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New tools for English Teaching…

September 11, 2006

It’s strange to think that when I started teaching in 1991, the expectations for my 4th year pupils was that they would complete a folio and sit an external exam. Strange, because 15 years later, they are still expected to do the same. Why has the Scottish Standard Grade not changed?

I know that it is being diluted by the creeping introduction of Higher Still into 3rd & 4th years, but for the vast majority of pupils in Scottish Schools it is still Standard Grade (SG) that will be the key to their ambitions.

I must be honest, there is something comfortable about knowing that there is a part of what I do which is stable and unchanging. I have a range of suitable SG texts that I know really well, and which I can teach without thinking about, and therefore they allow me to concentrate on the rest of my classes… but therein lies the problem. What is it they say, familiarity breeds contempt? It would be easy for me to select and include a new text to my repertoire, but I also know that I would find it too easy to just approach a new text the same old way… and next year?

…I don’t really think they are learning, or even worse, connecting…

As I see it, part of the problem lies in the external assessment component of the SG English course, the folio. I (along with every other English teacher in Scotland) know what is required for my pupils to produce a good folio for external assessment, and I know what the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) require of the folio for the pupils to do well… and as long as I fulfil my part of the bargain, the SQA reward my pupils with grades which recognize their ability to reproduce my notes in a coherent form… but I don’t really think they are learning, or even worse, connecting.

I think we’ve reached a stage where pupils see English as a subject like any other, and by that I mean it is something they don’t think they need to understand as long as they do what is needed to pass the exam. For them, the subject is divorced from the reality that English is about communication. They see communication as being about the web and email and txtng and IM and… I don’t really blame them.

I teach English. I teach pupils about books, and poems, and plays, and bits of history that occasioned the texts I teach. And I am discouraged from teaching them about the new literacy that they are active participants in because I have the spectre of the HMIe and the SQA  hanging over my head saying: your pupils need to do x, y, and z to attain the criterion for achieving a pass at Standard Grade…

The folio is quite prescriptive, but I’m working to bring Web2.0 ideas to it… essays submitted by bluetooth from pupils phones, emails, blogs, wiki discussions, you name it, I’m going to do my best to include it when I think it will make a difference… after all, I know how to play the game, and I know their folios will be good, but maybe by trying to engage the pupils’ learning muscles as well, I can make their folios great, and getthem to realise that there is more to learning than reading some dead geezer’s words!

Any practical suggestions gratefully received!

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 22, 2006 1:19 pm

    Well, this sounds familiar! Good to meet you the other day – g’aun yersel’, son….

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