Writing academic essays

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TNQZ
02 November 2016
There are certain approaches and strategies that can be taken to make the process of writing as organised and structured as possible.

Plan to research and start reading around the subject and writing well in advance. Ensure you have a precise understanding of the essay requirements. Look very closely at the exact wording of the title, and ensure complete understanding of what is being asked. Always use the reference and bibliography to acknowledge sources and cite them in the text. Be thorough with referencing to avoid risk of plagiarism.

Essay topics

These are some examples of essay topics you might come across while studying.

Assessment

Assessment is an integral part of the teaching and learning cycle but the assessment process should not govern what is taught.

There are three key types of assessment, formative, summative and assessment for learning. You can find out more about these here.

There are several reasons why teachers assess children's progress. Some of these include:

  • finding out about the children as individuals
  • finding out how children learn
  • monitoring and provide evidence of the progress children make in their learning
  • enabling constructive guidance about how children can improve
  • informing future planning
  • enabling teachers to evaluate the provision they make
  • enabling focused communication with others, including the children themselves
  • making schools accountable.

Think about how this might impact upon different approaches to assessment in the classroom, and to consider how the information gathered might be used to inform practice. What will be done with the data gathered? How will the information be shared with the children, parents and others?

Issues to consider

There are many different ways to assess children's progress, but if assessment is to be meaningful and informative it is important that teachers:

  • identify clear learning objectives based on curriculum guidance
  • choose a suitable activity to facilitate children's learning
  • articulate the assessment criteria to the children, as it is important that children are aware of what is being assessed
  • decide who to assess, and who will be doing the assessment (e.g. teaching assistant, teacher, children)
  • decide how to assess (e.g. observation, discussion, working with a child, looking at work in progress)
  • record the activity, including learning opportunities. Consider how this will be done
  • decide what evidence is required for the children to be able to demonstrate that learning has taken place
  • observe and record the key findings (photograph, tape recorder, annotated notes etc)
  • share the outcomes of the assessment with the children in a constructive way, so that targets can be set for future learning
  • note any individual needs for extension or reinforcement. This will inform future planning and differentiated activities
  • plan further action based on the assessment findings.

Find out more about pupil assessment here.


Equal opportunities

This doesn't necessarily mean treating all children 'equally' or every child achieving 'the same'. Some will need special, or different, levels of support or challenge. For teachers, this means planning for effective learning for all pupils - irrespective of disability, heritage, special educational needs, social group, gender, physical or emotional needs, race or culture.

Responding to pupils' diverse needs

The key to maintaining high expectations of children's learning is to get to know the children well, and focus upon what it is that they can do. Some children will need extra support if they are struggling with their learning, and others might need to have extension activities. Differentiation will be essential to support children's learning. This might take the form of differentiated input from the teacher, differentiated tasks set for the children, use of a variety of resources to support children's needs, support from others in the class – including other children or different expectations in terms of outcome.

The national curriculum clearly states that teachers should respond to pupils' diverse needs through carefully considering the role that the following play:

  • effective learning environments
  • ensuring children are motivated and concentrate
  • teaching approaches that ensure equality of opportunity
  • making use of appropriate assessment approaches
  • setting children (achievable) targets for learning.

Overcoming potential barriers to learning

Teachers will also need to be aware of what children bring to their learning, from home and their prior experiences. They need to ensure that children from different cultures, with different religions and worldviews, have full access to the curriculum. They need to ensure that their cultures are reflected in the classroom environment, and that no child is inhibited in their learning because of gender.

  • Consideration of the following issues might assist the teacher in planning for an inclusive curriculum, and ensuring equal opportunities for all.
  • Employing multi-sensory teaching and learning approaches (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, tactile).
  • Adapting the classroom to suit the needs of individuals: sitting a child with ADHD away from distractions; having quiet work areas for those who need it; sitting a child with visual impairment where they can clearly see the interactive whiteboard; having necessary resources available for children; ensuring wheelchair access, where appropriate.
  • Planning an accessible curriculum for all (are learning objectives achievable for all? Is the work relevant, contextualised and meaningful to the children? Is work effectively differentiated so that all children can achieve their potential?).
  • Differentiating - adapting resources to support learning: large print on written resources for children with visual impairment; visual clues and bilingual texts to support tasks for children with EAL; clear routines and timetables for the day for children with Asperger Syndrome; books and resources to support and motivate both genders; extension activities for gifted and talented children.
  • Giving consideration for the emotional well-being of children (remember that teachers are in the business of educating the 'whole' child, and a happy and motivated child will achieve more in the classroom).
  • Managing disabilities (find out what the nature of the disability is. What are the child's specific needs likely to be? How might you support or facilitate the child's learning?).

Lesson planning

You will need to be aware of the developmental expectations for the year group you are planning for, and to give some sense of what they might be expected to have already covered. This will give a clear sense that you are planning for progression.

You will also need to be aware that there are different approaches to planning, some of which you will no doubt have experienced during your school experience.

Long-term planning

Any planning that takes place will need to take into consideration the long-term planning for the year group. The whole school sets out the overall curriculum framework that fits in with the school's aims, policies and statutory requirements. This planning should outline coverage for each year group in each key stage or phase, and will usually be completed before the NQT enters the school. Long-term planning offers a broad framework for the following:

  • coverage of the national curriculum / curriculum guidance for foundation stage
  • coverage of the primary strategy
  • identification of links between curriculum areas
  • appropriate allocations of time
  • a broad and balanced curriculum
  • a progression between key stages and different year groups.

Medium-term planning

Medium-term planning is the responsibility of class teachers; usually supported by the year-group team, subject coordinators and sometimes trainee teachers on placement.

