Beware the Gimmicks of July

I could not agree more with Fiona Ritson @FKRitson in her TES piece here, about the temptation to ditch learning in favour of fun at the end of the year. She is a teacher I have the most phenomenal respect for and I feel I have some balance to redress.

Last week, in a typical frenzy of production I made this:


Now, I grew up with an older brother, who taught me all the joys of Top Trumps (even though I never won), along with Dungeons and Dragons and Risk. For me, Top Trumps epitomised the combination of luck, strategy and stupidness that I experienced as a child.

In the last few weeks of term, I read Andy Tharby’s ‘Making Every English Lesson Count’ (2017) and many posts about interleaving, recycling and spacing. As if by some divine union, the worlds of Cognitive Load, End of Year and My Childhood came together in a resource trinity and the Eng Lit Top Trumps were created.

However, it hasn’t been a happy union. In spite of myself, I laminated for the first time in years and played the game with my 8 year old daughter, who couldn’t pronounce Porphyria, but who cared? We were giddy with ‘Top Trump’ joy as I beat her hands down in about 30 minutes flat, and she still didn’t know who Porphyria was.

As the Twitter ‘likes’ trickled in, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I felt I had foisted a gimmick on inexperienced, NQT Twitter for no reason, other than I thought it would be fun and looked pretty.

But, I haven’t given up quite yet. When I realised I was condemning teachers to plastic fantastic’ing 15x sets x 20 card,  for each class – for the true TT purist,  I knew this was not desirable or necessary (if the vacuousness of my game with my 8yr old was anything to go by). But I still felt the essence of the game – the comparison of one character’s qualities over another, comparing across texts, across the year, was still valid. What was missing was the justification and debate element, an opportunity for students to recall all they had learnt throughout the year – and give extended, spoken responses.

So, I came up with a significantly amended version, which I’m more than happy to share if anyone would like it. For this version, there is only one set of cards – 1 individual card per pair. Numbers can be challenged – they are about interpretation and certainly not set in stone, and quotes or evidence rewarded. Overly complicated? Yes, probably. Engaging? Hopefully. Will I be able to bin it if it goes wrong? Definitely. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I have always had a last lesson Quiz of the Year. I cannot remember the last time I showed a film for the end of term, but have always loved the excitement and competitiveness of a learning review quiz. The whole class Top Trumps is just another version of that, except hopefully it will encourage and provoke extended responses. I will know if it works on Thursday……. or not.

Whilst I agree, to my very core, about keeping routines and standards high, I also believe endings should be marked and noted. My class have worked hard, they have achieved. I want them to see the culmination of all the knowledge they have acquired, to hear them talk with confidence about characters they hadn’t even met this time last year. I hope, truly, that Fiona and her aunt would not think our last lesson had wasted anyone’s time. And, I also hope that no NQTs have been hurt in the laminating of these cards.

Reference to Blogs:

‘Throw fun out of the window at the end of the school year’ published by TES written by F Ritson