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Making the leap from GCSE to A Level

Discussion in 'English' started by bob79, Apr 5, 2011.

  1. bob79

    bob79 Occasional commenter

    Hi,

    I teach A Level Media and English A Level. I am posting because I wondered if any of you could help me. Overall I get good results with my students but I find many of them struggle making the leap from GCSE to A Level throughout their two year course. Most of my students struggle with the written components which in either subject can clearly not be avoided. The average Target Grade of my students at AS Level is a D and the majority have achieved a C or B at GCSE - a small proportion have an A. Although I provide lots of supportive resources I feel I am missing the mark when it comes to giving them the support they claim they have had at school with their essay writing. Would any of you be willing to either advise me on the types of writing frames and support you provide to your GCSE students? Would any of you mind providing them exemplar resources that you use to help support their essay writing/coursework? I am hoping that by knowing more about their GCSE experience I can support them properly through their A Level exams and coursework because at the moment I just feel I am not. Many thanks.
     
  2. roamingteacher

    roamingteacher Established commenter Forum guide

    Can you be more specific about what it is they struggle with? Is it with forming the ideas or just expressing them on paper? Is it their comprehension or the detail of their analysis?
    And what are the "supporting resources" that you currently use? Do they include giving the groups examples of what they are aiming for and deconstructing them before attempting the task themselves? They should be able to co-construct their own 'frames' from strong examples, with guidance from you. And I wouldn't recommend going further than this as it would raise the danger of 'spoon-feeding' them when they really need to develop these skills for further study. I am personally very wary of providing writing frames, and instead encourage students to plan using topic sentences. They may do this collaboratively before writing up an essay independently.
    Looking at the resource banks on TES and Teachit will give a pretty good idea of the type of materials used for GCSE. For example, do a search on a given title with the word 'essay' and the preparation materials will be listed.



     
  3. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    though it apparently is for GCSE. It's hardly surprising that A level students can't think or work independently when they are taught how high to jump in order to get through the GCSE hoop.
    How many 'they're always late with/don't care about their course work' threads have there been, do you suppose? Then we suddenly expect them to be motivated, independent learners after the long summer holiday.
    The best A level student I have ever taught had been home schooled up until VI form. He also had a much older mum, who did old fashioned 'o' levels and had high expectations. Considering that the lad was also on the autistic spectrum, not a type known for their ability to be motivated beyond their usually narrow interests, that was some achievement.
    I start AS with lots of literature/wide reading research - no internet allowed*. We look at the canon - which I provide. The have to research the books and come up with ideas as to why they are included. Then they have to criticise it - in writing. The essay they produce then is peer reviewed for content and I mark it, harshly, for QWC, using A level AOs.
    *Oddly enough, I don't want them to produce X identical essays lifted from Wiki.


     
  4. let me have your email address and i could send you mountains of stuff which you may find useful.
    which english do you teach at a'level? literature? language? lang/lit?
    which exam board?


     
  5. bob79

    bob79 Occasional commenter

    We are an inclusive institution so unless they do Lit/Lang (which has a B grade criteria) all other Humanities subjects require a C grade in English Language. We previously had a B grade criteria for Media/Film & Lit - it made no difference to our cohort and their ability. Also our results were the most 'poor' we had as we are judged on our Value Added and pass rates so even though we achieved 100% pass rate A-C at AS and A2, Value Added was poor because quite frankly there was none to add! I am not sure if you are judged in the same way in Secondary Schools so apologies for possibly stating the obvious. The main issues are that the majority of our students are academically weak at GCSE level. Over 70% achieve a core subject in their year 10 Jan exam (mainly Maths/Science. The majority spend their final years re-working their coursework, and studying towards their English exams - obviously re-sitting/sitting any other relevant papers. They of course study the National Curriculum but they are heavily supported on roughly 6-7 GCSEs in total - many do single Sciences now which 'bulks out' their total number of GCSEs. I am not bothered by this as it does not alter their admission, so please do not think this is an anti-GCSE rant.

