Using Social Media to Help Pupils’ Prepare for an Exam

An Action Research project by Nicola Osman (English)

Reading time: 8 minutes

Choosing a focus

Teenagers spend an awful lot of time on social media and we wanted to see if we could harness some of this time and energy into encouraging them to revise. It seemed important to me to ensure that I used the sorts of social media that my students were using on a day-to-day basis and tried to respond to their ideas about what would work.

To begin with, I spoke to students in my class about the sort of thing they thought would help them. They gave me a number of ideas. They were keen to have a group on Facebook as they said it would be easier to ‘find’ the stuff, rather than having to scroll through all their feeds. A number of them felt that the Faculty youtube (StBernsEnglish) channel would be a great resource as they could follow links from there to any available information.

Initial actions

With the consent of my Head of Learning/Line Manager I set up a school-based Facebook page with my surname as a first name and my subject as the surname (No other personal information was shared or accessible to pupils).

The first thing that I wanted to help my students to do was to revise Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I was also rereading the book and revising myself. Every evening, I would read a chapter of the book. Then I would put a post on facebook, reminding them of the content of the chapter and making a link to the ebook version of the chapter, a youtube video of someone reading the chapter and a youtube video of someone’s analysis of the chapter. As time went on, I began to make the summary of the chapter that I posted more detailed as I realised that pupils were more likely to read what I had written than to follow the links. Pupils told me that they did not find this particularly helpful – I think there was too much for one evening’s revision for one subject.

Having tried these initial revision strategies, I felt that I had a sense of what the pupils would find useful: they wanted bullet pointed information and not too much to read. Pupils in our school were given a revision schedule for their English Literature exam. There was a key question each week from one of the key texts that they needed to revise as well as one or two poems. Using this schedule, I set out a plan for the posts over the final weeks of revision. Each week, I tried to post ideas that would help the pupils to answer the question posed for their revision or, if they were revising a poem, some of the key revision points from the poem.

The first post of the week was always a reminder of what exactly they were supposed to be revising.

Fig 1

Figure 1: Weekly reminder

I would then try to bullet point a plan for the question in a second post.

Fig 2

Figure 2: Weekly bullet points

In subsequent posts, I would go into more detail about each bullet point, explaining the relevance and including supporting quotations.

Fig 3

Figure 3: Individual bullet points

Fig 4

Figure 4: Quotations example

I tried very hard to bullet point the information and keep posts as succinct as possible, although this was challenging given the scope of the exam questions students can expect.

Fig 5

Figure 5: Theme with bullet points

Other Strategies

In reviewing the facebook page, I found evidence of other strategies I’d tried. Megan Poore in her book ‘Social Media in the Classroom’ said, ‘The trick is to design teaching and learning tasks that demand deep, considered engagement with a topic, as opposed to surface occupation with a technology or tool.’ In order to ensure that pupils were engaged with the posts, I created a closed group intended to provide a safe space for students to comment and engage in the learning.  Access to this was limited to members of my class who had to request membership of the group to join, so that I could ensure that no other person had access to any of the group’s messages or details.   In doing this, I ensured that the e-safety lead in my school had access to this group as well so that, whilst it was a closed group, I was making the conversations available to another member of staff so that there were no ‘private’ conversations between my students and me. Then I posed questions or asked for supporting quotations. The idea being, that pupils would respond and actively contribute to the learning online.

Fig 6

Figure 6: Examples of questions posed for pupils

The difficulty was that students were not prepared to comment, even in a closed group. In the example above, four or five students had read the post (admittedly not many) but none of them replied. My speculation was that they did not want anyone else to see them being the ‘keener’ who replied to the teacher’s post. Another explanation would be that they wanted to be passive users of facebook, to have a look at what I had to say but not wanting to be actively engaged themselves. Retrospectively, I would like to have included some feedback on this particular issue in the closing survey. This dramatically altered the way in which I used the facebook page, however, as there were no opportunities to assess, respond to ideas, share different perspectives or give other constructive feedback – or other good things that happen in a classroom. The model, therefore, became very information or lecture-based.

Analysis of feedback data

In total, I wrote over 200 posts, which amounted to a significant amount of time and effort. My concern was that the amount of time I was spending would not match the impact on pupils.

I surveyed the pupils in an anonymous questionnaire in which I asked them to be honest in their responses.

