Apologies for the lack of blogs lately, it’s been the height of the exam season, first GCSE English Language 9-1, which went pretty well and the students were very positive, to the first run through of the new spectre of English Language A Level. This is sadly, the only real negative in this post, so I’ll get it out of the way now.
In any new spectre, there is always a huge element of the unkown, I’ve been waxing lyrical about it in previous posts and I know many of you share my concerns and feelings of angst. The first two papers were very positive, students came out buzzing with the things they’d been able to write about, I had GIFs posted on Facebook of Kermit doing a happy dance; the response to the Child Language paper being a transcript, not examples of written data, and I was feeling more comfortable that my predictions of the summer outcomes might actually be too cautious. And then Friday arrived. Usually the herald of joy with the impending weekend, but this time Section A was determined to throw a bag of spanners into the works.
For those of you not familiar with the English Language A Level, Paper 3 (for our chosen exam board) consists of an investigation into topics, which are then refined into specific ‘sub-topics’ and the exam provides a (we thought) primary source that asks students to determine how typical a representation this is of their sub-topic. For four of the topics, this was the case, the texts are unseen and we have had no real idea of what they would be, but they were primary sources. For one of the topics however, oh no! No primary source here. They were given a secondary source that essentially did their job for them as it was analysing the language they were supposed to be analysing. Many of them had also used it as part of their own research. I’d never seen so many confused faces coming out of an exam before. To their credit though, they knuckled down and didn’t let it put them off.
A quick check in to our Facebook network of teachers told me that we were all in the same boat, which was reassuring. Determine to enjoy my birthday weekend, I put this out of my head after giving my students a positive pep-talk and sending them on their way to relax, knowing they’d done the best they could under difficult circumstances and that the exams for English were now over.
Monday morning brought the determination to voice my concerns and I’ve just penned a very controlled but extensive email to the exam board in question. They have done our students a disservice and I will not stand for that. I am sure the outcome of the email will be the subject of at least one future blog 😉
That’s the negative out of the way. And there have been too many positives to mention in the last week especially, so here’s a snapshot of some of them.
On Tuesday of last week, a colleague and I went to an AOSEC Teaching and Learning Fair in Farnborough. We presented about our approaches to planning, delivery and assessment of the new GCSE specification. Many colleges have not taken on the new spectre this year, so are always keen to take away any tips and resources we can provide them with. Despite being close to the graveyard slot on a sweltering day in a room with no opening windows and a small fan, our ideas were well received, especially the pre-populated feedback sheet that allows more time for annotation of student work in a climate (in our college) of reducing workload initiatives.
We were also privileged to be given a range of inspirational talks about using social media to engage students and a focus on well-being of staff and students from Stuart Rimmer, the CEO and Principal of East Coast College. This talk linked strongly to Joseph Holloway’s session on mindfulness – which restored my faith in this approach. As you know I’ve been working with some anxious students this year and am always keen to find ways to help them. Fortunately for us, our Principal is very interested in this too and we are moving towards a defined policy of approaches to improve staff and student well-being.
On Wednesday I aced my data review meeting and found I could relax a little for the rest of the week, Paper 3 aside. Although the weather last week reduced me to a puddle in my office for much of the time; more of a meltdown than a slowdown.
Thursday, the highlight of the week. No, not the Moode training session or the exceptionally inappropriate birthday card from my team (although that was another classic moment in the history of working with my team). This was a TeachMeet at Durrington High School. Lured with the promise of free paella (and boy that was good!) I cycled, and the head of maths and one of her team drove, at the end of the day to one of our local schools to engage in an evening devoted to our profession. Yes that’s how dedicated we are, we spend evenings listening to others talking about teaching.
It’s impossible to cover everything in one blog, but everyone who spoke was brimming with enthusiasm and ideas and I have spent the days that followed buzzing with ideas and how to incorporate them. The trick now is to focus on a few things that I can try, rather than rushing headlong into trying everything.
I will be using the ideas put forward by Mark Enser about Expecting Excellence, I can’t wait to set up our own Excellence Gallery of student work, and will try to incorporate this with Ben Crockett’s research into metacognition, something I’m already striving to improve in terms of my approaches. If I can do more work showing students how they can get to excellence, we can include these steps in our Excellence Gallery. And not wanting to wish the summer away, because we all know how much we need this R&R time, but I really can’t wait to get started on these new ideas. They will also keep me stocked up with blog fodder as I try out new things and share the positives and negatives with you.
All in all this blog has been a mixed bag and hopefully more positives than negatives. From curve ball exams to inspirational talks to new ideas to try and my increased immersion into the Twittersphere. The head of maths jokingly posed that we should ‘have a competition to see who can get to 100 followers first’. Everyone thinks she’s the competitive one, but you should never underestimate the quiet ones. I currently stand at 115 and am awaiting the promised bottle of fizz purchased by the ‘loser’ 😉 I’m going to pay for this I’m sure, but I’ll just take the time to bask in the glory of my Twitter victory.