Inspiring learning and Developing Exam Skills: What if we can do both?

With such an emphasis on teaching GCSE exam skills and pupil progress towards achieving the criteria in both key stage 3 and key stage 4, it can be easy to put down our rose-tinted glasses and lose sight of our ultimate goal: to provide inspirational learning.

But what if we can do both?

After all, which teachers do you remember from school? Was it the ones that taught you about the exam criteria, or the ones who showed you how to colour outside of the lines as well? (Yes, another metaphor, I apologise).

These questions, and in fact this whole blog entry, were prompted by a question I received from an Ofsted inspector this week: “Which lesson, that you have taught this training year, are you most proud of?”

As you can imagine, thoughts began darting around in my (very busy) brain about which of my lessons had showed the most progress, or had the most planned links to the GCSE specification. As trainees, we find ourselves always looking for what to improve, and often tend to forget that we should think about the times we are proud of.

During this internal monologue, my brain began pushing these criteria aside (don’t worry they’ll be back) to reveal one lesson that I remember feeling proud of.

When I approached the end of our ‘poetry from different cultures’ topic with this particular year 8 class, I asked them to bring in an object from somewhere around the world and a poem that they knew, or they had found, from the same part of the world.

The lesson aimed to use these materials to get students to develop the appropriate skills needed for the ‘unseen’ poetry section of the Literature GCSE (I told you they would be back). For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, this is where students have to analyse and write a response about a poem that that have never seen or revised before.

Whilst the lesson provided this development of skills, what I would like to focus on, is how it created an environment and a shared ethos between us, which allowed us to learn more about each other, our experiences and different cultures from around the world.

I began the lesson by telling the class about my time teaching in an orphanage in India, and showed them the poem I had written whilst I was there. To model what they should do in the rest of the lesson, we analysed the poem together (surprise surprise, they very much enjoyed critiquing my writing) and then they set off to look at the poems and object their peers had brought in.

As you can see from the pictures, we all thoroughly enjoyed this lesson. The students took responsibility for filling in their task sheets and in turn practiced the key skills needed for the unseen poetry questions of the paper.

It worked well in particular for the very bright, but often distracted, members of the class, as they came to see that poetry could be fun whilst also relating to their own lives and interests.

As well as this, in a world where children often see opinions of cultures different to their own portrayed negatively, this lesson promoted British values of acceptance and equality whilst also allowing students to explore other cultures without even leaving their classroom.

So, with all of this in mind, a belief that this experience has allowed me to develop, is that it is our job to let our pupils colour outside of the lines as well as within them.

Jessica Meechan