October 17, 2011

the glasses that defied gravity

I had a fabby day today. Was organised to the point of being obsessive. Got all my photocopying and resources for the entire week sorted. Had a lovely lesson with my fantastic year 7s who I LOVE because I can pretend to be an awesome teacher with them and they believe it and do whatever I ask. I wore heels today too which only added to my height, and thus my authority. Problem is, from such towering heights, the teeny weeny year 7s are almost invisible to the naked eye. But I didn't step on any which is a bonus in my book. I also made a little lesson booklet containing seating plans and class lists (complete with homework dates, book collections, holiday dates and a space to record who I give learning points and red marks to each lesson). I also recorded all the SEN data for the pupils in my classes. I led three starters which very nearly almost stayed within the allocated time (I'm getting closer!). AND..... I had a Tesco's finest double chocolate chip cookie for lunch.

Then, just when I was patting myself on the back and reaching towards my yummy scrummy ultra delicious mars bar (my own personal learning point) disaster struck.......

we had an OFSTED meeting.


With great difficulty, I wasn't particularly clued up on the whole OFSTED inspection malarkey anyway but this presentation only plunged me deeper into the confusion pool. All I know is that it's changing, we think. I tried to listen, sir, honestly I did. But the lady giving the presentation had her glasses balanced precariously on the very tip of her nose and, being a scientist, I was fascinated by what magical forces were keeping them there. I thought it must have been glue or other such sticky substance, but then she took them off, with no apparent difficulty, so that hypothesis was disproved. They say that necessity is the mother of invention but I saw no obvious use for those glasses other than keeping the tip of her nose snug. Anyhoo, that distracted me long enough for me to completely lose track of the colour-coded and cross-referenced diagrams flashing up on her presentation. Then when I caught snippets of dialogue such as "this is not as important as the last but actually very important...", I waved goodbye to any hope of remaining concious. It just made me think that this woman, and many other professionals are training us to be effective teachers, and yet I feel like I want to peel off my own skin just to have something to do! I have noticed that with boredom comes a drive to find something to do, and the resultant activity is usually disruptive. There has been no greater eye-opener into the importance of producing engaging, energetic lessons that are chunked into bitesize open activities which are mainly pupil-led and extend the more able pupils. If there was one thing that I learnt today it was ALWAYS KEEP THE PUPILS ENGAGED AND THINKING or else risk having a lot of caged chimps to control. Oh, and get to grips with OFSTED inspections!

October 15, 2011

crazy week

Blimey! I am pooped!

It's been a pretty full-on week. I've been playing alot of netball this week but that's not why I'm tired. It's nice to have the netball to let off steam and just run around like an idiot for a couple of hours (that's valuable therapy for me). I'm pooped because this week I've had a crash course in real-life teaching. Due to illness my mentor has been off for a few days at the start of this week and the end of last week. A cover supervisor was available to cover all her lessons but suggested to me that I lead the lessons, as she wasn't trained in science. Eager to please I jumped at the chance and ending up teaching a full day of five lessons; four of the classes I knew and one I did not. I thought it would be a good chance to test to my classroom management, particularly with the new class.

I struggled.

But i survived.

