Flying high in English and Media Studies: The secrets to success

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This week’s blog from Head of English and Media, Carly Shapland.

Negotiating Covid in the classroom and associated handwashing, sanitizer and facemasks, was always going to be at the forefront of my mind this academic year. That and filling the indomitable shoes of Mr Hart Dyke with my tiny size fives. Talk about feeling the pressure!

But actually, what the first three weeks of this academic year has reminded me is that our pupils, when given support to be the best versions of themselves, rise to the challenge and fly with their learning. And support and challenge is something we in the Bethany community do brilliantly.

Within three days of being back Mr Beckham, our new English and Media Studies teacher, was sending me emails showing me some of the amazing context work our GCSE and A-Level pupils had been producing (see link here) . By the end of our first full week I had emails from Mrs Healy, telling me about some super examples of summer work that her pupils had produced. Last week, I arrived at a Year 11 lesson a little late (moving between classrooms is great for the step count but not for my timekeeping!) to find one of my Year 11s holding an impromptu revision session and every pupil engaged and participating – I let them carry on whist I got my bag unpacked and my breath back and their understanding of our novel and the reflections were superb.

This week, the list of nominees for “Pupil of the Week” stands at 12, with Mrs Rendell-Jones pleading to add “just one more” every time, I think the list is complete and I can issue the various merits. Being back in the classroom, sharing in the pupils’ success, certainly makes the repetitive desk and door handle cleaning all worthwhile.

Many studies have been done as to the value of positivity and praise in learning. One study suggests that for every bit of advice and improvement a person gives out they should give out as many as seven bits of praise and positive reinforcement. Whilst this may seem a lot, that praise and encouragement may just be a smile, thank you or thumbs up – an emoji which is proving invaluable on Microsoft Teams. As teachers we value the positivity that comes from home too – encouraging pupils to push themselves forward with their learning and develop a ‘can do’ attitude is not something we can achieve alone.

Of course, empty praise gets us nowhere: teens in particular can see this from a distance and their in-built hormonal cynicism often makes them their own worst critics. However, celebrating progress in all its forms is vital as it builds the resilience to persist with a task and see it through to a high-quality conclusion.

English is not always a subject that pupils feel successful in when they first arrive with us, and yet our excellent examination results year on year are something we are incredibly proud of. The success our pupils come to experience stems from the power of positivity that we instil in our pupils and recognition we give them for their hard work and effort. With all of our pupils achieving grade 5 or higher, and many stretching themselves to the academic rigor demanded for a grade 9, it is a sources of great pride to know that we are sending all of our pupils into the world as critical readers, able to evaluate communication for its value and integrity – a skill which is increasingly necessary in our multi-media world.

We hope you enjoy viewing some of the work the pupils have already produced this year (click on links below), as much as we have enjoyed supporting its production and marking it.

Moon Serpent, Summer Stewart-Welch Year 7

Blessing Essay – Toby Castle Year 10

William Blake Essay – Safi Year 7

Newspaper discussion – James Candelero Year 9


Design Your Own Mythical creature – David de la Roz Flynn Y7