Trophies, travelling and targets: why assessment feedback matters.

Based on  Petty’s 1989 Medals, Mission and Goal.

When completing an assessment students need feedback regarding the quality of their work, not just general praise. E.g. ‘you’ve used a wide range of sentence structures appropriately’ NOT: ‘great amount of work written’.


  • Short term goals.
  • Information about what exactly was done well in relation to the target.
  • Marks and grades are not medals as they do not give any information.


  • Information about what the student needs to improve, correct or work on.
  • Essentially a positive EBI.
  • Should be forward looking and positive.
  • One task could be to improve a previous piece of work.
  • Marks and grades are not examples of travelling.


  • Long term goals.
  • The ultimate aim e.g. ‘a 9 in their GCSE’.
  • The trophies and travelling should help the student reach this target.
  • They should be given well in advance, to make them more achievable.
  • They could relate to the AOs, e.g. ‘use paragraphs to show the structure of your writing’.

By Jess Skingsley and Natalie Faulkner




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11 important points NATE make about the English NC

NATE published an important response to the 2015 National Curriculum for English. The full report is here, but I have pasted in the summing up points at the end of the document as they provide both an excellent summary of the English NC, but also point out its weaknesses. The following is copied from the NATE report:

  1. The new National Curriculum for English is a thing of mixed quality.
  2. It undervalues the spoken language at Key Stages 1 and 2, and is over-concerned with formal, performance-based uses of the spoken language in the secondary years.
  3. Its approach to the initial teaching of reading and to the teaching of spelling and grammar at Key Stages 1 and 2 is based on a flawed understanding of learning in these years: one that imagines that analytical instruction is a prerequisite for competence.
  4. Its requirements for comprehension in reading at Key Stages 1 and 2 are perfectly acceptable. Those for composition in writing at Key Stages 1 and 2 usefully refer to some of the essential processes involved in writing, but say far too little about what children should write.
  5. Its requirements for reading and for writing at Key Stages 3 and 4 are broadly acceptable.
  6. The requirements on the teaching of grammar in the primary years should be more modest; those in the secondary years should more detailed and more demanding.
  7. The paucity of requirements to do with knowledge about language other than grammar is regrettable.
  8. The new orders ignore the electronic and digital means of expression and communication with which most of our children and young people are intimately familiar.
  9. They have abolished any reference to media education. These are major omissions.
  10. The requirements for drama, whether as a part of English, as a learning medium across the curriculum, or as a freestanding subject, are inadequate.
  11. At some point, there will have to be further revision of the orders, to deal with those parts of it which will be seen to be unworkable.
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The dialectical essay: 8 key points

  1. Definition: dialectic
    1. the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions.
  2. The overall idea. This is an essay which deals with thesis (argument) and antithesis (counter-argument), which leads to synthesis (a point which synthesizes the essence of the argument and the counter-argument).
  3. Planning. Let’s imagine for a moment that the essay title is: “Examine the representation of jealousy in Othello.” This type of essay is good to write because it is relatively easy to plan.
  4. FOR. There are always arguments for: Othello is represented primarily as a jealous husband (FIND EVIDENCE FOR THIS POINT).
  5. AGAINST. Arguments against: Othello’s jealousy is secondary compared to his obsession with loss of status (FIND EVIDENCE FOR THIS POINT).
  6. SYNTHESIS. The synthesis is where you bring both arguments for and against together and draw out larger points which synthesis (or bring together) both opposing points of view. For example with the above example, a synthesising point might be that Othello’s jealousy is fuelled by his insecurity over his position in Venetian society; Shakespeare paints a picture of a society which fundamentally views Othello as the “Other”.
  7. Different viewpoints. The “dialectical” essay is excellent at dealing with different viewpoints. Problems can occur when student veer away from the question which can happen if you’re not vigilant.
  8. Non-stop arguing! The diagram below shows how the dialectical essay (and dialectic) works: it constantly moves from point to point by forming an argument (thesis), having an opposing argument (antithesis), then synthesizing both points of view into one larger point (synthesis). The dialectic then begins again with an opposing view (antithesis) to the synthesis etc.


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13 Ways of Teaching Essay Writing

