April 12, 2011

No bad classes, just bad teachers

I've always thought that there ARE such thing as bad pupils and bad classes. Classes that are practically unteachable, classes that are impossible to manage. There's a year 9 class at my PP2 school that might have fallen into that category. But I witnessed a miracle recently.

Their class teacher is an NQT who was at Warwick last year. She is young and very calm, quiet and soft. She told me that she hated giving out punishments or even warnings, because she felt guilty. I suffer from this affliction too. Observing her has taught me so much about behaviour for learning. Let me tell you why...

This year 9 class was awful. Constant low-level disruption, everyone shouting out, little work going on, low motivation, etc etc. But this amazing teacher decided she'd had enough of that. She saw an opportunity and took it: the year nines were starting the GCSE course, so she decided that would be a great time for a reform.

Everything about this lesson (and the subsequent lessons, there's been 4 now I think) was meticulously planned and perfectly executed. Here is a blow-by-blow account:

> textbooks, exercise books and rulers had been set out before the pupils entered. The date and title were written on the board, along with the instruction to copy these down into their book.This was good because it let the pupils know that things were going to be different this lesson, and also it gave the lesson a nice, orderly and purposeful start.

>There was a new seating plan.This was good because pupils who are often silly together had been separated.

>She started the lesson by explaining that they were starting the GCSE course and hence were technically year 10s. She explained the importance of GCSEs and getting a C (this group is predicted Ds and Cs). This gave the pupils the impression that maths lessons had taken on a new importance. Calling them year 10s made them want to act more mature than normal.

>She then explained that as year 10s, the discipline will be stricter. She outlined her system of warnings and consequences. She emphasised that the class was a team, and they had to work together to achieve a good result. Outlining the consequences made sure the pupils were aware that they will be punished, and more strictly than before. Emphasising that their class is a team ensures that pupils pay less attention to the ones who disrupt.

>They started the work, and the pupils were impeccably behaved.

>The work was quite easy, so the pupils felt really motivated by the fact that they could do GCSE level work.

>She kept giving out positive comments to reinforce the good behaviour.

The transformation was amazing. What's even more amazing is that in the lessons that followed, they were even better.

Another good thing I saw:

>Before giving them a load of questions to do, she wrote on the board some grade boundaries for E, D and C. She told them to choose a target for the lesson. Then they did the work, and then marked it. Then they counted up the marks and see what grade they got for that lesson. This really motivated the pupils to work hard, and they were so happy to meet their targets.

What this has taught me is that "bad" classes can change. All it takes is a change of approach. Although this teacher had perhaps been too soft on them before, she was able to take back control. I've always been under the impression that if you're not strict enough from the start, the class will never respect your authority. I know now that that's not true.

We're starting a new term in two weeks. Why not use that as an opportunity to have a fresh start with your most difficult classes?

Emma x x x

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