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Boosting chemistry grades help!

Discussion in 'Science' started by sriley1988, Nov 25, 2015.

  1. sriley1988

    sriley1988 New commenter

    Hi all,

    I've been teaching now for 5 years, this is my 3rd year at my current school and recently was made head of chemistry. I'm really hitting a wall this year with improving results in my classes and I could do with some help/advice as it's really starting to grind me down.

    Across my GCSE and A level classes I'm getting the same issue. A lot of apathy in the lower sets (not exactly new but previously I could win groups round or at least some would try their best so grades weren't too bad). Kids in my higher sets/ A level do fine in lessons, can answer questions related to the content etc. Homework (when it's done) is good, I spend a lot of time going over the basics and making sure students leave my class able to do whatever they were struggling with. But then come the tests...

    So far this year they have mostly bombed out. And even though they don't do *amazingly* well in physics and bio, Chemistry is always on the bottom.

    Cue the intervention, I run after school sessions for A level and GCSE, I've called parents and spoken to students. I've started chasing up the kids who won't attend intervention, we go through tests thoroughly (pupils do corrections and discuss not just sit and listen to the right answers) and I've made all the pupils PLCs to use. I've uploaded hours of work on Moodle, doubled the homework for my A level classes, spent extra time doing in-class intervention with my triples etc. Nothing seems to be working!

    I just don't get it. i never used to have this issue, its only in the last year (especially since September) that I've had this big problem. Kids who get 80% on a class test are getting 30% in a mock etc. Older members of staff tell me it's "the kids not revising" but I can't help but feel like I'm missing something fundamental and just can't see it. It's really starting to grind me down, as since I started leading Chemistry I've introduced tonnes of quality control and rigour, my HoD sings my praises but it feels like a hollow victory when I don't see any improvement for my own classes.

    Has anyone else ever had this issue or can offer any advice? How do I go about changing their attitude towards their work? I did a small experiment recently when I gave my triples a C2 mock every fortnight for a half term, grades became really really great. Gave them a few weeks off while we focused on new content, next C2 test was an utter omnishambles!

    Anyway sorry for the tirade, I'd appreciate any advice at the moment. I just want them to do well and for the work I put in to actually make a difference. I'm beginning to wonder if it won't happen until June when the "real" exams kick in, but as we all know progress is meant to be linear...
  2. steve_cooke

    steve_cooke New commenter

    Two related thoughts, neither of which you'll like so feel free to ignore, but as you've had no other response...
    1. Learned Helplessness. It's a tough cycle to break, especially with management breathing down your neck, but with your interventions and concentration on the basics have you taught them not to worry, you'll sort it all out for them in the end?
    2. Teaching to the Test. Are you seeing great in class test results because they are the same resources and tests you've used for these last three years and you know exactly what's coming? Or are you teaching beyond the test so that they have some chance of coping with the unexpected in an external exam?
    The truth is, however, if you've done better with other groups in the past it is probably no more than a cohort or couple of groups that you simply haven't connected with and you are beating yourself up unnecessarily - we all get them.
    sriley1988 likes this.
  3. wrbdb

    wrbdb New commenter

    What order do you currently teach GCSE in? I would teach principles first, so a little C1 and all fo C2 in year 10, then the case studies in yr 11. Also this means you can have a practical heavy year 10 to boost engagement.
    sriley1988 likes this.
  4. sriley1988

    sriley1988 New commenter

    Thanks both, actually you might be onto something Steve, learned helplessness could well be an issue. I'll have a think on that one. As for teaching to the test, it's a fair thing to ask, I've written all new tests this year as my HoD wanted a new format and for them to be more rigorous. I'd like to think that I don't teach to the test but maybe I'll get a colleague to come and watch me teach and get an outside opinion.

    wrbdb we are going over to that system with the new GCSE, we had an introduction to chemistry in Y9 (basically C2 topics 1,4 and ionic/covalent bonding) and current year ten are just doing C1 then C2 in Y11.

    Hopefully as we go on to the new scheme it should get easier as new Y10s will already have covered the basic concepts beforehand.
  5. Kate80

    Kate80 New commenter

    One issue we have identified is that students just don't go away and actually learn (commit to long term memory) what they've done. So yes class work is good and on the face if it they get it. Homework is excellent - done using books/Internet but the test? Utter drivel. They can write me a beautiful paragraph about electronegativity in class but glare unable to give a simple definition in a test. To address it my school has begun fortnightly 10 mark multi choice quizzes. The idea being that the regularity of these informal quizzes will encourage them to actually learn the stuff! If they underperformed they have a retest. If they underperformed again then intervention kicks in. It's a simple system.
    Good luck though!
    I'll be back to find out if there are any other suggestions!
  6. LucyBillings

    LucyBillings New commenter

    Our (FREE) chemistry videos may help... I have run them past lower achieving students who have found them very useful and, dare I say it, engaging.

    We have 177 GCSE chemistry videos currently and have another 75 to finish the GCSE course.
  7. Rov1984

    Rov1984 New commenter

    Hi, it sounds like you are doing a lot of the right things but perhaps the problem is escalating because of issues at KS3? I know our GCSE results improved overall when we refreshed our KS3. We pretty much teach them GCSE from year 7, or at least the skills. We use resources from www.idealscience.co.uk It's £200 for a membership but its worth it for the tracking system alone and the assessment style and level descriptors make it really straightforward for the students.

    Hope this helps.
  8. David Getling

    David Getling Lead commenter

    Sheer hard work and diligence go a very long way in chemistry. So, read, reread, and work through lots of past papers can really make a difference. Unfortunately, many students take laziness to the level of an Olympic sport. Of course, when they then get a poor grade it's cos the teacher wasn't any good and didn't explain it properly.

    On a more constructive note, this is the book I highly recommend to students who are prepared to work.


    It's not written specifically for A-level students, but I feel it does a lot better than most A-level books at explaining the stuff they do need to know.

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