Needless to say there are areas that need improvement. We had a particularly good, and very interesting, lecture on classroom management the day after. Did you know that the area of the brain responsible for matching actions with consequences doesn't even start to develop until approximately eight years old and in most people will finish development at about 21 years of age? However, the area of the brain responsible for the flight or fight response develops, and reaches maturity, much earlier. So when pupils are around year 9 age (13-14 years) and all the teenage hormones are starting to kick in, they are mostly unable to link an action with a consequence, and hence get into trouble for it. E.g. a boy punches another boy and then wonders why he's got a detention and probably tries to blame the other boy. It is our responsibility as teachers to develop this link between actions and consequences and strengthen it as much as possible. When we discipline the pupils we must always give a verbal warning which will clearly state what will happen if the pupil doesn't change his or her behave and then offer the student a choice as to which behaviour to display. If the warning is not heeded then the teacher must give out the appropriate disclipline with a definite reminder that the pupil was responsible for his or her own actions and must now face the consequences for said actions. All the while the teacher must be non-confrontational and to the point, this is known as "assertive discpline". My problem is that I am too woolly when it comes to giving directions, warnings and then handing out punishments. For example, in one lesson this week the whole class were muttering and fiddling and shuffling and generally being disruptive but this one boy at the front was consistently turning round and talking over me and the other pupils so I gave him a verbal warning. This verbal warning was clear but I then warned him another few times before eventually recording his behaviour in his planner. He, quite rightly, pointed out that the rest of the class was talking also and was as difficult as possible for the whole lesson; so much so that in the end I had to remove him from the group work entirely as he was distracting the other pupils in a determined effort to get them disciplined also. This whole lesson could have been managed in a much better way. Firstly I should have stood at the front of the class and almost created a funnel between me and the door so that as the children came into the classroom they could only come in one at a time and they would have to respect my space and I could stop any uniform offenders. This would have immediately marked the classroom as mine and the fact that they were coming into my space where I was the one in charge. Secondly, I need to not be happy with second best. I need to clearly state my expectations and not rest until I get them. This particular class are a lively bunch of very nice kids but they're very loud and not particularly polite when it comes to general social skills. I needed to clearly state that I expected absolute silence suring the register and that they should be writing the words into the bingo sheets. They needn't call out but put their hand up and wait for me to finish the register if they had any problems with the task they had been set. Any children talking during the register, no matter how quiet, needed to be warned and this warning followed up if their talking continued, even if this means handing out multiple red marks. Once they understand that I mean business it will get alot easier and I will be able to be more lenient but this bunch of scoundrels need very firm boundaries to lean on. I've also realised that I need to be more organised with my papers. I aim to free a space on the desk at the front of the class for my resources, lesson plan, register, seating plan and a sheet to keep a record of red marks and learning points so that I can a) keep track of the repeat offenders and little superstars and have a quiet word at the start of the next lesson and b) remember to actually hand out the red marks and learning points before the kids leave the classroom, which I've forgotten to do on numerous occassions! I need to take more control of the class as they leave the room also, and not just let them be dictated by the bell. I can use this as another reward system by letting the hard working and quiet pupils go first. So, watch out kids, Miss Roberts is getting tough next week! I also learnt from that one lesson of year 9s that kids can't be trusted! I had done this lesson a week previously with a bottom set year 9 class. It was a revision session consisting of four, ten minute activities which the groups rotated round. The previous lesson had been sufficient in that the majority of the kids stayed on task and actually worked hard on the activities. I had been free to roam around the classroom and extend some of the more able kids. However, my time-keeping was appalling and some of the activities were too short so that kids werenot kept occupied for the whole 10 minutes. Or rather, they were kept perfectly occupied using rulers as light sabers. The second time I did this lesson I changed one of the activities and had a countdown timer on the board. Foolproof. But actually the activitity I changed was now too hard and required me to devote all my time to the group struggling with this activity. I also put the answers to each activity in envelopes next to the activity, so the pesky kids just opened the envelope and copied the answers! Also, who knew that the countdown timer didn't just work on thought alone, I actually had to press the button! Crazy! So yes, all in all, I learnt alot from that lesson. I think that particular class needed a much more structured revision lesson. My plan would be more suited to a higher ability group.

On a final note, if a cover supervisor thinks it would be a great idea for you to take on all your mentors lessons for that day, politely decline even just one lesson so you can get that goddamn assignment done that's in for that Friday!!!

October 01, 2011

happy as Larry and all his jolly friends

Today my Mum spoke to a parent of a year 7 pupil from my school. I had spoken to this pupil and her mum at open evening recently. They said that I had been really nice and welcoming at open evening and the pupil thought I was "a well good teacher".

I'm going to treat myself to a Mars Bar.


September 29, 2011

What do you get if you cross a Bulldog and a Shi Tzu???

Well, it looks like we're off with a flying start to this GTP year....

So much to talk about and so little time!