Year 11 were asked how often they used the page. The majority said they had used it sometimes. Of those who had never accessed the information, one did not have facebook and the other said that they did not know what to search for.

Fig 7

Figure 7: Year 11 Social Media Use

Year 10 were asked how often they used the page. There were a greater number who had only used it once or twice. However, the year 10 group was set up later than the Year 11 group so that might account for this response as pupils were asked to consider their usage across the year. More pupils in this group had never accessed the content – responses showed that they did not use or have access to facebook.

Fig 8

Figure 8: Year 10 Social Media Use

Those Year 11 who had used the page responded strongly to the idea that it helped them to remember details. There were six negative responses – half of these said that it didn’t help them with what to write in the exam.

Fig 9

Figure 9: Year 11 views on the content of the posts

Those Year 10 who had used the page responded strongly to the idea that it helped them with their weekly revision. They also responded strongly to the idea that they got something out of reading the posts. There were no negative responses from this group.

Fig 10

Figure 10: Year 10 views on the content of the posts

Pupils in Year 10 and Year 11 responded strongly to the statements that suggested they had accessed the post – in some way – but had mostly used other resources.

Fig 11

Figure 11: Year 11 Social Media Use of Revision Resources

Other findings

  • Around half of the pupils said that they had followed links shared
  • Around half answered ‘maybe’ to accessing the posts in another format, such as a blog

Further Actions

My second initiative was to summarise the content of the Year 10 lessons as I taught them to help Year 11 revise. Feedback from students was that this was better but when the mock exams came along, this was shelved as students requested more input on An Inspector Calls.

 

Again, I took up the challenge – trying to help them revise an entire text in a fortnight. I divided the text into sections and, using the revision book, began analysing the text. This meant writing four or five posts sometimes as I desperately tried to ‘reteach’ them the entire text. The result was that, whilst I had revised the text very well, the students said that there was too much information for facebook. I had also included links to youtube videos that would help them to revise the poems that they needed to learn. They said that there needed to be less content and suggested that I bullet-point the information and did only one post a day. This has led me to consider using Facebook to give the pupils some simple reminders that will pop up on their phones and have more detailed notes on another platform (i.e. blog).

One advantage of following these processes was that I now have very detailed revision notes on several of the texts, which I can now reuse for Year 10, although I am going to have to think very carefully about how I do this.

See the orignial blogs  at @englishrevisiononsocialmedia

Featured image: ‘Mobile phone’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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Improving pupils’ handwriting

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Sarah Barker (English)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Teachers are expert at deciphering poor handwriting.  Whether it be the last footsteps of a spider who has dragged its eight, ink-stained legs across the page of an exercise book, or the text that has taken leave of the lines  to wander freely about the page in defiance of the laws of gravity.  However, there are times when even the most skilled and experienced of teachers is left stumped by what a pupil has written.

Expressing oneself clearly in writing is a skill for life, not to mention the desire we have to ensure that the examiner will be able to read our pupils’ answers!

Improving handwriting, especially when a pupil is well into their teens is a challenge and requires real effort and concentration once writing habits have been formed.

K Before

Figure 1. A pupil’s handwriting BEFORE handwriting practice

One strategy promoted by the English Faculty to develop ‘automaticity’ in handwriting for pupils in all year groups, is to go back to basics and consciously and deliberately practise some of the basic building blocks of handwriting as an activity in its own right.

Separating out the task of improving handwriting from the challenge of writing a considered evaluation of an extract from Shakespeare, works to the benefit of both endeavours.  Improve the physical skill and then apply it to the intellectual challenge.

k-after.jpg

Figure 2. A pupil’s handwriting AFTER handwriting practice

So, you might open an exercise book to see that a 15 year old boy spent the first few minutes of the lesson ‘writing’ lines of ‘mountains’ and ‘valleys’, followed by a line of breaking waves.  Or in a 13 year old girl’s book lines of ‘a’s, ‘c’s and ‘d’s have been carefully scribed as the first part of a homework assignment.   In this way the basics of a legible script are developed and when applied to the written work to follow, handwriting improves, the pupil feels a sense of pride and the teacher breathes a sigh of relief that they  (the examiner, the college admissions tutor and the future employer) will be able to read what has been written.

