Saturday, 29 March 2014

What's the tone of the headline? AQA Question 2

Every so often, I like to blog about a lesson I have taught that week. Not because I think I am amazingly great - I am not: I still have a pile of marking to do and there is always something I haven’t done. But, because I like to share and see what others have done. Writing a blog on a lesson becomes the equivalent of throwing a pebble in the pond. Lots of waves are generated. In the past, I have described a lesson and as a result of that I have had several suggestions of how else that specific lesson could have been done.

In fact, I am one of those sad people that likes looking at schemes of work. I enjoy reading old – very old – text books. It is not for the joy of finding a worksheet full of flared trousered teachers or teenagers with hair that resembles candy floss. It is more about the joy of finding a different approach or a novel way or idea of doing the same thing Plato did teaching all those centuries ago,  than finding a worksheet that will keep a class quiet for five minutes. It is the oh-never-thought-of-doing-it-that-way thing I like. Therefore, I am sharing this lesson. I could, if I wanted to, put all my resources on TES, but I find it frustrating that the website, great as it is, tends to collect resources rather than ideas. I don’t want an instant lesson; I actually love planning. A ready-made resource doesn’t really appeal to me. I want ideas. That’s why I blog. That’s why I read blogs. They help me plan. They feed my inspiration.

Right, the lesson! Well, I am preparing students for the last big push on the AQA Unit 1 exam. Psychologists would have a field day with me, because I am starting to enjoy the exam and the teaching of it. Now, I haven’t gone all ‘Blue-Peter’ and overdosed on positivity; it is just that with all the model answers I have written and all the time I have spent on it, I have gone all ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. I have fallen in love with my captor. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Anyway, this lesson was about question 2. The headline and picture question.

Explain how effective the headline and picture are in the article and how they link to the text.

Step 1:

I explained to students the problems in the last mock.

What were the problems in the last mock exam?

* Not enough language analysis
* People didn't show they understood the tone of the piece of writing
* The picture's symbolise wasn't fully explored
*The links made were pretty poor

Step 2:

 I then gave students a sheet of headlines from a range of different sources. Rather than dive in for the techniques employed, I asked students to identify the tone of the article from the headline. Was the tone shocked, comical, disgusted or something else?

I caught TB from my pet cat: Teenager tells how she was rushed to hospital with severe lung damage

The horrible word in the exam question is ‘effective’. As soon as students see it they hone in on it. Everything becomes about things being effective. But, it is something more subtle that is needed in the exam. Focusing on the tone shows understanding of the text and an awareness of how the headline is used. The headline doesn’t just make you want to read it, but also hints at the emotional impact of the story. I am feeling sad. Oh, look there is a story that sounds a bit funny, so I will read that. Oh, that other one looks depressing. Better not read that.

As we did this, we noticed that the tone of the headline might be more than one thing. Sometimes headlines started with a serious tone and then changed to a comical tone.

 Step 3:

Next, I got students to highlight the language devices employed. While doing this, I reminded them to see if they could link the technique to the tone.

Analyse the headline  - look at the language

Think of...

*punctuation - any form of punctuation

* sounds (harsh / soft /rhyme / alliteration)

*Which word is the most dramatic / effective?

* Techniques (exaggeration/ emotive / puns)

* Facts / numbers / statistics

* First and last words

*Reason for the choice of words

Doctors snapped my unborn baby’s arm in two … to save her life: Maternity ward drama as medics battled to deliver baby so big she got trapped during birth

There’s so much to be said from the headlines in the exam, but student opt for the most obvious ones, which means that they miss the subtle or plainly obvious ones. Like some of these here:

·         Start and end feature something shocking

·         Writer tricks reader into thinking the doctors are evil – they withhold the reason for the snapping for later

·         Ellipsis used for dramatic emphasis   

·         Starts with an emphasis on action – snapped (onomatopoeic word)

·         Alliteration of baby, big and birth

·         Doctor becomes medic

·         Battled has severe connotations

·         Two halves of the sentence have didn’t tones


Step 4:

Then we discussed how things could be linked to the text. Mostly, things in the text prove, support or challenge ideas in the headline.

