At what cost?

I know that what I do works.

I know, albeit from just over five short years of experience, that the way I teach children English works. Students enjoy coming to English. They do what I tell them to do. They interact with ideas. They put up their hands, give responses when prompted, discuss when directed, and smile lots. They make good progress, sometimes excellent, progress.

Before, when I was challenged about my practice, I would probably have said something similar to the above.

Now, I am not so sure this is a valid response. Because there is a second, unsaid and often unconsidered half to this sentence.

I know what I do works… But at what cost?

Marking

I mark every student’s book every week, unless they are ill when I take them in. In addition to this, I mark any essays or assessments students have done, whether for a pre-decided mock exam or assessment point, or simply exam practice. When I made the change from fortnightly marking to weekly marking, I saw a dramatic improvement in my students’ progress.

But at what cost?

I have marked, for the last five years, constantly. I have marked in free periods, before and after school, at home, during the weekend and even on flights. Some might say this is the inescapable fate of the English teacher. Yet now I am on a very light timetable, with very small classes, and my marking load appears undiminished. Although what I do works, would I want it to be replicated by every teacher in my team on a full timetable? Absolutely not. If I were to continue in this way, would I remain in the profession? Absolutely not.

If the cost of student progress is teacher burnout, it cannot be worth it.

Intervention

Last year, as Head of English, I checked student data weekly for exam classes. That is because it was constantly changing, what with redrafted coursework, completed Speaking and Listening exams and constant teacher-assessed mock essays and exams. Using this data, I picked out students and created personalised intervention plans. I would confidently estimate that there is practically no year 11 student who was not in some way “intervened” with.

I have given up before school time, after school time, lunchtime, Saturdays, half-terms and Easters over the years. I have altered entire holidays to fit in with a schedule of revision, to the point of cancelling and re-booking flights.

Our students achieved phenomenal results; only King Solomon Academy achieved better in English the year before last for schools in London with comparable amounts of students receiving free school meals.

But at what cost? If I knew I would have to run intervention in this way until retirement, would I stay in this profession? Absolutely not. Do I want to stop running intervention and instead delegate it to my team, asking them to similarly give up weekends and holidays? Absolutely not.

And what of the students? Tired, stressed, but well-prepared; what happens to these students at sixth form? At university? Learning there will always be “extra” put on for them can’t incentivise them to make the most of lesson time.

If the cost of student progress is complacent students and teacher exhaustion, it cannot be worth it.

All the activities

I used to spend hours lesson planning. I would research existing plans and resources, cross-referencing with other teachers’ and TES resources, and trying to make every lesson an individual snowflake, never repeating the same series of activities. I would ensure there was something for everyone, and plenty of opportunities for students to talk together, research independently, collaborate and postulate together. I would review their “learning” and value the “ideas” they came up with, however ill-founded; however misunderstood.

I have had students carouselling, moving, making, standing, dancing, clapping, acting, advocating, laughing, enjoying and even learning while they did this.

And those students did achieve good results.

But at what cost? How many Cs could have been Bs, Bs As, if I had stopped cramming in activities for the sake of engagement and fun, and started simply telling students what they needed to know, and then testing to make sure they had learned it?

Would I have still been addressing classic misconceptions after 3 years of teaching the same class – no, Shakespeare was not a Victorian; no, that’s not where you put a comma…

With my year 10 intervention class last year I tried something different. Shocked by their lack of knowledge and understanding, their lack of retention, I relentlessly talked to them, got them to write independently and then quizzed them. It was a massive uphill struggle, but that struggle was as much against pre-conceived expectations of what their lessons should look like and the expectations I should have of what they were able to access as it was about changing what they remember. And while I struggled on, students knew more, could explain articulately, and could remember and apply challenging concepts. It was far from perfect, but I haven’t seen better progress previous to employing these methods.

If the cost of student engagement is student learning, it cannot be worth it.

