Grade Transformation Blog

Grade Transformation Blog

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Archive for January 2019

Starting Year 9 – What to expect and how to succeed

Moving up to the next year group can feel like a big deal and can be pretty daunting (whether students choose to show it, or not).

There might be butterflies of excitement (‘Yesssss – Year 9 always sounded so cool’).

Or butterflies of anxiety or worry (in an ‘Eek! Y9! OMG – Things are gonna start getting tough!’ kinda way).

So, here’s what your teen can expect and should be ready to look out for as they embark on Year 9 – so they’re not only feeling cool and calm about what lies ahead, but can also really make the most of the opportunities to show their best work.

Okay, so your teen’s going into Year 9!….

There are gonna be a few things that feel pretty similar to Year 8, but also a couple of significant changes in the tasks they’ll likely be set.

 

Things that won’t change too much are the level and quantity of the subject content that is being taught. So no need to worry about anything suddenly feeling super-difficult or being out of their depth in terms of knowledge and understanding of a subject if they went okay with it last year.

Of course, they may have one or two new subjects if they have electives starting this year and that’ll be really exciting. This could be the place where there might be a steeper learning curve if it’s a brand new subject, like a new language perhaps. But of course the teachers and the syllabus will take account of that and most other students will be in the same boat, so nothing to worry about. Students just need to be willing and able to ask for help if they need it, for example from teachers, parents or tutors, or know where to find additional help or resources on the internet, for example tutorials on YouTube or subject-specific websites such as ‘Litcharts’ for English literature.

The one thing your teen might notice a change in though is the types of tasks they’re set. Rather than the more standard – e.g. answer these text book Qs for homework – they may be set more extended tasks like research assignments or even, perhaps their first essay.

These will require some independent research as well as the ability to structure a comprehensive but clear response.

At this stage teachers will most likely give them a scaffold or model to help with structure, but just in case they don’t, or you’d still like a bit more help with that then, try using my tip that I blogged about previously – ‘Write the Intro Last.

I know. It sounds a bit backwards, but everyone who’s used it has told me how well it’s worked so give it a go 🙂

Plus, that independent research I mentioned – well that can massively sap your teen’s time.

So try out these tips too:

3 Google Hacks to help you research and find information that’s actually useful

And

The Ninja referencing trick

 

So there you have it.

Not too much change in the demands of the subject content, a bit of excitement for new electives (or perhaps just having been able to drop one that they didn’t enjoy!) and some new expectations in terms of likely more extended tasks, inquiries or investigations. Maybe even the first essay!

So be sure to use those tips I mentioned to help deal with those or just have a browse for other related tips using the categories in my blog at the bottom-right of the page.

Clicking on the ‘Assignments’ tag in the column of tags to the right of this post will be a good place to start 🙂

 

I really hope that helps with any pre-Term 1 nerves or anxieties, as well as giving you some go-to tips and strategies.

Leave me a comment or drop me an email and let me know… What’s the thing your teen’s most concerned about for the next school year, or the thing they’re most looking forward to?

And look out for my Term 1 parent information event coming up very soon.

(Totally free and with a new twist for 2019! Woop woop!).

Here’s to a SUPER- happy and successful year ahead and until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!

Katie 🙂

 

 

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Starting Y12 – The challenges & opportunities to thrive (rather than survive) this final year!

Moving up to the next year group can feel pretty daunting (whether students choose to show it, or not).

And of course, well, it’s Year 12. It’s kind of a big deal.

There might be butterflies of excitement (‘Yesssss – Year 12 – at last!’).

Or butterflies of anxiety or worry (in an ‘Eek! Y12! OMG – Wait, no, I’m not ready!’ kinda way).

So, here’s what your teen can expect and should be ready to look out for as they embark on Year 12 – so they’re not only feeling cool and calm about what lies ahead, but can also really make the most of the opportunities to show their best work.

 

 

Yikes, it’s Year 12 for your teen!

