This post is about how great students can be and how important it is to consider the culture you are creating with your classes, day in day out........
On Friday I was very busy. It had been parents evening the night before so I hadn’t had any time after school to prepare for the day ahead. We also had a very important visitor to our department – a new teacher from South Africa who will be joining us next year – and I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could. So when it came to period 3, year 7, I had a vague idea of what I was going to do, but I hadn’t put together a set of resources like I usually do.
I can’t say I was panicked – I’m sure I would have come up with something on the spot, but what happened when I arrived at my classroom really made my day.
The students had got there before me and it was raining so I let them straight in before setting anything up. Whilst I was busy with the logistics of the beginning of a lesson: writing the title and objectives on the board, logging in to the computer, looking for the equipment I needed, getting students to hand books out, reassuring some of the anxious ones that the homework wasn’t due for today etc, etc, two of the girls in the class came up to me and said they had planned a starter for me and they asked if they could do it that lesson.
Of course I said yes and watched as they handed out bingo grids that they’d painstakingly drawn out by hand. They got the whole class to listen to them and started pulling out carefully folded pieces of paper from a tin. Each piece had a calculation on it and the answers were on the grids that had been handed out.
I stood back, finished organising myself and got the resources ready for the rest of the lesson. The class were in deep concentration as they tried to figure out the answer for each calculation before the next one came along. When eventually someone shouted “BINGO!” a small prize was handed out (I think it was a bracelet) and the two girls who had been in charge were given a round of applause.
As you can imagine, I was quite a happy teacher! Those girls had not only given me chance to get the rest of the lesson organised, they’d put together a really effective starter that went down very well with the rest of the class.
Now for the all important context : I have been allowing year 7s to run starters since just after Christmas, so this did not come entirely out of the blue. The main difference was that on all the other occasions I helped the students to design the starter and I told them exactly when they could do it. As this is the first week back after Easter, I hadn’t got round to meeting up with any of the students to plan a starter together, but I was hugely impressed that these two girls had decided to make one themselves.
Their efforts helped me realise two things. Firstly I realised that my idea of getting y7 to run starters now has the potential to save me some time (hooray!!). (It was more time-consuming previously because I met with students outside of lesson time). Secondly, it reinforced my opinion that getting students to be outstanding learners is not about how they perform in one off lessons: it is about the culture that is created in the classroom. Do they feel that they can take the initiative? Do they think they can act in a leadership role? Do they worry about making mistakes or do they just get stuck in and have a go? Do they work individually and competitively or do they seek out opportunities to help each other and work collaboratively?
In all honesty, my year 7 class have a long way to go before they become outstanding learners. They still worry too much and they are still learning how to help themselves when they get stuck. But Friday’s lesson gave me lots of hope for the future. I wonder what they'll get up to next week!