Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The one where... Ofsted came

Year 9 English lesson – Part of the ‘New Media’ unit (which examines issues around new media [including social media] with emphasis on Speaking and Listening and GCSE style reading questions, comparing articles)

Need / Area for improvement identified by staff and examiners at GCSE: Lack of ideas in their work/”thin content”, limited vocabulary (we have a high proportion of EAL students at different stages) – although they can all use rhetorical sentences!

SO… the unit aims to look at some tricky contemporary issues and difficult concepts whilst building specialist vocabulary and a stock of arguments in order to have a discussion/debate in groups that would be ‘assessed’. This in turn would allow them to write a convincing persuasive / discursive piece around the pros and cons of the internet.

Some might say that you cannot teach students this sort of thing – and they’re probably right! Russell Hall @hall_rhall was saying last week that this issue shouldn’t be unexpected; it’s developmental, a matter of maturity. In any case, we can take the opportunities offered to us to get students to rehearse ideas orally before they write them down.

ANYWAY… The phone call came and I was seeing year 9 the next day, determined to continue as normal. We’d discussed pros and cons of new media , social media and technologies in general, introducing the concept of utopian and dystopian views of the internet. I wanted a lesson which would consolidate these concepts and push their ideas a bit further. I made sure I stayed calm by avoiding over-thinking the lesson and DEFINITELY NOT writing a lesson plan, opting instead for a few bullet points and a few slides to hang on to in case the nerves kicked in.

The lesson:
I hadn't spotted the inspector who was standing a few feet behind me in that crowded corridor. We were all waiting for the previous class to leave in order to get in ourselves, and I was just joking with some of the kids. It's only when I finally got the class in and put my bag on the table that I saw him. I think I involuntarily recoiled for a second but recovered and smiled, handing him the seating plan and data sheet.

The nerves did kick in for the first time*. My opening salvo was dreadful. I felt myself turning red and decided to focus on my loveliest pupils who had all settled and were reading their private readers silently (I know @LearningSpy doesn't approve but it's department policy and I rather like it). They are all well-drilled so I didn't need to say anything. Magically, SIMS did not take 10 minutes to load up; quick register, call up the PPT, first slide = two columns.

[* I have had notorious issues with being observed for years, often feeling sick and abominably nervous. During the last Ofsted, I cried tears of fear and anxiety on and off for the whole time; the one before that, I destroyed my wing mirror on the drive to school. But curiously, something seems to have happened to me this year. Partly it's just a profound rejection of the whole game and a desire to just 'do my own thing'; partly I just feel more confident in myself. This time, when we were told about 'the call', I did not flinch. I even smiled.]

As I have already said, my opening sentences weren't great but I quickly forgot the extra person in the room (who was writing notes furiously practically the whole time he was there) and took heart in the kids' response. I could tell they were on top form. I've written about a poetry lesson with this class before.

They were asked to start summing up some of the arguments we'd been discussing before using the 2 headings, acknowledging the fact that the vocabulary was really poor on purpose. They spent a minute or two doing that then shared with a neighbour.

Quick class feedback (hands down, targeting certain individuals from the start) including suggestions to improve the headings - the word 'detrimental' was teased out as we'd used it a couple of lessons before. I then told them that this should be seen as the absolute starting point and that anyone simply reciting these basic ideas in their debate would be proving they had learned nothing new and had not stretch themselves.

I played the first clip - 'The internet is a good thing'. They were encouraged to listen attentively in order to add to their list and ask about anything that needed clarification.

I gave pupils a couple of minutes before asking what they had picked up - again, unashamedly targeted questioning, and unashamedly pushing them to develop answers. Also used the 'bounce' technique encouraging others to build on previous contributions, evaluating their validity etc...

I was already amazed at how much they had picked up; I was even more amazed they did the same with the second clip - whose language and arguments are not that easy to understand.

I played the second clip - 'The internet is a bad thing'

Same process for feedback, relentlessly pushing  students to go to the end of their arguments, stopping others who were veering off ('Hold on to that thought') in a different direction. I had good reason: they were talking about the Surveillance argument then about Freedom of Speech, so I needed them to clarify their thoughts as much as possible. I must admit I probed and re-directed and asked them to rephrase and clarify quite a bit at first.

The inspector was still scribbling away. I knew he'd leave soon before witnessing the Silent Debate fully or the Question Formulation grid so I made sure I put copies of the grid on the desk 'for later'.

We moved on to the silent debate (which I stole from the lovely Miss Ludgate @MissJLud ). We'd done it once before and they'd been brilliant at it.
Title: The internet: A force for good or bad?

They needed a few clarifications, for instance: Make sure you respond to the other person and address their arguments (they had assigned themselves a side in their pair). Respond as passionately and persuasively as you can. Question the other person. Demand clarifications. Draw from the whole pool of arguments. Mention specific examples to illustrate your points.

I also warned them that I'd stop the task after 8-10 min but they'd have a chance to keep going afterwards.

Some of them threw themselves in the debate immediately; others wanted to but were more hesitant with their arguments. In the meantime, silence descended upon the class and the inspector carried on writing... I can't quite remember when he left. I circulated and went to see some of the groups, pointing at some of the ideas they could develop further.

After a while, I reluctantly stopped them to bring their attention to the Question Formulation grid nicked from @JOHNSAYERS (you can find it at the end of this post on Questioning). I wanted them to stretch their ideas one last time and test each other's arguments. They came up with some questions pretty quickly after a short class example.
It was time to resume the silent debate - which they did with glee.

Once again, I had to stop them reluctantly. But I needed to conclude the lesson. I asked each pair to identify one of their most successful or interesting threads and be ready to share this with the class.
We only managed to listen to two groups but that was enough. One of the groups was asked to feedback at the start of the next lesson as a starter and refresher.

Verdict: I really enjoyed the lesson. The kids really enjoyed the lesson. They definitely used much more jargon and impressed me with some of the arguments they used. I was very happy with it.

However, I felt I had to go and get some feedback at the end of the day. The team had offered to feedback to all the teachers they had seen that day from 3:10 pm. I got there first as I didn't have a lesson in the afternoon and had to rush somewhere else.
- He was impressed by the high degree of 'conceptual thinking' in their answers.
- He loved the clips used in the lesson
- Final verdict from the inspector: 'Nothing to worry about. Great learning taking place.'

And that was it!

PS: It's only the next morning that I realised colleagues had been asking for grades. It never occurred to me to ask him...

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