    I am just at the end on my tether regarding how else I can support them. I provide every resource imaginable - workbooks, synopses of texts & characters, group/peer marking, step-by-step analysis, exam question booklets and examples, terminology trees on the walls and copies in their books, Examiner Guest Speakers writing frames - the list is endless. We run half-term and Easter Schools and VLE support materials and quizzes, toolkits for subject and coursework support. The stereotype of the 'get on with it Sixth Form Teacher' is not accepted at my institution and on top of all the paper I distribute, the step-by-step organisation of the files that our dept buys for them (yes I know don't get me started) and the breath and green pen I spurt - I am quite frankly exhausted and I don't know what else I can do other than this post!

    I have conducted a focus group with a mixed selection of students and a summary of the key elements outlined by students in the focus groups were:

    * They cannot formulate a response on their own because teachers would structure the essay as a group, give them a list of questions to choose, organise the paragraphs and use sentence starters to help them write each line of each paragraph. How do I get around this without spoon-feeding? Any ideas? I feel that if I can see some examples of these frames I can at least begin formulating some ideas but at the moment this whole 'revelation' hs just over-whelmed me. I am in my 7th year of teaching and I have never seen this level of intervention before.

    * They stated that teachers would correct every line of their essays/cwk and replace with grammatically correct sentences and of course correct any SPAG errors

    The main issue seems that they have been spoon-fed so much they lack the confidence or ability to write down their own thoughts/ideas. They really cannot structure a sentence and Their SPAG is shocking and they rarely punctuate or apply grammar in any way. I still cannot believe that basic Primary skills such as capitalising names or attempting to use punctuation are ignored even at A2 (I am sorry this sounds whiney - I will stop)


    The groups were chosen at random and I correlated this against their previous schools but all seem to help them in this way bar two of our main feeder schools. Is there anyway around this at all? Again apologies if this comes across in the wrong way. It is not my intention to ask for anything other than support, resources and if you have it reassurance!
     
  6. bob79

    bob79 Occasional commenter

    Apologies for any typos and my 'huge' paragraph - I did put in spaces but the box appears to have ignored this
     
  7. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    Which board do you do?
    I can help with AQA B
     
  8. bob79

    bob79 Occasional commenter

    We are WJEC but to be honest it's your board doesn't matter. All the students have studied different boards so any info will be an advantage. I genuinely just need help with essay writing at GCSE from a student not teacher perspective. So if you have weak GCSE students what do you do with/for them and can you explain it to me and send me any resources? You may just help stop my mini-breakdown and disbelief in my teaching ability!
     
  9. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    I currently teach all bottom sets - Yrs 7-11, so plenty of experience!
    The key, at GCSE or A level, is getting them to plan independently.
    Here is one trick I use, which works with my 'they should actually be doing entry level', yr 10 group.
    Set a question with 2 possible 'takes'. I did one for CA on Lady Macbeth in the autumn term. They had to decide whether she or Macbeth was most to blame for the events in the play, working backwards from Act V sc.i - the sleepwalking scene.
    Once they had made up their minds, I gave them a list of possible paragraphs to write. They had to pick the right paragraphs themselves and sequence them with no help from me. I should make clear that I didn't write the paragraphs, I gave them topics to discuss.
    Another idea is to find an exemplar response, photocopy it, cut it up and get them to sequence it. They then have to justify their choices. This one worked well with my low achieving (Es and below) Yr 11s.
    As far as SPaG is concerned, I get tough. I simply write 'comma splicing' where appropriate. I get them to do lots of boring practice on capitalisation, tense agreement, sentence structure, punctuation etc. and explain that 'only this gets the C'. No C = no college place (my school has no VI form @ the mo).

     
  10. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    For them? Nowt. I'm not taking the exam.
     
  11. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    Do you teach in Wales by any chance? I live on the Powis border.
     
  12. bob79

    bob79 Occasional commenter

    Thanks so much Gruoch - no I'm not in Wales! Frightened of saying TBH just in case I get sprung by a collegue! If anybody has any resources I would be very appreciative - I just think I have been going at this all the wrong way and if I can get my head around the student's starting point it will be easier to support them overall.
     
