Getting to Grips with the new English Language Mark Schemes

 

My Year 10 English lessons have been a little bit dry of late. But they have allowed us all – teaching staff in the room and students – to start getting to grips with the new mark schemes. We are working on the Eduqas specification however I think this strategy would be transferrable across all exam boards/subjects.

We had studied specific approaches and the skills required for each of the questions for Paper 2, Section A. The students completed each of the questions and then – luckily for me – it was time to mark the questions. This was where I started to feel ‘uncovered’ as a teacher – as if all of Year 10 were about to be find out that I don’t really have a clue what I’m doing and I am just blagging my way through most lessons! My confidence in understanding the mark scheme plummeted. I gave marks to each of the students but wearily handed them back with an apologetic, clueless expression on my face. I was unsure of how valuable and useful the feedback to the students would be as I had no clue how accurate I had been.

We spent a few weeks focusing on some creative writing skills and then, last week, we returned to the dreaded Paper 2, Section A. This time, my aim was for us to get to grips with the mark scheme to help build all of our confidence. We have spent each lesson focusing on a different question from the paper. At the start of the lesson we remind ourselves of ‘how to be successful’ in the question and the skills required. The students then write a response to the question. Students then award themselves a mark, using the mark scheme. I state they must give themselves a whole number and decide where they are within a band – no 4/5/6 allowed. Now it’s time for the students to get up – their favourite part of the lesson! They put themselves in order, depending on their mark*. As a whole class, we then listen to a range of responses. Following each response, we work together to decode the mark scheme and decide on whether or not we agree on the mark the students have awarded themselves. Students then revise their own mark if required, based on our discussions, and work on improving their response.

For each question we now have one or two student experts in the room who the class know they can go to if they require assistance. The lovely thing is that there are different experts for each question due to the range in skills required.

Whilst a little dry, this approach has really enabled us to gain an understanding and, perhaps more importantly, confidence in applying the new mark scheme. Who would have thought getting students to stand in a line and read out their work could do so much good?!

 

*Some people may question how this makes teenagers feel however in our lessons we often share our writing and discuss our successes and failures – as a result, students have willingly completed this task and have learnt from it. The class is mixed ability.

Why we need to teach our students to think

There has been a lot of talk about growth mindset recently. On Twitter I have seen lots of images of lovely, new school displays emblazoned with motivational quotes to change the mindset of the teenagers we teach. But is it enough to say ‘yet’ in response to our students claim that they don’t know the answer? Will this change the stubborn, niggly, fixed mindsets that so many of the young people we teach, and the colleagues we work with, share? Surely they require the critical thinking skills to accept the fact that they are yet to understand but are equally able to recognise why it is they need to learn to understand.

This post is inspired by a twilight session I have attended at my school. The focus was achieving A*/A at sixth form through developing the students’ critical thinking skills. As a department we recognised the necessity to consider the key concepts we teach at A-Level and ensure these are filtered down to our schemes of learning at KS4 and KS3 in order for students to think for themselves about the learning.

We discussed the point of our subject; what students can gain from our subject; how we help students to develop their critical thinking skills and how we define critical thinking. Ultimately, we decided the value of English was that students have the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills. We hope our students feel they have a voice in society; are able to make informed decisions and are confident in their understanding of texts/their society/the world so question and challenge the views of others in a respectful manner.

And my question to you is, is that not the fundamentals required to develop a growth mindset? In order to recognise that a fixed mindset can be detrimental to our learning, do we not need to learn to think and consider the value of a growth mindset?

