Drama, Literacy, Multimodal Learning, Oracy, Writing

Four Creative Strategies to Support Students’ Communication Skills

Nick Bentley – Lead Practitioner and Nurture Group Teacher

@NBentleyTweets

Teachers are often really keen to develop young people’s communication skills; to support them in their writing, to improve the quality of their conversations, and to prepare them for the reading, writing, speaking and listening they will need to do in their broadest sense, as life skills. It is helpful, therefore, to consider how this can be done in an enjoyable and creative way. This blog post seeks to suggest four ways I have sought to employ create strategies to develop communication skills.

Collaborative Drawing

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Image from Collaborative Drawing

An inclusive and often enjoyable way of encouraging students to record their ideas can be a collaborative drawing task. I have had students unfurl large sheets of wallpaper where they can draw ideas which help them to create visual worlds related to the content of what we have been studying. For instance, this could be an interesting setting from a historical period in Humanities, the surface of a planet in Science, or the opening scene from a play in Drama. Students are then challenged to use specific details and impressive vocabulary to describe their designs, using the image of what they had created as a model to ensure they are precise, specific and sophisticated in their writing.

The Value of Reading Aloud

Myra Barrs and Valerie Cork worked with the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (Twitter handle @clpe1) in The Reader in the Writer to do some hugely meaningful work in relation to the connection between studying literature and students’ writing. One wonderfully helpful finding has been the relationship between teachers reading aloud and the writing students have been able to produce. This has really inspired me to indulge in creative storytelling, retellings of writings, and shared choral speech with young people, as means to break down pieces of text and encourage young people to develop their writing and responses.

In-role Tasks

Drama activities can be hugely meaningful as a means to support students to access challenging language beyond that which they might ordinarily be confident to draw upon. In English lessons, this might involve participating in a collaborative discussion as a journalist before writing a report. Students could role-play as geographers, scientists, or philosophers – indeed any groups of people who might be relevant – to stretch their vocabulary, before writing.

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Image of a Resource from an In-role Task

Language Movement Games

Warm-up tasks where students move around a classroom space, before responding to key words can be an enjoyable way to introduce challenging adjectives and adverbs before young people use them in their writing and speech. As a teacher you can call out words which students must embody in their movement, e.g. “petrifying,” “ecstatic,” or “monstrous.” Alternatively, students can be given the task of calling out challenging words for each other.

These ideas have simply been suggestions for how young people might engage with language and communication as a means to approach the curriculum and develop key life skills. I have found them to be meaningful not only as a way to improve writing and speaking, but also an enjoyable set of activities to support students’ engagement in learning, and to foster a safe, secure and joyful learning environment.

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Diagnostic Teaching, Literacy, Time saving teaching, Writing

The Power of DTT (Diagnosis, Therapy, Testing)

Hana Malik – Curriculum Leader for English

Twitter – @MsHanaMalik

It is that time of year again, where you feel sandwiched between fear and hope: Year 11 students will do as amazingly as you know they can, or, some Year 11 students might not get there.

What we as teachers in the classroom, especially in this last push before final exams, undertake with learners will impact final outcomes. Fact. So how should one decide what to do with those precious remaining lessons?

DTT, Diagnosis Therapy Testing, is not new (is anything in education?) and we all do it, with all groups throughout the academic year. But are there ways to maximise this process to ensure Year 11 students have the best possible chance to achieve highly?

What is DTT?

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Diagnosis: Finding out what the student needs.

There are countless ways to garner this information; for Year 11s, and arguably all year groups, the more specific you can be the better. As a teacher, be clear on what it is you wish to know, whether it be the extent to which content has been learnt or how successful students are in applying a skill. Thereafter, you can decide on how to record  and track that data.

One way we have tracked Year 11 mock data is through personalised learning checklists – PLCs. This straightforward and effective colour-coded system of logging marks allows you to see where the areas of strength are within a class. You can then deploy ‘experts’ as you wish. It also, vitally, allows teachers to gauge areas of weakness; teachers and students can see the content and/or skill which needs to be revisited, and even the extent to which it needs to be revisited – Is there a trend? How many students under-performed in this area?

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Example of GCSE Literature mock PLC

Therapy: After identifying areas which need to be ‘treated’, teachers can devise lessons and revision sequences which will secure marginal gains.

This is vital in ensuring DTT is effective. As part of Year 11 therapy, I believe it is important to create and encourage a culture of sharing. What’s working well with specific students? Might it work with other learners? Creating a ‘Best Practice’ folder is one way to do this, carving time into meetings to share practice is another.

Ultimately, teachers having the resources and skills to close gaps is what makes DTT effective. That is to say, this is the bit that means the most and probably takes the most time. But, as every exam class teacher can tell you, it is always worth it.

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Examples of therapy, securing marginal gains

Testing: Has it worked?

The only way to know if students have closed that gap you spent time ‘treating’ is by testing, and the test that ought to be sat really depends on what students have gone over.

In Year 11, mocks seem to be the most popular choice. However, there are other options. Quizzes, short and swift, can often highlight how well students know content. Flipped learning is also an enjoyable way to test whether students can transform learning.  

More often than not, therapy will prove effective the first time around. And, if it hasn’t, all we can do is try again.

Collaboration, Literacy, Professional development, Writing

I do it…we do it…so you can do it: the importance of collaboration across the curriculum

ADD56B9E-DD3C-400A-A064-C34118F2D469Natalie 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.

Literacy, Writing

Writing in the fast lane. 

 Yamina Bibi- Lead Practitioner 

Follow her on Twitter:@msybibi

 Re-inventing writing across the curriculum. 

Writing is art.
It enables us to process, explore and express our thoughts by putting pen to paper. With a strengthened focus in the new GCSE curriculum on students’ literacy and written work,  it could be said that consistency and  collaboration between departments is key to supporting our students to develop and flourish.

Therefore, we have a challenge for you. 

 A 200 word challenge to be exact.

It will take 25 minutes and we promise that it is creative, innovative and will excite even the most reluctant of writers.

Only 200 words?

The task was introduced, created and developed by @Xris32 in his blog with the aim of encouraging students to write independently and creatively while reducing workload. A different challenge task is set every Friday across KS3 English lessons with differing success criteria and key words.

How does it work?

Creative control lies with the teacher.

Before the lesson:

  • You select a topic that your students can engage with and invest in.
  • You create a success criteria that stretches and challenges your learners. The criteria can be based on key subject terminology, challenging vocabulary, historical issues or any key other area identified by you and your learners.

During the lesson:

  • Students write for 25 minutes responding to the task, while you circulate, read and give them feedback in the lesson.
  • Students share their responses and discuss their literary choices, and literacy.

Still need persuading?

Read what Melanie Corbin in 9H has to say about the 200 word challenge:

The 200 word challenge is an opportunity for self-expression through a limited number of words. We are pushed to give 100% in everything we do through our writing. This task literally forces us to double this by giving us multiple briefs and techniques that we must include. Although we are only allowed to write 200 words, it does not restrict us. Instead, it allows our mind to carve, develop and flourish around a given boundary. It would be great to implement this in practical subjects too to evoke the creative juices because the 200 word challenge is just that: challenging. 

You can also have a look at some examples of challenge tasks and student responses. 

 

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Examples of the challenges you could adopt or adapt from the wonderful @heymrshallahan.

 

 

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Challenge accepted?

So, why not create, adopt or adapt your own 200 word challenge? If you do, we would love to hear from you. Please share your ideas using the ‘comment’ function below.

Thank you.