Why I love…English Lectures

Previously, I and other colleagues have delivered aiming higher lectures and this has proved extremely useful for several reasons: to promote challenge with the students; to deliver extra content that for many reasons gets lost in the day to day teaching; to express a love of the text being studied; for students to experience the joy of learning beyond the curriculum; to upgrade the students knowledge; to gain valuable CPD benefits for the teachers.  Delivering the previous lectures was genuinely thrilling and copies of what I’ve done can be linked here: Why I love…English Lectures: The Eduqas Anthology  and Why I Love…English Lectures: Blood Brothers Aiming Higher and Why I love…English Lectures (A Christmas Carol)

When I arrived at my new school, I knew it was something that I wanted to continue, but also something that I wanted the whole department to experience and enjoy. As a team we haven’t done this before, we have and still do revision sessions, but this is something new that we want to try. We’ve put together the programme, everyone has signed up for an area that they are interested in and everyone has put together the student pitch for the lecture. We’re going to do these in the Drama studio, as it is a lovely large space and has individual desks available. We’ve advertised it with Year 10 in class and in tutor time using the first ‘pitch’ as you can see below, in tutor times students have been made aware of this. We have told parents via our school newsletter and we have made a call to the parents of the whole year group to let them know that we are doing this. I’m going to make invites and get students to give these to the students who they think should absolutely not ‘miss out’ but we are 100% opening this opportunity out to the whole year group as we know that it is beneficial to all students. Finally, we know some students get the bus, or have other commitments outside of school and this means that they can’t come to the lectures, so we are going to record these. We will either video ourselves delivering the lecture or voice record these as a podcast, however we do it, we know that we will be able to signpost these valuable lectures to our students after the event.


Now, we are busy behind the scenes preparing the lectures. This is time-consuming because even with the great knowledge of the texts, there is still so much more that we can learn, before delivering (what we hope will be) cracking, engaging and exciting lectures, that further fire up the enthusiasm for learning that our students have. I’m so lucky that the English team have signed up with gusto and are as excited by the prospect of delivering these lectures as I am. The programme and ‘pitches’ are below and give an idea of just how exciting a prospect this is. Each time one of these was sent to me, I’ve been: blown away with the thought that has gone into each lecture; excited at the prospect of the students learning from these; genuinely pleased about the prospect of my colleagues putting together the lectures and then sharing the knowledge with the team and the students and finally really pleased with how ‘on board’ everyone is. A copy of the pitches we are doing is here: lecture schedule – 2019 aiming higher

Lecture Schedule: 1 Hour per lecture Session:
Thursday 31st January Romeo & Juliet  Content & Context
Description of the Lecture:

This lecture will engage with the play Romeo and Juliet to explore the internal conflict characters felt, explore how the play is as much about love as it is about breaking the rules and pushing the boundaries (as all teenagers do). Finally, we will investigate contextual clues from throughout the play with specific quote links in order to clarify how to embed with ease Level 8/9 knowledge and understanding of context with the analysis of the play.

If you believe or want to investigate the idea that: “Romeo and Juliet’s teenage romance is still relevant to the society we live in today” then this lecture is the right one for you.

Thursday 14th February Unseen Poetry
Description of the Lecture:

Unseen poetry is all about understanding the meaning and being able to make educated guesses about what the poet might have been trying to say and why they might have been saying this. This lecture will explore the hidden thinking process behind approaching a poem that you have never read before and explore how to compare two poems at a high level without worrying too much about getting it wrong!

If you believe that unseen poetry is “daunting because you are unable to learn information about the poem before you go into the exam”, but want to know how expert analysis can be explored in these unknown texts then this lecture is for you.

Thursday 7th March Anthology – Content
Description of the Lecture:

Power and conflict is shown explicitly in all of the Anthology poems, however we will explore the more nuanced and subtle ways in which these themes are explored. This lecture will examine higher level interpretations of power and conflict using specific links in each of the poems to carefully interrogate how the poets manipulate language and structure effectively throughout the collection.

If you are interested in really getting “under the skin of the anthology collection and engaging with the themes at a deeper level” then this is the lecture for you.

Thursday 28th March Animal Farm
Description of the Lecture:

This lecture will focus on the reasons for and attitudes towards the Russian Revolution. We will look at the ethics behind the movement and Orwell’s perspective on this cataclysmic paradigm shift that sent shockwaves through Europe. We will investigate whether any of these societal concerns adversely affect our lives today and whether true social utopia can ever really exist. We will also look at how discussion of this wider context can be embedded within answers to advance writing and hit the top grades.

If you are interested in “historic events that shocked the world and evaluating how Animal Farm unlocked these”, then this is the lecture for you.

