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Do your own thing!

At this time of changing exam specifications in England and Wales teachers are particularly focused on the details of syllabus content. Some topics, both at GCSE and A-level, have disappeared, others are new. Of particular concern to me has been the sidelining of the environment topic at A-level. However, whenever I read of teachers (understandably) worrying over these issues I feel the need to point out that they have more freedom to be their own boss than they might think.

True, you have to make sure that students are prepared for assessment and time is severely limited, but if you bear in mind that much language is transferable from topic to topic, you can teach texts and topics which do not feature in the syllabus. My own experience taught me to skip over or pay lip service to topics or tasks which were not motivating for students. For example, I'd happily spend little or no time on going to the post office, visiting the dentist, buying clothes in a shop or asking for leaflets at the tourist information office. If specific vocab on these may come up in the exam, well, you can just supply it in lists or save it for exam practice when we often throw our principles out of the window anyway.

More important than covering every detail of the syllabus is doing activities which stimulate students and provide transferable language they can use and understand in other contexts. A student who is motivated in this way will go on to value the subject and learn more in the long run. If your heart is not in the topic at hand, it's unlikely that the students' will be either.

Modern teachers and students are more focused than ever on specifications, modelling and mark schemes. When I began teaching we didn't look at syllabuses or mark schemes since they were not available. All we did was look at past papers and marked practice tests using examiners' reports. We were less sophisticated, therefore, at preparing for assessment, but not necessarily worse teachers since we felt freer to do our own thing.

So if you find a text or task which is at the right level and inherently of interest to students, just do it, whether it's on the list of topics or not.


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