Hexagonal Thinking

This is the post excerpt.

For my first blog post I thought I would open with a mini breakdown around one of my most successful lessons this past academic year.

‘Good artists copy; great artists steal’ – Picasso

I first saw hexagons being used to tackle texts on good old Twitter, I can’t remember the exact post or who it was from (sorry), it also strategy used as part of SOLO taxonomy. Needless to say, it’s not my original idea but it was something that worked well with my students and I will use again.

The purpose of the lesson was for students to make connections between specific words/lines in a poem, ‘Refugee Blues’ by W.H.Auden and themes. Particularly, I wanted to focus on AO2: reading with insight and developing and sustaining interpretations. The students in my class can form initial impressions, but developing these and finding links across a text is a stumbling block for many.

We started the lesson contextually, exploring what it means to be a refugee (given the makeup of my school, we have a number of students who have fled their own countries due to war and fears for safety), exploring what could be meant by ‘the blues’ and began to form first impressions around the poem. I then brought up a slide with key words taken from the poem. Students discussed these in groups and linked thoughts/ideas back to our original impressions based on analysis of the title in order to create a bigger picture around the poem.

We then read the poem as a class and students were given independent annotation time to explore their own impressions of the poem and what the poet was trying to say/do – identifying key words that support their ideas. Rapid fire followed in order to gain feedback quickly and to try and engage an array of students (not the usual hands!).

This led to the group activity with hexagons. I had already lovingly spent hours selecting a small number of quotations and cutting/laminating hexagons ready for students. I also laminated blank hexagons so students could write their own quotations/intentions. The 3 points I had selected as Auden’s intentions behind the poem were:

  • Inequality
  • Show the destruction of war
  • Sympathize with refugee couple

These were also on hexagons in student packs. Students had to match up quotations and link visually, using the shapes to the above intentions, using the blank hexagons to either write further quotations and/or other intentions behind the meaning of the poem.

Further information on this class: Year 11, typical C/D borderline (3/4/5 now – who knows!) some eager, a lot passive, white British boys who hate poetry, students who wanted you to provide all the answers. They did NOT like poetry. Not one bit. We had already looked at 2-3 poems in previous lessons. If the wind had changed they would have looked miserable for the rest of their lives….


This worked. Whether it was the poem, the context behind it, the hexagon activity, a combination of all 3 elements, it worked. The students were engaged in their group discussions, arguments could be heard over links to be made and many of them wanted to show the connections they had made. Seeing links visually helped, ‘it’s like a puzzle and you need to fit the pieces together’ was a key soundbite from talking to the students about the lesson later in the week. All groups made links, all included quotations of their own choosing and a smaller number started to think about other intentions/meanings to the poem. I have used the activity again (with poetry) with a different group and again it seemed to work. I shall continue to experiment with it and my laminator will continue to earn its keep.

None of the above is rocket science or unicorn dust or something to shout from the mountains but it is something that helped engage my students with poetry and something that helped to generate thought provoking discussion around a poet’s intentions.

Thanks for reading.




Edexcel Examiners’ Report: Literature

Edexcel Examiners’ report Literature

Yesterday I published the examiners’ report summary for Language. Attached above is the summary for Literature. I have followed the same format as before (thanks @SusanSEnglish).

We taught AIC for 20th Century, Romeo and Juliet for Shakespeare and the Relationship anthology. I have included Macbeth in my summary as that was the most popular play  so thought this may help many of you 🙂

I have also included Conflict for poetry as again this was the most popular cluster so hopefully it will be of help. At the bottom is an overall summary of key points. I have also included questions I will be discussing with my team on Monday and points we need to consider with regards to the year ahead. There is more to the list but gives you an idea.

Please feel free to edit as required. The Literature report link is at the top of the post.

I will be creating a student friendly version of both this and the language report, when completed I will share.



Edexcel Examiners’ report: Language summary

I have been unpicking the Edexcel report for my department for Language and Literature. I always find this interesting; how close is the report to my own understanding of how the exam went, how students responded, what I feel are strengths and weaknesses. I feel positive that both my own thoughts and that of the report are in line with each other, in this age of uncertainity it is nice to know I am not barking up the wrong tree all the time!

