Mocking exams.

Mock exams. The very name suggests that we are simply laughing at the lack of effort so many students have made over the Christmas break to prepare for their forthcoming practice exams. The mocks. When I was a student we took our mocks seriously. We were told the mark would be sent to the exam board as part of our predicted grade and we would have to sacrifice our Christmas holidays to do the very best we could at this point. I was saved the pain of my English exams, because, as I was the third year of GCSEs we were doing 100% coursework. No final exam needed. Can you imagine it? Not any more.

So as of Monday our year 11 students are on Mock study leave in order to do mock exams. They are now beginning to understand. They had a briefing on Friday and sat in shock as they were informed that they weren’t allowed to take bags, coats, phones or any device into the exam hall. They were enlightened as to what the definition of ‘Communication’ was. But, they were also informed that if they so chose to, they were allowed to leave the school site when they didn’t have any exams. The most exciting point apparently being that they can have lunch at KFC without trying to ‘Jump fence’ – freedom indeed. Mock exams have suddenly allowed a degree of freedom that more than makes up for the 5 hour Art exam several students have to wade through.

I am looking forward to the marking…no hint of irony. My year 11s have worked hard; with the exception of Christmas. They have come to lunch boosters; they have engaged in exam question preparation. They have created their own reading questions based on articles and we have analysed the conventions of numerous writing formats, language for audiences and they can detect the purpose of a text from about 20 paces.

So why am I nervous? It’s always the same. I drum the info in and pull the knowledge out. The students prove they can do it, but, just as when my daughters were learning to take their first independent steps; I am still concerned that my students will falter. They won’t, at least not in the Summer. The mocks might be a different story. I can but wait. But in the meanwhile the mocks stare at me, mocking.

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14 more get ups, play dough and poetry

I’m not sure my day could get any weirder. We know that being a destination obsessive is not the most healthy of pursuits but when you see a countdown on an office white board, you know it’s not just you. You also know that everyone is feeling the same way.

I have always enjoyed teaching, but this has always been the hardest time of the year. I have developed a strategy for surviving:

Plan tasks that enable students to peer assess each other…we have currently done an in house poetry recitation competition with year 7, we can’t take them further in the regional because of age restrictions but they enjoyed the ability to learn and recite a poem to their peers. The audience judged and gave stars for the performances. They had strict criteria…give up to three positives and one point to develop.

The poetry unit has afforded us the opportunity to explore modern music and lyrics. We have been able to discuss the differences between traditional poetry forms and techniques and modern song lyrics. I’m all set for the Christmas poetry that we will embark on in a week or so.

My KS4 groups have either been reading Mice and Men or been doing exam prep. I have a bank of reading and writing tasks in hand to keep them in check. So basically I can cruise through to the end of term, knowing that I have everything under control.

But then…

I attend a departmental meeting where my HOD hands out two tubs of play dough. We are told that we can use them for class activities. The caveat is that we have to pick our pilot group carefully. My mind has started racing. I don’t know if I can manage a bunch of students with two tubs of play dough, in fact with some of my year 10s I might have to issue a certificate warning when we evaluate what they manage to create as part of their creative process. But it has certainly woken me from my premature slumber. Bother, I now have to experiment with tasks to elicit the correct outcome. I have to be all active and constructive and encouraging. And to top it all off I have to keep an eye on the carpet!

Teaching and Learning comes into it’s own when we are tired. Training students when we are on top form prepares us for when we are counting down the days. My students know how to do green pen catch up, WWW and EBI as well as gap tasks. I can give them instructions and they can get on with it, allowing me to focus on the students who need that special assistance to engage or extend. For me Teaching and Learning has gone from a chore to a chance to shine. Sometimes it is a little bit like a roller coaster.

