“Falling over the line”…

…is how a fellow Head of Department described this final week before half-term. It’s been pretty tough, to be honest: we’re tired; the pupils are tired; the holiday was tantalisingly close but just not here quickly enough.

Despite the running-through-treacle feeling of the last few days, there have also been some highlights, including a bit of a refresher at the ATL Midlands TeachMeet on Thursday evening (of which, more anon – too much for one blog-post!). I’ve also enjoyed teaching the first bits of the Management section of the new A-level course. I regularly teach new stuff (let’s face it, my Y11 class this year is the only class where I’m teaching stuff I’ve taught before; this isn’t the first time it’s happened) but this is the first time in a long time where I’m teaching stuff that is properly new – not just old topics repackaged for a new specification, but actual brand-spanking, sparkly new content.

We’re getting the pupils to pre-read (“low-tech flipped” if you must, but please don’t) before lessons, and that has worked very well so far, but I think that the more theoretical aspects are working better with a teacher overview first and then supported by individual reading/notes. I used that model for PED and YED, and was really pleased with the level of understanding (being an economist helped, for sure). I’m planning to do similar for the management theories, such as the Blake-Mouton grid, as they arise. Most of these theories appear in Section 2 of the new course – it’s been part of the IB course for a long time, I think, but I’ve not had to teach management theory before. I started Section 2 this week with Mintzberg’s roles of management – I gave each pair lots of ‘manager cards’, each with one of the ten different roles identified by Mintzberg. The pair then had to sort them into the three categories (inter-personal, decisional and informational). A brief bit of discussion followed, then I challenged them to identify examples of the school’s Head playing each of those roles. Having a context that they all knew so clearly made a real difference to their understanding, and this is something that I’m definitely going to tap into in the future. I’m not sure whether or not to upload stuff to the TES resources section – it’s so difficult to navigate that I suspect no-one would find it!

Now, though, it’s the start of half-term. I’ve survived seven weeks as a Head of Department. I’ve got much better at Excel. I’ve had to negotiate tricky decisions about UCAS predictions. I’ve re-written the department handbook from scratch so it aligns with the format expected by The Powers That Be. I’ve taught a fair few lessons, and now it’s time to sleep.G’night.

Assessment Point follow-up

Last night, via Twitter, I read Tom Sherrington‘s post about the formative use of summative assessment and that jolted me into thinking more carefully about how I was going to use the results from the Assessment Point tests. The Y12 tests did a pretty good job at splitting the pack – scores ranged from 8/30 to 27/30 – but it seems a bit daft to have that knowledge in a spreadsheet but do nothing with it. After all, why find out if someone’s underperforming if you’re not going to do anything about it?

I am fairly ambivalent about the use of re-tests, but I get the impression that several of our underperformers did little to no revision, and I want to get the message across that this is unacceptable – in the linear world we need students to be building a solid foundation, and that means that they need to be consolidating their knowledge properly right from the beginning. This time, the ‘pass’ mark was 15, a mere 50% (which is a D in the current BUSS3 paper) so everyone getting 15 or lower will be coming back at break time next week for a “chat” and a re-test.

Longer term, I think I’ll put the “pass mark” up a bit each time: that should encourage everyone to raise their game. There’s a danger that our weakest students will spend their lives in a cycle of test-and-re-test hell, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with high expectations, provided we’re giving them support rather than leaving them to flounder. At least regular tests will help to keep the content fresh!

Assessment point 1

When I was planning the Scheme of Work for the new A-level Business course, I decided to introduce cumulative assessment points (APs) every few weeks – not only assessing the most recent work, but also checking everything covered in the course to date. I wrote a bit more about that here.

Time has ticked round, and it’s the first AP has arrived. Here is the paper for Assessment Point 1, testing all of Section 1, plus 5.1d and 5.2f (types of profit and profitability). Early results show that it’s been quite a reasonable differentiator.

