Homework – who is it really ‘work’ for?

Anyone that knows a teacher, knows they have a shadow that follows them everywhere. That shadow is marking. A teacher is never far from another essay to examine, book to mark or piece of work to score. I’ve been marking between 100-150 pieces of work every fortnight for the last ten years, mostly on an evening or grabbing the odd five minutes here and there but rarely at college (otherwise when do you plan, prepare resources and answer an endless stream of emails?) However, this blog isn’t about marking because I accepted many years ago that it is just part and parcel of the job. It is an essential to ensure students’ progress, learn from their mistakes, develop their technique and understanding and recognise their current working grade. No, this blog is about homework or the lack of it.

Now at school, teachers have detentions whereby students complete the work that should have been done at home. At college you hope your students have learnt those life lessons and therefore do their homework. The problem is what happens if they don’t do it or at least can never remember to hand it in? The answer – more time is then spent by the teacher chasing up those students, asking for it, reminding them, sending emails, contacting parents…there must be an easier way.

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What you NEED to know from the OCR Training Course!

A friend from another school has recently been to an OCR training course (My car was stuck in the snow doing wheel spins in sunny Scarborough!) and the major snippet of information is that on the content table of the spec, if it mentions a Bible passage or a text from the Pope for example, this could be used as part of a specific question.

Whilst I have covered these areas within the unit and students know to make reference to them in their answers, I was not expecting them to be part of the wording of questions. This was quite naïve of me! In my ten years of teaching OCR specs I know that anything mentioned on the spec could be used in the exam questions, I am just pleased I am now able to incorporate it into my exam practice with students.

A possible question for example might then be: Critically assess the view that official Christian teachings, with reference to Ephesians, should resist current secular views on gender. To me this sounds quite a clunky question but the powers-at-be at OCR have made it clear that this sort of question is possible. 

Foot note:

I finally made it to an R.S course, well it was more like an intimate get-together in Leeds with about 15 other teachers and author Hugh Campbell (who is always a pleasure and I highly recommend attending anything he is speaking on). Here are some of the highlights and tidbits from the morning – mostly aimed at students:

  • Avoid “Blue Peter answers” – here’s one I made earlier. It is obvious to an examinerheres-one-i-made-earlier-blue-peter when students have learnt essays and try to crow bar them into another question. The key tip: students have to answer the question in front of them. Anything mentioned (whether learnt in that topic or not) is accredited marks if it is relevant to the specific question asked.
  • Weave in evaluation – be critical of scholars immediately e.g Hume is right to say….because…
  • BUG technique – Box in question, Underline the key words, Glance at the question again
  • Always stick to the timings (40mins for A2) never just think ‘oh five more minutes to finish this essay off.’ No!! Why…because you will get more marks writing a second full answer than you would get for completing a conclusion for the 1st answer.
  • Never write in the margins, when exam papers are scanned into computers it cuts them off.
  • Don’t just stick a link to the question in the last sentence of the paragraph -integrate it throughout.
  • Avoid ‘I think’ assertions as this is not academic writing
  • If you don’t finish an answer leave half a page gap and start next question – this way an examiner doesn’t have to scroll through pages and pages on a computer to find the remaining piece of your answer at the back if you add more at a later time.
  • Introduction: define terms in the questions and if a broad/ general question mention your focus, so the reader knows how you have interpreted the question.

Updated A2 SOW: Is There Time?

What a term! In my previous A2 SOW (see Organising a New SOW: Second Year) you will notice that I planned to cover all six of the new DCT topics first (rather than traditionally starting with Philosophy then Ethics) which was definitely the right move! They are deceivingly chucky topics with a lot of new content to learn and understand (for me) then teach – so I am pleased I’ve got those out of the way. However because I underestimated these topics, I am now seriously behind where I optimistically planned I would be. So I went back to the drawing board to work out how in the remaining weeks left, I can cover A2 Philosophy, A2 Ethics and all revision.

In brief, the plan is that students revise AS Philosophy over Christmas, AS Ethics over February half term and AS DCT over Easter. This takes care of the bulk of self-revision. In class time the plan is to cover the new topics first, then the students sit a Key Knowledge Exam in the AS material to identify problem areas. I am then going to get them to vote from worst to best topics so I can focus their revision with me on the areas most needed. I will leave the topics they are happiest with until the end (if there is time). I think the only way to cover the new material and get the most out of revision together in class is by prioritising the topics the students most need to go over.

Click on the image below if you would like to see my updated scheme of work on TES:



In the up- coming weeks I will be blogging about revision techniques and I’m also looking into some sort of revision podcasts, so students can go over the revision lessons outside of class (the thought of recording myself at this point though still makes my tummy flip!!)


Open Evening Ideas for A Level R.S

I have been very fortunate for the last nine years to have a large number of students wanting to study Philosophy and Ethics, with roughly 100-150 students taking the course each year. This may be due to early interventions including changing the name from Religious Studies to Philosophy and Ethics (R.S). This meant that students understood what the course entailed, helping retention. My students also did a number of activities that attracted the attention of the local news such as making a Holocaust patchwork quilt for Holocaust Memorial Day (see Leaving a Lasting Impression).

But unfortunately this year (whilst I am still very lucky to have 90 students) our cohort from schools is going down and R.S is going to be hit over the next few years because of this. So this year, for the first time in many years, I am going all out on Open Evening. Usually I just place books and DVDs of interest around the room, create a handout and have current students answer questions and talk and interact with potential new students. But not this year!

This year we had a number of exciting, interactive activities for students and parents to get involved with.

Around college laminated posters were placed drawing students and parents to the R.S classroom including:

  • Posters with Quotes:
  • Posters with Discussion Questions:
  • Skeleton holding ‘What makes us human?’ outside the classroom

  • Posters with ‘Fancy a Photo with a Philosopher’ (see below)

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Goodbye GCSE…Hello A Level: Where to start when teaching A Level R.S

First impressions are very important at the start of a new year. You always want to set the right tone for your classes – one that is both enjoyable and serious. It is about setting the bar with high expectations, introducing early challenge whilst making sure that students don’t drown with A level despair!

In the lead up to the start of term (and often during the first week back) you hear a lot of “What are your ice breakers?” I don’t have any for three main reasons: Firstly I believe that students soon get to know each other through the activities you do in lessons. I use two main activities to introduce Philosophy – the first is a movie maker “What is Philosophy” which instigates initial discussion (YouTube) and the second activity is a picture of Socrates Death with “What is Happening” (download the PowerPoint and worksheet free from: TES Resources).

socratesBoth of these activities work perfectly as ice breakers because the students cannot get the wrong answer, it is directly linked to the learning and enables students to contribute freely if they are comfortable (giving off those initial impressions).

The second reason I don’t use ice breakers (by ‘ice breaker’ I mean those ‘talk to the person next to you, now tell the class what you have learnt’ sort of activities) is because we have so little time. I am half way through Plato at this point because we do not have the luxury to introduce students back slowly.

The third reason is because the course is tough, the content is heavy and the ideas are difficult to understand. I don’t want to lull my students into a false sense of security then surprise them with what the course really is like. Start as you mean to go on!

So here are my top tips for starting the year:

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Conscience: A2 Ethics

Preview of lesson plan:

  • Movie maker (Conscience) – 1 min to write down as many images can remember
  • Go round room – each student gives one image.
  • Discuss different images – what they mean and why they there.

Conscience bubble: What is it? Where does it come from?

Discussion questions in groups (table). Discuss answers as a class.

Ppt: Slides 1-3. Students create bubble for:

‘How much can you remember from Natural Law?’

Share as a class

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