We won’t be watching DVDs and playing at seasonal word searches this year; we will be too busy with thinking hats, group tasks, dice activities, and play dough activities based on what animal you associate with Curley…

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If I ruled the world…of education

I need to set the parameters. I’m no economist or strategist. I am an idealist, a very deep blue sky thinker, with a rainbow over one side. I am an optimist and I attempt to see the good in everyone. I wished we lived in the utopia of the Star Trek universe, where money was no longer the driving force behind ambition. Bearing all that in mind here is what I would like to do to the UK education system…
I believe that all children need to attend nursery at least from the age of 3. This isn’t a political motive, this is a broadening perspectives motive. Even if it is just one morning a week, and mum is more upset about leaving them than they are about running over to see their new friends. Children need to interact. If they are sociable then they will love it; if not, they will develop skills to adapt to it. After that things would run pretty smoothly. Children need to go to school, of course they do. I think children should be taught up to the age of 12. But from my perspective as a Secondary teacher I think there are far more options: parents or carers should be given education ‘vouchers’ that they can cash in for schooling, until the age of 21 – that would include FE and HE if they so choose to take it. It would also cover apprenticeships and all that day release options some student do. Most would take this option and carry on in education as long as they could. Others would happily take the alternatives; outward bound courses, agriculture, mechanical basics, cadets, physical training, design craft, traditional skills like plumbing, carpentry, electrical and building, or even computer programming and other practical training that we don’t see as main stream yet, but will save us from a skills shortage and a lack of skilled technical support. I don’t necessarily advocate a return to split education of grammar and secondary moderns – my world would enable students to cash in their education vouchers at any time, joining a class to build up theoretical skills to match the practical ones. But, it would be a broader curriculum designed to be a real solution for those students who just don’t see the point in doing subjects they will never need. And here’s the interesting part, it will allow those same students to opt back in when they do see the need.

My brother hated school. He joined the army at 17 and enjoyed a very full army life, despite having no formal qualifications. He reached a time in his life when he wanted promotion. He applied and was turned down, because of his grades. The army gave him the option to go back to ‘school’ and gain the qualifications he needed. So he did, in his 20s. He could see by then the reason why he needed them was not to jump through hoops, but so he could prove he could cope with the rigours of the paperwork involved in his promotion. Since that day, he has never looked back. I am proud but I can see how much money was wasted on him when he just needed to work out what he needed to do. How many students leave after 11 years with below par grades, when if they had the chance to take time out and assess what life might be like without school, they might treat things differently.

Blue sky thinking…I’m not sure anyone will agree with me, but I will enjoy the discussion it raises.

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A good supply these days…

‘Oo’s ‘er?’ Is the most frequent question I get asked when a colleague is away from school, closely followed by ‘Where’s Miss?’ Possibly without the correct apostrophes in the dialectical variations.

Today was just such a day. A colleague was out on a training course and I met the supply teacher who was to cover her. It was clear from the outset that this lady possessed a special calm. When the set cover work needed to be set up she sorted it, she was intuitive and seemed to know where the students were up to; just by a flick through of an exercise book. She understood the cover work and knew how to introduce it and got the class settled in record time.

I admire supply teachers. They do something I feel I could never do. I base my successful career on the fact that I can develop good relationships with students. They do what I say because they know what I will do if they don’t. They understand my sense of humour and we can work with each other to settle problems without either side feeling put out. I have always worked with relationships and my personality, and so far it has worked.

The supply teacher today seemed to work with her senses; and more importantly, a kind of sixth sense of just knowing what level to pitch everything at. It was like someone jumping into an unfamiliar car and being able to speed off, without stalling! I spoke to her throughout the day and she said that each time she visits she feels as if the school is even more calm and settled than the last time she remembered it. She said that having clearly set work and pointers to assist her move quickly into the work helps, so too does a department who can support and not just walk passed the door if someone needs a spot of assistance…especially with technology!

Being an effective supply teacher is a superpower. (To coin a Dr. Who maxim) and I admire anyone who is able to walk into any number of schools on a regular basis and just assume the role. Thank you. You are valued.