Teaching to an assessment: are we zapping our students’ motivation?

My year 11 standard English class are generally good kids, with the occasional students who is only there to pass the time, but on the whole they are quite a fun group.

Until you are trying to prepare them for an assessment.

The teachers who wrote the assessment (Bianca Hewes) did so in a way which made the assessment connected to the outside world of the significance of story telling. And the kids were all down with listening to, reading, and watching the presentation of the stories of others (and discussing them in depth might I add) but when it came time to actually do the assessment themselves they bucked.

Because it was basically a race between classes as to who had their stories done and ready first, I gave my kids ample class time to write their stories, edit their stories and the stories of others, and practice presenting their stories. Class time which, for the most part, they wasted by whinging that they were worried about the assessment.

You might suggest more scaffolding, more examples, more direction and guidance for their writing and presentation skills. Tried it!

You might suggest giving them more freedom and choice in how they approached the assessment and used their class time to work on their assessment. Tried it!

Waterhole work, cave work, pair work, campfire work…tried it all, with minimal success. Still, half the class hasn’t even written a story, whilst the other half has a story but is quivering with fear at the prospect of a presentation to an audience. Sigh.

I felt that I had to force them to learn, which is unfortunate, because these are the kids who enjoy the discussions, enjoy group work, and enjoy activities which are slightly obscure (for example, I made them wear paper hats, and they loved it!).

It hasn’t been a complete failure, the stories which have been produced have been of a phenomenal quality, and I hope to get them together in an ebook or something similar. For the 4-5 periods which they did do solid and productive work I was astounded at what they managed to produce. And they all seem to have taken something away about effective creative writing.

It has lead me to ponder the challenges of teaching to assessment. Creative writing should have been such a fun experience for these guys, and I feel as though I’ve let them down by making it so boring; but the reality was that if these kids didn’t do their assessment in class, it just wouldn’t be done at home, and I wanted them to perform to their full potential.

And so it is with this in mind that I will wander into class tomorrow, scare them with the prospect of only having 2 more hours of class before their assessment is due and then try and motivate them with drama activities which they will hopefully apply when they are presenting their stories to their audience.

If anyone can offer any guidance as to tips for teaching to an assessment whilst maintaining the interest and motivation of kids who, if we are being honest, are hard to motivate about English, please share! I am almost at a loose end!