  1. Encourage free writing to begin with. Tell students not to worry what they write: just write what they know to begin with. The important thing is to get into the practice of writing.
  2. You only know the beginning when you know the end. that they probably change the introduction anyway once they have finished the essays because most experienced writers know their beginning when they’ve written their end.
  3. Read, read, read! Encourage students to read a number of essays over the course so they are familiar with the style of the essay.
  4. Model.Model what effective essays look like by encouraging students to read through the essays in groups and pick out what works and what does not.
  5. Walking talking essay writing. Either you or a good student could show on a podcast, video or in front of the students live (if you’re brave) what you’re thinking as you are writing various parts of the essay such as the introduction.
  6. Phrase and word banks. Encourage them to keep a word bank of useful phrases and vocabulary.
  7. Provide sentence starters. SEND and EAL students in particular may need sentence starters to get them writing.
  8. Stress the purpose of the essay. Essays are ways of thinking about topics. Stress the importance of students showing that they have found out something through the process of writing the essay.
  9. Encourage reflection during the essay writing. Encourage students to reflect upon the strategies and processes that are working for them as they write the essay.
  10. Chunking. Encourage students to “chunk” off time when they do nothing but write, or read, or discuss, breaking up the essay writing process in manageable chunks.
  11. Be enthusiastic about the topic. Make your passion for the topic infectious; show that you’re interested in the essay.
  12. Mix up the learning: individual, pair work, group work, jigsawing. Encourage students to work with different people and find strategies that help them work by themselves.
  13. Discourage multi-tasking. Don’t allow students to listen to music as they work as there is a lot of evidence that this does not help them get on with the work.

What do you think of these pieces of advice? Think about them critically, and encourage your students to do so. For example, my worry with this first slide is that if students copy the phrases blindly they may well write very ‘generic’ sounding essays. 


This slide is not specifically aimed at writing English essays but I thought it was useful.


What do you think of the advice here?


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The two types of essay: inductive and deductive


There are two major intellectual processes that usually go on in most essays: deductive and inductive reasoning.

Deductive reasoning starts with making general points, formulating a generalized argument and then looking at the particular. For example, if you were writing an essay on Othello, you might make a statement such as “Jealousy can be very destructive” and then examine the ways in which Othello’s jealousy leads to him killing his wife, Desdemona, because he suspects her of having an affair with another man.

If you were taking an inductive approach, you’d be taking the opposite approach; you’d look at the evidence in the play, and then show that Othello’s jealousy is destructive. Induction starts with the particular and then generalizes having examined it.

Inductive reasoning moves from the particular to the general.

Most essays will shift between the two approaches, but it is important to understand that they are quite different ways of reasoning because they both have strengths and weaknesses.

The deductive approach can risk not finding sufficient evidence to back up its central argument, while the inductive approach can get lost in the “particulars” of a text and then never formulate any generalized points.

English students regularly fall into both traps: some students make too many generalized arguments without any evidence to back them up, while others are so bogged down in analysing a text that they never quite offer an overview.

When asking students to write PEE paragraphs is well worth getting them to think about these two approaches when making a “Point”; is their point the result of inductive or deductive reasoning?

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8 things English teachers should know about the Enlightenment

  1. No one is quite sure when the Enlightenment Period begins and endsSome French historians argue that it happened between 1715-1789, when the French Revolution started. Other commentators believe it began in the 1620s with the emergence of the scientific revolution and ended in the late 18th century when the Romantic movement contested many of its claims.
  2. Enlightenment thinkers generally celebrate the powers of reason, rationality, and scientific methodsMany Enlightenment thinkers such as Baruch Spinoza and Thomas Paine argued for democratic forms of government and the importance of rational structures to govern every day life. As a result, they came into conflict with the ruling powers of the church and monarchy.
  3. An English Renaissance preceded the Enlightenment era. The Elizabethan period (from 1559-1603) could be termed a “late English Renaissance” because, rather like what happened in Italy over a century before, it marks a huge cultural “re-birth” in the country with the emergence of a national literature, painting and music.
  4. The English Enlightenment. From approximately 1620, the scientific philosophy of Francis Bacon and the discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton begin to influence literature as well, as you can see in writers like John Milton (1608-1674), who attempted to “justify the ways of God to man” by referencing scientific ideas in his epic poem, Paradise Lost, which is a “re-write” of the story of the Garden of Eden. Later on, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) would show reverence for both religious and scientific ideas in his witty poetry. Behind much writing of this time is that God is the perfect scientist, shaping and moulding the universe in terms of a perfect order, working much like a watch-maker in knitting together the “clockwork” of nature.
  5. The triumph of reason? Roughly from 1650 to 1790s, much literature (poems, plays and the first novels) trumpeted the values of the Enlightenment: espousing the triumph of rationality, reason, scientific thinking, and the notion that there was an objective body of ‘essential’ knowledge that could be learnt.
  6. Colonialism and the Enlightenment. The movement was, in part, used to justify the colonialism because it was developed by colonial powers who claimed that their knowledge was superior to the colonial peoples they were taking over.
  7. Some argue there were three phases of literature during this period: i) The Glorious Revolution Period when William of Orange ascended the throne and Pope, Defoe and Swift were writing their satires ii) the emergence of the novel with writers such as Richardson, Fielding and Smollett publishing the first popular novels in English iii) a time of experimentation when writers such as Laurence Sterne, Richard Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmiths experimented with new forms of the novel, plays and poetry respectively. See diagram below.
  8. Questions to ask of texts in this period: In what way does the text PROMOTE enlightenment values? Does the narrative/text champion rationality, “common sense”, and suggest there is “essential” knowledge to be learned?