 

We have a responsibility to students, and a responsibility to ourselves. We must be open to new ideas, to new approaches. The proof is in the results: certain methods lead to increased student achievement, happier teachers and a more workable system of education. Whether what I do works is irrelevant – it must work, be sustainable, and lead to the best possible student results.

So the next time someone dismisses your ideas by telling you “I know that what I do works”, you can bite your tongue and keep doing what you do, reaping the benefits for yourself and your own students, or you can ask: at what cost?

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Women through the ages

A few months ago, I enthusiastically tweeted:

twitter women through ages

I was increasingly excited about the prospect of teaching some of my favourite texts to my year 10 class. I’ve written about year 10 before, but in a nutshell they are an intervention group whose literacy could be better than it currently is. My main aim for the scheme of work was to build their vocabulary and improve their creative, informative and persuasive writing skills through exposure to some of the best examples I could find.

Oh, and I wanted to make them feminists.

I teach in an all-girls’ school, and so this kind of aim pretty much suffuses our curriculum, not to mention the SMSC and other varied acronyms. I’ve written before about feminism’s place in the classroom, so perhaps this scheme of work was partly my way of making such arguments heard and understood.

Because I don’t think we can take it for granted that our students are cognisant of the challenges that might face them because they are girls. Despite continually out-performing their male counterparts in the education stakes, girls continue to enter a world in which women, to paraphrase Sheryl Sandberg, are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world. Women continue to do the vast majority of housework and child rearing, and they continue to earn far less than men over their careers. More terrifyingly, our children are growing up, as the film Miss Representation makes clear, surrounded by media which dictates that girls looking attractive to men is what matters.

Yet the message of feminism is by no means undisputed. Sandberg has been critiqued for exploring only a very tiny subsection of society in her analysis; Roxanne Gay has pointed out that women of colour are experiencing gender inequality in different ways which must also be heard; Caitlin Moran has been called “dismissive” for her comments on the hijab and why women ought not to be wearing it. This is a complex discourse, and one I very much would like my students to be able to enter into.

I’ve pasted the lesson powerpoints below, but will be making some key changes in preparing a similar scheme of work for the new Key Stage 4 curriculum. The revised scheme will be longer – six weeks instead of three. It will span a greater length of time, and take account of these alternative feminisms. It will be focused on key questions to interrogate, rather than key texts to read. I’ve posted a week-by-week below in case this is of interest.

I’ve also omitted textual exploration of masculinity, although we did watch the trailer for The Mask You Live In and go on to explore depictions of masculinity in adverts. This kind of scheme taught in a mixed school would definitely benefit from more gender balance, perhaps including the “He for She” campaign and exploring the challenges boys and men face in today’s society.

If we need to teach non-fiction, I do think there are some key messages we can use those schemes of work to put across to young people. There are too many inequalities in our society; I want my students to be empowered and inspired by knowledge and understanding of these inequalities to put them right.

*     *     *

Revised SoW: Week by week outline

Week 1:

  • Coverage:  Modern femininity
  • Key question: how are women seen in today’s society?
  • (Everyday Sexism; MissRepresentation; feminism today)
  • (Opposing branches of feminism (Wolf/Benn/Gay/Moran))

Week 2:

  • Coverage: Women under oppression (Malala; Wadjda; Reading Lolita in Tehran)
  • Key question: do women everywhere experience the same freedoms and constraints?

Week 3:

  • Coverage: Historical female oppression (Suffragettes)
  • Key question: how has the female experience changed?

Week 4:

  • Coverage: Female communication: journalism
  • Key question: Is there a female voice?
  • (Lean In excerpts; Lena Dunham (write to entertain), India Knight (write to shock)

Week 5:

  • Coverage: Female communication: political
  • Key question: how successfully do women convey messages in a political setting?
  • Speechwriting (Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Benazir Bhutto, Harriet Harman/Theresa May?)