You’re probably wondering how on earth they’re in Year 12 already, right!?

The final year of high school and a particularly important one if they want to give themselves as many future opportunities as possible – including those they don’t even think they might want or need right now.

(My sister started out working with artists and corporate commissions when she left school at 18. Then she worked in the marketing department for the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Now… she’s a vet – and did her study and training for that almost 10 years after leaving high school. And I can tell you – she was very glad she’d gotten good grades first time around, even though she didn’t need them for what she THOUGHT she was going to do with her life.)

So, with maximising choice and options in mind, here’s what to look out for and be READY for in Year 12.

The types of tasks and assessments will be similar to Year 11 – including essays, inquiries, research assignments and investigations.

A lot of what’s done in Year 11 is kind of a dry-run for Year 12.

So they should be fairly familiar with these by now and be confident in tackling them.

Therefore, what’s going to really pay off is being able to optimise these opportunities to operate at the highest levels of cognitive ability, i.e. respond at the highest levels of Blooms taxonomy.

(By the way – if you’re not sure what I mean by any of that, then be sure to come to my upcoming online Term 1 Parent Info Event – I’ll be emailing out details soon) 🙂

One way is to strategically select a topic or focus for any open task.

One that provides the greatest opportunity to incorporate high level info and demonstrate high level analytical and evaluative skills. I recorded a blog video specifically on this – ‘Choosing a great topic for an open-ended task’.

 

And of course, there are those final exams. It’s essential for your teen to know and have had plenty of practice in the six elements of exam technique, as well as be very familiar with mark schemes and how they work. Plus, they need to be savvy with time management by being clear and succinct in their answers, whilst also providing the required depth and detail.

It’s a lot to consider I know, which is why I teach all of these in my 10 Week Grade Transformation Program as well as the skills and techniques of active revision and revision planning.
(When it comes to revision, there’s nothing worse than seeing a student studying hard, but revising in all the wrong ways).

 

So, to sum up, have your teen keep in mind this year:

  • How can they manipulate tasks to allow them to operate and respond at the highest levels?
  • Have they nailed the 6 elements of exam technique?

And

  • Do they know if their revision techniques are what we call ‘active’ and scientifically proven to be effective

 

I really hope that helps with any pre-Term 1 nerves or anxieties, as well as giving you some go-to tips and strategies.

Leave me a comment or drop me an email and let me know… What’s the thing your teen’s most concerned about for the next school year, or the thing they’re most looking forward to?

And look out for my Term 1 parent information event coming up very soon.

(Totally free and with a new twist for 2019! Woop woop!).

Here’s to a SUPER-happy and successful year ahead and until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!

Katie 🙂

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Starting Y10 – What lies ahead and how to tackle it

Moving up to the next year group can feel like a big deal and can be pretty daunting (whether students choose to show it, or not).

There might be butterflies of excitement (‘Yesssss – Year 10 always sounded so cool’).

Or butterflies of anxiety or worry (in an ‘Eek! Y10! OMG – Things are gonna start getting tough!’ kinda way).

So, here’s what your teen can expect and should be ready to look out for as they embark on Year 10 – so they’re not only feeling cool and calm about what lies ahead, but can also really make the most of the opportunities to show their best work.

Okay, so your teen’s going into Year 10

A couple of important details to look out for; one more obvious and one much less so (and is actually what catches many students out).

First of all, things that won’t change too much for your teen…

The amount of homework and independent work they get set probably won’t feel too different from Year 9. And also the subjects they’re studying are likely pretty much the same, both in terms of the compulsory ones and their electives.

But what that means is the subject content and the standard of it is going to increase, as they’ll be building on the foundations laid in year 9 and earlier.

 

Here’s what that actually looks like:

Your teen will be set more questions or tasks that have higher level commands built in.

Command words are also known as cognitive verbs (and if you’re not sure what I mean by them, then be sure to come to my upcoming Term 1 Parent Online Info Event – I’ll be emailing out details soon!).