My plan is to identify which questions were particularly troublesome and use those again (albeit with slightly different wording) in the next Assessment Point. The results are going onto the shared tracking spreadsheet, so everyone can compare results – I think we’ll have a look at those in our next department meeting and work out support strategies for those with the lowest marks.

Assessment points

One of the things I was very keen to introduce as HOD was a series of assessments that were common for every class. I couldn’t think of anything other than “Assessment Point” to call them, so that’s what they are (much as one of my Y13 tries to persuade me to call them pop quizzes!) For the Sixth Form, APs happen about every four weeks; this ties in with our school reporting timetable, so in theory it makes coherent sense.

In reality, what happened is that I forgot about the APs until the time when they were scheduled to happen, so everything has slipped a little – our first internal reports are due in a couple of days’ time, and Y12 have still to sit their first AP – but you can’t have everything all of the time. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself!

I was particularly keen to get the APs in place to help with consolidation – each AP tests all of the topics covered in the course to date, and this will mean that students are going back over their notes and revision materials on at least a monthly basis. This will be important for the linear course, but also for our Y13 students, some of whom are sitting on pretty uninspiring AS grades and need a structured reason to go back over their AS notes alongside the A2 stuff. Hopefully this spacing will help improve their recall, as well as helping to break down the compartmentalisation of knowledge; after all, A2 modules are synoptic.

The format of these APs is something that I’m less certain about, and it will be interesting to see how they develop over the next year or so. This time round it’s been short answers (and some multi-choice for the Y12), which is fine for subject content and great for marking(!), but I think that we need to move to longer answers as the pupils’ knowledge gets more robust. This can happen fairly quickly with Y13, but I’m less certain about when to move Y12 on to much longer answers in tests. We’ve already started writing explanations (and one class have had a go at an essay already), thinking about quality of written communication, but I’d rather spend a bit more time getting the written foundations in place before pushing them in an exam. Another thing to discuss at department meeting…!

Nine days of teaching…

…and we’re still standing. (And I’ve written my UCAS references: success)

The Oracle (pupil handbook) has been generally well-received, and one class in particular thought that “Let’s consult the oracle” was particularly amusing. Getting the Y12 to highlight/annotate in their books before making summary notes seems to be going pretty well, although – much as the same way that the real proof of the pudding is in the eating – I’m not certain that their knowledge is secure enough yet. I suppose that this is where the ‘nothing new’ lessons and the cumulative assessment will come in.

The Programme of Learning splits the specification into two: side A starts with ‘what is a business?’ while side B begins with revenue, costs, profits and profitability. My Side B class have spent a lot of time doing calculations, and it’s going to be an interesting time: that class has, among others, three pupils doing A-level maths and two who scrapped a C at GCSE maths. I really need to work out how to stretch the top without scaring the bottom, and there’s a real risk of that happening – time for a chat with the Maths department, I think.

Side A seems to be pottering along OK, although it felt very odd teaching mission statements to Y12, when it’s traditionally been a topic taught half-way through Y13 – I used pretty much the same activity as normal (going to the IT centre, each finding 5 mission statements, then analysing them about purpose/audience/effectiveness) but the comments in class really brought home the lack of sophistication in their understanding. I think this will be a real challenge of the linear AQA course, in that there is none of the ‘easing in’ found in the legacy BUSS1 – topics done this week have to be covered to the same depth as topics in the final weeks of the course. I’ve given them an essay on mission statements to write (might as well start them young!) but I think it’s going to take a lot of polishing. Mind you, we’ve got to start somewhere and I’m going to think of it as a good opportunity for redrafting and formative assessment.

There are all sorts of challenges on the Head Of Department front – it’s felt like a fortnight of frantic running to keep still – but things are thankfully settling down, I hope, and I’ll be able to finalise the tracking spreadsheets. Next year, to make the start of the year easier (recorded here, so I can look back on it as a reminder!):

  • I’m going to be stricter on the department about the completion of UCAS references: the process is that they write individually, I then compile; the final references came in 4 hours before the deadline this year. There was swearing. Not in front of anyone else, of course, although the cat looked shocked.
  • I’m going to concentrate on get the overall set-list sheet of the tracking spreadsheets sorted first and maybe just keep all the pupil data on a single sheet, rather than splitting it into sets in advance, then having to copy and paste kids from one class to another as they change their options and their minds.
  • I’m going to sort a system for tracking exam re-marks. I’ve just been whacking the emails into a folder, and I’m all confused. Ach well.

