Tuesday, 5 May 2015


A quick post based on Twitter's newest viral blogpost topic (also guaranteed to drive Andrew Old bonkers as they appear on the Echo Chamber), I'd better crack on, as it is like a game of Pokemon, combined with Trumps (the old-school card game), meaning you can't pick a Twitter person already nominated by someone else. 

People I could have easily nominated, but no longer can:

So, sulking and scratching my head, I have to think again, and think I shall pick some 'unsung' heroes amongst my mere 5. 

1. @deadshelly Jamie (Warner Lynne) coached and prepped me through more job interviews than I care to remember. Although we have yet to meet - goddamit - he has watched over me from affair, replid to inane and/or hysterical panic stricken emails; read through personal statements, job applications and interview lesson plans; as well as sending me a myriad of lesson resources upon request. We've not had much chance to be in touch much recently, but he has a place in my heart forever for all his brilliance and wonderfulness. 

2. @Treezyoung She is Scottish, but please don't hold that against her. Scottish and a mathematician, I know, right? Despite all that (you know I'm kidding lovely) she is a good egg, A stalwart of Functional Skills Maths teaching in FE, she has encouraged, advised, ranted with me via DM, met me for Costas and shares a frankly unhealthy obsession with pretty stationary. 

3. @annaworth Truly knowledgeable about how to teach children to read; even more knowledgeable about how to teach using phonics; organiser of the Reading Reform Foundation conference and someone who is relentlessly supportive, cheerful and positive. Thanks for all that you do. 

4. @Sezl Sarah (Ledger) is just a magnificent person. Her blogs detailing her 50 before 50 missions are just utterly brilliant, wonderful, witty, warm, courageous and wonderful. If you've never read them, then WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU THINKING. 

5. @bryngoodman I met Bryn for the first time at the most recent #Starkyfest this Easter, and is worth a mention for his participation in the following conversation:

Tom Starkey, announces to the whole group, "They are serving squirrel next door,"
A little wary I ask, "In what format are they sold Tom?" 
Bryn, "Dead Gwen, dead." 
A succession of squirrel related punning soon followed. 

Bryn, we will always have 'the Paris of the North' (Leeds) and squirrels. I think you are ace. 

Disclaimer: I have not knowingly chosen a person who I think has been nominated. 

I will think of something lovely to say about you. (Offer stands for the next 24 hours)
@teachertoolkit ‘s rules are: 
  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge
  3. You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and (the rules and what to do) information into your own blog post
What to do?
  • Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely regularly go-to for support and challenge. They have now been challenged and must act and must act as participants of the #TwitteratiChallenge
  • If you’ve been nominated, please write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost within 7 days. If you do not have your own blog, try @staffrm
  • The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost and identify who their top 5 go-to educators are.
Rachel, I too totally agree with @chocotzar:
As I am a rebel, I nominate everyone. You are not the last to be picked in PE again.

NB I WAS that last child picked for a team in PE. Damn you wonky eyes...

Monday, 6 April 2015

An FE Inspector (of dubious competence) Calls: Part 2

Before I document the lesson observation, the interrogation (yes, really) and the questionable feedback, I do not want this to be a 'tar the whole of Ofsted with the same brush' kind of post. 

I may have mentioned this before, but what the heck, I'll mention it again:

I've been in the same room as Sir. Michael Wilshaw at Wellington Education Festival (terrifying); I've gate-crashed a meeting with Sean Harford, Andrew Old and David Didau in Ofsted Towers, Birmingham; got myself an invite to a meeting with 'Sir Michael of Cladingbowl' and several other teacher-bloggers in the Death Star, London and managed to compliment Mike Cladingbowl and insult Sean Harford (Mike nearly choked on his tea) while introducing them at Research Ed September last year in London, AND on Twitter publicly critiqued both their biscuit provision at said meetings, which I'm pleased to say, has resulted in Marks and Spencer biscuits being provided at said Ofsted and teacher-blogger meetings henceforth. That was a long winded way of saying - I have a great deal of respect for the Ofsted Grande Fromages I have met, and one Inspector of Dubious Competence does not mean the whole barrel of Ofsted apples are rotten. 

