Making the most of Head Start

As term 4 draws to a close, many schools will have some form of Head Start or acceleration program for senior students. For our school, that means our Y11s move up to their Y12 classes for the final fortnight of term.

For new senior teachers, this might be the first time you have encountered a Y12 class. For any of us, it might be the first time you have come across this particular cohort of students. Personally, I haven’t taught next year’s group since they were in Year 7, and even then only a single class of them – suffice it to say I’ll have a few new names to learn in a week or two.

I’ve seen Head Start used as a way to info dump an entire study design onto a group of students. I’ve also seen it used as a vain attempt to load students up with “holiday homework” that often gets completed on January 25th, if at all. But at its best, Head Start offers an opportunity to begin the important work of building relationships with a group of students entering their final year of secondary school.

Here are a few suggestions for making the most of Head Start.

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Get to know the students

Sounds obvious, but this final fortnight of term presents a perfect opportunity to get to know the students. Whether you’ve taught them before or not, there will be important things you can learn from these students about their plans for Year 12.

I take Head Start as an opportunity to hold conferences with students which are not about the texts they’ll be studying. It’s highly likely that these students haven’t read their Year 12 texts yet, so instead my conferencing questions revolve around their aspirations for their final year and beyond. Questions like:

  • What are your plans (if you have any yet) for when you finish Year 12?
  • If you’re going for tertiary study, do you have any prerequisites for your course?
  • If you’re going to work or for an apprenticeship, does your employer or industry have any particular requirements?
  • What do you think of English, in general?
  • What do you do outside of school? What comittments do you have for sports, work, community and home?

I’ve written before about how to hold these conferencing sessions, and what the students you aren’t talking to at the time can be doing. During Head Start, this might be familiarising themselves with the texts, downloading course materials and other admin, watching a film text (like Rear Window, for what feels like the fortieth year in a row), or building up their resources like study guides and notes.

While speaking with the individuals, I like to take a few brief notes in a file that will become the basis for all of my future conferencing sessions. This means that before 2022 even starts, I have a single file which contains a lot of important ‘baseline’ information.

The advantages of starting with relationship building

Again, this might sound obvious, but the process of getting to know the students before starting to “teach” pays dividends. It gives me an immediate context for each student: I know that this student has sports commitments every Wednesday and Friday, or that this student is working every weekend on the family farm, or that this student needs a minimum English study score of 35 for their chosen pathway. With all of this information gathered ahead of time, a lot of my planning for Term 1 2022 takes care of itself.

There’s also an added impetus after two years of disrupted and remote learning to build relationships and trust with these students. My time is much better spent getting to know the students’ needs than bogging them down with the Key Knowledge and Skills of Unit 3 and 4 English – information which is readily available to them through the VCAA website.

So in preparation for this year’s Head Start, I’ll be dropping some resources into our empty Google Classroom, and setting up some short videos and activities they can engage with to start getting to grips with the texts. But more importantly, I’ll be creating ways to speak with each student 1:1 to find out what I need to do to make Year 12 English a success.

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