Over the past week or so I have been redrafting version 1 of a unit of mine on the short story ‘The Story of an Hour.’ As I revisit this scheme, I am shocked by my lack of knowledge and the very surface level nature of my teaching when it came to the first teaching of this text.
This has led me to reflect on how we support novice teachers or teachers who join a new school and are, therefore, faced with learning a wide range of new texts ready for teaching.
Reading and research
If we want our knowledge of a text to be sound, then we have to not only read the text but read around the text. This past week I have spent time reading and researching what influenced Kate Chopin to write this story. I have learnt about technological advancement, the rail road, the Gasconade Bridge disaster, the onset of telegrams, Victorian morality, selfhood versus self-assertion, dramatic versus situational irony, romanticism versus realism / naturalism and the use of symbolism. All of these have had some influence on the writing of The Story of an Hour.
In conducting this research and reading, I feel that I have gained a greater understanding of the story. But what I have also found in conducting this research is that I have been able to step back from the text to give consideration to the bigger ideas. This has been useful in identifying what is most relevant for the teaching of this text and has made the creation of big questions a whole lot easier for the framing of my new unit of work.
However, it is the holidays and we have long stretches of time available. What happens when we return to the frenetic nature of the day to day? We definitely do not have as much time to read and research then. How can we mitigate this?
Good quality planning
I work in a team of incredibly experienced teachers. And whilst I have reflected a lot about what is necessary when it comes to planning (LTP, MTP, STP), the reality is that we have seen the team change over the past couple of years. This year, we have four new teachers joining us. Many of these teachers will be teaching core texts for the first time – and although expert teachers, they will be novices when it comes to these texts. As a Head of Department, I need to think how I can mitigate this and support teachers’ knowledge development of our core texts.
Good medium term planning or the creation of core knowledge sheets would just give new teachers the kick start they need to approach a text for the first time and help them to establish the most important core content for coverage. Having spent a week reading and researching The Story of an Hour, I would consider it important that I share that knowledge to save other people having to do the same. Couple this with the sharing of resources on a centralized platform, and the support put in place for new colleagues starts to look more substantial. I am still surprised at how few colleagues share in this centralized way, as it has a significant impact on workload.
Knowing your team
There has been a lot of talk recently about subject audits. At first, I was worried that this may come across as patronizing to the staff within our department but, actually, I think it is essential. Knowing where staff feel they have the most expertise and the least expertise is useful in guiding the time you have together as a department. It can help you to establish your priorities as a department. It also means that you can utilize staff better, with teachers who have expertise in particular areas leading training for staff who feel less confident. They could also be buddied up to review the planning for a particular text.
Utilising department time
Using meeting time to develop subject knowledge has become more common practice. Using experts within the department to deliver a session on a particular text, exploring and discussing interpretations of a text together and collaborative planning are all ways in which staff can feel supported with the development of their subject knowledge. Ensuring development is at the heart of any meeting is so fundamentally crucial in supporting a department to move forward.
What concerns me the most is the variability. In any one team, when it comes to the teaching of any core unit, there will be experts and there will be novices. This is especially true when new staff join the team. When I think back to my teaching of The Story of an Hour for the first time, it is undoubtedly true that pupils in my colleagues’ class had a richer experience with that text because of their expertise and my lack of knowledge. The effect of this is a varied pupil experience with regard to the quality of teaching and I would argue that it is the role of the Head of Department to provide opportunities to reduce this within department variation, using the methods above. It is certainly something I am going to give more time to next year.
I would love to hear any further ideas as we head into the next academic year