One of the worst things about being unwell is setting cover. Everyone has those ghastly days of knowing they are too ill to function in the unforgiving environment of a school. This increases at the thought of trying to set meaningful cover work for 5 or 6 classes. There are very few jobs in which you are expected to call in sick and then log on and generate 5 hours of meaningful work which can be delivered by someone else. Almost as awful is turning up for cover lessons where the work runs dry 20 minutes into the lesson. These scenarios should no longer be par for the course.
Digital vs. Print
With all the technology at our disposal, we should have systems in place. Although websites offer whole cover packs as well as individual cover lessons, I wonder if teachers avoid these because it’s tricky to keep track of what you have set and for which class. Six months later after a night of coughing and sneezing, it’s hard to recall whether or not your current Y7 already did Lesson 31a on english4us.com or not.
I find this is where textbooks and workbooks can come into their own and I am a big fan of both. The abundance of new workbooks are a delight and students love the idea of undertaking set ‘exercises’ and activities. After decades of downloaded worksheets (some of them brilliant), students find textbooks and workbooks refreshing. There is a continuity and a structure to them which can provide at least one ‘constant’ in departments that experience a lot of change or a lot of cover.
Consider the non-subject specialists
While I worked on the Get It Right: Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar series, I thought what a godsend these would be for cover lessons. Each section has clear explanations so that non-subject specialists will find the work perfectly accessible and the activities are designed to allow students to work independently and at their own pace. There’s even answer booklets to fall back on.
Ideally, each student would have their own workbook to complete during such times. However, one set per year group in a department means any class could be kept usefully occupied for multiple lessons. A clear tracking sheet would make it possible to know which class did what and when, removing the risk of repetition. Platforms like Kerboodle offer a wide range of additional worksheets and activities to accompany textbooks. This makes it much easier to put a few sessions by for a rainy day.
Perhaps the best advice when it comes to cover is to plan a couple of days’ worth when you are well.
- Think about generic resources which are relevant whatever the concurrent classwork might be.
- If you lead a department, it’s great to have resources which are only used for cover purposes – just make sure that everyone sticks to it.
- Careful tracking reduces the risk of running around at 8am to get everything photocopied and ensure it hasn’t been set before.
- Ask yourself ‘What will a non-specialist be able to deliver effectively.?’
- Always plan ‘more than’ as there will invariably be students – often more challenging students – who shout ‘Finished!’ half way through the lesson. (Think about it. You wouldn’t want to find yourself in that position if you were covering for a physics teacher. ‘Now, let me see, why don’t you write a story about a nucleus…..’)
If you’re interested in taking a closer look at Get It Right and other resources that are ideal for cover lessons, you can view samples on our dedicated Cover Lessons page.