Laura Green is ain English teacher an Scots Language Enthusiast workin fir West Lothian Cooncil. Ye can fun oot mair aboot her @fairpechtoot . Aw views are hur ain.
When Ah went fir the interview fir ma PGCE qualification at Strathclyde University, we hud tae gie a presentation. Ah decidit that Ah wid speak aboot something close ta ma ain hert – yaisin Scots the English classroom.
Ah mind talkin aboot how Ah wid yaise wan o Matthew Fitt’s poems (Ah think it was this wan here) an get the weans in the class tae ask their maws, das, grannies an grandads tae tell them o Scots words that they yaised. Ah suggestit that the weans wid respond well tae literature written in their ain leid.
Fast-furrit some thirteen years later an ma opinion husnae chynged. Ah regularly yaise literature written in Scots tae spark debate an inspire scrievin aboot personal experience, identity, setting, history an tradition. Ah yaise Scots tae teach Senior students shades o meaning an connotations; an find Scots awfy useful in teachin students how tae determine the meanin o a word yaisin context.
So why place so much emphasis oan Scots? Whenever Ah start a new topic Ah aye ask the weans in front o me why they think Ah’m teachin it – ‘Whit’s the point?’ Ah say. Well – the English and Literacy Review, published by Education Scotland in 2015, states that:
Learning Scots can often improve learners’ engagement in learning and their development of wider literacy skills. Through Scots, learners can explore language in more depth, making connections and comparisons with the linguistic structures and vocabularies of other languages. Scots as a context for learning can also provide an engaging platform for children and young people to explore language, register and audience. It can encourage reluctant readers and writers to become involved as texts in Scots can capture the imagination and speak to them in a familiar voice.
Last October, when Ah asked ma class why they thoat we were learnin aboot the Scots Language, wan laddie put his haun up an said ‘Because we’re Scottish.’ That pretty much summed it up fir me. Fir English teachers, we are especially interestit in literacy skills – helpin the weans tae hone their skills in readin, scrievin, talkin an listenin. Indeed, Education is aw aboot literacy, numeracy, health an wellbeing. Part o that is celebratin tradition, identity an culture – no forgettin oor ain. Ensurin that the Scots leid has a place in the English curriculum helps us dae aw o the above an mair.
Fhionnagh Waterfall was one of only three UK student teachers to win a free place at the 2016 NATE conference. Here, she reflects on her experience and how it will influence her NQT year.
‘Congratulations!’ read the first line of the email and, for perhaps the first time, I was lost for words. A few weeks previous, however, I hadn’t been lost for words as I agonised over my 300-word application about what inspires me as a Newly Qualified English Teacher. I then forgot about the NATE conference for a few weeks, until (at a slightly obscene hour) I was notified that I had won a free place at the conference. I was obviously sleep deprived the next day from all the excitement. Two weeks later I arrived at a swanky hotel, very appropriately situated in Stratford-Upon-Avon, with picturesque views of the river and a blessing of great weather compared to the Scottish ‘summer’.
This was my first ever conference and as an anxious and nervous NQT about to embark on my probationary year, I felt extremely inferior to my fellow delegates. ‘I don’t have much to offer,’ I apologised, ‘but will probably just ask lots of questions.’
Friday morning began with breakfast, registration and a welcome before the conference opened with a bang with John Hegley’s opening keynote. John’s emphasis on ‘playing’ with text was really refreshing and packed the fun back into learning and teaching. Songs of guillemots, ukulele playing and comical anecdotes set us up for a weekend of more fun and, quite frankly, it got me pumped for what was to follow (which, much to my delight, was more tea, coffee and biscuits).
I attended two workshops that day – the first on approaching annotation through drama. The colour coding system used by Five Island’s School really appealed to me – as I’m sure it would to any stationary-obsessed English teacher. A small group of four in the workshop left me initially a little exposed but increasingly comfortable around like-minded, open people still willing to learn after years of practise. Getting up on my feet and bringing Shakespeare to life felt great and this is something I’m excited to share this with the kids.
Outside the main conference area was an array of sponsorship stands, with sign up forms, ‘how to books’ and – most importantly – free pens.
Tessa Hadley’s Keynote emphasised the importance of literature, particularly writing about writing. Tessa’s solution to writer’s block or how to deal with “the kid who can’t write” really stuck with me. “Write your self out of it” she said. Physically writing down “why can’t I do this? What am I trying to say?” and answering these and helps you organise your thoughts, claimed Tessa. I would like to personally thank Tessa for this as it worked wonders in the writing of this blog!
