Thursday, 25 August 2016

GCSE Bitesize: A Mantra (but that's probably all)


Today once again, British 16 year-old's received their GCSE exam results. I remember that time in my life and now as a teacher I find myself reflecting on the value of it. With exam changes, increases in difficulty and always a controversy never far from the news, I can't help but wonder why Britain persists in holding these exams.

Nobody should denigrate the achievements of those who received their results in the past few days. The problem lies with the exam, not them. GCSEs are obsolete and have been for several years. Exams at 16 were invented when the majority of children left full-time education at that age and moved directly into the labour market.
-Peter Wilby in the Guardian

The period of time before my own exams at 16, spent cramming, revising and worrying probably didn't do a great deal for any success in my life since. Most of the things I learnt in school and remember now were things taught to me by passionate teachers in learning situations that cannot be assessed in any sanitised, three-hour long exam.

However, there was one idea from this period that has stuck with me and defines much of how I approach challenges in my life to this day and it came from the unlikely place of the BBC's free online study resource- Bitesize.

The BBC's GCSE Bitesize resource
This scheme offers students study resources which are 'broken down into manageable chunks' to try to help with the stress of studying for all their exams. Now it wasn't the program itself which helped me very much but the principle it is built on, that of the idea to break down a large, seemingly overwhelming task into small, easy-to-achieve parts. 

Now I'm sure I had come across that idea many times before that, obviously, but something about the slogan and the advertising that the BBC used in their campaigns stuck with me as a teenager. Since then I've adopted that approach whenever I feel the pressure of a large scary task, be it writing a dissertation, starting a new job or buying a house. 

Take starting a new job for example. It can be very scary when you think of the whole picture- so much to learn, new people to make good impressions on, so much to get to grips with. But if you break it down into 'manageable chunks' then it's not so bad. First step is to get on the bus and show up- easy. Then you have to walk through the door- walking's easy. Shake a hand and smile- simple. Sit through a fire-safety video- breezy. And so on... So whenever I'm feeling the pressure I just recite that mantra: 'Break It Down Into Manageable Chunks'

Nothing revolutionary, and not worth all the revision just for that, but a positive outcome for me nonetheless. 

I'm thinking about those 16 year-old's who now have their GCSEs behind them and those 15 year-old's who have it to come and I wonder why we still put them through it all... Although the BBC's catchy slogan worked with me there are clearly better ways to teach task-management skills to students and as for the rest, it's high-time the British government found a new path for secondary education.

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