Laura Jamison is an NQT based at Lochend Community High School in Glasgow. She recently attended the SATE seminar on literacy and well-being presented by Professor Sue Ellis.
As a NQT at the beginning of my school career, the idea of closing the attainment gap in schools is a daunting task which, at times, seems impossible. Professor Sue Ellis highlighted the fact that social class and poverty have the biggest impact on literacy development in Scotland. She commented that every child comes to school with a virtual backpack filled with experience but only a handful of students get to unpack the bag. This comment really challenged me as I reflected on the content of my classes and realised the importance of trying to make every lesson relevant to every child. This idea seems impossible but Ellis offered some really simple, practical ways to do this and by the end of the seminar I felt more confident in addressing the issue in school.
Professor Ellis emphasised the importance of encouraging students to read, not just for the purpose of closing the gap, but for enjoyment as well. As English teachers it is all too easy to constantly analyse everything we read and ask questions that we already know the answer to. In reality, this takes much of the enjoyment out of the process of reading for many students. Ellis reminded us that reading is an enjoyable task and we should offer students the chance to read texts that they enjoy, whether that’s a guide to fishing or a Steinbeck novel. If students bring prior knowledge to a text they become an ‘insider’ and their motivation to read and learn more is higher. It gives them ownership of their learning and boosts their confidence as they can bring something to the table before even opening the book.
I think that many English teachers would agree that one of the best parts of our job is being able to share literature that we love with students. The seminar reminded me that some students might not appreciate, or be able to relate to, the same texts as I do and it is our job to make sure that every student feels like an ‘insider’ within their own learning.