I’ve included the condensed version of the Language reports here: Examiners’ report Language hopefully it will save some of you a job and you will find it helpful. I have stolen the structure from the brilliant Susan Strachan (@SusanSEnglish) I hope you don’t mind Susan! Please feel free to use/add to it. If you do make improvements (and that can definitely happen) please send it back my way 🙂

I will go over this with my department in our meeting on Monday and think about our journey forwards. I have included department points at the bottom, this will be added to as I gain the thoughts and perspectives of those in my department.

I am also doing the same for Literature and will share when finished.



Marking lessons: Q1-4 reading

This year I undertook exam marking for the first time for Edexcel, marking Language paper 1. I took on board advice from peers regarding time management and listened to those who asked me to think long and hard before taking on such a commitment. I turned down a second contract, one I was going to take up alongside the Language one on the advice of seasoned exam markers and I am glad I did. It was exhausting, more so than I realised, even with advice & warnings given. However, I am glad I did it and below are some of the things I learnt along the way regarding the reading questions (Q1-4). Hope you find them useful.

(1) Really read the question.

An obvious one but for questions 1 and 2 in particular, students need to really read the question. Most of Q1/2 were marked by graduate markers, however I came across a number when marking whole scripts on SAMOS. Some students had obviously rushed these two questions and selected evidence outside of the line parameters given. This happened as they didn’t read the question properly or take notice of the line numbers. They also need to ensure they understand the focus of the question, what point does it want you to find evidence for?

Tip: I told students to read the questions and underline the focus and then for Q1-3 to draw a box around the section the answer(s) could be found in. We did this as part of the WTM and it worked really well, helping to focus students and stop silly mistakes. After their GCSE Language exams, a number of students told me they had used this technique and it had helped ensure they selected evidence from the right section. They do listen sometimes! 🙂

(2) Structure for Q3 is important!

During exam marking, a particular response to question 3 broke my heart. The language analysis was brilliant, the student was obviously of a high ability and had been taught very well. However, there was no mention of structure, not even a sniff of it anywhere in the answer. So a 6/6 response automatically became a 2/6 as answers that do not acknowledge language and structure cannot progress out of band 1. It is that brutal. There is no flexibilty here. Students need to talk about language and structure. However it DOES NOT need to be a 50-50 split. There just needs to be an acknowledgment that they both exist. This will nudge you into band 2. For top responses (especially paper 2 when looking at whole extract) discussion on how they support each other and a couple of points on both will help move towards the higher marks.

Tip: For the majority of my students, they struggled with structure more than language. Therefore their first point in their response was to be structure focused before they moved to language analysis where they were more comfortable. This worked particularly well with grades 1-3  and allowed them to move into band 2. For grades 4+ I tried to support them with a sandwich approach: structure, language, language, structure. Again we looked for links we could make to help organise the structure between the devices.

(3) Ban the word ‘shows’

This shows the writer…….

The use of this word shows……


I once read a student response that used the word ‘shows’ 14 times. 14. I then banned it from my classroom. My students’ use of analytical language improved tenfold. It helped them develop their analysis as they used response verbs to illustrate feeling/atmosphere created in a text. It also allowed them to develop their understanding of the impact a text can have on a reader. Their work felt and sounded more analytical as a result. The better quality responses in the exam didn’t need to use ‘shows’ as they had a whole repertoire at their disposal.

Tip: Start this early on, ideally at KS3. Have a list of analytical language on your board, stick in their books, create a display. Use it in your own examples and get them to identify where you have used it. Go through the differences in using illustrates to epitomises

For very low ability, focus on 1-2 response verbs: represents, highlights (2 examples)

(4) Evaluation is very formulaic (Q4)

It is also bloody hard. I do not like the evaluation question. I really didn’t like it after my exam training on it. There was one response in particular in our training session that caused a stir. One we read and as a table agreed it was a strong response and deserved a band 5. However, the lack of evaluative language pulled it down to band 4. When you read the mark scheme, the word evaluation only features in band 5 (13 – 15 marks). That in itself is puzzling, when evaluation is the skill being assessed. Yet the word analysis is the focus for band 3. What this question, for me, boils down to is the use of evaluative language to sign post that evaluation is taking place.