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Figurative language


What is figurative language? Why are the following phrases figurative in certain contexts?

The light at the end of the tunnel…

The glass half full.


Figurative language is a general term for a group of linguistic devices called figures of speech (p. 146, Furniss).



A word, phrase or statement is figurative when it cannot be taken literally in the context in which it is being used, for example: “love is blind”, “look before you leap” = could be literal and figurative.

Figurative or not?

The light at the end of the tunnel…

The glass half full.


Well, it all depends upon the context. If you are really in a tunnel and you can see a light in front of you, then it’s not figurative at all but literal, but if you are struggling with a problem and you begin to see how to solve it, you may say a phrase like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, making your language figurative. The same applies with “the glass half full”; you could literally be looking at a glass half full of water, or talking about your situation in life and figuratively describing it that way.

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Feature spotting


What is feature spotting? Why is it flagged up as a problem in numerous examiners’ reports and amongst English teachers generally?


Feature-spotting is when student isolate a technique, a feature, such as alliteration, but then do not explore why the feature is there and fail to discuss its effects.

Key Points


Feature-spotting can be a problem when teachers ‘over-teach’ terminology; when they ‘drill’ the terminology rather than encouraging students to read for meaning.


It is easy to encourage feature-spotting when teaching to the test; telling students to cram their answers with terminology. The way around this is to encourage reading for meaning.

Learn more

Look at this examiner’s response to a script, p. 5 of this PDF, in which an examiner points out the problems of feature spotting:

The slide below shows some typical features students ‘spot’ without exploring their effects.



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Ecological education: 5 ways to use the environment in English lessons


What do we mean by ecological education? Why is relevant for English teachers?


Ecological education helps students learn about how we are all connected to the earth and its ecological; it stresses the inter-connectedness of things.

Key Points


Wordsworth was one of the founders of the concept of ecological education (although he did not call it that) when he stressed the importance of learning from nature.


Just taking students for a walk outside and getting them to observe all the natural and manmade features of their environment can stimulate interesting creative writing, journalism, diary reflections, descriptions. If ‘primed’ with the tools of how to observe the world, then students can find it a great learning experience.


Ask students to meditate in a natural setting and see how they feel, think and see afterwards, asking them to do some free writing or write a response to the meditation, as they listened to their bodies and the sounds around them.


Ask students to do an independent learning project on nature and its role in their lives. See links below.



An excellent non-fiction analysis exercise is to get articles on climate change and ask students to investigate the presentation of the issue across different publications. See links below.

Learn more:




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5 important points English teachers show know about context


What do we mean by context? What do we mean by contexts of writing or production? What do we mean by contexts of reading?

5 important points

  1. Definition from Cambridge Dictionary:  the situation within which something exists or happens, and that can help explain it. Examples: 
    It is important to see all the fighting and bloodshed in his plays in historical context.
    This small battle is very important in the context of Scottish history.
  2. The context of a text is both the world the book creates in the reader’s mind (contexts of reading), and the world it came out from (contexts of writing or production).In order to fully appreciate a text, you need to appreciate the contexts in which it was written or produced – known as its contexts of writing – and the contexts in which you read the book, or the contexts of reading.
  3. The origins of the word are interesting. It comes from the late Middle English (denoting the construction of a text): from Latin contextus, from con- ‘together’ + texere ‘to weave’.
  4. Contexts of writing. This is potentially a huge area to explore because ‘contexts’ essentially means the ‘worlds’ from which the book has arisen. For the best books, these are many and various. The most obvious starting point is the writer’s own life: it is worth thinking about how and why the events in a writer’s life might have influenced his or her fiction. However, you do have to be careful not to assume too much. For example, some critics have suggested that Bathsheba, the feisty, beautiful heroine of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, is based on Hardy’s cousin, Tryphena Sparks, but you must remember that Bathsheba is a character in her own right in the novel – a vital cog in the narrative wheel, a literary construct and not a real person! As a result, it is particularly fruitful to explore other contexts of writing. We can look at the broader world from which Thomas Hardy arose (the rural Dorset society he grew up in, the respectable Victorian world he came to know as an adult), and consider carefully how, in his writing, he both adopted and rejected the morals of his time. Other contexts might be the influence of the literary world that [the author] inhabited (what other authors were writing at the time), how religion shaped his views, and so on.
  5. Contexts of reading. Just as important as the contexts of writing are the contexts of reading: how we read the novel today. Most of us, before we read a classic novel by Thomas Hardy, have a lot of preconceived ideas about it. Many of us will have seen one or more of the many film versions of the book, and/or been influenced by what we have already heard about Hardy.  Your own personal context is very important too. A feminist will view Bathsheba’s search for independence in a very different light from a person who believes a woman’s place is in the home. In order for you to fully consider the contexts of reading rather than my telling you what to think, I have posed open-ended questions that seem to me to be important when considering this issue.
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