The Jury’s Out

Met some really good people (and dedicated English teachers) yesterday in the Jury’s Inn in Glasgow to discuss the development of literacy in the context of Curriculum for Excellence. At least that’s my interpretation of what they were there to do, as I was delivering the course on behalf of an organisation called Creative Education, who had advertised it as Implementing the (sic) Curriculum for Excellence in Literacy and English, which, you will realise if you have any understanding of the thinking behind Curriculum for Excellence, doesn’t actually make sense. Implementing Literacy and English in Curriculum for Excellence would make a bit more sense, but not much, which is why I prefer to use the word ‘developing’. This may seem like splitting hairs, but I think it’s a crucial distinction to make.

The respective roles in the secondary school – of English teachers and other subject specialists – in supporting the development of literacy in young people, was a topic which raised some lively debate (and one which I have commented on before  (see post on November 25), as did the discussion of the literacy framework itself.  Are we ensuring that young people encounter a wide range of different types of text in different media as described in the Principles and Practice paper? How can we begin to assess progress within each of the outcomes?  What is English, when you remove the literacy outcomes? Is it literature? In that case, do we need to redefine literature? How can we, individually, as a department, or as a school, move forward with the notion of literacy as the responsibility of all teachers and turn it into a reality?

In answer to the last question, I would suggest that the following moves are an absolute requirement, and in many schools of course these things have already happened:

  • Make sure you have a truly representative cross-curricular group working on literacy policy development
  • Make sure the person leading it has drive, enthusiasm, passion, true leadership qualities and a vision of what the ultimate goal might be (not much to ask)
  • Make sure the policy is informed by the whole community
  • Try to move forward as a cluster, developing a common language and common understandings with primary colleagues
  • Begin to look at ways of giving ownership of literacy development to the young people themselves, including responsibility for recording of progress

The description of the curriculum frameworks as a series of outcomes and experiences, rather than a list of inputs, is what makes Curriculum for Excellence radically different from school curricula before the 21st century, in that it puts the focus on the learner. One simple way of encouraging responsibility in the learner and linking the idea of literacy across learning, is for every young person coming in to S1 to have a personalised ‘Word’ book in which they record new words and definitions in all subjects, helping  them to see the links between subjects, and making them aware that there are words which can have different meanings in different contexts.

Similarly, many departments and schools already include elements of self-assessment in their recording and reporting systems, which is a good place to start in establishing responsibility and ownership in the young person, as they begin to record a portfolio of evidence towards recognition of their achievements.

At the end of the course one delegate (who was generally very complimentary in her evaluation of the day) commented that it had raised more questions than answers, which I took to be an expression of disappointment; but if it raised the right questions I think I would settle for that.

I would like to thank Alastair, Avril, Cara, Claire, Heather, Hilary, Karen, Kate, Lorna, Martin, Michaella, Paul and Roz for sharing their own views and experiences so willingly in a spirit of openness and collaboration.


4 thoughts on “The Jury’s Out

  1. Hi Bill,
    Maybe not deliberately you sound a bit deflated in this post, I would say that asking questions of people is much more useful then ‘giving’ them answers (whatever that really means), but only if they are prepared to try to answer the questions you’ve asked.
    If they want to be given answers, it’s just a waste of everyone’s time. If they don’t want to try to answer the questions, don’t know why they’re there anyway.
    Hmmm, sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Oh well,

  2. Hi Gordon,
    Didn’t mean to sound deflated – honest! That would be very unfair on the folk who attended the course, all of whom were very positive and helped to create a very pleasant and productive atmosphere. I think my tone possibly reflects a realisation that for secondary schools there are so many discussions which are not yet taking place, and that’s before they address the relationship with associated primaries. It would be interesting to ask for example, how many non-English secondary teachers have read the Literacy Across Learning Principles and Practice paper.

  3. Hi Bill,

    I think that what came out of the discussion on Friday is that there ARE so many unanswered questions about this development, and that exactly what we need is an open discussion. When speaking to my colleagues this is what comes up time and again.

    You’re right to say that whoever takes on the position of Literacy coordinator in a school or cluster must have drive – there are going to be many occasions when he/she comes up against some quite negative opinions. I know that when I held this position in my last region this is often what I found.

    I came back from Friday feeling really quite positive about everything! It was a good opportunity to discuss where we all are with this, and to hear how other schools are taking things forward.

    Thanks! Roz

  4. Hi Roz,
    Thanks for the kind words. I did enjoy the discussions on Friday and I thought everyone who attended made a very valid contribution. I think the difficulty for secondary teachers is that we are so conditioned to switching our thoughts immediately to assessment, rather than spending some time reflecting on the implications of CfE for the way we describe the curriculum, the texts we use and the kind of world that the young people are going to be operating in. There’s no point in preparing them expertly for last century. Let me know how you get on, if and when you begin to investigate blogs, wikis, digital narratives etc.

    Best wishes

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