I have set myself the target (as all should) of getting and keeping challenge high. This is from expectations of behaviour to how students present their work. In my first couple of years teaching, I would sometimes accept less than top effort and excellence in work – I hasten to add that by excellence, I am taking into account the start point for each student as excellence inevitably varies as each student and their outcomes are unique.
So, I will accept nothing but the very best – from both myself and the students. Even if this means they write out the same spelling 100 times, it will stick!
But challenge is difficult. I am the first to admit that I get things wrong, gauging work either too hard or easy at times. But I would like to think I am flexible and can adjust in these circumstances. The key thing though is that the bar is high always regardless of the students starting point. As Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison discuss in ‘Making every lesson count’, to not set the bar high is to disadvantage students who might be deemed less able (for example) and it is therefore about how we scaffold tasks and make them more accessible.
So this brings me onto something I have been trying in my lessons. It is related to scaffolding. Again, taking ‘Making every lesson count’ into consideration – and the CPD course I am following hosted by the authors – I wanted to make students think more about their content and success criteria. I decided to do this through sentence starters and criteria for sentences. This can work better than people might realise. For example, it might give the students new words to include, words they may never consider using. But by presenting it to them, the students have to consider the meaning in the target language and what language should be used to accompany it. For example, let’s take “normalmente” as a starter. This implies a present tense action, or something continuous. Therefore the students can’t start writing in the future tense etc. Alternatively, the structure may determine the following: “Sentence 2 must include an opinion and a justification”. This is very personalised and allows the student to pick a suitable answer for them. The challenge would be for the student to then alter their choice of opinion in future uses of opinions and reasons.
Here you can see examples of marked work by my year 10 class. They were required to discuss a hotel stay in the imperfect tense and give a recommendation. As the Edexcel criteria for the upcoming task requires a review of a holiday destination, I wanted to narrow down this section of their work whereas other areas of their preparation I have left more open for personalisation. In this section, their sentences need to say where it was, what it was like, what it had/didn’t have, positives and negatives, what the experience was like and whether they would recommend it. Although the criteria were quite rigid (you could say), my wonderful students were still able to apply the language to make their answers very personal and it was clear they had considered the requirements of the task, the language required, and were able to produce some very good (short) pieces of writing. I can’t wait to see all of it together! (Stay tuned…)
I am applying this theory to other classes too but varying the criteria. Depending on the class, I may stipulate specific words. Alternatively, I will give them the overall criteria (with a checklist at first) and leave them to put it together themselves. Either way, I find it a very useful means to assist students in producing excellent pieces of work.
The key thing though is to see students replicate this over time, gradually removing the scaffolding.
As the year progresses, I will continue looking into challenge and finding ways to continue pushing students to excel. Consider this “Perfect practice makes permanent”. This is where I want to be. Next up, explanation and modelling.
I look forward to talking this through in due course. Let me know your thoughts.