A tiny class of eighteen with hugely varying ‘abilities’ and behaviours, this group has come a really long way over the last year. They’re the class who don’t speak, often staying silent bar two boys; one, a nailed on A*, the other an argumentative young man who once told me to “get [my] head out of [my] fucking arsehole.” I feel, recently, as if we’ve had a breakthrough, and whilst I’m careful to not ascribe one particular thing to this, I do think that there’s a consistency of approach, if you like, which has helped with this. I’ve deliberately played the long-game with them, which is a little risky when you pick up a class in Y10, but it seems to now be paying dividends.

Anyway, here’s what we did today. It’s not really that different to any other day, but over time they’ve had some success with it.

8:50 – Welcome with a recall task: they began to look at C19 prison reforms on Monday, so this is a simple ten-question true-or-false quiz about the separate and silent systems. Two have forgotten their books (which they shouldn’t have taken home in the first place) and so are given negative points and paper.

Their scores reveal there’s some confusion about the chronology and reasons for differences, though differences are recognised, so we return to this using ‘reform’ and ‘punish’ as key factors. We then consider context and reasons for introduction of prisons (end of Bloody Code in early C19, declining use of transportation, for example).

9:05 – Answer a five-mark question: Briefly describe the separate and silent prison systems. These questions should be easy marks and we’ve worked hard to ensure we don’t drop marks through lazy writing. This is a quick way to summarise the two for them, and I can easily give them all scores later in the lesson.

9:10 – Silent reading on prison reformers. Whilst they read I circulate, quickly giving them scores out of five. Most are now getting full-marks each time, but I ask those who aren’t what they think the reason might be. They always know why – which is great, and usually means they’ve just not written quickly enough – and so are given a reminder or tip – no marking for me.

9:25 – I question them on what they’ve found out. At this point I want them to refer to notes because, frankly, they don’t do this enough. Their confidence is still not where I need it to be and so I usually use one-minute-revision followed by quick quizzes to bolster self-esteem, but I also want them to get out of the ‘don’t know’ habit; actually using their books in which they’ve just made notes is surprisingly difficult for some, so any chance I have to say, “Turn back one page, find Elizabeth Fry …”, for example, I take. “Ah, Cameron’s found her, so’s Lucy; I see Josh and Liam have, too – Abi, what can you tell me?”

9:35 – Answer a seven-mark question. Everyone can grab full marks; we’re all aiming for an A (this is the only time I’ll mention targets). This question requires, essentially, two points which are fully explained. They all know that making two clear points is vital, but often mix these up in one paragraph, which means their points are lost and confused. So I model an example on the board, picking out discourse markers, and ask them to then write just one paragraph on one point. They’re asked to write about the reformers (we’ll add a paragraph on prisons next lesson) so I can pop a few examples under the visualiser next time.

9:47 – One to ten, back of your books. Same quiz as at the start, but I’ve jumbled the questions up. Who improved? Everyone? Full marks? Sixteen our of eighteen.

9:49 – Pack away. They leave their books in their class pigeon-hole and reading with me.

So, next lesson? We’ll recap the quiz again, plus another one on reformers, have a look at our seven-mark paragraphs, see what we need to improve, then do this and add the other paragraph. We’ll then test a thesis statement, such as “Prisons were modernised in the C19 mainly due to the decline of transportation”, where we’ll look for evidence for both sides of the argument which will then lead to an eight-mark question.

Read, question, practice, quiz, repeat. It’s purposeful, they see the benefits immediately, we amend and improve all the time. And the key successes today? Kayleigh’s handwriting was legible enough for me to read it and give her full marks, and the boy who thinks I’m arrogant asked me to read his second question.

It’s not fancy. It’s not dry. It’s just teaching.

A sequel is here!