Link those together -  writer - technique - reader

The writer uses a serious tone by using a fact( ********) in the headline so that reader is shocked by the amount of people that has died.

Link again....

The text reflects the shocking nature of this by referring to the names of these people: '************'. 

Step 5:

After making links, we then focused on the pictures. Now, I have done quite a bit of work with the students, but at this stage I felt that I need to go back to basics.  I discussed with students these set questions:

What does it show?

What does it hint at?

What does it symbolise?

Describe / Suggest / Symbolise

I found that teaching students to analyse pictures like this helped them to step up their interpretations. They were able to build up ideas in detail. Too often students neglect to say what is in the picture and its relevance to the text. Again, when thinking of these things students had to think about the tone of the text. 

Link ideas to - writer - picture -reader


The picture shows the boyfriend smiling and the celebrity wearing animal fur which highlights the writer's anger and the will provoke the reader to feel shocked that he might get away with it, while the badgers are dead.


Link to the text:

This is supported when the text says....


Step 6:

Finally, this is where things get scary. I printed off headlines and pictures from the Daily Mail. (Sorry, to say this but the Daily Mail website is brilliant for resources for this particular question.) I didn’t print anything else off the article, just the headline and picture. Students then proceeded to annotate the sheets and the analysis was great. Each student had a different headline. They had to do all the above in 5 minutes and they did it effectively.

As a plenary, students read out two things about the headline and two things about the picture. I modelled an approach to the question and made students experience the thought processes needed for the exam.

 Next lesson, I will be getting them to write a response the question, yet this text will be about a new article that they haven’t seen. Oh, and I will be writing a response at the same time.  

Feed me, Seymour! Feed me now. I am off to read some more textbooks from the 1970s.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, 22 March 2014

Listening to the words

I had a funny incident this week, when someone didn’t listen to me. My car, a small silver thing, was due for an MOT and service this week. I rang up and booked an appointment. During the call, I then asked for a courtesy car. However, when I arrived at the garage, I was informed that a car was not available. After huffing and puffing a bit, I was questioned if I minded what I drove. I said: ‘No.’ I was then taken to a forgotten part of garage’ forecourt and introduced to what can only be described as a monster truck. A huge ‘transformer’ style truck with wheels the size of me. Any minute, I thought, it was going to transform into this robot. This massive jeep, which wouldn’t look out of place in the Australian outback, was my car for the day. In fact, I had to travel to and from school in it. Surprisingly, there wasn’t space in the car park for it. All of this because someone didn’t listen properly.

Writing is a complex process, and, even after years of living on this planet, I haven’t fathomed everything yet about it. Just when I think I have things cracked, I notice something else about it. This week I tried something different with writing, but before I explain it, I think I need to discuss the thought processes that led to the idea.

In its simplest of forms: writing is the communication of ideas. It is the writing down of what a person thinks or feels or both. Of course, it can be something more meaningful and it can invoke emotion in others: and it can be, like, really really really pretty.  As English teachers, we can become a little bit obsessed in this ‘pretty’ writing. We even teacher students to write pretty. In fact, a lot of my marking involves making writing pretty. I could almost add ‘so it makes your writing look pretty’ to all my comments in exercise books.

 Write in paragraphs so your writing looks pretty.

Vary how you start your sentences so your writing looks pretty.

Use a range of punctuation marks so your writing looks pretty.

Like teenagers over a boy-band, we coo and sigh when we read pretty writing in books. Oooh. Ahhhh. Isn’t it pretty? Often English teachers enthuse passionately over how they love, adore, cherish a book and make comments that would sound stalkerish if they were attached to a human being. I’d die if I don’t read the next book. I could eat that book.  

 Admittedly, we all love pretty things. But, writing is complex. There is no point having pretty writing if it doesn’t fully make sense. We often, when teaching writing, focus on the pretty things, rather than focus on the communication aspect. Does this piece of writing communicate its ideas well? Or, has it used a range of punctuation marks? The two areas of pretty and communication are interwoven together and, honestly, cannot be separated as two entities, but I do feel we focus on the pretty stuff and neglect the communication aspect. We might get students to plan their writing. We might brainstorm ideas with them. We might ask them to read over their writing to make sure it makes sense. Unfortunately, I think that is the point at where we stop with the communication and then we wade into the ‘pretty’ territory. We get them to proofread things and we get them add bits, but I think that is all for the communication aspect. We show how other writers made their writing pretty. We give them lessons on ‘pimping up’ their writing.

