Teaching Functional Skills by Carolyn Houlihan @clyn40

Last September I was given my teaching timetable and noticed a session on it that said ‘Functional Skills English’. This threw me into a mass panic! I pleaded with my CM (Curriculum Manager) that someone else would be better suited to teach this, say for example an English teacher! However she appeased me with flattering words and so I relented and set to reminding myself of what the hell a homophone was. The group I had to teach this to were Health and Social care students. I already taught them for a subject called ‘Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults’. My first session was to give them their first written task. Its purpose was to encourage them to show evidence of planning and structure. They had to write as though they were entering a competition to win a thousand pounds (not very innovative I know, but it was a standardised assessment). I thought this would be easy for them, until I went to mark their work. I quickly realised the task was not as easy as I thought they would find it. The majority of students wrote as though they were texting and half clearly didn’t know when to use capitals.

In order to get them writing and thinking more about planning and structure (and much more) I had to think of more novel ways to grab their interest. One of the primary reasons for wanting to do this was down to the fact of having them at the end of the day. Another being they absolutely did not want to do English full stop (pardon the pun)! Some classic comments from the students were along the lines of ‘I hate English I was s**t at it in school’ or ‘English is f*****g boring’. Oh yes I have had a battle with inappropriate language too, but that’s another blog.

I have tried different tasks and resources to help them, some of the ideas I used were from colleagues and others from blogs off the excellent English teachers on Twitter. A few of the tasks they have already done. One was doing their own Twitter profile and another giving them a scandalous magazine article (obviously I read it prior to giving it them to ensure it was suitable). Both of these have worked quite well and I would definitely use again.

Having been quite adamant about not teaching FS English at the start of the academic year I now find myself hoping to teach it more in the next academic year. This I feel is because of two things, one the students really need it (even though they think otherwise). Two, by following some inspirational English teachers on Twitter it has refuelled my love for English. I really do think if we are to teach FS English (and Maths for that matter) the students entering college deserve the best experience that links into their chosen subjects/ career paths. In addition to this they also see the relevance to it on their timetable!