A is for appropriate use of a thoroughly modern alphabet

1st January 2010 at 00:00
Are you a secondary teacher who thinks GT is best served over ice? Still don't know your AS from your elbow? English teacher Beverley Briggs comes to the rescue with a jargon-busting A to Z of 2010 classroom speak. Illustrations by Mike Mosedale

A is for Assessing Pupils' Progress. Just as green is the new black, APP is the new Sats. Most teachers resent APP. Once, teachers could simply stick a yellow smiley face on the pupil's book while watching the Coronation Street omnibus - now they have to record the child's national curriculum level and an improvement target. There is, however, an upside to APP: because of "peer assessment", pupils can now mark each other's work by making a wild stab at a national curriculum level (a bit like "pin the tail on the donkey" but without any of the fun), and can scribble encouraging but entirely unhelpful remarks on their partner's work ("lovely - try using bigger words"). This invariably ends up with pupils increasing the point size of their handwriting, while their teacher happily catches up on who is being saucily serviced by whom in Kevin Webster's mucky garage.

B is for book. Thanks to the advent of the modern "school photocopier", these cumbersome and unwieldy items have now been replaced by a more portable and pupil-friendly alternative: the "extract". All the fun of the book without any of its boring words, plot, theme, setting, motifs, structural devices or characterisation. It is a salute to the English education system that it is now entirely possible to gain an A* in GCSE English literature without ever having to open a novel. Sadly, the death knell for the printed extract is also approaching: its nemesis comes in the form of the interactive whiteboard, where flashing colours, friendly beeps, and a countdown clock will finally make the need for language skills entirely obsolete (see lesson plans, below).

C is for coursework. Usually comes in two distinct categories: GCSE coursework (mainly written by parents) and the slightly more challenging A-level coursework (mostly written by teachers). Teachers sometimes allow pupils to submit their own coursework, but this tends to be limited to schools in "special measures".

D is for design and technology. Teacher-speak for cooking, sewing and generally making things with your fists. In the olden days, this subject required a wicker basket with a gingham cloth, or a pair of goggles, lederhosen and a brown suede tool belt. Nowadays DT students are much more sophisticated; they're more likely to be downloading BBC Bitesize onto their Blackberries than actually putting any of the blackberries into the pie.

E is for EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). This qualification, open to sixth formers, enables students to gain additional valuable UCAS points by pursuing a project of their own choice. It is now possible to gain academic recognition for such lofty philosophical considerations as "How to look after your guinea pig properly" and "Why I love my Nan". The advantage of the EPQ is that it encourages independent thinking, while its disadvantage is a similar independence in spelling. E is also for extended schools: It is now possible to leave your children in school for most of their childhood. Breakfast clubs mean that working mums can get to the office without having to scrape the Marmite soldiers off their Mulberry bags, while after-school clubs offer their children a wide range of valuable and life-enhancing experiences in Conversational Welsh, Crystal Healing, and Pasta Art.

F is for flexibility in the national curriculum. The national curriculum is a framework used by all state maintained schools to ensure that teaching is balanced and consistent. As the national curriculum prescribes what is to be taught but not how it is taught, heads are allowed some autonomy in deciding exactly how inadequately they would like their own schools to perform.

G is for GCSEs. Due to the year-on-year increase in results, anything lower than an A* now holds the academic kudos of a Tesco Clubcard voucher. In order to stem the rise in results, the main examinations board AQA is introducing a new range of GCSEs where the old coursework element (easy for all teachers to fiddle results) is being replaced by the new controlled coursework element (only the brightest teachers will be able to fiddle results). G is also for GT. Not gin and tonic, but gifted and talented. Pupils are placed on the gifted and talented register in schools if they enjoy Sudoku, can recite their 13 times table, or if their parents drive a big, shiny car.

H is for homework. Learning at home is an essential part of good education, and at secondary level, the Government recommends that pupils spend 90 to 120 minutes on homework per day. Good teachers regularly set pupils a challenging range of homework tasks, such as: internet research (no marking), cutting out newspaper articles (no marking), drawing pictures (sparkly gold star stickers) or learning spellings (peer marking). Occasionally teachers may set written homework on lined paper which can easily be lost or mislaid at a later date.

I is for independent learners. These are the Holy Grail of pupils. Independent learners juggle cognitive and metacognitive skills, take responsible risks, reflect on processes, and are fully in charge of their own learning. Unfortunately, they are often so independent that they choose to roadie at Eco-Rock festivals instead of revising for their AS-level mocks.

J is for Juliet's Diary. Writing in the voice of a character is a method used by schools to help the working classes tackle Shakespeare. Pupils are encouraged to grapple with the complexities of a play they have never read, by writing in the voice of a character they have never heard of. Assignments can be differentiated even further for weaker pupils - "Juliet's final text message" being a fairly common task. The response "Yo babes, l8rz, g2g, J x" often meriting an A for both insight and clarity.

K is for kinaesthetic learners. Learners have been broadly identified as: auditory, visual or kinaesthetic. Auditory learners like to listen; visual learners prefer images or diagrams, while kinaesthetic learners hurl chairs around the classroom.

