Archive for the ‘Speaking and Listening’ Category

So, now Mr Gove seeks to recreate the GCSE specification. Again.

Now there are many things I just don’t get about Michael Gove. How he holds down a job; how anyone else manages to work with him; how no-one has discovered that he is, in fact, an alien probe sent to infiltrate us; how on earth he got a job in education when he appears to denigrate and despise both pupils and teachers.

However, more specifically, how his proposals for GCSE reform make any kind of sense at all.

Firstly, the headline that the media focused on that students will undertake

detailed study of a range of high quality, intellectually challenging, and substantial whole texts, which must include:
 at least one play by Shakespeare
 a selection of representative Romantic poetry
 at least one nineteenth-century novel
 a selection of poetry since 1850
 British fiction or drama since the First World War.

I see nothing inherently objectionable in this, to be fair to Mr Gove. There are some brilliant texts available within those criteria. The nineteenth century novel is, perhaps, a tad daunting and I fear there may be a sales run on A Christmas Carol! But there’s an awful lot of literature of equal weight, interest and value missing from the list! I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what options are made available to us.

What the DfE have also produced, however, includes Assessment Objectives and weightings.

These are worth a read for all Heads of English because there is a significant change here!

Let’s take Language first. This is the list of future AOs.

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and a list if the current AOs, drawn from the OCR specification.

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Firstly, speaking and listening is shunted out entirely. How do students, people, adults, professionals communicate in the majority of the time? By speaking? And by listening? Surely by removing this from the qualification, you devalue and denigrate the most critical communication skill that we have and you run the risk of de-skulking a generation of children in oral communication skills.

Now, before anyone complains, yes I know that Spoken Language will remain as a compulsory element of the GCSE – although note the absence of listening from its new title! – because the proposal states

While it is compulsory for students to demonstrate the skills in AO4 in spoken language it will not count towards the overall grade awarded.

It will not count but is compulsory. I’m sorry, but that is a fudge, a sop.

What might be the logic behind this? I suspect it is because lots of students – and perhaps mainly boys – do well in this unit. Anecdotally, how many parents evenings have I had when I’ve explained that Little Johnny is articulate and engaging verbally but cannot put his thoughts coherently into writing? How many databases show C grade written work complemented by B grade oral work?

So he removes it?

He removes the one area where many children excel and receive the validation that they can achieve in English.

How? What? Why? It is incomprehensible to me.

Especially as the iGCSE which the DfE has confirmed to me will be accredited at least until 2015 and rumour suggests into 2016 as well (thereby overlapping the no-speaking-and-listening, 100% terminal exam GCSE) does include Speaking and Listening at 20% weighting and Writing Coursework at 40%.

Is it any wonder that CIE experienced a 300% increase in entries this year?

If we look at writing, the score for AO4(iii), the sentence structures, punctuation and grammar. Currently it accounts for 33% of the writing grade, which comprises 35% of the overall grade. Therefore AO4(iii) comprise 11.55% of the overall final grade.

The equivalent Assessment Objective in the new GCSE is worth 40% overall of which half derives from sentence structures, punctuation, grammar and spelling. That raises the weight attached to that skill from 11.55% overall to 20%, nearly doubling it.

How will schools respond?

There is a Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test at KS2 now but I don’t know how many Secondaries would rely on that?

I am thinking of introducing a two week grammar unit full of games and fun activities across the board at the start of the September term and repeating it every single September to reinforce and develop students’ skills as well as demonstrate progress. This would also upskill my staff in grammar and provide them with a range of short snappy fun grammar activities that would be ideal as starters throughout the year.

And AO1 includes some very low-order skills on Bloom’s taxonomy: retrieve information; summarise… These lower order skills simply do not appear on the current AO list: “selecting material appropriate to purpose” is qualitatively different and more challenging than “retrieve information”.

There is also the introduction of the skill of synthesise: to be able to “evaluate … and synthesise [information] for specific purposes”. Another explicitly new skill and, here, at the top if Bloom’s taxonomy! It is very close to the iGCSE Directed Writing component (or as I want to rephrase it, Text Transformation) where students read a travelogue (for example) and then imagine they are the writer and write a letter home persuading a relative to visit the are using the attitudes and views and information of the original article.

Now, don’t get me wrong! I like this skill! Actually, I like it a lot! But it is a higher order skill and, if it is combined with a Draconian approach to grammar and sentence structures and divorced from Speaking and Listening, it could price a real challenge to achieve.