Week 6:

  • Coverage: Roles and perceptions of women
  • Key question: how are women seen, and how do they see themselves?
  • Hillary Bill Clinton; Eleanor Roosevelt; Sandberg commencement speech; Fey Bossypants

Year 10 feminism SoW

Reading aloud

I was not a confident reader in school. Fortunate enough to begin school knowing how to read, my abilities stalled mid-way through, and I couldn’t seem to move beyond the very simplest texts. I did not read much, with the exception of some truly trashy American “series” books (Sweet Valley High; The Babysitters Club). I do not recall at any point having to read aloud in front of a class.

 In secondary school, my reading repertoire remained limited. Winning a prize for English in year 9, I spent the money on The Diary of Adrian Mole, which I’d heard was good. The Head of English was appalled. I recall my first brush with Shakespeare – a valiant year 8 teacher having us perform “Pyramus and Thisbe” from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I hated it. I don’t have any memory of reading this play in front of my peers, though it seems likely I did.

Moving into year 10, my memories of reading begin to crystallise. This was the time when anxiety entered. I was, for the first time, becoming truly excited about books, prompted by a teacher of unparalleled excellence. I was also painfully aware of my shortcomings: I’d read a lot, but it tended to be extremely straightforward. Furthermore, where I’d learned new words, I’d learned them by sight, with no idea how to pronounce them. I can’t manage to forget being picked up for saying “guess-ture” for “gesture.”

Reading texts I was challenged and absorbed by in class was balanced with abject fear: would I be asked to read aloud? If so, how could I possibly make sure I was pronouncing all the words right and reading at a decent speed and putting enthusiasm into my voice? It seemed impossible. Conversely, I loved reading plays – the shortness of the lines and the space around the text lessened the fear for me.

In short, on becoming an English teacher, I had read approximately twenty-five pages of text aloud to a classroom of students in my life. Surprisingly, this did not seem to be a problem. I was advised during training that students would benefit from “guided reading,” where they sat in groups and read to each other as I circulated, checking students were on task and understood. The painful exception was my first year’s 10 set 5, who were studying To Kill a Mockingbird, and seemed unable to read this alone. I valiantly attempted to breathe life into the text, but my shoddy reading skills (among other things) meant disengaged students. (When I finished, a marathon 287 pages later, they applauded. From relief.)

As the years went on, I’d found reading aloud becoming easier – if I’d taught a text before, for example, I would feel more confident and could put more energy into the reading. Yet mere familiarity was not enough. Last year, I decided I needed to do more. Over the course of the summer, I practiced reading aloud daily – poems, short stories, newspaper articles – whatever I happened to be reading at the time. I rehearsed. I improved.

In September, with my year 10 class I’ve written previously about, this exercise was invaluable. With reluctant readers, I found for the first time that I could engage them with the sheer entertainment of me reading. I found myself putting on voices, dramatically pausing, and even walking around the room at the same time as reading (and, most impressively I feel, at one point crawling around the room, while simultaneously demonstrating a narrator’s slide into madness in “The Yellow Wallpaper”).

Then, last week, something amazing happened.

I hadn’t asked year 10 to read aloud in front of the whole class. They had done some reading in pairs, but in an extremely limited way. I had felt happy enough “modeling” good reading for them.

But last week, as I read, a student chimed in with me. My first thought was that she was mocking me, as this class so often does (this is a common theme among many of my classes. I’m easily mocked). I paused, unsure of what to do.

And the student carried on reading.

She stopped at the end of the paragraph, and I picked it up. And then a second student chimed in. I stopped. She kept reading.

It’s the strangest and in some ways most beautiful thing I have experienced, and I hope my words here do the moment justice. In this week the class has transformed itself from one where I did all the reading, to one where students are themselves choosing to publically read, and even actively asking me if they can read aloud. I’ve never put any pressure on any of them to do this, and wouldn’t want to put them on the spot – after all, I have first-hand experience of feeling terrified of this in front of peers. But I couldn’t be more delighted that they have taken matters into their own hands.

