One of the first English lessons we deliver attempts to explore the previous experiences that students have had with English language in their secondary schools. As part of this lesson we actively encourage students to be honest about what worked for them and what they struggle with.
These first few lessons present teachers with a mass of information and highlight common issues that all colleges face: the muddle between English Language and Literature; the feeling that “I didn’t need to revise as it was English”; a lack of belief in reading and the plethora of approaches to structuring a coherent exam response.
Every year, there is a distinct connection between these issues: confidence. As such, teachers often feel lost and unsure of where to begin in re-teaching a large and complex qualification. The information from students is discussed in the staffroom with collegiate exasperation and then battled with throughout the year. We wanted to focus on one of the specific issues faced by our students and re-direct their knowledge.
As part of these sessions, we noticed that we had collected approximately 8 different common acronyms used by students, with ‘PEE, PEEL, PEEZL’ used most often. We also noticed that common letters were used in acronyms but often meant different things. For example, an ‘R’ in ‘PEARL’ could mean ‘relate to context’ whereas it could also often mean ‘repetition/rhetorical question’ in another.
We had used acronyms ourselves when teaching writing and allowed students to use the one they felt most comfortable with. But we still faced the problem of ‘How do I start this?’ and students would often write very little in exam responses. As a result, our intervention aimed to pilot the use of small, simple sentence starters to frame a response which we would also repeat for reading and use for all questions.