On with the Lesson Obs:

The Class: GCSE re-sitters

Time of Day: Wednesday afternoon

Duration: 1.15 - 4.00 pm (it's a LONG afternoon)

Class size: should be 20 at least, not all 20 always turn up every week (typical in FE I think)

Gender mix: fairly even Stevens between male and female

Ability based on CA's marked so far: D to B. The majority of students get a Band 3 or 4 in controlled assessments I have marked so far. Those who got below a Band 3/C is down to poor attendance. 

Behaviour: Now - good, when I started, 'feral' wouldn't be fair, but sometimes I thought I couldn't teach and they really weren't learning. 

The lesson: 3 hrs of Preparation for the Controlled Assessment for Creative Writing 2 task (based on the title of a poem from the AQA Anthology) - aiming to teach them after their writing-warm-up;  specific grammar skills e.g. How to use a semi-colon to join two 'linked' simple sentences; to provide them with two poems as a stimulus ('The Blackbird of Glanmore' by Seamus Heaney and 'Cold Knap Lake' by Gillian Clarke) which were initially in a Word Cloud (don't shoot me Andrew Old and Tom Bennett!) then in their original form; ideas for how to respond and how to structure responses; how to use their planning sheets etc. So you see, it couldn't be, nor was it a 'jazz hands' kind of lesson. It was about them knowing precisely what they had to do in the Controlled Assessment the following week. 

So here, here was perhaps my Achilles heel, or Catch 22 or what other literary, or mythical analogy you can attach to it, because I had to do what I had to do that lesson, as the pupils had to write their controlled assessments the following week. It is a routine and kind of lesson the class are used to prior to a Controlled Assessment. If I were to deviate and do a 'special lesson' for the inspector, I'd be criticised (in my view, correctly) for not preparing them for their Controlled Assessment. 

The Inspector of Dubious Competence Calls

The Inspector came in after the writing warm-up part of the lesson (words taken from a narrative we have read, or are going to read, they look them up in the dictionary, use them to write about something specific e.g. describe a room they know well, an opening to a horror story and so on - I participate in the writing task on the whiteboard) and part-way through the 'semi-colon' section - where I used a 'comic strip' from the Oatmeal to help explain how to use it as I find it fiendishly difficult - the examples given in there are quirky and memorable and the explanations very clear.  I DID ask to see her identification lanyard as the female inspectors has a knack of hiding them under neck scarves. 

The class were golden from the start of the lesson, and more so when she walked in. Despite the fact they clearly struggled with the whole topic of semi-colons, they did ask  a lot of questions about how to use them in different ways, such as: Can you use them to join X and Y together? (I wrote their example on the board, tried it out, explained if it worked or not) and developed onto questions about using dashes and hyphens in words and sentences (not part of the lesson I'd planned so looked it up in front of the class and gave them examples). Although it was very difficult for them, they were clearly trying really hard to grasp it, and because they found it difficult, it told me that not a one of them had been taught how to use a semi-colon before; or there is the possibility that they had been taught semi-colons, but had not remembered a jot. 

The Inspector remained for the introduction of the poems in Wordle form - where I had a few tricky moments of pupils asking me to define words for them. The first time got nervous and didn't explain one well (criticised in the 'feedback'), but when The Cheeky Lad asked me what 'frolic' meant I got him to look it up and later on asked him for the definition.   In response confidently told the class and I, and then I asked him, "So, when was the last time you frolicked?" 
Student, "In my bedroom Gwen." 
Me, "You can stop there, I don't need to know any more." 
The class guffawed in unison. Literacy job done....or so I thought. 

During the word-cloud task (they had to put the words from a word-cloud into categories of their own choosing - thanks Jamie Warner-Lynne - I still use this!) we discussed their choice of categories; the words they had put in them and why; the assumptions and conclusions they had drawn about what the poems were about; the possible themes of the poems before we read the poems in their original forms; what kind of story is being told by the poet and so on. We then went back to what they originally thought, and what the poems could actually be about. We discussed them as best we could despite the fact the class were clearly flagging from the presence of the Inspector. 

