Peter Banks considers how he'll improve his schemes of work for the next academic year

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Most of my non-teaching friends think I spend eight weeks of summer lazing under the French sun. While a little French sun may be involved, I certainly won’t be lazing – I’ll be looking in detail at how to improve my schemes of work for the next academic year.

Of course there will be a great deal of change next year with the new A-level specification coming in, so I’ve already spent much of the year looking at what content I’ll be changing, keeping and adapting, and the content I’ll just need to start from scratch.

Flipping the lab

Beyond the specification changes, I’ve recently focused on lab work. This year I have changed the way I get my sixth formers to do practical work – I have been using a flipped approach. My pupils have a lab book with the entire year’s practical work in from the start. Each practical has pre-lab work to complete, a risk assessment (so that they think about what they will be undertaking), a results section, and post-lab questions to encourage them to reflect on what they have learnt and help them write up their findings.

This has worked really well for the more able students – they’ve taken to the freedom. It has helped them to think outside the exam specification and find out about the chemistry involved before the lab. They have looked at what they are doing in the lab and then successfully consolidated their learning in the post-lab sections. This has meant that these students spend around two thirds of their class time learning from their own experiments. I have also been able to work individually with all of my pupils, giving them time to ask their own questions.

Plugging the gaps

But, it’s not by any means perfect. Lower ability pupils who struggle with motivation have often arrived at classes without having completed any of the pre-lab work. This means they spend most of the lesson just catching up and then miss out on implementing their knowledge and carrying out the practical – which for some of them is far more important than the pre lab work. My solution this year has been to spend lots of my time after the lessons, in my lunch breaks and after school trying to help them complete the work. This has been at the cost of other things I should have been working on.

So over the summer break I'll hammer out how I can change my teaching to better support these pupils. If I can find a way to nurture an interest in chemistry in them, I’ll feel my job is done. How I will do this, however, I’m not completely sure yet. Part of me wonders whether I should be adding more information into the lab book so they don’t have to go far to find out how something works. Another part of me thinks that is exactly one of the skills I want these nearly university level students to be developing, and it’s definitely working for the higher ability students.

So, what will you do differently next year?