Saturday, 12 October 2013


As you may have guessed, I've been very busy.  Not just playing GTA V - not at all.  In fact I'm playing that far less than I'd like to, thanks to work commitments.

You see, I'm now Cross Phase Leader for English, which is a new post that more-or-less combines managing KS3 (minus those dastardly Year 9s) with some really intensive outreach to primaries.  I have four primary schools currently working with me on a variety of blossoming projects, from tuition for the Level 6 exams to creative writing workshops and Spelling Bees.  I am also the Centre Co-ordinator for EPQ and the English department's PGCE mentor.  So blogging has taken a bit of a backseat this last few weeks.

But now I'm in the swing of it I thought I'd come back, all guns blazing.  As I do a lot of crazy jobs this year, I think it would be only fair for me to share these with you, so I can bore the hell out of you and possibly even discuss best practice and what to do and just how the hell I can make these things work.  So here's my first thing - EPQ.

I love the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification), and I have done since first acting as Centre Co-ordinator six years ago at my first school.  I've worked on it, as Co-ordinator and Supervisor every year since, and I'm currently doing a little of both roles.  I've seen it develop as a course; I've had terrible freak outs about not delivering enough taught time; I've had my marking lambasted and yet I still keep doing it (in fairness most of these issues have now been ironed out...).

You see, it's such an enlivening and exciting qualification to teach. It gives an unprecedented level of freedom to students just as they reach the age to really make the most of that, and the results can be awe inspiring.  I've read incredibly detailed and scientific analyses of various disorders and medical problems, seen wonderfully designed dresses and heard beautiful strains of music all created by Year 13 students who have been given the freedom to do something they love for a qualification.  But there is a serious side - the administration of looking after a thriving EPQ is hard work and often challenging, so I've put together a few top tips for anyone new to the thing:

Tip 1: Make sure you can account for the 30 hours of taught time.  AQA are very hot on this, and expect a clear outline, probably pasted into the relevant box of the log book, that gives a detailed description of exactly what they've been taught.  Failure to do this can lead to moderation and a slapped wrist at best.  Failure to deliver the taught element is even more dangerous.  Sure, your students may be able to reference effectively, but can they run the gamut of online research without falling foul of hearsay and subjectivity?  Unless they're history students, chances are their research skills would be limited.  As such, teaching explicitly how to research their topic; primary, secondary and tertiary sources; evaluation of material and even Google search terms is vital.  The presentation at the end of the course (more later) should also be explicitly taught, as should academic register.

Tip 2: Ensure you force the students to maintain and fill out their logbooks.  These diaries are incredibly important in the marking process, but also help guide the students through their project.  The temptation can be to leave them to it - it's their work after all - but it will save you a lot of horrid fuss later if you essentially force them to fill it in after every meeting.  The entries should be extremely detailed too, in order to allow the moderator to get more of a sense of the work they've put in.  Basically, they should make a note of everything they've done.  And for God's sake, sign and date it as you go along - don't end up in the position of having to post date everything using a variety of different pens for a veneer of authenticity...

Tip 3: Prepare them for their presentation.  Preparation for this comes in two guises.
1) Make sure they know that it will be happening in the future, and try to give them a rough date (week beginning, for example).  Inform them of the purpose of the presentation at the same time - it is a reflective and evaluative explanation of the project's process, not an explanation of what has been discovered.
2) Use the taught component time to teach them vital presenting skills, like creating workable PowerPoints, rhetorical techniques, coping strategies and practise. This will vastly improve the nature of their presentations, which should be almost degree-level in their professionalism and content.  There can be no temptation to think that the A* grade descriptors for Speaking and Listening in English are of any use.

Tip 4: Force them to focus their topic into a question that can be answered by a Yr 13 student in about five months.  They must word their title in such a way as to give them this opportunity.  'What causes cancer?' is far too broad and impossible to complete.  'What treatments are used in the fight against breast cancer, and what appears to be most effective?' is better and more workable. 'Can I make a guitar?' is cute, and sounds lovely, but isn't focused enough.  'Can structural and electrical elements of a Fender Telecaster and a Gibson Les Paul be merged to create a successful and usable guitar?' is much more useful.  Of course, large swathes of this last title will need to be clarified in the write-up, but so long as this is done, there should be no problem.

So there we are, four tips that may or may not be useful to any EPQ people out there.  Now I'm off to cry over the amount of marking I have to do.

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