It’s that time of year again- the Christmas trees have been taken down, the pine needles have been swept up and the snow has all but disappeared. And, of course, Year 11 will be soon sitting their mock GCSE exams and every classroom teacher will be dreading the onslaught of marking that is teetering on the horizon.
But what do you do when the mock results are in, and there is no trend, no discernible pattern? How do you focus your time and interventions when there is such a vast discrepancy between the areas of need in your class?
Well, there are a number of options available to you. You could re-teach the whole exam paper again to the whole class, citing it as useful practice for those who already are secure in each question. You could focus your teaching on the highest awarding questions – for example both of the 40 mark questions in the English Language papers – to the detriment of all others. You could work all the hours under the sun providing after school boosters and holiday school (leaving you very little time to relax and unwind). Or you could use your remaining teaching time wisely, implementing guided group interventions for small groups of students with a focus on specific areas of need.
Guided group intervention?
I can almost hear the collective groan and the protests about increased workload. After all, doesn’t that involve planning for two groups instead of one? To cut a long story short, no. This isn’t going to increase your workload and it isn’t as difficult to plan as it may first appear. It need not be an arduous process, planned late into the evening as you weep into your wine. And you don’t need even to be au fait with data analysis to decipher which of your pupils need support from the guided groups.
A simple mock tracker, split on a question by question basis (which most department leaders will be happy to share with their department) can be enough to determine which of your Year 11 pupils would benefit most from closely working with you. And, in reference to planning for your guided group, here is my advice: don’t.
Be confident. Be brave. Rely on your professional expertise and your own knowledge of the exam papers and mark schemes to lead the guided group with very little need to plan or resource. The best method of implementing guided interventions and improving results is to turn up with the chosen students’ mock papers, a mark scheme and a mini whiteboard in hand. Simple!
GCSE Intervention Strategies for Teachers
First of all, you will need to look at your tracker and select the five or six students with the lowest marks in a particular question (or questions if they struggle with the shorter mark ones). Sit them around the same table and locate yourself at the head of the table so that you can see each of them clearly. Explain to them why you have selected them and what you hope they will achieve by participating in the guided group. Be positive and tell them how it will ultimately benefit their learning for this question. Carefully explain the mark scheme, making it accessible and understandable.
Then, allow them time to re-read their own response to the question and use highlighters to identify where they have picked up any marks. By using different colours for each bullet point in the mark scheme, students will be able to recognise what crucial knowledge or skill they have not yet displayed in their response. Once this process is completed, re-read any sources from the exam and identify the key words in the exam question as a group.
Now it’s your turn. Take your mini whiteboard (or sugar paper if that’s more your style), lay it in the centre of the table and show them how you would have answered the question. Don’t go overboard. Don’t write an academic response worthy of commendation at A Level, degree or beyond. And don’t fluff your response with unnecessary waffle. Just use the mark scheme to produce a model which clearly meets the criteria required for the target grades of the group in question.
As you write, ask them to identify where you are picking up marks and get them to explain how they know. If they can’t, explain it to them and allow them time to digest what you have said. Most importantly, speak to them all in turn. The small size of the group ultimately provides the perfect platform for meticulous and focused teaching.
What about the rest of the class? I hear you ask. Won’t they be disengaged? Won’t they use this time to catch up on playground gossip or discuss the latest series of Riverdale?
Maybe at first. But you must make your expectations clear and trust the students that are not in the guided group to study independently without your ongoing supervision. After all, they have very little time left until the real deal and they should be able to identify their own needs and utilise their time effectively to revise.
Some Final Thoughts
Remember this: your pupils see you as the expert. They value your judgement and they don’t need to see a two page lesson plan or a jazzy PowerPoint to enable them to improve. If you inform them that the best method of revision is to practice independently, and precisely explain your reasoning for taking these smaller guided groups, then they will trust you in that decision and appreciate it when it comes to their turn to participate in a group.
So, after that avalanche of mock marking is out of the way and the data analysis is complete, why not trial guided group interventions and systematically improve the results of your students on a question by question basis?