English 2.0 - A vulpine figure helps out

Published on 15 February 2015

In my last post here, I identified that we'll be seeking to develop our curriculum even further over the coming year, drawing on the ideas of David Didau and the framework of Martin Robinson's Trivium. 

As part of this process, a couple of weekends ago, our fabulous English team decamped to a local hotel for Friday evening and Saturday morning to take part in a planning residential. The premise was to spend a substantial block of time together in order to:

  • Define our vision for teaching and learning in English.
  • Agree a set of principles for establishing an assessment framework and curriculum overview for English in Years 7-9 and produce a draft of both of these frameworks. 
  • Examine a model for producing medium term plans with a focus on mastery and learning over time rather than rapid, unsustained performance in individual lessons. 
  • Draft medium term plans for three of the units from the new curriculum which would be piloted next term. 

It was an ambitious agenda, but three conditions meant we had a good wind behind us as we set off on our journey. 

  • We have a great English team full of ideas, energy and commitment. They're passionate about language, literature and the students they teach. 
  • We have great students - students who are really focused in English lessons and who want to be successful.
  • We had, in David Didau, who very kindly agreed to accompany us, work with us and advise us on our residential, a consultant whose thinking was very much in line with ours. Many of the ideas David has drawn on and developed in his blog went to inform our own mastery curriculum framework.

Before I go any further, as with the last post, I'd like to share with you a poem. This time it's...

The Thought Fox – By Ted Hughes

I imagine this midnight moment's forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock's loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox's nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.


The poem was written by Hughes after an evening attempting and struggling to write a university essay. After various unsuccessful attempts, Hughes lay down on his bed and fell into a slumber in which he'd dreamt about a creature - part man, part fox - who entered his room. Hughes recounts how the vulpine being looked as if he'd just walked from a furnace. He held up a hand which looked severely burnt, then placed it down on Hughes's blank page, leaving an impressive paw mark which then inspired the poem, thus breaking his writer's block. 

The poem's significant here though for a number of reasons. Firstly, though I probably had a higher than average interest in poetry as a teenager - having listened to Simon Armitage amongst others reading his poems on Mark Radcliffe's late night Radio 1 show amidst the sounds of Blur, Pulp and the Stone Roses - Hughes was the first poet I really grasped. I studied his poetry in my A-Level Literature class and I remember being enthralled by both his language and his ideas in a way which I hadn't been previously. His poems made me question and see the world in a way which challenged what I had thought before. 

We want students at our school to have the opportunity to experience language and literature like this. 

Secondly, Hughes' poem depicts something of an epiphany and, during the course of our planning weekend, though it might be an exaggeration to suggest there were any moments of epiphany, there were certainly moments when the ideas we were considering challenged our preconceptions. 

So, back to the planning weekend. 

The first session was led by our Curriculum Leader for English, Krisha Hendra, who had set up a number of questions for us to consider, prior to the weekend. We discussed what we wanted English to be like for our students, why we'd become English teachers and what the purpose of teaching English is. The session concluded with a preliminary drafting of a vision for our English Faculty. Two sentences were defined which, when combined together, result in this first draft: 

"We will empower our students with the ability to craft language: exposing them to the beauty and truth to be found in great literature; enabling them to be critical and analytical; and supporting and challenging them to communicate with clarity, accuracy and precision."

There is more to be done in terms of polishing this statement, but the process of considering our aims enabled us to move on to the next session, led by David, with a sense of clarity and purpose. 

In session 2, David took us through many of the ideas contained in this post from his blog. The team had encountered many of these concepts previously in the design of our own initial version of a mastery curriculum. However, it was exceedingly useful to have David's expertise available. In particular, we spent some time discussing threshold concepts in English and examined his model for assessment in Y7 and 8, based on a desire to assess reading through writing and focus more of our attention on literature. We agreed the following our assessment framework for English:

In the process of presenting to us, David also challenged us to reconsider whether the lesson is useful as a unit of planning for teaching and learning. His thinking appeared to have been influenced by this post from Bodil Isaksen that weekend. He then proceeded to provide us with a model for planning a unit in English and talked us through his teaching sequence for developing independence

At this point, we discussed the nature of assessment in English. Currently, in line with our Personal Best strategy, our students sit six formal exam assessments in Years 7-9. These feature a substantial reading or writing task and a grammar test. We agreed that these assessments were helping prepare our students well for linear examinations and that they were also useful for informing teachers' planning. However, we also felt the need to build more substantial questions and tasks into classroom based assessment so as to challenge students further outside of the exam hall. 

At the end of the evening, based on the principles we'd explored, we spent some time discussing our dream curriculum - which texts would support us in delivering our vision? This led to some exciting debate and, ultimately to us having devised the following overview. 

We came back together, after a delicious dinner and hearty breakfast the following morning, to begin the process of planning out three units to pilot in the new term. We used the models which David had shared with us the previous evening to develop a Year 7 unit called Links to Legends; one for Year 8 entitled Language is Power; and one for Year 9 focusing on The Gothic Tradition. Below is an example of the planning we completed, using David's planning grids.

In addition to the units themselves, we also decided that there would be an associated wider reading list, linked to our Accelerated Reader programme; a reading list for teachers to further their subject knowledge and model responses for the significant tasks in each unit. 

We ended the weekend filled with anticipation about what teaching this new curriculum could deliver for our students and thankful that our thought fox, David, had left his paw prints on our work.

Categories: Blog, About, Mastery, Teaching and Learning Model

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