With school starting up again soon, I have started to think about what exactly I want for my students in the new school year. What do I want them to get from their schooling experience? And what do I want my classroom to look like – me talking and doing all the work, or them actually engaged and making an effort in the learning process?
The issue of needing students to become independent learners was particularly prevalent in my second placement, where I was teaching a class of Year 7 students. Some of the girls were having trouble understanding the concept, and hence, working out the answer to the problem. So their solution was to bug the teacher for the answer. I tried explaining it to them as best I could, but as I was feeling under pressure to attend to 25 students at once as well as to cover the unit, I *may have* cut corners in my explanation. Their response? ‘Miss, you’re not supposed to tell us the answer!’
What did I learn from that experience? Firstly, students want to learn. Providing their basic needs have been met, they actually come to school engaged and motivated, expecting to learn. We cannot crush that. And secondly, in order not to crush their natural enthusiasm for learning, we have to engage them from the beginning. This means that from Day 1 of Year 7, students must be encouraged to find answers for themselves, and perhaps more importantly, think of new questions.
Imagine if your students still couldn’t think for themselves by the time they reach Year 12? How would they survive in the real world?
It might take a little extra effort and planning at the beginning, but planning lessons that encourage students to be independent learners and thinkers is easier and better for both you and your students in the long run.
I was listening to ABC Classic FM in the car yesterday, and there was a piece that was really bugging me, because I couldn’t for the life of me find the beat! Every time I thought I had it, I knew immediately I was wrong. By the time the piece was over I had worked it out though (with much concentration and effort!) – it was in 15/8! Fifteen quavers to a bar!
That made me realise that now I know how my students who struggle with rhythm and aural skills feel! So I then spent some time reflecting on how I would help explain to these students how to identify a time signature in an unknown piece of music, as well as what strategies I would provide to them.
Most teachers think they know their subject. I know I did. But what I have discovered during my prac placements is that I have great potential to be able to explain my subject effectively, but just because I know something to be true doesn’t mean I can explain it to each of my students (who might all need different information in order to glean their own understanding) or provide pertinent examples to them at the drop of a hat.
So, this summer will be spent revising and collecting a wide variety of examples, with the aim of being well prepared for the new year.
One final thought – I have also realised that many students know, accept and expect that their teachers know how to teach – it is the subject matter knowledge that they sometimes doubt that their teacher(s) have. There are various reasons for this, including outside tuition in specialist areas like music, however we are doing our students are disservice if our ability to convey our knowledge effectively is not up to scratch.
From my experience on prac, I cannot emphasise the importance of routines and consistency enough. Having a routine for entering and exiting the classroom is particularly important, because students will know what to expect, and hence know when they have done the wrong thing. It also helps prevent potential behaviour management issues for the same reason. If you explicitly teach the rules and routines to the students, you are teaching them how to behave appropriately. It helps enormously if the entire school has the same routines for students in every class and with every teacher, but where this isn’t possible, you can at least implement one in your own classroom for the benefit of yourself and your students.
A possible routine for entry could be students are to get their book (for the lesson), pens and school diary out before they come into the classroom. This essentially means that they are to enter the room prepared to learn – if they have the correct equipment, they should be more likely to enter the room in the right frame of mind. Hopefully.
A possible routine for exit could be chairs behind desks, and stand behind chairs. This should include a general tidy up of the classroom as a courtesy to the next class, and to emphasise the importance of taking pride in their school.
Why is this so important? As teachers, it is crucial that you are seen by your students as being impartial and fair. If you change the routine or change the rules every time you see your class, they will not know what to expect, and they will not have appropriate rules and behaviour routines reinforced. And even more importantly, you need to be consistent and fair with each and every student. Treating a student in a manner that can be correctly perceived as unfair by another student will simply teach that student that there is no point behaving appropriately, or there is no point putting in the effort to learn or complete their classwork.
Remember – students always notice what you don’t want them to notice, remember what you don’t want them to remember, and don’t remember the stuff you do want them to remember! So behave transparently at all times!
