Waving, not drowning

Excellent delivery of subject knowledge in English goes a very long way. But, like it or not at this time of year it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that we are in the company of some quite  anxious young people. Some have glimpsed the ocean that lies beyond July and it’s not that welcoming – just a endless sea of nothing. Or so they think.

It is also useful to remember that English is a subject about ‘voice’ (creative, critical, persuasive) and an element of that is giving away something of themselves. With some of the students we know who really, really struggle, committing your voice to paper is a small act of courage and one we can easily overlook in the days to come.

What things can we say to our Y11 to help steady the ship at such an uncertain time?

  1. No one knows your target grade. I read this the other day on a blog (end of term brain – I cannot remember who, sorry!!) and I thought it was a fantastic reminder. Y11 need reassuring that the examiner has no expectations (positive or negative). They have everything to play for on the paper.
  2. Don’t stay stuck. Leave a few lines and get on with the next bit you can do. If a sentence won’t form in your head move on and come back to it.
  3. Have a mantra. Mine is How do they feel? How do you know? How do they feel? How do you know? Having prompt question mantras can help a derailed student get back on track when time management and pressure become a little overwhelming.
  4. Gaze at the paper – not the room, not the other students, not the clock. Read, re-read and re-read again. Everything they’re looking for (especially true of Language P1 and P2) is there.
  5. GCSE is a hoop, A level is interpretation. University is independence. Reassure students it is okay not to have independent views for J&H. It is ok to make the same point everyone else is making. Y11 are hopefully at the beginning of an exciting academic journey and demonstrating understanding and an overview are critical at this stage.
  6. Be your own critical best friend. Physically put your work next to a model answer and check whether your work looks and sounds the same. If not, be honest, what is missing and where should it go?
  7. I’m going to answer this in timed conditions with you! I’ve started doing this this year and was amazed at first at the hit my handwriting took. It opened up the realities of what they need to do in 10 minutes. We need to be ever mindful of over complicating tasks and our instructions. Sharing responses with the class is also a powerful exercise for building trust and self-confidence in students.
  8. You are brilliant. As HoDs and teachers, we carry our own burden of anxiety and it can be easy to pass this on – work harder, work faster, do more, do more. Telling a young person when they are wading through mud that they ARE edging forward is sometimes all that’s needed to keep them going.
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