February 08, 2011

Reflections on PP1

This has taken a long time to write. I've changed so much that it's been hard to articulate my thoughts.

Firstly, it was a wonderful experience. I got to teach! I found that actual teaching is much to my taste and I loved having a class for lesson after lesson and getting to have responsibility for all the extras that go alongside it. There was something wonderful about my girls trusting me, my Year 7's especially came to me with anything and everything. I took on the somewhat heavy role of listener for one girl who had a dying relative that she struggled to cope with. I'm lucky to have had some training in listening so I could keep boundaries in place and not say anything incriminating. All I needed to do was listen attentively and recall details the next time she was upset.

I changed quite a lot as a person too, or rather, parts of my personality which don't usually get to come out finally had the opportunity to. I'm far more patient that I expected - I'm getting better at not expecting perfection off everyone! I especially have endless patience with the pupils as they're all so young (even the 6th formers), even when they deliberately do things I don't like - kids make mistakes, push boundaries and generally do unexpected things. Not stuff to get fussed about. I'm also very forgiving, for reasons along the same lines. Also, by necessity before I'd learnt names and faces. A random pupil would do something unimpressive and I'd be lucky to remember the class let along the pupil!

One very unexpected thing about the placement was that I got sick of planning. I love to plan things in general and spent ages lovingly honing my plans during the initial stint at university. After having my mind overflowing with good ideas fresh from uni, it was a shock to run out of inspiration after a couple of weeks and have to create increasingly elaborate resources to make up for my uninspired ideas. I soon ran out of sources, I went on places like NRich all the time but soon found that I'd read everything suitable for that topic and still had several lessons of it left to teach! I found that good lesson plans really did determine behaviour management: my darling Year 7's were capable of tantrums through work that was hard and too boring to get stuck in to, my challenging Year 10's fell into a focused silence during a spot-on starter.

Target: Use interesting activities in all lessons.

Action: Speak to mentor for general themes and ideas, read Micromath and other journals for inspiration.

Another contrary-to-my-personality development was last minute work. I knew it would be inevitable in teaching, stuff appears throughout the day which needs acting on immediately. I didn't realise how much I would get into leaving stuff as late as possible and going with the flow. It turned out to be the most effective thing to do, as the best plans were those that took everything into account and so leaving it until the previous lesson had taken place meant I knew their starting point the next lesson. I knew what I wanted to cover in the sequence of lessons, it was just knowing exactly where to begin, what points needed to be brought up in a different way, and which way in to a concept would be best. Equally in the lesson, I tended to react to real time information as and when it arrived and diverge from the plan. It did make for a lot of late night working, especially Thursday evening when I collected in Year 7 books that day to be returned the following morning and had to do the plan that evening too, for a lesson without photocopying since there was no time to get it done. I also spent ages making resources, and choosing my own questions to be exactly tailored to their needs. I think this needs to be changed lots.

Target: Improve efficiency of planning.

Action: Reduce time spent making resources, especially lots of time on one short activity. Reduce photocopying. Allow planning in advance by choosing recourses that can be used even if they plan changes drastically. Find good sources of resources (struggle so far to trawl through the bad resources to find something ok).

I want to get pupils to be reflective learners. What are my strengths/weaknesses in this topic? What makes this question harder/easier compared to this similar one? What are the easy mistakes and pitfalls? My PP2 mentor is really into this sort of thing which is excellent for making my lesson more like it. I struggled to do it at all on PP1 as my classes were shocking bad at thinking about things like that. I describe it as "surface thinking/learning", the part of my brain that I use when I'm doing menial tasks. Proper learning takes place through "deep thinking". It's taxing but satisfying, like a good workout session. Continuing the exercise analogy, it's similarly hard to get started, a bit painful and you don't always get instant benefits. You'll wear out if you try to do it all day, but hey, interval training is good. My classes were so unused to deep thinking that I sometimes wondered if they'd ever accessed their brain like that at all and didn't quite know how to get them into it. When I asked my Year 7's to write a 'hard' question, they were invariably a copy of one of my questions but with bigger numbers. Because bigger numbers are universally harder. Yeah.

I think frequent self assessment would be a good idea. I started the placement thinking of it as an activity in it's own right and therefore to be used in every other lesson at best. Nearer the end, I started thinking of it as an ongoing activity, something to be done at the start of a lesson, near the end (or at suitable end-of-a-section points) and at the end of the lesson.