Firstly, let me explain the title of this blog. I've been cracking on with starters and plenaries for a whole range of different ages and abilities. In my timetable I have been assigned two lower ability year nine classes directly after each other. I have observed these classes numerous times and know that although they are harmless, they are....well..... energetic. My mentor, their usual teacher has worked hard to instigate a very strict No Hands policy. This allows her to direct questions according to ability and so challenge the pupils which can be pushed a little out of their comfort zones. It also means that the kids need to pay attention or else risk looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights when suddenly they're called upon to answer a question. And no one can pull off that look. My mentor also insists on absolutely no calling out. But, bless them, they can get a tad excited, as I duly found out when I took them for a Selective Breeding starter. I had prepared a powerpoint presentation (I love my powerpoint presentations) of two breeds of a few species and they had to compare the characteristics of the animals and decide what they had been selectively bred for e.g. a greyhound and a husky. I was basking in my own pride when the kids where pinging out of their seats with all the energy of microwave popcorn, desperate to answer the questions being directed at them. Until twenty five minutes later I realised that we were still discussing, in depth, the pros and cons of one pupil's uncle's staffordshire bull terrier and I had been treated to a detailed description of the precious beast. The final blow came when I realised that the majority of the class were only discussing cross breeding with the view of finding as many crosses as possible with potentially rude names, hence the title of the blog. When I heard this question being fired across the classroom I quickly employed the classic tactical avoidance strategy, by loudly exclaming "OK, LET'S MOVE ON SHALL WE?!!". Luckily, I had another year nine class straight after this one and the opportunity to repeat my starter, this time with a very strict ban on calling out and a firm No Hands policy! The difference was awesome!

The following week I taught the same two classes for the full hour lesson, and I can honestly say that I loved every minute of it. I started the lesson off feeling full of confidence because when they came into the classroom a few of the students said to me,

"Have we got you today miss?"

"Yep, lucky you!"

"yesss!" (they said this in the way that only kids can, with about sixteen Ss on the end)

Now I'm not naive enough to think they were excited to have me teach them because of my spectacular teaching prowess (!), more because they smell fresh meat. But still, it put a smile on my face that looked a bit like this........ :-D

In the first lesson the pupils were supposed to be planning a particularly boring practical involving peas. The purpose of this lesson was to hone their investigative skills and highlight the importance of planning a fair, safe test. They needed alot of guidance through the planning work so I made a worksheet to fill in with prompts and questions but asked them to write in full sentences so that if the questions were taken away it would still make sense. I had thought that this could potentially be a very challenging lesson, simply because it was very boring and I knew I would have difficulty keeping the kids on task. But they were bloody brilliant. They all finished their plans by the end of the lesson and had designed a table complete with units and titles. They are all now ready to do their practical in the next lesson. I handed out alot of learning points that lesson, as a quiet thank you for being so nice to me for only my second full lesson EVER! The lecturers at university are always harping on about differentiation and reflective practicioners and pedagogies (which make for a competitive game of b******t bingo at 4pm on a Friday afternoon) and we're all swallowing up the learning theories and writing mad scribbles about which noted figure of history said what, but there's nothing like being in school and interacting with the kids to give you a very realistic idea of what these young adults are like and how the long words we learn at university apply to them. It is for this reason that I am so incredibly thankful that I got onto the GTP course! For example, I am learning every day how differentiation is a key aspect of lesson planning. I tend to use the lesson objectives, title and date as a settler before the starter so I can take the register whilst they're writing down that lesson's objectives. However, it will take a bottom set class the best part of ten minutes to write a sentence, and even longer for year sevens! Whereas I started with the best intentions of planning "Must, Could, Should" lesson objectives and watching grass grow whilst they wrote them down, I now keep the "Must, Could, Should"s to myself and just write one general lesson objective so we can just get cracking with the starter. I've also noticed that in every class there are the "perfectionists" who write with such perfect script and beautifully shade in their 3D diagrams but will take the entire lesson to do so. I don't want to discourage such care and pride in their work but I do tend to keep the opportunites to write and draw to an absolute minimum with these kids.

Anyway, it's late and after two games of netball I'm pretty pooped. I've got a riveting day of doodling on poster paper tomorrow (if you're going to leave poster paper and marker pens on the table in front of me, they're going to get meddled with!) so one last thought before I go....

