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#1bigidea that shaped my practice

I enjoy reading the various hastags that go on in staffrm.  It's a great way of getting a range of perspectives around one theme. So when Peps asked me to think about one, I thought I'd do the opposite of the brilliant #1smallthing series by going from the micro to the macro.  Now, I've been writing all day, so excuse me if this makes no sense at all. I'm also distracted by the sun setting.
Hopefully it'll also give an extra post idea to those taking part in the #28daysofwriting challenge too.

What big idea has had the most influence on your practice?

When I started teaching I had been influenced by the 'silo' approach to my subject - I saw geography as a stand alone topic.  It wasn't until I realised the importance of every subject in delivering whole school literacy that the penny dropped.  This realisation (together with another big idea of whole school maths) influences my practice every day.

Where/when/how did you learn about it?

A combination of things really, but it was during the second year of teaching in 2004/5 that I realised how important good literacy was to achieving good GCSE results. The reading age of most papers was at the 14-16 years old mark. It also became obvious to me that a lack of understanding that students had around the definitions of words (command words and verbs / nouns as well as subject specific words) held them back.  I started the Banned Word board and gradually took it from there.  It was an instinctive move really.  
It also struck me that my own use of the English language was (and still is) poorly developed.  I hated English lessons and didn't see the links myself as a student.  During University I had to catch up on the simple things like 'its' and 'it's' and other basic stuff - I still struggle.  This is despite devouring books ever since I can remember - I still do.
Later, especially in the last 3-4 years there has been a big focus on literacy across the curriculum and rightly so. I totally subscribe to the maxim that it's reading and a focus on cross curricular literacy that can help young people.  This doesn't mean writing poetry in Geography (I couldn't tell you the difference between a Sonnet and a Couplet), but an insistence on using full, formal English.  This goes to speaking as well as writing.

What are the signs that it's had such a big impact?

GCSE results improved, and when I was in Geography they improved when other areas of the school declined.  It's a complex picture, but a relentless drive on literacy was a big part.

Is it possible for people to misinterpret the idea?

Oh yes.  The main barrier I come up against is the 'I'm not a teacher of English or Maths.' Muppets.  The results of English and Maths are the responsibility of all departments. Also getting confused between using good English that's appropriate to your subject, and being an English teacher.

Where would people go to find out more?

There are loads of blogs and books out there, but Manglish is a great one. Also have a read of The Elephant in the Classroom for a maths perspective.


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