The Lower Sixth exam

Martin Robinson (@SurrealAnarchy) wrote an interesting blog on linear A-levels this week (here). He comments unfavourably on the use of AS exams as a ‘mock’ halfway through the course, at the point when “the students should still be pondering and wondering not deciding and revising”. I am planning to use bits of AS papers for the L6th end-of-year exam, and I initially bridled, outraged, at Martin’s views. On re-reading, I think he is talking about making pupils sit the actual AS exam as part of a linear course, and I am in complete agreement. Luckily – for reasons more to do with fear of UCAS rather than any deep teaching philosophy – the school’s policy is that pupils taking linear subjects should not do AS exams. This does not move us away from the fact that, for the next academic year at least, we have a curriculum where Y12 pupils are starting with a mix of four linear and legacy courses and most will therefore have to make a choice about which subject to drop; for right or wrong, their result in our internal L6th exam is going to be an important influence on their decision-making.

Is it in our and their interests to give them a “little test” to keep the bureaucrats happy, as Martin suggests, or a more rigorous end-of-year exam? For all the philosophical debate, we have to make predictions for UCAS forms, and need some solid evidence upon which to base this.This is particularly important as the Business course is changing so radically that our intuitive assessments of expected grades are likely to be off: the recalibration of expectations will take a few years to happen, I suspect. We also have a duty of care to our pupils not to string them along – if they’re not going to do well in a Business exam, then they deserve to know this so they can make choices appropriately. All things considered, I shall stick with the plan of using bits of the AS papers for our end-of-year exam. Does this make me a bureaucrat, as Martin suggests? I don’t think so.

In general, though, I completely agree with Martin’s comments about the slow rthythms of a linear course. I am lucky in that I took linear A-levels, as did everyone else in the department; most of us have taught linear courses too. Between us, we’ve got a pretty good understanding of the way that knowledge needs to build slowly, and I hope that we will have the confidence to wait for that ‘penny drop’ moment, which often happens in Y13 rather than forcing everything together prematurely before an AS exam in Y12. The Lower Sixth should be a year for discovery, for investigation, for spending hours on the cricket pitch or tennis courts rather than swotting in a library. I’m looking forward to it.

Legacy exams in a linear world

I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to sort out my classroom – it’s a slow work in progress! – but I’ve felt a bit odd filing things back into my Y12 teaching folder. After all, the course is radically different next year: how will my folder of resources, built up over several years, be of use next year?

While the topic headings are pretty much the same between legacy and linear specifications, the approach is going to be very different: I suspect that a lot of the things I’ve developed so far are eventually destined for the big recycling bin in the sky. One thing that should transfer between specs are the past exam papers for BUSS2 and BUSS3: although the question style is different next year, there’s a wealth of data just waiting to be mined. In the linear course, most of ratio analysis appears in the second year, but it should be possible to use the BUSS3 papers with only minimal tweaking, particularly for the 34-mark questions which give a nice test of the interrelations between functional areas. The BUSS2 papers are a bit more tricky, but there is certainly enough data within them to meet the “10% quantitative” rule, and I envisage using the same case-studies but writing different questions that reflect the more theoretical nature of the new spec. BUSS1 papers are predominantly going to be used for quantitative questions – we might even sack the stories and just use the numbers!

We’ve decided that we’re going to use the 2016 AS paper(s) for our end-of-year internal exam (although school policy is that no-one does AS exams) as most of the questions will be of a similar style to those on the A-level paper. This means that we can use all of our legacy papers during the course without having to retain any for mock exams. I want to avoid using the AQA specimen papers for internal exams at any point during the first year of the course, so that they’re available for mocks in the run-up to the real thing. Besides, they’re all on the internet already, and I suspect that some pupils might perceive this as a revision short-cut!