 Over the years, I have done loads of self and peer assessments. And, usually, they are the equivalent of apple bobbing. Students dip in and out to correct a mistake. It is all about students searching for mistakes and errors. Again, it is about polishing something so it becomes pretty. This week I did something different and it was met with some success. Instead of getting students to read each other’s work, I got students to read their essays to their partner. The partner couldn’t see the writing or even mark it with a pen. Instead, they had to listen to the words. Listen to how ideas were conveyed in a piece of writing. When the listener heard something ‘rum’, they gently tapped them on the shoulder and explained what the problem was. I heard the following things in the discussions:

You are repeating points.

I don’t know what you mean by that.

You need to explain X further.

You use ‘however’ but this is another point from the same perspective.

You haven’t told the reader why this is bad.

I even joined a pair and listened to a student read her essay out. As a group, we commented on how her introduction didn’t really explain the direction she was going. We also reflected on how we kept hearing the words ‘animals’, ‘zoos’ and ‘caged’ all the time.  The Year 7 student as a result of this discussion noted these comments and worked on making it better. The advice given was probably more helpful than ‘check your spellings’. But, underwriting this whole approach is the communication of ideas. I am a bit woolly when getting students to check if a piece of writing is effective. It often gets bogged down with the ‘pretty’ things, and the translation of thought to writing is often forgotten. This was plain and simply about the communication of things. The ideas. The development of ideas. The reader’s understanding of ideas.

I am not suggesting that we stop proofreading. Far from it. I am suggesting that we need to look at the communication of ideas. We need to get students to communicate effectively and work on developing that communication. The focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar can neglect the ideas in the writing. Yes, spelling, punctuation and grammar help to express those ideas, but starting with dud ideas in the first place is not going to make a great piece of writing. Adding a few techniques and correcting a few spellings will not improve the whole text. Listening, rather than reading, could help students to see / hear where things need improving.

After all, students spend more of the day listening than reading and writing, so surely that skill is the strongest, yet we often refrain from using it to help students get better. It is always about getting them to read another person’s work? Not, listening to another person reading their work out.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, 15 March 2014

We need to talk about Kevin's work

I find it incredibly funny that English teachers often moan about marking, yet put them in a room for a bit with some other English teachers and the conversation soon enough gets on to marking. Yesterday, I had that exact conversation. We were supposed to be gathering resources and tips in preparation for the AQA Unit 1 exam. Instead, marking featured heavily in the discussion. Furthermore, there are endless blogs about marking, and funnily enough a lot of them seem to be by English teachers. This blog too is about marking.

Recently, I had to do a book scrutiny for the department and I was presented with a dilemma: do I scrutinise my own marking? The answer: yes. I scrutinised my marking and my exercise books. I had to look at things as an outsider. And, what an interesting activity it was. I had to look at the learning over time. I had to ponder the comments I had made in response to a piece of work. I had to work out the story behind the work. So, what did I see? Lots of targets. Lots of work. Lots of marking. But, what I didn’t see was a clear dialogue.  A conversation. A chat. An interaction. A two-way relationship about making work better. I saw little engagement with the work. Don’t get me wrong: the student did engage with the work, but the student was not engaging in the development and the progress of learning.

Like last week, I want to address an underwritten rule in teaching that has seeped through everything we do. Last week I mentioned how effort has masked progress. This week I want to explore the dialogue in books. You call it marking. I call it a conversation. And, if I want to get all new-age, I might insert the word ‘learning’ before the word conversation.  Yes, I want to look at the learning conversation. It pains me to use that phrase. It feels as if I need to wear a pashmina or something as I write it.