 

Featured image: ‘Font, lettering’  by Victorian Lady on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Public Domain

 

Researching the effects of SAM learning on class work and exam preparation in English at Key Stage 4

An Action Research project by Katie Sutherland (English)

Objective

To research the effects of SAM learning to monitor whether setting these tasks for homework can have a positive effect on class work and exam preparation at KS4.

From their promotional information comes the following statement:

“With more activities across more subjects and a wider range of exam boards than any other online service, SAM Learning is the most effective online homework and exam-preparation service for secondary schools in the UK today.”

This action research project was used to challenge prior assumptions with a specific focus on Year 10 pupils.

The prior assumptions based upon 16 years in secondary education were:

  • Year 10 pupils would engage more with e-learning homework tasks than generic reading and writing tasks
  • Boys completion of e-learning homework would be at least equivalent to girls, if not greater
  • There would be clear evidence in mock exam results that pupils had benefitted from e-learning homework

In order to broaden the breadth of study, reading was undertaken of previous research on the effectiveness of using online learning resources to improve progress. A convincing statistic was found and supported the objective of this action research project: ‘The impact of on-line revision on GCSE results’ by Karen Osborne, SAM Learning blog, Capita.co.uk 2005. The reference to boosting a ‘school’s GCSE results by over 30 per cent’ was an incentive to trial and monitor this method of setting homework and specifically the statement that, ‘improvements were more significant for boys’ as this remains a keen area of interest within my own practice as an English teacher.

online learning boosts school’s GCSE results by over 30 per cent. Improvements were more significant for boys, suggesting that online learning is an effective tool to help engage adolescent boys with their learning.’ (capita.co.uk; 2005)

Actions

The process for this action research project included:

  1. Set specific exam related tasks from Sam Learning for Year 10 pupils
  2. Monitor and analyse the data provided in response to these tasks
  3. Evaluate any impact on class work and mock exam results
  4. Pupil voice survey on the use of Sam Learning as a homework tool
  5. Conclusions
  6. Next steps

1.  Set specific exam related tasks from Sam Learning for Year 10 pupils.

28 Year 10 pupils of mixed ability were set 48 tasks over a 6 week period all related to English Paper 1.

35% of tasks were cloze activities therefore allowing the least able pupils to achieve success by placing the correct words/ phrases into responses

35% of tasks required a more developed response and would challenge all pupils to type a response of between 30 and 50 words

30% of tasks required a developed response were pupils would have to write in more depth and write about 100-150 words

2. Monitor and analyse the data provided in response to the homework tasks set.

% of tasks completed by pupils 0-14% 15-29% 30-49% 50-69% 70-89% 90-100%
Number of pupils 5 6 6 4 0 3

Figure 1. Completion rate of all homework tasks set on SAM learning

The rationale of this division of tasks was to encourage pupils of all ability to complete the maximum amount of homework tasks to consolidate learning. Sam Learning offers tasks that are multiple choice, clozed activities that can help with progress of less able pupils. However, it also has tasks that require a more developed response and then the more challenging tasks that require a detailed response that demonstrate a breadth of understanding by pupils and would consolidate learning in preparation for exam responses.

K Sutherland - fig 2

Figure 2. Breakdown of the relative completion rate of tasks by gender in relation to the overall completion rate of tasks set (see figure 1)

Evidence suggests:

  • Girls have completed significantly more homework than boys
  • A proportion of girls were willing to complete all tasks set
  • The maximum that a boy completed was 45% of tasks set

This evidence contradicted initial pre-conceptions that boys would complete more homework using technology and online learning tasks than girls. However, disappointingly, the maximum amount of homework tasks that a boy completed was 45% even though boys had equivalent target grades to their female peers. This did not fit with the expected results and made me reflect on whether or not the claims that completing online learning tasks ‘boosted grades by up to 30 percent’ were either gender specific or possibly even subject specific and perhaps English was not a subject that had benefitted from these results.

3. Evaluate any impact on class work and mock exam results

All of the learning tasks set were focused on AQA English Paper 1 and it was hoped that the completion of online learning tasks would support progress and be evidenced in mock examination results.

