. Section A is the reading section of the examination. However, more than ever before, if a student is not a proficient reader of demanding texts then they will fail to achieve highly in their English Language GCSE.

Consequently, the onus on schools to improve a student’s reading ability has never been more important.  If a student cannot independently read a complex text then they are doomed to failure, and given that it is a reading assessment, no student can have a reader to read the text to them. As such, there are many students who will struggle to accurately comprehend the meaning of the text and, in turn, accurately answer the questions related to that text.

English teachers up and down the country will be getting their Year 11 students to complete mock papers and practice questions. Often, after students have completed these papers and practice questions, the teachers will spend hours upon hours going back over what the students did wrong for each question. However, some will question the merit in this when the text in the exam will never be the one the students have done for practice. They will ask what value is there in the students understanding the text they got wrong in the practice when the exam text may be completely different and the student may not understand that text either. I am not going to get into a debate about this here but what I am going to stress is the most important thing that we can do to ensure that students do well in their English language GCSE is: make students more competent readers of demanding texts.

Just this week the Guardian published an article about the lack of reading undertaken by secondary school pupils https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2018/feb/22/reading-progress-halts-when-students-reach-secondary-school

and it is extremely worrying that so many students’ reading ages fall well below their chronological age at secondary school. To put this challenge into the exam context, one of the GCSE AQA specimen exam inserts has an ATOS level of 8.8; this level is well above what most students at secondary school will be reading for pleasure and so we need to do much more to promote reading and, in particular, the right sorts of reading so that students are more suitably prepared to take on the English GCSE.

The Matthew Effect is well known and we need to be more proactive about making sure that all of our students are “word rich”. If we tackle students’ reading engagement and reading ability lower down the school at KS3 then we will most certainly improve our students’ successes at GCSE.

At my current school we do some of the following in order to try to boost our students’ progress in reading:

  1. We have a whole-school tutor reading programme where students partake in whole-class reading in their tutor groups for 20 minutes twice weekly. The texts have been chosen by our English Lead Practitioner and cover a range of prose, poetry, fiction and non-fiction. These texts are rich, varied and demanding and they help to increase our students knowledge of the world and cultural capital.
  2. Students read for a minimum of ten minutes at the start of every English lesson with lower ability sets reading for up to 30 minutes. We follow the Accelerated Reader program with students reading age and level appropriate books.
  3. At KS3 we study challenging texts such as Animal Farm, Journey’s End and Great Expectations.
  4. For homework, students are expected to read for 30 minutes per evening and write a paragraph summary of their reading. These summaries are checked daily by the class teacher and detentions are issued for non-completion. As a school we have invested in high quality readers so that each student is given a new book to read each term. This allows us to ensure that the students read a range of books that are challenging but still age appropriate. This initiative guarantees that all students read at least 6 books for homework each academic year.

We hope that this focus on reading will pay dividends for our students in the future and we cannot express strongly enough to anyone who will listen that the best thing any teacher or parent can do for the young people in their care is to ensure that they are confident and competent readers.

Creating the right classroom culture for the most effective learning! (Or what good teaching and learning looks like)

This is the blog I said I would write soon in my:  Reduce the marking you take home – do it in the classroom! Actionable feedback in the moment (or the glory of 75 minute lessons) blog.

It’s a blog about how I try to create a purposeful work environment which allows me to circulate the class and give effective feedback to students, while the rest of the class works in silence. It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s pretty mundane.

In my opinion, the most important things required to create a purposeful work environment are:

  1. Routine
  2. Consistency
  3. Crystal clear teacher explanation of what the students need to do, how they need to do it, and what success in the task looks like


My lessons are not “rock-star”. I make no apologies for that. I choose students having secure knowledge and successful outcomes over being a “fun” or even “nice”teacher. When my students walk into my classroom the routine is near enough always the same:

  1. Come in, sit down quietly, get your equipment out, complete the first activity – at KS3 this will be silent reading. At KS4, this will be either: silent reading, a recap quiz, or thinking about a key question/bit of knowledge that is on the board that will be invaluable to the lesson.
  2. I will introduce what we will be learning about today – usually framed around a key question. For example:

“Today we will be studying the poem Half-Caste and working out why the poet wrote the poem. We will be considering why the term Half-Caste is an offensive term when used to refer to people of mixed race.”