Thursday 4th April Anthology – Context
Description of the Lecture:

The themes of power and conflict are the catalyst for AQA Anthology poems. To truly understand the messages conveyed by the poets it is necessary to understand the context of the time. This lecture will explore the historical reasons for the conflicts discussed in the poems, particularly: The Crimean War; First World War and Second World War (kamikaze pilots) and consider the implications that human catastrophe has on works of literature.

If you believe that the AQA poetry anthology is “all about wars, conflict and the same mistakes repeated again”, then this lecture will unlock and reveal how each writer had a specific concern and message that they wanted to convey.

Thursday 25th April A Christmas Carol/Sign of Four: Run two lecture sessions on this date as they are for the same paper/exam
Description of the Lecture:  

This lecture on A Christmas Carol will explore the characters of ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ in relation to the treatment of the poor in Victorian Society. Perhaps one of the most shocking moments in this story is when the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals from under his robes the monstrously deformed creatures of ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want.’ These children are a direct consequence of society’s abandonment of the poor and Dickens is making an explicit point to shock his readers.

If you are interested in the way Dickens was influenced by “industrialisation of Britain, the polarisation of the rich and poor and the symbols he used” then this lecture will help you contextualise the story.

This lecture will explore the connection between Victorian attitudes to the British Empire and The Sign of Four. In particular, we will focus on the way that Arthur Conan Doyle presents the non-Western characters in the mystery and use the theory of Orientalism to help us understand how Doyle’s story reveals some of the prejudicial attitudes of the Victorian era.

If you are curious about the way Doyle’s writing explores the question of “What it means to be civilised” then this lecture is for you. It will provide you with the high level vocabulary and supporting theory to discuss these complex ideas clearly and effectively. It will also explain how these ideas can be used to enrich and deepen your analysis of the presentation of key characters and themes.

Thursday 9th May Shakespeare Context (SST & MDU)
Description of the Lecture:

This lecture will explore how to embed context at the highest level for the play that you are studying. It will cover a range of points and link these points to: Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice. Although all texts studied will be covered you will be able to apply the contextual information to the play you are focusing on.

Shakespeare was inspired by the world around him and used this endlessly in his plays. If you enjoy exploring “what made, arguably the most successful and inspirational writer of all time, write his masterpieces” then this lecture is for you. It will provide you with practical strategies for embedding context as well as examples that will blow the examiners mind.


Why I love…Marking to aid Feedback

This is a short blog. Marking is seen to be a necessary evil at times. In English we set focused tasks and home learning on a weekly basis that allow students to attempt independently work that has been done in class and to allow them to consolidate their understanding. The home learning policy means that we don’t have to mark the home learning, but I and several of my colleagues find it really useful to do so. In marking the home learning I’m seeing one hundred per cent what the students can do: on their own, whether they have listened; if they have understood the question approach; what misconceptions they have made; whether they understand the text and whether they are ready to sit an exam. All of this I can judge more accurately from the home learning as they have had no teacher input at the point of attempt and it will always be a new text that they are looking at (for Y11 language at least). This means that although it doesn’t mimic exam conditions, it does offer the opportunity for me to glimpse as a teacher what they might do in the exam, when left solely to their own devices.

A couple of days ago I marked my Y11 books and came across some really common issues and then used this to, hopefully successfully, reteach how to approach the language analysis (8 mark P1 Q2 and 12 mark P2 Q3 for AQA).

They had completed the following task (set by one of my wonderful colleagues – so I can’t take credit for the resource attached) on Gabriel Oak from Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. The misconceptions it threw up were consistent across the class and interesting as a teacher and class to unpick. gabriel oak – home learning

On the board I wrote:

The key things to avoid when analysing language – things I picked up in home learning

1 – Avoid starting with a quote: reword the question and use adjectives x 3 to show your understanding of the text

2 – Say what the quote means: use analytical verbs; suggests; implies; creates; shows to introduce your inference.

3 – You must explain your reasons: plus why? Because…

4 – Zoom in on the connotations: dig deep for close analysis.

5 – Read the text carefully: think about the context of particular quotes you’ve selected and make sense of the information around the quote as well as the quote.

Then, without books in front of them I discussed these and asked them if they could see identify anything they thought they might be doing. Some of them could.

Then, we read the same extract again, as I wanted them to already be familiar with the content. We discussed what was happening and what it suggested and identified some common errors: Oak was not a happy person, Oak was a priest! and talked about which quotes were the best to select and why.

