All entries for April 2017
April 18, 2017
The end of term was fast approaching and I was, like most, in need of a break. I was so pleased with my progress this term and was very much looking forward to being that one step closer to finishing the course. Then the morning of 22nd March came, my formal observation with my Head of Department. I had avoided having a formal observation with my Head of Department for the past couple of weeks because I wanted to focus on my areas of development and show some improvement.
The lesson came and pretty much everything went wrong. I was settling the class when I realised I was in the wrong classroom and another teacher was lining her class up outside. The starter task took 20 minutes instead of the designated 10, not good when you have decided to include a whole host of activities within the lesson. The students did not seem their usual, engaged selves and I was faced with 30 distant looking faces staring at me. Let me confirm here, these faces were not that of students who were gripped and mesmerized by my teaching, more disengaged and most likely thinking about what they were having for lunch that day from the school canteen. The activities were unappealing and you could see that the students were not impressed as they dismissively wafted the worksheets I gave them and looked at me as if to say “Miss, why are we doing this?” At this point, I received several echoes of “Miss, what do we have to do again?” It is fair to say at this point, I knew things were not going great and I wanted to run out of the classroom; I have never wanted a fire alarm to have go off, anything to leave the lesson. I could picture my Head of Department highlighting the boxes on my observation form, and I just knew that this was not going to be the result I had hoped for. After delivering my verbal feedback she slid the form across the desk; I felt embarrassed and disappointed. I folded the form up and placed it in my bag with the plan to shred it as soon as I got home.
That evening, I was sorting my planner out and I found the observation sheet inside it. I was thinking about the lesson and the bemused faces of my students throughout. I was frustrated that a lesson on Civil Rights with a class usually so involved was so flat. Then I thought about the planning process. Usually, I plan my lessons with the focus in mind and then decide on tasks I know my students will respond to. I didn’t do that on this occasion, I planned to please my observer and ultimately, I planned with ‘outstanding’ in mind, not my students; I had taken a step backwards. Recently, I had changed how I planned which meant that my lessons were more engaging for my students and they were central to the planning process, unfortunately the observer did not see the students at their best because I had prevented that from happening. If I had thought about the tasks properly, I would have known that they would not have bought the best out of my students. However, despite taking a step backwards here, I decided to use this lesson to move forwards. Yes, you could argue I was making the same mistakes as I was in September, however, I was reflecting on them differently and able to identify the problems. I made a promise to myself after this lesson that I would resume my usual planning process and focus on having the foresight to know what tasks would get the best out of my students. This observation highlighted to me the importance of everything I had learnt, sometimes you do need to step backwards to move forwards.
When facilitating class discussions, I was asking the same questions, ‘what do you think of this?’ or ‘how is this historical event important?’ I wanted a strategy that allowed students to identify where an answer could be challenged or developed without me asking the questions. The card technique was recommended to me by a colleague and I decided to try it out. I gave students cards with ‘challenge’ written on one side and ‘develop’ on the other. Students were invited to hold up the cards when they wanted to challenge or develop their peer’s answer. Students could use these throughout the lesson. Additionally, I would begin a discussion with a basic question for example, ‘why was the Gunpowder plot important?’ Immediately, I found myself facilitating discussions and my students were leading them. My role changed from asking various questions to simply select students by name; the student voice increased greatly! Instantly, students were looking for ways to challenge or develop one another’s answers. The quality of response improved as they were explaining their points in greater detail. On occasions, I would find myself gesturing to students to keep talking so they developed their response. From a teaching perspective, I was able to observe my students debating with each other rather than thinking of questions to encourage discussion. The challenge and develop cards help to improve students written work too because when I mark their books and write ‘how can you develop this answer further?’ or ‘how could your argument be challenged?’ students have a better idea of what I am referring too. If on occasions students found this difficult, I would direct them to the discussions we had in lessons to prompt their thinking. Particularly for higher attaining students it provides an opportunity for them to access higher order thinking skills. By challenging, they are analysing and evaluating arguments. I have since used this strategy with my other classes and it has been a success too.