Jess Reynolds is a KS2 Class Teacher and English Subject Leader at Kellett School in Hong Kong. Here she shares her top tips for English Leaders.
Leading English is extremely rewarding, but it can also feel like an overwhelming task at times, especially for any teachers new to this position! Having worked in both the UK and Hong Kong, I thought it might be useful to share some handy tips for any English leaders already working or considering moving abroad.
When you start working in an international school, you will quickly realize that both pupils and teachers are very transient, and both the staff you are working with and the children you teach will likely change regularly. Because of this, it is very important to map out your curriculum and ensure teachers are aware of which books are taught in each year group. Teachers always bring amazing ideas to new schools and are often passionate about introducing units of work they have previously used. While this is brilliant for staff collaboration and keeping ideas fresh, a level of caution should be undertaken when changing your curriculum too regularly. Children should be exposed to a variety of high-quality and varied texts. These texts should support the children in becoming confident writers, with purpose and audience at the focus of their unit outcomes. To avoid repetition across year groups or gaps in coverage, provide a long-term overview of which units are in place in each year group.
Hitting the ground running is tricky without flip chart paper and sentence strips! Complete your resource order in your Summer term so your teachers are equipped with fully resourced classrooms in the Autumn of the next academic year. Orders are often made to UK websites, but you will need to adjust your arrival time expectations as deliveries take a lot longer than you might expect! This is another reason why a clearly mapped out curriculum is important so that you know what each year group is teaching well ahead of time and you can add book deliveries or resources class teachers need well ahead of time!
One of the amazing perks of working in the UK as a teacher is the local authority groups you get to attend, where you can collaborate and meet teachers from other schools. You often bring books and planning along, and you are able to share ideas and resources. International schools are obviously much more spread out, and it takes a bit more effort from the individual to make connections with practitioners in other schools. A great idea is to start a cluster group of English leads in the country you are in. You can extend this internationally to other close-by time zones which work well for you. To make these connections, you can email schools directly or join a federation such as FOBISIA, which allows you to meet other practitioners on courses and at school competitions. You can also utilise the connections Pobble can create for you! Pobble offers moderation courses where you can meet teachers from around the world. These introductions are very valuable and can help facilitate collaboration and moderation across schools.
Pobble is a great way to help your school moderate fairly and accurately. Their courses and networking opportunities allow you to meet teachers from other schools and discuss writing pieces you can upload and view on their platform. I also always find their writing exemplars very useful. These are particularly useful as Pobble provides examples of writing from each year group, rather than just simply the end of each key stage. These are very handy for teachers who are new to a year group and would benefit from viewing examples of writing expectations for that year group.
It is important to stay current with research, engage in educational debates, and bring research-supported strategies to your department. Considering the science of learning and cognitive load will help your teachers plan more effective lessons, where learning is chunked appropriately, and hard thinking is activated. A child’s capacity to plan and monitor their writing depends on whether they have enough cognitive resources available. The Simple View of Writing highlights the key groups of skills that work together as children write and can be a very useful model to refer to.
The model places working memory in the centre, emphasising how it plays a role in enabling each of these skills to operate. The EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) provides a great source of research-based guidelines for reading and writing. One of my favourite authors who works for the EEF is Alex Quigley, and I would highly recommend that any English lead read his books!
Some of my favourite apps to publish on and utilize in class are: Book Creator, Explain Everything, Seesaw (blog), and Google Classroom (stream and feedback). Book Creator allows children to publish their stories into a digital book where they can add illustrations and special effects. Students can practice their fluency by recording themselves reading what they have written, and they can check for comprehension by having their books read back to them. Explain Everything is brilliant for presentations, collecting research, or as a means for students to demonstrate their learning. Both Seesaw and Google Classroom are invaluable spaces for teachers to collate and disseminate resources to support their students.
Artificial Intelligence text generation tools like ChatGPT have sparked fierce debate in education recently. There have been many forums and blogs highlighting the benefits for teacher workload; however, there has also been backlash among authors and illustrators who feel AI could jeopardize the creative process. While I understand these concerns, I would suggest welcoming AI tools but with a critical mind. Sean McMinn, director of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s (HKUST) Centre for Education and Innovation, supports the use of AI in schools, stating, “Generative AI tools are not going to go away. They will only adapt and become more advanced... It is our responsibility as educators to prepare students for an AI-driven world and future work.” (Read more here). He also goes on to add, “Embracing the technology doesn’t mean we do so uncritically. We must be mindful of both the beneficial and detrimental outcomes of using ChatGPT.” I echo this message today and urge teachers to reap the benefits of this useful tool but to do so critically. It isn't simply a quick fix! As educators, we are all certainly aware that the craft of writing is a complex one and one which takes a great deal more than a tick list of generated success criteria. Vocabulary needs to be taught and explored, edits and improvements should be discussed aloud, and the teacher should be facilitating this process. Simply providing a child with a finished piece of writing will give them no insight or practice into how it was created or indeed the journey it undertook to produce.
Hopefully, some of these ideas, discussion points, and tips have been useful! Follow me on Twitter: @JessReynoldsHK to give me any feedback on these tips!