All the time she was in the room, she did not move from her seat.  She spent a lot of  time thumbing through the paper-work, and showed complete dis-interest or indifference to the students. 

It was time for break so I let the students go for break, some of whom wanted to stay. She asked if I wanted feedback, so I said, "OK" (although, as you'll find out later, l should not have bothered) to get it over with even though I was:
a) desperate for the toilet
b) desperate for a cup of tea and.
c) desperate to get away from her and for it to be over. 

We walked down the corridor to an empty space near the 'posh bit' of the college where they have a conference centre. But, the feedback, didn't begin with feedback, but an interrogation (I can feel my blood boiling just thinking about it).

The Interrogation:

The first question, which she asked after having spent half an hour in my classroom with my students is what makes my blood boil, then evaporate a bit and I SO wish I was joking but here it is and it deserves making BIG and highlighting:

"Are you qualified to teach?" and I did explain, "Yes." without using rude words, involving 'off'. 

(I wish I had said, "Yes, and are you qualified to observe me?" or, "Shouldn't you have known that before you stepped into my classroom?" or, the  slightly censored version in my head being, "What the actual? Who the *bleep* do you think you are?"). 

A consequence of this question is that, to use a rugby term, I felt on the back foot here from the off, having to justify myself to her as she didn't seem to like anything that I had done. 

"How long have you been working here?" 
"Have you had any training since you've been here?" 
"The boy in the middle?" (There were two, she had student profiles with pictures and names on)
Me, "Which one, there were two sat in the middle?"
Wagging  her finger vaguely, "The one in the middle?"
Me, "His name would help."
"He has a C in English" 
Me, after doing a 'Sherlock' and working out who she meant I explained that was an input error as he only had a C in his course work, but not his overall grade. 
"Who inputs the information to the profiles?" (I didn't know and told her so)
And so on. Eventually she got round to the feedback. It wasn't much of an improvement from the interrogation. 

The 'Feedback'

She gave her criticisms whilst peering over her glasses like Umbridge from Harry Potter, whilst adopting a condescending tone (I know Andrew Old, I know): 

Inspector: Some of your resources had literacy errors, like a capital 'S' on semi-colon' - that's not good modelling of literacy is it? 

Here I felt fairly patronised and embarrassed, then rallied and told her I usually use it to my advantage and correct errors in front of pupils. Or that often pupils spot-errors and correct them. I wish I'd said, "Have you never seen Geoff Barton's session on Literacy at Wellington Education Festival? Have you read his book, 'Don't Call It Literacy!" where he discusses why teachers should share their errors with pupils and share how to correct them too." I didn't say it, but still wish I had.

Inspector:  They hadn't quite got semi-colons had they? 
My rebuttal: No, which means I need to go over it again with them. Which I will. 

I wish I'd said, "Do you know what that means? It means clearly no one has bothered to teach them semi-colons in the past 5 years of secondary school. They'd been given up on. That's what that means."

Inspector: Why did you use a resource from an American website? (referring to The Oatmeal)
Me: I have used it before and it helps with difficult grammar teaching, as long as you point out the different terminology and what it refers to in British Standard English and grammar, I don't see it as a problem.

Inspector: At times they looked a bit bored. 
Me: They are preparing for a Controlled Assessment, its the nature of the lesson before a Controlled Assessment which involves fairly didactic teaching. 

I wish I'd said. "I am NOT paid to entertain. If I was, I'd be on an awful lot more money than I am now. Have you bothered looking at my classes Controlled Assessment results? If I was as bad as you are implying, they would not be achieving the Bands/Grades that they are." 

Inspector: There was a missed opportunity when the student asked about the meaning of the word 'frolic' (I was baffled, what missed bloody opportunity?) - you should have checked the whole class understood. (I had, as far as I can remember). 

At which point, I had utterly switched off and was taking less and less notice of what she said. There were a few positives about the use of the Word clouds but: nothing about the level of challenge; she didn't look at ANY of their work in the lesson, so no comment on that (their writing warm-up work was brilliant!); nothing about the good relationship I have with the class; nothing about the good behaviour of the students; nothing about how well they were achieving; nothing about the progress I KNOW they've made since September. 

