Preparing for Success: Progression through Cambridge Lower Secondary English

Boy in classroom

By Dean Roberts

For 32 years, Dean Roberts has been involved in many facets of education across the globe. He has been an inspector of schools, conducted teacher training in English language in many countries, designed and implemented teacher development projects, and has contributed to long-term school development projects as a consultant to Cambridge University, ECIS and others. Dean has also been a consultant for Ministries of Education in Singapore, Swaziland, Hong Kong, The Bahamas, and Thailand. In English language and literature, Dean has been an international conference facilitator – he is an ex-teacher, Head of Department at three schools, an expert in IGCSE and A level, and he was a Principal Examiner for IGCSE English for 15 years. He has been an assessment specialist of English for 22 years.

The way that an 11 year old engages with English compared to how a 15 year old approaches the same task is a journey equally as interesting for both the passenger and the driver. As with any long trip, it’s a good idea to plan well ahead. Careful planning turns the travelling into a progression, stopping off at useful transition points, and as such it can be carefully designed and monitored.

That was our premise when our team of authors were at the conceptual stage of the Lower Secondary English series. To engage younger learners on their journeys we decided on a thematic approach bringing colourful and lively content that would focus their eyes and minds. Spine-chilling suspense, manic media, hazardous hobbies, joyous journeys, hairy history, and nurturing nature. You can see where we were going with these descriptors.  

“Welcome to OUP’s Complete English … it will be a hairy, scary, exciting journey, with amazing arts, terrific technology and digital diversity thrown in also.”

In the beginning there is Year 7 and Year 8

For Years 7 and 8, we approached progression as a single phase. Themes are developed, key concepts are established and refined, less frequent and more challenging vocabulary is added, grammar skills are scaffolded with bigger and higher scaffolds, writing skills are broadened and writing frames are provided to cover a fuller range of styles and registers.

In the 2021 revised series we have updated our approach to assessment bringing assessment for learning to the fore. ‘Mini-tests’ feature after each of the nine units that look like an end of Key Stage exam, but don’t quite feel so formal and imposing. Tucked away nicely with the mini-tests is a mechanism for learners to measure how their key skills are developing. It’s a formative approach, with plenty of opportunities for feedback and feedforward from the teacher. Each unit ends with a sense of achievement, and a hint of greater expectations!

We would all agree that the world is changing more in the early 2020s than perhaps for decades. The pandemic and shifting political alliances are examples that should not be ignored in the school classroom, not least in the English classroom. A new feature in our revised series is very timely – the integration of global perspectives, and in a mapped and thought-provoking way. Students engage with their local communities, and their national cultures, to consider global issues and implications.  

Global perspectives are linked to the main themes and topics arising out of the reading and listening spreads, and in the Student Books, our authors raise the debate. Given that the series has 54 of these internationally-minded issues to discuss, it’s a wide range of relevant activities. In the Teacher Handbook our approach to the follow-up work is to promote collaboration, and certainly not to expect long analytical essays. We bring in speaking skills to raise the issues in a way that working with peers is enjoyable and effective. All of the global perspective tasks are only assessed formatively with teacher and peer feedback. The progression is one of maturity. By the end of Year 9 students are engaging with real-world issues that we hope will offer some clarity and build confidence in younger people to understanding what is happening in the adult world around them.

And then there is Year 9

It’s an oddity of education in our schools that in the 2020s, while we all want to see more AfL practices in the classroom, there is also a strong call for more summative-style, assessment of learning testing. Some teachers will decry the increased emphasis on examinations; others welcome the objectivity they bring. We have taken a middle path and have provided greater emphasis on both.

We have worked hard in the series, and especially in the key transition moment at the end of Year 9 and into Year 10 to promote differentiated learning by task-setting and by outcome.

In our Year 9 student book, we have introduced a brand new ‘Assessment Workshop’ at the end of each unit which is designed around OUP’s new 4Es approach: establish, engage, evaluate, and enable. The workshops are stand-alone sessions which re-iterate key skills for success in Year 9 tests, and in some cases progression towards what to expect at IGCSE level. Students build these skills in a formative (engage) way before following-up with a summative (enable) task. It’s not quite the flipped classroom but it’s halfway there!

The workshops are complemented by formative key skills quizzes for each Unit in our updated Workbooks and in the Year 9 Workbook we have expanded these with extra pages. We have re-focused the tasks so that vocabulary, grammar, structures, and syntax are prominent and can be engaged with formatively.

Peer assessment is still encouraged in the establish, engage, and evaluate sections of the workshops, as curriculum skills and knowledge is refined and improved. However, for Year 9, for 14 year olds, we felt that they would benefit more from being enabled – i.e. enabled not just to reflect on the ‘story’ of their success (as they did in the Years 7 and 8 student books) but to make a more mature self-evaluation of their progress with regard to external factors, for example, the Checkpoint Tests. A progression towards the grown-up world of external and imposed assessment.

If you want more summative, exam-style assessment practice for your students as they near the end of Year 9, then look to our Kerboodle offering as our authors, all experienced setters of external exams, have written six full Checkpoint examinations.

Now let’s have a dose of creativity please

All teachers of English are more than able to show their creative sides in the classroom, with ice-breakers to shake up the monotony of a boring lesson to come, incorporating hands-on quirky learning activities to stimulate and inspire, and the ‘sit back down now and let’s reflect on what we did’ moment. But how do you progress creativity in the English classroom? How do you ensure that a similar activity done in the first term of Year 7 can be stretched out to work just as well with a group of 14 year olds heading towards Year 10?

The Year 9 Student Book themes have undergone significant refurbishment to bring them in-line with the topics being debated today.

We have worked hard in the series, and especially in the key transition moment at the end of Year 9 and into Year 10 to promote differentiated learning by task-setting and by outcome. We went back to good old Benjamin Bloom, and we feel that the revised taxonomy of 2001 still has solid grounding for the design of English lessons, whether learning language skills or reading literature.

Our Year 9 Student Book features enhanced Understanding sections after every reading and listening text to ensure that lower order skills transition to higher order skills, with the target of a creative follow-up based on the scaffold of analysis, application, and evaluation skills. Progression of students’ creative output is built into this design.

The world today

I have mentioned our coverage of global perspectives earlier in the blog. I wanted to end with a message that it isn’t just in those tasks and activities where we look at contemporary themes.

The Year 9 Student Book themes have undergone significant refurbishment to bring them in-line with the topics being debated today. We now have a Unit on Influencers, and a unit looking at the impact of tourism, pushing for eco-tourism. We have three Units that investigate the past, the world at present, and what things might be like in the future.

We learned from our own reflective practice and realised that we needed to be creative in plotting a slightly different, updated journey through the series. We have progression which is now built-in to the Year 9 Student Book units; not as an add-on or a lay-by on a road with a signpost saying: ‘Find your IGCSE Pathway here’. No, we have made this transition integral, part of the whole journey to IGCSE. We hope to have succeeded but it will our teachers and students who will be judges of our progression.

Explore Lower Secondary English resources by visiting the Cambridge Lower Secondary Complete English webpage where you can find out more about the resources available, explore sample pages and request digital inspection copies. Interested in the blended learning solution of Kerboodle? Find out more here and register your school for a free trial.