No Nonsense Educator

How Do I know if I’m Teaching the Right Things?

A few weeks I ago I published a post about the importance of explicit teaching at the top of the rope.

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You can read this post here, but basically I talked about the need to teach all of the top parts of Scarborough’s Reading rope in a systematic and explicit way.  Grammar, text composition, use of language features and vocabulary all need to be intentionally taught to students of all ages for both reading and writing.  All this talk of explicit teaching may leave you imaging boring, beige lessons where children fill out work sheets and fall asleep chanting.   The possibility of what this teaching can be is far from a bland one.

There are also better options when it comes to teacher planning.  It is not necessary for teachers to spend hours each week planning and preparing for lessons, trying to map out the whole curriculum.  All of that time spent twisting your brain into knots, attempting to cover everything you need to, is time that could be used focusing on your students and the instruction they need from you.

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The answer to engaging, full participation lessons that don’t suck the life out of you to plan is a series of lessons that you can teach and repeat. A plug and play approach, if you will.   

In order to cover the requirements of the Australian Curriculum for reading and writing and set yourself and your students up for success in assessment and reporting, you need to teach all of the following:

  • Evaluative Language
  • Purpose, audience and structures of different types of texts
  • Text Cohesion
  • Punctuation
  • Concepts of print
  • Sentences and clause level grammar
  • Word-level grammar
  • Visual Language
  • Vocabulary

Just looking at that list is enough to make you pack your teacher bag and head for the hills. Before you do that, consider that all of the above can be taught, both on their own and also in the context of using a rich text.   There is a place for decontextualized teaching and practice of all of the concepts above (indeed, this is recommended in short, sharp lessons to reinforce skills and knowledge), but this will never be sufficient to help your students really understand them and learn to use them in their own writing.  Once they have some knowledge and skill, they need to be able to put it all into context to see how it fits and practice using it.  

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Before you can teach these concepts to students you need to have a good understanding of what is required for different grades.  Downloading a PowerPoint from a subscription site about punctuation is unlikely to provide the opportunity for students in your specific grade to be able to go deep into the content as you need them to and enable you to assess student work with the confidence to 100% stand behind your grading choices.  

I have broken down the Australian Curriculum scope and sequence into the sub-strands that relate to the ‘top of the reading rope’ as well as requirements for writing.  All of the sub-strands below can be included in a plug and play sequence of teaching.

Evaluative Language

You can see from this graphic, how the expectations of students’ ability to understand the use of language to indicate preference and judgements.  The curriculum is very specific in terms of what is expected.  

Audience and Text Structure

Text structure is very often explored through genre study.  What is not always addressed, is that there are specific language features and sentence types that relate to specific genres.  The concept of considering audience is introduced from year 4 onwards, however it is a good idea to build the field for this in earlier grades using teachable moments.

Text Cohesion

Text cohesion is about making texts flow.  This starts broadly in foundation, pointing out that the way we speak is often different from the way we write. This is a concept that many students are still developing in the upper grades of primary school. By the middle of primary school, paragraphs become key and in year 5 and 6 students are expected to know how to examine and use specific words to create cohesion.  As with all other areas, it is a good idea to build the field through teachable moments before students are asked to use the skills on their own.

Punctuation

So very often, we teach students that punctuation is about knowing where to pause and stop while reading, and how to make sentences ‘make sense’ in writing.  Run on sentences are a common feature of poor writers in upper primary.  Some of the above items may surprise you in their timing. For example, understanding quotation marks comes in in year 4, but we often expect students to master this much earlier. 

Concepts of Print

There is quite a large focus on concepts of screen in upper primary, but concepts of print are still important up until year 5, when the ‘sequence ends’.

Sentence and Clause Level Grammar

Ok, we’ve got sentences right?  If your answer is no – don’t panic!  This video gives a nice simple explanation. (This lady’s outfit is pretty funky, but her message is sound!)

But what about clauses? Most of us were NEVER taught about grammar at school or university. The good news is that the Grammar Down Under lady has a video about that too.

Word Level Grammar

I used to be someone who rolled their eyes at this scope and sequence document. I used to think that it was too overwhelming to use it. But, now I have enough of an understanding of the document that I find it a very useful tool to make sure I am drilling down into the appropriate content for a year group. Even so, I have had to so some pretty intense learning about grammar to be able to move beyond knowing what nouns and verbs are, to how to teach children to understand this and run full participation lessons.

Visual Language

This one was a real surprise to me when I first started learning to use the English scope and sequence.  Of course, I knew that students needed to connect their pictures to their writing in the early grades, but the above makes things very, very clear.

Vocabulary

There has been a lot written about vocabulary instruction lately.  The Australian Curriculum states that Tier 1 vocabulary is a focus in Foundation and Year 1, Tier 2 comes into play in year 2 and Years 3 – 6 focus on refining the use of Tier 2 and Introducing Tier 3 vocabulary.  Of course, this is a very simplified explanation and 5 year olds can absolutely learn Tier 2 and 3 vocabulary. These are simply what the Australian curriculum is asking us to assess at the different grades.

I am hoping that this post has given you some ‘aha’ moments about what is expected from students in the grades you teach. Most of us are familiar with the broad terms of grammar, punctuation and vocabulary, but we may not be fully aware of what the curriculum is asking us to be teaching in different grades. Now, are there other ways to arrange the sequence of teaching? Of course!  But as we in Australia are required to assess against the Australian Curriculum (or our jurisdiction’s curriculum which is based on the AC), it is a good idea to know exactly what it is we are supposed to be focusing on.

You can download a copy of the English Scope and Sequence here.

If you are interested in learning more about how to teach all of this content in a systematic and simple way that supports both students and teachers, you can find out more here.

2 thoughts on “How Do I know if I’m Teaching the Right Things?”

  1. Thank you so much Jocelyn for another excellent blog post! I have just enrolled in the Grad. Certificate in Literacy through Edith Cowan and my first subject is on writing so this post is very timely for me. I teach Foundation and am trying to get my head around terminology!!

    1. You are most welcome Tina. I am glad that I could help! One thing I will say about the early years is try not to ask them to put pencil to paper to write words until they have the transcription skills to do so. “Just have a go” or “Copy this” is rarely effective. The hardest part of this for me, has been to move beyond the slight panic that comes when you realise that most children will spend the first half of the foundation year not producing ‘writing’, but once I reframed ‘writing’ as ‘recording in a way that matches transcription skills’, I felt much better! Best of luck with your studies. Sing out if there are any blog posts you would like me to cover. Take care, Jocelyn.

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