Success with highly distractable students

Teaching is a noble profession, an artform, a talent, a honed talent, a compilation of skills, attitudes and aptitudes that take years to acquire. Masterful teaching is an ongoing learning process. When you’ve had a success, celebrate and keep learning.

Today, I taught a Year 11 class and the co-teacher, their regular teacher, was out for the day. My students sometimes look like this:

A supply teacher came in and quickly I noticed that students had played musical chairs. Of course. It’s a supply teacher day. I herded them back to their regular seats, and they realised I would be teaching the lesson. I was intent to seize the opportunity to fill in the mental gaps from the last lesson: these lads and lasses did not know how to analyse the language of a passage on a Mongolian woman in the rugged wilderness. I loved the literature, but they were disconnected from it.

We had a go at pulling out six quotes: three on the land and three on the woman. Then came the choice between analysing the more obscure reference in one line on her cheekbones, which were thick and spread out, signifying her race but also her strength, her masculinity, her independence (bravo to the student who so capably articulated this)…and the weathered wrinkles on her face, signifying her long life in the outdoors, and what she has ‘weathered’ and survived – the elements, the hardships of a rural, nomadic lifestyle with little but her animals and the land. The debate over which example to choose engaged most students, I’m pleased to say. They actually understood, finally, at that point, what I had harped on about: choose the quote first, after reading the question. Know what you’re being asked to do, find the evidence, then work out your paragraphs and key points. It’s hard to know what to say, if you don’t understand the passage enough. Getting these kids curious about the writing is a bit…tricky. Dive right into the words, I say. The sooner the better.

So, hooked. One part of a seemingly mammoth task for this group…done. Next, PEEL paragraphing. Point. Evidence. Explanation. Link (back to the question). There are enough YouTube tutorials out there to allow me not to say more than this, but with regard to the students I was teaching today, and three or four of the boys like to talk through the entire class, I’ve noticed (but NOT through mine, for I’m not having it, and when one lad could not simmer down he was given the option to leave and speak with me outside – the situation resolved fast). I just don’t waffle with behaviour. Somehow, high expectations work for me. No doubts. Participate. Focus. Engage. We’re talking. We’re doing. We’re thinking. Give back. I’m giving. Take it. Give to each other. Help one another. But get in the ‘game’.

It wasn’t long before I had a class full of unruly-ish (but actually very nice) Year 11 students who are ‘sick’ of revision for their March final GCSE exams fully engaged in the task, writing. The last class, they mucked about, the whole class, some of them when faced with – sadly by my colleague who is surely just delivering what she has been given in terms of instructions and curriculum – death by PowerPoint lessons, copious wordage!!!, notes and notes and notes of LECTURES. Even I was hard pressed to stifle my yawns. Less is more. Teach an example, and work through one with a class. Then they can run with it. And today they did. I’m proud of them. It’s made me realise, it might be time to offer up some workshops on this. I have the perfect name for it, too: Last Chance – Kick in the Pants – GCSE Revision for Dummies (not).  Tongue in cheek, of course.

I always say to my students who, all too often, call themselves ‘stupid’: anybody can get an A. And I still and always will believe it. With enough support, patience, time, practice, guidance and motivation – anyone can.

How the class ended? One of my students packed up and said, “Miss, this is the first lesson I have ever had a supply teacher (ie. substitute teacher) in and learned. Wow. Word.

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