Pupil Time spent

(hours)

Position in class mock exam Base level
Pupil 1 43.5 1 5a
Pupil 2 19.5 2 5c
Pupil 3 30.52 3 5b
Pupil 4 (EAL) 43.35 4 4c
Pupil 5 11.05 5 5c
Pupil 6 7.00 6 5a
Pupil 7 8.35 7 5b
Pupil 8 4.3 8 4a
Pupil 9 (EAL) 10.35 9 4c
Pupil 10 23.33 10 4a
Pupil 11 5.55 11 5b
Pupil 12 1.10 12 5c
Pupil 13 16.3 13 4c
Pupil 14 8.00 14 4b
Pupil 15 35.2 15 4b
Pupil 16 14.3 16 4b
Pupil 17 3.25 17 3a
Pupil 18 (SEND) 3.5 18 3b
Pupil 19 (EAL) 35.2 19 3a
Pupil 20 (EAL) 17.45 20 4c
Pupil 21 2.45 21 4a
Pupil 22 .25 22 4a
Pupil 23 (SEND) .2 23 4c
Pupil 24 (SEND) 17.5 24 2c

Figure 3. A comparison of time spent on SAM learning task in relation to ranked position in a mock exam and student base level data.

Notable observations:

Pupil 4 has spent a significant amount of time completing homework and achieved 4th position in class.

Yet, pupil 19 has also completed a significant amount of homework and achieved 19th place.

Their base level was just one sub-level difference.

Pupil 10 has spent a significant amount of time completing homework and achieved 10th position in class.

Whereas Pupil 11 has a higher base level but has not completed nearly as much homework and is in 11th position.

4. Pupil Voice Survey

Pupil voice Survey        
Questions Girls Yes Boys Yes Girls No Boys No
Do you prefer homework tasks set on the computer? 10 11 3 0
Do you complete more homework if you can use the computer? 8 9 5 2
Are you satisfied with the amount of homework tasks that you have completed? 6 5 5 7
Would it help you to complete more tasks if you had a set amount to complete per week? 7 7 4 5
Do you think that SAM Learning has had a positive impact on your class work or mock? 8 5 3 7
Would you have completed more tasks if you could do this in an after school revision session? 4 10 7 3
Were your parents/ carers aware of your e-learning tasks? 5 2 6 9

5. Conclusions

  • Few pupils completed all e-learning homework tasks
  • The majority of girls completed more homework tasks than boys
  • One of the most able pupils from baseline data completed the most homework and achieved first position in the mock exam
  • Some of the least able pupils completed the least e-learning homework tasks
  • Boys were not as engaged when completing the extended responses
  • Most boys were honest in their response that they would probably complete more e-learning tasks if given time in school to revise.

Surprisingly, the data collected thus far has not supported the claims that ‘improvements were more significant for boys’. I can understand that if you are starting at a point of 0% completion of homework then there may be more significant improvements but my experience had been that it was difficult to gender stereotype as it really depended on the pupils who completed the work, rather than their gender. I was disappointed with the lack of extended responses from all pupils and with the boys in particular but I will consider their responses from the pupil voice survey when setting future homework.

6. Next steps

  • Set short manageable tasks on a fortnightly basis for pupils
  • Differentiate tasks for learners
  • Monitor pupils completion of tasks every fortnight
  • Offer lunch time / after school revision sessions (particularly for boys)
  • Group call parents with homework information
  • Reward all pupils who complete 75% or more of tasks

Further research would be beneficial whilst adapting my practice to include the ‘next steps’. I would hope that more manageable tasks, rewards and opportunities during the school day to complete learning will boost the quality and quantity of homework completed. Also, parental support via group call will be effective in ensuring completion of homework.

Featured image: ‘boy computer’ by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay. Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

Engaging Disaffected Learners (3)

An Action Research project by Megan Dunsby

Project overview

Working with two other members of the department (Anna Watkins and Hannah Gale), we established the following aims:

  • To develop our pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection;
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners;
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence.

These give an overview of our foci, and from here we endeavoured to use different strategies to engage disaffected learners. We decided to all concentrate on year 10 students and boys in particular. Having a shared year group meant that we were able to support each other and help each other to develop strategies.

There are a myriad of reasons why students become disaffected, but in the experiences that we had had in our year 10 classrooms we felt that these were the central reasons why:

  • Disaffection hides a literacy weakness;
  • Pressure of year 10 GCSE (especially with current changes);
  • English is compulsory and relevance isn’t obvious to all.