 

In particular they’ll see ‘analysis’ level questions a lot more this year.

These either explicitly state ‘analyse’ in the question, or have it more subtly woven in by using phrases like ‘Explain how the author achieves or shows something’ or ‘Discuss the effect of x, y, or z’.

These and many other wordings of questions, tasks or assignments all require an analytical response, so your teen needs to be able to recognise when this is being asked AND know how to write analytically with detail but also whilst avoiding the dreaded waffle.

 

And finally, if your teen hasn’t already been set any essays yet in Year 9, then they’re very likely to get their first one in Year 10.

Being clear on not only the basic structure – intro, 3 body paragraphs and conclusion, and using a PEEL or TEEL structure within each paragraph – is a given.

Being able to construct an essay that flows and builds throughout, whilst also being focused on the command, not just the topic is really going to make the difference. Not just to their grades, but also to how efficiently they are able to write the essay as opposed to struggle through it for hours upon hours.

I train students on these elements in detail (and much more!) in my Write Like an A-Grader Training,

but for a quick and free tip, also check out my blog post ‘Write the Intro last, where I explain the ‘backwards solution’ to essay struggles 🙂

 

So to sum up!… Not too much change in subjects and content, but rather, a notable levelling-up in terms of the standard of their writing and depth of understanding, most likely showing up as the higher level commands, such as analyse, assess and justify.

 

I really hope that helps with any pre-Term 1 nerves or anxieties, as well as giving you some go-to tips and strategies.

Leave me a comment or drop me an email and let me know… What’s the thing your teen’s most concerned about for the next school year, or the thing they’re most looking forward to?

And look out for my Term 1 parent information event coming up very soon.

(Totally free and with a new twist for 2019! Woop woop!).

Here’s to a SUPER- happy and successful year ahead and until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week!

Katie 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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Stop Studying Harder! (Figure THIS out instead)

When you were a kid, did you ever do that thing at the shopping centre, where you try running up the down escalator?

 

And at first it works, you make the first few steps pretty easily, but then as you get further up, like somewhere in the middle, you’re like, “Oh man, this is actually getting pretty hard now”, right?

And you’re still moving, still pumping your legs, but you’re not actually moving.

So what do you do?

You try to go faster, keep working harder.

And if you haven’t done it, then I’m sure you’ve SEEN a kid do this.

 

So what if I told you that this is kinda how many students are studying.

Even though they’re working harder than ever before, they’re not making the progress they want.

Here’s why (and how to END that downward momentum)!

 

So… the goal is to get to the top of the escalator.

Whatever that is in real life, a certain grade or set of results, or getting into a particular uni or course, or just getting a particular assignment or essay written!

 

We have the goal, and we’re working hard to achieve it, taking action.

But there might just be something that’s actually stopping us making the progress we want or feel we should.

Or something that’s just making it a LOT harder than it should be.

 

I’m doing things, I’m working, but I’m just not getting anywhere.

Whether that’s doing tons of revision, but still not getting the exam results you want.

Whether it’s doing tons of research for an inquiry, but going round and round in circles not knowing what to actually focus on or how to use it.

Or perhaps it’s struggling on where to start with an essay, just waffling around the topic, but having no real flow or direction through the writing, so that it just doesn’t feel like you’re making any real progress.

 

Well, wouldn’t it be easier if we turned off the escalator and they just became normal stairs. Now that means it does still take work and effort to get to the top.

But there’s no wasted energy and effort.

So what is that downward force?

How does your teen turn off the escalator?

Well, it’s different for everyone, it could be that they’re not clear on how mark schemes and success criteria work and how to use them to their advantage.

It could be that your teen isn’t accurately identifying both the topic and focus – separately identifying those two things – in essay titles, so they aren’t clear on how to plan or write their response. I

t could be that they’re missing one or more of the 6 elements of exam technique. It could be that they’re revising hard, but not using methods that are effective.

(In fact MOST students are using revision techniques that don’t work. Sad, but true).

It could be another factor that’s dragging down their results and performance in assessments and of course their confidence.

 

The key point here is about understanding what’s going on and then taking action to identify it.

 

So let me know… Is your teen trying the climb the down escalator at the moment?

Or, is there someone you know who’d benefit from hearing this? In which case, please – pass the link to this blog on to them 🙂

And until next week – let’s make this a fantastic week 🙂

Katie

 

 

 

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Why this student dropped from a B to a D grade

Student true story time.

This Year 12 student had worked for hours and hours (and hours) preparing, drafting and perfecting the short story creative task they’d been set in Y12 English.

They submitted their story and they got a B grade.

The next week, they sat their exam, which covered the exact same task and content.

(Don’t get me started on this type of assessment – I’ll save that for another time! But as you can probably tell I’m not a fan – for a variety of reasons).

Anyway, they did what they thought was a good job.

BUT. Cue results…

They got… a D.

Whaaaat?!

(That’s what they were asking too).

But there WAS a clear reason.

This week, I’m explaining why this happened and exactly what we did to turn things around.

 

This Year 12 student had worked for hours and hours (and hours) preparing, drafting and perfecting the short story creative task they’d been set in Y12 English.

Because this was in preparation for real assessment of writing the short story under exam conditions, they’d been given the scaffold and all the requirements of what had to go in there. So that stage of practice and preparation and prpducing their narrative had mainly been about coming up with a good story line and then making sure all the specified elements were there and worked well together.

 

They submitted their story they’d worked on in class and for homework and the teacher marked it and they got a B grade.
They were pretty happy with that as creative writing was not one their natural strengths or something they particularly enjoyed. In fact, it was something they struggled with and would rather do the dishes every night for a month than have to come up with and write a story!

 

Anyhow, the next week, they sat the exam, where they had to write that story in exam conditions.

(Don’t get me started on this type of assessment – I’ll save that for another time! But as you can probably tell I’m not a fan – for a variety of reasons).

Anyway, they did what they thought was a good job. Of course they didn’t remember everything word for word. They left a couple of things out that they forgot, and changed or adapted a couple of parts , but they were confident they’d do pretty well.

 

Cue results and they got… a D.
As you can imagine they were pretty disappointed, but more than that, they were confused and disheartened. They didn’t understand why their mark had dropped so much.

 

They’d re-told the same story. It had the same beginning, middle and end. They’d got the same characters and setting.

 

So, I offered to take a look.

From the first reading I could see why they’d got a D.

 

And I knew the likely reason and situation that had led to this.

Because I’ve seen it so many times in different subjects and different types of tasks.

 

The reason they’d got a much lower mark was because the little bits that they’d missed out or forgotten to include, were the elements that were going to earn them marks!

 

In this case it was the specific literary techniques.

Things like using metaphors, onomatopoeia and imagery in their writing.

Using emotive language.

Also, the more mechanical elements, like including direct speech and formatting that correctly with accurate punctuation and line breaks.

And having a variety of sentence structures that enhance the events in the story at particular moments.

 

In other words they HADN’T REALISED WHICH WERE THE MOST IMPORTANT bits in their writing.

This student wasn’t clear on what was actually going to earn them marks in the exam.

 

And they didn’t know that the word-y syllabus criteria – that are so often an additional task in themselves to decipher and de-code – meant that these super-specific items are the things that markers are looking for.

 

They, like most students, thought it was more about the storyline, the events and the characters.

 

And that would make sense, right?
The task is to write a short story. So you’d be forgiven for thinking that the marking criteria would be centred around your storyline, setting, events and characters.

It’s not.

And the more students I can help to realise this, the more students are going to focus on the elements and techniques WITHIN the story, rather than the story itself.

 

You can get a better mark with great techniques but poor story, than with a great storyline but no techniques that the marker can tick off the checklist.

