Stating the Obvious

Having started my first headship in January after a rather jam-packed nine years of teaching, the realisation of the responsibilities of the job are truly sinking in. No longer do colleagues stop to talk, albeit briefly, as teachers are far too busy to chat about the weekend, husband, children etc.  Now I get hesitant knocks on my 'open' door with 'could I have a quick word?' which, on the whole, translates as 'I have a problem that I would like you to solve'. I do what I can.

Escaping from such demands, I found myself jumping at the opportunity to cover a year 6 class last week. With the SATs looming and with a steely determination to ensure 24 out of a class of 31 will achieve a level 4 or above (77% is a figure I am bandying about on the premise that the more I say it the more likely it will become a reality) I decided to teach my specialism, literacy. 

For those of you who haven't heard of A CARP PIE, I can assure you it has very little to do with marine life and all to do with adverbs, connectives, adjectives, relative pronouns, powerful verbs, prepositions, “ing” and “ed” words. I'll let you work it out. I have been teaching this to many, many children as a tool to improve writing for around four years with successful results.

Launching forth to a rather stunned and compliant year 6 class I went through each part of the acronym at speed, willing them to keep up and feel my deep passion for the subject. They listened. I modelled. They responded. I was positive. We shared. They wrote. 

Then we got to P for powerful verbs. 

It went like this:

Me: So what do you think a powerful verb means? Can you give me an example of one?

C: A word that is a doing word.

Me: Yes, a verb is a doing word well done. But when you are asked to use a 'powerful' verb what does that mean?

B: A word that is very strong.

Me: Yes you're on the right lines.  What do you mean by strong? 

D: A powerful verb is a verb that is longer than ordinary verbs.

B: Yes, that's what I mean. It's a long word. It's strong.

By now my flow has come to a juddering halt with the realisation that these eleven year olds think that a powerful verb means the more letters the better. No wonder they had all been scrabbling for dictionaries  in a lesson I had observed the previous week, obviously intent on finding the  longest word they could in the desperate hope it might be a verb.

Of course it's easy to blame poor teaching but it got me thinking. When something as simple as understanding a powerful verb can go so wrong then how many more 'teaching points' miss the mark. My teachers are wrapping themselves up in layered targets, level indicators, complicated learning objectives, differentiation, steps to success and so on. In such a complex and swirling melting pot it's no wonder the basics are sometimes overlooked.

My deputy has just helpfully emailed me Ofsted's teaching and learning in a nutshell and one of the characteristics of outstanding teaching and its impact on learning is excellent use of questioning. I'm not holding up my questioning skills as particularly honed but it was only when I actually asked the children what they thought a 'powerful' verb was that I realised they really didn't know and that all those lessons where they had been asked to use powerful verbs using working walls and trusty teacher word banks had been a complete waste of time.  

So the message I will be delivering to my teachers is keep it simple and ask the obvious.

For more information about teaching literacy to primary school children check out our recent article titled Phonics: How We Teach Needs to Change to Fit with How Children Learn.

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