Author Archives: David James

Testing the water #PedagooReview

Feeling like a naughty student who has tiptoed into the office to steal coke from the bottom drawer, as a PGCE student I’m perhaps the least qualified person to be posting on this site, but I delivered what I felt was a good lesson. It was one that showed progress, differentiation and reflective learning. But, more importantly, I enjoyed it and got to crack one of my now infamous fat-teacher jokes…

The premise of the lesson was to give my Y9 students the opportunity to improve their PEA paragraph responses to the novel Stone Cold, focussing specifically on Reading AF5. They had produced several PEA paragraphs over the previous fortnight which had been quality marked with suggestions for improvement.

Connecting the Learning

As usual, my students were greeted by my cheery self at the door, at which point I handed them a PEA Paragraph Progress Pack (alliteration, I know). On the board were a series of rewards students could earn within the lesson based on their effort (I had seen this done by another teacher attempting an ambitious lesson, and lets face it, the opportunity to introduce chocolate into a lesson is always a good thing…).  Within the PPP packs there were two questions about the novel, and a number between one and four on the top of the pack. Beneath each question and answer box was a table of AF5 success criteria for levels four, five and six. Students had to complete the first question in silence with very little support, although they could request hints and tips sheets to aide their structuring of the answer and some key literary terminology. Once students had completed the question I asked them to mark their work by ticking off the AF5 success criteria they felt they had met in their responses, as we had spent the previous lesson discussion their APP grids. Students seemed to enjoy the opportunity to critique their own work; however upon reflection they were perhaps overly generous. In hindsight I would have asked them to mark their initial responses AFTER the ‘New Information’ section of the lesson.

Learning Objective

Today’s mission was split into two key objectives to cover all aspects of what my students were learning:

What are we learning?

  • We are analysing how Swindells uses language to present character in a way that meets at least level 5 criteria.
  • We are identifying ways to improve and develop our analytical responses.

How are we learning?

  • We are working independently to improve our work.

Why are we learning this?

  • To make us all super-groovy, AF-smashing cats…

New Information

Perhaps the weakest section of my lesson, as confirmed when my tutor described it as ‘too much chalk and talk’. There was, however, no chalk. My intention here was to model to the class how we as teachers mark their work and identify the feature of AF5 to determine their current ‘working at’ level. Due to the time restraints of the lesson I made the error of simply showing the students responses on the board, and highlighting their differences to show them how to build their answers from level four through to level six. This would have worked so much better if I had given the students copies of the sample answers and asked them to mark it, but the students did (eventually) understand how to engineer their responses into the higher banding. Its at this point that I should have asked students to mark their initial responses, as they now had a much clearer insight into how to mark their work and how to identify the success criteria for AF5.

Searching for Meaning

This is the part of the lesson I had been most excited about, at the time I was absolutely terrified that it could become a HUGE disaster if the students lost focus and drifted completely off-topic. Around the room were four student support stations (another literary device, I know), each numbered one to four. Students then had to go the station which corresponded to the number on their pack, thereby creating four completely randomised groups. Students were given five minutes at each station to collect information that would help them improve their responses and in particular help them push into the level five and six success criteria. Students were able to personalise their learning to their own specific needs in light of their self-assessment and earlier quality marking feedback. The four stations were as follows:

  1. The Term-Table: This consisted of about a dozen key literary terms such as onomatopoeia, metaphor and rhetorical questions. Students were able to learn about what the terms meant, the sorts of effects they can have on the reader, and they could also see several examples of each term, some taken from their novel, Stone Cold.
  2. The Levelator: This was another opportunity for them to study how student responses are marked. I had put A2 size PEA paragraphs on the wall, all in response to the same question. I had then quality marked each paragraph, highlighting the AF5 criteria which had been met, as well as features of style that were worthy of recognition. Students used these examples to compare their own work to, to see if their answers could be improved using the formats on the wall.
  3. Dictionary Corner: Students were given dictionaries, thesauruses and learning mats here, primarily to give them an opportunity to focus on their style. I encouraged students to reflect over their work to see if they could broaden their vocabulary and thereby improve their style. It also gave them an opportunity to clarify any terms or vocabulary they were unfamiliar with.
  4. Interactive Question Map: Without question everyone’s favourite station. On the IWB I had created a mind map of topics that students may wish to ask questions about, anything from integrating quotations to analysing language was up there, students were able to touch the question they wanted to ask and then be taken to a page explaining how to tackle the issue. If students were still uncertain they could touch the information tab which would take them to a worked example. Students found this really useful, as alongside the complete personalisation it offered them, they were able to discuss with other members of their group how it had improved their understanding.

Students were totally engaged throughout the carousel, and were making sure that they squeezed every last drop of useful information from each of the stations. I also saw a more holistic transformation of my class. They had gone from a group of severely apathetic individuals who didn’t remotely care about PEA paragraphs, to a cohort of active custodians of their own learning, keen to share how what they were collecting was helping their understanding, and probing me for further information to drive them onto the higher criteria.

Demonstrating their newly acquired loaf

Once each group had visited every station they were invited back to their seats and given a few moments to reflect upon what they had collected and relate it to their initial PEA paragraph response at the start of the lesson. They were then asked to complete the second question in the booklet; using the information they had collected during the lesson to improve their responses. Again the activity was carried out in silence to make sure they focussed solely on demonstrating their progress. Once they had completed the question they had to mark their answer using the same success criteria from the start of the lesson so that they could see if they had made tangible, measurable progress in meeting the AF5 success criteria for levels five and six.

Reviewing and Reflecting

Students were given an ‘Exit Passport’ to complete in which they reviewed new things that they had learned, things they found easy and difficult and something they were still unsure about so that I could inform the planning of my next lesson. Students were given the merits promised at the start of the lesson as a reward for their fantastic work and then left, each ever so slightly more competent and confident with their AF5 abilities. For those 60 minutes, every one of these pupils became one of my groovy, AF-smashing cats…

This was by no means a perfect lesson, there were flaws just about everywhere. But in terms of a review of my pedagogical year it was a great lesson, as my students learned a huge amount about my subject, as well as huge amount about me and my pride at taking two seats up on the bus (allegedly…see earlier reference to fat-teacher jokes).  I also learned a huge amount about them, perhaps more than I’d learned in the entire two weeks I’d been teaching them. I also learned a huge amount about what goes into to making a successful lesson, as it was arguably the first lesson in which I was able to act a professional, reflective practitioner.

Now where did I put that Christmas gin…