By the end of the lesson, this is my goal. For every student to be able to answer that question eloquently in a full sentence – ideally illustrating their answer with analysis of evidence from the poem. (Although, for some students being able to include the analysis of evidence may have to be the outcome of the second lesson on this poem. Initially, what is most important for me is that my students have understood this first objective securely before I move on and add in anymore complexity.)

3. I will then be the expert in the room and clearly explain everything that the students need to know to meet our classroom objective. If, as in the example above, we are studying a poem then I will go through the poem line by line with the students and annotate the poem on the board – insisting that the students annotate the poem too. I will use cold-call questioning to draw responses from the students as we work through the poem so that they are active participants in the learning process.

4. At this point in the lesson, I will re-introduce the question we are working towards and use questioning to get the students to begin to verbalise their answer. The questioning will go around the room with students improving on the previous answers given until we have a sufficiently detailed and eloquent answer.

5. Following this questioning, I will model how the students could begin their answer and give them clear instructions about what needs to be in the remainder of the answer for it to be a successful response. I ensure the students know this is a silent task and what the consequence is if they are not silent. I give them a clear time-frame for them to complete the work and then they begin.

6. I give the students a minute or so to get going and then I being to circulate. Because every student knows what to do and has what they need (the knowledge from the exposition parts of the lesson), because every student knows the expectation to work in silence and what will happen if they do not, they work. I circulate the room and praise and intervene as necessary:

Praise: “Well done for making clear what the writer thinks of the term Half-Caste”.

Intervention: “You need to add that this is an offensive term when being used to refer to people who are mixed race”.

And that’s it! I told you it wasn’t rocket science. I told you it was mundane. But if you’re not bored yet then I’ll tell you how the lesson would usually finish.

7. After the students have had the time to complete their responses, I would ask some students to read their work or display it to the class using a visualiser. I and/or the students would reflect on the strengths of the response and anything that could be improved. If there are improvements to be made to a specific student’s work then they will do it there and then, in that moment. All students are asked to compare the work being read or shown to their own work and, again, if students see something that is good that they have not included in their own answer then they add it – there and then, in that moment.

8. At the end of the lesson, the students are given instructions to pack up – always the same routine – any resources that have been used that are staying in the room to be returned, if books are being handed in then they are passed to the ends of the rows, all equipment is packed away and the students stand quietly behind their desks.

9. Time for more questioning. To finish the lesson, I will again use cold-call questioning and question the students about key learning from the lesson. If a student struggled with something in the lesson then they may be re-asked that question. The same key question will be put to several students in the group and always to the lowest attaining students. I need to know that all of my students have understood the key question before they leave the room. In the example of the Half-Caste poem that I taught yesterday this was:

“Why is it offensive to refer to someone who is mixed-race as Half-Caste?”

10. Finally, what will I do next lesson? Exactly the same thing. Exactly the same routine. And, in any re-cap towards the starts of lessons, I will re-ask the the key question(s )from the previous lesson.

So that’s it. Definitely not rocket science! And if you are not already running your lessons like this, give it a go.

Reduce the marking you take home – do it in the classroom! Actionable feedback in the moment (or the glory of 75 minute lessons).

As an English teacher there is no getting away from the fact that, unless your school has a “no teacher pen in books policy”, there will always be a high demand on your time created by marking, and this is difficult to get away from. Early on in my career I was given the advice that, when I walk around my classroom, I should do it with a pen and “get into the books”. It’s a skill – or perhaps we’d be better to call it a strategy for marking – that I’m still working on ten years later. However, it’s a skill – or strategy – that pays dividends when you get it right.

At my current school I have the luxury of 75 minute lessons. Admittedly, moving from a school with 50 minute lessons (and that had before that been 35 minute lessons) I, at first, did not see the 75 minutes as a luxury and found the lessons just far too long! But, as with everything else, we get over this and adapt. I now embrace the 75 minutes and do this in the time to help me combat my marking workload:

  1. Starts of lessons

It is my departmental policy for students to read independently at the starts of lessons. The time given to this is usually 10 minutes; however, for students with lower reading ages then I am happy for this to be extended to 20 or even 30 minutes on occasion (but not necessarily every lesson). While this reading is taking place, it is an ideal opportunity for me to “get into the books”.

