Learning from this project
Learners took to using a new scaffold far more quickly in vocational subjects than in GCSE English. When asked, learners suggested this was because they were already used to using a different scaffold/ formula for GCSE English (taught in their previous setting) and, therefore, the new scaffold would be replacing something they were already used to. In vocational subjects, however, it was new learning and therefore not replacing any learned behaviours.
This is further supported by the finding that learners in GCSE English lessons needed a scaffold to be positively promoted, rather than simply offered, if they were to adopt it. In exam conditions, many learners reverted to using a scaffold they had been taught previously, in a former setting, rather than the new one. Learners who were most receptive to the new tools were learners who had not previously been taught to use a writing scaffold and this was, therefore, a new concept.
Encouraging learners to explore the effect of certain words or phrases through the use of a ‘zoom’ component in a scaffold can be particularly helpful to learners resitting GCSE English language. This often helps learners to analyse more effectively, stay focused on the requirements of the question and draw more plausible inferences from direct quotations.
Encouraging learners to begin analytical paragraphs with a direct quotation from the text, rather than by making a point first, can be very useful for learners resitting GCSE English language. Learners often report that they find responding to analysis questions easier and more enjoyable when they use this approach.
Tutors have also seen better progress from many learners when using this approach. In other words, evidence and zoom (or E.Z., see Figure 9c-2) which simply encourages students to find a direct quotation from the text and then comment on the effect of an individual key word from within the same quotation seems more beneficial than P.E.E.
Writing scaffolds are most useful when they are designed in response to the needs of the learners. Many patterns of individual differences have been observed.
Patterns could be observed in the work of learners who achieved a lower grade in their GCSE maths than in English. Many digressed from the question regularly and made points that could not be supported with evidence, rather they seemed to be drawing on their own life experience.
These learners often said they preferred not to use writing scaffolds when they were given the option and when the scaffold was simply presented to them. They appeared to struggle more with understanding formulaic scaffolds. However, if elements of a scaffold were offered to these learners as a verbal explanation, rather than simply as a paper resource, much faster progress was observed.
For example, learners who regularly began their analytical paragraphs with a direct quotation, and adopted the use of the ‘zoom’ feature, could often be seen to improve quite rapidly.
On the other hand, learners who achieved the same grade in their GCSE maths and English (grade 3 in both subjects) responded much more positively to the formulaic scaffolds and usually understood it straight away. Improvements could be seen in their writing as a result.
Finally, learners who were more confident in analysis often found a formulaic scaffold to be restrictive and preferred to write more freely, usually with success. Some of these learners said they were using elements of a pre-learned scaffold, but it was more detailed and they felt confident enough to write in a freer and more flexible way. Many stated, when interviewed, that they preferred the ‘tips and guidance’ type of resource and found it useful.
Many learners find a scaffold useful to support them in responding to questions where there are very clear success criteria. This is also the case in vocational subjects. In vocational subjects, more prescriptive scaffolds are favoured by learners who achieved a grade 3 or below in GCSE English language.
Excellent progress can be seen when a carefully tailored scaffold is designed and learners are actively encouraged and shown how to use it. As learners become more confident writing about the subject, the need for a prescriptive scaffold reduces.
Vocational tutors were more engaged with this project than with previous English CPD, because the scaffolds responded to a need within their own subjects. They could see the benefit to their learners and so English development became a natural and meaningful part of their lessons, not a forced additional (tick box) activity that they struggled to integrate. This gave vocational tutors a clear method for supporting learners with their writing in a structured and effective way, especially when English wasn’t necessarily their own strongest subject. They now report feeling more confident in embedding and developing English.