Being the teacher Year 10 deserve

I have what has been termed as an “intervention” group in year 10. Last year, when making the set lists, I decided to make a top set and then mix the rest of the year; it was then decided that certain students would take one less GCSE and have three extra lessons a week: one in English, two in Maths. So the two intervention groups came about, and I took one.

Why do these students need extra English? It’s not because they’re stupid – but then, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a stupid child. It’s not because they’re illiterate, although I do wish they would read more. They seem to be behind their peers, in terms of their raw data, and for that I can think of many reasons, which I would imagine are the same reasons any “intervention” child is behind. What it boils down to is time and effort. At some point, for some reason, these students have lost time in English. They have missed lessons, or they have been in lessons in body only. Many of them aren’t the well behaved angel children I am accustomed to dealing with (joking – though my year 11 class does seem fairly rammed with angels).

The bottom line is that these children deserve the best teacher. They have to cover more ground in less time; they have less than two full years, and time is ticking.

But I’m filled with doubt. Am I the teacher they deserve? Can I dedicate enough time, energy and effort myself? With all my other classes exam classes, with running a department, and with the additional responsibilities of being a member of the SLT, can I be that teacher?

These children need to be inspired. They need to feel awe and wonder in their English lessons. They need to be thirsty for knowledge, keen to read and learn and close the gap. Can I muster the energy to inspire them six times a week?

These children need to be nurtured. They need to be comforted when things go wrong, they need to feel safe in my classroom, they need to know that they have the space to get things wrong because that is what learning is. They need to be cared for, and their parents need to be told when they are wonderful, every time they are wonderful. Can I care for each and every child individually?

These children need to be in the room. They might behave in ways which eventually lead to being sent out, but when they do that in every lesson every week, it is clear that they are desperate to avoid the learning. They need to be sanctioned in multiple ways, outside classroom time, and those sanctions need to be both horrible and long. Can I improve my planning and pedagogy to the extent that I can ensure no-one needs to be sent out of my classroom? Can I follow up every sanction relentlessly?

These children need to receive excellent feedback. They need to fill their books with work they are proud of, with paragraphs that improve every week, where they understand the next steps towards achieving in English. Can I mark every book every week, let alone every lesson, with comprehensible guidance to lead them in the right direction?

I don’t think there is a teacher in the world who hasn’t had a class like my year 10. In fact, there probably isn’t a teacher anywhere in the world who doesn’t have this class right now: the class where every moment is vital, every interaction make or break, every comment taken to heart. This week, I have invited teachers into my lessons and taken their feedback, tracked down students in between lessons to smooth over issues, phoned parents and re-read parts of my go-to teacher manual Teach Like a Champion before and after every class. Next week there will be more visitors to the class, and more phone calls, more emails, more marking, more reading, more encouraging, more consoling, more understanding.

Things are improving, but I’m not the teacher they deserve.

Yet.

Coursework

Having spent the past 4 Saturdays in school working on coursework, you would think I’d want to spend my first Saturday “off” not thinking about it.

I’ll admit, I didn’t think I would get along with coursework. I began teaching as coursework ended; I’d been trained in Controlled Assessment and as far as I was concern, it was a great grade-getter. It also gave me several hours at the end of each term of catch-up marking during precious lesson time while the little chickens wrote for their lives, which in the early years of teaching was a vote-winner for me. Controlled Assessment was controlled; entirely in my power. They did it, handed it in at the end, I marked it; nothing went wrong, I didn’t have to chase anyone.

Indeed, my first year teaching coursework was last year with an AS group. I found myself threatening students that I would be submitting a draft version, or not marking a draft, because they had missed the various deadlines by so long. I found myself caving to my own threats as I recalled that their grades were my performance management; life lesson for them spared. As I spent so much time calling home and calling students and tracking them down, I was moved even more to appreciate the wonders of Controlled Assessment.

Moving to my next school, then, I was a little nervous to be told that we taught the iGCSE for English Language, which requires no Controlled Assessment, but instead three pieces of coursework, each totaling 500-800 words. Particularly picking up a year 11 class, I did not fancy my prospects for an easy life.