You know you're becoming a science teacher when you tell a geeky science joke and you're the one that laughs the loudest. I know you want to hear it...

Who knew protons had mass?! I didn't even know they were catholic!

September 17, 2011

guilty dogs and cute eggs

Yesterday at university I learnt how to make a dog feel guilty, rugby tackle, draw a cute egg and make a noise like they do in System Of A Down. This was all in the name of identifying and putting into practice teaching techniques. It obviously worked because I showed progression in my learning by advancing my 'cute egg' drawing techniques to drawing a 'cute egg puppy' and a 'cute egg penguin'. I was also able to apply my training in 'how to make a dog feel guilty' to other species; i proceeded to guily-trip my friend into getting my books for me from the other side of the classroom. Needless to say, I did not wake up that morning expecting to be going face-cheek-to-bum-cheek with a friend I'd met only four days earlier; he assured me, that is how a rugby tackle is performed. I am yet to be convinced.

Teaching tips to implement next week:

  • eye contact (of a minimal amount, so as not to cross the border into creepy)
  • enthusiasm
  • step-by-step breakdown
  • demonstrations/ actions
  • check understanding
  • check prior knowledge

September 14, 2011

What are mitochondria??


So before embarking on this GTP course I decided that I was going to throw myself whole-heartedly into this blogging malarkey. It's not something I've ever done before but I realised, perhaps rather optimistically, that this was going to be one of the most enjoyable and eye-opening years of my life and I did not want to forget a minute of it. I also write this blog in the hope that, should I become a succesful teacher, I will be able to say "here, read this..." to anybody wishing to enter the teaching profession and they will get an honest account of what life is like on a GTP course.

Last week, term started at my training school. I turned up, bright and early on Monday morning, with my map of the school, a packed lunch and all my shiny new stationery, looking not a fat lot unlike the year 7s standing nervously in the playground. The only difference between myself and them was that my mum wasn't kissing me on the cheek at the school gates, not that she wouldn't have tried if I'd given her half a chance. I'm not ashamed to admit that shopping for stationery was the highlight of my summer holidays. I had purchased a particularly snazzy turtle-shaped pencil sharpener and turtle-shaped eraser which I was certain would win me credit with the kids at school, or else 'disappear' before I'd even managed to get them out my bag. You will be pleased to know that a week later they are still holed up nice and snug in my pencil case. As i entered the classroom for the staff meeting I was faced with a sea of people all wearing jeans and t-shirts and, quite frankly, making me look like Will out of The Inbetweeners (i.e. massively overdressed for a teacher training day). I had been going into the school once a week since the previous September for work experience so recognised a few friendly faces, but it's only when you've got the entire staff of one (not particularly large) school all in one room that you realise how many people it takes to keep a school running smoothly and, more importantly, how many people you've got to keep sweet if you want your training year to be just that little bit easier! There were teaching staff, cover staff, office staff, kitchen staff, senior management staff, laboratory technicians, reprographics, special educational needs (SEN) staff, teaching assistants, maintenance and grounds staff.................

I knew that there some people I wouldn't exactly see eye-to-eye with (literally and metaphorically). The previous year I had been observing a NQTs lesson when a member of the senior management team (who has a chronic case of Small Man Syndrome) walked in, overtook the lesson and completely undermined all the work the NQT had been doing in that lesson. The NQT went home that day feeling utterly disheartenened due to no fault of her own and, unfortunately, I later learned that this wasn't the first time this senior teacher had done this to trainee and newly qualified teachers. That day I realised that getting to know the kids would only be half the battle.

So, I was over the moon when I was handed my teacher planner; a great, hefty diary which, although cumbersome and pretty defunct for the first week, I just liked to carry round as it has Ms J Roberts emblazoned in big blue letters on the front cover. This diary was proof that I was a teacher (in training), it was my badge of authority which I felt the need to carry round as I was certainly not feeling very authorative when faced with a class of 6ft year eleven boys, some complete with beards. My shiny new school staff card and code (yes, a code!) also served the purpose of making me feel like a teacher on the outside, if not entirely on the inside. I was so unbelievably excited to be given a code, despite it being fairly useless as I wasn't assigned any duties or written on the timetable to be taking classes; the very first words out my mouth when on the phone to my mum later that evening were "Mum, I have a code!".