A long time ago somebody decided it would be good to adopt a business approach to education. Like workers in business, a student would know their pay-bracket (level), their incentives to do better (targets), and expectations (targets).  Along the way, some business words have slipped in too. I now have appraisals and my performance is managed in performance management meetings. I have had the lucky (or unlucky) experience of working in the business world. I sold things. I made money for other people. I helped some lazy people make lots of money so they could have an extension to their already nice house. (I promise, I am not bitter – far from it, to be honest.) So, therefore, I can see how education has got is so wrong. In my whole time, in business, I usually only had three targets. Three clear-no-grey-areas-no-vagueness-no-questionable-targets. These are the kind of targets I had:
·         Average profit margin = 6.1%
·         Total sales per month = £100, 000
·         Sales= 10 sales a day

My focus was clear.  I didn’t enjoy the business I was working for, but I was clear as to what I needed to achieve. Any meeting or discussion was focused on those targets. I never forgot them. It was clear.

Look at our exercise books. Look at them in every classroom. They contain hundreds and billions of targets:
vary how you start sent
vary punctuation use
avoid using commas instead of full stops
avoid using commas instead of full stops
longer sentences and paragraphs
vary how you start sentences
longer and more descriptive paragraphs
vary punctuation use
accuracy especially spellings
avoid using commas instead of full stops
vary punctuation use and sentence openings
vary punctuation use
development of ideas or alternative ideas
vary punctuation use
add detailed and precise description
vary punctuation use
add adjectives before a noun to add detail
be more accurate with you use of punctuation
add detailed / precise description
present ideas in an original and creative way
to make sure the style of writing suits the task
to vary the start of sentences and add extra detail to writing with adjectives

Each piece of work generates a target. Each subject generates their own target. Then, to add a garnish to this packed hamburger of targets, we add a gherkin: a literacy target. Why don’t children get better? Why don’t they progress as much as they should do? Well, could it be the fact that their brain is filled with targets that they can’t remember the important stuff? Like, the stuff that will really make them better.

Again, the problem is ingrained into the way of thinking in schools. Look at performance management. How many targets do we have? Wouldn’t it be better if someone just gave us one simple target? Make X better. Improve Y. Instead we are try to fix several cracks in the dam at once. Why don’t we fix the most important one first? Give us a direction and a focus. We all want to be better, but the direction for improvement is watered down – sorry for extending the metaphor.

One step at a time. One target at a time. We are at that dangerous exam time. Every second in a Year 11 counts. We chuck everything at them with the hope of them retaining it. This year, I have slimmed down my targets.  They have one key target to work on. They don’t get another one until that target has been accomplished, because I would be only be preventing them from getting that first target fixed.

Gwen  – vary how you start sentences
David– vary punctuation use
Joe – avoid using commas instead of full stops
Pete -avoid using commas instead of full stops
Kate  – accuracy
Carolyn – longer sentences and paragraphs
James - vary how you start sentences
Adam  – longer and more descriptive paragraphs
Kerry - vary punctuation use
Anne  – accuracy especially spellings
Phil - avoid using commas instead of full stops
Linda  - vary punctuation use and sentence openings
Tom - vary punctuation use
Kathy – development of ideas or alternative ideas
William - vary punctuation use
Percy  – accuracy
Lisa – add detailed and precise description
Harry - vary punctuation use
Frank  – add adjectives before a noun to add detail
Maude – be more accurate with you use of punctuation
Enid – add detailed / precise description
Bette  – present ideas in an original and creative way
Mark  – to make sure the style of writing suits the task
Tommy -  to vary the start of sentences and add extra detail to writing with adjectives
I have a ready-made PowerPoint of their targets and I will show this slide over the term. They see it up large to highlight how important it is. It is the message I want them to keep in their heads. Also, I might highlight a few to show to students that the learning of that lesson is especially pertinent to them. As soon as a target is completed or I think it has been achieved, I replace it. Furthermore, I might get students to put a post-it note on the board to show how confident they are at that skill.

Then, comes the all important thing. The marking. This one target one student policy changes the way I mark. Yes, I still keep the progress, no progress or some progress grading, but the conversation in books looks different. It is exactly that. A conversation.  

Me: Well done, Mark. You are still varying how you started the start of sentences. However, on the last piece of writing you did this more effectively. Look at that last piece of work and see how you could improve on this recent piece of work.

