Curriculum Update: English

English in Primary

It seems such a long time ago that I was in a Primary classroom as a student. This is a fact that has never been lost on me when having conversations with my own three children and supporting them with their learning. It was not such a big issue in Primary school as I knew the content, skills and teaching strategies inside-out. However, once they reached senior Secondary it was a whole different ball game. As I reflect on English teaching and learning over the past two terms, where teachers, students and parents have all had to modify the way learning happens, it gives each of us cause to reflect on our own experiences.

Earlier on in the week I was chatting with a group of parents before school. I broached the topic of online learning and they were generally very grateful for the learning experiences their children had been involved in. They did, however, mention that there were some possibly unintended positives, particularly in the area of English. Some of these I have listed below:

  1. Schools have changed significantly, and because my child was learning online I was also able to be involved. I could watch the videos and see strategies being taught. It was like going back to school as a parent, without actually being there.
  2. I could see just how important it was to either read with or to my child (irrespective of how old they are) and to do it regularly. Or just to talk to them about what they are reading.
  3. I now have a better understanding of how my child learns to decode words and these are strategies I can also use at home.
  4. When my child writes, they create a SIZZLING START and that’s what makes me want to read on. I also realised that lots of movies have sizzling starts and my daughter and I have begun to look for them.
  5. I found out that handwriting is important for normal muscle growth and that there are so many things I can do with my child to strengthen these muscles.
  6. My child was involved in a SHARP reading session and they used a variety of different strategies to justify their comprehension. Linking it to previous experiences, images or other material they may have read.

All of these were unintended. Now that our Prep – Year 12 students have returned, we have found that the unintended outcomes, some of which are mentioned above have had a positive influence on how students have progressed. The reflections mentioned above came from a small group last week. I can also appreciate that it was not always possible for everyone to be there to support their children with learning and that’s OK. As parents, each day we work to make our children’s lives the best they can possibly be in a variety of different ways.

Cameron Reed |
Dean of Studies, Primary

English in Secondary

What aspect of the world do you want to disclose? What change do you want to bring into the world by this disclosure? (J.-P. Sartre, What is Literature (1948))

Every good teacher asks questions. They may know the answer, but it is the asking of questions that facilitates that first bulb of curiosity. The discipline of English is the perfect garden for these questions. 

One of the positives that have come from the challenging start to 2020 is that as teachers we have had to also ask ourselves the questions:

How can we continue to foster curiosity? 

How can we continue to valorise creativity? 

How can we empower our students through their learning?

All while being online.

Like any good gardeners we have had to shift our practices to match the environment. So, keeping the core of our philosophy in place, we turned to online platforms. In Years 10 and 11 we experimented with collaborative mind mapping tools, like Coggle and bubbl’us. These platforms stimulated questions, a sharing of common understandings and an opportunity to challenge arguments.

Our aim was, and is, for students to share their understanding in different ways appropriate to their learning and the learning intention. We give the students the context, the criteria and the skills. We encourage them to consider all aspects and make an informed decision regarding their mode of presentation; when students are given agency and ownership they have an opportunity to really engage with the task and demonstrate their authentic understanding. So far this year, students have impressed with their willingness to experiment with online platforms to demonstrate their grasp of the concept/skill/text and they have taught their teachers along the way!

We have had text messages from Fitzwilliam Darcy and between Hermia and Helena. We have had students presenting TED talks. We have had students preparing presentations to the Director’s Guild. We have had students performing Shakespearean monologues on Flipgrid. All designed with the intention of students exercising agency.

As we move into the second half of 2020, English will continue to tend to these tendrils of curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and communication. All this while encouraging our students to experiment and grow their own voice.





Janine Haymes | Head of English, Secondary