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“What impact will explicitly outlining how to speak like an examiner have on the formal expression of GCSE RE students in yr 11?”

Participants: Nikki Barnes (Head of RE), Freya Jennison, Eoin Walshe, Zoe James (Literacy Leader)

Deciding to conduct a lesson study was the result of an INSET day I spent at an NTEN training day, which David Didau was speaking at. I had a conversation with him in which he said to me that GCSE classes are often prepared for exams with rote learning, which can only get them so far. However when they attempt A level or are faced with an exam question that is worded differently they struggle. This is because perhaps we should be teaching skills and not just facts. I commented that this was a problem that was evident with my A level students who struggled to express themselves in a more academic way and to work through challenges.

Back at Oriel I decided that I wanted to start doing something about this, so with Zoe James’ help, we decided to do a study based on getting students to write in a more academic and formal style (the resilience would be tackled another day). GCSE classes were chosen to begin with, because if we were successful then early implementation would be most beneficial. This would involve the RE team to start with and the first stage was to verbalise what was actually required from students. Then we’d team plan a lesson and observe each other teaching it. In addition we would analyse student responses from the lesson and also the impact of this on future responses.

So our study question became: “What impact will explicitly outlining how to speak like an examiner have on the formal expression of GCSE RE students in Yr 11?”

Originally our students were taught how to answer exam questions with the typical points of looking at the amount of marks and making simple or developed points. Realistically though what did we mean by ‘simple’ and ‘developed’; to be honest we couldn’t verbalise it ourselves. So this was where we started and we worked with Zoe to come up with a list of skills or attributes that could be included e.g. trigger words, religious language, key terminology and careful analysis of questions.

Key elements of the study included us discussing the qualities we expected and planning a suitable series of activities to draw this out with. It meant that we had made the aims and outcomes clear. Following on from this was the need to observe each other and analyse the output from students.

As the aims of the study are long-term it is difficult to say whether it was a success. What I would say is that students did demonstrate the skills in the lesson and some even produced these in assessments in the future. I was personally happy to see a current Yr12 student using some of these skills in their A level essays. However, as we didn’t select key students prior to the study (whose work we could pick out further down the line to compare) it did make evaluating the study effectively difficult. The biggest success for us though as a team is that it made us more aware about the way we explain instructions and we walked away from this with a better insight and ability to inform our students. It led to a review of A level requirements which has significantly impacted our teaching and feedback.

The lesson is now a part of our regular practice and we’ve even tried to incorporate it into our displays, but we regularly now discuss new ways to embed and add to these skills

When we conduct our next study we’d definitely repeat the team planning process, but this time also selecting key students to allow us to better analyse findings. I had to record my lesson using Iris as no one was free to observe me, but I found it more beneficial to be able to watch things back and comment as I did. It would perhaps be more useful if all those participating recorded their lessons to compare and comment on.

In the future I’d be interested in investigating more ways to teach ‘skills’ and to look more at modelling/feedback and their role in it. As the whole department was involved it was easy for use to share findings in the wake of the study, but I haven’t shared the information widely with other areas of the school (until now!). However, I’m hoping that this (and the new study our department is beginning) can be discussed on the PP site and via the Thursday Thriller. The real benefits of lesson studies are the dialogues they create for staff, so disseminating information is vital.

A more detailed report from Nikki including some pictorial evidence:

When marking A level papers one day, I despaired at the expression I found in some students’ work. Lesson after lesson students would plead with me to give them a writing frame or the ‘How to answer this question’ guide. When they were told A level was a bit more complex than that, jaws hit the ground. I realised I’d failed my students by essentially teaching them RE GCSE in a rote learning style. This really hit home last year when I went to an NTEN meeting which argued by failing to teach my students how to express their knowledge appropriately, I was taking all the skill out of my subject. So, I decided that we needed to improve their ability to write, express and develop ideas more academically.

Zoe had mentioned that she was looking for a group of people to work with her on a language for learning based project and I felt this would be a good place to start. For research projects it’s suggested that 3 people is ideal, so my RE department was well placed for this with Zoe guiding us with good practice.

In a 15min slot during a department meeting, Zoe asked us to come up with what actually made a high-end piece of writing and how best we could explain these to students. By looking at students’ books we came up with this:
• 3rd person (objective)
• Specific (CofE not Christians)
• Connectives used
• Signpost language (the evidence of this…the quotation that supports this…This is supported by…Also…Alternatively)
• No. of points
• Use of key terms and capital letters
• The criteria ‘developing’ actually means explaining what the first point means with reference to the question

We then threw out a lot of ideas that could promote this skill and eventually finalised the lesson to fit the Oriel model.

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We were then ready to start the actual lesson study, which went as so:
• Delegated the preparation of the lesson
• Organised who would observe whom (no one was free for mine, but by making use of IRIS this was a not a problem!)
• After each lesson we fed back and used this to adapt the next lesson
• At the end we compared and analysed the results

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As you might imagine responses were varied. Some students took to it well, but others were still focussing quantity not quality. This is understandable as this was very much how we’d drilled them in the past. However, some shared points were:

• Best results came from modelling; demonstrating exactly what you wanted from them was much better than simply explaining.

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• On the occasions when students spent longer writing an answer designed to get the most marks (and not demonstrate the skills we wanted), they were able to comment on the language if the slide ‘speak like an examiner’ was up for them. Then we could prompt them by asking ‘what was missing’ or ‘what could you add next time’.

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It’s definitely a long process, as a department we felt as if we benefited more from it as we have verbalised what we want to see from our most able. Now our teaching practice includes this knowledge; from our new resources to our displays. Slowly we hope to see more and more good practice in our conversations with students and in their work.

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We did see some good practice in the Yr10 mini mock we did some weeks later, which we all looked at with Zoe in our final meeting. It was great to see some students had picked up on the skills. However my best moment so far was marking a recent Yr12 homework and seeing some of our advice in a student who had been a part of this study.  That’s a win in my book!!

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