Nick Hood: Evolving Literacies in the New Curriculum

This article is based upon a presentation given by Nick Hood (@cullaloe on twitter) for TeachMeet Fife on Tuesday 15th March 2011 at Carnegie College, Dunfermline. If you're interested in sharing interesting practice like this come along to TeachMeetLothians at Scottish Book Trust on 7th June from 6.30-9!



Like many teachers in Scotland at the moment, I am trying to evolve my classroom practice to encompass the spirit of Curriculum for Excellence. Below is a little of what I have discovered in developing and delivering a new unit for S2 on vibrations and waves - sound, light and radiations beyond the visible.

Firstly, I set out to write an exemplar teacher's guide covering from first principles, the route through and some resources supporting the course. I started with the experiences and outcomes within the curriculum suborganiser and then looked across to the other curricular areas to see what I could pull in to enrich the experience. Needless to say, it was a much bigger task than I anticipated.

Secondly, my second year classes are no walk in the park. One particular day, twenty minutes into a period, having failed even so much as to get the learning intentions shared, I finally blew: I don't have time to recount the details here but I had the class write me an essay on why I should even bother trying to teach them. What came out of that exercise were several examples of passionate, articulate and intelligent writing.

One example worth quoting from had:

"... I was doing well in first year and now I'm doing worse than I was last year because people in this class have wasted my opportunities for my dream job as a chemist.''

These responses brought me up sharply as I realised that the children already had developed literacy skills, enough to express the frustrations some of them were experiencing.

I saw my task as being to provide them a context within which they could develop these, possibly to a higher order. Two things emerged.

Listening and hearing - active engagement in traditionally passive learning

I thought of Pauk's Cornell method and set a variant of it in context in the new unit. I was intending on using video extracts to support the learning, including one small 7-minute piece from Julian Treasure on sound health. I had the children make messy, contemporaneous notes on the key things that struck them as the video played. I made my own at the same time, then used these to challenge the children on the content of the video they had just seen. I was impressed by the quality of some of the notes - some hadn't bothered - and the ability of those who had the key points noted down, to answer even the most difficult questions on the content. This was a rich seam for assessment of developing skills, providing evidence and opportunity. A good example* was from a girl, normally not a big hitter in the summative tests, who enthusiastically used the powerful weapon of good notes to outclass the others in her responses. The point was well made. Many students now take notes as I am talking to them.

Using new media and HHD

The other thing that impressed me in the class response to the new unit was how the childrens' literacy overlaps and includes digital media fluency. I had another enthusiastic response from several pupils who, when asked if they had anything to share for (optional) homework, produced mobile phones with recordings of sounds they had made, answers to questions and even a video* submitted by email.

It is clear to me that the boundaries are being reset on literacy. Our task as teachers is to make sure we ourselves are sufficiently competent in the new literacies in order to challenge and develop children within them.


* We hope to be able to host examples of pupils work soon.