I wanted to try it out over a topic, starting with a self assessment A4 page to inform planning of the first lesson. Trouble with that is that I have to decide all the objectives right at the start and my girls have a tendency to panic when faced with questions they can't do, even if told they aren't expected to be able to do them all! Would be nice to do the same list (traffic lighted) at the start and end to demonstrate progress, and they'd soon get used to the 2-3 weekly cycle of events. I should get more into sharing objectives each lesson (I'm forced to do must/should/could on PP2 so I'll need to work with how to make this effective anyway) as then they can rate themselves against the objectives.

Target: Improve self assessment and reflective thinking in pupils.

Action: A4 start/end of topic sheets. Traffic light/smiley face against learning objectives and by written activities in book. Comments next to questions "I understand how to....", "silly mistakes to avoid here are..."," this question is easier/harder than that one because.....".

I discovered lots about my teaching style. After spending the summer worrying, and therefore reading about, using my voice and behaviour management, I was pleasantly surprised with how it went. After starting pretty nervous, but discovering that the first 5mins of the first lesson went exactly to plan took away those nerves. As I found all lessons started fine, I got less and less nervous as time went by, ending not being at all nervous with my tutor group, Year 7, 11 or 12 classes. It was only Year 10, and only for the first few minutes. It turns out my non-nervous teacher persona is very calm. This came as quite a surprise to me and I'm sure will surprise the people I know who know me (somewhat caricaturely) as a highly strung, tense person. I was well aware I wasn't going to be the energetic type, bouncing around the room. I was afraid I'd be the quiet, overlookable non-authority so I'm very glad that's not the case and that I actually have a positive presence in the room.

I'm very glad I did the Student Associate Scheme a few years ago as it meant I made all the rookie mistakes back then: nervous stance, shaking pleading voice, wanting to be liked. I went straight in from the start with how I wanted to act and be perceived and this made it much easier later on when I no longer needed to fake it. I decided what I would do was walk in greeting the class, put down my stuff and set up my laptop with the projector, then say simply and loudly "I need silence now please", followed by a rather tough "Year X, I asked for silence!...thank you". This was very effective in all my classes, although I found later talking to be difficult. I didn't know the pupils names for a few weeks, even then I was unsure of my Year 10 class because many of them had unfamiliar names but very similar faces! I found knowing names to be the key to behaviour management so not knowing (or not being confident enough to just say it when the situation is getting a bit sticky) their names hindered me.

I also need to decide my behaviour consequences ahead of time. Praise comes quite easily and I had little trouble praising my girls as and when they deserved/needed it. My behaviour management 'ladder' was quite poor, it consisted of me getting more and more stern but ultimately didn't lead anywhere. No names on the board, no sending outside, no detentions (except for staying behind after the lesson for not doing homework). I'll really need to get this sorted, especially for PP2 when I'll be team teaching as we'll need to be consistent with each other.

Target: Improve behaviour management.

Action: Decide on personal behaviour management 'ladder' for each class before take over classes; re-read the wonderful books from the summer to get positive behaviour management ideas. Make learning names a priority. Discuss behaviour management of shared group with Emily to ensure consistence.

One thing which came as little surprise was that I had problems with my voice. Not, as I actually expected, that my voice would sound pathetic, but that I got an awful sore throat in no time at all, and a hacking cough that lasted forever. Talking at any volume hurt, projecting my voice was not fun at all. It didn't get better until the holidays and I'd spend a solid 2 weeks barely talking. I had similar problems with my health, I was so ill and run down in that horrible way that doesn't get better until you can actually rest for days upon days (again, the holidays!). I got sick a lot, especially in the mornings, which I think was due to lack of sleep. I really struggle with sleep deprivation, avoiding it in favour of long nights of sleep during what should have been wild student days. 8-10 hours is standard for me, I got less than 6 night after night during PP1 and woke up feeling dreadful thanks to it.

Target: Stay healthy.

Action: Use full range of cold preventing products - hand sanitising foam, cold preventing nasal spray. Sleep and rest where possible. Have thermos cup of herbal tea (the sealable lid makes it health and safety friendly, I hope) to sip from before and after lesson. Use a range of voice-saving behaviour management alternatives like tapping on tables with a board pen or clicking fingers at pupils who are talking. Could try the hand up for silence, much as I hate it.

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