Tip: The use of S.I.T.E is important (setting, ideas, themes, events) and as a department we also taught SPECS (successfully, purposefully, effectively, clearly or cleverly, skilfully). We asked students to write SPECS on the page to remind them to use the words and plan using S.I.T.E. Not all 4 elements were always used. Often for paper 1 as it is a fiction text; setting and events were more suited.  We encouraged students to use evaluative words as sentence openers to ensure they were used in the exam. From marking papers, this approach seemed to work and allowed students to achieve band 3+

Another thing to consider for evaluation is that students do not need to go in-depth with the use of evidence. Save that for Q3. General quotations are fine as are references to the text. Identifying the use of a word type was popular in exam papers and linking this to the question asked worked well.

(5) Link back to the question

Q3 & Q4. Again, an obvious one and an oldie but still relevant. With everything going on, students need to link back to the question.

Tip: For Q3 and Q4, we focused students at the tail end of the question asked. What key words could they identify? Once underlined they had to use these in their response to help ensure the question was being answered. This particularly helped our weakest students (Level 1- 2) and some of our high fliers who tend to get swept away in their response and forget what was actually asked of them.

Hope this is helpful to some of you, I will try and put something together for writing but I know there have been some excellent threads out there around this element of the exam. Any feedback appreciated.



Hey, it’s ok…

There are many blogs and articles out there regarding lessons learnt, philosophies around leadership from people who really know what they are talking about. Inspired by a recent question from @TeachEnglish146 and various posts linked by #womened I decided to put this together, it doesn’t include everything learnt and will be added to as more lessons become apparent. It is also Sunday night, I don’t have that ‘Sunday feeling’  (woop!) but I do have toothache and writing this post is also distracting me from the fact half of my face feels like it has been repeatedly punched (sob). Stealing the layout from a typical girlie magazine (oh the shame) here are a few things I have learnt/will endeavour to take forward into my next year as Head of English.*

Hey, it’s ok… to not know everything. I have struggled (am still struggling) with this. Taking on the role of leading the department, I felt I should have all the answers, all the time, for everyone. It was/is exhausting. The issue here, for me anyway, is you feel you look stupid if you do not know the answer, if you can’t respond with the answer within the alloted 30 seconds upon being asked the question. YOU DON’T. It is in your head. In this ever-changing educational landscape it is impossible to know everything. All you can do is know what you do know really well and add to this solid foundation by associating with knowledgeable others (little bit of Vygotsky for you) and reading around your subject, around leadership. Also, be patient. You don’t need to have all the answers straight away, sometimes the fun is in the journey to the answer.

Hey, it’s ok…to want to know everything. On the flipside, it is ok to want to know things, to want to know these things NOW and get slightly frustrated when you realise there is still more to know. Be greedy. Read lots. Ask lots of questions. It doesn’t make you pushy, it is what makes you the person you are and for me is one of the reasons I got my promotion. I sought out opportunities to learn more, I probably annoyed both of my HODs as I constantly asked to do more, to take on projects and asked a million questions (no hint of hyperbole here, I like questions) It is a little (actually a lot) clichéd but knowledge is power. The important thing to take forward here is to use that greed, that frustration of not knowing everything and put it to good use, developing yourself as a practitioner/leader and developing your department. Don’t let it dishearten or demoralise you.

Hey, it’s ok…to ask for help. In a similar vein to the first point. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. WonderWoman (good film) is often used to represent the strength of women but even she doesn’t win all her battles on her own. She has a community to lean on, to turn to for help and advice. I am learning to ask for help, that sitting for hours trying to crunch data, write an action plan, organise intervention is not an effective use of anyone’s time. By asking others you don’t admit to weakness, you show a willingness to learn and that is a good thing is anyone’s book.

Hey, it’s ok…to switch off. Actually this is essential and is a lesson I am learning fast. In order to be a good teacher, to be a good leader, you need to have time for yourself. Now anyone who is reading this and knows me will start to link together images of a kettle, a pot and the colour black…Do as I say, not as I (currently) do. Watch films, read for pleasure, see family and friends, take up hobbies, sleep, exercise. It helps you to focus on the tasks at hand, allows you to be more productive with your time and reminds you that work is NOT the be all and end all. Encourage those in your department to switch off and lead by example.

