You can’t teach it all

As we start to think about revision, I thought it might be handy to share how I approach these final few weeks, and how I set about ensuring I am focusing on the right ‘stuff’ when teaching.

It can be really tempting to try to reteach everything, carrying out a whistle stop tour of the programme of study for the last almost two years in a bid to touch upon it all, but I would argue that this is to reassure us rather than the student, and can actually be a little overwhelming. I have been guilty of trying to reteach entire texts, zooming through each one in turn with the hope that something sticks. Instead, there are steps we can take to refine this process.

Firstly, we should have as broad a picture as we can about what students do know. Knowledge tests, multiple choice quizzes and the mock exams can help us to build up a secure interpretation of that so that we and the student know their starting points- and that they do know something! That is really important, because students seem to dip into a lull of learned helplessness when we reach revision, and this can help them to alleviate that by seeing their own starting point. For the literature texts, it helps to test knowledge of tracking key events for characters, and themes that need exploration. I’ll come onto what this might look like in teaching later on.

When it comes to the language papers, the knowledge is wholly reliant upon their grasp of writing, writing academically, and practice. If you are reluctant to get them to sit an entire paper at this stage, it would be relatively useful to ask them to carry out a ‘process’ mock; in that, for each question, they write out the process and structure they would follow to respond to the question. For instance, if responding to a question analysing the language, which quotations would they select, can they identify the terminology used within these quotations, do they know how to structure a response, can they select the analytical language to do so. This mental rehearsal exposes where they might find difficulty at various points, and if so, what’s missing. With my students, I teach them to use the text annotations as a plan (terminology on the left, ideas on the right, cross off as we write), and ‘doubling up’ as a method to push analysis; when exploring a word, it could mean this OR this, this AND this (more on this here: Https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2019/12/18/nuts-and-bolts-teaching-academic-writing/). am also looking for whether they box plan before writing section B – a process mock highlights such gaps of understanding very quickly.

Through this, I have an informed picture of where we are at, and which areas to prioritise so that I can make the most impact. So now what? Now, it is about putting a programme of study together that is informed by starting points and the best way to spend the time.

  • I write up a programme of study. This shares the plan up to the exam with the student, lesson by lesson, handing over responsibility to them to bring revision guides, prepare by revisiting the texts, or if they are absent, know what they missed and what they need to do to catch up. I include a knowledge organiser for each of the literature texts that returns back to the foundations of the text itself- what needs to be known and remembered.
  • The programme of study shares the focus for each week and the structure of that week. Each week will look at a different text and a different element of the language paper, making room for a period of extended writing. This is key to cementing their stamina for writing in exam conditions.
  • For the schedule of literature text, I will take three lessons: one lecture-style lesson using LitdriveCPD material to explore a key theme within the text, with a short knowledge quiz to follow, another lesson focussing on a theme and how each character contributes to that theme, and then a practice question taken from the previous exam board questions that have featured.
  • For the programme of study for language, we will collaboratively plan particular questions that were highlighted as a concern , followed by a lesson of writing practice in the style of the 200 word challenge. Using a series of both fiction and non fiction tasks, this period of time is more to embed the planning period pre-writing, than the writing itself. We will plan and write every week. I need to build stamina of writing for a prolonged period, and drilling down a specific approach to written responses.

Retrieval within lessons will then look to establish what is known, and explicitly make the connections for how it links to other aspects of what should be known. Furthermore, can we start to bring a far more multi faceted approach to our vocabulary that we have spent so long teaching students. For example, if we explore the theme of responsibility: can students articulate what it means; can they define it for each of the characters of An Inspector Calls; can they also tie it to sense of agency in Macbeth, and to what extent he is responsible for his choices and actions; can they consider the deliberation of responsibility in the final line of Exposure; can they consider how much or little responsibility Jekyll takes for Hyde? Words should become interchangeable for texts, so that they are useful in an infinite way.

Lastly, we openly discuss what we do know, as opposed to what we do not all the time. We celebrate marginal gains, almost to the point of hyperbole, because at this stage, the gain is magnified. We reward; we call home, we talk about the ‘crucial’ and ‘vital’ work taking place to ensure success ‘in the final stretch’ or ‘these last few weeks.’ We appreciate that for students, these weeks can feel rather longer than the ones that zoomed by before them, but simultaneously, time is running short and they want to know that what they’re doing will help.

I will add an example programme of study booklet here shortly to demonstrate what this may look like. A thousand thank yous to those that upload to Litdrive- it means I can think these things through.

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