A Cacophony of Ideas

#English #FEswapShop

Written by Sophie Smithdale, English programme leader at Reaseheath College.

The #FESwapshop event left me feeling full of enthusiasm and excitement which is an achievement considering the time of year, as we rumble towards the photo of Sophies screen on the landing page at the beginning of the dayend of a challenging and exhausting period. This fabulous idea, born from Ideas Room discussions, frustrations of working in FE institutionalised silos, a lack of resources for FE teachers and APConnect was created by Hollie and Chloë. Pracitioners from a wealth of backgrounds presented and joined culminating in an atmosphere of collaboration and community with a buzz of learning and sharing.  We are not alone!

Tried and tested ideas: How to make reading happen in FE. on bright and colourful backgroundDespite the temptation to join every session possible, I focused my attention on GCSE, which opened with the fabulous Elizabeth Draper, who shared her passion and experience of Guided Reading within FE and its impacts. The session was a whistle stop tour, oozing with the passion and dedication Elizabeth always demonstrates when discussing re sit students in FE and reaffirming the power of reading to improve our student’s chances of passing. She highlighted the importance of the ‘asset based approach’, what we can do rather than cant, and the importance of buy in from across the college by building relationships and escaping the ‘English Ghetto’.  Elizabeth highlighted the importance of upskilling staff, reminding us that many staff in FE colleges feel insecure with their English skills and so step away from English initiatives and therefore we must be approachable for all, reminding staff that English isn’t witchcraft, in fact its hidden in plain sight.

screencapture of a tweet with praise for Anne chesterElizabeth was followed by my wonderful colleague Anne Chester from Reaseheath College who wanted to share some findings from our ETF #OTLA project ‘Word Up’.  Anne talked us through the concept of teaching sophisticated vocabulary through the ‘lean’ model; the idea that we stop bombarding our students with new vocabulary every lesson and really hone in on 10 carefully selected, multifunctional words to build knowledge, understanding and confidence.  Anne reminded us how it felt to be faced with unfamiliar vocabulary in a classroom setting and how uncomfortable it can be, particularly for a non-lover of English. It was a powerful moment, as the fabulous @PamelaDaleAP eloquently describes and reminds us to stop and reflect about the impact of our well intended actions on our learners.

Following Anne, it was time to bob into the Adult learners room, where I joined a demonstration using visualisers by Elle Blair from Newcastle College.  Such a fantastic snazzy little tool, yet I seldom use it in my teaching these days despite seeing the Maths team strutting around our department with them.  It was great to see how modelling an answer or annotating a text was made so much more interactive and accessible by simply plugging in this nifty little camera or using the app on your phone.  Definitely one to take away.

Matthew Gordon from Waltham Forest College, and his resources and teaching on the Context of Slavery was my next stop, where we were wowed with his Padlet ‘To my old screen shot of a tweet by SophieMaster’ and ‘Historical Slavery versus Modern Slavery’.  Thinking of my own students in our rural landbased college, this is definitely a subject I’d like to teach to them, challenging their ideas and misconceptions, and having seen these fantastic resources, feel empowered to give it a go.  Matthew also explained his ‘webquest’; a fascinating treasure trail of information for students to search through to find an answer or solution, building independence and resilience.

Josh Spears was next, discussing ideas and impacts of Cultural Poverty, a topic close to my own heart and which we have identified as impacting our students vocabulary in our ‘Word Up’ project mentioned above. Josh spoke passionately about the impacts of Covid on Cultural Capital and how we must consider the roots of our students when looking at GCSE texts; approaching the texts differently, making no assumptions about cultural capital and teaching from a different perspective to account for our resit students potential lack of cultural exposure and experience.   He talked about the power of Google Earth for improving students understanding of a text and on came the light bulb.  Google Earth was a resource I used daily in my old days of teaching Humanities in school, so why I had not thought about its power to help describe a jungle, city or market?  A simple, accessible tool to increase our student’s cultural experience.

Finally, I was able to join the ever enthusiastic and inspirational Jonny Kay for his last five minutes, looking at Leadership in FE. My two take away’s from my quick drop in: I need to read Jonny’s book and ‘honesty and transparency’.

The day came together with a fabulous Ideas Room (if you don’t know what an ideas room is why not join #JoyFE on a Wednesday evening or Friday morning to find out) before Hollie brought us to a close.

The SwapShop was a cacophony of ideas, sharing and celebrating all things English in FE and somehow seems to have opened a window in my silo.

Can’t wait for the next one!

Sophie Smithdale


Sophie Smithdale is a Programme Leader & Examiner English. Mental Health 1st aider. FE Resit cheerleader!