So today’s post is about the importance of getting to know your students, and teaching them appropriate content for their prior learning. Seems obvious, right? Well, during my final prac placement, I was teaching a class of students with behaviour difficulties, as well as various learning difficulties. So we modified the curriculum, and tried to scaffold the tasks so the students were supported in their learning. And one of the activities we had them complete was a find-a-word.
On the surface, this seems like a pretty straightforward task. However, once the behavioural issues had been managed, it was clear that a few of the students were struggling with the very concept of doing a find-a-word. For experienced teachers this would probably not be a shock, but for me, to find high school students who were struggling to find the words for themselves was a little concerning. They seemed to have little resilience – relying on their classmates and the teachers to guide them through without even having made an attempt before asking for help.
One student in particular was having trouble settling. Until now, I had assumed he struggled with behavioural issues like many of the others, as he certainly displayed disruptive behaviours on the surface. However as I started to assist him with the find-a-word I realised he had no strategies for doing one. He had never encountered strategies such as looking for the first letter of the word, or even the first two letters of a word. But that was to be expected, since he had only been in Australia for a year, and as far as I know its not every day you do find-a-words in high school, let alone teach specific strategies for doing one.
What did I learn from this experience? Never assume your students have the skills to complete a task you set for them, and always have a backup plan in case you need to teach them these skills before you go ahead with the activity.
What would I do differently next time? Try to expect the unexpected better. Try to engage the students in the task earlier by more scaffolding and teaching of the explicit skills they need to complete it to try and prevent behaviour problems stemming from frustration.
What did I do well? I got to spend time with more of the students while I was helping them, and as a result, got to know them better.
Teaching literacy in music? All part of a day’s work.
So you think you have a lot to do in your job? While on prac I have been compiling a list of the different tasks that teachers come across in their day to day duties and I thought I would share them to start thinking about how on earth I’m going to manage them all! Feel free to add to this list….
- Roll call
- Excursions/tours (including overseas)
- Extracurricular (e.g. Concert Band, Marching Band, choir, orchestra, guitar class, rock bands…)
- Distance Education
- Regional Achievement Awards
- Awards nights (including allocation of awards)
- Primary School engagement (e.g. choir, bands)
- Parent teacher interviews
- Performing Arts auditions
- Marking/returning assessments & providing feedback
- Planning (yearly/topic/lesson)
- Morning teas (e.g. baking – very important part of teaching!)
- Staff meetings, faculty meetings, parent group meetings
- Year advisor role
- Supervising prac teachers
- Warning letters/’n’ award notifications/calling parents/disciplining students
- Playground duty
- Bus duty
…and the list goes on. You get the idea. A lot to think about!
Yes I realise I’m stating the obvious here, but yes prac is difficult. You are essentially walking into someone else’s classroom with someone else’s students with already established routines, and even if you are introduced effectively and professionally (as I am lucky enough to have been), you are still to a certain extent seen as a visitor by the students and they treat you accordingly. No such thing as the students taking it easier on you cos you’re a uni student – they try their best to test your limits!
That being said however, prac is a really valuable time to learn as much as humanly possible about classroom management, and about the technology available for use in the classroom and to practice using it. It is also a lot easier than taking a full teaching load, and usually less hours involved than for the permanent staff as much as you do try to get involved in as much as possible. I am 2 days into my final 20 day placement, and it has finally clicked that content is not anywhere near as important as practicing your classroom management skills on your prac. Think about it – with no experience in the classroom but at least an undergrad degree under your belt in your chosen field, which are you going to be better at – content or classroom management? Ahhhhhhh…..
I have also learnt that consistency is key. Not only within the classroom, but a whole school approach can really make a big difference. My school has developed a whole school Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) plan over the last few years which all staff have had input into, and school rules are visible and actively taught and reinforced in every class. So it doesn’t matter what class the students are in or what teacher they have, the rules and expectations are always the same. That also makes it really easy for a newcomer like me to come in and take a class, as they already know the rules, and I just have to remind them. Regularly. But it works!