Once upon a time, or, as they say in Korea, “When tigers used to smoke,” in the days of Key Stage 3 and wayyyyyy before that too, students did get taught how “to do” information retrieval. What is “information retrieval”? It’s nothing to do with MI5, MI6 or the CIA. As we all know, it’s just plain old reading comprehension, checking to see we’ve understood a text and can summarise, synthesise and soliloquise the information communicated there ourselves. Why do we need to do it now? Well to pick up at least 8 marks from questions 1 and 2 of the GCSE English Language Foundation exam paper for a start.
In the past I’ve made the fatal error of using time as I thought most wise, and in the 7 or 8 rush job classes prior to students sitting the exam I’ve focused on language features, presentational features, writing to inform, explain or describe, and writing to argue or persuade. This was at the expense of any attention to questions 1 and 2 really, mainly due to 1) not having much time, and 2) thinking that they mattered less as they were worth such low marks by comparison with other questions on the paper, and 3) students should start with question 6 and work backwards due to mark allocation and exam time management thinking, meaning they might well not have time to do questions 1 or 2 anyway, and who cares since they aren’t worth many marks.
However, as we all know, those 1 to 8 marks can very well mean the difference between a C and a D. I just thought they were so easy that students didn’t need much help with them. How wrong could I be? After her fourth attempt at this exam last summer, and copious coaching and revision sessions, one student came out and said, “I couldn’t do question 1! You didn’t help us with that one! You didn’t tell us how to do it!”
Cut to me face, palm, smacking. On myself of course.
Learned helplessness aside, I resolved never to make such a mistake again. One is damned if one does, and damned if one doesn’t, isn’t one?
So, in addition to the current revision postcard task offering to give practise on the required skills for information retrieval and those very valuable 8 marks for questions 1 and 2, I yesterday glanced through some Key Stage 3 study guides and found a few useful pages of tips for how to answer information retrieval type questions, also found below (source: “Key Stage 3 English CGP: The Study Guide,” 2004).