She had a very fixed view of what she thought I should be doing, and how students at college should be taught literacy and GCSE English. I could see her literally ticking off boxes as she went on with the feedback. I don't think I could have 'won' no matter what I did. All this did was show me the fickleness of lesson observation gradings and why they are of no help to me as a method to improve my teaching. Nor is it any use if your observer has no credibility and the "Are you qualified to teach?" question lost her any credibility she might have had. Why on earth should I take notice of anything she had to say to me after that?

Inspector: Grade?
Me: OK then. (knowing full well it wouldn't be a Good or better, it wasn't an Inadequate so knew what she was going to tell me)
Inspector: A three.
Me: OK...(I shrugged my shoulders and thought I'd better show disappointment then added)...I'd obviously prefer better. 

I then shot off down the corridor to find a toilet and put the bloody kettle on. 

When I came back after break and thanked the class for being aweseome - WHICH THEY DARN WELL WERE, Cheeky Lad said:

"I didn't like her.....I think she had her head wedged up her *rse"

Did I laugh? Oh hell yes, of course I bloody well did. 

I have since marked their most recent Controlled Assessment. What was lovely was seeing the more ambitious students using words from our writing warm-ups such as: grotesque, illuminate, atavistic, askance - along with new vocabulary from the poems they read -  the kind of words I know they would not have used in September, as they a) didn't know what they meant b) did not have the ambition, or motivation to do so. 

A message for FE Ofsted Towers:
Somewhere on my 'phone, I have the name of the inspector involved here. If you would like to know who it was, please direct message me on Twitter and I shall pass it onto you. 

An FE Inspector (of dubious competence) Calls: Part 1

I am part way through my first year in FE teaching mostly A-Level English courses, with a soupcon of GCSE English Language classes (1 evening class, and 1 class of re-sitters) and as the year has gone on, the 'OFSTED ARE COMING!!!!' heebeejeebees increased. Turns out, they were right, as on the second week of our 5 week half term, on the afternoon of Thursday the 5th March 2015, we had 'the call' telling us they would be in all of the following week, beginning Monday 9th March 2015. 

I want to explicitly state that I do love my place of work - I work with great staff and students and do not want, through writing this blog - to damn anyone in my place of work. This is the first time I can say I've really and truly enjoyed teaching and working in an educational institution. Turns out, you don't have to feel stressed everyday when you turn up to work. Go figure. 

My fellow secondary school teachers will notice the, ahem notice, being greater than the secondary school standard procedure of a mere 12 hours.  I believe the greater notice period is because FE institutions are generally quite large, often encompassing several sights (ours has six, all over Warwickshire with the 'Mother-ship' being in Leamington Spa) ergo the need for a slightly longer run-up time, to me, seems quite justified. 

By Friday morning the Principal of the college has prepared a video that we were to show to all our students and the numerous other leaders within the college began the 'deluge of emails' approach to Ofsted preparation - again, more due to the large number of sites, rather than an inability to communicate another way. However, 'deluge' remains the right word - the deluge was to the extent that, as the days wore on, I just didn't look at my work emails, and relied on office chatter to work out what I really need to look at, and what I can sensibly ignore. If I had spent all my time reading all the emails that were sent; I would not have had the time to do all the things I actually needed to do. 

Prior to the Ofsted call we were given lists of preparation admin to do - running to at least 20 items - again I had to really work out what was utterly necessary to teach my classes, and safely ignore the rest. What did irk was the need to write out lessons on a pro-forma when the most recent FE Ofsted myth-busting document explicitly states that, 'Ofsted does not expect lecturers to plan in a different way than they do normally' (that is a paraphrased version of what is in the actual document) - but  being a 'newbie' at my place I did not feel brave enough to day 'No' so I duly complied, but dear God did I hate filling out the colleges own '10 minute - but at a  minimum it really takes 40 minutes - lesson plan' to the extent that on the first Monday after inspection week, I felt visibly lighter from not having to fill the darn things out. 

