When delivering recent training sessions on embedding English I have noted the issue of explicitness arising in conversation again and again. Teachers have made comments such as:
I know I am aware of tackling English at different points but it is not something I really focus on or highlight with learners or in my written plans. It is just part of what is going on.
I think I am embedding English but I am not sure I can exactly point it out to you or describe it fully as I feel I don’t have the terminology myself.
I know I am embedding it into my planning but I don’t mention it with learners as they tend to say things like “That is not what I am interested in. I came to learn Catering/ Hairdressing/ Science, not English!”
Feel like I am doing it and not getting credit from observers/inspectors. Wondering why they can’t SEE it!
Noticing your own embedding
It seems to me that there are benefits to being explicit about embedding English, for students and for staff, so here are some thoughts. One useful question to ask yourself when looking at your scheme of work/plan for learning could be:
Where are there naturally occurring opportunities to focus on an aspect of English?
This helps to encourage principled, thoughtful embedding that will be relevant to the topic and stage of the lesson, instead of pushing teachers into just putting SOMETHING in a prescriptive column on a planning template, labelled Embedding English.
When teachers notice aspects of their classroom practice, it creates opportunities for greater focus, reflection and development. Here are a few reflection questions that can help with thinking about your own embedding of English:
1. How do I support learners with writing in an appropriate style and format?
2. How do I engage learners with clarifying and consolidating key vocabulary in each topic or unit?
3. How do I help learners develop appropriate reading skills, so that they can read effectively in and out of class?
4. How do I make all of the areas above explicit in my planning and with my learners?
Making it explicit in your own practice
This involves making clear for yourself and for the learners how you are supporting their language and literacy development. This can simply mean noting explicitly on your plan that you are going to pre-teach several specific key words that learners need to use in an assessment or verbally in a vocational context. You can identify how you are going to clarify them (e.g. through a definition and word match up; dictionary race; eliciting from the class) and encourage learners to practise them (quiz, written or verbal task, correction game, multiple choice exercise)
For writing skills, it may mean making the form and style of writing into a specific aspect of the assignment preparation. How can learners really know what we expect of them if we are not clear about the end product? I have seen many great lessons in which teachers show examples of written work, drawing out aspects of strong and weak performance in a range of engaging classroom activities, supporting learners to grasp what the end product needs to be like. This is a very useful approach to embedding English. It is something that many teachers are doing but not all are noticing/flagging as part of their embedding practice.
Making it explicit with learners
Several recent Ofsted inspections have highlighted the fact that they feel some teachers are not making the embedding of English explicit enough for learners. I have heard of colleges receiving criticisms such as:
1. In written feedback on assignments, some teachers hadn’t flagged how learners could improve their English within the context of preparation for the assignment. There was no signposting to extra exercises or tips for improving skills such as structuring paragraphs, using dictionaries, referencing appropriately etc.
2. When errors were corrected, there was little follow up in terms of explaining the error and correction or providing guidance for further practice of that grammar or spelling point. Teachers were correcting errors but then stopping there.
I think that many students tend to focus on the areas that teachers direct them to so if we are putting our attention more deeply on improving English, many will start to pay attention to it too. A large part of this is the mindset and attitude of the teacher in tackling language and literacy; if you sell the benefits and explain the value for future work, study and life, you can gradually get learners on board. I am not saying overnight! Embedding English well, so that it is threaded through the learning clearly and effectively, is not a quick thing for teachers or learners to achieve, in my experience.
For teachers to be more explicit with learners about their English skills and knowledge development, they need to feel confident and competent themselves to tackle these areas in planning, delivery and marking. I know that many teachers want and need support to develop their own knowledge and skills and for me, this seems to be a priority area for colleges to resource in term of professional development. I have started delivering a great deal of training for teachers and planning support for management on this area and predict the next year will see this work expanding further. For information on public training events I am delivering, please see the link below: