By Alison Boyd-Boland, Dean of English
“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine” – Emily Dickinson.
Emily Dickinson’s comment captures what is at the heart of the study of English and literature – a recognition of the power of the written word to convey meaning, to transport us to other times and places, and to inspire and extend our thinking.
With a renewed focus on The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and the increasing pressure around these tests, Trinity’s English department is embracing these challenges by balancing the essential skills of functional literacy and communication, while also fostering genuine engagement with a variety of literary texts across multiple genres and periods.
Integration of literacy skills throughout the units of work in Years 7 to 9 has been increased by making more practice NAPLAN tests available to the boys, introducing a grammar book which is part of the Years 7 and 8 programme (continuing into Year 9 in 2018), and assessments and class tasks are now framed to provide more experience in imaginative and persuasive writing.
Teachers at Trinity have completed training and professional learning in the explicit teaching of writing skills and several staff members have undertaken training in marking NAPLAN to develop their insight into the skills and criteria required.
The NSW Education Standards Authority’s (NESA) introduction of a new Stage 6 syllabus provides us the opportunity to develop new and exciting programmes. This syllabus offers greater scope for both analytical and creative writing and both the Standard and Advanced courses have dedicated units to explore and experiment with the craft of writing.
Other positive changes include the addition of a research project in the Extension 1 course, where students learn and apply skills in research methodology – essential for studies beyond school.
Trinity’s planned units of work are appealing, dynamic and challenging giving the boys experience of classic and contemporary literature that explores a variety of ethical and societal concerns.
Thinking, and particularly critical thinking, is an essential skill that the English department is committed to addressing, particularly by adopting Harvard Visible Thinking routines. Designed to become habitual, the routines help students tap into their thought processes and make subconscious cognitive processes ‘visible.’ They teach thinking skills which can assist students to transition from facts and content to deeper critical engagement and evaluation.
The emphasis on making thinking and learning more visible is enhanced by changes to Trinity’s learning spaces. Teachers have embraced new technologies and classroom design that moves away from traditional ‘chalk and talk’ to a more collaborative, dynamic and flexible approach.
Walking through Trinity corridors it’s very clear that learning is driving and shaping learning spaces, rather than the other way around. Furniture is frequently moved to suit the learning needs and focus of different classes. Break out spaces in corridors, which allow students and staff to meet and collaborate, are proving very popular and effective.
New writeable surfaces encourage students to brainstorm, share ideas and stretch each other’s thinking, and new technology enables teachers and students to showcase learning from anywhere in the classroom.
The positive effects of these improvements are already evident and practices will continue to be reviewed to ensure the boys are gaining maximum benefit.
At Trinity Grammar School each boy is known, cared for and guided to grow in mind, body and spirit through an extensive range of world class educational programmes. For over a century, Trinity has inspired boys to realise their potential, passions and purpose within the context of a supportive Christian environment.
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