Also on the Friday we knew which specific  areas the college would be inspected for - from memory, they were: Business, Equine, English and Maths (Level 1 and 2 courses) ...I forget the other three areas, but 'A-Levels' was not a target area. Here the A-Level staff  were just amazing - knowing pretty much definitely get seen with a GCSE class - I had so much support and offers of help - I had not a clue what to do with it all:

Geography A gave me a talking to, 'Your are NOT to get all stressed and worried.' in her loving but also a little bit scary Northern way

  • Personal Learning Advisor C - asked if she could cover some of my classes so I could get ready for the Inspection

  • Mentor and desk buddy T - TOLD me not to come into work over the weekend (I did work all day Saturday at home) and rang me on the Monday to check I was OK. 

  • Boss K kept checking that I was OK every day.

That just gives you a wee flavour of 'Team A-Level' during the Ofsted inspection was like. 

For the record - our A-Level students were beyond marvellous - calm, supportive and even hugely defensive of us - to the extent that one lad that I teach in A2 Language and Literature - made a point of finding the Ofsted Inspector interviewing students to GRILL him about 'What the point of Ofsted was?' AND telling him, 'My teachers teach differently when you are not here [wait for it, it's good] - the teach BETTER.' 

So, on Wednesday afternoon, with the GCSE re-sitters whom I have written about before here and here  I was observed by The Inspector of  Dubious Competence. A more detailed account will follow in part 2 of this blog. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

My Top 10 Tips for GCSE English Re-Sitters

I'll not waffle but just crack on with it, this SHOULD be short and sweet.

  1. For them, YOU represent all that has gone wrong for these students before in GCSE English. It is not YOUR fault, but expect a wave of resentment and apathy coming in your direction. It isn't really aimed at you, you are just a painful reminder of what went wrong before. If that doesn't happen - EXCELLENT. Enjoy it!
  2. Because of what went wrong before, you have a room full of mainly fragile egos. Some might appear arrogant, this is more than likely a front. Walking in and barking orders like the Stazi will do you no favours, but firm and fair management of them will. 
  3. Some WILL be more able than the prior grade indicates. Things go pear shaped for students for many, many, many reasons. Sew them the idea of the possibility of doing even better than a C. The C is definitely what they need, but if they can do better, you need to let them know that they can. Keep drip feeding the idea, they'll take the hint eventually. 
  4. This is a no-brainer really, but, your students are likely to have weak literacy skills. Poor sentence construction; inability to punctuate those sentences, a limited and weak range of vocabulary; lack of literary and non-literary writing techniques; unable to paragraph, and a very limited range of conjunctions in their writing. Each lesson must involve some explicit grammar teaching, but do it in baby steps. 
  5. Homework - my adult evening group aside - getting homework from such classes is VERY difficult. My suggestion is to provide grammar worksheets, then within the next lesson, set a task that links to the homework, giving the students the opportunity to apply their grammar skills in the lesson. Take this work in to mark then you can easily find out who did the homework or not.  Also, by marking the work, your relationship with the students grows. It is VERY important you mark honestly, but positively. They REALLY need to know what they CAN do, whilst letting them know what they need to do to get better. 
  6. If you want students to focus on a particular technique or skill in their writing, attach a points system to it. E.g. adjective - 1 point, personification - 4 points, and congeries (yup, done that with my re-sitters) 6 points - according to level of difficulty. It should also prevent a 'death by adjective listing' form of creative writing. Get students to self-mark or peer mark before you even clap eyes on it; it will get them into the habit of checking their own work, and reading it carefully. 
  7. Going back to that lovely rhetorical term 'congeries' - rhetorical figures is something I have been doing a lot of with my A-Level classes. One lesson, while looking at the description of 'Dr. Roylott' from Conan-Doyle's "The Speckled Band", I reasoned, why the hell-not expose them to it? So I did. We looked at the definition, how it looks on the page, what it DOES, and how such long sentences are constructed and why. Using the points system, pupils were keen to try it. Some of them succeeded. I also told them it came from my A-Level lessons, making sure I told them that if I didn't think they were capable, I wouldn't bother. So, going back to those fragile egos, that's them starting to wag their tales right there. 
  8. Another no-brainer. Turn up. Always, turn-up. This will be, eventually, rewarded with their loyalty. 
  9. Have a sense of humour, by GOD you'll need it, along with this, be relentlessly nice, even in the face of their apathy and truculence. You will wear them down, because when you are relentlessly nice, they find less and less reason to be truculent and unpleasant. If they were to continue being mean, it would be like kicking a puppy. 
  10. Be patient. Very, very patient. They will come round to you once they have got used to you, and learned to trust you. Like skittles in a bowling alley, it is won't be a strike, but one or two skittles at a time. Eventually, the bowling ball that is YOU and your teaching, will knock them over. (Dodgy metaphor now over). 

