Well, as the academic year almost draws to an end, I am left pondering what went well and what didn’t for our department. And, I think one of our successes was an A5 exam booklet. A small green photocopied booklet.
Just before Christmas, I got a bit concerned that as a department we could be teaching the exam questions in different ways: the new GCSE meant that we weren’t clear as to what to expect and what to ask students to do. Yes, we had collective approaches to questions, but the majority of our time planning was on our own. As a head of department, I guided staff with resources and suggested approaches, but, still, I felt something else was needed. Therefore, armed with a laptop and the Internet, I created a booklet. Each page covered a question, providing students with guidance, approaches and suggested things to write in their answers. It also included a breakdown of the exams, a glossary, key contextual facts, quotes and numerous other things. In a way, it was our party manifesto for tackling the exam. There is a lot of conflicting information on the Internet. A lot of it for the new exam. A Youtube video says this. A blog says that. Comically, there are textbooks and revision guides for an exam that not one student in the country has sat at the time of making it. You can be endorsed by an exam board as much as you like, but when the exam board’s staple response to key questions is ‘errr….ummm… things will be clear after the exam’, then I am not convinced by any form of endorsement.
I wanted to have a party line for tackling the exam and each question.
The students used the booklet in their lessons.
They used them for homework.
They used them at home.
I also used the booklets in revision sessions.
The pleasing thing was that I saw loads of them on the morning of the exam, as students revised. It was a point of reference at all times. It was starting point. But, more importantly, it was a concrete source of knowledge. I love a knowledge organiser. The exam booklet was just a bit like a 3D knowledge organiser. Consistency, however, was at the heart of it. This is what we do with this question. None of ‘Mr Thomas says you should….’ or ‘Set 1 were told to do it this way’. It gave teachers, students and parents some level of security and reassurance in these 'unstable' times.
Consistency is a hard thing to ensure in teaching. Ofsted love it. In fact, they are happy bedfellows. Pick any report and you see them mention consistency or a lack of consistency. Ofsted is forever snogging the face off Madam or Monsieur Consistency.
Of course, the booklet will be revised after the exam results and we will adapt it according to the examiner’s reports. As it has been so successful with Year 11, we are going to supply them to Year 10 and update them each summer. The work is done and it just needs tweaking. Plus, we will spell out the updates to parents, students and staff. Just to let you know parents and guardians we have updated the guide with these changes.
We already have a department glossary for grammar (building on and adding to the KS2 terminology) and literary terms that all year groups use, so we have consistent definitions for the subject specific terminology. This year we have added a few more terms and we’ll be explicit with the additions and changes. The great thing is that when the hard works done, all I need to do is tweak and reprint.
With a lot of subjects starting new GCSE courses, my advice is to decide what the department’ manifesto for the exam is. Make it concrete and share it. Yes, things can change and will change, but pin something down so you can build consistency. The teachers can be free to be creative with their teaching, but, like words in a stick of rock, there is a consistent message running through everything.
Political parties spend a lot of time and effort on making their manifesto, and then spend the rest of the time looking silly when they aren’t ‘on message’ – that’s for another blog.
What’s you department’s manifesto?
Oh, and learn from the politicians: don’t make it out of stone. Make it out of paper.
Oh, and did I mention it was really cheap to make?
P.S. Sadly, I will not be sharing my booklet with people. You can try to tempt me with as many limited edition Jane Austen novels or gold plated paperclips as you like, but I will not share it for several reasons. The main reason is that it is our personal manifesto and I think a department should think about what their manifesto is.
Plus, if I share in on here, you can guarantee someone will sell it on a website and make some money out of my hard work.