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!)

Year 11: Restoring my faith in students, hard work & myself.

The year 11 class I blogged about a few weeks ago have, finally, finished their first controlled assessment with me. Yes, we are behind schedule. And yes, the process was painful at times. But it’s done now. And what a high it finished on!


With a class of 10 and 6 of their CAs marked (one still needs to finish and I forgot to print off three – idiot!) the Unit 3, Writing marks look like this:

 Photo 01-02-2014 20 24 59

Understandably, I am so chuffed with them all! 5/6 improved their marks and either achieved or exceeded their target grades (I assume, as English teachers are no longer allowed to know grade boundaries.)

But it’s more than the higher number which has me so happy, it’s the time and effort they put into this piece of work. It’s their level of pride in their English work: 2 asked if they could take their work home to show their parents, with 1 asking to take it to show to his gran. But it is also the trust they put in me. As I said in my earlier blog, for some I am their 4th or 5th GCSE English teacher. It would have been completely understandable if they had dismissed me as yet another ‘here one week, gone the next’ teacher or just the final straw in a disrupted course. But, to quote the SENCo, they “bought into” me. And until this weekend, I didn’t fully believe that.

Friday afternoon was a time of great celebration to me and not because it was the weekend. Stood in the staff room reading out passages from my class’ work to two colleagues had me beaming and bouncing round the room: they were good! And what’s more, it wasn’t my biased judgment which thought this, my colleagues said so too! I may have gotten a little carried away with excitement; possibly scaring my principal and marking on a Friday night, something I NEVER do!

However, there was a sobering moment. Student 5. He had only matched his previous mark. I am troubled and saddened by this; he put so much effort in to this piece of work, will this mark dishearten him? I hope not, but it’s down to me to make sure that it doesn’t. And I think I have a plan… As I was reading his work, I realised something seemed wrong: this wasn’t the plan he had written. Mid-way through his writing, he had decided to move away from the plan, I suspect the personal problems he’d had during the week had soured his mood and made his writing more miserable. Task 1 for Monday morning – find out if it’s breaks a CA rule if I let him take a third attempt with his original plan.

But how do we move forward?

Come Monday morning, we are cracking straight on with Unit 1, Writing. As you can see from the picture the marks are low or non-existent, so this is a must. The plan is as follows:


  1. Maintain our new mantra: Each CA needs to be at least one mark higher than the previous. We will no longer settle for ‘good enough’. In fact, we will no longer settle for ‘good’, we want nothing but brilliant.
  2. Praise and positivity. I’ve tried really hard to stick to this with phone calls home; getting my head of faculty to comment on a C grade paragraph from an E grade student; praising them to their head of year. Our lesson titles and lesson objectives are centred around boosting their confidence: TITLE = Continuing to create a brilliant piece of coursework. LESSON OBJECTIVE = To be able to demonstrate your ability to use all the techniques needed to get a great mark in your controlled assessment. But how to move this forward? I’ve started by writing my own feedback sheets to compliment the marking grids. Small changes keep the positivity alive. I’ve done away with bland titles, such as ‘Objectives met’ & ‘Targets’ and replaced them with ‘Everything you did brilliantly’ and ‘Tips to be even more amazing in your next assessment’. I’ve also not used the uninspired words of the Edexcel mark scheme, but written in my own voice and quoted from their work. They will take these home to show their parents & carers and give them the chance to comment on them, before sticking them in their books: Photo 01-02-2014 20 48 11Photo 01-02-2014 20 48 04
  3. Don’t forget the basics.  Reading through their work has reminded me that I need to run over the basics again (and probably again… and again… and again before the exam). They have worked so hard to include all the techniques I taught them and punctuate their speech correctly, but they are struggling with the basics: spelling & sentences. So, I’m busting out my Y7 English Booster resources to go back to basics. It sounds patronising, but I have faith they’ll go with me on it. They embraced ‘sounding it out’ for their spellings.
  4.  Celebrate. This morning I went out to buy a box of chocolates to share with them on Monday: they worked hard & they deserve a treat. I shall also be calling all their parents / carers on Tuesday (no frees on Monday) to let them know how brilliant their work was (and to tell them about the feedback sheets). I shall also be telling everyone who will listen how brilliant their marks were and asking them to praise them whenever they seem them. But I have better news to share with them – the HoF has OKed pizza! If they get coursework folders of Ds & above they can have pizza on the last lesson, paid for by the department.


Oh and for any readers of the previous blog, the Tuesday after school lessons they asked for are still running and I have a steady 3 or 4 turn up each week.