Then, messily and under the visualiser I live modelled how to approach the question. I explained that I was going to use the things to avoid as a guide and then I wrote this:

Oak is presented as smiling, hard-working and not religious. The simile “like the rays of a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun” suggests when he smiles it gently lights up his face in the same way as the sun lights up the earth because the sun rising is seen as positive and a smile shows he may be a positive character. Connotations of “rudimentary” are basic, almost homely and plain showing his simple character.

which is not the perfect answer, but would achieve high marks. As I modelled this, I spoke to the students about what I was thinking as I was writing and why I was making certain choices. As I modelled I also explained the process that I was using in my mind to try to make the structure of what I was doing really explicit. When I finished it I then used a different colour pen and under the visualiser unpicked with the class the different components of the model and annotated it:

What does this example show you and why?

 Reference to language with 3 adjectives to describe him

Reference to language terminology

Use of analytical verb to structure the response and start developing the meaning related to the quote (suggests)

Connective (because) to add + why? The reason you are making this inference

From (Connotations) Zoom in on the word to show you have closely understood the importance of a particular language choice using triplets of meaning to show that developed understanding

Then, I handed out the books and asked the students to make a note of the points to avoid when doing language analysis. I also handed back their trusty orange home learning books and asked them to identify their target from what they had written for home learning. Next step, I showed them the next weeks home learning and explained that they were going to then independently apply their understanding from the feedback in their next home learning by doing another language analysis question but on a different extract. Hopefully, this will show that they have moved forward in their understanding.

Also, I hope that this is a useful look into reflecting on what marking can usefully help us to do. The next steps, if you like!





Why I love…Reflecting on middle leadership: a term down

Middle leadership feels much the same as it did when I was a KS4 co-ordinator, although now I have slightly more responsibility and the buck will stop with me, if results this year are not where they should be. However, I’m trying at this stage not to worry about that, as that is the culmination of all the work that has gone before and all the work that will still have to come. Also, there are so many other factors that come into play, I think it is important to focus on ensuring what we do as a team and as part of the wider school is consistent and ensures that we are working towards the best possible results for every student all of the time and not focusing on the what ifs.

I’m extremely lucky that my predecessor left me with a team of excellent, forward thinking, hard-working and reflective teachers, a department that is well ordered and systems that work. That’s not to say that there haven’t been changes, but fundamentally the systems and routines and the foundations are incredibly stable. This means that I recognise how lucky I am to be able to have come into a school with solid systems, schemes and approaches that I believe work. It also really helps that with mixed ability groupings already in place, spacing or interleaving already embedded in Key Stage Four, there are no major directional or structural changes that I’d want to make in the department.

However, there are things that I have found different or difficult as a middle leader. Some of these are as follows:

The whole school raising attainment agenda. This works really well and is a systematic, whole school approach to targeting students who are doing well in English but not so well in Maths or vice versa, there is also a focus on other subject areas as well, but our main focus is between Maths and English. Every two weeks, we look closely at raising attainment with the Maths head of department, and my line manager who is in the SLT. This is a great approach, but not knowing the students was a huge barrier and unsurprising as I was new to the school. As I get to know the students though, the names and the informal discussions about how students are getting on in the English office is really helping and I’m beginning to feel that I can speak with confidence about where different students are and what we as a team are doing with them to help them.

Ready to Learn – this is the whole school behaviour system with the mantra “every adult, every time” which again I think is excellent and really works as there is no grey area, I know and the students know exactly what they should be doing. However, coming from a position of experience as a teacher has made it difficult to know when to step in and use the system. I’m happy with how I use it in Key Stage three and still slightly worried that I’m not using it quite as effectively in Key Stage four. However, because I’m aware of this, I have been brutally honest about this and made other people aware and reflected openly on situations where I could have used the system more effectively.

I’m not sure if being so open and honest in my reflections is a good thing as a middle leader. I don’t want to appear weak as a leader, but I’m also human and being honest and reflective is part of the way I am, both in school and out of it. I don’t want to pretend that I always get things right, because that wouldn’t be true. Equally, I don’t want to seem ‘wishy-washy’ and indecisive. It’s a fine balance to strike and while I won’t always get it right, I know that I’m trying. If in doubt “honesty is the best policy” is a good mantra and hopefully that will stand me in good stead.

Managing/Leading staff and knowing when to say something and when to not say something. There are times when leading people it means making a judgement call and this is a tricky one. If someone is doing something that needs addressing, then I will happily do it, with kindness of course, but part of the process for me has been about stepping back and considering the impact of what I’m going to say and deciding whether I should say anything or whether to leave it. Sometimes, not saying something or addressing an issue is the right course of action, other times saying something and addressing it head on is important.  I am a people pleaser, which makes this part of the job, one that I perhaps find most difficult. However, having difficult conversations is part and parcel of the job and is something that needs to be done carefully and on a case to case basis and differently for the different people, so again doing this with kindness and consideration for the person is something that is paramount.

