Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Anatomy of a Very Imperfect Lesson

I had a fascinating lesson with my 7EN2 class Friday, last day of term, last lesson of the day. My 'planning' such as it was, was having a mooch on The Literacy Shed and found two short videos that I thought could be interesting for them to view and then, erm, I wasn't quite sure where it would go after that. 

The first video was found in The Thinking Shed and it was the video called 'Treasure'.  I watched the short animation then had a quick scan of the teaching ideas and that was about it.  So, here is the lesson as best as I can remember it.

The class have a vairly wide range of abilities, ranging from a below Level 3 to some nudging a Level 5.  I have two wonderful LSA's who know what to do and how, and need little or no direction from me.

2.00pm.  Class arrive, exercise books are handed out and questions are asked about the assessment they have done recently.  Two of the most tricky characters arrive a little later and thus ensues a fraught 10 minutes or so of the lesson.  I shall call these pupils D1 and D2.   

2.05- 2.15 ish pm D1 arrives, coat and bag on, hanging around the door and in the corridor and not wanting to come in the class. Over the past few lessons he has been so disruptive within the first few minutes, he is usually sent to our exclusion room. The same behaviour pattern is repeated here. He will not sit in his seat, will not take off his coat or bag, makes some rude comments about the lesson being boring.
   D2 arrives, earphone plugged firmly in his ear and he explains to me, that 'It helps him concentrate' and can he keep it in?  I ask, "So, you watched Educating Yorkshire did you?" A feigned look of innocence passes across his face.  He begins interacting with D1 to the detriment of both of them and the rest of the class.
   D1, still refusing to co-operate, is sent out. Our 2nd in Faculty notices, pops by again and tries to resolve things. He also tries to speak to the D2 boy with the earphone in, who refuses to take it out. D2 is also also taken out into the corridor too.
  As you can see, the lesson has not really started....

My grading of this part of lesson: 4

2.15pm ish...
I begin playing the short animation 'Treasure', we have some silliness and some chatting. Video is paused to establish rules of how to 'watch' something without interruption.
    D1 appears, back in the lesson, does sit down, but won't take coat off.  He then begins to shout out during the video, making inappropriate comments, along with other things like, "I hate English, it's boring."   He is sent out again with one of my LSA's fetching the 2nd in Faculty again to remove D1 from the lesson.  Meanwhile the animation is stopped.  Both D1 and D2 are removed, I continue with the animation. We still have lots of disruption as the start of the lesson was so chaotic.
  The more conscientious members of the group get irritated with those shouting out, and start making their point with, "We want to watch this, be quiet".  The scales are beginning to tip in the groups' and my

Note: As yet, not a Learning Objective to be seen on the board but I do explain to them the lesson is all about developing thinking skills.

My grading of this part of lesson: 4

01/11/13 - This section caused a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter causing some rather forthright opinions about discipline, some directed at my school.  This resulted in me deleting some of my own tweets from my account, and asking some others to do the same (which they did, and I thank them very much for doing so).
Members of my SLT do keep an eye on my Twitter account and this blog, please keep this in mind if you have any opinions about this in particular.
I narrated this incident in particular, purely as a means of illustrating how you can have a catastrophic beginning to a lesson, but it need not destroy the whole lesson, if you don't let it.

2.20 - 2.35 pm
We watch the 'Treasure' animation again, without interruption although murmers of what it might be about are palpable in the room.  When it is finished, I write a question on the board:
"Why is other peoples' rubbish, 'treasure' to the old lady in the animation?"  Pupils write it into their books and start engaging with the question, first of all giving simple answers, such as: "She is poor".      
    One of the most enthusiastic and adorable members of the class comes up with the idea, that, "She is an artist, becasue she makes beautiful objects out of the rubbish. Maybe her house is a work of art?"
Consequently,  more of the class begin thinking about the animation and what it is about.  This provokes a range of pupil questions about the animation:
They ask questions such as: How does she get food and water?
                                             Why is she on her own?
                                             How does she feel?
                                             What is treasure?
To which one of the more lively character replies, "Treasure does not have to be gold or valuable, it can be something that you have made or created." To which I utter a big 'Ohhhhhh' and 'Wowwww' in response. I think there was maybe an 'Awwww' in there too.   I wish I could remember all of their responses, some were quite remarkable. Note to self, take a picture of their exercise books and add to this blog!

I then get pupils to focus on the ring that she finds, which she used to create a beautiful lamp in her little home, asking them, "The ring is treasure, to her, but how did it become rubbish?"

The class then produce various theories ranging from a broken marriage proposal to a bitter divorce.  During these 15 minutes, there is not one pupil who does not seem engaged or intrigued by each other's questions and answers. I can't spot anyone who is not involved (including the LSAs); the enthusiasm is palpable.  They have recieved lots of well deserved praise.

