This section gives advice on the planning of the teacher's work in the classroom.
The integration of the strands and strand units of the curriculum
In planning the English curriculum in the classroom the teacher needs to take account, first and foremost, of its integrated nature. This entails thinking about the curriculum and planning its implementation not in terms of the three language forms, oral language, reading and writing, but in terms of the four strands
- Receptiveness to language
- Competence and confidence in using language
- Developing cognitive abilities through language
- Emotional and imaginative development through language.
The contributory elements of the three language forms feed into the four strands and are directed towards the child's development as each particular strand defines it. It is by teaching towards the strands that the teacher can provide an integrated language learning experience for the children. This can be accomplished by an imaginative use of the content elements within the strand units. At times the activities suggested will be geared more or less exclusively towards the particular facet of development envisaged in the strand unit. For example, in the strand unit for first and second classes 'Reading: for pleasure and information' the objective 'perform alphabetical tasks' is concerned directly with enhancing children's dictionary skills which will become part of their competence as readers.
More often than not, however, there are natural linkages to be found between content objectives within a strand, as the following examples clearly demonstrate.
The integrated nature of the strands and strand units of the curriculum
|Emotional and imaginative development through language||Reading: responding to text|
Oral: developing emotional and imaginative life through oral language
Writing: developing emotional and imaginative life through writing
|Reading: experience a shared response to fiction through the use of the class novel|
Oral: discuss a story being read and predict future events and likely
outcomes in it
Writing: write about favourite moments, characters and events in stories
| ||Natural linkages can also be seen across the strands. The extracts from various strands for fifth and sixth classes below illustrate how objectives are clearly interdependent.|| |
Integration across the strands
|Emotional and imaginative development through language||discuss ideas, conclusions and images encountered in literature|
|Competence and confidence in using language||read widely as an independent reader from a more challenging range of reading material including stories, poems, myths, legends, novels and non-fiction texts appropriate to his/her age and reading ability|
abilities through language
|refine ideas and their expression through drafting and redrafting|
By being alive to interconnections such as these the teacher can provide an integrated language experience for children. When teachers are dealing with the curriculum at first careful planning will be needed to achieve this. The new approach, which concentrates on the four strands as a context for planning and implementing the English programme, will involve considerable adjustment on the teacher's part.
The emphasis on oral language itself also involves a certain adjustment and, on the face of it, has immediate implications for time allocation. At first sight, this may seem a greater problem than it actually is. Because of its importance as a learning strategy, the use of oral language activity will permeate every facet of the curriculum. It is also the single most important element in realising the integrated language learning experience envisaged in the English curriculum.
Although there is an oral language strand unit in every strand many of the activities they comprise can be integrated with the work of the strand units in reading and writing. Many elements of reading and writing will involve considerable oral language work.
It will have a significant role to play in such areas as
- developing reading skills
- developing comprehension skills
- developing children's response to fiction
- developing their response to poetry
- preparing a topic for writing
- editing and redrafting writing.
In this way oral language skills will be developed simultaneously with other skills and this will go some way towards addressing the problem of time allocation.
Oral language activity will also be an integral part of the teaching and learning process in all areas of the curriculum. The extent to which such an approach is successfully implemented will, in itself, have a direct bearing on the pupils' language development. This is not to say that every lesson should, first and foremost, be a language lesson. The discrete aims and objectives of any particular lesson will always be the teacher's priority.
It should also be remembered that there are some content objectives relating to oral language that need to be addressed per se. The objectives concerning the development and use of language in social situations, for example, will lead to very specific oral language activities. However, even these objectives cannot be separated from aspects of reading and writing: using the telephone might lead to the use of alphabetical and reading skills based on the telephone directory or to writing skills when a message has to be noted down.
A detailed discussion of the teaching of oral language is included later in the guidelines. However, there are some considerations that the teacher should keep in mind when planning the general classroom approach to the teaching of English. Much oral language development can be accomplished informally. It is important, therefore,that the proper classroom atmosphere is created and maintained. Children's talk should be valued and the principle of 'talk for talk's sake' should be cultivated. Coming to the table to talk to the teacher and discussing their work with others in the class should be options that are regularly available to children.
Of course, if confusion is to be avoided, some limits must be set and children need to understand that there are times when such spontaneous conversation is inappropriate. However, this too can be a feature of learning to use language in a social context.
The approach to oral language should be flexible and should incorporate the regular use of a variety of groupings within the class.
