Thursday 30 May 2013

#BlogSyncJune It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it

Part of June #Blogsync, to read more nuggets of great explanations, click here.

This is little more of an anecdote of one of those magic moments that are really rather unique to teaching, that I don't think would occur in any other place than in our classrooms.  In these hard times, it is ridiculously easy to lose sight of why became teachers in the first instance.  I know I didn't join this trying profession for the money (if you did, more fool you), the status (we are ridiculed by the press on an almost weekly basis, what status?) or to manufacture data for league tables and Ofsted. 

Apologies if this video clip makes you feel ancient
This little anecdote comes from my Year 7 class. They are, without doubt an interesting bunch.  They are the top set in the year group, however, do not be fooled into thinking it's a doddle being their teacher.  For example, in the last week of the half term, I had at least 5 reports to sign each lesson.  The class contains two of the most diffucult boys in the whole year group. It contained a third but after something like 39 forms of exclusion within two terms, he is now seeking another school that will take him.  This leaves the other 'naughties' [I know, it's rubbish to label pupils, but I hope you know what I mean by this term] much more pliable and less likely to act up.

We are reading, and thoroughly enjoying 'Holes' by Louis Sachar.  I have taught this novel since I was an NQT and I adore it.  The class really take to it and we share the reading of the book by having various narrators, pupils reading out the character parts (honing their reading of speech punctuation and having to read a little ahead to anticipate their dialogue) and most of the class are involved.

The lesson revolved around making connections between Stanley Yelnats and Elya Yelnats, Stanley's ancestor.  After starting the lesson with a 3, 2, 1 activity e.g.

Write down 3 things that Stanley and Elya have in common

Write down 2 questions you would like to ask Elya

Choose 1 of your questions to answer, in role, as Elya

I paused the lesson to use a 'meta main course' swiped from @thelazyteacher (Jim Smith) 'The Lazy Teacher's Handbook' along the lines of, 'What connections have you made so far?'

Most of the class were beavering away, helping each other devise responses to the questions and my gorgeous girls debating what to write down in their responses.  I sauntered over to the back of the classroom and spotted a lad who hadn't really done a fat lot of work.  He has more than a passing resemblance to one of the leads in 'Son of Rambow':

His temperament and personality also seem quite similar, quiet, reserved, wide-eyed and innocent and sometimes, just not quite with it. He just wasn't sure what I was looking for.  So, we began a discussion about links and their purpose in a novel.  This will be a paraphrased version of our conversation, as it happened a couple of weeks ago.
I began by taking off my necklace and dangling it in front of him:
A digression: This chain is a Clogau Gold piece, one of the few pieces I have left after the #neighbourgate burglary scandal.  I still have it because I wear it every day for work. If I had not, the so and sos would have nicked it and sold it too.
Me: So, look at this chain, you have the 'heart' and the 'T-bar'. What else do you notice?
Pupil: The links Miss.
Me: Good, what if the 'heart' is the start of the novel, and the 'T-bar' is the end. What can you see now?
Pupil: It all links together Miss.
Me: Well done. (I lay the chain on the desk in a straight line) So, all the links are in a straight line, what kind of book what that be? Would you enjoy readiing it?
Pupil: Oh, I see, well no, not much.
Me: Why?
Pupil: It doesn't look very insteresting. (Meanwhile, a lightbulb begins to glow over his head)
(I moved the chain into a meandering snake, like a river, much like this:)
Me: Look at the chain, now, now what do you notice?
Pupil: The links don't have to be in a straight line, but they are still all linked to together. The beginning and the end still link up.  This would be a better book. (The lightbulb over his head grows brighter).
Me: Good. (I then cover up a section of the chain like this:)
Me: Now, what happens when the writer deliberately covers up or obscures some of the links in the chain?
Pupil: Ohhhhhhhh! (Light bulb is at full wattage), Ohhhh I get it now!
(Meanwhile I beam at him, his friend listens in, intrigued).
Me: Brilliant, what are you getting? Tell me!
Pupil: The writer makes the reader do more work by covering parts of the story up, it makes it a better book.
Me: Lovely! Why does this make it a better book or narrative? What about the start and the end of the chain or novel?
Pupil: Well, the straight chain would just be boring, there is nothing for the reader to do.  No matter what direction the story takes, everything must link together so the start and the end makes sense, that the reader is statisfied.
Me: So, now, what kind of links do YOU notice between Stanley and Elya Yelnats? Tell me, WHY you think these links are in the novel? Why DON'T we have all the links in the chain just yet?
Pupil: Ok, got it now Miss.  (So, off he and his desk buddy went, seeking out links in the text so far, and discussing their purpose for the reader).
Needless to say, this little conversation, the questions, the use of the necklace as a prop were not in my lesson plan.
When I have these conversations with an individual pupil, they are later on discussed with the whole class.  The pupil is given the opportunity to narrate THEIR thinking in the conversation, which then prompts others to contribute.  The class (along with a good few more of my pupils) are now beginning to use analogies to explain their thinking.
*Inserts cheesy music to less than subtley illustrate my point*
We must remember that these light-bulb moments; our ability to improvise and think on our feet; enabling the pupil to 'get it' in a profound way:  this IS why work ourselves into the ground; this IS why so many of us strive to get better and better; this IS why learning - both theirs and ours, IS a real pleasure in life. It is what keeps the teacher heart beating, and our teacher souls breathing. Not, Mr. Govearaurus-rex, performance related pay.
*End of William Wallace style rally cry* 
The class have just loved reading this book, which means I've loved teaching it all over again.  As the novel progressed a little further, I repeated the 'chain' explanation with the whole class - quite fiddly to manipulate the chain in hands, talk and make sense all at the same time I have to tell you. (A moment when a visualiser would have been REALLY useful).  However, as the explanation and questionning progrossed jusing my favourite word 'might' within, the light-bulbs lit up across the whole room. Lovely.
  As the reading the novel has progressed, I have referred back to 'links in the narrative chain' when questinning, thus providing a regular semantic link to that explanation. Always SUGGESTING a link is present, but no more than that.  This leads onto that lovely, 'Oh, oh, oh I've got one Miss!' gasps of recognition as the eager Year 7 hand bursts up and flaps around with enthusiasm.  Bet I couldn't have done all this with an inspector in the room....


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