The notion of Language across the Curriculum has been around for a very long time. Harold Rosen was doing work on this in the 1960s. From time to time there have been small nudges in this direction, sometimes more overt expectations, but with what can, at times, seem like limited impact.
So, how about using the expertise derived from the English lesson to provide the drivers for language improvement across the curriculum?
There is a difference between Primary and Secondary in this regard, as the Primary teacher crosses all subject boundaries, while the Secondary teacher is likely to be a subject specialist. In Primary, as in Secondary, children do a lot of writing in many different subjects. They can move from an English lesson to Geography or History and do more writing in some form. At the same time, opportunities are missed to use experience as the basis for quality writing in English and without intervention, the quality of English in written form in other subjects might not be as good as it could be.
A visit to a school where high quality art work was on display, along with many other high quality displays, led to a discussion about the potential for that activity to lead to equally high quality writing about the process, or an evaluation of one’s own work, or a critique of another’s outcomes. Some examples would have lent themselves to interpretation as poetry or prose. The English lessons had been created to look at writing a recount, but had paid no attention to the art work.
Equally, the displays did not include any real modelling of adult language, such as questions, explanations, bullet point statements, model critiques, can all provide insights and expectations from learners.
High level engagement in subjects other than English supports the development of higher level English skills, purely and simply because the children develop the broader vocabulary and spoken structures within which they can explore ideas, through discussion, then to seek to express what they have encountered, as reported speech, prior to reported writing or writing instructions or some other non-fiction element. The deeper the engagement, supported by a high quality teacher model, the higher will be the quality of speech, reportage and subsequent attempts at writing.
Jerome Bruner wrote that “the language of education, if it is to be an invitation to reflection and culture creating, cannot be the so-called uncontaminated language of fact and 'objectivity'. It must express stance and must invite counter-stance, and in the process leave place for reflection, for meta-cognition. It is this that permits one to reach higher ground, this process of objectifying in language or image what one has thought and then turning around and re-considering it."
To me, this statement implies the need for drafting and redrafting of ideas, thoughts and spoken language as well as in written forms. Ideas should be capable of an alternative viewpoint being presented, in ways that invite reflection, so that they might be reformed if needed.
Perhaps schools, especially Primary schools, need to make better use of broad activity to generate the stimulus for writing. Any ordered event, from a science experiment to a gymnastic sequence could provide the stimulus for talk, note taking or writing.
If, during the first week of a half term there was a focus within English lessons on a specific aspect of language use, such as
- note making from texts,
- notes from listening to a speaker,
- writing up notes to make sense, or an ordered report,
- drafting and redrafting to improve
- critiquing and acting on critique
Outcomes could be shared and be put together to form a portfolio of exemplars, with teacher critique and commentary to support colleague development and internal judgements. It is important that every teacher sees themselves as a teacher of English.
These internal investigations could also provide evidence of an internal hierarchy of skills and alert staff to shortcomings, improving practice from evidence. Portfolios could also provide a baseline of evidence for teacher judgement.
Two page approach to writing (Embedding the whole writing process)
Using the exercise book as a personal organiser (SEN links)
Primary; all writing in one exercise book
Drafting and redrafting