These will include whole-class, large group, small-group and one-to-one groupings that will
- provide a variety of organisational settings to serve the needs of different activities
- allow children to use language in a variety of social groupings and contexts
- give more opportunities for individual contributions.
Such flexibility demands the careful planning of classroom layout so that the various group arrangements and group activities (including improvisational drama) can be accommodated without difficulty.
When the school approach to the teaching of reading has been established the teacher must plan for reading in the classroom.
This will involve
- choosing the relevant graded reading materials
- assessing individual ability
- providing an appropriate programme of reading activities for each child
- keeping a record of children's reading that can be passed on to the next class teacher
- informing parents about children's progress and involving them in their children's reading activities.
The class library is very important and great thought needs to be given to the choice of books. Although the teacher will make most of the choices, the children should have some say in the inclusion of favourite books and stories and of materials of particular interest to them. This will become a more and more important feature of library planning as children approach the senior classes.
As children master the reading skills it is important that their reading experience be as varied as possible. The books available to them should encompass the best writing appropriate to their stage of development and they should be encouraged to respond to it in a variety of ways.
The recommended approach to writing stresses the importance of the process of writing as well as the product. This will be dealt with in detail in the relevant section of Approaches and methodologies but in the matter of classroom planning, as with the rest of the English curriculum, the watchword should be flexibility.
This flexibility will be reflected in
- the variety of topic and genre
- the range of audience
- greater autonomy for the children in choosing the topics of their writing
- the way that time is allocated to writing
- the manner in which the writing is presented.
Flexibility should also be reflected in the materials on which children write. The use of single sheets, for example, that can be stapled together or collected in a folder will be much more appropriate to the variety of writing the children will undertake than the use of copybooks alone. This will also facilitate the effective display of children's writing.
Assessment in the classroom
Purposes of assessment
Assessment will be an integral part of the teacher's classroom planning. A judicious use of assessment will enable the teacher to identify both the shortterm and long-term needs of the class, of groups and of individual pupils. It will also help when organising and modifying curriculum content, and in choosing the teaching strategies and contexts that will maximise the learning
of each individual child.
A range of assessment tools
The various assessment tools appropriate to English have been outlined already under curriculum planning. Of these the last three are, obviously, more suited to long-term planning. Most schools already use standardised tests (both norm referenced and criterion-referenced) on a regular basis. These are used, by and large, to test reading and comprehension and measure children's abilities and progress in these areas. They help the teacher to confirm judgements already made through the less structured forms of assessment and provide a more accurate picture of the child's development with reference to age or class. When children with particular needs have been identified diagnostic assessment can then be used to pinpoint particular strengths and weaknesses.
Curriculum profiles entail short descriptive statements of pupil behaviour in relation to language learning. They are standardised for different levels of achievement and are used to check children's ability in relation to each of the statements.
Curriculum profiles in English have been standardised for Irish children. This form of assessment can be particularly useful in helping the teacher to assess areas of language development not otherwise readily assessed and in this way they can contribute to a fuller description of the child's development in language.
The less structured forms of assessment will be related more immediately to the day-to-day teaching and learning situation. Teacher observation will form a continuous part of the teaching process and, allied to notes the teacher may make from time to time, it can provide the mechanism which enables him/her to continually adjust the fine detail of content, teaching contexts and learning strategies. Teacher-designed tasks and tests have a similar role to play on a longer-term basis.
Of particular relevance to English is the use of work samples, portfolios and projects. These folders or portfolios may be used to collect samples of a range of the children's work over the course of a term or a year.
Portfolios could contain such items as
- samples of children's writing
- records of their reading and their responses to it
- tapes of oral presentations the children have made
- different projects that have been completed.
The sample included should be of a manageable size and should reflect the child's overall development. It should comprise a representative sample of the child's work and include, at the same time, some of the best examples. As well as being another indicator and record of the child's progress a portfolio will form part of a basis for reporting to parents. The child should be allowed some discretion in what is to be included in his/her own portfolio. For example, he/she might like to include some favourite pieces. This can play an important role in helping to develop the child's self-assessment abilities.
Manageability of assessment
The over-use of assessment in any of its forms is counter-productive and can result in a misuse of valuable teaching time. Its principal value to the classroom teacher is to help him/her mediate the curriculum to the children in the most effective possible way.
It goes without saying, of course, that a teacher's classroom planning, whether generally or for assessment in particular, cannot take place in isolation. Although the professional discretion of the class teacher is to be respected, close co-operation with other members of staff is needed if the curriculum planning of the school is to be implemented properly.