Will you survive the terrors of “Exam Isle”? PGCE observation

I’m not sure how it went yet as I’ve not had extensive feedback, but today was my 6th of 8 observations that I have to have as part of my two year part time PGCE course. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed preparing for it. The students seemed to benefit (both from an engagement point of view as well as learning from their endeavour as well as their mistakes along the way). And, so far, I do know that the PGCE tutor who observed the session thought that it was “highly effective”. That’s what he’s written on the two pieces of paperwork he had to commit to signing off in my presence this morning anyway. I will get more extensive feedback later, which I’m looking forward to.

So what did I do? To be honest I ran a session that I loved preparing for but that I know I could never sustain that amount of preparation time on in the normal run of things. I prepared two board games, size A1 (Hobbycraft loves me – I spent a fortune!), to run with two separate groups of learners in one class. There were meant to be 4 students in each group but one didn’t turn up (attendance can be unpredictable in these instances!).

The board game took the students through a series of questions to help them reflect and discuss together what would help and hinder their preparation for the forthcoming exam, and then got them to get their hands dirty thinking, remembering and looking at a past exam paper in order to, literally, piece together the bigger picture of “Exam Isle”. I’d got luggage labels, lollipop sticks, card toppers, and “to do” lists galore. It was a veritable treasure trove for crafting.

Students had to discuss and decide which questions focused on information retrieval, language features, presentational features, writing to inform, explain or describe, and writing to argue or persuade. They had to allocate the right marks for each question, and decide how long should be spent on each one, and what order to do them in. They then had to decide which set of “to do” list instructions applied to each question. It took them about 1 hour 20 minutes to work through, and one group finished slightly earlier than the other. When they were finished they used a little note sheet to do a peer performance assessment and rate each other’s efforts during the game on: teamwork, communication, willingness to improve and knowledge. They then handed back the peer performance scorecards to each other and were asked to reflect on how they might improve on criteria they hadn’t been given 10 out of 10 on. The teamwork and communication criteria were relevant in our FE setting as employability factors. I like to think the willingness to improve could have helped them think about general effort they put in and also maybe the state of their “growth mindset”.

After they had finished this session they glued the board game pieces to “Exam Isle” and the huge A1 boards are now up in my base room for students to keep reflecting on over the next few weeks until the exam on June 7th.

That was the observed session. Part two then came after break when the observer had gone, students relaxed, and people got on with real work 🙂 (the real work included no poster activities at all, and just required students to start working through exam style questions, using marking schemes from past papers to peer and self-assess. I was impressed because everyone was very busy and on task for session 2. During this session I also gave feedback on the last two pieces of creative writing they did before the Easter holidays (“Write about a film you either love or loathe,” and “Use a season of the year as the title and idea for a piece of writing”).

Students have a good idea of what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they need to work on for SPaG between now and the exam, which unfortunately brought their marks down a bit in the grand total for all CAs done.

I dished out and explained the idea behind the metacognitive journal. They had a go, reflected on the points they were asked about on today’s page, and created a learning target for themselves, in addition to the targets they already have ongoing. I’m hoping it will serve to keep reinforcing what they themselves must do to prepare for the upcoming exam.

No revision homework was handed in from the Easter holidays. I encouraged them to re-start their 20 minutes a day revision resolutions from scratch. To be continued…

Image 1: Exam Isle (before class)


Image 2: Exam Isle (set up as two board games in class this morning before students arrived)

IMG_1458 (Edited)

Image 3: Exam Isle (finished – after students had put all the pieces on and worked their way around the island.


Image 4: Exam style questions on those postcards I’ve been pumping through daily on Twitter and elsewhere. Students used the real things in class this morning and then used past exam paper marking schemes to peer and self-assess.



9 thoughts on “Will you survive the terrors of “Exam Isle”? PGCE observation

  1. I also teach in FE. I am also a (nearly finished) student teacher. Just wanted to say that your blog is great. I’ve used and abused your postcards revision idea & will be doing the social media revision thing during half-term. This board game looks fantastic. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi MelanieLiv, thanks for your comment with positive feedback! I wonder what we can do to get students doing the social media revision though. Although it’s been running for a month now with my students none of them have handed anything in. Several of them follow the social media channels I’ve created, but what could make them do the tasks? Horse, water, drink? Is it enough that they are exposed to the tasks with instructions as a form of revision?


      1. That’s the problem! Some sort of reward system? I have used a ‘raffle ticket’ reward system to get students to engage more in the classroom. If someone makes a contribution that I deem to be worthwhile (and I am the final arbiter) they get a raffle ticket. They put their names on and I draw them out of a hat at the end for some small (usually Haribo-based) reward. In the end the tickets became a reward in themselves. Could you extend this idea virtually? For my students (and I’m guessing yours are similar) I am contending with a lifetime of not having done homework. There is no desk at home, not parental habit of asking – any homework tonight? So it’s tough.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes. Well, six weeks’ worth. We teach in two 1.5 hour sessions per week. My final (teacher training) observation is Monday next week. I wholly endorse your ‘bottom support’ post. In schools, all the teachers want to teach top sets and generally put much less effort into lower sets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I bought some raffle tickets just now at Tescos, inspired by your good self 🙂
      Re teachers wanting to teach top sets and lower effort into lower.., I’ve long suspected as much. No wonder we see what we do in FE when they come with a D or less!


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