Our KS3 journey has been a long one, as I’m sure it has been for all departments. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit some excellent schools to discuss KS3 (DGS and Cherwell in particular – @EnglishDGS, @MsCaldwell1), attend excellent training on Tackling Disadvantage through Literacy, focused on Year 7 transition and run by Hampshire LA English team (@hiasenglish) and, of course, read lots of excellent posts by other HoDs all wrestling with the same thing (@thecockerill, @joeybagstock, @Rosalindphys, @Edmerger, @TLPMsF).
It’s important, when all is said and done, that KS3 doesn’t favour the big picture (those large knowledge blocks – themes, concepts, author and text knowledge, genres etc.) over the mechanics (sentence types, vocabulary, textual structure, grammar etc.), so that students are able to see the patterns & threads in language that run through texts, across time and genre. Evidence suggests that deep learning (and extending learning) occurs when connections are planned, deliberate and enable students to fluently recall blocks of information to which new information can be added. Knowledge of the conventions of tragedy, for example, enables a far more sophisticated understanding of the tragic elements of An Inspector Calls, Of Mice and Men or the Boy in Striped Pyjamas.
So, whilst I had spent a great deal of time considering texts, sequence, concepts, even vocabulary, I hadn’t planned for acquisition of sentences and sentence grammar. We had used much of the great work of Alan Peat (Exciting Sentences) but in a disorganised way. I’m sure some classes were being re-taught the same sentence types year after year. Or, being taught great sentences as they appeared, never to be returned to again. These worries peaked in term 4 when I felt like I was literally lobbing sentences at Y11 in the vain hope that some might stick. I knew the chance of this happening was somewhere between fat and slim, especially when you throw timed, pressure-cooker, exam conditions into the mix.
Another consideration is the quality of sentence level knowledge students now have when they arrive in Y7. It is important that in secondary school we meet students where they are and support them to move forward. There are a number of grammar/sentence maps available online, created by primary schools that are an essential guide to what has been covered. A word of caution though: as we know, covered doesn’t mean acquired. I would be wary of anyone who accused secondary departments of fuelling the September ‘slide’ for by returning to previously taught SPaG/sentence types for these 3 reasons:
1. The ‘slide’ is likely to be caused by a whole host of factors, not least those that come with moving to a new, larger, more challenging, more socially demanding environment. Children need to develop socially, emotionally and cognitively. Also, students will benefit from a supportive, low-stakes starting point (‘I know you’ve covered this before, but let’s see what you remember…?’).
2. We interleave and recycle knowledge throughout KS3 and KS4. The move from KS2 to KS3 is no different.
3. If knowledge is domain specific, it’s important students review sentence types with more challenging texts and more challenging tasks.
So, a planned, deliberate sentence curriculum (of sorts) was born. In exactly the same way we can’t expect students to just absorb vocabulary, we can’t expect them to just absorb sentence types.
I have taken key structures, through which we can teach grammar and punctuation, for creative/descriptive and non-fiction/persuasive. I’ve mapped these against our units and they will be part of the task/assessment success criteria. Schemes of work will contain modelled responses that contain the sentence types and we will work together as a department to create grammar slides. Most importantly, they will be inescapably built into the schemes of work – part of the language needed to speak and write like an expert on the unit being studied. English teachers know that they should explicitly teach at least four of these per term – 12 per year, with the aim that students will leave KS3 having encountered 32 sophisticated sentence constructions. No more lobbing sentences at Y11!
It is a small step, but it feels like a very important one.
Sentence Curriculum Overview and by year
Thanks for reading. Any comments welcome.