Year 11: Preparing for the mock

I realised the other day that I haven’t blogged about my Y11 class for a while and I started to ask myself why. Eventually I came to realise that I’m scared. I haven’t looked at their persuasive writing coursework yet, whereas I marked their creative writing piece Friday evening (unheard of for me!) I’m worried that I may not see another set of marks which show such great improvement. I’m worried that I may have let them down.

Yet, here I am early on a Saturday morning with my laptop out writing them a mock revision guide… oh, and blogging about them again!

They have had quite a journey since the last time I wrote about them.

Since coming back from the holidays 4 of my boys have turned into right numpties! They’ve ditched a lesson or two (luckily not mine), but they had a huge reality slap when they realised that ditching that lesson may have consequences on their English lessons. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the two conversations I had with those three boys. I should have realised that something was amiss when one of them turned up to my after school class – he’s never been to one before! But at the end of it two of them told me what they’d done and how they may be placed in alternative learning until the end of the course now (they’re no angels and have been pushing at boundaries for quite a while). They looked genuinely sorry and seemed to have finally understood that they may have messed everything up; that what we were doing in our lessons was so important, so vital for their future and that they could have ruined it all. But it was during the next day’s lesson that it really hit home. My most improved student (the one who’d moved his mark from 5/24 to 13/24) was in the same predicament. He’d ditched with them and was now worried about facing the same punishment. There were tears in his eyes when he told me that he may never be coming back to my lessons. He agreed with me that he was an idiot and said that he knew he may have “screwed everything up”. He understood that in a month he’d gone from an E grade target to a D+ piece of coursework with the possibility of a C on this one to an unknown future in his English GCSE.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so let down by a class before. But all 4 of us stood in limbo last week waiting to find out how serious their punishment would be.

But two weeks on, they’re still in my class and acting less like numpties around the school – although still far from angels!

So we’re plowing through mock prep and we’re behind everyone else (as normal for us), but they’re making strong progress. Most of this progress is down to a fantastic CPD session run by @englishlulu (if you don’t follow her – do! She’s fab!) I’ve been writing quite simple looking worksheets on ‘Macbeth’ which is very specifically tailored towards the Edexcel paper. Getting them used to identifying techniques and a basic ‘fill-in-the-gaps’ writing frame which I have reduced slowly until they’re writing their own paragraphs with only a few sentence starters to help them. I’ve added these to my DropBox folder here.

I have been genuinely surprised by how they well they’re doing.

We have used the new topic to restructure the seating plan for the class. Previously, I had let them sit where they wanted as long as they got on with their work and since November this had only seen a handful of incidents where I had to move them somewhere else for a lesson. But when I decided this, I was worried that we may be in for our first big fight…

Luckily, I had underestimated how mature my class could be. They all moved with no fuss and our three little groups are working really well:

  • The confident (C grade hopeful) group. There’s three in this group and they work really well on their own. One lad in that group was genuinely surprised by how easy Shakespeare could be! It’s lovely to hear them helping each other (and their ‘Macbeth’ song!).
  • The need a little help group. These guys can do it with a little bit of guidance. I am confident they will get D grades (which is great as their targets are Es). They have wonderful ideas and are beginning to really get a handle on Shakespearean English.
  • NCL’s group. My TA is wonderful, I cannot praise her enough. And she works brilliantly with this group. This small group of 3 could get a D, but they will need a lot of help to get there. Together the 4 of them work their way through the sheet helping one another. The fact that my TA does not hide it when she doesn’t understand something and will openly ask me if she’s right in front of them gives them real confidence to ask me for help too. When they are disagreeing over the right answer and she’s wrong and they’re right she happily admits defeat and lets them enjoy that moment of being better than a member of staff and it does wonders for their confidence. The 4 of them are learning together and they are all happy to do that. (To be honest, it’s one of the best parts of the lesson when I see that)

Not wishing to sound patronising, but if you haven’t tried changing seating plan based on topic I really recommend giving it a go. I’d often avoided it in the past as it’s extra hassle and I don’t always have the energy to fight against a whole class of children. And this time around I was worried about disrupting the delicate balance of our class. But, yet again, I’d underestimated them (fingers crossed I find out the same thing on results day!)

But, I need to go back to my revision pack for them: they’re more worried than they let on. All the tell-tale signs are there: giving up much quicker; arguing; refusing to get started; squabbling; ditching (again other subjects, luckily not mine); fighting (again, I called him an idiot which he accepted and agreed with). No matter what they do around the school and no matter how many other members of staff they piss off, if they keep working hard for me; if they keep being respectful towards me & our TA; if they keep wanting to do well in English I’ll keep giving them everything in my arsenal to help them. I do have to block my ears to everything I hear about them, as far as I’m concerned they’re only the people I see in my room 4 times a week and I really like those people. They motivate me and make me love being a teacher again when I’m feeling the strain. They make me laugh and give me strength to keep fighting against seemingly impossible odds. They break my heart when they finally admit the truth to me: “I’m shitting myself that I’m going to fail my mocks again. I don’t want to fail again.”

This lad has tested my last nerve the past fortnight by starting to show me some of the poor behaviour I’ve been hearing about. And I’d had enough on Friday – I snapped at him. I didn’t take any of his nonsense and told him straight that he was being disrespectful and rude and that I had done nothing to deserve it and that he was being completely out of order. To which he replied, “Alright, I’ll do my work.” But that was no longer good enough: I had had enough of his nonsense. I told him that work wasn’t really what I wanted from him and as I stood up to walk away he mumbled “Sorry” at me. A clear reminder to me that there is a right time for sympathy and understanding, but you can’t ignore the time when they need to know they’ve done wrong. And if you know the student well enough & if they know you well enough you can spot that time and get the right result from it. After working all lesson, and proudly showing me what he’d done, he told me what was worrying him: failing. He told me how all his teachers talk about is the mocks and the GCSE exams and all it does to him is remind him he failed the December mocks and he doesn’t want to fail again.

So, at 8am on a Saturday morning, I’m writing a revision pack for them. Detailed, clear and a little bit fun. I don’t want them to fail again (they all failed the Dec mocks) and they don’t want to either. I want them to see that hard work does get them what they want. I want them to feel good about themselves as English students. So, I may miss my early morning reading with a nice cuppa in bed this morning. I may even miss the final two matches of the 6 Nations today. But they need this pack on Monday; they need to feel confident when they walk into the exam hall. And they need that a lot more than I need to finish ‘The Snow Child’ and have a cup of Earl Grey.

After all they’re my class and I love ’em! (but not enough to miss England’s match this afternoon!)