Yet I have grown, very quickly, to love coursework, and, in particular, to despair at its eradication from the English curriculum.

Coursework has at its heart re-drafting. Until this year, I had never taught that skill. It changed the way I taught almost immediately. The focus on dialogue marking had never seemed so relevant: we want students to learn how to improve and then be given the opportunity to do it! Unlike Controlled Assessment, where an errant C from an A-targeted student would lead to many hours of re-teaching, re-taking and re-testing, instead I could cover a page with questions (“how could you make this simile more interesting?” “can you think of a better word?” “CONNECTIVES?!?”) and supervise them as they made the small tweaks which would make all the difference.

In year 10, we were free to teach a rich and varied curriculum; assessment no longer punctuated the teaching or became the end; instead it was a short diversion – “Write the narrative of the Lady of Shalott” for Assignment 2, and then in a few more weeks we’ll start comparing that with Shakespeare and Jane Eyre, and so your knowledge of literature will blossom. (But of course, I will go on to kill your joy with an incredibly challenging piece of Literature Controlled Assessment which requires you to not only write well about one challenging text, but to also compare it with another challenging text in an interesting way, while situating both texts firmly in their (relevant) context. This is a task which half of you will grasp perfectly and the other half fail miserably, thus consigning your year 11 to long sojourns after school as I re-teach you a different question – but that’s another story.)

In year 11, we learned the texts for the Literature exam, and spent some time tweaking the three best pieces of coursework, marking and re-marking; never correcting, but always guiding. It felt holistic. It felt right. It felt like I could teach a child, rather than an assessment.

Then there were the tiny handful of children who had not achieved a C in their coursework. Their current marks often indicated several missing pieces. I decided I would give them four Saturday mornings as a small class to work on their coursework.

As soon as I met the children (though crucially, not all the children – getting some of these particular lovelies to turn up on a Saturday was no picnic) it became immediately apparent that all should have no cognitive trouble achieving at least a C. Many of them made the necessary changes in record time. It was what they did when they weren’t working which held them back.

These were students who had been held back by their own approach to learning; some became easily distracted and a few were prone to grumbling. Most were incredibly frustrated when I continued to demand more of them – more changes, more improvements. Their natural inclination was to give up when it felt hard.

We persevered, and encouraged, and praised, and rewarded these students. Looking through most of their folders last Saturday, I could not believe how far they had come, and with really very little guidance above what I gave my own students, most of whom were firmly in C territory and aiming higher. They were nudged in the right direction, kept on the straight and narrow, and produced some really great pieces of work. They also showed me that they were able to work in a focused and positive way for a sustained period of time.

Something I’ve always believed is that every student can at least achieve a C in English. I have yet to meet a student who disproves this for me. My caveat is as to how long it takes them. So, for a student who has only just come to the country and speaks limited English, maybe no C for you this time. But with unlimited time and unlimited resources, every student can at least make this benchmark.

What coursework gives us is less limited time. The harder to reach students, with poorer attendance and a history of poor behaviour in school, leading to missed lessons and exclusion, can be caught by coursework in a way they can’t by Controlled Assessment, or an exam. Success in coursework can also show these students what they are capable of, building their self-esteem and honing their writing skills. It is more like Austin’s butterfly than a high-stakes C-making factory.

My concern with a 100% exam system is that we lose students. There are students who are desperately at risk in our school system, and as children this risk is rarely of their own making. A system which allows students to bank nothing will undeniably lead to some bright spark missing out, and I fear that they will look all too familiar to me. Students need a win; they need to see where they are; they also need to see what they can achieve if they put in the time and the effort. I want to spend less time assessing students, not more. I want to spend more time helping them to make their work as perfect as they can, and I worry that a system which does not value or prioritise redrafting cannot do that. When schools’ reputations and funding are on the line, who doesn’t teach to the test? We have the possibility, though, of a test which is as non-intrusive as possible, allowing for creativity, for making mistakes and for lapses in judgement.