On Friday night we were greeted by a champagne reception and a beautiful three-course conference dinner during the award ceremony. This really gave me a sense of the ‘NATE family’ that I had recently became a part of. The dinner also allowed the more shy delegates to have a few drinks and get to know others. Networking at the event was perhaps one of the biggest benefits from attending the conference. Not only was I building on my knowledge and approaches to teaching and learning, but I was also widening my circle of colleagues and experts to learn from. I also gained a substantial number of new twitter followers – Result!
Needless to say I woke up the next morning a little less fresh than I’d hoped.
My fuzziness, however, quickly subsided with the beginnings of day two, as we launched into another jam-packed day. Nick Handel’s ‘calling the shots’ seminar was a dream for those nervous about teaching media. Nick’s resources and ideas were extremely classroom friendly and practical, despite Nick’s expertise being mainly in media making rather than media education. Having met some of my classes already, I can see Nick’s approach to media as a great way to inspire creative writing – an area of English I’ve always lacked confidence with.
Jenny Grahame’s Keynote ‘Wild West to World Wide Web’ was hilarious and captivating. Despite being strapped for time, Jenny took us on a whistle-stop tour of the history of media education. Previous to this event I had ignorantly considered the teaching of media to be a relatively new practice. I was obviously enlightened by Jenny’s chart of the arc of media education, which, sadly, appears to be increasingly side-lined. There are ‘extremely uncomfortable compromises to be made’ in England, claimed Jenny. I reflected after this presentation, feeling sincerely grateful to be a teacher in Scotland where freedom and creativity is welcomed and celebrated. I am so thankful to be a Scottish English teacher.
Chris Riddell’s closing keynote was ultimately the highlight of the weekend. Not only because I was fan-girling all over the place, but because it brought to the forefront why we were all there – our enjoyment of reading and our passion to inspire that in young people. Chris addressed the tragedy and travesty of the closing of libraries, an issue close to my own heart as I see the hugely positive impact our school librarian has on the kids. I felt star-struck, honoured but also deserving to be there. Despite my lack of experience and relatively limited knowledge of the teaching profession, I feel that my confidence has grown hugely after attending the conference. I am now part of a family that evolves, innovates and continually reinvents the nature of teaching.
I left the conference weighed down by the free pens and bookmarks I had acquired over the weekend, but also uplifted by the friends, colleagues, advice and confidence I had acquired too.
Fhionnagh Waterfall is a former student at The University of Strathclyde. She teaches at Larbert High School. All views are her own.
Dr Gibbons introduced the theme of the seminar, outlining the main concerns with high stakes tests. Admittedly, my knowledge of the English exam system is fairly limited and I can never quite remember which KS stage translates into primary or secondary level here, so the historical context was useful.
The main criticisms of England’s National Testing system don’t come as a surprise. Over the last 25 years, a culture of assessment has become embedded, with assessment leading learning. Simon Gibbons’ list of criticisms includes the obvious concerns many Scottish teachers have of our own Government’s plans for standardised school testing. Teaching to the test, a narrowing curriculum, validity and reliability, pressure on pupils, teachers and schools and shallow rather than deep learning all feature prominently on Simon’s list. These are concerns none of us want to become a Scottish reality, in another quarter of a century.
Simon went on to reference an Institute for Public Policy Research report which raised concerns that the current system in England is failing to consider some crucial aspects of a young person’s development. Simon cited a Commons Select Committee Report which recommended that the National Testing system be reformed to remove the need to pursue results ‘at all costs’. In the Scottish context, I think we’d all concede this is a concern.
He came back to a key question several times – did these tests work? Simon repeated his view that whether or not a teacher disliked them, if they did what they were supposed to and raised attainment overall and for the majority, then they were worthwhile. According to results, SATs scores have gone up. Attainment for white British children eligible for Free School Meals (FMS), a key indicator used to determine economic disadvantage, has improved significantly in the last seven years. Success. In part. Here’s the thing though. The FSM gap for white children has barely changed and in fact, this gap widens as children get older. Ultimately, success in part, given the stakes, isn’t really success at all.
Dr Marshall opened the second half of the seminar by describing what a ‘standard’ English lesson in a school in England would look like. Many of the elements she mentioned aren’t far removed from what’s happening daily in our own departments. There’s learning intentions prominently displayed (but in every lesson) and the learning objective activities are framed according to the learning objectives. I’m not convinced by the ‘learning objectives in every lesson in every subject’ approach but it was the use of the PEE paragraphs being squeezed into English lessons as standard that took me by surprise. As English specialists, we are familiar with PEE, PEER, PEAR, PCQE etc. However, Bethan explained the pedantic fascination with PEEing south of the Border extends to teachers being required to do it in most lessons. Pupils write paragraphs explaining point/evidence/comment at the end of most lessons – to ensure a ‘product’, to provide evidence that meaningful work has been ‘done’ that period. She explained that in England, PEE paragraphing is introduced in Year 7 (age 11) and that pupils don’t see the purpose of it. OFSTED has, in the past, criticised the over focus on PEE, stating it should be a strategy and a skill built up over time but not used in every writing lesson.
