The Sat Nav and the Spider

a screen interface in the dashboard of a car with a sat nav displayed on the screen

Lexonik Senior Regional Trainer Ian Jones regales us with his tales from the road. Musing on AI, roundabouts and how their continuous nature compares to the plight of post-16 resit learners. Using his firsthand experience of delivering training in colleges, to explain how Lexonik’s recent grant from the DfE may be the thing to get learners off the perpetual roundabout of interventions, and onto the path of progress.

So, first things first. I’m not a robot. A strange place to start, but it needs to be said. Such a hot topic at the moment, The Rise of the Bots. ChatGPT. AI. The new Geordie variant, YI (sorry).

But hold on, you say. Isn’t that exactly the sort of denial a sneaky chatbot would begin with, just to throw me off the scent? Can you actually prove you’re a human? How many blurry cars can you see in this picture? How many traffic lights?

It reminds me of my first visit to Swindon. Preparing to deliver Lexonik Advance, a delegate kicked off with a roundabout question. Specifically, the Magic Roundabout, and whether I’d been over it. 

This turned out not to be the haunt of Dougal, Zebedee and friends, but in fact a junction, officially County Islands Roundabout, consisting of five mini-roundabouts arranged around a sixth, central, anti-clockwise one. It’s described by ‘roundabout fan’ Kevin Beresford as a “white knuckle ride” and, looking at the photos, I can see why.

I’m happy to take Kevin’s word for this. After all, he runs the Roundabout Appreciation Society, and I bet he has some stories. I only have one.

I was heading down to Cornwall from Bristol. It was an evening drive, darkness descending, but the roads were clear and I was making good time. I came off the M5 and approached a roundabout with four exits. Frustratingly, my required junction was closed (roadworks) so I came off at the one after. Our ancient sat nav readjusted (another half hour on the journey, reasonable enough, considering) and off I went. Thirty minutes later, I approached a familiar roundabout.

Having been thoughtfully rerouted back to my original starting point, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Oh no! This time I opted for the exit before the road closure, sat nav readjusted (another half an hour, thanks) and off I went. Thirty minutes later, I approached a familiar roundabout…. 

Not so much a Magic Roundabout, then, more a Dystopian Spiral. A Circumference of Chaos. A Doom Loop. Channelling several childhood assemblies about Robert the Bruce and the inspirational spinning spider, ‘If at first you don’t succeed….’, I opted for the final remaining exit. And this time, reader, I never looked back.

For many of our students, Lexonik isn’t their first experience of attending a small group intervention. Chances are, (analogy alert) they’ll have been on an endless carousel of courses for as far back as they can remember. I recall my disbelief at approaching the same roundabout for the third time in one evening. It must be like that. Only for years. And it’s the same with exams. If they don’t pass their GCSE English language exam in Year 11, they’ve got to keep on resitting until they turn 18.

Which is why I’m excited to be on the tuition team for Lexonik’s new DfE-funded project to take our programmes into Colleges of Further Education. I’m working with two in the North East of England, with initial training taking place before Easter, so that as many students as possible can complete the full six weeks of Lexonik Advance before their GCSE resits.

Over four intensive days, I train up a range of super-engaged adults, hand-picked to deliver the lessons - mentors, lecturers, progress coaches, learning support co-ordinators and assistants. And at both sites, I deliver a demonstration lesson to a group of target students. 

Often the most unpredictable element of the course, this is also reliably the ‘ta-da’ moment when the potential of Lexonik is truly revealed to the adult observers. And on both days, true to form, the students do not disappoint. 

At my first site, I work with three trainee electricians. Note to self: remember to talk about ‘cian’, a great levelling prefix, indicating a person with a skill (musicians, beauticians and mathematicians also welcome). By contrast, the fourth member of the group is on a public services course. In a definitions activity, she explains the word ‘independence’ by referencing the root cause of ongoing disagreements between herself and her parent. Ah, the joys of being on the cusp of adulthood!

In the second lesson, I’m introduced to a group of performing arts students. They’re totally unfazed by the watching adults. If anything, they may even be slightly disappointed that we’ve only managed to scrape together an audience of eight. Either way, they don’t let it show. Keen to question, quick to learn, they buy into the activities from the off. Soon we’re defining and analysing a new set of vocabulary, developing metacognitive skills. “Ooh,” exclaims one, “words are really deep!”

It’s a great note to end on. But we’ll only know the full impact of our project once they’ve completed their six weeks of Lexonik Advance, and developed a skillset which will be of use both within and beyond their English language resits.

To paraphrase the legend of the original Spider Man: Keep trying; we wish you every success!

If you’re interested in Lexonik’s DfE funded offer of free CPD to your college, find out more here or get in touch with one of our dedicated staff members here.