Nurture 2014/15

Five things I liked about 2014:
1. I passed my PGCE course as an ‘excellent’ teacher.
This was something I aspired to all year and at times it probably hindered my wellbeing. However, I truly loved what I was doing and therefore wanted to be the best at it that I could possibly be. In my ‘quest’ for excellence, I had to become a reflective practitioner and this is what, I believe, allowed me to qualify as excellent. I try to continue to consider what went well in my lessons and how aspects of the lessons could be improved to ensure my progress and that of my students does not stagnate.
2. I ran the London Marathon and raised over £1500 for Teenage Cancer Trust.
Running the marathon was horrific and wonderful all at the same time. I have never experienced so much physical pain both in the training and the marathon itself. Yet, I have never been so overwhelmed by people’s generosity – both in terms of financial support and also moral. Unfortunately, I suffered quite badly from shin splints during my training. One week I had ran 14 miles, the next I could not manage 2. This seriously hindered my training and preparation, however so many people had supported me I knew I just had to put my compression socks on and hope for the best! As a result, my final time was slower than I would have hoped but I could not have asked for a better day. The support from the crowds was so inspiring and the prosecco at the end, after not drinking for 10 weeks, tasted delicious!
3. I held a TLTea Party at my school.
As a naive, enthusiastic NQT, this was a rather daunting task. However, I felt so inspired following the fantastic TLT14 that I wanted to continue some of the discussions with my colleagues at my school. On a dreary Thursday afternoon, in the midst of Year 11 mock marking and report writing, a number of teachers turned up to discuss teaching and learning, drink tea and, most importantly, eat cake. I had some great feedback from staff who attended: many felt as if they had learned new strategies to try out in their classrooms but also really relished the opportunity to discuss their pedagogy in an informal setting.
4. I have a fantastic Year 10 group who I am excited to take into Year 11 this year.
They proved how great they were – not that they hadn’t already – on our final lesson of term. Over the term they had been working in groups on an extended homework project to complete a female empowerment advert. The work they produced was exceptional and they thoroughly deserved the popcorn we ate whilst watching them.
5. Most evenings I leave my work at work.
I had not expected I would be able to do this during my NQT year however I think I have got better at using my time more productively at school. As a result, most of the time I am able to leave my work at work and I believe I am a better teacher for it. I have more time to be Charlotte rather than Miss Brunton which means I treasure the time I am Miss Brunton because I am not so exhausted.

 

5 things I would like for 2015:
1. Get better at teaching.
I think I have realised that there is a very small amount of time and a very specific place for bells and whistles in lessons. It is far more important that the students are learning. I want to ensure I am always considering the learning when planning my lessons and then the bells and whistles may naturally arrive.
2. To cook more.
I love trying new foods however I very rarely attempt to cook new food myself. I have the dinners I know how to cook and this is what I stick with. But that is boring so this year I want to ensure I try a new recipe at least once a month.
3. Travel more.
I love exploring new places and I am quite good at it. However, as the world is so large and I keep being told it is my oyster I must get on with seeing more of it. After all, I’ve got to fill all those holidays us lazy teachers get somehow.
4. Feel fit again.
As a teenager, I was a competitive track runner and therefore was super fit. However, injury and university happened and wobbly bits are fast taking over those areas that were previously rock hard. I keep moaning about it but only ever doing sporadic exercise. This year, I am going to ensure I exercise regularly so I can continue to eat maltesers when marking and not feel too naughty (or wobbly).
5. To continue to love my job.
I must remind myself that there will always be rubbish days but I need to get over that because the good days easily outnumber the rubbish days.

One half term in: how I know I’m well on my way to being a ‘real’ teacher

1. A year 7 student called me mum.
2. I tried to have a social life during the week last week and went to bed past 12, twice. Woahh, was that a long week!
3. I dealt with a crier quite well. Confession: I have had two criers this term. The first one I didn’t deal too well with, however as an NQT should, I reflected and felt much better about how I dealt with the second crier.
4. I can mark a class set of books in just under an hour…I should add that is when I properly focus.
5. Once I have marked, my lessons for the week tend to be planned in my mind.
6. I keep having to stop myself from sharing school anecdotes with non-teacher friends. They are not interested in the *hilarious* misconception my year 10 student spouted out about Curley’s wife and door frames. Why would they?
7. I am excited that the classes I have got to know and love over this term will still be mine when I return to school after half term, yippee! *last year my classes changed every half term.
8. I can give a look to certain students and they roll their eyes but then tuck their shirts in. Small victories!
9. I spent my Saturday at #TLT14.
10. On 30th September I finally got paid! On 31st October, I will get paid again! On 30th November, you get the jist!

I’m no longer a flea

I loved my training year: I was challenged; I had to constantly deal with new situations; support was always there for me. As a result, I exceeded my own expectations and completed my year feeling rather chuffed with myself.

In contrast to this, during my undergraduate study, I did just what I had to do to get my 2.1. I did the reading that was required. I reached the word count on my essays. I graduated, happy with my 2.1, often contemplating whether I could have done more.

During my training year, I wasn’t treated as a flea. I was given a lid yet encouraged to crash through it as many times as I could. However, during my undergraduate degree, I felt a little bit like a flea: nobody expected me to do anymore than I was doing; I expected no more from myself; I stayed within the capacity of the jar and didn’t jump higher than the lid.

Now my job is to create an environment in my classroom where my pupils do not feel like fleas and they exceed the boundaries of the lid.

