Opening Doors December 2017

Opening Doors to Progress:  Using Objectives Imaginatively

This year I’ve been supporting schools across the UK, from Cheshire to Kent and from Birmingham to Dorset.  It’s been thrilling!  There are many ways in which English teaching is developing but I’ve noted particularly good responses to the ideas that I’ve presented about using learning objectives in fresh ways and to more effect:

1)  As questions.

2)  Phrased with much broader aims in mind, expressed as narratives or journeys.


I’ll give you some examples.  It’s the text which gets teacher and pupil excited, so this can be explored first without any mention of objectives.

“… But Heathcliff, if I dare you now, will you venture?  If you do, I’ll keep you.  I’ll not lie thee by myself; they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over me, but I won’t rest till you are with me … I never will.”

From Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

The questions come rolling out – whether from post-its, white-space thinking or our own interventions.

Why is the word ‘dare’ used?

Why ‘keep’?  What kind of ownership is this?

How can a church be ‘thrown’?

How has the semicolon helped the meaning?

Is this a bit weird?


Much more text can be offered, but, for the purpose of a short blog, the point has been made about the vital place of questioning and curiosity, especially with challenging texts.  So, instead of a predictable objective, often limited in scope, why not now introduce:

Can you find creative ways to express a character’s powerful emotions?

Pupils have found the dialogue associated with this exciting, and it sets a deep learning journey for all.  Stages of the journey can be planned for – with pupils progressing at their own rate, but with the whole class collectively sharing the objective.  That enables a mastery learning approach to become a habit and keeps the wonder of the text and the writing it stimulates at the heart of the learning.  Of course, specific and important aspects of improving writing can be targeted too; for example, using prepositional phrases or prefixes/suffixes, but they can then be taught in context and, along with many aspects of SPandG, you will be teaching how technique supports the meaning.

Do read this piece by a nine-year-old, making good progress on the open-ended objective:

“In the dark, dusty attic, I had been sitting on the hard wooden floor, trying to forget the replaying events in my mind.  Me, standing at home, in the spare lifeless bedroom, staring at the creepy mirror next to the table.  I never remembered that being there.

All of a sudden, my attention changed from that image to something much scarier, something that made me freeze in fright for a second.  My blood turned to ice.  My heart stopped beating.  There was only silence.  The mirror, the mirror I saw in that horrifying event was there.  A scarlet cloth lay peacefully next to it.  Walking forward anxiously, I faced the mirror, holding the cloth like a bullfighter would.  Before covering the mirror though, my feelings changed.  I couldn’t resist a tiny look.”

Hopefully, you want to read on!  Please see our pupils’ work website – you’ll find the work from which the above extract is taken in the 10–13 section, and it’s from Ravenscote Junior School.

Opening Doors to Famous Poetry and Prose – link

Opening Doors to Quality Writing (ages 6–9) – link

Opening Doors to Quality Writing (ages 10–13) – link

The same principles can be applied at Key Stage 1 of course, and ‘Opening Doors’ schools are enjoying using some of these objectives – though, I stress, effective dialogic talk must be an integral part of the way the objectives are used.  Cold statements pinned to the wall will achieve little.  As pupils learn to love the literature, and the lesson too, through the text and the dialogues, they should understand more about the ‘why’, and not just the ‘what’ of the overall process.  It’s still that magic formula – the relationship between pupil and teacher – that unlocks the mysteries of the text and the rationale behind the learning.

Try these objectives from Opening Doors to Quality Writing (ages 6–9):

‘How successfully can you use repetition in a poem’?  (See ‘Slowly’ by James Reeves.)

Can you create a funny moment in a poem to make your friends laugh?  (See ‘Daddy Fell into the Pond’ by Alfred Noyes.)

Can you give your fantasy creature an original personality?  (See ‘The Psammead’ from ‘Five Children and It’.)

There is huge momentum built in a room when everyone understands how much more there is to learn and how exciting a quality text can be.  A rich, deeper journey for all gives the scope for benchmarking routes as appropriate for each pupil, to include greater depth in expectations, and to give your pupils experiences of famous literature en route.  You can assess progress and give advice accordingly in an integral and inclusive way.


You may find the articles and ideas of the following useful.  Their work has certainly influenced me:

Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment, Research and Development at Cambridge Assessment.

Eyre, Deborah (2016) High Performance Learning: How to Become a World Class School.  Oxon: Routledge


Brontë, Emily (1995 [1847]).  Wuthering Heights.  Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics.

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