Initial Research

The National Literacy Trust had the following to say on boy’s literacy levels:

  • “Research consistently shows a gender gap in children’s reading. Boys’ attitudes towards reading and writing, the amount of time they spend reading and their achievement in literacy are all poorer than those of girls.”
  • “Unfortunately it is those boys who are least likely to be socially mobile who are often most vulnerable to these triggers. For example, white working-class boys are one of the groups with lowest achievement in literacy”.
  • By GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, the changes to the examination system at GCSE mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Caroline Bentley-Davies suggests that a teacher must “signal exactly why you are doing something” (2010, p.165) when improving standards of boys.

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

My personal project overview

After a number of discussions with Anna and Hannah, I decided that I would look at ways in which it is possible to re-engage students through tasks that are influenced by a project based pedagogy.

The literature surrounding project based learning regularly demonstrates its effectiveness at embedding skills and knowledge in a way that all students engage with on a meaningful level. Polman sings its praises stating that, ‘the most significant contributions of PBL have been in schools languishing in poverty stricken areas; when students take responsibility, or ownership, for their learning, their self-esteem soars. It also helps to create better work habits and attitudes toward learning. In standardized tests, languishing schools have been able to raise their testing grades a full level by implementing Project Based Learning (PBL), (2000).

Initial research undertaken indicates that boys who are ‘less socially mobile’, (The National Literacy Trust), are likely to be amongst the lowest literacy levels compared to their socially mobile peers. Patton’s research seems to indicate that it is this demographic of students who are likely to benefit from the autonomy and ownership of PBL experiences.

However the beneficial effect of PBL is certainly not limited only to these students, autonomy is a powerful motivator for all learners, according to Rowe et al, ‘in order to feel any intrinsic motivation whatsoever, students mist feel a sense of autonomy, like thy are in control of an element of their learning’. On boys literacy they comment that ‘In the early years of secondary schooling boys constitute 75 – 85% of students identified at risk of poor achievement progress in literacy. Of some concern is the flattening out of boys’ literacy achievements from year 4 to year 9,’ (Rowe et al).

When reading this research I began to investigate whether this ‘flattening out’ was a feature of my most disengaged year 10 student, Richard. After looking at his spotlight assessments from year 7 to 10, he was a perfect example of the pattern that Rowe et al discuss. After having taught Richard for six months I could see that his dis-engagement came from his belief that he could not achieve in English, together with the fact that he felt the subject was completely irrelevant for him. I began to focus on how I could create a project that would make learning the skills he required to pass English, obvious and attainable.

Spotlight entry 7.1 7.3 7.6 8.1 8.3 8.6 9.1 9.3 9.6
APP Level 4b 4b 5c 4a 5b 5b 5b 5b 5a

(Richard’s Spotlight assessments from Years 7-9)

I began looking at what constituted a project, and Thomas in PBL; A Handbook, (2000) provided a very helpful five point checklist for educators designing projects. He instructs that projects must be:

  • Central not peripheral to the curriculum:
  • Central concept and principle of a discipline
  • Projects include constructive investigation
  • Projects are usually, but not always, cross curricular
  • Projects are realistic, not ‘school like

Thomas’ pointers focussed my creation of a project, but also provided realisation that projects were a time consuming endeavour. Further research acknowledges this as one of the main pitfalls of such learning. Wethers et al have found that, ‘subject orientated secondary teachers have been less inclined to embrace cross disciplinary curriculum, in the form of projects or a more traditional approach, despite it being proven successful in reengaging previously disengaged secondary students, (2012).’ Hope goes on to explain that even though teachers are, ‘frustrated by national standardised tests that are a primary reason for disengaging boys from their learning’ (2010) PBL takes time and commitment that the majority of secondary schools simply don’t have. Wethers surmises that a lack of resources (time and financial) are a ‘fundamental reason that PBL is not a regular feature of the secondary school classroom, (2012).

Despite this, all of these articles unanimously measure a greater level of success from students in all walks of life when given the opportunity to learn in a project based environment. I became interested in investigating whether the disengaged students in my year 10 class, particularly Richard, could benefit from a version of PBL that I was able to facilitate with a deficiency in time and financial resources.

My project in the classroom

Hi Tech High, California became my next area of investigation. This American High School facilitates an entirely project based curriculum and 94% of their students in 2014 went onto college and university. I decided to replicate a project that they call the visual essay for my year 10 English students.

