I have a very bright English class, who I’m lucky enough (ok, fair enough, I decide the timetable) to be taking through to Year 11 in September. One of the things I get asked by their parents/carers at parents’ evenings is “why have you predicted an A, rather than an A*?” My answer is usually:
I don’t like predicting A* grades. It puts too much pressure on your son/daughter. And, anyway, A grades are pretty special. If you’re that good, colleges will snap your arm off no matter. It will probably come down to how little Steven/Ahmed/Lisa performs on the day.
Some pupils are so unbelievably impressive however that I’m forced to press shift 8 after the first letter of the alphabet. But I always make sure that I accompany this with a Gordon Ramsey style creased forehead and stern caveat about not taking this for granted etc.
Other times in the past I’ve said that you can’t teach A* – you’ve either got the original ideas and perceptive thoughts or you haven’t which is true to a certain extent but pretty useless feedback to be honest.
A much better answer, I think, is saying that your son/daughter is really good at English but doesn’t read enough. Or rather, doesn’t read enough challenging literature and therefore lacks insight into the difficult concepts and doesn’t have access to highly ambitious vocabulary. That goes down well because most parents say “Can you recommend what they should be reading?”
So, shortly after Year 10 parents’ evening, I sent home a reading list to the whole of Year 10. Naturally it was ignored by lots of parents and pupils but a very surprising number went straight to the library to grab a copy… and discovered we didn’t have it. I apologised for not warning the librarian and a whole bunch of books were duly ordered. My class are virtually all working their way through it at different speeds. I’ve also had other random pupils – from Years 7 to 13 – get wind of it and ask for a copy.
To compile the list I took a purely subjective stroll around my library, fingering dog-eared books and trying to remember which ones contained unimaginable obscenity. This proved too time-consuming, so I added a little disclaimer explaining that I trusted the maturity of my pupils to handle harsh themes and the odd swear word. I’ve had no complaints so far. What has been lovely is the response of parents, thanking me for making the effort. I know we could have stuck it on the website but the posted copy seemed to be more appreciated.
Take a look. Customise it. Give it to your pupils. Get them to critique what I’ve missed out (what is this guy’s obsession with Dystopian Fiction for example?). Or do your own. Even if it gets one more kid reading one more book I’ve stumbled upon, or learned to love, then it will be worth the three long hours it took me to get the right format on bloody Publisher: