Adventures in my classroom – when they get it wrong.


My fabulous y11 MFL allstar class did a listening paper the week before their GCSE terminal listening and reading exams. They completely and utterly ‘bombed‘ with so much wrong resulting in some very low marks, zero for some. I adore my Y11 class and I was, frankly stunned and certainly not expecting this with one week to go! 

Responses ranged from the utterly illegible to too many responses; for an 8 mark question 16 were given, when responses were given in English as per the instruction answers were in French, some decided to skip the questions altogether. I had begun marking them with gusto yet within fifteen minutes I wanted to weep because it wasn’t just one or two of them it was a significant proportion of my allstars and I just couldn’t understand how or why this had happened! 

Genuinely stunned and close to tears I had to stop marking, I couldn’t believe the errors I was seeing so had to put aside the papers and do something else. A long dog walk and some serious tea drinking with a dose of comfort eating for sure should sort me out. 

We had identified in y10 that listening was the hardest skill within this group of students therefore had dedicated one hour per fortnight focusing on improving and developing listening skills using two fantastic sites: and to build confidence, skill and slowly add challenge independently. SLT we’re delighted with such a sensible departmental approach which clearly had consulted the learners and responded accordingly to their needs. So you can imagine my utter horror at the situation I found myself in one week before the exams! 

Back in lessons we continued with revision t-shirts, vocab drills and quizzes with a side of 8 mark reading and listening questions and another paper carrying on as normal until one of the A* hopefuls mentioned the dreaded paper yet to be returned. His point was clear; ‘Miss you always give us our papers back the next lesson, it’s now two lessons on – what did we do?‘ Tentatively I lifted the collection of papers from their hiding place, until this point I’d been in a dilemma as to whether to share the ‘epic fails‘ with the students. There are two reasons for this; firstly do I shatter their hope and aspiration with the revelation of a less than great performance with less than a week before the exam or secondly celebrate the failure and seek to close the loop; remembering that great things come from spectacular failings. Ordinarily I would leap on to the latter however I wasn’t convinced that my lovely students would see it anything other than from a negative perspective at this rather late stage.

As I reunited papers with their owners a deathly silence fell across the room, a few gasps of horror and two students teared up. I stood at the front and waited until they slowly tore their eyes from their papers and looked me in the face. Eventually all of them met my eyes though this may have taken some coaxing. ‘So what happened?‘ I asked with a smile. ‘I failed Miss‘ said one disappointed You Tuber, another added ‘everything you told us not to do, we did!’ Another called out ‘what a fail‘ and started laughing, a few others started too and within a minute utter hysteria had hit the classroom. Wiping tears (of laughter) aside we opened the paper together, some tentatively and we walked through what we should have done. Students explained their ‘failings‘ and then corrected themselves, others tutted stating they knew how to tackle the question and could read the instructions so were horrified by their errors. I was relieved, they could tell me what they had done incorrectly and knew how to correct it. Phew! ‘It’s ok’ I said at every opportunity, getting it wrong now is fine, it’s what we do on May 17th on that paper, in that room that’s the most important. There are no second chances then. 

Walking talking mocks and stripping back the papers metacognition style has been a key focus in our department, and indeed across our school for several years now, to empower students to be ‘that bit better‘ in exams, and it was brilliant to see and hear them bounce back from this quite spectacular bump in the road. It was an important lesson to have learned, to be reminded of and to bounce back from but please perhaps not so very close to the final exams! However that said, better late than never! We listened to each of the questions again and students did significantly better, thankfully, so departed my classroom having closed the loop, feeling success but with a very clear message at the forefront of their minds.

On the day of the exam all students arrived at my classroom smiling and very early for a final breakfast spaced learning session. Just before the session ended and we walked to the exam hall together students called out their final ‘top tips‘ to remember. It was great to hear them remind one another so positively.   Several nailbiting hours later as they exited the exam hall after their morning session was over, they told me cheerily how they had highlighted, circled, underlined and checked each question carefully and also managed to write answers neatly and carefully checking before the last grains of exam time fell. I was, and still am so very proud of them. Now we’ll just have to wait to see how brilliantly they have done in August! Image via

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