My grading for this part of the lesson: At least a 2 with some elements of a 1 (accept for the fact this is no Learning Objective on the board and I haven't assessed their progress against a level criteria at 20 minute intervals)


The pupils indicate they have exhaused their ideas for this part of the lesson, by asking to watch another animation or short video.  The board is wiped of their ideas by a willing volunteer - I wish I'd taken a picture of it - and I introduce the 'Made of More' Guinness advert from The Inspiration Shed to them, making sure I tell them that they are WAY too young to be drinking Guinness and that it is very much an acquired taste.

This time they watch the video in respectful and a little awed silence.  I can almost hear them thinking, cogs whirring at various speeds. As soon as the video stops, I am getting questions.

My grading? I'd hope a 2 as all are engaged and intrigued.


Based on their ideas, I write on the board, "Is it a good cloud or a bad cloud? Why?" and later on, "If you were a cloud, would you be a good or a bad cloud, why?"
They can refer to the video to justify the majority view that it is a good cloud.  Even more interstingly, one of my more individual individuals makes the comment, "It is a good cloud, because it gives water to the poor people" I turn to note that on the board and one of my more rogueish characters stops me, by asking me, the pupil and the class, "Where was that in the video?"  I ask the rest of the class, "Did they watch the cloud doing this?" I have a chorus of "Nos" and explain I can't write it on the board because we have no evidence to support the idea.


Soon follows a debate about the cloud's personality. One pupils theorise about the personificaton of the cloud, telling me, '"t thinks it is a person, it can do what it likes."  Another, thinks it is rather absurd, "Clouds can't think Miss." 

(Here our 2nd in Faculty pops in and I enthusiasticaly tell him we are having a philosophy lesson, but there's no objectives and it's probably and Ofsted 4. He chuckles.)

Playing devil's advocate, I say, "But this one seems to have one, why?" More discussions ensue.

We discuss why the cloud covers the traffic lights, what happens, what does it do to the lights, "It's like a disco Miss."
"Ahhh, so why turn traffic lights into disco lights?" 
We debate humour and the mood of the advert, the responses of the drivers etc.

The most intersting part for the pupils is the cloud's confrontation with a dog in a tunnel.  They can work out it is scared of the dog, so I write on the board:
"Why might the cloud be scared of the dog?"
I reiterate where a cloud normally spends it's time, up high, nowhere near the ground. 
A lightbuld beams above a quieter memeber of he class, and she pipes up, "It is scared because it doesn't know what it is Miss, it's never seen one before."
I ask, "What is it like to be frightened?" more discussion ensues.

My grading of this part of the lesson. A mix of 3, 2 and 1 as the discussion was not brilliantly controlled. Again, most pupils enthused and engaged with being able to ask questions that were interesting and relevant.


I look at the clock going, thinking, 'Crikey, look at the time!' - managing not to blurt it aloud to the class this time and write a final question for them on the board:

"If you were a cloud, where would you want to glide to and why?"

I do some gliding around the room of my own, chatting to pupils about their response ot this question looking at their books which are crammed full of intriguing questions and ideas. They have done lots of work, much unlocking of higher level thinking skills that neither I nore they were aware they had.

My grading of this part of the lesson: 2 and 3 - a bit rushed, they needed more time for a better response to the question and to be able to question each other.

2.57 pm.  Another, 'Crikey! Look at the time!' moment.

I stop the class, gain quiet and tell them it was one of the most fascinating lessons I've had with them. Considering the shocking start to the lesson, they have really impressed me with their enthusiasm and huge range of ideas.  I tell them were to put their books as they leave and wish them a good holiday.  There are many smiles as they leave. 

So, that was my, erm 'plenary' where really, I should have pointed out the missing Learning Objectives and ask them what they thought they learned in the lesson, along the lines of:
What did they do that was new?
What did they learn about each other?
What did they learn about themselves?
What did the learn about asking questions and responding to them? 

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

The class and I thoroughly enjoyed the 'winging it' nature of the lesson, they dictated the direction of the lesson almost entirely. I reponded to what they were curious about and went with it. 

    If an Ofsted Inspector popped into the lesson at any number of points, I would have got a different grading depending on which part of the lesson they saw. 

Is this anything unusual? If not, then how on earth is this judgement process going to feel less of a Medieval form of turture, and more something that really DOES develop my teaching? If you are sat observing and judging exactly this kind of lesson, how on earth would the overall lesson be graded?  Do I need to check for my P45 in a week's time? Shall I get my coat?  

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely right, Gwen. Most lessons fluctuate between different grades at different times so stamping the overall lesson with a specific number doesn't tell you much/help much. Observation to learn/observation to guide and support rather than observation to judge is much more productive. The important thing is that the teacher is reflective/sufficiently self-critical (while still giving themselves credit for their successes) and determined to improve, all of which you are!

    I also think EVERYBODY is capable of teaching unsatisfactory lessons/having unsatisfactory parts of otherwise good lessons, and we need a degree of humility about this. Have a look at this, which I wrote for GTN some time ago: