I observed one of my PGCE English trainees teaching her top set Year 9 all girls group. Following a very inspirational first half of the lesson, where the class really impressed us all with the depth of their comments, reflections and ability to engage with really quite sophisticated ideas through oracy, they then had to take those ideas and express them in written format. What emerged was writing that whilst grammatically correct and stylistically appropriate, lacked the originality and interpretation that had appeared in the earlier oral exchanges. Oracy in English is an important topic and will feature in this year’s NATE conference (National Association for the Teaching of English). High quality oracy can be a powerful tool in English, but it also needs a good link to powerful writing.
This is a common problem in English lessons. Trying to translate sharp and insightful ideas that emerge at the thinking process through oracy and then trying to capture them in written format. It doesn’t always flow from one to the other and all English teachers work hard on this process with their pupils.
When we were discussing the lesson afterwards I mentioned that I had seen the hashtag #10braver featured in the women’s ed hashtag #WomenEd which I follow on Twitter and that I thought it would be an idea for the PGCE trainee to tell the girls in the class about this movement, to give them their work back and then ask them to rewrite it ‘10% Braver’. She could then ask them to reflect metacognitively afterwards on what the difference was and if they indeed were, as Arsene Wenger would say, playing with the handbrake on. It’s quite a typical strategy for English teachers. You are telling them about real life people using English within their actual lives and asking the pupils to respond just like others in society do.
Now this anecdote makes for a nice story – this little narrative about my PGCE trainee and the 10% Braver hashtag and I’ve certainly told it a few times. However, having told this story recently to some of my peers they then said – so what happened next? It was a good question. When the trainee was next in I asked her – what happened next? And asked her to write the next bit of this blog. This is what she wrote:
From my teaching experience to date, one of the most frustrating elements of the classroom environment can be managing the transition from class discussion to extended writing tasks. Often, students will provide wonderful verbal responses to topics which they can then emulate and extend upon. The well coined phrase of ‘but I don’t know what to write’ then rears its head; leaving the teacher wondering if they were in the same room, or indeed, taking part in the same lesson.
Having discussed this with my subject tutor at the university who is keen on educational research and strategies to combat such things, the concept of ‘10% Braver’ was introduced into my teacher toolkit (and is now constantly called upon!). Whilst the suggestion was originally designed to help make the female students in my class take risks in their writing, I have found that is it equally as beneficial to my male students. They also respond to this kind of exhortation feedback.
Returning to the original class, below is a sample of work taken from a female student in year 10; the italicised response is the 10% braver piece of writing – I have also included some student voice reflection about why she felt empowered.
‘Within this extract Shakespeare presents the relationship between the witches and Macbeth as disrespectful. This is shown when Macbeth says ‘midnight hags!’ The use of the exclamation mark suggests that he is shouting at the witches. Also, the use of the noun ‘hags’ shows Macbeth has no respect for the witches identity.
This negative bond is shown further on in the extract when Macbeth says to the witches ‘I charge you.’ This shows there is an imbalance of power between them and implies that Macbeth wants ultimate power of them.’
[The work was then peer assessed and reviewed by the teacher – the target was: to be ‘10% Braver’ in her response.]
‘This is implied with the verb ‘speak’ because it is a very demanding tone of language. Also, it suggests he doesn’t treat them with respect as ‘speak’ includes a plosive which gives a harsh/nasty sound to the Macbeth speech.’
When asked about the impact of the feedback, the student said: ‘I felt 10% Braver writing my target response because I was encouraged by my peers and my teacher. This gave me the confidence to go outside of my comfort zone and express my opinions within my writing. Usually, what stops me from writing like this is that I don’t want to write the ‘wrong’ thing within my answer. By someone saying ‘do it,’ it boosts my confidence and makes me believe in myself.’
As an ITE educator and as an English teacher, I think this shows that we need to think about how we get pupils to express their ideas, about how the pressure of performance works and what it is they are trying to avoid as much as they are trying to achieve. In the blog, 10 things they hate about your subject, I was trying to unpick ‘large’ issues with performance. What I think this blog shows is that there are micro-performance issues happening at all sorts of levels: from the Year 10 English classroom right up to senior leaders in education. The nature of high stakes in modern life is holding many back from achieving and expressing what they really want to say and do. There’s a message here. We need to start getting everyone in education to be 10% braver.