Showing posts with label English. Show all posts
Showing posts with label English. Show all posts

Sunday, 7 January 2018

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue: Oracy Games For The Classroom

Hello and welcome to another blog post on, the blog that has done for teachers 'what being hit repeatedly on the head with a large croquet mallet does for small frogs... or so I'm told'. You join me here today as I consider what teachers can learn from the long-running BBC Radio 4 panel game 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue'.

Whilst the chairman always introduces the teams as being given silly things to do, the entertainment is usually derived from witty and clever wordplay which demonstrate the competitors' mastery of the English language. Both the EEF's KS1 and KS2 literacy guidance reports have the development of pupils' speaking and listening skills (or oracy skills) as their first recommendation - in the KS2 document the emphasis is on developing pupils' language capability.

The KS2 guidance specifically mentions the benefit of collaborative approaches to improving oracy skills:
The impact of collaborative approaches on learning is consistently positive, but it does vary so it is important to get the detail right. Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to collaborate; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains. Effective collaboration does not happen automatically so pupils will need support and practice. Approaches that promote talk and interaction between learners tend to result in the best gains. The following should be considered when using a collaborative learning approach:
  • Tasks need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some pupils will try to work on their own. 
  • Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively within their group, though over-use of competition can focus learners on the competition rather than succeeding in their learning, so it must be used cautiously. 
  • It is particularly important to encourage lower achieving pupils to talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks, as they may contribute less.
  •  Professional development may be needed to support the effective use of these strategies.
Now obviously the games that the participants play on ISIHAC aren't research-based but if we apply the principles above, and pay heed to the warnings too, we should be able to use some of them to promote a collaborative approach to improving oracy skills, and as a result improve reading and writing skills as well.

Without further ado, the games:

Ad-Lib Poetry: The teacher (or another child) reads or invents a line of poetry. Children than take it in turns to continue the poem, one line at a time. The focus could be on rhyming words, adjectives, synonyms or telling a story. This game does not have a strong competitive element.

Cheddar Gorge:  Children all start with 10 points. By taking it in turns to say a word each, children should aim not to be the one who completes a sentence. If the word they say finishes a complete and grammatically correct sentence they lose a point. The main tactic is to try to force the next person to complete the sentence. This game has a focus on correct grammar and syntax and might help children to assess whether or not a sentence has been completed. Teachers could record the sentences and model correct punctuation. As an extension to this children could be permitted to name a punctuation mark instead of giving  a word - this would allow for the inclusion of parenthesis and other clauses.

Compressed Works: Children give brief synopses of films and books whilst other children guess the title. Similar to this is Rewind where children explain the plot of a book or film as if everything happened in reverse order. This could be played in pairs, groups or as a whole class and gives children the opportunity to practise summarisation - an important and often difficult reading skill.

Letter Writing: Similar to Cheddar Gorge, children take it in turns to say a word, this time 'writing' as famous or historical person to another such person, usually about something they are known for. This can be played in teams with the two teams taking the roles of the two correspondents. Letter Writing could be a good game to use in history lessons or in response to the class novel with children taking on the role of the book's characters. This could be simplified for any style of writing so that children orally co-create a piece of work prior to recording it in writing. One tactic in this game is to add in conjunctions, adverbs and adjectives to prolong the sentences. Another variation is Historical Voicemail  where children suggest messages that might have been left on the answerphones and voicemails of historical figures.

Uxbridge English Dictionary: Children come up with new definitions of words based on the parts of the words. This is potentially difficult so this game might need some preparation in the form of teachers selecting words that would work well. This is a word play game which requires children to know meanings of other words, rather than the one they are redefining. A health warning exists here: it might be wise to supply true meanings as well so that children don't believe that their new definitions are correct.

What's the Question? Either the teacher or a child supplies an answer to a question. Children then have to make suggestions as to what the question could have been. Plausible or funny answers can be accepted. This game might get children thinking about cause and effect and is a great opportunity for them to ensure that their questions are succinct and linked well to the answer.

Word for Word: Children take it in turns to say a word. The aim is to say a word that has no association to the previous word. If another child can prove, however ingeniously, that the word a child say is associated with the previous word, then they gain a point. This game could develop children's vocabulary as they hear words that others know and by trying to find links children will think carefully about word meanings.