By considering a knowledge, process product model for differentiation I examined my current pedagogy for teaching essay writing skills to boys with low literacy.

md-diag-1a

By investigating what I actually meant by ‘learn how to write an essay’ I automatically referred back to the exam boards assessment objectives. In Hi Tech High’s case, they take to raw knowledge and work out a way of presenting it in an informative and engaging way that is open to the public. I decided that my raw knowledge would be my assessment objectives.

md-diag-2a

Richard decided that he would focus on the subject terminology knowledge, and created a glossary to put on the essay.

md-essay

Strategies and an evaluation of their efficacy

What worked about the task:

Richard was engaged in the task and through assessment it became clear that Richard knew a number of subject terms that he did not before. Richard also felt a sense of achievement at having completed his section of the task and became aware of a crucial element of the success criteria. Richard stated, ‘It was a good task because I just got on with it. I didn’t have to write loads’ and ‘I got to choose what I wanted to do and just focussed on one bit’

What needed improvement:

On reflection I decided that the project was too ‘school-like’ and it didn’t really hit the real world criteria set out by Thomas. Ways to overcome this might include an open evening where parents come to see a display of a series of visual essays or a competition. Once Richard had decided how to incorporate his subject terminology he did not constructively solve much of a problem; this was another of Thomas’ project criteria and time limitations prevented this from becoming a reality.

Conclusion

The most valuable element of this research for me was to fully recognise the power of and potential of allowing students to be creative, curious, problem solving and autonomous. Whilst there are time restrictions placed on us as teachers, I will endeavour to create as many opportunities for students to practise being these things as possible. I fully agree with Sir Ken Robinson, who advocates that, ‘designing your curriculum around project-based learning is a dynamic way of engaging learners and of cultivating their powers of imagination, creativity and enquiry, (Robinson, K. 2011).

References

Bentley-Davies, C. (2010) How to be an Amazing Teacher. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing.

National Literacy Trust (2012) Boys’ Reading Commission. All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Commission.

Patton, M. (2012) Subject to Change, New thinking of the curriculum ATL The Education Union.

Polman, JL (2000) Project Based Learning in the Secondary School Classroom, a constructive approach Cambridge Journal of Education, (46) 4. pg 12-26.

Thomas, B (2012) Work that matters; a teacher’s guide to project based learning, London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Hope, S (2006) The Constructive Classroom, Journal of Problem Based Learning in Higher Education, (6) 34. Pg 76-90.

Engaging Disaffected Learners (2)

(Featured image: ‘untitled’ by stupidmommy is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Engaging Disaffected Learners

An Action Research Project by Hannah Gale

Objectives

  • To develop my pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection, particularly in Year 10 boys.
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners.
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence in my students.

Background

“…by GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, Changes to the examination system at GCSE, mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Jim Smith suggests that one of the most effective ways to establish engagement is to give learning purpose and to show its relevance to students (2010).

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

Context

The focus for this action research project has been disaffected boys in my Year 10 GCSE groups, with a view to achieving the following aims:

  • To increase engagement in lessons;
  • To promote a resilient and problem-solving attitude among my most disaffected learners;
  • To use the coaching style as a means of building relationships.  

I have focused on three learners in particular: Andrew, James and Peter.

Background Reading and Research

This project began after my first-hand experience of Coaching with my NQT mentor. In the education sector, coaching is a mentoring technique used in a 1:1 setting to enable a colleague to combat a problem or concern that they are facing. It involves the mentor giving no advice at all, but simply asking probing questions that encourage the mentee to take an independent approach to the problem and to discover their own solutions. This made me consider how the technique might be adapted for students, particularly those who are so disaffected that they lose a desire and/or ability to combat their difficulties. I know that I have very often defaulted to giving answers to my most disaffected learners, never considering that asking them the right questions could prompt them into helping themselves. As Carol Dweck, establishes, learning will happen when students start to ask “What can I learn from this? What will I do next time I’m in this situation?” (2015). Of course, it’s easy to go to a default ‘OK, I’ll explain it again or I’ll help you with that’. What we should be doing is encouraging students to elicit their own solutions and/or to at least pinpoint their own difficulties.

If my mentor could influence me to become more problem-solving and resilient in my approach to difficulties, could I establish that in my students too? I began by reading up on the coaching technique and reading Carol Dweck’s, ‘Growth Mindset’.