A culture has been established in my classroom with a consistent routine so that every student knows that they are expected to come into the room, get their equipment out (including their homework for checking) and read in silence. While this is happening, I circulate the classroom checking with my pen the homework and/or exercise books of the students.

Typically, here are some of the things that I may come across and the actions I take:

  • Poor Handwriting

Student X has completed their homework but the writing is illegible. I ask the student to help me decipher the words. I draw the student’s attention to the specific issues with the handwriting that are making it difficult to read – e.g not writing on the line, specific letters not being formed correctly, words too close together, letters of the same word have been separated, tails of letters that don’t go below the line that should, necks of letters that should be taller etc. I pick the key failing and demonstrate what to do and then I direct that student to practise that skill for the remainder of the reading time. I also make sure that I re-visit that student to check their progress and go back to them in the main task to ensure they are still practising that skill. (Poor handwriting won’t improve by a teacher simply saying or writing – write neater. Like everything else, the student needs specific, actionable feedback about how to improve and the time to practise it.)  [To be read as an aside: Improving handwriting is also the job of all teachers and not just English teachers.]

  • There, their errors

In student Y’s homework and classwork, I have noticed that they are consistently mixing up there and their. I have already seen this previously in lots of this class’ work and re-taught it to the whole group but this continues to be an issue for child Y. I find a page in a grammar book that has exercises to practise this skill and student Y is directed to practise these for the rest of the reading time. Again, I make sure I come back to this student in a few minutes time to see how they are getting on and continue to monitor student Y’s writing in the lessons to come. Student Y will need to continue to re-visit this and rehearse this until the skill is more securely embedded.

  • The struggling student

Looking at student Z’s work from last lesson I can see that although they were meant to be writing a story, their work reads nothing like a story. The work is more a “telling of events”; they need to “show” what happens. This is going to take a bit more time than student X and Y so I sit down with student Z and spend the rest of the “reading time” working with the student. I help the student to re-plan their story and then work with the student to write one “show” paragraph together so she gets the idea. I then direct her to write the next paragraph. Again, I check her work and if she’s still not quite there then I give more feedback and she has another go. Like students X and Y, student Z will need to continue to work on this skill and I will need to continue to check on her but the important thing is: I’ve done some live marking and given specific feedback that can be actioned immediately and the subsequent work monitored.

2. During the lesson

Essentially, exactly what happens at the start of the lesson in reading time is what I continue to do during the lesson if students are set an extended piece of work to complete. As my first Head of Department advised me, I circulate my classroom with my pen in my hand. As I read the students’ work, I tick next to good things or circle mistakes. In some books I briefly annotate the strengths so far or I verbally give (and sometimes write) a HTI (How to improve) to the student.

The great thing about this approach comes later when you do sit down to mark a set of books and see that you’ve already marked lots of them in the classroom. When you get really good at it, there’s no need to ever sit down and mark a set of books because you’ve done it all in lesson time.

One important caveat:

Having written all of the above, I guess there is one important caveat to everything that I’ve written – which I hinted at earlier when I referred to the culture of my classroom being established with “consistent routines”.

You will only be able to mark in the classroom while other students remain reading or writing independently if you have created the culture which allows for that.

Live marking needs to be your norm if it is going to work effectively. Students will not remain on task while you intervene with another student if you have not created the culture to allow for this to happen. There is a great deal of work that goes into that which will need to be the topic of another blog that I will write soon. Linked to all of this, it is  perhaps also important to note that it is unlikely that you’ll be able to live mark lots of work in the classroom straight away. It will be a skill or strategy that you may need to build up over time. It may be most worthwhile to set yourself a small target to begin with – say: in a period of 20 minutes extended work, you will live mark 2 paragraphs of work, then build up to 3, 4, 5, 6. See how you get on.