Click here to listen to examples of the show on the BBC iplayer (may not be suitable for children)

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Right(est) Way To Teach Spelling (part 1)

Why words ought to be spelled correctly is an opinion piece best left for another time (or never at all). For now, let's assume that we want children to be able to spell correctly for no other reason than to be able to communicate efficiently in the written form. Yes, language evolves over time, but not usually as the result of the odd child sitting in a primary school who sometimes overcompensates by adding an 'h' into 'went'.

One aim of the teaching and learning of spelling is that children's encoding skills become more fluent, thus allowing them to focus more on composition when they are writing. For the same reason, most teachers care about children having good handwriting (let's not get into that one here, either). In order for children to write interesting, thought-provoking, engaging pieces of writing they need not to be hindered by atroshus poor spelling skills. And if you agree with me up to this point, you'll probably agree that teachers need to do something about the teaching spelling - for most, the ability to spell well does not come naturally.

Most teachers will have some ideas about what good spelling instruction looks like but 'there is limited evidence about what constitutes effective approaches to teaching spelling.' And for a blog post all about what the research shows about teaching spelling, that's highly inconvenient. But we will push on.

The EEF report on improving Literacy in KS1 does have this to say: 'Some approaches do have some evidence to support them, especially when evaluated on the basis of improvements to the spelling of individual words. It is less clear which approaches lead to better spelling in the context of pupils’ composition of full texts.' So, if you were hoping for a silver bullet to get children to spell correctly when they're actually composing pieces of writing, then perhaps you'd better stop reading now! However, surely the best bet in this case is to at least ensure they can spell individual words with a hope that this will eventually feed into their longer written pieces? I think so, especially if there's no obvious other way.

Choosing Developmentally-Appropriate Spellings

In their work 'American Spelling Instruction: What History Tells Us' Schlagal and Trathen (1998) concluded that providing levelled spellings was particularly effective in improving the skills of low and mid-level ability spellers. In an article by Bear and Templeton entitled 'Explorations in developmental spelling: Foundations for learning and teaching phonics, spelling, and vocabulary' they report that one of three important structural practices for spellings is that 'students should be grouped appropriately for spelling and word study'.

With the National Curriculum's prescribed word lists for each year group (I can find absolutely no information about how these spelling lists were generated) it is very tempting for teachers to give children spelling lists based on their age, rather than their current level of spelling achievement. With other research showing that setting children by level of attainment is not good for their development, many teachers are beginning to 'teach to the top', including in spelling, meaning that children are potentially being provided with spelling lists of words that are not suitable for their level.

It is best for teachers to assess children's spelling level in order to inform the kinds of words they are then asked to learn. Bear and Templeton are keen to point out that this is not 'for creating a label' but that it is to serve as a starting point for spelling instruction. Children who are seen to forget how to spell words, even if they spelled them correctly in a test after a week of teaching, are usually ones for whom the spellings have been pitched too high.

Schlagal and Trathen make sense of why children don't learn spellings when they are pitched too high:'some children may have insufficiently developed word knowledge for a given level of words'. If we think of spelling being like a building, children need foundations on which to build and these phases of building, according to the research, cannot be skipped.

Selecting Known Words

Bear and Templeton also propose that 'students should examine known words' and the EEF report on improving Literacy in KS1 suggests that 'the teaching of spelling is likely to work best when the spellings are related to the current content being studied in school and when teachers encourage active use of any new spellings in pupils’ writing.' However, at this point it is worth remembering that words selected from reading books, topics or children's spoken vocabulary should also be developmentally appropriate. Bear and Templeton point out that 'if theme is the sole criterion for selecting words... then students are reduced to learning how to spell one word at a time, with no opportunity to discover or explore the spelling patterns that apply to many words.' (more on spelling patterns later)

Testing As A Memory Aid

So, from this (which is based on a whole tonne of research and has been written about an awful lot) we might surmise that testing is a key part of the learning process when it comes to spelling.
  • young spellers studied high frequency words;
  • students corrected their own spelling (under teacher supervision);
  • teachers used the pretest-teach-test method of delivery and assessment; and
  • spelling was allotted between 60 and 75 minutes of instructional time per week.
So, in between the pre-test and the test, teachers should be teaching children to look for and identify spelling patterns in the selected words - this is called word study. Bear and Templeton outline different stages of spelling and suggest a progression of focuses for word study based on each developmental stage (these can be found on pages 225-226 in the article).
This could be summarised into three main areas around which our explanations, instruction and any learning activities should be based upon:
  • word origin and history (etymology);
  • syllable patterns and units of meaning (morphology); 
  • letter patterns (phonics).
A simple timetable can sum up what we've seen so far from the research on teaching spelling. This structure can be applied to children working at different developmental levels of spelling with different lists of spellings:

How Do We Learn?

