Finding the right recipe for teaching English

After reading a blog piece by Sarah Hubbard, our National Lead Practitioner for English in the London and South East region, Matt Gray, has written a piece on what the future of Secondary English teaching should look like.

 

On 7th November, Sarah Hubbard, the Ofsted English Lead published a blog outlining her thoughts on secondary English teaching.  It ends with this call to arms.

The message I would send to [English] teachers is to be audacious. I would encourage teachers to be brave and creative, to use your subject expertise to design curricula that will set pupils’ minds alight. English teachers can inspire pupils and at the same time ensure that they are successful in exams. You can have your cake and eat it – you just need to use the right recipes.

Sarah Hubbard, Ofsted English Lead

As a Great British Bake Off fan, the last sentence drew my eye.  From reading the whole document it is clear that, from Hubbard’s perspective, KS3 & 4 English lessons are tastier when they contain more Keats and fewer AQA mark schemes.  Or, as Paul Hollywood warned Steven in this year’s contest, “forget the icing, the cake is only as good as the length of the bake”. 

In my experience, however, it is not always easy for English teachers to know where to look for “the right recipes”.  Earlier in the same report, Hubbard acknowledges this and says that [English Departments] “may find it difficult to decide what the focus [of English] should be”. 

Hubbard mentions that English teachers should be “brave”.  For me, this is not simply the courage to tackle difficult texts with Year 8.  Instead, it is the bravery to leave behind some of the central tenets of teaching over the last 15 years and rediscover our subject-specific knowledge and our passion for literature. 

If we are to be audacious, then we will need strong leadership and a clear mission in mind. 

  • We should learn from research and the English departments that get students the best results.
  • We should get our students doing a piece of extended literary analysis every week. 
  • We should spend more time explicitly designing the specific facts and knowledge students’ need.  And we should test for it, tick it and reward it in students’ answers.
  • We should give students specific feedback based on content and not abstract skills.
  • Our focus should be on paragraphs not Powerpoints – you can teach a fun and outstanding lesson with nothing more than the intimate knowledge of exactly what the kids will be writing at the end.

Part of the role of the English NLPs will be to help Oasis English Departments feel confident and excited that their curricula is inspiring pupils.  We look forward to working with all English Oasis teachers to develop some simple, tasty lessons with all the best ingredients (and no soggy bottoms).