The Cool Down

The ‘silly season’ has begun at my school. It’s business as usual for some of us some of the time. The junior year levels are still running to the timetable but others are progressively coming off line week by week for exams. After that, the senior years will return before the end of term to squeeze in an intensive 8-day program of next year’s material. Only then will we send them all off for Summer holidays, fill in a week or so with professional development (of varying degrees of usefulness), and finally call it a year ourselves.

It’s a crazy time where timetable and curriculum meet chaos theory.

Still, it’s a pleasant time of year, like the cool down jog after a game or training. One of the nicer elements to the season is that I can find a pocket of time in the day to be a little selfish and scan through lots of posts by other bloggers. Not surprisingly, most of the edubloggesphere is steadily building steam as their academic year makes the Northern Summer a distant memory. To this I say ‘ganbatte senseigata’ or ‘go get’em guys’!, and, in the spirit of this, I think I should post for one last time this year on my long suffering senior classes. Those that were forced to be the Guinea pigs in my experiments on assessment and feedback.

If you’re a frequent reader of this blog you’ll know from previous posts (‘feedbactive’, ‘Guess what’s in my head, ‘A thin blue line’) that my students were tormented by me. All they wanted was their work back so that they could invest the usual 6 seconds in scanning it, checking the mark was acceptable to their ego, and moving on.

But nooo, this year they had to get stuck in Sir’s class and he had to get all cognitive and      pedagogical on them. Just their luck!

What can I say? They loved it really.

The final English exam is over for these students and I’ve had a chance to speak to a few of them about how they felt they performed. There was a distinctly different dynamic to these chat’s this time around that’s worth mentioning. In past years, the tone of the conversation is one of relief. The intense build up of anxiety in the weeks that lead to the exam are released and students talk in terms of how they feel. Commentary revolves around statements like “Yeah I was happy with it.” or “I’m just so glad it’s all over!” I ‘ve always felt these reflections are perfectly valid since there is an undeniable ‘right of passage’ element to the experience.

This year though, all the students I managed to catch up with consistently talked in terms of the mechanics of the exam.

“Yeah, I managed to stick to time.”

“I think I managed to use most of what’s in my head.”

“My introduction basically wrote itself and I think I managed to structure my paragraphs well too.”

Only one of them seemed to be wrapped up in the emotion of the thing. This student came out of the gym ashen faced. When I asked how it went, I saw the hint of a lip tremble as he said,

“How many marks do they take off for an unfinished piece?”

Before I could respond the student continued,

“I had this awesome final sentence that wrapped up the conclusion. I’d covered the bigger picture of the text already and linked it back to my contention but they made me put the pen down before I could use a final quote and …”

I stopped him there with word to the effect of “Stand down soldier. You’re good. This wont hurt you one little bit.”

So, for this group of Guinea pigs there was enormous relief at having finished but there was also a new level of articulation in reflecting on the process. None of us know what they actually achieved yet, but surely this bodes well doesn’t it? Time will tell I guess.

Now that it’s all over for these guys, the silly season demands I plan for the next group and I think my challenge is to take the ‘tricks’ I’ve played with throughout the year and embed them in my coursework for next year.

I can see that doing this will require some more effective time management on my part. In the past, the flow of a unit was teach lots and lots, then test, then move on. Having assessment corrected and returned has usually been set to a vague and decidedly rubbery timeframe. From here on in though, I’ll need to factor in time after the assessment to process the work with the class and do so in a way that builds their appreciation of what it is they are being asked to do. That will potentially add two or three more lessons at the end but I’m sure it will speed up other elements of the course elsewhere.

Once again, like that cool down after the game.

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