Sunday, 18 June 2017

Changing mindsets - or trying to take the comfort blanket away

I'm coming to the end of my first year at my new school, so the annual reflection about what's worked and what hasn't is even more essential.  One of the biggest battles I have had this year has centred round learning for assessments. Apart from my Year 7s, all my other year groups have clung to the idea of memorising paragraphs. The disastrous legacy of the now defunct GCSE is proving hard to shift. The battle is, of course, most acute in year 10, who have less time than other year groups to make that shift.  In their writing exam, despite me saying that the questions would be adapted from the summary questions they had done for each topic, many students simply tried to learn all of these answers by rote. This meant that we had the familiar problems of minds going blank after the first line, but with the added horror that they didn't tweak the language they knew to fit the actual question.  When talking with the students, it became apparent that I still had my work cut out.  What I thought I had been teaching them i.e. how to use key verbs, how to use the language constructively, was not what the students were taking in.  Basic mistake.

In many ways, this is a variation on another age-old battle to persuade students that "just reading through" is the worst revision technique ever.  I get it - rote-learning of paragraphs has a good feeling to it.  It's also really definite - there's my paragraph, that's what I've got to learn. Doesn't matter if I don't know what it means, I've just got to learn it.  Boom!  Of course, breaking things down, knowing what all the elements mean - that's hard work, and it looks like you're making less progress at first, but it's real learning. There will still be a place for learning answers so that you can answer questions for the general conversation, but it cannot be with this mindset that you just learn and regurgitate.

I'm about to get my year 10s to prepare a for another writing assessment, so these are some of the things I've done differently since January.
1.  Lots of explicit talk about learning - lots of use of lego imagery!
2.  Adapting the use of photos as starters to emphasise the use of key language.
3.  Making a bigger part of the learning process - showing the leaderboard, but also (crucially) showing which % of the course they have mastered.
4.  Making them fill in a sheet of key language for the summary questions before they learn them - broken down into opinion phrases, verbs, adjectives/adverbs, connectives, fab phrases.  On the sheet they fill in the French and the English.  It's a faff, and I make them do it in class, because they don't like doing it, and I can quality control it.  It then allows them to test each other.
5.  My lollipop-stick games on key verbs.
6.  Vocab tests that include a few sentences to translate, not just single bits of vocabulary

Will it work?  We will see.  Is anyone else in the same boat?  I'd love to know how you've tackled it.

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