Bethan went on to suggest it is better to introduce PEE later in learning, prior to exams of course, but she sees earlier stages (our BGE?) as the place for reading a plethora of texts with classes. This allows pupils to engage with literature, they can be encouraged to respond imaginatively to it, ultimately, seeing the study as worthwhile, meaningful and possibly, even enjoyable. To conclude the average English lesson south of the border, learners will look at success or examination criteria, with the focus ultimately and always on that end result, the test. The biggest driver in England determining how teachers teach is accountability. The situation is worsening with immense pressure placed on teachers. Most practitioners will stick to teaching what they are told to and how they are told to do it.
Bethan talked about observing a lesson taught by a teacher called ‘Paul’ on Lord of the Flies, which deviated from the norm. Crucially, there was a lack of explicit reference to any form of assessment in the lesson. Paul directed pupils, but ultimately let them lead the discussion, raising ideas and building on the suggestions of others in the class, while he listened. Bethan explained that Paul’s approach wasn’t the norm, in either his own department or in other schools, where a more regimented lesson structure would be used. Overall, pupils were being asked to really think about what they’d been reading rather than the lesson being mechanistic and ultimately exam-driven. And it worked.
Paul’s breadth of subject knowledge allowed comparisons with other texts eg Coral Island and Of Mice and Men. He hardly used the interactive whiteboard (which would normally be used in typical lessons a lot) relying on it only for the comparison study. Bethan again stressed the risk-taking factor when you are seen to be going against how lessons ‘should’ be taught. A teacher, she said, in a lesson focused on one outcome, can force through what has to be covered and doesn’t always take into account, or allow the richness, of what a cumulative lesson could. In effect, there are two types of English lesson – the skills-based for exams and the kind during which pupils get to actually ‘do’ English (Simon Gibbons citing Dixon, 2014).
Simon Gibbons closed with the idea that the very pupils failing the tests need a different approach, not just to be assessed in the same way, again and again until they pass. The seminar concluded with a discussion around the fact that in many cases, the most interesting classroom conversations often happen with non-certificate classes where there isn’t the rush to always be assessment ready.
I’ve thought a lot about the seminar since attending and I think, beforehand, I was looking for route map for the way we should be introducing assessment through the National Improvement Framework, to allow cherry picking of the best of England’s experience and ensuring we avoid all of the pitfalls. I was alarmed that Paul was seen as a ‘maverick’, as his lesson style is the sort you see in English classrooms the length and breadth of Scotland, even in certificate classes. What we don’t have, being so time poor at N5 and Higher, is the chance to teach this way often enough. We manage it more within the Broad General Education, for that was partly what the junior stage was designed to incorporate, but even by S3, there’s an increasing move towards assessment and predominantly skills-based teaching.
The seminar definitely provided food for thought and the opportunity to focus on a few of the questions that will continue to be raised by Scottish teachers as we move apace towards the introduction of standardised assessments.
Susan Brownlie is SATE Local Authority Coordinator for South Lanarkshire. Any views expressed here are her own, not those of her employer or SATE.
An excellent seminar on assessment with Dr Bethan Marshall and Dr Simon Gibbons of King’s College London, co-hosted with The School of Education at The University of Strathclyde and held in The Technology and Innovation Centre.
A report will follow soon from one of SATE’s local authority coordinators. In the meantime, here is an extract from my introduction:
‘There’s never been a more appropriate time for Scottish teachers of English to join a strong subject association. I’m in the middle of interviewing next year’s applicants for PGDE, and I think every year since 2001, I’ve told them that this is a time of great change in Scottish education; this year, that is true more than ever, and as I approach perhaps not the sunset of my career, but definitely the twilight, I don’t think I have ever been less optimistic about the future.
There are good things on the horizon, to be sure. If PRD is as supportive as it is said to be, teachers will have a real structure in which to plan their own professional development. As English teachers, membership of NATE offers access to the latest research and classroom practice, as well as resources, and is tailor made for the PRD process. Social media, Teach Meets and Pedagoo mean that teachers are coming together to cater for their own development needs, plugging the gaps in CPD that denuded budgets and the loss of curriculum advisers have allowed to develop, and NATE offers an umbrella under which we can all shelter and share. These, then, are exciting times for teachers who are doing it for themselves, and the one huge improvement I’ve seen over my fifteen years in teacher education is how the professional knowledge and skills of teachers has grown, almost exponentially. When I left Jordanhill College, I knew on average it would take about 8 years to be promoted; I now see my students achieving promoted status with two or three years, and I have no doubt that they are absolutely ready for it.
