Monthly Archives: June 2013


Is this how we’re feeling about next year?

Beautiful Work
‘Missing Orange’ by Shona Spiers.
This was written by a student from Cramlington Learning Village during their PBL fortnight it’s also beautiful and made me think of my Dad even though he certainly wasn’t a Mackam and supported Newcastle United rather than Sunderland.
You can hear Shona reading it here

New Year 7 and 8
Have just read Ed Hirsch’s ‘Core Knowledge Sequence’ and then started jotting down possible new Year 7 and 8 ideas. What do you think? I’d like us to begin listing our personal ‘core’ novels, short stories, poetry. Perhaps we can make a start in the CT meeting tomorrow or today depending on when you’re reading this?

Needs to be a balance between creativity and functionality.
Students need to recognise the importance of PAF.
We need an emphasis on the drafting process – finished product needs to be thoughtful, well organised and accurate .
Students need to be encouraged to use a dictionary – we need to enrich their vocabulary.
Poems – spoken word
Analytical essay
Persuasive essay/Speech
Use of sources – bibliography
Presenting information in own words
Integrating quotations
What is a sentence?
Identify sentence types – importance of variety – sentence length – sentence openings
Recognition of active and passive voice
Nouns – verbs – adjectives – adverbs – connectives – pronouns
Punctuation – including quotations and dialogue
Agreed spelling list – see Year 6 – special attention to commonly misspelled words (See GB or Ed Hirsch list)
common word roots eg. aqua, bi, cent…

Fiction – plot, setting, theme, point of view, narrator, characterization
Non – fiction – autobiography (Diary of A Young Girl), Speeches
Poetry – ballad, sonnet, narrative, haiku – Study of poets
Drama – Shakespeare and…
Myths and legends
Learn key literary terms for figurative language
Reading for pleasure – 25 minutes reading daily outside of school? Silent reading in lessons/skills
Foreign phrases commonly used – Latin and French – see Ed Hirsch

Speaking and Listening
Participation in group discussions
Individual POLs
Giving a short speech
Understanding and use of SE in formal circumstances


All About Me

We ran out of time in today’s meeting and so I thought I’d write a BB post. We touched on setting at the end and I thought I’d share a personal account that I wrote in December last year to try and explore/explain not just my feelings but also to highlight some research – Caroline, Sarah and Dan have already seen it.

Making it personal:Setting

Until I became a teacher I had always been in the top sets whether it was primary school, secondary school, or university. I didn’t necessarily achieve top grades but I always appeared in the top classes. I sailed through my PGCE and in my first job was rapidly promoted to various positions of responsibility culminating in 14-19 English Coordinator. Then it stalled. I went for Heads of English but failed; including at my own school. I stopped being in the top group and got stuck in Set 2. I had always had a tendency towards fixed mindset thinking and this kicked in massively. I stopped applying for jobs and I suppose gave up too easily. I did not listen to feedback from interviews and felt that others were simply ‘better’ and I would never be as good. I continued to work hard but avoided taking risks and being brave. I put in a lot of effort but perhaps more because I was scared of failure and how other people’s opinions of me would change if I failed.

Since September this has changed.

I have been given the opportunity of being Curriculum Manager of English for a year and because of this I am in the top group again; Leadership Group. I am energised. I love the challenges. I am learning all the time; it took four attempts at writing a Development Plan and I enjoyed the process of ‘failing’ and having to rewrite sections. I feel inspired by others rather than wishing I was in their place. I am developing a growth mindset and know that this time the effort I am putting in will not change other people’s views of me. I have the confidence for that not to matter. It’s only for a year but I am now filled with possibilities rather than might have beens.

It’s made me think about setting.

I’m lucky. I have my exams and my degree and my career and my family and my house and my holidays. What about those who never get the chance to experience life in the top set? Research indicates that 88% of children placed in sets or streams at 4 remain in the same groupings until they leave school; so much for catering for ‘late developers’. (Annabelle Dixon writing in Forum 2002).