Being considerate of the amount of work I delegate to the team and especially to the Second in Department, who is a consummate professional, has a incredibly strong work ethic and is brilliant in the classroom and as a sounding board for me. I’ve thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed working with the team, but I am aware that workload can be an all-consuming battle and I’m also conscious that I don’t want to make decisions that will increase workload, stress or tip the balance. This means that when I make decisions about how to and when to delegate I try to consider the workload aspect and think about whether it is reasonable. I also know that as a self-confessed over worker and perfectionist (something that is a double edged sword in teaching) I have to think carefully about whether what I’m asking is reasonable and not revert to thinking “well I can do that in 10 minutes” and assume that, that is the pace for everyone else, as often it isn’t the case. I’m also aware that the Second in Department is always happy to listen, support and give advice, but I know that I have to be careful not to overstep the mark and use her as a sounding board for everything, as that is unfair and adds pressure to her too.

The following are things that I want to continue working on: 

Recognising the strengths of the team and making sure that they know I see these.

Recognising my own weaknesses and working on these.

Continue building trust in the team and trust in my leadership.

Getting the work life balance right.

Being reflective

Getting to the end of the year and feeling like what I’ve done, changed, adapted has added to, and not taken away from the experience the team, the students and the wider staff in my school have from English.

All in all, I’m enjoying leadership, having autonomy and being able to set the pace, the workload and celebrate the achievements of the team and being halfway through the year feels like a real achievement. Now, I hope that the results and student satisfaction with their results reflect the hard work and effort that the team have put in.


Why I love…Family, friends, books and teaching

As I approach 40 (fast) and (with much trepidation) there are so many things that I’ve been reflecting on and thinking about. I’m worried about being 40, age, is something that has never been something I’ve seen as an issue previously, however at the moment it preoccupies my thoughts! I know that it is ridiculous, I’m relatively young, healthy and happy, but it still plays on my mind.

But with age comes some benefits.

Some of the things I am immensely grateful for are:


They are there for you, even when you don’t want them to be, even when things are tough. For all their foibles (and mine), I love them and wouldn’t be without them. From the baby spam my sister sends me via Whatsapp to the discussions with my mother in law (the much loved Nanna) of soap opera characters, who I must know! (even though I don’t watch EastEnders or Corrie). My long suffering partner, who knows I work too much, but has supported me from barmaid/insurance administrator to teacher (unfailingly) and my much loved teenage children, who are in turns loving and in turns typically teenagers! Family is what I come home to and what helps keep me, me, I guess.


Then, there are the friends. The people I choose to spend time with because they are special, make me feel special and are kind. I love a good chat and my friends help with that (in spades). Life is for living and having people in it that accept you, laugh with you and love you unconditionally is beautiful.


Books have always and I mean always been my friends. They have lived with me for as long as I can remember. As a little child, I remember the joy of escaping into a good book, the book I read today made me cry and in the past, I’ve been proud of myself for holding my emotions in check. Now, I recognise how unhealthy that is and was, far better to feel and be honest about feeling in the right environment. Books made me want to become a teacher and that is by far and away the best conscious decision I have ever made in my life.


I am 100% certain, unequivocally, without a doubt, know this is the best thing I have ever done. When I teach I enjoy; feeling alive; thinking about the process of how the students learn;  being in the class; thinking on my feet; being active; being engaged by what the students think; reacting to the class dynamics; reacting to questions; questioning the students; thinking about solutions to help individual students; puzzling out the best way to make a point; engaging students with my subject; instilling a love of learning. To be fair I could go on as for me teaching has been so defining for me. I love the diversity of it and working with young people is, for me, amazing.

There are so many other things I am grateful for but the things I most value are all about people. I value relationships and hope that 40+ brings many more exceptional relationships in my life. Twitter and @Team_English1 has brought so many exceptional people into my life and that has added another dimension of joy to my life too.

When I’m 40 (very soon), I’ll raise a toast to all the wonderful people I am lucky enough to know, as without them, my life would be far less interesting.




Why I love…Reflecting & realising when I’ve cognitively overloaded students!

I am thoroughly enjoying teaching Animal Farm and the students are really enjoying it. We read to Chapter 4, made Cornell Notes on each chapter in our books, have done retrieval practice every lesson and I feel like the students have a good knowledge of what happens up till this point in the text and why.  I’ve used the Power Points referenced on this blog: https://susansenglish.wordpress.com/2018/12/02/why-i-love-planning-teaching-a-new-to-me-text-animal-farm

So what did we do? 

I set this question:

How does Orwell use imagery to present war, conflict and revolution in Animal Farm up to Chapter 4? 