This does not just impact on our hardest to reach students, but also our high fliers, who may in the far-flung future turn up at university having never learned the skill of improvement, but only learned how to write the perfect essay in an hour, without a sense of how much more developed it can be with time, effort and research. My year 12 essays this year were a pleasure to mark; students had visited the library (or possibly Google Books) and found critical theory I’d never encountered; their pieces were scholarly and assured. That cannot happen under exam conditions; they must have room to discover and research for themselves by A-level.

The argument will be made that it is down to teachers to ensure these skills are still embedded, even while they are not tested. But there is always the looming thought that the best way I can serve my students is to get them the best possible marks. It shouldn’t be like this.

I loved my Saturdays with these students. I felt genuinely sad that our time together was coming to an end. Those days, watching students write pieces that they or I had never thought them capable of, and getting to know these wonderful young people in slightly more laid-back settings, made me remember why this truly can be the best job in the world.

Women in literature (or: this one’s for the girls)

I didn’t choose to work in a girls’ school. It just sort of happened. Twice. I wasn’t even aware, the first time, that girls’ schools existed outside of the independent sector. And this is in no way me weighing in on the argument about mixed or single sex education: I am too utterly torn between the unfairness of working in phenomenal schools that effectively exclude 50% of the population, and the fact that girls are really, really lovely to teach on their own. (I know it’s more complicated than that, so here ends my weighing.)

One thing that I love about working in an all-girls’ school is the way I can shape my lessons and my curriculum to reflect what are also my concerns. I can obviously understand and empathise with the women in literature and the feminist concerns more readily and with more interest than those of the other sex. I know what girls like. And I’m sure my colleagues in mixed schools know what both boys and girls like, but with me there was no learning involved.

It’s self-indulgent to have the capacity to only consider what would interest people I was once like. My reading lists are undeniably lacking in machismo, action or horror, or any of those texts that traditionally don’t appeal to women; don’t appeal to me.

But what is much more important than all this literary laziness is the opportunity to be proactive about women’s issues. That’s right, I said it. Because for all our assumed equality, there is a massive bone to pick with literary history, and I intend on my girls knowing about it and reading about it, then using those glasses to look more closely at the way things are now, and to draw some new conclusions.

Year 10 have just finished studying a beautiful course my department has called “Women in nineteenth century literature.” The first half term, we skipped through “The Lady of Shalott” and waded more slowly through “Jane Eyre,” before considering the female mindset under patriarchy (or, hysteria) in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” We then segued into an exploration of women who once earned us the right to vote, looking at the pamphlets they wrote and the speeches they gave.

The young women I teach are full of confidence, and full of brains. They brim with these. There is an overriding concern in some areas of some English departments with what boys are reading, and what boys are learning, and how to engage boys in reading and literature; in particular ethnic groups particularly. But when you dig down in the data, with the luxury of looking only at the girls, the same under-achievements are there. Yes, girls do better overall; but crucially, not as well as they could.

Of course, gender is only one slim strand of a person’s many-textured personality; it is simplistic to argue that if I like it, they like it. But I will be forever grateful for the many opportunities this single orientation has allowed me.

Autumn 1: Literature Central

I’m writing a retrospective on Autumn 1, and I’ll open by saying it has been a surprisingly good term. I’ll resist the temptation to elaborate, lest the ones who have held me up for 7 weeks and listened to my many woes read such a reflection and have to have words with me. Starting a new school, especially in a new role, was always going to be a challenge. Luckily, I am in the enviable position of my predecessor not only supporting me as line manager, with all the inside knowledge that can be offered from such a vantage, but also having set up an incredible curriculum – which is the subject of this blog.

I will admit, the prospect of Dickens for an entire term was enough to make me run flailing the other way in June. However, I found my own personal joy in Dickens (explored here and here) over the summer, which helped a little.

