Two lessons with good bits in them

Friday 20th Jan and due to a combination of poor diary keeping and late trains I covered an hour and a half of a lesson based on a great little warmer by the class’s normal teacher, and the usually fairly shonky SfL ESOL materials. (e2, unit 1 reading about 3 different families reflecting on their cultures and differences in those). So precisely zero planning and actually not half bad. To summarise: warmer: write 3 questions to ask the teacher. Ls asked questions, I only answered if language was accurate (allowing for e2 level, of course). Where it wasn’t I challenged them to self and peer assess, and guided them onto the right language before answering the questions.

We then looked at three pics of the families and the Ls prepared questions about the families (w guidance from me where appropriate) before looking at the texts and seeing if their own questions were answered and matching the texts to the pictures. (which raises questions about the whole gist/detail business, really, as it made no difference, insofar as I could tell, that they did both tasks simultaneously).

A brief class feedback on each others questions led into a more detailed reading of the texts via some questions, and the questions then led into a discussion across the group (9 Ls) and a homework task to use the prompts to write about themselves.

All made up in the classroom. Honestly.

At the other end of the planning spectrum, a four hour teacher training session for a level 5 literacy subject specialism looking at (deep breath) an introduction to phonology and to spoken discourse, followed by a more detailed look at written discourse features. All planned in detail and, if not all singing and all dancing, then at least a little hum and a jig.

Intro to phonology (really skate across the surface) was basically a series of questions designed to raise awareness and challenge perceptions about phonology (How many sounds? What’s the difference between a vowel and a consonant? How do we show a question in speaking? Etc.)

Then a bit more teacher led for the spoken discourse. I focused on the cooperative principle and Grice’s 4 maxims, mainly because they’re interesting, catch the imagination with little lightbulb moments (“oh yeah, we do, don’t we…”) and easy to guide into with PowerPoint based directed questioning and open discussion. The aim here was again awareness raising : that there are rules around the way we speak to each other and that these are as predictable as any grammar point. It’s also fun to discuss flouting the maxims because we can all recognise when that happens! I’m also aware that there will be an opportunity to analyse a piece of speaking in more detail later in the course.

The final task was first to reorder a text (a lovely Douglas Adams text from The Salmon of Doubt about biscuits and social embarrassment), then analyse (generally then specifically) the devices used to do this. I’ve tried and honed the task a couple of times on ESOL teacher training courses, so I am fairly familiar with it!

So both lessons were successful.

How do I know this? Because of student feedback (“Thanks, that was really interesting.” and “can I have another copy of that, I’d like to use it.”) and relayed positive feedback from the other teacher in the case of the ESOL class.

But also because I saw things go in and take root. I saw ideas click into place, “oh I see!” moments, new vocab in the ESOL class, for example, a learner who wanted to know “vegan”, learners who wanted to know the difference between a monophthong and a diphthong, And I knew this was happening because I checked and talked about it with the learners. I asked questions, found things out, worked out what they knew, and built on that. Where ideas clicked, I checked and then I pushed – “so if that’s the case, what about this example here then?” type questions.

The other question is why were they successful? Because of the last point, of course: I was checking what the students were doing, what they were learning and adapting/developing the lesson, using little extension tasks for some sections, and in generally responding to what the learners were doing.

Both lessons were varied and pitched to the right general level. There was moving round the room, there was group and pair work, the ESOL lesson drew on the learners own experiences, and in the TT session I tried where possible to link the discussion to the teachers’ classroom practices & experiences. Interestingly both sessions had two “take home” handouts only, although the TT session also had wall signs and powerpoint, as well as the text cut up and handed out. But there wasn’t a great deal else by way of bits of cut up paper, multiple handouts, powerpoint printouts (although again, this was available on the VLE!), and in both cases the differentiation was inbuilt and largely responsive rather than pre-planned (both of which have value): in the ESOL case because there was no plan, and in the case of the Level 5 because, well,  don’t want to go off on a differentiation tangent here – let’s suffice it to say that I know some things about the group as learners and made arrangements to deal with those things but there wasn’t explicit written planning. The content was generally interesting, or at least useful and of relevance to the learners.

But there were some gaps. Not an ILP or SMART target in sight. I was, if I’m honest, pretty woolly in the learning outcomes department. (In fact, neither even crossed my mind in the formal sense while teaching the ESOL lesson). In terms of assessing and moving learning onwards it happened perfectly well in both lessons, without the window dressing,  without the pretty tickboxes which make audit-heads happy. ILT was pretty basic – a bit of non-functioning interactive whiteboard for the ESOL class – now that looked unprofessional – and a few well chosen powerpoint slides carrying, for the most part, not information, but prompts and guidance. The VLE was there as a sort of background presence, I suppose, in the sense of “I’ll upload it to the VLE” or “I’ve put a link about this you might want to look at”. But not in an integrated way (rather hard, when you have one PC and it’s the one you’re using). And of course, there was no plan in the first case, and to be fair only a minimal list in the latter. Certainly wasn’t on standardised proformas.

For me at least, not being on standard proformas is a boon and a blessing, and I can use them, and even see the point of most of them, but I don’t usually bother. It’s just showing the workings out to an observer, is all. The good stuff, the really important stuff, is what is happening in the classroom, that, for me, is where the magic happens. And that is probably my favourite place to be when I’m at work.


One comment

  1. My goodness, I’ve been enjoying these! This could get addictive so I must stop. But so refreshing to see so many of my ‘own’ themes (& gripes) explored & articulated. I used to worry a bit (not that much, really, but a bit) that my decrying of detailed planning, on the right forms, with everything in the right boxes – all frankly for someone else, since this did nothing for me – could be a sackable offence. Still didn’t stop me saying it out loud, again & again. Good to see someone else being so honest. More than anything, though, that comes across in my somewhat cursory skimming: the excitement you feel in being a teacher in the classroom. Great, innit?

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