The detailed SoW for the first term

After a very hot few days spent away on DofE expedition, I’ve enjoyed spending the morning in my (air-conditioned!) classroom finalising the L6th Scheme of Work for next term. I’ve uploaded it here, should it be of interest or value to anyone.

Over the next 10 days, I’m going to get the L6th handbook (a.k.a. “The Oracle”) written and some context cards made (ready for applying topics to a range of business situations). The most important job, though, is sorting the Schemes of Work for the legacy courses; that will be this afternoon’s job, provided the pub doesn’t call too loudly…

The evolution of the Scheme of Work

The process of writing next year’s Scheme of Work is nearly complete, and I thought it might be useful to have a record of the process (not least for next year when I have to start planning the second year of the course!)

I started with getting topics in a logical order, rather than syllabus order, so that the topics were split fairly evenly between the two teachers. I used the AQA scheme of work and a tutor2u resource as a starting point  but neither really split the course in the way I wanted, particularly if using two teachers, so I had to make a bespoke option rather than an off-the-peg solution. This teaching order was to become the Programme of Learning.

The tutor2u resource

The tutor2u resource

I then started putting rough timings in place – lots of maths working out how many lessons in total, and therefore how many hours, and comparing those answers to the AQA recommended timings. Some of this was guesswork (I’ve never taught some of the stuff so have no idea how long it will take!) but some was based on previous experience. How a new HOD who’s only been teaching a year or two can do this is beyond me!

My bespoke teaching order, with timings

Once timings were in place, and I was pretty sure it would fit into the time available (!), I then started to add the assessment structure. At first, I put assessment points at the end of each section, but that was then tweaked by the department last week, who felt it should fit in more closely with our schedule of internal reports. I’m not sure how I feel about this from a teaching point of view, but as the assessments are cumulative, it doesn’t really matter when they’re scheduled.

Programme of Learning - first draft

Programme of Learning – first draft

Programme of Learning - second draft

Programme of Learning – second draft

From the Programme of Learning came the Schemes of Work: one for each teacher (imaginatively titled Side A and Side B). I’ve added columns for spec guidance (to help ensure we cover the right things), calculations/stretch/support (to identify areas that may need differentiation), and resources available. The plan is that this becomes a working document stored in the shared folder, and anyone can add resource suggestions as we go through the year. We’re getting a new VLE (firefly) next year which should make it even easier to share resources. No doubt more of that on another day.

Schemes of work for each teacher

Schemes of work for each teacher

Having tweaked all the assessment points (and taken out the week I’d allocated for January exams: school policy is now to do these within lessons for linear subjects rather than suspending the timetable), it might almost be time to publish. Eeep.

To AS or not to AS? That is the question…

…that was asked on the TES resources page where I uploaded the Programme of Study. The school decision is to go purely linear, so no AS exams offered in any (new spec) subject, at least for the first couple of years. One of the major factors influencing this was the fact that the AS is a stand-alone qualification, so would have to be certificated and declared on UCAS forms when pupils were in Y13. Many of our pupils make significant improvements between AS and A2 exams at the moment, and therefore (at present) a weak performance at AS is not necessarily a true reflection of their final grade. In addition, one benefit of a linear course is that Y12 can become more of a year for wider learning, with opportunity to do lots of time-consuming extra-curricular activities without worrying about the impact on exam performance. Introducing an AS certainly loses that flexibility.

In terms of UCAS predictions, we’re going to have to use a rigorously marked internal exam at the end of summer term (timing to be decided by the powers that be!). It won’t be as reliable an indicator as a proper external exam, but at least it won’t be a blot on someone’s UCAS form. It may be that we can use the actual AS paper for the internal exam, but this will depend on timings and availability of the paper: I’ve yet to explore e-AQA in depth, so I have no idea how quickly papers become available: that’s another job added to the To Do list!