All entries for February 2011
February 23, 2011
Reflections on Week 20
Transfer week! Which meant I was taking over some but not all of my classes.
Year 8 aren't too bad, I've quite content infront of them and we did some good stuff together. The first lesson plan had way too much (as I wanted, better too much than too little) but to a greater extent that I expected. This was partially due to my late arrival (no choice; tutor group across the grounds), their teacher wanting a word with the class about something or other and the register taking forever because the class is large, I'm learning names, and some people aren't on it so have to be added each time. Second lesson had too little because I wanted to finish area of a triangle without starting the next bit. A little bit of something then a week off before seeing it again isn't good.
I find the room quite hard to adapt to, my old classrooms were long and thin (ie board at the shorter side of the rectangle) whereas these are the other way around. The seating plan makes my eyes spin because it's 3 or 4 rows deep and 6 or 7 wide! I struggle with spacial awareness at the best of times (eg working out which knob works a particular ring on the hob) so I can't use this one quickly at all, I can only give myself co-ordinates from my desk then count them out in front of me. Not ideal!
I also have a projector and whiteboard which are next to each other so I can't scrawl over my projected diagrams. Horrible! It's so hard to work without that, I never realised what a useful tool it was. It's really useful for presenting the basics and making the pupils fill in the rest, or an exam style question and how should we annotate it? Asking that then clicking the next bit of info up when they say one I've done already feels false. Loses the spontenaity and makes answers which I didn't prepare for look 'wrong'.
Year 9 are tough. Team teaching is new to me and it's the combination of my toughest class yet and the way there is an extra person to factor in (from both our perspectives) that make it hard. We're still getting used to each other and each other's expectations. I've been worried about us treading on each other's toes and I've been afraid of accidentally making one/both of us look like an idiot by doing something eg telling a kid not to do something when he was specifically given permission by the teacher, which could easily happen with my attention elsewhere. I've possibly gone to the other extreme so there is stuff left with neither of us covering it in an effort to be too nice. I've been trying hard not to undermine her's authority especially at the start when it's important she can establish it. I've never team taught before and she has team taught where they both stand at the front and do the teacher role at the same time so this set up is a new experience for both of us. After the first lesson our mentor said I need to have a more specific role so the teacher asked me to work with two specific boys who were sat one behind the other. I was to avoid hovering over their shoulder all lesson (I approved of this, nothing more offputting or obvious) but would stick in that general corner of the room. Unfortuantly one of the boys had crutches and so was sat across the room - which we both didn't realise would happen. I instead moved between the two, looking at the pupils around them instead, which turned out to be an unpopular move with the mentor. It's difficult I think because the job description of TA is different to teacher, it's not my place to do a general overview of the class which is what I slotted into. So the things I will do differently:
*Bfl for pupils talking when the teacher is talking.
*confront pupils who get out of their seat.
*Focus on the pupils that my support has been planned for and don't spend time I should be helping them, getting other pupils on task.
*A difficult one is that I explained a big concept to another girl who passed it on the 5 around her - again, not where my provision was planned! As time goes by we'll know the pupils better and be able to judge beforehand if I should facilitate this - perhaps we could anticipate this girl or others being in that situation and therefore plan for me to facilitate it. We did both like how this happened though, peer teaching is good and wouldn't have been able to take place if I hadn't helped the first girl.
*Don't wander around the room - again too general when I should be specifically targetting.
*An interesting one is the advice not to stop talking when the teacher is addressing the class. I have done from advice I picked up from readings or sessions: a TA should not carry on when the teacher has asked everyone to stop as it shows the rules don't apply to everyone. I like it as it shows where everyone's focus should be, any kids who I was taking to needs to pay attention to her anyway, and it gets ambigious if my talking requires an answer as then there are pupil voices during the "silence" too. But it does mean I stop the targetting help I was providing and the pupil looses out on the personalised learning opportunity. Mentor suggests I carry on then if pupils start talking the teacher can ask "who's voices should I be able to hear?" and they can say "yours and Miss Knapp's". Given that he does this with his classes, they should be trained to know how to answer and it would go smoothly.
Lots to think about! I'm starting to think team teaching is harder than solo teacher because of the extra coordinating that needs to take place, especially during the lesson as events unfold. I can see that when the partnership has developed more then we will be more effective together than alone. I am lucky to have someone similar to me to team teach with - it's something I requested before placements were decided as I thought it would be a useful experience.
