I want to say from the start that this isn’t a discussion about what I think should be done regarding the 2021 exams, nor is it for me to speculate.
I am working under the assumption that no content will be cut from the 2021 exams, however I know from many discussions on this with colleagues that there are some concerns over how schools and students are expected to catch up on all the learning time missed during COVID-19.
I appreciate every subject is different and maybe what I say won’t work well in yours. Nevertheless I would like to give some tips on what I believe teachers can do to make sure all the content is covered in time for the 2021 exams.
Use homework more effectively
Have a look at the specification that you still need to cover before the 2021 exams. Look for any topics or part of topics that can be given as home learning. I would recommend printing the specification out and getting a highlighter to go through it with your department. You can then start to create some bespoke resources for your students that will allow them to learn some bits at home, and then you can use the lesson time for application. Alternatively, use homework for more quizzing of previous topics so that they are getting that revision that you might not have the time for in class.
Do not rush through the fundamentals
For any brand new topics that you haven’t started yet, you might think that because of time constraints that you should finish the topics as quickly as you can to allow some time for revision before the 2021 exams. While this may sound appealing, you will be building on poor foundations and it is unlikely that the students will understand any the topic if they have not understood the basics. Do not fall into the trap of rushing through the basics: these are the most important parts to focus on.
Accept there might not be revision lessons at the end of the course
I am personally not a fan of getting through the content with months to go before the exams, and then using that time for revision lessons. I think it’s much more beneficial for the content to be mapped out so that the course finishes a couple of weeks before the exams. This poses a bit of a challenge for the Year 11 and Year 13 2020/2021 cohort because you will find yourself looking at those exam dates and thinking how you can possibly fit everything in. But look at your schedule and you might see that, even with some shifting backwards, you will still get the content finished in time without any changes to your original plan. You may have to accept that they won’t have as many revision lessons as previous years.
Is there anything you can cut out?
I am a big advocate of going beyond the specification and many of my lessons as full of stories and tangents, however I know that my year 11 group next year is not the time to be doing that. For me, if my priority is finishing the content in time, then this is something that I can cut out of my lessons. You may be surprised how much time you spend on those wonderful additions, which unfortunately may need to be cut out. Only do this if necessary though because we don’t want to rob our students of that richer experience. Thinking about Science in particular, perhaps there are some practicals that you could cut out.
An extra lesson a week?
I have heard of the potential for extra lessons for Year 11 and 13 students next year. I am not a fan of this model for many reasons, but my primary concern is teacher and student wellbeing. This is certainly not an option that I would recommend but it is one that I can see being proposed in many schools.
A change of course?
Again this is another Science specific example, but can your Separate Science students maybe transfer over onto the Combined Science award instead. Of course there will be voices against this approach, from parents no doubt, but I wanted to raise it as an option anyway.
Many discussions which are being had at the moment are centered on cutting some of the specification from the exams so that schools can get through all of the content in time. But can you honestly say that there are whole chunks of your subject that you would happily cut out? We have a duty to teach our students the whole specification because that’s what they need to learn. I would certainly not be happy with anything being cut out of the Physics exams because then they wouldn’t have learnt Physics and they wouldn’t be sitting a Physics exam. We must teach our students what they need to learn, and so I do hope I have provided some useful thoughts on how this can be manageable next year.
My thanks go to Chris Baker for his thoughts on this article.
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash