The vast majority of my lessons follow a similar format:
- Starter- When I do one it tends to either be about what we did last lesson, about the assumed knowledge for this lesson, general numeracy or a puzzle of some sort. Last 5 minutes. Many pupils miss most or all of this as the site is large and it takes 5 minutes to get to my room from some parts of the building and I don’t want more than 5 minutes taken up with the starter.
- Explanation- I show the pupils what I want them to do. Ask them some questions, draw stuff out of them through discussions, get them to use mini whiteboards. This takes about 10 minutes
- Task 1- will take a hard working, averagely bright for the class pupil about 15-20 minutes. Takes some pupils the rest of the lesson. Pupils work in pairs generally unless their behavior requires them to work alone.
- Mini-plenary- Generally going through half the answers to task 1 and picking up anything that hasn’t been understood.
- Task 2- Generally a more difficult or a different type of task on the same topic. Matching exercises, nrich activity or task with more open questions. Some pupils will not do much of this as they will be finishing task 1
- Plenary- A couple of exam questions with answers and/or more going through answers from tasks 1 and/or 2.
I tweak the lesson when I’m being observed so that it’s more like what I think the observer wants to see.
Sometimes pupils find my lesson “fun” although they seem to use the words “fun” and “easy” interchangeably. Sometimes they find it “boring” although they seem to use “boring” and “hard” in a similar interchangeable fashion. Lessons were pupils can do the work are rarely described as “boring”. Lessons were pupils struggle to do the work are rarely described as “fun”.
I never plan my lessons with whether or not the pupils will find them fun in mind and I am frequently mystified when pupils say my lesson was fun.
If most of my pupils do what I ask them to do and learn what I wish them to learn most of the time are my lessons engaging? My pupils are generally engaged. I can say that with certainty. Does that mean the lessons are engaging?
I ask because historically during observation feedback when people have used the word engaging they have almost invariably meant entertaining. This has occurred most frequently in schools with appalling behavior, the implication being that sacrificing rigor for entertainment will improve the behavior and thus the learning. I would regularly be told that the activities and style of lesson I was doing would work better in a school in a leafy suburb or a school with “nice middle class kids” but not here. The observer would often readily admit that pupils would learn more in my type of lesson if they listened and behaved than the one they were advocating if they listened and behaved but didn’t see that as an argument for making them behave.
I always felt this was putting the cart before the horse. This is giving up on managing behavior, admitting defeat and ruling out teaching in certain ways because of behavior. It’s wrong on so many levels I could write a separate blogpost on it. If the behavior is right then the type of lesson is far less important. If pupils won’t behave for certain types of lesson then it’s our job to change that not to give up in the face of such adversity.
I made the difficult decision as a relatively inexperienced teacher that I was going to take on the poor behavior head on with or without support rather than teach in a way I perceived as worse than what I was doing. It took a while but I got there in the end (with a lot of criticism and little support along the way). Interestingly even when things got better and though my results were average for the department (or better) I came in for constant criticism for lessons not being engaging. I got far more criticism than people whose classes were getting far worse results.
On the advice of one observer I went to observe someone who was “good at engaging pupils”. What was very noticeable about the lesson I observed was that while there was a lot of activity, a lot of pupils “doing stuff” and many pupils were working ok some of the pupil behavior was appalling, the teacher seemed to ignore much of the poor behavior (or didn’t notice it) including one pupil hurling scissors at another and I found it very difficult to pinpoint what pupils had actually learned.
The pupils clearly enjoyed the tasks they were given but spent as much time off task chatting, messing about and wandering the room as they did doing the tasks. In one of my lessons those tasks would have probably taken less time and I believe the pupils would have done more work, learned more and behaved far better. They would have had less fun though, the pupil voice would have been worse and therein lies the issue…