Literacy and Well-being: some reactions (1)

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.

 

Reflections on the Autism Friendly Classroom (3)

Elaine Cox, Principal Teacher of Support for Learning at Lourdes Secondary School, gives a reaction to the recent Autism Friendly English classroom seminar from Charlene Tait.

As an English teacher and Principal Teacher of Support for Learning, adverts for courses pop into your inbox or newsfeed on a daily basis, but attendance is often prohibited because of cost or availability of tickets or ability to attend due to the timing of the event.  You often have to look at the content of the course/seminar and justify why it would be appropriate for you to attend said event.

So, when a seminar entitled, ‘The Autism Friendly English Classroom’ popped up on my Facebook feed, a seminar costing less than £20.00 which would need no lengthy conversation about class cover, I couldn’t say no.  And to top it off, the speaker was Charlene Tait from Scottish Autism – enough said.

The event itself was really well organised and practical.  Opening with an outline of different complexities associated with autism and narrowing the focus into the classroom and practical approaches, resources and strategies, the seminar provided the right balance of discussion, pedagogy and exemplification to get me thinking about my own practice and the practice of others.

Following Charlene’s advice, I’ve already ordered one of the books she discussed and am in the process of trying to get my hands on the other one.

I’m already looking forward to the next seminar, one focusing on influence of literacy and language acquisition on wellbeing.

 

 

Reflections on The Autism Friendly English Classroom (1)

Sudipa De, a PGDE student teacher at the University of Strathclyde, reflects on the recent Autism, Friendly Classroom seminar from Charlene Tate of Scottish Autism.

“It’s like we have big secrets: we are in it, they are not!” to quote Charlene Tait from her recent SATE seminar: The Autism Friendly English Classroom. Trying to understand what others mean and how to behave can be bewildering and stressful for autistic children.  The ideas presented in the seminar demonstrated Charlene’s deep understanding of classroom management with an insight to the world of youngsters under the spectrum with Autism.

As prospective English teachers, the most important attribute we should possess towards people with autism is empathy. Autistic students have a very poor sense of themselves, and need a lot of reassurance and confirmation of their performance. It is our responsibility as educators to support them in having a voice and enable these young people through their journey in life.

Qualitative research shows that the developmental profile of children with autism is rather spiky and inconsistent in comparison to their fellow counterparts. This is a human condition which clearly explains their difficulties with understanding receptive language, processing instructions and poor sequential memory. They are easily prone to distractions and have delayed sensory processing and lack skills in perception. Their developmental differences make them think, feel, view and react to the world differently. Their perspective of the world is very honest, consistent and truthful – and sometimes appears to be rude and arrogant to others!  Often autistic pupils are unable to organize or put limits to their own behaviour or acknowledge the rules of the society. To help us understand such complex issues Charlene advises the use of appropriate language.The language used in the playground with peers is different to the language used in class or with family. Similarly, the language we use in a seminar is different to the language we would use with our colleagues in pubs! Autistic pupils are unable to differentiate it. They struggle to adapt or model their actions and communication according to the demands of the situation.

As we are aiming to achieve successful learning experiences within the classroom environment, we need to shift our thinking from behavioural management of autistic children to stress reduction. It may appear on the exterior that the students are calm, pacified and relaxed. However, the unpredictability of when something different might happen can be very challenging for autistic students. Consequently, they often choose to stay with familiar activities and resist learning new routines. Repetitive, rigid behaviours are signs of stress overwhelming them. Scheduling daily or weekly events lessens the anxiety level and outlines a framework of ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ for them, helping with transitioning independently between activities.

English is difficult for these children and we need to acknowledge it. Pronouns like she, he, you, we, and I, or concepts of positional language can be really difficult to comprehend. To overcome such barriers in understanding, visual representation of the context by sequencing cue cards to build up a story line;  providing a picture/word dictionary would be helpful. Using emotion cards displaying abstract concepts of happiness, fear, remorse, excitement, and anger can help with better understanding of emotions.

A myth prevails that autistic children suffer from lack of imagination. This is not necessarily so .They suffer from contextual blindness, which is their inability to see the wider picture and think logically. As an example, Charlene refers to a scene in the movie Rain Man where Raymond misinterprets the sign “Don’t walk” and stops in the middle of the intersection. His mind doesn’t understand that “Don’t walk” can also mean ‘hurry up’ if he is halfway through the crossing.

For better understanding of novels or drama, films can be helpful sometimes as it helps the students to visualise the characters. Another interesting approach may be to ask them to create or present a paper cut out of the characters they think resembles them best. Graphic representation, creating online work space, use of speech bubbles with basic introductory sentences such as “The author says….” I know this because…”or The illustrator says….”can help in understanding. Charlene directed us to The Autism Tool Box for further practical approaches and practice grids.

