Staff expressed frustration that individual handouts, used hitherto for the GCSE English resit course, typically ended up stuffed into ‘exploding folders’ that were eventually binned rather than used for revision. This suggested that our students did not feel a strong sense of ownership over their work. They also reported feeling overwhelmed with paper.
The hope was that by replacing them with a single reading booklet, where materials could be refined and then presented cohesively and coherently, students would feel more on top of materials, and increasingly motivated to keep, and revise from, completed work.
A further positive by-product of using a single resource for teachers was also envisioned: less time spent photocopying ‘new’ materials each week, or trying to find them from previous weeks, and more time freed up to plan lesson delivery.
The presentation of materials for the reading booklet was informed by relevant educational research, particularly the work of Doug Lemov et al (2016) that shows how breaking longer extracts into ‘bite-sized’ chunks with questions that encourage close scrutiny of them, and require only short bursts of writing, can help build learner confidence and stamina, particularly important for the first stage of the resit course.
The booklet was laid out with clear headings indicating the focus of the particular section, and the part of the exam it related to. Then, typically, a table of ‘useful words and phrases’ with definitions would be given that related to that focus. An extract laid out in a similar way to an unseen exam text would be given, and for certain extracts the text would then be broken into chunks chronologically.
Individual questions might be tied to these shorter extracts with space to write directly underneath. Sentence starters might be offered, and prompts given to encourage effective approaches for writing in the exam. Extension tasks were also included to encourage broader thinking about the text and to stretch students who worked more quickly.
A total of six extracts were chosen from the beginning, middle and ending of The Woman in Black, and presented chronologically. Extracts that showcased particular structural or linguistic features were selected: for example, the opening of Chapter 2, where London fog is dramatically personified. Time was reserved, usually about 15 minutes, to then read the whole chapter from the book at the end of the lesson.
The twelve chapters were read over the first term, and longer chapters were read across the two weekly lessons. The hope was that this would provide a more immersive reading experience for students, in turn contributing to their overall engagement with the lessons.
In order to avoid narrowing the focus too much by exclusively concentrating on one fiction text we interleaved The Woman in Black extracts with thematically connected non-fiction extracts. For example, the previously mentioned extract about London fog was followed by two non-fiction texts: one Victorian extract which described a scene in London when there was dense fog, and another text, written within the last decade, focusing on the issue of air pollution in London. Two other non-fiction extracts relating to the topic of ghosts were included later on in the booklet, once the supernatural theme of the novel had been more fully established.
At the back of the booklet we included two feedback sheets relating to the reading assessments done just before and just after using the booklet. This meant that progress could be tracked and connected to the relevant work that had been completed in the interim between assessment points.