Struggling with English !

(13 Posts)
HisButler Sun 10-Jan-16 19:42:46

Boy is in year 11 heading rapidly towards his GCSEs.
English language is proving a horrendous nightmare and I'm at my wits end with how to work out what's wrong and how to fix it.

Given an exam paper, he just sits there and says he doesn't understand and can't do it. And these are the most ridiculously straight forward questions I've ever imagined.

Today's example, you are given a newspaper article describing a lifeboat rescue, and then asked to say what you have learnt about the rescue (8 points).
There must have been 20+ points he could have picked out, from what weather it was, who was on the boat, what time of day it was ...it was shooting fish in a barrel.
But he just sits there and says that he doesn't understand !
After some talking & discussing, he wrote about 4 points, as briefly as possible.
And this is after telling him that it doesn't matter if the answers are right or wrong, so long that he tries to list 8.

I don't get what his problem is, aside from some kind of mental 'block' he must have. Really getting worried about what's going on inside his head.

Before Christmas, he failed his mock.
When the school showed us his paper, most of it was simply blank, not attempted. He says that he did not understand the questions.
I just don't get it !

School is useless with any help, apart from saying that he is lazy. Doesn't help us move forward.
Yes he can be lazy, but he manages to scrape Cs & Ds in other subjects, why is English a fail ??
He speaks English every day of the year after all; it should be the last subject to fail, surely !!

Apart form the laziness, I can't help think that there's something else at play here.
Has anyone got any experience with this kind of thing ?
Desperate to do something to salvage what we can before GCSEs hit.

titchy Sun 10-Jan-16 20:43:32

Ok is he really lazy? Offer £1 for every point - now does he get it?

If he doesn't then back to square one. KS2 SATS papers, factual books, increase language complexity as understanding grows. Say answers rather than physically write them. Audio books if reluctant to read.

Motivation levels?

TeenAndTween Sun 10-Jan-16 22:44:40

A year ago I was you, more-or-less.

DD, to her teacher's surprise, but not mine, completely bombed out on her English Language mock. The level of teaching and practice she had had for it was insufficient for her dyspraxic brain.

In a massive massive effort we did get her good enough she got a D on the paper, which was enough for an overall pass as she had excellent CAs.

I'm guessing from your description he might be doing AQA?

I got info from school as to what was expected for each question (especially 1-4). Then I helped DD work out a step by step method to identify what she needed to write for each question. Then she practiced every past paper we could get our hands on. Had things marked by teachers, tried again etc etc.

e.g. Q1. Highlight anything factual. So highlight any numbers/stats. Highlight events, highlight statements. Pick out the best 8 from across the article. Write about them in the order they appear.

e.g. Thoughts and feelings question. Highlight anything where author says ' I thought' or 'I felt'. Where they have done an action, why have they do it - that was the thought. Where they use descriptive words, why did they choose them not some other word - what was the feeling (e.g the storm raged shows they were scared, I sat and regarded the sun lazily setting across the clear sea - they were feeling relaxed and at peace). Find 4 of each to write about.

It was really really hard for DD. But it was doable.

PM me if he is doing AQA and you want more info to what we did, as we may still have the list of instructions I wrote for DD.

TeenAndTween Sun 10-Jan-16 22:45:55

(Oh, and apart from dyspraxia, DD is reasonably able. She got 5Bs and 3Cs for GCSE)

LooseAtTheSeams Sun 10-Jan-16 23:05:21

I recognise the question from an AQA past paper. There is an e-book by Mr Bruff on passing AQA English exams and you should still be able to download it from Amazon. It includes advice on how long to spend on each question and how to approach them. Some students find it helps although it hasn't helped all of mine. (I teach the ones doing resits!)
Teenandtween's advice is spot on for AQA. a lot of section A is about exam technique and basically as much practice as possible to build up confidence.
What might work at home is to go through the answer with him, pointing out where you found the answer but then getting him to write it up himself under a time limit.
The first three questions are very formulaic. The fourth one is more difficult and worth more points so he will need to spend more time practising it. good luck!

jeanne16 Mon 11-Jan-16 06:43:02

I second the suggestion of using the Mr Bruff work. The English Language paper is actually quite tricky and they have to write solidly for 2 hours and 15 minutes. I worked intensely with my son using the Mr Bruff document and he eventually got an A on the Language paper. Given where we started from, it was miraculous. The Language mark scheme is looking for very specific things to the different questions so it is important your DC hits what the mark scheme is looking for.

HisButler Mon 11-Jan-16 10:18:26

Thanks for all the input.
I should have said what else we've done !
We have the Pearson books which go through the questions, how to read answers, identify exactly what the questions is looking for etc.
We have past papers and for most I managed to find the Marking Scheme & answers.

