Back to fundamentals…

As part of the NQT induction programme in our school we were required to swap a lesson with another NQT. This involved planning and teaching a lesson in a different subject that was different from our own. I was paired up with Mel from R.E., we both taught one of each others lessons, and I also had Martin teach one of mine, but luckily managed to avoid having to teach one of his maths lessons. The idea behind the lesson swap was to get us thinking about the basic, fundamentals of teaching before getting carried away with your own subject knowledge.

Mel came to teach one of my lessons on the Structure of The Earth and I throughly enjoyed sitting back, letting her take the lead and doing such a great job. When I tested the students knowledge in the next lesson they’d learnt exactly what they needed to. Her behaviour management really stood out in this lesson and her enthusiastic delivery of the lesson kept the students so engaged. Similarly I was blown away by Martin’s delivery of the Jelly Baby Population game with my year 8s later that week. He used humour regularly and made himself real to the students, they were all so involved, engaged and inspired. I was inspired.

When it came to me teaching Mel’s R.E. lesson that week I was faced with taking on 5 different world religions and the students were given the challenge of working in groups to produce a poster one 1 religion that they would present next week to Mel. I saw two challenges with this lesson a) remembering the different key ideas about FIVE different religions and b) managing the behaviour making sure the students were on task.

As it was a class that I already teach in Geography they knew me and my expectations, and I knew them. This made the behaviour management side of it slightly easier. It was simple little things like having the PowerPoint up and ready when they entered, greeting them at the door, making sure they weren’t calling out and were listening to me and each other. I found that I was probably stricter on them in this lesson than I would be in my own. I think this was partly due to not having a vast subject knowledge to get carried away with but also partly due the fact that the work had to be completed by the next lesson, ready for their presentations. Whilst explaining the task I said that “we needed to work together to create excellent presentations that Miss Nathan would be proud of next lesson”, it was little bits like this that I thought worked well in encouraging the students to take pride in their work and establishing high expectations. I gave the students premade resources with all the information they needed on the different religions but also said they could use the computers for extra research. I made the students very aware that I could see all of their screens on my computer and that I would be using that to make sure they were all on task otherwise their group would not be allowed to use the computers for the extra research. This massively helped to make sure they were on task. Similar to my own lessons I constantly reminded the students of the remaining time and how much they should have done.

My worrying about the subject knowledge and the 5 different religions seemed silly after the lesson. I had the resources in advance and helped to plan the lesson, this immediately made me feel more confident when walking into that classroom (a luxury you don’t have with a cover lesson). I think this also helped the kids to believe that I knew what I was talking about too. Once I’d set them off on their task I circulated constantly to see how the groups were getting on and helping them were possible. The nature of the lesson was quite an independent one anyway but I found without a vast knowledge on the subject I was forcing the students to be even more independent. With only a limited knowledge on some of the religions I was really encouraging the students to use the resources and the computers to complete the posters. Whereas if it were a lesson in my own subject I would have been way more likely to feed them the answers. This time the owness was really in their hands. This is not to say that I didn’t take advantage of my knowledge on the Buddhist religion from my time spent living in Thailand. I made sure that I gave that religion to one of the weaker groups so that I could help them out that little bit more.

I would have liked to have taught a lesson where I was teaching more of it, although this would have been more daunting. However teaching this lesson made me realise and remember the importance of encouraging more independence in the students. It put empathise on my behaviour management and ways to ensure the students are on task. From observing Mel and Martin teaching my lessons I realised that the delivery and enthusiasm play an important part in engaging the students into the lesson. I actually really enjoyed teaching a different subject other than my own and seeing the way other people would teach my lesson too. It was a great experience overall, I’d love to do it again and would encourage anyone to give it a try.

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The ability of catering to everyone’s needs without knowing them.

Differentiation means that you must have tiered resources and tasks in every lesson: a myth that is commonly believed. This idea caught my attention at the beginning of an induction session on differentiation led by a lead teacher (practitioner) and development coordinator at my school. It’s an idea that I agree with, some lessons just don’t require the differentiated resources and tasks that others do. But that does not mean that they are not differentiated. As long as the work is accessible to all whilst still containing challenge then it is differentiated.

Key things to remember when differentiating is: knowing your students, using marking and feedback strategies, using questioning, providing literacy support, effective modelling and differentiation by task when appropriate. As a new teacher to a school knowing your students is tricky to start off with. I was lucky enough to start in July and be able to observe some of the classes I would be teaching in September. This was both a curse and a blessing. With some classes it filled me with dread and fear but it also gave me an idea of what the students were like, who worked well together and what types of strategies were used with particular students. However I found until I was actually teaching the classes myself I wasn’t able to fully know them and be able to meet their needs.

Suddenly one there was a new boy put into one of my year 8 classes. He had just arrived to the country from Afghanistan and didn’t speak a word of English besides from ‘Hello’ which every lesson he says with the biggest smile on his face. His eager desire to learn is inspiring; it delights me as a teacher.  However in that first lesson I was filled with fear not knowing what an earth I could do with him. From then on I was making such a conscious effort to make sure I had something for him, which in itself was a real difficulty as he hadn’t even been assessed by the EAL team yet. With no knowledge of his abilities I had no idea if the resources I was creating was too hard or too easy. I started creating resources with the lessons key words, asking him to write the word and definition in Farsi then the definition in English. He would always call me over with the proudest smile to show me his completed work. His definitions in English were never really the definition but it still showed me he understood, for example one lesson one of the words was ‘population’ and he wrote ‘the population of Afghanistan in 30 million’. He impresses me with his understanding but it still frustrates me that I can’t help him more at the moment.

So while I agree that differentiating is not creating tiered resources and tasks for each lesson, in some cases especially with a severely EAL student that you have no data or information on there is no other choice.