I was talking with some of my pupils about a question they were struggling with. This started me thinking about how the way a question is written and the language used can often distract the students from what the question is asking.

We were looking at shapes and the language of shapes by building complex shapes (like bottles and packaging) from simple ones.

MarmiteI talked to them about what they could find out in the question, and what they could work out from what they knew. But what they were struggling with (or distracted by) was the word Marmite.

The issue that had stopped them working was not a technical one, as I would see it. It was superficial to the lesson, but it was causing a blockage.

They had started talking about what it was, and stopped thinking about the language of shape.

One started calling it a bottle of Marmit.
“No”, said another, “it’s Mar-MITE.”
“Yes”, I said, “because of the magic e?”
“It’s not a magic e,” they said, “it’s a split digraph.”

So they all knew what a split digraph was, but they all could not read the word. And at the time I was annoyed about it. I wasn’t really sure why, but I was cross. Not cross because I had not heard of the phrase ‘split digraph’ before and they knew something I did not. But cross because they knew it, but could not use it. Why do we bother telling them it’s called a ‘split digraph’ when actually ‘magic e’ is just as likely to be useful? Does using the complex term make it easier to use it?

Later on, I thought about my own subject, where those short cuts are used all the time.

For example:
Over the magic fairy = bridge and changes sides or 2 negatives make a positive because the 2 lines cross

Fairy

Symbols

That sort of thing makes me cross when I hear it in my subject, and I wonder why they bothered to teach them those short cuts at all. So why am I expecting student not to use the specific language in English?

Diagram

And that got me thinking about the elements that students need to be able to read the words that they need to access the work they are doing.

They are required to understand something (ie change the sound of the 1st e) on a sequencing or concrete level, to then be able to apply that to the abstract and unfamiliar situation, make links and spell Marmite.

And that is exactly what I don’t want for my subject. Students should not be distracted from making progress because they can’t read words or know what words mean, if those words are just a distraction. We should be careful in the words we use, and I should find out more about KS1 English!

Sometimes I’m guilty of thinking that if a pupil knows the name of the process, then they understand the process.

We want to make sure that the question is testing or developing their maths not distracting them with language they don’t understand or references that don’t have any relevance. So I’m going to try to make sure my new resources do that.