Touching on perfectionism Charlene advise us, “be imperfect yourself”, to enable the pupils feel that it is ok to make mistakes! It’s all about modelling the task set to get it right for every child.

My participation in the seminar has consolidated my learning experiences of working with autistic kids over the last four years. Charlene’s relaxed, friendly and interactive approach combined with her video clips of interviews from autistic pupils generated a lot of productive discussions. Our fantastic hosts at Marr College –  despite their other professional commitments – were very welcoming too.

 

“Small Shadows and Black Marks on a Page”: Taking the Panic out of Reading Poetry… NATE 2017

Kerri-Anne Campbell describes her experiences of NATE conference, 2017…

When I read a poem for the first time I am often left feeling perplexed and frustrated. Panic usually sets in if I read it over and over again yet still can’t uncover the underlying meaning. Attending the annual NATE conference in Nottingham made me realise that I’m not the only one. Some of the most experienced English teachers also feel this same sense of bewilderment when they read a poem for the first time, and they’re not afraid to say it.

The conference offered a wide range of innovative workshops and seminars which addressed many such concerns. One workshop which I learned much from was, Taking the Top of Our Heads off – Poetry for GCSE and A Level. The name of the workshop was derived from Emily Dickinson’s quote, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry”.

The workshop introduced different approaches to the teaching of poetry, to meet its aim of alleviating the anxieties often felt by teachers and students when studying and writing about poems for exams preparation. Different activities were outlined to bring fun and excitement to the kids’ experiences of reading poems. I left the workshop equipped with so many interesting ideas which I hope to use to motivate and engage my pupils in their own study of poetry.

For me though, the highlight of the conference was Simon Armitage’s keynote speech. Armitage brought to profile the difficulty of reading and understanding poetry and confessed that when he was a student, poems often appeared as “small shadows and black marks on a page”. He went on to make an impassioned plea for the reconceptualisation of the traditional approach to teaching poetry away from the model within which poems are mechanically deconstructed word by word, insisting that a poem is not a lock to be picked, or a code which needs to be cracked, nor is it a riddle to which teachers have the answer. This was music to my ears, and is something I anticipate sharing with my pupils with no small excitement.

Armitage told us that an appreciation of language is one of the greatest gifts you can give to young people, and he suggested that in order to avoid instilling a life-long abhorrence of poetry in their pupils, teachers should introduce them to poems to which they can personally respond: poems which fire up their imagination; poems which inspire their creativity; and, poems which encourage independent thinking. He urged schools to achieve this by continuing to teach contemporary poems, and importantly, by contextualising and relating poetry to issues important to pupils’ personal and social lives. He said that by so doing the gateway to more difficult and unfamiliar work would be opened wide.

Armitage reminisced about discovering his love for poetry in the ‘Worlds’ anthology whilst still a schoolboy, and called for getting back to using poetry books as opposed to photocopies in the English classroom. Until this address, I had not heard of this anthology, but now await the arrival of my own copy with eagerness.

As an NQT I realise how fortunate I was to have the opportunity to attend the NATE conference before I even begin my first year as a teacher. I met so many inspiring people and left brimming with ideas. One thing that really struck me is that reading and discussing a poem for the first time can be a terrifying experience for teachers and pupils alike and I will endeavour to ensure that this is not a secret kept from my pupils. I want them to realise that we will journey and discover the world of poetry together.

Kerri-Anne Campbell is a newly qualified English teacher in East Dunbartonshire.  Views expressed here are her own.

Developing Characters for Story Writing and Drama… NATE 2017

Reflections on NATE conference 2017 from Leanne Welsh.  This is reblogged from Leanne’s excellent blog,  https://nqtreflections.wordpress.com/.

At the NATE conference last weekend I attended a number of workshops that will help me to create interesting and engaging lessons for the pupils in my class.  I am  grateful that I had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring people that shared their ideas and practice that I can now adapt for my own pupils.

One of the workshops that blew me away was Kat Burr’s All work and no play? Introducing new views and creative ways into plays.  In this workshop we gained fascinating insight into ways that we can help pupils to develop characters in plays.  However,  these ideas are not limited to plays and could be a worthwhile starting point for creative writing  and folio work.

