Natalie Jim-Lead Practitioner
As I read the fifth piece of coursework my heart continues to sink. Although the words on the page are definitely recognisable as being part of the English language, they seem to be randomly placed on the page, with no actual sense being communicated. The constant question keeps circulating around my brain: “how can they write so fluently and attain such high grades in English, but be unable to transfer these same literacy skills when studying other subjects?”
It became such a source of frustration that I knew something had to done.
As teachers in secondary school, we understand that collaboration with other curriculum areas is a fantastic way to improve attainment across the school community, but we may not forge these links as often as we should. I speak very generally, but curriculum planning, the sharing of practice and finding the time to observe other colleagues can be challenging. Is it any wonder that students can’t connect the skills required in numerous subjects when we often don’t utilise opportunities to make those connections?
As a teacher of drama, I have had to shift my mindset regarding the teaching of writing and literacy skills in response to the new GCSE exam specification. Interestingly, a student’s ability to write about drama is awarded higher marks than their ability to demonstrate practical skills. There is also a further focus on preparing students to confidently sit a 2 hour written paper worth 40%.
After marking a batch of mock exam papers, it was with a sinking feeling that I noticed a gap in what they were achieving in English compared to drama. What was frustrating was that the skills needed to answer questions in the written paper were very similar. Taking action, I turned to a Lead Practitioner from the English Curriculum Area to support me in my quest to join the dots.
The first step was to break down the similar aspects of the English literature exam paper and the specimen drama paper. It was apparent that analysis and evaluation were the overlapping skills. So the questions can students: identify language used by a writer; infer meaning and evaluate the effect on the reader were similar to what I was considering as a drama teacher. So, for example, drama students should be able to identify theatrical skills used by a performer, infer meaning and importantly discuss the effect on the audience.
I looked at a writing frame grid being used in English and adapted it for a drama question. In addition, the LP visited and team taught a drama lesson that was introducing the grid and demonstrated the most effective way of modelling – “I do, we do, you do.” When using top band models as a teaching tool, I had often not spent enough time on the joint construction of a response with the class. Instead I would jump from showing them a model and breaking it down and analysing it, to then giving them the task of trying to create a response for themselves. What seemed to be the missing piece of the jigsaw was actually working on a new model together and then giving them the independence to try.
It is still a work in progress, but looking at students’ subsequent attempts at similar questions, I am hopeful. I would recommend using the expertise of those around us to problem solve and support highly.