Mark: Hey, Mr C. Yeah, I just didn’t think about it. I found it hard for me to change the start of sentences in this kind of writing.

Me: You could use ….

Sadly, and honestly, marking tends to follow the pattern of: grade; positive comment; target for improvement. That cycle is repeated again and again. And, if we continue with this model, we are just providing a conveyer belt of targets. Next, please! Surely, we should be moving to having more of these phrases in our marking:
       You haven’t remembered your target from last time.
       You were able to X last time so why didn’t you do it this time?
       Look at the target last time.
       We were working on X at the start of the year and you still are not ….
       You can do X, but check how you did it last time.
       You can’t get to the next stage unless you are consistent with this target.

Our conversation with students is always about a new topic and never about the past. Our marking is focused too on new and different things. It is always focused on the next thing. It isn’t focused on the last thing. It isn’t even bothered with the piece of work that was produced before the most recent one. That’s what we have to work towards. It is not quite ‘the sins of the father’ but it is in the similar vein. We shouldn’t let students forget the work sins of the past. That should be the starting point for all work. Stop starting all pieces of work as if this is a new beginning.

Progress isn’t measured in the number of targets we have. Progress isn’t improved by having lots of targets. Progress is made when a student learns to do something. It is the skill that we should be focusing on. Get the skill developed and refined before giving a new one.  

Thanks for reading and thanks to people on twitter for inspiring some of the things here,


Teacher: Xris, a lengthy piece of work. This shows me a lot of passion on this topic. What happened to being concise?

Xris: I did try to be concise, but I find it difficult. All I seem to do is just scribble out a few words.

Teacher: Try writing it first and then delete paragraphs that are unnecessary.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Brilliant effort but no progress

I promised myself I wasn’t going to blog this weekend as I have done a lot this weekend However, I find myself stuck on a train, without a decent book and with no signal on my phone. Oh, and the man next to me is eating crisps like he is a broken hoover. So, what do I do: blog.

Pedagoo London was a fantastic experience; and, again, I met some lovely people. I thoroughly enjoyed networking, and gossiping, on a Saturday morning in a building that modelled itself on an Escher drawing. The stairs! Leaving the building involved me walking up some stairs, down some stairs, up some more stairs and finally down so more stairs. Logic usually tells us that down and out is the usual way out, but this building defied logic. I went up, down, up, across, down, up, across and then out.

Anyway, my talk. My talk was about progress. It is the latest ball and chain to attach to teachers. The key questions people ask of students are when they creep into a room:

       What level are you working at?

       What is your target?

       What do you need to do to improve?

All of these are designed to analyse the progress. Does the students know where they are in the learning journey? Do they know what they have to do? Do they know where they are going?

We are in the storm of raising progress – I am still waiting for the eye of the storm. Everything is geared around progress. We must raise the levels of progress. It is not your ‘A to C’s that really matter now. It is your three levels of progress. But, I think that a lot of things are in the way of progress. The key one being effort.

Now, I applaud Mr Gove’s effort. It is excellent. It is brilliant. He has certainly put a lot of effort into improving education. In fact, I will give him a nice, pretty, golden sticker, because he has worked harder than others in politics. But, sadly, there has been little progress. Effort good. Progress limited. This I feel is the problem with data, reporting and things in the classroom: we look at the effort first and progress second.  

Look at the sorts of phrases I have been guilty of writing on students’ work.

Brilliant effort

Good effort

Superb effort

Average effort

Poor effort 

Lacks effort

Needs more effort

 In fact, a lot of reports that parent’s receive are focused on effort. We number it. We grade it. Yet, progress is something a parent has to infer from a collection of numbers or grade. We explicitly talk about effort, but we implicitly talk about progress. A parent is supposed to look at a target grade and a working at grade and decide if it is a sign of good or bad progress. A parent might see a level 7 target and the report says their child is currently working at a 6. They might infer it is bad. They might infer they are close, so there is no need to worry. They might infer that it is better than last year and shrug their shoulders. They might infer that they need to call a tutor. They might infer that the colour-coding of these grades in pretty. We report effort more than progress, because as long as they are working hard things will turn out alright in the end. It doesn’t always work that way: How many schools have Year 11 intervention plans? Yes, they worked well in Years 7-10, but they are miles away from their target.

