Just a little everyday …
Please Be Aware: Your Mileage May Vary.
When I met my delightful Year 11 classes for the first time in September I quickly hit against a limiting factor for their progress.
They don’t read.
Not can’t (they are borderline sets) or won’t (when asked they actually quite liked reading) they just didn’t.
This poses an obvious problem. There’s quite a bit of reading involved in that there Unit 1 exam. Reading that they dreaded and felt they couldn’t manage in the 15 minutes allocated for it. The pressure of time was blowing their confidence and causing them to misread the texts they so badly needed to understand. To inspire them I used the classic (if somewhat cheesey) metaphor of an Olympic runner turning up to the race but never having actually trained. How fast, I asked, would Mo Farrah have been if he “didn’t run”?How far would Jess Ennis have jumped if she “didn’t jump”? etc etc. By the end of the first week of September the kids were really very bored of Olympian in the Classroom motivational speeches from their teachers. I just got glared at. Respectfully of course but glared at none the less.
It was all a little bit deflating. I’d spent all summer rehersing my Olympic metaphors.
So I changed tack. I told them about the Dread Pirate Roberts who every day took a tiny dose of Iocane so that when he came across what should be a lethal dose …. it didn’t hurt him. Some youtube scrabbling allowed me to show them this.
I told them about Borgia and Medici brides who were rumoured to give their husbands tiny doses of slow acting poison in their breakfast and the antidote in their supper to ensure that their husbands didn’t stay out too late. If they slept elsewhere the men would be tortured by horrific stomach cramps and a general inability to … err .. perform. I even, though it pained me to do it, told them the story of Catherine Petrova (Vampire Diaries) who takes a tiny sip of Vervain everyday so that she becomes immune to the anti vampire herb.
“So what you’re saying is Miss” piped up a voice from the back, “We have to read every day? Or the exam will kill us?”
They’d got it! Well almost.
So every day I ask them to read something, anything, for 15 minutes and then explain it to another person. I really don’t care what it is as long as it is 15 minutes on one text (not flicking through a magazine or website) which has words in it which challenge them. I have no control over whether they really do this or not. It’s clearly happening though because the fear of reading under time pressure is slowly but surely leaving them.
This was the first stage. In order to quality assure this a little I have sacrificed 45 minutes of teaching a week to getting them to do it well. Starter for 15. For the first 15 minutes of every lesson my Y11 classes now complete a reading task. The text may or may not be related to the lesson. It may or may not interest them. It may or may not be challenging to them personally. They read for 10 minutes and then they work in pairs to gauge each other’s understanding of the text. I give them each a question which they have to challenge their partner to answer verbally first of all. They then give some pointers to improve it. Finally their response gets put down in their book. I can then assess using Purple/Green/Amber/Red for how thoroughly they engaged with the task.
I have tried to give them a really varied diet of texts – they have had everything from a text about the Battle of Thermopylae to ”How to create the perfect Beehive”. I’m not just focussing on information texts either; they recently enjoyed an extract from Game of Thrones working out what Jamie really thinks of Cersei Lannister. They’ve had obituaries and biographies of famous figures, recipes and the opening pages of “must read” novels.
The best bit has been enjoying their responses to reading bitesize, manageable “not fatal” chunks of text. So many pupils have come back to me at the end of the lesson wanting more, wanting the whole book, wanting the bigger picture. I currently have one lad reading Suetonius because of an extract I gave him from “I Claudius”.
I can say it really is working as well. The first time I gave them 15 minutes to read the exam inserts from last June not one member of the group was able to get through all three in the 15 minutes. This time all of them managed it even though the texts were longer and in my opinion more challenging.
They still don’t like me using the Olympic metaphors.
So anyway. My first proper blog post. Done.