L is for lesson plans. As has been noted recently by Professor Frank Furedi in this paper, the old style chalk and talk lessons are being replaced by "motivational fads and gimmicks". Common among these are Jeremy Kyle Show-style discussion forums, Blockbusters-style questions on Shakespeare's plays, and a CSI approach to investigating human biology. Teaching unions argue that, "far from distracting children from engaging with a challenging curriculum", these so-called "gimmicks" actually prepare children for the vocational opportunities afforded by higher education's new range of degree courses in Celebrity Conflict Management, Channel 5 Forensics and Cooking in front of a Camera.

M is for metacognition. In the classroom, metacognition is a shift in focus from cognitive skills that lead you to the answer, to a metacognitive awareness - knowing how you know the answer. Metacognition has slipped into the national curriculum under the dumbed down title of "thinking skills" (see below). As well as knowing that the square root of 144 is 12, pupils must understand how they know that, and be able to describe the process that brought them to that answer. As result of this big "metacognitive push", pupils should, by the end of key stage 3, be able to describe and explain Fermat's Last Theorem, and where their teacher has put her missing mobile.

N is for the national curriculum. The national curriculum secures for all pupils, irrespective of social background, culture, race, gender, differences in ability and disabilities, an entitlement to a number of areas of learning. Currently, these are: watching the film, colouring the poster, creating the storyboard and completing the wordsearch.

O is for oral assessments. A favourite among teachers. No real marking required; just the ability to gaze into the middle distance with a feigned air of interest while little Johnny recites his mawkish speech on global warming. Oral assessments at their best ensure academic inclusion, most notably on GCSE speaking and listening assignments, where the highest marks can illegitimately be awarded to exceptionally lazy pupils who would otherwise fail all their examinations.

P is for plenary. Plenaries are a short 10-minute activity at the end of each lesson where pupils demonstrate their understanding of what they have learnt. As most classroom clocks have had their batteries stolen, plenaries are often rushed but still meaningful affairs: "Put your hand up if you're still awake. Great! Get your dinners!"

Q is for questioning techniques. These are divided into "closed" or "open" questions. A closed question demands a simple, unequivocal response, while an open question prompts the pupil to access "higher order thinking skills" while contemplating several responses. In the classroom, examples of these are "Oy, Richard Barnstable, what are you doing under that desk?" (closed), and "Do you really think that is an appropriate thing to be doing in a Roman Catholic School?" (open).

R is for reports. Gone are the handwritten, personalised testaments, where teachers drooled over the delights of particularly sweet natured students. Instead reports are drawn together by selecting statements from a universal comment bank. The positives: a teacher can knock off a class set of reports in less than an hour. The negatives: as the statement banks were put together by someone who missed a few crucial modules of their functional English degree, the final reports read like they have been written by a golden retriever.

S is for scaffolding. When working with pupils who need extra support, it is common practice for the teacher to "scaffold" their work with sentence starters. Where scaffolding ends and cheating begins is open to debate; suffice to say that when the final word score on an essay reads "Teacher 949: Pupil: 28, the essay owes less to scaffolding and more to being built by Barratt, furnished by IKEA and sold by Kirstie Allsopp on Location, Location, Location.

T is for thinking skills. Thinking skills are the bee's knees of modern educational practice. The national curriculum stresses that pupils need to use thinking skills to focus on "knowing how" to learn as well as "knowing what" to learn: this leads to a lot of naval gazing in the classroom where the national curriculum directs children to spend long hours "thinking about thinking", and "talking about talking". The use of the present participle seems an essential part of the directive: expect new self-reflective developments across the whole curriculum, where children will be encouraged to demonstrate their Escher-like understanding of a subject by "dancing about dancing", "painting about painting" or, in some extreme cases, "changing to a private school".

U is for underachievement. There is a significant difference between "underachievers" and "low achievers" in schools. Pupils are identified, and subsequently supported, as being "underachievers", when, under close scrutiny of their work, it is discovered that their parents are rich.

V is for visual learners. Visual learners are the bane of any school's finances: they alone are entirely responsible for the trillion-pound colour photocopying budget deemed necessary to help them engage in a largely monochrome curriculum. Visual learners prefer drawing homework, and respond best to visual stimuli. If under-stimulated, VLs can often become disengaged, and may resort to registering their disaffection by doodling naked breasts on the walls of the boys' toilets.

X and Y is for XY (the boygirl gender gap). It has long been a cause for concern that, in the classroom, girls consistently outperform boys. A great deal of time, money and resources are constantly being channelled into researching why this is. The fact that boys spend most of their lessons passing wind and gluing themselves to their tables, while their female counterparts actually sit and study, carries little weight with the experts. Thankfully, out of school the balance is redressed, and boys can look forward to a rosy future where, despite their inattentiveness and amoebic IQs, they go on to successfully lead schools, Scottish banks and the Labour government.

Z is for Z*. Since A* is the new A, it stands to reason that Z* is the new Z. Plans for the A**, A***, and of course, A to the power of 10*, are all on the cards. Oh brave new world that has such grade boundaries in it.

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