I recall a student I taught and his poor efforts in lesson. I nagged. I moaned. I cajoled. I punished the student for not working hard enough. He did not produce the 50 pages I equate to superb effort in his written work. Instead, he produced measly pieces of work and I spent hours of my time writing: poor effort – you must work harder. But, on reflection, I now realise I missed a key point. He showed progress in those little pieces of work. He listened to my lessons and fitted all the ideas and skills into his writing. He did everything (apart from write pages and pages of work) I asked him to do. He made more progress than others, yet I was punishing him for not conforming to a model of an A* student. Because he wasn’t working to my idea of what hard work looks like in a lesson, I wasn’t picking up on the progress he had made.

If I think to my method of marking, the first thing I judge is the effort. It is either: wow, there’s a lot to mark. Or: phew, not much to mark – there’s a relief. Then, there are the various shades of grey between those levels. I know, you are thinking: we mark effort because it is encouraging and supportive towards the student. Let’s go back to Gove.  I could applaud his effort; it might encourage him to stay in education. He will, however, feel that he is doing the right thing and doesn’t need to improve or adapt his methods. Unless I inform him that the level of progress he is making is minimal, he will keep doing things in the same way. It worked last time so why should I change it.  

Rather than comment on the effort, I now tend to use these three phrases:


Some progress

No progress

Irrespective of the amount they have done, key is the learning. This doesn’t mean I allow, support, small pieces of work and tiny efforts in my lesson. I just will not be blinded solely by effort. When marking, the first thing I think of now is progress. Does this piece of work show evidence of progress?

We don’t give teenagers enough credit. They know this flaw in our system - they are clever enough to not mention it.  If we think writing ‘poor effort’ on a piece of work several times is going to improve a student, we have another thing coming to us. If it was simply a case of writing more, then everyone in schools would be getting A grades. The A grades do write a lot, but their work shows progress.

Like an Escher drawing, we are in this endless journey of going up and down in lots of directions. Maybe. Just maybe if we toned down our emphasis on effort and focused on progress, we might see the progress we all want to see. Those all-important three levels of progress. Because, for all our efforts to improve effort, we could be like the drawing going down when it looks like we are going up.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. I do intend to blog more about my session, but I wanted to show progress in the blog and not impress you with my effort. More next week, I hope.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Blooming Bloom's Taxonomy

I am in the process of fine-tuning a workshop I am giving next weekend and I am thinking about a recent piece of CPD I have had. I always think a good sign of a good piece of CPD is the amount of thinking that takes place after the session. For years, I have sat in numerous sessions in various schools. I have led, participated, listened and watched. I have written on post-it notes, sugar paper and flipcharts. They can be usually categorised into three categories: ‘I know that’ category; ‘made me think’ category; and ‘it won’t work’ category. It is not that I am being cruel or arrogant, but some CPD works and some doesn’t work. It is not a criticism of the person leading it, but the ideas that are being propagated.
Ofsted are struggling now with the concept of teaching styles and preferable ways of education. As they hold so much power, it is not hard to see why their judgements are seen as indicators of what is right and what is wrong. CPD too is a minefield. In its use by schools, it can be suggested that some CPD ideas are the right ideas and your failure to use these ideas is failure of your teaching. The best CPD is CPD that makes me think. It makes me look at my current model/s of teaching and consider this additional question. This idea. It becomes a mirror to my own practice. Look at myself and consider what I could do to be better.
Education is like a greengrocer. It is full of vegetables. They are all good for you. They provide minerals and vitamins, and other stuff. You can cook the vegetables in lots of different ways. You still, however, get the same minerals, vitamins and other stuff. There are so many different ways to cook and prepare that no one person cooks in the same way. The end results are fairly the same: energy. Yet, the preparation, the cooking and the meal all look different. Education is like that. Full of vegetables – not in that sense of the word! CPD should be like cooking. It should be like watching Nigella or Delia. They both cook. They both make nice meals. They just do it in a different way. Nigella might have a better recipe for my Year 7s, but Delia’s recipe for tripe and onions works a treat with Year 11s. One thing: I just know that Jamie Oliver’s ideas will never work with the class. For a start, it is so difficult to do that in English.     

