Motivating the “More Able” during Lockdown

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One Monday morning, nearing the end of my training year, I was quietly sat in our staff room plodding away at amending a lesson for later in the week, when the Headteacher popped his head round the door and cryptically told me to “Keep an eye on the staff bulletin this week – there’s something you might be interested in”. So, being the dutiful trainee, I did and saw that the school was advertising internally for a new More Able Coordinator. TLR included.

Now, it’s not something that I thought about previously being a role I would take on, especially going into my NQT year, but when the question was posed to me, it got me thinking – would it be good experience? would I be any good at it? what did the job entail? would I have the time and capabilities to do it?

I was successful at getting the role and over the last year (well, up until lockdown curved all plans), I was out on trips regularly for the two projects we ran as part of our More Able programme – Kings Scholars, in partnership with Kings College London, for KS3 and the Harris Experience programme for KS4.

Now, I need to pause for a second here and just talk about the whole ‘More Able’ label. It’s not one I particularly like. There’s a lot of debate around the label, its connotations and what it says to students who are not seen as ‘More Able’ – are they able at all? Well, personally, I think all students are more than able and prefer to use the terms “Lower” or “Higher” Prior Attaining. It denotes previous, rather than the here and now and future attainment. However, the title is what it is. Would Higher Prior Attaining Coordinator suit better? I’m not sure. Let me know what titles are used at your schools in similar positions to mine? It would be interesting to know.

Anyway …. getting back on track …

As I said, the programmes were running quite smoothly. All was well. Until the Big C arrived. With closing down most of the school, and moving to virtual learning, we also found that all of the programmes we had been working on for the ‘More Able’ students were to be cancelled. Leaving them with no extra-curricular activities to help them go above and beyond the curriculum and practice their skills for getting the best grades.

In response, I created a bespoke Masterclass Summer Project which ran on Microsoft Teams for our KS4 students, which was all about building independence in the students, their study skills (note-taking etc.) and taking their learning above and beyond the curriculum at our school.

The programme was based on Masterclass videos created by The Brilliant Club which had been sent our way. There were four Masterclasses – one on Science, one on History, one on Maths and another on Psychology.

The Masterclasses the students had to complete were all on MS Form. Each included space to write down information they had learned, complete a short multiple choice questionnaire and a reflection space to write down what they had learned from the Masterclass and how it would benefit them in the future. This led to one student saying: “This will help me as I want to study Psychology at University and it will give me something to talk about when applying to university.”

Now, there was some success with the programme – there was a small, dedicated cohort of the Harris Experience students at KS4 who completed each and every single one of the Masterclasses, and then some did complete them all after a bit of chivvying and chasing by me. Some did not engage at all.

What the bespoke programme showed to me more than anything was the difficulty in getting students to complete independent work online – which was a recurring theme throughout the virtual learning we had offered as part of the mainstream curriculum. When reflecting on the programme, this would be an area to improve upon and work out any kinks that could have helped increase the numbers involved.

The face-to-face between student and teacher is pretty paramount to their learning, especially when it is not mandatory but additional work that has been asked of the students. This was something I found shifted when I saw students at school when we were bringing Year 10 students in for a day of learning once a week and I was able to speak to them face-to-face, looking them right in the eye to get them to engage. When I gave them the Mr Tye look of “do it, or else”, then I got some on board.

Now that we are back in school, and we’re seeing lots of our projects back up and running (though in very different ways than previously), we’re still continuing on with our Masterclasses. This time, however, the Masterclasses are coming from staff at the school who are all talking about an academic specialism or interest of theirs that can help broaden the horizons of students and reach beyond the curriculum. We’re in the early stages of creating all of the content and my Masterclass will be up first, looking at the history of the Black Education Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. We’ve got some create content from other teachers, ranging from talks on refugee rights and the UN, gut biomes and mental health and the philosophy of leadership. It should be a fantastic programme – fingers crossed.

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