Blithely unaware, as a whole class we discussed three points in the novel where conflict or war or revolution was shown. We chose chapter 1 – Old Major’s rousing speech, chapter 2 – the expulsion of Mr Jones and chapter 4 – The Battle of the Cowshed.

We group planned the essay together, which you can see in the picture from the board. This was all done with questioning and answering from the whole class and while it took a bit of time, I think the students have shown a great understanding of different elements of Orwell’s presentation of war/conflict/revolution. At this point, they were all finding the process accessible and not too hard as they bounced ideas off each other and the questions being asked supported their understanding and ability to recall information. As well as this, some students were quietly re-reading extracts from the text to find information, while others were using their knowledge organisers, which they found really useful.

Then, I put the slide on the board with an essay structure on it and explained what the essay would look like. As I am lucky to have a board either side of the projector, on the other board. I wrote a simple introduction cloze exercise to support the students that need help getting started and we discussed three ways that we could describe the different scenes in the introduction, to help us structure the essay.  I also reminded the students of what to include in the main paragraphs and that they could either start at chapter 1 and work forward to chapter 4 or backwards, I didn’t mind which way they did this.


Orwell presents ___________, __________ and ___________ in ____________ ________________ by ____________________.  Events are described in the novella as _____________, ______________ and ______________________.


Then, we started the process of writing and this is where it showed the original error. Don’t get me wrong, every single student in the class has produced an essay and every single student tried really hard to do well in this, but ultimately, the planning, the scaffolding and the ideas were useful, but only to a point.

I wrote alongside the class, under the visualiser a couple of times to help the students, I stopped and reminded them of what – how – why in order to help them structure their responses and I reminded them several times to look at the planning notes. As well as reminding them of this I used a What – How – Why example with the students half way through writing the essay that a colleague had kindly shared and which was excellent and really clear.

So, why did it go wrong? 

It is simple really and something that I’m kicking myself for! The question was just too hard! That is the crux of it and this is why:

How does Orwell use imagery (part one – I’m asking them to explore a really specific focus in the first part of the question) 

If I had said:

How does Orwell present (then I would have reduced the cognitive load in the question and it would have given the students less to think about and focus on)

to present war, conflict and revolution (part two – I’m asking them to concentrate on three different elements when one would have done – talk about cognitive overload and what was I thinking) 

If I had said:

How does Orwell present revolution (then I would have immediately made the question much tighter, easier to focus on and reduced the cognitive load that the students were under)

in Animal Farm up to Chapter 4? (part three – I’m asking them about the book, which is fine and the specific scenes that they have read, which is also fine, but I’m coming at this from a place of knowledge and having read the whole text, so perhaps my unconscious self was asking too much and assuming that they would be able to pick up on the foreshadowing throughout the novella) 

If I had said:

How does Orwell present revolution in Animal Farm? (the students know they have only read to Chapter 4, so they don’t need the extra information and the question is so much simpler to focus on)

I’m genuinely really impressed with the efforts the students made and the fact that they persevered with such a difficult task, which with hindsight, I could have made much easier!

It is a sharp reminder for me that the question needs to be accessible first and foremost, as otherwise, everything else that I do will help to make it easier, but that it doesn’t need to be that hard in the first place. I only wish that I had reworked the question as we went along, instead of recognising where the difficulty lay at the end of the process.

I’ve marked the essays and when I feed them back I will hold my hands up and say it was incredibly difficult as a question, but that the effort and outcomes were brilliant in spite of the way I over-complicated the task.

Hopefully, this is a useful read as I needed to mull over in my head how I’d managed to make such a big error and I think I got carried away, when I was planning the work with the themes and ideas and how much I was enjoying the novella. What I’ve realised is that I must take a step back and remember to make sure that what I am asking the students to do is fair, accessible and  really really clear.

I wrote an essay at the same time as the students, while on and off answering questions, prompting students and it was while finishing this off after the lesson and between the marking of the essays, that I realised I’d made the question incredibly complex.

Essay on war, conflict and revolution attached here: HL Essay – war- conflict – revolution




Why I love…Thinking about engagement in the classroom

Engagement has had a bit of a bad press on twitter and in Education circles, but without engagement and buy in from the students how can we be sure that they are learning anything?

I know that apathy is my most difficult to deal with behaviour management point and this leads me to think about how I can challenge this continuously. My brain doesn’t easily switch off, which can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it, but it does mean that I try to think carefully about issues and reflect on what works or doesn’t work in the context that I am in at the time. I’m also aware that this is common with teachers, particularly from working with really dedicated colleagues over time.

