October 08, 2011

Observation Week – Friday

Lessons one to four today were spent shadowing a teacher. The school tried to make sure that we could see outside of our own department, and also that we were placed with teachers who were not very long out of training. I suppose the latter point was designed to give us another chance to talk to someone about what we are going through now and over the next year or two. I don't know about other people in my group, but I didn't really have a chance!

From the beginning of lesson one it was pretty much all go. The first period, incidentally, was Maths, being covered by the English teacher I was unceremoniously dumped on this morning. Although it was relatively basic prime factors, my general mathematical incompetency made me feel more than a little useless for the lesson, which was with a slightly troublesome year 11 class. It was still interesting to see a teacher cope with both behavioural problems and a lesson outside of their specialism. As a History teacher, I'm positive I'll be teaching many more subjects than History, no matter what the school.

The second lesson was also interesting, with a year 8 class who were really struggling with effective communication with each other. This was obviously a behavioural issue, because they often talked over each other and their teacher. At the same time it was detrimental to their learning, not only because they missed things, but because they would be having assessments on Speaking and Listening. Their teacher had decided to tackle the issue early, and devoted an entire lesson to an activity based around communication skills. I have to say that even with a difficult class, it seemed to work for the majority. They came up with ideas of what made up effective communication, which the teacher then pointed to whenever these 'rules' were broken.

Lessons 3 and 4 were a double devoted to Macbeth - yay, Shakespeare! - in particular, the scene where Macbeth has his doubts about killing Duncan and Lady Macbeth attacks his masculinity with manipulative and merciless efficiency. It's one of my favourite scenes from Shakespeare (you may have guessed I slightly idolise his work), so I really enjoyed those lessons. As with yesterday, I began to wonder if I was teaching the right subject...

Both today, and this whole week, has been extremely useful. Several people in my group have agreed that it's the most useful thing we've done so far. Most of all we all appreciated just how much the school has done for us. The effort involved in accommodating our needs has been fantastic and hasn't gone unnoticed! I have a feeling I'll keep coming back to this week over the next few seminars...


Observation Week – Thursday

This morning was spent shadowing a student. I know that some of us were a little apprehensive about it, thinking that it might be a little awkward to follow a student around all day while they were working or talking to their friends. Luckily we were given absolutely lovely students, which helped a lot! They were chosen from across the school, and my tour guide for the day was from year 10. I took the approach of treating the shadowing as an opportunity to see how the timetable worked and look in different departments. The latter didn't work out quite as well as I'd hoped; it turned out she had double history. I was interested to be seeing a science lesson, but it ended up being about the discovery of penecillin (more Medicine Through Time than I was hoping). But I also got to see English, which I really enjoyed. To be honest I'd really love to have a go at teaching it! I sat there reading through their GCSE poetry anthology while they worked on their presentations on Duffy's "Valentine" and realised just how much I miss my A-Level Literature days. I rarely have the brainpower or the time to sit and read these days, and I used to love it. Who knows, though? I've applied to be a tutor for a Looked-After Child and put English down as a possible subject, so it may not be the last I hear of Shakespeare!

As I went through the lessons, the same pupils kept cropping up. And it may not have been a fair representation of the year, but my god, what a year! Some of the teachers really struggled to keep them quiet and get them engaged, and excellent teachers at that. It certainly got me thinking. And being grateful for the time to sit back and see how they coped with it! I noticed that the older the pupils, the more prevalent the tactical ignoring technique was for managing behaviour. And sometimes it worked. Note to self: what never worked was shouting.

I had a lot of time today to sit back and watch and think. Taking extensive notes and working my way through the observation book, it really hit me exactly how much you have to think about when you're taking a lesson, from how you ask questions to the order you ask them in, from how you use your voice to how you check that the students are up to speed. We were told in one of our early lectures that teaching is a bit like learning to drive. At that, my ears metaphorically pricked up. I'd spent most of the summer learning and had passed my test about a week previously.

Just like with driving, there is a lot to think about. When you start teaching it will feel overwhelming, and you will forget things. Concentrate on learning to walk before you can run (i.e. learn changing gear before you try dual carriageways). The basics will become natural, and then you can work on everything else. I'll let you know...


October 06, 2011

Observation Week – Wednesday

Today was primary school day!

It started off being a lot more stressful than I had planned. Lesson learned - never rely purely on sat nav, you will get horribly lost if it plays up. The school was extremely lovely about it, however. Once I got there the first things that hit you about a primary school are a) how tiny everything is, b) how tiny the children are, and c) the amount of colour. Displays were everywhere and things were hanging on walls, dangling from the ceiling, taped to doors... everywhere you looked. The head teacher, who was a delight, took us on a tour of the school, and that's when the unexpected came.

I remember very little about my primary school, but I do know that it was a safe and happy haven - just like the school I was in this morning. But the children around me at my school were also safe and happy, everywhere. I was in for a bit of a shock. Walking around the school we heard some pretty horrible stories about the pupil's backgrounds, and the percentage of children on the At Risk register is very high. I'd be lying if I said I didn't find it an emotional wake-up call.