  13. bob79

    bob79 Occasional commenter

    Sorry I have just read my post and realised I could be more specific! It's not just resources but advice I would appreciate too (thanks all who have posted so far). The students cannot write sentences without sentence starters and they cannot independently structure whole essays or timed exam responses without detailed frameworks. Any background would really be appreciated as I want to help them as best as I can in the time I am teaching them. I have posted a similar thread on the Media page so if you teach both/either/none I would appreciate advice on either subject area.
     
  14. gruoch

    gruoch Occasional commenter

    I am at a loss to know how the think they can complete an A level course if this is the case. Or how they passed GCSE English or Lit.
     
  15. bob79

    bob79 Occasional commenter

    I know it sounds ludicrous but they claim (all 135 of them in various ways) to have had in-depth writing frames. I have a few examples but I just wanted a collection so I could try and adapt. I a great teachit resources for GCSE English cwk that I found last night that is helpful for the A2s and I have adapted. I just would appreciate any tips, ideas, advice you may have - I just want to simplify the hellish two years I've just had!
     
  16. Clarerees

    Clarerees New commenter

    Heh heh heh. You're talking about SUCH a classic problem. I've taught lots of sixth form and lots of KS4 and, yep, the transition is always a beast. Some points:
    1. The first thing I'd say is to ignore your students. They may well have been spoon fed at GCSE (and we all know that's the real reason for the rise in GCSE grades), but you are never going to actually improve their A-level grades by doing exactly the same. Erm, there are ways you can spoon feed them, but not by providing writing frames.
    2. Having some basic understanding of their GCSE courses may help you, but I generally find that it's best to assume you are starting right from ground level again. By the time they get to you, they will have had a four month break and hence will have forgotten everything. Assume you've got to teach them everything again: vocab, key terms, core skills. Everything.
    3. Bs and Cs at GCSE very rarely lead to As and Bs at A-level (unless the student missed an exam/ had their arm chopped off or similar). Depending on the students' circumstances, I usually find a C at GCSE leads to a D at A-level, so your grades are looking about right, to be honest.
    4. Essays for GCSE Media and GCSE English Lit are massively different from at A-Level. You will have to teach them how to write those essays and, to be honest, it is a big leap for students.
    5. I start every year with a transition unit. I've found this to be extremely useful firstly because it specifically teaches students the core skills and expectations of the course, but also because our subjects are often the ones that get a lot of late entries (a student tries Physics for two weeks before dropping it and thinking Media is a great idea). It is too late for this now, but if you message me your email address, I can send you a SOW.
    In terms of teaching ideas for essays, whilst most of mine are based on specific texts, general things that work well include:
    1. Self assessment- get students to write an essay, then give them the very simplified assessment criteria (works well with AQA, who have maybe only four AOs). Get them to highlight the sections that have hit the assessment criteria- one colour for each criteria. This is useful spoon feeding, because it focuses them on what they actually get marks for.
    2. Repeat every week. This is, I'm afraid, the element I always find the most useful. From Christmas, dedicate one lesson a week to writing an exam essay. You spend this time speedily marking the previous week's.
    3. Variant on the previous poster's suggestion. Take a few good paragraphs from students' essays and paste onto sugar paper. In groups, students highlight what was good and write next to this their reasons. Also works with 'common mistakes' (particularly with Media). In this case, students re-write the paragraph to try and get a better group mark justifying their reasons as they do so.
    4. Verbal essay. Give them a title in groups as well as the simplified assessment criteria written onto big cards. As one member of the group speaks the essay, the others hold up the cards to show which of the assessment criteria they think they're hitting. Rest of the class marks it.
    In all cases, glitter, big pens, group work and coloured paper makes students think they're having fun. Order as much of this as possible.

     
  17. bob79

    bob79 Occasional commenter

    THANKS SO MUCH! This along with the other posts has been really helpful. I have suspected for a long time that I needed to go in this direction but it's sometimes just hearing somebody else advise it - I know that sounds crazy! I will start the skills workshop after the June AS study leave is over. We usually start A2 cwk then and it will give a good focus for the students and hopefully simplify the process a little. I will send you my email now via the inbox - thanks again. If there are any other suggestions I would love to hear them.
     

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