The other thing that has helped is my year 7 class. One of the “make-or-break” aspects of accepting a Head of Department role, for me, was teaching every key stage – at least in my first year. I wanted to have first-hand experience of the curriculum offer, and also to see what mixed ability teaching looks like in the department (we, like the vast majority, set at KS4) and to be assured it was working well for the students.

Year 7 has always been a mixed experience for me. They are undeniably adorable little humans, so full of excitement and energy. They can also be exhausting, with all the unformed emotional intelligence and neediness that comes of the giant leap from primary to secondary. I have found much more of the former and much less of the latter (in fact, almost none) in my current year 7 class. I do believe a strong head of year has helped them to settle quickly into the school. But I also believe they are tiny geniuses in the making, at least in English.

The scheme for this term has taken students on a Dickens journey, exploring excerpts from his poetry as well as novels such as: Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. I had my reservations about beginning the year by not teaching full texts, however I can’t deny the positive impact this scheme has had on my little ones. (And rest assured: we are doing full texts for the rest of the year.) What this scheme is, in effect, is a run through the key reading and writing skills students need, but using Dickens as a prompt. So, students explored writing a compelling opening using antithesis inspired by “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times” (and the rest).

There have been too many highlights of teaching this particular year 7 class to explore them all, but seeing students of a very wide range of ability access Dickens, empathise with his characters, and enjoy his writing has really changed my mind on the idea of a “depth” curriculum. I will also add that three students have professed to be reading Great Expectations; one even showed me the sweetest page of notes she had taken on the book. Absolutely no-one has said “we’re still doing Dickens?” at any point this term. When I told them we were studying “A Christmas Carol” after half term, the only emotion shown was elation. When students read the description of Miss Havisham and were instructed to highlight anything they found effective, one student piped up: “can’t I just highlight it all?”

The year 10 curriculum has been similarly literary. In fact, in ample time for the new KS3/4 curriculums, my line manager put in place some extremely inspiring schemes of work to prepare students for the rigours of a literature-heavy GCSE, and of couse A-level – our end-goal.

The iGCSE has its drawbacks, however for the scope of the coursework it is a winner for me. This term has been focused on iGCSE coursework tasks, which are in turn descriptive, argumentative and reading-based; however, in contrast to AQA’s “write about something which makes you angry” and other such generia, we have been teaching students about women in nineteenth century literature, and using this as a springboard for their creative and critical writing.

The scheme began with Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”, which my students were undeniably fazed by. It is a tough text, worthy of longer study. Yet their understanding of the implicit ideas in the poem has rendered some powerful pieces of description, as they wrote about the journey she took.

We moved onto Jane Eyre, worthy of a term itself. Students have the book and are, I hope against hope, ploughing through it still as I write. We explored key chapters together and wrote a number of pieces inspired by Bronte’s characters and settings.

Then onto Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which was a true joy to teach. I will never forget the faces of the students when they reached the end of the story – not quite wanting to believe what they were reading, and knowing something had happened which challenged their ideas of what the nineteenth century female writer might be exploring. Another descriptive piece followed.

Finally, we explored the idea of women’s suffrage, linking up with their study of it in year 9 History, and wrote speeches arguing against articles and letters from the time.

What students have gained, I feel, is a healthy overview of some great writing and some central concerns of the nineteenth century. The coursework did not take over, and we did not teach to the task. The coursework was almost incidental. As you can redraft it as many times as needed, there wasn’t the pressure to drill it in and get it perfect. I just wanted my students to be creative and to understand the wider concepts of the time period.

All of which sets them up nicely for their Literature Controlled Assessment next term – although I’m not sure how they or I are going to cope with a more task-driven term.

I can’t by any stretch of the imagination take any modicum of credit for what these children are studying; I can only advocate this approach. Our visiting “mock-Ofsted” inspector described the curriculum throughout KS3 and KS4 as “inspiring.” I have certainly found it to be so as a teacher.

More than ever, I feel like I am certain of what I want my students to have when they leave me, and the only way I am sure they can attain this is through study of challenging and literary texts. I am delighted to be in an environment which has fostered this.