Anyway, I had a CPD session that fell in to that category of ‘made me think’ CPD. It had already generated one blog post. See it here: Frankenstein’s Essay. But, it also made me think of another question:

Does Bloom’s Taxonomy really work in English?

It is a simple question. Most might say yes. It is assumed that it will. Bloom has become a mantra for some teachers. A lull in a discussion or meeting on planning or curriculum could eventually lead to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  How does this fit in with Bloom? It is as if Bloom is an extra student you have to consider in every lesson you teach?

So, what is my ‘beef’ with Bloom’s Taxonomy? Let’s just remind ourselves of the structure of learning according to Bloom.







We are led to believe that 'remembering' is less complex skills than 'creating' and therefore it is one of the first things that students do in the learning process. I would say that I am a good little teacher and I get students to do a lot of these skills in lessons.

Problem 1: Creating

We have the impression that creating is a high-level skill. The verbs used in association with this aspect of the taxonomy are:

categorizes, combines, compiles, composes, creates, devises, designs, explains, generates, modifies, organizes, plans, rearranges, reconstructs, relates, reorganizes, revises, rewrites, summarizes, tells, writes

The problem I have is that in English we are constantly creating. Like Art, Drama and Music, we spend most of our time creating something. We are the subjects that create. A story. A poem. An article. For us, creating is articulating. It is how students communicate in our subject. We compose all the time. Composition is our game. Creating is more complex than being a high or low-level skill. In fact, a lot of my lessons are inversions of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I start them creating something. Then, they evaluate it and analyse what they have done. I teach them something to help their understanding. Finally, I get them to remember what they have learnt. To be honest, I start complex and things become simple.
Furthermore, the notion of creating things is a problem for me. In English, we could easily get students to write a missing chapter or write in the style of, but is it as complex as evaluating and analysing? There have been numerous sequels of well-known texts and yet we don’t hold these writers in esteem for their cleverness. In fact, they are forgotten. Surely, someone who can write in the style of Dickens is really clever. No, the people we think are clever are the people how have analysed his life and explored the motivations behind his choices.

Sadly, the writers of - yuk- the sequels to ‘The Woman in Black’ have shown that they are far from clever. If you understood the novel, you would understand that there really can’t be a sequel because the cat is out of the bag. A key feature of the ghost story is mystery. Therefore, the sequel cannot work. Unless, ‘The Woman in Black’ had a distant cousin, who just so happened had a tragic past and as a result affected her so much she wanted to kill the offspring of people.

In fact, creating an extra chapter of a book can be a far simpler process than we are led to believe:

·         Use some of the words the writer has used.

·         Use some of the techniques the writer has used.

·         Use some of the characters / settings and ideas that the writer has presented to you.

We do this kind of task because it is fun. But, I question the level it gets on the taxonomy. Is it really better than analysing? Now, parodying or satirising a text is being high-level. Why? Because in that creation of something they demonstrate a higher level of understanding. Oh, and they use humour!

Problem 2: Remembering

Bloom’s Taxonomy having remembering at the bottom almost suggests that if your lessons concentrate on remembering you are doing some bad teaching. Yet, I teach novels. Long novels. Novels with more than a hundred pages. Novels with big words. In English, remembering is a skill that differs across the sets. Students in Set 5 struggle to remember to use full stops and students in Set 1 remember than three months ago you promised to show them the film version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

When writing an essay about a novel, students getting the top bands will be students that:

·         Remember other examples in the text

·         Remember other texts that link to the idea

·         Remember other ways of saying a similar point

·         Remember precise words

The top students spot connections and patterns in work but key to doing this is remembering. You cannot make a connection if you can’t remember a thing in the opening. The students with the best memories make the best students.  

My new version of Bloom’s Taxonomy







I am sure you will disagree with me; I am happy for you to disagree. I just struggle with a rigid model of learning. We all learn in different ways. Maybe, the creative ones learn things differently. I know I do.  

Thanks for reading,