One final thing: last minute marking before lessons

Although not technically marking in lesson time, it is still “marking in the classroom”. For me, it is the norm to set out books before a lesson (if their kept in school) and quickly “get into some books” before the lesson starts. If I have a lesson where there is some time beforehand for me to set the books out i.e – first lesson of the day, lessons after break or lunch, or after a “free” lesson, then I will often quickly try to mark some books. Assuming I have not had the opportunity already to do so, I will mark the work completed in the last lesson. This may lead me to do a number of things:

  1. Give specific actionable feedback of some DIT (dedicated improvement time) work that I want a student to do at the start of the lesson.
  2. Re-teach something at the start of the lesson based on what I’ve seen/adjust my lesson accordingly based on what I’ve marked.
  3. Use my class visualiser to show a good piece of work and praise a student (work can be read out if you don’t have a visualiser)

The positives of this approach of grabbing a few minutes here and there to do marking is that it all chips away at what can seem like a depressing workload. Often I hear teachers say that they’d rather mark all of their books in one go, but these are usually the same teachers I might hear say “I’ve got too much marking to do. I can’t cope”. Sometimes to help ourselves we need to shift our mind-set and find smarter ways to work. What I do doesn’t reduce my marking workload; I’m just managing it differently. I’m not working any harder – just smarter. And, if I’m honest, I’d argue that marking in the moment and being able to give direct, actionable feedback in real time is better than taking books home and then feeding back to students in a day or two.

So, give it a go. If you haven’t tried it before – try it and let me know how you get on.


On the Diary of Anne Frank

If you are simply after my musings on the book, skip to the italics section. If you are interested in the journey that took me to the book – read below:

In 2012 I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau camp. The trip was part of an organised tour of Eastern Europe and, to be perfectly honest, I had no prior inclination to visit these places. I booked the tour because it included visits to Krakow and Budapest – two places that I did want to see – probably because I had seen them on TV at some point or in travel magazines… I was not prepared for Auschwitz.

I could never have expected what I was exposed to at Auschwitz and Birkenau camp. I had only a brief knowledge of WWII from school. I knew the headlines and even those were distinctly vague and incomplete: ‘Britain had been at war with Germany.’ ‘Hitler gassed the Jews.’ I knew nothing really of the abject horror that victims were exposed to at Auschwitz and Birkenau or indeed in any other part of Europe. I was profoundly moved by the experience; my psyche had been altered and I felt a real thirst to find out more.

On my return from Europe I chose to spend a Friday evening watching Schindler’s List. I had already seen the places that were formally the “ghetto” in Krakow; I had cycled to Schindler’s original factory and I had been to Auschwitz. I was again intensely moved by what I saw. I watched, too, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I felt as if I owed it to those who suffered to always remember the atrocities they encountered and to share that remembrance.

Two years on, in 2014, another organised tour took me to Amsterdam. This time, of my own inclination, I chose to queue for several hours to visit the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family. Again I was painfully moved by the plight of this young girl and her family and it felt remarkable to be in the space they once moved in.

2017, three years after the visit to Amsterdam and six years after the visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau, it felt the appropriate time to finally read: the Diary of Anne Frank.

I had just read Jodi Piccoult’s The Storyteller and my interest in the treatment of the Jews in WWII had piqued once more. Browsing through the books on my Kindle, there it was: the Diary of Anne Frank.

(I do remember as a young girl, loaning the Diary of Anne Frank from the library. I even think I may have scanned a few pages but, just as I couldn’t fully appreciate 1984 or the Handmaid’s Tale at A level, so too I couldn’t fully appreciate the diary of a wilful adolescent in hiding. At age 33, having been that wilful adolescent, and now having gained an insight into the treatment of Jews in WWII, I was ready…

“In a conversation with my cousin shortly after commencing my reading of the Diary of Anne Frank, he remarked how mature he had thought her writing was. Initially I didn’t agree. I had read the preface to the Diary which mentions the different versions that have been published. I was aware that Anne began her diary when she was twelve but it is believed that she went back through it and made amendments and additional notes when she was fifteen – you can see those additional notes as you read through. However, I suspect that largely the content at the beginning was unchanged. Anne wrote, as a young girl might, about the people she was in school with – about the boys and girls she liked and those she didn’t. Not wanting to speak ill of the dead, people could be forgiven for not liking the voice shown through the diary of the young Anne Frank; some could say that she was arrogant, even narcissistic – that she had inflated sense of her own intelligence and popularity with boys. But, we must remember this was a diary – the unashamed, unreserved, uncensored private pouring out of a teenage girl – and even that voice, I would argue, cannot be trusted to be the true voice of the young Anne Frank as it is so prone to constant change often caused by the unabated onslaught of tumultuous pubescent emotions.

