Do you set 6th form students homework over the summer holiday?

A Level English homework blog

It is a strange time of year if you teach in FE, a Sixth Form or have A-Level classes on your timetable. Second year students have sat their exams, and have flown the nest. Many of them you will miss in some way; the occasional one evokes Greg Davies’s speech to his Sixth Formers in The Inbetweeners… AS and 1st year A-Level students have sat either internal or external exams, so are in a mixed state of elation and relief at the exams being over, and a kind of exhausted fug; much like their teachers really.

What might prevent students from doing as much work as we would like them to across the summer?

In short: they have a life.  Part-time jobs will be practically full-time over summer; they have the kind of social-life that for many a wizened teacher is a hazy memory; and there is the obligatory holiday away with their mates somewhere sunny in the Mediterranean. Something else we should perhaps consider is that they are just likely to be tired.

The best laid plans of mice and men….

Unsurprisingly, A-Level teachers have lofty ambitions for what they would like students to do in the gap between the first and the second year of A-Levels. I put a question to the Edu-Twitter Team English hive-mind asking, ‘What seemed like it [the work set] would be useful, or successful, but wasn’t?’ I have lost count of the times I have set overly optimistic deadlines for A-Level NEA. Fool. It was a relief to find out I was not the only fool in this respect.

@BorisMcDonald responded to this question with, ‘Writing their NEA’ while @dantjenks replied similarly with, ‘It always seems like a good idea to get Lang’ kids to do some work on their investigations during the holidays.  It very rarely actually turns out that they do any at all and even fewer who do some worthwhile [work] – I never learn.’ While I read this Tweet, I nodded along sagely, picturing myself deservedly wearing the cone of shame.

So, how do you ‘sell’ getting some A-Level work done over the summer?

There are times when I wish I could say ‘Go on, have the summer off!’ but in my sector, where we have a very real issue of reduced lesson time for teaching A-Levels, this is absolutely not an option.

Recently, I used Google sheets to compile a coursework calendar for September to Christmas period for the students, with Christmas being the hand in date for the NEA. So that this is actually achievable, there MUST be some work set over summer, but not anything that is too intimidating.

At the top of their course work calendar, they have a table like this:

Blog_ Homework and A Level English

Much of this has been constructed based on (bitter?) experience of the kind of errors I have made in the past, and the kind of questions this current cohort of students were asking me during the lessons that introduced the coursework to them.  The ‘benefits’ column is the real sales-pitch, because unless you can explicitly show the students, ‘What’s in it for me?’ you’ll be lucky if they give any summer holiday work a second thought at all. Assume they want to achieve, be clear you want and expect the best of them, and you might, just might, get the odd student giving you your ‘Unicorn moment’ and doing more than you expected.

Have a lovely summer break yourselves. I’ll be off to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, using my flying pig as transport, and a unicorn to carry it back for me.