Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Destination 2014: Excellent English

I so enjoyed writing the first post in my "Destination 2014" series, not because I think I will get all that stuff right, but because it means that all those ideas and aspirations have stopped swirling around my head. I stopped desperately trying to remember all those things I want to get right next year, because it's all written down...

Ahem! So, speaking of the necessity of writing... Another aspect of my goals for next year: Excellent English!

(Belle is me, encouraging my students to greater heights in the great library of the English language. Look, there the little learners are, disguised as furniture...)

I have one fewer English classes in 2014, and I will be focusing (yay!) on the juniors: grade 8 and 9. A bit of background: I love teaching English, but found the switch from all Maths in 2012 to 3/5 English classes in 2013 extremely stressful. Even the ways in which the departments function is totally different, and I was tearing my hair out in 14 different positions trying to keep up with everything I needed to know/learn/teach/do. So going a tiny bit back into my comfort zone - while keeping the incredibly joy of teaching English as well - is really the best of both worlds for me. I'm so lucky to be at a school where management at least tries to take my preferences into account (most of the time!).

So. Two English classes. Juniors. My focus - which links up with the focus of my department, don't worry - is writing! I want learners to be able to write fluently, confidently and above all with enjoyment. How do I get that right?

Well, they need to get inspiration from good writing, observing what works so that they can reproduce it...

They need to write all the time, in all kinds of weird and wonderful situations...

They need to work on writing, critiquing and editing each others' work...

And at the end of the day they need to take flight and write LOADS:

(The old man is me, admiring the huge oeuvre of writing that the learner's will have produced by the end of the year. This time Belle is a student, showing off her wonderful work!)

Let me stop mixing my Disney movie metaphors (though at least I stuck to one movie this time) and get down to brass tacks. These are some of the things I want to implement in my English class (in no particular order other than that which they occur to me!):

  1. Class Blog where each child makes one post per term - themes would be book reviews, comments on literature studied in class, creative pieces etc... A strict schedule would have to be set up at the beginning of the year to ensure high quality, varied content. I have taken the first step towards setting this up, but the idea needs some fine tuning particularly with regards to privacy for the learners. But I think it is important to expose the kids to writing in the modern world, and blogs are an important part of that. Plus, how better to drive home the need for editing than knowing that the world will be able to see your work?
  2. Journals for private/free writing at some point in every single lesson. They have brought A5 books for this purpose. Now all I need to do is choose topics that integrate the journal writing with our other class work. I am starting an index card box full of "topics". We need to just produce VOLUME of creative output, at least to start with.
  3. Integration of writing work with EVERY other topic we cover. Grammar rule? Let's use it in a piece of writing. Poem? Let's mimic the poet's style. Novel? Let's write a letter from the point of view of one of the characters. Writing needs to be a part of absolutely every lesson, topic, idea. An INTEGRAL part. This impacts a lot on how I need to plan my lessons...
  4. Grammatical Correctness - of every sentence and paragraph. Not always - of course there is room for "free writing" (see point 2) but sometimes we have to sit and nitpick at the grammar of their writing until every child can write a perfect sentence. A careful, precise, simple sentence. A controlled, specific paragraph with no "fluff". Much harder said than done. This takes a lot of editing, proofreading, time, effort. Especially on my part. It's an investment. On a related note: vocab lists and spelling tests. Yes. Peer editing. Yes. This also impacts a lot on how I plan my lessons. Duh. Should I do another post on lesson planning? 
  5. Functional Writing. This is important. The writing they learn needs to WORK. They need to be able to see its usefulness in their other subjects and ultimately in their lives. Do we need to write love letters before Valentine's Day? We are already spending the whole of the first term in grade 9 concentrating on formal writing to help them with their major Science Fair project in the second term. Where else can I demonstrate the practical applications of their writing skills?
I have a lot more to say about my ideas for English next year. But this is already a marathon post, and is probably full of those errors I want my learners to weed out of their work. More later, if I get a chance what with all this lesson prep that needs to happen.

How would you teach writing?

yours writingly,

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