Let's look at learning in a broader sense and ask ourselves, how do we learn? Without going into too much detail, one of the most effective techniques is to work on the recall of information from our long term memories. In Clare Sealy's super-helpful blog post 'Memory Not Memories - Teaching For Long Term Memory' she summarises research that shows that 'we can strengthen our ability to recall long-term memories by retrieving them.' This is called 'the retrieval effect' or 'the testing effect' and is where testing becomes a learning tool rather than an assessment tool. Clare goes on to explain that 'the more times we try and retrieve something, the stronger the memory gets. But it is the struggle that is important. If we reteach content instead of getting children to try and retrieve stuff they’ve probably forgotten, the memory does not get strengthened in the same way.' 

In his 2006 literature review 'Characteristics of Effective Spelling Instruction' in Reading Horizons, Randall R. Wallace, based on the work of Fitzsimmons and Loomer (1978), reports that spelling lessons offered in a word list format were effective when teachers followed the following guidelines:
In 'Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology' by Dunlosky et al, it is reported that, based on much research, low stakes practice testing (p26) 'enhances learning and retention': pre-testing is an example of this practice testing.

Focusing in on the middle two points made by Wallace and linking that to what we know about recall of information from the long term memory, it would make sense that during a week children are pre-tested, taught and then tested again. To make this practical, we might say that they are pre-tested on their spellings on, say, a Monday, and that on that day they correct their spelling mistakes whilst self-marking their test. On the Friday of the same week, after being taught the spellings in between, the children are then tested again. If the process is left at this point then children are likely to forget the spellings learned in that particular week. It seems that the key to aid retention of the spellings from any given week would be to keep including past spellings in future tests, particularly those spellings which children find tricky.

Teaching Spelling Explicitly
    So far we've discussed selecting words and using testing at either end of a week. But what happens in between? Do we just send lists home and get children to somehow magically learn them? No. The EEF guidance simply says 'Spelling should be explicitly taught'.

    The third of Bear and Templeton's three important structural practices is that 'students should be guided towards discovering patterns and generalisations among the words they examine'. The EEF in their guidance for improving literacy in KS1 are a little less sure: 'there is some evidence to suggest that teaching word patterns may help with spelling.'

    Examining Spelling Patterns

    In a language notorious for having many exceptions to the rules, what sort of patterns are we looking for?

    In their 2008 article 'How Words Cast Their Spell' Joshi and Moats write 'good spellers develop insights into how words are spelled based on sound/letter correspondences, meaningful parts of words (like the root 'bio' and the suffix 'logy'), and word origins and history. This knowledge, in turn, supports a specialized memory system - memory for letters in words. The technical term for this is “orthographic memory,” and it’s developed in tandem with awareness of a word’s internal structure—its sounds, syllables, meaningful parts, oddities, history, and so forth. Therefore, explicit instruction in language structure, and especially sound structure, is essential to learning to spell.'

    When it comes to using etymology as a strategy for teaching spelling Bear and Templeton suggest that this only comes when children are at an advanced stage of development reading and writing (aged 10 and up). This should not stop etymology being a part of vocabulary instruction earlier on, indeed, it is likely that this practice is a possible stepping stone for using etymology as a spelling strategy.

    Goodwin's meta-analysis (2010) of morphological interventions for spelling shows that this method of teaching spelling is successful. A simple definition of morphology can be found on wikipedia:
    'the study of words, how they are formed, and their relationship to other words in the same language.It analyzes the structure of words and parts of words, such as stems, root words, prefixes, and suffixes.' The National Curriculum appendix gives a good breakdown of the spelling patterns that children should be learning. This seems to be the area that most research agrees on as being the main focus for spelling instruction.

    Looking at letter patterns is helpful to a point but Fitzsimmons and Loomer reported that heavily depending on phonic rules is ineffective and intuitively we know that to be true - many misspellings we come across in children's work are as a result of spelling phonically without applying knowledge of other rules.

    In Summary (So Far)

    In the next blog post we will look at research-based, practical ways of teaching spelling on the days between the tests and we will add to our weekly timetable.