Under new requirements affecting FE providers, students who have not achieved a C grade or above in GCSE English or maths need to retake the qualifications, or at least be working towards them while pursuing their main course at college.
Many of the learners who start at college do not have that magic C grade in English. And teaching the subject as a retake course in FE is not easy, because among the eclectic range of students there will be a number of different learning needs.
It is crucial that this subject is enjoyable for the learner but also for you, the teacher. So here are my top 10 tips for approaching GCSE English.
1 Be clever with timetables
Plan your classes in a realistic way. Typically, one session a week will be easier psychologically for the learner. You may find that by taking this approach, you can ensure good attendance. Make sure, too, that the groups are a manageable size. Timetabling English GCSE lessons in blocks close to the sessions a student attends for their main course of study can also be beneficial.
2 Sell your course
Advertise the course in an appealing way. Anticipate students’ questions: “Why should I attend?”, “Why do I need it?”, “Where will getting a C grade lead me in the future?”
3 Assess the starting point
Lead the learners into the course gradually, and start off with a diagnostic task to assess their skill level for expression, spelling, punctuation, grammar, paragraph structure and handwriting. This can help you to figure out whether a student might require additional learning support – for example, in exams, they could be entitled to use a computer or be given extra time.
4 Work as a team
Liaise with the additional learner support, examination and personal tutor teams. Learners may need the help of a teaching assistant or learning support assistant in lessons or outside class. It’s crucial to ensure that the needs of your students are addressed.
5 Stay positive
Be aspirational with your learners. Don’t talk about their grades when they were at school; focus on the present and the future in terms of achieving a C or above. Many students resitting GCSE English will have had poor experiences of the subject in the past.
6 Keep them keen
Gear the course to your students’ interests. You will have a range of learners studying vocational and other subjects, so plan your lessons and schemes of work according to their interests and the options they are taking.
Make sure that the coursework and speaking and listening presentation are themed around a topic related to their course. For example, last year a student of mine who was taking a BTEC in sport looked at how to encourage more women into sport.
Tailoring the English course to your learners will not only keep them interested but also ensure that it has a meaningful purpose for them. It’s vital to make connections between English and the rest of the curriculum.
7 Focus on assessment criteria
Model a range of high-grade responses (A*-C) provided by the exam board. Get learners to peer-assess exemplar scripts according to the skills identified in the criteria. Showing learners a D-grade script and how that script can be improved to a C grade can be illuminating for them. Differentiating the criteria for your students is key here.
8 Provide support
Hold revision sessions and offer one-to-one support throughout the year, including during the holidays. Conferences prior to the exams at Easter and in the May half-term can be extremely beneficial. Make sure that attendance is monitored and that you intervene with students who fail to turn up or who are struggling with the course. It’s important to track the progress of your learners.
9 Make it fun
It is imperative that you keep your lessons lively, interactive and learner-centred so that students are engaged and on-task. Give them appropriate breaks and plan your lessons accordingly. After an hour, a break is needed. In a three-hour slot, give them two 15-minute breaks or maintaining their concentration will be difficult.
10 Prepare for exam day
Contact your students in the run-up to the exam, using emails, phone calls and letters to remind them of the date, time and place. Meet your students on the day with a box of black pens and highlighters for anyone who has come without. Make sure you stay calm and ensure your learners do the same.
Making resit revision count
Create a revision plan and map out a revision timetable with your students.
Make flashcards of important terminology, key phrases and so on.
Produce an essay framework sheet to give students an idea of how to approach questions.
Show your students high-grade exemplar scripts so that they can peer-assess them according to the assessment criteria and objectives.
Ensure that your students have completed past and specimen papers.
Produce a clear checklist of things to focus on in the exam, such as time management and weighting of questions.
Give learners a clear guide on English skills, including grammar, punctuation, spelling and expression.
After you’ve marked students’ mock papers, ask them to tweak their revision plans accordingly – make sure that they are focusing on the right areas for development and improvement.
Provide one-to-one sessions and escalated intervention strategies for students who need extra support.
Produce a GCSE English revision “passport to success” containing all the above information. This can help your students to prepare properly for tackling this essential qualification.