Turning to Literature, the proposed Assessment Objectives are

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and the current equivalents are

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The new AO1, to read for comprehension is again a very low order skill! Low enough not to be currently tested at all! To describe features of a text currently would attract some (very few) marks in Language but here could attract up to 20% of the final grade in Literature.

The new AO2 basically comprises all the current AOs together and is only worth 50%, 20% of which must derive from unseen texts. Now I do like that: it means we have to teach students how to read literary texts rather than how to read this book which is great! That content-driven focus has been the worst part of the current Literature course. But, students will need a wide range of reading across genres and contexts to be able to do so. I suspect this unseen element will focus on poetry for exactly that reason of timing.

But AO3 is sneaky: 30% of marks will be made available for writing – presumably essays – in a literary manner. 30%.

Again, how schools react to that will be interesting. I’m thinking that, again, an explicit essay writing unit, repeated throughout the course, explicitly teaching essays as a persuasive text could become embedded in my Department.

Anyway, the links to these documents are below:
Language;
Literature.

One question for you though, both these DfE documents capitalise English but not language or literature. Surely it should be! It is the name of the course, the name of the examination, the name of the qualification. It is a proper noun, isn’t it?

And finally, for all fans of Michael Gove, some delightful pictures:

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This is it.

By now some of my Year 11s will have secured their first English GCSE grade.

It really is all out of my hands now.

And rarely if ever have I seen so many happy faces leave the exam room. Now I wonder whether “happy” is quite the right word. Content? Satisfied? Some were downright smug! The phrase

“I enjoyed that one!”

was heard. So yes, maybe, “happyis the right word.

We’re talking of the iGCSE First Language English course, of course. Half our cohort were taking it alongside OCR GCSE. Our entry into the iGCSE route – or our leap for the iGCSE bandwagon, depending on how healthily high your cynicism levels are – has had a troubled gestation. Senior Leadership were looking to use it to maximise C grades; I was perhaps more interested in maximising A-A* grades and moving progress on from three to four levels; we have a high English to Language and Literature ratio which further complicates matters; our Speaking and Listening needed “juggling” to ensure compatibility with both OCR and CIE.

But we did it.

And I prepared them for it as best I could.

In fact the most gratifying response I heard from several students was that the revision classes I ran were really helpful and they knew exactly how to approach every question. I also took the opportunity of the captive audience to soliloquise about my approach to exams in general: they’re an opportunity to have fun, show off, and enjoy yourselves with language. And as they are dual entered, they could take the risks on the iGCSE that they may not want to take on the OCR course.

One student may have taken my advice at that point to heart. He sought me out yesterday to tell me how he had answered the question asking him to describe a place that was both old and powerful.

Which he took as an invitation to describe his own imagination.

Okay.

The right examiner in the right mood on the right day could really enjoy reading that!

Of course, Paper 3 on Friday did have two potentially problematic circumstances:

• one, we had our Leavers’ Service on that morning which reduced half the cohort to blubbing emotional wrecks, consuming tissues and snivelling onto their ties. And the girls cried a bit too!

• two, it clashed with Spanish so as the end-of-school bell went for everyone else, about 35 of our lovelies faced a second two-hour exam!

We did what we could to make it as little irksome as possible: I and our exams officer – who has my huge thanks – spent Thursday night baking lemon cupcakes, chocolate butterfly cakes and fairy cakes to keep their energy levels up in the break between exams and to make them feel cared for. Considering the circumstances the following phrase may be the most memorable:

Best exam ever!

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We have less than a week with Year 11 left in our school!

For some, that is a cause for celebration; others of emotional goodbyes; for yet others, it is a moment of terror asking themselves “Have we completed the course yet?!”

And with the OCR deadline for CAT marks looming on Wednesday, this is the weekend when finally and completely it is possible to say to all our students:

This is where you stand. These marks are safe and banked (subject to external moderation).

And it is – broadly – possible to take the next step and say (with all the caveats and warnings about Ofqual, Michael Gove and grade boundaries after the GCSE fiasco last year)

These are the marks you need to get this grade overall.

marks left to grade boundaries

I am basing the maths here on the June 2012 OCR Grade Boundaries for raw scores which can be found here. I ummed and ahhed about perhaps adding a couple of marks to the boundaries to insulate us against the vagaries of Ofqual… but I decided that there was little to be gained from trying to second guess what appears to be a particularly volatile set of politics so left it as it was.

