Liven up lit­er­acy

Lit­er­acy poses a dif­fer­ent set of co­nun­drums at sec­ondary. Ex­ams, re­vi­sion, ever-de­creas­ing bud­gets – Caro­line Spald­ing reveals the big is­sues she’s fo­cus­ing on in the new aca­demic year

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - EDITORIAL -

To motivate stu­dents, you need to make lit­er­acy in­escapable for them

The big­gest is­sue for sec­ondary school English teach­ers in the year ahead? Get­ting un­mo­ti­vated stu­dents to be, well, mo­ti­vated. Mo­ti­va­tion is an age-old prob­lem, of course, but the need to tackle it has be­come even more acute due to the shift in how sec­ondary English pupils are now as­sessed.

Like many English teach­ers, I broadly wel­comed the move to grades be­ing based 100 per cent on exam per­for­mance. In our fac­ulty, I can hon­estly say – hand on heart – that con­trolled as­sess­ment rules were ad­min­is­tered to the let­ter of the law.

As a con­se­quence, I never could shift the feel­ing that, by tak­ing what one lo­cal author­ity ad­vi­sor de­scribed as “the moral high ground”, we were un­fairly dis­ad­van­tag­ing our stu­dents when their num­bers were plugged into the big exam board com­puter in the sky along­side cen­tres whose prac­tices were not so pi­ous.

Sim­i­larly, cur­ricu­lum time spent re­peat­ing con­trolled as­sess­ment tasks that a stu­dent had un­der­achieved on first time around never felt like the best way to spend the pre­cious months of Year 11. If you can re­peat an as­sess­ment, why take the first one se­ri­ously?

Added to this, the supreme mark­ing and mod­er­a­tion bur­den of con­trolled as­sess­ment never failed to ran­kle. For one year group alone, and in­clud­ing only the fi­nal as­sess­ments, there were 1,500 pieces of work to mark and mod­er­ate and 2,100 cover sheets to be com­pleted – not in­clud­ing speak­ing and lis­ten­ing. I fail to see how, in any school, this could not but de­tract from the at­ten­tion given to other year groups.

The re­moval of con­trolled as­sess­ment has there­fore let me and my col­leagues teach bet­ter. The free­dom of the new GCSE cour­ses has en­abled us to use as­sess­ment as it was al­ways meant to be used – to in­form teach­ing and learn­ing – and not as a se­ries of points to be banked prior to the fi­nal ex­ams.

How­ever, this change has also re­moved the metaphor­i­cal sta­bilis­ers. The fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tions are now high-stakes; stu­dents can no longer blag a half-de­cent grade by ri­fling through their dog-eared copy of Of Mice and Men, pre-pop­u­lat­ing a writ­ing frame, or copy­ing from a 500-word notes page.

Closed-book ex­ams ex­pose a stu­dent’s true un­der­stand­ing; the chal­lenge of re­spond­ing to un­seen lit­er­ary texts re­wards the con­sis­tently hard­work­ing and not the cram­mers – a fact that not all of our stu­dents have re­alised yet.

To be clear, my school is no dif­fer­ent from oth­ers. We have rafts of hard­work­ing stu­dents who at­tend weekly re­vi­sion ses­sions, worry them­selves silly about achiev­ing the new grades 7 and above, and have an­no­tated copies of their GCSE English lit­er­a­ture texts that would put univer­sity stu­dents to shame.

But, just as in other schools, we have some stu­dents who – for a whole host of rea­sons – don’t yet place their ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment at the cen­tre of their teenage worlds.

This year, we’ve had a par­tic­u­larly tough job mo­ti­vat­ing boys to re­vise. For most, this is not due to dis­like of the sub­ject (just ask Jack in my Year 10 class, who will openly opine about his love of the AQA po­etry an­thol­ogy); rather, be­ing a teenager is just too damn ex­cit­ing and the pres­sures of adult­hood are too much of an ab­stract con­cept to most.

Add to this the chal­lenges cre­ated by an area of so­cial de­pri­va­tion and the moun­tain of study re­quired to suc­ceed in these new ex­am­i­na­tions and it can all seem for many like an un­con­quer­able chal­lenge.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see the im­pact of these cour­ses on the achieve­ment gap and whether – de­spite the govern­ment’s fix­a­tion on so­cial mo­bil­ity – the fis­sure in na­tional at­tain­ment fig­ures opens fur­ther still.

How can I try and pre­vent that? As with lit­er­acy, it is vi­tal that is­sues re­lated to at­ti­tude to learn­ing do not fall solely on the shoul­ders of English teach­ers. Whole school

cul­ture is the only real way stu­dent ef­fort and as­pi­ra­tion will shift.

The po­ten­tial out­ward signs of a school that fos­ters pos­i­tive at­ti­tudes to learn­ing might well be the abo­li­tion of hol­i­day and af­ter-school re­vi­sion ses­sions, in­stead pro­vid­ing su­per­vised study rooms through­out the year, and a move away from tra­di­tional home­work and to­wards a greater ex­pec­ta­tion of in­de­pen­dent study sup­ported by low-stakes quizzing back in class.

But out­side of the pro­tec­tion pro­vided by school walls, the chal­lenges our stu­dents face do not look set on eas­ing any time soon. With ris­ing tu­ition fees, aus­ter­ity set to con­tinue, and a loom­ing men­tal health cri­sis there are not go­ing to be quick fixes for many of our young peo­ple when it comes to en­sur­ing that their fu­tures are all that they can truly be.

Caro­line Spald­ing is an English teacher. She tweets @Mrss­pald­ing

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.