With the introduction of any new curriculum comes inevitable apprehension. Where will the time for new content come from? How will I prepare students for the exams if I don’t know what they look like? How long before all materials are available?
Alongside these concerns, the curriculum introduces classroom-based assessments (CBA) and tasks. As time draws closer to roll these out in classrooms everywhere, there’s tangible doubt amongst staff on how the delivery will go.
The Junior Cycle Assessment Guidelines contain all the key information but don’t go so far as to advise on delivery in the classroom. Giving an open title or area of study to a second year student will result in very obscure ideas and questions – questions which cannot be successfully investigated in school laboratories with the equipment that is available.
Having taught in England for eight years where the coursework element of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) mirrors closely the CBAs, I know there are ways of providing a workable framework without compromising the integrity of the assessment task.
To help with the research element and focus students, tasks looking at the usefulness of websites, books and other sources could be practised in class with a view that students would take skills learnt and apply them at home when researching.
If your school has an IT suite available for booking, a lesson spent trying to match research sources to hypothesis would be a good way to train students on how to find useful sources. I have also always got students to compare and evaluate their sources against their hypothesis at a later point.
This is of course all preparatory work but very credit worthy work to include in the final report. A student showing they can reflect, recognise weaknesses and adjust their work fits perfectly with the exceptional feature of quality:
Describes in detail the strengths and weaknesses of their own investigations, including appropriate improvements and or refinements.
As a young newly qualified teacher (NQT) completing this sort of task first time (a few years back now!) I felt if students didn’t get it all right first time I had fallen short in my delivery. In time I came to recognise that the learning that was taking place whilst mistakes were being made was much more valuable, I therefore focussed more on the quality of my feedback than in controlling and steering students towards a particular way of testing their hypothesis.
Giving meaningful and specific feedback tracked against the features of quality for students means they can act on this feedback and learn how they can improve in the future. Giving ‘reasonable support’ allows for ‘providing instruction at strategic intervals’ as well as being able to help students amend their methods for logistical reasons (such as lack of available equipment) without this affecting their overall attainment in the task.
So where to start when planning?
My suggestion is some practise lessons on a current topic being taught on forming a hypothesis and the appropriate research needed to make it testable.