*people who weren’t at #TLT14, you may be extremely confused, I apologise and recommend you watch the training fleas YouTube clip.

One week to go!

So, unbelievably, I am now into my last week of school! I cannot quite get over what a whirlwind this past year has been. As I strongly believe making lists is partly responsible for getting me through it, I thought I would make another few lists to reflect on the year.

Things I have achieved:

  • I am qualifying as ‘excellent’
  • I still absolutely love teaching
  • I have got a job in a school and a department I love and cannot wait to join as a fully fledged member of staff rather than a trainee
  • I have had two fantastic mentors who have supported me throughout, allowed me to take risks in the classroom and one who has become a great friend

Things I have learnt (This list could be endless but for everybody’s sake I have limited myself to five points):

  • The importance of giving every child a clean state no matter how much they irritated me the previous lesson
  • The power of regular marking
  • The impact of welcoming my students at the door with a smile and a ‘good morning/afternoon’
  • The importance of building positive working relationships with my students – this makes my day so much brighter
  • The necessity to drink tea, eat chocolate and laugh at times when I just want to cry/scream/sleep

Things that petrify me for the following year:

  • Being wholly accountable for my classes
  • The five period day I will have on a Monday
  • Sleeping through my alarm on said Monday
  • Data, data, data!

Whilst I intend to enjoy every free moment of the summer, I am so excited for September to become fully settled in my department as a NQT – and even more excited for the end of September when I finally start getting paid for this teaching malarkey!

It’s been a while…once again.

This will be a short post on ideas that I have tried out with my classes recently that have worked well and have all been adapted from things I have seen on Twitter.

Firstly, silent debating. It was fantastic! I couldn’t believe how much writing the students produced and how writing on tables seemed to enhance their ability to formulate an article. My favourite soundbite from the lesson: ‘Miss, can you imagine how much trouble we’d be in if [Head of Learning] came in right now!’

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Secondly, learning inspector lanyards. Once again, something so simple, yet having a lanyard around your neck apparently makes you an A* student capable of exceptional inference and deduction skills. 

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Next, students as experts. I team teach a Year 7 group who are reluctant to write yet fantastic at speaking. Rather than punishing this, we decided we needed to embrace it. Many of our lessons now involve students finding out all the information for themselves and then presenting it in any format they choose. Worryingly, following a school visit from the chef himself, the format now continually incorporates Gino D’acampo and a dodgy Italian accent – brownie points for cross curricular links?

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Finally, an idea I stole from the brilliant @MrPeel was tweeting the author of the text we were studying. I managed to find the author of the play I was teaching with my Year 8 group on Twitter so tweeted him our reading assessment question. This helped the students to understand the writers do do certain things for a reason and they enjoyed getting an objective answer. They also enjoyed then tracing my twitter account through the author’s and finding out my first name…simple things. 

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Digital Literacy: let’s remove the fear.

On Friday I attended an English INSET at my University along with a large group of English teachers from a local federation. The day was really informative and provided a great opportunity to hear the experiences of other teachers.

There were a range of workshops throughout the day that teachers could sign up to. When I first arrived at the digital literacy workshop, looked around at the other teachers in the room and the wide age range of these teachers, I felt really optimistic. However, as the workshop went on, I couldn’t help but feel slightly unenthusiastic. Now this had absolutely nothing to do with the content, rather the audience participation. Considering this was an optional workshop, I could not help but feel that some teachers had come along with an unwillingness to embrace the use of digital literacy in the classroom and just wanted a good argument to liven up their Friday afternoon. This has stayed with me and has been troubling me so, as the name of my blog suggests, I thought I would let my thoughts on the topic out!

My main reason for using digital literacy in my teaching is that I am preparing students for their future. In doing so, they need to be equipped with the tools and skills that they will require in their workplaces. One argument I have often heard among English teachers against using iPads, laptops etc. in the classroom is that students need to write with a pen and paper. I was considering why we believe this skill to be so important in our subject. My conclusion is that students need to have the ability to write for quite some time and produce large amounts of written work in their English GCSE (and possibly A Level) exams. Now of course, whilst exams are still handwritten, this is something we need to prepare our students for. However, if all the work we produce in our subject is with pen and paper then could we not argue that we are wholly teaching to the exam. Speaking for myself, since leaving school and entering the workplace, the most amount of handwriting I do is when marking books, scribbling down lesson plans and writing my ‘To Do’ lists (which granted can often include substantial amounts of handwriting!). Therefore, if we do not like the idea of teaching to the exam and we believe an aspect of our work is preparing students for life beyond school, then should they not be using tablets, laptops, computers to be documenting their work and developing their skills?

