Highlighting Success

Like many GCSE teachers, I’ve taken my Year 10 English class through to Year 11. Whilst I thoroughly dislike the label, for the purpose of giving some context they are on the whole a C/D borderline class, with a couple of students falling below that. I have some students with some behavioural issues, and attendance can be an issue – sometimes due to exclusions, but for one student it seems more and more likely that he’s been withdrawn from school permanently as he is a traveller (to be perfectly honest, we were happily surprised he was still at school in Year 11). I have a couple of students who will be lucky to make it through to the end of the year without being put on study leave early. There are several students who have outside agency involvement, including one in care, and almost 50% of the class feature on the SEN register. I also have some students who are absolute superstars behaviour-wise and work-wise – all in all it’s quite a mixed bag.

Most importantly, they are my students. As much as they can annoy me sometimes, I’m like a fierce mother bear and fight for them whenever I need to.

Image source: http://bit.ly/1RK1GXX

Image source: http://bit.ly/1RK1GXX

One of the exam techniques we use is text marking using different coloured highlighters. It’s pretty simple – four questions, four colours. Unfortunately the ace Bic highlighters I’d found on a clearance shelf at Tesco only had three colours, so I asked the students to hit up the pound shops and buy themselves a packet with at least four. Predictably, only two students did this. A few more might have with a little more time, but I found myself wandering the aisles of Poundworld and spotted some great liquid highlighters – six colours for a quid!

Honestly, it was like Christmas had come early. I’ve not seen sixteen year olds so excited about anything the way they were excited about getting a cheap packet of highlighters. They were very quick to pull out the cardboard label so that they could put their names on them – and heaven forbid anybody who touches someone else’s highlighters!

This may sound like I’m embellishing or completely making it up, but there’s been a real change in attitude towards their work since I gave them to them. They are more invested in their exam preparation, working harder at each task and trying to improve in each and every lesson, instead of having a more laissez-faire attitude as they’ve done in the past. Maybe it’s nothing to do with the highlighters and more to do with their forthcoming mock exams, but either way, me showing an investment in them is reaping rewards.

The interactive part of my interactive whiteboard has been getting quite the workout in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been deconstructing questions, particularly after what we affectionately call the ‘epic fail mock’ of last year, where virtually the whole class wrote brilliant essays about “A Taste of Honey”, but completely failed to answer the exam question.

question deconstruction screenshot

This was the first question we attempted, therefore it was deconstructed and modelled by me, but since then I’ve had students doing it up at the board.

The first couple of times we text-marked the exam texts, it was based on my modelling. I’d used modelling sporadically in my teaching over the years, but after listening to John Tomsett at Northern Rocks this year, I had decided to do a lot more of it. We’re not at the stage where students have a crack on their own, and then one comes up to share their text-marking on the board for us all to discuss. We’re moving swiftly towards them being able to do it comfortably and competently on their own.

text marking screenshot

On a side note, whilst I’ve been teaching them to use one colour per question, a couple of times I’ve broken that rule in order to demonstrate the two parts of the question being asked. In the example above, the question was asking for Jenny’s thoughts and feelings (in yellow) and how the writer shows that (in green – but we hadn’t finished).

It cost me all of £20 for a packet of highlighters for every member of the class, one for me and a spare. You can argue that I shouldn’t be spending my own money on resources for my students, and you’d probably be right – but it’s my choice and I’m sticking with it. I’m thrilled with the change in my students. Who knows, maybe next week I’ll break out the stickers and see what happens!


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