Never lose sight of the C…by @evenbetterif

Tips...ready for another year...

Image by duncan c on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

At this time of year when we’re all watching Year 11, holding our breath and hoping they keep it together, I start to get very excited about Year 10 – filled with all the things that can still be, lessons I haven’t yet taught and strategies I’m going to invent. It’s the endless cycle that’s full of never-ending beginnings.

I read many tweets and posts and it’s overwhelming. The amount of knowledge out there and the deep thinking about learning is all very humbling. However, in the vein of keeping the main thing the main thing, the main thing for me and my students is C grade and above. I know this flies in the face of discussion surrounding the moral purpose of education but the bottom line is: if my students don’t get their C grade, they are stuffed. My job, at a very simple, practical level is to ensure that that (and more) happens for as many Year 11 students under my care as possible. It’s surprisingly easy to lose sight of that. A GCSE is evidence of the acquisition of a set of skills and knowledge. Apprenticeships, A levels and University come after. So how can we do this for English Year 10’s going into Year 11?

1. Teach structure, over and over. Giving students the foundations for structured writing – deeply secure paragraphing IS equipping them with skills of how to break and shape those rules and independence of thought. But for many, this will come after, with maturity and time. For example, TVT (Topic, Viewpoint, Tone) is a cast iron introduction paragraph for essays on unseen poetry and prose. Why? so that students can sit down and start writing, not agonise for 20 minutes about what might be a good first sentence.

2. Give students words. Don’t make them hunt for them, tease them out, or punish them for not knowing.  Give them a bank to select the ones they like, but don’t make it so difficult that students become discouraged and the main thing stops being the main thing.

3. Create a Teenage Dirt Bag. A fabulous idea I picked up from @LadyGlencora in her blog  I almost cannot wait until September to put these together as an essential improvement kit. In mine will be my Student Thesaurus, DIRT cards, Structure Phrase Mat, Highlighter etc.

4. For each assessment, task Live Write with students, on a projector and talk through the choices that you make at every stage, from the detailed analysis of the question to writing the first few paragraphs. Make every paragraph topic sentence refer to the question. Make sure focus is very tight on the task and the evidence they are giving to the examiner. It may sound obvious, but sentence accuracy is evidence for the examiner. Make sure students are always aware of this.

5. Whatever your thoughts are on PEE (I actually teach PEE,EE,EE structure for Poetry and Prose essays) it doesn’t matter (SPEED,PEEL etc.) be absolutely rigid about your method. Think it through as much as your time allows so that you know it’s applicable in the exam contexts you are working in – one size does not fit all – what works in another department may not be what is good for your learners – but do be absolutely confident that students can apply it and answer the question fully. Your confidence will give them a rope to cling onto when faced with unfamiliar material.

6. Know your specification, exemplar answers, mark schemes, examiner reports and texts inside out and back to front. Nothing will prepare the students better than a teacher who can guide them, every lesson, towards their goal – especially as we know Year 10’s will be Year 11’s in a blink of an eye and we’ll have all run out of time again.

If it is formulaic and teaching to the test, then so be it. My students need their C’s and above, whatever debate rages around them. These routines mean we still have time to be distracted by a mini-discussion over whether you can pay someone to get up Everest and say you did it, or not…

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Kate McCabe and published with kind permission. The post was originally published in 2015, and updated by the UKEd Editorial team in 2019 in accordance with website policy and development updates.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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