Kendall Jenner, eat your heart out

I should say I’ve never actually watched an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, even though I very much expect I’d enjoy every second of it. This is why I never have as I feel I’d think less of myself afterwards.

However, I think Kendall and I have one major thing in common: we both like to model. Okay, so she does it on catwalks and cameras, and I do it on whiteboards and word processors, but the same kind of thing applies. For many reasons, I love writing model answers. I find them useful to help me see how to teach a particular text or skill, and I think sometimes students need to see exactly what I mean when I say they need to be more concise. What I’m not one-hundred per cent sure about is the method in which to deliver this modelling.

For a long time, I’ve produced example after example of essays on Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm and (my very least favourite) question 2 on the Information and Ideas exam (thank heaven for removing presentational features from the new GCSE!). I’ve printed them off, distributed them to students, read them together – and then I suspect they vanish into their bags and will only see the light of day again when they have to empty said bag when their yoghurt explodes everywhere. Many’s the time I’ve picked up discarded model answers after a lesson and silently cursed those who’ve left them behind, who are almost invariably the ones who really need them.

I’ve tried lots of different things, such as listing criteria on the board for them to find, or indeed telling them precisely what criteria are being hit. The dutiful students merrily highlight away and their sheets look very pretty afterwards, but I’m not sure how much they learn. I’ve also done the ‘which one is the A* paragraph?’ tasks, which mainly reveals how picky the students are over minor errors when it’s not in their own work.

A few weeks ago, I spent several consecutive lessons trying modelling in a different way. Rather than pre-preparing the material (or rather, in addition to doing so, because I needed to think it through beforehand), I wrote it out in front of the students, talking them through why I was making certain choices and asking for their thoughts as I went. It bore some resemblance to the ‘show’ sentences Katie Ashford talks about in this blog, albeit slightly less sparky sounding as it revealed exactly what gulf existed between my Year 8s and her Year 8s (which also needs addressing at some point). I did it with all of my classes, from Year 8 to 13, and it taught me a few things:

– Writing on the whiteboard for that length of time really showed up how much I need to work on my upper body strength. However, I was a big fan of handwriting it, practising what I preach and so on. My battle with students’ ability to write at length is ongoing.

– On a related note, some students literally have no concept of what writing at length is. Whilst copying my work down, so many Year 10 students complained about how ‘looooong’ the exercise was – as they reached halfway down an A4 page. Another aspect which really needs addressing

-Students really can’t copy and listen at the same time. They would much rather copy than listen, and I’m torn as to whether this is a good or bad thing. Showing them what an answer looks like in their own handwriting is, I think, partially of benefit, as it gives them something to measure up against later. It also helps to focus my particularly unfocused Year 10 class. However, the purpose is surely to demonstrate how to analyse language (for example) rather than how to copy. Sometimes the copying isn’t even accurate.

I think this form of modelling has its merits as a teaching tool before students attempt a similar task on their own, such as Question 3 on the AQA Language Paper 1. It particularly helped my Year 13s to embed historical and literary context in a less clumsy manner, so much so that they want to do more of it next week. Pre-prepared answers work better, I think, for feedback sessions in what I like to call ‘Bullseye’ losers’ moments: ‘Here’s what you could have done, but sadly you didn’t.’

What I’m now considering is what it’s best to get students to do whilst I’m demonstrating such a process. Blindly copying isn’t the solution, I’m sure, not least because I know for a fact some students will read over such a piece of work precisely zero times following the lesson. Listening and perhaps participating in crafting the work would be a much better process, which I need to work on, and which requires pretty perfect behaviour, which I know is something I need to work on. Like most of my practice, it needs refining and changing, but it’s area I want to investigate further in the future.


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