At this time of year, many of us are perhaps scratching our heads with more than the customary vigour as exams loom. Why aren’t my Year 11s working harder? Why do my Upper Sixth seem to have gone into Glastonbury mode already? In my Department we decided to use an unorthodox method to tackle the difficult issue of trying to convert A level grade A predictions into A* results for more candidates.
We call them lunchtime ‘spark sessions’. Three May Maydays to help turn the blossom to fruit. Two of the sessions (still to come) will be offered by myself as a History specialist to our A Level historians: they won’t be content specific but will look at generic skills of gutting an article (to foster reading skills) and converting spoken arguments to written arguments (to improve argumentative drive and flow within an essay). That’s more than a nod to Martin Robinson’s Trivium and the modern uses of Rhetoric. I hope that by listening to each other, and feeding off each other’s ideas, my students will really benefit by honing their powers of analysis and explanation.
But this alone won’t turn A predictions into the elusive, magical A* grades. The missing element is motivation. I have evidence. These spark sessions were advertised in good time to our students by email and by letter home, no less. Fourteen U6 were invited to the first session. How many gave up a part of their lunchtime to attend the first session yesterday? How many of our bright, privileged, able students attended a session purpose-built to help them secure the best grade possible? Four.
The first session was supposed to be the magnet, to draw them in. Rather than have a member of my Department lead it, I thought it would be exciting to ask a colleague with expertise in motivation and the psychology behind high achievement to speak. Rick is a man of legendary status in my school. He knows how sports teams work. He has coached elite level athletes. He has respect. In spadeloads. His session was short and to the point: are you being motivated towards an A* by external or internal factors? What is driving you? Our students were candid and confessional. One wanted to prove something to a teacher. Another wanted to have no regrets in August. They all agreed that university places and parental pressures were elements driving forward their revision, of course, but Rick stressed the intrinsic and personal over the extrinsic and amorphous. Job done.
So, who is the teacher in your school who could come in from outside your subject area and stretch and challenge your able students? Every school has one, at least one. The children will know even if you don’t. These charismatic, talismanic figures may just help bring it all together in these final weeks. You’re not relying on an expensive Tweacher to come in, full of brimstone and passion but with no knowledge of your students, although that might work and certainly has its place. This is in-house and can of course be reciprocal. It’s unscientific, it’s not research-led, it’s not original – but it may just help spark the motivation that comes from within, the best and most powerful kind.