With the additional tweak (a particularly geeky and SLT-friendly tweak!) of colour coding on a scale of 0-80 in English and Language and 0-40 in Literature, we have a nice visual record of who is more and less likely to obtain the A and C grades. Thanks to Excel, the deeper the shade of green, the closer the student is to the boundary; the deeper the shade of red, the further away they are.

We also put our students doing Literature in to take the Prose from Other Cultures examination in January. so the final two columns simply compare the scores required to get a C or an A with what they obtained in January. Again, it is colour coded: green shows that they need less than they obtained in January; red shows that they need to raise their game. The deeper the shades of colour reflect how far from their January achievement they are: a nice deep green suggests that they need actually far less than they obtained in January to reach that threshold; a deep red suggests they need to up-their-game a lot!

If this would be useful to anyone out there, the (appropriately anonymised) document is linked here with the OCR grade boundaries.

(Anonymised) Marks required in exams to obtain a C

Students at this point respond very well to conversations that go along the lines of:

“Look, you only need 38 marks for a C”

“You need less to get C than you got in your last exam”

“You only need 27 for a C. But you could get higher!”

Those conversations seem more positive than “Well, I suppose it is mathematically possible”!

KS4 template

It’s that time of the year again… when I revisit the Departmental Database and wonder how it could be developed and improved.

And this year, in addition, how to include the iGCSE into the growing range of qualification that we are offering.

So, last year, I was using a fairly basic =IF formula to compare the scores given by teachers into indicative grades. It was a little clunky and a little ‘Heath Robinson’ but it did the job.

This year, I am intending to use =VLOOKUP formulae to look the score given up in the table of grade boundaries on a separate sheet. It has taken a bit of time just inputting the grade boundaries (each possible score in each element of each qualification needs a grade allocated to it.

vlookup

 

Once done, however, the hope is that it will be straightforward enough to simply fiddle with and amend the grades accordingly. Obviously, the =VLOOKUP will amend itself according to the data entered on the lookup sheet. And alterations in grade boundaries can be applied and grades amended according to the changes in data that we have.

In terms of staff inputting, all I need will be the score for each Controlled Assessment or mock exam. With judicious use of protected cells and suspicious passwords, that should in fact be all that the staff can do.

Their “dashboard”, if you like, will look like this:

database template

 

Obviously there will be a range of data to be inputted for each child to track vulnerable groups, pupil premiums, intervention groups, withdrawal groups and accelerated groups – we have a tendency to generate five or six overlapping lists of students which no-one has any real overview of! – which can be done in anticipation of the start of term.

The database should also add up and / or average out scores for individual tasks to create the final figure to be entered into the OMR at the end of Year 11.

It should also be able to identify students whose Controlled Assessments pull down their raw ability; students who underperform in exams; students who might benefit most from specific forms of intervention.

One other item from the PiXL Club main conference that I liked was what I have dubbed micro-tracking.

This database is a broad-brush, specification wide tracking system. I intend to supplement it with a range of micro-tracking databases that track students’ success in individual exam questions to track their ability to perform certain skills rather than overall. A revision session on summarising skills for a select group of individuals persistently falling down on that skill will be more effective than a revision session on the OCR Information and Ideas Examination or the iGCSE Paper 1 or 2 which only touches on summarising. The same goes for directed writing skill, analysis skills, language skills, presentational devices responses or imaginative writing.

Additional sheets can be added at any time which could record mock exams on a question-by-question basis and a formula can easily add those up and record them in the main database.

Obviously, getting antiquated and somewhat Luddite staff to actually complete the database is another matter!

Yesterday was the PiXL Main Conference.

PiXL – for those who don’t know which included me until recently – stands for Performance in Excellence and is variable described as a club or a family by those who are fully engaged! Broadly, in its own words

The PiXL Club is a collaboration of school leaders, headed by Sir John Rowling, this is a club that some have said to be “the best thing they have seen in education”.

The PiXL Club is about sharing new ideas with school leaders; it is a partnership of focused, determined and dedicated professional practitioners. It is a not for profit organisation that focuses on supporting and developing the GCSE results of thousands of students in many schools across London, the South East, West and the North.

Their own website is here and no doubt describes them better than me.

Up until yesterday, my only real knowledge of PiXL was that the plan to dual enter Year 11 into UK GCSE and iGCSE had derived from them. A plan that I actually disagreed with vigorously for the majority of my students: the iGCSE is only valid with a Literature grade, and, for historic reasons, we have a large cohort of C/D students not taking Literature.

So I was a bit of a cynic.