Similarly, when students enter my classroom, I don’t want them to feel that they are stepping back in time. During the workshop, we were shown a clip from Sir Ken Robinson who suggested that technology is not technology if it came around before you were born. Therefore, for many of our students, getting their phones out to take a photo of their work is not groundbreaking stuff, just as recording their revision notes as a podcast isn’t. If this is stuff they do in their daily life then it seems obvious that we would embrace this in our teaching. In my training I have often been told to get to know the students and their interests to attempt to bridge the gap between life in school and life out of school.

One major concern seemed to be the worry that digital literacy meant a goodbye to all other forms of literacy. I personally own a smartphone, a kindle, a laptop and, when my cheque arrives shortly with my tax rebate from Mr Tax Man, I will soon own an iPad. However, I also own bookshelves full of books, stack of notepads and pens and pencils of all sorts of varieties. This may say something about the kind of consumer I am in the 21st Century; however, I think it is also telling of our current society. In today’s world we seem to be embracing the ‘traditional’ items alongside the ‘modern’ and/or ‘contemporary’ items. Many of us have made this work for us in our personal lives. I think we can also make it work in our classrooms. Tablets do not need to replace exercise books however we could look at ways of incorporating both to keep our students engaged in their learning.

Digital literacy can create endless opportunities and, as a result of this, working hours can seem endless. If students are commenting on blog posts or tweeting you images of their work at 11pm, is there an expectation that the teacher is always on hand to comment back? I would suggest that this is for each teacher to set their boundaries. I have noticed this is something I am currently useless at – I am constantly looking on Twitter, concerned in case I miss ideas. However, this is my issue. At the moment I am still far too excited at this concept of teaching and am desperate to learn how to emulate some of the fantastic teachers that I suddenly have access to through the use of social media. Yet saying this, I recently decreased my data allowance so that when I am out and about I am appreciating all that is going on around me in real time, rather than through the cyber world, once again incorporating both aspects of society in my life.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is all about compromise. I am probably preaching to the converted here – if you are reading my blog then you are probably quite attuned to the concept of technology and digital literacy in learning. It just worries me how many missed opportunities there will be for our students, teachers and schools if we refuse to have a growth mindset on the topic.

It’s been a while, I apologise.

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I am currently undertaking my teacher training through School Direct, the government’s new form of teacher training. This means I was recruited through my main placement and they were responsible for finding my second placement – with help from my University if required. My main placement is at an all girls, extremely ethnically diverse, high achieving comprehensive school. I have just completed my six week second placement which was at an all boys, predominantly white British, extremely high achieving grammar school in an affluent area. In this post, I will share a few of my experiences from these two contrasting environments.

I must admit, when I first arrived at the school I was really unhappy. I was beginning to feel like a real teacher at my main placement – I had secured my job there for next year, I loved the kids, loved the working environment – and all of a sudden, during the gloomiest time of the year, I was being thrown out of my comfort zone. I was suddenly surrounded by tall boys (a year 8 asked ‘Why are you so short, Miss? I almost got defensive, then I remembered he was 12…and he was shorter than me, ha!), small boys, young boys, old boys, lots and lots of boys…even the staff were majority male. This was a bit of a shock to the system. I had grown used to having girls cling on to my every word, wanting to become my friend and complimenting me on my work clothes to boys who couldn’t care less about me personally and were only interested in teacher Charlotte. I had to find my way around a new school. I had to explain to many people why I was there and where I had come from. I was once again the ‘newbie’ who had to find my feet. However, what surprised me about my experience was how easy this was to do. I believe this was for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I was surprised by how little my teaching style had to change. I thought that being in a completely contrasting environment, everything I had learnt and the teaching persona which I had started to build would have to be eradicated in order for me to succeed at this school. However, I soon realised that boys aren’t that different to girls: they do respond emotionally to literature and this can be drawn out in lessons, they enjoy working collaboratively and sharing ideas and, in both schools I have trained at, the majority of students really do want to learn.

