Mark Fuller, deputy headteacher at Downend School in Bristol, has found something you’ve been looking for, a thing you began to doubt even existed: the elusive key to student engagement.
OK, so it may not be a universal key that will work for all (if he could deliver that, he’d be a rich man indeed), but, as he describes below, the new engagement technique he has rolled out in his school is certainly paying dividends for the Year 11 group currently taking mocks and gearing up for their final GCSE exams.
Mr Fuller writes:
“Like many schools, Downend’s approach to identify lack of engagement in students used to be by analysing their output and results. Where assistance was needed, academic mentoring, pastoral intervention and parental inclusion were used to try and boost motivation.
However, we have recently tried something different. Rather than focus on motivation as a stand-alone concept, students at Downend are now spending time across the year learning about the process of study, and how they can change their current habits and techniques to take control of their academic performance. By showing students that their results are a product of what they do, not who they are, motivation to improve stems from a belief that they are in control.
To do this, we added a series of collapsed days across the year into the curriculum, working with the entire cohort on study skills and revision techniques, and then supplementing this with individualised interventions as appropriate. We’ve also changed the messenger. Instead of their teachers, the sessions are led by recent university graduates.
The young graduates relate easily to Year 11s. These are the people the students can become, if they choose to. There are no PowerPoint presentations or gimmicks, just a focus on why and how to make education work, using words and experiences that resonate.
It has been clear from student feedback that we’ve struck a chord. Students that were previously identified as passive are now saying that they understand that their future is in their own hands, and that they can choose whether they’re successful or not. We've had more students than ever sign up for booster sessions, buy revision guides and show us their own revision and study timetables prepared well ahead of exams.
This increased motivation in students across the board has given credence to the idea that if we focus on the process, the results take care of themselves.”