However, as you read further into the diary certainly what my cousin said was true – the fifteen year old Anne Frank did write with some maturity. Her self-awareness was considerable and it is astounding that she was so able to mark this in herself. She had to learn in that attic to be self-disciplined and poised; she had to learn to subdue her natural desire to be loud and outspoken. She had to learn to be grateful for the existence she was living. And it was endearing to realise that Anne was grateful. She had little real sense of the monstrous behaviour that some Jewish and not Jewish people were facing at the hands of the Nazis but she had insight enough to understand that she was fortunate. Anne was grateful to those who came to visit her family every day and bring supplies, and she was grateful to be alive and be safe.

Out of Anne’s gratitude came a new focus for me. One of the things I was moved most by from reading the Diary of Anne Frank was the willingness of others to risk their lives to help Anne and her family and the others hiding in the attic. What I had certainly not known or at least thought about deeply before is that people came every day to visit the attic. Everyday those people risked their lives. Too often after atrocities we focus on the horrors committed but this made me want, instead, to focus on the hidden heroes. Everyone knows who Anne Frank is but how many, for example, would recognise the names: Miep Gies or Bep Voskuijl. How I would love to read their diaries and to hear their voices!

Finally though, on a different note altogether, I want to write about one other thing that struck me when reading the Diary of Anne Frank: Anne’s feelings towards her mother. Going back to the preface of the diary, you learn that the first version of Anne’s diary to be published was edited by Otto Frank, Anne’s father. The preface teaches you that in this first version, Otto Frank omitted entries where Anne wrote unkindly about her mother and where she wrote anything of a sexual nature. Oh, what is must have been like to be Otto Frank reading about such things in his daughter’s diary! As a reader I certainly felt the utmost sympathy for Anne’s mother or at least for the lack of relationship between Anne and her mother. My own mother is my absolute world and it was heart wrenching to read the way Anne wrote of her mother with such ill-feeling. Again I think what it must have been like to be Otto Frank reading such things!”

Setting versus mixed ability

When I began teaching in 2007 in an outstanding school in Chippenham, I worked with an excellent team – the majority of whom were advocates for mixed ability classes. Deep down inside, this seemed to resonate with me too. I have never liked the idea of capping someone’s ability or putting a label on someone; it goes so much against the idea of growth mindset and is in danger of creating students with self-fulfilling prophecies who have learned helplessness.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that teaching mixed ability groups isn’t always easy; there are legitimate concerns about being able to stretch the most able and at the same time being able to support those who are struggling. However, my dream would be that if students were taught well in mixed ability groups from the very beginning of their school life then these big gaps would be minimalized and we wouldn’t see such gulfs in performance at secondary school. Mind you, even if we did, even if my dream is an unrealistic fallacy, I will still be advocating for mixed ability teaching.

When reading Lucy Crehan’s Cleverlands and listening to her talk in Bath, I was most interested to discover that out of the top twelve performing countries in education (according to PISA), ten of those do not set or stream until the age of 16. It is then at 16, when everyone has the same high level of education, that students can choose to either continue on an academic route or take a more vocational option. In countries like Finland, all students follow the same high quality, academic curriculum with the objective of providing everyone in society with an outstanding the education. The aim is to better society, to create a better educated whole – not just a select academic elite. However, as noted earlier, there are those who will question whether the most able are being stifled. I, too, having recently worked at a school where the greatest impetus was placed on differentiation by task and the understanding that students have different starting points and need different levels of challenge, was concerned that the Finnish model did not allow the most able students to be stretched and advance at a quicker rate. But, the answer to this question when put to those working in the Finnish system was that working at the rate of the slowest student in the group did no harm to the most able. Those who, for whatever reason, were able to grasp new content more quickly were simply able to master it. They had time to fully embed and rehearse the skills and content – instead of moving o to the nex thing. They could also help other students and, in doing so, consolidate their learning even further (something that in my experience there has been a move against; I distinctly remember in some CPD being told not to get more able students to help less able students because the more able students didn’t like it and shouldn’t be used as child teachers – even though I had seen the contrary in many classrooms). 

