Making the most of the final sprint by @bennewmark

When the finishing line is in sight...

School data tracking systems would have us believe that learning advances evenly each half term. Sometimes it does happen this way but more often the picture isn’t as neat. Some students make dramatic improvements very late on and I’m interested in how we can maximise the time of those who leave studying until the last minute.

Class exam q Class exam q Class exam q Class exam q Y10 mock Class exam q Class exam q Class exam q Class exam q Cont ass. Final mock GCSE grade
Tab E F U G U U G U F C D ?

This is a re-blog post by Ben Newmark and published with kind permission.

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Meet Tabby. She’s in my Y11 GCSE history class and the table above shows some of her grades over the last two years. She bounced along the cavemen grades (UG! FG! GF!) through Y10 and most of Y11 before making a remarkable recent improvement. Weeks away from her exams she enters the home straight in touching distance of a decent pass.

Tabby is bright but often disengaged and challenging. In Y10 she made a reasonable start but her effort soon dropped off. She picked up lots of behaviour points and missed time through exclusions and isolations. When she returned to my lessons she was sometimes at sea with the content and could be disruptive, which resulted in more missed time. She was kicked out of her Y10 mock for talking and then refused to write anything in her re-sit. In Y11 her behaviour was less challenging but she still seemed barely interested, listening to explanations but rarely attempting class exam questions with any seriousness. At this point the raw data points firmly at failure. So how can we explain Tabby’s sudden improvement and how can we capitalize on her late surge?

Tabby always knew more than she let on.

Tabby concentrates well for half an hour or so. When she was in my lessons she’d listen and do the note-taking tasks well enough but lost focus when it came to the last twenty minutes in which the rest of the class were writing up their work formally.

Tabby didn’t want to do the Y10 mock and so she didn’t. That makes the ‘U’ she got meaningless. I’m sure that Tabby always knew more than my mark book said she did.

Tabby worked hard on her controlled assessment.

Tabby knew the controlled assessment counted for quarter of her grade and for the first time she listened to instructions and tried her best. When she missed time due to exclusions she pressured me to find time to catch up. She asked me to check what she’d written (“Is this bit OK? Have I used enough sources?”) To Tabby’s surprise she quite enjoyed it; she realised that when she tried, she understood. When it counted Tabby worked, which was a very good sign.

Tabby saw her future.

Around the same time she was working on her controlled assessment Tabby got college offers and realised that to get where she wanted to go she needed to pass exams. Her work on her controlled assessment showed her she could. Tabby started to work hard for herself.

Tabby studied for her Y11 mock.

Galvanised by her controlled assessment and her college offers, Tabby, for the first time in her life, studied for a history mock and realised she was capable of learning quickly. As she left the exam she said “I actually revised and I think I’ve done alright.” Tabby’s script, inconsistent and rambling as it was in places, had evolved beyond caveman and she was one of only two in the class to include evidence not covered explicitly in lessons. When she got her mark back she invigorated not discouraged by the ‘D’ because she knew how far she’d come.

Tabby goes to a school that cares about her.

As Tabby’s teacher I deserve some credit. I always suspected that the numbers were wrong and even in the worst times I never lost hope. Part of this is experience; Tabby isn’t the first Tabby I’ve taught. I’ve seen students move from caveman to passing grades in weeks. I knew it was possible and was ready to pounce at the first signs that Tabby was waking up. This was important but wouldn’t had worked had I acted alone. Tabby is blessed by a network that never gave up. Her friends, Form Tutor, Head of Year and subject teachers all had faith and often told her so. When she was ready to learn we were ready to help.

Tabby’s last ditch sprint might just mean she passes but it doesn’t mean she will. Indeed, given how much she’s missed and her late start she’s still more likely to fail. I hate this. I hate that, despite her recent efforts, she might fall short by a few marks and end up with a grade that makes her cry the wrong sort of tears.  So how can I stop this happening?

Tabby’s going to be constantly reassured.

Tabby, like most of us, won’t work unless she believes she can succeed. For all the new found maturity she’s still Tabby and she’s going to have ups and downs. We’re all going to make sure that when she thinks she want to give up she won’t be allowed to. “We’re proud, Tabby! You can do it, but only if you work!”

 The course will be streamlined for Tabby.

Tabby already has a specification and a revision guide. She needs this because her exercise books, especially those from Year 10, aren’t good enough. She also has sheets summarising the most importantcontent for each unit as it’s important she isn’t bewildered into inaction by superfluous materials. To make all this more manageable she’s been given a revision timetable, which breaks down what she needs to do into logical, smaller steps. Tabby needs her course streamlined because she’s got weeks not years.

Tabby will get help right to the finish line

If Tabby works, she’ll get my time, any time. If she finds me at break, bursts into my Y7 class, or explodes screaming into my line management meeting brandishing an exam question it’ll get read and she’ll get the feedback she needs. When she goes on study leave she’ll have my work e-mail. I’ll be working right up to when she is.

Is it all worth it?

Of course. If Tabby wins then there won’t be a better feeling and if she doesn’t we’ll pick her up, dust her down, hide our own disappointment and tell her we’re still proud. Then we’ll look around for the next Tabby; every year there are always late starters but sometimes these children are the strongest finishers. They just need a bit of extra help to get over the line.

Note: Tabby is an amalgamation of a number of children. While I’m sure a few of my students would recognise elements themselves she isn’t anyone in particular.

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