The Revision Collection

13 Apr 2017

learner driver

Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. William Wordsworth.

Last year, at the ripe old age of thirty, I passed my driving test. After years of running and cycling everywhere the time had come to graduate to yet another petrol guzzling road user.  There comes a point when stealing lifts and sweaty arrivals becomes rather socially unacceptable. My initial (and continued, according to better half, aka backseat driver of the year) utter uselessness and frustration behind the wheel gave me a whole new perspective on the learning process.

Teaching the new English GCSE’s over the past two years has very much felt like another manifestation of the trials and tribulations of learning how  to drive. The obsessive reading of new specifications matched the earnest preparation for the theory exam (just passed, inordinately more stressful than I had envisioned!). The tentative beginnings in sequestered country roads matched the initial terms attempts to teach the structure of answering questions in the English Language paper (how on earth do I make it move?!) The endless stalling embodied the inability to feel completely at ease, confident and seamless with what I was delivering.  The relationship with the gear stick could be a post on its own, with my sporadic gear change which fluctuating wildly between the numbers, perfectly defining my complete confusion over grading student work. The gear stick and I still do not get on well, although we have a better relationship than my confusion/rage over how to give students meaningful grades for work.

My extraordinary laboured point: doing something for the first time is stressful, difficult and fraught with anxiety.  There is inevitably a distinct lack of confidence and a degree of feeling that no matter how much effort you put in, clarity and direction are troublesome to pin down. Some degree of salvation arrived at the start of this academic year. Writing a range of blogs on the texts I have been teaching and how to approach questions has helped to crystallise thinking and helped me to feel empowered with some sense of direction for students. More importantly, it has been joining the inspirational community of teachers on Twitter that has provided an optimistic voice in the darkness. #teamenglish should be lauded as savours throughout the land – with the generosity of spirit shown by teachers in sharing resources and ideas vital in improving not only teachers’ confidence, but in having a positive impact on young peoples’ attainment and futures. Stumbling through this year has been made immeasurably easier with this network.

Part of the break is inevitably about thinking about the best way to maximise the month left when student’s return, how best to use lesson time, how best to structure their revision. For an extremely helpful collection of thoughts, this post from Susan Strachan outlines in detail her final push with students. Spending the break reading Alex Quigley’s ‘The Confident Teacher’  has also made me reflect on what students need from us after the Easter break. His post on the imposter syndrome and graceful swans is a particularly useful read at this point in the year. Students will be looking for us to be the voice of calm authority, to encourage them and inspire them to achieve their potential. While inwardly we may be the inevitable washing machine of anxiety and fear, sharing this with students will only serve to augment their stress – quiet confidence, appropriate urgency and direction should hopefully radiate.

For me the next month will involve lots of exam style questions, lots of mini retention and recap questions, lots of planning of modelling answers and an extraordinary amount of pugnacious probing questions!  Below are the collection of posts that have informed my plans with students this year and how I will structure revision for them over the next month. The students are sitting the WJEC Eduqas examinations, hopefully these posts will have elements that are applicable and helpful for other exam boards.

  1. In response to students continued struggles to write engaging narratives, I moved from churning through endless marking to writing more models for students. Deconstructing these and talking through my process with students has had far more impact in growing them as writers. Some examples and the process is in this post: Year 11 mock exams: speedos, modelling writing and self assessment.  Developing the confidence to share more of my own writing with students has been a real focus this year. If you need any more encouragement, this excellent read from Mark Roberts will inspire you to write more for students.
  2. Having taught ‘Macbeth’ a number of times now, I wrote this post to clarify an exam approach and to break down exactly what I wanted students to revise. The students know that over Easter they are going through the last push to learn the forty key quotations and the language, structure form writing techniques: Shakespearean Trump card, Teaching Macbeth.  This post on teaching Year 9 how to write about ‘The Tempest’ has also informed recent attempts to develop Year 11’s ability to write effectively about ‘Macbeth’. We know use the SEAL acronym in lessons (Shakespeare, Evidence, Audience, Language). Students will write this when they arrive in the exam and aim to tick off for each paragraph.
  3. This recent post on ‘A Christmas Carol’ outlines my plans for revising the novel with students, and how I am using the SCROOGE acronym with the group to develop their ability to structure exam questions (clearly I have had a slight acronym obsession this year!)
  4. Having watched students becoming increasingly baffled and frustrated by the mysteries of unseen poetry, this post explores an approach based on learned questions and a range of unseen poems we have explored using this method: Revising Unseen Poetry. They are growing in confidence in poetry but this will need a focus in the last few weeks.
  5. For English Language, this post on the WJEC Educas Component two was an attempt to finally crystallise thinking on how to approach this challenging paper: Eduqas component 2 Mock Informed teaching: An action plan. This post is also a method for approaching fiction extracts to use for difficult evaluation questions: English Language extracts, smashing the superficial with Dickens. 

Confession: I failed my driving test the first time. A bundle of nerves I made a plethora of errors: stalling in the middle of the roundabout vying for first place, competing with a reverse around a corner that ended up on the other street side pavement (who reverses around a corner? Still bitter.) The poor examiner literally stumbled out of the car at the end of the test, dripping with sweat and shaking with fear.  Once I had overcome the initial disappointment it was very clear: I just wasn’t ready, I hadn’t done enough preparation, I wasn’t confident enough. There will always be uncertainty about preparing students for exams, we are not behind the wheel and our influence can only go so far. Yet what we can, and will have done through the course of the two years, is our very best in reflecting on the best strategies, on planning (and fretting!) for them and providing the young people with the opportunities to do well. The ownership is now on them, as it should be. We then reflect, hone, develop and hope to go just a little better next time. Thank you for reading. Hopefully come mid August we will see lots of this!



Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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