When completing a one week placement at a primary school in South Wales, as part of my PGCE, I witnessed a sensational Year 6 teacher teach in the ‘Finnish Way’. She was teaching addition (or it may have been multiplication) by 50 and then by 49 and 48, 47 etc but she would not move on until every student had mastered the concept of how to do this most effectively. Some students had grasped it on day one and some were still grappling with it on day 5 – but no student was being left behind in a race to move on to the next thing. O, and they loved math; no one hated the approach. The ones who had grasped it on day one just practised more and more until the ones who hadn’t grasped it originally caught up to them. Yes, there is a question here about whether those who were slower to grasp the concept initially ever get time to master the skill and this is where the gaps begin to creep in – but this blog is an opinion piece and  not a full gone conclusion on how to improve the British education system.

In the vein of not being a full gone conclusion and instead being an opinion piece, I’ll return to some of my own recent experiences. I currently teach two Year 11 groups: a set 2 of 3 and a set 3 of 3. We cover the same content and I do my best to have high expectations about what both groups can achieve; although despite my best intentions, there will sometimes be marked differences in the depth that we go into or the way we cover the content. I try my best not to have prejudices in my teaching but it’s a difficult thing to get away from when the entire institution is set up to rank students in order of their ability (a fixed term). My team and I have tried to move away from any rhetoric including ‘top set’ and ‘bottom set’ or ‘more able’ and ‘low ability’ but in a school where every student is ranked it is impossible and damaging.

To add to this, I shamedly have to confess that when I covered the top set of a colleague in school this year (I don’t teach any top sets) my whole demeanour and the language I used changed. I understand that this shouldn’t be the case but it is (was). And we are a school who believe in high challenge for all. I also teach a group of year 9 students – some with reading ages to the equivalent of eight year olds and yes we did study Great Expactatins this year but I still think it would be much better if I was teaching Great Expectations to these students in a mixed ability set so that those who were LOW PRIOR ATTAINING could learn from those who have benn HIGH ATTAINING (not fixed).

In my opinion, setting leads to capping students’ attainment. It leads to a culture where there is a limit on what some students can achieve. It leads to demotivation and apathy and a feeling by students of low self worth. This cannot be good.

Let’s move away from setting.

In defence of Learning Styles

I am getting increasingly annoyed by those who are definitively declaring that ‘Learning Styles don’t exist’. To me, that’s the same as saying ‘Clothing Styles’ don’t exist or ‘Handwriting Styles’ don’t exist. Of course they do!

A style is merely a choice, a preference. 

I would say that in my own learning, I like to make use of a range of learning styles – particularly visual and auditory. In terms of being a visual learner (dirty word) I believe I have quite a photographic memory (although I’m sure in writing this that someone will choose to declare to me that they don’t exist). I believe I am very fortunate in that I can picture things I’ve looked at in my mind’s eye (yep, probably doesn’t exist either). Amongst other things, I believe I can spell some words because I’ve looked at them in a dictionary and I conjure that image in my mind. So, in many ways I would say that at time I make use of a visual learning style.

In terms of auditory learning. I know it helps me to process information if I can say it out loud. I’m pretty sure that when I studied Psychology (if that still exists) that this has something to do with my phonological loop and auditory processing. Sometimes, I will choose or prefer it if someone told me information – rather than me reading it. Sometimes, I feel that hearing information can help clarify meaning – but apparently this isn’t a learning style; they don’t exist.

And, even though I wouldn’t say I’m very kinaesthetic, surely there are things that we definitely learn better by doing: driving a car, brushing teeth, making a sculpture?

The truth is: learning styles do exist but they are context bound.

No, you won’t necessarily be able to write a better essay on volcanoes if you’ve made one out of newspaper – but you might become a painter if you look at lots of paintings.