For a national club starting a conference in London at 0930 “prompt” also militated against them: I had to get up at 5am to get there! And still couldn’t physically be on time.

The conference location was spectacular: disembarking at Waterloo, I ambled past The London Eye, wove between tourists over Westminster Bridge, jogged past the Houses of Parliament and veered right by Westminster Abbey to reach Westminster Hall. The sun was shining, birds tweeting, Big Ben chiming, traffic grumbling (mainly at me as I’d abandoned the pavements to tourists and was scuttling along in the road itself).
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Being a tad late, the conference had begun and I was bereft of the customary small talk with strangers (not a huge loss) and coffee (a keenly felt loss!). And the hall atmosphere was… Odd. The closest analogy was to a Billy Graham rally I went to as an impressionable youngster… a rapt audience applauding loudly, a passionate speaker with a clear zeal, a very definite message about the right way to do things.

Inspirational for many I’m sure; over-zealous, pushing towards evangelical for me.

And being a mite perverse, I balked a little. The temptation was to sit there, arms folded, cynical sneer on the face…

However, there was a good deal of sense being delivered – yes, delivered, not discussed – there was no time for discussion points or questions: it was very preachy.

But some excellent practical advice in there: it’s still not too late to do additional Speaking and Listening; manage the exam day sensitively and carefully; provide spare equipment, water and cereal bars rather than relying on teenagers to bring their own; continue to focus on intervention.

There really was a strong ‘can do‘ attitude.

Although the ‘you can do staying at school until 8 in the evening‘ attitude did not chime well with me!

Lots of acronyms were thrown around DTT and D3 and L5 which I think I got a handle on eventually – good example for the effect of jargon in a future language lesson? – and there really was a sense of a homogenised and perhaps formulaic PiXL way of doing things. And an implicit suggestion that you were missing something if you did it differently. There are only so many times you can listen to “why reinvent the wheel” before you start hearing “thou shalt”.

However, overall, despite some concerns over philosophy and language, there was much said that was sound and despite my natural cynicism and the 5 am start it was somewhat energising.

I’m now also able to access the cloud-based resource sharing on a platform named Huddle too – again somewhat put off by the name that brings to mind repressed memories of rugby games and sweaty male bodies…

I do have one gripe though. And I know it will come across as extraordinarily petty and small minded…. but then I never pretended to be otherwise. Food. Beef cobbler. Hot food. On a plate. With nowhere to sit, perch or lean on. I ended up with a plate in one hand and a glass in the other – because I didn’t trust the flimsy wobbly glass holder clipped to the side of the plate! – and nowhere to eat it! And the beef was really gristly!

I have never understood how OCR and other GCSE exam boards manage to moderate Speaking and Listening.

They require seven sheets of paper per teaching group sent to them. The cover sheets contain a description of the task undertaken and a description of the students’ performance to justify the mark given. But that’s it.

Personally, as a teacher, and now as Head of English, I also include the mark sheets I use to award those marks with my own arcane, generally illegible and personal set of underlings, arrows, highlights and annotation. But they have nothing to compare it to. Visiting moderators do attend but so infrequently:I think I recall one in my teaching career. Time after time, our marks are ticked off on a purely paper exercise.

Compare this with the Speaking and Listening moderation for the iGCSE.

They have a set formula to randomise the sample: the first five students by candidate number plus the highest graded student, the lowest graded student and a mid-ranked student. And, because one task is paired, each student has to have a partner not already from the sample. Making a total of 16 for our entry size.

There is, as always, an OMR form to complete for a computer to be able to read students’ score and a cover sheet to record what these students have done.

But CIE also require a CD of these students’ performance in an individual and paired activity.

I like that!

Genuine moderation.

The way we conducted it was to take a day, give each student a time slot and do it all in a day. Instead of our historic practice of performing in front of the class – thereby having 25 odd students having very little to do – they performed to myself and a member of SLT who also teaches English.

It’s a format that students are familiar with: it’s how MFL do their Speaking work. And they really did rise to the challenge! Shyer students were freed up from the intimidation of the whole-class audience; less “engaged” students raised their game in response to being withdrawn from other lessons, in response to having two senior teachers listening; and we were able to moderate and chat about the marking as we went through.

It did feel a little like being a judge on Britain’s Got Talent – I really wanted a big red buzzer – and it was a long and quite intense day. But a jolly successful one which bears embedding into Departmental practice.

Being late entering for the iGCSE hasn’t helped: we were really butting against deadlines with this. However, we now also have the video of these performances… what a jolly useful standardisation tool for future years!