All entries for Friday 15 October 2010

October 15, 2010

TDA Literacy Test

English PGCEer's: Help! 

I've been doing a lot of work towards this test as I know it's my weakest area. I've just being doing a practice test online and I've hit a brick wall about one point. There is a subtlety of interpretation which I'm missing with my sledgehammer black-and-white, right-or-wrong mathematical brain.

Here (literacy_question.docx) is the question and my answers are on the right. The last one I ticked "the encouragement of independence of thought" is wrong. The commentary on the answers says this is because while "paragraph 2 refers to how we do things individually but there is no reference to the encouragement of individual though". Yet, there is! Line 6 of paragraph 2 has the exact words "encourages independence of thought". What is it about the context this phrase is placed in which means it doesn't fit the question, because, by my logic, it's the easiest correct answer to find! 

Feeling like a pupil

I've felt more like a pupil on the PGCE course than I did doing my Maths BSc. This may seem like obvious news: we're (often) in a classroom rather than (almost) exclusively a lecture theatre, we are taught by people who are/were teachers rather than professors (and the teacherness of our course leaders is obvious in their mannerisms and ways of getting attention). We spend lots of our time doing school level maths. 

I've been using the 3 weeks at uni before we start in a school to reflect on how it feels to be a pupil. I've touched on this in other posts, eg the fact that even with high quality teachers who we are motivated to work for, we've gotten restless and lacked concentration at times. There have been other things I've been wanting to talk about but they all relate to specific events I'd have to describe to make sense. I found it hard to write about them without it being obvious what I was referring to and waited until events were (relatively) far in the past so shouldn't prompt anyone's memory in the way some little incident from earlier would! I'm aiming for no-one to be able to tell if the people I am describing are my subject leaders, core leader, special guest speakers, fellow subject trainees, fellow core trainees, placement teachers, on "the classroom experiment", etc. It's such a drawback of the blog, as my only place of written reflection, that I can't speak openly. 

Making pupils work at the same pace is impossible to get right. 

When I was at school, this rarely happened as we worked from textbooks at our own pace. There were occasional teachers who would stop us to go through a question. This was highly irritating as I was a fast worker and so usually had done it. Or, I was at the other end of the scale, highly focused on a question that was really challenging me, and dragged out of that frame of mind to see an example far far harder and a long way ahead of where I was. 

I'd pushed all this to the back of my head, filling my head with ideas about lessons with pace and multiple activities. Which I will definitely go this route, not the textbook way, most of the "multiple activities" lessons I've experienced so far have required pupils to work at their own pace. This is especially bad for tasks that basically just require writing with little thought, as the same quick writers will finish first and sit around bored, and the same slow writers will struggle, forcing themselves to go as fast as possible, and either not finishing in the time allowed, or being guiltily aware they held everyone up. Also, the questions that are more sustained and time consuming by nature, as everyone will get out of sync and to stop at some point will mean some are told not to start the next one and sit around for a few mins, and some start but only get halfway through. 

I think there are two main features that stop a child from learning: if the maths is too hard or too easy, or if the teacher is irritating and they get too frustrated with them to listen as it will only make them more frustrated!

Often the frustration will be caused by the maths itself as it's very hard to accurately pitch the level for every single pupil. I want to think about how to avoid the second one where possible. I've tried to identify things a teacher may to to frustrate there pupils:

Not letting them work at their own pace (covered above);

Making them feel stupid eg by obvious differentiation in front of class, remarks about where the class "should be by now", attributing lack of written work to lack of effort;

Asking the class for a response but not allowing time to give one eg Saying "is everything ok?", "Does anyone have any questions about how this works" and moving on before the pupil has had time to formulate how they want to answer.

Explaining how something works to the class when a pupil had just twigged and is dying to tell you;

Making them listen to stuff they don't need or care about, especially conversations between the teacher and one pupil taking place in front of the whole class before the can get to work. 

Making mistakes constantly and having to correct it, forgetting resources and having pupils share instead or running out of the room to get them. Other general things that make the learning inefficient. If I'm in the mood to focus and learn I want to capitalise on it while it lasts! 

Running the lesson on over the bell. Noticing the class's desire to leave translating into edging towards the door, insufficient packing up, etc and making them stay behind even longer until everything is in order. The "I'm not letting you leave until the whole class is stood silently behind their chairs" one was a particular killer for me as my leaving was dependent on my classmates controlling themselves, which they usually couldn't. This made me incredibly anxious as a pupil, especially at the end of the day when my rubbish bus home contained more pupils than seats. Sometimes a teacher would come to inspect it and make the ones standing up get off and wait for the bus to complete the route and come back to school for us. 

Being inconsistent or unfair!

I have never felt such a strong sense of right and wrong that I have as a pupil when a teacher does something inconsistent. Since starting this course, I've wasted hours on end studying something myself that's later handed on a plate to all of us as were weren't actually expected to follow that instruction (how my fellow PGCEers are figuring which instructions are necessary and which are optional, I have no idea. I can't tell so do everything). I've given myself a splitting headache working late into the night when I was exhausted which knocked me out for the following day (thankfully at the weekend) completing some work from scratch since we were told a version of the same thing we'd all done couldn't be adapted for it. Then some people did use just that! There was also something else I had to struggle with due to a lack of a resource, later some people on the same task were allowed the resource. 

I've observed pupils looking unimpressed at a teacher's actions and when I questioned them why, I've often considered the reason to be petty or immature. Stuff like not collecting in homework when they say they will. Or not allowing a pupil to use their calculator but then later letting someone else use theirs. Allowing a pupil who has special circumstances slack in unrelated areas, especially in following the rules. (Also related is not allowing necessary slack in the rules for special circumstances. A friend at school in my tutor group was told off almost every morning for being late, and was often given detentions too. She repeatedly told my tutor it was due to having to take her brother to school first and he would make them run late and was given icy remarks about better organisation and "complain to your mother, not me". Her brother had severe mental difficulties and would be difficult to dress and get in the car to go to his special school, before she'd be brought to our school. As pupils we were united against the tutor in finding this utterly unfair!). 

Not knowing how well you're doing. 

This is a contentious one given the latest research and whatnot which emphasis comment only marking and avoiding giving grades. But I hate not knowing! I knew where I was all through school (near the top in most subjects, near the bottom in PE, Drama and Music), all through my BSc (about middle). I have no idea if I'm worrying the tutors with my lack of ability or if I'm flying ahead near the top of the group. We haven't got a heck of a lot of feedback on much so far, my CCT1 and SCT1 have now both been returned. The CCT1 is especially hard to judge anything from, it basically said I did vague things like "communicating" well. No points for improvement. And most definitely no grades. I think I'm suffering a little like the girls did on "The Classroom Experiment" from grade-withdrawal syndrome! 

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  • It was indeed Laura (H)! I'm very pleased! x by on this entry
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