This was the day where we got to do a bit of learning ourselves, in terms of what it’s actually like in the education system over here. I was very keen for this day – the difference in curriculum is what concerns me the most about teaching over there.
Students are students; some will be good, some naughty, some smart, some slow, some easily confused, some arrogant, they are teenagers after all.
I’m not even really concerned about content, because if I’m not already comfortable with it then all I have to do is learn it myself. This is something I’ve been doing for two years now, so it’s not a worry to me really.
What I am worried about is knowing what level the students should be at, and what they need to know before moving on to the next stage of their education. I’m also worried about assessment – this is something that really affects students and teachers perhaps more than it should, but as our education systems are still focused on ‘pass the exam to show success’
I need to be able to prepare the students for them in the best way possible. And to do that, I need to be at the very least comfortable with the curriculum, so needless to say I was very interested in what today had in store.
We all hop on a bus to head out to a ‘typical’ high school in London. In order to maintain professionalism, I won’t be naming the school we went to, but if you are interested then contact me directly.
Once there, we head in to the hall where a number of tables are set up in groups and a projector with a presentation set up. We arrange ourselves among the tables and are greeted by the members of staff who will be talking with us about various things over the course of the morning.
We start out with a tour of the school, led by 6th form students. We are shown around the various buildings and sections of the school and taken in to a variety of different classrooms to observe lessons as we go. Apparently this is a relatively normal thing for schools in the UK – people coming in to observe lessons happens fairly regularly and for many different reasons.
The students and teachers alike give us a quick glance and smile and continue on with their work. We are able to ask quick, quite questions of students and staff as we go along, and get to see the type of work they are doing.
It struck me in a grade 10 science class how high-level the content seemed to be – they were learning about the production of oils in plants, but this was something that is not in the Australian high school curriculum at all; I learnt about it in university.
This got me thinking about the school where I am currently working, and how different the level of content is. It is something I will have to prepare myself for – time to do some curriculum research!
After the tour we get back to the hall and our groups. I honestly can’t remember exactly what we did in our information sessions, or what order they occurred in, so forgive me but I will just rabble on about what I do remember.
One thing that made me sad was the fact that none of the morning focussed on curriculum, which I was not alone in expecting or hoping for, rather we discussed pedagogy. It felt at times perhaps a little like we were being taught how to teach, which of course was redundant because we are all at least graduate teachers, some of us with a year or more of experience under our belt.
Nevertheless, there were some very interesting techniques that I will share with you here. I am planning to try them out and will report back on my experiences later.
Getting to know your class
One of the sessions discussed how to do the specific data sets schools in England use to inform our teaching practices. Much of it is the equivalent of what we have here in Australia – literacy and numeracy tests at specific ages, grades and progress accumulated and predicted at different stages, etc. So much of it is same-same but in a different format. I feel like my knowledge of such data sets will still be applicable and I will adapt easily once someone shows me the specifics of the new system.
In this session was also a discussion on “being smart” vs “learning”. This particular school was very aware of the fact that many students want to appear smart without having to actually do much work, and that those who feel like they’re not “smart” will stop trying for fear of failure. As such, they have adapted their school culture, right down to the language that teachers use, to a culture of wanting to learn, not a culture of “being smart and doing well”. Teachers will give copious amounts of feedback, and students expect it. They will have discussions about how to improve and progress, not about what was wrong and why. This is something I feel is quite admirable and I can see how it would benefit the students; not just for their grades, but for them as people. I am keen to try altering my approach to be more in line with this idea.
We has a quick talk about learning objectives – what the actual purpose of the lesson is and what the students should be able to achieve or understand by the end of it. This is something my current school already does, so it was not new to me.
Something that was touched on briefly but I liked the idea of was Directed Independent Reflection Time. The basic idea is giving students specific time and the tools necessary to properly address feedback. A quick Google will give you far better information than I can here, so if you are interested please go do some quick research. There are plenty of time-saving tips for making the process easy for everyone, particularly when starting out using it in your classroom. It looks like a fantastic idea, and is also one I will trying out this term!
It is no secret that many students benefit from being active in the classroom. It allows for the focus to be on the students instead of the teacher, and tends to increase engagement. It was mentioned though, that not everything can be effectively taught using active learning techniques. All pedagogies have their time and place, but being aware of as many different approaches as possible (and being willing to use them) can only improve teaching practice. We were given a list of different activites we could use for active learning, and as I love such lists I will provide them here for you too, but in a different post as it would make this one even more massive than it already is (if you want more info on a specific one, either Google it or contact me and I can talk with you directly or dedicate a post to it if you prefer).
Again, this is something that won’t be new to any teacher out there. Students need the ability to work independently on any number of tasks, and this skill is something they need to be well developed before they leave school for higher education and/or the workforce. I will also write about this in another post for the sake of saving space here.
The 5 Minute Lesson Plan
As someone who no longer uses formal lesson plans (not since I graduated!), this took me back a bit. As most of my lessons are done through PowerPoint, I use the slides as my lesson plan. I include everything in them, from content to activity plans and instructions to timings etc. I find it the easiest way to keep myself on track with what I am doing each lesson. Personally, I find it very difficult to work off a piece of paper for what I have planned – stopping to consult it breaks my concentration and the flow of the class. As such, I honestly didn’t pay too much attention to this section. It does look like a good way to present a lesson plan though. Again, if it is something that interests you there is plenty of information on Google and even a few good YouTube videos showing you how to use them.
Student Engagement with Written Feedback
This session interested me the most. I am not a huge feedback-giver. It is something that I know I need to work on, and I feel like the information given to me during this session was the most valuable out of the morning. It was basically about strategies for providing quality feedback without killing yourself in the process (or taking the extra 38 hours technically required PER WEEK to do so – they actually did the maths on it). Once again, I will create another post for this. Stay tuned.
We ended around midday and headed back to the hotel for lunch and an afternoon of planning for the school visits over the next two days (even though the bus was almost a hour late, and lunch took yet another hour once we were back at the hotel… hangry Emily was hangry by that stage). Overall the morning was informative, if not in the way we were hoping/expecting.
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.