Here at Durrington our Y11 students have sat their mocks and had their results and in a number of subjects, teachers have already finished teaching the content of the course. It’s parents evening tonight and a common topic of discussion will be what the students need to do in between now and when the exams start to maximise their performance. Curriculum leaders and teachers have been discussing the same thing – how can teachers optimise the use of the next 57 school days (starting on Monday) before the GCSE exams start? The most effective teachers seem to have a degree of commonality between how they plan to approach the next 57 days with their classes, which we have tried to formulate into a ‘to-do’ list in this blog.
- Work out how many lessons you have left within these 57 days. You then know what you are working with.
- Interrogate the mock papers for the classes you taught. Which questions and topics did they perform poorly on?
- Go further than this though. It’s not good enough just to identify the topics they under-performed in, as topics are very broad. You need to know which specific parts of the topic they under-performed in and why? For example, in physics, they may have under-performed in momentum. However, there are a number of reasons why they might have lost marks e.g. they couldn’t recall the equation p=m x v; they didn’t know that momentum is conserved, so it’s the same before and after a collision or explosion; they couldn’t remember the units kg m/s. This is important – you have to know where the specific knowledge gaps are, in order to address it through your teaching.
- Know your students. Who under-performed and why? Have a plan about how you are going to support them e.g. one to one modelling and scaffolding; checking they are OK when they start a task; asking them more challenging questions to really stretch their thinking; boost their confidence when they successfully tackle a question they have previously struggled with.
- Look at moderator reports and the exam board analysis of students in your centre compared to national results – in the subject you taught. Whilst this was a different cohort, it might still give you an indication of potential areas to focus on.
- You now know the lessons you have left and the content that you should cover, so use this to produce a plan. Lesson by lesson, what are you going to cover? This will ensure that you cover all the potential problem areas in the run up to the exams. Leave yourself some flexibility within this plan though, as you will probably need to review it.
- Producing a plan like this will reduce your anxiety. You won’t have to worry that you might miss something, or that you won’t fit it all in as you’ve already done all the planning.
- Next – plan carefully what you are going to do in those lessons? Retrieval of knowledge will be key and will help boost the confidence of students. So start with some retrieval questions of the main topics. Build this up over the weeks, so they have an every growing list of cumulative questions to revise from independently
- Think about how you are going to model to students how to choose, use and evaluate the best strategy to tackle an exam question (metacognition). The EEF metacognition guidance report provides a great 7 step approach to help you model this with them:
- A number of curriculum areas have simplifed this down to an ‘I, we, you‘ approach, which lends itself perfectly to modelling answering exam questions. The teacher does one on their own, explaining and discussing each of the steps on the way. The teacher and the class then work through a similar question together. Finally, students work through another similar question on their own.
- Make sure they have worked examples in their books (after the ‘I’ stage, above), as that will reduce the cognitive load when it comes to tackling similar questions on their own.
- Give them lots of opportunities to answer really hard exam questions – purposeful practice. This article in The Guardian talks about a Cardiff maths teacher whose whole class achieved an A* at GCSE. A colleague describes the teacher:
“We call him the maths whisperer. He instils the belief that they have practised the hardest maths that they have to ever face, so why be scared of an exam? It’s the belief that they absolutely can do it, and the children think it’s magic.”
- Use this in-class exam question practice formatively. Where are they going wrong? Is it identifying topics that you need to re-teach? If so, re-teach them.
- Use homework wisely – plan carefully the exam questions they can do at home to link it to what you have been doing in lessons, but also include topics that you haven’t covered recently, as an opportunity for some spaced practice. This should also be used as an opportunity for whole-class feedback – how did they do? What common mistakes were made? How can they avoid these mistakes?
- Make it easy for parents to support what you are doing at home. We have put copies of knowledge organisers from all subjects on our VLE for parents to download and use for quizzing. We have also recorded some YouTube videos for parents, explaining how they can support with flashcards and knowledge organisers.
- Review your seating plan this is a great time to refocus a class with a new seating plan and think about who might benefit who, through sitting together?
- And finally – review your plan. As time goes on, you will almost certainly discover that you need to spend more time on X than Y. Be responsive.