All entries for Wednesday 21 September 2011

September 21, 2011

Reflection and choice

Follow-up to Fine Rain from A landscape unfurling in new colour

Reflection and choice.

I have just had a full day in Finham Park school as part of my 'base' / 'professional studies' placement. It was fantastic - such a thrill to be back in a school again, talking to students and teachers, observing classes and generally getting a 'feel' for the environment... but more on Finham in a minute.

It is with huge sadness that yesterday I was told that my school friend, David Fairbrother, was killed during his active service in Afghanistan. He was a Royal Marine with 42 Commando, and an exceptional one at that. But why am I putting this in my PGCE blog? Two reasons, really. Firstly, I feel compelled to keep this whole event alive for a little while longer, before I move towards a healthy (but far from permanent) forgetting (already the story is no longer on the front page of many news websites, due to the speed and ephemeral nature of modern information). Secondly, it got me thinking of my time at school with 'Fairy'; we were in the same year, had many of the same classes, enjoyed the same sort of craic that young lads do. We hadn't spoken properly in a while, our last words being much earlier on in the year (2011) just before I ran the infamous 'tough guy' race. Dave had done it twice, with his times being about half of what I managed to achieve. Still, it has brought home just how important school can be. Children can grow up to be whatever they want in life; 'Fairy' chose to become a marine, just as I chose to become a teacher. But with both of us, our choices were free because we were brought up to think.

For my friend, there are few words to describe the tragedy adequately, but he had the education (including a very good degree) to do whatever he wanted - he chose his path in life and so ended it doing what he loved. I suppose you never know what choices that lippy year 9 lad will have to make when he grows up; you can only hope they won't have the finality that 'Fairy's' did. But as a teacher, you can give them the tools, the mind and the heart to make those choices freely. On reflection, you owe them that much.

Anyway, back to Finham. With these thoughts in mind as I walked through the school gates, I felt both anxious and excited. The students were lively and bright, the staff warm and extremely knowledgeable. The first impressions were great. However, it was the afternoon which brought the most interesting aspect, the classroom, into focus. I was able to observe two lessons, and without specific detail on their content (to stay on the right side of professionalism), here are my general reflections:

  • Year 7 students responded very well to clear lesson objectives set at the start of the class.
  • They responded brilliantly to 5 minute plenaries following each 'chunk' of the lesson. The next stage could then be modelled with leading, open and closed, questions.
  • Students were allowed to elicit answers, which were then brought back to the LOs - very effective.
  • The language of questions and instructions was very precise. Students were 'to be able to' perform specific activities by the end of the lesson. General objectives such as 'to understand' were broken down into component parts.
  • Having a starter is important. One lesson took a while to come back under the teacher's authority due to the ICT taking too long to set up at the beginning of class. The students became restless when they had nothing to do during the opening 10mins.
  • Speaking clearly, slowly and pronouncing vowel sounds is effective.
  • No hands technique works, but only if you have several questions to ask, or quite open questions.
  • The girls and boys who appear not to care often do, but finding an 'in' is often required. Sometimes hard work, but worth it.
  • Video is predicated on the right equipment being ready.
  • The importance of good reinforcement specific to your class. Stickers work better with year 7 than 11, for example.

Overall, a brilliant day in school, even if it was framed through something as terrible as losing a friend. I realise 99% of people who read this will never have known Fairy, but I'm putting his picture up anyway. As student teachers we are being taught to educate, but school is so much more than that. You meet people you will never forget, some of whom even become heroes.

Fairy


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