Some of the things that I think teachers can do to get students to engage:

Have excellent subject knowledge

This promotes engagement as the students trust that you know what you are talking about and it gives you as the teacher a stronger point of reference when questioning, teaching the subject or when asked something by a student. Excellent subject knowledge isn’t easy to acquire and can take years to build up, but continuously engaging with reading around the subject area, engaging with your colleagues in discussions both casually and more formally in meetings, focusing on knowing what you want the students to learn by the end of a unit and working backwards from that point, can and will help promote better subject knowledge forward.

Set the tone in the classroom – and reset it as and when you need to

When I arrived at my current school, with Ready to Learn as the behaviour system, I found it hard to get my head around when to warn/isolate etc. The mantra is “Every Adult. Every Time.” Which absolutely, incontrovertibly makes sense, but I found myself relying on my previous experience as a classroom teacher and using the behaviour management strategies I have built over time. However, I set the tone in the classroom and I reset it with my classes when I realised that I was perhaps too lenient.

There are some non-negotiable expectations in English that will help students pass their exams, like all subjects. Writing accurately and writing well in response to texts. In order to do this and in order for me to help students do this, there needs to be a positive working culture. Students are expected at all time to follow instructions and to make the maximum effort that they can with the work that they have in front of them. In my previous school, with Year 10, I told them continuously that I would not apologise for making them write a lot, as that was how they were practising the skills needed for the exams and I set the expectation of how much they wrote high and reminded them of this all the time. I try to maintain a positive demeanour in the classroom and encourage as much as I can. At times, If I find myself spiralling into a negative feeling about a class, I try to remind myself that there are 21 other students or 28 other students, who consistently work hard, make the effort and want to do well. Then, in the classroom I will try to spot the positive and be explicit about the students that are doing the right thing “Well done, Josh – I can see you have started already” etc. till all students are working, rather than picking up on the negatives.

Be enthusiastic about what you are teaching – but be honest too

We are generally all really passionate about our subjects, which is why we teach it, but I try to show this to the students. I’m not suggesting that I’m more enthusiastic than others by saying this, but I think telling the students why you enjoy a topic or a book or a text or a particular skill or piece of knowledge is really helpful. However, I am also honest and say when I find something difficult. A very intelligent Y11 student in my class asked me the other day, when I modelled with a visualiser really explicitly how to select the best quotes for a non-fiction text, how I found it so easy to select quotes and I was honest about how difficult that was to begin with and that the hours of practise I have had as a teacher has now internalised the skill to the point where it looks effortless, but importantly that this wasn’t the case without the practise. I think that this honesty helps the students, as well as saying “I find this particularly hard to do/model as it pushes me out of my comfort zone”.

Using proximity and circulation to spot, notice and proactively feedback

As students are working, I will often use proximity to students to keep them on task if I know that they are prone to stopping or ‘getting stuck’ as it really helps them to know that I’m up and about and seeing what they are doing. I’ve found over time, circulating while students are discussing, working silently or in pairs or groups, really useful to get an accurate flavour of how students are getting on. It also helps with immediate feedback too.

Modelling – using a range of strategies

Much has been writing about modelling and I maintain that it is the best way to avoid misconceptions. My favourite modelling technique is to model and then unpick with annotations, so that students know exactly what I was trying to use. It helps engage students as they really understand what is expected of them and can then mimic the model, until they are able to independently fly. It can be done on a PowerPoint slide projected on the board and then colour coded with a list, on a board with a pen or through a visualiser, however it is done it is important to do and to have regularly embedded. I’m convinced that live modelling has improved the quality of my teaching more than any other technique.

Questioning students with a range of questioning strategies

Questioning is one of the most important and easiest ways of getting students engaged, I think. If we skilfully question students, before you know it they have completely understood an idea or topic and this will be reflected in the quality of their responses.

Challenge, then challenge and challenge some more

Make sure that students have a level of challenge in the lessons that brings them out of their comfort zones. If a student is in autopilot, they are not 100% there. If we can up the ante, then we are challenging them and getting them engaged. Challenge can be in the form of extensions, questions, tasks etc. but the important thing about challenge is that it makes the students think hard.

I’m absolutely certain there are other things we can and should do to encourage engagement in the classroom and that engagement is a good thing. Being engaged is the opposite of the apathy that I find so hard to deal with and therefore thinking about how engagement can be fostered also subliminally helps me deal with this tricky topic. I hope that this has been interesting or useful and clearly it was a topic on my mind, so it is nice to get it out!

