Any advice for a teacher of Junior Cert English who is working with some fairly weak students. I need to help them to get decent grades at ordinary level. What should I concentrate on? Any tips would be appreciated.
I am teaching a similar class at the same level. At this point in the year I am doing loads of paper work. Make sure they know the layout of the paper really well. Practice is the only thing you can do with them for the reading and fiction comprehension questions - read the passages with them and then tackle the questions one by one, encouraging them to underline the parts of the passage that provide the answers to the questions before they start writing. Emphasis the 'PQE' element of writing their answers - its the only thing that will help them to write answers of an appropriate length.
In terms to personal writing, help them to plan and write a story or two in the first person and then go through past papers and show them how sometimes the titles are very general and they might be able to use one of their 'pre written' story ideas if they wanted to.
I typed up simple notes on their studied play, novel and poems. Make sure they know what each is about and, although it sounds obvious, the names of the characters, the place it's set and the ending. Go through past paper questions again and ask them what they could write about for each question as I found that sometimes my students just needed practice at picking suitable elements of the story/play/poem to write about (e.g. write about a character that interested you - went around and asked them who they could write about and what they could say. Did a lot of this, just trying to encourage them to come up with their own ideas.)
Hope that is of some help. Basically just ensure they know what they have to do on the day and that they know what to do for the questions on previously studied material. You may have to go over the same things a few times but I think its important as (if they're like my class) they will very likely be relying solely on work done in class to get them through the exam.
Thanks for that. Yes, I feel that if I could get them to develop their answers - even by a couple of sentences - then they could gain far more marks. Can't give marks for what's not there - no matter how good it is. You're right about knowing the exam paper and what they have to do. If I can get them to attempt all the questions they're required to do - that's half the battle.
What do you do for functional writing? I'm inclined to feel less is more - say, letters; speeches and debates; reports. I want them to know a small amount well, so we've stuck to these. The worry is that none of them will come up and they would find it hard to tackle something they haven't done.
Anyway, thanks for your advice. Lots of practice, as you say!
I really think a large focus on paper work is the best use of time at this point. The more familiar they are with the exam, the more likely it is that they will have confidence in the way that they tackle it on the day. Self belief is a large part of success! In terms of functional writing I also keep to letters, speeches and reports.
Despite the emphasis on paper questions I also used other materials to go over topics such as media studies. Just bringing in newspapers, getting them to compare them etc, same with different kinds of ads - again, trying to give them the opportunity to figure out an opinion for themselves. It's tempting to try and give them as much as possible on a plate but then the risk is that they will panic on the day if comething slightly different comes up. Often I set a question for them to do in class (i.e. just give them a page number) and give them no help, just go around and talk to them individually as they're working to see what they're doing. Because of a lack of confidence some of them panic a little when left totally to their own devices but they need to get accustomed to it.
Hope this is of some help, but it sounds to me like you're doing the right things anyway
I don't teach English, but I find it helps that if I can get them confident enough to write their answers as if the person correcting hasn't a clue, then they are more likely to include the 'obvious' stuff they sometimes leave out.
For those sorts of kids you're often battling against years of them thinking (and people telling them) that they are stupid and can't do it.