According to The MRT Group, these are the benefits of coaching upon an individual:

  • improvement in individual’s performance, targets and goals
  • increased openness to personal learning and development
  • increased ability to identify solutions to specific work-related issues
  • greater ownership and responsibility
  • development of self-awareness
  • improvement of specific skills or behaviour
  • greater clarity in roles and objectives
  • the opportunity to correct behaviour/performance difficulties  

Actions and Results

I tried two different strategies in order to meet my aims and explore a range of techniques to re-engage these students and promote resilience and confidence. Firstly, I used coaching style questioning within my Year 10 lessons. For example, during one lesson observation I combated one statement of disaffection (‘I always fail’), with ‘What could you do next time to help you succeed at this?’ which allowed the student to focus on the solution and not the problem.

In addition I trialled a 1:1 coaching conversation, to see what results this would glean. I chose Andrew for this individual study because I wanted to build a more supportive relationship with him in particular, as well as allow him to identify his own barriers to learning in English and elicit his own solutions for overcoming them.

I was astounded with the result: Andrew spoke eloquently and specifically about his difficulties and was able to arrive at his own solutions. Here are some snippets from our dialogue:

What can help you to be in the right frame of mind for learning?

‘It depends what kind of day I’ve had. If it’s been really boring and I’ve had to do loads of writing throughout the day, then I probably won’t be bothered to do English when I arrive.’

‘If I know I’m gonna be doing something creative where I can let my imagination go then I’ll want to do it.’

What helps you to learn best? (Andrew particularly dislikes analysing texts, which we do a lot of in English. When asked what might help him to engage in the task of analysing a poem, he said):

‘I find thinking of ideas hard, so I think I’d find it easier if you kind of gave me the answers and then I had to find where that was happening in the poem. I think I’d be pretty good at that actually.’  

After this conversation, I put into practice Andrew’s suggestions and saw a new determination in him across a number of English lessons. It is apparent that “self-awareness and confidence are internal processes essential to ongoing growth and development” (‘Why Coaching?’, Wales, 2002). Indeed, when Andrew believed he’d found the solution to his barrier to learning, he was so much more engaged and willing to overcome his difficulties. I believe that the Coaching process can empower disaffected students to take responsibility for their learning and realise that they can make a change.

Sources/Links/References

Dweck, Carol (2015). ‘Growth Mindset’.

National Literacy Trust. ‘Boys’ Reading Commission’. https://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4056/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf

Wales, Suzy (2002). ‘Why Coaching?’ http://contextcoaching.com.au/Suzy%20Wales%20(2002)%20Why%20Coaching%20EBC.pdf

Smith, Jim (2010). ‘The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook’

Engaging Disaffected Learners (1)

(Featured image: ‘English Dictionaries’ by John Keogh is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

An Action Research project by Anna Watkins

Project overview

Working with two other members of the department (Hannah Gale and Megan Dunsby), we established the following aims:

  • To develop our pedagogical understanding of the reasons behind disaffection;
  • To establish and broaden a range of strategies to re-engage disaffected learners;
  • To build resilience and inspire self-confidence.

These give an overview of our foci, and from here we endeavoured to use different strategies to engage disaffected learners. We decided to all concentrate on year 10 students and boys in particular. Having a shared year group meant that we were able to support each other and help each other to develop strategies.

There are a myriad of reasons why students become disaffected, but in the experiences that we had had in our year 10 classrooms we felt that these were the central reasons why:

  • Disaffection hides a literacy weakness;
  • Pressure of year 10 GCSE (especially with current changes);
  • English is compulsory and relevance isn’t obvious to all.

Background

“…by GCSE, for achievement at grades A* to C in English, the gap [between boys and girls] is 14 percentage points” (National Literacy Trust).

So, why is this gap so big and what can cause boys to become disaffected learners in English in particular? Firstly, the changes to the examination system at GCSE mean that students must sit examinations at the end of Year 11 in which they must recall and apply two years’ worth of learning. This is an overwhelming and stressful prospect for many students, who are immediately disengaged by their own assumption that they will fail at this challenge. This can be a huge cause of disaffection at the beginning of Year 10.