Why I love…Comparing Poems: AQA Charge of the Light Brigade and Bayonet Charge

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts looking to compare the poems in the AQA Anthology for Power and Conflict. The first post is on Ozymandias and My Last Duchess: Ozymandias and My Last Duchess Blog Comparison.The second post was comparing Storm on the Island and Extract from the Prelude: Why I love…Comparing Poems: AQA Extract from the Prelude and Storm on the Island. The third post was exploring Exposure with Storm on the Island: Why I love…Comparing Poems: AQA Exposure by Owen with Storm on the Island by Heaney

One of the strategies that we are using in our department for stretch and challenge, for our high prior attainers, is to show students over the top essays and to unpick these with them. I’ve attached a word document copy of the comparison essay in case it is useful: Charge of the Light Brigade vs Bayonet Charge

I had an what felt like an epiphany when writing about these poems. Charge of the Light Brigade is one that I have taught before and feel pretty confident with, but Bayonet Charge was a little trickier. In fact, I mistakenly held the belief that the soldier in the poem was running away and deserting his post not, as is actually the case, running towards the enemy with his bayonet aloft, ready for close bloody combat (if he manages to get across no-man’s land).  It made me pause though and consider what misconceptions students are under. It was only through really focusing on the poem, reading around it and discussing with colleagues that I was able to realise that I was in fact, previously mistaken.

  • How many opportunities do I give students to show that they have misconceived information?
  • How do I check for misconceptions?
  • How then do I address these?
  • Perhaps, this is something to be explored and worked on further.

So, knowing that I started from a point of misconception when comparing the two poems, I’ve adapted what I was writing to compare hopefully more successfully the two poems. I hope that it is useful and if there are any more misconceptions in here, do let me know. Again, it isn’t perfect.

The question I have tried to address is:

How do Tennyson and Hughes use different perspectives to explore war and conflict in their respective poems?

Charge of the Light Brigade vs Bayonet Charge

Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson is written from an outsider’s perspective reflecting on the whole experience of charging into battle on horseback, while Bayonet Charge is contrastingly narrated right in the middle of the action by an omniscient presence, which creates a feeling that you are there with the soldier. Neither, Tennyson nor Hughes ever experienced the brutality of the fighting, but were both inspired to write their poems by others’ experience of war. Tennyson after reading about The Battle of Balaclava in the newspaper, and Hughes after having his young life overshadowed by the impact of war on where he lived and his own family. While both poets use “Charge” in the title, these “charges” are presented differently as Tennyson shows “six hundred” men being corralled into battle with nowhere to go in “COTLB” and a first person perspective of a frightened soldier, who also has nowhere to go in “Bayonet Charge”.

Both poems have a different rhythm that creates opposing feelings. IN ‘COTLB’ the structure seems futile, while in Bayonet Charge the structure seems frantic highlighting the feelings of the individual, as opposed to the collective voice in ‘COTLB’. From the start of ‘COTLB’, a horse beat rhythm is created with the use of repetition and caesura in “Half a league,…onward,” which mimics the men riding their horses unquestioningly into battle. The momentum is driven forward and the archaic language relating to distance also makes it feel like the action happened a long time ago, but also that they were on a momentous journey as well, a journey that many men would not return from. The battle of Balaclava happened during the Boer War and men were “not to reason why” but rather “to do or die” implying that there was no choice in the action that they undertook, once they were soldiers, their loyalty, obedience and willingness to die for their country was an assumption not to be questioned; they would have taken their vows as a soldier as a solemn promise. Although Tennyson does not question this, the tone in the poem, makes it seem ironic that these brave men were being sent into a trap “Some one had blunder’d” which suggests that an accident was made by the commanding officers and the men were heading into a trap that would ultimately lead to their deaths. However, in Bayonet Charge, the first person perspective “Suddenly he awoke and was running” with the active verbs portraying panic, creating a disorder, that is not evident in ‘COTLB’. As well as this, the suddenness of the waking with the adverb suggests that this is blind panic and the soldier has been frightened awake in some way, or that he is has been so unaware of where he is that his ‘fight or flight’ response has been triggered right at the start of the poem. It is as if suddenly he realises where he is and what he is doing. This blind panic is reinforced by the “sweat heavy” and the use of impersonal pronouns “he” which create a sense that this soldier could be any soldier, or could possibly not even know who he is at this point. “Sweat” reinforces the panic, suffering and intense feelings of being out of control that the soldier seems to feel. While, in ‘COTLB’ a sense of control and instruction is given “Forward, the Light Brigade!” with the exclamatory tone “he said:” and the commands being given to the men, showing a sense of solidarity and a common purpose, unlike Bayonet Charge, where the man is “Stumbling” which implies a lack of sure footing or a reluctance or a sense that the ground has been churned up terribly by the men that have come before him on this futile journey towards “a green hedge”. This could be the man looking for refuge from the horrors of close combat, using nature as a cover for what is really going to happen, or it could suggest that he wants to desert from his position, but perhaps he is in fact heading towards the enemy with bayonet in hand, unthinkingly until his metaphorical awakening and the realisation of what is actually happening. The green hedge could metaphorically represent the barbed wire that protected the enemy trenches. The way the man is feeling may also be a reflection of the PTSD that many men suffered during and after WW1 and WW2 meaning that they were unfit to continue fighting, but at the time this wasn’t always recognised. This awakening is dissimilar to ‘COTLB’ as we never hear the voices or thoughts of the men and therefore don’t get an insight into the way they felt as they walked into death, which resonates with the biblical “walked through the valley of the shadow of death.” Implying the men are like sheep in ‘COTLB’

