Short courses


A teacher’s perspective on UCL’s English grammar CPD course

One attendee of English Grammar for Teachers, a one-day CPD (continuing professional development) course run by UCL, explains why she found the course so valuable.

4 July 2017

Joanna Woodhouse is a Curriculum Team Leader and Literacy Coordinator at The Minster School, a National Teaching and Support School in Nottinghamshire. She recently attended UCL’s one-day CPD (continuing professional development) course English Grammar for Teachers, and found it so valuable that she arranged for the tutors to deliver a bespoke session at her school.

How did you discover English Grammar for Teachers?

We’re a National Teaching School so we run educational events for schools in our area. We recently ran a conference on dyslexia and asked teachers who attended what they wanted to learn about - there was an overwhelming demand for something to support grammar.

Teachers really don’t have much experience in this area. There was a generational gap in being taught grammar, and teachers are now under a huge amount of pressure to adhere to the new curriculum when their own knowledge is poor and confidence is low.

My son studies linguistics at UCL so I’m aware of the University’s expertise in this area. I’d also been following Professor Bas Aarts (who developed Englicious and the CPD courses) on Twitter and his debates with Michael Rosen (writer, broadcaster and Professor of Children's Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London). I discovered the free Englicious classroom resources through his tweets.

All this led me to browse the UCL short courses catalogue where I found the one-day CPD course.

We have 35 schools in our teaching group, across all key stages, so I attended the one-day CPD course to check its suitability. I then arranged for Bas’ team to come to us to run a bespoke inset day for our teaching group.

What did you find particularly engaging about the English Grammar course?

The experience of the tutors (Professor Bas Aarts and Dr Ellen Smith) was the highlight for me. The underlying academic rigour really appealed – everything is based on robust research and because the tutors are dedicated to the subject, they really are the experts. We could ask them anything and they knew the answers.

They’re involved with the National Curriculum and everything is related to that, so we were confident that what we were learning was sound, relevant and applicable to the classroom. We had ample opportunity to discuss and clarify issues and terms with real experts.

The course structure was very practical and we used laptops in the classroom to explore the online free lesson plans and activities they’ve created in Englicious.

Did you find any aspects particularly challenging?

Everything was challenging as it was new for us. It’s an intense day and we covered a lot in what it is a pretty dense subject, but the tutors made it interesting and engaging and gave us lots to take away for the classroom.

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Did you find anything surprising?

I think the most surprising aspect was being exposed to the transitions in learning from KS2 to KS3. It was amazing to see how much primary schools were teaching - it’s been statutory for them for three years and they’re doing it really well. Many secondary schools don’t understand what’s being taught earlier and where the gaps might be. We need to learn from all that primary teachers have achieved, and work together in a holistic way across all key stages.

This was where it was really valuable being in a mixed group, across various key stages, as we could understand the whole process.

It was also surprising to really understand the level of anxiety secondary teachers have about grammar. There are now grammar requirements across all subject areas, from photography to physics, so teachers who traditionally left grammar to the English teachers are now finding that they have to teach it as well.

What impact has this course had in the classroom?

Particularly on our inset day, I could see a real 'aha!' moment for many of the teachers. Things suddenly became clear and we’ve all gone back into the classroom with more confidence.

The online resources and lesson plans are also a really practical way to start teaching components straight away in class.

I deliver training in schools so will be passing on the learning. I’ve now spoken to all staff and students in A level English language classes in our school and demonstrated Englicious as a resource so they’re all using it.

We also run a literacy network three times a year. Our next one is in February 2017 and we’re dedicating it to grammar feedback. We’ll all come together and discuss what we’ve used in the classroom and share best practice to build on what we’ve learned since attending English Grammar for Teachers.

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