I really enjoyed the #Engchatuk discussion this week on KS4 to KS5 transition. It feels like I spend more and more of my time thinking about KS5 and how I can improve my teaching, as well as developing strategies that we use in KS5 and can push back to the lower school.
Students have found my exam text particularly challenging. I am in the third year of teaching it and it doesn’t seem to get any easier. As I don’t have too much choice, I plod on. Each year trying new ways to help students engage, to work independently and write eloquently. If I’m honest, each year my results are a little disappointing (not horrific, but not amazing).
This, is the year. I can feel it in my bones. I think we have cracked the nut. I can see the wood and the trees. The pen is mighty than the sword etc, et al. Something is different. I don’t know what. Perhaps our projects lower down the school are having an impact and therefore students arriving in year 12 are more independent, more knowledgeable and better equipped. Perhaps this cohort are inexplicably drawn to Henry James and his craftiness. Perhaps, just perhaps, I am seeing the payoff of three years of tinkering with skills transitions activities.
In case it is the tinkering that has helped, here is my journey to date:
Year 1 – obsession with Blooms
I was an NQT, terrified of having to teach KS5, let alone James’ The Turn of the Screw. My solution was to ensure that students were able to access the text through the medium of Blooms Taxonomy. Now the wisdom and sensibleness of this maybe questioned but for me it provided a reliable structure to ensure that we didn’t just talk about the story and the characters and for the students, it allowed them to develop a logical way to make sense of their thinking.
During this year, I created a set of Blooms activity cards and depending of my evaluation (or their own evaluation) of their strengths and needs, a student would pick a card from say the “comprehension” pile and carry out this task independently. Below is an example of from the “knowledge” activities collection.
These cards and activities worked pretty well for a while, but it became apparent that I needed more and I needed to be more creative about the tasks I asked students to do.
Out came the “creative” activities cards.
Year 2 – Knee jerk obsession with assessment objectives
My tactic to cope with my results was to re-focus on the assessment objectives, and who can blame me? The mantra became – “what is your AO4 Band 6 version of that?” Sad, but true. So, trigger new additions to my activity cards. The AOs. Below is AO2.
Don’t forget students still have my lovely set of Blooms cards, so now the somewhat overwhelming option of 10 different colours to choose from.
But as the year drew on, I realised I was doing my students somewhat of a disservice. So we ditched the cards and got whacky with string, and post its and youtube videos. Most of my T&L activities are tried and tested on my amazing year 12s.
I wasn’t going to be kept prisoner by a bunch of AOs and some laminated cards.
Year 3 – Worth Taking a Risk
So, where now? Less formulaic? More? Where is the balance?
Since making my AO cards, I have developed another obsession. This time it’s with trees.
Each time we read Henry James, I have to ask myself this question – are we looking at a close up or the big picture? The inherent ambiguities of the text mean almost any contrasting comparative works (fantasy or reality, truth or lies, beauty or beast).
So, of course, I started thinking about big picture and close up activities. Although I don’t use the cards every lesson, students still enjoy the choice, the independence, the ability to achieve. Below are some of my new, big picture tasks:
One of my year 12 classes has a saying – “the sky is not the limit”. We were discussing what a lesson should be and one of my more conceptual students stated “a lesson should a journey beyond reality and dreams, beyond even the stars”. I know, it doesn’t sound like a 16 year old from Croydon does it?
So, in the same way that we created our 50 things homework project, we are now creating our own sets of activity cards under the headings:
- Risk taking
- The sky is not the limit
- Iceberg thinking (thanks to Caldies English for this)
- The journey
- Innovate then debate
I have added to this list a set on scholastic / academic language collection and use. Students want this but don’t know how. So I will endeavour to find some ways to develop this as well.
Part one of activity cards is now available on my free downloads page, more to follow soon – I am adding the scholastic language tasks at this very moment.
Any ideas on activities for our new cards, please let me know.