The English curriculum has also become more traditional, favouring more 19th century literature and classic British literature, which means that students are working with challenging texts and unfamiliar language. Some boys in particular find it difficult to understand the purpose of studying these texts, which can provoke disaffection, particularly given that English is a compulsory subject that students have not opted into. Indeed, Caroline Bentley-Davies suggests that a teacher must “signal exactly why you are doing something” (2010, p.165) when improving standards of boys.

In addition, GCSE assessment has become more rigorous; to achieve a Grade 5, students are expected to have a command of subject terminology and an ability to use a range of punctuation and sentence structures with accuracy and for specific effect. Those with weak literacy skills can therefore become disaffected to mask their difficulties.

My personal project overview

After a number of discussions with Megan and Hannah, I decided that I would look at ways in which it is possible to re-engage students through marking strategies. After reading David Didau’s comment that ‘“…apparently, 70% of all feedback given by teachers to pupils falls on stony soil,” I knew that I had to do something different and adapt my normal marking style. Therefore, my aims for this were:

  • To make DIRT more effective with my year 10 boys who initially rejected it;
  • To challenge them through my marking and feedback to ensure progress;
  • To use marking as a means of building relationships.

I had two year 10 classes and therefore used boys from both classes, who were clearly disengaged, to try different strategies with. Recent research points clearly to the importance of valuable feedback as shown in the diagram beneath:

According to Hattie and Timperley (2007) feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative.

In a recent paper on formative assessment, Dylan Williams (2014) suggests that:

“Indeed, assessment can be thought of as the bridge between teaching and learning—only through some kind of assessment process can we decide whether instruction has had its intended effect.”

The idea of assessment being a ‘bridge’ between teaching and learning struck a chord with me, and it was from this research that I based my project. In the same paper, Williams also advocates the idea that marking and assessment should be a process which ‘activates students as owners of their own learning’. I decided that I wanted my year 10 students to feel more in charge of their learning, and I planned that my marking would be the means by which I would try this.

Strategies tried and an evaluation of their efficacy

I decided that throughout the year I would try different strategies to re-engage some year 10 students. In fact, these evolved and developed as I got to know my students better, and as I learned what did and didn’t work. Here are the three most prominent techniques I tried:

  1. Highlighting WWW (a department initiative) and providing a code based on a clear success criteria.
  2. Providing regular feedback (in lesson and through marking).
  3. Giving clear tasks or questions of what I wanted them to do to improve, and using this as a form of differentiation.

I soon realised that the first strategy did not have the intended effect I had hoped for. My hope was that if the students could see precisely where they had got it right, they would be clear as to how they could improve. However, I made the common mistake of trying to provide both summative and formative feedback, resulting too often in a disengaged attitude towards marking. The boys who I was targeting also did not appreciate that they had to copy down the highlighted code from the Interactive White Board, and this actually caused a lot more hassle than it was worth. This is an example of a disengaged student’s response to my marking:

aw-ys1

And so I realised that the ‘little and often’ approach was necessary for these boys, and I endeavoured to provide them with feedback as much as I could. This was both throughout the lesson and after during marking time. I wanted them to recognise that I valued their written work, especially extended responses and I tried to mark their work as quickly as possible. This definitely helped to improve engagement, and a more positive relationship was created based on their work.

The final strategy that I developed (born out of the failure and success of the previous two) was to provide very specific feedback on what exactly needed to be done to improve. I realised that these boys needed to feel a sense of success, and it was only once I had really got to know them that I could do this accurately. I learned that my marking needed to be a balance of stretching these students enough, without making them feel like they couldn’t do the work. This really helped me to form relationships as they became much more engaged in both the lesson and their own progress. Here are two examples of particularly great work:

aw-ys2

aw-ys3

Conclusion

The most valuable element of this research for me was to fully recognise the power of feedback in establishing high expectations and good progress. It was through developing good relationships with these students that I was able to understand their strengths and areas for development, and I then used this knowledge to inform my marking. By allowing these students to feel like they can succeed in English, I believe that their engagement in the subject has improved.

References

Bentley-Davies, C. (2010) How to be an Amazing Teacher. Carmarthen, Wales: Crown House Publishing.

Didau, D. (2015) The Learning Spy. Website: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/

Hattie, J and Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research 2007 77: 81

National Literacy Trust (2012) Boys’ Reading Commission. All-Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Commission.

Williams, D. (2014) Formative assessment and contingency in the regulation of learning processes. Institute of Education, University of London.