Unlocking Literary Magic

14 September 2023


In the hallowed halls of St Andrew's, learning English has become an engaging experience thanks to innovative teaching methods being implemented by forward-thinking educators.

This term, Year 7 students have embarked on a literary journey like no other. Their mission? To delve deep into the enchanting world of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." But there's a twist, these young minds are not just reading the book; they are dissecting it, peeling back the layers of character intricacies, and uncovering the hidden gems that contribute to the novel's key themes. It's a challenge, but one the students have not only accepted but confidently embraced, thanks to engaging teaching approaches.

St Andrew's is known for its innovative approach to education and the ability to make student thinking visible. Led by experienced secondary teacher Mrs Sophie Honeybourne, the English department have embedded multiple Visible Thinking Routines (VTRs) into their teaching methodology, transforming each lesson into an immersive exploration of characters and plotlines from the Harry Potter saga.

Before even cracking open the book, students were handed a set of open-ended questions that revolve around the novel's central themes. They begin ideating, forming connections between their responses, and probing initial questions about each theme. This thought-provoking exercise is known as a "Chalk Talk," provides students with flexibility to move from one idea to another in a nonlinear way, to formulate questions as they arise and take the time needed to think through the collective information produced.

In a move that would make English teachers from times gone past cringe, students are not confined to their desks. They are granted the agency to venture forth and graffiti the Chalk Talk boards with their contributions – evidence and analysis of characters. It's a vibrant, participatory approach that breathes life into their learning.

Adding an extra layer of magic, the Hogwarts rules regarding House Points has been integrated into their learning. Students eagerly embrace the opportunity to earn recognition for their contributions during these VTRs, which have also been aligned with the school's core values. Students can accrue House Points through selfless acts beyond the classroom, by being upstanders, and by completing work that stretches them beyond their comfort zones.

“This agency and student choice has benefited each student, often expressing great insights into the novel and echoing sentences like “I wanted to read the chapter again!”, which is always loved by the English staff,” English teacher Mr Mitch Sokolowski said.

“I’ve personally noticed a surge of energy each lesson as students continue to gain opportunities to show their thinking and know that it is valued by both myself, other classmates, and members from other Year 7 classes.”

For many of our classes, their culminating activity was participation in a Quidditch game, a final chance to score points before and the presentation of the House Trophy. It was hard to know who was having the most fun – our players or our professors!

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