Confidence trick

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
I taught science last year to a group of key stage 3 pupils with very low self- esteem. They had a record of failure in the subject and hence low motivation. Initially my aim was to increase their levels of confidence and encourage positive attitudes. They hated assessment exercises since they usually came out with low marks and even lower self-confidence.

To overcome this, instead of the usual formative assessment via class tests, we developed a team game called Kangaroos and Wallabies. Half the class were in one team, the rest in the other. At the end of each week we did the "Kangaroo and Wallaby Challenge". They were given a series of quick response questions based on the science topic of the week. They identified themselves simply as Kangaroo or Wallaby and so had no pressure of personal performance.

A leader for each team then added up the points for their team and at the end of the exercise a Kangaroo or Wallaby climbed a little bit higher up the Blue Mountains pictured on a wall poster. It was a winner. I imagined that the game would die a death by the end of the month, but I was astonished to discover that we were still doing it at the end of the year.

In fact if at times I forgot about it they were quick to suggest that it was time for another "Kangaroos and Wallabies". So the game proceeded for the whole of key stage 3 without them realising that they were doing class tests. I should add that we also had other means of assessing personal performance. The fact that the pupils were working for their team and not for themselves had a more powerful influence than I would have imagined.

Perhaps it channelled students' high energy levels in positive directions.

Or maybe they just wanted to win so much they forgot to "act up".

Marlene Griffin

Former teacher at Hitchin Girls School in Hertfordshire, now teaching part time

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