English at cottesmore
English at Cottesmore is a constantly evolving process with thinking at the heart of both teaching and learning. We are always striving to find more creative, stimulating and fun ways to teach this incredible subject. We have five teachers in the department: three subject specialists who share the Years 5 to 8 classes, and the two form teachers in Year 4. There is a top set in each year group but no bottom set.
We have recently introduced spellings lists based on grammatical word groups printed in the letter-join font for the pupils to discuss, learn and use in the right context in spellings lessons and beyond; we do not have spellings tests because we do not believe they sustain knowledge; however, we take spellings lessons very seriously, and we are proud of how our thinking has led us to combine spelling, grammar and handwriting in these dynamic lessons.
Reading or comprehension lessons are at the heart of the curriculum. We have put our thinking caps on again and come up with a plan for the children to tackle the various types of comprehension question that regularly crop up: where the answer is literally in the text, where the answer is not literally in the text, ‘using your own words’ questions, writers’ use of language questions, and form and structure ones for poetry comprehensions. We want the children to zoom in and dig out the answers from the text using highlighters. We also give the Cottesmore readers a plan for phrasing their evidence to back up their answers, and how they explain why this evidence supports their argument. We want our detectives to leave no stone uncovered, and use tidy and eloquent phrasing.
In our creative writing, the children get to tell their own fantastic stories with plot and character development – Saturday morning preps is story time in their own journals, on their laptops or wherever the children feel comfortable creating their tales; however, wherever they have the option in assessments, we encourage the pupils to choose the descriptive writing option: we have invested a lot of thinking and planning in the teaching of description, and believe it is our flagship area of excellence in the subject. We do not believe anyone can tell a story with impressive use of descriptive language in the time a typical exam allocates, so, by using their VAPA sentence starters and Cottesmore Eight description boxes, the young writers at Cottesmore are equipped to cram every sentence of their descriptions with extraordinary adjectives, verbs, adverbs and literary devices. Writing a piece of description is like figure skating or Olympic diving: the more special elements incorporated into the routine, the more impressive it will be to the audience.
The children learn how to write persuasive articles and letters with a plan. Punctuation and grammar lessons are so important at Cottesmore too. We use the CenturyTech and Atom Learning platforms as vital resources to help this teaching. There is Storytime for every child with at least one class reader per class per term. For example, in the Michaelmas Term, Years 4 to 8 enjoy The Wreck of the Zanzibar, Boy, Journey To The River Sea, Tom’s Midnight Garden and Animal Farm respectively. Every child studies at least six poems each term: this is to promote a love of poetry for its own good, performance, comprehension skills and providing words and phrases for them to collect for their own descriptions. Robert Louis Stevenson, Ted Hughes, John Masefield, Maya Angelou, John Betjeman, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, the Great War soldier poets, Charles Causley, Robert Frost and Carol Ann Duffy are firm favourites. There is an emphasis on nature in our creative writing, and much of the poetry that we choose to share with the children is done so with this in mind. The children also have one lesson a week where they read aloud to a member of staff and have their progress monitored in their Reading Records.
In Years 4,5 and 6, preparation for the 11+ pretest is part of the weekly curriculum. We use Atom Learning and Century Tech to assist the teachers prepare the children for this assessment. The children also take a Reading and Writing assessment every half-term. This is on top of the biannual formal examinations, and they are deliberately low-key to fly under the radars of anxiety. They are to assist teaching and learning, and certainly not for children to lose sleep over.
As a thinking school, we are always trying to find better ways of making the teaching of English as engaging and inspiring as possible.