Monday, 16 February 2015

Getting to grips with GCSE re-sitters

When I started at my college and saw my timetable, I made predictions about which classes might prove the most tricky. As most of my timetable is A-Level teaching, it didn't take long to suss out that Wednesday afternoons with full-time students re-taking GCSE English at college would be the most challenging. 

Why did I make this assumption?

  • They HAVE to do it to remain on their chosen course
  • They have not got a C, yet, so will feel disappointed by that.
  • They MAY have sat the GCSE exams at least 3 times prior to coming to me.
  • They are quite likely to feel let down by their previous institution, or GCSE English teacher due to not getting that C.
  • English is unlikely to be their favourite subject, if it was, I'd be teaching them A-Level English

Now, anyone who has taught a low ability Year 11 class on a wet and windy afternoon, will not be unfamiliar with the words, 'truculent' and 'apathy'. It is a cross that all we core subject teachers have to bear, so have to use all of the tools in our box, and much nicked from other people, in order to overcome it. That said, teaching students GCSE English as a re-sit class is a new experience for me, and I have had to learn a lot over a short period of time.  There is very little that is the same in FE as it is in Secondary School when it comes to teaching GCSE English.

As well as the issues mentioned above, we have:

  • Behaviour issues, usually work avoidance tactics, which essentially down to a lack of confidence in this subject
  • Teaching them 'Of Mice and Men' at the start of the year, when they are, bless them, frankly sick of it. 
  • Issues with attendance and punctuality - meaning that, apart from a core of affable students, you can get a different class each week depending on who turns up (I do not think this is unique to my college at all). 
  • Lessons are once a week and 3 hours long, with a break in the middle - these last two points making planning lessons, and even doing a seating plan, or trying group work, very difficult. 
  • Chasing up lateness and punctuality is much more difficult in a much larger institution - I am slowly getting to know the people I need to talk to about this. 
  • Some pupils have a deeply in-grained all pervading, overwhelming, feeling of negativity about their ability in this subject, which you can sympathise with, but also question whether your amateur psychology built upon years of teaching in different schools, can help these individuals. 
  • Getting in homework, and ergo, having something to mark, assess and praise is a nightmare. 
The first term: the long slog up to Christmas. 

This was the 'Of Mice and Men' term, and I think this made things difficult for the students and I. The majority had studied it to death, whilst a small minority didn't know it at all. We read (or re-read) the text doing some fairly simple comprehension exercises and built up to constructing the good old, 'Point, Evidence, Explore the language' paragraphs. It is easy to knock PEEL paragraphs, however, with students who have no confidence in their ability to write, and write about writing, this kind of structure IS useful. I made sure to tell the more able ones it was adaptable. 
  However, their over-familiarity with the text, made my prediction of my Wednesday afternoons being bloody hard work absolutely spot on.  Neither had I mastered the art of planning a GCSE lesson over 3 hours - mainly via not pitching or pacing it right. 
  On Thursdays I felt visibly lighter and practically skipped into work as Wednesday was over with, meaning I had a joyous day of A2 and AS Language and Literature ahead. 
  Towards the end of December the 'Of Mice and Men' CA was sat - all done properly in exam conditions. It is an epic slog with 1 hour for making notes, and 4 hours writing. One pupil kicked off in spectacular fashion, complaining that he could not do it. He had attended less than 50% of lessons, so I can't say I was overly sympathetic, less so when he shouted at me in the classroom and in the corridor. The rest, thankfully, did not join in and knuckled down and got on with the long slog. Afterwards, other pupils told me how silly they thought his behaviour was...making one of those precious little moments that make you realise the class are coming around to your side, and will eventually stop fighting you. 

