In these ever-changing, ‘unprecedented’ times, time is of the essence in many classrooms, as we struggle to fit in teaching what we need to alongside catching-up, and washing hands several times a day in what for many is a shorter amount of time.
So with more to do, the question is: how to do it? Well…maybe by doing less? Not ‘doing’ less, to be fair, but using less, especially in terms of what resources we use in class for teaching. Let me elaborate…
During lockdown I was still in school, teaching around half of my Y6 class in person, and the rest via distanced learning (work online or sent home). Usually, in Y6, we use an overarching longer novel (and I’ll say this repeatedly – this is still important – whole novels do need to be read to and by children). This then becomes the prompt for lots of our writing – diaries, predictions, extra chapters, character studies etc. are all based on this text. But, given the ever changing nature of the class/school, this just didn’t seem like a possibility any more – the book was too long, children weren’t there every time I read it or not at the same point, and thus everything became more fractured and separated, and so, though I still value the importance of longer texts and whole novels hugely (and completely agree with the views in this recent piece about the value of whole texts: https://prowritingaid.com/art/1456/7-ways-to-teach-whole-novels-with-your-class.aspx ), things had to change a bit….
It wasn’t and isn’t rocket science (many people do a similar version of this already, I’m sure), but what we ended up doing was using a lot more extracts and shorter pieces of writing that could be the focus of our units of work. This meant that they could be used with whoever was ‘in’ that day, without there being anything lost if those pupils hadn’t had the lessons before. It also enabled me, as a teacher, to really focus on the elements of the language/grammar/plot etc. that I wanted to, as I could select really specific points from the text I used as exemplars, or choose a shorter whole piece (a news report/poem for example) that could be read in one/two sessions. It also meant that the specific grammar I wanted to focus on (let’s say pronouns for example) weren’t lost in the reading of a whole chapter of a longer book, amongst the drama, recall of events and cliffhanger endings! It also meant that when I was reading the longer, class novel (which, as I’ve already said, is hugely important and I will always continue to do), we read it more for pleasure rather than stopping to tear it apart for language or study, so there was a double benefit.
A further benefit was the ability to provide pupils with exposure to a greater range of texts. In reading Jennifer Killick’s wonderful ‘Crater Lake’ as the class novel, we used extracts from science books to look at non-chronological reports about wasps; we looked at adverts for Summer holiday camps; danger posters (thank you coronavirus three-word slogans for plentiful examples) to make our own warning posters; online conspiracy websites to create our own theory statements about alien existence; newspapers to look at how major incidents were reported; geographic journals about the real-life Crater Lake and explain its formation.
There were so many opportunities, and each one another rich reading experience in itself. Alongside the enjoyment of a dramatic sci-fi novel and the bigger story, we could focus on other texts and features that the novel itself did not include and use the engagement with the story to lead to focused work using these linked shorter pieces or extracts. It also gave the writing some context, as although a completely different genre and text altogether, there was always this link back to the ‘main’ novel. Since coming back to school in September I’ve adopted this ‘focused extract’ approach and am seeing benefits in terms of interest in the book, and in the work being returned by pupils.
What I’m suggesting is definitely not to give up on whole novels and work based on them. What I’m suggesting is using that novel as your reading for pleasure book, so that children get the enjoyment of an uninterrupted, quality story, and using that as a segue into your focused writing/grammar by using the linked extract as another text to read – if anything, I’m actually getting more reading experiences into my day this way, and as a result, better writing . It’s working for me, and I hope some of what I’m suggesting make sense and that you can make it work for you too!