Bunthorne's Blog

Stewart McGowan's blog

Challenging fixed ideas

Eng in Aus 48One of the advantages of being a consultant is that sometimes you find yourself in the office for a day – and you have time to do some professional reading! It’s a luxury, especially when you’re used to the colour and movement of an English staff room.

And today, I’ve been reading the latest English in Australia. That’s this one – if you have an ETA membership, you’ll have it on your desk somewhere.

There’s an article in there by Jennifer Watson that turns a lot of the accepted ideas about how we work with classes on their heads. In it she compares ‘open approaches’ with ‘directed approaches’ to the teaching of text in English. The big question she’s looking at is how these different approaches affect engagement and comprehension for different students.

What she concludes is surprising. She turns conventional wisdom on its head and concludes that more open approaches can be more successful with less able students, while more directed approaches benefit the more capable! Given that most teachers – and I’ll include myself in this – would generally say that less able students need more ‘structured’ activities and more specific tasks if they’re going to get anything out of a text.

This is a startling idea.  And additionally, there’s a real challenge to anyone who is teaching gifted and talented students in English. Jennifer’s article maintains that more capable students achieve less well with open activities! In her words:

“…evidence that academically stronger students – rather than academically weaker students – performed at a lower level during the Open Approach, challenges much research, particularly (suggestions) that a more explicit, authoritative teaching approach is better suited to ‘students for whom a text may be more challenging'”

If, like me, you’re one of the people who has simply tabled or filed English in Australia in the past, I’d recommend having a close look at this particular number. Jennifer’s article, ‘Engagement and Autonomy…’ is on page 23.


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