As a history teacher, the words I use are powerful. In the way that Knowledge and the Future School (Young & Lambert, 2014) introduced us to this idea of powerful knowledge, the terminology that we learn in history…. Patriarchy… Democracy… Totalitarian… they shape the way that pupils can understand the world and opens doors to a wider sense of understanding of the world in which they live.
Whilst history as a discipline has the right to exist purely because it is cool and interesting, it also opens up avenues of understanding the curriculum more widely. The most obvious examples include English, media and citizenship.
For many of us history teachers, the words we are using have been in our vernacular since our own school days. We’ve used them with ease through our degrees, teacher training and subsequent years in the profession. We own those words.
So how do share this ownership of key terminology with our students and how do we replicate the command of these words we use so easily?
I’d seen the use of choral repetition may times before but started thinking about this at the start of the academic year. This is the repetition aloud of key term; ‘when the teacher or a learner models language and the group of learners repeat it together’ (British Council, 2024) I have a Year 7 class with a lot of energy(!) and not a lot of confidence when it comes to using key words. I wanted to improve their confidence in using these words, to make them theirs. Year 7 are learning so many new words. Pupils are learning words linked to our topic as well as words linked to historical skills such as inference and reliability. Every lesson is a chance to build an understanding of what history is about and, scarily, with each lesson is the possibility that their understanding of the words they will need to understand to access the curriculum over the next five years will slip through the cracks. This could lead to bigger issues and missed learning in the future.
So I started using Say It To Own It.
It wasn’t until @mrzachg asked about this on Threads a few weeks ago that I realized this is something that teachers are trialling in their classrooms. I also hadn’t spent too much time reflecting on it, but I had crafted this into a formulaic routine in my lessons that goes like this:
Me: Ok, let’s say the words so we own them and feel confident using them (or something to that effect). The word we are learning is patriarchy. My turn; patriarchy. Your turn…
I then point at myself for my turn and then to my class at their turn.
Me: The word we are learning is patriarchy. My turn; patriarchy. Your turn…
Me: My turn; patriarchy. Daisy’s turn…
Me: My turn; patriarchy. Abdul’s turn…
This fits in with our wider school focus on vocabulary and literacy. In my context, the majority of children have a reading age lower than their actual age. Many children find reading, writing and using new vocabulary challenging. There is the risk that they may not feel confident constructing answers or using new words as a consequence. Whilst we are doing other things at school to address this, I believe that the underlying belief that vocabulary belongs to them and that it is theirs to use, is at the heart of this. It removes barriers and dispels the view that because new language appears complex or unfamiliar it isn’t ‘for them’.
After this routine I will go into definitions, check for understanding and do all the other stuff that you’d expect with a class. As Quigley tells us, ‘multiple exposures to new academic vocabulary can be targeted and cumulative through the school curriculum. By structing multiple exposures to important words in texts, we help secure reading comprehension’ (2020, p. 176), but for me it starts here…
We say it and so we own it.
British Council. (2024). Choral Repetition https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/professional-development/teachers/knowing-subject/c/choral-repetition#:~:text=Choral%20repetition%20is%20when%20the,the%20learners%20repeat%20them%20together.
Quigley, A. (2020). Closing the Reading Gap London: Routledge.
Young, M., & Lambert, D. (2014). Knowledge and the Future School: Curriculum and Social Justice. London: Bloomsbury