Over to the experts
Sir Tim Brighouse at the 2012 London Festival of Education quoted from Archbishop Temple prior to the 1944 Education Act “Are you going to treat a man as he is or as he might be?” Surely our job is to guide students towards their true potential? Inventor of the IQ test Alfred Binet explained ‘With practice, training and above all, method, we manage to increase our judgment and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.’
Robert Slavin found in 1990 that “the effects of ability grouping on student achievement are essentially zero”. This is most strongly supported at KS3.
In 1997 Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University, studied two 11-18 comprehensives Phoenix Park and Amber Hill. “A comparison of the most able students at the two schools showed that the students achieved more in the mixed ability classes of Phoenix Park than the high sets of Amber Hill.” For me the most telling of her findings “…the placing of students in academic groups often results in the fixing of their potential achievement”
In 2002 Dylan Wiliam and Hannah Bartholomew on looking at sets concluded that teachers ‘forgot’ that setted classes still need to be differentiated. The same teachers teaching a mixed ability class would provide a wider range of activities and approaches and use a more individualised approach. They acknowledged that ability grouping in mathematics leads to high attainment in the top sets but that there is a loss for the lower attaining students.
In 2003 Scottish research revealed that ‘the fast pace and competition that emerges in top sets can prove to be an issue for the motivation of girls” : Chris Smith and Margaret Sutherland.
Professor John Hattie’s research (1999-2009) concluded that ability grouping had an effect size of only 0.12.
The Sutton Trust’s pupil premium toolkit in May last year on ability grouping found “There may be some benefits for higher attaining pupils, but these are largely outweighed by the negative effects on attitudes for middle and lower performing learners.”
In September Jill McManus, Institute of Education, South Tyneside, was the winner of this year’s BERA/SAGE Practitioner Research Award for her project that influenced a secondary school to change its policy. She studied how motivation and pupil progress is influenced by ability grouping. She paid particular attention to borderline students and was able to track two cohorts of pupils from Year 7 to 11; one taught in mixed ability groupings and the other in ability bands. Her findings were that the top bands and the mixed ability groups were more engaged and and more inclined to volunteer answers and less likely to avoid challenge. The middle band classes exhibited ‘helpless behaviours’ which led to low level disruption. Interestingly the students who made the greatest gains were those with the lowest ability and those with family, health or social issues.

Back to me
I have taught both Set 1 and Set 9. It would be wrong of me to hide the enjoyment of teaching top sets but it would be more wrong to ignore those students who have lost their motivation, whose self esteem is so low that they see no point in trying; those students who may have been in lower sets for most of their school life; those students who have been told that their TGs are D or below, believe that D stands for fail and ‘know’ they have little chance of success. Little wonder they have lost their hunger for learning.

Sources (2000) Students’ experiences of ability grouping—disaffection, polarisation and the construction of failure
Dweck, Carol ( 2006) Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential (2009) Dr Angela Lee Duckworth True Grit: Can Perseverance be Taught?
Syed, Matthew (2010) Bounce
Bromley, M J (2012) The IQ Myth: How To Grow Your Own Intelligence


I know that you have read the blogs on Sarah’s professional learning site but thought I’d record some last thoughts here too.
The most exciting feeling for me was and still is the idea of possibilities. I really believe that we can create our own SBL PBL and that our starting point needs to be our relationships with not just the students but also each other. We are a supremely creative team and simply need to collaborate and perhaps even develop a clearer understanding of what such collaboration entails. I know that I love creating resources and sharing them but am not so good at creating these resources with other people. PBL is going to take me out of my comfort zone so that I collaborate more effectively not just with other English teachers but also with other subject areas. This will begin on Monday morning when I meet with PHi and RPr to discuss the English and Humanities curriculum – I will share any outcomes with you in the CT meeting.
One simple and effective idea that High Tech High was keen to promote is Project Pitching. You meet with a range of teachers, suggest your idea and wait for responses. You then leave your idea for a week or two before coming together again. There was already a very informal example of this in the staffroom this week when talking about potential ideas for projects and I mentioned Shakespeare because of the 450th anniversary next year. SSc was sitting with us and immediately started talking about ideas for costumes etc. This is exactly what we need – input from all teachers regardless of whether they are teaching in Junior Academy. Before the visit to High Tech High I had been wracking my brains thinking of ideas to turn into projects. I think the key problem for me was that I had misunderstood the concept of teaching to your passions. Jesse (HTH) made it clearer when she explained that we should consider our academic passions.
We need to start seeing ourselves as designers and design projects with adult connections from the community. It is key that the product is presented to an audience and essential that the teacher is not the only audience. The goal is to transform rather than regurgitate knowledge and it is this transformation of knowledge that leads to the deeper learning. We want to engender a love and interest in the process of learning; nothing can beat the satisfaction of creating something that was not there before. We want our students to be able to articulate the process, talk about their progress and present their learning – all of this can be achieved through PBL.
One of the other great things about the trip is that I spent an extended time period with teachers and learned a lot about subject areas that I would never have otherwise known. For example I now know a lot more about the creative potential of ‘The Journey of the Sperm’. See MBr for more information on this multi disciplinary project that she bravely agreed to being tuned by not just the SBL party but a group of teachers from Virginia and a representative from HTH.
Here’s the link again to the site and here’s the link to HTH