It outlines in some detail the programme of work that is to be covered over a half term or term. Medium-term planning generally outlines:

  • units of work for each subject area (these may be continuous or blocked units of work)
  • learning objectives to be addressed
  • national curriculum / Curriculum Guidance for Foundation Stage / PNS links
  • cross-curricular links
  • sequence in which the work will be delivered (progression)
  • activities that the children will engage in
  • assessment to be undertaken.

Short-term planning

Short-term planning involves individual teachers setting out what is to be taught on a day-to-day, lesson-by-lesson basis (e.g a lesson/session plan). The lesson plan enables much more focus on what specifically the children will learn, and how this will be facilitated. A session plan will identify the following:

  • Focused learning objectives for the session: what will the children learn? How does this relate to the national curriculum, ELG, NS, NLS etc? Do the objectives show progression from previous sessions and has this been informed through evaluation and assessment processes?
  • Details about how work will be differentiated: how will individual needs be catered for? How will the work be adapted? How might questions be targeted? How will adults be deployed in the room? What will you be focusing on during independent work time?
  • Activities and organisation: how will the learning be achieved? How will you structure the experiences and manage the time available? What groupings will you choose?
  • Teaching points: what structure will the teaching take (whole class, group etc)? What strategies will be employed to ensure effective teaching (modelling, demonstration, instruction etc)? How will behaviour be managed? What will you need to teach the children in order for learning to take place (include key questions and key vocabulary)?
  • Resources: indicate the materials and equipment that will be needed for the children and yourself during the session - what space / room arrangement will be required, and what health and safety considerations will be appropriate?
  • Assessment opportunities: what evidence will there be that the learning objectives have been achieved? How will you identify these indicators? What will the particular method of assessment be (observation, discussion, note taking, completed work, photos tape recording etc)?

Monitoring and evaluation

Remember to include some record of the children's achievement and your own performance. This will inform subsequent planning.

  • What did the children do?
  • What did the children learn?
  • Were there any surprises?
  • Were the learning objectives achieved? How do you know this?
  • What evidence is there to support this?
  • What did you learn?
  • What did you do to enable or hinder the children's learning?
  • What evidence is there to support this?
  • What might you differently next time? Why?
  • What are the implications for future planning?
  • How can I ensure progression?
  • How can I further develop my teaching skills?

When planning a scheme of work make sure that you make reference to the appropriate statutory and non-statutory curriculum documentation (where applicable).

Consider how long-term planning will inform medium term planning across the scheme of work, and how these will inform more detailed session plans. Make sure your planning is focused on what the children will learn and how this will be facilitated. Establish cross-curricular links, plan learning opportunities that will take place in meaningful contexts, and make sure planned activities will motivate and challenge all children.


SEN

It is important to find out the specific nature of the special need that you are going to discuss in your essay, to identify how you might plan for the individual needs, and make yourself aware of school procedures for identifying and supporting children with special educational need (SEN). Also establish what the role of the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) is, and how s/he might support the teacher.

Individual pupils with individual needs

When writing an essay about special educational needs (SEN) it is important to be aware of the particular child or need that you are going to focus on, and to try not to speak about these children as if they are one homogenous group.

Each child will have very particular needs, and will need to be carefully assessed so that these needs can be catered for in the best possible way. That is not to say that they will never be taught in groups, or in a whole class setting, of course, but it is important to make clear in your writing that you are aware of these issues.

It is also important to remember that the law says that children do not have learning difficulties just because their first language is not English, although of course some of these children may have learning difficulties as well.

Common special educational needs

The most common special needs that you are likely to come across in the mainstream classroom include dyspraxia (specific learning difficulty), Asperger's Syndrome (on the autistic spectrum), Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), speech and language disorders and general learning difficulties (the slow learner). These children may need extra or different help from that given to other children. This particular help is known as 'differentiation' and may involve children working in small groups, working with classroom support from an adult or their peers, or working to specific targets.

It is important to remember that it is common for most children to have some kind of SEN at some point during their education. Schools and other organisations can intervene to provide support, which helps many children overcome their difficulties. This has huge implications for the classroom teacher, which you will need to discuss in your essay. On the other hand, some children will require additional help in school for the duration. For your essay, you should research what this might entail, and what it will mean for the classroom teacher in terms of planning, assessment and reporting.

Differentiation

It is important to remember that differentiation enables the teacher to be more varied and flexible in their teaching so that all children, including those with SEN are able to participate, are given appropriate challenges and are extended in ways that meet their abilities and needs. Effective differentiation involves the following:

  • Setting clear objectives that are achievable.
  • Articulating these objectives to the children so that they understand what is expected of them.
  • Having a good understanding of the subject.
  • Ensuring lessons have suitable content that is accessible.
  • Enabling children to learn at their own pace.
  • Planning work in meaningful contexts.
  • Planning for progression.
  • Assessing what the child can actually do, and using that information to identify 'gaps' in learning and inform planning.
  • Using teaching approaches that motivate children.
  • Catering appropriately for children's different abilities.

Differentiation can take many forms:

input (e.g. appropriate use of language, focused questions, targeted information, repetition for specific groups etc)

tasks (remember, this does not just mean different worksheets! Think how the same objective might be met through different multi-sensory approaches which involve active learning in meaningful contexts)

resources (e.g. arrangement of the classroom environment, materials to support an activity, visual aids, ICT etc)

support (e.g. peer support, group work, adult support – including the role of the teacher)

outcome (e.g. teacher/ child expectations for the finished piece of work).

Find out more about SEN.