Monday, April 30, 2012

So WHAT are you teaching?

I had a great professional conversation today with regard to WHAT we are teaching. The word on the street is that NQTs (newly qualified teachers) are coming out of college with a deep understanding of HOW children learn but not WHAT to teach them. We had a great discussion about what impact that has on the learning in a classroom and also, what has changed so much that we are left with this issue?

I am still a staunch advocate for a scheme of work for English (reading, writing) as I am certain now that there is no consistency in the teaching of word and sentence level knowledge; such as understanding synonyms, antonyms, homophones, homonyms, mnemonics; punctuation conventions such as ellipsis, parenthetic brackets/commas, colon, semi-colon, quotation marks; when to use an adverb, what a pronoun is; when to use an aside; what a limerick, free verse or Kenning is, and so on. Have children, upon reaching the completion of Year 8, been exposed to all of the text types? Have they developed an understanding of parts of speech, language conventions, author purpose, comparative language and so on?

I would stake my life on saying a resounding NO. My own 2 children are Year 7 & 8 and I can assure you, I STILL have to teach them many of these things myself. Most teachers wouldn't have a clue what a mnemonic is, let alone how to teach it, or what parenthesis is used for, or how (or even why) children should learn what the different types of poetry are. Now let me also make another thing clear here - I am certainly not one who wishes to stifle student voice. I am keen for the learning to be student-led and enjoy a wonderful classroom, which has collaboration and excitement in our shared learning environment.

But the only way to guarantee that teachers are teaching content, is to make sure that they have guidelines that give them coverage. We have a great scheme of work in the Numeracy Project for maths so why have we not managed to develop and implement a similar thing for English? It still baffles me. Do we assume (incorrectly) that because we all teach reading and writing, this means that we will somehow remember all of the components necessary for coverage?

I would be interested to know how others find this - is it really only me who is passionate about this or do other teachers find themselves as baffled by our lack of guidelines? 

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