Tag Archives: English

Redacted literacy challenge

I’ve been trying to embed more literacy challenges this year as this is always something students struggle with and is a whole school focus that Geography can really contribute to.

 

Year 9 have been looking at Extreme Environments and with a focus on Everest at the end of this due to the recent events at Easter and the conflicts here. We often try to incorporate travel writing and non-fiction novels into lessons as well and encourage students to learn skills through these for extended writing, creativitity, grammar, etc,. With the Everest focus I’ve been sharing extracts from Beck Weathers’ Left for Dead novel about the 1996 disaster and other texts. This week I decided to try something different and set my students a ‘redacted text’ challenge.

 

Think top secret files and redaction, where text is obscured in order to inhibit meaning and keep a file secret. I thought that maybe this could be a good literacy tool. So, here’s what we did.

 

1) Students were given a four page extract from the novel and asked to read this silently for themselves, or aloud to each other in pairs. They were then given three minutes to contemplate and reflect on the story, on what it was conveying, on what style of writing had been used (specifically mood and atmosphere) and the literacy techniques used (eg. adjectives, metaphor, etc,.).

 

2) Using felt pens, I set the challenge that students had to go through the text carefully and redact it themselves by blocking out sections of the text leaving only certain parts visible. They were given two options here:

 

a) For a more accessible challenge: redact as much text as you like leaving only a selection of individual words visible (particularly adjectives or geographic words). From these, then take the words and rearrange them into a story or a piece of poetry in a similar style to the original story but in your own words.

 

b) For a harder challenge: redact the text very carefully leaving individual words but also short phrases visible. These words and phrases must be in a logical order and punctuation inserted as needed in order that the visible words now form new sentences that can be read as a new story, or poem. This is actually really hard! It requires text analysis and logic, having to plan ahead and have a vision of what they want the story to look like first and then to be able to create it. Very tricky. I trialled this first with top set students and they found this a real challenge but really interesting. The new stories they created from the visible words had to flow, had to make sense, and could either be in the same style as the original story or actually change the plot.

 

3) Students have to check the punctuation and grammar makes sense for their new stories, and then these are shared with others.

 

When I first suggested and explained this activity to a class, one of the (admittedly somewhat lethargic) boys asked ‘Miss, what’s the point of this – aren’t you just making us do something hard for the sake of it?’ To which I replied that yes I was in a way, that sometimes having to do something hard and learn to overcome it is as much the objective as anything specifically ‘geographic’. By the end of the lesson though he, and the rest of the class, were commenting on how they’d had to really push themselves to do well on this. That it was a difficult challenge that required some real logical and lateral thinking, that tested their creative and literacy skills. And they were pleased with themselves.

 

I wasn’t planning for them to be able to regurgitate the text by the end of the lesson, but I was expecting them to develop essential literacy skills that they have to be good at in order to succeed at anything – if they don’t get their English qualification, life gets pretty hard doesn’t it? It’s also a good tool to be able to say to SLT ‘look here, this is how Geography meets your whole school improvement plan on literacy with this, this and this…’.  The follow up is students making their own geographic adventure novel that must be a blend if fact and fiction.

 

The images show some works in progress, as the kids wanted to take home and finish some extra pieces bless them.

 

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Improving literacy in Geography

Example of VCOP template
Example of VCOP template

Something we find our students struggle with at times, regardless of key stage, is the creation of extended writing. Such an essential skill, especially with a view to GCSE. The decision making exercise (SDME) essay that our students complete requires them to read, analyse, interpret and synthesise information into a coherent argument. And it is a big hurdle for them. And in KS3, where we have reduced contact time now, we have noticed a difficulty with stretching higher level writing.

This week we had INSET training from our literacy co-ordinator which was insightful. We are going to lead a Humanities-Literacy joint project which I will update you on later but may involve the creation of a makingwav.es platform for sharing work that I have mentioned before. Anyway, I digress. I was introduced to VCOP – a simple way to structure writing through suggesting vocabulary, listing connectives, providing sentence openers, and then reminding of punctuation. I decided to trial this with both KS3 and KS4 classes of all abilities and have been really pleased with the outcomes. Below are example lessons including VCOP from Yr11 Hazards & Yr9 Extreme Environments so you can see how it was worked into the lesson. We talked through the structure as a group first to establish its utility, then a copy was given between pairs for reference during writing. Students were allowed their books for reference, access to their mobile device, but were otherwise silent for 10-15minutes solid writing. After, we then discussed whether the structure had been useful and throughout all abilities and ages they universally agreed it was ‘good to refer to if you forgot something’ or that it ‘gave me something to start off with’. A starting block.

Thanks to @daviderogers for the NYC lesson outline that was his originally until I butchered it!

You can see in the Yr 11 Hazards lesson I also used the Learning Grids activity for their group work. Students had copies of the grids in A3, then had to roll two dice to get grid reference/coordinate for a particular grid and then include the statement within their group work, e.g. grid 6,6 means they must include a link to sustainability within their argument. They had to repeat the rolls 5 times to get 5 statements to include. When the groups presented their findings, I used the dice myself with the grid in order to direct questioning. Using the random name generator on Triptico I selected a student, then rolled the dice to select a question based on that topic. That student then got to roll for the next name suggested, and they got to pose the question, and so forth. That way a selection of random students were able to both pose & answer directed questions and it led to some really informative discussions as well as enabling more in depth AfL of the relative merits of each presentation.

The use of the template was observed by an Ofsted lead inspector for a different lesson who commented on it’s suitability and highlighted that one of their key focuses at present is that of literacy across the curriculum, and that teachers cannot do enough of making overt links to literacy &  the importance of writing skills for GCSE and the workplace.

I think a further development to the use of VCOP could be to provide specific links to English APP AF strands on writing, and make it clear that students are developing skills intrinsic and essential to both subject areas. In English they are exposed to the AF strands routinely so it would make the cross-over more familiar, and more of a development of a known rather than introduction of something new and scary.

I am also thinking of creating some generic VCOP laminated pyramids to be able to distribute to tables as needed. I’d be interested in hearing from others if you have used these. It seems something common in primary schools and strange to not continue when literacy is such a struggle.

“If you cannot write well, you cannot think well; if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.” Oscar Wilde