These are the last few weeks of school for 2011 HSC students and we have been busy writing practice essays and adding some depth to our thinking about each module and its concepts. Over the years I have worked through many ways of helping students to prepare for this exam, not least with my own kids. How to summarise effectively in English often presents problems for students. Unlike many content based subjects where a list of headings from a textbook and memory cards can help a lot, in English students have to think about the concepts and essay question, draw on everything they know about the topic, select from their knowledge to answer effectively, as well as write an effective essay all under exam conditions. You can tell by the length of that last sentence how overwhelming that can be.
This year I experimented with a great piece of advice from Mrs Langford’s Weblog. She suggested students prepare for Module A by thinking about the ‘big questions” in the texts for Module A and organsing notes under these big ideas. She concludes: It is important that you integrate your notes by organising them under key ideas rather than summarising each text separately. Integrated notes lead to writing integrated responses.
I really liked the thinking behind this and tried it out in the classroom with the Area of Study. Students thought about the “big ideas” about belonging on their own and then combined in teams to share and write down three “big ideas”. They had to write complete well thought out sentences, since I wanted them to practice writing topic sentences they could use in their essays. We selected 7 of the ideas as a class. We then had a discussion about how an idea was related to a text they had studied in the AOS. With some prompt questions we pushed that thinking to include the techniques the writer was using and evidence from the texts. I then moved students into teams with one “big idea” each and we played ‘Speed Dating”. Each team had a few minutes to add text, techniques, quotes and evidence to the big idea on the sheet and then moved on to the text ‘big idea’.
It was great fun requiring some high energy from tired year 12 students, and produced lots of deeper thinking and revision of texts. By the end of the lesson we had a very useful summary that students could refine and add to and that was set up especially to support their essay writing.
I’ve since tried it out with year 11 who are also preparing for exams. The response from Year 12 was very positive, with students keen to repeat the exercise with their modules. It is nice to find a workable, high energy way to keep Year 12 working in the midst of what can be a trying time at school!