Things to think about and things to (try to) avoid.
It’s that time of year when time speeds up, accelerating alarmingly towards exams. In previous years I’ve lost sleep, catastophised endlessly and made bizarre decisions about teaching on Saturday (never a good idea) or making panic-resources in a flurry of photocopying.
This year, I’m focusing on what I think matters the most.
- Look at the children
Are they happy? Are they confident? Can they tell you what they like (and don’t like) about their studies? Do they approach questions thoughtfully, drawing on their knowledge?
With exam groups, I like to walk around the classroom and give each student an individual verbal summary of where they are: “You’re excellent at…; you now need to think about…; today I want you to show me…”. The kids love it because they feel known. I love it because I realised how much I’ve learned about them over the year. It reminds me what a privilege this job is.
2. Consider the messages you’re sending
Everything we do is modelling for the pupils in our care. As well as modelling appropriate writing, reading and approaches to learning, are we also modelling effective responses to stress? Am I still enthusiastic about the lessons I’m delivering? Am I still showing calm, positive and rational attitudes towards exams?
3. Step away from the data….
We’ve spent all year agonising over spreadsheets. Now we need to step away. As accurate as we’ve tried to be, there are just too many variables (marking quality, grade boundaries, bell-curve instability) for data to be fully reliable. So as far as you can, forget about it. Focus not on the abstract numbers but on the real children.
4. …and look again at the curriculum
It’s so important that in amongst the exam technique and drilling of content, we remember the overall purpose of what we’re doing. We teach our subject because we love it and we think the knowledge in its domain is important. In English, we’ve chosen for our pupils to study each literary text for good reason: because they are wonderful pieces of literature that will serve our pupils well throughout their lives. It’s vital to remember what makes what we’re teaching amazing.
For this reason, it was brilliant to organise a series of revision lectures, delivered by myself and others. It reminded us, and the children, of how our key texts have changed the world. Now is the time to forget the assessment objectives and remember why our subjects are amazing.
5. Celebrate the adrenaline
During my A-Levels I made an astonishing discovery: I enjoyed exams. I loved the subjects I studied and felt proud of how much I’d learned in a year. I loved that moment in the middle of an exam when you realise you have stuff to say; you have an opinion and a voice. I loved that rush of adrenaline. If I can help any children to recognise that buzz as well, I’ll be happy.
A few times in the past I’ve shared this feeling with pupils, and they tend to think it’s ridiculous. They associate exams with stress and anxiety, and I appreciate how horrible that can feel. A few, however, have told me that what I had said had stayed with them, and they too had felt those moments of pride and power in an exam situation. This time of year, I plan to focus on this love of learning and pride in knowledge.