Niamh Brewer explains how she creates a culture of success with her English groups.
In a school where there are already brilliant schemes in place to encourage excellent work, I wanted to inject something different into my English lessons. As many English teachers will be aware, seeing students between three and five times a week has both its strong points and its draw backs, and as an NQT with a top set Year 10 class I was struggling to motivate them in their essay writing. Having witnessed it in play during a PGCE placement, I decided to introduce the ‘golden example’ into my classroom. Essentially, I photocopy the ‘best’ essay in the class onto gold (well, yellow) paper and distribute it to the rest of the class as an exemplar of what to do well. I then ask the whole class to read it, and to consider how it compares with their own work. The first time I introduced this with this particular Year 10 class there were a few light-hearted jokes made at the expense of the recipient, but overall it appeared that actually they were quite intrigued by the idea. So intrigued, it turned out, that when I forgot to do it for their next essay I was immediately asked “who got the golden example?” Clearly, I was doing something right. So with this in mind I continued to use this method in Year 10, and could always sense their intrigue when they saw a pile of yellow paper waiting to be handed out. Given its success in Year 10, I started using it with Year 9, and sure enough the response was the same. The sense of pride felt by the pupil selected, and the desire from the rest of the class to have their work chosen could not be ignored. But, how to keep this going for another two terms? Surely the novelty would wear off?
The answer to this question was actually provided by a student; the first to be chosen as the golden example. He asked one day, “Miss, can you have a list on the wall of the people who have been awarded golden examples?” It was an idea that had never crossed my mind, but it seemed like such an obvious things to do. Some of the boarding houses have football league tables for effort grades, and there is a clear sign that students want everyone else to know when they have done well. So, in the staff room I started creating a sign for my ‘wall of fame’ which immediately triggered a thought of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Typing ‘walk of fame star generator’ into Google immediately delivered the result I needed, and sure enough I was able to create my own stars with students’ names on them. And so, the ‘Golden Example Wall of Fame’ was born, and the reaction from the students was amazing. Who knew a star on a wall could compel them to want to spend more time on their essays?
However, I was left with one small issue: what to do for my Year 7 and 8 classes who write essays much less frequently? They simply weren’t happy with my response that the wall was only for GCSE students, and they were desperate to know how they could earn themselves a star. So, I introduced golden examples here too, but also allowed stars to be awarded for outstanding pieces of class work or prep. Through this I noticed how I could award stars for creative work too, allowing those who find essays more challenging to also earn a now coveted star.
The idea has drawn attention from other members of staff in the school; keen to understand why I have a ‘Wall of Fame’ in my classroom, and interested to hear how successful it has become. Ultimately, I think the ‘golden example’ has extreme value, as it allows us to both celebrate success and to model good practice. Team this with a star on the wall, and you have made essay writing fun.
To create your own stars, just follow this link! http://www.redkid.net/generator/star/