I am proud of the transferable skills that my students acquire in Sociology. It’s always a brilliant moment seeing them move onto the next stage confident in their own abilities in non subject specific areas. However, what I find most important to focus on in class are exam skills. Without the ability to analyse, evaluate and explain the exam will thwart all their dreams, no matter how driven and focused they are. Alongside this is the need to drive up literacy standards, for which our excellent literacy coordinator @myersclare has pushed relentlessly. So I magpied and redesigned this activity with polishing both evaluation and literacy skills in mind.
I saw on twitter some excellent work by a number of people, @alysonegerton being one, on a concept called black-out poetry, where students were creating original poems by blacking out sections of recycled books. The result was visually stunning, but also very empowering as it proved their ability to create-write- poetry. Obviously my students do not need to be able to write poems, but I decided too address the idea to an area of their writing that has significant weakness, which is formulating conclusions. Also I hoped it might hope to build their confident in study/exam skills as a few were disappointed by January exam results and currently need a boost in motivation.
I created a template with lots of words, terms and Theorists they could utilise to write a conclusion. I have to admit to spending ages tinkering with fonts as I am geeky like that, and it the visual effect was important to me. I wanted the work to spark the interest and creativity of the learners and so I think the time invested here is paid off by the wow factor. Plus i spent a happy hour Blue-Petering and getting covered in glue. If i were to repeat the task again for a different question i think i would ask the students to make the template in future, as they now would understand the requirements of a black-out template, plus it would give them more ownership of the final product and their learning.
The students were then instructed to write a conclusion to the question they peer marked last lesson using only the words on the sheet. They then had to black-out the rest. Each student created something unique, but the activity also forced them to really think about the words they used and how evaluative they were. They also had a model answer and their peers to refer to if they felt they needed assistance.
It was a revelation watching the students complete the task. I’m lucky in that my students are very game to trying out new ideas and approach tasks with a real sense of curiosity. Some of them we reluctant to mark the paper until they had written a ‘correct conclusion’ not quite the spirit of experimentation I wanted BUT I think it’s important to recognise each student has their own approach- and if part of the process of learning- is not wrong just as it was not what I envisaged. Other students took to marking the paper straight away. There was total absorption in the task, and I was pleased to note that not one of them asked for help, instead they turned to each other and the model answer to produce high level work. Trust me- this is as a result of training not natural tendencies!
All the students finished in the time allowed, and here are some of the results:
On the way out of class almost everyone took a spare copy to have another go at home and to use for revision, and one said the sheets would make good wallpaper. Did the task work? They all thought very hard about the words they used and took great care to incorporate evaluative language. This is a massive step forward for them and they were very pleased with their efforts. The answer were all correct in terms of grammar and punctuation, which is also a standard that not all of them usually reach. I hope that by displaying their work in the classroom it is something I can encourage them to repeat in essays, mocks and the exam.
What do you think? Any more ideas for engaging learners with exam skills that I could try out?