Which was what this Y12 student had ended up with in their exam. A great story that had virtually no specific literary techniques.

 

But this is ACTUALLY a true story with a happy ending. Because of course the good news is that armed with that checklist and then and run with it in their finals.

AND by sharing this story, I’m hoping that more students can live happily ever after in each and every creative writing or narrative task they do from now on.

Until next week, let’s make this a fantastic week.

Yours,

Katie 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Building lego without the instructions

Ever tried putting together flat-pack furniture without using the instructions?

Nope – me neither – partly because I’ve heard too many horror stories, and partly because I’m too much of a ‘follow the rules’ type-a-gal for that 🤓

But I do remember as a kid challenging myself to put together a lego-model without the instructions, just the pic on the box.

(Must’ve been having a rebellious moment, or just extremely bored on a wet English afternoon. Most likely the latter)*

Did I manage it?…

 

 

It was a pirate ship and me and my sister had made it plenty of times before, WITH the step-by-step instructions.

And how did this ‘no instructions’ version of said pirate ship work out?

Well I did it.

Eventually.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty good. Let’s say it was a B grade pirate ship.

But it also took a lot longer of course.

A few false starts and quite a few episodes of taking bits apart and re-doing sections where I’d used a part I then realised I needed somewhere else.

Just like when students try to write an essay or complete an assignment without a clear set of steps, a template, a checklist or a clear plan to help them move step by step towards a clear end result.

 

In fact I see many students fumbling their way through an extended task, with no real idea of what they’re even aiming for, what it should do or say or look like at the end.

They’re working without even having the picture of the pirate ship from the box!

Let alone having any instructions for all the pieces.

 

So to take this a step further – let’s call the picture of the finished model, the ‘Model Response’ (geddit) 😉

Or the A-grade exemplar.

Sometimes students will be shown a model response for a similar task or question

and in exams, these are printed in the retrospectives and marking guides.

 

And they can be reeeeally helpful, for sure.

Just like putting together the pirate ship was a hell of a lot easier with the picture to look at.

 

BUT –

(yep, there’s always a ‘but’, right?!) 

Being given a model response isn’t enough if students are going to be able to work confidently and efficiently on their own task.

Because they don’t necessarily know WHY that’s an A-grade response, or what process the other student went through to create it, or what elements in there specifically make it an A-grade response.

 

That’s why they need to be clear on all the components AND the ways they’re put together AND how to do that for themselves.

 

That’s why I’m such a fan of giving students resources and trainings that are what I call ‘universal’.

Not spoon-fed ‘fill in the gaps’ type scaffolds that can only be applied to one particular task , but proven systems or blueprints if you like, that can be applied to a particular type of task across all different subjects and topics.

Like:

A checklist and system that can be used to proofread any piece of writing effectively.

Or:

A template that can be used to construct a response to any type of evaluation level essay.

And:

Proven steps to brainstorming and then selecting an A-grade idea or topic for an open-ended task.

 

So that they’re not just haphazardly trying to piece together whatever knowledge they have and aren’t having to re-do or re-draft or edit multiple times before they come out with a great pirate ship.

Sorry, I mean great essay/assignment 😉

 

Let me know your thoughts on this!

Does your teen love steps and clear instructions?

Or perhaps they’re the more creative type who is capable of crafting a ship that’s even better than the box cover (not me at all by the way. I’m not the creative type, but I play to my strengths – structure and systems)!

Whatever your feedback, let me know in the comments below.

Let’s make this a fantastic week.

Katie 🙂

*Definitely the latter. Rebel was not in my vocabulary. Still isn’t to be honest. Unless you count the time last week I jumped the take-out queue at a coffee kiosk. I’d never been to it before and I hadn’t realised there was a queue the other side… til I was stood waiting for my cuppa and saw the four people around the other end of the counter – oops!  So I guess even that doesn’t count, and I’m good with that 😅

 

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