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Preparing for exams

TeachScotland 2nd April 2018
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Preparing students for exams is a significant part of teaching. However, it can be a very stressful time for both teacher and pupil, and getting the most out of the students can be tough. A few considerations can help a lot, though; turning exam preparation into a constructive and worthwhile process.

Awareness of class morale…

The first thing to consider is that as a teacher, you need to be aware of your students’ morale level. The lead-up to an exam can be a stressful situation for everyone involved, so it is important that you spend time with your pupils individually ensuring that they feel supported, valued and motivated. Regularly communicating targets and expectations for the coming weeks is a good way to keep your classes focused, and it instills a sense of independence and responsibility for their own learning. If planned well, exam preparation should challenge the students and help to boost their confidence as they become more adept at tackling the kind of questions they’ll be set in the exam.

Be organised and plan ahead…

One of the main reasons why pupils and teachers start to feel pressure is because of the time factor — not just in the exam itself, but also in the course leading up to it. Having an organised schedule which covers all the course material, with revision sessions equally spaced out, helps to avoid cramming everything into a short space of time immediately before the exam. It also allows for a greater variety of content and activities for your lessons, which not only keeps the students interested, but also helps them to retain more information. Having a clear course structure makes it easier to set goals at different stages for the individual and the class as a whole; which will aid in focusing the students and helps them to work on their weak areas. It also boosts motivation, because students can see their progression as the course continues.

Ensure clarity of exam content…

For some teachers, exam preparation entails endless revision of past papers, which does have its uses; the students will become familiar with the content of the exam, as well how to work with time constraints. In order to do well in exams, students need to have a set of relevant exam techniques that they can use to succeed. Students need to know and understand the meanings of any key command words that they will come across, such as ‘explain’ and ‘evaluate’. Spending time on this can save on a lot of marks lost due to students answering a question in the wrong way. Issuing mock exam questions as homework each week is a good way of assessing learning. Allowing students to mark each other’s papers can help them to understand what the examiner is looking for, whilst giving them time to discuss the questions in groups reinforces this and allows them to pool ideas on how they would approach certain questions.

Give the students study advice…

It is important for the teacher to help pupils make the most of any time they spend revising. Many students won’t know, or will have forgotten, how to study efficiently. Teachers can help by going over some basic advice such as making a study schedule, using flashcards, producing mind maps or taking a ten-minute break every hour. It’s important to stress that everyone’s way of learning is unique – you just need to find the approach that suits the individual!

Don’t panic!

Lastly, perhaps the most important piece of advice is simple: don’t panic! So long as you have established a solid course structure and have a pool of activities and exam techniques to share with the students, you can’t go wrong. If you are ever unsure then seek advice and guidance from your experienced colleagues, who will be more than happy to help you along the way…

My typical day at school

Kate Brown 28th February 2018
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My typical day at school…

Starts at 8.50am with registration of my S1 class. I check in with each of them, asking how their week is going and filling them in on any relevant information that they need to know. We say the school prayer together before the 9.00am bell which sees pupils off to their first curricular class of the day.

On average, I have 22 class contact periods each week, half of them being practical lessons and the other half are theory lessons across all year groups. I usually do all of my lesson preparation before I finish for the evening so that I can avoid any unnecessary stress the following day. If preparing for practical lessons, I ensure I have all of my ingredients, kitchen equipment and recipes set out for my classes on trolleys that are easily accessible and can be moved in and out of the classroom as and when they are needed. They have 50 minute lessons here in Inverclyde, therefore effective time management is important.

I like to try new ways of doing things to ensure my practical lessons run as smoothly as possible. With regards to theory lessons, I spend a Friday afternoon doing any resource development work along with any printing/photocopying of course material that I will use the following week.

For me, organisation is the key to success and helps to balance both my work and home life as well as my study to ensure continual professional development without feeling overwhelmed.

The best part of my job…

Is making a difference to the lives of young people. The positive influence I can have on my pupils can be life changing for many of them. As a teacher, you become a role model. Your pupils look to you for advice and guidance and that fills me with a real sense of pride and fulfilment. You form relationships and grow fond of your pupils. My pupils teach me as much as I teach them. They remind me to laugh and not to take myself too seriously. Learning can be fun and that goes for the teacher too!

My most memorable moment…

The challenge – and success – of getting the pupil who dislikes you and you seem to be getting nowhere with to have that ‘lightbulb’ moment. Having them begin to understand you and your subject enabling you both to work towards a common goal is both heartwarming and rewarding.

No day in teaching is ever the same…

Ever. You are unlikely ever to be bored by a lack of diversity. For me, I flourish in a working environment where I need to expect the unexpected! Teaching is a job with built-in variety, as you develop new units, teach new topics, and work with new children each year.

My first day as a teacher

Kate Brown 4th January 2018
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Like other firsts in my life, my first day as a teacher in my own secondary school classroom had me feeling excited and nervous in equal measure. However, I tried not to worry too much and told myself that even the most seasoned teachers feel apprehensive about meeting new students at the beginning of each school year.

For me, preparation is crucial. I spent a few days towards the end of the summer holidays decorating my classroom, developing resources and planning my first week of lessons.

Forward planning gives me a sense of confidence and in my opinion is the key to success.

In my local authority, we are given an in-service training and information session at the start of each new term. My first impressions were really positive and, as a former pupil of the school, it was a very welcoming experience for me. It was warming to see so many familiar faces which helped to settle the new job jitters.

On the first day of term before the start of each lesson I would take a deep breath, look around my newly decorated classroom, double-check my lesson plans, and remind myself of everything I’d done to get to where I was standing. It was time to get the year off to a successful start!

My advice for day one:

  • Arrive early to welcome your pupils with a smiling face. They too are nervous about starting a new school year and seeing a happy face can really make them feel more relaxed about their new experience.
  • Welcome pupils into your classroom, inviting them to take a seat until you establish an effective seating plan for them.
  • Have some ice breaker activities planned. For secondary school level, consider creating a class dictionary. Students can write a three-part definition of themselves that includes physical characteristics, personality traits, and favourite hobbies or interests. As the teacher you should also get involved and share some information about yourself with your pupils. This will help to make you more approachable and build rapport with your pupils.
  • Explain classroom expectations. Present the most important classroom routines in a positive way. Explain, discuss and give your pupils a chance to develop their own set of classroom rules. Remember, they won’t learn it all in a day. So, continue to emphasise and practise classroom routines for the first few weeks.
  • Deal promptly with behavioural problems, applying sanctions where necessary and following the school discipline procedures that are in place.
  • Generate interest and enthusiasm by hinting at exciting new topics you plan to cover in the coming weeks.
  • Take students on a tour of your classroom – especially useful if yours is a practical subject! Explain what is in all the cabinets and drawers. Show them what is accessible and what is off limits.
  • Lastly, be yourself! Let your passion and enthusiasm for your subject shine through. You must be fully committed to making a difference to the lives of young people. Don’t be afraid to try new things to promote pupil learning and improve pupil experience.

If your first day activities involve all of your students in ways that allow them to be successful, you’ll be sure to make a good first impression. You will be seen as a caring, organised leader who is focused on creating a stimulating and cooperative environment.

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