None of this makes any difference.
I can even tell him the answers verbally, leave him to write them out ... and when I come back he might have managed to write 1 or 2, poorly.
Still comes back with the reply 'I didn't understand' or 'I could not remember'. Trying to discuss what has happened, and his brain just shuts down and it becomes impossible to communicate in any sensible manner. He simply does not, will not try.

Whilst we are entering 'removal of privileges' stage.... I can't help a worry that maybe he has some psychological/learning issue with English ... then I am punishing him for just not being clever enough !?

And now after all this rambling ... I think I have found the question that I needed to ask in the first place :

How do you tell, what is "ability" and what is "attitude" ??

TeenAndTween Mon 11-Jan-16 10:57:12

What does he want to do next? Will he be prevented from doing it if he doesn't pass his English in y11?

Is he aware he will have to keep retaking for the next 2 years if he doesn't pass, and therefore easier to pass now?

Are you/he annotating the text as you go through it, to separate the finding the points from the writing up? This was essential to DD. And we could separate difficulties from identifying points from difficulties writing up. By annotating the text, then numbering the points against the text, and giving a formula for writing down she could get enough done.
(Formula for writing down: 'One thing we learn from the text is ..... A further thing we learn is ..... Also we learn ....')

For Q1-4 we did 'English language by Numbers' i.e. Don't worry if you don't understand it properly, just follow the method. Q5&6 are more hit and miss (how does he do with them?) as you have to have some thoughts on the topic. DD could get anything from 10/40 to 30/40 on that section depending on whether it was something she related to.

DD at times was very despondent and wanted to give up, but overall she was very motivated to pass as she wanted to do Spanish A level and couldn't without the English lang. But she really needed to be shown how to find the info from the text, and then shown how to word it.

You do have time, if you can find the right method.

titchy Mon 11-Jan-16 11:08:25

Ask the questions and get him to respond verbally and reward correct responses with cash. I think you'll find out pretty quickly if this is an attitude or ability issue.

Try something very simple:

'The black cat was hungry.'
'Tell me two facts about the black cat and I'll give you a quid for each one you get correct'.

Then expand: 'The black cat was hungry. His owner had gone on holiday'.
Give me one reason WHY the cat might be hungry which you can guess from the second sentence, and I'll give you two quid if it's a sensible answer.

kjwh Mon 11-Jan-16 11:37:54

Our DS struggled with that kind of question, and we discovered that he was just put off by the length of the paragraphs etc which just made him shut down. He just couldn't cope with the length and had forgotten the first bits as he went through it, so the later bits didn't make sense and he soon got bored. Just a really short attention span as he wasn't really accustomed to "harder" or longer books, so was used to reading "bite sized" easy to read chunks of text.

We resolved it by making him read it sentence by sentence. I.e. read the first sentence, look at the questions to see if the first sentence answered any. If not, read the second sentence, and so on. Usually, we found the easier questions were in the order of the sentences, and when we explained that to DS, he started to get the hang of it, and he gained confidence by being able to answer the first couple of questions having only read the first few sentences.

By the time he got to the harder questions at the end, he'd read most of the paragraphs and had a better understanding of what it was all about and could usually make a fairly decent attempt at them.

Then we just did more and more until he found his confidence, realised that the answers were usually easy once he'd read it properly, and then he was "cured".

kjwh Mon 11-Jan-16 11:41:13

Another thing we tried on the more descriptive stories was for him not just to read the page, but to visualise the story, so as to bring it to life. I remember going through a passage of The Railway Children where the girl was running through undergrowth and getting scratches and her dress torn - I got him to picture a girl with a torn dress and cut legs. Same with the red pettycoat used to stop the train, I got him to picture the colour red in his head. Took many stories to do it, but he ended up much better having been able to visualise what was going on which helped him remember, rather than just reading words on the page which he just forgot.

LooseAtTheSeams Mon 11-Jan-16 15:45:26

Visualization is a great idea and I also think this is more likely to be a confidence issue than sheer wilfulness - has he avoided doing a lot of writing in the past? Does he do a humanities GCSE or has he avoided them? He may panic when faced with a blank page.
GCSE English language is much harder for those students who don't naturally like reading and writing and who don't quickly grasp the nuances of other people's writing. It's actually quite hard to persuade them that technique really helps.
Worryingly, after this year there are no controlled assessments - there will be 2 final exams. Some of my students just haven't grasped that this will be more difficult and that they need to pass this year!

Steph220 Tue 12-Jan-16 12:12:11

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

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