These lessons have been a challenge, as planned for us! My mentor put in two lesson before half term as he warned us the first lessons would be a shock and it would be useful to have the break to prepare ourselves for it. It certainly worked!
Master's is going terribly. Despite expectations of a light teaching load until Master's is over, I've spent all my spare time planning for lessons, having it fine tuned by my mentor and replanned again. So Master's is making me panic.
February 21, 2011
An interesting maths question
You have 2 supposedly unbreakable light bulbs and a 100-floor building. Using fewest possible drops, determine how much of an impact this type of light bulb can withstand. (i.e. it can withstand a drop from 17th floor, but breaks from the 18th).
From http://maxnoy.com/interviews.html(and no, I will never be going to a Programming interview, it was just random interneting).
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.
Reflections on Week 15
Well, that was awesome. I worked a mere 26 hours last week and this week is looking much the same which is a wonderful decrease on PP1's 50-60+. I'm trying very hard to do less work, I have a habit of filling my time with work of some sort because it feel like there should be something to do. I take great delight in honing something to perfection, which takes hours for little additional benefit. As in a task could take 30mins to do to a (pretending grades apply to stuff like lesson planning, resource making and prereading ) C grade, 1 hour to a A and 2 hours to do to a A*. I can't help but spend the 2 hours on it, I'm trying now to forget about the A* and make good judgements as to whether a task needs to be done to a A or a C. I'm trying to convince myself that working like this doesn't limit the standard I'll reach at the end. It's more likely to mean the standard of my teaching increases through PP2 as there will actually be time for sleeping and I'll be refreshed enough to teach properly.
I'm enjoying working with my (new) group. I've taken on a "if someone else can do it to 70% of the standard I can, let them", rather than fighting to get everything with my name on it to the standard I want. I'm way more relaxed and laid back as a result, which I think my group prefer! We're working pretty well together although there is a quieter few I'm going to be focusing on while we're still in uni, I like to hear what everyone says and it's really nice when we can all talk freely. If you have to fight to get a word in edgeways then you're lucky to speak for yourself let alone bring in others. So I'm glad that's improving. Our work output is way better as a result.
Reflections on Week 14
It's good to be back at uni! While the hours are in fact very short compared to school days, it does still feel like a lot of work. I had the holidays off as much as possible, I was at least kind to myself in terms of sleep and workload. So it was a bit of a shock to the system having to get up early and to have deadlines looming. I notice there is a lot of directed time written in to the timetable over the coming weeks which I'm immensely grateful for... what with my student loan being messed up and having routine things like doctors appointments to make, it's highly useful to have some flexible time during the day.
The university sessions have been really useful at focussing me on what I'm doing. The problem I found in school was that I got unsure of what would be "good" teaching for a particular situation and I'd get a variety of advice from different teachers and sources. It was only stuff I was very sure about that survived the placement, like comment only marking, the rest went astray a little as the difference between good teaching and easy teaching got blurred. My standards had slipped by the end and while I was aware of what had happened I couldn't say exactly how and what to do about it. Coming back at uni has helped me figure that out.
It's great to see everyone again; there has been far less comparisons of placements than I expected! This is really great in many ways. I'd still like to get an idea of what other trainees teaching looks like, being on my own has meant I only have proper teacher's practice to compare mine to. Obviously it's wildly different, I have far more paperwork and formal structuring going on, but also in terms of what actually happens in planning and assessment. I was told at the start of the placement that because they are proper teachers with many classes, they will be grabbing sheets out the filing cabinet at last minute, in no way is that ok for me to do. Agreed but it meant getting ideas of how to plan in a non-time-consuming way was a bit thin. I compared myself to the output of the teachers and expected the same things of myself which I know is unrealistic but I had nothing else to compare to. I think having another trainee in my department for PP2 will be helpful on that front. But I'll need to be careful not to assume that what they're doing is what I should aim for, obviously they're learning just like me!
The Master's essay is going ok but slowly. Which is a shame as it's due very very soon! I have an idea of the quality I want to write to, actually writing to that standard is proving harder. The inevitable consequence is that I'll have to drop it a little so I can actually write it but I'm reluctant to actually start that process.