Rebecca Simcox, Subject Advisor for Health and Social Care and Child Development
As a former teacher, I understand the challenges teachers face when it comes to differentiation and supporting students of all abilities. As a teacher of vocational courses, I remember all too well the difficulties of assisting students in becoming independent and the challenges they faced when completing independent research, especially for the lower attainers.
As a result, I was often left frustrated and asking myself, ‘What else can I do to help?’. In today’s blog, I will discuss some strategies that I found helpful during my teaching career.
Supporting students to develop their skills in conducting independent research and applying what is learnt is vital in vocational courses. This is a skill all learners need to develop in order to be successful at meeting the grading criteria.
One thing I found helpful was to do lots of practice. I would take time out of the specification and work off-topic on something completely different. Therefore, students were able to practice using fun, relatable and engaging topics. For example, researching their favourite celebrity, finding out five key things about them and then writing a blurb about them using the information.
As a result, students were able to enjoy their work and not feel pressured while developing this skill. After applying this experience to their work, they felt much more confident about trying it out and their work was more likely to meet the criteria set. We have a useful guide to research that you can share with your students.
Another strategy that I found helpful was for students to choose how they wanted to present their work and encourage them to select alternative ways that suited their strengths, such as:
I found this helped learners who were overwhelmed with large writing tasks. This is obviously not always possible, depending on the requirements of the vocational task, but it did mean they could take control of their own work and adopt a more personalised approach.
We have a useful blog about how to get the most out of our teaching and learning resources for a more personalised approach.
Another challenging aspect is to make sure that all students can access the content and have equal opportunities to achieve the highest marks. I was constantly asking myself ‘How can I support my low attainers without overdirecting them?’
I found this to be a difficult balance. Our useful blog on avoiding over-guidance may be helpful.
One thing that I tried to do was to consider the accessibility of the work in relation to the needs of the student. I would try strategies to make tasks appear less daunting, so pupils were not overwhelmed. For example:
Here’s an example of this in my subject area of health and social care. Select a picture of something relating to the topic, such as a first aid picture and then ask students to look at the picture and ‘say what they are seeing’ using the command words from the specification. They could start by labelling the picture and understanding that this might be a basic or brief description. They would then be encouraged to go on adding extra details to the picture. This would be an accurate or comprehensive description.
This would create the understanding that adding layers of detail would help pupils to extend their work and move up through the mark band. Have a look at our guide to accessibility and command verbs for Cambridge Nationals.
Students should have a clear understanding of their target grade for the course. Not all learners will aim for the highest mark band, so it is extremely important for them to know what they are aiming for. In order to build self-esteem and confidence, students should know that it is acceptable to aim for a grade that is realistic for them to achieve and beyond.
I always found it useful to help the student make realistic targets and goals for the task they are working on. I would do this by chunking the content into smaller achievable tasks.
Unfortunately, some of my students were still unable to complete the task despite receiving support. As a result, I often found myself questioning whether I was an adequate teacher. If being judged by others is not enough, teachers also judge themselves. As soon as I felt like this, I would step back and reflect on my practice, ask myself what I could do differently for this student, and draw on my experience and expertise. At this point, I would make an informed decision about the level of support that they needed.
Sometimes if a task requires students to be truly independent, and I may have felt that despite their best efforts, they cannot complete the task without assistance. In this case I could discuss with the examining board or the moderator whether the students’ work with teacher support will be accepted but graded lower to reflect this. Understanding your students’ needs is critical, as you are best placed to identify what works for them.
In summary, helping students to work independently is a difficult and challenging task. However, it is so important in vocational subjects that they develop these skills early in the course. Often taking the time to practice these first or alongside work will pay dividends later.
I hope these strategies are useful. If you have any other approaches you would like to share, please add your comments below or tag us on Twitter.
If you have any comments or questions, you can email us at OCRHealthandSocialCare@ocr.org.uk, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Health. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
Rebecca is a new member of the Health and Social Care and Child Development subject advisor team. Before joining OCR, she taught in an all-girls secondary school in Birmingham for 19 years, teaching a variety of subjects, including Health and Social Care, PSHE, PE, Sport and Dance. She also worked as Head of Subject, Head of Year and a member of the safeguarding team. Education is extremely important to her and she is thrilled to continue her work in supporting young people and teachers with OCR.