Other than receiving my new teacher tags (i.e. planner, staff card and code) and having rhubarb crumble for puds in the canteen, the first day passed pretty uneventfully. It did not take me long to learn that you as an individual can be as organised as an organised thing on a really organised day, but unless your school and colleagues are organised, you'll be fighting a losing battle! Thankfully, that's what inset days are for at the start of term; to iron out IT glitches, update software that really should have been done the week before as it takes a day to update so no teachers can access their interactive whiteboards, to sort out timetables and class lists, to figure out where to put all the lab equipment out of the new lab which was supposed to built by the beginning of term but won't actually be finished until after half-term, to allocate new email adresses and SIMS passwords and countless login names, to become familiar with SIMS, to sort out student planners and new books and textbooks, to ensure that every single item with the school name on is changed to the new school academy name, and finally to scrape together a lesson plan for the following day which considers the fact that all the 'admin' will take up at least half of the lesson and the kids will be dead excited to use their new felt tip pens.

I was set the task for Friday to come up with a starter for a middle set year 8 group who were just about to start the topic 'Respiration'. I was offered the use of the resources that the school used such as worksheets which correspond with the scheme of work, but I wanted to start the year as I mean to go on and not just rely on worksheets. I decided to play a 'Connect 4' style game using letters which corresponded to clues that I would give so they could guess the word, e.g. "This B is the process of taking air into the lungs and removing air from the lungs...........................Breathing". I struggled to level the game correctly. In fact, whenI was preparing the starter I was sat with a friend and together we tried to think of 16 words related to respiration. My friend studied biology to GCSE level but was suggesting words like 'alveoli' and 'gaseous exchange'. I kept saying "no, they've only just started this topic, they don't know the structure of the lungs or the processes involved with respiration!". In the end, it was decided to switch the starter to a plenary so that throughout the course of the lesson we could give them the answers to the game! My mentor also helped me to simplify the language I used for the definitions, although I found it tricky to simplify the definitions so much without them becoming inaccurate. I remember being at school and being told one thing at lower school and then being told to forget what I'd been told at lower school when I entered key stages 4 and 5! So, back to the game, it started off fairly succesfully. As any of my friends will tell u, I can get a tad competitive, and it seems this is infectious! In fact, the kids employed some very sneaky tactics which proved to be the downfall to my game! I had assumed they would just race each other across the board, but instead they blocked each other off and were guessing the words before I'd even given any clues! Whereas the game started full of enthusiasm and competition, it finished in a rather disappointing way when both teams realised that neither had won and therefore their impressive effort had been futile (in their eyes), to say the least! My mentor simply said "....a good lesson to learn from this, always check it works!"

Finally, to conclude this first week, I just wanted to talk about a little moment that summed up my week for me and simply made me smile. I don't know why it was so important to me but I do know that I told anyone that would listen to me. The teacher I was observing had asked "what are mitochondria?" to a top set year 10 class. A girl in the front row turned to me and said "isn't that when a person thinks they're ill all the time but actually nothing is wrong with them?"

I didn't know what to say. The 'personal' Jenni wanted to laugh and say "no, you numpty!" and the 'professional' Jenni knew that if I let the 'personal' Jenni take over it would only discourage the girl from offering answers in class again. But she was so far from the actual answer that I wasn't entirely sure how was I going to say "well done for trying but actually you're completely wrong!". In the end I realised that this group of kids were a very bright bunch who obviously picked up snippets of information from all over the place. I also realised that they were a really fun group of kids who could you could afford to take a step back and let them work things out for themselves. They were a group that, potentially, I knew I could build up a strong rapport with. In the end I said that actually she'd got her words mixed up and it led to a nice little discussion about hypochondria. She wasn't the slightest bit bothered about being told she was wrong because she was confident in her own abilities. But I knew that a less-confident child or perhaps a student struggling with special needs would not have suited the approach I took with this particular child. So, this 30-second conversation really got the cogs in my braining turning and made me think that kids can be very bloody clever!

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