We sat in on some year 6 lessons, which were very interesting (I know that some of us certainly improved our maths skills!). The gap between year 6 and 7 is a matter of six weeks or so, but as we dicussed with a teacher, the children make a huge leap in maturity. This was later explained to us by the person in charge of transition at the secondary school. There is an extensive programme which a) attracts pupils to the school and b) prepares them for secondary life. Having talked to year 7s, who after just 3 weeks seem distinctly unfazed, I can say that it seems to do wonders. I won't go into detail about this programme, but I found it very interesting. It also highlighted just how competitive schools are!

The primary school, in short, was a valuable and interesting experience (not to mention the children are very sweet). All the more valuable, because I know that many people on our course were unable to visit a primary school at all. In the afternoon we made our way back to our Enhanced Partnership school and had a talk about transition, which was really illuminating. Afterwards a NQT came to talk to us, which was an extremely useful way to end the day. Talking to someone who was brutally honest about the year or so ahead was a little scary but also refreshing. It made me feel a little less lost and alone, and I could hear sighs of relief around the room. It turned out we had pretty much all the same questions.

All in all an extremely useful day, which was incidentally very long! Again... I'm tired. But I'm taking that as a good sign. Half way through the week!


October 04, 2011

Observation Week – Tuesday

The second day gone, and I'm even more tired! I have a feeling this blog entry will be much shorter than yesterday's...

As we waited to start our day, my Professional Studies group stood and chatted about tomorrow morning - while most of us are in school, one brave member has volunteered to represent us on a panel which talks over the issues/positives of our Enhanced Partnership. We all seemed to agree that it was a valuable experience, and being back in school was brilliant. But we also said there was a definite (and frustrating) element of disorganisation.

Tomorrow we are going to be in a primary school for half a day (more about that in the next entry!) and we knew absolutely nothing about it until last period today. While that is not at all the school's fault - the primary schools have been a little lax with replying to emails - it's an illustration of the frustration we've all felt over the past few weeks.

Nevertheless, I'm excited for tomorrow! Living with three primary PGCE students has made me keen to spend some time with the really little people... we'll see whether I change my mind after tomorrow morning.

So... back to today! I preferred it to yesterday. There was less free time and things were more interactive. The students were often doing group work so we got to walk around and talk to them about their work and school generally. Talking to the year 7s about how they were finding secondary school after just a few weeks gave me some real insight, which I'm hoping I will add to tomorrow.

We also saw Geography today (very useful, seeing as I might end up teaching some of it!) but stuck mostly with History. Seeing three different teachers was really interesting for me, especially comparing things like behaviour management techniques, use of questioning and choice of resources. I took a lot of notes today! How much of it I've taken in is slightly a different issue... although writing this, I feel quite hopeful. I'm looking forward to tomorrow afternoon, when we will be reunited with our PS group and given time to reflect together. I have a feeling tomorrow may be the most useful day of this week, but you'll have to read tomorrow's entry to find out!


Observation Week – Monday

So today was the first day of my Observation Week. This is also my first blog entry, so I guess I should begin with some reflection about the course so far.

Well I moved to Coventry just over three weeks ago now (wow! Feels like ages), and I still haven't been into Coventry centre. That's probably a good illustration of just how busy I've been... it also shows how disorientated I still am. After three weeks I was hoping that I would feel settled, but I'm more overwhelmed than ever! There's a lot of information coming at us very fast, and we have very little time to actually sit and take it in. I'm ashamed to admit (although I know I'm not alone) that the 9-5 has been taking it's toll. Despite all that I am enjoying myself. I think I'm in the right place, Warwick seems to be inspirational and focused on development on a personal and professional level, and on the general progress of education. I've thought about things I'd never considered before and I feel like my mind is really being opened.

This is the first year of Enhanced Partnership and I have to say I'm really enjoying it. Personally it's been a good few months since I was last in a school and I've really missed it. A lot of theory has been thrown our way over the past three weeks and it was a relief to be able to see it in practice and relate it to something concrete. It might even stick!

Today was a subject day, the first chance I've had to see some history lessons. The history teacher was rather surprised to find the three of us stood eagerly in front of him, having just returned from a trip to France, and he did a great job of looking after us for the day. We saw a good variety of ages and class sizes, and also saw some other subjects (KS3 Values and A2 Politics, neither of which I'd ever seen before). At first I started taking notes in my notebook. I knew mostly what I was looking for, having had a good read of the Observation Booklet over the weekend. My notes were a little random (and possibly too detailed?) but when we had some spare time I transferred my thoughts into the actual booklet. To be honest both were helpful. It meant I went over my thoughts and observations twice. The teacher was extremely helpful, especially in answering our questions. I was also really glad to have two other History PGCE students so we could talk over what we'd seen. We looked at some resources and chatted to some of the students.

At the end of the school day I found myself surprisingly tired! It turns out real observation takes a lot of concentration. But the day had been definitely worthwhile. Even after one day I feel like all the theory has finally been grounded in something concrete, and I haven't actually done anything yet! I guess I'll finish with... roll on tomorrow.


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  • Love this post! Also love that you still have a passion for Shakespeare and English in general, afte… by Polly on this entry

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