Spring Half term. (WHY do we call it that, when we are still in the DEPTHS of Winter?) and the gradual decline of apathy. 
Fortunately, I managed to mark this classes' CAs over Christmas before I got horribly ill with a sinus infection. This meant that, due to the most of the class achieving a C, and one pupil getting at least a B, we could begin the year on a positive footing. Those who GOT their C where pleased, if not a bit relieved, the lad with a B was pleasantly surprised, whilst those who got Ds took it on the chin (they had terrible attendance) and are keen to re-sit so they can achieve a C. 
  There is a notable and visible sense of relief that 'Of Mice and Men' is OVER WITH, whilst the new CA task of creative writing is much more enjoyable to teach, and gives the students a refreshing change of direction.  With huge thanks to a delightful Twitter lady (your name escapes me, SORRY) I used an extract and stills from Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later' which the class grew increasingly more interested in as lessons went by. 
  Here I also used 'slow writing' cards and devised a points system for using different literary and grammar techniques in practise pieces of writing; plus I compiled a table of model sentences using Alan Peat's 'Exciting Sentences' app for pupils to experiment with.
  I made them write in silence to a range of stimulus, gave them different sentence types and techniques to use each week, then made sure I took in class work (rather than homework) to mark each week, so that they were getting regular constructive feedback.  In class they also peer and self-marked to see how many 'points' they accumulated, based on the variety of techniques, and range of vocabulary they could use.  
  One pupil's was so 'wowsers' I read it out to my friends and colleagues in the A-Level office, which received appreciative 'Oooooos' and 'Ahhhhhhs' as a result, which I passed onto the student. 
The Second Controlled Assessment

They were an absolute delight whilst they had their note-making lesson and preparation. I made sure they used a thesaurus to compile a bank of vocabulary to use in their CA. They worked with quiet diligence and real focus. Frankly, I could hardly believe it was the same class I had been teaching in September. 
  Before the CA I gave them a pep-talk, reminders of what to do when stuck, told some pupils to write double spaced as their handwriting is as bad as mine, and let them crack on. I also told them, in no uncertain terms, they were not finished until they had checked their work for errors at least twice or until they were sick of it. 
   As in the note-making session, their effort and behaviour really could not be faulted. 
   I bought them Jaffa cakes which were gently plopped on their desk mid-way through the CA and (I tweeted about this) REFUSED a second Jaffa Cake on the way out, REFUSED. What is with that? 

An attempt at an 'autopsy' -why I think things have changed (there's nothing remarkable here):

  • I came back after each holiday.
  • I turned up each week (bar the evil sinus infection week).
  • I sent some out who were persistently disruptive, one has even been removed to another class (who has since BEGGED to return to my group).
  • Got the hang of chasing up poor attendance and punctuality.
  • Weekly marking of classwork improved relationships between the class and I.
  • Taking the 'be relentlessly nice' approach seems to have worn them down.
  • My planning and pacing of lessons has got better - and easier - the better I know my pupils.
  • The first CA marks gave many a confidence boost AND enabled them to trust me.
  • I am a stubborn sod and don't give up easily.
  • We have had some lovely funny moments in class, I've laughed with the student so at least they know I am human. 
  • Because of all of the above, and other things I may have missed, some are now more motivated than when they were in school, and certainly more motivated since September. 
It is hugely satisfying to now be at the 'enjoy teaching them' stage considering I gained new grey hairs every week when I started teaching them in September. 

I was hugely cheered by a comment a student made at the end of his creative writing CA last week:

Students looked up from his CA, bleary eyed but pleased, "I am really pleased with what I've done and my effort."
"Good," I reply, smiling, "So you should be."
"You know what the difference is this time?" he asked me, more rhetorically really.
"Compared to school you mean?" 
"Yes. It's motivation. I just got things done quickly to get them out of the way. Now I want to do it well." 
Well, I could hardly contain my joy and told him, arms aloft, "You have TOTALLY just made my day. Thank you." 

Continuing in this lovely manner, the pupil was then a total poppet and helped put the classroom desks back to normal before he left. 

That was a VERY satisfying way to end the half-term with this class.