Secondly, and most definitely my favourite thing about my second placement, was the amazingly supportive department I immediately became a part of. I was concerned – as it was such a short placement – as to how I would be accepted into the school community. I personally felt like I was only there to take; it was such a short placement that I wouldn’t really have time to give back. However, from my two days induction in the school prior to the Christmas holidays to the end of my time at the school, I was made to feel welcome. Members of the department willingly shared resources, listened to one another moan, moderate each other’s marking and were so supportive of me.  Not to say that the department at my main placement are not supportive of one another, friendly or helpful (quite the opposite) but the department is all female and I really noticed the difference of working in a mixed department. Without meaning to gender stereotype (but I am going to), there were many moments where female staff would talk of stress and feeling run down and all it would take was an inappropriate joke from a male member of staff and all of a sudden the atmosphere was lighter and happier. This made it a fantastic environment to work in.

However, there was one thing at my second placement which I really did not enjoy. This is something that I shared with my mentor at the school, the other members of staff, my university tutor, anybody who would listen really. There was one thing that I, both literally and figuratively, could not get around. This thing was that in every classroom I went into and in every classroom I taught in, the students were all seated in rows. I really struggled with this and it has made me realise that in the future when I go for interviews, one of my questions will have to be, ‘Am I allowed to move the tables in my classroom?’ I often get students to work in groups, to move around the room to find clues to aid their learning, we have competitions between table groups – I could go one – and with students in rows, as much as I tried, all of these sorts of tasks became more laborious and less natural.

I am not sure if my mentor from my main placement will be very happy when I return and say the main thing I learnt was that I hate teaching students in rows (sorry Sukh)! I think I have also learnt a bit more about stretching for the top of the class, I have seen (and photocopied) a number of high level pieces of work, I have understood the importance of modelling in order to enable students to reach my high expectations, and most importantly, I have learnt how much I enjoy teaching at such a diverse school (another thing I missed at my second placement, alongside the table groups).

All in all, I think I had a very successful second placement – I have hopefully grown as a teacher, I have learnt quite a bit and I have also confirmed to myself that I was right in following my heart and applying for the job at my main placement.

#ToughYoungTeachers

Whilst I was watching the programme last week, a PGCE student tweeted that watching this BBC documentary made them feel simultaneously aggravated and soothed. As soon as I saw this tweet, I thought, yes, I could not agree more! So I thought I would write on why Tough Young Teachers makes me feel this way.

I have to keep reminding myself that this programme is made for TV and therefore is primarily made for entertainment purposes. Therefore, each participant has been made into a character of sorts. We have Chloe, the second year Teach First participant, who is the blonde haired, bubbly shining light. She is there to motivate the others, show them where they could be and also sadden the first years by making it seem so effortless. We have Claudenia, the real ‘Tough Young Teacher’ who is not willing to put up with any bad behaviour and has sadly been presented, after the first term, as losing sight into the real reason she wanted to be a teacher. The guys are generally pictured as bright, well-mannered, affluent young men who don’t think their education will impact their teaching persona in these underprivileged schools – yet the students seem to think it impacts massively, with one student exclaiming, ‘I knew he was posh!’

Then we have Meryl, poor Meryl. Meryl has been classified as a cause for concern both my Teach First and by the BBC. The other day, I had a Meryl moment. I am 3 weeks into my second placement and am still trying to get used to the timings of the day – there are lots of 5 minute changeover times between lessons, there I think to confuse new teachers. Also, there is not a bell at the school, liberating in many ways but once again, increasing new teachers’ confusion over timings. I was teaching my Year 7 group and all was going well. We had ten minutes until what I thought was the end of the lesson and so I started the plenary. It then got to just before five past eleven so all the students packed away and were standing behind their desks. Fortunately, some were being rather noisy and my rule is that they cannot go until all are quiet. So at around six minutes past eleven I sent my little Year 7s off to their break time, feeling happy with how the lesson went. I then looked out the window and questioned why everybody else was still in their classrooms. It then dawned on me; period 2 doesn’t actually finish until ten past eleven. I swore, hoped that nobody else noticed my class had already gone to break, and then I laughed. I then also thought…I am Meryl. If BBC had been filming me, it’s likely it would have been edited to show that moment where I looked out of control.

So when I watched it this week, I was carefully thinking about the editing, the personas that have been created and the fact this programme is made to entertain.

Yes, I am grateful there is a programme highlighting how difficult and tough the profession is – I have some friends who have said if they can’t get a job after graduating, then they will ‘just become a teacher.’ I hope this will warn off these kinds of people. As Nicholas said, ‘You’ve got to care persistently about your kids’ and I also think you have to love what you do in order to get through and become Chloe, the shining light. However, I also worry that it may warn off too many and prevent people from wanting to enter the profession, particularly as the programme starts off each week by reminding you of the high number of people who leave teaching after only five years.