One of the first tasks that Kat introduced us to was ‘What’s in my Bag?’   Pupils choose two items from their bag and the rest of the group/class have to work out what the persons ‘holes’ (flaws) might be because of the items.  I would say it is important to tell the pupils to think about the person with the items as a character rather than as themselves so no feelings get hurt in the process!  For example if  I had a small mirror in my bag, my flaw, as a character, might be that I care too much about my appearance and what people think of me.  This immediately allows the pupils to start to develop a character in their own head and what the person might be like.   If you have some pupils in your school that don’t have a bag or you might not feel comfortable doing this task, you could use YouTube.  There are many videos out there with YouTubers promoting ‘What’s in my bag?’ You could pause it in-between items and ask the pupils to discuss or write down what their flaws might be because of their chosen items.  This is also a fantastic task for getting to know a class or letting them get to know you.

Another task ( and probably my favourite) was Killer Lines.   In this task pupils would be given a number of lines in their groups and they have to work out what kind of character would say these lines.   You could make these lines up or use famous quotes from characters and see if the pupils can work out who is the baddie (we all know they get the best lines.) You might want to provide images and see if the pupils can match up the line with the character and give a reason why they think they could say that.  For example if you use the line ‘Long Live the King!”  Some pupils might say Scar because he is desperate to become the King and get rid of his brother.  However, there may be another opportunity for an interesting discussion on ambiguity. Perhaps it depends on the way that a character says a line and the tone they use. Voice is so important in order to develop an accurate character; we have to hear them speak, right down to the laugh that they use.   This line might have been said by a bunch of servants that are loyal to their ruler, so the status of the character is vital.  Where is the character in terms of the food chain?  Are they a boss or are they a disgruntled ex employee looking for revenge?  Therefore an important lesson could come out of this task – delivery is often more important than what the line actually is.

As previously stated delivery is important when it comes to creating a character. Another task that I used from the workshop with my pupils was ‘Words that Annoy You.’  I asked the pupils to write down a word on a post-it that made their blood boil when someone said it (or, at least, caused them some discomfort.)  To say they loved it was an understatement. They were doing this as a group and looking at each others and saying ‘Ugh, I hate that too! Why do people do that?’   I then asked the pupils to start to think about the mannerisms people use or do that annoys them. Now, if you want a successful task you should say the things that teachers do (obviously telling them to keep it anonymous) that annoys them. Each group had loads of words and mannerisms and I then asked them to explore how they think each of these words would be said or what the mannerisms would look like.  I then asked them to think about what kind of character would suit this line.  What personality would the character have?  How would they interact with other people?   How would their voice sound as they said it? Then, and I think this is really important for character development, to think about the back story. What makes this person have this mannerism? Where did the use of a word come from?  Did they start to use it when their status changed in society?  Do they only use these words or mannerisms with certain people and do they change depending on who they are around?   This task really was fascinating and it was interesting to hear pupils saying ‘Well they only say that to us because we are a pupil, I bet they are different around the Heedie!’

 

The final task, and one that I think is brilliant, is getting the pupils to eavesdrop on a conversation. This could be at break, lunch or on their way home from school. The pupils should take an anonymous comment that they find unusual or funny and bring it back to class.  The pupils can then explore these comments as a group, perhaps putting them all together to create a short sketch. Pupils could also provide the lines that they think came before and the lines that they think would follow. Again, another interesting opportunity to explore voice if you get the pupils to exchange their comment with someone else.

This was a fantastic and beneficial workshop that I will most certainly use to help pupils develop their characters in creative writing. Pupils often only have an image of a character in their head but it is important to delve into the history of a character in order to explore what their strengths and flaws might be.

Leanne Welsh is an English teacher in a Falkirk Council secondary school. Any views expressed are her own.

Welcome to the new SATE blog!

Hello!  We are SATE, the Scottish Association for the Teaching of English.  We’re a growing organisation affiliated to the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE).  If you are interested in joining SATE, check out the benefits of joining NATE at https://www.nate.org.uk/ and drop us a line at connectSATE@gmail.com or use the contact form on this blog.  You can also follow us on and contact us through Twitter at @SATEfeed.

There is an existing SATE blog at https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/sateblog/; over the next few weeks, many of the posts you will find there will be migrated to this blog.  In the meantime, our first posts will be about the fantastic NATE 2017 conference, held in Nottingham this year.

We hold meetings and seminars as often as possible.  In August, we are hoping to hold a session on The Autism Friendly English classroom in Ayrshire with Charlene Tait, and a literacy event for English teachers featuring Professor Sue Ellis in Glasgow on the 20th of August.  Look out for details here and on Twitter and for booking on Eventbrite. We’re planning a range of other events, from chats over coffee or a beer to day conferences; keep in touch and let us know about anything you’d like to see us do!

We do hope you will feel SATE can offer you something in your work as a teacher of English, and, indeed, that you can join us and offer something to SATE.