Hey, it’s ok…to delegate. You don’t have to do it all. Maybe…..just maybe…you are not the best person for the task at hand. Look at the strengths in your department, look at areas that require development for individuals and support them in promoting and strengthening these skill sets. What are your priorities within your role? You can’t do it all and shouldn’t do it all. Great leaders provide a learning environment that helps to encourage everyone they lead to improve (Dylan Williams) by providing opportunities through delegation you are recognising the talents that exist around you and utilising them to help drive the department forward. This benefits you, your team and in turn, the students. I am a control freak and struggle to let go, I am getting better at this, I think….

Hey, it’s NOT ok…to ask others to do things you don’t want to do. I really believe in this. Lead by example. How can I conduct a work scrutiny knowing my books have not been marked for an age (actually thinking about that brings me out in a cold sweat) At the same time my standards are ridiculous. I can’t reach them (literally – I am little but figuratively as well). I am learning to not beat myself up when I don’t scale the giddy heights of my expectations and also when it is appropriate to have standards that rival the Burj Khalifa and when it is ok to have them, say at the height of Big Ben. Don’t shirk the crappy jobs, don’t side step the groups from hell. Most importantly, have standards you agree on as a team. We have a mark every 2 weeks policy in our school which, for English, is not always doable. Think about what you want marking (or anything else for that matter) to achieve and time needed to reflect this. Then put this standard in place. One important piece of advice I took from Mark Robert’s blog (@mr_englishteach) when I first started as HOD was to ‘have non-negotiables’. Which leads me to…

Hey, it’s ok to have non-negotiables. There is a lot out there about collaborating as a team and establishing a strong sense of democracy within a department. I fully agree with both of these concepts. However, it is ok to have things that you insist on. It is not about throwing your weight around, stamping your feet and saying ‘I am in charge so you must obey’, that is never a pretty picture and if you don’t lose all self-respect after the act, you will when it is uploaded on YouTube. It is about what, for you as the leader of the department, you feel are the absolute essential basics. The golden rules. The lines that are not to be crossed. As Mark stated in his blog about being a HOD, these lines are may need to be drawn and re-drawn on a regular basis. Mine are very similar to his and I would imagine very similar to most who teach, let alone run a department: (1) High expectations for all students (2) Delivery of lessons which challenge and push all students. I expect my team to plan good lessons, that is our bread and butter, strip away all TLRs and it is the most important thing. I expect the lessons to challenge students and develop them as learners. I do not expect this to happen in the first 20 minutes, last 10 minutes but I do expect to see progress over time and if there are concerns that these are raised at the earliest opportunity, not after horse has bolted. High expectations goes hand in hand with challenge. Our students come from very deprived backgrounds, from communities where there are no aspirations, where there is no drive, no positivity around the words ‘school’ or ‘learning’. We have to provide and nurture that for all students, not just our favourites – ALL.

Hey, it’s ok to say no. Even to SLT. English and maths have been instrumental in establishing PiXL in our school over the last year. It has been hard. It has made extra demands on our departments, on us as leaders. Both myself and the HOD for maths have had to put the brakes on the PiXL juggernaut at times, in order to ensure the needs of our departments are heard, the well-being of our teams was protected. I am lucky. The SLT at my school listened to us, we worked as a big PiXL family and the tricky thing now is moving forward with this. We managed to secure things last year for our team I know we can’t do this next year, yet the workload remains the same. So we have already said there will be other things we will say no to, that there needs to be acknowledgement that during key points in the year, some things may be off kilter slightly. Again, saying no is not about throwing toy out of the pram. If you say no to SLT have a bloody good argument to back you up, demonstrate why your decision is the best one. You are the expert in your field, stick to your guns when you know or feel your way is in the best interests for all.

Well this turned out longer than expected. As stated previously this is not all lessons learnt. Just a few gathered together. Many other fine people have blogged about similar so this is just another voice but hopefully will be of interest and of help to some.

Thanks for reading!


* Background to me as HOD. Took on maternity cover (I was the surprise choice) then took role full time. Going into third year in September if you count the mat cover. Trained in the school as PGCE, had been there 5 years when I was promoted to HOD. It was a baptism by fire moving from classroom teacher to HOD and an interesting shift for myself and the department as previously I had been the mentee. However, I need to stress they have all been fantastic (and still are) and I am very lucky to have their support.