But there are dark forces gathering in Scottish education that seek to change it irrevocably. Because of our proudly independent system, we tend to feel that we are cushioned against the worst excesses of the wider world, excesses that have been chillingly demonstrated by the Westminster Government’s ideological obsession with taking all schools out of local authority control, to be managed centrally by government and locally by a patchwork of individual school boards, interest groups and private enterprises. The disingenuous rhetoric in which those ideas are framed– ‘choice’, ‘parental voice’, ‘flexibility’ – masks what is fundamentally an economic driver behind reform.
In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina destroyed all but 15 of its 168 publicly funded and controlled schools; in the aftermath of the disaster, the whole school system was privatised, every child went to a school publicly funded but managed for profit by private corporations. The vast majority of teachers were fired, most being replaced by deunionised Teach for America apprentice teachers teaching a denuded curriculum concentrated on a brutal testing regime that is cheap to teach but casts the most vulnerable into poverty and failure. For private enterprise, Katrina was not a tragedy; it was an opportunity.
It was also a crisis created by unprecedented natural events; but man can easily create crises, through underfunding and deregulation, crises in which a system is systematically and deliberately broken and then deemed to be irreparable by anything other than management from a supposedly more efficient private sector. It is this man-made disaster that is driving the move towards the privatisation – wrapped up in the educationally aspirational term ‘academisation’ – that George Osborne is building a large portion of the Budget around.
There is a much resistance to such moves in Scotland, where we are proud of our state funded, local authority managed comprehensive states system. It has served us well, for all its faults. But those forces which would dismantle that system are undoubtedly gathering, forces which range from groups of parents (usually middle class) rightly anxious about local school closures to influential think tanks to former highly paid public education executives who have slickly managed the transition to become champions of (and I quote) ‘increased economic prosperity and more effective public services based on the principles of limited government, diversity and personal responsibility.’ And in a world run by TTIP in which private corporations have the legal right to siphon off profitable parts of public services uninhibited by the democratic will of the people, education services and even individual schools may well find themselves being circled by some very ravenous wolves.
There is less resistance, however, to apprenticeship models of teacher training. Tom Hunter’s ‘exploration’ of Scottish education recently highlighted a successful academy in London, employing ‘Teach First’ teachers, described as ‘the very best graduates’, as if anyone not on such a scheme is somehow the underqualified dross of the teaching profession. The Scottish Government’s warm response – a sort of ‘if it works, we’ll do it’ common sense – suggests that they may well look at different models of teacher training. Let’s be clear, though. Apprenticeship models of teacher training work on exactly the same principles as your electricity supply. Power is brought to our homes from the same power stations, along the same cables, through the same substations; it is only when the envelope with the bill arrives that a multitude of companies clamour and compete for the right to charge us for that same electricity. Training providers – whether individual schools, local authorities or – most likely – private corporations – will still place student teachers in the same schools with the same mentors, still access the same university courses and tutors, will still employ the same accreditation bodies as ever. But with a product to now sell, with a contract to protect, with profits to enhance – what is the chance that the need to be ‘outstanding’ will (and I use the word advisedly but appropriately) trump the need to adhere to rigorous quality standards?
This is all going to happen, as sure as the sun rises and sets. After the Japanese earthquake, news outlets had panels of experts that included earthquake scientists, nuclear power station engineers and financial consultants, as if economic activity is as immutable and inevitable as tectonic plate shifts and radioactive meltdown. And, in the world we live in, it is. Neoliberalism will have its way.
But people can – should – speak out; otherwise, we will lose all that we value without a whimper. Whether it is on these global issues that threaten to swallow education as we know it, or whether it is on the – not unrelated – issues of the closure of school libraries, or the development of a vocational curriculum, or the place of Scottish culture and texts in our classrooms, or the reintroduction of national testing, English teachers can and should have a voice. For decades, that voice has been NATE, and we have two of its most influential members here tonight. I won’t say much about them, since most of you quoted Bethan Marshall in your last assignments on assessment and therefore know her work well. And when Conservative Home (The Home of Conservatives), a body deliciously unacquainted with the concept of tautology, describes Simon Gibbons as a ‘classic Leftist elitist’ who ‘uses impeccable standard English’, you know he’s worth listening to. That same august body said of NATE, ‘it’s time is up.’ That was four years ago. It would be nice to watch it grow in Scotland.’
(Raymond Soltysek lectures in Teacher Education at The University of Strathclyde and is Regional Coordinator for The Scottish Association for the Teaching of English. Views expressed here are his own, not those of his employer or SATE)
Just another blogs.glowscotland.org.uk – Glow Blogs site