The trauma and futility of combat is also evident in both poems. Tennyson uses vivid metaphors to get to the heart of the horror of being propelled forward as one, into an enemy trap. “Into the valley of Death” becomes “into the jaws of Death” and “Came thro’ the jaws of Death” with the nouns increasing the imagery of pain and suffering. A “valley” can appear pleasant, meandering and fairly innocent, but coupled with “of Death” it takes on a sinister tone as Tennyson makes it clear that the ultimate life sacrifice will be made there, while “jaws” suggests an entrapment which foreshadows the fate of the “brave six hundred”. Likewise, a sense of entrapment and an inability to escape is shown in ‘Bayonet Charge’ with the metaphor “in what cold clockwork of the stars and nations//Was he the hand pointing that second?” showing that the soldier feels stuck in that time and can’t get out, there is nothing that he can do, it is his fate to be running towards the enemy, but makes the reader and the soldier himself question whether his time is up. “Running” is also repeated three times in the poem and this active verb, coupled with “stumbled”, “plunged”, “crawled” creates a semantic field of movement, implying that every living thing cannot wait to get out of there, including the soldier. While ‘COTLB’ duty is evident in the dignified collective charge that they make, the same sense of duty and loyalty is shown in ‘Bayonet Charge’ to have prompted the soldier to sign up, but the reality means “King, honour, human dignity etcetera…” are forgotten in the fear of the moment and the only thing that the soldier can do is blindly charge towards the enemy with “bayonet” outstretched. The bayonet as a weapon seems ironic in this moment as the hedge “dazzled with rifle fire” implying that the enemy are shooting ferociously at the oncoming men; with knives on the end of their guns but apparently no bullets they are like sitting ducks. It seems evident that the soldier is depicted as walking through no-man’s land, which was notoriously bleak, hazardous and caused the violent death of so many men. Again, this futility is evident in “COTLB” when they are trapped by “Cannon to right of them”, “left” and “behind” showing that they also have nowhere to go, they must surge forward though it is to certain death. The synaesthesia used with “Volley’d and thunder’d” creates allusions to storms and the mighty power of the Greek Gods, as if there is nothing that can now save these doomed soldiers, their fate is unfortunately sealed. However, the inevitability of their deaths is once again reinforced by the end rhyme used “shell,”, “fell,”, “well” and “Hell,” which adds a poignant climax to the fact that some made it through “All that was left of them,” showing that some men survived but that the majority of the men had died. Death in “Bayonet Charge” is reserved not only for the soldiers, like ‘COTLB’ but instead for the “yellow hare that rolled like a flame” with the simile implying that there is no hiding place on this battlefield, not even for the smallest of creatures. Death doesn’t appear to come for just the soldiers but instead it seems to chase the soldier, who is clearly petrified by the actions that he is involved in.

Structurally, both ‘COTLB’ and Bayonet Charge are very different. ‘COTLB’ is regimented and reinforces the sound and rhythm of the horse’s hooves and ends with repetition of “Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade!” which may seem ironic as they were send blindly and perilously to their deaths. This also reinforces the collective force of the soldiers going together into death. However, ‘Bayonet Charge’ has a fractured structure with the stanza lines unevenly distributed in the poem, creating the sense of the stumbling run that the soldier is undertaking and ends with “His terror’s touchy dynamite.” Implying that he might explode as a result of the terror that he feels. The persona’s perspectives are again collective in ‘COTLB’ and singular in ‘Bayonet Charge’ but both show the ultimate futility of war and combat and the impact that it can have on the lives of the men.

Tennyson and Hughes use of different perspectives links to the different authorial viewpoints that they held, although both were not soldiers and both were removed from the action. Tennyson was reflecting on a historic event, while Hughes was reflecting on the personal conflict and suffering growing up with war shrouding the area he lived in. In this respect the ‘COTLB’ rightfully appears to be more Jingoistic, while ‘Bayonet Charge’ is less so and more realistic in the way the horror and terror of war is brought home to us. Both poets depict war as grossly unfair and a place of terrible suffering and perhaps this is what both poets wanted to reinforce, that war does bring suffering.